In arcade collecting circles, the “holy grail” is that one cab. The cab you are always chasing down. It might be the one you played as a kid, or just a very rare machine that always seems just out of reach either in terms of its scarcity, or cost (usually both in my case).
There are also some arcade games that are generally regarded as “Unobtainium” for most arcade enthusiasts. Thinking off the top of my head here: Environmental Discs of Tron, Sundance and Quantum would all fall into that category for the majority of collectors. Most of us would love to own those cabinets, but the reality is that they so rarely turn up, either waiting to be found or out there for sale, that we will most likely never own one, let alone be able to afford the asking price.
I think there’s a bit of reverse psychology here too. If I suddenly owned all of the aforementioned cabs, I’d likely struggle to identify another grail. Would that kill some of the mystique and adventure of this hobby? Maybe. There’s no doubt that the thrill of the chase is a large part of what we do in pursuit of owning the perfect collection of arcade machines.
But if the urge to own one of these elusive cabinets is just too much, what do you do? Faced with climbing prices and collectors holding onto these gems, some enthusiasts have taken matters into their own hands.
They decide to build their own.
A fellow collector from the USA, Johnny Gallegos, did just that. Atari’s elusive Major Havoc is the cabinet he always wanted.
Released in very limited numbers as a dedicated cabinet in 1983, this complex game created by Owen Rubin is regarded as being for the hardcore gamer and collector. Soon after its release, conversion kits were created, that allowed operators to convert other Atari Vector titles, using the native hardware and controls (it’s not unusual to see a Tempest converted to Major Havoc). The game itself is a combination of a shoot-em-up and maze style, where the player takes on the role of Major Rex Havoc himself, travelling around a galaxy sabotaging reactors hidden deep inside space stations. Here’s a gameplay video which gives a good outline of the game’s objectives:
There’s a huge amount of depth to the game. The idle animations (where the character stops moving for a period of time) are fantastic:
Johnny loved the title:
I have always wanted to add Major Havoc to my color vector collection. I love the play of the game and the unique shape of the cab. Out of all the collectible games, this has always been my “grail” game.
Johnny has been collecting arcade games for about 17 years. He has now amassed 34 machines, ranging from color raster, color vector and black and white games. His roster of cabs include Tron, Front Line, Asteroids, Asteroids Deluxe, Track & Field, Tutankan, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Robotron, Space Duel, Gravitar, Star Wars and Space Invaders. The list goes on. My point being, he’s no slouch. So when he decided to build an arcade machine as an exact replica of the original from some 30 years ago, he had some confidence going into the project.
I guess there’s two main elements to reproducing a classic arcade machine: The woodworking side of things, and the myriad of component parts; not just the PCB and monitor, but also the artwork, the metal frames, bezels, marquee retainers, controls, buttons and wiring looms. Any restorer will tell you if one of those parts isn’t right, it will stand out like a sore thumb. You wouldn’t put a set of modern alloy wheels onto an original 1952 Chevrolet Deluxe car you were restoring. Of course not. You’d try to either source the original wheels, or get a 1:1 reproduction made.
So this was the challenge that Johnny had. He decided to team up with his cousin Jerry, and they jointly decided to help each other build their own Major Havocs.
The project received a major boost from a good friend locally who was willing to loan them his dedicated, original Major Havoc. They used his game as a guide and template for their own builds. In return, it was agreed that they would fully restore his game. To have an original cabinet to reference at any time made the while process much easier than relying on pictures and assumption for how things fit together.
As a long timer in the scene, Johnny had many parts that could be used, but there was much still to obtain. So as parts became available, they gathered up what they could afford as they came up for sale, but sometimes had to wait to buy what they needed. Over time, Johnny sourced parts locally, from eBay and from the arcade collector forums like KLOV and Vector List.
The actual build plans were supplied by a friend in Chicago. These turned out to be very detailed, covering every aspect of the cabinet measurements, angles, sockets and holes. Everything was documented, and was 100% accurate.
Armed with this information, Johnny was able to secure the services of another collector, who had experience in building classic cabinets from scratch. He took those plans and was able to churn out the wooden shells to create exact replicas of the original futuristic design of Atari’s engineers:
Once home, Johnny unwrapped his swag:
Looks good as new. Given the way technology has gone, and the fact that this was almost a one-off piece, it is very likely that the build quality here is better than the cabinets that rolled out of the factory.
So it was time to get to work. With the cabinet indoors, johnny started to populate things with the parts he had accumulated:
Rebuilding a cabinet is all about the details. If this was to be a new build, everything had to be proper; right down to the last part. Here, the marquee light mount is being assembled:
Another collector happened to be reproducing the metal frames for Atari power bricks. Johnny waited for these to reach production, and snagged one, and got to work populating it with original parts:
If you’re looking to lose a whole evening, try rebuilding a coin door. Anyone who’s taken on this challenge, will appreciate just how long this takes:
Getting hold of a PCB for Major Havoc is a tough ask, but he managed it:
With that secured, he was able to start on the wiring loom and mounting the PCBs:
Using the complete cabinet that had been loaned to him, Johnny was able to see and measure accurately where everything went. Including screw holes to mount the monitor in place correctly:
One of the hardest parts to obtain, were the “ears”. These extruded aluminum fins sit on either side of the monitor, and hold the speakers, tempered tinted glass, marquee and tempered clear glass that covers the trans-lite marquee. The only way to source these parts were to get them custom-made, using a process called “aluminum extrusion” from original plans at great expense:
Control panel next – again a bespoke part was required here, as the panel itself is unique to the cabinet. Here you can see the overlay artwork being clamped on ready for glue:
Bit by bit, part by part the cabinet started to come together:
After three years, scouring the world for parts and meticulously building the cabinet down to every last detail, Johnny completed his project:
I’m sure you’ll agree it looks absolutely stunning. Oh and the cabinet that Johnny took his measurements from, that he agreed to restore in return? Here’s how that turned out:
This huge “home-brew” manufacturing effort was no mean feat. Just sourcing the parts alone was a major task. Here’s a list of components secured and Johnny’s estimate of costs (not including shipping):
Reproduction Cabinet $600
WG6100 Monitor $500
Side Art Kit $250
Marquee Translite $24
Wire Harness $150
Power Supply $50
Speakers (three) $70
Marquee Light Fixture $20
Tempered Smoked Glass $90
Reproduction Roller Controller $245
Coin Box Complete $70
Base T-molding $50
Clear Glass for Marquee $20
Leaf Buttons w/leaf contacts $15
Metal Parts Cab Kit $245
Estimate Total: $3,686
As you can see, if you are going to take this on, be prepared for a lot of waiting around for parts to turn up, and deep, deep pockets. But boy, are the results worth it.
I’d like to thank Johnny for sharing the details and pictures, and allowing me to showcase this amazing project here on the blog – thanks Johnny!
And thank you for dropping by this week – let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.