Date: 4th December, 2015

In mid-November 2015, a new pinball DVD was released. Same Player Shoots Again is a documentary which examines pinball’s origins and development throughout the 20th century and into the early 21st.

The DVD packaging
The DVD packaging

Described – and sub-titled – as ‘ A Pinball Pilgrimage’, Same Player Shoots Again features interviews with Raphaël Lankar of the Paris Pinball Museum, game designer Steve Ritchie, and former Dutch Finance Minister and pinball fan Gerrit Zalm. This latter interview reveals the production team’s Dutch origins, although the language of documentary is English.

The DVD is divided into five chapters.

The DVD menu
The DVD menu

The first – Pinball History: Rise and Shine of the Silver Ball – tells the story of how pinball began as a development of bagatelle and rapidly grew during the depression years to become a mass-market low-cost form of entertainment. The rise of gambling with pinballs is followed by the effects of World War 2 on machine production and choice of game themes.

Viewers are then taken on a journey through the invention of the many pinball features now considered commonplace, such as the flipper, the pop bumper, return lanes and score reels.

The second chapter is titled Pinball Technique – The Lights are Flashing, The Bells are Ringing and begins by asking how a pinball machine actually works. The answer mainly concentrates on electromechanical games, describing the operation of flippers, bumpers, slingshots, targets, chime bars, score reels, and the tilt mechanism.

How a pinball works
How a pinball works

The third chapter looks at the people who design the games. Pinball Art and Pinball Design starts with a potted history of pinball companies, but shows it is a little behind-the-times when it says Stern is the only producer of commercial pinball machines.

The storyline explains how, over the years, the artwork and game theme have all grown in significance, as have the artists and designers who create them, picking out examples of striking art from the likes of Jerry Kelley, Dave Christensen and Paul Faris.

Steve Ritchie is interviewed and talks about his role as the game designer, leading the team of mechanical engineers, software programmers, artists, model makers, and many more.

Steve Ritchie talks about the design process
Steve Ritchie talks about the design process

The time-line does jumps around somewhat, bringing us up-to-date with Steve working with George Gomez and John Borg at Stern, before returning to the works of Roy Parker and Steve Kordek. While there’s not enough time to go into any depth about their contributions, it’s good to see their work and influence being recognised.

Chapter four is called Pinball Mania and Pinball Maniacs – The Men and Their Machines, which is enough to tell you it’s all about players and collectors. The commentary sets up some interesting questions – who are the pinball players and who are the collectors who amass or even hoard machines in their homes?

The first interview is with Gerrit Zalm who admits he owns no machines and only plays pinball a couple of times a year, but he does have a passion for the game and lists his top three titles.

Steve Ritchie then speaks up for pinball on location, dispelling any lingering suspicions of shadiness which might remain from a long-lost era when playing pinball had less wholesome connotations.

But ultimately we don’t gain much insight into why people play, why they compete, or why they collect machines in such large numbers.

The final chapter is Pinball Revival and Pinball Future – The Silver Ball Rolls On, and it begins with a look at three pinball museums who are bringing pinball’s past to the current and next generation of players.

The Dutch Pinball Museum, Freddy’s Pinball Paradise and the Paris Pinball Museum are all featured, while the re-born Dreamland amusement park in Margate, UK, gets a look-in too.

Raphaël Lankar of the Paris Pinball Museum
Raphaël Lankar of the Paris Pinball Museum

The narrative moves on to new games being produced both by the likes of Jersey Jack and Silver Castle Pinball, and custom machines such as The Matrix. The commentary acknowledges the surge of interest in all aspects of pinball across all ages, ending on an upbeat note about pinball’s future.

Same Player Shoots Again sets itself a hugely ambitious target; to recount the history of pinball examining the highs and lows over the past century, to explain how electromechanical and electronic machines work, to get under the skin of the players and comprehend the game’s attraction, to understand what motivates collectors, to explore the state of the machine, parts and add-on businesses, and to look at what lies ahead for the game, the industry and the hobby.

Each of those could – and in some cases already has – fill a DVD in itself, so it’s no surprise that this documentary skips over large sections to avoid getting bogged down in the minutia. The result is that it’s light on the kind of interesting details from which dedicated pinball fans might get a kick.

Inside the DVD case
Inside the DVD case

Same Player Shoots Again appears to target a wider audience – those with a limited but tangible interest in the game, and less the kind of devoted fan who will speedily buy every new pinball book even before the ink is dry.

If that advances interest in pinball then it has to be applauded and a good thing for pinball in general.

The back of the DVD case
The back of the DVD case

However, there are a couple of issues which might diminish this DVD’s appeal to the kind of dedicated fans who might be reading this review, and it’s only right we point those out too.

Any documentary has to give the impression of authority and in-depth knowledge of the subject it covers, but a number of factual errors, strange and inconsistent naming of common pinball parts and some questionable assertions in the commentary work to undermine the DVD’s credentials.

We won’t list the errors we spotted (although we have sent a list to the DVD’s makers), but there are a few moments where viewers will question whether the commentary really said what they thought they heard.

Familiar pinball parts are sometimes given unusual names. ‘Shoot-out lane’, ‘play deck’, ‘back flash’, and ‘top glass’ are all used, although the more common ‘shooter lane’, ‘playfield’ and ‘backglass’ get the occasional look-in too, which could confuse the uninitiated.

Finally, there are a few technical issues in the edit. Some of the sound cuts off awkwardly or unexpectedly, and while most of the graphics are nicely done, a few others appear hurriedly put together and seem out of place.

None of these things would be significant were it not for the high production standards of pinball documentaries which came before. Films such as Special When Lit or Tilt – The Battle to Save Pinball have raised the bar and made it difficult for any which come after.

Same Player Shoots Again doesn’t have the resources to rival those professional productions, but that doesn’t mean it should in any way be dismissed. Instead, we should look on it more as a semi-pro take on pinball’s history and its place in the modern world, shot from a distinctly European angle.

Same Player Shoots Again is available direct from the makers through their website pinball-dvd.com. The cost is €15 ($15.92/£10.65) plus shipping (€4.50 within the Netherlands, €5.50 internationally), it is rated a ’12’ and doesn’t appear to be region locked.

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