Thursday, August 28, 2014

Pinball Oddities...

A Pinball Aficionado at Play

While exploring the deep and rich world of pinball, I've seen many things. When you're a pinball aficionado and you love a hobby like this, you naturally immerse yourself and tend to notice stuff. Items like common and popular themes, or playfield elements, designer traits, sales trends etc. This also gets one thinking of stuff that's absent, or hasn't been done often, and I'd love to know WHY that is!

Let's look at some....

1. Right Outlane Kickback.

Yep, you heard that right. Why is it that pinball designers never deploy a coil powered kickback in the RIGHT outlane of the playfield? If they do it, and they've done it a lot over the last 40 years, it's ALWAYS on the left! 

Kickback....On the Left!

I don't get it. I've looked, there's room under the apron for a kickback on the right, but nobody has ever (to my knowledge) ever designed a modern game with that. Back in the earlier EM period of the 70's through the 80's you did occasionally see a ball saver gate on the right to send the ball back to the plunger, but never a full kickback. Why? 

2. Why didn't Gottlieb get those juicy Tommy tie in games?

Tommy, the Rock Opera starring The Who, or more specifically, that awesome scene in the movie where Roger Daltrey and Elton John have a pin duel and Elton is singing Pinball Wizard is absolutely epic, no question. If you watch the scene, they're playing on two Gottlieb games. Elton is on Buckaroo and Roger (or Tommy) is on Kings and Queens. It seems so wrong to me that around the time of the film's release, Bally, not Gottlieb ended up releasing Wizard and Captain Fantastic, two games that launched Bally's meteoric rise in the 70's (and then coincidentally Data East ended up releasing their own Tommy game years later in the 90's). Jeez! if I had been Gottlieb, I'd have been bummed! Talk about a lost marketing tie in opportunity! So I'd love to know the story here, was Bally's head of marketing Tom Nieman just THAT good? If so, why didn't they use Bally games in the film scene? Really would love to know the answer to this one...

3. Why didn't Data East Pinball ever use any of the existing properties that Data East Japan owned? 

Granted I understand, both DE Pinball and Data East Japan were not under the same roof, but they were definitely in bed together. And I always found it so hard to believe that Joe Kaminkow and Gary Stern never mined any of the vast DE properties for use or tie ins or easter eggs in their pinball games (like Karnov or The Bad Dudes), seems like a wasted opportunity to me. This question also applies to SEGA Pinball and to Capcom Pinball. You're telling me Sega Pinball couldn't do a Sonic The Hedgehog Pin? Or Mark Ritchie and the Capcom crew couldn't do a newer AND BETTER Street Fighter pin (as opposed to the Premier one) or even an Aliens vs Predator Pin?!? Would love to know what happened there!

On that note I go to my next question...

4. Why was there never a Mortal Kombat Pin???


Seriously! Think about this, Ed Boon, head creator of the video game, was a serious pinball programmer before MK came out (having worked on several pinball games including F-14 Tomcat and Taxi) working for Steve Ritchie on the former. Steve also contributed to MK's development, having named the game and also providing the voice work for mega villain Shao Khan throughout much of the game series. Why is it that Williams/Bally/Midway (who produced MK and made all those great pinball games) never went and made a pin tie in for such a successful in-house franchise?!? They did it before with Defender, they could have done it here! It could have been huge! Oh well, mysteries like this may never be solved, but if anyone does know why, do tell!

Lastly, one final thing I've noticed when it comes to pinball, is that there is a theme that has NEVER BEEN DONE BEFORE. 

And so this leads me to point 5.

5. Why has there never been a pizza parlor/delivery pin???!?!

Many thanks to the fine folks at Giordano's Pizza for this fine and tasty image!

Think about this. Pizza and pinball go hand in hand, it IS the pinball food. Many high end pizzerias serve beer, a popular pinball beverage. Pizzas are round, whirlwind playfield spinners are round, etc. There is so much you could do with a pizza theme and pinball, seriously! I was shocked to learn pizza never became an original pinball theme back in the day. Seemed like a no brainer to me.

If any designer would care to comment on number 5, I'd love to hear your thoughts on that.

So there you go, random questions I've thought about during my time in pinball. If anyone reading this blog would care to chime in, discuss, answer, and commentate I would greatly appreciate it! Do any of you fine folks out there have similar questions on stuff you've noticed in pinball? Do tell! COMMENT BELOW!!! :D

Till next time!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Pinball Aficionado T-Shirt!!!

She's an Aficionado, are YOU???

Hey everyone! I've been getting a lot of feedback and questions from watchers and aficionados about my STERN factory tour from last week. Along with the big obvious questions like "When is the Star Trek code update coming out?" (not sure, can't say), and "Did you see Medieval Madness anywhere in the building?" (no I did not) and "Is Jack Benson really that tall" (sort of), I got one other question from many people: "Where did you get that cool T-Shirt and can I get one!" I can now answer that question! I officially present the extremely rare, super awesome, highly collectible, Pinball Aficionado Version 1 Limited Edition Fan T-Shirt!!!!!

Front of the Shirt

Back of the Shirt

It's a thing of beauty! This shirt is black with gold lettering (like the blog) and sports the site's name on the front and a neat, slick pinball design on the back. The design was made custom for me by the in-house art staff at Arcade Odyssey. Like I said before, this shirt is a first edition and will be limited (will not make them for long), and once they're gone, THEY'RE GONE, and subsequent runs will be different, so this is the only chance to get this shirt. 

Local tournament player (and Pinball Aficionado) Joel Cohen with his shirt

Serious arcade gamer girl Lis sporting her shirt

Me and Jack Benson: Stern programmer and 2014 PAPA C Division Champion wearing his Pinball Aficionado T-Shirt


For every shirt sale, $5 dollars of the purchase price goes toward Project Pinball. The amazingly great charity organization by Dan Spolar and the Pinball Asylum that uses donations to purchase pinball machines and deploys them for free in children's hospitals across the nation (WOW!). 

Their Facebok Page

Just last month, Project Pinball hosted over 30 IFPA endorsed tournaments across the US, all to help raise money for the effort, and just this past week some of the fruits of that labor were realized as they installed a brand new Star Trek Pro at a children's hospital in St. Louis Missouri.

The Florida Crossroads Tournament: One of the local Project Pinball sponsored events held last month

So all I have left to say is: "Are YOU an Aficionado???"

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Stern Factory Visit!

On August 8th I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Stern Pinball and tour the factory. I was headed to Illinois to see family and had the opportunity to stop for a bit in Chicago and thought "Why Not?". 

Me at Stern

So I messaged the great Jody Dankberg (Stern's head of Marketing, really awesome guy btw) and got everything set up.

What an experience! As soon as I got out of the car and walked up to the building I see this group coming toward me:

(L to R): Greg Freres, Steve Ritchie, Mark Weyna, Chuck Bleich, and Steven Martin

I went nuts!!! I ran up to them, shook their hand, chatted them up and took their photo LOL. Greg is responsible for some of the most recognizable pinball art of the last 30 years. Steve R is known as "The King of Flow" for his distinctive pinball designs, Mark is a program manager and is known by fans to have helped create the great game "Scared Stiff" during his time at Williams Pinball. Chuck is the senior electronics project engineer, who used to be the electronic engineering manager at Williams for decades. Finally, Steven M is production art manager at the company, and worked on Star Trek with Steve Ritchie, Greg, and others.

After meeting that group, I went inside (some of my family was with me) and got ready for the tour. 

We were herded into the company showroom/arcade where we saw the latest games they had produced. 

ACDC Luci Premium with Metallica Pro

My nephew (and Pinball Aficionado in training) on the new ACDC LED Pro!

A Stern Rawhide (the first game old school Stern produced) with Melony beside it...a hint of the future???

The Room also had Mustang BOSS Prem, Mustang Pro, and ST Pro

ACDC LED Pro was real flashy, speaker panel is cool looking in person.

Here's the new Swinging Bell toy for this version of ACDC Pro

It's a simple pendulum that attaches at the base and uses the target (no optos or code revisions needed)

Shot from the top (I want one for my game now heh!)...

Metallica Pro, looking nice and BRIGHT....

Gary's Stand-In watching us play...hehe
After we played for a few mins, our tour guide came in....

The amazingly knowledgeable and friendly Jack Benson!

Heeeeere's Jack!
Jack was awesome! He is one of Stern's newer programmers (his first project was coding Mustang...wait what?!) and now he's busy working on the ST Code update, holy cow! He knows a TON about pinball and was the best tour guide as we proceeded to go through the factory.

Star Trek cab waiting for its playfield...
I only got a few pics in during the actual tour, as Jack was telling us everything and I kept asking him questions and we were moving fast. The two principal games that I saw being made was a ton of ST Pros and several Iron Man Vault Editions, (there were a few ACDC Pro's and a Mustang Pro getting completed, but ST and IM just dominated the line it seems).

Iron Man getting ready to kick ass...

Miles and Miles of wire....................... ;)

A Mustang Pro nearly ready...
ST Pro playfields getting ready for insertion...
ST Pro being worked on...

A ST Pro Playfield...
After the tour, I thanked Jack and gave him a Pinball Aficionado T-Shirt...

He's DEFINITELY an Aficionado! Are you? ;)
After the tour Jack took us back to the arcade room and then told us to wait a minute, and next thing I knew, my jaw hit the floor! George Gomez, John Trudeau, John Borg, Mark Weyna, all legends of modern pinball design stopped in and we chatted, it was surreal, like a dream!

George Gomez!!! (Vice President of Game Design)

John Trudeau!!! (Senior Game Designer)

John Borg!!! (Senior Game Designer)

We started talking to all of em, and it was great, talked about game routes, operating, collecting, arcades, bars, design philosophy, their time in the industry, it was great, really really great!

These guys, and their teams, and everyone they work with are responsible for some of the greatest and most respected pinball machines of the last 30 years, and it was so gratifying to meet them, the minds behind these great games!

After that, they all had to get back to work (bummer.......) and we were escorted out to get back to the rest of our trip.

Stern Pinball

It was a great time at Stern, and I want to publicly thank everyone that I met and made this visit possible: Jody Dankberg for making it happen, Steve Ritchie, Greg Freres, Steven Martin, Mark Weyna, Chuck Bleich, Jack Benson, George Gomez, John Borg, John Trudeau, and though I didn't get a chance to talk to him as he was busy, I'd like to thank Gary Stern. Finally, I'd like to thank all of Stern's very hard working employees on the shop floor for keeping pinball manufacturing alive and well in Chicago, to all of you, from the bottom of my heart: THANK YOU!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Pinball Showcase: Ripley's Believe It or Not!

"Just Hanging around Mon!" -- Shrunken Head

I was talking to someone the other day who loves pinball (has owned games, and maintains games on location) and yet she told me that she'd never had the chance to play "Ripley's Believe it or Not" before. That made me sad, as it's one of my favorites from Stern Pinball. That gave me the idea to do this showcase (which we'll do for a random game every now and then) here on Pinball Aficionado. This is not a review, just a showcase, taking a look at a game you may or may not know about, so that if you ever come across one in the wild, you might be more inclined to play it.

With that, let's look at our first showcase ever: 

Ripley's Believe It or Not!

Ripley's was designed by Pat Lawlor and his design team, and released in Spring of 2004 by Stern Pinball

The Stern 2004 sales flyer front (thanks to IPDB and Stern for this image).

The Stern 2004 sales flyer back (thanks to IPDB and Stern for this image).
The game is chock full of material (talk about a loaded playfield)! 

Ball view of the Playfield...

It features not 1, not 2, not 3, but 6 POPBUMPERS, two playfield magnets, multiple diverters, 6 standup targets, 3 flippers, a shrunken head toy, a secret temple device with it's own built in dot display, two ramp systems with  5 ball paths to three separate exits, 2 spinners, 3 scoops, including one with an old school vari-target and up-kicker! Phew! That's a mouthful. 

The Vari-Target and the upkicker with its wireform...

The Shrunken Head...
Ball Return with one of the exits at the bottom...
If you look at the layout, it's similar to other games designed by Pat Lawlor (I guess it's true, there's only so many ways a ball can get to its destination lol). Many have compared the layout to his Twighlight Zone game from 1993 (that game also had some similar scoop, ramp, flipper, and pop bumper placement).

A shot of the Secret Temple (with its screens) in the back, and three of the pop bumpers in front...

Artwork on the game was by John Youssi, Lawlor's main artist guy on most of his collaborations. The artwork evokes an almost 1930's adventure theme, with exotic and mysterious locations and items featured in a dazzling array of comedic colors. Interestingly, the game's look was pulled from the Ripley's source material and not the television program that was popular during that time period with Dean Cain and Kelly Packard; I for one am happy with that decision, as the original source is more iconic and not as fleeting as a reality TV show. By the way, could this mean, in some roundabout way, Kelly Packard was technically screwed over by them twice? (For those that are unaware, she was going to be featured on Golden Cue in 1999 but the game got a re-theme and she was dropped) Eeesh, oh well, regardless glad they went with the hand drawn artwork for Believe it or Not!

Whoa, stuff looks pretty big from down here....

Ripley's has some very funny sound effects and quotes thanks to the efforts of Chris Granner, sound guy extraordinaire. The shrunken head comments on your play, the idol makes farting noises, game has planes, boulders of doom, even slot machine sound effects. Did I mention the fire walker screams when he burns alive (wha?!?!), tons of fun for everyone I say ;)

Rules were done by both Lawlor and Louis Koziarz, and it's mode based, meaning you need to complete all 7 continents (modes) on Robert Ripley's quest to reach the secret 8th continent of Atlantis (final wizard mode). It's a classic Lawlor mode setup, with the added feature of the secret temple toy. This toy employs a great tic tac toe system where certain ramp shots light a 3 by 3 grid and completing tic tac toe unlocks certain awards that can really help you along. Game also includes the Believe it or Not feature, a neat twist, where a novice player can side step certain requirements and get later game goals faster, and more easily.

Coming out right after the release of both "The Simpsons Pinball Party" and "Lord of the Rings" (two of the most beloved and produced machines in modern Stern history) people expected lightning to strike thrice and yet Ripley's had the unfortunate experience of falling short of those two giants in the eyes of many pinheads and pinball aficionados at the time. This was because the rules, while deep, were not as complex as those two previous games, and the ball movement wasn't as "flowey". This lack of flow was not helped due to a purposely weak right upper flipper (as originally intended by Pat Lawlor). Though its strength was improved upon with a code update, by then it was too late, and as a result of the weak flipper and lack of flow, the game got a bad rap in those first crucial months, and sales flopped. The game would be closed out by Stern, and distributors were left with many unsold units in their warehouses. 

Years later, thanks to a resurgence in pinball, and a chance inclusion of this game on The Pinball Arcade app for console and smart phone, it has been rediscovered, and people who had bashed it 10 years ago, and had not played it as it's somewhat uncommon, are realizing how solid of a game it really is, and so prices for the title have been up.

RBION on the Iphone...

As this is not a review, I'm not going to grade the game, just want to say that it is a solid game and if you ever see one, be sure and try it out, chances are you won't be disappointed!


Ripley's Believe it or Not began as a newspaper feature in 1919 and evolved into comics, radio programs, books, television shows, and 32 "odditorium" museums all over the world! 

Original Ripley's Believe it or Not comics from the 1970's...

Ripley's is one of Keith Elwin's favorite games, if you don't know, he is currently considered one of the best, if not the best, pinball player in the world. He loves it so much, here he is doing an hour long tutorial on how to master the game and get the highest score possible for PAPA (The Professional and Amateur Pinball Association):

In 2004, "Hand's on History" a TV show from the History channel visited Stern Pinball headquarters and did a behind the scenes look at the making of this game from start to finish, check it out below!

When Ripley's was included in The Pinball Arcade, the increased exposure of this sleeper gem caused more people to take notice and resulted in a marked increase in aftermarket price (here in FL, prices rose from around $2000 in 2009 for an excellent example, to near 3000 in 2013) here's gameplay footage for Ripley's Believe It or Not on Pinball Arcade: