So my generic Nintendo cabinets were ordered. These cabs had quite a journey. They’d been shipped over to Germany in a container, and then by road across the Continent and by ferry over The English Channel, and finally to my house here in England. A week after placing the order, a grubby looking Polish bloke knocked at my door and mumbled something in broken English at me about a delivery. Sure enough, an huge pallet was offloaded from his truck and was placed in my garage. “Goodbye my friend!” he shouted as he drove off, leaving me standing there holding a tatty invoice for several hundred Euros. It was like the opening scene of some bad comedy film.
My excitement was soon evaporated when I unwrapped the pallet. Staring back at me like two broken giants, were two tatty, beat up Nintendo cabinets in light blue colour. One had no marquee or any sort of identification at all, and the other looked a lot more sorry for itself than the photographs I saw before purchasing it would have me believe. Both were damaged to varying degrees, and it was clear that both had been raided for parts over the years. To be honest I wasn’t sure what I was expecting – perhaps two mint, shiny arcade cabs with full side art, a golden handshake from Mario himself, and a chorus line of Japanese Geisha girls fanfaring their arrival down my road in front of the delivery truck, with the entire street cheering and waving as the cabs rolled by – that would have been nice. But alas, it was not to be. I tried to be positive, and plugged them both in to the mains socket.
At that precise moment, the enormity of what I’d taken on hit me between the eyes. Somewhere far off in the distance, I could hear the distant mocking sound of a German arcade collector guffawing over a bratwurst and a pint of beer that he’d paid for with my hard-earned Euros.
The arcade gaming gods shook their head disapprovingly at what I had done.
Shutting the garage door and gingerly opening it the following morning didn’t make it all go away either. I really was going to have to do something with these cabs.
So I did my sums. Clearly Mr German eBay seller wanted these two cabs gone – they were the last ones he had, and he said that if I took the second, it would be shipped for free on the same pallet. Even beat up, these cabs were worth at least £500 each I figured. Why make life difficult for myself – I’d sell one of them to make up some money, and I’d have a nice slush fund to purchase any parts necessary. So sure enough a deal was struck on a UK forum and I sold on one of the cabs straight away and made a few pounds. My buyer was happy and so was I – and more to the point, I now had one less liability to worry about, plus the cab I had remaining now only cost me half of what I’d originally been willing to pay.
I now felt a corner had been turned – I wasn’t going to be beaten by a stupid lump of wood and electronics.
Next up was to work out exactly what I was going to do with the cab I had left. I guess the obvious thing would have been to convert it to a Donkey Kong. There was a lot of interest since the release of King Of Kong, and Donkey Kong was probably the most iconic Nintendo cabinet out there.
But then I stumbled across a different looking cabinet on some forums. Donkey Kong 2 had been released. DK2 for those of you who don’t know is a ROM hack by Jeff Kulczycki. Released in 2009, it adds several new playable levels to the Donkey Kong structure. Men much cleverer than I have burned this new code onto chips, and you can now upgrade your current DK game so that it will play the original Donkey Kong and this new Donkey Kong 2 game (as well as a bunch of other useful enhancements, like a freeplay mode and a high score save feature). Simply removing one chip, and replacing it with a different one was all you needed to do. I was seduced. Like a lamb to the slaughter.
But the real attraction wasn’t just the enhanced game, it was the artwork. The clever dedicated people at www.thisoldgame.com produced a full set of artwork – this consists of sideart, marquee, bezel and control panel. All to coincide with the release of the new game. A recommended shade of blue was issued, so that should players want to, they could upgrade their entire cab to accommodate the new game in a consistent fashion.
Interestingly, Jeff approached Nintendo with the intention of seeking their blessing, but nothing official came of the approach, and presumably they decided to turn a blind eye to the whole project. Which I suppose is one better than trying to sue everybody in sight and closing the project down.
So I placed an order for the complete artwork set with Thisoldgame and set to work at the cab.
Well when I say “set to work” I really mean took the whole thing apart. I stripped everything. It made me feel all clever and technical, like I knew what I was doing. Well it seemed that way to the neighbourhood kids who popped by to stare at what I was doing for 10 minutes at a time (as they do). Truth is, I was making it up as I went along. The only thing I consciously did was not to touch anything on the monitor. Those things scare me to death. It was clear it wasn’t working, so how much danger it actually represented to me I had no idea. But I removed the thing carefully and placed it in the corner of the garage. Rather than get clever, I ordered a complete replacement chassis for the monitor from a nice man called Chuck from Texas. Chuck also had a fully working Donkey Kong board, which he was willing to sell too. What the hell I thought, and purchased both. I consoled myself with reassurances that I was helping a broken American economy. That, and I was reassured by what a great wholesome American name “Chuck” was.
Anyway, a few days later, after being informed by the nice people at Her Majesty’s Customs & Excise offices that I owed them an additional payment for clearance fees (the first of many), I handed over the cash and the parcel was delivered.
This all coincided with a visit from my mate Jims from up North here in England. Jims is a bit more confident than I around monitors, so between us I figured we should be able to fix up the monitor and replace the chassis with this new one I had acquired. Maybe we could get the thing working and play a game of Donkey Kong! Yay!
See, that was our mistake. We expected things to go well and for everything to work. Word to the wise: NEVER assume this. We pulled one chassis out, and started reconnecting the replacement. After transplanting the new chassis, and placing the new board in the cab, Jims told me to switch on around the back whilst he watched up front for signs of life.
“OK Tony – 3-2-1 – GO!”
“No. No, no no no. NOOOOOOOOO! SWITCH THE DAMNED THING OFF! OFF! NOW! OFF OFF OFF OFF!! OH NO!!!!!”
Oops. I didn’t like the acrid stench of burning components that now hung in the air. The black smoke rising from the main PCB I figured wasn’t good either.
So we had managed to fry the working board imported at great expense from Chuck in Texas.
“Hey, maybe there was something wrong with the board?” I stupidly said.
“Yeah maybe” said a sheepish looking Jims. And without thinking it through, we decided to get the other board out and plug that into the cab too.
You remember the movie Halloween with Jamie Lee Curtis? Well throughout that film is a recurrence of the classic horror scenario. Something scary is going on in the next room, or back in the creepy old house, and of course the heroine of the film just has to go back there and take a look, when we the viewers are all screaming “DON’T GO BACK IN THERE JAMIE LEE! NO! DON’T DO IT!!” But of course she does.
Hell, there’d be no movie if she didn’t do dumb stuff like that.
Well that scenario is exactly what Jims and I did. We now know that it was just plain stupid to plug ANOTHER board into a cab that had just fried similar circuitry some two minutes previously. But hey, in our defence, we were punch drunk at the prospect of playing Donkey Kong. If only we could get the thing working, we could play a game of doubles! In my garage! How cool would that be??
“OK Tony – 3-2-1 – GO!”
“No. No, no no no. NOOOOOOOOO! SWITCH THE DAMNED THING OFF! OFF! NOW! OFF OFF OFF OFF !!!!!!”
Groundhog day had come to my garage.
At the post mortem, it turns out we’d managed to put two wires in the wrong place. One was sending electrical current, the other was sending audio signals. It turns out that inadvertently switching these two wires produces a dangerous flow of potent voltages to places they were not meant to go. Damn. Who knew? There were actual flames and everything. Whoopsie.
Once we’d worked out what we’d managed to do, we felt more than a little stupid. So near and yet so far. Another bump in the road of this cab’s resuscitation. But it was a sound lesson. You simply cannot take any short cuts with this stuff. It will bite you in the ass.
Jims (probably out of guilt more than anything) took the boards home with him and offered to replaced the two parts that were burnt out. Maybe that would fix them. Maybe not.