Date: 31st December, 2015

Welcome to our annual look back at the people, events and headlines from the past twelve months which helped shape pinball history and make 2015 such an important year.

After the excitement of announcements in 2013 from multiple hopefuls about their plans for machine production, 2014 saw several of them experience delays or missing deadlines. Surely 2015 would be the year when the people behind these projects, would finally reach the end of their journey. Wouldn’t it?

As it turned out, for some the road ended with the successful release of their machines, while for others the ending was less happy.

But let’s start with things which were released in 2015, starting in January with a new board system for Stern Pinball.


Spike System

At the EAG trade show in January, Stern unveiled their first game to use the new Spike control system.

Taking over from the SAM system which was introduced on World Poker Tour in 2006, Spike uses a small main controller board which links to a number of ‘node’ boards, each of which is responsible for a group of solenoids, LEDs and switches.

The Spike main controller board
The Spike main controller board

This simplifies the wiring, provides much more memory for game code, sounds, music and display animations, and is able to drive an LCD display as well as a dot-matrix one.

Despite employing new 3D animators, Stern has been slow to replace the traditional 128×32 dot-matrix display with an LCD.  Smaller LCDs have appeared in a couple of the company’s titles – Whoa Nellie! and WWE Wrestlemania LE – but their main display hasn’t changed size or resolution since Lethal Weapon 3 back in 1992.


WWE Wrestlemania

The John Trudeau-designed WWE Wrestlemania was the first game to use the Spike system.

The Limited Edition of WWE Wrestlemania
The Limited Edition of WWE Wrestlemania

Despite having a novelty player-controlled wrestling ring, the game didn’t prove to be a big seller, which probably wasn’t helped by Hulk Hogan’s well-publicised comments and subsequent erasure from all WWE records. The Hulkster was the lead wrestler on the LE model and his signature appeared on all 400 games. No premium model was produced.


Kiss

Stern’s acquisition of the Kiss licence was revealed back in 2013, but it took until the summer of 2015 before the game went into production.

The Kiss Limited Edition
The Kiss Limited Edition

Designed by John Borg, the game was well-received and featured several throwbacks to the 1979 classic, including lavish artwork from the artist on the original Bally version, Kevin O’Connor, while Pinball Magazine devoted its third edition to Kiss pinball past and present.

Whoa Nellie

Having toured US pinball shows over the past couple of years, Whoa Nellie! Big Juice Melons finally hit the big time as Stern put the Dennis Nordman and Greg Freres creation into production.

WhizBang Pinball's Whoa Nellie! Big Juicy Melons
WhizBang Pinball’s Whoa Nellie! Big Juicy Melons

A series of small changes was needed to make it work as a mainstream product, but it managed to retain the charm and unique feel of the hand-built originals, even if the $6,499 price was $1,000 above the price of a regular Stern Pro model.

Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones made its debut in October, first with the Pro model and a couple of weeks later during Pinball Expo with the Limited Edition.

Game of Thrones Limited Edition
Game of Thrones Limited Edition

Based on the hit HBO series, Steve Ritchie’s latest creation featured his customary fast, flowing shots, with scoring opportunities as dazzling as the LED lighting. New code released over Christmas rebalanced both of these a little, while an earlier update added a ‘casual’ mode of play for novice players, making it the factory default on the Pro models.

Software Updates

Speaking of software updates, Stern has released a number of them over the past year, showing just how important the rules are to the overall enjoyment of a game.

When they were first released, neither The Walking Dead nor Star Trek felt entirely complete, but that changed following a number of software updates – 6 in 2015 for The Walking Dead and 5 for Star Trek – which added hugely to the strategy and depth of both games.

Now there are hopes Kiss and WWE Wrestlemania could be next in line to receive similar treatment.

Wizard of Oz

Over at Jersey Jack Pinball they have been continuing to make The Wizard of Oz, while development work has focused on The Hobbit and Pat Lawlor’s design for their third game. But a new way to play The Wizard of Oz game that game added longevity.

Pindemption

However, they also found time to create the Pindemption software system which turns a The Wizard of Oz (and The Hobbit when that title is released) into a ticket-spitting time-limited redemption game.

The Pindemption system
The Pindemption system

JJP say that as a redemption game it greatly out-earns a non-redemption pinball, and are selling the Pindemption software and a suitable ticket dispenser through their online store.

The Hobbit

Jersey Jack Pinball’s The Hobbit has had a tortuous year but is finally about to go into production.

The Hobbit's playfield
The Hobbit’s playfield

After last year’s Pinball Expo where it received a somewhat less-than-rapturous reception, a number of changes were made to the playfield and the software which have seen great improvements in gameplay and made it much more fun.

At the end of 2015 sub-assemblies were being built at the JJP factory, with production of full games expected to start early in the new year.

New JJP Investors

In August Jersey Jack Pinball announced it had three new investors.  Leonard Abess, Andrew Paul and Scott Flanders teamed up to inject capital into the company, enabling production of The Hobbit to begin, taking a ‘significant’ stake in the business in return.

Captain Nemo

Since Antonio Ortuño was first announced his project in March 2012, a number of setbacks has delayed production of Quetzal Pinball’s Captain Nemo machine.  It looked like production would begin at the end of 2014, but that was pushed back again due to decal and trough issues.

The Captain Nemo playfield
The Captain Nemo playfield

However, those have now been overcome, the games are being manufactured and delivery to customers has begun.

Congratulations to Antonio on successfully creating and building the game, and we hope to be able to review one in the near future.

Full Throttle

Staying in Europe, Heighway Pinball also successfully launched their first game, Full Throttle, in 2015 with an appearance at the EAG trade show in London and a launch party at the Pipeline bar.

The Full Throttle launch party
The Full Throttle launch party

New distributors have been announced in Austria, France, Sweden, Australia, USA and Canada, while two new backbox display options have been added to supplement the in-playfield LCD screen.

While reaction to the motorcycle racing theme has been mixed, reviews of the playfield layout and gameplay have been overwhelmingly positive.

Alien Pinball

While several reveals have shown various small aspects of Heighway Pinball’s second title – such as the cabinet or some of the proposed toys – there has not yet been a full showing of the playfield design, display animations or artwork from Alien Pinball.  So while much development work is taking place behind-the-scenes, very little has been made public.

Alien Pinball
Alien Pinball

Meanwhile, game designer Barry Oursler announced his intention to move to South Wales to work at Heighway Pinball full time, although this was delayed by a health scare at the end of November from which he is still recuperating.

America’s Most Haunted

Another company happily manufacturing and shipping pinballs is Spooky Pinball in Benton, Wisconsin.  In July they reached the half-way mark in their 150 machine run of America’s Most Haunted, all of which were pre-sold, and last week said they had shipped another eleven machines that week, so completion of the run cannot be too far away.

Four more America's Most Haunted pinballs boxed and ready to ship
Four more America’s Most Haunted pinballs boxed and ready to ship (picture: Spooky Pinball on Facebook)


Rob Zombie’s Spookshow International

At the Rocky Mountain Pinball Showdown in June, Charlie from Spooky Pinball announced that their second title would be based on the director, musician, performer, producer and screenwriter, Rob Zombie.

His Spookshow International game will feature ten full songs, a colour LED dot matrix display, custom artwork by Alex Horley, and custom toys from Back Alley Creations.  The run is limited to 300 machines, all of which sold out very soon after it was announced.

New Spooky Pinball Factory

As if they hadn’t been busy enough, Spooky Pinball are also building a new factory in Benton.  The foundations have been laid and the structural frame is now being constructed, despite the onset of wintery weather.

The new Spooky Pinball factory
The new Spooky Pinball factory (picture: Spooky Pinball on Facebook)

The new factory will help with another project Spooky are undertaking – building Domino’s Pizza-themed pinballs for locating in select restaurants, or for customer or staff to buy.  Eighty to ninety machines are currently ordered with unveiling of the first machine in June 2016 at the Domino’s World Wide Rally in Las Vegas.

New Stern Factory

Of course, Spooky Pinball was not the only one with their eyes on a new home.

In August Stern Pinball moved nine miles northwest from their well-established base in Melrose Park to a newly-refurbished 106,000 square foot building at 2001 Lunt Avenue in Elk Grove Village.

The new Stern Pinball factory
The new Stern Pinball factory

Their new home more than doubles the floor space and allows two full production lines to operate, giving extra capacity for small runs or contract manufacturing without impacting on the main production line. Contract manufacturing such as…

Medieval Madness Remake

As if Stern, Jersey Jack, Heighway, Spooky and Quetzal all producing games was not enough, 2015 also saw Chicago Gaming return to pinball with their Medieval Madness Remake.

Chicago Gaming's Medieval Madness Remake
Chicago Gaming’s Medieval Madness Remake

The game was manufactured by Stern Pinball for Chicago Gaming, who designed a new control and driver system.  Large PCBs under the playfield provided the LED lighting, switch inputs, and drivers for the solenoids, with a small master controller PCB in the backbox.

When the remake was announced by Planetary Pinball’s Rick Bartlett in October 2013, it was anticipated the first units would ship in Q2 of 2014.  In fact the game began shipping in March 2015, and games are still coming off the Stern production line at the end of 2015.

The name of the second classic machine to be remade was expected to be announced at Pinball Expo in October 2015, but this will now take place at the Texas Pinball Festival in March 2016.

Scoregasm Master

2015 certainly was the year several previously-announced projects were finally built, but there was also another secret pin game project the existence of which was only revealed once games were fully designed, built and ready to purchase.

In April, Pinball News unveiled Day One Pinball’s new Scoregasm Master game.

Day One Pinball's Scoregasm Master game
Day One Pinball’s Scoregasm Master game

Based on PAMCO’s Contact Master from 1934, this flipperless bagatelle-style game adds a modern twist to a classic simple-to-understand-but-difficult-to-master amusement machine.

While all the companies above brought their games to market, others are still developing theirs.

The Big Lebowski

Dutch Pinball’s plans to ship their first The Big Lebowski games before Christmas were derailed by the familiar problems of licensing rights and last-minute glitches.

This time the licensing problem related to the music, which Dutch Pinball believed they had fully licensed for the game, but it turned out they didn’t have the rights to use the original artists’ performances.  So the music had to be rerecorded using different musicians and vocalists.

In addition, a number of manufacturing issues were thrown up when five pre-production The Big Lebowski machines were put through three days of intensive play at the Dutch Pinball Open in November.  These issues needed to be addressed before the first sample games could be built.

Timeshock!

Silver Castle Pinball are in the unusual position of not having announced a release date for their physical realisation of the Pro Pinball Timeshock! computer pinball game. Instead, they say they will release it when it is finished.

Silver Castle Pinball's Timeshock!
Silver Castle Pinball’s Timeshock!

Silver Castle brought in game designer Dennis Nordman to help make the shots work in real life and have the best flow possible. Although this was absolutely necessary in order to get the game to play correctly, it has resulted in them having to re-engineer several areas and thus taken longer than expected.

P3

A certain amount of re-engineering has taken place at Multimorphic too.

Although development of the Lexy Lightspeed: Escape From Earth game continues, the P3 hardware/software platform on which it runs should all be nailed down around now, allowing parts to be ordered and manufacturing samples made.

Lexy Lightspeed: Escape from Earth
Lexy Lightspeed: Escape from Earth

The P3 is more than just one game though, so Multimorphic are inviting potential designers of games for the platform to join their forums and sign up for their development kit.

Thunderbirds Are Go

There hasn’t been much news from Mike at Homepin, but they have been producing video games from their factory in China and work is continuing on producing parts for their first pinball, Thunderbirds Are Go.

Video games in production at the Homepin factory
Video games in production at the Homepin factory (picture: Homepin on Facebook)

Thunderbirds Are Go was originally planned to be released alongside the TV reboot of the Thunderbirds series with the same name in April 2015. That first series ran until June, but a second series has been commissioned for screening in 2016 and 2017.

Python’s Pinball Circus

The Circus Maximus team are also continuing development work on their Python’s Pinball Circus game with the promise that it’ll be done when it’s done. They brought their latest first prototype to Pinball Expo in October for everyone to play and see how the initial engineering work had moved on since 2014.

Circus Maximus's Python's Pinball Circus
Circus Maximus’s Python’s Pinball Circus

This game is the first proof-of-concept prototype. It will be followed by a second, incorporating all the changes and new features the team want to add to make the game more fun to play.

Unfortunately though, not every new pinball project had a successful 2015.


Predator Pinball

In March it was our unhappy duty to report how, despite assurances to the contrary, the rumours about the vaildity of the Predator licence were in fact correct. Skit-B’s Predator Pinball project was not – and never had been – licensed by Fox, the owners of the Predator intellectual property.

Despite attempts to salvage something from the collapse of the project, it doesn’t look as though Predator Pinball can be saved in its current form, and the whole concept of a Predator pinball has such toxic associations at present it will be some time before the theme could be revived.

Meanwhile, buyers are pursuing legal action to try to recover some or all of their money.

Needless to say, Skit-B’s second game, Experts of Dangerous, has been sidelined too.

Zidware

It was in April 2015 that John Popadiuk finally admitted there was insufficient money for his Zidware company to build any of the three pinball machines it had been offering for sale and taking payments on, and that there were no complete prototypes for any of them.

Buyers were offered a take-it-or-leave-it deal on Magic Girl which would take another two years, while the other titles could take another five or more years. More money would need to be paid too, and the whole project would be transferred to a new company with John acting as a consultant. There were no refunds offered, and agreement denied buyers the right to sue for their money back.

Not surprisingly few people were convinced, and when the nearest thing to a Magic Girl prototype was taken to the NW Pinball and Arcade Show in June, it became apparant there was a lot more work needed to make it feesible to build.

Magic Girl 'prototype'
Magic Girl ‘prototype’

The deal soon collapsed and litigation began to try to recover some of the funds. Right now that legal action is ongoing, and there are no immediate prospects of any of the games being made or refunds issued.

ColorDMD

2015 was a huge year for ColorDMD releases, with the number of titles now supported doubling in the past twelve months thanks to new releases for AC/DC, The Avengers, The Flintstones, High Speed 2: The Getaway, Iron Man, Johnny Mnemonic, Metallica, Monopoly, No Good Gofers, Popeye, Roadshow, The Shadow, The Simpsons Pinball Party, South Park and World Poker Tour.

Video Streaming

Video seemed to be a big growth area in 2015, with the number of pinball podcasts being matched (or exceeded) by the number of vodcasts or live streams.

Increases in processing power and image quality, the reduction in price of equipment, and the availability of free web streaming services such as Twitch and YouTube means it’s never been easier to set up your own live stream.

Pinball News added a new Video selection to our front page to showcase the many live (and archived) video streams available, as well as link to upcoming live events. If you know about any live streams not yet on our list, please let us know and we’ll look at adding them.

Mods Go Legit

Pinball mods have been around for years, but in the past twelve months pinball manufacturers have become increasingly aware how lucrative the market can be and have set up their own online stores.

Jersey Jack Pinball now sells alternative decals, playfield protectors, the Pindemption redemption system, a topper, ticket dispenser and T-shirt.

Stern Pinball also got in on the mods business through their Stern Store. Along with branded clothing, the store sells some replacement shooter rods, toppers, side armour, shaker motors and Kiss playfield amplifier toys.

Heighway Pinball’s online store sells two backbox display mods – a 10″ screen which is identical to the playfield one, and a full-width 27″ display – while Spooky Pinballsells LED upgrades and plastic protector sets for America’s Most Haunted.

Your Vote Counts

You’ve seen all the contenders, now here’s your chance to vote for your favourite new release from 2015. The winner will be awarded the title Pinball News Best Game Of 2015.

Which was your favourite new game made in 2015 (all versions)?

WWE Wrestlemania
Kiss
Whoa Nellie! Big Juicy Melons
Game of Thrones
Full Throttle
Medieval Madness Remake
Captain Nemo
Scoregasm Master
Other

Quiz Maker

Last year’s favourite game was Star Trek with 37% of the votes, just ahead of The Wizard of Oz on 36%. Who’s going to be top in 2015? Cast your vote now – it only takes two clicks.

For a bit of fun, why not share which upcoming pinball you are most excited about playing? We’ve listed the ones we think will be made either in 2016 or maybe 2017, but you can also vote for one we may have overlooked by using the Other selection.

Which game are you most looking forward to playing in 2016 (and beyond)?
Alien Pinball
The Big Lebowski
Domino’s Pizza Pinball
Ghostbusters
The Hobbit
Lexy Lightspeed: Escape From Earth
Python’s Pinball Circus
Rob Zombie’s Spookshow International
Thunderbirds Are Go
Timeshock!
Other

Poll Maker

In 2014, the most anticipated game was The Big Lebowski. Did it manage to maintain that excitement through 2015?

That brings us to the end of our look back on 2015. We hope you enjoyed it. It’s certainly been a hugely busy year for us here at Pinball News covering as many of the shows, games, locations, news events and background stories as possible, so a big ‘thank you’ to all our contributors who reported from all around the world.

We all wish you a very happy 2016. Let’s make it the best year for pinball ever.

 


Your comments:

 

904 Pinball Zine:

Interviewing Gary Stern, Jersey Jack, Andrew Heighway, Dennis Nordman, Ben Heck and Josh Sharpe.
Running 5 IFPA pinball events in 2015 (the start).
Possibly making it to Florida state finals?
Helping bring back route pinball in my area.

Maltinej:

Florida ape 2015, free play Florida, tournaments at the pinball asylum in ft myers, the pinball lounge in Oviedo Florida, and getting my first pin, a gottlieb surfer 🙂

Jonathan Joosten (Pinball Magazine):

Finally publishing Pinball Magazine No. 3, which was a completely different issue than planned. Note that it’s far more than just focussing on Kiss. The Bally heyday section and all the side articles are often overlooked but very interesting reads.
Attending pinball shows like Texas Pinball Festival, Pinball Expo, Festi’Flip
Meeting pinball designer Wayne Neyens
Meeting many great fellow pinball enthusiasts all over the globe

Lotmamordun:

Paying a hamburger to Gary STERN during the EPC2015.

Dad_Flap:

Getting on the leaderboards on The Walking Dead
Loosing all my money to Iron Man and other stern machines
Judge Dredd coming out on the pinball arcade!

Pinball Eric:

Playing pinball down the shore on the boardwalk.

Gibus:

Ma rencontre avec M. Gary Stern qui présentait le Game of Thrones au Festi’Flip de St.-Etienne les 24/25 octobre est un excellent souvenir. Outre la présence de Heighway Pinball qui m’a permis de tester le Full Throttle et de Multimorphic qui présentait le P3, la possibilité de jouer gratuitement sur plus de 300 jeux de toutes époques à été une expérience fantastique. Vivement Festi’Flip 2016, j’y retourne!

My meeting with Mr. Gary Stern who presented the Game of Thrones at Festi’Flip at St. Etienne 24/25 October is a great souvenir. Also the presence of Heighway Pinball which allowed me to test Full Throttle, and Multimorphic which featured the P3, the opportunity to play for free over 300 games from all ages has been a fantastic experience. Long live Festi’Flip 2016, I will return!

Oldskool1969:

Definitely purchasing WNBJM as not only is it fun it is awesome to look at. Who would of thought art could be fun too!

David Tucker:

Superb end of year review 2015 as ever! Although a massive pinhead like yourself and always keeping up with the pinball news, there were still a couple of snipits which I was not aware of – thank you very much. Very informative and the future looks bright for this crazy passion we have. Please keep up the good work as it is loved by many and the greatest source of pinball news around.

LOTRbreath:

Favorite shows/tourneys this year in order: ReplayFX, Southern Fried Gameroom Expo, Louisville Arcade Expo, Freeplay Florida.
Favorite new games played in 2015, in order: Game of Thrones, Kiss, The Hobbit, Full Throttle, Whoa Nellie, WWE.
Best code update in 2015: The Walking Dead
On a personal note, I have a new favorite game of all time: Metallica Premium!

Pinhead (BE):

I had to wait until end of August to attend my first contest of the year. It was near the belgian sea coast, and I was given the chance to (at last!) extensively play the WOZ75, which was a very good surprise for me. I also met again some friends that I did not see since end of 2014. That was a fantastic night!

Pinballaficionado:

Highlights for me include playing Whoa Nellie and meeting Dennis Nordman and Greg Freres in the process. Finally scoring a LOTR machine (after searching for many years) and last but not least, having the opportunity to meet and play pinball with the editor of Pinball News. 😀

Buffalo Pinball:

-Starting up our pinball live stream this year and doing 41 episodes of “Bro, do you even pinball?”
-Playing Doctor Who pinball live vs. rapper MC Lars at his show in Rochester, NY
-Streaming for 9 hours from RetroGameCon in Syracuse, NY
-Talking to Taylor and Tommy on This Flippin’ Podcast
-Going to ReplayFX and playing in Pinburgh

Davkonw:

Getting back into the hobby again after taking a break of almost 10 years. Starting to get some games back after moving and selling all.
It’s nice to see the machines Stern made after pinball2000 and uncle Willy went away. And the growth of this to other companies still to come.
Gameroom Magazine comeback.
And of course Buffalopinball on twitch.
Going to Pocketeer Billiards one of best places to play pinball!
2016 Going to be a great Pinball Year!

Mk1Mod0:

Taking Best in Show at the Texas Pinball Festival and the Houston Area Arcade Group show made this a year to remember. More than that is a huge resurgence in a great hobby full of wonderful people. Thanks for another great year of stories about all the shows I can’t make it to and the people behind the scenes that make it happen.

Filip Wolak:

Bought my 1st pinball machine in June. At the end of the year the count was 5. considering a small nyc 1 bedroom apartment this probably counts as a case of mild insanity.

This Flippin Podcast:

– Interviewing Keith Elwin about his Archer Pinball Machine for our podcast
– Interviewing Mark Incitti about his Nightmare Before Christmas pinball machine.
– All the other great people our podcast has brought us in contact with, Buffalo Pinball, Dead-Flip Pinball, The Pinball Podcast, The Coin Box Pinball Podcast and all of our unofficial sponsors….far too many to name.
– Being part of pinball’s growth in anyway this year has been a blast.

Shaneus:

Losing to a friend in a comp on GoT Pro by less than 200 points. And playing a huge amount of pinball at Penny Arcade Expo in Australia (helping run the comps too). Pinball is back!

Lum:

Being with my friends and fellow pinball enthusiasts when Eden Stamm broke the Guiness record for longest pinball playing in Vancouver Canada! It happened on a Twilight zone at the Lamplighters pub in the fabled gas town district.

Brett Cavey:

Best pinball memories of 2015 were playing Sterns The Walking Dead & reading PinballNews website often & checking out Sterns website often. A great year!

 

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