About This Site

Welcome to Pinball Intrigue, where I indulge my fascination with the silver ball. Here you will find posts regarding my pinball experiences, pinball machine repairs and mods, a virtual pinball build, and links to other pinball sites.

Search This Blog

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Another Steampunk Item

Picked up another item for the Steampunk Pinball Machine...a beautiful brass Altitude Gauge made by Ashcroft Valve Company for The Kellogg-McCrum-Howell Company. Ashton Valve was founded in Boston in 1872 and was the leading manufacturer of steam gauges.

In Uniontown, Pennsylvania, in 1897, The Uniontown Radiator Company was sold to Evans Linn, and then to Lloyd McCrumb as Acme Radiator. In 1904 it became The Kellogg-McCrum-Howell Company. Mr. Kellogg retired in 1906 and the name of the company changed yet again, this time to McCrumb, Howell, and Company. That places the date of this gauge between 1904 and 1906!

The altitude gauge was used to show the amount of water in the house tank. It was most commonly used in electricity-generating steam plants, in railroad steam locomotives, and also in steam ships (the Titanic was one such ship).

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Update on The Steampunk "Time Machine" Pinball Cabinet

Progress has been slow for a couple of reasons: it's way too cold in the shop to work out there (it's not heated), and I my back has been giving me a lot of trouble.

I have picked up a few more materials:

First up is this gorgeous cherry veneer that I picked up at Woodcrafters in Portland. This will be used on the front and sides of the cabinet, as well as the sides of the backbox. I had planned on getting mahogany, but the cherry had such a fantastic grain, I couldn't pass it up. It will most likely be stained a deep, rich red in color.

Next is this Model T era master vibrator buzz coil. Manufactured by the New York Coil Company, they were used to replace multiple vibrator coils, reducing coil maintenance by 75%. The master vibrator goes between the coil box and the power source, usually a battery, and closed the points on the ignition coil. Master vibrators were used in other devices, such as radios, bu their use in the Model T is probably their most well-known application. Most of these are pretty beat up due to their age, but this one is in amazing condition. I'm not sure how to incorporate this into the design yet...I'll have to come up with some sketches and post those soon.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Pinball Wishlist

In this third entry of related posts, I've compiled a wishlist of pinball machines I'd like to own someday. I've organized the wishlist into 3 groups: Most Likely To Acquire; Holding Out Hope; and Highly Unlikely.

Every pinball machine on this list is one that I'd like to obtain. While cost is often the deciding factor, at some point space becomes an issue. This is part of the reason why I'm building the virtual machine, because there's no way I will be able to own everything on my wishlist. So, on to the list...

Most Likely To Acquire (in order of preference)
These are games that I'm most likely to acquire based on a combination of fun factor, personal appeal, and price.

Jurassic Park
I've played plenty of games made by Data East, a pinball manufacturer who hit their stride in popularity during the late 80s/early 90s. I've never really cared for Data East pinball games...they feel inferior in quality and design to Williams & Bally machines. It's hard to describe a "feeling" about playing a pinball machine; it's a subjective observation about the speed and flow, the audio, the artwork and layout of the table, the quality of the parts. Jurassic Park, however, is one of Data East's best, and is a worthy addition to any game room. From the T-rex that bends down and eats your ball off the playfield, to the pretty lights and audio taken right from the movie, this one is thoroughly enjoyable. And the price is right - you can generally find a nice one between $1500 and $2000. Data East games are prone to more problems due to less-than-stellar engineering, so it is a challenge to keep this game maintained properly. Still I feel it's more than worth the effort.

Based on the movie (not the TV shows), Stargate was made by Gottlieb. Though I feel the same way about Gottlieb as I do about Data East, I really like this game. Being a fan of the movie, I like the artwork and audio, not to mention the the giant pyramid in the playfield and the animated glider that emerges from it, and the large Horus and Anubis statues that raise and lower to block shots. I wouldn't want it as my only machine, but in a collection where it can be part of a rotation, it's actually quite fun. One of Gottlieb's best. I'd like to pick one up before the price increases. I've seen them go for as little as $1300, but it seems like this machine is getting harder to find.

For some people this game is hit and miss. I happen to like it. I wasn't really into the movie, and it's a curious choice for a license, but due to a good design it works. One nifty feature is the lower playfield. Using the same window that was used to display the hologram in Creature From the Black Lagoon, Congo has a gorilla visible through the window that the player uses to bat the ball around. It's much more functional than a hologram and something I wish they had put in CFTBL. The deciding factor in placing Congo on this list is price; the game can go for as little as $1300, offering a lot of bang for the buck.

Star Trek: The Next Generation (STTNG)
I'm a fan of the TV show, and this is a good game. It's consistently rated in the top 5 at the Internet Pinball Database.(IPDB). Designed for Williams by Steve Ritchie (a revered designer by pinball fans), the game has so many many missions and modes that you may never see them all. You can mod the machine by adding more spaceship toys that light up. And it has 6 ball multiball! Audio is taken right out of the TV show. Unfortunately this game is a beast to maintain - they seem to break down a lot. When you combine maintenance with price, it moves this game to the bottom of my Most Likely To Acquire list, but is still a machine I hope to get someday. If you don't mind doing maintenance (and I don't), at $2500-$3500 you get pretty good value.

Holding Out Hope (in order of preference)
These are games that may be possible to acquire if the price is right.

Lord of the Rings (LOTR)

I've had my eye on this machine since it came out new in 2003. The sticker price back then was $3500 for a new one, and if you are fortunate you can still pick up a used machine at that price. Although I've never been a huge fan of Stern Pinball, I've played this machine many times, and found it to be very enjoyable. Since the Lord of the Rings books are my all-time favorite and I loved the movies, it's an easy addition to the list. There are lots of different modes to play for in the game, and its popularity continues to climb, as it has cracked the top 10 of the IPDB.

Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure (IJ)
Raiders of the Lost Ark is my favorite movie, so it's no surprise that Williams' Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure would be near the top of my list. It features some neat toys, deep rules, and great art & sound. Stern later made their own Indiana Jones and it pales in comparison. The only thing holding this one back is price; it runs between $3500 and $4500.

Twilight Zone (TZ)
What makes a pinball machine based on an old black-and-white TV program desirable? The answer to that question is a man named Pat Lawlor. Mr. Lawlor has been called the "Father of Pinball Design" due to his work on several machines for Williams back in the 80s and 90s. Twilight Zone is one of two Lawlor machines that are consistently rated in the top five pinball machines of all time (The Addams Family is the other), and TZ consistently occupies the #1 spot. Lawlor still works with Stern to produce titles such as Shrek, Monolpoly, Nascar, CSI, and Ripley's Believe It Or Not.
TZ has several cool features, with lots of toys on the playfield, magnets in the game, and a "powerball" which is ceramic, is lighter and faster, and is not affected by the magnets. It has a deep set of rules and attractive art and sound, and there are several really cool mods for it, like a light-up Robby the Robot and Clock Tower LEDs, lights for the slot machine, and so on. Maintenance is an issue with so many things that can and do go wrong. Price can vary between $3500 and $6000 based on the condition of the machine and the mods installed. The good news is there are lots of TZ machines out there, with well over 15,000 produced.

Theatre of Magic (TOM)
I've loved this game for a long time. Combining the mystery of magic with a pinball machine seems like a no-brainer. With beautiful art and some neat toys, like the rotating trunk and the spinning tiger saw, this at first seems like a cool game. Soon, however, boredom can set in as you pound the trunk over and over with the ball. I've seen several games in which the trunk stopped rotating or was shattered. These things keep it from being at the top of the list, but I'd still love to have one anyway, and the price ranges between $2800 and $4500.

Highly Unlikely (in order of preference)
These are games that I will probably never own unless I win the lottery.

Considered the finest Stern ever made (except for maybe Lord of the Rings), Spiderman has managed to crack the top 20 on IPDB. Designed by famous ex-Williams designer Steve Richie (see STTNG above), it plays fast, has cool toys, and looks great. There's something here for all skill levels, and there's even a highly sought-after "black" model. At a price between $4500-$5500, it's also the most affordable entry on the Highly Unlikely list.

Tales of the Arabian Nights (TOTAN)
Another game I've loved for a long time. Gorgeous art, brilliant audio, a spinning lamp, and an angry blue genie make this one of the finest games ever released. It seems others agree with me, as TOTAN is usually in the top 5 at IPDB. The price reflects this as well; when I first started looking at pinballs, this one could be had for $3000. Now people are asking $5000 - $6000 for this machine, pushing it well beyond my reach.

Monster Bash (MB)
Another Universal Monsters game, this one is a blast and the roommate and I would definitely like to own it. It combines the Universal Monsters theme with a rock band theme. If you're thinking that sounds similar to CFTBL, you are right. The difference is game play - Monster Bash is far more entertaining from a player's perspective than CFTBL. Good luck finding a Monster Bash for less than $6500, though.

Safe Cracker
Although I've never played it, I'm very intrigued by this game, which is another creation of Pat Lawlor. Instead of worrying about your ball draining, there's a time limit that counts down, and you must hit shots to add time. There's also a "board game" feature on the backglass that is completed as you meet certain objectives, and at certain points during the game, a coin is released that rolls down the glass towards you, which you must try to catch while still playing! This coin, when inserted into the coin slot, triggers a special mode. The game is not without its detractors, but it's so radically different from a standard pinball experience that I'd love to have one. Unfortunately only 1148 units were produced, making it extremely rare and fetching prices in the $5000-$7000 range.

Medieval Madness (MM)
Considered the Holy Grail of pinball machines. I am not as big of a fan as other people are, as it seems a bit repetitive to me: hit the trolls, knock down the drawbridge, enter the castle, destroy it, then repeat. The game does feature some cool toys though, like the pop-up trolls, a dragon, and the exploding castle, and the humorous audio is hilarious. But at an average asking price of $8500 I feel it's way too over-priced for the experience.

Big Bang Bar (BBB)
I've never seen one of these machines, let alone played one. My desire to own one is based purely on the novelty of the machine. It's practically unheard of to have an adult-themed pinball; Elvira's innuendos and cleavage in Scared Stiff are about as racy as you can get, and even the few Playboy machines produced have been fairly tame. But Big Bang Bar changes that, with an alien cantina theme, half-naked tube dancers, and a playfield feature called "Ray's Ball Busters", that is definitely not for kids. It could be the worst game ever made, but it's still intriguing.

The downside is that only 14 prototypes were built by Capcom in 1996 before they ceased pinball operations. In 2007, Illinois Pinball licensed the rights from Capcom and produced another 191 machines. This makes BBB very rare and highly collectible, fetching prices over $10,000.

Concluding Thoughts
I hope you enjoyed the list, it was a lot of fun to put this together. There are a few other machines that I find intriguing, including Shrek, Batman The Dark Knight, and Pirates of the Caribbean, but for the most part the games in the list are those that I dream of having in my gameroom, ready to be played anytime the mood strikes me.

Note: all images and production numbers were taken from the IPDB website.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Pinballs I Own

This is the second of 3 related posts - in this post I provide a quick take on each pin my roommate and I own, in order of purchase:

White Water

Known as WH2O for short. The first game bought and the last game I'd sell. To me, this is the best pinball ever made. The ramps are a blast, especially when the ball flies down the Insanity Falls ramp and smacks the glass! It's the best ramp in pinball. Then you have the bigfoot toy, who blocks your ball unless you give him a hotfoot; the lost mine; advancing the rafts; Spirit of the River; the whirlpool; the animated waterfall topper; the pretty backglass art; and the Vacation Planner, all cool features. The yell of "WHITEWATER!" and the popping of 3 balls into the upper playfield, then managing to send all 3 balls down Insanity Falls for a triple jackpot, is probably one the best applications of multiball in all of pinball. I also love it when your guide tells you to "get the extra ball, ya weiner!" Completing the Vacation Planner mode causes the machine to go dark - you think "oh great, I've lost power!" then one of the most beautiful light shows in pinball takes place. Can you tell I love it? Can you also tell I miss playing it? It's the only pin I own that is not functioning right now.

Creature From the Black Lagoon
Known as CFTBL for short. My roomate loves Universal Monsters, so for the price this was a no-brainer. Unfortunately there is some damage to the playfield, the hologram has turned from green to blue, and there are parts I still haven't been able to find after several years. This is a difficult machine to score on. In addition, many people don't like the way part of the playfield is hidden by the ramps, that it's too much work to get the creature hologram to appear, it's low-scoring, and it can become repetitive.

While this all may sound negative, I've never found the flaws to be a deterrent to playing. The machine is a great blend of two themes: 3-D horror movies and a 50s drive-in theater. And on the plus side, with a few mods it's probably the most beautiful machine in pinball: adding green LEDs to the main ramp and whirlpool, and green or teal LEDs to the pop bumpers, and adding the backbox mod that lights up all the car taillights, the snack bar, and the moon simply make it the most jaw-dropping visual experience in pinball.

Popeye Saves the Earth
Not one of my favorites, to be honest. This one was purely my roommate's choice based on price (it was cheap) and theme (he loves old cartoons). The upper playfield is a neat idea but the space underneath it is somewhat wasted, so what's the point? For a widebody, there's a lot of real estate but just not much to do. And at first I thought the lightstrip over the animal trough in the upper left area was upside down, until I saw some other pictures that showed the same setup on other machines. This is an incredibly ugly feature that I would have designed differently. I'll play it every once in awhile as a diversion, but there are a lot of other pins I'd rather have instead.

Elvira's Scared Stiff
Purists say this game is too easy. I can see why they'd say that, as it's pretty easy to rack up scores by simply shooting the crate multiball everytime. However, it's a nice to have a game like this after you've had your butt kicked by a tougher game. When you combine the horror theme with Elvira's sexy one liners and a guy that sounds like a hip Dracula, you've got a great game. There are lots of cool toys - the Coffin, the Bony Beast Ramp, the Spinning Spider on the back glass, and the multiball-releasing Crate. The DMD (dot matrix display) is one of the best ever implemented into a game. There's lots of neat mods you can add to the game too - lighting the eyes in the skull pile, an eyeball shooter, dancing bogeymen, etc. A very fun game and a definite keeper.

The last pin added to the collection ranks above Popeye but below the others. Again, a choice of the roommate for price and theme (mainly all the toys on the playfield). I've played it quite a bit, and there are some interesting features. The wrecking ball is one of the coolest toys in pinball, and the DMD features fun games, like shooting Spike the dog with gun made from a toaster. It also features the Time Machine, which plays DMD mini-games taken from previous machines (such as Attack From Mars). Although it's a fun game, it doesn't quite have the appeal of some of the other games in the collection.

And that's the current collection. In my next post I'll talk about games on my wishlist.

Note: all photos used in this post are from the Internet Pinball Database (www.ipdb.org).

Friday, September 30, 2011

New Design, And More About Me!

The site has a new design. I like the wider look, it feels less cramped. Added a few more gadgets and blog description too.

This was originally going to be 1 long post, but I've divided it into 3 parts: Why I like pinball, quick thoughts about pinball games I own, and games I want or don't want.

In this first of 3 posts, I'd like to talk for a moment about why I like pinball. I've mentioned that as I kid I was entranced by pinball machines in the arcades, and that I came to love pinball more than video games. But why? I've wracked my brain, tried to think of exactly what it is that draws me to a pinball machine and led me to wanting to own several of them. This is what I came up with:

  • Unlike a video game, pinball has a physical, tangible feel to it. While video games of the 80s and 90s were nothing more than pixels on a screen, a pinball machine is real. The ball itself is a metal object that spins across a playfield, bumping into things, traveling up and down ramps, is attracted by magnets, can be launched by cannons or kickouts, and is able to move in a different direction by bumping the table. Coils and solenoids activate flippers and kickouts, switches are tripped, lights are energized and flash. You can remove the glass from the pinball, reach in and actually touch the parts. A video game, on the other hand, is simply software code running on a two dimensional screen with some circuit boards and wiring.

  • Getting my hands dirty. Pinballs require maintenance. A lot of maintenance. I'm not talking just about circuit boards and wiring - video games have that too. I'm talking about cleaning parts, polishing ramps and playfields, repairing flippers and rubbers and broken parts. It is a blending of mechanical and electrical, video and electronics, elbow grease and troubleshooting. Maintaining a pinball is, to me, an essential part of the experience. Although it can be frustrating when a game goes down, and is sometimes hard to find parts, there is a certain satisfaction in bringing a machine back to life.

  • Visual Appeal. Between the lighting of the playfield and beautiful artwork on the backglass, plus artwork on the sides of the cabinet, most pinball machines are gorgeous to look at. Usually a lot of thought went into the design of the pinball in order to attract players to a machine that was one of many in a crowded arcade. Most pinballs of the 80s and 90s have what's called an Attract Mode. This is a flashing of the playfield lights (and sometimes backbox lights) in a sequence designed to make a player ooh and ahh. Sometimes instead of playing, I just enjoy watching the lights flash in Attract Mode - it's truly a thing of beauty. 

  • Unpredictability. No two pinball games are exactly the same. You can have a bad game and then have a good one. You are at the mercy of physics and the bounce of the ball. Games like Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong are coded to be the same every time you play them, and I get easily bored with that kind of game.

  • Multiball. Often chaotic and exciting, the release of multiple balls in to the playfield is a blast, especially when there is a buildup and then the adrenaline rush is released. For those games that do multiball well, it is an outstanding feature.

  • Toys. The addition of objects into the playfield in the 80s came to be known as "toys". Sometimes toys are only for looks, like some of the action figures in Lord of the Rings. In other games, toys are an essential part of the game, such as the bigfoot in White Water or the spinning trunk in Theatre of Magic. When toys are used in this manner, they add another dimension to the game and are a conversation point for visitors who walk up to the machine.

Well, this ends the first post, and should give you an idea of why I like pinball machines. In the second post, I'll talk a little bit about how I came to own my current crop of games and offer a brief opinion about each one.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Latest Addition

Here is the latest addition to the cabinet materials:

It's a WWII era Mark-14 Torpedo Gyroscope.

Not sure how I'm going to make it work, but it was too awesome to pass up!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

More Steampunk Materials

So here's a few things I picked up off eBay:

A clock movement, in high demand for all the gears...

A Weeden Steam Engine. In good condition these things go for $125 - $150 on eBay. Mine was considerably less, and just needs a couple of reproduction parts and some polishing to look like the image below...

A cleaned-up Weeden Steam Engine.

More good stuff on the way...

Monday, September 12, 2011

Cabinet Design Has Begun

Well, I've made some steampunk purchases...there's no going back now!

After a trip to Hippo Hardware in downtown Portland this weekend, this is what I ended up with:

4 copper canopies
2 trouble light cages
2 fancy lamp socket sleeves
1 ornate doorknob
1 small art deco knob
1 brass cap (over punched)
2 large brass fittings
4 60 watt Marconi bulbs

I was not impressed with Hippo Hardware. Don't get me wrong, they have some neat stuff there, but not much that could be considered steampunk, and the prices seemed a little steep...I've seen stuff there in the past, so either they aren't getting salvage like they used to, or other steampunks have picked them clean. I expected to walk out with an armload full, but instead only filled half of a paper bag.

Then I picked up the following items on eBay:

4 WWII-era ampere gauges

A mini plasma sphere, USB-powered

2 LED color-changing bubbler tubes, 30" tall and 3" diameter

It's going to take some time to collect parts...there's several more auctions I'm watching. Some people spend years looking for that one "missing piece". I hope that's not me!

In addition to the items above, I'll need to acquire 2 sheets of mahogany veneer that will become the new surface of the cabinet, stained deep red. I'm also looking at brass legs, rails, bolts, and leg-levelers to complete the steampunk look of the cabinet itself.