Thursday, December 6, 2012

Pinball - Don't Call it a Comeback

Don't call it a comeback, pinball has been here for years.  It never really went away...but it does seem to be having a bit of a resurgence.  

You can witness the near end of
pinball in this documentary
10 years ago, pinball was basically considered on death's door.  My brother Kelly, and I started collecting machines because you could barely find a place to play in a public setting.  What was out there was beat to shit and just made you angry because it wasn't kept up.  We got pretty good at looking over machines and determining how well they worked before putting our money in...however we were still surprised at times (never once did we think to check whether the actual button for the flipper was there - lesson learned).

Replacement parts and used games were getting scarce and expensive...after all, in the previous decade Williams/Bally, Gottlieb, Capcom, and Data East had all stopped manufacturing pinball machines.  Luckily there was still one Stern Pinball.  Unfortunately, their games sucked at the time...their flippers felt lethargic, their designs uninspired, their sounds very repetitive, and they just didn't feel right...they felt cheap and like corners had been cut.  We still went out and played but it didn't satisfy.  Stern kept at it though and their pins steadily improved.  I think all the Stern machines from the past few years are pretty great.  They have fixed almost every issue that I had previously had with their machines.  I am not a huge fan of Stern putting QR codes all over the place and when they use photographs instead of artwork, and the playfield toys and artwork runs the gambit from being too sparse to too crowded...but those are all personal aesthetics.  I don't think any have reached the level of some of the classics from the mid-90s (I'm talking Addams Family & Indiana Jones) but they stand up very well next to most of the games from the period.  That is saying a lot and 10 years ago didn't think I would ever be able to say (but am glad that I can).  I hate to say it but Gary Stern really did save pinball.

Good quality, fun pins from Stern is just the tip of the iceberg for the beginning of this pinball renaissance. A new company is starting to make machines too.  Jersey Jack Pinball's first machine (Wizard of Oz) is set to start rolling off the line next month, and they just announced their second machine (The Hobbit).  The Wiz looks really good and looks like it has some cool innovations, I can't wait until I see one in person and get to try it out.  I am sorely tempted to pre-order a Hobbit pin.  It doesn't stop there though, a lead designer fromWilliams/Bally, John Popaduikis also starting to do small run original pinball machines.  I really wanted to pre-order a Ben Heck's Zombie Adventureland, but couldn't make the finances work out in time.  They are also planning on releasing plans so that you can 3D print your only pinball replacement parts.

Looking pretty good JJP.  Can't wait to play.

The influx of new games has caused the prizes on used and older games to dip a little and the pinball community has sprung up to support and improve all the old pinball machines out there.  New replacement parts are being produced...often times improved over the original parts.  And not just a few items here and there...tons of items are being reproduced - artwork, plastics, mechanics, and circuit boards.  Enthusiasts are designing their own products to add to their pinball machines and make them even more attractive...more toys, better lights, and even color replacement screens.  I think you can find more parts now than when there were five pinball manufacturers in operation.

In the virtual world, Pinball Arcade is busy recreating all your favorite tables from the past onto virtual platforms.  From Xbox Live to your iPhone and Android Phones, you can now play many pinball tables faithfully recreated all in the palm of your hand.  I hear the iPad format is pretty darn amazing.  Meanwhile, Pro Pinball are creating original virtual titles that can both be bound by a real physics engine or be something that can only exist virtually.

It is more than just a distant movement though.  Here in Iowa there are many changes taking place and I will talk about those in a future post real soon, but includes Iowa's first pinball show, pinball leagues, and a pinball club.

If you have been interested in pinball, now is a great time to jump in...the future is looking bright from where I stand.  Hope to see you at the the link on the right to find pinball machines to play in Iowa.