10 Minutes with Mario Kart Arcade GP2
“Thank you for your service, Mario Kart”
One of my cabinets came by way of a hookup through a friend in Birmingham. This cabinet still has a stock tag on it from asset inventory or from an auction perhaps. The inclusion of an NSN number leads me to suspect it may have spent some time on a military base or perhaps it just passed hands through an auction authority that frequently deals with US Government or Military items.
The other cabinet came by way of a miniature golf closure in Southern Mississippi. Both cabinets are in good shape, they have a few cabinet repairs here and there and some scuffs in artwork or missing decals.
The game is based on the Namco, Sega, Nintendo Triforce platform. Typically a IBM power PC w/ 512mb of RAM roughly similar in architecture to the Nintendo Gamecube. The cabinet is a JVS wiring class, includes a Triforce CPU, a JVS IOS Interface Board, a force-feedback controller board & sound amp.
This game also includes Namco’s Namcam(2) camera, a gimmick to snap photos of the player to be used in leaderboards or as in-race identifiers to distinguish players from bot-racers.
The game originally shipped with a 29” CRT but I was forced to put in Wells-Gardner (the video mentions Vision Pro but my memory for these details is crap) 27” LED Monitors in order to get support for Mario Kart Arcade GP2.
The gameplay shares similarity in racing dynamics to the console Mario Kart games with key differences and Namco cross-licensed characters (pacman, ms pacman). The original game advertised 6 worlds and 24 tracks but they phoned-in the effort in that each world really only had two track variations and then environment or reverse traffic flow on those two comprising the remaining 12 tracks.
Mario Kart Arcade GP2 expands the track offering by adding deeper variation between tracks, bringing the total up to 8 cups & 32 tracks.
MAINTENANCE, VALUE, RARITY, FUN-FACTOR
These games are pretty rare and tended to be higher maintenance games when placed on location because of camera failures and force-feedback failures.
I’m not sure what they are worth but I have roughly $1400 in the Mario Kart Arcade GP 2 upgrade, roughly $900 in the monitors, $400 in force feedback repairs on top of an average price paid of over $3,000 each. With incidental repairs I’d put the total cost of ownership in the pair a little over $9,000. After about 4 years of ownership they continue to be the most-played-arcade games in our game room. Pinball-inclined friends like to comment:
“You could put three pinball machines in the amount of space these consume”
With that out of the way, I estimate that the Mario Kart Pair has gotten more play in four years than every Pinball machine I’ve owned over that amount of time; combined.
It isn’t just kids and friends of kids, either. Adults have been known to use it as a form of rock-paper-scissors or as a sobriety scale. (Legal Disclaimer: Accuracy of Mario Kart Arcade GP 2 to determine a person’s ability to drive safely has not been established)
Is it fun? Yep.
In the coming weeks I’m posting a series of arcade and pinball reviews of games that are currently being fostered in the basement. Ten minutes (+/- a few minutes) with each game to talk about gameplay, maintenance or whatever comes to mind.
As I post them, I’ll go back and make the game entries below clickable.
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Attack from Mars
Indiana Jones The Pinball Adventure
Tales of the Arabian Nights
Cocktail Table Arcade-SD Multigame
Mario Kart Arcade GP 2 - Review completed on 4/19/19
Ms Pacman (Cabaret)
Donkey Kong (Multi Kong w/ Arcade-SD)
Q*Bert (Mylstar FPGA)
Robotron (Multi-Williams FPGA)
Mortal Kombat 4 (and MK1, MK2, MK3 w/ RiddledTV Switcher)
Nintendo Entertainment System Online (Nintendo Switch Online Service)
Not a restoration log… Maybe….a player’s revival log?
I got my first project cabinet a little over 5 years ago. It was a mostly-empty Nintendo cabinet with no monitor, a non-wide, unpopulated Mario Bros control panel and an incomplete power brick. I wasn’t looking for a project at the time and this one was bound for the landfill before it was diverted to my garage.
The cabinet was structurally sound - just missing some hard-to-replace stuff and victim to a few cosmetic scrapes and scuffs.
Got Project, Will Derp…
Knowing I was short on available time (and frankly out of my league) I ended up slapping in an old Dell Optiplex tower running WinXP & Hyperspin.
Looking back, I think getting Hyperspin “just right” took more time than a full DK restore would have…
..and for years, that is how I left the cabinet. Mostly, people playing NES/SNES emulation and limited MAME on Hyperspin.
In 2015, I ended up getting a complete but not working Donkey Kong. Still mostly punching out of my educational-weight-class, I bought it thinking it was a really-nice original cabinet. It had a 2-board boardset with a Nintendo logo silk-screened on the board, after all…
Over time, the fog of derpy-ness lifted somewhat and I discovered that the second cabinet was an ArcadeShop remake. ArcadeShop circa 2005-2010 sold these complete DK’s running DK boards in remade cabinets with a K7200/K7300 monitor (not the Sanyo EZ), a JAMMA harness and DKJamma adaptor.
The cabinets were really nice. The controls were a little generic but felt good. Nice & clean modern power supply. The only downside I could see was the blue on the cabinet was a big decal, not a real (thicker) laminate. Of course, you aren’t going to qualify for any world-record play on these cabinets but they were super nice, in all.
FWIW, Arcade Shop in 2019 still sells a hella-nice DK repro cabinet: http://www.arcadeshop.com/i/968/donkey-kong-upright-new.htm
I’m told that item picture is dated and they now have the full-laminate treatment now with speaker slats instead of the black speaker cover. Unfortunately, CRT’s are all gone so that kit includes an LCD.
At this point in the story, I had two blue Nintendo cabinets. One as a DK-Restoration in waiting with the Hyperspin set up and another with the reproduction JAMMA-fied cabinet.
I decided it was time to finally give the DK project some time.
I decided to let the perfectly-fine repro cabinet go to a friend, in service of Gameroom - cabinet density and as a mind-hack to start the timer on getting my other cabinet restored. Good friend gets a good game for a good price and I get a free-machine slot to work with, everyone wins.
My intention was to eventually use the DK cabinet for an OCD-level restoration. Re-laminate the sides, acquire some DK boards and wiring harness, power and the Sanyo EZ. Get an original control panel and restore it…
cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching (cash register sounds)
Donkey Kong is a $800-$1200 game. You can buy a nicely restored one for $1200 or you can buy one with authentic battle damage for $800. You … might… be able to buy something totally abused for less or you might be able to abuse your own character with an uneducated seller and offer more. They made ~80,000 of them.
If I go through the OCD restore, I’m going to be $2000 in parts alone and some of those parts are going to be tricky to get without buying another populated cabinet and furthering my DK-Gameroom-Density problem.
This is where the current (high) pricing on parts and games seems to really screw me on this. For the full restore I’d have > $2000 and countless hours in cabinet prep and rejuvenation….
All that I really want… is to have a good-enough looking cabinet, something that plays really well and looks original or original-adjacent.
I’d like to keep the price down b/c I tend to drop more in games than I sell them for.. Like the Star Wars Trilogy I essentially gave away last year..
If I keep that crap up, I’ll qualify for a 503c charity.
Also, to complicate things I find myself with a stash of NIB burn-free G07-compatible Korean-made pristine 19” CRT monitors w/ Samsung tubes. Well.. a modest stack of them, anyway. Do I really want to go pay an arm, leg and first-born for someone’s Sanyo EZ for the sake of originality alone?
Practicality > OCD
My success parameters are:
A game that works
A game that uses a CRT
A game that looks good & doesn’t smell like a dying animal
Play more Donkey Kong, become a better player
My rules of engagement are:
Don’t spend more than a DK should cost
Less than 40 hours of precious-fleeting night and weekend time
Instead of going with a Sanyo EZ, I decided to use one of my spare CRT’s.
On the upside, this decouples me from the weird 100V stepdown stuff and the need to work with a Sanyo EZ restoration and I get to use one of my stockpile.
On the downside, it sort of informs the rest of the build. We’ll be going with JAMMA and a modern switching power supply..
Also downside, these are all horizontal frames, so I committed to a chassis-frame transplant as part of that decsion.
On thing that I didn’t mind splurging on…. The Control Panel. I wanted it to “feel” right from the player’s perspective.
I decided to go w/ a repro control panel from Mikes Arcade, a little pricey but includes a reproduction TKGU-23-50 joystick and a more appropriate button setup than the direct-click generic buttons you often see.
As a time and sanity savor, ArcadeShop sells a really well-built JAMMA harness that is nicely labeled and includes a reasonable set of connectors that are pre-installed and wire-management tabs for inside the cabinet..
They also sell a pretty bitchin’ little 20amp ATX-like power supply with matching connectors & flexible switching capabilities.
Not the cheapest offering for either but I’ve been running one of these power supplies for 3 years without issue in another game. The JAMMA Harness is a huge time saver and promotes some tidy habits in the game, also reducing the likelihood of a stalled project while I pay $10 in shipping for $.75c in connectors because of a shortage in my parts bins.
I had to make some slight adjustments (drill new holes) to get a repro upper monitor mount to fit with this not-from-a-DK monitor frame. Nothing too nutty, though.
JAMMA-Adapted Boardset or Something Else?
For this iteration, ArcadeSD won my vote of confidence. I’ve been on an FPGA binge lately but I didn’t see a quick turnkey solution yet available with the quality of the Mylstar FPGA for Q*Bert or BitKit for Pac hardware. While emulation, ArcadeSD plays, sounds and looks really-really good for the Kong games and gives me the ability to do the multi-Kong thing and get DK1, DKJr and DK3 in the one cabinet. Side note: Timber, Tapper - are inexcusably poor on ArcadeSD. He clearly spent the time getting DK right. Like, really-really right.. Also as a bonus you get support for D2K and Foundry.
The only real downside I’ve seen so far with the ArcadeSD is that the single-game-boot for DK isn’t compatible with the free-play cabinet-pricing options and they don’t have a simple “back out to menu” option in single-game-boot mode. The multi-Williams FPGA board in my Robotron cab, by comparison - can boot directly to Robotron (with free play intact) and you can exit out to a menu and select Joust, Defender, Bubbles, etc.. ArcadeSD doesn’t really work that way. So, for now, I’m stuck with it booting to a menu. Not the end of the world: it isn’t a 60 in 1.
I could see in the future if a solid multi-Kong FPGA gets released moving to that as a replacement. Less likely, I could give it the multi-board JAMMA switcher treatment that is in my MK4 cab. Though, the idea of a JAMMA Switcher and multiple adapters to DK Edge connectors makes me lean away from really wanting that level of PCB-purity. Because.. you know - no JAMMA Switcher/Adapter survives contact with the installation in a way that wouldn’t raise Purity concerns from the sticklers, anyway.
I’m not that stickler-y.
I picked up a repro monitor overlay, marquee and instruction card from ArcadeShop and side art from Phoenix Arcade.
One corner I decided to cut: The blackout surround / bezel.
It was hard for me to justify ~$70 shipped for the Nintendo-like cardboard blackout bezel. The previously-available supply of plastic trim-your-own bezels with CRT curvature seems to have dried up. Instead I used black weed-cloth, staples and gorilla tape. Go ahead and send me hate mail. It looks great with the monitor overlay installed. And.. for $10- I’ll spend the remainder of my savings on an okay bottle of Whiskey and be much the happier for it..
Next Up, I’m going to work on the wood damage in the speaker slits and add the missing quarter instruction card. I’m thinking I’ll have to revert to paint instead of laminate for that touch up work unless I can find a source for laminate that isn’t $200.
All in all, though - as of this weekend I have a playable multi-Kong, so I’m a pretty happy camper.
Done-enough for a Guinness, finally got to spend some time on St Patty’s day putting some plays on the cabinet and new control panel. I’ll continue to whittle away at the cabinet’s idiosyncrasies and while I didn’t end up doing the full-on OCD restoration I originally planned, I’m feeling pretty good about where it sits for the investment in time and treasure to this point.
Which.. leads me to the last game in my game room that isn’t operational… Up Next:
It’s nice when a full row of games is complete enough to power on and everything is playable..
This project Ms Pac cabaret came to me complete but not working.
So far, I’ve recapped the monitor, changed the top CPO, added a marquee light and new T-Molding. New Buttons, rebuilt the joystick and tumbled some of the metal.
Still, plenty of rust on the door hinge and the game counter that I need to address.
The game came with a full not-really-working Ms Pac boardset and original power supply.
I cleaned the original harness, boards and power supply and wrapped and stored them for future purist endeavors. To get the game going, I decided to go FPGA instead - Bitkit to the rescue.
Storing the original harness, PCBS and power brick in the bottom wrapped in plastic and brown-paper. I built up a power-block with a new 8-liner and isolation transformer and switched the game to a JAMMA wiring harness. I installed Ms Pac on the Bitkit and set it to directly boot to the game instead of a game selection menu.
The BitKit in action:
I still need to address rusty spots, the side laminate and the game could use a new monitor overlay.
All said though, it is running great with the Bitkit with only one caveat.
There are sync frequency differences between the Bitkit menu and the MsPac Rom.
I can get the monitor dialed in for one or the other but not both, so at this point it has little value as a multi-game, it is strictly a dedicated Ms Pac. The bitkit offers some choices for this, including reversing the polarity of the Sync through a jumper. I’m more inclined to blame this on the monitor than Bitkit, though. I’ll spend some time to determine the sync polarity and attack that problem more surgically in the near future. My guess is that I may be able to solve it with some combination of tweaks between V-Sync, h-Sync or sync-ground tweaks on the harness.
UPDATE 3/20/2019: Aaron (from Bitkit) saw this post and proactively reached out to me (because he is that kind of awesome). He confirmed that (paraphrasing him here) the Bitkit’s origins in Nibbler (Fantasy, Pioneer Balloon, Vanguard, Zarzon) so that the original menu was built with the Nibbler hardware in mind. There are some sync differences between the Nibbler hardware and the Pac hardware. He said he intends to release a future update (early May) to port the Bitkit menu system to the Pac hardware.
That said, in my case I haven’t spent a ton of time (aside from pot adjustments) experimenting with the the sync and grounds to see if I can get both the MsPac and the Bitkit menu dialed in equally. As I alluded to above the best I can do, today with the adjustment pots is to get the Bitkit menu w/ MsPac having a large g07-like curl on the right or I can get MsPac dialed in perfectly at the expense of the Bitkit sync.
I’m more inclined to believe this is an out-of-variance condition on this monitor than any real fault or weakness in Bitkit. Don’t take my report here as a strike against Bitkit - I’m extremely happy with the Bitkit board. It plays perfectly, boots fast and was super-simple to get running.
One of those situations where I triaged this to: “okay it plays great overall situation is good enough for now” and I moved on down the line to the next dark marquee in the lineup.. :)
I’m not sure about my long-term intentions having (effectively) three cabinets that will play Ms Pacman in some capacity but I’m sure this could be excellent trade bait for something else down the line, if it comes to that..
The hobbyist / collector’s quandary. Doesn’t really matter what your hobby or collection, whether RC Planes, Collectible Toys, Alabama Football Memorabilia or full-sized arcade and pinball machines, there is never enough space. It also doesn’t matter what part of the storage spectrum you are on. Your collection can be limited to a curio case in the corner of your living room. Like me you could feel fortunate to have a full room-sized converted storage area to work with or even have full warehouses at their disposal. Space always fills up and seems to be the limiting factor for most people I’ve met in this hobby and others.
Last year, I set my arcade & pinball hobby sights on the theme of out with the old, in with the new.
This year, I’m starting the year looking at the concept of Quality over Quantity. I’d like to spend more of the time playing rather than repairing games that I don’t end up keeping for more than 6 months.
After taking down Christmas decorations, I felt the need to work off some of the night’s alcohol. I spent a portion of New Years Day moving things around in our game room and taking a mental inventory of what will stay and what will go.
RIP, The Dome 2015-2019
The Dome is out.
I built the Dome in 2015. Since that time the primary game I had in mind for it (a single player star wars arcade-style space battle game) was never released. A few games that were epic experiences in the Dome have been removed by their respective software publishers. Still, we found some titles that played well on the curved surface over the years.
It has made people go “Whoa!!”
It gave some folks motion-sickness
It gave some kids (and grown ups) hours of play in a sitting
I even flew a drone from inside it once.. Illegally, I suppose. (shhh…)
One thing was static. It took up a ton of space and it was only played 4 times in 2018. 2 of them by me.
I never was fully satisfied with the “finish” of the cabinet surround that I came up with. Maybe I’ll endeavor a v2 at some point.. VR being cheap and awesome probably challenges the likelihood but you never know..
RIP Dome Cabinet. You gave us 560 hours of playtime while occupying roughly six Donkey Kong’s of real estate. We commit your remains to R'hllor
On a brighter note - Results!
Now this is what I’m left with. The back corner housed four full-sized cabinets in the same space occupied by the Dome and a Pinball. Still have some cleaning to do and a few more games will be leaving (or trading out).
Looking at the first part of 2018, I already know a few games that won’t make the cut this year.
The Midway Horizontal (Home Use Cabinet)
I know that this game will be listed for sale very soon. I need to adjust the monitor a little and may bullet-proof the cabinet a little but all in all the cabinet is in good condition. I bought it with intention of harvesting the monitor for a cabaret project but I’ve decided to do something else. It’s all there and works.
I’ve only had for a few months but I had bought it considering an Indiana Jones Temple of Doom conversion. After playing IJ on MAME for a bit I don’t think that will be worth the many-dead-bothans necessary to pull off. I’ll play my fill of Roadblasters and it will be for sale within a month for less than what I paid for it.
Hyperspin, Super Mario Donkey Kong Frankenstein
When I first picked up this cabinet everything had already been removed and it was headed for a trash heap. The cabinet is in pretty good condition but has a few nicks and gashes in the laminate - especially around the speaker grill slits.
With this Windows 7 / Hyperspin setup, I’ve been running NES, SNES and Sega Genesis emulators. At the time that I put this together RetroPi and Emulation Station weren’t really a thing.
I really like Nintendo Cabinets and this looks to be of a DK Variety. I’m leaning towards putting this back to some sort of JAMMA-based Donkey Kong. More-than-likely running an ArcadeSD PCB and one of my non-Nintendo spare 19” CRT’s. I would also consider selling or trading it for other classic-era arcades.
Any Arcade Purchases on the Horizon?
Moving The Dome out of the room does free up some space but I’m not in a big hurry to fill it up. I’d still like to find a MsPac Cabaret and I’m always a sucker for a nice condition Nintendo-anything. (DK, Popeye, etc)
Any Pinballs on the Chopping Block?
I’m still very happy with Medieval Madness, Attack from Mars and of course, Indiana Jones. I’ve toyed with the idea of trading or selling STTNG or TOTAN but not definitely. I don’t play either of them as much as I’d like but when I do - I still enjoy both pins. I’ve historically not wanted to own any more than 6 pins at a given time. Still, I have a wandering eye so anything is possible, I suppose.
My short list of “interesting” pinballs is:
Lord of the Rings
Simpsons Pinball Party
Star Trek (LE Stern)
Creature from the Black Lagoon
Monster Bash (Original)
I’m not feeling compelled to action towards any of these, at the moment but we’ll see how the year goes, more to come!
For the last couple of years, I’ve made the trip out to Las Vegas after Thanksgiving to take part in Amazon AWS re:Invent. Last year’s trip chronicle can be found here: http://arcadeshenanigans.com/blog/2017/12/2/vegas-arcade-y-goodness-at-amazon-aws-reinvent?rq=vegas
AWS is Amazon’s technology and web-services division. Before Microsoft pushed the branding of “Cloud” into the collective conscience with Microsoft Azure, AWS was already there and already disrupting the industry in creative ways. The over-simplified Genesis story of AWS was that Amazon built highly scalable and resilient web-services platforms to serve Amazon’s growing needs. Someone on Andy Jassy’s team emoted: “Hey, I’ll bet we could see this stuff.” and presto-change-o, Amazon Web Services was formed.
In 2018, Amazon Web Services had around $26 billion in revenue and have a profit margin 5x larger than Amazon Retail in North America. AWS averaged 28% operating profit margin while AWS North American Retail averaged 5.1%.
All this to say, AWS is kind of a big deal and this annual conference is pretty massive. It takes up the majority of the Las Vegas strip.
But what does this have to do with Arcades and Gaming? Re-Invent, knowing their nerd audience tends to work gamer references into the curriculum.
Last year, the certification materials were based on the theme of an 8-bit adventure. This year, a Pac-Man reference during a keynote discussion about Machine Learning advances.
The end of the work-week feature the re:Play party. Three football-field sized venues, this year erected on the Festival Grounds.
Building One is the Club Tent, featuring DJ acts, a respectable collection of classic arcades. Skrillex was the headline act.
New York, New York
Exploring Vegas after the conference, I always try to drop in the Arcade at New York, New York. Here you find most of the recent Stern releases. The machines are well maintained and there is never a line to play.
Pinball Hall of Fame
The Pinball Hall of Fame is a $12 Uber trip from hotels on the strip. Rumor has it that it is moving closer to the strip in 2019.
Each time I’ve been to Pinball Hall of Fame on a weeknight it is almost always empty of patrons. There were a few folks running around servicing games, this time.
A Gamer’s Paradise
Next door to Pinball Hall of Fame (in an adjoining parking lot) is a non-chain classic gaming store.
The store has arcades and pinballs in the back (for sale at typical retail markup) and a vast collection of classic console gaming items at a fair price. I picked up an Atari 2600 and had it shipped home.
Home Sweet Home
I’m not much of gambler and 7 days is really too long, especially around The Holidays. I was very-glad for the flight home and the quiet sanity of Alabama. :)
Sometimes, in this hobby you get to a point where you think: "Okay, now I'm done." But, you seldom really are :)
That said, I think my gameroom titles are more-than-likely locked in for the remainder of 2018, with one potential exception.
Youtube rejected my first recording of this b/c of background music so I reshot it pretty quickly without voiceover and turned down the gameroom music.