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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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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Opinion: the "Us" vs. "Them" Pinball Brand Mentality

For years people have been debating the merits of different machines on Pinside, IMDB, and rec.games.pinball - which game is better, what are the top games, and so on. Debating the merits and flaws of each game is perfectly understandable. What I don't understand are the people who argue that a particular group of games are exclusively better because they are Williams, or Stern, or Electro-Mechanical, or Solid State, or Woodrail, or a Bingo, to the exclusion of all other games.

I'm afraid I was initially guilty of this when I first broke into the hobby as a pinball owner. I let myself be swayed by public opinion because my main concern was, "how do I fix this thing if it breaks?" So I stayed exclusively with Bally/Williams machines, because they were supposed to be more reliable and solidly built, and there were a lot of repair resources available, including manuals. What I found, however, was the complete opposite: games were not built to last, and that includes Bally/Williams machines. The way for a pinball company to sell a new machine to an arcade or route operator was for the old one to break down and be replaced. This means engineering parts that aren't designed to last. Add in the very real factor of using less than stellar parts to control costs and you have a recipe for a maintenance headache.

As I've stated before, my White Water has sat mostly unused for years, due to maintenance issues, in a direct contrast to the "Bally/Williams are more reliable" mystique. Don't get me wrong - I fully realize this machine is 20+ years old and was never meant to last that long. Since the time my White Water was built, it has outlasted 7 or 8 personal computers that I've owned or built, as well as the same amount of game consoles; seen VCRs, casette tapes and vinyl records fade; witnessed the birth of the internet, laptops, and smartphones; and adapted to the widespread use of LEDs. That's a pretty impressive track record (although that's nothing compared to what EM machines have seen in their lifetime).

As my maintenance skills improved, combined with the availability of parts that are more easily (and in many cases more cheaply) obtainable over the last few years, I've felt more comfortable in maintaining a machine. This also means I'm more willing to take a risk on a Gottlieb or Data East machine than I would have in the past.

Shunning the ownership of certain machines, however, had nothing to do with game play. Give me a pinball machine and a quarter - it doesn't matter what it is, I'll play it. Yet I constantly see arguments like "Sterns suck!" or "I wouldn't touch anything but Bally/Williams", or "I shouldn't be forced to like EM games." I can understand having a soft spot for games a person played when they grew up; as I've stated in previous posts, I grew up on games like Black Knight and Gorgar. I play EM games despite the fact that these were made before my time. It's the broad generalizations that slam a particular brand (like those I've mentioned above) that really drive me crazy.

The person that says "Sterns suck!" - do they really believe that Lord of the Rings or AC/DC sucks? Maybe they tried a few Sterns, like Wheel of Fortune or Avatar and didn't like them. Does that mean they should deny themselves a chance at playing a fun title like The Simpsons Party Pinball or Tron? No, what's more likely at work here is "fanboy" syndrome.

Fanboy Syndrome means to associate with a brand and put down other brands, pointing out the faults of the "competition" while being blind to their own brand. The worst examples I have seen of this involved the Gamecube/Wii vs. Playstation vs. Xbox platform. Some people who owned a Playstation would put down the other consoles; fans of the other consoles would do the same. This mentality comes down to two root causes: 1) the decision to purchase only 1 platform, whether financially or for other reasons and 2) the psychological need to associate with a "winner" that allows the consumer to feel like their purchase was justified. In this context, someone who owns Bally/Williams or Stern machines might slam everything else in order to associate with "a winner" and justify their purchases. The effect is amplified for pinball purchases due to the high cost of ownership, but should never be a factor when stepping into a pinball arcade.

My response to the console wars "fanboyism" was to buy all 3 consoles, giving me the opportunity to play the best of each brand. And as for pinball? I'm moving away from purchasing more Bally/Williams machines and looking at Gottlieb and Stern titles. And I'm building a virtual pinball to simulate playing a multitude of EM games that I'll never have the money or space for but find intriguing. Limiting oneself to a particular brand limits the possibilities that other brands offer. So don't fall into the fanboy hype - it's just a psychological trick your mind is playing on you - and experience all that pinball, in its varying forms, has to offer.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Creature From the Black Lagoon: Lighted Snack Bar Mod

Another week, another Creature mod. Pinsider "swinks" has developed a mod to light up the snackbar area of the Creature, and it looks beautiful. I was lucky enough to express my interest fairly quickly, so my hope is that I'll be in on the first batch made. Check out a couple of the gorgeous photos he's taken of the mod:



It gives the appearance of a neon lit entrance to the snackbar hole, one of the main areas to shoot for in the game. I tried to find a photo of what the area looks like without the mod...this is the best I could come up with:



With the hologram replacement video mod, the lighted speaker panel, and now the lighted snackbar, Creature is becoming the hottest game to mod right now. I can't wait to see what's next!

To read more about the development of this mod check out this post on Pinside.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Link Profile: Pavlov Pinball

I originally started this blog to document my virtual pinball build, as well as talk about mods and repairs from an amateur enthusiast's point of view. I am neither a service technician nor a professional player (I'm not even playing in a local league competitively), so if I can own, play, and work on pinball machines, then anyone can. Although I have a slight advantage over the average person by having been a jet mechanic, a circuit board builder, and have an AS in computer programming dating to pre-Windows computers (okay so that may be a disadvantage), I still sometimes find working on pinball machines somewhat daunting, meaning I won't tackle repairs until I fully understand what's involved. I also don't have the luxury of having time to explore lots of different pinball places or shows. I'm not sure where I'm going with this preamble, other than to say this: if all I'm going to post about is repairs and an occasional trip, there's going to be a lot of dead space between entries.

That's where Pavlov Pinball comes in. What's great about Paul's site is that besides being graphically gorgeous, he has some great opinions about pinball features and news events. Because I think where I can really improve the blog, and fill in some of the dead space, is to write an opinion piece now and then that tackles different topics, sometimes my own and sometimes inspired by what appears on Pavlov. A big thank you to Paul for helping me to step outside of the box I had surrounded myself with.

You can check out Pavlov Pinball by clicking on the link in the sidebar...

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Creature From The Black Lagoon: Lighted Speaker Panel Mod

About a year ago I put my name in for a lighted speaker panel mod that was being done by Jeff Thompson on Pinside. This is the same mod I mentioned in a previous post in which I talked about the pinball machines I owned, including the Creature. The mod features the tail lights of the cars, the moon, and the Starlight sign being lighted instead of just a printed graphic. At the time I wrote that post, there were only two ways to get this mod: get on a waiting list at Pinbits (which announced plans to make it but never produced the mod) or following a blog post that detailed creating the mod yourself, and some of that was far over my head.


When Thompson decided to tackle this project, he received a boatload of interest and decided to mass produce a run of them. I was able to get my name in for a second run; as of this writing, no third run has been planned or announced. The price was a very reasonable $170, and when combined with the PinballMikeD video mod, some LEDs under the inserts, and a color DMD, makes Creature the most beautiful machine in pinball.

It was only after I was told a few months ago that payment was due that I discovered I didn't have the deluxe panel that already has a special screen for the plastic front that allows the light to pass through. And it just so happens that this panel is sold out everywhere, with no plans to re-stock it. That means that I had to order a special light screen from Thompson for use on my original panel, peeling off the black mask that was installed to block off light, and requiring dealing with a sticky adhesive. I was a little apprehensive about this, as working with decals and glues are definitely not my specialty, and the mod would not be reversible. Fortunately Credit Dot has a great post detailing his experiences with the project, which you can read about here:

Credit Dot's Speaker Panel Installation

I'll be tackling this mod in the near future and detailing my experience...

Monday, July 28, 2014

Scared Stiff - Shooter Lane Kickout Not Working

With my White Water down for a shop job and the Creature receiving limited plays due to a multitude of issues, Scared Stiff gets all the game play in my game room right now. Last week I turned on the machine only to find that the ball kickout for the shooter lane was not ejecting a ball to start the game. This weekend I had a little free time and decided to "pop the hood." The nice thing about the kickout coil is that its right up front and easy to get to, so I didn't even have to lift the playfield, I just rested the rails up on the cabinet front. Fortunately this was easy to troubleshoot, as I immediately spotted a broken wire:


This happens every now and then on pinball machines, as over time heat and vibration will take a toll on the game, and since the solder joint is (usually) strong and the wire is the weak point, the wire breaks off. The required fix is to re-solder the wire back to the post. Normally the wire is soldered to the underside of the post, but I decided to solder it to the top because it was easier and more visible, it really doesn't make a difference either way as long as there's no danger of shorting, which in this case will not be an issue:


It only took a couple minutes to remove the old solder (which still had the remainder of the wire mixed in), strip the wire back, and re-solder it to the post. I fired up the game and the ball kicked out perfectly. I love easy repairs!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Link Profile: Credit Dot

Great pinball blogs are tough to find. It's a lot of work to maintain a blog, let alone have the knowledge and time to thoroughly research a topic and score interviews with people in the industry. Credit Dot refers to itself as "mapping trends for the casual enthusiast" and despite only being around since April of 2014, is a treasure trove of information. Featuring discussions about people in the industry, mods, interviews, and tackling controversial topics, Credit Dot is a superb read. My favorite posts are:

Clay Harrell (The Pinball Ninja)

Creature From the Black Lagoon Lighted Speaker Panel

Pinball Circus To Be Produced

I highly recommend checking out Credit Dot, and have added a link in the sidebar...

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Creature From The Black Lagoon - Funeral For A Hologram

As black clouds cloak the funeral procession with an oppressive pall, somewhere a baby's cry breaks the silence. The procession stops and the clergyman steps forward to administer last rites. His voice, a lament against the Creature's early demise, talks about how green and bright Creech used to be, and although he was reclusive, was always welcomed by players new and old. Though his brilliant green faded to blue (and then violet-purple) as he grew older, Creech still functioned as though nothing was wrong. When the players turned to cosmetic surgery in an attempt to restore his color, it was only then that the tumor was spotted - a black smudge that although did not affect the Creature's performance, signaled his demise. As the eulogy ends, the haunting opening refrain of Elton John's "Funeral For A Friend" begins to play...but then the clouds part and the sun streams through, reflecting off of a shiny new TV screen playing video, and the players' spirits lift in hope...



There is nothing more dramatic, more traumatizing to a CFTBL owner, than the death of the machine's hologram. It is the most prominent feature that uniquely sets this pinball machine apart from all others. Having the hologram turn blue might be the worst the owner sees...or it may not. With replacement holograms either impossible to find or exhorbatently priced, I had swapped out the hologram mirror and bulb with the green-up kit, which featured a green tinted mirror and a green LED, to try to change the appearance of the hologram from blue to green. The old mirror was in bad shape, with some kind of rippled damage on the surface, along with residue and scratches:



For some reason I was unable to see the hologram after installing the green up kit. I'm not sure whether not enough light was reaching the mirror or if I had changed the angle of the mirror somehow. Fed up with the whole system, I decided to install my PinballMikeD video mod to replace the hologram. When I pulled the hologram out, this is what I found:


I stared in disbelief at what appears to be a burn mark on the hologram, possibly from a nearby bulb, or maybe just a degradation from temperature, humidty, and age. Not to mention the large scratch across the left side of the screen. I was not pleased.

I downloaded PinballMikeD's YouTube installation videos to a flash drive, which I then plugged into my virtual pinball machine and played the videos as I followed them step by step. It was fairly easy to remove all the hologram assembly parts and install the TV and board mod, it took maybe a couple of hours. I powered on the machine afterwards and everything worked on the first try, which was a huge relief. I was a little concerned as it took my mod over a minute to come to life, but when it did, I completely forgot about the hologram and enjoyed one of my best games on the machine, getting to creature multiball and an extra ball, which allowed me to see several different video modes. I'll try to capture some of what I've seen in a later post.

I'm really happy with the new mod, it has breathed some life back into the machine!

...and they lived happily ever after. The end.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Update 5-9-14

It sure has been tough keeping this blog going...time flies when you don't have much to spare. I've been pouring all my time and money into getting my rental house fixed up, and I'm almost there. With the weather improving, I can actually work out in the shop again, which leads me to my first update...


Steampunk Time Machine Pinball
Still not much happening here. I've got a video card picked out but I won't have the funds to buy it until I get the rental move-in ready, which is targeted for June 1st. After I pick up the video card, my first efforts will focus on the front panel - installing gauges, buttons, the plunger, and a drawer for sliding the CPU out the front.


Creature From the Black Lagoon
With the weather improving, I will also check out the green up kit and hologram options I mentioned in my previous post.

White Water
In June I should have the funds to order parts for White Water so that I can finish the shop job and put it back together. I'll cover part two of the shop job in a future post.

Return to Ground Kontrol
A few months ago I went back to Ground Kontrol to play more pinball. They rotated some new games in, so I got to play a couple of machines I hadn't tried before. Judge Dredd (JD) was okay, but like other widebodies sometimes it gets a little boring while you wait for the ball to get to you. I would have liked to have seen it with a Dead World mod installed. No Good Gophers (NGG) was fun (I got a couple of hole-in-ones) and I can see why people like it, but I don't feel it's worth the price that most people ask for it when selling. It probably would have been even better had I been able to hear the gophers' taunts, but the arcade was too loud. Junk Yard (JY) was there but after owning that and selling it, I had no desire to play it.

On a whim I decided to put a couple of dollars into Pirates of the Caribbean (PoTC). It had been years since I played this game, but I had forgotten how much I loved it and racked up a great score on the first play. My roommate Kelly, a big Disney fan, had never seen it in action and loved all the little details and the sinking ship. We both walked away from it thinking that this is the next machine we'd like to own. I don't know what it is about Dennis Nordman-designed machines (Scared Stiff, White Water, PoTC), but they really strike a chord with me.

Stay tuned for more posts in June that should be the result of a flurry of activity...

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Catching Up

I won't make apologies for not posting...the holidays make it tough to free up time, and a couple of water leaks in the pump room for the well, as well as a short vacation trip, also made a serious impact. So here's some updates on what's been happing:

Steampunk Time Machine Pinball
Not much happening here. I set up the cabinet to play a little pinball, only to have my video card fry and die. With no funds available for a new one (or any other needed parts), the project is on hold for now. I did manage to pick up a 24V power supply to drive relays for simulating flippers and kickouts.

Creature From the Black Lagoon
I had purchased PinballMikeD's hologram upgrade kit that actually replaces the hologram with a monitor and
driver board. Not only does it functionally work in place of the hologram, it also shows other video during the game. One thing I never liked about Creature was that the window where the hologram appears would sit dark during the game, and only briefly lighting up *if* you could trigger a specific mode. This new mod that shows video throughout the game is really incredible and will make it much more enjoyable. I bought the kit without the monitor, figuring I could get it cheaper myself and save some money. Sure enough, right after Christmas the monitor dropped to $90, and using a Best Buy $10 reward coupon allowed me to snag it for $80. I can't wait to see how it looks! Although Mike has pulled his demo video, the above screen shot gives you an idea of how beautiful this mod looks. Before I install the new mod, though, I want to see if the green-up kit I got makes any difference with the original (blue) hologram before I pull it from the machine. You can check out PinballMikeD's mod page here.

The Santa Cruz Boardwalk & Winchester House
Early in December I traveled to San Jose to visit my company's corporate headquarters and attend the corporate holiday party. While I was there I managed to squeeze in quite a bit of sightseeing. When I was younger, the Santa Cruz boardwalk in California was one of my favorite places to visit - it's the Coney Island of the West Coast, with amusement rides, an arcade, great sandy beaches, and a pier full of knickknack stores and restaurants serving fresh seafood. It's the arcade I'm going to focus on here, as it featured not one, but two areas featuring pinball. The whole inside of the arcade is done in a pirate theme, with animatronic figures reminiscent of Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean ride. On the lower lever was one set of games (pictured left), all older Sterns except for an Attack From Mars, which was seeing a lot of
action. On the upper floor were a mix of older and newer Sterns (pictured left), which were pretty much untouched. I was extremely surprised to find the new Star Trek game (pictured right). Because the arcade is set up to take a electronic card rather than cash, and my time was limited, I only got 2 games in on the new Star Trek. I didn't do too well - it plays fast(!) - but like AC/DC and Metallica, the machine felt really solid and was beautiful to look at, I really liked it.

If you've never been to the Winchester House - with lots of weird and beautiful rooms and also stairs that go nowhere because the crazy Winchester widow was appeasing the ghosts of everyone killed by Winchester rifles - you should make plans to see it someday (although the admission price is a bit steep). When you first enter the building, there is a lobby/gift shop where tickets and souvenirs are purchased. That's where I snapped a photo of this lonely, broken-down Theatre of Magic (pictured right).

So there's my latest update. Hopefully I won't wait so long before posting again...