Atari Liberator / Cabal Pickup
Updated: Sep 13, 2021
AKA: A parts cabinet becomes a future project
Over the last few weeks I have been finishing up my long term Cloak & Dagger project, which hopefully will be completed in the next few weeks. One of the major needs for the project was a donor 19 inch monitor. Not wanting to go through the nightmare of shipping a 40 year old CRT monitor (which last time I attempted to do so, ended up being a nightmare of broken glass thanks to a poor packing job form the seller), I started stalking Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace for a cheap yet decent vintage game that no one would miss with an above average condition monitor. So after finding my cheap game, it was time for a bit of a road trip to a small barcade about 100 miles South of Seattle.
If you have read any of my past blog entries or watched my YouTube videos in the past, you know of my down right obsession with Atari's Liberator. Liberator was one of Atari's lowest production games and a bit of a flop for Atari despite a tie-in to their popular comic book series with DC Comics Atari Force (You can watch the full documentry about it here if you desire). This cabinet was indeed originally one of the only 762 Liberators made. Since 1982 however, this cabinet seems to have been the home to several different arcade games (a common fate) with the fun and somewhat underrated Cabal taking up a long term residence inside.
The monitor is a Wells Gardner 4600, and it is in surpisingly good shape for its age with some burn in from several other titles but nothing too terrible. This isn't the original monitor to the game, it probably originally housed the rather unreliable Matsushita branded monitor. It will get some new caps and a general cleaning before it goes into the Cloak & Dagger, but what will become of the rest of this rare cabinet?
The purist in me would like to restore it back to a Liberator (I do happen to have a second working Liberator PCB from our Liberator cabaret project), there are however a few challenges in order to make that happen successfully. The cabinet overall is what I would call average to below average condition with damage to the base and general ware that comes from a game that has been in service since 1982. The sides have been painted with several coats of black paint, with unknown game decals underneath from some long lost conversion kit title. I will try to use citrus based stripper to save the original art underneath but it might be an impossible task at this point.
The unique top marquee box has been modified to incorporate a more traditional marquee size, but thankfully the outline of the side "bumpers" are still there so I should be able to recreate those easily. It is missing the unique lower and upper brackets however. The light fixture was pretty beat up and I actually had to disconnect it in order to transport the game in fear of it popping lose and breaking the neck of the monitor.
The exclusive to Liberator control panel is still there thankfully but has been cut in the middle to accommodate the controls for Cabal, along with a previous modification to the front for what looks like player one and two start buttons which are now covered by button hole covers. I would love to try to make a run of reproduction control panels since there seems to be a need for them with other collectors wanting to restore their Liberator machines, so we will see if I can make that a reality.
One of the more truly facinating things about this particular cabinet is in the inside. We discovered that the original Atari power brick and Audio Regualtor II boards were not just both still included (which is amazing for restoration work), but has been modified to work with JAMMA. I have seen a lot of hacked modifications over my years of arcade game collecting but this one is actually very well done and honesly pretty impressive. All the wires are neatly shrink wrapped and the game works with zero issues. Whoever did this back in "the day" really knew their stuff and were determined not to have to spend an extra 30 bucks on a new switching power supply.
So Liberator #141 might very well live again but not any time soon I am afriad. With school starting back up in two weeks, and at least two to three other projects ahead of this one I might not make very much progress on bringing Commander Champion back to life until 2022. But until then rest easy little Liberator, you still exist which in itself is a small miracle and hopefully at some point in the future you will reclaim your previous alien blasting glory for others to enjoy once again.
Update (... a few days later)
The Liberator artwork is indeed safe and sound under no less than 4 layers of paint, so it looks like I will indeed be restoring this game back to its original condition.