The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York plans to offer a nearly 20-foot-tall, yet playable replica of the 1981 classic Donkey Kong this summer, thanks to a partnership with Nintendo and possibly the bizarre aspirations of emulation aficionados.
The cabinet, which was constructed on the same scale as a barrel-tossing gorilla, will be a part of the museum’s $65 million, 90,000-foot extension, which is expected to debut on June 30. The museum intends to make the Giga case “as authentic and true to the original as possible,” according to a news release. The museum also houses the World Video Game Hall of Fame and features some of the most remarkable artifacts in gaming history.
The cabinet will be made of “an aluminum frame with MDF fiberboard.” As Strong’s rendering suggests, instead of playing the game on a step stool or ladder, you use a waist-high, human-sized control panel from the ground. They may then be overwhelmed by the vastness of the vertical construction site where Donkey Kong is holding court while also holding Pauline. The game runs on “a motherboard from an original Donkey Kong cabinet,” according to the Strong Museum.
We asked the Strong Museum about the specifics of the tech stack that were only hinted at in the wider press. Shane Rhinewald, senior director of public relations at the Strong Museum.
I had this led by Aurich Lawson from Ars, a well-known arcade enthusiast (and person I can reach out to via Slack). He explained that JAMMA, a wiring standard for arcade games named after the Japanese Amusement Machine and Marketing Association, wasn’t introduced until 1985. JAMMA normalized the outputs and inputs of arcade games so switching printed circuit boards (PCBs) in and out of cabinets required far less solder and schematics. Adapters exist for many pre-JAMMA board styles, including Nintendo’s Kong-related boards. He grabbed one from his collection to illustrate.
With a board properly JAMMA-fied, it can be loaded into a Supergun. A supergun, as defined in the Fighting Game Glossary (with video images by Lawson), is essentially a miniaturized chassis connector that allows you to connect video outputs and controllers to a mostly exposed circuit board, without the human-sized box element. Used this way it would probably allow the controllers to plug in and generate the basic outputs, although not ready to get huge just yet. A HAS (Home Arcade System) is a specific brand of Supergun. No one knows exactly why it’s called the “Supergun,” though it may simply be a Chinese company making the first notable product and the name sticking.
At that point, Lawson says you’d have a 15kHz video signal – “what we would think of as 240p” – coming from the Donkey Kong PCB intended for a CRT screen. Modern LCD screens can’t handle it; those who might try to scale it up would add lag and not look good, especially at 370 percent size. You need an upscaler, preferably one with little delay. Before we heard about the Strong Museum, Lawson’s guess was an OSSC, an open source scan converter. The OSSC takes a signal and multiplies it without buffering or processing. Multiply 240p by five and you’re at 1080p. The museum’s choice, the Framemeister XRGB-Mini, works differently by taking snapshots of video images and sending them out. One wiki suggests that while the Framemeister’s processing can add a 20ms delay, it can actually counteract the inherent delay some displays produce when processing 240p signals. There are more differences, but both are commonly used to prepare arcade signals for a modern display.
Strong collaborators told Gizmodo they worked directly with Nintendo to ensure their 20-foot version “played as close to the original as possible,” presented their work to the company, and received approval for it. It’s a fitting tribute to the original Donkey Kongwhich itself was an exchange for any unsold radar range Cabinets that Nintendo had in inventory. Developing a game that could run on the same hardware fell to Shigeru Miyamoto, who was new to Nintendo at the time. Miyamoto wanted to make a game centered on that Popeyes Bluto, Popeye and Olive Oyl, but could not get a license for these characters. Bluto became a gorilla, Olive Oyl became Pauline, and Popeye became the most recognizable video game character in the world.