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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.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Wow, it's hard to believe a month has gone by since my last post! Unfortunately that doesn't look to improve until late next week around the Thanksgiving time period, when I will finally have some free time to devote to the blog. Please check back then for new content...

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Steampunk Time Machine Pinball: Backbox Mockup

Another crude mockup using Photoshop, but I think you get the idea. I expect the final version to differ a bit from this, but this is a good start:

The bubblers change color, the Edison bulbs light, and the plasma sphere not only works, but is also sound sensitive. Vintage radio cloth is used to hide the speakers, and a Root Counter is placed under the DMD - the Counter is used to set the "date" that the time machine will travel to. Or I may use it to simply count games played. The water pressure gauges will not actually be functional. The upper box is the "generator" that makes time travel possible and features wire mesh backlit with LEDs.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Steampunk Time Machine Pinball: Front Panel Mockup

Now that my internet is working again, I've decided to post a mockup of what the front panel might look like. It's very crudely done using Photoshop, but I think you can get an idea of how this is going to look.

The gauges will be lit with a green LED, while the four toggle switches at the bottom are lit blue, and are actually the game function "buttons" (which control features like Start, Extra Ball, etc.). The plunger is an old victorian doorknob. The knife switch is really a handle that can pull the PC components out on drawer glides. I'm not sure if I'll have the radio knobs do anything functional - I may have one control volume if possible.

I'll do another mockup, this time of the backbox, as time allows...

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Visit to the Pinball Hall of Fame Museum

The Pinball Hall of Fame (PHOF) is an essential stop in Las Vegas for anyone who has an interest in pinball. It's filled with over 200 machines, some of which are so rare you are unlikely to see them anywhere else. I arrived in Las Vegas on Thursday night, and set out to visit the PHOF on Friday a little after it opened at 11 am. I dragged my friend Alan along, who isn't a pinball player but he lives in Las Vegas and had visited the PHOF before with another friend. For more about the PHOF, you can see the website here. The following is a small blurb from the website that describes what the PHOF is:

"The Pinball Hall of Fame is an attempt by the members of the Las Vegas Pinball Collectors Club to house and display the world's largest pinball collection, open to the public. A not-for-profit corporation was established to further this cause. The games belong to one club member (Tim Arnold), and range from 1950s up to 1990s pinball machines. Since it is a non-profit museum, older games from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s are the prevelant, as this was the 'heyday' of pinball. There are no 'ticket spitters' here (aka kiddie casinos or redemption). It's all pure pinball (and a few arcade novelty games) from the past. And since it's a non-profit, excess revenues go to non-denominational charities."

Located a few minutes away from the strip and the airport on 1610 E. Tropicana, the games inside are organized by era, with all the EMs on one side of the room and SS games on the other, and several newer Sterns displayed near the front. I had read that Arnold had been unhappy with Stern's build quality on some previous games, so I was very surprised to find a lot of the latest Sterns, including Metallica, AC/DC, X-Men, and Transformers (no Avengers, although there was an Iron Man). I was also surprised to find a Wizard of Oz at the far side of the room, hidden back by some of the novelty games and EMs...I'm not sure why it's not more prominently displayed. There are several change machines in the place, and game pricing seems to vary wildly...WOZ was $1, and most of the Sterns were 75 cents. Other machines ranged from 50 cents to a quarter, with some set up for 3 balls per play and others set up for 5 balls.

Like the Seattle Pinball Museum, several of the machines, most notably the Sterns, were not leveled, causing the ball to gravitate towards one side of the table, and making some shots almost impossible to hit. Other machines felt properly leveled and were more fun to play. Some machines did have playfield damage that caused ball hiccups. Also, some machines had note cards explaining some of the history of the machine, but many did not. I did not actually get to meet Tim Arnold, but I did talk briefly with one of the staff, who had to rescue a stuck ball for me, and he was a very nice guy.

The highlight of the trip was definitely The Pinball Circus, an upright pinball machine similar in appearance to a videogame cabinet, with an elephant ball lift, 4 playfields (!) and 7 flippers. Since only 2 machines were ever built, I was thrilled to find this working and not down for maintenance, and actually got a ball up to the top playfield and scored a jackpot. Alan and I were both very impressed by the design of this machine. It was a bit pricey at $1 per game, so I only got in 1 play.

Another highlight was Challenger, a head to head EM machine that tilts towards a player until a "goal" is scored, and then tilts back towards the other player. Each player has two flippers in front of their drain, and two smaller flippers at the top of the other player's play area, allowing you to try to shoot past has flippers and into his drain. There are also some bumpers scattered about. It very much has an air hockey feel to it, although it it quite a bit slower, and it was a blast to play. For not being a pinball player, Alan got into it and actually beat me, admitting it was pretty fun.

In fact, Alan stated that he had a very good time when he thought he would be standing around watching me play. Because I managed to win several free games, I passed those off to Alan, so he got to play quite a few games for free. He mentioned that the last time he was there, he didn't have much fun, but the family he was with was only there for about an hour...the kids weren't much interested in pinball and preferred redemption games, so they ended up going to a Gameworks for several hours. Note to parents: if your kids aren't much into pinball, this place may not be for them.

I had several bad games, in some part due to table leveling, but I wasn't really feeling it on some games. As I've done with other places, below are my quick takes on each machine played, with games I've played before in green and games I've never played before in red:

See description above. Slow but lots of fun!

As I mentioned in a previous post, this is the game that got me hooked on pinball, so it does have some nostalgia value, but since I've grown in age and in skill, it doesn't quite have the appeal it once did. It's kind of like when you see an old TV show you saw as a kid and you think, how did I watch that? I still played one game for old times sake, but I don't think I'd ever own it.

Orbitor One
Remember DJ, the guy that I mentioned sold me the empty Lethal Weapon cabinet? He invited me to try playing his Orbitor One, and that was the first time I had ever seen or played one. It was even wackier than I remember, with the ball rolling in broad circles around the playfield that it no way corresponds to the vacuum-formed terrain underneath. Very unsettling. I really don't like this game.

Star Trek 25th Anniversary
Not an awful game, but not among the best Data East games I've played.

Space Shuttle
I played this game a lot back in the 80s. I didn't have a good game and left it with the feeling that I don't like it as much as I used to.

I also played this one a bit back in the 90s, but I was reminded how much the callouts annoy me. If it wasn't for that, I might like it more than I do. But as it is, I can't stand it. I gave Alan my free game.

Game Show
This game was a little too easy, and the callouts began to annoy me by the second ball. I gave my free game to Alan.

Bugs Bunny's Birthday Ball
I was thoroughly bored with this game, there just isn't much to do or shoot for. I gave Alan my free game.

Bride of Pinbot
Like Pinbot, I think this game is okay but not great. It has a lot more things to shoot at than Xenon does, and it has some sexually suggestive elements in the playfield and good callouts. I'm just not a big fan.

Gilligan's Island
Let's face it, you either love this theme or you hate it. I wanted to like it, and there are some neat playfield features, but I didn't love it, especially the repetitive music. I gave my free game to Alan.

Addams Family
I played one game, did poorly and moved on.

Dr. Who
I finally got to play Dr. Who! Although I didn't do very well, I saw some intriguing elements there. I need to give it more plays to form a better opinion.

Terminator 2
Didn't have a great game here, either, so I moved on. I would have liked to have won a free game for Alan as he likes the Terminator theme.

Last Action Hero
I wanted to like this game but it just didn't click with me. Maybe more plays would change my mind.

Creature From the Black Lagoon
Again another bad game that was over pretty quickly. I need to get mine up and running so that I can build up my skills.

Jurassic Park
I really thought I would love this one, because I really like the theme, but I walked away with a bit of a letdown. Maybe I need more plays on it, but as of right now it's off my wishlist.

Wipe Out
This was better than I expected, and I thought the ski lift was pretty cool. I had a good time with this one and Alan picked up the free game.

The Flintstones
I loved all the toys and sculpts on the playfield, there's a lot of detail there. But as far as actually game play I found this machine lacking. And the theme totally kills it, especially with the repetitive theme music. I also hated the movie, which didn't help my experience. A terrible machine.

Guns N Roses
I loved the music and theme, including the half-naked girls on the playfield artwork, and game play was pretty good. I wouldn't add it to my collection, but it was fun.

Indianapolis 500
I loved this game! The loops are well done and blazing fast. The game was leveled way too far forward, making it almost too fast, but it was a blast to play despite that. A very fun game for me, and Alan picked up a free game that he said was over pretty quickly.

Apollo 13
I was disappointed with this one. I put about 2 dollars in to try to get to the 13 ball multiball. During the first game the flippers froze and the game ended. This happened again during the second game. When I went to play the third game, that's when I noticed the "novice mode" on the DMD, which has a time limit. Although the game allows you to choose between novice and standard, novice was the default, so when I had pressed start on the first 2 games it was playing novice mode. I was really ticked off! I played a couple more games but couldn't get a rhythm going and walked away in disgust. I haven't played a lot of Sega machines (see Goldeneye below) but I can believe this is not one of their best.

Johnny Mnemonic
This game played incredibly fast and was over pretty quickly, so I didn't get a good feel for it.

Note: There are moments in pinball that have completely captured my imagination, such as the experiences I've documented with Xenon and White Water. Playing The Pinball Circus was another such experience.

Pinball Circus
I absolutely fell in love with this game. It's a shame that more weren't made, because I'd pursue this one very hard for my collection. It reminds me a little of the first Gravitram kinetic sculpture made here in Portland by Shab Levy in 1973 (which as a kid I would sit and watch for hours at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry). I left with the feeling that after I complete my virtual pinball machine, I would like to try to build something like this.

No Fear
This was a pretty fun game, just not my favorite theme. Alan got a free game on this one.

This was in my wishlist despite not having played it. I was not disappointed, as it turned out to be a fun game. I can see why some players complain that multiball is too easy, as it seemed like I almost always had 2 balls (or more) going on the playfield. But I thought it was a cool game and would still like to own one someday.

Who Dunnnit
I liked this game, although at times it seemed a little too easy, but it was fun and Alan's free game lasted for awhile, so he must have done well too.

Safe Cracker
I really wanted to like this one as the Pat Lawlor design seemed intriguing to me - a timed countdown rather than a score. It was smaller than I expected, and unfortunately I walked away from it feeling disappointed. I think it was probably a lack of experience and not knowing the rules, so I'll give it more time if I ever get the chance again.

I've never played a Sega pinball machine in the wild before, so this was a first. Goldeneye is a great game with a solid feel, equivalent to anything Bally & Williams were putting out around the same period. It doesn't feel clunky like some Data East machines. And the 5 ball multiball was intense. Since this machine is fairly inexpensive, you get a lot of bang for the buck.

Tales of the Arabian Knights
I had a bad game and didn't even get multiball.

Scared Stiff
As with other locations, this was an attempt to compare a location machine with mine. This machine was pretty beat up, with the hinge pin sticking outside of the crate door, and the boney beast head missing, as well as several of the ribs. I put a couple of dollars in and played one game, thankful that I have one in good condition. I let Alan play the remainder of the games. He liked it so much, he talked about owning one, but the price of this game has climbed so outrageously high,  he will probably never pull the trigger.

The Lost World Jurassic Park (Stern)
Another solid feeling game from Sega, unfortunately the difficulty level seemed way too high, like The Shadow. I didn't really care for it despite loving the theme.

Cactus Canyon
This is another game I really wanted to like, because of its rarity and high price. Sadly, I don't think it's worth the price it commands. I had a pretty good game and handed a free one over to Alan. It was good but not outstanding.

Ripley's Believe It or Not
A poorly leveled game that was agonizingly slow as a result. I turned over my free game to Alan.

Harley-Davidson (Stern)
A boring game with boring music. Yuck.

Family Guy
I didn't care for this game to much, although some of the callouts are pretty funny. I gave the free game to Alan and he did better than I did.

Wheel of Fortune
I approached this game with some trepidation. Designed by my favorite designer (Dennis Nordman), I thought it would be tough to overcome the terrible theme. I shouldn't have worried, though, as WOF is a great game and another Nordman winner. I handed the free game off to Alan, although secretly I would have loved to take it for another spin (pun intended). I don't think I'd own it as there are others I want more, but it is a good game. I think it would have been awesome to have Nordman's face on one of the bobblehead contestants, so that it resembled Bigfoot in White Water. Now that would have been funny!

Batman (The Dark Knight)
I did just okay on this game, but the fact that it was unlevel didn't help. I got both Scarecrow and Joker multiball but just missed winning a free game for Alan. Oh well.

Indiana Jones (Stern)
Much to my surprise, I might actually like this machine better than the Williams version (I know, I'm crazy). I can see how it might get repetitive to hit each movie mode over and over, but I still think it's a blast to play and much more affordable than its Williams counterpart. I had thought that White Water had one of the best uses of multiball, but this is better...watching the ark tip over and puke out balls onto the playfield in 8 ball multiball was insane! Alan and I were still talking about how awesome that was the next day. This game is definitely being added to the wishlist.

Iron Man
Not a bad game at all, great layout and lots of features. Alan received a free game.

I didn't really care for this game much...I'm not a fan of the comic book characters with their goofy yellow and blue costumes, and the playfield magnets and spinner loved to toss my ball into the outlanes. Way too unpredictable ball movement. With more time on it I might change my opinion but this one initially seems pretty weak.

This game seemed pretty boring to me. I'm not much of a fan of the theme, but if the game play was good I could overlook it. I just didn't care for it much and let Alan have the free game.

I'm really liking this game more and more, especially since it functioned better than the one at the Seattle Pinball Museum, and actually had the train instead of a piece of plastic. Again I couldn't hear it very well, and Alan had to put his ear down next to the playfield to confirm the song was actually playing. But the game was a blast, and I hit multiball a couple of times. Both Alan and I loved ringing the big bell and we both talked up the machine the rest of the weekend. I think AC/DC might have been Alan's second favorite machine behind Scared Stiff, as he loves the band's music and got a free game in.

Wizard of Oz
This is probably the most beautiful game ever released. I liked it, but my game was over pretty quickly, and I was a little disappointed that I couldn't make some of the shots. I don't really understand the point of an LCD in the backbox - a DMD screen is hard enough to look at during play, let alone an entire TV screen, but the colorful images on it certainly add to the beauty. It was also expensive to play, being $1 per game. I'd like more time on it to form more of an opinion, but at that price that won't be any time soon. Would I pay $8000 to own one? Not unless I hit the lottery. But I think Jersey Jack has done a great job here and forced Stern to up their game.

Games Not Played
Haunted House
I wanted to play this game badly, as I've never played it before, but it was not working.

Q-Bert's Quest
I probably should have played it because I may not get another chance. But when I looked at the playfield, it just looked a little dull.

Banzai Run
I've always wanted to play this game, but it was not working.

Star Wars (Data East)
I've played this game quite a bit in the past but I don't really care for it.

Dr. Dude
This game was not working.

Party Zone
This wasn't working either.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
I had no desire to play this due to theme.

Nightmare on Elm Street
Another non-functioning machine.

I had planned on playing this in order to compare it to mine, I just never got around to it.

Rocky and Bullwinkle
I ran out of time and didn't get to this one.

Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure (Williams)
Down for maintenance.

Junk Yard
I owned this game and I've had my fill of it. No need to go down that road again.

Champion Pub
Not working.

Monster Bash
Ran out of time.

South Park
Not interested.

Terminator 3
No time available.

No time for this either.

Austin Powers
Not interested.

Definitely not interested.

I passed on this one.

I passed on this one too.

No time left to play, although I really wanted to.

Not a fan of their music, but I'd probably play it if there had been more time.

Games I had hoped to see that weren't there
Blackwater 100
No Good Gofers
Judge Dredd
Demolition Man
Elvira and the Party Monsters
Tales From the Crypt
Pinball Magic
Big Bang Bar
Black Rose
Strange Science
Independence Day

Lots of games to choose from
Prices are pretty reasonable - many games are 50 cents
Unique and hard-to-find games
Money earned goes to charity
Nice friendly staff
Great hours - open 7 days a week and until midnight on some days

Several games unlevel and a couple are in rough shape
No food or drinks on site
List of games on website doesn't quite match what's on the floor

Hours played: 5
Credits played: 42 (plus another 16 free games for Alan)
Drinks consumed: 0
Cost: total = $29

Final thoughts
I had a great time at the PHOF, despite leveling issues that led to some bad games. Alan thought he'd be bored watching me play a few games and then leaving, but he had fun. Even after 5 hours there were still several games I didn't have time to play. Maybe someday I'll go back again, but if not, no big deal - I can cross it off my bucket list now. Highly recommended!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Viva Las Vegas

I'm on my way to Las Vegas today. Tomorrow I'll be hitting the Pinball Hall of Fame. Should be a lot of fun! When I get back I'll share my impressions of the PHOF, and I've finished the Pinball Magazine #2 so I'll have a review of that soon...

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Game Review: Stern - Batman (The Dark Knight)

Every so often, I'll stumble across a pinball machine I've never played before. Usually I don't review them, because I only get a few plays in and that's not enough to really form an educated opinion about the machine. This is why on my Ground Kontrol and Seattle Pinball Museum posts, I just give quick impressions rather than full-blown reviews. If I have an opportunity to play several games on a machine, however, I feel that's more than enough for an in-depth analysis. Such was the case with a Stern Batman that I encountered recently.

After returning from Seattle, I went out for pizza with my dad and grandmother, before my dad headed back up to Seattle. We went to Juliano's, a great pizza parlor in Vancouver. The last few times I went to Juliano's, the game was a Stern Avatar, which I think is a terrible game. Imagine my surprise to find Batman sitting there instead! I knew I had to take a shot at playing it, and since my grandmother hadn't arrived yet, I figured I had some time, and fed $2 into the machine to get 5 plays.

Batman (The Dark Knight) was released in 2008, and was designed by George Gomez, a former Williams employee who created games such as Johnny Mnemonic, Monster Bash, NBA Fastbreak, and the ill-fated Pinball 2000 concept of Revenge From Mars. Joining Stern after Williams shut its doors, Gomez designed Playboy, Lord of the Rings, The Sopranos, Batman, Transformers, and Avengers, and he is currently the head of design at Stern. The game has a 7.9 out of 10 rating on IPDB and is ranked at #50; on Pinside it has a 7.923 out of 10 rating and is ranked #38.

There are some great features in Batman, the foremost of which is the crane. Take the crane toy from Junk Yard (one of the best toys ever made), and move it around the playfield, and you have Scarecrow Crane, an incredibly fun toy and better than the one in Junkyard (and that's saying a lot)! As the crane moves across the playfield from point to point, hitting it enough times starts 2 ball Scarecrow Multiball. Each subsequent hit of the crane delivers a jackpot.

The Joker Multiball is also fun to get going. There's a drop target to hit (nice graphic of the Joker graffiti on it), then a special diverter that you have to move through in order to lock the ball, and it's in a very good spot, reachable by either flipper. It reminds me a lot of the crate shot in Scared Stiff, and like the crate, shots to the diverter during Joker Multiball award a jackpot. The joker toy is a little lackluster - it's simply a platform that spins to reveal an action figure, but it doesn't do anything else.

The Batmobile with the upper playfield (taken straight from Lord of the Rings) made no sense to me. Once you trigger this mode, a bonus countdown begins and requires you to shoot the right loop. This is a difficult shot that doesn't make a lot of sense, because 66% of the time the ball is working off the right flipper. I don't think I managed to make this shot once during play, making it a rather useless feature in my opinion. There is a drawbridge on the left side in which your ball races a Hot Wheel toy, but since I never activated this mode I didn't get to see it in action.

One final thought about the playfield: the bumpers and top of the playfield are partially obscured by other features, similar to Creature From the Black Lagoon or Popeye...some people hate this, and others (like me) don't really mind. There's also a ball lock at the top right above the bumpers that gives awards at certain points in the game. Finally, I loved the addition of a spinner (always like to see those!), the DMD animations were good, and the graphics on the playfield and translight are attractive enough...I usually don't like to see so many actors on the backglass because it adds to licensing costs (and thus game costs), but hey, it's Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, so I approve. Some of the voice callouts are terrible, though (no one can imitate Morgan Freeman). The bumpers are strange looking, with flat, unlit caps on them that allow the bulb to protrude, which was not very attractive. And on this game, one of the bumpers was working intermittently, one time causing an SDTM drain when it didn't fire.

So how did I do? On the 5 games I played for my initial $2, I got an extra ball on every game and a free game on 4 out of 5 games. On the 4 free games, I got an extra ball on every game, won another free game and matched for an additional free game. So total I played 11 games at 4 balls per game, for $2. Outstanding! Once the pizza arrived I had to walk away from it with 4 credits still sitting there, but fortunately no one else played it, so I resumed play after pizza. My high score was 92 million, so I came somewhat close to getting my name up (lowest high score was 120 million). Overall I think this is a great game, and one I would move up on my wishlist - I liked it better than Spiderman...

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Visit to the Seattle Pinball Museum

In my recent trip to Seattle I looked for some places where I could play an assortment of pinballs. The two most intriguing were Full Tilt, an ice cream parlor/pinball arcade in Ballard, and the Seattle Pinball Museum in the International District. Due to events planned and the distance from my parents' house to Ballard (I had taken the train, so I had no car), I was able to work in a trip to the museum. There's a lot of great Chinese restaurants in the area, but many of them use MSG, which was a no-go for me since I'm allergic. Instead I picked up some Korean barbecue (Bulgogi) in the nearby Uwajimaya complex. Then I walked a couple blocks to Maynard.

First, a little background on the museum:

Charlie Martin and his wife Cindy opened the museum Aug. 29, 2010, after being selected to participate in StoreFront Seattle, a neighborhood support program which gives three months of rent-free store space to local artists and creative businesses. The Martins originally turned to pinball after getting bored of watching television after work. They bought their first machine, a 1976 model called Aztec, to play in their garage. That one machine soon spawned an obsession. With over 50 machines and a flat $13 fee for no re-entry (re-entry option is $20), there's a lot of pinball that can be played for the price.

Do pay attention to the hours of operation; although I arrived in Seattle on Tuesday, the museum was closed that day and Wednesday, and open briefly on Thursday. Finally on Friday I was able to take advantage of a longer time window.

The museum is located in the heart of Seattle's Chinatown, at 508 S. Maynard Avenue. A rather unremarkable entrance leaves you wondering if you are in the right place. But once you step inside, you are immediately greeted by two rows of pinball machines, with EMs on the right and newer machines on the left. It used to be reversed, but the museum has acquired more new games, and some of the old EMs are gone, so the machines have been moved. Also, their Facebook page states that Jersey Jack's Wizard of Oz (WOZ) machine is on site, but I didn't see it. I made my way to the back of the museum where the counter is, paid my $13, received a band to put around my wrist, and got permission to shoot photos.

Behind the counter, a small hallway sports a few machines (including Pinball 2000 machines) and leads to a set of stairs that takes you to an upper level, which houses 1980s era machines as well as a couple of arcade games. Each machine has a small placard above it that provides a brief amount of information on the game, and all are set to free play. The museum also has beverages, including microbrews. But on to the machines...like I did with the Ground Kontrol post, I'll list the machines I played, with those I've played before in green and games I've never played before in red. I'll also leave out the EM machines, as playing them was a more of a novelty.

It felt like almost every game had not been leveled from left to right (or side to side if you prefer). Balls that drifted to one side of the table, shots that weren't going where they should - it was very frustrating. I've played a lot of pinball, almost all of them on leveled machines. I can feel when a game isn't level. They must have moved the games around recently.

Pinbot (PB) (1 play)
This title is okay for me - I don't love it, but I don't dislike it either. But I've played it lots of times in the past and decided to move on.

Tales From the Crypt (TFTC) (2 plays)
I had heard this was one of Data East's best, and I was not disappointed by the gameplay. I really love the table layout, the wild multiball, and the shaker motor. Unfortunately the tilt was way too sensitive for this machine, as I noticed when the shaker motor kicked on it would set it off the tilt. I watched in horror as all the balls drained in multiball because of this! I played a second game and it happened again. I think I would really love this game, but the improper setup didn't allow for full enjoyment.

Twilight Zone (TZ) (1 play)
This was no fun due to how unlevel the table was.

Star Trek the Next Generation (STTNG) (1 play)
See Twilgiht Zone.

Tales of the Arabian Nights (TOTAN) (1 play)
I still really love it.

Scared Stiff (SS) (1 play)
See Twilight Zone.

NBA Fastbreak (NBAFB) (1 play)
I was pleasantly surprised by this machine, I didn't think I would like it but it was kind of fun, and there are ramps everywhere. I couldn't really figure out what was going on with the rules or scoring, but I was on the machine for a good 10 to 15 minutes on 1 play. The scoring is unusual, using basketball points rather than millions. Cool machine.

Metallica (MET) (2 plays)
I don't like the theme, but the gameplay was great, especially the electric chair multiball. I could barely hear it, though. Decent game for a late model Stern.

AC/DC (1 play)
I'm okay with the theme on this one, but like Metallica I could barely hear it, which is a big negative in a loud arcade for a music-based machine. I could see it being better in a home environment. Also I believe this was a cheaper model, which kind of suffered visually with the toys removed and replaced with plastics (like the train). I didn't get a good feel for game play, because like TFTC, this machine tilted on 2 out of 3 balls without any nudging.

Tron (1 play)
This is the first one I've seen in the wild and the first I've played. I had an opportunity to see DJ's (the guy who sold me the Lethal Weapon 3 cabinet), but that was a couple years ago. Leveling issues described above affected some of the enjoyment, but I sure like the machine. Visually it's gorgeous.

The Rolling Stones (TRS) (1 play)
I did not like this machine at all. Badly leveled and the cutout of Mick Jagger moving back and forth has to be one of the worst toys ever on a machine. The music would have redeemed it a little, but I couldn't hear it. Yuck.

Ripley's Believe It Or Not (RBION) (1 play)
I love this machine. It feels a lot like Twilight Zone and plays very well. You can tell it's a Pat Lawlor design. I wouldn't mind owning one, although I'd probably go for Twilight Zone instead.

Whirlwind (WW) (1 play)
I played this machine plenty back in the 80s, I like it well enough, although the spinning disks drive me crazy, especially when combined with the unlevel table.

Tommy (1 play)
I loved the airplane in the back and would really like the music if I could hear it. Game play seemed a little boring to me and the unlevel table really hurt. A below average game.

Monster Bash (MB) (2 plays)
This is my first time playing a real game...I've played the virtual version a lot. I really liked it, and the table seemed to be fairly level so I played a couple of games. It's fun and has tons of toys but the $10K+ cost that these sell for seems a bit overpriced. I'm not sure why anyone would buy this when you could get 4 other machines for that much money.

Champion Pub (CP) (2 plays)
I didn't like this very much at Ground Kontrol, but here I had some good games and thought it wasn't bad at all. I wouldn't own it but my opinion of it is slowly rising.

Black Hole (BH) (1 play)
Like Xenon, Gorgar and Black Knight, I played this game a ton back in the day. It was a lot tougher than I remember. And it sure is beautiful. Again, I wouldn't own it, but I love playing it whenever I get the chance.

Attila the Hun (ATH) (1 play)
This is the first Game Plan pinball machine I have ever seen or played. Designed by John Trudeau (who also designed Creature From the Black Lagoon), it's okay for an older machine - there just isn't much to shoot at. With LEDs in it, it's a very pretty game for sure.

Black Pyramid (BP) (1 play)
I'd never seen or played this game before, either, although I have played the virtual version. I liked it a little
better than ATH, and the graphics are gorgeous. Nice machine.

Tri Zone (1 play)
Another first play for me. Similar to ATH and BP. Perhaps no game in the arcade benefitted more from LEDs than Tri Zone. Unlit, it has an ugly red playfield, but lit up with LEDs it was just beautiful. Sorry for the blurry photo, but you get the idea...

Future Spa (FS) (1 play)
Another first play, another game beautified by LEDs, lots of girls in bikinis, drop targets, tons of bumpers, a kickout hole, rollovers, spinners - this was a great game, except the side drains were brutal. Some people hate widebody machines because they are slow, but that doesn't bother me too much. This game was notable because the artist of the backglass is different from the artist who worked on the playfield.

F-14 Tomcat (1 play)
A Steve Ritchie design, F-14 Tomcat had a couple of firsts in the industry: a ball save feature and a kickout that rockets the ball right back at the flippers. I played this game a lot back when I was in the military, since I was a jet mechanic (although I never worked on Tomcats), so it holds some sentimental value for me. I didn't do well here but it was still a fun machine.

The Simpsons (TS) (Data East) (1 play)
Between this game and The Simpsons Party Pinball, TSPP gets all the attention, and rightfully so. I found this game really enjoyable, though. For the price it sells for it's well worth the money. I've read that the ruleset is not very deep, but in a larger collection it's probably a great pin to play every now and then.

Games Not Played
Theater of Magic
It was turned off, so it was unavailable.

I really, really wanted to play this game but it was down for maintenance.

I've played this machine a lot in the past. I mean, A LOT. I might have played it if I had had more time.

Star Wars Episode 1, Revenge From Mars
Pinball 2000. No thank you.

Final Thoughts
Despite the leveling issues, I did have a good time. I'd like to return someday when the machines have been leveled.

Good selection of games
Some games have mods and LEDs installed
Very affordable
They teach pinball repair classes
People don't hog machines
Mircrobrews available and great restaurants within walking distance
Staff let me take photos
Great community presence

Unlevel tables and tilt settings ruined game play on several machines
Limited hours during the middle of the week
Could probably benefit from a larger location, but it's not likely to be moving

Hours played: 2.5
Credits played: 26
Drinks consumed: 0
Cost: total = $13

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Sleeping in Seattle

I'm up in Seattle this week to visit family and have some fun. Although my plans to visit the Pacific Pinball Museum in California aren't going to pan out, I'll still be visiting the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas in a couple weeks. And as a suitable replacement for the PPM, I'll be visiting the Seattle Pinball Museum instead while I'm here in Seattle. I'll post some thoughts about the Museum and the machines played. I should also have time to finish reading Pinball Magazine #2 and will post a review of that as well. When I return from Seattle, I'll have more posts on the shopping of White Water and hopefully I'll have some scale drawings for the Virtual Pin completed. Lots more to come!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Virtual Pinball: Painting the Cabinet

Last week I was able to paint the insides of the VP cabinet and backbox. I used a flat enamel black spray paint and it turned out pretty well. The backbox was done with Rustoleum, and not only did it use an entire can, and didn't quite coat all the way and had to be touched up. It's pretty obvious that Rustoleum doesn't give you much paint in the can; I bought a couple of cheaper cans from True Value, and one can of that generic brand did almost the entire playfield cabinet. I was fortunate in choosing sunny days to do this earlier in the week, as the rain came rolling in on the weekend. Here's the pics:

The next step is to draw up my plans in scale. There will be four drawings: a "hole" drawing to show where all the holes will need to be cut, and a "finish" drawing to show how the machine should look when the parts are installed. I have to make one set for the backbox and one for the playfield cabinet, hence the 4 drawings that will be needed.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Shopping White Water, Part 1

With 6 weeks off and my White Water reset issue still around, I decided now would be a good time to do a little maintenance on the machine. I'm not going to do a full shop and strip the playfield or remove inserts, although I will remove the upper playfield. The main areas I want to address are:

  • Cleaning the playfields
  • Inspecting and cleaning ramps
  • Rebuilding flippers
  • Replacing cracked mountains
  • Polishing metal parts
  • Inspecting wiring, solenoids and switches
  • Adding metal playfield protectors
  • Replacing all rubber rings
  • Upgrading the sound system
  • Add some LEDs in strategic locations to reduce heat and stress on the GI
  • Creating some new mods
I knew this game was a project machine when I bought it, but I didn't know how just how bad things were until I took a closer look. It has less than 100 plays on it by me, and has sat pretty much unused since the reset issue first appeared in 2005. I'm taking photos along the way to document the process...

The first thing I wanted to do was pull the upper playfield. This requires doing the following:
  • Turn off power, remove glass, remove pinballs.
  • Lift the playfield and disconnect all electrical connectors to the upper playfield and all ramps. To make sure I could match everything properly, as I disconnected each one I wrote a letter on both the male and female molex on each connector with a Sharpie (i.e. A, B, C, etc.). There are about 12 to 15 connectors total.
  • Drop the playfield back down, pull it out a little, and remove the back mountains.
  • Remove all the screws on the Waterfall ramp (the long one on the left).
  • Remove the dual gate assembly on the upper ramp.
  • Remove the two screws from the bracket holding the Waterfall ramp to the upper playfield and pull the Waterfall ramp out.
  • Remove the long wire ramp coming off the shooter lane on the right side.
  • Remove the two screws from the bracket that holds the Lower to Upper ramp to the lower playfield (this is the leftmost ramp when the Waterfall ramp has been removed).
  • Remove the screws that hold the Upper to Lower ramp to the playfield (this is the ramp that feeds the ball into the right inline).
  • There are 4 nuts the hold the upper playfield in place. The location of one of the nuts in the manual is wrong, showing it at the bottom left of the upper playfield - it is actually closer to the top, up by where the dual gate assembly was removed.
  • You are now able to remove the upper playfield. It requires a little wiggling so this must be done carefully.
White Water definitely has the most ramps in pinball. I don't think you can appreciate Dennis Nordman's design unless you take it apart. Brilliant! Anyway, this is what the upper playfield looked like removed:

A close-up photo shows how much I cringed when I saw the spot where the upkicker deposits the ball:

 The black "trail" is dirt. The white is some kind of tape attached to the playfield. I prayed that the tape protected the playfield. After removing the wire upkicker ramp and the Bigfoot ramp from the upper playfield, we can get a better look:

I peeled the tape off and set to work cleaning with Simple Green and a microfiber cloth. While the playfield did clean up well, a groove was worn into the playfield by the ball, and you can see where bare wood has been exposed. After fixing this area, it's definitely going to get a protector! At least the tape seemed to help a little bit - I've seen a lot worse! There was supposed to be mylar here, but it must have worn down and been replaced with the tape.

Since I've been having reset issues, I was curious to see what the upper right flipper assembly looked like:

Yuck! Ill be doing some work on this. A quick glance at the lower playfield shows me a lost ball!

With the upper playfield cleaned as best I can for now, in the next post I'll turn my focus to the ramps...

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Pinball Magazine #2 Ordered and Other News

I just put my order in for Pinball Magazine #2, which is projected to ship out its next batch of magazines near the end of August. After reading it, which may take some time since it is described as more like a coffee table book, I'll have a post detailing my thoughts of the content. I've also bought a new soldering iron, as well as some electronic parts and some parts from Marco Specialties.

Free time has been hard to come by lately, and has prevented me from working on my projects (and even posting to the blog). Fortunately I have a 6 week sabbatical coming up soon, during which I hope to get my house sold, resume work on my virtual pinball machine, and shop out my White Water and Creature From The Black Lagoon machines. Plus there's a real possibility of adding a new machine to the collection in a couple of weeks. Stay tuned for more updates coming very soon...

Monday, July 29, 2013


Sorry for the lack of posts...I'm without Internet for a day or 2 longer (I'm posting this from my cell phone), after that I should be able to resume posting...

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Visit To Ground Kontrol

Ground Kontrol is an arcade in Portland, Oregon, about 45 minutes from my house. Per Wikipedia:

"Ground Kontrol is a video game arcade and bar in Portland, Oregon, United States. Recognized as one of the best arcades in the US, it is known for preserving games from the Golden Age of Video Arcade Games. It also serves as a venue for DJs and live music. Also of note is its collection of 28 pinball tables.

Custom lighting systems featuring heavy use of LEDs and fiber optics were designed and constructed and added to the remodel. The new bathrooms feature Pacman tilework and translucent, backlit counter tops. Combined with hanging lamps in polyhedral shapes and fiber optic cable highlighting the edges of the interior arches a TRON inspired interior was realized."

I thought I had visited Ground Kontrol once a long time ago, but I must be mistaken, as I haven't set foot in an arcade since about 1993 and Ground Kontrol was born in 1999. I've heard good things about it and meant to visit, but just kept putting it off. Until yesterday, when for some reason it just popped into my head and I decided to go immediately after getting off work. After looking at their list of pins I was especially anxious to play a lot of Bally & Williams games from after 1993; Twilight Zone was probably the last game I played in an arcade, although I have played Medieval Madness, Attack From Mars, and various Sterns in bars and pizza parlors.

I arrived about 6:00 pm. My stomach had been doing flip flops from that Whopper I ate for lunch (stupid!), but it settled down by the time I arrived. I found a parking spot right across the street, but since you have to pay the meters until 6:30, and I had no change on me, I had to scrounge around through the car to find $1 for parking for 30 minutes! From the outside, Ground Kontrol barely stands out from any other building on the block during the day, but at night it lights up beautifully. I was stopped at the door and carded, which I was cool with. After 5 pm, no minors are allowed inside.

The place was neither full nor empty, a decent-sized crowd. The wait staff is extremely hard-working; the bartender took time out from making drinks and wiping down tables to change one of my $20s into $5s, as the change machine only accepts $1s and $5s. I looked around a bit and snapped a few photos. There are several games I remember fondly from my youth, especially Star Castle, one of their new additions. I love that game! No dingy carpets, nice lighting effects like the tabletops which light up and the stairs do too, and a full bar complements food from the kitchen. But who has time for food when there's pinball to play?

I quickly climbed the stairs and found myself in the pinball mezzanine (which does contain a few arcade games here and there). Ground Kontrol has all their machines set to three balls, with each credit worth $.50. However, if you pony up $2, you get 5 credits instead of 4. I would take advantage of this on several machines. I'm probably an average player; I have games good enough for a free play usually followed by a horrific game. I don't just bat the ball around, but I sometimes have trouble hitting the shot I want - I'm just a little too early or late on the flippers. I don't even come close to sniffing scores the the experts put up.

What follows below were my quick impressions of each machine. I have listed the number of plays, which includes paying and also free games won. Also, games I have never played before appear in red text, while games I have played before appear in green. Although it can be hard to form an opinion of game in such a limited time in a noisy place, I think I still got a good feel for how I react with the game. Back in the early 90s it only took a few games for me to fall in love with White Water and Twilight Zone. On to the reviews...

Terminator 2 (T2) (10 plays)
Since several of the other machines were being played and I wanted a little space, I gravitated to the end of the room and plunked the first quarters into Ahnold's machine. One thing Ground Kontrol lacks - AC for the upper area. Heck, any kind of air movement, even a fan, would be a plus. 40 minutes after I arrived, I finally walked away from T2 a sweaty, hot mess, where I had been against the wall with no air. I had forgotten how much fun (and how forgiving) this game is with its center post and left kickback. I kept racking up free games and having a lot of fun, all the while thinking I'd really like to add this one to the home collection.

The Shadow (TS) (5 plays)
I really hated this game. The shots were punishing, and the ball was so fast it was just a blur. I couldn't hear the game, and every game was over quickly. I'm not the only one; I glanced at all the tables throughout the night, and this was one of the least played. I could understand why the pros like it, as it is very challenging. Maybe it would be more fun at home where I could practice shots, but there's other games I'd much rather have.

Tales of the Arabian Nights (TOTAN) (8 plays)
What a beautiful machine! The theme is so well done, I love the ramps, and the sound is excellent. I could see how the tales would get repetitive, and several times my ball drained from the tales straight down the middle (or SDTM, as it is called for short). In fact, during one sequence the ball got stuck to the lamp, not breaking free until it was lined up perfectly with the center drain. After winning multiple free games on it and just being entranced, I wanted this game more than any other and I'd really like this to be the next game in my collection. I just can't afford it right now.

Champion Pub (CP) (5 plays)
A very solid machine...you can tell it's a late model Bally as it just feels really solid from the flippers to the flow of the ball to the toy features. My problem was even though I was hitting shots, I couldn't stop the outside drains. The jump rope and speed bag were cool toys, and the first time the fighter turned to face me I had a big grin on my face. I just couldn't get anywhere with it.  Trying to move the spittoon was almost useless as it wouldn't respond to flipper presses. I think back to how flawless flipper presses were for DMD games on my Junk Yard machine...there's no reason it should be that bad here. Despite the solid feel and cool toys, I don't think I'd want this one.

Spiderman (SM) (8 plays)
Though I was there to play mostly Bally/Williams games, there were a few Sterns I wanted to play, and this was one of them. It basically lived up to my expectations too, as I racked up a couple of free games despite never having played it before. The shots are doable and make sense, and I was able to achieve both black suit multiball and some other multiball mode that I don't recall (maybe Fusion Malfunction?). There was no shaker motor but I really didn't miss it. Being a Stern it doesn't feel quite as solid as a Bally/Williams, but still very cool; I could definitely feel the Attack From Mars influence. Got my first match of the night on this machine, too. I like it but I'd rather have TOTAN for that price.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (BSD) (5 plays)
I really wanted to like this game, and my jaw dropped when I saw the ball wiggle across the playfield in video mode. This thing, however, was a side drain monster that I had trouble hitting shots on. The ball got up in the air more than a few times; a couple of times it bounced over everything and down the drain. I did do pretty well killing wolves on the DMD. I think I need more time on it to be sure, but right now I'm leaning towards disliking it.

Twilight Zone (TZ) (7 plays)
Just as much fun as I remember it to be. I racked up a great score on the first game and earned a free one, then later matched for another freebie. One thing I didn't remember was how clunky and cheap the flippers felt. I didn't like them at all. Despite so much going on I was reluctant to look away from the ball, which means I missed some cool stuff. I still had a lot of fun playing this game and wouldn't mind owning one someday.

Star Wars Episode 1 (SWEP1???) (1 play)
One play is all it took to remind me that I hated the Pinball 2000 concept. The less said about this game, the better.

The Simpsons Pinball Party (TSPP) (7 plays)
Like T2, I had a blast playing this game and was on it a good 30 minutes, earning 2 free games. I mastered the skill shot pretty easily, but could only get 1 one ball up on the couch, and that blasted right flipper kept getting in my way. Still, I had a blast and loved how the reactor towers glow and how Homer turns his head and talks. I really couldn't hear what he was saying but it didn't hinder the game experience. When some people say this is the best Stern ever made, I'd have a hard time disagreeing. What a great game!

Theater of Magic (TOM) (5 plays)
Color me unimpressed by this game. The spinning trunk gets old, quick, and this one had suffered damage with a piece of it completely missing. I was actually bored with this game despite the fast speed and number of ramp shots. It seemed like every time I was set up for a great shot, the ball would drain. I walked away feeling that this was one I'd be taking off my wishlist.

Note: By now I've had a couple of drinks, and the pinball area, as well as the whole place, is really getting crowded. I must say I'm surprised there's this much interest in pinball among the younger generation. There's several cute girls, but most of them are there with guys - and are young enough to be my daughter. Ouch. I think it might be getting hotter and more stuffy...the heat from all those video games rises to the mezzanine, there's still heat trapped from the afternoon sun, and now there's more bodies. Why isn't there any damn AC in here? I look at the time: 9:30. I could probably make it to Noodles Incorporated for dinner, up on 10th street if I haul ass, but I'm reluctant to tear myself away, especially now that Circus Voltaire is free (it's been getting a ton of play). I soldier on...

Circus Voltaire (5 plays)
I was initially hooked by the gorgeous lights, the DMD down by the playfield where I could see it better, and the solid feel, similar to Champion Pub. As time went on however, the luster wore off. The third time the Ringmaster popped up and announced who he was I had had enough. The cannon in the backglass seemed ridiculous to me, and like TOM this is a one-trick pony with the Ringmaster. I'm not sure why this is so highly rated and sought after. The lights were pretty, and I liked the solid feel. Bally's engineering at this point was top-notch. But for the big price this game commands, I couldn't see myself owing it.

White Water (WH2O) (2 plays)
Yes I have this at home, but mine hasn't worked properly since 2005 (the year after I bought it)...I play it occasionally but give up when it resets. I wanted to get a game in at Ground Kontrol to compare their machine to mine. I did okay on my single game, hitting some great shots, racking up a decent score and winning a free game, although I still felt I should have done better. Like my home game, I had very few side drains. Trying to light the ball capture by hitting the green targets resulted in some SDTM shots. The Lost Mine kickout was set to kick down to the right flipper and worked flawlessly. Also, in this setting, playing so many machines, I'm reminded why I love the right flipper on WH2O - being on the upper playfield, it never interferes with shots from the main flippers (which was a constant problem with other 3 flipper games like TSPP and BSD). Despite my playing, which wasn't up to my standards for this game (I guess I'm a little rusty), it did nothing to diminish my love for it, and my pin at home will need a good clean and wax, as well as the Lost Mine kickout fix, to match Ground Kontrol's.

Red and Ted's Roadshow (RTRS) (7 plays)
Putting 5 credits into this machine was a mistake. I did not like it at all. I wanted to, as I love Carlene Carter (the voice of Red) and her song "Every Little Thing". But I couldn't hear the game at all. The shaker motor was working, but there was a slingshot that had come loose and was hanging out into the playfield. To make matters worse I won 2 free games, which I didn't really want. Oh well.

Funhouse (FH) (1 play)
Back in the 80s I played this a bit, mostly due to Rudy's taunting. But here, like with Red & Ted's, I couldn't hear him at all, which killed the fun. I basically let my last ball drain so that I could move on.

Star Trek The Next Generation (STTNG) (6 plays)
This is a pretty good game, once you figure out that the trigger launches the ball and not the flippers (I had 3 SDTM before I realized this). I'm not sure that it's worthy of the #2 spot on IPDB's ratings, but I have a feeling if I spent more time on it that it would grow on me. I loved the 6 ball multiball but man those things drain fast and get in each others' way!

Indiana Jones (IJ) (1 play)
I've played this game once or twice before and as fan of the movies I really like the game. I'd love to add this to collection. I cut out after one game because I was low on quarters and wanted to hit Addams Family.

The Addams Family (TAF) (2 plays)
The last game of the night ended up being pretty awesome. Like IJ, I've played this once or twice. But this was by far the best game I've had, earning 3 ball multiball immediately followed by Thing 2 ball multiball, and as a result a free game. I can see how this could be considered one of the best games ever made. The only thing I didn't like was The Power which caused my ball to drain twice. But this was a really fun way to end the night...I'll have to add it to the wish list.

Below are the games I did not play and the reason why...

Attack From Mars (ATM)
I played this game to death in a local pizza parlor. Although I love it, I wanted to try machines I had never played before or played very little of.

Doctor Who (DW)
Not high on my list to try but I would have got to it if I hadn't run out of time.

Eight Ball Champ (EBC)
I was never a fan of the Eight Ball games.

Lord of the Rings (LOTR)
I've played this one a lot too, at one point it seemed to be everywhere.

Pirates of the Caribbean (POTC)
I played this game a lot at the arcade in the Chinook Winds Casino in Lincoln City on the Oregon coast.

Scared Stiff (SS)
Like White Water, I wanted to play one game and compare to mine, but it was having stuck ball issues all night. At least mine isn't having those issues!

Shrek (??)
I played this one a lot since it was right next to POTC (see above).

The Sopranos (??)
I have zero interest due to theme.

South Park (SP)
Again, zero interest.

Games I'm surprised I didn't see:

No Data East, SEGA, Gottlieb, or Capcom machines (they used to have some)

Not one EM machine (although for maintenance I can understand why) (they used to have some)

No Wizard of Oz

No late model Sterns (again for maintenance I understand why), although the absence of Tron in an arcade with a Tron influence seems strange...

No Fish Tales, Creature From the Black Lagoon, Monster Bash, Medieval Madness, or Judge Dredd (all top 20 games on IPDB)

I was really tired and hungry when I left at 11:30 pm, but I had a great time, and I'm looking forward to another trip. Final stats on the night:

Hours played: 5.5
Credits played: 86
Drinks consumed: 2
Cost: games = $40, drinks = $15 (with tips), parking = $1, total = $56

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Link Profile: Pinball Repair

If you own a pinball machine and you haven't been to the Pinball Repair site, your missing out. Full of useful guides, including everything from refinishing playfields and plastic ramp repair to the proper way to solder, it's an incredible wealth of information that is like no other site.

Partway down the main page you'll find a section titled Pinball & Coin-op Game Repair Guides. Within this section you'll find a link called Pinball Online Webzine. This link takes you to the repair blog of the Pinball Ninja, probably the most informative, respected, and documented pinball repair tech in the world. He shares a vast wealth of knowledge in photos and videos on how to fix all kinds of machine problems. His Bally/Williams reset solution is the gold standard - even other repair blogs refer to it. He only asks for a donation of $20 to subscribe, and I believe it's well worth for some of the repair stories alone! Although he used to refer to himself in third person with hilarious ninja euphemisms, he's toned that down quite a bit. Still, I'm almost always entertained by his repairs, and his documentation is top notch. Recommended reading.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Scared Stiff Upgrade of the ROM

I was playing Scared Stiff last week and I managed to score 46 million, obtaining Grand Champion. How did I do this, you ask?

I cheated.

Well, not really through any fault of mine. What happened was that a mode called Leaper Mania got caught in an infinite loop, constantly adding points to my score. This is a common glitch with the 1.3 ROM. Up until now, it hasn't been a problem, but it certainly has become an issue that has to be dealt with.

Thus it was off to eBay to buy another game ROM. I decided to buy both Scared Stiff and Popeye ROMs at the same time to save on shipping, since I'll probably have problems with Popeye down the road, might as well fix it now. The ROMs arrived this weekend and I immediately went to work on replacing the Scared Stiff ROM. The procedure is basically the same as it was for White Water. The difference this time was that when the machine reset after the ROM was changed, it booted up in French.

Great, another import! I wasn't looking forward to another soldering job. Fortunately, Scared Stiff uses DIP switches to change the language.

So here's the DIP switch settings before. Notice the #7 and #8 switches are set to off. This sets the machine to French.

According to the manual, for English those two switches need to be set to on...

Here's the switches set to the proper position. The game now boots to English. Way better than having to solder. All the high scores have been reset, so I guess I'll have to get back to Grand Champion the hard way!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Link Profile: Pinball Soul

If you're looking for daily pinball content, there isn't a better site on the Internet than Pinball Soul. I don't know how Josh finds the time to consistently provide content, but I applaud him. Probably one of my favorite sites to visit on the web, as he always has something new going on. In my opinion his podcasts are the highlight of his blog, and in one of them I get a mention! Follow the link in the sidebar, or just click here.

Highly recommended and one of the best pinball sites on the web. Check it out!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

6/23/13 Update

First, an update on the virtual pinball cabinet: the third coat of finish has been applied and is dry. Here's the finished product:

Looks really good! (The photo on the left appears to show blotchiness but it's just a trick of the light.)

Next, I'm digging into my White Water reset issue further. I decided to take a closer look at my fuses to see if they were blown. Imagine my surprise when I found this:

Aha! Now we're getting somewhere! In the photo on the left, you can see fuse F112 was blown. The previous owner bypassed the fuse by soldering a wire across the fuse, and when that wire broke a second wire was soldered across. This effectively renders the fuse useless. F112 is the secondary solenoid, which I replaced with a 7A slow blow from Radio Shack. I have no clue why this one was having problems, so I'll keep an eye on it and cover it more in depth in another post.

Same story for F902 pictured on the right. This has also blown and been rigged as a bypass. This provides a little more information, since F902 is the fuse for the upper right flipper. Since the game is resetting when the flipper buttons are pressed, this confirms that there isn't enough power to the flippers. This fuse was replaced with a 3A slow blow from Radio Shack. Next step was to check the voltage output at the Power Driver Board and the CPU board:

The voltage at the Power Driver Board is a nice even 5.0 volts. Okay...

The voltage at the CPU board is 4.97. Hmmm...

Normally these voltages are perfectly fine for a game. The problem here is the power hungry third flipper. The game really needs a little more than 5V to operate all the flippers cleanly. Next up I'll cover boosting the 5V circuit to try to help the flippers and fix the resets once and for all.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Virtual Pinball: Staining the Cabinet

I decided to move ahead with staining the cabinet. After discussing things with Kelly, I felt that some of the rippling is going to be hidden by gears, piping and other gadgets, so I wanted to see how the cabinet would look with the stain applied.

Yesterday hit 77 degrees with a very slight breeze - good enough to apply the stain. Cherry wood has a tendency to look blotchy when it is stained. There are two ways to minimize this: the first is to pre-treat the wood with denatured alcohol. Unfortunately it also washes out the color (although a second coat could be applied). The second method is to use a water-based stain, which is the route I chose. If possible, avoid the big box stores for this as their selection is more limited and of lower quality. Instead I picked up General Finishes Vintage Cherry Water Based Dye Stain from Woodcrafters ( a specialty woodworking store in Portland).

The stain needs to be applied evenly to an entire area in a single coat. Any surface area that is partially coated and dries, and is then finished later won't match - you'll have two different colors. Weird but true. After pre-sanding with 220 sandpaper (just a little because the veneer is very thin), I applied the stain. It actually turned out pretty well - the rippling on the cabinet is barely noticeable. The backbox actually looks worse, but that will be mostly hidden.

Next step will be to apply the semi-gloss finish...

Saturday, June 15, 2013

White Water Upgrade of the ROM

My White Water has been non-functional for some time. After finally getting some time to work on it and fixing the default language, I turned my attention to upgrading the ROM from L-2 to LH-6, which should fix several software bugs. The ROM can be picked up on eBay for under $15.

The ROM upgrade process is pretty easy. The ROM itself is found on the CPU board. Although you could perform the exchange with the board still installed in the machine (and the power off), putting any kind of torque on the board is not a good idea. Best to pull the board, then the ROM chip. The best way to pull the ROM, short of having a ROM pulling tool, is to gently lift one side with a flat tip screwdriver slightly. Put just a little pressure between the ROM and the socket to lift. Leave the screwdriver in place to provide counterleverage; take a second screwdriver and gently start prying up the opposite side. Continue alternating slight lifts on each side until the ROM pops free. Lifting one side too much higher than the other will bend the leads, and since you don't know that the new ROM works for sure, you should be prepared to reinstall the old ROM if necessary.

Check the new ROM for bent leads. If it looks good, push it straight down into the socket using equal force on each side. If any leads are bent, carefully straighten them with a pair of tweezers., being careful not to pull too hard or you can shear off the lead (which is why I don't recommend using pliers). When installed it should look like the photo on the right.

Place the CPU board back in the machine and once everything is reconnected, flip the power on. You should see a "testing" screen with the correct ROM shown, then the game should be ready to play. Pretty simple!

Next project will be to solve the reset problem...

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

White Water Default Language Change

This is a project I have wanted to do for a long time but I kept putting it off. I finally got around to it and decided to post the procedure here. Though this is applied to White Water, it should be similar for any early model Williams WPC machines. Later models incorporate DIP switches, which makes things so much easier. I was hoping White Water was late enough to have DIP switches but it had jumpers instead, and soldering is required.

Playing in German!

As I mentioned in a previous post, my White Water is a re-import from Germany. The seller I bought it from had set the language to English in the service menu, but unfortunately that only changes the language for the current setup. A factory reset, removal of batteries, or a few other conditions will cause the game to default to German. As I don't know German, this has been problematic.

The default language is set through the use of "jumpers". These are not the typical jumpers you associate with a PC that you can place and remove with pliers in seconds; instead, these are really 0 ohm resistors which are soldered to particular locations on the CPU board. A wire would serve the same purpose but the resistor looks cleaner.

The jumper chart

There is a matrix in the front of the owner's manual that shows how the resistors need to be positioned in order to set the default language; the resistors are labeled W14 to W18. To set the game to "American", the chart shows that W14 through W18 must be "in"; in other words, there must be a resistor connected to each jumper location in order for the game to default to English.

The first step is (of course) to shut off the power, since I'm going to pull the CPU board. This board is behind the backglass, which must be removed to allow access. The CPU board for White Water is located on the left side about halfway down from the top. There are about 8 cables to disconnect, then 6 screws to loosen. I say loosen because you don't have to remove them - the board is slotted which allows it to be lifted free once the screws are out far enough.

On the CPU board, the jumpers are located near the ROM as a series of unmarked (0 ohm) resistors. In the photo on the left, you can see that the resistor was moved from W18 to W13, leaving W18 open and setting the game to German - the jumper chart confirms this by stating that W18 is "out" for German. The W11 to W13 positions don't do anything; they are just a place to put pulled resistors so they don't get lost. In the photo on the right, you can see that my goal is to move the resistor from W13 back to W18. This involved desoldering one side of the resistor to pull the leg free, then the other side. I straightened out the legs, then soldered them one at a time to W18.

When finished, the photo to the left shows W18 is now connected. Ignore my awful solder job, as my old soldering iron died and I was forced to use a large Weller solder gun that made things a little tough. I was nervous that I had damaged the traces, but it was all good. Later I bought a new solder iron and repositioned the resistor a little bit, just to clean up the job a little better. Also, to help with the project, I using a lighted magnifier armature attached to my workbench...it makes things a lot easier to see.

Finally, after a factory reset the game now displays English as the default language. Hooray! One project down...