Well over a year ago, I wrote about Nintendo’s Sky Skipper arcade game, after UK collector Alex Crowley found an original PCB game board during an arcade raid. If you’re new to this topic, do take 5 minutes to familiarise yourself with the story up to that point here.
In short: Alex discovered a Nintendo PCB in a warehouse that was clearly marked as a Sky Skipper arcade game. It had been factory converted to Popeye. Very few of these boards exist, and he was able to get the PCB reverse-engineered, back to play the unreleased Sky Skipper game.
A great deal has happened since the board was found. Once Alex had the board in his hands and fully working, together with fellow collector Olly Cotton, he started piecing together the cabinet artwork, by studying the handful of flyers and pictures they were able to track down. The ultimate plan was to recreate the cabinet true to the original design. Together with his US-based counterpart, Whitney Roberts, the plan was to reveal the cabinet both in the USA and the UK. But there were issues as Whitney explains:
When I initially signed onto the project with Alex and Olly, we truly only had a color flyer and a lot of enthusiasm as our main ingredients to restoring the cabinets. Olly had done a tremendous amount of work with the artwork available at the time, and we felt we could piece together some of the missing details to flesh out a passing example of what we thought Sky Skipper would have looked like. The fact remained, however, that despite our best efforts, we were shy any real details that would allow us to finish this project with any semblance of historical accuracy.
After much research, Whitney got a lead from none other than Billy Mitchell (he of King of Kong fame and the first person officially recognised to have scored a perfect game of Pac-Man). Amazingly, it turned out that Bill remembered playing the game at Nintendo of America back in the day, during a promotional visit of some sort. Bill asked Whitney for some time, and promised to pull some strings. Whitney couldn’t believe his luck:
Right then I knew we had hit pay dirt. Not only had Billy seen the game, he had played on it and confirmed what we had previously could only assume to be true. With just one sentence, the project leaped forward significantly. We had confirmed the game actually existed in a playable form at some point in the past AND it had sat on American soil.
This was quite the coup. Whitney knew that he had to get into Nintendo of America (something very few people outside of the company manage to do) and see the machine for himself. But what were the chances of NOA opening their doors and letting him see and scan the artwork? Well it turned out that the odds were in fact pretty good. With Billy’s help, Whitney got a personal invite from the head of Nintendo’s archives to come into the campus, and spend two hours with the only Sky Skipper cabinet known to exist anywhere in the world.
On arrival at NOA, Whitney was escorted to a room:
I was never left unsupervised – which is actually good. I didn’t want something to happen and I then be found liable due to circumstance. So I made sure she was OK with me taking 60-90 minutes to scan the cabinet artwork and document it to the best of my ability and she said “It’s all yours”.
She swung open the door, flicked on the light switch and there it was….
Sky Skipper serial number 0001 had been saved and stored by Nintendo. The condition was remarkably good considering its age. Apart from some fading to the artwork, and damage to the white t-molding, everything was complete. Scarcely able to contain his excitement, Whitney set to work. Working methodically around the cabinet he used a portable scanner to scan every inch of artwork. The marquee, the side art, the control panel and bezel.
What I find amazing, is that NOA were happy to support the project – they were fully aware as to what the guys intended to do and gave them their blessing to go ahead and reproduce this artwork for their big reveal on both sides of the Atlantic. For a company renowned for its secrecy and staunch protection of its Intellectual Properties, this was a huge gesture of good faith.
After several hours’ at the facility, Whitney scurried away from NOA armed with his precious scans and hundreds of pictures of the cabinet. These files were shared with Olly, and he was able to fully recreate the artwork after many hours of work. This was no mean feat, as much of the original art had faded over time. But after getting arcade art company This Old Game on board to produce the final artwork, the team was now ready to reveal the cabinets to the world.
The first reveal was at the Southern Fried Game Expo in June 2017 – Alex flew over to be a part of the proceedings, and for the first time, the wider American public was able to clap eyes on what the Sky Skipper project had been up to!
Here’s a video of the proceedings in America if you want to watch the whole thing.
But next up, it was the turn of the UK. After much thought, it was decided that the cabinet would be unveiled at Arcade Club in Bury. Whitney flew over with his family and had none other than John from John’s Arcade in tow for the ride (yeah yeah hey guys! we are in the basement, etc, etc). Anyway…
It was now Alex’s turn to get his hands dirty, and restore a rather shabby looking Nintendo Donkey Kong cabinet that had been badly converted to a Vs cabinet. Armed with his tools and the newly produced art kit send across the Atlantic from Rich at This Old Game, he got to work:
After many hours of stress, restoring the cabinet to as-new condition, applying the side art, bezel, control panel and marquee, re-wiring the cab and soak testing, Alex was finally ready. With Arcade Club chosen to host the big reveal – it’s an intimate environment – it was felt that the people there would really appreciate seeing the cab for the first time. Andy, Arcade Club’s owner, put on a great event for us, and all tickets were sold out.
So on Saturday 14th October at Arcade Club, a great turnout from the UK collector community got to see for the first time, the recreated Sky Skipper cabinet in all its glory:
The guys did a great job on stage, sharing the whole story with the crowd and detailing some of the challenges they had along the way. In fact the event was way more than just about the reveal – the UK community got together and we had a great weekend, playing games and catching up with friends both old and new:
So there you have it – Sky Skipper has been resurrected. It’s a quirky, typically Japanese game, but after a few plays, you realise there’s a great deal of depth to it. I really enjoyed the couple of games I managed on the cab, and have fired a few games up since on my MAME cabinet – I’m definitely a fan.
So what of the future? Whitney and Alex are acutely aware that Nintendo has put a great deal of trust in them, in allowing them to do what they’ve done, so any discussions about releasing some sort of kit for the public were played down. Nothing along those lines will be considered without the express permission of Nintendo – but watch this space, who knows.
We owe a huge debt of gratitude to everyone involved in getting Sky Skipper back out to the public. This was a fantastic journey from start to finish, and Alex, Whitney, Olly, Bill, Rich and of course Nintendo of America all deserve medals for pulling off what seemed like just a pipe dream at the moment Alex discovered the original board a couple of years ago. The final result is nothing short of spectacular:
Great work gentlemen. This is another perfect example of two collectors wanting to preserve history and share rare games with the rest of the world rather than just tryin to make a quick buck. (I know Alex well, and his constant dedication to the hobby is an example to us all – thank you mate for sharing this with us).
Video was shot at the event, more of which I’m sure will appear in the coming days. Here’s an early one if you want to see what the atmosphere was like.
To read more about the project, head over to the excellent Sky Skipper website where you can find much more detail about Whitney’s visit to NOA and the subsequent reveal events. And of course, do subscribe to Alex’s fantastic YouTube channel where he shares a huge amount of great content related to Nintendo’s arcade and console output over the years.
A final quick plug for the artwork guys involved in this project. Rich over at This Old Game produces very high quality artwork (and ships worldwide), and UK collectors can get hold of many difficult-to-find pieces of artwork from Olly’s store Arcade Art Shop. I’ve used both many times over the years, and can recommend their work highly.
Thanks for visiting this week – do share this article using the social media buttons below!
See you next time
I’ve borrowed various pictures for this article – Alex, Whitney, Chris cNp – thank you!