Converting Donkey Kong 3 to Donkey Kong

From my one and only bulk arcade equipment purchase, I kept a Donkey Kong 3 cabinet and a working set of Donkey Kong boards for myself. And, during the two-week period from May 22 to June 6, 2002, I set out to recreate an arcade classic.

 
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%

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Breaking Down the Game

I started by stripping the game down to the bare cabinet. That meant removing:

 

  • Marquee and Monitor Bezel: The marquee is removed by unscrewing the metal bracket on the top front edge of the machine. Usually, the marquee just slips out, but this one was stuck tight. To remove it, I had to unscrew the bracket at the bottom of the marquee (which also holds the top of the bezel in place) and loosen a metal crossbar inside the machine. (The crossbar runs back to front on the "roof" of the game--its function is to put pressure on the bezel to hold it in place at the top). Once these tasks were completed, the marquee slipped out easily. The bezel sits in a track just above the control panel. It lifts right out. There is a third metal bracket that slips onto the bottom of the bezel, and I removed that as well.

  • Control Panel: The control panel (CP) on Nintendo games is easy to remove. Simply reach in through the coin door, unplug the wiring harness from the CP, and open the two latches (one on either side) that hold the CP in place. The CP lifts right off, controls and all.

  • Coin Door: The coin door is secured to the cabinet by bolts along the top, bottom, and sides of its frame. These bolts must be loosened and removed from the inside. You also have to disconnect the wiring harness from the coin mechanisms. Once the bolts are removed, the entire coin door assembly pulls loose with a gentle tug. Once removed, I also took off all of the hardware--coin mechanisms, etc.--so that the coin door and frame could be repainted.

  • Side Art: Side art is a lot easier to remove than to apply. I peeled the side art away from both sides in less than 20 minutes using only my hands and a razor blade.

  • T-Molding: The T-molding was easy to remove. I put the cabinet out in the sun (I was planning to paint outside) and, after a half hour or so, the T-molding was soft and pliable. I peeled it off and set it aside.

 

In addition to removing the outside hardware, I removed the monitor, the power supply, the boards, the speaker, and the wiring harness. The process is straightforward, but daunting--you get that feeling that you'll never be able to put it together again! To make sure I could reconnect everything, I labeled every connection. 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. Then, I cleaned all of the pieces I removed, which were also caked with dust.

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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.

 

The Lowes approximation of Donkey Kong blue is:

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.

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Rebuilding

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 my side art and other decals), I managed to pick up a complete CP on 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. So, I had to take the wiring harness off of the DK3 control panel and wire that to the new Donkey Kong panel.

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Replacing the Light Fixture

Nintendo games use a nonstandard lighting fixture in the marquee. The one in this machine was original--as were the bulb and the ballast, both of which needed replacing. The parts for this fixture aren’t easy to find (or, at least, weren’t at the time), 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, 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 had an 8-watt florescent tube (as opposed to the 10-watt bulb in the original) but it worked 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 used a standard extension cord to make the plug reach the power supply.

 

It wasn’t original, but it worked—and you can't tell it's not the right light fixture unless you open the machine.

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Applying the Art

Arcade Renovations is the premier source for restoration art and hardware for video games, bar none (in my opinion, at least)—check the links page for more info. I bought replacement side art from them for my Spy Hunter machine a year or so earlier and was pleased with it. They set me up with everything I needed to finish off my Donkey Kong. I ordered side art, instruction stickers, a marquee, and a 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!

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Finishing Touches

A local arcade dealer re-capped my monitor for me, and I put it back in. This meant poking holes in the side art for the bracket bolts. 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 Game

Here's what a couple of weeks of work gets you. When I was done, the game looked as nice as any Donkey Kong I had seen in quite a while. 

The entire cost of the conversion (including the cabinet itself) was under $300--a great deal for a nice looking (and nice playing) Donkey Kong!

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Empty Cabinet