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.

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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...

Northwest Pinball and Arcade Show

I only live 2.5 hours from Seattle, the site of the 2013 Northwest Pinball and Arcade Show. I was really looking forward to going this year, but due to time constraints and family commitments, I was unable to attend.

Fortunately Pinball Soul had excellent coverage of the event. You can find this coverage hereand hereand even more goodness here. Thanks to Josh at Pinball Soul for saving the day. I've definitely got to get up there in 2014!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Why I love pinball: Xenon and White Water

In the past I've talked about what I like about pinball - what separated it from video games, and the features it possessed that I would grow to love. But perhaps no game was more influential on my love of pinball than the 1979 Bally classic, Xenon.


In 1980, sci-fi was beginning to emerge as a hot commodity, thanks to the wild popularity of Star Wars. We stood in a line that wrapped around the movie theater for The Empire Strikes Back, the first time to my knowledge in which this occurred. At home I was playing my new Intellivision system, and in the arcades Space Invaders, Asteroids, Battlezone, Missile Command, and Pac-Man were dominating. I was 13 years old, and for the first time my parents let me go to an arcade with my friends. While I was waiting for my turn on the video games, I walked around the arcade, paying little attention to the skee bowling and air hockey tables. But as I moved in front of the row of pinball machines, I stopped and stared. Though I had seen pinball machines before, I had never seen a pinball machine like this.

I kept staring at the sexy sci-fi girl on the backglass art, at the lights flashing on the playfield, at the cool-looking tube running across the upper playfield. All the while, a sexy voice ooh'd and aah'd and offered the enticement to play her.

My pulse was racing.

My mouth was open.

I may have drooled a bit.

I might have even caught a couple of flies.

I stepped up and put a quarter in the machine. Or perhaps it was $.50...the price was inconsequential. I tested the flippers a few times, and thought "OK, I've got this." I launched the ball. And proceeded to get spanked. I think the game was over in about 2 minutes. I stood there, stunned for a moment, unsure of what had just happened, as Xenon coo'd "play me again." So I put in more quarters, and got spanked again. But I pumped my fist when I hit a tube shot, while the voice of Suzanne Ciana continued to seduce me.

After awhile, I moved on to Gorgar. And got spanked again. Then it was on to Black Knight and Firepower. And suddenly I started killing it. One of my friends ran up and said it was my turn on Battlezone. I started to say "you can take my-" and then my ball drained and the game was over. "Okay, I'm coming." I ran off, but took a last look back. A passion had been born.

Over the years I've had the opportunity to play many machines. As an adult, I now find Xenon to be bit - I don't want to say boring or dull here, because it's not - perhaps the word I'm looking for is nostalgic. You know, when you rediscover something from your childhood that has been filtered through the lens of adulthood and doesn't quite recapture the magic. Subconsciously, when I see Xenon now, it takes me back to the day I first saw it as a 13 year old boy. I still find Xenon attractive and desirable, but as a player it just doesn't have enough bells and whistles to keep my interest. I'll play it if I stumble across it, but I don't really want to own it. I do, however, have a great reverence towards it, for being the game that hooked me on pinball.


Fast forward to 2004. I'm making a decent wage and have a little money saved up. My roommate Kelly was surfing eBay on our whopping 56K dialup modem. He had searched for bigfoot-related items and pulled up an auction page for a pinball machine. I recognized that machine. I stopped, stunned.

"You can buy pinball machines?" I asked. "For home use?" My heart begins to race. I thought only arcades could buy (much less afford) pinball machines. I had never looked into it, and I didn't yet know about Craigslist nor the rec.games.pinball group. I remembered that I had played White Water in a bar somewhere several years before, and I thought I had really liked it. The seller described the game as being "shopped", and shipping was free, so I took the plunge and bought it, sight unseen.

This began my love/hate relationship with my White Water machine. I can't imagine giving it up, but I've had so many nagging problems with it. It seemed like I would fix one thing and something else would go wrong. The game was a German re-import: built here in the U.S., sent to Germany, and then returned to the U.S. Here are the initial problems I found upon receiving the game:

  • Ball launch VUK malfunction. This was an easy fix, as the game had shipped with 4 balls. Removed 1 ball and it worked fine.
  • Topper lights not working. Replaced bulbs, and then control board. Still not working.
  • DMD signal died. Completely. Replaced DMD control board with new PinLED board.
  • Coin door buttons inop (and had DM as currency). Replaced with brand new coin door (with quarters as currency).
  • 3 boulders in the playfield were cracked, 2 have gaping holes. All are still there.
  • 15 lights in the playfield were burnt out or missing (all replaced).
  • Ball launch VUK malfunction (again) - would not eject ball. Found broken wire and fixed.
  • Holes drilled for lockdown bar. (Grrr...)
  • Chip in the playfield above the hazard value. Just a paint chip, but still there.
  • Left flipper weak and sticking. Rebuilt flipper, replaced coil.
  • Inside of cabinet dirty, reeking of smoke, and lots of broken glass. Cleaned with vinegar solution and vacuumed up glass.
  • Battery corrosion. Caught before damage to CPU board. Installed remote battery pack.
  • Bigfoot's fur detached from arm. Easy fix by re-gluing.
  • German language as default instead of English (fix will be documented in upcoming post).
  • Buggy L-2 Rom chip installed (fix will be documented in upcoming post).
  • The dreaded Williams reset issue (fix coming soon I hope).
  • Damage to backbox side art.
In my opinion it's the best game ever made, thanks to the sound, ramps, speed, flow, and bigfoot toy, which all perfectly fit the theme. It lead me to own my own "home pinball arcade", which I had never dreamed of, and in many ways has fulfilled the fun and desire promised by Xenon so many years ago. Though at times I have felt like the "Man Overboard" with my head underwater due to the maintenance required, learning as I go, I have since discovered that my issues are minor and there are games in much, much worse shape. I admire anyone who has the skills to work on (and save) dying machines...

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Updated Links, and a New Feature: Link Profiles

I have added a new feature on the sidebar called "My Favorite Pinball Links". These links take you to everything from build and repair blogs to sites of current manufacturers. Each week I'll look more closely at one of my linked sites to highlight them.

This week, in Profile #1 I'd like to talk about Pinball Magazine. I wasn't sure whether or not I would enjoy the magazine, but I decided to take the plunge. I'm glad I did! The interview with Roger Sharpe was long, detailed, and fascinating. For the better part of a week I dove into reading it, and it's a real treat. The highlights for me involved Roger playing in front of city officials in order to save pinball, and also his time and contact with others in the industry, especially in the Bally/Williams days in the 80s and 90s. If I have one regret in life, it's that I didn't seek out work in the pinball industry when I left high school (I headed for the military instead). By the time I was out of the military, pinball was dying a slow death. It may not have been a lucrative, long-term career, but it would have been fun!

If you haven't yet picked up the magazine and are a fan of pinball history, you've got to read the magazine. I'm looking forward to issue #2!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Update: More Bad News and What's Next

My fears that I expressed in the last post were realized when I temporarily put the 1/4" mahogany panels on the sides of the VP cabinet. Of course, the extra 1/2" of material, when combined with the warped veneer, is now too wide for the side rails and lockbar to fit. I have three choices:
  • Order a new custom lockdown bar and siderails. This will be over $100, maybe over $200, not including the cost to brass plate it.
  • Build my own lockdown bar and siderails out of wood with steampunk features such as copper pipe.
  • Sand off the veneer, and repaint the cabinet to simulate mahogany.
I'm leaning towards option #2, as I can make it easily fit with the theme. However, there won't be as much brass and it might end up looking more primitive. My roommate Kelly (who I mentioned as the driving force in acquiring CFTBL, Junkyard, and Popeye) feels that the last option is the best. He does woodworking and painting, so maybe he knows better, but I'm skeptical at the amount of work this would entail, especially when combined with my lack of skill in those areas. We'll see.

Up next, I've ordered some parts for the "real" pinball machines. For White Water, though I'd love to swap out all my bulbs for LEDs to help with power consumption and heat (and maybe help fix the reset problem), I've started more slowly with an upgraded LH6 ROM chip which shipped today. This is the latest ROM version and is dedicated to home use, so it may fix some other issues even if it doesn't help with the resets.

The second part ordered was a "green-up kit" for CFTBL from gamestencils.com. One of the main problems with the hologram of the creature is that over time the green color oxidizes and turns a shade of blue. You'll often see machines being sold where the seller states that the hologram is "functional but blue". Do to licensing costs, expense of technology, and limited customer base, replacement holograms are non-existent. A few years ago a pinball parts vendor sold some replacement holograms, although there are now horror stories of those repro holograms turning red! I don't know whether that's true or not - I'd have to dig into it more.

Anyway, a working hologram has several different parts (see this webpage for a good explanation). In the mentioned explanation, the light, mirror, hologram, and playfield insert are necessary to actually see the creature; the rest of the parts involve movement. The green-up kit addresses two of the four necessary parts: the light and the mirror. A bright green LED is provided to replace the old bulb, and a new mirror that has been tinted green is also provided. When I looked on eBay at green LED hologram upgrades (which contain only the bulb), I couldn't find any negative feedback that said it didn't work. Then when I found the green-up kit, I figured why not go a step further and upgrade both the bulb and the mirror? I can't wait to see if this restores the green back to my hologram. I must have go the last one because they are now temporarily out of stock.

Some other good news: Kelly has agreed to try to sell the Popeye machine, as long as it is for a great price. We have it advertised locally on Craigslist. I have a feeling it won't sell, but that's okay - he's open to the idea now. I had to promise him that despite the VP project, we will still purchase "real" replacement games for Junkyard and Popeye (if it sells). He actually mentioned Arabian Nights, which had me drooling! That wasn't a hard promise to make... ;)