|REVIEW OF THE YEAR
Date: 31st December, 2012
Hello and welcome to 2012: A Year in Pinball - our look back at the personalities, products and pronouncements in the world of the silver ball over the past twelve months.
It would be difficult to pick out a year with more excitement and growth than 2012. The availability and accessibility of pinball control systems and parts meant creating your own fully-featured machine has never been easier. So we'll start this review by catching up on the projects currently in development and those released during the year.
Let's begin with either "the world's only..." , or "the worlds leading... maker of real pinball machines" depending on where you look, and it's been another busy year for Stern Pinball.
2012 began with the promotion of Steve Ritchie's AC/DC in all its various forms.
The Pro model was the first to be released, but as the year progressed and new titles were released this turned around, so that by the end of 2012 it was the Limited Editions which were first to roll off the production line.
AC/DC proved to be a big success for Stern, especially in Australia where they sold in their hundreds. The software and ruleset for the game has been developed throughout the year, with the latest version coming out just two months ago.
John Borg's X-Men followed in the late summer, dropping the Premium model but keeping two variants of the Limited Edition - Wolverine and Magneto.
A Christmas Power Pack has recently been released which changes many of the default settings to make the objectives more achievable and the game more enjoyable.
Stern's third release this year was George Gomez's Avengers which again had two Limited Editions - Avengers and Hulk - and a Pro version.
A Premium model has also been announced, but Stern are hedging their bets and not announcing how much they will cost or when it will be available. With AC/DC they were able to force distributors to buy Premium models if they wanted the Back in Black or Let There Be Rock Limited Editions. It will be interesting to see if they can repeat that with Avengers.
Code updates weren't restricted to the latest models either. In December, Stern approved and released a new version of software for the twenty-year-old Data East Star Wars machine. This latest revision comes from Chad Hendrickson with suggestions from Pinside forum members and was officially approved by Stern.
It lacked a dot-matrix display and a coin door, had a simplified cabinet and playfield design, and sold through Amazon in the US for $2,999.99, including shipping. Next month it should be available from more retailers as Amazon's exclusivity deal expires.
While Stern were once again the only company actually delivering new machines to buyers, there are plenty of others poised to join them.
Jersey Jack Pinball have been developing their first game - The Wizard of Oz - and building their manufacturing facility in Lakewood, New Jersey throughout 2012.
Pinball News brought you an exclusive look around the factory in October, while a group of buyers got to make their own visit in mid-December. The Wizard of Oz machines have made appearances at various pinball and trade shows during the year. The biggest number were at IAAPA in Orlando in November where eight machines adorned Jersey Jack Pinball's 600 square feet stand.
Around 20 machines were made, with most ending up in distributors' showrooms once IAAPA had finished.
IAAPA was also where the final playfield device to be revealed made its premiere. The crystal ball uses a small LCD monitor at its base to project video clips so that they appear inside the glass sphere.
Not content with one upcoming game, at the end of November Jersey Jack Pinball announced that their second game would be The Hobbit - based on the movie trilogy, the first part of which is currently showing at movie theatres. The pinball won't come out until the final installment has reached the cinemas, which is scheduled for the summer of 2014, giving the company plenty of time to develop the game and the software.
A number of new entrants to the pinball-making business revealed their plans in 2012 too.
First to show their hand were the Multimorphic team of Gerry Stellenberg, Brandon Nuss and Les Pitt. Pinball News revealed their P3 pinball platform in March and showed its many unique features, including an embedded LCD monitor with ball tracking, a row of game-controlled wall targets with a row of pop-up scoops behind, and their open software system driving a P-ROC controller board.
Straight after we first showed the P3, Antonio Ortuño revealed his company's plan to manufacture a pinball, also with an LCD panel in the playfield.
Quetzal Pinball's Captain Nemo Dives Again brought Jules Verne's fictional seafarer into the pinball world, with a 9.7-inch LCD used to extend the playfield's artwork and allow it to animate. The originally-anticipated start of production of the 30 units in October has come and gone, but orders have been placed for various playfield parts and game assembly tooling which should be delivered in mid-January.
Although they first announced their intention to make it in June of 2011, 2012 was the year where Skit•B's Predator pinball really came into its own, with great advances in rules, lighting and the start of the playfield artwork being shown.
Kevin Kulek and Aaron Klumpp brought their second prototype to Pinball Expo where it was played solidly throughout the show hours, with everyone who tried it being very complementary about the gameplay, the sound and the lighting effects. Kevin and Aaron expect production of the 250 units to be completed during 2013.
Skit•B's Predator uses the same P-ROC system as Multimorphic's P3 machine, but they are not the only ones using it to make exciting new games.
The Bride of Pinbot uses the P-ROC system, as does the machine standing next to it, The Matrix from Pinnovating.com.
Based on the Johnny Mnemonic playfield design, The Matrix has completely new plastics, toys, playfield art, lighting, soundtrack, effects, display animations, backglass and cabinet art.
Neither company has announced any plans to sell their creation at this stage.
Someone who has announced plans to sell their creations is John Popadiuk, first with his Magic Girl design which was revealed in 2011, and then again in February 2012 in collaboration with Benjamin Heckendorn.
Their $9,995 Ben Heck's Zombie Adventureland design sold out just as quickly as Magic Girl had, and includes a home-build kit option, where John and Ben can visit the buyer's home to help them build their own game.
Rumours persist that Spanish games company MarsaPlay could be working on a follow up to their earlier New Canasta model. Sales were not exactly spectacular for the updated version of the 1986 classic, but their website is nearly all about New Canasta pinball, with very little about their other products. We shall see what happens.
A former distributor for New Canasta and organiser of pinball shows in the UK, Andrew Heighway revealed his plans to enter the pinball manufacturing business in yet another Pinball News exclusive. Interviewed by us at the Pinball at the Pipeline event in London, Andrew announced the formation of Heighway Pinball and distributed a flyer for their intended first design.
Based on a character from Greek mythology, Circe's Animal House featured Circe - a goddess of magic - turning patrons of her bar into animals.
However, after taking opinions from prospective buyers and distributors, the mythological theme was seen as too esoteric, and so at his seminar at Pinball Expo, Andrew revealed the first game would instead be based on motorcycle racing and be called Full Throttle.
Our report released on Christmas Eve showed the progress so far, while a second in the next few weeks will show the finished artwork and talk some more about the playfield mechanisms.
Heighway Pinball, Jersey Jack Pinball and Stern Pinball are all expected to appear together for the first time at the EAG-Expo show in London in January. Naturally, we'll be there to bring you our report.
Steve Ritchie, George Gomez and John Popadiuk showed that former Williams game designers can get back into full time pinball design, and they were certainly not the only ones from 'Willy' to stage a comeback, as four of their former colleagues performed a death save to get back in the game this year.
Joining Steve and George at Stern was Greg Freres. Fresh from his collaboration with Dennis Nordman on both Whoa Nellie! Big Juicy Melons and The Wizard of Oz, Greg took a full time game and art designer position at Stern Pinball.
Meanwhile, the other half of the duo, Dennis Nordman, having finished at Jersey Jack Pinball, agreed to create an original theme and upper playfield design for Multimorphic's P3 platform - one of two to be included with the machine.
John Trudeau was also in the news. Having worked with a team in the UK on the design for a Forbidden Planet game (and rumoured to have worked with John Popadiuk as well), he agreed to design a table for Heighway Pinball to be released after Full Throttle.
Our fourth former game designer signed up to make a computer pinball. Pat Lawlor teamed up with Silverball Studios - creators of the original Pro Pinball series of pinball simulations with the intention of designing a new Pro Pinball table which was grounded in reality enough that it could then be made into a real pinball machine. In addition, all the previous Pro Pinball computer games would be re-mastered. The project is unusual because it relied on 'crowd-funding' through the Kickstarter site, but more on that shortly.
A number of well-known and equally well-regarded personalities from the pinball world left us in 2012.
Steve Kordek's passing in February at the ago of 100 made newspapers around the world, and his contribution to popular culture continues to feature on websites to this day. Renowned as an innovative pinball designer and guiding hand to today's generation of designers, Steve's achievements and inventions are well documented, and anyone who had the good fortune to meet him could vouch for his undiminished passion for the game.
Donal Murphy's death in October following a fall from a ladder shocked many in the pinball world, coming just two weeks after his regular appearance at Pinball Expo. Donal owned and ran Electrical Windings, which supplied solenoids, magnets and transformers to all the pinball manufacturers in the Chicago area. The company also made hot-stamped plastic products, such as bumper caps and drop targets. In addition, Donal had an impressive collection of electro-mechanical machines and hosted tours around the factory and his games for Pinball Expo visitors.
Leon Borre was one of those people who loved to learn and to share his vast technical knowledge of pinball machines. His website flipper-pinball-fan.be contains masses of repair information and details of the numerous projects he created, while his test ROMs have helped pinball owners around the world diagnose faults on their circuit boards. Leon was also a keen collector of other coin-op devices, including jukeboxes, amusement machines and vending machines, which also feature on his website.
Neil Falconer who died in March following a car accident started in pinball at Bally, using his musical experience designing one of the first electronic organs to create sound for games such as Heavy Metal Meltdown, Special Force and Blackwater 100. He then moved to Data East to program their games, writing software for Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and, his last game, South Park. When Sega Pinball became Stern Pinball, Neil moved to Reno to work on slot machine design at IGT. The newly-released Star Wars software is dedicated to his memory.
This has certainly been the year when crowd-funding of pinball projects has taken off.
Following the success of the IndieGoGo campaign for the movie feature Pinball Donut Girl which received its first short-form airing this autumn, the same financing platform was used to raise $15,000 towards the Pacific Pinball Museum's plans to move to a new home at the Palace of Fine Art in San Francisco.
Meanwhile, over at Kickstarter, Silverball Studios' plan to raise $400,000 in September to create a new Pat Lawlor-designed table and re-master the existing Pro Pinball tables proved over-ambitious, as their total maxed-out at $174,000.
Unlike IndieGoGo, if the Kickstarter target is not reached, none of the pledged funding is made available. So Silverball Studios plan to re-launch their Kickstarter campaign soon with a more modest target to fund the remastering of just one of the original four tables - Timeshock.
FarSight Studios - creators of the Pinball Arcade series of real game emulations also took to Kickstarter to fund the licence to make Twilight Zone. They comfortably reached their goal and have since gone on to do the same for Star Trek - The Next Generation.
Twilight Zone is now available, Star Trek is coming soon, and they have also signed a deal with Elvira to emulate her two big hits - Elvira and the Party Monsters and Scared Stiff.
Innovation in pinball add-ons continues, with the focus in 2012 being on sound and vision, or more precisely, headphones and displays.
Playing pinball and listening to the sounds through headphones is, perhaps, a slightly odd way to enjoy the game, but it can certainly help reduce the disturbance to others in the vicinity. And if a good idea is worth doing, it's worth doing twice, as two headphone adaptors hit the market.
The $150 PinPAC 1 from Pinnovators features a button to optionally allow both the headphones and speakers to function simultaneously.
Alternatively, the Buckwerx Pinball Audio Adapter doesn't include the ability to run both the speakers and the headphones together, but it is significantly cheaper at $55-$65 depending on the machine model.
Both models mount in the bill acceptor cutout on the coin door, so are only suitable for machines with that kind of door and without a bill acceptor already fitted.
Displays have been in the spotlight recently, with the increased use of LCD panels in new machines - either in the backbox or embedded in the playfield. But even DMD pinballs can have them thanks to the ColorDMD project, which released two more titles during 2012.
After their debut with Attack from Mars, Medieval Madness and The Addams Family were both released this year, with new technology to track moving objects and accommodate non-predictable animations, such as player-controlled video modes.
Another way to either free yourself from the DMD or replicate it outside the game was demonstrated in 2012 by David Robinson with his Raspberry Pi-based DMD Extender. This project is not yet available to purchase, but if there's sufficient interest, who knows...?
Going in the other direction, we look next at a product which replaces an LCD with a DMD. The PinDMD is designed for makers of Visual Pinball/PinMAME/VPinMAME games or cabinets, who want to have a real DMD rather than an LCD screen showing the scores and animations. It plugs into the PC's USB port and sends the dot information to a real LED display or, with a suitable power supply, a gas plasma one.
2012 was also the launch year for the XPin range of products - including lots of different displays - from PinScore designer, Brett Davis.
These included single-colour LED DMDs in all three primary colours for giving your Dracula, Creature from the Black Lagoon or Tron that finishing touch.
Unlike the previous items, our final new product doesn't plug in or bolt on.
The first issue's main interview was with Roger Sharpe, while work on the second edition is already under way for expected publication in the spring of 2013.
Our final section of this year's review brings together a number of changes to places to play pinball - whether at a show or on location.
2012 was probably the last year for the Pacific Pinball Exposition (PPE) in its traditional home at the Marin Civic Center in California, as the Museum's board hopes to move to expanded premises soon, where they will be able to have a permanent exposition-sized collection of machines set up to play.
One show definitely on the move is the Texas Pinball Festival (TPF) which has outgrown it's previous home at the Hilton in Grapevine and upped-sticks for a different Hilton much nearer the centre of Dallas.
One of the major features of both the PPE and TPF is the range of competitive events on offer, and this year saw the launch of a new scheme from PAPA to boost the rewards and profile of a number of major tournaments.
The PAPA Circuit consists of ten selected events where the prize pot receives a $1,500 enhancement from PAPA, as well as assistance and guidance in promoting their tournament. The top players from the selected tournaments then compete in a special final held just before Pinburgh in April 2013.
Top tournament players can also qualify for a reduced-price brand new Stern pinball machine, thanks to a new scheme introduced in 2012 by Stern and IFPA. The Stern Rewards programme gives a discount on selected new-in-box Stern machines for the top 250 WPPR ranked players and the three biggest movers each month, along with the winner of the IFPA Player of the Month award.
Speaking of awards, the award for greatest comeback of 2012 must surely go to the Silverball Museum and Arcade who, despite suffering severe damage and flooding from Hurricane Sandy, regrouped, repaired and reopened in the middle of December, just seven weeks after the storm destroyed much of the boardwalk at Asbury Park.
That concludes our look back at 2012, but now it's time for you to have your say. What were your favourite pinball memories from the past twelve months? Did you particularly enjoy a game, a show, a league or a tournament? Did you buy your dream game, sell one or modify one by applying that perfect mod to finish it off? Or perhaps you finally got to meet your pinball hero?
Whatever your abiding pinball memory of 2012, share it with us in the box below.
In addition, you can vote in our two polls of 2012. Which of the new Stern releases this year was your favourite, and which game are you most looking forward to playing in 2013? The polls are just for fun, so vote away and see how your thoughts compare with everyone else's.
That really is the end of our coverage of, and from, 2012. Thank you for your support, suggestions and articles throughout 2012. They are all very much appreciated.
Pinball News will continue bringing you all the very latest news and events from the world of pinball throughout 2013, just as we have for the past twelve years - First and Free.
© Pinball News 2012