FAREWELL TO 2006
Story dated December 30, 2006 .
Hello and welcome to the annual Pinball News review of the year and 2006 was certainly a groundbreaking year in many regards with new games, new approaches, new organisations and new locations. We'll look at all of them in this review as well as the people and personalities who made the past twelve months of pinball so exciting.
So let's begin at the beginning and rewind back to January, which saw the first look at Stern's latest game World Poker Tour.
As usual we brought you the first pictures and the first in-depth review of designer Steve Ritchie's latest, but WPT was more significant because it was the first game to use Stern's new SAM hardware system.
With more memory for sounds and dots, improved colour resolution and a USB interface to update the code, all looked rosy until a problem surfaced with an early batch of CPU/sound boards which caused resets or endless multiballs. Owners of affected boards should consult this service bulletin for more information.
Featuring alongside WPT at the ATEI show in London was Stern's new redemption game called Simpsons Crazy Carnival - subsequently renamed Simpsons Kooky Carnival.
Designed by Dennis Nordman with Dwight Sullivan, this token roller game features some of the same elements found in the Simpsons Pinball Party game as well as a shaker motor.
Just around the corner was Global VR's Ultrapin video pinball game. Although it was at an early stage of development, we saw a glimpse of what was to come later in the year.
ATEI was the European launch pad for these games because the German IMA show which normally takes place a week before ATEI was cancelled due to recent changes to the German gaming laws causing a lack of new products being ready to show. It is back this year though on the 16th-18th January.
January was also time for a change of ownership at Gameroom Magazine, where long time publisher Tim Ferrante sold up and moved to New York to be Managing Editor at Vending Times. New owner Kevin Steele gave the magazine more home arcade coverage, got some new contributors and made it a full colour publication.
While we're on the subject of magazines, the UK's Pinball Owners Association re-launched with new faces in charge and a new magazine. Out goes Pinball Player and in comes Pinball Wizard, produced on a quarterly schedule. Meanwhile, the word "quarterly" was taken to new extremes with two issues of Pinball Today coming out in 2006, making a total of three so far since it's launch in April 2005. The future of the publication beyond the fourth issue is yet to be decided.
Meanwhile, in Las Vegas, Tim Arnold's Pinball Hall Of Fame had a soft opening over several weeks while the final work was carried out to allow the 150+ games to be installed and set up for play.
By February we had a new association set up between Illinois Pin Ball and three of their parts manufacturers - Mantis Amusements, Phoenix Arcade and Pinball Inc. Called NAPPA (North American Pinball Parts Alliance), the aim was to create better co-operation and improve the co-ordination of new parts manufacturing utilising the IPB rights, tooling and artwork, although others accused the manufacturers of using the alliance to block any possible competition.
One direct competitor is The Pinball Factory in Australia and the following month they announced their plans to remake two classic Williams/Bally games - Medieval Madness and Cactus Canyon. Customers wanting one of the new games had to pay a deposit but enough stumped up the cash to allow the first of the two games - Medieval Madness - to go ahead. Pre-orders for Cactus Canyon are scheduled to begin at the end of March 2007. So far there has been little information released about the progress making Medieval Madness other than some pictures showing boxes of parts for the game and a great deal of skepticism about the whole project. But as we shall see later in the year, sometime remakes do happen.
While the Pinball Hall Of Fame was getting up to speed in Las Vegas, another collector was opening up his museum just outside Paris.
In April we reported on Raphael Lankar's new venture with 200 pinball machines, 50 slots and an extensive backglass collection set up in Aubervilliers. He told Pinball News how he had been working towards creating the museum since the 1950s and now it was a reality.
But if that was a reality, there was still plenty happening in the world of the virtual.
In May we released details of Hungarian company A8 Audio's new Goal video pinball which put a novel twist on virtual pinball by allowing players to compete head-to-head at either end of the table. There were also a number of sports games such as hockey and pool to appeal to those pinball unbelievers.
May also saw the launch of a new pinball ranking organisation and the re-launch of a pinball promotional association.
Original directors Roger Sharpe and Steve Epstein were back to help promote competitive pinball play by offering support to tournament organisers and by helping set up tournaments at shows previously lacking competitive play. Both initiatives were kick-started by Roger's sons Josh and Zach Sharpe who are both world class players themselves.
May was a busy month for news as we also brought you the latest incarnation for Global VR's Ultrapin virtual pinball game.
It had moved on somewhat from January's ATEI example and now looked much more pinball-like, including 12 classic Williams/Bally tables.
While everyone was looking to video as the next development in pinball, one company was taking a very different path. In June, a toy company called Zizzle introduced their Pirates Of The Caribbean and Marvel Heroes games.
They were keen to call them "home pinball" games rather than toys because, while smaller than a full-sized game - they featured solenoid powered flippers, bumpers and slingshots, digital sound and a backlit LCD score display. Priced at $300 or less (some were reported to be available before Christmas at $150), these were seen as a great way to get kids interested in the game without breaking the bank. Subsequent shows at Carlisle and Chicago featured Zizzle-based kids tournaments with great success.
The 1st of July saw a significant change in European law which was to have wide-ranging implications for pinball. The Reduction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) regulations came into force and required all goods imported into the European Economic Area to comply with strict requirements to reduce or eliminate the use of pollutants used in the manufacture and packaging of goods. Of particular significance is the need to use lead-free solder and glass which would prohibit many new circuit boards and displays from being imported either individually or as part of a whole game.
July also brought Stern's newest game, Pirates Of The Caribbean.
Designed by Dennis Nordman in his first pinball for Stern, it was hotly anticipated in the home gameroom market and marked Disney's first venture into this kind of coin-op territory. Pinball News produced its biggest ever review for a game which featured a first for Stern - an LED dot matrix display. Yes, our old friend RoHS means lead-based plasma displays were no longer allowed, so for Europe at least, the PinLED 128x32 displays were factory fitted.
While the RoHS regulations were to cause problems, for one group of individuals it meant Christmas came early for them. In August we reported on a secret batch of Big Bang Bar remakes which made it into Europe ahead of the RoHS deadline and were subsequently distributed to the buyers who had pre-ordered at the end of 2004.
While the remaining buyers would have to wait for their games, these European models demonstrated how the IPB project was still going ahead and had resulted in a number of finished games. Those who had received their game expressed both their gratitude and total satisfaction with the result.
The following month produced much sadder news with the death of naturalist and conservationist Steve Irwin.
Steve was to be the subject of The Pinball Factory's first game Crocodile Hunter - Outback Adventure and development was put on hiatus pending a decision on the future of the project. The last news we heard was that the game would indeed go ahead but with some modifications.
In October we brought you news of pinball's reach into one of the most hostile environments as Stern Pinball sent a World Poker Tour game to Afghanistan.
The lucky recipients were the 41st Expeditionary Electronic Combat Squadron who received the machine to help relieve the boredom between tours of duty.
November brought us the finished version of Global VR's Ultracade pin as it was promoted at Pinball Expo with three machines set up and a tournament run on the Medieval Madness table. The number of inclusive tables had shrunk from 12 to just 6, with the other 6 available now as an upgrade, and more tables to come in the near future.
Finally in 2006, news reached us recently of the death of Ed Cebula. Ed was a game designer for Gameplan from 1975 and was instrumental in setting up Data East Pinball with Gary Stern and Joe Kaminkow in 1985.
He designed 18 games for Data East until his retirement in 1994 including some classics with Joe such as Back To The Future, Phantom Of The Opera and The Simpsons. He will be sadly missed both by those who knew him personally and the many, many pinball fans around the world who enjoyed - and continue to enjoy - his games.
Looking to the future, Stern's next game - the Pat Lawlor designed Family Guy - should be making its first appearances in January 2007 both on test in greater Chicago and at the ATEI show in London. 2007 must also surely see the remaining Big Bang Bar customers receive their games from Illinois Pin Ball while the number and range of reproduction parts available should continue to expand with more companies signing up to either IPB or TPF.
And that concludes our look back at 2006. In the coming twelve months there will be good times and there will be bad times, but one thing is certain - Pinball News will be here to bring you all of them, First and Free.
© Pinball News 2006