my quest to build a replica donkey kong arcade machine

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.

Monitor Mount

I am using a 19-inch Dell monitor that I bought refurbished from ebay. I hope to put a real Nintendo monitor in there one day but I am not ready for that yet.

I drew lines on the inside of the cabinet where I wanted the monitor to be mounted. I screwed two pieces of angle iron to the sides. I probably would have used just a few pieces of wood if I didn’t have these two pieces lying around. I slid the monitor shelf right into the cabinet.

I couldn’t find exact measurements for the angle of the monitor so I just put it where I wanted it. If you’re interested, my monitor shelf is 22.5 inches by 22.5 inches (for easy rotation should I need to re-purpose the cabinet), and the upper corner is 14 inches from the top of the cabinet and six inches from the back.

I put my monitor face down on the mount, traced it, and cut the monitor hole with a jigsaw. I glued and screwed two supports under the opening to hold the monitor in place.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Control panel mount assembly

I bought a complete control panel from Mike’s. I really wanted to build it myself but when it came down to it, I decided that (1) I have enough work to do, and (2) I really want to play Donkey Kong.

The only issue I have with the control panel is that it didn’t come with a restrictor plate so the joystick moves 360 degrees instead of only in four directions which I believe is how the original Donkey Kong machines worked. So I’ll have to pick up a plate at some point. Other than that, it's beautiful.

The first thing I did was cut two pieces of MDF to hold the sides of the control panel. I followed the Jakobud plans to get the proper angle.

Then I glued two pieces of MDF together and cut them to meet the rear of the control panel and the bottom of the main bezel. I glued two pieces because I thought that the bottom of the bezel fit into a slot that was cut into the wood but after looking at more photos it appears that everyone else has a cool metal track installed here that looks like a window holder. It secures the main bezel to this piece. So I need to get one of those once I find out what it is and where to buy it.

I used my router to cut a groove into this piece so that the corner of the control panel fits snugly in there. I mounted it from the back using L-brackets and called it a day.

Marquee bracket - part 2

After looking at photos of other DK cabinets, I determined that the marquee / bezel retainer is mounted to the bottom of the marquee shelf, not the top. So I had to pull the shelf out, cut 3/4 of an inch off of it, and reinstall it. I tested it out with the marquee and it looks great.

Sometimes you just need to walk away from a project and it all becomes perfectly clear when you return.