Date: 26th September 2022
Location: Christie's, Kings Street, London, UK.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the appearance of Ian Fleming’s James Bond character on the silver screen in the movie Dr. No.

There are numerous ticketed events being run to celebrate the longevity and global success of the franchise, and Pinball News attended one such held at Christie’s auctioneers in central London on Monday 26th September 2022, starting at 6pm.

The company is hosting an ongoing charity auction of iconic memorabilia items from the Bond films, including the only Aston Martin DB5 from the No Time To Die movie to go on sale. These items could be previewed at the Christie’s event, but there were more things to enjoy.

The queue for the James Bond event at Christie's
The start of the queue for the James Bond event at Christie’s

Two of those formed the main reason Pinball News was in attendance.

Stern Pinball recently announced their latest cornerstone licensed title as ‘James Bond’. They were due to present two machines – a Pro and a Premium model – at the IAAPA Europe trade show which was also being held in London, but the death of the country’s monarch resulted in that launch event being postponed.

There was a second opportunity to present the game – this time to a more focused audience of Bond fans – at this anniversary event at Christie’s.

The reception desk at Christie's
The reception desk at Christie’s
The theme of the evening
The theme of the evening
We passed on the opportunity to purchase an auction catalogue
We passed on the opportunity to purchase an auction catalogue

The evening’s events were spread across the building, with a preview of the auction items in one room, talks about Bond films taking place in others, a screening of No Time To Die in another, and so on.

One of the Aston Martin DB5s from No Time To Die which is in the auction
One of the Aston Martin DB5s from No Time To Die which is in the auction

In the St. James’s Galleries on the ground floor, stuntmen Paul Edmondson and Martin Cravens talked about their motorcycle riding stunts in the No Time To Die movie.

Paul and Martin talk about their bike stunt work
Paul and Martin talk about their bike stunt work
One of the stunt bikes used in the film
One of the stunt bikes used in the film

In addition to the chase scenes alongside Land Rovers through the forests and rivers of Aviemore in Scotland, Paul told how he performed the iconic ramp jump in the city of Matera in southern Italy.

Paul making the ramp jump
Paul making the ramp jump in No Time To Die

Up an impressive staircase, guests could enter the Ante Room to enjoy plates of tapas and assorted drinks – including Champagne and, of course, Martinis – at the event’s pay bars.

This way to more Bond-related entertainment
This way to more Bond-related entertainment
The Ante Room
The Ante Room
Small plates of tapas were available to buy
Small plates of tapas were available to buy
The Martini and Champagne bars
The Martini and Champagne bars

Around the corner were more talks about the Bond films, while the souvenir shop was open for guests to take home a memento of the evening.

Another talk about Bond films
Another talk about Bond films
The Bond Store
The Bond Store

If it all became too much, guests could take the weight of their feet at a screening of No Time To Die in the darkened environment of the Lower Ryder Street Gallery.

Movie-watching in the Lower Ryder Street Gallery
Movie-watching in the Lower Ryder Street Gallery
Now showing: No Time To Die
Now showing: No Time To Die

So far, so good. But our main focus was on the 007 Pinball Arcade in the St. James’s Galleries.

This way to the 007 Pinball Arcade
This way to the 007 Pinball Arcade
This way
This way

Inside the dedicated room were two brand new James Bond pinball machines – one Pro and one Premium.

The two James Bond pinballs
The two James Bond pinballs

This was the first time these games had been made available for the public to play anywhere in the world. After their aborted premiere at the recent IAAPA Europe trade show, the two machines were brought to the James Bond event at Christie’s courtesy of Stern Pinball’s UK distributor, Electrocoin, and retail pinball and coin-op seller, Liberty Games.

Liberty Games were assisting guests by instructing them how to play and detailing the differences between the two models.

Jamie and Joe of Liberty Games welcomed guests to the pinball arcade
Jamie and Joe of Liberty Games welcomed guests to the pinball arcade

This was an unusual event at which to premiere the games, since hardly anyone who came to enjoy the James Bond titles had any idea how to play them. We helped by explaining to many where the start button, the ball plunger and flipper buttons were located and what they did.

Very few guests knew how to play the games
Very few guests knew how to play the games

Despite that, the games were very popular, and it was encouraging to see pinball machines being enjoyed by people who wouldn’t otherwise encounter them.

We have already reported on the reveal of the James Bond games, so we won’t repeat that information. However, two of the aspects not so far revealed by Stern Pinball was how the game actually played and which audio/video assets are included.

The movie poster cabinet art on the Pro model
The movie poster cabinet art on the Pro model

Taking the second point first, the software running on these machines was very early code, making these effectively prototype games. The vast majority of the assets which are planned to end up in the final production version had not yet been approved by the licensor, leaving a few movie clips mixed with home-grown animations to cover basic game functions such as scoring, multiball start, extra ball, mystery awards and the end-of-game match sequence.

The display advises players about the code status
The display advises players about the code status

We wanted to shoot some video of the gameplay and eventually decided the only way to get any was to play the game ourselves. We recorded an eight-minute clip, but it transpired even the very limited licensed assets shown on the game’s screen included some which still hadn’t received full clearance.

The games were supposed to have a code update before the 60th anniversary event to update those assets, but a lack of time resulted in the games being set up in the Pinball Arcade at Christie’s before the update could take place. Once they were in position and under the watchful eyes of the security staff, no further work on them was permitted, including opening the backbox to update the code.

Sadly that means we can’t show you our recording of the games in this report (although we can in our follow-up report available here), but we can bring you some initial opinions of how they shot. These are only opinions of these particular prototype machines. Your experiences may differ.

The playfield in the Premium model
The playfield in the Premium model

The game features a mix of fairly easy and challenging shots. The right ramp, the lock lane, the drop targets and the tank target fall into the former category.

The left orbit is much tighter but very satisfying when made cleanly, as it sends the ball up a ramp at the top of the playfield, past the Jetpack ball stopper post and into the left inlane. This sets it up for one of several combo shot opportunities.

The right orbit lane (to the left of the left ramp) looks tight but is reasonably easy. It usually feeds the ball to top M-I-6 rollover lanes and these are a little unusual. The M lane is obscured by the tank, although the associated insert isn’t, meaning you can still clearly see whether it is lit or not. The rollover switches in the M-I-6 lanes are mounted towards the top of the lanes, with the result that you don’t get much time to change which lanes are lit before the ball has been registered in one of them.

At the start of the game you get to usual choices of either plunging for the flashing lane (which can be steered with the flipper buttons), or holding in the left flipper button to allow the ball to travel all the way around the back for a super skill shot from the upper flipper.

Two multiball modes were coded in this version of the software – Bird One Multiball and Jetpack Multiball. Bird One is started by shooting the drop targets and then the missile behind them until lock is lit in the centre lane. In the Premium model it’s a physical ball lock, while the Pro has a virtual lock. When the third ball is locked, multiball begins with all major shots lit for jackpots.

Jetpack Multiball is started by shooting the left orbit which sends the ball up to the ‘Bond-on-a-Wand’. In the Premium model, normally the ball will pass by, but when multiball is lit the ball is grabbed and transported by Bond across to the vertically-facing tank drop target. The ball hung there while a second ball was auto-launched and didn’t drop with the action button on the lockbar, so we don’t think this was fully coded yet.

We found the upper flipper shots hard to master from a slow or static ball, but easier from a fast right orbit. It is dangerous though, as holding the upper flipper up without flipping can easily send the ball straight down the right outlane.

The Q Branch VUK is equally dangerous, being shot from right on the tip of the lower left flipper. Get it wrong and the ball can easily end up in the right inlane too. There was only one Q Branch mode coded in the game – Q’s Ring, which was a timed mode where all major shots were lit for 1 million points.

Easier and safer is the High Stakes reverse scoop on the left side of the playfield. This awards extra balls and give the High Stakes mystery awards. These included increase bonus X and multiball starts. Although it can’t be shot directly, you can shoot the area above it to roll back in. Plus, the ball tends to roll into the scoop quite regularly anyway, especially during multiball.

Overall, we had great fun playing James Bond for the first time, even with the very early software. It took a while and plenty of bricked shots to get ‘dialed-in’, but having got a feel for the game and putting together some multi-way combos we are eager to try it again and see what’s new in the code.

And that ends our report from the James Bond 60th Anniversary event at Christie’s in London. We hope you enjoyed reading it.

After three hours at the event, it was time to head home
After three hours at the event, it was time to head home
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