Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Pinball ownership: maintenance weekend

Pinball ownership is super-rewarding, but it isn't all fun and games.  Here's a little breakdown of how a recent weekend went.

Saturday night
Installed AC/DC drum kit mod and replaced the flipper rubbers in the mini playfield of AC/DC.  It's not that easy accessing the mini playfield, so while we had it open, we cleaned the playfield and view window with a little Novus 1, and made sure the targets were all in good working order.

I don't think we actually played any pinball, because by the time we were done with that, it was time to get the kids to bed, and we needed to catch up on Walking Dead.  The only time we can watch zombie-related tv is when the kids are asleep.

We'd been having a fuse blow frequently on our new WHO Dunnit machine, and the preliminary steps that sometimes resolve this sort of problem, like replacing the batteries, hadn't helped.  It was to the point where we needed to remove the motherboard and bring it to a technician for diagnostics.  Upon taking the board out, we discovered that it had been "hacked" to death, meaning someone had done a non-expert job of trying to fix various issues that had come up during its lifetime.  Broken traces for one thing, judging by the network of worm-like wires strewn across the back of the board.  If you're not a professional pinball tech, that's the danger in trying to fix things; you run the risk of making it worse.  We brought the board to our pinball tech, who confirmed that the brain of this machine was beyond repair.  Replacing a motherboard isn't cheap, but at least now we knew the source of the problems we'd been having with it.

Lunch break.

The next machine in need of work was Judge Dredd.  The first project was to fix a fried connector for the general illumination (GI) backbox lights.  The connector has fried at some point before we acquired this machine, so I don't know the specifics, but the white connector housing was half toasted like a campfire s'mores only not delicious.  This was our first time replacing a connector, but it worked, and behold, there was light! :)  Now that those connections were restored, we were able to identify about a dozen burned-out bulbs, and replace them with working bulbs.

Next we did a flipper rebuild for the lower left flipper of Judge Dredd.  This is one of the rites of passage for being a pinball owner, doing your first flipper rebuild.  Once you're used to doing them it's not that bad, but the first time can be an intimidating prospect.  After all, if you get this wrong, it impacts the entire gameplay experience, and the angle of the flippers is a precision matter that you totally take for granted before having to do this.

About 8 o'clock that night, we got around to actually playing the machines.  It wasn't a long session, but it was a good one, and it felt great enjoying the fruits of the weekend's maintenance and repair labor.  Not every weekend goes like that, but there is almost always something needing doing when it comes to pinball machines.

Monday, March 18, 2013

ACDC Pinball Drum Mod Installation Details

My husband recently purchased the AC/DC Drum Mod from Pinball Life, and Saturday night, we decided to install it.  Yeah, I know, we lead a life of wild party-filled weekends...

The instructions for installing the drum mod were decent, but I felt that adding our own experience to the mix might help other budding pinball modders.  One thing we felt was missing specifically was more detail on the solder points for the wires.

The first step was to feed the wires up through the playfield.  The hardest of the two for this step is definitely the lower playfield drum.  We had to use tweezers and teamwork to get the wire up through the playfield where it needed to go, because there were already a good number of wires going through that pathway.

Wires feeding up for lower playfield drum

Wires feeding up for  upper playfield drum
The trickiest part of this was knowing where to solder the wires, because the instruction sheet we had didn't have a picture of this.  The kit said to solder them to the flashers, but we had to do some trial and error in test mode to see when we had the correct points.  My husband was already familiar with this type of installation, though, from when he put the under-cabinet LEDs onto Tron Legacy.  What worked was having the green and yellow side connected to the red flasher, and the orange and yellow wires (the one with the black tape near the bottom) connected to the farthest flasher from the red one.  Hopefully this picture helps illustrate that.

Solder points for drum kit wiring

Installing the drums was not a big deal at all.  You have a choice of flasher color for this kit, and we chose yellow.  Adding the LED piece to the drums was a simple matter of peeling off the covering for the double-stick tape and just sticking it onto the back of the drums.

Lower playfield drum, side view

Upper playfield drum, side view

And here's a player-view of the completed installation.

Upper playfield drum, front view

Lower playfield drum, front view

The video below shows what they look like in action.  It's always hard to film pinball flashers adequately, and they look kind of blinding in this video.  I was afraid ours would be like that, but in reality they are very nice, and it's a relatively subtle effect.  I recommend this mod to anyone looking to improve what is a near-flawless machine to begin with. :)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

STERN code updates for X-Men and Transformers Pinball

At long last, STERN Pinball today released code updates for its Transformers and X-Men pinball machine models.

Both these machines really needed a code update, and owners had been waiting a long time, and feeling pretty neglected.  Time will tell if these updates satisfy them, there hasn't been a lot of reaction yet in the community.  I did have a chance to check out the new code on a Transformers LE just now.  I don't know the game well enough to know how dramatic an improvement we are talking here, and I liked the game before this.  I will say, I just had the best game of Transformers I've ever played, so it certainly didn't hurt. :)

You're damn right I'm a Decepticon!
These two code updates are so fresh, there aren't even any patch notes yet.  I will come back and post them here when they are live, just to provide an example of the kind of changes a code updates involves.

As most pinball owners know, you can get the latest STERN code updates here, on their website.

4/3/2013: below is an example, the update notes from the Transformers LE update.

V1.8 - March 14, 2013

- First pass of the redemption system.
    see http://www.sternpinball.com/downloads/Stern_Pinball_Redemption_System_Software_Manual.pdf
    for details.
- added an adjustment for launching balls after a locked ball.
- fixed a bug where Optimus/Megatron Super Jackpots were not initialized correctly when MB progression is turned off.
- The Optimus Prime Multiball progressive Super Jackpots are now scored based upon how many times Optimus Prime MB was started prior to scoring the Super JP.
  1 start = 100% of Super jackpot escrow.
  2 starts = 75% of Super Jackpot escrow.
  3+ starts = 50% of Super Jackpot escrow.
- The Megatron Multiball (A) progressive Super Jackpot is now scored based upon how many times Megatron MB was started prior to scoring the Super JP.
  1 start = 100% of Super jackpot escrow.
  2 starts = 75% of Super Jackpot escrow.
  3+ starts = 50% of Super Jackpot escrow.
- added Optimus Prime & Megatron Multiball minimum Super Jackpot scoring logic.
- added Autobot/Decepticon HSTD info to instant info
- added MB progress adjustments
- added Decepticon High Score tables.
- added Autobot High Score tables.
- added redemption ticket sounds
- added rule progression to the Optimus Prime Multiball rules.
- added rule progression to the Megatron Multiball rules.
- Changed text coordinates for redemption award display effect.
- Added game-specific display effect, lamp effect, and sound effects for redemption.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Reality Rush - Silver and Gold

Lately reality tv on the Discovery Channel has been all about gold.  First there was Gold Rush, with my boys the Hoffman Crew.  Then Bering Sea Gold, which also won us over.  So I was quite interested as the latest seasons of Gold Rush and Bering Sea Gold neared their ends, to see Discovery pimping a new series; "Silver Rush".

I expected something similar to Gold Rush, but about silver mining.  I was wrong.

Silver Rush is way cooler than that.  It's about the hunt for sunken ships and the treasures they took down with them.  It's a mix of oceanography (my college major), history, and a lot of the thrill of the hunt elements that make me like the gold shows.  In other words, I'm SOLD, possibly even moreso than I was with the prior two shows (never mind that Jungle Gold, that doesn't count, not even when the Hoffmans were down there).  So far, they are even following in the grand tradition of having equipment break regularly.

Silver Rush is kind of a misleading title for this show, but they wanted to keep the brand identity they'd established with Gold Rush. Fair enough. I joked to my husband that they should make a show called "Copper Rush" and have it be all about people breaking into abandoned buildings and stealing wiring and such. Though now that you mention it...

Yeah. I'd totally watch that.

Friday, March 1, 2013

STERN Valentine's Day code updates

This past February 14th, STERN Pinball made a couple code updates available on their website.  These were for the newest pinball machine, Avengers, and TRON: Legacy, a well-received machine from 2011 that, rumor has it, is going to be "reprinted" (i.e., STERN is going to produce another run of TRON machines).

I had just done my morning coffee run that day when I happened to catch the post on Pinside mentioning the Avengers update.  It was a surprise, really, because Avengers was still pretty new, and had launched with fairly complete code already in place.  Avengers owners were already pretty happy.  But I quickly downloaded the file, and put it on a thumb drive.  I then printed out the documentation, which I left on the kitchen counter along with a "Happy Valentine's Day!" note and a few candy hearts sprinkled about.

I think this was my husband's favorite Valentine ever from me. :)  But the surprises weren't over, because a bit later on, I discovered that TRON had gotten an update too.  We have a TRON. 

So when I got home that night, we applied both updates.  The process for updating the code on modern pinball machines is actually quite easy, just a matter of plugging a thumb drive into the motherboard behind the backglass.  The directions .pdf STERN has available for this is clearly explained and easy to follow.

I haven't really spent much time on the Avengers since the update, but I will say that the changes to TRON were dramatic and instantly noticeable.  Many people are saying that TRON is now a whole different ballgame, literally, and I've seen more than one person say that they'd been planning to sell their TRON because they were tired of it, but had quickly changed their minds for now.  This update made TRON fun again for players who had maybe gotten bored with it.

And that's yet another example of an element of the pinball hobby that most people probably never thought about.  STERN still owes X-Men and Transformers owners some serious code updates, but the fact that something as solid and physical as a pinball machine can be changed like that after it's already sitting in your home... well that's pretty cool.