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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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Friday, May 19, 2017

There and Back Again: The Hobbit Journeys Into the Barcade

When I think back to receiving my first pinball machine, White Water, I can still recall the thrill of playing pinball in my own home. After buying Creature From The Black Lagoon, Scared Stiff, Popeye, and Junkyard, it felt like I had a mini-arcade and more possibilities were on the horizon. But over the years I seemed to tread water...prices rose, money became tight, and I had to downsize the collection by selling Junkyard to pay bills. Fast forward to today, and it's fair to say I never imagined adding 6 more machines to the collection. Granted, each addition has been a budget title that still managed to challenge the pocketbook, because pinball machines, even budget ones, aren't cheap. but here I am now at 10 machines. I told myself that if I could only own a couple more machines, one of them had to be a newer, recent, expensive release. Not necessarily new in box, but close. Although I liked Stern's AC-DC and Metallica, those don't really fit my gameroom theme-wise. Big Lebowski, Aliens, and other new manufacturers were either unproven or had themes that I wasn't interested in. I really liked Wizard of Oz and the quality of Jersey Jack's machines. When I played The Hobbit recently, I expressed my desire to someday own one. Although Stern's new Ghostbusters machine offered up a serious challenge and was considered for the barcade, the quality problems and linear gameplay turned me away. And thus, game #9 in the collection became the Smaug Edition (SE) of Jersey Jack's The Hobbit.

So what is it about The Hobbit that attracted me and emptied my wallet? First is theme. A lot of people disliked the films for being overly long and introducing scenes that weren't in the book or were only hinted at. I actually liked the movies for those exact reasons. As much as I loved Lord of the Rings, it is a dark story about walking and fighting, walking and fighting, etc. The Hobbit movies had more of an adventurous feeling to them. When I was younger I owned a role playing game call Middle Earth Role Playing, or MERP. MERP's main selling point was creating adventures and content far beyond what Tolkien had provided, and it was brilliant. So I'm the last one to complain about content that was not in the book or movies being too long - I'd like the experience to last as long as possible.


The second thing that attracted me to the game was atmosphere. The spectacular color changing LEDs, the dragon that turns its head and talks, the creatures popping up out of the playfield, the barrel riders over the bumpers, the impressive and dramatic sound, the shaker motor, the controlled drop targets, the LCD that shows clips of the movies - all of those features were more than enough to hook me. The game looks beautiful, sounds, beautiful, and performs beautifully. Some people complain that there isn't much to shoot for in the game. I just have to laugh. Look at a game like White Water, which happens to be my favorite. It has 1 toy, the bigfoot. It has some targets, 3 bumpers, and loads of ramps. That's it. Yet it is so much fun to play. You don't need 100 toys in a pinball machine to make it fun, you just need a good design.

This leads me to my third reason for buying The Hobbit: gameplay and software. The designer, Joe Balcer, did not have a great track record with Sega and Stern until he teamed up with Keith Johnson, a brilliant programmer who worked at Stern on many titles until He was hired by Jersey Jack. He is known for epic, long rulesets...The Simpsons Pinball Party (TSPP) is regarded as having the deepest ruleset of any pinball machine to date. Lord of the Rings (LOTR) is another game full of modes and objectives with a highly regarded ruleset, and Johnson is primarily responsible for both of these games. At Jersey Jack, he was the lead developer for The Wizard of Oz (WOZ), a game that was originally ridiculed for its limited rules on release. However, over time and with several updates, WOZ now has one of the deepest, well-regarded rulesets in pinball. With Johnson hard at work on code for The Hobbit, it will only get better and better.


Lastly is Jersey Jack's quality and customer service. They are not without faults, but they do try hard to treat their customers right, and I love that. Their games are solidly built - the rails that the playfield sits on when being worked on are thick pipes that are sturdy and impressive. They have come out with solutions for every problems The Hobbit has exhibited, mainly stuck balls.


So far I'm loving this game, and I'm still running the 1.01 version of code, with version 1.9 available for download. Updates are done via a USB port under the playfield. My game came with a gold Smaug head, gold flecked lockdown bar and legs, and barrel riders over the pop bumpers. For more about the ruleset, here's a nifty chart and guide to the features of the game:


My home arcade is nearing capacity, and The Hobbit is the crown jewel of the collection, standing proudly next to all the other budget titles. But wait - isn't The Hobbit pin #9? And didn't I say there is a 10th pin? Why yes I did! Well then, look for another post soon to see what that 10th machine is...

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Here's Something You'll Really Like! Rocky And Bullwinkle And Friends Enters The Barcade

In my previous post about The Big Move, I mentioned that while the winch and pulley system were hooked up, we found and added machine #8 to the collection. That machine turned out to be Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends (RABAF). Another Craigslist ad, another trip to Tacoma, and another machine moved upstairs with the winch and cart, and the collection is nearly complete. Why RABAF? It's not highly rated on Pinside or IPDB, and as the first Data East machine in the collection, Data East was not known for their quality nor for the availability of parts.

Well, the short answer is that we are on a budget. Building the barcade was expensive, and after spending money on 7 other machines, the costs for adding more were becoming prohibitive when you need to buy insulation, drywall, paint and so on. There's room for 10 machines, but when you add in the virtual machine we have used 8 spaces, leaving room for 2 more. I was planning for machine #9 to be an expensive new title, since it will be the last machine added...I've never had a new (and expensive) late model machine, and I wanted to have at least one. So machine #8 had to be a budget title. A Hook had popped up in the local area, and though I hadn't played it, I didn't really care for the theme. Then a RABAF appeared, and we knew that was a perfect choice for the budget. We thought about a long distance purchase, with shipping, of a Jurassic Park or Bram Stoker's Dracula instead, but prices of those seemed to have climbed to $3K+ lately, and with no local listings, adding shipping sends the price up to $3500+, which was a dealbreaker.


Kelly and I had watched the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon as kids, and really enjoy the Ripsaw Falls ride at Islands of Adventure, so the theme was fine. I know the callouts will probably annoy me after awhile, but Kelly will probably play it more than I will. The theme, the price, the challenge of maintaining a Data East, and the local listing made it an easy decision. SO we drove to Tacoma with the truck, brought back home, winched it up the stairs, and played a few games on it.

There were a few problems noticed immediately. The game was set up for quarters, and the menu buttons inside the machine don't work, so I'm unable to change it to free play. The animated backglass, where Bullwinkle pulls animals out of a hat, seems to work sporadically. and the log didn't seem to be functioning on the buzz saw feature. I fixed the log right away, but the other issues will require some troubleshooting. The few games played so far have been quite enjoyable.




THE GAME
Created in 1993, the year before Data East went under and sold their business to Sega, RABAF was designed by Tim Sekel, who also designed several other Data East games such as Last Action Hero, Royal Rumble, and Maverick (Data East's last game). None of these games are highly rated or sought after. The artwork, which is faithful to the psychedelic 1970's colors of the original cartoon, was done by Kevin O'Connor, who did the art for CFTBL, and the recent KISS game for Stern, as well as many other titles. The programming team included Lonnie Ropp, who still programming recent Stern titles such as X-Men, Avengers, Star Trek, and Tron. 5500 RABAF machines were produced, and features 3 pop bumpers, 






RULES (Courtesy of Keefer)

Important Things

This section describes key elements and/or shots to be made in Rocky & Bullwinkle. They will be constantly referred to in the play discussion.

Abbreviations
K = 1000; M = 1,000,000; B = 1,000,000,000; R&B = Rocky & Bullwinkle; DE = Data East; SDTM = straight down the middle.
Bonus-X lanes
The 3 lanes at the top of the playfield. Completing all 3 increases your bonus multiplier (2X-4X-6X-8X-10X-Bonus hold). You can steer the lights with the flippers. These lanes are also used for the skill shot, described below. I am not sure of the award after bonus hold.
Pop bumpers
There are 3 just under the bonus-x lanes. They are not worth much unless you have Super Pops going.
Center shot
This is the little opening in the middle of the playfield, between the O and M BOMB targets. Shoot it to light the WABAC value on the left ramp, to collect (super) mystery select, and to complete the puzzle. Note there is a hole on the top side of the center shot, where the ball usually comes down after leaving the upper pop bumper area, though often it will shoot from the bottommost pop bumper right into the hole at the end of the center shot.
Left ramp
This is the big R ramp on the left. You can easily hit it from the right flipper, and usually from the left flipper as well. The WABAC Machine value is collected from the left ramp. During Tri-Ball, this ramp increases the jackpot by 1M. Weak shots may tend to drain, depending on your machine.
Right ramp
This ramp features a steep entrance, a left-flipper only shot, and a highly annoying U-turn at the peak. Half-shots usually don't end in a drain, thankfully.
BOMB targets
These are 4 stand-up targets with 1 on either side of a ramp entrance. It seems that on some machines they're fairly easy to hit, and some they require dead-on shots. Some may also need to be hit fairly hard to register.
Pie
This is the big wheel near the U-turn of the right ramp. There are 12 lights to complete (3 for each BOMB letter). Completing the Pie lights the right ramp to start Tri-Ball. Completing the Pie during Tri-Ball lights the right ramp for the 100M Super Jackpot! It also circles around during Spin-n-Win showing you the value that you'll get when you hit the ramp.
Aesop & Son
This is the kickout on the extreme left side. Any shot into this hole or the center shot will clear another puzzle piece and kick the ball back out, often to the right flipper. However, it is pretty unreliable, sometimes kicking very softly to the LEFT flipper, and sometimes SDTM. I would forget about trying to catch it on a regular basis, though. You can light this shot for the extra ball via the Mystery Select. It's not that hard to shoot. (The one time I lit it, I took one shot at it and made it.)
Rhino shot
This is the right orbit shot, starting to the right of the right ramp and looping all the way around the back, eventually back to the flippers. Which flipper it heads towards is fairly random. It SHOULD go to the left flipper for repeated orbit shots. You can light the special via the Mystery Select, then shoot the Rhino for the special. (There is a big red arrow indicating the special.)
Left orbit
This is the shot opposite of the Rhino (right orbit) shot. When the Hat Trick is lit, though, the gate should trigger the diverter and the ball will go into the Hat Trick hole, instead. If the diverter is broken, newer ROMs compensate and award you the Hat Trick if you make the left orbit shot.
Hats
These are 3 touch targets just above the Aesop & Son kickout. Each one has a different character on it, representing each of the 3 possible animals Bullwinkle can pull out of his hat. Hitting all 3 lights the Hat Trick. Hitting all 3 during Tri-Ball relaunches the 3rd ball if one drained!
Hat Trick
This shot is lit during Tri-Ball and after hitting all 3 hats. During Tri-Ball, the first shot lights the jackpot, and the 2nd lights the double jackpot for about 8 seconds. Hitting it again before a jackpot is collected will relight the double for 8 seconds (non-cumulative; it just restarts the timer). Getting it after the hats results in Bullwinkle pulling an animal out of his hat, and you getting or lighting an award based on the animal. (Discussed in more detail below.) With the diverter working, this shot feeds back to the left flipper for a shot at anything it may light.
Saved
These are the 5 drop targets on the middle right side of the playfield. Knocking all of them down lights Save Nell, where you hit 1 (or more) targets for 25M within 15 seconds.
SELECT
These are the daisy letter lights in the middle of the playfield. (They're kinda hard to miss. %) ) Shoot the Rhino and left orbit shots to spot letters. Lighting all letters lights the Mystery Select in the center shot. However, you can KEEP shooting orbits, and get every letter flashing. When SELECT is flashing, the SUPER Mystery Select is lit. (Supposedly, these are just better awards.)
Laser Kick
This is a kickback in the left outlane. Of course, there's a nice big hole to go with it, so the ball has plenty of room to pass through it easily. It can be worth 1M, 3M, 5M, or Adv. Bonus-X. The value is changed by the return lanes and the right outlane. Steer the "Advance Laser Kick" lights with the flippers. If the ball passes over a switch while it's lit, the Laser Kick value goes up to the next one (starts each ball lit at 1M unless by some miracle (or even worse luck) you DIDN'T use it up last ball, in which case it stays lit at whatever it was before). It will wrap around from Adv-X to 1M.

The Skill Shot

Well, on a normal machine, this shot just doesn't require very much skill at all. The auto-plunger can be pretty flaky, though, and for some reason it will would sometimes just go around the Rhino loop, not stopping at the top lanes, or brick off the left side gate and come back down the right side. Usually a little nudging will keep the ball in the upper area. If the ball comes down the left side again, and doesn't hit ANYTHING else, you can lt it go and the game will give you another crack at the skill shot, forever (or until you finally DO hit something else).

Now, for the skill shot, all you have to do is make sure the ball goes into the flashing lane, which you steer with your flippers. On a lot of machines, it always goes down the left lane (lite select). At any rate, you'll see that each lane has its own award. If the ball goes down the lit lane, then your award is whatever was shown at the top there. The awards are usually:

Left lane
Lite Select. If the Mystery Select was already lit, then this award will light the Super Mystery Select. If the Super Mystery Select was already lit, then this award will be a measly 5M.

Middle lane
Super Pops. However, if this award is already lit, then this lane will change to something different, usually "lite looping," which is the same as the WABAC award. If both of these are lit, the lane changes to Rocket Squirrel Scoring. See the puzzles for explanation.

Right lane
About 4M + 1M * the ball number. Oh boy.
Personally, I'd PREFER it always went down the lite select lane...

The WABAC Machine

As stated, the WABAC is the left ramp. If there is a value flashing under the entrance, then you may shoot the ramp for that value. Otherwise, the center shot should be lit to light the WABAC.
There seems to be no way to change the WABAC value. Whatever the machine picks next, you're stuck with it. [BTW - That's Way-Back if you haven't figured it out yet! :) ]

Once you get a WABAC value, you won't be able to get it again until you've completed the WABAC ramp mode. Note that if you get a WABAC award from something else (like the skill shot or mystery select), then it'll be lit on the WABAC indicating you've already gotten it.
There are 8 different WABAC awards that can be gotten. In the order which they appear on the game, they are:

Super Pops
Lights the 3 pop bumpers just under the bonus-x lanes for high scoring. The first 10 (or so) hits score 500K, the next 10 hits score 1M, and then the next hits score 2M. I do not believe it goes higher than 2M, though. The game will flash "Super Pops Ready" over the score display at various times when Super Pops is lit. Once ONE single bumper has been hit, the sequence lasts for as long as the ball stays up in the jets. After a certain period of time, the bumpers will go back to regular value. The slingshots will also score the current Super Pops value after it has been started. It will stay lit until you hit a jet bumper.

???
A random award. Usually it'll give a mystery score (of either 5M, 10M, 15M, or 20M), but it sometimes gives other things like light or award extra ball, light special, light mystery select, etc. It even doubled my score once...

Bomb Millions
This award is pretty simple: You get 1M for each light you currently have lit on the Pie. This does NOT include the currently flashing light(s). But here's the nice thing: If you have under 4 lights lit on the Pie, it will AUGMENT your current Tri-Ball lighting progress to 4 lights. So if you've just had a Tri-Ball, scoring Bomb Millions spots your first 4 targets towards the next Tri-Ball. Note that this can be worth up to 12M (if Tri-Ball is lit).

Looping
A timed award that starts when you shoot a ramp. When you do, you have 20 seconds to keep shooting ramps for millions of points. If you shot the right ramp IMMEDIATELY after getting "Looping", then your next ramp is worth 3M points; otherwise, the next ramp is worth 2M. In either case, as soon as you start it, you get 5M points. The total you have earned in Looping mode is showed at the bottom of the display, but you are awarded the points as you go along. As long as you keep shooting ramps, you'll have at least 3-4 seconds to shoot the next one (the timer is reset to that if you shoot a ramp before the mode ends). If you shoot the ramp opposite the one the ball just left, the value for the next ramp will increase by 1M. If you take too long or shoot it up the SAME ramp you last shot, then the next ramp value stays the same. [See also RAMP LOOPING in Misc. Scoring.]

Loose Moose
A frenzy round, with every switch worth 500K. Note that at least the ramp gates on R&B swing a lot, so half-shooting the ramps is a great way to increase your Loose Moose score. This value IS awarded as part of your end-of-ball bonus. So DON'T TILT!

Instant TriBall
Amazingly enough, starts Tri-Ball (c) (r) TM.

Lite Mystery
Lights the Mystery Select award in the center shot. (Or the Super Mystery Select if Mystery Select was already lit.)

10 Mil.
YOU figure it out...
After all 8 awards are earned, the left ramp is lit for Back in Time. Shoot the ramp to start it. Then, for 15 seconds, every shot up the ramp takes you back 100 years. If you make a ramp shot and have less than 4 seconds remaining, the timer is reset to 4 seconds. Thus, you could shoot this shot all day if you never missed. (Ha!) You do get some amount of points for shooting the WABAC during this time. Not sure exactly how many, though. It has been reported that getting to 993 awards 50M. I haven't done this yet, so I don't know for sure.

The Puzzle

Shooting the center shot or Aesop & Son during regular play takes away another piece of the puzzle. Behind all the puzzle pieces is the first frame of an animation, which is the introduction to a point-scoring sequence of some kind. The first puzzle has 3 pieces blocking it, and every completed puzzle increases the initial number of pieces by one, up to the maximum of 6 pieces, where the picture is completely covered.

So you clear the last piece, then the animation starts (some are OK, some will get old real quick), then the ball gets kicked out, then you are told what you are supposed to do. That's why it's very important that you know what you are shooting for and what will happen when the puzzle round starts, because you won't have a chance to see it during play! Pretty poor planning on DE's part, IMHO, but that's only one small problem, and there aren't that many in R&B compared to older games.

If you get tired of watching the animations over and over again, you can abort them by hitting the launch button (it's blinking). Thank God!
Anyway, here are the various rounds that I know of, with a description of their first pictures (I won't describe the animations; I'll let you see them yourself):

Rocket Squirrel Scoring
The first picture has R&B sitting on top of a rocket with Rocky holding a map. On the right are Boris and Natasha getting ready to light the rocket. The goal of this round is to shoot orbits, holes, and ramps. Each one you hit is worth 5M and it lasts for 20 seconds. There is no timer restart on this round. The total is shown on the bottom for the round, but you get the points as you go.

Spin-n-Win
The first frame shows Bullwinkle on the left side of the screen and a steam roller on the right side. This round lasts for 20 seconds as well. The goal is to keep hitting the right ramp. The Pie will keep changing, and the color that is lit at the time you hit the switch is the value you get (it's either 5M, 15M, 10M, or 20M, in that order). The ramp diverter will NOT divert the ball this round, enabling you to keep shooting the right ramp over and over. Hitting it resets the timer to 4 seconds for unlimited shots. The total is displayed here too, but it is awarded as you go. This round can actually be pretty lucrative if you can keep hitting the ramp, esp. with an average value of 12.5M per ramp shot!

2M Drops
This animation shows Snidely tying Nell up to railroad tracks. You immediately start off with 10M points, and every drop target you hit during this round scores 2M points. It lasts for 20 seconds I think (maybe 15). Again, the total is displayed at the top, but you get the points right away. Also, every time you hit the drop targets, they are immediately reset, so you always have a shot at all 5 of them. Makes it much easier to constantly take out 2-3 per hit.

Back in Time
This animation shows Sherman and Peabody being growled at by a dinosaur (or something). The only thing it does is light the WABAC machine for Back in Time right away, regardless of where you were on the WABAC awards. You have 15 seconds to nail the left ramp, as described above. At the end of the round, the WABAC values are re-initialized (with one value blinking and the rest unlit).

The Hat Trick

During non-Tri-Ball play, you hit the 3 hat targets just above the Aesop & Son entrance to light the Hat Trick. Then, shooting the Lion shot should cause the diverter to open, and the ball will sit in the kickout hole while Bullwinkle pulls something out of his hat. ("But that trick NEVER works!") The award you get depends on what comes up. ("I hafta get me another hat!") You can watch the backglass to see what he's pulling out. If the Hat Trick is lit, completing the Hat targets again awards 5M points. This does NOT go up at all. Just another 5M.

As per my worst fears, the Hat Trick award seems to be totally random. At least, we couldn't see any pattern (and it doesn't have anything to do with the first or last target you hit to light it, etc.).
Just as a side note, you'll probably find Rocky saying "Wrong hat!" fairly annoying after a short period of time. (He says it when you hit a Hat target that's already lit.)
So, just what ARE these stupid awards, you are wondering... They are:

Lion
You get 15 seconds to shoot the right ramp for 15M points. Decent.

Rhino
The Rhino shot starts with 20 seconds on the timer and at 20M points. As time goes on, the 20M starts counting down at 1M per second. Your first Rhino shot sets the value of it (and awards you those points). The timer then IMMEDIATELY goes to 3 seconds for repeated shots at that same value. Every shot resets the timer to 3 seconds. The value does NOT go below 3M. When it hits 3M, it goes right to the Value= and Total= display. You are awarded the points right away, not at end-of-ball.

"Rabbit"
The rabbit isn't a rabbit, just Rocky dressed up as one (look at the Hat targets to see what he looks like). At any rate, getting Rocky earns an extra ball.

The Mystery Select

The Mystery Select is lit by one of 3 ways: The left lane skill shot, the WABAC machine, and by shooting loops. Lighting it again (by one of those 3 ways) lights the Super Mystery Select. Strangely enough, though, one of the Mystery Select awards is "Light Super Mystery Select"! When lighting SELECT via the Rhino and left orbit shots, consecutive shots will light 2 letters, as opposed to 1. So if you started from scratch, 7 orbit shots would light the Super Mystery Select. When lighting the (Super) Mystery Select via the skill shot or WABAC, it will NOT award you 6 letters. Rather, it will augment your current daisy count to light the next award. An example would be if you had SELEC lit, then shot the WABAC for "light mystery." You would only get 1 letter for that. Therefore, it would be a lot better to get that last daisy off the orbit shots before shooting for the WABAC.
Shooting the center shot when SELECT is lit (or flashing) will give you the (Super) Mystery Select choice ("I can't make up my mind!"). It's pretty simple: You hit the flipper button corresponding to the side that the choice you want is on. Some choices are pretty close in value, but some far out-do the other one (5M or light extra ball???). Some typical awards are:

  • Points
  • Mystery Score (5M - 20M, or around double that for Super Mystery Select)
  • Tri-Ball
  • (Light) Extra ball (Shoot Aesop & Son if it's lit)
  • (Light) Special (Shoot the Rhino shot if it's lit)
  • Light Hat Trick
  • Save Nell (described below in Misc. Scoring)
  • Any of the puzzle rounds (WHY would you pick Back in Time??)
  • Any of the WABAC machine awards (blocking it off on the WABAC) Double score(!)
And probably some others I can't think of right now. Usually, the Super Mystery Select awards will be nicer than the normal ones. The extra ball will stay lit if you don't get it that ball. However, you MUST get the special on that ball, or it goes away. Both of these may be operator adjustable, though.
Double score can be downright nice, sometimes, depending on the circumstances. For instance, at the PAPA 3 tournament, I doubled a 150M score once! It was during practice, though, but during a competition, that can be pretty frustrating (to say the least) to competetors.

Misc. Scoring

There are lots of little things that are worth points but just aren't worth mentioning (slingshots, etc.). Most of the major scoring rounds have already been described. There are a couple more, along with a couple of undocumented features.

Save Nell
Hitting all the drop targets on the right starts a 15 second round where all you have to do is hit a SINGLE drop target to score 25M. ("Just in the nick of time!") Not bad. The number of times you must complete the drop targets before the Save Nell round is started is indicated by the flashing number in front of the targets. (If the "2" is flashing, you need to hit the bank 2 times to start the round.) When you start the round, the announcer will start commentating on the action (he says "Meanwhile" and starts discussing Nell's predicament). You should miss it at least once in order to see the closing animation. Snidely laughs at you at says "It's curtains." The display goes back to Nell, and as the timer reaches 0, down comes the curtain. :) If you miss her, then you only need to complete the bank once before re-lighting Save Nell. Otherwise, the number goes up by one for the next round. WORTHY OF NOTE: Getting Save Nell more than once IN THE SAME BALL seems to be worth many more points. The second time scores 50M. I don't know if it is unlimited or not, but if it keeps going up for awhile, you could get 150M points by saving Nell 3 times on the same ball!

Ramp Looping
During normal play, ramp looping is always lit. Basically, shooting one ramp, then sending the ball up the other one, etc. is "looping." You score 1M+1M each consecutive looping shot you make without missing. (You can only touch the return lanes and the ramp gates and sensors. If you take too long, you void the current looping as well.) There doesn't seem to be a limit (I've gotten it to 6M). Though this may be worth a decent amount of points eventually, there is a far more important reason to go for looping ramps: Starting with the 2M shot, every looping shot SPOTS ONE BOMB TARGET! So getting it to 6M spotted 5 BOMB letters. This can be invaluable as you get to the harder- to-light Tri-Ball rounds. I also suppose the maximum award you could get would be around 14M points, as the 15th shot would start Tri-Ball on the right ramp. I don't think looping works during Tri-Ball.

Bonus
The end-of-ball bonus goes up as the ball goes on, and is multiplied by 2, 4, 6, 8, or 10. The multiplier is advanced by the top lanes and by the Adv. X award for the laser kick. After getting 10X, the next bonus-X advance will award bonus-hold, which holds the bonus AND the multiplier. The maximum bonus, though, is only 2M (up to 20M when you have 10X), plus the Loose Moose total if you had one that ball. Fortunately, the rather tedious bonus counting can be aborted by hitting a flipper button ("Thank you Mr. Know-It-All!" or "Awww, Mr. PEAbody!").

Victory Lap
A typical DE award, which is lit after getting a replay from your score. Hit the right ramp for 25M bonus within around 15-20 seconds after earning the replay.

Bomb extinguisher
Like the Star Wars shootout (and LW3 for that matter), there is a time when you'll have to pound on the launch button about 5 times for 5M points. There's a brief siren-type noise before the round starts, but you have to be paying pretty close attention to notice. Also, the launch button starts blinking. It seems to start after hitting a number of UNLIT BOMB targets.

Combo Shot
There is a 3-way combo in R&B. I'm 95% sure that it is the Rhino loop -> left orbit -> Aesop & Son. It is worth 5M.

Nice Death Save?!?
You don't get any points for it, but this is the first game in existence that recognizes a death save (getting the ball back in play after an outlane drain) and CONGRATULATES you for doing it!. This is totally cool. :) In fact, it now takes first place on my Way-Cool- That-They-Even-Thought-To-Put-That-Into-A-Game list, just barely edging out "Dirty pool" in The Addam's Family. Anyway, to see the animation, you need to get the ball to hit another target after going down an outlane, but after the "Danger" animation goes away (if you got it). If you hit something after the danger sign goes away, you'll see the message, along with "Good work Sherman" and a very amusing animation with Sherman and Peabody. If you hit something too soon, you'll just hear some bars of the Death March, which also play during the animation. This is also supposedly worth some bwee amount of points (like 3-5M). Not bad considering the programmer originally wanted to make it -10M. :)

"Stay tuned, there's more!"
You'll hear/see this if you lose the ball very soon after launching. There's no way to tell for sure if it's still lit or not, though. You'll also get balls back that drain fairly soon after Tri-Ball starts.

Tri-Ball

Tri-Ball can be started in a number of ways: Getting it via Mystery Select, by completing the Pie by shooting BOMB or spotting it then shooting the right ramp, and it'll be lit on the third ball if you haven't gotten one yet (also on the right ramp), and by shooting the WABAC when Instant Tri-Ball is lit. (Actually, the game will spot 4 targets (maybe just one of each color) at the start of the second ball. Tri-Ball will be lit on your third ball if you've not yet had it. The opening animation is pretty amazing. (You should watch someone else start Tri-Ball sometime.) The other amazing thing is that it DOESN'T interfere with play, unlike the animation in, say, Star Wars
.
During Tri-Ball, you shoot the Hat Trick (left orbit) to light the jackpot. The first jackpot is usually 20M points. Every time you shoot the left ramp, you increase the jackpot by 1M. This appears to go on without limit. Collect the jackpot by shooting the right ramp. If the jackpot is lit, then you can shoot the Hat Trick again to light the double jackpot for about 8 seconds. There appears to be a very slight grace period on the double jackpot, but you have to at least be on the ramp when it hits 0 to get it. Repeatedly shooting the Hat Trick resets the timer to 8. I can safely say now that there is NO quadruple jackpot in R&B. After collecting the jackpot, light it again by shooting the Hat Trick. The next jackpot base value, though, goes up by 5M, again supposedly without limit. It goes back to 20M with the start of the next Tri-Ball.

The big thing in Tri-Ball is the new addition of a Super Jackpot in DE games. All you have to do is complete the Pie during Tri-Ball. :) I don't think there's a way to spot targets during Tri-Ball so you have to nail each BOMB letter 3 times. If you actually manage to do this, then shoot the right ramp for 100M points! You only have 15 seconds to do this, so do it quick. Beware! If you end Tri-Ball (drain 2 balls), then the SJ will become UNlit (and so will the jackpot, but NOT the double jackpot... weird). If you miss the SJ, the Pie will revert to you needing only 1 of each BOMB target to relight it. Pretty nice. Same if you lose Tri-Ball: Next Tri- Ball starts with the Pie at 2 of each color already lit.
One interesting thing is that the Pie will KEEP its progress towards the SJ for the duration of the game! So if you missed the Pie by that one last letter, well, you have a chance to get it again if you start Tri-Ball again.

Later, Tri-Balls are harder to light. The first one, all BOMB targets are lit until you complete that color. The second one, you have to get BOMB once (all 4 shots) before you can shoot BOMB again. Basically, you have to get all 4, then all 4 again, then all 4 again. The 3rd time, you have to get the blue B 3 times, then the O 3 times, etc. The 4th time, you have to hit 1 B, then 1 O, then 1 M, etc. I'm not sure after that. I think that's the highest difficulty. You cannot start WABAC rounds during Tri-Ball, but any round that was started before Tri-Ball will continue to operate normally.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION: If you complete the Hat Trick during Tri-Ball, and you only have 2 balls in play, then the game will relaunch the 3rd ball for you! This makes it a LOT easier to keep your Tri-Ball an actual tri-ball (as opposed to a bi-ball). This is most certainly worth shooting for, as it will give you longer time to try to light the Super Jackpot, and keep your current jackpot value growing. What a great feature! Kudos: Yay to Brian Schmidt (sp?), the sound/music guy for DE... The music after you get a jackpot is just tremendous. I love it.

Strategies

The outlanes are pretty vicious in R&B. You're going to have to do a bit of nudging in order to have a halfway decent ball-length time. I usually try to keep the kickback at 5M points with the return lane value advances unless I'm already at 10X bonus, when bonus-hold would be worth quite a few points (20M). Other than that 1 time, 5M is guaranteed to be worth the most. There is apparently a trick ("It's not a bug, it's a FEATURE!!!") that if you get a ball to roll over a lit "Adv kickback value" light just while the kickback is still flashing for the grace period, it WILL advance the kickback value, in the process, keeping it lit! Always try to go for the ramp looping. It'll get you to Tri-Ball a LOT faster and get you higher scores in the long run.

The hardest shot to master, IMHO, is the right ramp. On most machines, there seems to be a fairly narrow sweet spot to it, compared to how wide the entrance to it is. It's pretty important that you be able to hit it without much trouble, though. I usually just go for the Mystery Select as soon as it's lit unless I'm really close to lighting the Super (1 or 2 letters). The reason is, the awards just aren't all that much better for the SMS than the MS. If you're lucky enough, you'll usually be offered pretty nice awards through the plain Mystery Select. The center shot is fairly important to get the hang of, too. You can easily hit it from either flipper, though from the right flipper it's a bit of a backhanded shot.

Know which puzzle you are going for and what it'll do. And avoid finishing it, if you can, while other things are going on (e.g. Loose Moose). I personally like to concentrate on one thing at a time.
If you are going for the Back in Time puzzle, try to avoid finishing it until you've gotten some of the nicer awards off of the WABAC, like Tri-Ball and the ??? award.

Get the Rhino shot down! That's the shot that relights your Laser Kick. You can find out how many shots you need to relight it by looking at the "Instant Info" by holding down a flipper. Well, you have to catch a ball and hold it, because it won't show it to you while it's waiting for you to launch the ball. It should, though. Our machine usually needed 2 Rhino shots to relight it. There's a big yellow arrow that blinks when the next Rhino shot will relight it.

Know your mystery awards, and how easy they are to finish. For example, a choice of 10M & Save Nell, you should choose Save Nell because it's *easy* to get that 25M.

In Tri-Ball, you may not want to worry about double jackpots (unless we find out the quadruple jackpots DO exist). Shooting the jackpot right away will just let you hit the Hat Trick again for the jackpot, at 5M higher, and unlimited time rather than the pressure of 8 seconds to shoot the double. In the long run, it would actually be worth more NOT to shoot for the double jackpot. However, if you have a ball on each flipper, you might as well take a shot at the lighting the double, because you'll have 2 chances to get it. Certainly don't forget to try to relaunch that 3rd ball when you can!

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Big Move

With 7 pinball machines in the Barcade, and a week off after Christmas, it was time for "The Big Move". We needed to get all 7 pinball machines up the stairs and on to the second floor so that we could bring the pool table and bar into the Barcade. Weighing 250+ pounds each, moving this many machines figured to be backbreaking (and dangerous) work. We decided to save our backs by engineering a system to do the heavy lifting for us. If primitive people built pyramids and standing stones, surely in this day and age we could accomplish a lesser feat on a much small scale.

We already had built a cart for moving pinball machines around with the legs off. We used this pinball transport cart extensively for moving existing machines into the Barcade and also every time we bought a new game. The cart was built with lumber, lag bolts and large all-terrain cart wheels, since there is nothing but dirt with large rocks embedded in it, around the outside of the Barcade...no sidewalks, decking, or even gravel. We had also placed a large eyescrew in the front of the cart which allowed it to be pulled with a rope or strap.


The second piece of the puzzle was to use floor joists left over from the Barcade construction as ramps, which we attached to boards that had been screwed in to the unfinished walls. This allowed us to avoid screwing directly into the stairs themselves (and leaving ugly screw holes behind when the ramps were removed. The ramps were spaced apart at a distance that would allow the tires of the cart to fit within chipboard section of the joists, giving them a natural "channel" to follow.




The final element involved in this engineering feat was to purchase an electric winch from Harbor Freight and attach it to a board with lag bolts; the board in turn was bolted to the unfinished walls. We avoided a battery driven winch because space was tight and we didn't want to mess around with a large 12 volt battery. There was a danger of the cable rubbing on the edge of winch structure due to the angle, so we attached a pulley purchased from Home Depot and mounted it to its own board a little further down from the winch.


The move went very smoothly. I would take the legs off of the pinball machines and lower them on to the cart. The cart was moved to the foot of the stairs and the cable was hooked to the eyescrew. Kelly's dad ran the winch; I walked in front and kept the wheels from jumping the ramps, while Kelly brought up the rear, prepared to catch and hold the cart should the cable break. When the cart reached the top of the stairs, the angle of the cable would cause the front wheels of the cart to lift off of the ground. Kelly and I would then lift the back of the cart up the last step and on to the landing, which was not strenuous since the winch was still holding the front end.




Over 2 days we moved all 7 pinball machines upstairs without mishap and very little physical effort on our part. This allowed the pool table to be moved in, leveled, re-felted, and set up properly (and which also resulted in a couple of games being played to test it out, naturally). We still had everything hooked up when we found and brought home our eighth pinball machine and moved it upstairs too, but that's a story for another post...


Sunday, January 8, 2017

Believe It Or Not!: Ripley's Travels Into The Barcade

I bought game #7 back in November: Ripley's Believe It Or Not! (RBION), which is my first Stern game! Kelly saw it on Seattle Craigslist a couple of weeks before that. The price was great, so I wrote the seller but never heard back...I figured it was sold. Then last Thursday I happened to be looking through Craigslist again and it was still there, so I wrote them again. Turns out my previous email had gone into their spam folder, and the game was still available! After work on a Friday, Kelly & I ran home, picked up his dad, packed an overnight bag, then we drove up to Seattle in Kelly's truck. I checked the machine out, it looked good except the cabinet was a little beat up, but I didn't care about that.

It seemed to play great until Kelly said, "it smells like something is burning." While I was playing, smoke began coming out of the machine near the front! I immediately shut the game off and the owner "popped the hood". The solenoid that kicks the balls out had stuck open and burned out. He swapped in a new solenoid but that one started to stick too, so he shut it off and said that a board needed to be repaired in the backbox. I was disappointed and didn't want to head home empty-handed. The owner decided that he would pull a board from another machine and swap it out, if we could come back in the morning. Since by then it was 10:30 and we had planned on spending the night anyway, we agreed, and went over to Kelly's uncle's house where we dropped off his dad. We then got a hotel room. The next morning we visited the owner again; he had taken a board out of Godzilla (which is a really cool looking game, by the way) and installed it in Ripley's, which was now working perfectly. He said he would repair the board and send it to me, and I would ship him back the Godzilla board in return. He was a really cool guy. He then let us play The Hobbit with he and his wife. What a blast! That game is awesome, someday I'm going to have one.

Since then I've got several games in on the Ripley's, it's pretty fun but there are a couple of issues, mainly the bottom right flipper sticks in the up position sometimes, making the game a lot harder than it needs to be. Also, the ball gets stuck on the magnet under the shrunken head sometimes and requires a shake of the cabinet (and an occasional tilt) to break it free. I have ordered some mods for it, and it also has LEDs already installed so that saved me some cash. It ended up being a really great deal. When we drove back to Kelly's and unloaded it, the weather was great that day; the next few days after we had unloaded it, the rain poured down, so it was almost like we got every possible break to make it a good experience, and made the purchase seem like it was meant to be.

RBION is my first Pat Lawlor game. Lawlor is a legendary Wiiliams designer who created two of the best selling games of all time, The Addams Family and Twilight Zone, as well as many other popular titles like Funhouse and Whirlwind, and more obscure titles like Roadshow and Safecracker. After Williams exited the business in 2000, it didn't take Lawlor long to land another job as a designer for Stern, releasing Monopoly in 2001. Other titles Lawlor worked on for Stern include Rollar Coaster Tycoon, RBION, Nascar, Family Guy, and CSI. Immediately after CSI was produced, Stern made layoffs to cut costs. Lawlor's own design team, and his complicated designs and toys, were seen as too expensive, and Lawlor and his team were cut from Stern. Lawlor now works for Jersey Jack, and has designed their third game, Dialed In.

THE GAME
RBION was released in 2004, and shares many elements of previous Lawlor games, like FH, TAF and TZ. It features 6 pop bumpers, two playfield magnets, multiple diverters, 6 standup targets, 3 flippers, a shrunken head toy, a secret temple device with it's own built in dot matrix display, two ramp systems with  5 ball paths to three separate exits, 2 spinners, 3 scoops, including one with an old school vari-target and up-kicker. Artwork on the game was by John Youssi, Lawlor's main artist guy on most of his collaborations. The artwork evokes an almost 1930's adventure theme, with exotic and mysterious locations and items featured in a dazzling array of comedic colors.

Ripley's has some very funny sound effects and quotes thanks to the efforts of Chris Granner. The shrunken head comments on your play, the idol makes farting noises, and the game has planes, boulders of doom, even slot machine sound effects. Rules were done by both Lawlor and Louis Koziarz, and it's mode based, meaning you need to complete all 7 continents (modes) on Robert Ripley's quest to reach the secret 8th continent of Atlantis (final wizard mode). It's a classic Lawlor mode setup, with the added feature of the secret temple toy. This toy employs a great tic tac toe system where certain ramp shots light a 3 by 3 grid and completing tic tac toe unlocks certain awards that can really help you along. The game also includes the Believe it or Not feature, a neat twist, where a novice player can side step certain requirements and get later game goals faster, and more easily.

Coming out right after the release of both "The Simpsons Pinball Party" and "Lord of the Rings" (two of the most beloved and produced machines in modern Stern history) people expected lightning to strike thrice and yet Ripley's had the unfortunate experience of falling short of those two giants in the eyes of many pinheads and pinball aficionados at the time. This was because the rules, while deep, were not as complex as those two previous games, and the ball movement didn't "flow" as much. This lack of flow was not helped due to a purposely weak right upper flipper (as originally intended by Pat Lawlor). Though its strength was improved upon with a code update, by then it was too late, and as a result of the weak flipper and lack of flow, the game got a bad rap in those first crucial months, and sales flopped. The game would be closed out by Stern, and distributors were left with many unsold units in their warehouses.


FUN FACTS
Ripley's is one of Keith Elwin's favorite games, if you don't know, he is currently considered one of the best, if not the best, pinball player in the world. He loves it so much, he did an hour long tutorial on how to master the game and get the highest score possible for PAPA (The Professional and Amateur Pinball Association).

In 2004, "Hand's on History" a TV show from the History channel visited Stern Pinball headquarters and did a behind the scenes look at the making of this game from start to finish!

When Ripley's was included in The Pinball Arcade, the increased exposure of this sleeper gem caused more people to take notice and resulted in a marked increase in aftermarket price...for example, prices rose from around $2000 in 2009 for an excellent example, to near 3000 in 2013.


PREMISE (via Stern's website)
Ripley's Believe It or Not! is all about traveling with the legendary Robert Ripley across seven continents to discover the strange, the bizarre, the unusual! To accomplish this, the playfield offers some unbelievable features: a shrunken head that says some pretty funny stuff, a strange idol that commands a powerful force field, a temple that can only be unlocked through a special tic-tac-toe code, and an always fun vari-target!

For several years now, Stern has worked hard to make pinball machines that appeal to the casual player, as well as the expert player. Ripley's Believe It or Not! accomplishes this through a special feature aptly entitled "Believe it or Not." This multi-level rule enables the beginning player to achieve some of the game's goals early on, while it allows the more advanced player to extend their opportunities through better play. Gary Stern said, "Once again we have a game by the great Pat Lawlor. We are all excited to play this really fun game."

Ripley's Believe It or Not! is the creation of Robert Ripley, who was born in 1890 in Santa Rosa, California. Ripley sold his first cartoon to LIFE magazine at the age of 18, and at the age of 29 the first Believe It or Not! cartoon was published. The strange things Ripley found on his journeys around the world sparked his own Believe It or Not! radio show, TV show, and the famous Believe It or Not! museums. In 2000, a new Ripley's Believe It or Not! TV show aired, starring Dean Cain.


RULES
Note: the only rules I can find are from Pinball News, and they are reviewing an initial software release. Software revisions were created, and at this time there still isn't a good rules summary based on the final software version. SO take what is presented here with a grain of salt...

You've probably seen our other reports about the game and seen the many pictures we've brought you but this is the review where we pull all that information together and discover the main thing that really matters - how the game actually plays. But before we get to that, let's take a tour of the game.  This game was running CPU version 0.95 and display version 0.91. Remember, this is a fairly early version of the software and it has since been updated to fix the few bugs we noticed and add a wizard mode.

The first thing you'll see of the game is the cabinet artwork and the backglass. I'll be honest here and say I don't find either of them particularly attractive.  That's not to say they're not creative and capture the theme well, but that head on the backglass isn't something to show to young children.  There is some nice detailing and some intriguing partially hidden artifacts to ponder.

The cabinet is largely covered with the Ripley's logo along with the talented Mr Ripley himself and some of his exhibits.  It's OK but it's no Lord of the Rings. Speaking of which, the backbox has reverted to a plain black surround and lost the gold detailing found on the previous game. The playfield artwork is gorgeous - rich and detailed, just the thing we hope for from John Youssi.  There's a lot of information conveyed to the player from the playfield lamps and inserts.  You'll spend much time looking at it, so it's a good job it looks so attractive.

So let's take a tour of that playfield. This is a three flipper, four ball game.  The lower flippers are unexceptional but they felt very strong on this game, occasionally causing air balls and the unnerving 'smack' as the ball hits the glass. The strength is just right though. Both flippers can make the long shot to the centre ramp but it needs to be made cleanly or the ball will fall back.  The third flipper is on the upper right of the playfield and is also full-length.

Above the flippers are lamp inserts showing the current Super Jackpot value.  Above those is the Temple Jewel grid. The object here is to get three jewel lights in a row to collect the indicated award.  We'll look at how you do that later in this article.

Traveling clockwise around the game, there is one inlane on the left which is also fed by two wireforms from the two ramps.  The outlanes are quite greedy on this game which compensates for the relative lack of centre drains. You'd think there would be more balls disappearing down the middle given the layout but the only balls lost that way were from rebounds from the tomb stone target shown below.

The left outlane also features a Special lamp insert - one of Gary Stern's favourite features and every game must have at least one. As we shall see, this game is more than adequate in that department.

Above the left inlane is The Idol.  There are no moving parts here but there is a magnet to cause some disruption.  A ball entering this area from below is registered as an idol hit and thrown around by the magnet in the same was a The Power does in Addams Family.  The ball doesn't fly around too much but it does prove quite entertaining.  Speaking of Addams, shooting The Idol generates a Cousin It-like sound. Idol hits accumulate and are indicated by the five lamp inserts in front.  You need 25 hits to light an extra ball and presumably there are other awards beyond that.  The Idol also features in one of the modes, but more on that later. The ball can also pass through this area when exiting the pop bumpers.

Over The Idol is a flash lamp which is worth mentioning.  It is unusual because like the other flashers in the game, the lamp is mounted horizontally, with a cut-out in the lamp cover at the back.  That means you can't twist the lamp cover off but have to unscrew a nut and bolt to remove it. Also, some of the flashers use red painted bulbs.  I couldn't see any good reason for this since they flashed white, but presumably there's a good reason for this.

While I'm talking about the flashers, I really must comment on how well they are used and how bright they appear.  The lighting effects on Ripley's are excellent and the flashers approach the blinding level of Creature of the Black Lagoon.  I hope the high light output doesn't equate to shorter bulb life.

Just up from The Idol is a white Tomb Stone standup target.  It is used in one of the modes and scores points throughout the game but the position of this one makes it a sucker shot.  There are plenty of other Tomb Stone standups around the game and none are as dangerous as this one, so it should only be used as a last resort.

Continuing around the playfield, above The Idol are the lower pop bumpers.  There are three of them and - as usual - there is a left loop shot straight through them. These bumpers, along with the other three at the top of the game build up the Bigfoot score. The right bumper has a chopped-off cap to accommodate the scoop.

The scoop is an interesting piece of hardware.  It looks quite flimsy, having no sides to provide strengthening and avoid playfield wear but works well enough on this new game.  There are posts on either side to rebound careless shots and an unusual red-rubbered post behind them.  These appear a few times around the playfield and look attractive. Balls can be shot straight in to the scoop from the front to collect awards but it can also arrive here from a wireform or from a side scoop shot.  The wireform comes from The Temple (lane C) and does not give any scoop awards while the side scoop shot can be made as the skill shot or from the upper flipper for a Bozo shot.

The skill shot from the shooter lane is to plunge the ball into the side scoop.  There is a playfield lamp insert to show where to shoot.  It scores one million points the first time, two million the second and so on.  These are big points and well worth aiming for but not without risk.  The display shows "AMAZING" and then 1,000,000 in a font size that is just too large to fit correctly.  When you get 2,000,000 and up it gets worse.  There is a similar font sizing problem on the high score table when you enter your initials or name and there is no back arrow either. With the manual plunger, if you plunge too hard you can hit the white standups above and rebound down the right outlane.  Plunge too softly and you can shoot the ball straight down the left outlane without hitting anything.  There is no ball saver for this.

If the side scoop shot is made during the game it adds a BOZO letter.  Spell BOZO and you get a random award.  Bozo is the mind-reading dog, so naturally he can tell what the next award will be and he tells you on the display. There is a big arrow pointing at the scoop with a lamp at the arrowhead to show when an award is waiting for you.  We'll look at those awards a bit later. Just above the scoop are two more Tomb Stone standups which can be shot from the upper flipper or from the shooter lane.

Then we come to the two upper-left loops.  To avoid confusion, I'll call the one on the left in the picture above, the lower loop and the one on the right, the upper loop.  The lower loop is one of the three jackpot shots and is also used for Millions Plus, which as expected scores one million for the first shot, two million for the second and so on.  The lower loop feeds the upper-right rollover lanes or, if sufficiently strong, all the way round the right loop to the upper flipper.

There is a spinner at the entrance to this loop and a flasher which shows the spins.  The spinners are used in one of the modes.  The upper loop is chiefly used to collect super jackpot awards but it loops back to the left loop and down to the lower pop bumpers.

Sitting over the top of the upper and lower loops is The Temple.  The Temple contains two important elements of the game - the Temple Code display and a loop diverter. The Temple is fed from the centre ramp and when it is not lit, the ball passes straight through the 'A' lane and down to the left inlane.  But when it is lit by the right ramp, the ball is diverted into the rubbered area above the 'B' and 'C' lanes where it bounces around before falling into either B or C (and very occasionally A). Now is probably a good time to explain why any of this matters.

If you remember the Temple Jewel grid just above the flippers, the columns are labeled A, B and C, while the rows are labeled 1, 2 and 3.  So square A1 is at the top left of the grid and C3 is the bottom right. At the start of the game, three semi-random jewel lamps are lit and you can collect others from The Temple. Below each of the A, B, C letters on the temple is a 7x5 single colour LED display showing a number - either 1, 2 or 3.  These numbers are generated at the start of the ball and can be changed during the game. Whenever the ball rolls through an A, B or C lane, the appropriate square is lit on the grid. So if lane B shown a '2' and the ball rolls through lane B, square B2 is lit on the grid and if that makes three in a row, the indicated award is given. Since an unlit Temple will always award an 'A' square, completing the 'A' column is the least attractive award on the grid. Lane A leads to the left inlane, lane B sends the ball to the scoop while lane C drops the ball into the lower loop.

The Temple is a bit disappointing in terms of styling.  It is only a bent metal sheet with artwork to make it look more impressive.  It's OK from the front but from the side it looks much less attractive.  Also, it only uses plain red LEDs and not the bi-colour ones seen on The Simpson Pinball Party.

Next to The Temple is the Shrunken Head. You might expect the head to move but it doesn't.  Animation is achieved by a magnet underneath the head which grabs the ball and either lets it drop completely if the head is not lit, or lets it drop slightly and then throws it under the head to the upper right rollover lanes, in same way The Shadow does with its ball lock or The Ring in Lord of the Rings. The Shrunken Head is an important shot in the build up to multiball as it lights lock and starts multiball.  It also features in some of the game's modes. There are two Tomb Stone targets either side of the head which are probably the safest Tomb Stone standups in the game.  They also act as Shrunken Head hits in one of the modes.

Next to the Head is the centre ramp.  This is sometime referred to as the left ramp in the game which is a bit confusing.  This ramp feeds The Temple - lane A if unlit, lanes B &C if lit. The centre ramp is one of the three jackpot shots and can be made by either of the lower flippers.  It also lights the Shrunken Head.

To the right of the centre ramp is the vari-target. Vari-target is not quite the right name as it implies the target does more than it really does. The instructions call it a "variable push target" but in fact it is really a two state target. You shoot it and the ball pushes it back.  If the ball is fast enough, the target is pushed all the way back and it locks, exposing a sink hole for the ball to drop into. If the ball isn't fast enough, the target pushes the ball out and returns to its home position. In either instance, the target registers a hit but if the ball drops into the sink hole and the target is lit, a mode is started. Balls entering the sink hole are kicked out with a vertical up kicker, over the right ramp and into the right loop lane.

There is another bright flasher above the vari-target. In this instance it is clear why the flasher has the horizontally mounted bulb. The target is also used to collect extra balls and another special can be awarded here too.  When the vari-target is not lit, shooting the sink hole adds a letter to RIPOFF.

To the right of the vari-target is the right ramp. The right loop is the third jackpot shot, locks balls and starts Ripoff.  It bends back about 150 degrees and travels down the right side of the game to a diverter which sends the ball either across the playfield to the left inlane or into the ball lock area.

Above the right ramp and the vari-target are the upper right rollover lanes and the upper pop bumpers.  Completing the rollover lanes increases the bonus multiplier and gives you an appropriate display for the multiplier.  So a 2X gives you a two-headed animal, 3X is a monkey painting three pictures at once, 4X is a four-horned goat, 5X shows some exceptionally long fingernails.  This last display is repeated for 6X.  At 7X an extra ball is lit and thereafter points are awarded instead. The pop bumpers increase the bigfoot value and can send the ball back into the rollover lanes. There are two possible exits from these pop bumpers; the right loop or behind the vari-target by the entrance to the centre ramp.  From there the ball rolls down past the scoop.

Behind the rollover lanes on the back panel is a sign with three awards: Scramble Temple Code, Wake Up Idol and Amazing Event.  These awards are given when the ball enters the sink hole in the vari-target and is kicked up by the VUK to the right loop lane.  It's not clear whether they relate to The Temple's rollover lanes or the Temple grid.

The final shot is the right loop.  This has the second spinner at the loop entrance and a flasher below.  This loop scores penguin laps (I kid you not), increases the Tomb Stone values and either feeds the upper right rollovers or the left loop depending on the strength of the shot. The right loop has another feature.  If the ball is shot here after rolling through the left inlane, a post rises just before it gets to the rollovers stopping the ball.  The flashers go mad and the ball then rolls back to the upper flipper for a shot to the lower loop which is lit for a penguin jackpot.

Just below the right loop entrance is the upper flipper.  It can shoot the Shrunken Head, the upper and lower loops, many of the Tomb Stone targets and the side scoop entrance.  It can also get a weak hit on the vari-target but not make the sink hole behind.

Down from the upper flipper is the shooter lane exit which, apart from the side scoop entrance, can also hit the Tomb Stone targets of make the lower loop up to the upper right rollovers. Under that is the final Tomb Stone target.

Finally we come to the lower right area of the playfield.  There is only one outlane and one inlane in this area but there is also a ball lock lane between the outlane and the shooter lane. The ball lock can hold up to three balls (although it will normally only hold two) and kicks them all out at once through a gate above the right outlane entrance. Locked balls arrive here from the right ramp and via a ramp diverter. Balls are not kicked out of the lock at the end of the game by default.  Any balls sent to the lock in the following game are diverted to the left inlane with the software registering a virtual ball lock.

Finally we have the right outlane which, like the left, can award a special when lit. So specials can be collected from both outlanes and the vari-target creating plenty of chances for paying players to keep going.

So that concludes the tour of the playfield.  Now let's look at the rules starting with multiball. At the start of the game, the head is immediately lit for the following awards in order:

The Head Knows - a points award
Odditorium - a strange fact and some points
Collect Bigfoot Value - built up by the bumpers
Lite Lock

So after four shots to the head, lock is lit on the right ramp. Two balls need to be locked, either for real or virtually and then the final head award is to start multiball. The display animations for the build up to multiball show a man putting pool 8-balls into his mouth.  One the first lock he puts one ball in his mouth, then two and when you hit the head to start multiball, he throws out three balls from his mouth.  Believe it or not! Once into multiball, the centre and right ramps are lit for jackpots.  Once a jackpot shot has been made it stays unlit until the other jackpot is collected.  After two jackpots have been collected the super jackpot is lit at the upper loop.  The award value is shown just above the flippers.  Also, when both jackpots have been collected, the ramps relight for jackpots and the lower loop joins them.  Again, you have to collect all three jackpots before they relight. These are then the three jackpot shots for the rest of multiball. The jackpot awards are well signposted and the super jackpot is well worth collecting just to experience the light and sound show. A good way to draw attention to yourself in a quiet bar.

Now to look at the modes. There are seven modes and they relate to each of the seven continents.  Modes can be started at the scoop or at the vari-target when lit.  The vari-target is relit by the right ramp.  The scoop can be lit by shooting it three times when unlit. The objective is to spell R-I-P-L-E-Y-S by collecting letters.  You collect letters by visiting the continents and completing their modes.  By a strange twist of fate, there are seven letters in R-I-P-L-E-Y-S and seven modes, so win them all and you'll have all the letters.  When you complete R-I-P-L-E-Y-S the mystery eighth continent is lit, but more of that later.

The game is narrated by Mr Ripley himself and the shrunken head.  That's right, even the disadvantage of having his mouth stitched shut doesn't stop the shrunken head joining in. When you start a continent mode the display shows "Travel with Ripley" and Mr Ripley says "It's time to visit..." followed by the continent name, just like this. The display then shows the objective and how to achieve it, but the instructions are not shown for long enough, so you're doing a lot of guess work.  Most modes are timed with a default 30 seconds duration, but two of them are two-ball multiballs and end when one ball drains. The clock continues to count down when the ball is in the bumpers which is rather annoying and sometimes you are not given a verbal countdown, so the mode can end unexpectedly.

Here are the modes and their objectives:

North America: (2 ball multiball)
Shoot ramps to light Bigfoot jackpots, collect them at the shrunken head. Collect four jackpots to complete. Continue until a ball drains.

Africa: (2 ball multiball)
Shoot ramps for jackpots then The Idol to relight them.  Collect four jackpots to complete.  Continue until a ball drains.

Europe:
Collect six Tomb Stones to complete.  Further Tomb Stones score 150K, 155K, 160K etc. points.

Australia:
Shoot vari-target four times to collect boomerang jackpots and complete.  Strong shots to the sink hole score twice.  Once complete, a countdown starts for boomerang awards at the vari-target until the countdown finishes.

Asia:
Shoot spinners to get twenty-five spins and end the mode.

South America:
Shoot head four times to complete mode. Once complete, a countdown starts for awards at the head until the countdown finishes.

Antarctica: (2 ball multiball)
Shoot three penguin laps to complete mode and light penguin jackpot

During these modes the scoop can be lit for helper awards.  These awards are context sensitive, so during a 2 ball multiball you might be awarded an added ball, or during a countdown the award could reverse the direction, turning it into a count up. If you don't want to know what happens when you've collected all the R-I-P-L-E-Y-S letters or played all the continent modes, skip the rest of this paragraph. Once you have played all the continents, shooting the vari-target gives you the seven continent bonus. This quickly re-awards your scores for the previous seven continents which should total around 10M-20M. All the continents are then unlit and you can play them again to collect any missing R-I-P-L-E-Y-S letters. On version 0.95 of software on this game, that's all there was at the end even if you suceeded in collecting all the R-I-P-L-E-Y-S letters. In the latest versions, once you collect all seven R-I-P-L-E-Y-S letters the vari-target is lit for the mystery eighth mode, Atlantis. At the time of writing, this mode has not been fully implemented in the current version (0.99) of software, but will be finished in the production versions 1.00 onwards. These methods of reward encourage you to try your best during each mode, not only to get the R-I-P-L-E-Y-S letter but also to get a good continent mode score you can collect again later. It also gives you the chance to opt-out of a mode or two if you can never make a particular shot, and still be able to get the seven continent bonus and then get to Atlantis.

When the ball ends, your final bonus is made up from your ball bonus, the number of R-I-P-L-E-Y-S letters, the number of Idols and the number of Temple Jewels collected multiplied by the bonus multiplier.  This can be worth several million points. The Temple Jewels are the lights on the Temple grid and are worth collecting along the way with regular shots to the right ramp (to light) and the centre ramp (to collect), since there are some nice awards there.  While most of them are obvious, Road Trip lights all the main shots for extra jewels and a jackpot score. "?" is a semi-random seven digit points award that is revealed for you on the display. It's worth mentioning the extra ball animation which is rather more than a homage to Indiana Jones, but I'll leave that for you to discover.

Finally a couple of other references.  The head occasionally says "right back at you", a Rudy quote and take a look at the back panel artwork for references to relevant towns in Illinois; Marengo (Pat Lawlor's home), Harvard (PLD's office address) etc.

In conclusion, there's no doubt this is a fun game to play.  There's plenty of ball flow around the top of the playfield with those penguin laps and ramp shots. The sounds are very well executed and I've mentioned the superb lighting effects.  The dots are well designed but often seemed to lack the information I needed at the time.  If I have to make four shots in a timed mode, I always need to be able to look up and see how many shots I have to make and how much time I have left at any moment.

Playing a new pinball game, like Ripley's quest, is a journey.  Sometimes you start out on familiar ground, and then diverge from the worn path into new territory.  But sometimes you walk out the door and realize it's not a door you've opened before and you're totally lost. Ripley's Believe It Or Not contains a bit of both these scenarios.  There are some elements you think you recognise, such as the scoop (that's the Addams scoop isn't it?) but then you realise it's not really the same and you look for signposts to guide you. Ripley's doesn't hold your hand for you and invites you to look around for yourself. Go out there and have some fun exploring.  I'm sure Mr Ripley would be proud. What Ripley's Believe It Or Not! lacks is the depth of some earlier games but it compensates by making the initial offering all the more attractive.

Perhaps the best sentiments to sum up the game would be "it is better to travel than to arrive" and "if you're going to travel, travel in style".