Worst. Blog. Ever. (Simpsons Restoration Finished)
Updated: Jun 24, 2020
After several slow starts and even more distractions (AKA other projects) our 1990 Konami Simpsons upright has finally been fully restored. I bought this game over 3 years ago with the intention of a full restoration but for some reason poor Homer and family always seemed to get kicked to the back of the restoration line. Although this is not exactly the most complicated cabinet from a design perspective, the restoration was one of the most challenging I have attempted. If I had one take away from this project is that I will no longer shy away from games that might be considered "lost causes" anymore.
This cabinet had a few major issues. First, the bottom "sides" were heavily water damaged. I don't think the game was ever submerged in water per se, this might have just been from years of someone mopping around the edge of the game while it was on location. The water damage had made the bottom edge very brittle and both front corners had broken off. This kind of water damage tends to make particle board swell over time, and our Simpsons sides were swollen about 3-5 inches from the base edge. In order to fix this, some serious wood repair/replacement would have to take place.
Maybe even more dramatic than the side damage was the damage to the front of the cabinet. At some point in the past an angry gamer kicked in the front of the game causing a crack from the top left all the way down to the bottom. It was repaired by the operator with large metal supports from the back. Not exactly an elegant solution, but typical for a game winding down its profitable years in the hands of an operator. The damage was too extreme for Bondo or putty, the whole front would have to be recreated and replaced.
Other issues included a hacked up monitor frame, a ratty control panel (with a poor repro overlay, and incorrect joysticks), a glitchy PCB board, destroyed coin mechs, a monitor with major issues, faded and torn side art, a broken top marquee trim, and a useless power supply system. It's no wonder that I kept on putting this project on the back burner.
The first thing I tackled was the control panel. I removed the terrible soiled old overlay and was able to score some nice new old stock Wico joysticks from the 1990's (Thank you EBay). These Wico sticks in the proper colors can be tricky to find, so I really lucked out. All the reproduction artwork for the game came from the great folks at This Old Game. Simpsons arcade artwork is really tough to reproduce the colors correctly, I have seen a lot of terrible attempts at reproduction of this artwork. I cannot recommend This Old Game enough, please support them. Lucky for me, I ordered the artwork back in the fall before the Covid situation started making things difficult so I didn't have to wait for anything. It's just been hanging out in a tube for months patiently waiting for me to get my act together.
I also stripped, sanded, rebuild the edges (with Bondo), and painted the base of the control panel which had seen its fair share of abuse like the rest of the game. The side corners in particular had been pretty eaten up over the years. With the control panel work out of the way I wrapped it up in a soft blanket and put in a safe place in the workshop. Now things were about to get very messy.
You can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs as the popular phrase goes, and we couldn't fix the cabinet without almost taking the whole thing apart. First up we removed the broken front piece from the cabinet entirely. We attempted to do this as carefully as possible in order to use the damaged piece as a template for creating a new one.
Using a table saw, a router, and a saber saw we successfully recreated the front out of particle board (just like the original cabinet). The important thing here was both the sizing and spacing of the coin mech slots and the "rabbet" slots which would hold the front in place. You can check out more details about this all in the videos below.
After we were satisfied with our new front panel, I did the most dramatic thing I have ever done in arcade restoration. I cut the damn game in half....well not in half really, but I cut the bottom 1/3 of the game off completely. This was done to get rid of the water logged sides (who's bottom edges were completely ruined) and give us enough new "side" to allow for continued structural rigidness once the game was reassembled. The true bottom piece was not flush to the ground (and also not made of particle board like the sides) so we did save and reuse that as both a true mathematical base and to keep the game as original as possible.
With the bottom of the cabinet separated from the "good" top 2/3, we went about making new bottom side pieces, a new back, and side rail internal support pieces. One of the big take aways from seeing other Konami cabinet builds/restorations is most people fail to recreate the indent cut in the bottom center of the sides. I was attempting to 1) keep the game as original as possible, 2) recreate/remake damages parts as true to the original as possible, and 3) make sure everything (new parts/old parts) fit together as snug as they could... and not have any visual clues to the repair work, at least externally.
Alignment, measurement, and planning were key during this process. It was imperative that all the new pieces not only fit snugly with each other, but would also line up and fit flush with the original part of the cabinet we were saving. We used what we could of the damaged parts as a template, paying close attention to the "rabbet" slots which makes each side fit into the front piece like giant Lego bricks. Again, the video clips on the bottom of this blog post detail this process much more.
One we were satisfied with the fit of the base pieces, we assembled them together. This including creating side rails for both the front edge (which would go all the way up into the game, beyond the cut side height) and a small block on each side of the side tops to connect the "new" with the "old" cabinet. These side blocks would add extra support to help carry the load of a 25 inch CRT monitor above it (amount other things). Using a biscuit joiner, we created a series of slots where small wood "biscuits" sit. This technique allows a flush fitting of two wood pieces, and is commonly used in cabinet making. Now it was time to actually reconnect the new bottom part (and front) of the game with the surviving original top part.
Laying the game on its side, we carefully slide the parts together using the side rails we built into the new bottom....
We laid the whole game on top of our furniture dolly (which we use to move these huge games around) so once the two pieces were together, we would just set the game upright.
Before finally bringing these two parts together, we lather the edges (and inside the biscuit joints) with wood glue so they can be forever friends.
And poof! The game is together again, finally.....
In this inside shot, you can see the side supports have been screwed into both the old and new part of the game. This should provide added structural support which was lost when we cut the game in two pieces.
Despite our best efforts, the game was very close but not perfectly allied on the sides. We were off by about 1/16th of an inch on the front which would cause the t-molding to pucker out. After putting Bondo in the crease between the two parts of the game, we used a router to carefully make the front edge truly flush for a nice clean professional finish.
Everything was sanded down, especially the area with the Bondo. We wanted to make sure that the surface was as smooth and even as possible so once the art was applied we wouldn't have any bubbles or dents from the wood. Usually I would have painted a primer coat, but the original game didn't have one and I was trying my best to keep it all original-ish.
One last bit of woodwork that needed to take place was the repair of the wooden top monitor bracket inside the game cabinet. Some knucklehead in the past had cut out an area to make a monitor "fit" instead of properly adjusting the monitor bracket. I've seen some lazy fixes in my life but this one takes the cake...
We wanted to take out the whole wood bracket but it was so elaborately glued into the cabinet that proved impossible. So we cleaned up the cuts and glued in new replacement wood pieces. Afterwards they were filled in with Bondo and painted. Very few people will ever see this part of the game but it was important to me to fix everything correctly that needed to be fixed.
After fixing the top monitor brace, it was onto sanding and painting the cabinet were no art would be attached. I also filled some of the major bumps in the upper speaker panel with Bondo. This isn't the most exciting process since it's 1) paint 2) sand the painted area 3) paint 4) sand....etc. However taking your time here will pay off with a nice deep and clean finished paint job. I do like to have a lot of layers of paint on the front panel since it tends to take the most abuse from people playing (intentionally or not).
Next up was to finally apply the artwork which I had ordered about 6 months before I finally got around to this point in the game restoration process. You always want to give it about a week or so laying flat under something heavy before you apply any art (since most often, it is shipped to you in a tube). The last thing you need while applying artwork is to fight the curl of it.
I made what some might view as the controversial choice to cut and apply each side of art into three pieces. Now why the heck would I do this you might ask? Because that is how it originally was installed from the factory in 1990. My goal with any restoration is always to try to recreate the original version of the game like it was... not like how I want it to be, for the most part anyway.
Now before I took the old artwork off, I made a pretty big effort to measure out not only the three cut area lengths, but how the art was placed in distance to the sides of the cabinet. The Simpsons artwork design is rather tight for the space it inhabits, the name logo barely fits on the sides of the cabinet properly. I have seen a lot of misaligned and cut off artwork on other peoples restorations (some of which can also be contributed to poorly printed side art reproductions) and I was determined to get ours as close as possible. You can also see how on my original artwork Maggie's head is slightly cut off! This might just be a slight factory deviation, it's just strange to me.
With my sections of art cut and my surface fully prepped, I carefully use my measured out areas making sure no art gets cut off.... and is in the proper placement on the cabinet when compared to the original artwork placement from the factory.
I like to use a rubber roller with a heat gun on a low setting to get rid of any small air bubbles in the art. Doing this with a buddy makes it a lot easier, but I did this cabinet solo.
And now we can see with the art fully installed, I carefully used a new exact knife blade (with a very long metal ruler) to trim off the extra needed bits from the artwork. Overall the placement was pretty much dead on to the original artwork on both sides. After several months of hard work the game was really starting to look like something again.
With the cabinet finished, it was time to get the game actually working again. The 25 inch monitor had been rebuilt which included a replacement Wells Gardner chassis (someone had replaced it at one time with a version from Neo Tech). I also ordered a new PCB since the original had massive issues with the sprites and was beyond my PCB repair skill level.
Inside the cabinet I installed a new power supply system I had built using a switching power supply from HAPP Controls. All of the wiring was still original since the harness was in outstanding shape despite the years of service. At this point I also started to clean up, fix the dents in, and repaint the coin doors. The coin doors were in terrible shape and usually for a restoration of this level I would get them powder coated, that will have to wait until I find some better candidates. I could have bought new coin doors but the modern versions are of a different design than the original versions installed by Konami.
I also added some custom coin reject button art since I thought it was fun. The cracked coin reject bezel around Homer's coin button was replaced with a better one.
With the wiring installed and the coin mechanics as sorted out as I could get them for now, we went ahead and installed the monitor and PCB. 25 inch CRT monitors are a bit heavier than the normal 19 inch versions I move around normally so I defiantly needed another person to help me with this one. The last thing you want to do this late in the restoration is accidentally break the neck of a large expensive CRT monitor. After firing up the game and sorting any mis connected button or joysticks, it was a time to install the marquee, serial number stickers (which I recreated from the original ones someone wrote all over at some point) and the T-molding for the finishing touch..
The original coin stickers for each player are normally always missing from the game, They are easy to peel off so I am sure the survival rate on them was sort lived.
Originally the game had black T-molding which I should have installed to be totally authentic but I can't resist color T-molding. Yellow is a popular choice for The Simpsons arcade cabinet but I think pink is a better choice, it reminds me of Homer's favorite donut and matches the pink accent line on the control panel.
The placement of the side art turned out fantastic, thanks to obsessive planning and a great reproduction of the art from This Old Game. You can see the cut out on the bottom of the cabinet looks great as well, if a repro cabinet doesn't have this cut out it isn't a correct reproduction!
All new old stock Wico sticks grace the rebuilt control panel and await the next party at our house once Covid is finally over... which might be awhile.
Overall I am thrilled with the results of this restoration, and I am glad I decided to go the extra mile to save as much of the original cabinet as possible. The new skills I have learned from this project gave me confidence to do something even more elaborate, but we will save that for another post in the future.