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(Topic ID: 270480)

Stern VSU-100 (early speech) cards: voice pitch / weirdness


By goingincirclez

5 months ago



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  • 32 posts
  • 7 Pinsiders participating
  • Latest reply 83 days ago by goingincirclez
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#1 5 months ago

Resurrected a dead Flight 2000 that came with two speech cards. Apparently the game had long suffered "no speech" issues, and given what I found the cards were not the problem.

One card is a Revision C dated 1980, and the other is Rev F from 1981. Visually they are nearly identical.

When I found the source issue, I connected the newer VSU card since it had a factory labeled F2K rom, and it worked! Played a few games and all seemed proper. Then I decided to try the older card (with an unlabeled ROM). And it worked even better! Because lacking a frame of reference, it turns out the first card was actually more... chipmunky? Fast, high pitched... and during the self test ("1-2-3-4-5-etc etc") it was trailing off with faint gibberish after the "5...", such that I didn't even know it was supposed to be saying words until I put the other card in, which boomed out a consistent, deeper monotone robot voice with added words.

My kids even joked the original card sounded like "splat" instead of "blast", ha!

Anyway, I'd already ordered the kits to recap both VSU cards (and sound board) per my normal rehab procedures, but they're not here yet. Meanwhile, I'm thinking a higher pitch that increases while trailing off, might in fact indicate an actual (as opposed to "assumed") cap problem: caps losing capacity and being drained before the full sentence is spoken...? So is that indeed the case, or does that particular card have another issue? It seems these cards are somewhat enigmatic with little troubleshooting info out there (they either work or they don't, and the unobtanium synthesis chip is often a culprit).

Any idea on the going value of these cards? Provided I get both working the same, I'm torn between keeping the extra as a spare or selling to recoup some expense.

#2 5 months ago

Resolder the header or replace it. The pitch is set via this input and if its missing a bit, the pitch is off.

Easy way to check is to swap the speech processors from one to the other to make sure it's not the speech chip. Flight 2000's speech all is the same pitch, they never vary it. There can be variations on the speech processors themselves, as with any analog circuitry - but swapping it will tell you straight off. Usually when there is garbage in the speech it could be a timing issue, but AFAIK that timing is internal to the speech chip, not something external although I could be wrong about that.

At some point I along with a couple other people are going to come up with a replacement for this card with a wav trigger type setup, because the speech is known for all games that use it at this point, and I'm in the process of documenting all the pitch changes from the 6 or so games that use it currently as well so that corresponding wav files can be created.

#3 5 months ago

I'll touch up the headers when the cap kits arrived. I'd looked at them previously and didn't note anything obviously amiss, but it won't hurt to check again when the iron is hot. If that doesn't equalize things I'll try swapping the synth chips... as pricey as those are don't want to push my luck.

BTW I have your updated code roms (v. as-of-a-couple-weeks-ago) ready for once I get this game dialed in. Thinking of calling it "Flight 2020" and modding the backglass with the year, and masks on the escapees Had I thought of it sooner, should've changed the inserts so instead of spelling "LAST BFFO" you get "COVD 2020" (or "BLAST OFF" becomes "COVID -19")... Anyway, I've been following your progress on the update thread and am eager to hear the finished speech updates too!

#4 5 months ago

I remember the year 2000 hype in the 90s with everything getting '2000' pegged onto it. Let's let dickhamill keep his 2020 monikers on his arduino modded games.

If you look at the artwork on the backglass it does seem like rather a depressing story, either she's in suspended animation and drifting in space, or that's a space coffin. People tried to escape earth because not only was THOR ANGERED from Lightning, the Meteor has also struck the earth, scattering humanity to the stars. Luckily, there's Space Wizard shooting pool with planets to help(?) out.....

Bruce Lee could always dragonfist the bad guys, as well.

#5 5 months ago
Quoted from slochar:

I remember the year 2000 hype in the 90s with everything getting '2000' pegged onto it. Let's let dickhamill keep his 2020 monikers on his arduino modded games.
If you look at the artwork on the backglass it does seem like rather a depressing story, either she's in suspended animation and drifting in space, or that's a space coffin. People tried to escape earth because not only was THOR ANGERED from Lightning, the Meteor has also struck the earth, scattering humanity to the stars. Luckily, there's Space Wizard shooting pool with planets to help(?) out.....
Bruce Lee could always dragonfist the bad guys, as well.

I think Meteor was based on the 70s disaster movie. Logo/title typeset matches. I have a blu ray copy of that I have not watched yet. Supposedly was a bit of a box office flop. I enjoy some of the other disaster movies like Towering Inferno and Poseiden Adventure tho.
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#6 5 months ago
Quoted from slochar:

I remember the year 2000 hype in the 90s with everything getting '2000' pegged onto it. Let's let dickhamill keep his 2020 monikers on his arduino modded games.
If you look at the artwork on the backglass it does seem like rather a depressing story, either she's in suspended animation and drifting in space, or that's a space coffin. People tried to escape earth because not only was THOR ANGERED from Lightning, the Meteor has also struck the earth, scattering humanity to the stars. Luckily, there's Space Wizard shooting pool with planets to help(?) out.....
Bruce Lee could always dragonfist the bad guys, as well.

Yeah, the "2000" reference is such a ret-corny sci-fi throwback cliche... Sometimes I wish I had an old Gateway computer with the original "Gateway2000" logo. But I see what you did there! Don't forget, our space refugee / funereal vikings could be drifting amongst the Stars in a many a Galaxy; perhaps they'll be spotted by a Star Gazer and rescued by Quicksilver before decaying into a captured Freefall orbit...

...oof

barakandl Yeah I think I read somewhere that Meteor was an early licensed game to compete with Black Hole. I've never seen the movie but I bet it ticks all the 70's cheese boxes

Cap kits should be here in a few more days.

#7 5 months ago

Black Hole isn't based on the movie though. Also it was over a year after Meteor came out.

I should watch Meteor, but it might ruin my love for the game. I'm sure they fire rockets when they get to level 7 at the Meteor to deter it from the Earth.

#8 5 months ago
Quoted from barakandl:

I think Meteor was based on the 70s disaster movie. Logo/title typeset matches. I have a blu ray copy of that I have not watched yet. Supposedly was a bit of a box office flop. I enjoy some of the other disaster movies like Towering Inferno and Poseiden Adventure tho.
[quoted image]

Indeed, one of the few Licensed (Classic) Stern titles (Nugent and Ali being the other two). Quite terrible movie, but then Sean Connery was in his "crap" period at that time just post James Bond (witness Zardoz). Especially bad is nearly an hour spent in the mud-flooded subway system (apparently was horrific for the actors!). Fun to see all the well-known character actors (including Brian Keith pretending to be Russian!). I have some other movie tie-ins beside the pinball and the DVD: I've got the novel, a T-shirt (alas in XS child-size) and a movie poster. I have to say that the pinball is far and away the best thing to come out of that movie!

#9 5 months ago
Quoted from Dr_Dude:

Indeed, one of the few Licensed (Classic) Stern titles (Nugent and Ali being the other two). Quite terrible movie, but then Sean Connery was in his "crap" period at that time just post James Bond (witness Zardoz). Especially bad is nearly an hour spent in the mud-flooded subway system (apparently was horrific for the actors!). Fun to see all the well-known character actors (including Brian Keith pretending to be Russian!). I have some other movie tie-ins beside the pinball and the DVD: I've got the novel, a T-shirt (alas in XS child-size) and a movie poster. I have to say that the pinball is far and away the best thing to come out of that movie!

Zardoz is not crap, take it back! I watched it recently and found it to be fun movie.

I like bad movies for some reason so I will have to check out Meteor.

#10 5 months ago
Quoted from barakandl:

Zardoz is not crap, take it back! I watched it recently and found it to be fun movie.
I like bad movies for some reason so I will have to check out Meteor.

OK, Zardoz has its moments (the best being Charlotte Rampling riding naked on a horse!) and agree it may well be more fun than Meteor, but it reminds me of a very bad episode of Space 1999 whereas Meteor is more like a Space version of Colombo (my stream of consciousness review of both). Honestly, when there're gems like Hunt for Red October (Connery playing a Russian with a Scottish accent!), why watch these movies?

Too bad Meteor didn't have the VSU-100. Would have been great to hear increasingly frantic call-outs while the background pitch-noise grew ever higher-and-higher, and naturally a "M-E-T-E-O-R!" call-out when completing the bank. Reminds me I have to play my Meteor some more.

#11 5 months ago
Quoted from Dr_Dude:

Too bad Meteor didn't have the VSU-100. Would have been great to hear increasingly frantic call-outs while the background pitch-noise grew ever higher-and-higher, and naturally a "M-E-T-E-O-R!" call-out when completing the bank

Oh, that could happen at some point. Too bad the speech board cuts into the regular sound although I think all early solid states do it that way don't they?

#12 5 months ago

In case the issue isn't caused by a header signal, you may want to look at replacing C27. I do not believe this is included in the Big Daddy cap kit.
This cap effects the 555 IC trigger/threshold cycle time which is used to clock the speech chip.

#13 5 months ago

You might be on to something, as I noticed the 555 had been replaced on one of them (I don't recall which, but it might have been the first as I recall thinking "hey, if this has been fixed already, maybe I should use it first"... But I might have talked myself out of that. Ugh, can't remember and not at home now... But I'll check and keep this in mind!)

#14 5 months ago
Quoted from slochar:

I think all early solid states do it that way don't they?

Seems so. Firepower silences out all the sounds before talking. System 11 is the first ones I can think of that talk on top of other sounds. I feel like they could do it in earlier WMS games unless there is some kind of hardware reason the PIA cannot control the speech stuff and the DAC at the same time.

Same with Stern but the speech is so low quality in Stern games its hard for me to understand what words are spoken so adding sound on top of that would really lose it. Like in lightning I can understand about every third word spoken.

#15 5 months ago
Quoted from barakandl:

the speech is so low quality in Stern games its hard for me to understand what words are spoken so adding sound on top of that would really lose it.

To me that's the most fascinating thing about the speech in these Stern VSU games. To my understanding, WMS games use compressed speech samples, whereas the synthesis chip in the Stern VSU generates a live analog synthesized speech pattern. The mildly defective VSU I have proves this to amazing effect. The one I have working better is truly crisp and distinct, and to me sounds even better than my Firepower (say nothing of later, abysmally-compressed samples like on Dr. Who, ha ha).

I applaud the effort to resurrect these games and replace these now-unobtanium cards with sample-based equivalents, but the live, analog synth aspect is truly amazing and worth preserving. It makes these games unique in a lineup. To think that any given VSU might sound "different" from another for any number of reasons, just like a human's own vocal processing, is awesome and just a little bit freaky.

#16 5 months ago
Quoted from barakandl:

Same with Stern but the speech is so low quality in Stern games its hard for me to understand what words are spoken so adding sound on top of that would really lose it. Like in lightning I can understand about every third word spoken

That's just lightning's speech choices. When I had one I had to do a lot of research into Norse mythology to just try and figure out what the words were. The rest of the games should be pretty easy to understand.

Quoted from goingincirclez:

I applaud the effort to resurrect these games and replace these now-unobtanium cards with sample-based equivalents, but the live, analog synth aspect is truly amazing and worth preserving. It makes these games unique in a lineup. To think that any given VSU might sound "different" from another for any number of reasons, just like a human's own vocal processing, is awesome and just a little bit freaky.

It's kind of why I haven't been actively working on the sample based card, I have working speech cards for all my machines that currently use them. But I want to add the capability to other titles; I'll be using a real card to pursue that, but unless I can get a supply of the cards/chips, I'll have to compromise on something in that future endeavor. There could always be crowd-sourced sample sets that the wav player could substitute to get some analog-y variation.

The same dilemma exists within other communities regarding synthesized stuff - the SID chip on the C-64 is a prime example, while people have recreated it on FPGA's, it's just not the same as the originals, and even among the originals, there's different variants that sound different and some are prized over others.

#17 5 months ago

I don't have much experience with the Stern speech card but the Bally speech chip varies chip to chip in regards to speech pitch. Some are more like darth vader others more like the chipmunks. Analogue stuff probably sensitive to small variances in capacitance and resistance much more so than digital.

The in limbo SB-100 replacement project Quench helped me incorporate a circuit to be able to trigger MP3s. That circuit could be chopped out of the SB100 to be stand alone way to get eight triggers (data bus) out of the an address through the J5 plug. Could apply the same idea to the lamp address/lamp data/lamp strobe 2 so not to get int the way of a SB300.

#18 5 months ago
Quoted from barakandl:

That circuit could be chopped out of the SB100 to be stand alone way to get eight triggers (data bus) out of the an address through the J5 plug.

That's a way I was triggering my defunct wav player in 2012 for Lost Vegas, grab the byte like the sb100 did. Something in the circuit would 'go to sleep' though and I was never able to debug it (and the wind really came out of the sails with all the delays in LV.... I think it's still listed on CPR's pages, but it's pretty much a dead project at this point).

Any replacement vsu100 solution of course is going to just operate exactly like the original for plug n play capability. In an ideal world I'd have gobs of the card to play around with, but that's not going to happen.

#19 5 months ago
Quoted from pure_penalty:

In case the issue isn't caused by a header signal, you may want to look at replacing C27. I do not believe this is included in the Big Daddy cap kit.
This cap effects the 555 IC trigger/threshold cycle time which is used to clock the speech chip.

Update: the Chipmunk card is the one with the replaced 555... (so indeed, you might be onto something)! Next question: "C27" is one of those tiny guys that looks like a glass diode. Do you recall what its spec is? I don't recall the schematic listing the components. Even more to the point, those types of caps are rarely supposed to fail, aren't they?

I'm kind of eager to see how this turns out though. Cap kits (less c27 anyway) should finally be here today. But I suppose if there's interest I could (should?) record before and after samples of the pitch comparisons on the cards.

#20 5 months ago

C27 is 470 pF

#21 5 months ago

If they replaced that cap previously, they may have used one with a high tolerance - not good for timing.
Since it is a timing circuit, use a 5% part such as a C0G/NPO type cap.

Cap kits normally contain electrolytic caps. It is unusual to contain ceramics since they don't fail as often as electrolytics.

Does it look like C27 had been previously replaced? And what are the part markings on it (if you can see them)?

#22 5 months ago

I sadly no longer have the functioning bionic optics required to discern any markings on the cap itself. But it looks like an OEM installation to me...

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#23 5 months ago

Yeah, that looks like an original glass encapsulated cap. Not real common for these to fail ... but once in a blue moon I suppose. I have seen failures of ceramic caps due to being physically abused (broken, cracked, etc) or by being subjected to lots o'voltage but seldom a random electrical failure.

#24 5 months ago

If you've got access to a scope,you could verify the frequency coming out of that 555.
Taking a look at the control voltage going into the 555 during speech (pin 5) may also be a way to verify if the mux chip is working correctly

#25 5 months ago

The factory soldering on that speech card is pretty bad. Zooming in around the chips it even looks like some of them are dry and possibly cracked. I'd inspect the board well. Double check the work around the 555 chip... like make sure no plated holes got ripped out when that chip was replaced. Previous rework is always on the top of the list of usual suspects.

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#26 5 months ago

Hmm, I took another look at the card and you're right, there's lots of OEM solder joints that look unusually suspect. I'll give the card another pass...

But I'd already recapped and found some interesting results! Here's a video of three (yes, three ) distinct speech pitch patterns! Sorry about the length; my daughter and I wing these largely unscripted, and usual interruptions and unexpected chaos don't help (I seriously lack the time / equipment / household cooperation to do videos properly). But I timestamped the pitch jumps on the youtube page itself.

#27 5 months ago

That was supposed to be a 470 PICO farad cap, you said uF in the video.... did you do pF and just say the wrong one since most of the we're dealing with micro fard?

The higher pitch one is too high that's for sure. Your mpu200 clock speed might be higher as well because the regular sound on yours seems different as well, this isn't a big deal a lot of games have some variations there. I had 2 EBD's at one point and one of them the voice just sounded WRONG to me, so that's the S&T board that went with that one when it was sold and I kept the one that sounded "right".

#28 5 months ago

Oh carp... you're right, and I didn't misspeak: I used a 470 uF - or Microfarad - cap because I was so excited to finally see the numeric value and relative size in a little baggie I bought from GPE years back, I didn't register the discrepancy! Stupid brain.

Well, at least it's not the worst "educational error" one could make. In fact I'm kind of amused now: it'd be fun to socket that location and play with all kinds of values for that cap wouldn't it? Don't worry, I know better than to push my luck here.

Sadly I'm almost 100% certain I don't have any pF caps that value, but will of course double-check later.

#29 5 months ago

If you need a 470 pF, I have a bunch of small value caps. I can throw one in an envelope and mail it to you. Just let me know.

#30 5 months ago
Quoted from goingincirclez:

Oh carp... you're right, and I didn't misspeak: I used a 470 uF - or Microfarad - cap because I was so excited to finally see the numeric value and relative size in a little baggie I bought from GPE years back, I didn't register the discrepancy! Stupid brain.
Well, at least it's not the worst "educational error" one could make. In fact I'm kind of amused now: it'd be fun to socket that location and play with all kinds of values for that cap wouldn't it? Don't worry, I know better than to push my luck here.
Sadly I'm almost 100% certain I don't have any pF caps that value, but will of course double-check later.

if you have any junker MPUs laying around there is a bunch of 470pF caps on it. The ones near MPU J1

#31 5 months ago

This is my first/only Bally/Stern 2718-and-friends game, so no spares of anything there. But I have a junk WMS Sys6 driver and Sys9 MPU... I'll look there.

Quoted from Skidave:

If you need a 470 pF, I have a bunch of small value caps. I can throw one in an envelope and mail it to you. Just let me know.

That's awesome of you! I'll follow up if I don't find anything.

2 months later
#32 83 days ago

So this almost qualifies as a necro-post, but I finally got around to playing with this again, so here's the follow up:

I wanted to try replacing the 555 as Andrew suggested earlier, but turned out I didn't have any. Finally got one and swapped it and... the chipmunking is gone! The pitch is still a little bit "higher" than my other card BUT the cadence is more in time. Put another way, maybe one card is a baritone and the other is a tenor, or something... I would say are passable at any rate. Pretty interesting to compare nonetheless. But I hate "the chipmunks" so I'm glad that's solved

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