We got a lot of work done on the Fix it Felix Jr. cabinet the past few months. As you saw in the last post, the body was pretty rough. It took a while to get the body cleaned up and repaired in preparation for painting. That’s never the “fun” part of arcade restorations or builds, but is very important to do well so the rest of the build goes smoothly and looks good when done.
After doing the body work in the garage due to all the smelly chemicals, I moved the game into the house to complete it in the basement. It’s a cleaner environment for the painting and other finish work. It’s also much easier working on the computer tasks in a more comfortable setting. This game will be running from a Windows PC instead of using a dedicated printed circuit board (PCB) like most other arcade games that I work on. The Fix it Felix Jr. arcade game is actually designed and run as a Windows application. Disney built and exhibited several of these arcade cabinets to the public in the lead up to the release of the movie. The inspiration of the game and cabinet was clearly Donkey Kong, arguably the most popular and well known arcade games of the classic era. They made these games using the iconic classic arcade cabinet design that Nintendo used for Donkey Kong and all of their early arcade hits. They installed an HP Windows desktop computer in each one to run the game program. Their final builds used encrypted hard drives to protect against game copying, but somewhere along the line a version of the game code was leaked to the Internet. I’m using a variation of this code that was “wrapped” with some VB code tweaks to enable high score saving and use in a home built cabinet. If you’re interested in doing the same more information can be found in the “Build Your Own Arcade Controls” Forum (byoac.com) or by searching in Google. My hope is that Disney steps up and releases a full, licensed version of this program in the future to preserve this great game. Until then, this kind of project is going to be the only way that this game is preserved after the Disney arcade builds break down. PC based games will never last as long as the PCB based classics due to the vulnerability of hard drive technology and the effects of heat generated by modern PC processors.
The first thing I did before painting was to install the new base I built for the cabinet. The old base was really rough and water damaged. It was challenging to remove but the swap went well. The cabinet was much more stable with the new base and easier to paint.
I went with the paint that was commonly used by collectors to repaint Donkey Kong cabinets. It is “Amsterdam” by Glidden. It’s a perfect match to original Donkey Kong machines. Paige likes to paint and was looking forward to this part of the project for a while. She did a great job and it really looked good with the new paint. All of the bondo work and sanding really was worth it once you see the painting done!
I got a set of reproduction artwork a few months ago. It was all vinyl so I had to make the marquee and bezel with plexiglass and the printed vinyl. The control panel overlay was also a vinyl printout. This wasn’t going to do for me because the classic Nintendo cabinets used reverse printed lexan overlays. I wanted this to look like one of those control panels so I made my own lexan overlay from an old worn out Donkey Kong Jr. overlay. I sanded off the artwork and polished the old overlay, and when applied over the vinyl FIFJR overlay it really looks like the real Nintendo overlays! It was a great use for an old overlay that wasn’t in any condition to use in a DK Jr. any more. I made a new control panel out of plywood just like an original Nintendo cabinet.
Old overlay getting a new life.
The new CP needed some routing to match Nintendo CPs
Just like a real Nintendo control panel!
Paige rebuilt the joystick and buttons after I cleaned them with the ultrasonic cleaner
I ended up using an old VGA computer CRT monitor for this game since it’s running on a PC. It’s possible to use a real arcade monitor with the right video card and cabling, but I had one of these available already and they’re much more common than real arcade monitors these days. I had to remove the monitor and its circuits from its original case and install the CRT tube in an old Nintendo monitor frame to get it to fit properly in the cabinet. This was a real pain! You have to follow the same precautions when working with computer CRT monitors as you would have with arcade monitors. The CRT tubes hold a serious charge and are very dangerous unless discharged properly. Do not attempt this yourself without researching and following the proper safety precautions. The monitor chassis PCB for this monitor was so large I had to mount it directly on the side wall of the cabinet instead of the monitor frame. Luckily the chassis wiring was just long enough for me to do it.
I’ll do a follow-up post about the computer setup and maybe a quick video of how it functions in the next couple weeks. I did most of the computer configuration off and on between the cabinet steps. At this point in the project the computer was all set up and ready to go. I mounted the PC into the inside of the game, right on the shelf that held the original DK PCB. For the control interface, I used an old Ultimarc keyboard encoder I bought a long time ago but never used. It works really good but took me a little extra time programming it for the specific button assignments I had in mind for this game. I also gutted a powered computer speaker I picked up at a thrift store for the sound amp. Once these were installed, the game was up and running. We went ahead with the artwork installation after some serious play testing!
There are a few more things that need to be addressed before this game is finished. I have to come up with a credit switch for games that don’t have free play. I also need to finalize the power wiring and on/off switch method. I can’t expect to open the back to turn on the PC when I want to play it! I need something more elegant that will make it function as an arcade game, not a computer.
More photos of the build can be seen in the Fix it Felix Jr photo album.