For absolutely no reason, here is Golden Axe

Axe Machine
Why yes, that is a Van Gogh to the right of the machine. Thanks for noticing.

I learned how to ride a bike at 13, so it should be no surprise that it’s 2006 and I have now had my first experience with a digital camera. At this rate, I’ll kiss a girl by the early 2060s. Sadly, I do not own the camera, it belongs to my girlfriend (I know, that could easily ruin the last joke, but luckily for us, and Jesus, we believe in no touch love) but that hasn’t stopped me from taking as many stupid pictures as possible. The first pictures I took were of my video game collection, my crotch (soon to be featured on this site), and then my Golden Axe machine.

Having an arcade machine in a small apartment sounds like a great idea, but is it really? That depends on why you want it and how much effort you’re willing to put into the hobby. Prepare yourself for a tale of over ambition, poverty and sloth.

One day a few months ago, a coworker showed me an ad on Craigs List. Apparently, his boyfriend sent him the ad because he liked Golden Axe and hoped to have it bought for him. My coworker was’t stupid enough to buy an arcade machine, but I was.

Luckily for me, I had already done a lot of research on arcade machines. At one point I planned on purchasing a Naomi 2 system and then reliving the Dreamcast’s glory through the original arcade games. Soul Calibur and Ikaruga alone would make the thousands of dollars more than worth it. Then I realized I was poor, so my expectations shrank.

On to Plan B. If only I could get a Sega ST-V board, then I could play Radiant Silvergun the way it was intended. The cost again would have been enormous, but the bragging rights infinite. Sadly, this dream was also out of my reach. I again downsized my goal and began researching JAMMA. The technical stuff isn’t actually that hard when it comes to arcade machines, but finding information on it can be. Most sites are written for people who are already into the hobby and it took a lot of effort to find someone willing to talk down to me and start at the beginning.

I overcame the trials and hardships of not knowing what JAMMA meant (it’s Japan Arcade Machine Manufacturers’ Association). I planned on building a cabinet myself by making my father do it, and I planned on making it four players, each with six buttons. I imagined 20 different boards (games) hooked up in the machine, some of which were the Ninja Turtles game, the Simpsons game, the X Men game, Street Fighter 2, and Sunset Riders. These plans were pretty close to becoming a reality (minus all of those expensive boards I just mentioned) when I got the email about Golden Axe.

Select Player
Sorry for the terrible screenshot. I’m still learning how to use these "cameras."

The price was right and buying something already made is much easier than doing any work yourself, so I needed no further convincing. The guy who sold it charged a lot to deliver it and was a little scary, but the transaction wasn’t too painful (besides my car battery dying outside of his house).

The first thing you notice on trying to lift a cabinet is the machines aren’t light, so stop thinking they are already. But when you open them up you realize there’s basically nothing in them. They are really bulky mostly to dissuade potential thieves and to make my life harder.

The back door of my machine was locked and of course the seller didn’t have a key but he assured me it would be easy to "jimmy open." So after my brother and I completely destroyed the lock with a hammer and screwdriver, we found the key inside the cabinet. The security worked, I’d have never found the key. Other problems included: the coin op mechanism was broken, there was no side art, the layout art that goes under the controllers was missing and the right joy stick was kind of messed up.

The good news was the monitor was in pretty decent shape, the marquee looked sweet after a bulb change, and the sound and video worked perfectly. So to fix the other issues I ordered some buttons and joy sticks, bought some contact paper, and scour eBay for the appropriate side art (you’d never guess how many weirdos there are selling golden axes). I’m pretty lazy so I haven’t gotten around to fixing the machine up beyond the initial installation of an on/off switch and fixing the electrocution waiting to happen that was the power plug.

Now that I’ve nearly put myself to sleep, let’s talk about something more exciting – the game and potential for more games. Golden Axe is a System 16 B board. Arcade boards after the mid to late 80’s stopped being dedicated and became more like consoles. The System 16 board was Sega’s arcade "console" that they released in the late 80’s and it could play a lot of games that eventually made it onto the Genesis. The Golden Axe game is actually just a small daughter board plugged into the "console." Not all games made for the same boards swap easily, like it seems they should, but with a little effort my machine should be able to play Alien Syndrome, Altered Beast, Shinobi, E Swat and some other more obscure games. The bad news about my board was that it wasn’t JAMMA, meaning I couldn’t swap in any of the hundreds of JAMMA compatible games.

Guys in underwear
Notice the box on top is from Happ (but please don’t notice my mailing address). Damn, I’m hardcore.

This bad news lasted only as long as my ignorance about the System 16 B board I now owned went uncured. The power supply and electrical harness in my cabinet were set up to take JAMMA boards, not random non-JAMMA Sega boards. Golden Axe was working in this cabinet only because there was a Sega to JAMMA converter attached to the board. So in less technical speak, this means I can swap out Golden Axe and put in any other JAMMA game (as long as it only uses three buttons and has two players). This opened up new worlds of gaming possibilities. My brother and I quickly planned out how to add shelving inside the cabinet that could support other boards for easier game switching but keep them far enough from the power supply to prevent damage.

Now the pic you’ve been waiting for – An unreadable schematic diagram!

The next order of business was to look into the "suicide battery" thing. Apparently, Sega, Capcom and a few other companies decided it’d be a good idea to put a chip in their arcade games that would eventually die and then make the whole game unplayable. Some games have work arounds to this, a professional can change stuff around, or you can burn an EPROM chip then replace the potentially deadly one, but some games no one knows how to save and may soon be gone…FOREVER. Things like EPROMs made sense to my brother but went completely over my head (for example, until I just googled the term I didn’t know the last "s" was supposed to be lower case). He informed me that getting a writer to do what we need would be way too expensive and was possibly even out of his domain of super-nerdome. After researching the specific game and board I owned, then comparing pics from websites on the suicide chip, we realized mine had already been fixed or never had the chip in the first place. Crisis averted.

I have yet to buy any more boards or to change the buttons and joysticks, but I swear I’ll do it one day. I often wish people would ask me, "Jason, was it worth it?" because then I could recite an answer I’ve been practicing for months. Golden Axe is/was a great game, but it’s about 15 minutes long. Unless you buy something like Street Fighter 2, don’t expect an arcade game to keep your attention. If you have the know-how and will to buy multiple game boards and swap them around then the idea of buying a cabinet is much less silly. If you are looking to buy because you want to play games and be practical, then you should look into building a MAME system. Ultimately, for me, it wasn’t just about having the ability to play Golden Axe. The machine is a testament to my stupidity. It is an asinine piece of furniture that I enjoy owning. I would not build a MAME machine because that defeats the absurdity of it all. Yes, it was worth it.

For an answer I’ve been practicing that really wasn’t very concise.

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14 years ago

Hey, Came across your site, because I got a free Golden Axe arcade on craigslist a couple weeks ago, after being completely psyched when I got it running in about 5mins (I was told it was broken by the person who gave it to me). I realized it was infested with termites, DOH. so i took out all the inside electronics, etc and plan to build something to house it, or use the monitor for a multi-game, who knows. anyways. the reason i’m writing is because I wanted you to know how amused I was reading your story, Awesome! I laughed the whole time. Nice work, and thanks.