the GSound Enhanced Sound Card
Gottlieb System 1 / System 80 Sound Card Replacement
The Pinball Pal GSound sound
System 1 Pinball Machines
Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind
System 80 Pinball Machines
Note: The following pinball machines were originally configured with electromechanical chimes rather than electronic sounds. A future application note will describe the procedure for adapting the GSound board for use in these games:
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This page will be updated periodically with details about the project as it evolves. At this point, the prototype board is just starting to make sounds, and beta testing is expected to start soon. The hardware is going through a revision to add features and reduce the parts cost, and software development continues.
The picture to the right shows the first GSound board. A 32 MByte Compact Flash card is installed. Also visible are the three separate edge connectors: one for System 80 games, one for System 1 games using a 12-pin connector, and one for System 1 games using a 9-pin connector. All that is needed to operate the GSound board in a different game is to plug it into the proper edge connector and to snap in a Compact Flash card with the desired sound files.
Also visible is the stereo headphone jack, which can be used to drive either headphones or external amplifiers.
Pinball machine sounds evolved rapidly during the early solid-state period. The first generation of Gottlieb solid-state pinball machines had no less than three different sound systems:
first games had the same electromechanical chimes as the older EM
first electronic sound card was a very primitive affair. It was
composed of three oscillators (based on 555 timer chips) that could
just "beep" three different notes. The pitch of the
notes is imprecise (based on the R-C values attached to the 555's) so
the notes do not even make a musical chord as did the older chime
systems. Back in the '70's, some people may have been impressed,
but today it's one of the weak points of these classic games.
This sound card was called the "Tones" card. Because
of their simplicity, these sound boards are very easy to repair, but
because they are small and easy to remove, they are often missing from
many games. The Tones sound board is installed on the right side
of the cabinet in exactly the same place as a chime unit would be
installed. It connects to the system wiring with a single 9-pin
The electronic Tones card was quickly replaced with a more sophisticated CPU-based board. This board supported more complex sounds, more musical notes, the ability to play brief sound sequences, and a personality PROM different for each game. This board is based on a 6503 microprocessor, but it also uses a 6530 peripheral chip that included a mask-programmed ROM. These chips are known to fail and they are unavailable as replacement parts except those salvaged from other sound boards. The similar 6532 part will not work as a replacement because it lacks the built-in ROM. The sound PROM must match the game in which it is used (e.g. Incredible Hulk must use a sound PROM labeled "K" or the sounds it produces will be wrong. Gottlieb simply referred to this as the "Electronic Sound" board. While this was a vast improvement over the original Tones card, the sounds were still primitive. The Electronic Sound card is also installed in the cabinet in the same place a chime unit would be installed. It connects to the system wiring via a single 12-pin edge connector.
The Electronic Sound card was reworked slightly for the next generation of Gottlieb® solid-state pinball machines: System 80. Spiderman was the first of the System 80's, which after a number of games, evolved into the System 80a and System 80b variants. Changes in the sound boards did not always follow the changes in the rest of the system, so there are sound board changes within a series as well as carryovers between series. It started out like this:
first System 80 sound boards were little changed from the System 1
Electronic Sound board. They were physically the same size, and
used the same 12-pin edge connector. However, the signals and
power connections were changed, so plugging a System 1 sound card into
a System 80 machine (or vice-versa) may prove fatal to the card.
One easy way to tell the cards apart is that the System 1 cards had
captive nylon stand-offs attached to the card, while the stand-offs
for the System 80 sound cards are attached to the pinball machine
sound cards replaced the small personality PROM with a
permanently-attached daughter card with an EPROM socket. The
sound quality didn't improve much, however.
Gottlieb® game number 666 was Mars, God of War, and it was the first pinball machine from Gottlieb® that included speech capabilities. It also introduced a new sound board that was much larger and more complex than before. This board is based on the 6502 microprocessor and mercifully it replaces the almost-impossible-to-get 6530 with a simply hard-to-get 6532. For speech, it uses the Votrax SC-01 speech chip, made famous in such games as Gottleib's Q*bert video arcade game. While the SC-01 can produce intelligible speech, the voice is robotic and unnatural - no way around that. The SC-01 chip is also prone to failure, and is pretty hard (and/or expensive) to replace. We'll refer to this board as the "Speech Board", although they did not always populate the board with the speech chip. Speech is not present in Haunted House, presumably as a cost-cutting measure. Also, the export versions of Black Hole did not have speech capabilities. The Speech Board was larger than the earlier boards, but it used the same mounting hole pattern as the earlier board as well as the same electrical connection - a 12-pin edge connector.
All of these variations made it hard to come up with a universal replacement board to handle all of the different configurations in a cost-effective way, but the GSound board is up to the task. That, and more.
When we started this project, we had the following goals in mind:
Cost-effective replacement for missing or broken sound boards
Plug-and-play installation in all configurations
Bulletproof electrical interface
No configuration jumpers or switches
No on-board batteries or other "time bomb" components
Sockets on all DIP integrated circuits
Minimal use of surface-mount components
Exact reproduction of the factory sounds
Capability to incorporate user-defined sounds
Future compatibility with new CPU technologies (i.e. Ni-Wumpf)
These goals have been met, and new features have been incorporated, as well. Here is a chart of the main features, some of which will be described in more detail below.
|One board for all System 1 and System 80 machines||Ease
GSound can be moved between machines.
modifications to the pinball machine.
Quick and painless installation.
|No configuration jumpers||Easier
Voice prompts are self-documenting - no manual required.
|No on-board batteries||No
maintenance required - ever.
Settings retained permanently in non-volatile memory.
|All passive parts are thru-hole, all DIPs are socketed||Easy
Replacement parts are readily available.
|Exact reproduction of the factory sounds||GSound
works as an exact replacement sound board.
Start with factory sounds and experiment with enhancements.
|User-defined sounds on plug-in memory modules||New
sounds can be added in seconds.
Unlimited sets of sounds can be created and shared with others.
|Works with new pinball CPU technologies||Greatly
expands the sound system's capabilities
Add speech and background music to games that never had it.
To make the GSound board compatible with all System 1 and System 80 games, the board includes edge connectors for the three main systems - Early System 1, Late System 1, and System 80. All you do is plug in the proper connector and that is it. There are no configuration jumpers or alternate versions of the board to deal with.
The GSound board uses a Compact Flash memory card to store all of the sound files that it uses. You load up the Compact Flash with the sound files for a particular game, plug it into the GSound card, and you are done. No EPROM programming, no serial cable connections, no memory limitations. Because of the popularity of digital photography, Compact Flash cards are both ubiquitous and inexpensive. And what may be considered a small Compact Flash card for a camera is huge when it comes to sound file memory. Consider that the most advanced sound system on a commercial pinball machine held a maximum of six 1 Mbyte EPROMs - just six Megabytes. The GSound card is supplied with a 16 Mbyte card that can be re-programmed many thousands of times by any PC with a cheap and commonly-available Compact Flash card reader. And if 16 Mbytes isn't enough for your custom sounds, just check the current low prices on 64, 128 or 256 Mbyte Flash Cards (there are, as of this writing, 2259 auctions on eBay for Compact Flash cards). And since the Compact Flash cards are so inexpensive and easy to change, you can keep alternate sets of sounds on additional Compact Flash cards ready to go, inside the game, and swap them whenever you are in the mood for a change - no tools required, no chip programming, no muss, no fuss.
The GSound board can play back sound files in a number of formats, and we provide the tools and instructions needed for you or anyone with a PC to make up their own pinball machine sounds. We will provide sets of sounds which emulate the factory sounds, so you can always revert to the standard sounds that an original sound card would make. The sound hardware can play back 8 or 16 bit PCM wave files at up to 48 kHz sample rate, as well as MP3-encoded sound files from 16 kbps to 256 kbps, including VBR formats. We are also working on a proprietary compression format that is better suited to real-time, multi-channel sound effects which will add even more capabilities to the system.
The GSound board is constructed on a single double-sided printed circuit board that is designed to be easily serviced. All passive components are through-hole type and are commonly available. All semiconductor DIPs are socketed, and there is just one surface-mount component on the entire board. The low-power design consumes less power than the board that it replaces, even though it can do much more. All digital inputs are provided with current limiters, noise filters and Schottky diode overvoltage/undervoltage protection. The main power is fused and LED indicators show power supply and self-test status.
All board configuration is performed through voice-prompt menus and the settings are stored in the board's nonvolatile memory. There are no configuration switches or jumpers on the board. The volume is controlled digitally via a pair of pushbuttons on the board. System 80 games with the original volume control wired into the cabinet can continue to use that method of controlling the sound volume. For private listening, a mini-phone jack is provided for driving headphones. Although sound quality would improve by installing an upgraded speaker in the pinball machine, the GSound board will get the most from the existing speaker. The output power is well-matched to the factory speaker, and for the extremists out there, the headphone output could conceivably be used to drive external amplifiers and speakers to incredible levels, if that's what you're looking for...
In the course of developing a product to supplement the ever-dwindling supply of working System 1 and System 80 sound boards, the GSound board can not only emulate the factory-original sounds, but it can add new sound capabilities to these games. Here's some of what we're working on:
Add speech to Haunted House. Maybe the greatest of all Gottlieb pinball machines, Haunted House was loaded with three playfields, eight flippers, a great music package and fantastic art and gameplay. But for some reason, it lacked speech, which was probably removed for budgetary reasons. Now you can add speech, and it can be the speech of anyone - you're not limited by the capabilities of the old SC-01 speech chip.
Lose those primitive beeps forever. And you can move either into the past or the future. We will provide sound files of expertly-recorded real chimes, which can be played back by the GSound board in high-fidelity sound. Or, move into the future and substitute any sound effect or synth blast for the original lo-fi beeps.
It took a while before Gottlieb incorporated background music into its pinball machines, but now you can add any music or sound effects as background sounds for your game.
In conjunction with the new CPU boards that are currently in development, you will be able to create a completely new sound package for your game to go along with new game rules that you can develop. Have your kids tell you off when you tilt. Or your favorite celeb can tell you how well you've done. Or make up your own "swear ROMs". Or your favorite music can play in the background. The possibilities are truly limitless.
|Q:||How do you install the GSound card?|
|A:||You remove the existing sound card (if any), and plug the GSound card into the factory harness. For System 1 games with the 9-pin connector, plug the harness into the 9-pin edge connector on the board. For System 1 games with the 12-pin connector, plug the harness into the side labeled "System 1". For System 80 games, plug the harness into the side labeled "System 80". The GSound uses the same mounting holes as the original card.|
|Q:||Can you change the sounds on the GSound card?|
|A:||Yes. All of the sounds are stored on a removable Compact Flash memory card. You can change the Compact Flash any time to switch the sounds from one game to another, substitute different sounds, or experiment with your own sounds.|
|Q:||How do you change the sounds on the GSound card?|
|A:||You simply turn off the machine and install a Compact Flash card with the new sound files on it. You can either modify your current Compact Flash card, or you can have an unlimited number of other Compact Flash cards with alternate sounds on them.|
|Q:||What is a Compact Flash card?|
|A:||Compact Flash is an industry-standard memory module widely used by digital cameras, PDAs, laptop computers and other computer devices. They range in size from 4 Mbytes to over 1 Gbyte. GSound is supplied with a 16 MByte Compact Flash card which is large enough for any of the factory sound setups and most custom sound configurations. Compact Flash cards in the 16 to 64 Mbyte size are very inexpensive and easy to find, so memory size and cost should never be a limitation.|
|Q:||How do I put different sounds on my Compact Flash card?|
|A:||All you need is a PC that is set up to read Compact Flash cards. If this isn't already built into your PC, there are very inexpensive USB and PCMCIA adaptors for this purpose. They are even built into many new printers. A basic USB adaptor costs less than $20. When you plug in a Compact Flash card, Windows will create a new disk drive where you can access all of the files on the card. We provide the tools and information so that you can set up your flash card with the sounds that you want - factory sounds for any supported game, alternate sounds offered by us, sounds that other people have made available, or sounds of your own. Once the desired files are copied to the Compact Flash card, you simply remove it from the PC and install it in the GSound card. You can change the sounds any time that you wish.|
|Q:||Why don't you provide a serial port or USB connection?|
|A:||Serial ports are too slow to service the large memory capacity of the GSound card. Sending 16 Mbytes of data over a 57600 bps connection would take over 30 minutes. USB is faster, but cables over 12 feet can be a problem and not everyone has a PC that close to their pinball machines. Plus, the modular approach to sound storage using removable Compact Flash cards lets you swap sound configurations in seconds with no PC required, and the memory can be expanded to virtually unlimited capacity easily and cheaply.|
|Q:||My game came with chimes. Why should I bother with a GSound card?|
|A:||There's no substitute for the sound of real chimes on a pinball machine, and if your game already has chimes, there's not much reason to change that unless you want to experiment with custom sounds for your machine. Games that came with chimes from the factory will need to be modified to accept the GSound electronic sound system. Among other things, a speaker will need to be added. We will provide step-by-step instructions for this "hard core" modification if it is requested.|
|Q:||My game didn't come with chimes. What can a GSound card do about that?|
|A:||We will be providing a set of sound files of actual chimes, which can be used to substitute for the factory-standard electronic sounds. These are not synthesized imitation chimes, but digitally-recorded electromechanical chimes, complete with the clanging and coil plunger sounds of the originals. This may prove to be a popular option for the first-generation System 1 games that had very primitive electronic sound capabilities.|
|Q:||Does the GSound board copy the hardware of the Gottlieb sound boards?|
|A:||No. The GSound board has unique hardware and software that is not based on any Gottlieb circuitry or programming. There are no parts in common with the older design (which is a good thing), and there are no memory images taken from any Gottlieb PROM, EPROM or masked ROM. The GSound card can reproduce any digitally-recorded sounds. When the GSound card has digitized recordings of the factory-original sounds, it will make sounds just like the factory sound board would. But as far as the GSound hardware is concerned, it's just playing back sounds, and it doesn't know the factory sounds from anything else. It's all in the sound files (and the flexible and high-fidelity playback hardware on the board).|
|Q:||If there aren't any configuration switches or adjustments, how do you change the settings of the board?|
|A:||There are two pushbutton switches on the GSound board, and that is all that is needed to configure the board. The buttons are labeled "UP/YES" and "DOWN/NO". To change the volume, just press the UP or DOWN button. Press both buttons simultaneously and you enter configuration mode where there are voice prompts for changing the settings. The current settings are retained in nonvolatile memory on the card (no battery required).|
|Q:||What if I want to add background music or extra sounds to my game?|
|A:||At this point, you may need more help than a sound board, no matter how capable, can provide. The basic limitation is that the sound board doesn't know that much about what's happening game-wise. Is the ball in play? Is the game over? Is the bonus counting down? In many cases, the sound board can't tell what's going on. We will provide sound cues for every event that the sound board can identify on its own, and you will be able to program any sound to play at any of those cues. But for more advanced situations, the GSound board need to work together with a more capable CPU board. Such a board is in the works from Ni-Wumpf Ltd. See below for details.|
|Q:||How do I upgrade the control software (firmware) on the board?|
|A:||The control software can be upgraded by placing the file with the new control software on the Compact Flash card and simply turning on the pinball machine. Every time the GSound card starts up, it searches the Compact Flash card for a new version of its control software. If it is found, the GSound board upgrades itself. Can't get much easier than that.|
|Q||Are there on-board diagnostics?|
|A:||Yes. The GSound board does a self-test of all major subsystems on power-on. On-board LED indicators show the status of self-test and power supplies.|
|Q:||Is the software open source?|
|A:||The software and documentation needed to change the sound files is all publicly available. Memory images of the control programs for the GSound board are freely distributed, but the source code for creating them is the property of Pinball Pal and will not be distributed. What we are considering is an escrow program for the source code so that if support for the GSound board is no longer available from the manufacturer for any reason, the source code would be automatically released into the public domain.|
|Q:||What kind of hardware is on the board?|
|A:||The GSound board uses a 16 MHz Atmel microcontroller that is roughly 20 times more powerful than the original sound board CPU, and it has approximately 1000 times the on-board memory (not even counting the Compact Flash memory). The microcontroller monitors the sound control interface from the pinball machine's CPU and then formats and feeds data from the Compact Flash memory to a combination 24 MHz, 16/32 bit digital signal processor/digital-to-analog converter (DSP/DAC). The raw computing horsepower, memory capacity and audio fidelity exceeds that of the Williams DCS sound system used in Bally/Williams pinball machines up until they stopped making them in 1999.|
|Q:||What are the audio specs of the GSound board?|
|A:||The G-Sound card can reproduce compressed and uncompressed sounds at CD-quality fidelity. The DAC sample rate is fixed at 48 kHz (lower sample rate sounds are automatically upsampled) and the Sigma-Delta DAC resolution is 18 bits. The maximum power output is dependent on the pinball machine model, but is typically in excess of 10 Watts into an 8 or 4 Ohm load.|
|Q:||Is there a headphone jack?|
|Q:||What about Bally and Williams pinball machines?|
|A:||GSound is the initial product based on this new audio platform. If it performs even half as well as expected, we will announce plans to release boards with similar capabilities for Bally and Williams pinball machines. We will also have a version available for replacing 8-track tape players in older arcade games.|
|Q:||You mean you may have a replacement board for Williams DCS systems?|
|A:||Yes, so far it looks feasible, although more research will need to be done before we can definitively say yes. A WPC-95 version of this board would not only eliminate the need for the hard-to-get A/V ASIC chip on the original card, but it would for the first time permit anyone to modify any of the speech, music and sound effects of their games. And since this is an emulated platform built on its own code base and unique hardware, there are no problems with intellectual property issues.|
|Q:||OK. How much?|
|A:||The price has yet to be finalized, but the target retail price is under $150 including 16 Mbytes of Compact Flash memory, a one year parts & labor warranty, and of course our 30-day money-back guarantee.|
Although the GSound platform is still under development, we are still making plans for its enhancement in the future. As stated in the FAQ above, the GSound board's firmware can be automatically updated simply by inserting a Compact Flash card with the new firmware file included. Obviously, we will provide these upgrades and improvements free, downloadable from the Pinball Pal website.
We want to encourage the development and sharing of enhanced sound setups among users of the GSound board. We will do what we can to assist this process, including hosting the files (as long as there are no copyright issues that could get us into trouble).
We have built in provisions for a wireless daughtercard option that we may make available in the future. We can support 802.11a/b/g and Bluetooth wireless protocols, but we're really excited about the new ZigBee wireless protocol. It's ideal for low-cost devices and it's great for remote control and remote configuration of small networks of devices. Think game stats automatically transferred to your PDA. Controlling and configuring your pinball machine with a wireless hand-held controller. Automatic tournament management. Head-to-head pinball games with everyone playing on their own machines simultaneously, and the game telling them how they are doing versus the competition - in real time. The creative possibilities are endless.
Ni-Wumpf Ltd's UBQ Support
The GSound board will work particularly well with the Ni-Wumpf Ltd. UBQ CPU board. We are working closely with the people at Ni-Wumpf so that our boards will automatically sense when the other is installed and then they can both operate in an enhanced mode. For example, the UBQ CPU board can now tell the GSound board when to start and stop background music, or play additional sounds on certain game events (ball lock, extra ball lit, etc). Using the advanced features of the UBQ board to create your own game rules coupled with the virtually unlimited sound-generating capabilities of the GSound board make for a very powerful combination. There will be a lot more to say on this subject as development continues.
More news coming soon!