August 5, 2006
Several buyers of Pinball Manufacturing Inc's remake of Big Bang Bar got a shock message recently. Their games had been built, shipped and were ready for collection.
Could it be some kind of joke? Surely it couldn't be true?
But it was no joke and four letters explain exactly why this happened - RoHS.
The new Reduction of Hazardous Substances law introduced across Europe on 1st July meant certain products containing dangerous materials such as lead would no longer be permitted to be imported into the European Union after that date.
Most firms have adapted their manufacturing processes to use lead-free components and construction materials such as solder but Pinball Manufacturing Inc were using existing Capcom board sets built using solder containing... lead. So the race was on to get those games destined for Europe shipped so they would arrive before the 1st July deadline.
The machines (believed to number 14) arrived in The Netherlands in time and were distributed around the country as well as Germany and Belgium over the following days.
One lucky customer BigBangJoe told Pinball News all about his experience.
Before I knew anything about pinball, my brother got one for his 30th birthday. That tickled my interest so I started looking around for Belgian websites about pinball, and stumbled on www.mushroom-amusements.com, the website of Bart Baeyens. I asked him a lot of newbie questions and he enthusiastically explained lots of things about pinball. It didn't take long before he introduced me to the brand Capcom, so when I was looking for my second machine, I went to his place and played a Capcom Airborne and I *knew* that I wanted one of these. He also explained how great Big Bang Bar was and how unfortunate it was that it never got produced. He couldn't stop talking about it, but I didn't mind.
Then came October 2004 and we saw the article about the remake of BBB right here on Pinball News. We immediately searched for more details but most people were very sceptical about the project to say the least. We figured there were four possibilities: 1) the project would fail and we would get our money back. 2) the project would fail and we would lose our money. 3) the machines would be complete rubbish and worthless. 4) the machines turn out to be perfect.
Case 1 or 4: no problem. Case 2: we go out, drink lots of beer and forget about the whole thing. Case 3: we try to sell the machine and lick our wounds.
We hesitated for one day but then I said to Bart: "What if the machines turn out to be perfect, and you didn't order one??". Bart couldn't live with that idea so then we both decided to go for it and called IPB.
A few months later, the first forum was created for buyers only, and there we got a lot of information about how the project was going. There were lots of problems while reproducing all of the parts: some were not good enough and rejected, some were good but more expensive than foreseen, and some vendors were simply reluctant to produce such small numbers of a specific part. That cost them about a year extra, which was absolutely not the fault of PMI. However, we noticed that there was a drive to produce a high-quality machine, so we were very satisfied with the slow but certain progress.
In the middle of gathering all the necessary parts, the hosts of the forum, who were also handling the technical side of the project, decided to quit the project (for reasons only known to them and PMI). Immediately the forum was closed (which meant that a *lot* of VERY interesting information is now also lost!!!) and al lot of buyers were in a state of panic. Then Robert Winter opened a new forum to try to bring some order to the chaos.
Within just a week or so, we got the reassurance that the project was not dead, and that the machines would be produced. It would just take a bit longer while PMI was reorganizing themselves.
Shortly after, Kerry Stair got on board, and everybody was relieved that someone with an eye for detail and quality was handling the project. We got an official update about every month, and meanwhile we buyers were entertaining each other with all sorts of silly chat about BBB.
Around January 2005, while still gathering parts, assembly started on the test machine. They first wanted to build a test machine, just to find out where everything went exactly and how it had to be done. That obviously took a lot of time, as all problems that they had along the way first had to be solved before starting on the first production machine.
By that time, we knew that the project was going over budget, so we didn't complain too much when there was another delay. On the contrary, we were satisfied that the team took their time to truly solve a problem instead of opting for a quick and dirty fix. We knew they couldn't hire dozens of people to help them, so we were patient but confident that the end product would turn out to be magnificent.
Around April 2006 we got the message that all major problems were sorted out and that production was about to start. Still no idea on when they would be finished, but it was another step forward. Around the middle of June, the first pictures of finished machines were shown on the forum, and obviously everybody was very excited about it. This was the moment that we knew that the PMI-BBB was not Vaporware anymore!! They existed, they were real!
Except for the pictures, we got no details at all about how many were finished or what was happening, but the pictures were more than enough evidence for us. We figured they were too busy making more machines so they didn't have time to answer our silly questions. One week later, we got a phone call that our machines were about to arrive in Holland and we couldn't believe it. It just wasn't possible that just 2 weeks after those pictures, our machines were already in Europe. Apparently, PMI didn't want to risk that the European machines would be stopped at the border because of the new RoHS regulations. Therefore they had to ship early, although they always said that all machines would ship at the same time. PMI asked us to keep quiet about it, but we didn't get any details on why that was exactly. Out of gratitude, we were happy to do what they asked us to do, but unfortunately the news was leaked just two weeks later.
It took another week to arrange the transportation from Holland to Belgium, and on July 7th they actually arrived. When I arrived at Bart's place, Bart's machine was already unpacked, but he hadn't fired it up yet.
After a few games, we unpacked my machine (because the box wouldn't fit in my car), and on the very first game, Bart got to Big Bang on default settings and 3 balls. I still have to crack that high score, but I have already changed some of the rules to make life easier :-p
Now, the game is sitting between my Airborne and TAF, and boy does it shine! It has that typical Capcom feel, which is very different from WMS games. My TAF plays like silk and you almost don't hear the coils firing (well... that's a little bit exaggerated, but you get the idea). With BBB and Airborne, the coils seem to hit the ball a lot harder, and it all sounds a lot more mechanical. Capcom games are not for sissies: you have to work to get the ball were you want it, and your concentration has to be 100%. I also like the adult atmosphere of Capcom machines, and BBB is the most adult pinball machine there is. Wait until you hear the tube dancer telling you to "do it again" when you get the jackpot!
It was risky to dive into this project, but it was all worth it. This baby will never leave my house, *ever*, regardless of how much anyone offers for it.
I truly hope that all American buyers get their machines in due time, and I'm confident that they will be impressed by it.
Only when that happens, Pinball News is welcome to visit me and write a full review, because until the American machines leave the factory, I don't consider this project as finished.
So there we have it. They did it (or at least some of it) and completed a number of games, shipped them and delighted their unsuspecting new owners.
The remainder of the games will not be shipped until they have all been completed, but it's a real boost to the project and to those waiting patiently for their games to know there are a number of very satisfied customers who can testify to the quality of the product.
But if you're not one of the lucky ones to get their game, can you still play one?
Yes you can, because the Silverstone complex just outside Amsterdam also bought one and from August 16th 2006 it will form part of their Pinball Magic collection of pinball games open to the public.