Classic Conversion Project #2

to


Here we go again! Once again, I set out to convert a not-so-great (in my opinion) game into a true classic--and, once again, I'm working with a Nintendo cabinet. Once again, I've set out to document the entire restoration process for the benefit of anyone who wants to attempt a project like this one, or for those of you who just enjoy seeing a classic arcade machine brought back to life.

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 semi-working Super Mario Bros. machine from my friend Cassidy Nolen, fellow collector and proprietor of AtariOnline. He had had the machine sitting out in his pool shed for about a year. (Not to worry--it was very well sheltered from the elements--Cassidy is as careful as I am when it comes to handling classic games!) The cabinet was very dirty, but pretty solid. The cabinet finish was chipped and scratched, pretty severely in some places, but that's what wood filler and paint are for. The Nintendo VS. side art was mostly intact (which was to be the bane of my existence, as you will soon see). The board and most of the other electronic parts were in working condition, but the monitor needed repair. All things considered, I considered it a great way to get my hands on a Nintendo cabinet to turn into a Mario Bros. machine--especially at the bargain-basement price of $25. (Cassidy wanted to clear out the pool shed to make room for a pool-side tiki bar. )

Initial Project Cab Left Side
Initial Project Cab Front
Initial Project Cab Right Side

Back to the top.


Breaking Down the Game

The first task is always to break down the game into its component parts so that the cabinet can be cleaned and painted. I removed:

The pictures above show how dirty the outside of the cabinet was, but that didn't hold a candle to the inside. You could barely see the bottom of for all the dust and debris. I stripped out every bit of hardware on the inside of the machine. As is always the case when I take something apart, I labeled all of the wires as to their purpose, and stored all screws and bolts in labeled bags so I could put everything back the way I found it.

As gross as the cleaning process was, it turned out to be quite rewarding. Amidst the debris in the bottom of the game, I found $18.80 in change! Quite a rebate! That brought the total cost of the cabinet down to $6.20! What a bargain!

Before Cleaning
Nice and Clean
Ready for the next step...

Back to the top.


Removing the Side Art and Painting

Evil, evil side art. Advice from a veteran: invest in a heat gun. When properly attached, arcade game side art is there to stay. My fingers were bent and crippled for hours after scraping the VS. stickers off the side of this cabinet. I let the cabinet sit in the sun for a while, and that helped loosen the stickers, but not much. It took hours to remove these stickers, and a lot of sanding to remove the glue and remaining bits of sticker. I understand that paint thinner helps to remove the glue as well. One thing is certain--I WILL have a heat gun and some paint thinner handy the next time I attempt to remove side art!

Two Mario Bros. cabinets existed back in the day--a dedicated wide-body version and a conversion cabinet that used an existing standard Nintendo game (Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Junior, etc.). Obviously, mine is a conversion. Because they were built into existing cabinets, conversion Mario Bros. machines came in a variety of colors (depending on the color of the converted machine). Blue--the color of this particular cabinet--would be perfectly acceptable. But, because I am a glutton for punishment, I decided that my Mario needed to be Donkey Kong Junior orange. That meant new paint. Irony of ironies--I built my Donkey Kong in an orange cabinet that had to be painted blue and my Mario Bros. in a blue cabinet that had to be painted orange. Sigh.

As with my Donkey Kong project, I decided to sand the cabinet rather than stripping the old paint off. Here's another tip for you would-be restorers out there. If you're stupid like me, you probably think that a power sander that has a dust catcher doesn't generate much dust.

WRONG!

I sanded inside (it was raining on the day I painted) and covered the entire garage--and the entire inner surface of my unprotected respiratory system--with blue paint dust. Several lessons learned:

  1. Sand outside if possible.
  2. If that's not possible, cover EVERYTHING within a 30-foot radius with plastic before you begin.
  3. Wear a face mask or you'll be sneezing Donkey Kong blue for the next three days.

I filled all of the major holes as best I could with Plastic Wood (a filler product). This included the holes for the lock bar, which I removed. After the filler was dry and sanded down, I applied several coats of Kilz primer to all of the blue surfaces.

There are some instances in life where laziness pays off, and this is one of them. When I converted the Donkey Kong 3 machine to Donkey Kong a a year or so ago, I painted the entire orange cabinet blue--except for the two small pieces under the control panel. I figured that nobody would ever see them, so it didn't matter. That decision was one that I was very pleased with when it came time to find a color match for Donkey Kong Junior orange. I went to Home Depot and got just about every Behr paint sample in the orange spectrum and simply held them up to the orange bits inside my Donkey Kong machine. I was lucky to find that one of the Behr colors was a very close match: Behr Kumquat 230B-7. I got one pint, and that was just enough. I'd recommend getting two pints to be on the safe side. I used a small sponge roller to paint the cabinet as opposed to a standard wall painting roller. Sponge rollers create a much smoother finish.

I decided to go with gloss this time around (I used semi-gloss on Donkey Kong). The advantage to gloss is that it gives a better end result--more like the original finish of the game. The disadvantages are that gloss shows every flaw and area of thin coverage, and thus requires several coats. Also, if the surface you're applying the paint to isn't roughed-up sufficiently, gloss paint peels right off when something sticky is pulled from its surface--say, painter's tape or side art stickers. I had trouble in both of these areas after the paint dried.

I repainted all of the black surfaces of the game--back, top, front trim, and interior areas--with flat black latex enamel. This is where I had trouble with the painter's tape. I had painted the orange surfaces first and taped them off on the front edges to keep them orange when I was doing the black parts. When I pulled off the tape on the left side of the front panel, about an inch-wide strip of orange paint came off with it.

Finally, I repainted the coin door and the marquee/bezel brackets (which were quite rusty and scratched) with flat black Rustoleum spray paint.

Coin Door (prior to painting)
Primed
Painted

Back to the top.


Acquiring the Pieces

When I was converting Donkey Kong 3 to Donkey Kong, I had a working Donkey Kong board (PCB), but I had to acquire all of the art and trim to complete the game. This time around, I didn't even have the PCB. I knew from the beginning that I would need:

A Mario Bros. PCB

A game isn't a game unless it has, well, the game in it. Just about every board eventually shows up on eBay from time to time, but you never really know whether or not the thing is working until you get it. I decided to post a message on the local North Carolina collectors' mailing list to see if anybody local had a board available. Scott Brasington does a lot of work with Nintendo boards. He sells free play and high-score save kits, Double Donkey Kong upgrades, and a number of other items. And, as luck would have it, he's a local! He sold me a board with a high-score kit for $85.

T-molding

As I mentioned earlier, the t-molding on my cabinet was shot--no chance I could reuse it. T-molding, especially plain white t-molding like that used on Nintendo machines is easy to come by. I found more than enough on eBay. I got 20 feet for around $10.

A marquee and bezel

Marquees and bezels for really popular games show up on eBay all the time, but Mario Bros. wasn't the most popular Nintendo game made. Add to that the fact that Mario came in two different sizes, and the difficulty of finding what you need increases. I almost purchased my artwork from ArcadeGrafix, a company that makes adhesive overlays that can be placed on plain Plexiglas. I wasn't totally thrilled with this solution, since the authentic graphics were silk-screened directly onto the Plexiglas., and stickers definitely look different.

In the end, the arcade newsgroup rec.games.video.arcade.collecting (RGVAC) came through. I stated my needs on the newsgroup and within a day I got an e-mail from a member who had an original marquee and bezel in good shape. I got both for $60, shipped.

A control panel

The control panel on Super Mario Bros. isn't the same as the one for Mario Bros., so I needed a complete replacement (rather than just an overlay). I got lucky--the first time I checked on eBay, there was one up for auction. I got it for just $16. It's not perfect (I'll need an overlay eventually, and two of the buttons need replacing), but it's complete, including all of the wiring.

Control panel update: I actually picked up a nicer control panel in a Mario Bros. conversion kit I bought on eBay.

Side art

Like the other cosmetic pieces, side art for Mario Bros. isn't all that easy to come by. A couple of places make it, including AracadeGrafix and Arcade Shop Amusements. ArcadeGrafix has decent prices, but many collectors advise against their artwork because it is printed on an inkjet printer rather than silk-screened Arcade Shop has excellent products, and their side art is silk-screened, but the price was very high ($95).

Once again, eBay came through for me. I found a set of silk-screened Mario side art for $60. The only disappointment was that it was shipped rolled rather than flat (which made the application a bit difficult). It was also wrapped with a rubber band that tore the top of one piece during transport. Still, the price was right, and the flaws (now that it's applied) weren't all that noticeable.

Nintendo Classic Wiring Harness

As I got into the renovation, I also discovered that, although the Super Mario Bros. cabinet is identical to the cabinets that house earlier Nintendo games, the wiring harness is different. That left me with a bit of a problem--even though I had a nice, working board, I couldn't connect it to the machine!

My initial solution to this problem was going to be to construct an adaptor to change a Nintendo VS. harness into a Nintendo classic harness. A fellow collector who had done a similar conversion/restoration sent me detailed plans that showed how to build such an adaptor. I bought the parts from Bob Roberts and I was all ready to have a friend help me build the thing when I came across a Mario Bros. factory conversion kit on eBay. The kit included a marquee, bezel, control panel, PCB and cage (the metal enclosure that houses the boards), horizontal monitor brackets, a template for drilling holes for the brackets, a metal Mario Bros. plate (serial number, etc) for the back, and a conversion kit manual--but, most importantly, it included the wiring harness!

Obviously, I didn't need most of these pieces. I kept the harness (of course) and swapped the control panel with the one I had since the new one had a better overlay. I sold (or am selling) most of these pieces to recoup my costs. A lot of trouble to get a harness, but what the heck...

 

The first control panel (installed)
Marquee (installed)
Side Art (installed)
Original Mario Bros. factory conversion kit!
New CP and board/cage from the factory conversion kit.
 

Back to the top.


Side Art Installation

I apologize in advance for not taking pictures of this process. Side art installation really requires three or four hands to begin with--so, when you're applying side art on your own, you really can't afford to let go and pick up a camera.

Even though the Mario Bros. side art is much larger than that of Spy Hunter and Donkey Kong (the other two games to which I've applied side art), I tried the first side using the "no guts no glory" method--I peeled off the backing along the top inch or so, lined it up, and pressed down just hard enough along the edge to prevent it from moving. I then carefully peeled off a few inches of backing at a time, and smoothed the art as I went, pressing out any bubbles that formed along the way. I got smart this time and laid the machine on its side. Applying the art on a horizontal surface is a lot easier than applying it on a vertical surface. The fact that the side art was rolled, however, made things difficult--the sticker kept trying to roll up as I was smoothing it down. The first side (the right side of the cabinet) came out nearly perfect just the same.

On the left side, I decided to try a trick I'd read about online. I sprayed the side of the cabinet lightly with Windex before I started applying the sticker. This keeps the sticker from completely adhering and allows you to pull it loose and adjust it if you need to. I think this would work very well under the right circumstances, but I screwed up. Because the side art was rolled, I was worried that if I didn't adhere the top edge firmly, it wouldn't stay put. Therefore, I didn't use Windex on the top three inches. Therein lies the problem.

I got a bubble under the top part of the sticker and, when I tried to pull it up, it pulled some of the paint with it. No matter what I did at that point, it only got worse. Long story short, I ended up fixing the top part as best I could and then smoothing out the rest. The Windexed part looks great, but the top part has a bubble that is actually a wrinkle in the paint. (Remember what I said about gloss paint peeling off of the underlying surface?)

Fortunately, the problem isn't too serious, and most people wouldn't even notice. I can see it though--even when I'm not looking at it. For my own peace of mind, I put the machine in a spot where the left side is up against another machine where you can't see it.

Back to the top.


Electronic Restoration

With the harness problem solved (see Acquiring the Pieces), there were four electronic tasks remaining: capping the monitor, fixing the electrical cord, repairing the sound board, and fixing/replacing the light fixture.

Capping the Monitor

In keeping with my "I don't do monitors" stance, I enlisted the help of one of my co-workers, Michael Hoffman, to re-cap the monitor for me. ("Re-capping" is replacing the capacitors on the monitor's circuit board, in case you are unfamiliar with the term.) I purchased the cap kit (a set of capacitors specifically selected for a specific monitor) from Bob Roberts for $12, and Michael did the work for free. The process took about half an hour. Afterwards, the monitor worked almost 100%. (It still needs some minor adjusting--there are some diagonal lines on the picture, and I can't seem to get the brightness exactly right...)

Fixing the Electrical Cord

Since I would have been absolutely no help in capping the monitor (although I did watch for a bit and I think I'm almost ready to try it on my own), I went to work on the power cord while Michael worked on the monitor. This was a simple repair--the plug had been cut off at some point and needed replacing. I bought a replacement plug at Home Depot for around $3.

All you have to do to replace a plug is strip down the existing wires and hook them up to the proper screw terminals on the plug itself. (The replacement plug even comes with a diagram and instructions.) Screw the whole thing together and the repair is done. Simple.

Repairing the Sound Board

When I hooked everything up to test the monitor (the game was still Super Mario Bros. at this point), there was a horrible squeal from the speaker. I had expected this, since Cassidy had mentioned that the sound was bad. He thought it might be the Super Mario Bros. board, so I didn't worry about it at the time.

After I got my new wiring harness and installed the Mario Bros. board, I got the same results. By process of elimination, I determined that the sound board (which is housed on the monitor chassis in Nintendo games for some reason) was bad.

Once again, Bob Roberts had the solution--a repair kit for Nintendo sound boards. I ordered one and decided to take a chance. I also purchased a soldering and de-soldering kit. This is a repair I plan to attempt on my own.

Stay tuned for the results of this endeavor...

Fixing/Replacing the Light Fixture

As I've mentioned elsewhere on this site, marquee lights almost never work on used games. Not surprisingly, Mario Bros. was no exception. The unfortunate problem is that Nintendo games use non-standard lighting fixtures. The bulbs are shorter than most fixtures, the starters are completely different than those in "normal" fluorescent fixtures and, to top it all off, the lighting fixture plugs into an internal 100 volt outlet instead of running off of 120 volts like every other light in every other game. Sigh.

In my Donkey Kong conversion project, I opted to install a commercially-available standard lighting fixture. Rather than do so on this game, I decided to track down the starters I needed to make my Nintendo fixtures work. I thought I had lucked out on this--I found a collector who was selling Nintendo lighting fixtures for $10 each! I e-mailed him and asked if they were working, and he said they were. Unfortunately I asked the wrong question. I should have asked if the starters were working. They aren't. So, now I have four Nintendo lighting fixtures--one from Donkey Kong, the one from this cabinet, and the two I purchased from said collector--that are in need of starters (and two that are in need of tubes).

I finally located a site that sells the starters and bulbs for Nintendo light fixtures. The company is TopBulb, and the parts/part numbers are as follows:

I ordered four starters ($3.75 each) and two tubes ($4.50 each). The parts worked like a charm, and the original light fixture is now working like a charm. I also replaced the under-the-counter fixture in my Donkey Kong machine with its original fixture while I was at it.

The new control panel (from the kit)
The original light lives!

 

Back to the top.


Rebuilding

Rebuilding the game was a snap. I put the monitor in from the front and placed it on the brackets right after it was re-capped. You can opt to put it in through the back, but gravity works for you and not against you from the front--you don't have to lift it over the brackets, you just set it inside. For the moment it's just sitting there (I need to get a couple of bolts to hold it in place, but it's not likely to move.) With the monitor in place, I replaced the bezel and marquee, and locked down the control panel.

After the monitor was in place, it was time to install the wiring harness. One of the nice things about video game wiring harnesses is that, at least in my experience, just about every connector is designed so that it can only attach to the connection it is designed for. It took a total of about 30 seconds to hook everything up. I slid the Super Mario PCB out of the card cage and slid the Mario boards in. I connected the edge connector to the board, and I was set to fire up the game.

Guess what? It worked! Thus assembled, the game is fully playable, albeit without sound for the moment...

The innards--assembled!

Back to the top.


The Finished Product

Well, the game is all but finished at this point--certainly finished enough to post a final picture! The only thing missing is the sound--and I'll get around to that. Eventually.

Back to the top.