Recreating a Classic Game

Instead of completing the conversion log I started back in May, I decided to create a separate page to document the conversion of my Donkey Kong 3 machine into Donkey Kong. Those of you who are new to the hobby might be able to pick up some helpful hints on the conversion and restoration of classic games. Those of you who are experienced hobbyists (or casual observers) will, hopefully, find the process interesting. The entire process took about two weeks, from May 22 through June 6, 2002.

I've broken the process down for easy reference. Click on a link below to jump to the step you're interested in.

The Initial Project

I acquired a Donkey Kong 3 machine as part of a large number of items from a local collector who was moving out of town. From the start, I intended to convert the game to a Donkey Kong. (I was never a fan of DK3.) The machine itself was a conversion (I think most DK3 machines were). This particular one was housed in a Donkey Kong Jr. cabinet. It still had part of the Donkey Kong Jr. instruction sticker on it.

The machine was in fairly good condition. The side art was pristine, as were the control panel, marquee, and monitor bezel. The cabinet was in decent shape, too, apart from some minor dings on the sides and back, and some nasty holes on either side of the coin door where a lock bar was removed. The game and controls worked 100%.

DK3 (Right Side)
DK3 (Front)
DK3 (Right Side)

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Breaking Down the Game

My first task was breaking down the game. It's (obviously) much easier to paint the game if all of the external hardware is removed from the cabinet. From the exterior, I removed:

In addition to removing the outside hardware, I decided to strip the interior of the cabinet and clean it out. So, I removed the monitor, the power supply, the boards, the speaker, and the wiring harness. This is all quite straightforward, but daunting--you get that feeling that you'll never be able to put it together again! To ease that fear, I used labeling tags to label each and every connection. That way, I would (theoretically) know where everything goes when it came time to put it back together. To make sure I didn't lose any screws and bolts, I put all of them in ziplock bags, each labeled as to the part they secured.

After the cabinet was empty, I cleaned out the 20 or so years of gunk and dust that had accumulated with a vacuum cleaner and a damp towel. I also cleaned all of the pieces I removed, which were also caked with dust.

Stripped (Front)
Stripped (Back)
Parts Removed

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With the cabinet bare, I was ready to begin painting. I had originally planned to strip the cabinet down to the wood, but decided against it--too much effort. Instead, I sanded down the entire surface to remove the gloss, filled all of the major holes as best I could with Plastic Wood (a filler product), and applied two coats of Kilz white oil-based primer to all of the orange surfaces.

To match the "Donkey Kong blue" color, I printed a picture of a Donkey Kong cabinet and took it to the local Lowe's home improvement store paint department. They electronically color-matched the paint to the picture. This is an approximation, of course--the game in the photo could have been faded. However, the end result was (I think) very close to the original color as I remember it. I chose semi-gloss latex enamel, which looks quite good in my opinion. I applied two coats. I used a roller for the large areas, and small brushes for detail and touchup.

For those of you attempting your own restoration, here's the paint info:

Valspar American Tradition, Lowes #625 Interior Base 2, Semi-Gloss, 102-3Y21.5, 103-19, 116-24

I repainted all of the black surfaces of the game--back, top, front trim, and interior areas--with flat black latex enamel. Finally, I repainted the coin door and the marquee/bezel brackets with flat black Rustoleum spray paint.

Stripped and Sanded
Primer Applied
"Donkey Kong Blue"

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After the paint was dry, it was time to put the machine back together. I started by reinstalling the speaker, power supply, and board cage and hooking up everything I could. (I didn't put the monitor back in yet--I was going to have the capacitors replaced (also known as "recapping"). I reapplied the T-molding and rebuilt and replaced the coin door.

The Donkey Kong boards were mounted to a metal plate that wouldn't slide into the DK3 board cage, so I had to take them off their mounting plate, connect them with board spacers, and slide them in. Not the original arrangement for a Donkey Kong machine, but I'm not that picky about stuff you don't see.

I also attached the Donkey Kong control panel to the machine. Initially, I had planned on putting a new control panel overlay (CPO) on the existing DK3 control panel. Unfortunately, DK3 used a metal control panel with the CPO glued to the surface. Donkey Kong used a wood CP with a Plexiglas overlay bolted onto it. The fire/jump button was also in the wrong place on DK3. So, instead of ordering a CPO from Arcade Renovations (where I got the rest of my restoration hardware), I managed to pick up a complete CP off of eBay. A really nice one, too!

One final CP snag was the wiring harness. The Donkey Kong connectors are different from those of the DK3 wiring harness in my game. So, I had to take the wiring harness off of the DK3 control panel and wire that to the new Donkey Kong panel.

T-Molding Installed
Control Panel

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Replacing the Light Fixture

Nintendo machines are unique in that they use a nonstandard lighting fixture in the marquee. The one in this machine was original--as was the bulb and the ballast, both of which needed replacing. The parts for this fixture are not easy to find, so I decided to take advantage of another unique feature of Nintendo machines. Instead of hardwiring the power for the marquee light and the monitor into the power supply in some way, there is a standard electrical outlet with two plugs, one each for the light and the monitor.

I removed the existing light fixture and replaced it with a $15 12-inch under-the-counter florescent light fixture that I found at Home Depot. The new fixture has an 8-watt florescent tube (as opposed to the 10-watt bulb in the original) but it works just fine (even though the Nintendo power supply only puts out a maximum of 100 volts). The power cord wasn't long enough, so I had to use a standard extension cord to make the plug reach the power supply.

Once again, this isn't an original piece of hardware, but it works beautifully and you can't tell it's not the right light fixture unless you open the machine.

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Applying the Restoration Hardware

Arcade Renovations is the premier source for restoration art and hardware for video games, bar none (in my opinion, at least). I bought replacement side art from them for my Spy Hunter machine a year or so ago and was pleased with it. Philippe is a great guy to deal with, and he set me up with everything I needed to finish off my Donkey Kong. I ordered everything but the control panel overlay--side art, instruction stickers, marquee, and monitor bezel.

I applied the instruction sticker first. There are actually two instruction stickers--one that goes on the control panel itself, and another that goes on the crossbar just above the control panel. I didn't bother with the one on the CP (the one on the CP I bought on eBay looks fine), just the one for the crossbar.

Side art was next. Placement of a sticker this big is kind of nerve-wracking because it's hard to get it straight and in the correct position. Positioning wasn't a problem in this case, though. Donkey Kong machines have monitor brackets that mount with four large bolts (two on each side) that go straight through the sides of the machine. That means, the bolt heads poke through the side art. I used a picture of a Donkey Kong machine to determine where the bolts poked through, and lined up the side art according to that picture. I used a ruler along the top and back of the sticker to make sure it was level front-to-back and top-to-bottom.

I carefully pressed along the top edge just enough to hold the sticker in place and then, when the sticker was level, I used my hand to smooth it down a bit at a time, carefully squeezing out all air bubbles along the way. The stickers have a protective covering over the art, so you don't have to worry about messing them up when you're smoothing them down. After the sticker was smooth, I rubbed again along the entire perimeter to make sure it was tight, and peeled off the protective covering. Voila! New side art!

Instruction Sticker
Side Art (Left Side)
Side Art (Right Side)

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Finishing Touches

A local arcade dealer re-capped my monitor for me (the picture's nice and clear now), and I put it back in. This meant poking holes in the side art for the bracket bolts to go through. Some people cover the bolt heads up with the side art stickers when they restore the machine, but that makes it very easy to rip the side art. Plus, it's not the way it was originally done. The bolts are kind of ugly, but they're also kind of necessary--the monitor wouldn't be very steady without them.

The last part to arrive was the monitor bezel (it was on back order). That was all I needed to finish off the game. I installed the bezel and the marquee, closed up the back of the machine, and that was that.

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The Finished Product

And here's what a couple of weeks of work will get you. Check out these pictures! The game looks almost showroom new. You can hardly recognize it as the same game anymore! The total cost of the conversion/renovation was under $300 including the machine itself! Not bad for such a nice-looking (and nice-playing!) Donkey Kong!

Donkey Kong (Left Side)
Donkey Kong (Front)
Donkey Kong (Right Side)

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