Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Google: What makes pinball ownership possible

The internet is such a wonderful thing, sometimes we take for granted the way it has changed every aspect of our lives.  I was thinking, though, without the internet it would be really hard to own and maintain pinball machines.  Forums like RGP and Pinside are invaluable in their role of bringing pinball enthusiasts together to share knowledge, ask questions, and troubleshoot.  But even beyond that, Google combines their powers to let you dig for the specific topic you need, on every indexed pinball forum or website in existence.  Kids, life wasn't always like this...

Whenever a problem comes up on one of our machines, we just Google it.  And there is almost always a result that either walks through solving that exact problem, or is close enough.  Frequently with detailed pictures.  Pinball owners love taking detailed pictures, thank goodness.  Say, for example, you just can't remember which side up a particular ROM chip goes, or some other board detail.  You can almost always find images someone has taken of your exact machine's boards.

This may all be self-evident, but I'm just saying, before the internet, before Google, it would be much harder to share maintenance knowledge of this kind.  It would all be in silos in the form of seasoned pinball operators and electrical engineers.  You'd have to know somebody.  It's good to stop every once in a while and think about that.  This goes for every detail-oriented hobby, really.

It also makes navigating my way across New England to pick up pinball machines infinitely easier.  Actually acquiring the machine is also key to pinball ownership.

Thanks, Google!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Asheron’s Call 2 is back!

They like to say that there are certain life moments in which you will always remember where you were.  On December 30th, 2005, I was dancing on top of the great Deru tree, bearing witness to the end of the world. The sunsetting of Asheron’s Call 2. It was like losing a friend for those of us who still knew and loved the game. Players cried, and went through stages of real grief over it. And to this day, people on the Facebook group comment about how much they miss their Tumerok Hivekeeper (ok, that was me), or playing in a Drudge rock and roll band. If you look in the comments section on any AC2 YouTube video, you'll see a constant theme of "oh man, this brings back so many memories, I wish I could play again."

The developers who worked on the game also had an emotional investment in it, and felt the same loss when the closure was announced, especially since they'd really done some great things with the Legions expansion just prior. There’s a really good article on The Game Archaeologist about the story of AC2 and its final days from the dev side of things by former Producer Eric Heimburg.

SO, those were sad times, and even though we’ve had time to get over that after SEVEN YEARS, I would still go back if I could.  People have, during that time, worked on emulating the game, but not with complete success, and I don’t personally want to get into the weeds enough to figure that stuff out (though the fact that they were doing it is yet another indicator that this game holds a special place in peoples’ hearts). The people at Turbine who made the decision to axe Asheron’s Call 2 are long gone, but are there any remaining who still remember, or feel the level of affection for the game that I do?

Evidently, there are. And holy @#$%*… they just did the unthinkable. Asheron’s Call 2 is back.

It’s free to play, all you need is a subscription to the original Asheron’s Call. There have been some changes made, so the old installations of the game won’t work. It would be astounding if people actually HAD old installations, of course; for me that was at least two computers ago.  You’ll need a fresh download, which they provide here. Also, old characters are not there. Which I think is a good thing overall. I am perfectly happy to start over and get re-acquainted with things.

Over the years, I’ve tried to get back into games I used to love. My husband and I dabbled a little in World of Warcraft, and I installed Dungeon Keeper, Caesar III, Sacrifice, and even the Sims. They were all fun for a few hours’ walks down memory lane, but then I’d move on to other things. This is different.

Thanks, Turbine. Thanks for listening, for caring, and for taking the time to do something like this when all hope was lost. I can’t wait to go back, and I hope this allows some people who never knew AC2 to discover and enjoy it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Should you buy a pinball machine?

Pinball machine ownership is an expensive and time-intensive hobby.  Is it worth doing, especially if you are lucky enough to live somewhere you can still play pinball in public?  Let's have a look at the pros and cons of home pinball ownership.

Image by Fred Bellet via Tampa Bay Online


Condition control.  This is probably the number one reason to own a pinball machine.  Machines in public places are not always taken care of and maintained.  It hurts the play experience, and this is something you may not even realize until you've played a well-maintained machine.  As a pinball owner, not only will your machine be played more gently (and mainly just by YOU), you can keep it in tip-top condition.  You control the pitch of the playfield, you control the various program settings (profanity filter on/off, score resets, ball save timers, etc.).

Access to specific machines. Another benefit to seeking out your own machines is that you aren't limited to whatever machine happens to be onsite at your local bowling alley or bar.  If you always loved Terminator 2, you can get a Terminator 2 pinball machine.  For a while, my local airport actually had Medieval Madness, and I looked forward to playing it any time I travelled through there.  But then one day it was gone.

Tinkering.  If you're a tinkerer, oh man, is pinball ever the hobby for you!  Even if your machine is running perfectly, there are endless opportunities for tweaks, polishing, and improvement.  A pinball owner's work is never done.

Some of history's greatest men were tinkerers...

Modding.  When you own your own pinball machine, you can do with it as you please.  Pinball modding presents a whole world of fascinating options.  From practical additions like Invisiglass and Cliffy protectors to decals and flashy decorative mods like undercabinet lighting and playfield toys, modding allows you to improve the play experience and make your machine more uniquely you.

No quarters necessary.  Unless you want to give your kids the world's heaviest piggybank, all machines can be set to free play for a home use environment.  You'll get a lot more practice in when all you have to do is hit start, believe me.  You'll try riskier moves, and if the ball drains in the process, or you tilt the machine, oh well; the next game is just a button push away.  If you want to become more skilled at pinball, nothing helps more than having a machine in the next room when you've got a few minutes to spare.

"All my friends will be so impressed!"  Well... not necessarily.  I mean, that's what we thought at first, but we've actually found that most of our pre-existing friends aren't that enthusiastic about pinball (though they may be impressed anyway, in a "wow, you guys are amazingly obsessed" kind of way).  They aren't calling up all the time to come over and play, and when they are over, there's a weird hesitation barrier to pushing the start button.  On the flip-side, people we weren't as close to, like my daughter's best friend's mom or the neighbors across the street, turned out to love pinball, and now we share that much more common ground.  And we've made new friends in the pinhead community, too.  You don't have to ask that crowd twice to attend a pinball party at your place.


Expense.  Buying a pinball machine will generally cost you thousands of dollars.  And shipping is certainly not trivial either; that'll run $300 - $400 or so.  You're not going to make back the initial costs on the quarters you save.

Ongoing expense.  Bulbs go out.  Pinballs get dings and wear, and need to be replaced (about $1 a piece).  You need lint-free cloths, and the proper cleaning solutions, and wax, and other maintenance supplies.  If a plastic piece on the playfield breaks, it's off to Ebay or one of the pinball parts suppliers for a replacement (if one exists).  Your DMD display will probably die at some point and need to be replaced. 

Learning curve.  Unless you want to just shell out for the local pinball repairman every time something goes wrong (if there even IS a local pinball repairman in your area), you'll have to learn how to fix stuff.  That can be a positive or a negative, depending on your temperment, but every time a new problem surfaces, it's on you to figure out how to fix it.  Granted, the online pinball enthusiast community is a priceless source of information, support, and advice.  I say it's on you to fix it, but you're not alone.

What if it breaks forever? It's always possible that a permanent failure will occur, something that just can't be fixed. For the most part, though, that doesn't happen. As complex as a pinball machine is, it mostly boils down to simple electronics and triggers, and a computery motherboard or two.

Under playfield view of Bally's The Shadow

Bigger than a bread box.  Pinball machines are a huge piece of furniture, and getting them into the house can be a hassle.  If/when you move to a new residence you have to factor in that hassle amongst all the other hassles inherent in moving.  It's pretty much the equivalent of taking your refrigerator with you every time you move, multiplied by however many machines you wind up owning (and you can fool yourself into thinking you'll stop at one, but overwhelming case evidence is against you there).


In the end, owning a pinball machine vs. playing on site is a lot like owning a home vs. renting. And just like home ownership, it's not for everyone.  One thing to remember if you do become a collector, though; your local arcade still needs your support!  Don't forget to drop a quarter in those machines now and then, even if you become an obsessive addicted pinball collector. :)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Geekumentary Review: The Pinball Passion

"Video games are kind of like checkers; pinball is chess."

- John Kosmal, competitive pinball player

After TILT and Special When Lit whet my appetite for pinball documentaries, I went looking for more and found The Pinball Passion.  This one came out in 2008, when pinball was being kept alive by the home enthusiasts, expos, big public collections like the pinball museum in Las Vegas, and of course Stern (who became the last manufacturer standing in 1999 when Williams shut down).

The Pinball Passion is a 2-disc set with some great bonus material including a behind the scenes tour at Stern Pinball. It's a comprehensive film that covers several interesting aspects of pinball. It provides some nice highlights on the evolution of pinball as told by reknowned members of the industry such as Alvin Gottlieb, Roger Sharpe, Gary Stern, Pat Lawlor, and Steve Ritchie.

They talk about the depth and modes of pinball machines, something that would probably be very illuminating to many people (myself included, prior to falling in love with the hobby).  The often told legend of Roger Sharpe vs. the New York City Council is related; this story pops up in almost every pinball documentary, but I do enjoy hearing it, it's pinball canon and a dramatic pivotal moment in pinball history.

There is also some good discussion about the challenges of public play pinball.  Arcade machines simply don't have the same magnitude of maintenance requirements that pinball does.  A well-maintained machine is a joy to experience, but, as the documentary points out, if a player walks up to a machine with a broken flipper, it creates a distasteful experience that will probably turn them off to pinball in general.  It's hard to get the mainstream public excited about pinball when so many on-location machines are not kept in good working order.

One of my favorite parts is the discussion on Stern, and how they have adapted to survive.  Some people hate Stern; they hate that machines have gotten cheaper (production-wise) and more standardized, that Stern is said to "literally buy toys from Wal-Mart and put them in the machines" as opposed to some of the amazing and unique machines that came out of the golden age of pinball.  It's a legitimate point of contention, but bottom line, in my opinion, they have done what they had to do to keep making pinball, and I salute them for that, I really do.

One of the only things I didn't like about this documentary concerns the DVD menu.  The options are to play the movie, or "Mode Select" and "Wizard Mode".  That may be a clever way to label these sections in line with the subject matter, but I have NO IDEA what is in them.  They probably should have stuck with "Settings" and "Bonus Material".  It's a minor objection, though.  The film has been dedicated to the two new pinball machines they could have bought, but instead made this documentary.  Truth.  Thanks, guys, your efforts are greatly appreciated.

Pinball Passion
A Pinball Story Told by Pinball People
Bracken J. Batson and Beau B. Bellgraph, 2008

Friday, November 30, 2012

Star Trek Next Gen remastered theater screening

Last night we took the kids to a special showing of Star Trek Next Generation at the local IMAX theater.  This was to promote their new release of the remastered season 2 on blu-ray. 

In the car on the way over, we were discussing it, and our agreed opinion was that we wouldn't be getting the blu-ray, because we have the entire series on DVD and that's good enough.  We've recently started watching it with our kids, ages 5 and 7, and they seem to be getting into it.  As one of my friends commented, "You had them watch Farpoint first?!  If they got through that, they will love the rest!"

We were half an hour early and the screening room was already plenty crowded.  They were projecting a series of different shots on the screen, cool imagery but also some before/after shots of the remastering.  I have to say, it was looking pretty good, and those were all it took to convince us, we would probably be buying the blu-ray after all. 

The showing kicked off with a big chunk of the documentary included in the new release.  You KNOW I'm a sucker for documentary, so I was delighted.  Also surprised the kids made it through that.  About 45 minutes later, Q Who? was shown.  The kids loved it (especially the hot chocolate spilling incident at the start).  It was also just so cool to be in an audience full of trekkies laughing at Riker's chastisement of Wesley, and just enjoying the show on the big screen.

When that episode ended, they next showed a bunch of blooper outtakes.  Once again, it was fun laughing together as an audience, along with the crew.

There was going to be about an hour more of stuff including the Measure of a Man episode, but we figured we'd pressed our luck far enough and ushered the kids out at that point.  It was a great night though, and as we drove home, my daughter said, "When we get home, can we just settle down on the couch and watch another one?" :)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Pinball Mods: Custom Apron Cards

You know those two information cards at the bottom of the playfield, above the ball trough?  That area's called the apron, and those are known as "apron cards".  For pinballs in public, they will usually be the game rules on the left, and the price to play on the right.

Image by robinvanmourik via Flickr

In a home environment, of course, "price to play" is a waste of space.  Enter custom apron cards.  If you're good with graphic design, the world is your oyster (and please, post your creations for the rest of us!), but if not, the internet is full of 'em.

Lord of the Rings custom apron card by PinZach

One maker of custom cards I kept coming across was Zach Wolf of  You can also see his apron card work in his section on Pinball Rebel, but he does a lot more with pinball than just cards.  I contacted him and asked a few questions.

Interview with Zach Wolf

Keeping My Cool: When and how did you first get into pinball?  How quickly did you become a collector?

Zach: Have played pinball for 40 years (since I was little).  Had my first machine in my house when I was a teenager – Paragon.  Always had 2-4 machines until about 10 years ago when I started collecting in earnest.  I have 20+ games now.

KMC: When did you first get the idea to make apron cards?

Zach: Around 2006 I saw a few custom cards on machines I bought and also read about others on pinball discussion sites (RGP, Pinside).  I also happened upon the granddaddy of custom card sites, and saw their great collection.  Since I like fooling around with Photoshop, I thought I‘d give it a whirl.

KMC: You have a sizable set of cards on your website.  How do you choose what games to make custom cards for?

Zach: Many are games that I own or owned.  Some are new Stern machines because I know people want them.  But mostly, they have been requests from people who saw my cards – of course the game has to interest me too.

The Simpsons Pinball Party custom apron card by PinZach

KMC: How would you walk a newbie through making their own cards, especially as far as getting the format right for printing, and the best format in which to share them with other pinheads?

Zach: It depends on their computer knowledge.  I create all my stuff as composites in Photoshop.  You can find out the correct size for your machine from many sites (pinballrebel and others).  I make my cards available in both jpgs and PDF files.  Jpgs can be a little dicey for other people to use because some photo and printing software will automatically resize them.  If you know how to create PDFs, the size is standardized and anyone with a little knowledge should be able to print them successfully.

KMC: Are you still making cards?

Zach: Haven’t in about a year, but I run in streaks.  I’m sure I will again.  I’ve been focusing on my classic arcade site.

KMC: You seem to be pretty dedicated to the hobby.  What are some of the other things people can find on your site?

Zach: If they are interested, you can also find a bunch of flipper decals I created.  They are art templates that you can print on clear decal paper on any inkjet printer.  Then, you stick them on your flippers to add design to them.  There are some other things on the website, some is dedicated to the Internet Play-at-home Pinball League I used to run, the RGPL.  Also, it’s the home of “Pinanigans”, the pinball comic my wife and I do for PinGame Journal.

Pinanigans comic by PinZach

KMC: What are some of your favorite pins?

Zach: Paragon, Iron Man, Flash Gordon, Guns and Roses, Volcano, and Congo.


Thanks for taking the time to chat, Zach!  I look forward to seeing more of your great designs. Can you do Champion Pub next? :)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Jersey Jack Pinball is making The Hobbit next

The Sunday after Thanksgiving started off quietly, like any other Sunday.  We slept in about an hour later than normal, I did a coffee run, and we settled down to a nice lazy morning.  I loaded up the Pinside forums, as I often do, and one innocent little post caught my eye:

Pinball heaven uk announces 2nd pin from jjp

It seemed a distributor in the UK had announced that Jersey Jack pinball machine #2 was officially The Hobbit. It was certainly possible, the most recent information from Jack himself was that the next machine would be a licensed title, and that big news would be coming this month.  In the past there were mutterings that Jack had The Hobbit license rights secured.

This turned out to be true. There are going to be 1,500 Limited Edition versions, and the anticipated scramble is going to be for the 500 new Limited Edition slots opening up. Customers who have reserved a Wizard of Oz LE have first-dibs on the first 1,000 Limited Edition numbers, and they have two weeks to commit or release their reservation. The estimated completion date for this title is July 2014. From now to February, 2013, the cost of an LE is $7500. After February, it goes up to $8,000.  No, it's not cheap. But Lord of the Rings by Stern is one of the most highly regarded modern pinball machines, and there are plenty of LOTR owners out there envisioning a Hobbit next to their LOTR.

Now, there hasn't been a big official announcement on this yet. And if you want a Hobbit pinball machine, there will be however many standard versions the market demands. At this time, nobody even knows what the differences will be between the LE and the standard. But if you want to snag one of those limited edition versions, you should contact Jersey Jack Pinball directly and it can be arranged. Or, wait and see how many WOZ LE owners relinquish their LE options for The Hobbit, and hope to snag a lower number in the production run. This is going to be a long wait, so along the way, probably people will surrender their LE spots here and there.

Monday, November 26, 2012

This Christmas, give the gift of a Linkedin recommendation

I'm already pretty burned out on the idea of Christmas Commerce.  So much spending, so much wrapping paper waste... so many scratches from opening those damned blister packs.  Seriously, why does unboxing a $20 toy have to be like breaking into Fort Knox now?!

Anyway, something occurred to me just now.  In the spirit of giving, and the holidays, I'm going to take some time out of my busy schedule and write Linkedin recommendations.  Totally unsolicited, unexpected recommendations.  These are going to be solid and well thought-out pieces for people I genuinely admire.  I'm going to do this because it is far more meaningful than a holiday card or a fruit basket, and it could contribute to the career of someone I regard.

We all have so many social media contacts now, to the point that it's become impersonal.  Taking the time to even drop one of your Facebook friends a personal note catching up on how they are doing is the equivalent of a hand-written letter these days.  It shows that in a sea of connections, you still remember them as a person, too.

What could be a better gift than that?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Impending Pinball Announcements

November's going to be over before we know it.  There's going to be Thanksgiving, and a couple days of recovery, and then in a blink it's going to be November 26th.  And I can't wait, because the tail end of November is looking to be PACKED with pinball news.

First up, Jersey Jack pinball has said they will be announcing their next title within the week.  It was last weekend when they said that, but I doubt they'll make an announcement in the middle of all the Thanksgiving/Black Friday noise.  I wouldn't.  It's going to be another licensed title, and it's going to be a widebody, like Wizard of Oz.  These two facts alone are very intriguing.

Everyone already knows Stern's next machine is Avengers, but they have been very frugal with the details so far.  Gary Stern, however, stated that lots of details will be released at the end of this month.  Possibly even a video.

We're not in a position right now to be able to afford a new pin, but I'm still VERY excited to find out these new details.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Interview with Gary Stern about the state of pinball

I wanted to share this update from 904 Pinball Zine from the Southern Pinball Festival.  It's a great interview with Gary Stern, who has been in the pinball business "for 65 years... because I'm 67." :)

So, about Avengers... official announcement at the end of November, pictures of all the different versions, spec list, possible gameplay video.

Alright then. 13 days to go.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Top 10 Regular Show Episodes

There's a cartoon channel progression that parents go through.  When the kids were first born, it was Sprout, then Nick Jr., then Nickelodeon. There was an Angelina Ballerina phase, a Spongebob phase, and of course Yo Gabba Gabba. Right now it is all about The Hub (Ponies), Boomerang (Powerpuff Girls), and Cartoon Network.  I might not have realized this if I weren't a parent, but Cartoon Network has got it goin' ON these days.  I know several people who love Regular Show but dislike Adventure Time, but they are neck in neck for my the #1 spot as my favorite cartoon ever, even surpassing Beavis & Butthead. So as an excuse to talk about Regular Show, I've thrown together a list of my 10 favorite episodes below.  In no particular order (except #1, that's totally my favorite), I present 10 awesome Regular Show episodes:

1. Rock/Paper/Scissors (You're Hired)

The first Regular Show episode ever is still my favorite.  Partly because of the tie-in to Rock, Paper, Scissors: A Geek Tragedy, and partly because as I mention below, it has an 80's song video sequence.

2. Rap It Up

I've seen the Power of Poetry persevere half a dozen times, but I never get tired of it.

3. Carrey O'Keys

The best Regular Show episodes often seem to include a sequence with a musical number from my childhood.  The Footloose sequence in this episode is possibly my favorite Regular Show moment of all time.

4. Hangin' Tough

This is that awesome episode that introduces GBF. "Euuuugh! Giant Bearded Face!"

5. Viral Videos

Makin' viral videooooooos... oh Wedgie Ninja... we hardly knew ye.

6. Road Trip

Episode where they make a pitstop at "Joyspot" aka Funspot in the real world, but also the electro-pop music sequence rocks. :)

7. Exit 9B

It's not even entirely fair to put this on the list, as this season opener featured pretty much every single cool character in the show's history together for an epic battle.  EPIC.

8. Roadkill Bingo

This was one of the first episodes we saw, but so memorable.  Especially the skunk spray battle.

9. Summertime Lovin' In the Summertime

Awesome ode to earworms!

10. Fist-Pump Concert (coffee.  Coffee coffee coffee.  Coffee?)

I was all set to end this list with the Night Owl episode, but then I remembered how one of the things I love most about Regular Show is its constant appreciative nods to coffee.  And 80's musical interludes...

I hope this show continues to get the credit and attention it deserves.  If there were a Cartoon Network theme park, I would be all over it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Pinball Documentaries Rundown

My greatest obsession right now is with pinball, and it can be traced back to pinball documentaries (geekumentaries being my OTHER greatest obsession).  There are actually several pinball documentaries available, so I thought I'd outline the ones I know about here.

TILT: The Battle to Save Pinball

TILT takes place at the tail-end of the golden age of pinball. It tells the story of an effort by Williams to turn slipping sales trends around in the late 90s with a new type of pinball machine, Pinball 2000, that integrated video on the playfield in an inventive way.  It is one of my favorite geekumentaries, pinball or otherwise.

Trailer for "TILT: The Battle to Save Pinball" from Greg Maletic on Vimeo.

TILT can be had digitally on iTunes, Amazon Instant, and so forth, but I recommend the 2-DVD set for the awesome bonus materials.

Pinball Passion

The Pinball Passion is sort of just a general overview of pinball, but it covers some really great topics and includes a good sampling of the big names in pinball.  It was completed in 2008, so it's a lot more recent look at the hobby than TILT and specifically discusses how Stern is the only remaining pinball manufacturer left from the golden age of pinball, and how they are pulling that off.

Pinball Passion DVD Documentary Teaser Trailer from Bracken James Batson on Vimeo.

This one is another 2-DVD set (also available digitally), though the bonus material isn't as robust as TILT's.

Special When Lit

Whereas TILT told a story focused on pinball designers and manufacturers, Special When Lit dives more into the collector/player side of pinball. Some feel this film went out of its way to show pinball enthusiasts as non-socialized nerds, but I've heard others say that the people in the film were portrayed accurately, if not as representatives of the average pinball fan, at least as a fair overall representation of those individuals' personalities.  I have noticed that so far, pinball documentaries seem to focus mainly on collectors who collect mostly the older machines, EM era vs. SS.

Special When Lit was completed in 2010 and covers pinball after the pinball apocalypse of the late 90s. It portrays a rediscovering of sorts, though it has an overall somber tone and dubious forecast for pinball as a hobby.

Pinball 101

Pinball 101 isn't really a documentary per se, but I include it here because it is another DVD  you can buy about pinball, and it teaches you something that the previously mentioned films don't really delve into; pinball gameplay and how to become more skilled at the game.

And, by the same people, there is apparently also The Pinball Collector, which appears to be about collecting older machines (they say Pinball Collector part 2 will cover newer machines).  Aaaand, they are working on a Pinball 102.


There are definitely more pinball-related documentaries out there, including some really great little featurettes that are available online for free.  Two of my favorites are The Robert Gagno episode of Ingenious Minds, and A Lifelong Love, about collector/competitor John Reuter.  I've posted these before, but they are both just great, so here's an encore:

A Lifelong Love from David Lovejoy on Vimeo.

And lastly, looks like the Japanese were hip to the pinball resurgence way back in 2010 in this featurette about pinball in New York City, New York City Pinball Documentary, featuring - guess who - Reciprocal.  Man, those guys gets around! :)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Jersey Jack Pinball reveals Wizard of Oz crystal ball functionality

Makers of the Wizard of Oz pinball machine have been keeping a secret.  Every time anyone asked about the crystal ball on the playfield and what it "does", they would coyly avoid the question in a way that made it obvious it was going to do something cool.

Today they have revealed the crystal ball's functionality, and it is undeniably cool.  The crystal ball, like in the movie, will display video.  Many people suspected this was what they might be planning, but it's pretty neat to see them pull it off.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Cool pinball t-shirt on Threadless

One two three FOUR FIVE six seven eight NINE TEN eleven twe-ehh-ehhh-ehhh-ehhh-ehhh-ELVE! Really cool pinball-related shirt I just noticed on Threadless.  I do have to say, I wish it came in another color besides white.  A light parchment yellow would have rocked it retro.

It's $23.50 and you can get it here on the Threadless website.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Like Timmy, I was on the fence about Jurassic Park 3D

I just saw the news via Wired's GeekMom blog that Jurassic Park is returning to theaters this coming April.  In 3D.  My first reaction was, "Do they have to 3D EVERYTHING?"

There is a teaser trailer for it.  I next thought, "What's the point of a teaser trailer for Jurassic Park 3D on my computer?"  I saw the film 13 times in the theaters when it first came out, even more times than I saw the Lord of the Rings trilogy films combined.  Jurassic Park was magic for me.  I wanted Laura Dern's boots.  I wanted to be a chaotician.  I wanted us to clone dinosaurs.  SO BADLY.  My point being, I'm more than familiar with the trailer, and obviously it's not going to actually be 3D.

I'm kinda sick of 3D this and 3D that, even though most of the time it's done pretty well.  One problem with going to see a movie in 3D is that if you want to take the glasses off, the movie looks crappy.  Our kids are all about wanting to take the glasses off about 20 minutes into any given movie.  Furthermore, making a movie become 3D when it wasn't originally shot with 3D in mind is not always going to work.  It was a colossal failure for Clash of the Titans, if I recall.

But heck, I'll watch this trailer...

And as the music swelled and all those memories came rushing back and tears considered forming in my eyes, I jumped off the fence.  Of course that is exactly why there is a teaser trailer... to remind you about the magic.

Count me in.  They could have just re-released the film like they did for Jaws at our local theater.  Because in the end, getting to see Jurassic Park one more time in a theater... in IMAX this time? I'm ready to go back.  To Jurassic Park.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Avengers Pinball Confirmed

It's been called "the worst-kept secret in pinball" but the cat is well and truly out of the bag now on Stern's next pinball machine, and it is indeed going to be Avengers (advertisements for "Avengers coming soon from Stern" have shown up in a couple trade magazines this month).  It's assumed that the machine is being designed by George Gomez, and as he himself said about some of the whitewoods of his current project, "some of 'em are green..."  I'm all the more certain about my prior speculation of this meaning a Hulk Limited Edition version of Avengers pinball. 

And while Stern still has made no official announcement or released details beyond "Coming soon", some pinball retailers are already taking pre-orders.  The rumor mill has also hinted that this will be a very different design from the typical "fan layout" that Gomez is known for (he is also the designer of Lord of the Rings, one of the most highly regarded modern pinball machines, and definitely an example of the fan layout style).

There's a good chance that more information will come out in the IAAPA (International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions) show next week (November 13 - 16) in Orlando.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Pinball Resurgence continues to grow

I'm not the only one saying pinball is coming back, you know. On a recent episode of G4's X-Play, Andrew W. K. investigated the pinball scene in New York.  One thing you'll notice is that they kick off by saying, "Pinball is making a big resurgence..."  Not "pinball MAY be making a resurgence" or "there are signs pinball is making a resurgence".  Just sayin.

This segment takes place at Reciprocal, which I'm told also happens to be the new home of our Shadow pinball machine.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The King of Belair

Just try and tell me the Fresh Prince song isn't going thorugh your head now.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Best Pinball Video of 2012

This video gives me joy (thanks so much to the Nerdcore blog for the heads-up!).  This is the opposite of the pinball experience at Disney Quest.  It was filmed at an arcade called Lost Ark Video Games in North Carolina, clearly a place where they love and care for their machines.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Pinball at Disney Quest

We just got back from Disney, and it was a great time!  Being pinball fans, though, we were on the lookout for any pinball gaming to be had while on vacation.  Gotta get our fix.  We knew there were some pinball machines at Downtown Disney's Disney Quest arcade, but also had heard ominous reports regarding their state of function and cleanliness. 

I probably should have, but I just didn't have the heart to take any pictures.  These machines are not being well cared-for and it's just sad.  So many people pass through a place like this, it'd be a perfect opportunity to show them that pinball is still alive.  They've certainly dedicated a decent amount of space to it.  There were something like 7 machines in a row, flanked by two virtual pins that I didn't get a chance to really scrutinize.  There was a Batman, Tron, Pirates of the Caribbean, and a few other reasonably good ones.  But playing this Tron compared to our own was like night and day.  The flippers are weak and dying.  The playfields are filthy.  I don't think they are at the proper angle either, because the ball was drifting more lazily than it should have been.

image taken by another pinsider

It was my first time playing Pirates of the Caribbean, a machine I'm very interested in, and I could tell while playing that it had so much potential to be fun, but its condition was preventing that.

Why?  Why spend the money and floorspace to put the latest pinball machines here, and then let them degrade like this? 

For one thing, one fee gets you in the door and everything's on free play.  There's no motivation whatsoever for whoever operates these machines (I'm told it's Disney) to keep them in tip-top condition.  A fun play experience won't get them any more revenue than a mediocre one.  Unfortunately, the result is that people think THAT is what pinball is like.  Boring and frustrating.

I was strikingly reminded of those commercials with abused animals.  In exactly that way, it made me want to take them all home and treat them properly.  I think I had a taste there of one reason people wind up with huge pinball collections.  I felt a strong emotion of curation; of wanting to take care of something and maintain its beauty.

I am going to try to find the right person to contact and throw out a plea for them to give those machines a good cleaning.  It'll likely go nowhere, and I will probably never know either way, but one has to try.  Sadly, I hear things are much the same for pins at Universal Studios, and it's the case at our local bowling alley.  I guess it's nothing new, but I expected more from an empire like Disney. 

What it boils down to, at the end of the day, is that a pinball operator needs to be as passionate about pinball as the home collector to keep these machines working as intended.  And while it might seem like a great idea for a home enthusiast with machines to spare to simply contact their local pizza parlor, movie theater, or pub and offer to provide and maintain a pinball machine in exchange for a revenue split, life's not as simple as that anymore.  Rules, regulations, and liability issues simply cannot be ignored most of the time.  There's seemingly no easy way to bridge the gap and create passionate casual (meaning unlicensed without large routes) operators in the face of these issues.  Too bad, because that's how the general public would rediscover the true pinball experience.  It's something I continue to think about.  Where there's a will, there's a way?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Breaking the iParty Shackles

As the true Halloween experience we grew up with dwindles in the rear-view mirror of today's political correctness and safety awareness machines, I realized there's a part of it that I'm actually letting slip away through basic laziness: the creative exercise of making your OWN costume.  Not going to iParty and grabbing whatever happens to be left on the shelf in your kid's size.  I must shamefully admit now that so far, that's what I've been doing.  I know not everyone has succumbed to this apathetic approach, but I also know I'm not the only one.

When I was a kid, Halloween was magical.  We got to go trick or treating by ourselves.  On the actual night of Halloween, October 31st.  If that fell on a Wednesday night, so be it.  We would go out there and trick or treat our little hearts out, late into night.  These days, there are scheduled hours for door to door candy collection, and you're lucky if it actually gets to happen on actual Halloween night.  Or night at all for that matter; day-time trick or treating is quite common now.

This sort of dumbing-down of Halloween might be responsible for my lack of zeal when it comes to costumes, particularly this year for some reason.  But I can't say the lack of creativity is my kids' fault... because I never gave them the option.  I only just this morning told my son, "You know, when I was a kid, we made our own costumes.  Once I was a dinosaur, I sewed a big huge t-rex costume all by myself!  And one year I was a table..."

His little face lit up at the description of what being a table entails, and that's when it all hit home.  As a busy working parent, it takes effort to do a big elaborate costume planning campaign.  It's so much easier to buy a pre-made costume.  A few years back I put together my own Black Widow costume for myself, but I've been selling my own kids short by not giving them the same opportunity to really create something unique.

That ends now.  It might be too late for THIS Halloween, but next year, it's on like Donkey Kong!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Frankenstein Pinball

The second pinball machine we ever bought was Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.  It's based on the 1994 movie, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, that starred Robert De Niro, Kenneth Branagh, Helena Bonham Carter, John Cleese, and Ian Holm among others.  How I missed this movie back then I can't fathom, but after getting the machine of course we acquired the DVD (the widescreen version, which is evidently somewhat rare).  Not a bad film.  Not a bad pinball machine either.

Anyway, our Frankenstein is a re-import from I think France, as the coin slots list the price in francs.  It smells funny, too, kind of like pipe tobacco.  But it all seems fitting for a Frankenstein-themed pin.  Like Frankenstein, though... it's got some issues now.

First off, there is a row of lights out.  This isn't an uncommon thing to happen to a pinball machine, but it's proving hard to solve in our case.  After failing to track down the problem we brought in a technician, Sarah St. John from Pinball Wizard.  It really feels like bringing your kid to the pediatrician.  You sit there while they do all their work, just wanting answers in the form of something trivial and easily resolved.  Turns out whatever is ailing our light row lies in the brain (it would more typically be a wire somewhere in that row, like old Christmas lights, if a connection is broken somewhere down the line, all lights on that row go out).  For now, the main board has been removed and taken to the workshop over at Pinball Wizard.  Yeah, we removed Frankenstein's brain is what I'm saying.  It's abnormal, trust me.

Frankenstein playfield.  The left Jackpot and Change Scene are two of the lights that are currently out.

Row 2 showing the 6 problem lights on our machine

There is another issue I've taken on as my job to fix though.  There is a little Frankenstein on the playfield (not that little, actually) that will throw pinballs at the backglass during multiball.  It's awesome.  That part works fine, but his head also turns from side to side, surveying the playfield as you play.  Or it used to, anyway.  Now it still turns, but way too far, now he's doing the scene from Exorcist.  So the motor's broken.  Our technician said to just open up the body, take out the motor, and replace it, but that it might be hard to find a replacement because it is an older motor.  I took a picture and went to a local model plane store near my work (how convenient!).  They didn't have that model, an Airtronics 94102 servo motor, but they had a basic motor they sold me for $8.  It looked about right.

Took it home last night and it fit perfectly.  The only thing I am having trouble with is plugging the connector into the circuit board under the playfield.  It looks the same but seems tighter than it should be, and won't plug in all the way without more force than I'm willing to give it.  In the meantime I have ordered that exact model of servo motor online, for $11.  I'm going to try using the actual motor, and see if the connector pins fit better.

Of course, during all of this I can't test anything, since the main board is off at the shop.  But it felt pretty good doing a motor replacement like that, and made me feel like I'm not entirely useless when it comes to maintenance work on our machines.  Because it's important to me to learn this stuff, and not only that, it's important to eventually teach it to our kids.  I'm thinking big-picture here.

Update: The actual motor arrived, and while at first I had a tough time plugging it into the board, I got it in.  Now the only thing that's left is to get back the motherboard in time for Halloween!  Also, the lights were fixed, and the new chip Sarah installed actually had us hearing callouts we never heard before.  She fixed things we didn't even realize were broken.

Friday, October 19, 2012

New-Found Respect for the Nintendo 3DS

When the Nintendo 3DS first came out, I admit it.  I was a hater.  A detractor and a scoffer.  It's not my normal style, but I felt like the 3D was a total gimmick, and most review sites backed up my lukewarm reception with their own.

When the new larger 3DS came out, our son inherited the "old" 3DS from his Dad.  My daughter had inherited my older regular DS, and as our trip to Disney approached, it became more and more evident that the old one wasn't going to make it.  The thing was literally hanging by a single hinge.  I mean, really it was almost as old as she was.  And knowing that both an Adventure Time game and a Skylanders game are slated for the 3DS this year, I decided it was time to get her a replacement.

I went into the local Gamestop (where everybody knows our name) and they happened to have a used pink 3DS available.  As the clerk walked me through the features, things I had dismissed as silly like the augmented reality stuff activated by cards, or the shooting game that uses real faces to make the characters, I realized that while that stuff wasn't very interesting to me, it probably would be to the kids. 

I surprised her that night with it, and she immediately started investigating the thing.  Because it had a previous owner, all sorts of games and features were available that my husband hadn't unlocked his old DS, so suddenly the kids were working together to get it all going on my son's DS as well.  I was especially appreciative of the feature where you have to take the DS for walks in sleep mode in order to accumulate what the kids are calling "pig points" that can be used to buy puzzle pieces for different puzzles.  They love that part.

And then we went to Disney.  You might think I mean that having these was the best thing ever in the sense that it kept the kids quiet and waiting patiently in lines for busses and rides.  The old "tv babysitter" concept.  I won't deny there was a small element of that in there, but it was by no means the true benefit.  Though this picture shows them both intent on their own games, the majority of the time was excitedly checking to see if anyone new had "visited" them (loads and loads of visits, from all over the world, and the DS shows you where people who visited your DS are from, a little geography they actually cared about).  They worked together and showed each other new things, complimenting each other when they would finish a battle or a quest, or make a new cat soldier.  The coolest thing about it all was, neither one of them played a single DS cartridge game.  This was all stuff that is just baked into the handheld itself. 

They both took pictures of things we saw at Disney, and my son started emulating the park photographers, taking family pictures where he would direct us to "make scared faces" or "point at the ground" like they had.  So cute.  They had hours of fun just recording pointless little voice snippets and coloring the speech balloon icons so that they formed patterns.  They made, re-made, and re-re-made their Mii characters just to play with hair and face options.  Oh, and I almost forgot; you can turn off the 3D, and that is advised for children under 7.

3DS, I may have judged you prematurely.  I think the handheld phase of my own gaming career is over, but I'm very impressed with the creative and teamwork-encouraging elements you've incorporated.  Silly things that a grown-up wouldn't think twice about, but they were captivating and amazing to our children, in an interface that allowed them to explore and discover new features all on their own.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Some of 'em are green

Long have the rumors fluttered about regarding Avengers being the next Stern title, and in that time, I've pondered the likelihood of a Loki and Hulk pair of Limited Edition versions.  Along the lines of what they did for X-Men, with a Wolverine and Magneto LE pair, and a third regular version.

How could George Gomez NOT be referring to that here?

If my guess is correct, my son may be getting the most kickass Christmas present of his entire young life. And honestly, what else could it be? As for which would be Loki, between red and blue, I would assume red, leaving blue for the pro model machine.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Indie Pinball Machines

While Stern may be the only pinball manufacturer remaining from the golden age of pinball, they are by no means the only source for new pins.  There are actually people out there building indie batches of pinball machines with pricetags in line with new Stern machines.  This is really interesting because it's a gamble, you're not buying from a company with a proven track record and you have to go through the learning curve with them.  In some cases an established industry veteran designer is involved, though, as is the case with Ben Heck's Zombie Adventure.  The payoff of that gamble for the collector is to own something extremely unique; in many cases these machines are being made in runs of 20 or 30, as opposed to several thousand.  Below I've rounded up a few I've come across, but there are definitely more out there, including some already completed.

Quetzal Pinball's Captain Nemo

This project's being done in Spain, and limited to a run of 30 machines with a pricetag in the neighborhood of $5500.  One of the most interesting features is an LCD embedded right in the playfield.  There MAY be a couple pre-order slots still available on this, but after this weekend's Expo, I bet those will be gone if they aren't already.

Predator Pinball by Skit-B Pinball

The latest details can be found here.  This one's going to be a run of approximately 250 machines, in the $5000 neighborhood.  If it were a video game, it'd be rated "M" but they are including a "family" setting option.  You can still pre-order these.

Update 10/25/12: Predator is reportedly SOLD OUT.

Ben Heck's Zombie Adventure

Designed by John Popadiuk and Ben Heckendorn

People have been hankering for a zombie-themed pin.  This one is kind of wacky with a very retro feel, so it might not satisfy what many people have in mind, but it's certainly unique!  Like Nemo, it incorporates an LCD screen.  Pre-orders are closed.

Circe's Animal House

Heighway Pinball

Quite a unique theme, based on mythology and the theme has a very pub-centric element.  The owner has created a thread where you can comment and post questions.  You can still pre-order this one.

Update 10/25/12: Heighway has punted the Circe's table in favor of Full Throttle, a motorbiking theme of some sort.

I saw that most of these people are at the Chicago Pinball Expo this week, so hopefully we'll see a lot of new information come out of that.  The Predator pinball team will actually have a machine present at the expo.  Eagerly awaiting pictures!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Gangnam Stylin

If you haven't heard of Gangnam Style, you literally might be the only one.  It's a thing now.  And while the original video is cool enough and quirky enough to stand all on its own, we live in a golden age where you're not limited to the original.  I've embedded a few of the best ones I've seen below, but it's the tip of the iceberg.

It's official; if you aren't prepared to burst into this dance at a moment's notice, you are no longer cool. The good news is, these moves are within even a white man's reach.  I need to go practice now.

Gangnam Style


Klingon Style


Minecraft Style


Gandalf Style


Deadpool Style

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Waxing the playfield

In the days long before we became pinball owners, all we knew was, "Owning a pinball machine is a lot of work!  You have to wax the playfield!"  I'm being serious, that was the one and only thing we knew about pinball ownership.  And it sounded scary.

Now, of course, we know better.  Waxing the playfield is the least of your worries as a pinball owner!  But exactly how to do it is less clear.  This thread on Pinside is a very good read, but also illustrates that there's probably no exactly right way to do this, and that when people aren't necessarily all talking about the same thing when they say "wax the playfield." Some key summary points of this thread:

  • Machines older than 10 - 20 years may require different cleaning and waxing methods than newer Stern machines
  • Home Use Only (HUO) machines may require less protection than machines on route (located in public places).  Some say don't worry about waxing a HUO machine
  • Most people use Novus 1 to clean machines (Novus comes in 1, 2, and 3 versions that are successively more abrasive) 
  • Novus 2 is for polishing minor scratches, and contains mild abrasives.  According to Stern's website, it should be used to "wax the playfield" but some argue that it's not actually a wax
  • Steve Ritchie, designer of one of the newest Stern machines, AC/DC, said that you should use a canuba-based wax on AC/DC.
  • Consensus seems to be never use Novus 3 on a playfield.  That's for other machine parts that are in bad shape
  • Never use Windex on a playfield!  On the playfield glass, yes.
  • Don't spray any kind of product directly on your playfield.  Spray it on the lint-free cloth you are using to apply the product
  • For real waxing, use Carnauba wax, but never a wax labelled "cleaner wax" as it will contain abrasives and bad stuff
  • Never use water-based products on your playfield
I've seen plenty of people say "don't use Mill Wax" but I've also seen it advertised in game magazines as the go-to, and seen people posting that they DO use it.  We are not planning on using it on our machines, I will say that at least.

I've also read elsewhere that you should not wax or Novus a New In Box (NIB) playfield for a while when you first get it, to allow the playfield to "cure".  Some owners don't even PLAY a new machine for like a month to allow this curing to take place.

Bottom line, I think the gist I'm getting is that you don't need to wax a playfield very often at all, especially a newer one, and that when you do, you should use Novus 2 first to clean and prep the playfield, then go over it with a carnauba-based wax.  You should be VERY careful not to get the wax on parts of the playfield you don't want waxed (for example, the lower playfield window of AC/DC Premium/LE).  If you ever see dirt on your flipper rubbers, or ball tracks across the playfield, you should clean that up with Novus 1 and a lint-free cloth.  Replace your pinballs every now and then, maybe 4 times/year if you play regularly.  Can anyone confirm this conclusion is more or less on the money?

I'm not sure if the Turtle wax in the above video is the right way to go, and some comments on that video said that the presenter did some things wrong (which is par for the course, this is a seemingly subjective topic with no consensus).  For us so far, we've been cleaning with Novus 1 for the most part.  Even that will typically make the playfield beautiful, and will make the machine play a LOT faster, so be prepared for that result.

In the end, I think it's safe to say that none of this is an exact science, and maybe I was sort of right about waxing the playfield being a complicated thing.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Wilhelm conspiracies

I don't really know what to call these, maybe Wilhelm conspiracies? Things done by television shows and movies, sometimes on purpose, sometimes not; sometimes by connected filmmakers, sometimes not. Is there a name for this? Because it certainly seems to be a pattern...

Wilhelm Scream

Reduce, Re-use, Recycle?

Don't know if you've noticed, but tv sitcoms and movies have been using the same newspaper habitually.  It's almost more impressive than the Wilhelm, but WHO is that woman??

Go have a look, from Dallas to Charmed, there is a jaw-dropping number of documented cases of this one.

Fringe, I see wut u did ther...

OK, this one was on purpose, but I appreciate the effort.  I really need to get back into this show...

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The case for a pinball resurgence

Recently there's been some talk about whether or not arcades may be making a comeback in the United States.  Ars Technica just ran an article about some of the new bar/arcade combinations that are springing up across the country.  Surprisingly, they are saying that more arcades are opening than closing now.

Most of the examples they mentioned don't involve a lot of pinball as far as I could tell.  But rumor has it, pinball is on a major upswing too, and I am one of those people who think it is making some degree of comeback.  I submit the following pieces of evidence to build my case.

Pinball prices spiking. 

"Pinflation" as some call it is causing much angst and debate in the pinball community.  Newcomers lament the fact that the most popular classic machines fetch prices approaching five figures (so do brand new, or NIB machines, for that matter).  Demand is very strong at the moment.  As collector and competitive player John Reuter pointed out:
"Lots of new people are coming into the hobby and it is fueling the price increase. Location pins are part of the story, and so are clubs, leagues, conventions and tournaments etc. The biggest factor of all is the home market. Pinball wasn't marketed directly to the consumer for many years and that has begun to change. There were never enough pinballs built in the whole history of the game to supply a significant consumer market and  pinballs are pretty much the ultimate collectible."
There's no faking demand.  And even with these higher prices, people are still buying machines.  Believe me, it's an impressive sight to walk into someone's basement and see a row of pinball machines all gleaming and flashing and beckoning.

New manufacturers. 

For many years, the last remaining manufacturer of pinball machines was Stern Pinball.  They have been producing a handful of new machines each year and in doing so have probably helped a lot in keeping pinball alive in the new millennium. 

World Poker Tour Pinball

But in the past few years, other companies have sprung up.  Long-time designers have done individual micro-runs of new machines.  The biggest news on this front is Jersey Jack Pinball, a company that's been working on a state of the art new Wizard of Oz pinball machine, complete with LCD display and software updates via wireless connectivity.  The machine looks gorgeous, and is due to start rolling off the assembly line by the end of the year.  And it has "ruby flippers".  Oh yes, they went there...

Video streaming by Ustream

Reuter also points out that computer technology has made it more possible for indie style pinball designers to create one-off machines without necessarily being an established pinball manufacturer. Boutique style, if you will.


Video game reproductions like Pinball Arcade by FarSight Studios have been reproducing classic old pinball tables such as Theater of Magic, Medieval Madness, and Funhouse for XBox, PS3, mobile devices, and other electronic platforms.  They are actually using the original software that runs the real machines, so that leads to a pretty accurate rendition.  They have run a successful Kickstarter to acquire the license to do Twilight Zone, and are currently at 67% on their funding goal for Star Trek: Next Generation. 

In addition to emulations of classic tables, there's a lot of simulation of totally new video pinball tables.  One example is Marvel Pinball.  I've found this collection to be really fun (it has Blade!), and there are some things it does that you could never do in a real pinball machine. 

New users joining pinball fan sites. 

Sites like Pinside are seeing a noticeable increase in new forum members.  A welcoming community is extremely important for newcomers to a hobby like this, as both a knowledge resource and a source for buying machines.  A spike in new members on a site like this means increasing interest in the hobby.

New printed materials.

In addition to the new Pinball Magazine issue that launched this month, I just ordered a book on pinball, The Pinball Compendium: 1982 - Present with a publish date of February, 2012.  You can bet the authors and especially the publishers believed that there was sufficient audience to warrant that.

Those aren't the only signs, either.  There are more pinball tournaments springing up, with plenty of participants.  Places like Pinball Wizard Arcade in Pelham, NH, which opened just over a year and a half ago, partly because the owner, long-time pinball route operator Sarah St. John, had a feeling that the hobby was gaining traction.  Last month, I participated in my very first pinball tournament there (their second annual).  I came in like 70/100, but let me tell you this; it was exciting!  And that tournament was tiny compared to ones like PAPA (Professional & Amateur Pinball Association), with serious cash money prizes.

I recently spoke to another arcade operator who told me that a West Coast pinball distributor said that pinball is already back big-time on the West Coast, and that he predicted it'll be as big on the East Coast within the next 5 years or so.  Nobody can predict the future, but someone in that part of the industry could certainly spot a trend.

Honestly, it all makes sense.  Those of us who grew up playing pinball are adults now, with nostalgia and disposable incomes.  As Ars Technica pointed out, these uncertain financial/political times tend to make one yearn for simpler days.  It's true that prices are spiking, but if you want a specific piece of nostalgia badly enough, that's not going to stop you.  The other thing about pinball that is not the case with most video games is that you can flip it on and play for 5 minutes... or a couple hours.  You don't need to form a raid party or get your gaming group together, and there's a lot to be said for that flexibility when a working adult gets home at 6 or 7 at night.

But nostalgia isn't the only thing going on here.  There are plenty of 20-something younger people getting in on this hobby and acquiring classic pinball machines for home use.  They don't have prior memories of pinball, and are more often discovering the hobby through video game adaptations like Pinball Arcade.  Something about the hobby is compelling enough to both young and old to get people to drop thousands of dollars on a high-maintenance (and very heavy) leisure commitment.

Owning a pinball machine is not a feasible option for everyone.  But while the video game simulations have gotten very good, there is simply no substitute for the actual kinetic experience of playing pinball, especially a well-maintained machine.  If arcade games, which can actually be emulated quite well for the most part, are making a comeback, pinball has double the justification to do so.  That, I believe, is what will help pinball get a foothold in more public venues.  We're not talking, nor will we probably ever be, about things on the scale of Japan's arcade scene (check out 100 Yen).  But enough to support more than one pinball manufacturer when combined with the private owner market?  It seems likely.

I considered making a documentary about it (I'd have to cut back on playing pinball though, which is problematic).  There are a slew of topics I just touched on above that need some serious exposition, and I barely scratched the surface.  Don't even get a passionate pinball enthusiast going on the LEDs vs. incandescents debate!  So, that's what I'm obsessed with right now, and that's what is going to occupy this blog for the near-term.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Talks from the Pacific Pinball Expo

The Pacific Pinball Expo went down last weekend, and a couple of the presentations from it have been posted.

The first one is a presentation by "Jersey" Jack Guarnieri and the latest update on his Wizard of Oz pinball machine.  As he mentions, at last year's PPE, he only had a tube of cabinet side art to share, so having a working pinball machine, even if unfinished, is quite a leap forward.  And I must say it's looking beautiful.

The second presentation is by Gary Stern, and I haven't listened to the whole thing yet, but I wanted to share it.

Up next, the Chicago Pinball Expo, which is where Stern is expected to announce their next machine.  *oh please Avengers with a Hulk/Loki LE pair*  That's October 17th - 21st.

PS - Wired just ran an article about Stern's latest machine, X-Men.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Pinball Spouses

In the pinball community, you frequently come across lamentations about ze women. I mean wives, or significant others, who frequently act as the voice of restraint preventing pinball fanatics from spinning out of control and filling every spare inch of home space with pinball machines. In many cases, the wives are mentioned as the ones delivering "no". The voice of reason, devil's advocate, the bad guy.
WTF, hon?  The kids need new shoes and you go NIBing X-Men??

Think about it from their perspective. It's big, heavy, expensive, and serious competition for your time. And it's not as if it stops at one, right? Pinball may be part of your childhood nostalgia, but girl gamers were less common in those decades; odds are, there's less of a bond there for them. I admit, I hate reading "my wife said no" or "my wife has given me a set restriction of three machines" (which is typically followed by, "but now I'm up to seven!") Ideally both spouses should support each others' hobbies within financial reason. It's just tough when you're comparing a $100 handbag to a $6000 piece of game furniture.

It's not always a bad thing, though. The obsession sinks its teeth in you deeply when it bites and it's easy to go too far. It's not just the thrill of the hunt for good deals on well-maintained older machines, it's also that more new machines are coming out right now than ever before since the turn of this century. Stern just released X-Men, and odds are good they'll be releasing Avengers before the year is out. Wizard of Oz is also on the verge of shipping. Any one of those will run you 6 grand plus, so if you want one, you better believe it's not something most of us can do as an impulse buy.

So what's the solution?  I don't really know.  In our case, since we're both stoked over pinball, there IS no external voice of reason. No drag, no coefficient of friction. We have to rely on maintaining our own personal levels of restraint and reason. And that can be hard. I'm gunning for an X-Files, even though we've been quite greedy over the summer and grown our collection as fast as we could. The husband is making smart proposals like opening a secondary checking account that we put spare funds into for pinball purchases. So that we aren't over-extending ourselves. But then I'll get a text about his being tempted by a sweet Avatar Limited Edition machine that just came up for sale. It's a good price, and in really lovely condition, but we don't even WANT an Avatar. Temptation rears its ugly head again.

I still want that X-Files, though...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Shadow pinball gameplay video

The first pinball machine to join our collection was The Shadow. The first thing we did was purchase the Shadow LED conversion kit from Cointaker. Once you know a thing or two about pinball tinkering, you can order individual bulbs to do LED conversions, but since this was our first time, we went with the kit. There are multiple kits for LED conversion typically, for various parts of the playfield, and a set for the backglass.

I think that pretty much all machines would benefit from LED lighting in the backglass. In the case of The Shadow, I think the full LED treatment was a big improvement. I wish I'd taken before photos, but overall the LED lights just make everything brighter and flashier. I feel like they enhance the experience.

So we've been meaning to do a video of the gameplay with the new LED lights for a while, and now I have. It's my first stab at a video of pinball gameplay, and though it's long, I felt like I wanted to include a good sampling of different modes so that people wanting to see what The Shadow plays like could also do so.


We filmed this with the playfield glass off, and minimal external lighting (which is why it is somewhat grainy).  I really would appreciate feedback or advice on how to do these videos, because we're definitely going to do one of our blinged-out Tron machine too.

Update: 11/21/2012
You don't often get to know the life of your machine after you sell it.  In our case, we sold it to a community member on Pinside.  Later on, we bought another machine from him, and I drove to his house to pick it up.  He no longer had The Shadow, but let me know that it had gone to a great new home, Reciprocal Skateboards.  I've known that for about a month now, so I was just thrilled to the gills to see the following video just now.

So happy to see it there in such a happy environment!  Enjoy your Peking Duck, guys! :)