Story dated 28th December, 2001

Welcome to this, our second annual review of the past year in pinball - and what a year it's been.

We started with January's launch of Stern's third game - High Roller Casino. The game premiered at the IMA show in Neurenberg, Germany and appeared again a few days later at the ATEI show in London. Naturally, we had the first full review of the game.

We were happy to report that the game shows a continuing improvement over the earlier Striker Xtreme and Sharkey's Shootout in terms of game play, construction and enjoyment.

Although HRC was still at the prototype stage in January, when it started production some important and welcome changes were made to improve the rules and game operation.

March saw the end of an era as Electrical Windings closed its doors after more than 60 years servicing the pinball industry. Donal Murphy's company supplied coils, transformers and sundry other parts but the decline in game numbers finally took its toll and the firm - founded in 1937 - shut up shop.

In April we ran our first birthday competition with a bunch of prizes up for grabs. The lucky winners were Michael Burke from New Zealand and Peter Hall from England. Will there be another great giveaway in 2002? That would be telling!

Gaming laws across Europe have been changing with a move away from gambling devices but sadly this has been at a time when pinball is unpopular with operators, leading to other types of amusement devices filling the void. Hopefully, Stern's newest games will help repair the reputation of pinball - currently seen as an uneconomic and unreliable form of gaming.

In May, Illinois Pinball wrote an open letter to the pinball community in an attempt to clarify the status of spare parts orders and to outline the deal owner Gene Cunningham made with William's to buy certain rights and parts. Even now, the exact details of the deal remain obscured but the fact remains that parts are shipping, though you do have to order them through the old William's network of distributors.

The second new game of the year appeared first in the US and then very soon after in the UK. Austin Powers was the first game to follow Gary Stern's intention to use licensed themes for future games. "Our strategy is to stick with long-term, classic licences, rather than ones that come and go." he said.

Based on the eponymous British spy created by Mike Myers, the game was well received by operators and players alike. This was Stern's breakthrough game. It showed how a popular theme can not only boost sales but attract the fickle player to a familiar and welcoming game. The game sold well and may yet reappear when the third movie in the series hits the screens in Summer 2002.

While sales were good, they were not enough to stop a cost-cutting exercise at Stern's Melrose Park facility. In July, three members of the game design team left while Gary stern avowed his intention to work out more deals like the one with Pat Lawlor Design.
"We will continue with outsourced designers." he said. Pinball News revealed that Gary had been in talks with Larry DeMar, former William's Head of Pinball Engineering about designing a game. So far those talks have come to naught but that may change in time. In the meantime, twelve hourly-paid workers - believed to be employed in game manufacture - were made redundant.

So what was to become of that deal with Pat Lawlor Design? It was announced back in November 2000 that they would be producing a game for Stern and finally we received the first pictures of the resulting game.

Monopoly made a big splash when it first appeared, and once again we had the first full review of the game. The game had to be popular for so many reasons. The reputations and strategies of both PLD and Stern were riding on this. Fortunately for all concerned the game proved very popular with many home sales adding to the order books.

There was much anticipation when the PLD deal was announced, just as there was when Pat revealed at Expo that the company has agreed to make another pinball game for Stern. We can expect that around October 2002.

But if real games were selling well, computer simulations were doing even better. Visual Pinball brought us the means to make our own games and download other people's. Visual PinMAME - when added to Visual Pinball - gave us the chance to play all our favourite games from the comfort of our keyboards. The popularity of these two packages rocketed and you can now play almost any game from recent years. Best of all - like Pinball News - it's totally free.

For us here at Pinball News it's certainly been a busy year. We've reported in depth from the ATEI show, the Dutch Pinball Open and Pinball Expo and brought you the first and the fullest reviews of the new games from Stern. The size of the site has more than doubled in the last 12 months and we've introduced audio clips from the keynote speakers at Pinball Expo.

What can we expect from 2002? For a start we should get Stern's latest game early in the year, possibly at IMA/ATEI but perhaps Monopoly is holding up the next game? Rumours suggest it will be a Playboy themed game and that the next game will be another Simpsons game. We should also get Pat Lawlor Design's new game. Will that be the Simpsons game?

As ever in pinball, speculation as to the next game will be plentiful and some of it will be wrong. We'll continue to filter out the rumour and bring you the facts, the reviews and the reports.

In the meantime, Pinball News wishes you a very happy and prosperous 2002.


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