The AwkEng vs the Wii

Hi all,

Turns out, that despite my struggles with distractions from the internet, the internet is really really great*. Today's post is about video games, the internet, fixing a broken Wii, a few favorite quotes, and things the internet can't do.

*I made a pop culture reference the other day the was probably a decade out of date for my audience, which I think is the definition of getting old. If you don't know the 18 year old song from the Avenue Q Broadway play, the internet is really, really great (for porn!).

Ideas in Child Rearing: The Console Progression

I wouldn't describe myself as an avid gamer, but I've hung on to an old Nintendo Wii, and one of the things I looked forward to as a dad was playing video games with my kids. (I can't wait until they're both old enough to play Mario Kart against me.)

I had this idea, that because the Nintendo Wii has an emulator for the original Nintendo and Super Nintendo, I'd be able to able to sequentially educate my kid in the evolution of all the Nintendo consoles. I'd start him on Super Mario, move him to Super Mario 3, figure out something to cover the N64, play GameCube games on the backwards compatible Wii, and then move on to the Wii itself. I'd gift him the experience of years of console and graphics development and teach him a better appreciation for modern technology.

None of that ever happened and we jumped to the Wii pretty quickly, but even on a 15 year old console, my six year old is more than excited to get a "new" Wii game. They're just as fun for both of us, and usually less than half the price of a new game for the Switch.

Disk Read Error

So playing Super Mario Galaxy Wii (initial release 2007) or Kirby's Return to Dream Land (initial release 2011) has been a favorite Saturday morning pastime. Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when the Wii started reporting a disk read error and would refuse to play any Wii games. Suspiciously, this behavior manifested immediately after an unscheduled 2.5 foot Wii drop test from the TV stand to the floor.


Fortunately, the Wii emulator still worked (it just has downloaded games, no disks) and I had a blast with my kid, rediscovering Bomberman, Legend of Zelda (I had never played it before!), Super Mario, and Super Mario 3. The video game classics education had begun!

That was fun, but it turns out, the new games really do have an edge on the old ones, and we hadn't beaten Super Mario Galaxy, so the pressure to find a fix was on. I love the adage "If a man says he'll fix something, you can consider it done, there's no need to ask him every six months", but in this case, my kid wasn't so patient.

It was time to attempt a fix.

The Internet is really, really good for stuff

Now, learning how to fix stuff is one of the things the internet is reallllllly good for. I'm blown away by the number of YouTube tear down videos, step by step instruction sets, (thank you iFixit) and even spare parts that are still available for sale.

My best guess, based on what I'd read, was that the lens used to read the disks had been knocked out of alignment. I wasn't sure this was something I could repair, so I opted to pre-emptively purchase a replacement disk drive.

Becoming a Journeyman Repairman

Embarking on the repair also meant buying some new tools, like tri-wing screwdrivers and really teeny, #0 and #00 Phillips heads.

This is an aside, but I've heard that apprentice machinists once started with empty toolboxes, and as they gained experience and took on more jobs, they'd acquire more tools. When their toolbox was full, they were no longer an apprentice. I'm not going to call myself a journeyman of small electronics repair yet, but still, a good excuse for new tools is always fun. (If you're curious, the sets from iFixit are awesome.)

Well, There's the Problem.

Thanks to an incredible guide from iFixit, the Wii came apart quite smoothly. I lifted up a piece of metal shielding over the disk drive, and had the opportunity to whistle and say "well, there's the problem."

There's the problem

The disk drive is normally suspended by some mechanically isolating rubber grommets onto a plastic frame inside the Wii. The drop shattered the frame. I imagine that without the restraint of the frame, every time the disk drive spun up, the inertial kick would cause the drive to jump, which in turn would make the read head skip. Disk read error, indeed.

I cleared out the debris, ran a simple test by holding the disk drive in my hand while powering on the Wii, and concluded that yes, the disk drive still works, which naturally, was pre-ordained when I ordered a replacement part ahead of time.

The broken pieces

The Internet Can't Help You Here.

Of course, there were no instructions on the internet for what to do about a shattered disk drive mounting frame. So it was time to hack something. I wish I had some story for you about carefully reverse engineering the broken parts and 3d printing a replacement, but sometimes good engineering means just making something that's good enough.

I've said in the past that the key to hacking and prototyping is having lots of random stuff around (that's the excuse I tell my wife, anyway), and the answer to this problem was electrically dissipative foam packaging.

Foam is a great solution to a lot of problems, because it compresses, which gives you a lot of wiggle room to get "close enough". In this instance, by selectively placing pieces of foam around the disk drive, I was able to securely wedge the drive in place without needed to design a dimensionally exact fix.

Foam to the rescue

Problem solved.

The One Downside.

As happy as I am to be playing Super Mario Galaxy Wii again, the one downside to all this is that my kids now think I can fix anything. I'll have to enjoy it while lasts. Whatever breaks next, at least I'll have the internet. I hear it's really, really great.

Best regards, Sam
aka THE Awkward Engineer

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