Date: 27th September 2016
Report by Tim “Cornelius” Crowley
Las Vegas was built on magic. How else can one explain this lush paradise smack dab in the middle of the desert? And there are magicians everywhere you turn in Vegas; either performing tricks to a captive audience on stage, or all the magical ways this town can separate you from your money.
So what better place than Las Vegas to see the reveal of American Pinball’s Houdini: Master Mystery pinball?
It’s been one heck of a week for this pinball upstart out of Streamwood, Illinois. They went from “Who is American Pinball?” to being the hottest gossip in the pinball industry, all due to their post on Facebook on September 23rd, proclaiming the end of the Magic Girl fiasco, with the machines being promised to the rightful owners by the end of the year.
Not only that, but also the announcement of a brand new Houdini pinball machine!
It all sounded like slight-of-hand. So in an effort to present the pinball community with the best, most up-to-date information, I contacted American Pinball to see if I could check out this brand-spanking-new pin in person.
And much to my delight, they welcomed me with open arms!
The entire drive throughout the desert had me worried that this was all going to be a trick. But I had to know the truth! Was this going to be all smoke and mirrors, or the real thing?
And then, I was summoned to the Venetian. They were ready to let me peek behind the curtain!
After getting very, very lost in the Venetian / Palazzo (who knew they were connected?), I finally met with Dhaval Vasani and Scott Goldberg of American Pinball. They welcomed me warmly, then led me through the maze of hallways leading up to their suite.
My heart raced as we walked. Was I about to see magic? Or was I going to leave disappointed… a nonbeliever?
The door to the suite opened, and… there it was, at the other end of the room.
The real thing! The glowing lights of the unknown made my palms sweaty. I walked closer and closer, tentatively, like if I got to close, it would disappear. I almost expected it to shimmer like an oasis as I reached out to touch it. But it was real! And it is gorgeous. Full-on gorgeous.
Now, I have good news and bad news for you, gentle readers.
Let’s get the bad news out of the way: I didn’t get to play the machine. Now, that’s not to say that it wasn’t playable. It’s just not to the point that American Pinball can truthfully let anyone play it and say that they’ve seen the finished product.
While the gentlemen of American Pinball insisted on holding their cards close to their vest, keep in mind that what the pin standing right in front of me was the product of only three months work. So far, even though I wasn’t able to play Houdini, what is available to be seen is an incredible effort. This is not the “box of blinking lights” that the Magic Girl reveal was. This is right around the bend from being ready to go.
What’s the good news, you ask?
Here it is: the game is gorgeous. It’s got that John Popadiuk magical vibe throughout it. The artwork is by a brand new, soon-to-be-named artist who hasn’t worked in the industry before. To me, it had a real Matt Wagner-esque feel to it. Very eye-catching, indeed!
I was also told that they are using a new variety of RGB LEDs in these units, and you could see that they were warmer to the eye than some of the RGB LEDs you see in other titles.
Another fascinating thing about the Houdini pin is the display. It’s a full-color LED, not full sized like a Jersey Jack display, but bigger than your traditional DMD display – and it’s on the back of the playfield, like Cirqus Voltaire updated for 2016. I asked if this means there will be a video mode? Again, they didn’t want to say too much, but I could tell by their sly grins that they might have something spectacular up their sleeves.
In addition, the playfield had some really interesting toys on it! There is a catapult – yes, a catapult – that launches the ball towards a bullseye target. There is this wild loop-de-loop shot unlike anything I’ve ever seen in pinball before. There is a bumper that lifts out of the playfield. And there are ramps, both plastic and steel, flying to and fro. There is a steel ramp with lightning bolts on it, similar to the crossover ramp on AC/DC, that looks like more than meets the eye. And magnets? Well, what would a pinball game about Houdini be without magnets?
And now we come to the (Jeannie) elephant in the room. What does all this have to do with Jpop? What happened to Zidware? When are the people that ordered their games going to get them?
More than anything at all – even more than their excitement to share their new pin with me – American Pinball wanted me to share with all of you that they want to be a straightforward, honest, transparent company with integrity. To that end, they have announced that they will be fulfilling the Magic Girl orders, with their first units ready to go by the Chicago Pinball Expo in October, and the remaining orders shipped by the end of 2016.
“People have been waiting for the Magic Girl situation to be resolved”, Scott told me. “These people had given up hope on ever receiving their product. Our plan is to make them whole, then move towards the future.”
And what does the future hold for American Pinball? If they actually can make the Magic Girl fiasco right, they will be super – no, super-duper – heroes to the pinball community. If Houdini plays as good as it looks, at a retail price of $6995? Then the pinball industry has a new, serious challenger on their hands. Perhaps this might stifle the incredible inflation going on in the pinball industry right now?
They’re also very keen in bringing new blood into the pinball industry.
As I mentioned earlier, the person doing the art for Houdini has never worked within the pinball industry before. If there are any home-brew creators out there, you might want to send American Pinball your resume!
Finally, I asked Scott the tough question. The one I had been dreading asking all night. Why on Earth would this company want to work with John Popadiuk? Scott went on to tell me that they had worked together at Zizzle, and he was amazed at how many different ideas John had with. That John didn’t focus on just one aspect of creating pinball; he was able to work on all the different parts.
But most of all, Scott told me with a grin: “We’re a brand new company. Who would care about American Pinball if we didn’t have a big name behind us?”
Or more than one big name, nudge nudge, say no more…
PS: They were very reluctant for me to take any pictures, but after begging and begging, I managed to get the blurry, far-away one you see above.
© Pinball News 2016