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! :)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Interview with Pinball Donut Girl's Anna Newman

Just the other day, I was asking myself, "When is someone going to make a romantic comedy about a kickass pinball-playing chick?" The wait is over thanks to Producer Anna Newman and her team, who are about to unveil the short film Pinball Donut Girl at the 2012 Pacific Pinball Expo later this week.

Watching this trailer, I had so many questions.  A romantic comedy about pinball?  A girl gamer lead? Where did this come from? Was that Attack From Mars OK, and does Brian Eddy know about this? Anna was kind enough to take a moment to answer some of these burning questions in the following interview.

Interview with Anna Newman, Producer, Pinball Donut Girl

Keeping My Cool: How did you get into film?

Anna Newman: I work in the R&D department at an animation studio, which means I do software development specifically for use in CG films. In 2008 I took an in-house class in cinematography and had a life changing experience. Suddenly I knew what I was meant to do. I served an apprenticeship with a professional director of photography in 2009-2010. On my first freelance professional job, I was literally running up and down a giant hill through weeds fetching and carrying lens filters or holding gear down so it didn't blow over and hit the actor in the head. I still do a lot of that sort of thing, actually.

As a producer, I try to pinch hit wherever I can be of help, including getting water for the cast and vacuuming the location after a shoot. I remember a particularly glamorous evening spackling holes in Mutiny Cafe after we wrapped Pinball Donut Girl. Filmmaking is a marriage of art and very technical science (just like pinball) with a lot of hard physical work moving it forward. It's the culmination of everything I love, and I think I was intended to be a filmmaker.

KMC: How did you get into pinball?

Anna: Prior to researching Pinball Donut Girl, my experiences with pinball were limited to playing a random machine in a childhood friend's garage in the 70s. When I went to California Extreme and the Pacific Pinball Museum, I was blown away. Now I'm a junkie and went to five shows in the last year. I especially love taking still photos of pinball art. I hope to have a game of my own someday.

KMC: What led to the decision to make a romantic comedy about pinball?

Anna: Pinball Donut Girl is 100% the result of a lunch time conversation with one of my software engineering colleagues, Matt Walsh. One day we were reminiscing about college, and he told me this story about his crush on a girl who cashiered at a donut shop. Matt went to the shop all the time to play pinball and eat donuts, and one day he discovered that the girl also played pinball. Not only that, she was a pinball genius.

"Matt," I asked breathlessly, "did you guys fall in love over Gorgar?"

No, he told me, he was young and shy and never had the courage to ask her on a date. He never even learned her name. I became obsessed with this story and wanted to explore what might have happened if he had pursued her. I loved the idea of this blue collar girl who is a pinball wizard hooking up with this shy college guy through pinball. I like to see nerdy girls appreciated. Pinball Donut Girl was the outcome.

KMC: How long has this project taken, and where are you in the process right now?

Anna: We filmed our first footage, part of the tournament scene, at California Extreme in July 2011. We filmed our final footage, also tournament, in April 2012 at Pinburgh. Principal photography was in November 2011. We completed picture editing for both an eighteen minute DVD version and a ten minute festival version this summer, and we are have been working on audio too. I have amazing professionals helping me, and sometimes my schedule has to bend around their larger projects. In parallel I have been completing a couple companion pinball pieces, including a fifteen minute short documentary called Wade Krause: Pinball Artist. The short cut of Pinball Donut Girl will go out to the festival circuit this fall (SXSW, Sundance, etc) and both long and short versions will be on the DVD when it is available. Everything seems impossibly slow sometimes. I want to deliver the very best film I can so more people will be interested in pinball, people who might never go to a show or hang out on pinball sites, so I try to be patient.

KMC: You mention in your video interview that the owner of Attack From Mars was willing to let you break the backglass for high drama. Can you describe how that moment went down? Was AFM OK in the end?

Anna: We had ordered duplicate normal tempered backglass and a repro translite for the explosion, and our FX artist, Jim Acker, helped TJ Beyer seal up the AFM backbox so no shards would get in the game. Our grip electric team replaced the normal lighting harness with movie lighting. We were all pretty tense when the big moment came. It takes a long time to clean up and reset a scene like this, and we were running out of time. The location contact was starting to get nervous, and I was afraid we would be shut down. I knew we really only had one shot. Don Starnes, the director, got ready to film the explosion himself handheld while the rest of the crew and I stood behind some protective drapes, crossing our fingers. Jim is a total pro and when action was called, the squibs fired perfectly and the glass exploded better than we could have hoped for. Don got the take. Big applause by the cast and crew. We vacuumed the AFM carefully, put all it's original guts back, and no one could tell the difference. Except for the giant mess we made in the cafe. Note to self: bring more drop cloths next time!

KMC: Can you tell us a little more about the Wade Krause short?

Anna: I met Wade through the Pacific Pinball Museum. Michael Schiess and I were at the museum, talking about me making a short film to document the clear machines ("The Visible Pinball" will also screen at PPE this year), and as we were sitting by the register talking between customers, he said, "You really ought to talk to Wade Krause, but he lives way out in the valley; you'll never go there." I turned out that Wade lives in Clovis, just minutes from my hometown, and I was going the next weekend to visit family.

The minute I entered Wade's workshop, which is kind of like a mad scientist lab for pinball art, I knew I needed to come back with a real camera. I only had my flip with me, but I filmed Wade in his office in front of the wall of illuminated backglass, and couldn't wait to return. For more than a year, I followed Wade around California's central valley, to PA, and all over the San Francisco area documenting his work. He is not only an incredible artist and craftsman, he is one of the most magical people I know. I tried to show that in the film. You can see his passion for pinball and life in everything he does. (A not so secret secret: Wade also likes second hand stores -- we played hooky for a whole day in Pittsburgh junk shops.) Wade Krause: Pinball Artist takes you "behind the backglass" to see Wade at work and tells the story of his efforts to spread pinball awareness.

KMC: How will people be able to see this film?

Anna: I hope people will be able to see both Pinball Donut Girl and the Wade Krause documentary at a film festival or game/pinball show near them. Festivals are the best way for short films to reach the broadest audience, and my goal is to make more people aware of pinball. I want them to know pinball is cool, unique, and very much alive. We have a small game room at work (Elektra), and this year it got a pinball machine. I hope my projects had something to do with that. Festivals like to screen films that are not yet in general distribution; after the festival circuit, the DVD and downloads will be available to everyone.

KMC: What’s next for you?

Anna: If I had the financing, I'd make a feature length version of Pinball Donut Girl. There has been some interest, but nothing solid yet. Film is the most expensive medium to tell a story in, literally. Normal professional camera lenses alone rent for around $200/day, then you add a decent prosumer camera with the needed matte box, batteries, filters, etc, a grip truck with a few lights, a few people to run that camera and set up those lights, a makeup artist, a sound recordist, actors, food for everyone, and even if your location is free and your actors bring their own wardrobe and everyone does 3 jobs and eats pizza, it adds up pretty quickly. Not to mention someone to edit the footage after, add the foley, music and sound effects, and insurance and parking for the whole thing. There is a big quantum leap in cost between home video style films intended for youtube ($100s/day), low budget indie films ($5-15K/day), and Die Hard 27: The Explosioning ($100sK per day). I try to work really smart; I have a small business background, and I think I could make a Pinball Donut Girl feature with good quality for around $200k.

Black Knight 2000
Black Knight 2000 upper playfield

KMC: What's your favorite pinball machine at this point?

Anna: I am currently obsessed with Cosmos, this old EM game I played at Pinburgh. I'm not sure why; something in the colors just really appealed to me. I'm also into Zaccaria games. I like Time Machine, for example -- the music is so funky. Funhouse is probably my fav "normal" game.

KMC: Why do you think people should play pinball?

Anna: I play pinball because it is a full body experience. All my senses are involved - well maybe not smell, I hope! - but I love the way the sounds and the visuals all work together and the game is real and tangible and honest. We tried to show that a little in my film. I love the way every game is different and challenging.

People should take a break from the virtual world and try the real world experience of pinball. If you like engineering, geek out on the physics and probability. If you like art, get into the backglass, cabinet and playfields in their huge variety. If you think Super Meat Boy is hard, try to beat Black Knight 2000. Whatever you like, pinball has it. It's got it all.

You can follow Pinball Donut Girl news on the Pinball Donut Girl website, Facebook, @pbdg_movie on Twitter, and if you're in the San Rafael, CA area, here's a link to the Facebook Event page for the premiere screening.  Huge thanks to Anna for taking time out of her busy post-production schedule for a chat!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Indiegogo Campaign for the Pacific Pinball Museum

There's an Indiegogo campaign afoot to try and fund a new home for the Pacific Pinball Museum. The goal is lofty, but the good news is, unlike with Kickstarter, they get whatever funds come in whether or not they hit their goal. I have no doubt that my donation will help their efforts regardless, so donate I did.

So that's what's up with preserving pinball's past history. Here's something to chew on for where pinball's going...

Geek Kids: Edible Wild Plants

This is a repost from a blog I used to write about edible wild plants.  I was just going to borrow images from it this morning, but since the kids are still foraging for sheep sorrel two years later, I figured it would be worth posting the whole thing.


Fall has brought on a bout of wild plant enthusiasm. I just found out about and ordered Samuel Thayer's DVD on edible wild plant foraging (ha, guess that's one documentary off my to-do list!). I was watching it this past Saturday, and then went out to clean up the garden a bit. I was looking at a plant growing all over the place with very distinctly spearhead-shaped leaves, and I realized that had definitely been in the video I was watching.

Didn't take long to find the segment about Sheep Sorrel, Rumex acetosella. Apparently I made it through childhood never knowing about this one (cheeseweed was my childhood weed of choice). I was so excited, I plucked a few leaves and one by one, accosted the family to try it.

Husband: "Uh, no, not right now, thanks."
Maddy, 5 years old: "I don't want to!" Me: "Oh, come on!" Her: "OK..." She took a nibble and dropped the leaf into her water. I told her that was a good idea, she could make lemonade that way, and she beamed.
Colin, 3 years old, tried one. Then asked for another, and the remaining few I had in my hand.

Colin is five now and the sheep sorrel is still growing next to the garden, and when we get home from school, he is still going over there every now and then and picking it.

There are many reasons that foraging for wild plants would be a good thing for kids to do, and sheep sorrel is a good option because it's so easy to identify.  There are so many teaching opportunities here, including valuable discussion about how some plants will make you sick or are poisonous, and how plants on the side of the road should not be eaten and why.  It's also one of the few consistent geeky nature type things I can do to balance all the electronic ones.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

AC/DC Pinball

I'll start by saying I'm not a massive fan of AC/DC.  I'm aware of their music, from movies like Little Nicky and Private Parts, but I don't own any of their albums.  And when it comes to me and pinball, theme is a very strong factor.  So AC/DC as a pinball theme did not have a leg up just by being AC/DC.

When I first saw it at FunWorld in Nashua, I wasn't that interested, but it was the newest machine there so I gave it a go.  You get to choose which song you start with, and I was choosing Highway to Hell consistently, and before long I realized something; I loved playing this machine!  One advantage is that we were playing a premium edition.  The base model of AC/DC has a big picture of the lead singer's face on the playfield instead of the cool lower playfield included with the premium and limited edition models. 

It's not just me of course, the buzz about AC/DC pinball on the forums is high.  Especially after a recent code update, people are even saying this one gives Lord of the Rings a run for its money as Stern's best pin ever.  So... yeah, we want it.  We were going to hold off getting a NIB (new in box) machine for Stern's expected announcement of Avengers this year, but we simply must have this beast. 

Anyone who thinks pinball is a thing of the past should step up to one of these machines.

Monday, September 10, 2012


Just came across this:

Could be an interesting series, I'm not familiar with Adrianne Curry (not one of those who consider her "Queen of the Geeks") but one nagging concern crept into my mind watching this trailer.  This could, as it claims in the description, explore why super fans are inspiring to the rest of us fans.

But that isn't what it appeared to be doing for the most part.  There is a huge risk of geeksploitation with this, just like Morgan Spurlock's being criticized for in his Comic-Con documentary (which I haven't seen yet, man, I am behind on geekumentaries!).
geeks·ploi·ta·tion [geek-sploi-tey-shuhn] verb:
to misrepresent a segment of geek culture in a way that is unnaturally skewed toward over-the-top examples, especially for one's own ends.
Geeksploitation documentaries use the "look at these freaks" approach to topic presentation. They seek out the fringe extremists for a particular hobby, and then present them as a curiosity. One could also consider this the "Side-Show" method. People who aren't initimately familiar with the subject matter watch and are entertained by the spectacle of how the crazy eccentrics, the "other half" live.  This approach is usually offensive to actual fans of the given topic.

The opposite of geeksploitation would probably be advocacy.  These films naturally appeal to the fans of the subject matter because they treat the subject matter with more respect and portray it in a positive light.  But when you're talking about a niche topic, there's a risk of appealing to a smaller audience.  That's one of the temptations for going with geeksploitation.

Sometimes geeksploitation is unintended, or unavoidable.  But sometimes it is all too intentional, and as geek culture becomes more and more mainstream, there's going to be ever greater backlash against it.

I can think of a few documentaries that are known for geeksploitation.  Special When Lit has elements of it, as well as King of Kong and Trekkies.  Is Adrianne Curry's Super Fans geeksploitation?  Time will tell.

Friday, September 7, 2012

New Blog Category: Geek Kids

I figured you readers (all three of you!) might get tired if I talk about nothing but pinball here, so as I was doing my afternoon solo walk, I thought of another major category I could pretty consistently write about that might be interesting.

There are loads of us Geek Moms and Geek Dads out here, doing geeky things to make sure our kids have zero hope of not growing up geeky.  We struggle with the constant questions, "Is this appropriate for my child?  Am I doing damage?  Did the other parents at daycare find out that Colin was telling his classmates all about werewolves today?"

I am not all that concerned about all that.  My kids are 5 and 6 and so far have handled all the geekery I've thrown at them just fine.  OK, so for a while there Colin was scared of Gollum, but the other day in the car he told me he wasn't scared of Gollum anymore, and got all enthused when I said if that was true, we could probably go see The Hobbit in 3D this Christmas. :)

So anyway, will probably post kid-related stuff on maybe Fridays, but it'll be geeky kid-related stuff, OK?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Pro Pinball Kickstarter is live

There was a recent news release about Pat Lawlor (famed pinball designer of Twilight Zone, The Addams Family, and more) joining the Pro Pinball team. I wasn't aware of Pro Pinball before this, but their story is evidently an interesting one of rights lost, and rights finally regained.

I'm not as enthusiastic about video pinball as I am about the real thing, but I have to say, their Kickstarter video is a winner.  If you can make me laugh, you have my attention.  If you make me laugh multiple times, you probably have my backing.

They've only given themselves 30 days to raise a pretty large $400k funding goal. FarSight studios is doing really cool video pinball and recreating classic tables, but I think it'd be sweet if these guys get a chance to show us what they can do and make something totally new.

And just look at the comments section on their Kickstarter.  They must be doing SOMETHING right!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Adventure Time Pinball

What time is it? Time for my latest obsession... the desire to see an Adventure Time pinball machine become a reality!

First, if you think pinball is dead, it's not. Pinball has found a way to survive. Stern, one of the big manufacturers from back in the pinball heyday, is still around, cranking out a few NEW designs every year. A large chunk of these go to private owners now, but whatever works, right? And believe it or not, there are quite a number of pinball expos and tournaments going on around the country. (Check out Pinball Passion, Special When Lit, and TILT: The Battle to Save Pinball, three geekumentaries on the subject of pinball).

While there is a frustrating lack of pinball expos here in New England, there ARE two big arcades in New Hampshire, one of which is all ABOUT pinball. Even the Manchester, New Hampshire airport has a couple machines. So if you start looking for them, you'll see, pinball is very much still around. At the same time, there is a surge of these video game versions coming out (very cool to look at, but not the same experience of course). So it's definitely still something people have a soft spot for.

Two of the most recent new machines that Stern has produced have been AC/DC and X-Men, obviously two big licenses. What Stern has to look for when making new machines are big niche audiences, because they need that venn overlap of people who like pinball, and people who like certain themes.

Enter Adventure Time. While I like Regular Show just as much, Adventure Time is a smashing success with probably broader appeal (unless you like coffee). Their Facebook page has around 3 million fans.  If you think the audience is too young to also be into pinball, I'm not so sure about that. Not if I'm at all representative of the viewership. Oh sure, my kids love it too, but as it turns out... they also love pinball. :) I have a feeling the audience who would appreciate this is plenty big, and Cartoon Network is plenty capable of doing it.

Secondly, the theme lends itself SO well to a pinball treatment! One of my Twitter friends' first comments on the idea was to imagine a big stretched-out Jake as a ramp. With all the ridiculous one-liners, the fantabulous settings and episodes, the characters, and the colorful art design... it begs to be pinball.

So I'm begging, too.  It'd be MATH!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Personal Pinball Journal 2

Welcome back, Program.

Today I got home from work a tad early to drop off some groceries before picking up the kids. Adam was already home, and had the Tron machine playfield-up, a sure sign he's tinkering. He told me his LED order had come in.

He was busy, so I brought home the kids and made dinner while he worked. After dinner, I helped him install some of the remaining lights. I discovered something cool; on the newer games, like Tron, you don't have to do nearly as much unscrewing of sockets. The sockets are now plastic, and 2-piece, and the actual socket piece comes in and out just by squeezing the two edges together. Nice improvement, Stern.

Anyway, we changed out all the lights, including the flasher inside the miniature Tron arcade machine. Evidently it had burned out at some point. We didn't have the white flasher you're supposed to put there, so we put a red one in instead. It looks sweet, which is lucky because it was a pain in the ARSE to get into that little arcade machine! We turned on the game and just WOW. The lights are super cool as LEDs, dramatically different. I think if a purist were to approve of any machine having LEDs vs. incandescent bulbs, it'd be for Tron (given the subject matter, it seems fitting).

Then Adam said I could have first play to test out the flashers and so forth. I noticed very quickly that the flashers seemed to not only be extra LED-bright, but they seemed to be coming from all over the place. Even the carpet was lighting up! I kept saying, "Did you see that? Those lights are so bright they are shining outside the machine!" He said he wasn't sure what I meant.

After questioning whether or not he had gone BLIND, and several exclamations, he finally admitted that he'd bought an under-machine lighting kit and wired it in to fire in concert with certain flashers (he has the best poker face, and I'm gullible. NOT a good combination). It's amazing. Talk about a light show! I do think our Tron needs a seizure warning now though.

It looks like this only about a million times more IN YO FACE!!

The next thing we need to do is see about getting the disc spinner motor replaced, though. It's loud. I mean REALLY loud. So I just took some video of that, and the whole tape (primarily gameplay of our LED'd out Shadow) is loading into my computer as I type this.