Atari Liberator Cabaret Build
Rarity is a fun thing when dealing in collectables of any nature, but it doesn't necessarily translate into love and value from collectors. Atari, arguably the most famous of all American arcade game manufactures made a number of low production arcade games during the golden age (1978-1985) that have gone onto become cherished by many in the arcade collecting hobby. Games like Quantum (500 made), I, Robot (750 made), and the dedicated version of Major Havoc (300 made) get most collectors drooling and possibly making plans on how to come up with the buckets of cash needed to buy one of these rare classics. These rare games have amazing artwork adorned cabinets, interesting gameplay, and deep histories. The why is Liberator often pushed out of this elite group?
As discussed in a blog post two blogs ago, Liberator is a rare and interesting game that never caught on. Despite the low production number (762 upright units), and interesting history (sequel to Missile Command, and a tie in with the Atari Force comic books) many collectors don't even think about this interesting low produced Atari odd ball of a game. Currently I am working on a rather deep dive documentary on the development of Liberator (which I hope to have finished by late August of 2020). During the process of research for the documentary I have come into possession of over 250 pages of developmental memos, plans, and original Atari documents.
Originally Liberator was to be released in four different cabinet styles, a dedicated upright, a cabaret, a cocktail, and a European cabinet that Atari internally called the "Cost Reduced Euro Cabinet". Piggy backing on the skills I learned from the extensive Simpsons cabinet repair in my last project, I had a wild hair to do something crazy. I wanted to make an Atari Liberator cabaret. Now I have seen a lot of people make custom cabinets online over the years, and for the most part they are pretty great. My beef with most of them however is the lack of attempting to make it as close to factory as possible, which was my goal here.
After completing our Simpsons restoration I found out I had ordered twice as much MDF wood than I was needing, and I was also feeling pretty sassy with the new woodworking skills I had acquired (along with my wife's skills, which honestly are much stronger than mine when it comes to cutting a straight line with a router). I figured we had just enough to make either a countertop game of some kind or a cabaret. I've been itching to make some sort of custom cabinet for awhile, and I read from other collectors who have done it without the use of a CNC machine (which is admittedly much easier, but not necessary). It was time to attempt to do something I have never done before, make a game from scratch.
Atari cabaret designs can be broken down into 3 distinct generations or versions...
GEN 1 - Asteroids, Missile Command
GEN 2 - Battlezone, Asteroids Deluxe (there are slight differences between these two cabinets, but they are very close in design)
GEN 3 - Centipede, Dig Dug, Tempest
Notice in the photos above, that Gen 1 and 2 use horizontal monitors and Gen 3 uses a vertical monitor layout. Although Dig Dug was officially the last cabaret Atari would make in 1982 (Atari Games, the split off arcade only division of Atari post 1985 would make both a Tetris and a Klax cabaret arcade cabinet) I assume if Atari was going to make a cabaret game post 1981 (Both Asteroids Deluxe and Battlezone were released in 1981) they would have used some variation of the Gen 2 cabinet. With this logic, I decided to base me Liberator design on the Gen 2 cabinet. The other great thing here, is that I own a Battlezone cabaret which I could refer to during the build and design process for reference.
Now I have recently discovered there was indeed a 4th version of this Atari design, intended to house horizontal 19 inch monitor games in a cabaret cabinet. This new design would have been used for cabaret versions of Gravitar, Liberator, and possibly Crystal Castles. Unfortunately Dig Dug would be the last cabaret released by Atari in early 1982. Still I am glad I stuck to my design concept, since there are no concrete plans available for this un produced 4th cabaret version available.
Now, if I was fancy I would have simply gotten someone to "CNC" the cabinet parts for me. I am however, not fancy and ended up measuring all the parts by hand from the blueprints of the cabinet and comparing them to my own Battlezone cabaret. Stacking many skills from previous projects (Laminate from the Mikie project, woodworking from The Simpsons project, artwork design from the Jungle King project, etc.) the cabinet came together over the course of about 4 weekends of work.
The most important aspect of making this kind of project might be just good old fashion persistence, and forgiving yourself if you mess something up. It took us 2 attempts to make the front cabinet correctly, and 3 attempts to make the farther complicated control panel. The control panel was especially challenging since originally it would have been made out of metal. Unable to find a cabaret Battlezone or Asteroids Deluxe cabaret control panel to sacrifice (and unwilling to pay the massive amounts of money wanted by a local machine shop to make me a metal control panel) I decided to make a wood one much like the control panels used in Williams arcade games of the era.
One of my big goals with this game was to create something that was as close to a factory original game as possible. Not to offend others who have made custom cabinets, but often I see scratch built cabinets that veer a little too far from the factory look and specs for my taste. This included not just sizing everything correctly, but materials used such as the wood type, wood grain sides, proper decals, inside cabinet instructions, correct controls, side art that looks like something Atari would have made for the cabaret version, and the correct wiring harness. I think I got pretty close to my goal with a few zits here and there. For a first time at doing something like this I couldn't' be happier. Check out the gallery below for more, or the video tour also below via my YouTube channel.