|REVIEW OF THE YEAR
Date: 31st December, 2013
Hello and welcome to 2013: A Year in Pinball - our traditional look back at the past twelve months to review the personalities, products and pronouncements in the world of the silver ball.
In many ways, 2013 was a year of consolidation. A year between the many announcements of new manufacturing companies and game titles made in 2012, and the expected availability of their products in 2014.
However, one new company did indeed launch their first product in 2013, so let's start our round-up of the year's new and upcoming products with them.
By 2013, neither Jersey Jack Pinball nor The Wizard of Oz seemed all that new, with the formation of the company being announced three years ago at the start of 2011 and the first public showing of the game taking place in June 2012.
But 2013 was the year production The Wizard of Oz machines finally rolled off the line and into the homes of early pre-orderers in mid-April.
Both production of the Emerald City Limited Edition machines and development of the software is still under way at the end of the year, with something like half of the one thousand LE models having been manufactured alongside a number of standard models for operators and distributors.
The closure of Bumper Action Amusements and rebirth as Bumper Amusements in Australia resulted in dozens of The Wizard of Oz buyers losing money. Mr Pinball Australia took over the JJP distributorship and a new run of 250 special Australian edition machines were added to the product range.
Then in November a new limited edition model was also announced, to much chagrin from some of the Emerald City LE owners. The 75th Anniversary Limited Edition features ruby red trim, a red backglass and red wireforms, along with a new topper and three additional playfield toys. It won't begin manufacturing until mid-2014 though, so we'll leave any more details of that model until next year's review.
More details of Jersey Jack Pinball's second game - The Hobbit - were also released in 2013, including most of the playfield design and the cabinet, backbox and backglass artwork. The artwork and playfield mechanisms involving the Smaug the dragon have been left out so far.
The game is expected to be released at the end of 2014 as the third and final installment of the movie hits the big screen, so there are still twelve months of development, testing and programming ahead for the JJP team.
Although they're no longer the only manufacturer of pinball machines, Stern Pinball have been as busy as ever, cranking out three new titles in 2013.
The year began with The Avengers which was announced in November 2012 but wasn't in full-scale production until 2013 with its first trade showing at the EAG International show in London.
Stern Pinball's second game of the year saw them return to their series of band-based titles.
Following on from The Rolling Stones and AC/DC, John Borg's Metallica playfield concept was combined with 'Dirty' Donny Gillies' highly-stylised beat-nik artwork to give the game a unique look and feel.
Although the Master of Puppets Limited Edition model sold out very quickly, owners have since been waiting for a software update to add missing features such as the wizard mode and the mystery award.
As the complexity of rules increases, the use of RGB LEDs spreads, and the resolution of displays continue to increase, so programming times have grown proportionately. Production models with half-finished software now appear to be the norm, meaning pre-orderers and early buyers from all manufacturers need to have faith the missing features will be added eventually and the game's potential realised.
Stern's final game of 2013 was the hotly-anticipated follow-up to Steve Ritchie's classic Star Trek - The Next Generation. His new Star Trek game came in the familiar three versions - Pro, Premium and LE - with the Pro manufactured first during October and November, and the LEs arriving in buyers' homes in December.
Star Trek featured new speaker panel and backbox designs which are expected to herald the replacement of the gas plasma dot matrix display with an LCD panel as part of Stern Pinball's move to a new control system in 2014.
Stern's production schedule changed in 2013, which means their next title - expected to be their recently-announced Ford Mustang game - is unlikely be available for the 2014 EAG International show (or the earlier IMA show in Germany), making Enada Primavera in Italy the most likely location for their European launch.
The January EAG & IMA shows are more likely to be attended by Star Trek and a new variant of the 2012 hit AC/DC. The new Luci version features distinctive artwork on the cabinet and translite as well as on the mini-playfield, breathing new life into one of Stern's biggest sellers.
Both JJP and Stern added more staff over the past twelve months, bringing back some famous names such as John Trudeau and Ted Estes to help with the increased workloads. Meanwhile Stern's Vice President of Game Design, George Gomez, suggested he may have put down his game designing pencil with The Avengers possibly being his last design for a while as he fully embraces his team management and product development duties.
But it wasn't only former pinball personalities from Williams who were making the news, as one particular Williams machine also hit the headlines in October when a re-run was announced.
There had been a previous stalled attempt in Australia to remake Medieval Madness, but at Pinball Expo, Rick Bartlett of Planetary Pinball Supply announced they would be making the game with Chicago Gaming, with the first machines expected to ship in Q2 2014, and pre-orders were now open.
All 1,000 Limited Edition models priced at $7,995 sold out in just six hours, prompting PPS to announce an unlimited standard edition for the same price without a couple of the features found on the LE such as the shaker motor.
Although there were only two months of the year left when PPS made their announcement, they weren't the last company to show their hand when it came to new entrants in the pinball manufacturing business.
In late December, Dutch Pinball - the team behind the conversion of The Machine: Bride of Pinbot to a dot matrix game - announced that they had acquired the licence for the cult movie The Big Lebowski and would be making the game in their own manufacturing facility in the Netherlands.
The Big Lebowski isn't expected to ship until Q2 2015, but pre-orders for the €7,550 ($8,500) machine are open now. So far, no playfield design or artwork is available on which potential buyers can base their decision, but the theme has certainly caught many pinball fans' imagination.
Meanwhile, several other teams continued working on their pinball projects throughout 2013.
The Skit-B guys were showing their latest prototype for their Predator game at Pinball Expo as part of the display of P-ROC-based games.
The playfield art is now complete and it is understood the team are now waiting for production playfields to be delivered before manufacturing of the first games can begin.
Playfields have also been a problem for Antonio Ortuño of Quetzal Pinball who is producing the Capt. Nemo Dives Again pinball. After an aborted idea to use a phrenolic panel instead of the traditional plywood for the playfield, cutting routing and printing was given to High Class Pinball in Germany. However, that deal didn't work out, so now the playfields will be made in the US.
There has also been an upgrade to the main PC, further development of the rules, and the backglass has been increased in size to better match the backbox, and is now backlit with eight strips of LEDs.
Also at Festi-Flip in St Étienne were the Heighway Pinball team who were showing the latest iteration of their Full Throttle game which included their new backbox and cabinet designs.
Work on building the production line at their factory in South Wales and further development of Full Throttle is underway, and we expect to have an update on their plans in the next couple of weeks.
Back on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, Spooky Pinball have been working hard to be the first to bring their Ben Heck-designed game to market. They have opened orders and say they are starting production of America's Most Haunted with 25 Founders Edition games, for those who expressed an early interest in buying.
The price has been set at $6,250, with a $500 reduction for original applicants whose games will also feature a numbered plaque. The team are offering a choice of cabinet and backglass artwork from the two designs available. They even say the first games could be ready at the start of January 2014.
Meanwhile, the second Spooky Pinball manufactured game - Pinball Zombies from Beyond the Grave - is also coming along, although America's Most Haunted is taking precedence at the moment.and it's been a while since any updates were sent out.
After so many years with just one pinball manufacturer, it's amazing how many games are being brought to production, but of course we're far from finished. In fact, we're barely half way through.
Multimorphic have had a busy year too, developing both the hardware for their P3 pinball platform as well as creating two custom-themed games - the Dennis Nordman-designed Lexy Lightspeed: Galaxy Girl and Cosmic Cart Racing.
A whole new cabinet design and playfield mounting system makes the game more modular than ever, and - together with the exchangeable upper playfield - opens the door for external developers to create their own games using the P3 platform.
Meanwhile, one of Multimorphic's other products - the P-ROC pinball controller - became even more popular as a means of both developing new games and modifying existing ones.
We already mentioned Dutch Pinball and their plans for The Big Lebowski in 2015, but 2013 was the year they made their Bride of Pinbot 2.0 dot matrix conversion available to buy in kit form.
Pre-orders for the conversion kit which includes a P-ROC board, a mini-PC to run the game software, a new speaker panel and all the cables but not the display itself were open at a cost of €995, but have temporarily been closed pending licensing agreements.
Another conversion with a P-ROC at its heart is The Matrix by Pinnovating. Like Bride of Pinbot 2.0, The Matrix made its way to Pinball Expo as part of the Multimorphic display. This converted Johnny Mnemonic was actually a second The Matrix machine which was bought at Expo by a collector in California. There's no suggestion yet that The Matrix will be mass produced.
There might be hope of one of Dennis van de Pass's earlier P-ROC conversions becoming a little more widespread though. So if you are interested in getting Demolition Man on Steroids, contact the Pinnovating guys.
Our penultimate port of call in this round up of new games takes us to the Chicago studio of John Popadiuk Jr, and his three projects - Magic Girl, Retro Atomic Zombie Adventureland and Alice in Wonderland.
Magic Girl is the first to be produced and will feature an LCD panel as the game's back panel, putting the display in a similar position to Cirqus Voltaire but larger, full colour and nearly the full width of the back panel.
Exact details of the game are subject to a non-disclosure agreement signed by the buyers, but the game is not expected to be shipping in the immediate future.
The game formerly known as Ben Heck's Zombie Adventureland is now called Retro Atomic Zombie Adventureland and is scheduled to be game number two after Magic Girl but information about progress on that too is tightly controlled.
John has also announced his intention to make an Alice in Wonderland game, although that is still at the planning stage with input about the game's features welcomed from prospective buyers.
Our final new game maker of 2013 lives in Australia and plans to release his game in 2015.
Mike Kalinowski owns Homepin - a company specialising in new replacement circuit boards for many makes and generations of pinballs - and has extensive knowledge of the fabrication of electronic devices in China. So it is in China where he plans to produce his games celebrating the 50th anniversary of a legendary TV series.
Thunderbirds Pinball will have a conventional dot matrix display and cabinet design, although the control system will be a custom design using embedded microcontrollers.
One other person with plans to make his own machines is Python Anghelo who longs to make Pinball Circus and has come up with a trilogy of games he plans to get made. Although some initial scoping-out has taken place, it's not believed firm plans have yet been made. But we'll keep you informed if we hear any more.
2013 must surely go down as the year when LED lighting made the leap from premium accessory to mainstream component. With nearly everyone now using LED lighting throughout their new pinball designs, and even Stern Pinball using LEDs on their base Pro models, incandescent lamps appear to have had their day in new games.
It's not surprising of course. LEDs use much less power, can be tiny, can be grouped together to create multiple colours, are more resistant to vibrations, last much longer and generate very little heat.
In those thousands of games designed to use them, filament lamps continue to produce the lighting effects the designer intended and often look quirky with LEDs installed, but newer games are using surface mount LEDs on small circuit boards - in many cases RGB devices - which in the long term will limit the market for LEDs produced in bayonet or wedge forms. After 2013, hardly any - if any - new games will need lamp-style replacement LEDs.
We're still in the crossover period, but whatever your opinion of their characteristics, the movement is strongly towards LEDs with lamps left purely for legacy games.
We have said before how the main restriction of people building their own games hasn't been woodworking skills, playfield design know how, or sourcing the mechanical components. It's been the control system. Being able to write your own rules, drive however many lamps and solenoids you choose to include in your design, read the appropriate switches, play the music and sounds you choose, and produce an attractive-looking score display with animations and effects is no small task, even if you have some or all of those skills.
Without a platform upon which to build, you also have to design the electronic circuits which interface with the hardware.
There are ready-made solutions out there such as Multimorphic's P-ROC/P3-ROC and Skill Shot Pinball's Pinball Platform, while others such as Jersey Jack Pinball, Spooky Pinball and PPS/Chicago Gaming have developed their own. Stern are developing their new control system to replace their SAM system, but even that has changed since it first launched with multiple different revisions used in various games.
But the most important change is that anyone can now get a control system to realise their pinball dreams in just the same way they can buy flipper bats, rubber rings and displays. Everything to make a game is now available. Just add talent.
Thanks to the concerted efforts of PAPA and their PAPA.tv initiative, we have now become used to seeing televised pinball games on the internet. The investment in buying dozens of cameras and the computer hardware to switch and combine them made it possible, but the support from top players adding their insights have made it entertaining and a useful training tool.
Let's hope this is just the start of pinball becoming mainstream and it gets picked-up by a production company with the contacts and skills to promote competitive pinball in a positive light.
No round up of the year would be complete without considering how pinball machine prices have changed in the past twelve months.
In general, pinball price inflation is still taking effect and pushing prices up, but we get the impression the increasing demand on collector's wallets from the large number of new titles coming to market in the next 12-18 months is starting to take its toll, and the rising price curve is starting to flatten out.
Medieval Madness owners hoping to make a tidy profit on their investment got a nasty surprise when PPS announced another 1,000 machines had entered the market, with an unlimited number more to come. Meanwhile everyone else saw the best part of $8 million disappear out of the collector market in just six hours. After Medieval Madness, which A-list title will be next?
Jersey Jack Pinball are trying to get all the value they can out of their The Wizard of Oz licence by releasing a new red version. Stern Pinball did the same with their AC/DC licence, by releasing a, err... red version.
With large sums of cash tied up in pre-orders or committed to previously-announced titles, value buyers will be looking to snap up those gameroom rejects which are jettisoned as soon as the flood of new machines begins.
That concludes our look back at 2013, 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 complete one by applying that perfect mod to finish it off? Or perhaps you finally got to meet your pinball hero, or perhaps your dream theme was finally announced as going into production?
Whatever your abiding pinball memories of 2013, share it with us in the box below.
In addition, you can vote in our two polls of 2013. Which of the new game releases this year was your favourite, and which of the upcoming games are you most looking forward to playing in 2014? 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, 2013. Thank you for your support, suggestions and articles throughout the year. They are all very much appreciated and we hope you've enjoyed Pinball News throughout the year.
Pinball News will continue bringing you all the very latest news and events from the world of pinball throughout 2014, just as we have for the past thirteen years - First and Free.
© Pinball News 2014