Circuit Bending the Sears Tele-Games Pinball Breakaway

Voiding your Sears warranty from 1977.

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post about my newly-acquired Tele-Games console, I thought I’d make a short video demonstrating some of the console’s circuit bending capabilities. I’ve only fooled around with toy keyboards before, but the same circuit bending ‘rules’ apply: open the machine, grab an insulated metal lead, and connect arbitrary points on the circuit board. And if possible try to avoid any power leads so you don’t short-circuit the machine permanently.

Make some connections
Make some connections

I got some interesting results. I primarily poked around the microcontroller posts (the two long rows you see near the upper right in the image above) and any leads connecting to the selection buttons (game reset, flippers, etc.). Most connections created arbitrary shapes onscreen, flipped between game modes, broke collision detection, or glitched the scoreboard. The most interesting connections positioned game elements beyond the overscan borders (1:19), mixed game modes (4:05), sent the score into the stratosphere (0:44), garbled the TV signal, or made the game ‘play itself’ (2:26/4:22), for lack of a better description.

Unfortunately, I didn’t record sound this time, so the video is silent. Some glitches also looked better in person. My capture setup doesn’t handle 60fps (and I think it interlaces the image), so some of the rapid movements are lost in translation. Still, mesmerizing stuff.

Also forgive the lulls in circuit bending action—when little happens onscreen, that means I’m hunting for interesting connections.

If you like this flavor of hardware hacking, I recommend you check out Chris Novello’s site. He’s doing some fascinating work exploring input/output re-routing between game systems, software, etc. It’s crazy, beautiful stuff.