Klax (Atari) cabaret information and service log

For many years, in fact ever since it was released, Klax has been one of my all time favorite arcade games.  Released in 1989, it was Atari Games' follow up and answer to Tetris, which they created the arcade version of a couple years earlier.  While the world was having Nintendo's Game Boy and Nintendo Entertainment System versions of Tetris crammed down their throat, Atari Games went looking for something to replace it in the arcade.  The answer was Klax, a rework of a falling objects puzzle game.  The gameplay in Klax is deceptively simple: catch colored tiles as they flop down a plateau and off the edge, then drop them into patterns of three or more alike colors so they'll disappear making a "Klax" (three or more tiles of the same color horizontally, vertically, or diagonally) and points are awarded.  The more complex the pattern or chain reaction the more points the player earns.  Each wave has specific criteria of what must be accomplished in order to move onto the next one.  If you miss too many tiles as they flip off the edge of the playfield or run out of room then it's game over.  It's Tetris meets Tic-Tac-Toe in a game that is based around the marriage of puzzle solving and fast reaction.  While things may start slow, soon enough the tiles come barreling down the playfield leaving nearly no time to plan out long, high scoring sequences.

Klax features a very unique design for an arcade cabinet as the most popular standalone upright version is actually that of a smaller size, typically known as a "cabaret" cabinet.  Cabaret machines were designed to be smaller and take up less space to allow them to be installed in alternate locations such as bars, restaurants, hotel lobbies and the like.  While many classic arcade games were also released in a cabaret form to complement the full sized upright and sometimes a cocktail table, the majority of Klax machines I've come across were the cabaret size.  Most full size Klax setups were sold as conversion kits to be installed in generic cabinets, but the cabaret sized machine of this type is a 100% original production Klax.  On top of that, the cabinet is of a unique shape, featuring a full size monitor and chrome T-molding.  As with my Galaxian cocktail table, once I was grounded back in Silicon Valley I continued to look around for low cost arcade cabinets that I was interested in.

Arcade cabinets seemed to be steadily dropping in price at the time and from what I've gathered the consensus as to why prices were down seemed to point to a few things.  First of course is people losing their homes and dumping their cabinets for quick cash due to an inability to relocate them.  Some who are not in as bad of shape may sell their cabinets for additional cash to ease the burden of the ever tightening economy.  In both of these instances the sellers usually simply want the cabinets gone for whatever they can get.  On the other side of the coin, the limited amount of people that can drop extra money on something like an arcade cabinet is smaller than ever.  So the few that can, now have a lot less competition. Something else that was brought to my attention is that a lot of former arcade operators are dumping their warehouse inventory for the same reason, to get out of the business.  Really can we blame them?  Arcades are beyond being on life support these days and most arcades that are still up and running own all their own machines.  With the pressure on just to be able to carve out a living it seems pretty obvious that if you had a warehouse full of games, and no one leasing them on route, you'd want to dump them and keep your head above water as well.  Food on the table or a giant hulking arcade cabinet against the wall?  Sadly, from the people I've talked to this is the current choice they are faced with.

Seeing how prices were dropping I once again started to work out a way to save a couple bucks here and there and build up a small savings to go after another cabinet.  Not just any cabinet, the one I had been after for years, a dedicated Klax cabaret.  The machine size was an extra bonus since the next machine would be going in the kitchen since that's the only place there was space for it.  Only a couple months after moving back, a Klax cabaret was for sale locally for a considerable sum, more than I paid for my Galaxian cocktail in fact.  I didn't want to spend that much so I decided to wait it out as cabinet prices continued to fall.  Now I know what some are saying to themselves, "David, it's Klax, Klax machines aren't worth anything, anyone that's owned one can tell you that," and that's true.  Klax is notoriously worth very little, especially considering that most Klax setups were sold as conversion kits to be installed in generic cabinets.  Most people that have built recent Klax conversions end up spending more on the parts than they're able to eventually sell the entire machine for.  Yet it's still a game I love and the dedicated cabaret version has a very unique cabinet that has always been on my list of arcade machines to own.  Not to mention it has unique thicker than usual joysticks.  After months of watching the same listing get posted to Craigslist with a lower price every other time, the goal price was reached.  The Klax cabaret would be mine for $225.00 delivered.  Again, "David, it's Klax, Klax machines aren't worth anything..." well to me this one is worth two hundred bucks, maybe a bit more due to how much I love the game.

03/01/2009 - Machine Arrival

I wish I could say the transaction was a smooth as my Galaxian cocktail but it simply wasn't.  After starting out at over $800.00 on craigslist, the eventual price when I went after the machine was $200.00.  The seller and I tossed e-mails back and forth and he said he would deliver the machine for an additional $25.00 after the machine was paid for in full, in other words I had to go to him, pay the cash, and then he would deliver the cabinet.  As far as I was concerned the deal was set in stone and everything was ready to go.  We traded final sales information on a Friday night and all I needed was to set up a pick up date to go pay for the cabinet.  Saturday rolled around and I received absolutely no final contact after waiting out the entire day.  As the evening turned to night I finally got an e-mail response saying that I could come by and pay for the cabinet on Sunday.  Problem was it was supposed to rain pretty heavily on Sunday while Saturday was clear and sunny.

Sunday morning I set off for the provided address with the $225.00 cash in hand.  The guy I bought it from basically had his own little private gated complex with his own private bridge across a creek.  "Call me when you get here and I'll open the gate" is never a good sign.  So we finally find the address on the absolute edge of San Jose before the mountains and sure enough, there was a precariously narrow private covered bridge across a creek.  At the end of the little pathway from the bridge there was a rather large perimeter fence encircling a large plot of land with multiple buildings.  We stopped and I called the provided phone number.  Without an answer on the other end of the line, the gate opened and we drove inside where we parked and met the seller.  "Klax, right?"  Yeah, Klax.

It appeared that he was hotrod builder from a bit of research I did, as well as one of his friends pulling up with a bunch of newly milled engine parts while we were loading the cabinet.  The cabinet itself was out in a huge game room attached to what I think was his shop.  He turned the machine on and gave it a second to warm up before coining up and playing the game just a little.  I only had a couple minutes to mess with the machine.  He had never opened it from the back and upon opening the coin door seemed a bit surprised that there was a rear door key hanging next to the coin mechs.  Honestly it seemed like he got a big deal on a few cabinets and never really cared for Klax.  He also was trying to get rid of an ugly Tetris conversion in a generic cabinet.  Tetris was always listed for more in his craigslist ads, and even with the prices knocked down to their lowest, Tetris would still be $100 more than Klax.  The Tetris machine was offered to me as I was looking over the Klax cabaret and he would have sold both machines for $450.00 but the last thing I wanted was a hulking ugly conversion - Klax is what I came for.  He also had a multigame cocktail and it seemed to me that was really what suited his setup better, which is why the other machines were for sale.  From what I was able to take in the Klax machine was worth buying and the transaction was completed.

Unique design fits a full size display in a compact cabinet.

After I had paid him the cash the feeling seemed to be like "let's get this piece of crap outta here."  Basically we tossed it up on a handtruck with the power cord rubbing against one of the tires (which ate away the insulation in one part which I thankfully noticed during an inspection when bringing it in) and then we put it in the back of his truck.  It was a rainy weekend although sunny the previous day (when he wouldn't return my inquiry to set up a pickup day) so I assumed we'd be tarping it - nope.  I had the foresight to bring a large towel and some bungee cords just in case, but the way he locked it in prevented me from covering it how I would have liked.  He knew where we were headed so he took off first and drove like a bat out of hell on the freeway - in the now pouring rain.  A Klax cabaret is designed like a catcher's mitt so it basically tried to scoop up as much water as it could as the water flew over the top of the truck cab.  My improperly secured towel only covered the machine about half of the way before peeling back but the bungee kept it from flipping off completely.  Once we got to the apartment complex we unloaded it and I told him that was fine and he left.

The control panel is in good shape with the usual cigarette damage that a lot of machines are prone to having.

My cousin and myself lugged it upstairs on a small handtruck but before bringing it in I gave it a wipe down.  I removed the control panel to get the glass off since some rainwater had gotten behind it.  I was able to catch all the water before it got to anything thankfully.  It was splattered here and there behind the edges of the glass and some ran down into the control panel but none of it got to any of the electronics.  Road grime from transport on the freeway in the rain was the worst that I had to clean.  Once I got it inside and set up I noticed the monitor had developed a very occasional blue flicker, which the general consensus seems to be a weak / old / damaged wire on the JAMMA harness.  The problem is fairly rare and quick so it's not a big deal.  I figure between the rocking and rolling up the stairs and the control panel slipping out of my hand and yanking on the harness (for some reason the control panel and video lines were bundled together) probably did that.  Amazingly the inside of the cabinet is super clean and appears to either have had very little abuse or has been recently shopped.  The instruction card is completely in tact and attached to the rear door.

The bezel is perfect with no fading or discoloration and the monitor delivers a good picture.

The board is clean as a whistle and looks like it was just manufactured.

As far as internals go, I couldn't have hoped to find a better taken care of machine.

03/03/2009 - Minor Monitor Adjustments

From the time I first took a look at the machine the picture always looked a little fuzzy.  I spent a little time today tuning the monitor controls to produce a more accurate image.  With the exception of the occasional blue flicker mentioned before, the monitor looks great, true colors and no distortion since turning the brightness down a hair and the focus up.

After a few adjustments the monitor has an excellent picture that is clear and defined.  Considering the
abuse in transit that this cabinet had to endure, I'm shocked the display looks so nice.

03/04/2009 - Coin Discovery

The right coin mech wouldn't take a quarter, it would reject it every time.  I couldn't figure out what was going on since everything looked to be in working order.  When I was messing around inside the back of the cabinet I found four Canadian quarters.  Out of curiosity I dropped one of them into the right side mech and sure enough, it's a Canadian quarter mech.  Gotta replace that eventually but I'm in no rush since Klax shares credits from either slot.

03/22/2009 - Tetris PCB Acquired

Back when I purchased the machine the seller also had a Tetris conversion he was trying to get rid of.  Ironic thing is that since Klax is JAMMA and has the same control panel setup as Tetris, the boards are interchangeable.  After less than a week of looking I got lucky and found a working Tetris PCB on eBay for about $25.00.  The board is nice and clean but has a pretty bad tobacco smell emanating from it.  I can't complain though, it works great.  I had it in my Klax cabaret for awhile before putting Klax back in.  I need to put a support in so it can be mounted properly (yet not be in the way of the larger Klax board when I have that one installed) before I can leave it in the cabinet long term.  Also today I noticed that the coin counter would click but not advance.  I took it apart to find an old spider nest gumming it up.  After a quick cleaning it advances no problem.  I also installed a pair of matching locks on the coin doors since the machine wasn't purchased with any.

Since it doesn't use voice sounds, Tetris has a much smaller PCB than the speech heavy Klax.

02/20/2010 - Cable Positioning

I have yet to permanently install the Tetris board or replace the JAMMA harness but the blue flicker problem seems to have diminished after reworking the cable positioning.  I plan on mounting the Tetris PCB to the opposite side of the cabinet and installing a JAMMA extender, then I can plug in the different boards easily through the upper coin door.  The machine has operated problem free and I have some killer scores built up.

It's nice to finally own one of these unique machines.

Anyone own one of these shirts?  I'm thinking of recreating one.  Ah, the days when Atari was right down the road.

It was a long time coming but I'm glad to finally have one of my personal holy grails of arcade cabinets.  I'd really like to replace the control panel underlay at some point due to cigarette damage but I've never seen a NOS one for sale and no reproduction is currently offered.  Anyone out there have a Klax cabaret control panel underlay?  Remember, the upright conversion kit control panel sticker is different than the one the cabaret uses.

08/07/2010 - Monitor Tuning

Eventually the blue monitor flicker returned so I pulled the cabinet out and played with it a little.  When the problem first showed up one of the comments was that I could of had something turned up too high, which would cause the said problem.  I messed around with the adjustments a little and noticed the brightness potentiometer was extremely touchy.  I ended up cycling all the potentiometers, readjusted the picture, and the problem seemed to go away.  In fact it only came up again maybe three times over as many months.  I continued to read up on monitor adjustments, how they related to one another, common adjustment symptoms and solutions, things to watch out for and basically simply expanded my knowledge of how the adjustment potentiometers work.

Eventually I wanted to dial things in even better.  What I had always noticed was that I could "see" black, you're not supposed to be able to see the black of the screen, it's simply supposed to be black.  Also all the white text had a bit of purple ghosting against the black, which lead me to believe I still had things a little incorrect, some things were still up a little too high.  So after letting the game warm up for a few minutes I went to work.  The one thing I was always told was that problems such as the blue wash with correct colors could be caused by having the "screen" control turned up too high.  This is located on the monitor flyback along with the "focus" control.  Focus does what it sounds like, focuses the picture and was something that was totally out of whack when I first bought the machine.  Screen has to do with the amount of power the screen is given and is almost like an overseeing brightness control.  I turned screen down just a hair, enough for the white to quit bleeding into the black areas and for the black areas to fade into the background as they should.  Then I spent some time adjusting the brightness and contrast potentiometers until I got an even display brightness with solid definition between objects.  This made the picture even sharper than it was before.

Always my favorite background in the game, the forest is a good place to show how solid the colors are.

A close up of the objective countdown area, note the purity and definition.

I was shocked at how much of a difference the adjustments made.  The game didn't look any darker or brighter, just more defined.  It made the colored titles really pop and the more subdued parts of the display far sharper.  Things such as the background on the space ship waves being a deep shade of purple really didn't stand out until the most recent adjustments.  Additionally most of this was accomplished by turning things down and as was assumed, the flicker and blue wash problems ultimately disappeared.  The place this really shows up are in areas where there is either thin white or thin black, such as the in-game high score display.  The white X in KLAX on the title screen also no longer has the purple ghosting against the back background and all text has really sharpened up.

Before (left) and after (right), notice the sharper picture especially around the text.

Speaking of which, my all time favorite PSA screen in any video game ever made.

The machine is looking better than ever with these small adjustments.  It really seems to me that things were just misadjusted prior to the previous owner getting the machine.  He really didn't know much about games at all, simply enjoyed owning them (which there's nothing wrong with).  And I do suppose that the "if it ain't broke don't fix it" attitude is something a lot of us have to live with in this hobby.  There are always things we know we need to get around to but aren't immediately pressing.  I'm still just really glad I was able to purchase this game, my favorite puzzle game, locally in the condition it's in for such an affordable price.  It really is one of my favorite games, period.

Since adjusting the monitor I also finally beat the game!  Klax has 100 waves, which rotate in difficulty and goals.  In fact there are some rather easy waves late in the game just as there are some brutal ones early on.  Previously I had gotten up to wave 100 but I had been playing for hours and was already tired from the day.  It was getting late and I was actually starting to hallucinate at the machine so I accepted defeat and took my multiple credit high score of 4,592,552 and called it a night.  A few weeks later and only a couple days after adjusting the monitor I made another run at it.  Since I was continuing games it really wouldn't count for high scores but I was more after it to simply say I completed the game.  After all, exploring the different stages, learning where the different warps go, building up your skills and figuring out the smoothest route to a high single credit score are all great reasons to continue to feed the machine on a single game.  However completing the elusive 100th wave was always a big draw for me.  I would crap out in the high 90's back when the game was in the arcades.  I would either run out of money or simply felt I came to a stalemate with the machine.

My route to the top this time was to get there as fast as possible - selecting the highest available wave, completing the Secret Warp X, then selecting the highest available wave on the next warp screen.  The problem is this eventually drops you off at the blood red background waves.  The background here is of the hand holding the ramp but instead of the background being back (as when this background is first used in the late 50's) it is blood red.  This is very disorienting and makes it hard to concentrate.  It took me awhile but I was finally able to get back to wave 100, which is almost completely black and very disorienting as well.  After about an hour and a half of plugging away, including blowing it with only 6,150 points left to complete the stage, I had finished wave 100.  A small congratulatory message was displayed as well as a 1,000,000 point bonus.  Then it was time to put my initials in for the top multi credit score - 6,539,539.

My current high scores, including my multi credit score from completing the game.
My single credit scores aren't shabby either.

While it's a score achieved while continuing, I'm still really proud of my high score since I completed the game.  Now the goal changes over to getting my single credit score through the roof but that begins by figuring out the best route for me through the game.  As can be seen in the high score table, the monitor adjustments really do make a big difference in the sharpness of the text.

Also just for future reference, the monitor in my Klax is a Wells-Gardner K7901.

Written on 02-20-10 by David, insanedavid@classicplastic.net
Last amended on 03-13-11 by David, insanedavid@classicplastic.net

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