Rolling Thunder is an archetypical horizontally-scrolling shoot'em up game from Namco, vintage 1986. According to a colleague from Hong Kong, this game is based on a manga series about a secret agent, hence the slightly unusual extra-tall skinny people. I always thought it was just because of a width limitation on the sprite hardware, but this colleague assures me that the reason he recognized it was because the manga characters look just the same.
In the arcade game, you fight your way through a series of progressively harder levels to "rescue your ally, the enemy headquarters your ultimate goal" (according to the cabinet instructions). Your ally is a slim, tanned woman, of course! Between stages you see her being chased, captured, tied up and electrically tortured. Hmmmmmmm... the Japanese manga people always cater to a good fetish, eh? Phwooar, as the English ZX Spectrum magazines used to say.
What makes Rolling Thunder something special is its exceptionally high quality. Large, well-animated, colorful game sprites, great music and clear, varied sampled sound effects make this a superb example of cutting-edge arcade technology of the time. Put this game side by side with Japan Technos' Xain'D Sleena (which is the same style of game, and approximately the same vintage) and there is just no comparison.
The Rolling Thunder boardset is very complicated; lots of high-density DIP devices (all socketed; very considerate 8-), and everything is labeled only with Namco custom numbers, so without an ICE it's impossible to determine what hardware the board uses. It's unlikely that the chips are all custom-made, just custom-labeled; I would guess that the video stuff comes from Nanao and the audio is a YM3812 and a YM2203, but I can't be sure. There are two MC6809s which appear to run the main game code, a 6803 which apparently controls the PSG spot effects and FM music hardware, and a 68701 (6803 code-compatible with lots of I/O lines) which lives on a daughterboard that is implicated in the sampled sound output.
As a side note, all the home computer conversions of this game are very, very disappointing. The 8-bit versions only have one stage which repeats over and over, no varied enemies, and hardly any animation frames (the C64 version, for example, has only two frames for the characters' legs while walking! And that's one of the best 8-bit versions). The only 16-bit conversion I've played is the Commodore-Amiga version, which is really terrible. The scrolling is slow, the music is pathetic (it's a looped sample of about 7-8 seconds of the arcade music), the sprites and other graphics are smaller, and all of them have blue trousers and purple hoods; there are none of the different enemies you see in the arcade machine. Epyx, who did the conversions, did bad; the Amiga is capable of a LOT more.
Select the thumbnail links below to view the player instruction panels which go on either side of the monitor. These are not very good quality; they are scans of multiple-generation photocopies which came with my board.
Several people have emailed me with the same complaint about this board - their sampled sound has gone silent (though music and PSG effects are still audible). If this happens to you, take a look at the small daughterboard on top of the mainboard. Along rows A and B you will see three or four small electrolytic capacitors. Replace all of them (replace the one at location A1 first, it's the most likely culprit). I hit this particular problem when I took my RT board out of storage and accidentally broke off one of these caps.
Rolling Thunder uses a horizontal low-res monitor, one or two 4-way joysticks with two buttons, and it has a standard JAMMA pinout. It's not advisable to connect 8-way joysticks to this board because the game will only react to one direction at a time; so if you crouch and try to face in the other direction, you'll probably stand right up into the path of an oncoming bullet! DIP switch settings are as follows:
DIP Switch Bank 1
"*" indicates a factory default setting.
DIP Switch Bank 2
"*" indicates a factory default setting.