Candy 25 cabinets — hell on Earth

I’m the not-so-proud owner of an SNK Candy 25 arcade cabinet. Why not-so-proud? I’ll get to that. But first, some history and education.

Foremost: I am not talking about the Neo Candy 25 cabinet. Despite the similar name and similar look, they’re actually quite different (the Neo is a lot easier to work on, especially if having to work on anything relating to the coin mechanisms).

History

I bought my cab, along with 2 others, from an arcade in southern California which was going out of business. If I remember right I got them off eBay. Each cabinet was US$300 or so, plus some flat amount for the freight shipping. This was back in 1999 or so.

Every cab I got was different — one had been modified to support a stereo headphone jack, and another had been modified with a unique control panel layout (someone took a lot of time to do this, it looked like a pretty serious metalworks job). Mine was the “most pure” of the bunch, and came with the original user manual (in Japanese — more on that in a moment).

On the downside, mine did have a couple issues: it was missing the metal “game list” marquee that’s normally mounted to the top of the cabinet, the audio intermittently would cut out, the cabinet title/marquee backlighting died within about a week, the monitor would occasionally/randomly flash white (acting like the brightness had been turned up to maximum) for no reason, and the coin mechanism seemed to be fit for tokens or Japanese yen. But there was something much worse than all of these combined yet to happen…

Issues

Audio

The intermittent audio problem turned out to be a faulty soldering joint in one of the speakers, which immediately became apparent when I opened up the back of the cabinet and moved a wire only to have it break off from the speaker.

Re-soldering fixed that right up. I also took the liberty of re-soldering the terminals on the other speaker as well. No issues since then.

Backlight

The fluorescent bulb had burnt out. Wow, easy enough: get a replacement bulb, right? Wrong.

The stock ballast used a very strange length of bulb which was almost impossible to find in the United States. I forget the measurements, but it was very odd and the bulb type was basically rare. I looked overseas, on eBay, etc. and managed to find some places selling the bulbs but they were priced outrageously (something like US$19 + S/H per bulb).

I thought about this one for many years, doing lots of measurements in the process, and eventually decided upon a major modification: I pulled out all the existing lighting and replaced it with a GE 10168 slimline fluorescent fixture, which included ballast, bulb, and starter — all for about $20.

All it required was a little bit of drilling so the screws could hold the light/ballast in place, and a very minor wiring job. I was initially worried about uniformity of the light, but my concerns were quickly put to rest — it looks great from the outside.

CRT Monitor

The “flashing white” issue was a very strange one. It seemed to happen randomly, and for many years I couldn’t figure out what made it happen. Occasionally the CRT would just “go white” all the sudden, forcing me to power off the cab out of fear — I hated the idea of replacing the CRT, not only because they’re expensive and you have to make sure to get one that has correct measurements for mounting, but also because they’re dangerous as hell (I have a pretty serious fear of electricity, particularly anything coming out of an AC socket).

But one day while playing Black Dragon I smacked my hands firmly on the control panel out of frustration. The screen briefly went white. I did it again — white once more. To me this indicated something was loose somewhere. I lightly began tapping the cabinet on the left side; nothing. Middle; occasionally would go white. Right side; always. Hmmm, right side of the cab — that’s where the CRT adjustment pots are

So I peeked at the CRT, specifically those pots. Sure enough, I found that when “tapping” the brightness pot on the LCD with a screwdriver the entire screen would go white. Adjusting it would also occasionally do this — the pot felt “loose” compared to the R/G/B and H/V pots. To me this indicated what I had feared the most: a pot was going bad.

Now any EE-savvy person would say “That’s not bad at all, just replace the pot!” Yeah well, you don’t understand why that’s basically impossible — it has to do with an item that I haven’t mentioned yet, combined with the fact that there is almost virtually no clearance to work inside of the cabinet. This is not the same as a television, or even a stand-up American arcade cabinet, where you can generally open the thing up and have a decent amount of room to work. This is a sit-down compact arcade cabinet, where everything is kinda crammed in there.

So for years I assumed the issue was with the pot itself, and that I needed to either hire someone to replace it for me, or buy a new CRT. I looked into replacing the CRT with an LCD (you generally have to buy special low-latency LCDs that work well with arcades though), and the prices were insane: thousands of USD. I opted to do nothing.

Then sometime in late 2011, I had a friend visiting my place who brought over an arcade PCB (or it might have been one of those MVS or Capcom units) and wanted to play it. After he was done, I was showing him around the cabinet, particularly the white screen issue, when we both discovered something interesting: it wasn’t the pot that was going bad at all, it was something even worse.

It turns out that at some point in the past (quite possibly that arcade place in southern California) someone had replaced the CRT in the cabinet. Whatever CRT they bought worked (meaning it fit), but the location of the adjustment pots on the PCB made the CRT just a smidgeon too big (thick/deep) to fit in the cabinet. The back of the circuit board was about 0.5mm away (or maybe less) from one of the metal bars of the chassis itself — so every time you’d jostle the cabinet, the back of the board (or more likely a soldering joint for the brightness pot!) would touch the metal of the chassis and briefly short out, causing the brightness circuit to act as if it was on “full”.

The solution — which I still haven’t put into place — is to put some non-conductive material between the back of the adjustment PCB and the metal of the chassis so that they can never make contact. I figure a very thin layer of anti-static plastic/PVC should do the trick, but haven’t gotten around to doing it yet.

Coin selectors, coin switches, and switch wires

Coin mechanisms from circa-90s machines are a bitch, to say the least. In my case, the coin selector mechanism (called “coin shooter” in Japanese) that came with my cabinet was Asahi Seiko’s famous AD-81P — except configured for either tokens or Japanese yen. I couldn’t find any (English or Japanese) documentation explaining how to adjust it, which really frustrated me (there are 4 screws related to the adjustment). I ended up buying a replacement AD-81P pre-configured for American quarters, which addressed the issue of the coins not making it through the mechanism.

However, it didn’t fix a problem that still to this day occurs about 90% of the time: the coins themselves actually get stuck within the coin chute (not the mechanism, but the metal chute that delivers the coins to the coin bin), between the chute and the metal wire attached to coin switch itself. The only coin switch that will reliably mount and work in the Candy 25 is a specific Omron-brand microswitch; Cherry switches will not work given their design and/or screw hole locations.

Adjusting this metal wire is quite possibly the stupidest and horrific thing possible. On most cabinets it’s not that bad of a process because there’s usually a coin door or spacious area of the machine where you can work on all of this, adjust the wire, etc.. Not so with the Candy 25. This is one major difference between the Neo Candy units and the standard Candy units.

The Candy 25 has its coin switch, as well as the coin mechanism, mounted in a place that is almost impossible to get to. If you have large-ish hands you will not be able to service this area of the machine; you’ll need someone with smaller more dexterous hands. The coin switch is mounted to the metal chassis itself using two screws, and the metal coin chute is blocked by the coin return chute as well as some other portions of the chassis. Here are some photos of the area, and a couple shots showing the actual jamming problem itself:

All of this makes adjusting the metal wire for the switch tedious, and the likelihood of making an incorrect bend (and/or eventually breaking the wire) is quite high. You can’t find replacement wires by themselves anywhere — they come with a switch. And in the United States, eBay distributors and other vendors sell the switches and the wires together in combination for around $9 or higher, which means you’d better have spare wires or a whole load of cash to blow.

Using a micrometre, I determined the wires themselves are 0.0265 inches (0.7mm / 21 gauge) thick, roughly 3 inches long, and are are solid stainless steel. Jewellery/hobby stores may carry something that’s identical, but after chatting with an amateur jeweller I was told that the metal used in the ones used in jewellery are more malleable and are probably not stainless steel. Furthermore, most of those are sold in spools, which means you have to straighten the wire in advance.

One guy made a optical sensor to replace his switches, except that won’t work in the Candy 25 due to the extremely limited area/space.

I asked a friend of mine (who happens to be an engineer of all sorts, in addition to being a guitarist) for thoughts on this dilemma. He pointed out that D-note guitar strings are usually around 0.026 inches thick, the centre of which is often stainless steel. But there’s a lot of variance between brands and makes of strings, particularly those which are “wrapped” with other metals (sometimes copper). This fellow had a lot of guitar strings, so we found some which mounted mostly snug in the switch itself. The idea was to experiment with proper bends/angles before actually bending the official switch wire itself.

After clipping off a section, much to my surprise the guitar string itself actually worked as a switch wire — and reliably at that!

I believe guitar strings are a bit more flexible (and malleable too), which allow the coin some extra room to wobble/shift to make it down into the coin bin without getting stuck. With this “mod” in place, I ran nearly 120 quarters through the machine and only had 1 get stuck (which I believe was related to the coin selector and not the wire — because a 2nd quarter being inserted resulted in both falling through/being registered). Furthermore, guitar strings are almost certainly never going to disappear from the market (in any country/region). Furthermore, guitar strings are cheap — about $8 for roughly 26 inches of wire.

The only downside is that you have to take the coin switch into a guitar store to see which strings actually mount/”clip in” to the coin switch effectively (e.g. won’t slide around once held in place). It’s maybe 15-20 minutes of work for a single purchase that should last years.

But the worst was yet to come…

I mentioned earlier that there was something more horrific than all of the above issues that happened, as the amount of time, money, and effort it has cost me makes me wish I had never bought the thing in the first place.

Two of the cabinets were stored at my place of work at the time, and were used as part of a “gaming room” (we had lots of other cabs, as well as Tempest machine). The room was right across from my room/office, and pretty much everyone at the company I knew or knew of and trusted. So I had no reason to worry about nefarious activities…

Sometime in mid-to-late 2000, I came to work one evening to find that someone had actually stolen part of my cabinet: the game access panel/door. We left the door off the cabinet, resting against the side of the cab itself, because we would swap PCBs quite often.

Why someone would take the door I have not the slightest idea. It made no sense. The only conclusion I’ve been able to reach over the years is that someone was either being a dick just to be a dick, or that we had hired someone who was a kleptomaniac.

Regardless, now my cabinet had no door. Great. I was bummed, but hey at least I still had a working cabinet. Not that big of a deal, right? I had no idea how wrong I was…

A few weeks went by. A colleague of mine got a 2-player PCB (I think it was Puyo Puyo), so we sat down at my cab to play it. It was then that we discovered that the 2nd player joystick had some occasional issues (felt like the plastic retainer used to limit movements was worn down and needed to be replaced). No problem — just let me get my cabinet keys… wait, where are my keys? Oh shit.

They were in the cabinet door.

And no, the keys to the other 2 cabs I had bought did not work — each cabinet had its own set of locks with its own set of keys.

The problem this caused was immense, to a level I don’t think anyone can fathom. Even if you own a cabinet yourself, you might not understand the impact this has without knowing what kinds of locks are used on these type of cabinets, and how many locks are on them. Specifically on the Candy 25: they’re 8-pin tumbler locks, and there are a whopping 6 of them (1 for the front access door, 1 for the coin bin, 2 for the control panel, 1 for the rear access door, and 1 for the marquee lock).

I had no idea how to get into my cabinet. Sure, I could swap games out, but any other kind of repairs or adjustments were impossible. And to access the CRT adjustment pots, you have to unlock the control panel, so that was also out of the question. What about that joystick? And the backlight? And the audio? Yadda yadda.

A few years went by and the cabinet was eventually moved into my apartment. I had no idea what to do with this thing. It was a functional cabinet but with absolutely no way to repair or fix any of the broken crap because some asshole had stolen the access door with the keys in it. Fuck. Sell it? Yeah right — nobody would buy a cabinet in this condition, especially in an area as pretentious as Silicon Valley.

I called a couple locksmiths. The first said he didn’t deal with tumbler locks, while the 2nd one did. He asked me how many pins — I told him between 7 and 9 (I didn’t know how many at the time). He said it’d cost me $250 per lock for 9-pin tumblers. $250 * 6 = $1500. I didn’t even say thank you — I just hung up.

The machine sat for another few months as I began to ponder how to go about getting rid of the locks. The access door was gone, but there wasn’t enough room to work inside of the cabinet to remove the retainer screws used to hold the locks in place; I’d need to be 8 inches tall to accomplish that.

Push came to shove and I determined that I was going to have to perform the horrific task of drilling the locks out. But with what? I didn’t own any tools for this type of work, and these locks were solid steel. A drill wasn’t going to work… or would it? Would a normal drill even reach speeds necessary to drill out such thick steel? Probably not. But then it hit me… what about a Dremel?

Mr. Driller in real life

So I invested in a Dremel, along with related drill bit attachments for it. And one summer afternoon I decided to take the plunge — and in a really stupid way if I say so myself, but not much could be done about it. The cabinet was sitting in my (carpeted) apartment and couldn’t easily be moved around (e.g. outside), and I couldn’t put down plastic tarp or anything to collect dust/metal debris. I also didn’t have any protective eye wear, nor gloves — so be it.

Small metal filings flew everywhere, along with humongous sparks shooting all over the place, particularly back towards my hands. I knew it would be loud, but I had no idea just how loud (let’s just say I’m glad I chose to do it during the afternoon when all my neighbours had gone to work). I kept my eyes as squinted at possible; only a couple times did metal shavings hit my eyebrows, but more than once hot metal bits landed on the tops of my hands or my fingers and caused me to stop for a little while. I also kept a very close eye out for signs of smoke or anything burning, as I wasn’t sure how hot those filings would be by the time they hit my carpet.

I started with the access door locks, which were additionally difficult because they face downward at an angle, requiring me to lay on the floor or angle my arms/hands to work (the latter hurts/strains your back more than you can imagine).

I think it took me me about 20 minutes of actual drilling to do a single lock. You had to break them down one pin at a time. I had to give the Dremel and the drill tip a break every few minutes due to heat; at one point I worried the drill tip was going to melt. Once you got a couple pins done, you could use the “side” of the drill bit to grind away at the next pin, rinse lather repeat. It felt like an eternity, especially when you had only a couple pins left to go. I spread the work across 2 days since I was worried about upsetting folks in nearby buildings who did happen to be home, and didn’t want to have to explain to the property manager what in god’s name I was doing.

I eventually drilled out 3 locks: one for the control panel, one for the coin bin, and (roughly 6 years later) the rear access door. With one control panel lock gone I was able to reach inside and remove the threaded ring that held the other in place. I was also able to remove the marquee lock without drilling since the speaker/lighting area was accessible via 4 Philips screws. The rear access door lock took me over 2 hours because my Dremel, in the process of drilling out the tumbler pins, melted the locking ring to the lock itself — I had to end up cutting the front of the lock off (in pieces) and let the entire apparatus fall inside of the cabinet. A complete and total nightmare.

Think all this is bullshit and I’m taking the piss? Think again. And here’s another shot showing exactly what I’ve described (the rear access panel lock is missing from the photo because I did that earlier today and simply tossed it).

Replacement parts

Getting replacement parts for a Candy 25 is a serious pain in the ass. For a while there was an unofficial US distributor that had some compatible parts called Lizardlick, but they’ve since shut down. A couple years ago I bought replacement sticks, ball ends, and some miscellaneous other things from them — everything arrived within 3-4 weeks and I was quite happy.

I couldn’t find replacement locks/keys — Happ Controls (now known as Suzo-Happ) at the time had locks which were for “deep cabinets”, i.e. wooden American stand-up cabinets, but nothing that was shorter and shaped correctly for Candy 25 mounting holes (hint: they aren’t round). I did end up getting a replacement switching PSU from Happ since the one in my cabinet looked a bit questionable, but otherwise they didn’t have the parts I needed.

And getting a replacement access door is basically impossible.

There was a brief moment earlier this year when I found someone online selling replica Candy cabinet access doors, but it turns out the dimensions of the doors they had were for Neo Candy units or for larger Candy cabinets (possibly a 27″ or 29″). The seller kept insisting they would work in a Candy 25, but the measurements were off by 2-3 inches — and that’s because the doors are probably for Neo Candy units, which as I’ve said before, are not the same.

The only solution I have for the access door situation is to have one of my colleagues (who bought the other 2 cabs) to loan me their access door and have a metalworks clone it. I’ve been waiting on one of those colleagues for over 10 years (his cab is in storage), and I’m to the point of considering asking someone on a public forum if they’d be willing to ship me their door in exchange for some collateral while I get a replacement made. You might think it’d be as easy as taking some measurements and giving those dimensions to a metalworks — it isn’t. The access door has a “flanged” edge or two, and it also has a specifically-located hole for the lock (again: it’s not circular). The aforementioned guy selling those replicas told me that he actually gave dimensions to a metalworks first, but the measurements were off by just enough that it didn’t work — so it’s not worth the risk/time/money. It’s a lot easier to just give a metalworks an existing item and say “clone this”.

Anyway, since Lizardlick is gone, folks in the States are effectively shit out of luck. But I’m a bit lucky: I have a couple friends who live in Japan which leaves me with more possibilities than those lacking such. There are still companies in Japan which make and sell replacement parts for a Candy 25 — and for reasonable/decent prices too (especially compared to the US).

I was thrilled to find replacement locks with keys, coin mechanisms, at Seimitsu Co. located in Sasame-kita-cho of Toda, Japan. All locks are keyed the same (e.g. if you buy 7 locks, you’ll get 7 locks and 7 keys, but all the keys will work in all the locks). The locks also come with their appropriate “bolts” — small pieces of metal with rounded ends and partially-rectangular holes drilled in them. The photo shows the original “bolts” that came with the cabinet (top), and the new bolts from Seimitsu (bottom).

The important part to know is that Seimitsu will not ship to the United States, so you’ll need someone who lives in Japan who can act as a liaison of sorts. Expect to pay international shipping as well, which can be quite expensive unless you have alternate means (shipping via military base, etc.).

What now?

My plan is to sell the cabinet once I fix the issue with the coin switch and get a replacement access door. I might have its paint job redone or touched up in some way, but that’s probably unlikely.

Do I plan on charging a premium for it, since a large amount of parts have been replaced and so on? Absolutely not. More than likely I’ll sell it for a couple hundred USD (still less than what I paid for it), with the requirement that the buyer deal with all aspects of shipping — meaning they have to deal with the freight company else pick the thing up in person. I won’t not be loading it onto a palette or doing any kind of “shipping prep-work” — I have already thrown my back out twice — badly — moving this thing, and just wheeling it around in the garage puts a lot of stress on my vertebrae. The buyer would get all my spare parts/arcade crap I have laying around, and probably a couple arcade PCBs if they want some (I have a lot of classic 80s/90s games).

You might be wondering: “why not sell it as-is?” Well duh: because nobody in their right mind is going to buy a cabinet that’s in this kind of shape — people want something that’s working and at least maintained/decent, not something that’s in shambles. The lack of an access door is hands down the biggest issue, because it stops someone from putting it into an environment where it can be used safely — people’s feet tend to end up inside of the cabinet without the door, and that’s extremely dangerous given that the PSU and all its terminals are right there.

Funny short story that proves my point to some degree: 5-6 years ago I offered to give this cabinet to a friend of mine for free, with the stipulation that he pay for and deal with all the shipping aspects. It would have gone to Texas. Absolutely nothing became of any of this; safe to say my friend let the entire subject fade after investigating freight costs and all the drama that had to transpire to get it shipped, especially since I wasn’t going to deal with any of that. Can’t say I blame him, but as I said, it proves my point at some level.

Summary

This long post of mine is meant to both educate and, in a way, dissuade people from considering purchasing a Candy 25 system. If you’re in the United States and in the market for a cabinet, you’ll find them on eBay all the time (search for “candy arcade” or “candy cabinet”) — don’t be tempted. Unless you have a source of replacement parts, and/or are extremely into repairing arcades and have all the tools/equipment/supplies/a garage to do the work, they’re not generally a good choice of purchase.

I find it equally disappointing that on all the Neo Geo arcade enthusiast forums, you’ll find people talking about their cabs and this and that, giving the impression none of these things are a problem — they are always a problem, and always have been. The situation is just going to get worse as time goes on too, since eventually companies like Seimitsu will stop making parts for hardware that’s almost 20 years old. An arcade cabinet is an investment, and like any investment, you should make that decision with as much wisdom as possible; do not be hasty.

If you came here looking for advice on what kind of arcade cabinet to buy? Well, my advice would be to shell out multiple thousands of dollars and get yourself a Vewlix cabinet. They use LCDs as too (meaning the cabinets are much lighter weight and easier to move), and supposedly are driven by an LCD panel that is extremely focused on low-latency (both white-to-black as well as grey-to-grey). Here’s a reseller of one — again, note the price, but you do get what you pay for.

If you really want something retro, try something like a Taito Egret 29 cabinet (more photos). I did own one of these at one point (gave it away as a birthday gift (yes really!)), and they’re a lot easier to work on. I’m not sure if the replacement parts are as big of a problem as the Candy units though; my Egret was in really good shape so I never had to deal with much of anything. The nice thing about them is that they’re on swivelling casters and most of the sections of the cabinet come out or are easily accessible; comparatively the Candy 25 has 2 “roller” casters (tilt the unit backwards about 45 degrees then you can roll it forward/backward — if you have enough muscle and a good back) and the innards are a huge pain in the butt to deal with.