Welcome to the start of our coverage of Stern Pinball's latest game - WWE Wrestlemania.

The game was first revealed in pre-event pictures from the CES consumer electronics show in Las Vegas, where Stern Pinball were setting up the game.

Soon after, Stern sent out a press release with all the details. And there are a lot of details, because WWE Wrestlemania is the first Stern production coin-op game to use their new Spike board system.

We'll look at that a little later, but first let's take a look at the game itself.

We'd heard Stern's next game would be based on the WWE franchise, but given the far from stellar performance of their previous wrestling game, Data East's WWF Royal Rumble, the lack of any specific reason to bring out a WWE game at this time, and the expected negative reaction to the theme, we weren't wholly convinced.

But sure enough here we have the company's game for 2015's spring and summer season.

The cabinet is the same design we've seen used since Star Trek, with a metal untapered backbox, angled display panel with a printed decal and red backbox trim. The Pro uses charcoal grey metal trim on the top of the backbox, the backbox hinges, the side rails, and the lock bar.

WWE WrestleMania Pro
WWE Wrestlemania Pro

This is a John Trudeau design, and although we suggested his earlier Mustang game was somewhat conventional for a designer with a proud history of unconventional playfield layouts, this game is much more what we've been hoping for - new features blended with some classic old-school elements.

The game will be available initially in two versions - the Pro you see here which shows the current WWE stars, and a WWE Legends Limited Edition run of 400 machines looking back to vintage WWE performers and signed by Hulk Hogan.

The left cabinet side
The left cabinet side

It's at this point that we admit to knowing next to nothing about WWE as it is not shown here on any terrestrial TV channel. That gives the licence less impact than, say, in the USA. However, the WWE Network channel does become available on the internet here on January 19th, just a few days after the game's expected European debut at EAG International in London.

So, since we don't know who any of the wrestlers, presenters or eye candy are in the artwork, let's move swiftly on to the business end of the game - the playfield.

WWE WrestleMania Pro's playfield
WWE Wrestlemania Pro's playfield

This is a two-flippered game, with the two ramps pushed out to the edges of the playfield to accommodate the large wrestling ring upper playfield at the top of the game.

The upper playfield is actually on two levels - an upper level which contains five rollover lanes much like those on Jokerz!, and the mid-level which forms the ring.

The upper playfield area
The upper playfield area
(picture: Megan Geuss via Arstechnica)

The ball can fall into the ring from the rollover lanes, and once in the ring the aim is to complete the two banks of standup targets a number of times and then lock the ball in the top saucer. The targets all have associated inserts in front, and numbered arrows show the number of completions and the availability of the saucer.

The two 'slammer' slingshot kickers on the lower left and right are under player control through the flipper buttons, allowing the ball to be flipped with some degree of control.

Exits from the ring are at the bottom and the sides, while there is a U-turn inner orbit beneath the ring. Other than that, the upper part of the main playfield level is not used and has in fact been cut out from the playfield.

The large cutout in the playfield for the ring mechanism
The large cutout in the playfield for the ring mechanism and top rollover lanes
(picture: Megan Geuss via Arstechnica)

We mentioned the ramps earlier, and they both lead to the top rollover lanes, although they both also have controlled gates which can allow the ball to orbit and return down the opposite ramp during certain modes.

The upper playfield area
The upper playfield area

The two return ramps are not part of the the main ramps at all, but return feeds from the ring. The left return ramps starts at the left exit from the ring, while the right return is fed from the bottom ring exit when the ball doesn't drop through a hole into the pop bumpers.

Because the ball is nearly stationary by the time it arrives at the top of either return ramp, they can have a very minimalist design without any concerns about a fast ball flying off.

The skinny ramp return design
The skinny return ramp design

Both return ramps lead to the inlane on their respective sides.

The left return ramp
The left return ramp

The game features a three-bank of W-W-E drop targets and a number of side shots.

Standup targets and a side lane on the right
Standup targets and a side lane on the right

We mentioned one old-school feature with the top rollover lanes, and another is found on the lower part of the playfield - the return of bonus count inserts.

The bonus is shown by inserts
The bonus is shown by inserts

100K - 900K inserts are joined by 1M, 2M, 3M and 4M, while the bonus multiplier is also indicated by inserts in a very Bally-esque way.

Lit bonus inserts with a side lane on the left
Lit bonus inserts with a side lane on the left
(picture: The Verge)

There is an additional hint at the wrestling ring with tripple-rubbered inlane guides which could make ball control a little more tricky than usual.

Here's how Stern announced WWE Wrestlemania.

Stern Pinball Is Ready to Rumble

World’s Leading Maker of Arcade-Quality Pinball Games Introduces WWE
Wrestlemania Pinball at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show

Wrestling legend Hulk Hogan to autograph Limited Edition Versions

MELROSE PARK, IL – January 5, 2015 – Stern Pinball, Inc., the world's oldest and largest producer of arcade-quality pinball games, introduced today the new WWE Wrestlemania pinball machine at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2015) in Las Vegas, Nevada. WWE Wrestlemania will be available in both Pro and Limited Edition models.

WWE Wrestlemania calls players into the ring as WWE superstars embarking on a quest to become the WWE worldwide heavyweight champion. Players train their wrestlers and then compete in a series of matches leading them on the road to Wrestlemania.

The WWE Pro and the Limited Edition machines feature an innovative upper pinball playfield wrestling ring. With the flipper buttons, players control two “Slammer” slingshot-style kickers in the ropes of the ring. Completing the three drop target bank starts a wrestling match. Players rack up points and pin opponents in the ring by shooting into a kick out hole. Keeping the ball in
the ring and hitting as many targets as possible will advance players through the match. Multiple ramps guide the ball throughout gameplay, while brilliant lightshows highlight the all LED playfield. Ten licensed songs include intro music for wrestlers that players choose. WWE announcers Jerry “the King” Lawlor and Michael Cole add play by play excitement.

Wrestling legend Hulk Hogan will individually autograph each of the numbered WWE Legends of Wrestlemania Limited Edition (LE) machines on a bottom arch mounted gold plaque. With only 400 autographs available, this collectible must be limited to that number of games. The LE game art features classic WWE stars, of course including Hulk Hogan. Actual WWE wrestling
action is projected on the LE’s replica “Titantron” playfield level 5.7 inch LCD directly above the ring. The ball is always wild when it comes into contact with the LE’s exclusive "Chaos" spinning DISC while a third “Wham! Arm” flipper allows players to knock the ball off a wire ramp.

“The WWE franchise features unique characters and fantastic action sequences that are captured in these pinball machines. WWE Wrestlemania pinball games will appeal to a very large and diverse group of both WWE and pinball fans,” said Gary Stern, Chairman and CEO of Stern Pinball. “This game is unique with an innovative wrestling ring and other features that will captivate pinball players of all skill levels.”

WWE Wrestlemania is the first pinball machine to feature Stern’s recently announced SPIKE™ electronics hardware system. The new technology reduces product complexity and simplifies manufacturing, resulting in more reliable and easier-to-service games. SPIKE™ is both modular and scalable, accommodating and supporting future designs. Players will quickly
appreciate higher quality sound, enhanced illumination effects and a more engaging overall game experience.

At the CES 2015 Stern will also be showing its Star Trek, The Walking Dead, and Ford Mustang pinball machines.

Pricing and Availability:

WWE Wrestlemania Pro Model: $5,495 (MSRP)

About WWE:

WWE, a publicly traded company (NYSE: WWE), is an integrated media organization and recognized leader in global entertainment. The company consists of a portfolio of businesses that create and deliver original content 52 weeks a year to a global audience. WWE is committed to family friendly entertainment on its television programming, pay-per-view, digital media and publishing platforms. WWE programming reaches more than 650 million homes worldwide in 35 languages. WWE Network, the first-ever 24/7 over-the-top premium network that includes all 12 live pay-per-views, scheduled programming and a massive video on-demand library, is currently available in more than 170 countries. The company is headquartered in Stamford, Conn., with offices in New York, Los Angeles, London, Mexico City, Mumbai, Shanghai, Singapore, Dubai, Munich and Tokyo.

For more information, please visit: www.wwe.com.

About Stern Pinball, Inc.:

Stern Pinball, Inc., headquartered just outside Chicago, Illinois, is the oldest and largest producer of arcade-quality pinball games in the world. Stern’s highly talented creative and technical teams design, engineer and manufacture a full line of popular pinball games, merchandise and accessories. Recent Stern titles include The Walking Dead, Mustang, Star Trek, Metallica, The Avengers, X-Men, AC/DC, Tron, Transformers, Avatar, Iron Man, Batman,
Spiderman and many more! All of Stern’s pinball games are crafted by hand and assembled by Stern’s expert team. A broad range of players enjoy Stern’s games from professional pinball players that compete in high-stakes international competitions around the globe to novice players who are discovering the allure of the silver ball for the first time.

To join the fun and learn more, please visit www.sternpinball.com.

All trademarks and product names are the property of their respective companies.

So that's the playfield layout, but as we said earlier, this is a landmark game for Stern as it is the first coin-op pinball they have made using their new Spike control system.

Stern had already reduced the number of boards in the backbox and the real-estate they take up when they introduced their SAM system. That used a CPU board and a driver board, fed by a transformer in the cabinet and controlling matrices of lamps and switches.

The Spike system does away with the driver board, off-loading its duties to a number of smaller under-playfield boards connected by a CAN-BUS data link. The transformer has also gone, replaced by a switching power supply mounted in the backbox.

The fluorescent tube which illuminated the translite or backglass has also gone. Now the artwork is lit by a number of white LEDs mounted on the Spike board.

The Spike system apparently runs Linux which is stored on an SD card mounted at the top of the board. Two USB sockets sit at the bottom for software updates, and possibly for a Wi-Fi adaptor to download over-the-air updates, record earning and fault information, and to provide wide-area networked tournaments.

The Spike board with translite illumination and the power supply bottom right
The Spike board with translite illumination and the power supply bottom right
(picture: The Verge)

Although the Spike system is driving a regular dot matrix display in WWE Wrestlemania, the hardware can drive a number of different display types and even has VGA/HDMI outputs available.

These will come in useful for the Limited Edition model which has a small 5.5" LCD panel mounted on the playfield above the wrestling ring.

One of the design goals of the Spike system was to reduce the amount of cabling under the playfield. It's still quite a mass of wires, but probably not as much as you would have seen before.

SAM vs Spike
SAM vs Spike

Under-playfield cabling
Under-playfield cabling
(picture: The Verge)

The flipper mechs, driver board and insert board
The flipper mechs, driver board and insert board
(picture: The Verge)

One interesting point to note is how the flippers now have three cables attached. Previously Stern have used just two wires to provide the power and hold current. Now it appears they are using dual-wound coils like Williams did, which should eliminate the buzz sometimes associated with Stern flippers.

Although Stern promotes the improved audio quality from the new system, it doesn't go so far as to say it is now Stereo or multi-channel.

Stern Pinball Debuts New SPIKE™ Pinball System

World’s Leading Maker of Arcade-Quality Pinball Games Announces Next-Generation Pinball System

MELROSE PARK, IL – January 5, 2015 – Stern Pinball, Inc., the world's oldest and largest producer of arcade-quality pinball machines, announced today that it will debut its newest pinball electronics system, SPIKE™, at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

SPIKE™ is a modern, scalable and modular electronics hardware system
engineered for the rigors and complexities of pinball applications.

“The modular nature of the system will allow game designers to embrace new technologies to evolve the game of pinball while also improving earnings, reliability, serviceability and efficiency,” said George Gomez, Executive Vice President of Product Development at Stern Pinball.

The new SPIKE™ system is based on distributed processor architecture and an industrial grade network protocol. These technologies reduce product complexity and simplify the manufacturing of the game resulting in a more efficient, reliable and easier-to-service game. The system is designed to facilitate integration of various display technologies such as varying size LCD displays both on the playfield and in the backbox. The scalable nature of the system allows for the integration of Wi-Fi and numerous new game specific features and technologies.

Experienced players will recognize a more engaging overall game experience and quickly appreciate the enhanced illumination effects and higher quality sound.

“SPIKE is the latest step in our ongoing program to leverage technological advancements to improve the game for all segments of our customer base,” said Gary Stern, Chairman and CEO of Stern Pinball. “Commercial customers such as operators and location owners will be particularly well served by SPIKE.”

New SPIKE™ system benefits and features include:

Improved earnings:
• All LED lighting enables enhanced lighting effects, increases reliability and attracts new players. Included is the florescent light replacement by LED’s, which last longer, run cooler and draw less electricity.
• A new modern CPU and expanded memory allow the designers greater freedom to create new compelling game scenarios to attract more players and lengthen their engagement.
• A more powerful high definition digital sound system enhances the game

Higher reliability
• New built-in automotive-grade circuit protection for LEDs, switches and solenoids reduces circuit failures from accidental shorts and environmental faults.
• Lower game heat reduces stress on components increasing longevity.

Easier serviceability
• Low-cost game modules are easy for any technician to replace and costly circuit board repair is eliminated.
• Reduced wiring complexity eases troubleshooting and worn component
• Improved system diagnostics make the system easy to learn.

Greater efficiency
• Reduced chances of failure from environmental conditions with robust solenoid, switch and lighting protection circuitry.
• SPIKE™ system games use less energy than older models and generate less heat during operation.
• New controllable LED artwork backlighting reduces fade, saves energy and lasts longer.

For more information about the new SPIKE™ system, please visit www.sternpinball.com.

We'll be back with much more about Stern's new WWE Wrestlemania game shortly right here at Pinball News.

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