Monday, July 21, 2008

The Six-Million Dollar Mini...

It's amazing what $100 can or can't buy in this hobby. Sometimes it can get you a working mother board or monitor. Sometimes it can get you new side art for a game. Sometimes it can get you a complete working game in decent condition. And sometimes it can get you in over your head so deep you begin to wonder where the next stop is on this runaway train so you can step off. Such was the case several years back when I picked up a Centipede Cabaret or " mini" as they are sometimes called.

The hour was late as I sped along the bridge trying to get across the San Francisco Bay. I swear those bridges are a thousand miles long when there is a classic arcade game waiting on the other side. The preliminary report I got on this Centipede wasn't good. Missing control panel. Water Damage. Chunk missing out of one side .
I drove on wanting to see for myself just how bad it was .

I arrived at the house and he opened the garage door. Sitting alone in the corner with the headlights of my truck shining on it looking like some kind of scared hostage was the Centipede mini. Missing control panel. Water damage. Chunk missing out of one side. I knew what I had to do. Moments later the game was wrapped in a blanket and being whisked away to safety. I got home and unloaded the game and took a better look at the damage. My heart started bleeding. The only way this game would be saved was with two complete new sides. Then there was the issue of the missing control panel. Where on Earth was I going to find one of those ? The madness took over and I went to work.

I started looking for a control panel and as you can imagine I had no luck. I decided that if I couldn't find one then I would just have to make one. I looked for a donor panel to copy and fellow arcade collector Scott Caldwell answered the call. I didn't know Scott. He lived pretty much on the opposite side of the country from me. But in one " it takes a village " moment he was willing to send me his panel to save the game and try and make more panels to save more games in the future. So I have a donor panel , now what ? . I started calling some local fabrication shops but all I seemed to get was the " we are too big and too busy to deal with your silly arcade game " attitude. It wasn't looking good.

Meanwhile back in the garage the patient was undergoing major reconstructive surgery. I started by ripping the old sides off. They were both swollen at the bottom and crumbled as I removed them. The original front and bottom were in good condition and salvaged. The lower rear panel had to be replaced . I traced out the new sides and back , cut them out, and started transferring the parts over . I glued the cabinet back together, routered a slot for the t-molding trim and applied new woodgrain siding as the six million dollar man theme song ran through my head .

It was time to resume the search for a panel or someone that could copy the donor. I decided to make another call and this time the results would be a little different. I have no idea what made the gentleman on the other side of the phone decide to help . Maybe it jolted a childhood memory of playing arcade games . Maybe business was just slow . Maybe he could hear the determination in my voice to see this restoration through. All I do know is that he was willing to take a look at the panel and see what he could do. That was good enough for me.

Trust me when I say that walking in to a fab-shop with a control panel from an old arcade game can feel a little awkward. It turned out that these guys had been building a Battle-bot in their spare time in the shop and entered it in those robot gladiator wars that you see on tv. I guess they could relate to me dumping large amounts of time and money into something that most people would never understand. They looked over the panel and gave me an estimate. Remember what I said at the beginning about how it's amazing what $100 will and will not buy. Well I will tell you that it will definately not buy a reproduction control panel for a centipede mini. They did however offer a discount if I had several panels made instead of just the one. After talking it over with Scott we decided to make several to get the price down to a reasonable level. I dropped off the panel at the fabrication shop and waited for the last piece of the puzzle .

Time passed and the panels were ready. When I first saw them I could not believe my eyes. They were exact and perfect copies of the original. Nothing less than amazing.
I went home and applied the reproduction control panel overlay and bolted the panel onto the game. It was a proud moment. The Centipede was whole again , better, faster , stronger...

This Centipede now resides in someone elses gameroom. Other than the new owner , I dont think that anyone that plays it even knows it's story . They are enjoying this game's new lease on life and that is all that matters. And if someone plays that game and decides they want a classic of their own, even better. Special thanks to Scott Caldwell for trusting me with his original panel . If I had to do it all over again I would. It's amazing what $100 can and can't get you in this hobby...


Francis Mariani said...

Dave did rebuild it...he had the technology...he has made it better than it was.

Amazing work Dave! And the guys you used do make those panels did an awesome job too. That panel looks like it came straight from Atari's assembly line.

Anonymous said...

Great blog! Lots of great info! Keep up the great posts...!

raz0red said...

Wow, what a great blog entry!

Spying in the photos I think I can make out two Trons and a Star Wars cockpit. Very nice collection indeed.