REVIEW OF THE YEAR
Welcome to the annual look back at the past 12 months in the pinball world.
And what an exciting year 2009 has been. While many predicted Stern Pinball wouldn't see the year out following last year's mass lay-offs and seeing the empty production lines during the Pinball Expo factory tour, an investment from private equity firm Hagerty Peterson looks to have secured the company's future in the short to medium term at least.
How new board members Dave Peterson and Daniel P. Wallace intend to reverse the decline in sales over recent years, we shall soon discover.
24 began as a Steve Ritchie design before being taken in house for modifications and completion, while NBA was a John Borg reworking of the 1996 design for Space Jam. Neither performed especially well judging by the number of units sold, although on-site earnings for NBA were reported as being quite encouraging.
There was also a surprise or two from Stern as new software unexpectedly appeared for Spider-Man and 24, giving hope for owners of Wheel Of Fortune and Batman that their games could could one day get their missing features added.
Speaking at the 25th Pinball Expo in October, Gary Stern said the simpler design of NBA was the way future Stern machines would go, with reused playfield parts and a maximum of one unique device or fixture per model.
He warned the audience that they were not going to like the changes, but they were necessary to ensure the company's survival.
We may soon see what he means as their next model - Big Buck Hunter - is scheduled to appear at the European trade shows IMA and EAG Expo next month.
If new designs were looking less attractive, there was plenty going on to bolster the life span of existing machines. Stern themselves were re-running models such as CSI and Lord Of The Rings towards the end of the year. The latter game was a special limited edition version with gold trim and a real backglass.
Meanwhile, two models from 1999 received new leases of life and enhanced gameplay thanks to Big Guys Pinball's Nucore system for Pinball 2000 machines, which started shipping in late July.
Pinball News has covered Chuck, Don and Steve's replacement computer system for Revenge From Mars and Star Wars Episode 1 since May 2008 and seen the numerous obstacles they have had to overcome, so it was heartening to see their project come to fruition.
One project which seems permanently poised to enter production is the King Of Diamonds re-make by Retro Pinball.
Pre-oders were being taken at shows in October for delivery between now and February. Let's hope they appear on schedule.
There is one project we can guarantee won't arrive on schedule, since it is still sitting in the sidings outside Melbourne. For yet another year, there have been no machines produced by The Pinball Factory and no indications of any progress on their proposed remakes of Medieval Madness and Cactus Canyon. Despite our initial hopes, we have to conclude that these will never in fact be produced.
But a company which did produce a new model this year was Zizzle. A third incarnation of their original John Popadiuk design was called Atari Arcade Classics and featured games such as Asteroids, Centipede and Missile Command.
John, meanwhile, has been busy creating a new pinball game for the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch.
The website is still in development but Pinball Wizard features a playfield design tool and will be available through the App Store.
2009 brought quite a few changes to the spare parts business. Illinois Pinball's Gene Cunningham sold much of his Williams, Alvin G and Capcom parts stock to Pinball Inc's James Loflin who then resold the majority on to Child Amusements in Victoria, Australia.
As is often the case in pinball deals, it later transpired that the deal wasn't quite that clear cut, there was some unpleasantness and Gene continued selling parts at pinball shows.
In other parts news, the big sellers of 2009 were LEDs as warm white and wider angled devices became more ubiquitous. As prices continued to tumble, vendors such as CoinTaker and BC's Pinball Amusements were selling their LEDs at 50¢ each at pinball shows.
However some buyers still see flicker as a problem while others are holding out for a better, more even light dispersal before taking the plunge. But you can be sure they will get cheaper and they will get better.
Despite (or maybe because of) pinball's low sales and relative scarcity, interest and promotion of pinball through top-end movies, DVDs and shows continues to grow.
This year saw the first cinematic release of a movie about pinball fandom as Special When Lit premiered in London.
If the movie told non-fans about pinball culture, a different production helped existing players improve their game. Pinball 101, like Special When Lit had been several years in the making, and it too was well received when it was released.
The supply of alternative media all but dried up, though, as the flow of internet radio interviews and self-help DVDs slowed to a trickle.
To get the widest selection of machines to play you used to be able to visit an arcade. While some still provide that service, it's becoming much harder to find decent collections open to the public. That's where pinball museums are starting to fill the breach.
After the popularity of the Pinball Hall Of Fame in Las Vegas - which has recently moved to new premises much nearer the Strip - several more have sprung up in the US such as the National Pinball Museum and the Silverball Museum.
While Raphael Lankar has been operating his museum just north of Paris for a few years now, 2009 saw a smaller but equally enthusiastic museum open in the UK and others are either being planned or have recently opened.
Of course the other great place to quench your pinball thirst is at a pinball show and once again it's another growth area.
What's more reassuring, though, is the way the same shows seem to come back year after year, suggesting they are both financially viable and well supported by vendors, visitors and machine donors.
That support also extends outside shows, into the many leagues being run around the world with more appearing all the time. Our Diary page lists all those we know about, so have a look to see if you could be joining in the fun and if a league doesn't exists near you, why not start one?
We also ran the most tournaments and published the most reports ever. In return you supported us with the highest readership ever, and in the run up to our 10th anniversary in April 2010, we now receive over 85 million hits a year.
So, a big thank you to the excellent article writers who devote so much of their time to telling us all about what's happening around the world and educating us about how we can enjoy pinball in new and varied ways.
As we look forward to 2010 it only remains for us to wish you a very happy new year. We look forward to serving you again for the next 12 months, bringing you the very latest Pinball News - First and Free.
© Pinball News 2010