my quest to build a replica donkey kong arcade machine

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

let's get it on

The machine has been up and running for some time now so it's time for my final post. Here are some reflections and advice.

I was not prepared for how long and how frustrating the software setup would be. Most people had an easier time of it but in retrospect I would have started setting up the software much earlier in the process. It's tough to have a cabinet ready to go and still be working out kinks in the software.

The cabinet was a lot of money. I wish I had kept better track of it. Those little things add up quickly.

So far every kid that has set foot in my house (and most adults) fell in love with the machine. It is a huge crowd pleaser and gets a ton of play any time people come over. Although most kids are more fascinated with the coin mechs and coin door than Donkey Kong.

Donkey Kong is hard. Especially for kids. Make sure Pac-Man is on your machine.

Make sure that all of your games track save data. I was not prepared for my younger brother to come over one day, drink some beers, and do amazing things with Pengo.

The cabinet it really big and really heavy. Really prepare for this.

And on the obvious plus side, the cabinet is really, incredibly cool and a ton of fun. Unlike today's games, playing these arcade games is such a small time commitment that it's easy to fit in some gaming any time. It's nice to have a game that you can play for just ten minutes while dinner is cooking or when your mom calls.

If you've got extra time, extra money, and extra space you should build one.

Good luck. E-mail if you need me.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Stickers and Sideart

I applied the instruction sticker on the control panel backer and the coin sticker on the front of the arcade. I bought them on ebay. The coin sticker is centered. I'm not sure if that's the right position but I like it that way. I also didn't bother to research the proper location for the instruction sticker and it still looks pretty good.

I bought the stickers and the sideart on ebay. I positioned the sideart 2 3/4 inches from the top of the cabinet and 2 3/4 inches from the rear of the cabinet. I taped it into place with blue tape.

I then removed the blue tape from the top of the sticker, removed the backing from the top of the sticker only, and smoothed the top of sideart on to the cabinet.

Then I removed the rest of the tape and the rest of the sideart backing. I smoothed it out slowly to make sure there were no bubbles. I didn't come up with this method. I saw it on YouTube.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Coin Box

The coin box sits inside the cabinet and collects the quarters so that when the owner unlocks the coin door, he or she can simply pull the box out and empty the quarters.

I found plans online for a Nintendo Coin Box to fit inside my cabinet. I built mine out of leftover 1/2 inch MDF.

If you decide to build a Donkey Kong replica, remember that Nintendo used the same cabinet design for a bunch of different games, including Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Radar Scope, and Popeye. I found a lot of good photos and tips searching for people who were restoring Popeye cabinets.

The bottom of the coin box holder sits about 5 inches high from the bottom of the cabinet. The top of the coin box holder has two holes to allow the quarters to pass from the coin mechs directly into the coin box.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Assembly - main bezel, marquee, control panel

There isn't much to say here since I spent so much time fitting the main bezel and marquee before I painted the cabinet.

I nailed the aluminum channel to the control panel rear support and dropped the main bezel into the channel. the top of the main bezel is held by a support bar that I bought on Mike's Arcade. The marquee fits into the top of that support bar and is secured to the top of the cabinet by - you guessed it - another support that I bought on Mike's Arcade.

I dropped the control panel into place and secured it from the underside with a pair of "control panel latches" that I bought on ebay.

I also stapled a piece of black poster board to the inside top of the cabinet and to the back of the monitor support. This can be easily removed if I want to slide the monitor out.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Computer hardware

I installed the computer into the back of the cabinet. I removed as much of the computer case as I could so that the computer doesn't overheat inside the arcade cabinet. I also bought two extra fans for the computer from ebay. They're really cheap and really easy to install. I removed all unnecessary hardware from the computer to make it boot faster and run cooler. I even found a modem card in there.

The control panel buttons and the coin mechanisms are all wired to the I-Pac chip and the chip is connected to the computer by USB.

The computer, the monitor, the marquee light, and the speakers are plugged into a Smart Strip - a power strip that turns the marquee, speakers, and monitor when the computer is turned on. You can buy a Smart Strip from amazon.

You can buy the proper speaker from mike's arcade but I just used an old set of pc speakers that I had lying about. I also stapled a piece of speaker fabric to the rear of the speaker grill so that you can't see my lame pc speakers. But they sound good.

I wired a power button to the computer. This is easy enough - look behind the power button on your computer and you will notice two wires coming out of it. Just splice two wires in there and connect the other ends to an arcade button. Now you have an arcade button to power on your machine.

Notice that I have a big salad bowl in there for catching the coins. The next step is to build a coin box.

Friday, March 30, 2012


I did not enjoy installing the software. But as J.Avery said, "You do it once, and you never think about it again."

You need three pieces of software: Mame, MaLa, and Roms.

The Roms are individual zip files with all of the code to the original arcade games. You need one rom for each game you want to play.

Mame is the emulator that plays the roms.

Mala is a popular frontend that will run Mame for you in a way that looks good. When you boot your computer, Mala will open with a menu allowing you to select a game using the joystick. Mala will also shut down the computer when you are done playing.

Here's my advice: download mame, download Mala, download the Donkey Kong rom, and google everything until you figure it out.

The toughest part for me was finding a version of mame that saved high scores for Donkey Kong but this guy seemed to have figured out. People have made special diff files to modify mame but you have to compile it yourself and it's making me fall asleep just writing about it.

It sucks, but it's beautiful when it's done and it works.

Using Mala, you can design your own menu that has a list of games and everything. This guy designed a really cool menu that you can download.

I set up Mala to boot directly into the last game played when the power button is pressed. I also designed my own menu. It's a black screen with a simple message and if you move the joystick up, down, left, or right, the various game marquees appear for all of the games I have installed. When you push the jump button, the game boots.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Monitor mount bezel

When I got my monitor, I took it all apart so that I could just mount the screen in the arcade machine. I dropped the screen into the monitor mount that I built.

I spray painted the sides of the monitor mount black but it was really unnecessary. I then bought a black piece of poster board and cut out a hole just big enough for the screen. I used masking tape to mask off the visible part of the screen, I sprayed 3M adhesive on the entire thing, and then I just pressed the black poster board on to the monitor mount. I slid the entire thing into the cabinet and it looked fantastic.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Coin door assembly

I bought two coin mechanisms from Asahi Seiko. They still make the same mechanisms that were used on the original Donkey Kong machines back in 1981. I called them up and ordered two. They mailed them out to me. They were not cheap.

If you search the KLOV forums there is always someone looking to place a big order with Asahi Seiko to get a discount or something. I think the original DK machines had the 740 mechs but I bought the 730s since I like them better and it's a minor difference.

The coin mechs come with special bolts to connect them to the coin door.

I bought the lock at Home Depot. I think it was five bucks.

I didn't realize that I would need special carriage bolts to hold the coin door to the cabinet and that really pissed me off. The coin door has square holes designed to hold carriage bolts which makes sense so that nobody could unscrew the coin door from the front of the machine and steal the money. Neither Home Depot nor Lowe's had carriage bolts small enough. The proper size is probably metric since this was a Japanese piece but I ended up ordering 3/16" stainless carriage bolts from Bolt Depot and spray painting the tops black.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Admin Buttons

Last night I installed three "admin" buttons. I bought 3 Happ buttons from ebay to use as power, coin, and escape buttons. Some people also install a pause button. I drilled holes underneath the control panel so that these buttons won't be visible when you look at the cabinet but you can reach them while you're playing.

I drilled a 1 3/8 inch recess and a 1 1/8 inch hole to install the buttons. These are the standard measurements for the standard Happ buttons. When I get the computer in there, I will discuss how to hook up these buttons to the software.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


I installed the t-molding this weekend. I used white 3/4 inch t-molding that I bought on ebay.

I wrapped my rubber mallet in a plastic bag to prevent black marks from the mallet scuffing up my pretty white t-molding. Then I gently pounded the t-molding into the groove. That is, if you can gently "pound" anything.

When you get to some of the corners you need to cut small pieces out of the ribs to help the molding wrap properly, but there is a lot of room for error. Just don't slip with that knife and cut the molding or you'll have to start over.

I read a million posts and articles about t-molding. It is deceptively difficult but once it's on, it looks great and really starts to have that arcade feel.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

red paint

I sanded the first coat of black paint with 600 grit sandpaper, wiped it down with a tack cloth, and put another coat on. Because I thought that the black paint was too thick, I thinned it with mineral spirits until it was about as thick as half and half.

And here's an important trick: if your masking tape has been on too long, heat it briefly with a heat gun or hair dryer before pulling it off so that it won't take the underlying paint with it.

Donkey Kong arcade cabinets came in baby blue and bright red. I won't bore you with the history. I decided to paint mine red because I like red.

The best way to get the right color red is to take your control panel to the paint store and have them match the red color. I didn't do that. I used Rustoleum bright red because I liked how smooth and shiny the black turned out. I thinned the paint with mineral spirits and applied it with a 1/4 inch nap roller. Sand and tack cloth between coats and you're on your way to a beautiful finish.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

black paint - first coat

Everyone knows that to achieve a smooth finish on any surface, you should use multiple thin coats of paint. Conventional wisdom, right?

So why did I decide to use the thickest paint I could find?

I put one coat of gloss black Rustoleum enamel on the back and insides of the cabinet. It looks like garbage. If it doesn't dry smoothly then I will sand it and try again with a different black paint.

I hate painting.

Monday, February 27, 2012

legal stuff

You can go on the Interwebs and download MAME the Donkey Kong rom pretty easily, but because Nintendo owns the copyright to the Donkey Kong computer code you commit copyright infringement when you download the rom. Most of the rom sites will warn you about this.

This presented a problem for me. As an attorney, I don't believe in breaking the law. As a video game enthusiast, I don't believe in piracy. I didn't know what else to do but write a letter to Nintendo asking for a license to play Donkey Kong on my arcade machine.

To my surprise, they wrote me back a very nice letter. They said that they couldn't offer me a license, but "[a]lthough we are not able to grant permission, use of Nintendo's properties without formal permission by Nintendo may still be allowed
under the relevant law of the particular jurisdiction involved." That's just about the friendliest language you'll ever get out of a lawyer.

So what will I do? I'm going to play Donkey Kong on my arcade. I am also going to continue to buy every Nintendo console they make until I die.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


This weekend I put two coats of primer on the cabinet. I used BIN shellac-based primer because that's what everyone else on BYOAC and KLOV uses.

I applied the primer with a 1/4 inch nap roller and a foam brush. I sanded with 400 grit sandpaper between coats and wiped it down with a tack cloth.

I wasn't expecting the primer to have the viscosity of whole milk but it worked extremely well.

One quart was enough for almost exactly one coat but I didn't primer the inside where the computer will go. I wish that I had put some newspaper down in there though because I did get some drips in there.

Always remember to keep your tack cloths in an old jar to keep them from drying out. That's a tip I picked up from The Furniture Guys.

Friday, February 24, 2012

bezel mounting

Everyone on the message boards always says, "Make sure you have all of the pieces before you start building."

When I held the main bezel up to the cabinet, I didn't realize that the bottom of the bezel had to rest in something. I originally planned on cutting a channel in the control panel back but then I check out Screen's cabinet and noticed that he had a metal channel installed to hold the main bezel.

Home Depot had nothing of the sort but Lowe's came through for me. They called it an "aluminum trim channel for plywood." It was with the angle iron. I drilled some little holes in the channel and used a few nails to nail it into the control panel backing.

I then put the marquee and main bezel in and traced where they would go with a marker. I installed 1/4 inch strips on to the side of the cabinet to hold the marquee and bezel in place and to prevent light from peeking out behind the marquee or bezel. I also glued two pieces across the top of the main bezel opening to hold the back of the main bezel. You won't realize how flexible the main bezel is until you hold it. These backing pieces are essential.

I also cut the hole for the coin door. It was 11 x 16 7/8 inches. I have officially put off painting for as long as I possibly could.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Slot for t-molding

I thought it would be super quick and easy to cut the slot in the sides for the t-molding, but I screwed it up.

I bought a 1/16" slot cutter from MLCS and positioned it in my router to cut a slot directly down the middle of the 3/4 inch MDF. Then everything went wrong. The bit got hot and loose and the slot came out crooked.

I called J.Avery. He said, "Rookie mistake. You put your slot cutter bit together wrong. The blade is upside down."

And it was. I checked the teeth on the router bit and they were facing the wrong way.

I bought some bondo, coated the front and filled the crooked slot.

Then I waited a day for it to harden up and sanded the whole thing down.

I sanded it down so it was nice and smooth and cut a new slot. What should have been a five-minute step took me an hour over two days. Plus the bondo cost ten bucks and I used two sheets of sandpaper.

Then I cut the second slot.

The dog came by to inspect.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Coin Door

The coin door is the only piece of a Donkey Kong cabinet that you can’t buy easily. Keep this in mind if you are thinking of building one.

Getting a coin door is a big deal. Screen’s entire Donkey Kong build starts with "Finally I've found a Nintendo Coin Door." Ron finished his machine without any coin door because he couldn’t find one in time.

When I started this project I couldn’t find a Nintendo coin door anywhere online, so my plan was to buy a 12 x 18 drywall access door and cut some holes in it to make my own coin door. Then the arcade gods smiled upon me and I won one on ebay. I don’t want to admit how much I was willing to pay, but luckily I won it for 30 bucks.

For the past few weeks, the entire project has been on hold while I’ve been waiting to get this in the mail. When I got it, I discovered that it had some pry marks where someone tried to pry it open at one point. Totally awesome. At least there will be one authentic piece to my lame-ass cabinet.

I threw some chemical stripper on it and scraped it off ten minutes later. Then I hit it with the wire attachment for my drill. A few coats of spray paint and it will look good as new.

(As a side note, the wire brush drill attachment wasn't in the "drill bit" section of Home Depot, it was in the "sanding pads and disks" area which drove me fucking crazy.)

And because I couldn’t find them online, the measurements for the legendary Nintendo Coin Door are:

Outside total width: 31 cm
Outside total height: 46.5 cm
Door only width: 26.7 cm
Door only height: 42.3

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Software - MAME

This is a picture of my home office in my basement. Notice the two computers (open cases, of course), two printers, three monitors, broken pink xbox, a million cards, wires, and obsolete hard drives everywhere.

I love it.

This week I took a break from construction to start playing with the software. I screwed my I-Pac chip to the back of my control panel and wired up the panel. If the idea of doing this wiring scares you, I can tell you that it is completely idiot-proof. The I-Pac has a bunch of slots labeled clearly with things like "up," "coin," and "1P start." Just buy a bunch of the connectors at home depot and they fit right on to the blades on the back of the buttons and the joystick. There are a million tutorials online. Then the I-Pac plugs into your computer via USB. It's a beautiful thing.

I downloaded MAME (arcade emulator) and the Donkey Kong ROM file. I read a bunch of tutorials on MAME and got Donkey Kong up and running pretty quickly. But my speakers were popping.

So I did a few google searches and everyone who had sound problems with Donkey Kong on MAME came to the conclusion that their computer was too slow to run MAME properly. Then I tried MAME on my good computer and Donkey Kong ran perfectly.

But did I really want to stick the best computer I had into an arcade cabinet?

I downloaded an earlier version of MAME and the music ran perfectly with no popping! But Mario's (sorry, Jumpman's) jump sound and running sound were missing. I then read that the early versions of MAME didn't have the Donkey Kong sounds included.

More research revealed that I needed to "make sure that frame skip is on." I went to the MS-DOS prompt, typed "mame -cc" to create a configuration file that could be edited, and edited that configuration file in notepad. I changed the "0" next to "autoframeskip" to a "1."

Then Donkey Kong ran perfectly with all music and sounds. That took me HOURS to figure out. I think I'll go back to construction tomorrow.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Cabinet back

I found that most other builders didn’t care much about the cabinet backs. I agree with them but I still wanted it to look decent.

I used 1/2 inch MDF to make the back because the cabinet is heavy enough. I had to cut some special supports to hold the 1/2 inch back flush with the 3/4 inch top and bottom. I glued and screwed them to the inside of the cabinet.

Here is where you can learn from my mistakes. I made the cabinet rear top and rear bottom to match the measurements online without measuring the door opening. I should have realized that those measurements left a 49-inch opening which meant that I had to buy an eight-foot length of MDF instead of a four-foot length. Next time I will make that bottom rear portion one inch bigger so that I can save some money and some hassle.

Here’s another tip: always aim for perfection but keep a rasp and surform handy just in case.

I used Screen’s measurements to draw the hole on the cabinet door. I clamped my rulers and used my router to cut it out. Again, I am not good with a jigsaw.

I also added a support to the bottom of the cabinet door so that it has a lip that sits inside the cabinet. That way, you put the bottom in first, push it flush, and lock it closed.

That reminds me: I need to buy a lock.

Kindly ignore that white patch on the upper right side of the cabinet. I noticed a slight chip in the cabinet and threw a ton of patching compund on it. I'll sand it tomorrow and hopefully it won't be noticeable when it's painted.