25th January 2005
The ATEI show is one of the biggest international amusement trade shows and it takes place in London every January.
It has seen a number of significant pinball launches - the most spectacular was the first public showing of Pinball 2000 back in 1999 - but now it follows less than a week after the IMA show in Germany so many new products appear there first and then at ATEI.
That was certainly the case with Stern's latest game, The Sopranos. Gary Stern was keen to let the international buyers have a look at the game despite the software being far from finished. It was shown on the Electrocoin stand at ATEI which is well positioned right at the front of the show.
We've already brought you some early details of the game but this was our chance to see it for real and experience those all-important first impressions.
First of all, the playfield is very open with almost everything concentrated in the upper half.
In fact, below the half way line there's only the Sleep With The Fishes kickout on the left and the two Light Pork Store standup targets.
But before we get too carried away, please understand that this is not the finished version of the game. The software and hardware are quite likely to change before production begins. The software was version 0.60 and contained a reset bug and very unbalanced sound which undoubtedly will be addressed.
But the basic layout and toys are all there in one form or another. You can read about the rules in our earlier article so we'll look at the playfield elements here.
Working clockwise, the first toy is the fish.
It's a pretty ugly looking fish (especially with that ball deflector riveted to the top) but racketeering is an ugly business. If you've never seen The Sopranos the inclusion of a fish isn't going to make much sense but if you know the context, it's all quite clear and important to include. The mouth moves up and down and the eyes flash as it talks to the player.
At the top left are the pole dancers.
They spin round on their poles when you shoot the Bada-Bing ramp which passes between them. The little piece of artwork with the show's characters watching them is a nice touch but hopefully the poles will be replaced with silver ones to complete the effect. Will topless dolls be provided as an option? They probably should be.
Also, I hope the electric motor driving the two pole dancers is more hidden in the final version than it is here.
In the top right hand corner is the truck - the one you have to hijack by shooting the outer loops. It didn't seem to do anything here but there is a metal plunger sticking out of the cab which appeared to move up and down so perhaps something is planned here such as an engine exhaust pipe.
Behind the truck are pictures of the eight major characters to have died thus far in The Sopranos. They have lamps behind each one and you collect one by completing the R-I-P rollover lanes below. Some are worth a single extra multiplier and others are worth three.
You can spot one of the most obvious problems with this area - you can't see the right hand rollover lane - it's obscured by the boat.
Gary Stern says they will replicate the R-I-P rollover lanes on the display but during multiball and other display effects you won't get to see that and in any case it's a software workaround to a hardware problem.
But that boat - The Stugots.
It's a nicely designed feature because it not only locks two balls, but it also allows the player to see them, while still looking very much like a boat.
The disappointment is just how easy the shot is. Not from the proper left flipper - which is actually quite tricky - but backhanding it from the right flipper. It makes the jackpot, double jackpot and super jackpot a piece of cake.
In this software version, you only needed to lock two balls to start Stugots multiball which is unusual for the main multiball of the game. Hopefully that can be upped to three.
Right in the middle of the game is the safe.
I'm told the design of this will change but I'm doubtful because it already quite closely resembles the artwork on the playfield and that's much harder to change.
The idea is to keep shooting the safe until you achieve the required number of hits. The safe then splits in two and rises up revealing a shot to a saucer beneath. The saucer is quite shallow and a hard shot will bounce back out, so aim and control of strength are required.
To be honest, it doesn't look much like a safe to me but it does work very well and is quite satisfying to hammer away at, mainly because of the good solid "thud" sound effect and associated flashers.
Although the basic ideas in the game are quite obvious, there is another thread holding the disparate pieces together. Food.
Peppered (if you'll excuse the pun) throughout the game are food references, from the Pork Store, to the food fights and the "diner" styling of the playfield, food figures heavily in the playfield and dot art.
So that's our first serious look at The Sopranos. We'll bring you our full in-depth review soon but there was more than one game of interest at ATEI.
For a start, Electrocoin had two Elvis games alongside the two Sopranos and Gary Stern was there gently elbowing us off games so he could show them to prospective buyers. But to show there are no hard feelings, here's Gary standing in front of his games.
Whoops, wrong photo! I meant this one, shown here with Patrick from Stern.
Anyone looking above the stand would have seen this unusual poster advertising the Elvis games.
Suppose for a minute your eyes were not drawn to the obvious but to the display on the game and what do we see?
Small world, eh?
But that wasn't the only pinball to see at ATEI. Not by any means because there was something of a revival for pinball at the show. But only the electronic version.
For a start, Empire's Pro Pinball has always been regarded as the best emulation of pinball on a computer. But Cunning Developments, the Oxford-based team behind the series stopped producing full blown games years ago, switching to developing games for the Game Boy Advance.
But Empire have teamed up with Spanish company Recreativos Presas to produce this Pro Pinball arcade cabinet.
The company is promoting the game with the slogan "Are you sick and tired of repairing your pinball?" and emphasising how the Pro Pinball cabinet is "nudge-sensitive".
Aficionados will recognise the game at once as Big Race USA and this is the game Recreativos Presas are using to promote the concept with Fantastic Journey, Timeshock! and The Web all posibilities too. The cabinet uses a regular CRT display so shouldn't be hampered by high hardware costs.
As an owner of all those games I was looking forward to playing Big Race USA in this custom cabinet but disappointed by the flipper lag - i.e. the time between hitting the flipper button and the on-screen flipper responding. It was much worse than my home PC and made for a frustrating game.
Recreativos Presas were not alone with their computer simulation/emulation because Austrian company TAB were there with their plasma screen Virtual Pinball.
They appear to be moving away from the pinball concept with the addition of three extra games - only one of them a pinball sim. To add to their Popstar (pinball) and Air Commander (shoot-em-up), they've added Pirates of the Sea (pinball), Bubbles (Bubble Bobble) and Crazy Marbles (Marble Madness).
But that's not all. The Addams Family pinball is back!
OK, that's a bit misleading but pinball has also made the move into the world of payout games with this new Addams Family game from Nova.
The four-flippered game uses a vertical plasma screen to produce superbly crisp graphics and although the ball physics are not exactly cutting edge, it does feature a tilt control (a wheel!) and more importantly, gives you the chance to win money.
The pop bumpers add increasing cash amounts to a pot which can be collected by shooting the rail track wireform at the top right. There is multiball which can be collected several times to increase the number of balls in play and other bonus features. The game is time based and awards the collected money when the clock reaches zero. You can also earn more time and multiply your awards.
But if The Addams Family isn't your cup of tea, Nova also have a Pinball Wizard version of the game in the same style of play and cabinet.
Last, and most certainly least, was this Winning Shot kiddie redemption pinball from UDC.
The miniature playfield features pop bumpers, standup targets, a spinner and a ramp. In other words, more exciting than a Strike Xtreme.
The game is also time-based and vends three different prize levels in capsule form.
So is pinball breaking through into other game genres? With the new Pro-Pinball and Nova payout games bringing the game to new players, perhaps pinball is becoming popular again in unexpected ways.
© Pinball News 2004