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.