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The Last Pinball Machine Factory

Soulskill posted more than 6 years ago | from the producing-at-full-tilt dept.

Games 240

The New York Times is running a story about Stern Pinball Inc., which they say is the last pinball factory left worldwide. The story describes working there as a "game geek's fantasy job." The company president, Gary Stern, acknowledges the lack of demand, but he plans on sticking around. He also expects the industry to rebound within the next 10 years. We've previously discussed a slightly smaller version of pinball. "Corner shops, pubs, arcades and bowling alleys stopped stocking pinball machines. A younger audience turned to video games. Men of a certain age, said [Pinball Hall of Fame operator Tim Arnold], who is 52, became the reliable audience. ("Chicks," he announced, "don't get it.") And so for Mr. Stern, the pinball buyer is shifting. In the United States, Mr. Stern said, half of his new machines, which cost about $5,000 and are bought through distributors, now go directly into people's homes and not a corner arcade."

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240 comments

suppositories (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23204716)

they melt in your ass, not in your hands.

Re:suppositories (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23204758)

can't say this trolling effort is very good compared to, say, the one where the title of the article is changed to include goatse.

Oblig Futurama on suppositories (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23205180)

Oblig #1
Fry: I can't swallow that!
Professor: Good news! It's a suppository!

Oblig # 2
Zoidberg: Hmm. We'll need to have a look inside you with this camera.
(Fry opens mouth)
Zoidberg: Guess again.

pinball is the video game for old people (1)

thetoadwarrior (1268702) | more than 6 years ago | (#23204724)

Even when choices were limited between the likes of Pac Man and Pinball, I could never really see what was so exciting about Pinball.

It can be fun, don't get me wrong, but any more than 15 minutes and it starts to get boring really fast, imo.

Re:pinball is the video game for old people (5, Interesting)

cayenne8 (626475) | more than 6 years ago | (#23204942)

"Even when choices were limited between the likes of Pac Man and Pinball, I could never really see what was so exciting about Pinball. "

Oh, I love it. It is a game that combines skill with the flippers, and some luck. To me,that's what keeps it interesting. While I love the old sounds of the real bells and gears on an old EM machine, the newer digital ones have so many challenges. This is a bit old of an example, but, the old Funhouse machine is a blast...you have to hit certain things to 'move the clock' to midnight, which puts the talking head, Rudy, to sleep...while he snores, you have to try to get a shot to land in his mouth...doing this, which isn't easy, a number of times...opens up bonus points, specials...etc. Some of the machines are actually a little too complex for my liking....the Star Trek Next Gen machine is one example. You have to do so much...it takes away a bit of the wild fast play....

But, recent machines, the Simpsons...is a blast. Just the right mix of fast play...with hitting special things in succession...multi-ball play...etc.

I loved the old arcade games...I still think Robotron is one of the best games every devised, but, pinball holds a special spot in my heart. Heck, in the old days....if you only had one quarter left..you could still play with a friend...each of you takes a flipper....

Re:pinball is the video game for old people (5, Insightful)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 6 years ago | (#23204950)

Pinballs are a video game that is manifested in physical, moving parts. How is that NOT cool?

Re:pinball is the video game for old people (4, Interesting)

plover (150551) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205434)

No kidding! When they first came out I despised the "new" pinball machines that had 7-segment displays for the counters. The mechanical reels that audibly ticked off your score were so freakin' cool, and the digital displays and tinny beepers just seemed like a horrible replacement. After a while, of course, we got used to them, but they never held the same special cache of the electro-mechanical machines of the past.

Re:pinball is the video game for old people (2, Interesting)

KGIII (973947) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205512)

Tommy? Is that you? *goes off to download the movie*

Re:pinball is the video game for old people (2, Interesting)

An Ominous Cow Erred (28892) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205060)

It's interesting how pinball tastes can vary, too! =D

The Star Trek Next Generation game is my favorite pinball game of all time. I love the launchers and the borg multiball -- real pressure and excitement. =)

Re:pinball is the video game for old people (1)

Pentalon (466561) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205128)

Heck, in the old days....if you only had one quarter left..you could still play with a friend...each of you takes a flipper....
Man, that takes me back. Nice observation. I still do that with my girlfriend.

Re:pinball is the video game for old people (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23205370)

if you only had a quarter (nickel) FIFY

Re:pinball is the video game for old people (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23205208)

It is a game that combines skill with the flippers, and some luck.
Just like Dolphin Launch...

Re:pinball is the video game for old people (1)

UncleTogie (1004853) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205392)

How 'bout the Addams Family?

I LOVED them using the movie actors and lines for the game. The strobes during multiball were distracting, but added to the fun...

Re:pinball is the video game for old people (1)

Vu1turEMaN (1270774) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205420)

for me it was addams family, mars attacks, and earthquake. Addams Family (best audio and board layout I ever played) Earthquake (shook the machine so hard during a multiball it had to be bolted to cement blocks) Mars Attacks (oh man the most epic of battles between my father and I were on this machine)

Re:pinball is the video game for old people (2, Insightful)

phpmysqldev (1224624) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205154)

The appeal of pinball (for me at least) is that there is no BS, well at least you can't claim BS.
When me and buddies are playing halo I hear "WTF Lag!" or "WTF was that BS?" a lot more than, "Man, that guys good".
In pinball you can't claim random computer errors, lag or random technology based BS. You see exactly what happens in the game and why. You HEAR and FEEL the ball move around the machine (not just sound effects). If you F up, you can see exactly why and try to change it. Your reflexes are executed in real time and can't be argued by "I swear I was pressing the button!".

In short Pinball Machines were like the first (and best) 'virtual reality'.

Re:pinball is the video game for old people (4, Interesting)

Silver Gryphon (928672) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205202)

Don't forget the best challenge of the 70s and 80s... TILT!

Bump the machine to move the ball just right, but not enough to trigger TILT.

To a 10 year old, that's an invitation to cause havoc.

Buggy whip sales are down (0, Redundant)

Original Replica (908688) | more than 6 years ago | (#23204736)

Top Hat sales have plummeted since their heyday in the 1900's.

Re:Buggy whip sales are down (0, Offtopic)

exley (221867) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205006)

I think there's some humor in the fact that this was posted by a Slashdotter using the name "Original Replica" but I could be wrong.

please mod me down (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23204744)

Hi slashdot,

I can only orgasm when I get modded down. Please help me. My realdoll thanks you.

Re:please mod me down (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23205254)

Did it work?

Re:please mod me down (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23205260)

Is it a body type 5? I love those curves!

stern pinball sucks (1, Flamebait)

Comsn (686413) | more than 6 years ago | (#23204748)

stern couldnt make a pinball game to save his life.
stern pinball is weak, half-assed and boring.
look at the top rated pinball games, none of them are made by stern.

at least vpinmame will save pinball.

i gotta make my monthy pilgrimage to pinball petes and get some theater of magic time in.

Re:stern pinball sucks (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23204872)

I used to work there.

Golden age of pimply-faced youth spending allowance faster than they made it. Games in attract-mode singing their lonely tunes. "Gorgar, eat me!" proclaimed the bilabial-lacking newcomer with the fancy new speech synthesizer. The horribly out of tune golf game.

French fry machine. Pink lemonade. Red quarters for the few elite.

But not the elephant. Not the mall. The only real store was downtown.

Re:stern pinball sucks (1)

Reality Master 201 (578873) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205036)

Theater of Magic totally rules.

Re:stern pinball sucks (1)

BorgCopyeditor (590345) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205094)

You must concentrate!

TOM rules? Whatever. (1)

SeaFox (739806) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205244)

IMNSHO, it sucked. Ripley's Believe it or Not (another Stern title) is actually a lot of fun. Even though you figure it will be dumb since its based on a TV show. Spider Man is good, too.

Re:TOM rules? Whatever. (1)

bug1 (96678) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205356)

Runs and Roses kept me away from many hours of study, one of the best.

Re:TOM rules? Whatever. (1)

carlzum (832868) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205460)

A lot of movie/tv based pinball and arcade games were pretty good. The Adams Family, Twilight Zone, Simpsons were great pinball games. I spent a small fortune in quarters on the Tron, Star Wars, and Star Trek video games. For some reason console games based on movies and tv generally suck. PS Theater Magic rocks

Re:stern pinball sucks (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205010)

Some of the past few stern games where real good play TSPP, NASCAR, LOTR, SPIDER MAN, Family GUY, and there upcoming games like Indiana Jones and batman look cool.

Re:stern pinball sucks (1)

Trixter (9555) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205122)

at least vpinmame will save pinball.

Right. Because sitting in front of a 24" widescreen LCD hitting keys on a keyboard is a vastly superior pinball experience than actually playing pinball.

Re:stern pinball sucks (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205130)

it's better then playing a broken down game that no one fixes.

Re:stern pinball sucks (1)

that this is not und (1026860) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205402)

If you're like me, it's more fun to fix and maintain cool old electromechanical stuff than it is to play it. But I don't have a pinball machine at home.

When I was in tech school, I considered a Television set that didn't work far more interesting than one that did work, for similar reasons.

Re:stern pinball sucks (5, Interesting)

banzairun (1236378) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205268)

Stern sucked up until recently.. thankfully, they've finally gotten their act together and I'm starting to really enjoy their games. I would rather play some late 80's to mid 90's Williams machines, but game operators have no idea how to service them anyway. If you run across a Medieval Madness on location there is a next to 0% chance that it will actually work perfectly.

We all love to play the 'top rated games'.. but there are still a grip of great pinball machines out there. Dismissing Stern is just voiding yourself of pinball, you are not going to find anything else. Play some Spiderman, Family Guy, Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, even T3.. good games. I just wish they'd make original themed machines instead of licensing everything.

>at least vpinmame will save pinball.
good lord that is a scary thought.. talk about missing the point.

Re:stern pinball sucks (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23205456)

Hey I was playing a perfectly working Medieval Madness machine over the Christmas break. It was in the games room of the Avalon airport (just outside Melbourne, Australia).

That machine kicks ass.

Re:stern pinball sucks (2, Insightful)

TechwoIf (1004763) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205446)

That was mostly true BEFORE Williams stop making pinball. Most of the good folks went over to Stern and that is the reason new Stern pinball feel like playing a new Williams game.

shifting... (5, Funny)

gihan_ripper (785510) | more than 6 years ago | (#23204760)

...the pinball buyer is shifting...
or is he tilting?

Pinball is too expensive... (5, Insightful)

Manip (656104) | more than 6 years ago | (#23204774)

I think the reason Pinball is dying out is purely the cost of playing it.

I mean you pay 50p for three balls. Or 20p for three lives in most other arcade games.

So you're paying a 150% markup for seeing balls bounce around which is cute but it also seems to last a lot less time than normal video games too.

So higher cost, plus shorter games just means that people won't use the pinball tables anymore.

They'll either spend less for cheap video games or spend a little more for a much more interactive game like table football, dancing, or shooting.

Pinball killed its self... They set the price too high and over-valued their product.

Re:Pinball is too expensive... (5, Interesting)

justthinkit (954982) | more than 6 years ago | (#23204870)

I think the reason Pinball is dying out is purely the cost of fixing them.

A mechanical game breaks all too often. Video games don't, and even damaged CDs are dealt with by downloading a cracked download. It's a shame -- hardly any pins anywhere any more.

Machine cost means only the richer types could afford _one_, or they were in a public place but set very difficult so the owner & renter could recoup their investments.

The Future Of Pinball [imdb.com] just came out on DVD but I've yet to see it. Looking forward to it when I can. Pinball was the solitaire of physical sports. I miss it.

Re:Pinball is too expensive... (3, Insightful)

Andy Somnifac (971725) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205024)

I wish I could argue with this. I have one of the last all mechanical tables (Gottlieb Mustang, made in 1976-77)that's in need of extensive repair... It's going to cost me a ton...

Re:Pinball is too expensive... (4, Informative)

CommunistHamster (949406) | more than 6 years ago | (#23204884)

In my experience of buying and operating pool tables, pinball machines, foosball tables, videogame cabinets etc in schools and suchlike places, I can tell you the real reason that pinball died is because the machines are so incredibly complicated compared to everything else. Pool tables and foosball tables have a simple coinmech and a simple ball release mechanism, that and either a wooden pole (cue) or some rotatable plastic men on rails. Videogame cabinets, again, nothing can usually go wrong that you can't fix. Joysticks, buttons, steering wheels, pedals and lightguns are easily replaceable, the screen is easy to replace (just order a spare one), the coinmech is, well, just another coinmech. Inside it's just extrapolated from a games console, or an actual PC in some cases. But pinball? HUNDREDS of unique mechanical parts, all subject to wear and tear from heavy steel balls, lots of LEDs/bulbs to replace and make sure that all the wires are working, tilt sensors, the list goes on. The maintainance is not cheap.

Re:Pinball is too expensive... (4, Interesting)

SeaFox (739806) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205228)

But pinball? HUNDREDS of unique mechanical parts, all subject to wear and tear from heavy steel balls, lots of LEDs/bulbs to replace and make sure that all the wires are working, tilt sensors, the list goes on. The maintainance is not cheap.

One thing I always wondered about is why pinball machines almost always seem to use regular bulbs still. I hardly ever see LED lights in them, which is dumb. The "retry" light - the one at the bottom between the pins and you get to shoot a ball again if you lose it within the first 30 seconds or so of play - burns out so fast because it's running in flash mode so much, and I've never seen a machine where it's an LED bulb.

Re:Pinball is too expensive... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23205552)

I can tell you the real reason that pinball died is because the machines are so incredibly complicated compared to everything else.

That's what most people seem to say, but I don't buy it. I'm only willing to point to what drove me away from pinball, and that was price. In fact, that's what drove me away from arcades in general. It may seem silly and unfair of me to expect inflation to freeze when it comes to arcade games, but even today now that I have a real job there is still an enormous psychological reaction to putting *two* tokens in the machine instead of one. (I saw a Spiderman pinball machine at the theater that wanted *four*!!!)

I'm willing to bet that the rejection of 50 cent machines has a lot to do with the fact that 50 cent coins are not commonly in circulation. Two coins is one too many; it doesn't matter what the actual value is. And it didn't help that while arcade games were getting more expensive, home console game prices were pretty much staying the same.

Arcade operators of the past are quick to blame anything but themselves for the decline of arcades, but personally I'm of the opinion that they simply never figured out how to keep making money. I used to laugh when I would see a new 50 cent machine that rarely got play. Sure the profit per play was double what it used to be, but the number of plays probably dropped by 75%. In fact, even in the heyday of arcades, I recall a lot of machines sitting there not being played, making zero money. Why not pay attention to supply and demand and put a discount on less popular machines? Prices are adjusted up and down in every other business to find the optimum price point. Why should arcades be exempt from this?

Re:Pinball is too expensive... (5, Interesting)

zeromemory (742402) | more than 6 years ago | (#23204896)

I think the reason Pinball is dying out is purely the cost of playing it.

I mean you pay 50p for three balls. Or 20p for three lives in most other arcade games.
You don't spend much time around gamers, do you? I don't know of any gamers who spend the time thinking about how much a 'life' costs them. For gamers, it's about fun, convenience, and hanging out with friends.

Pinball fails on the last two qualities. A pinball machine is outside the budget of casual gamers, so most people have to go to an arcade to play pinball. On the other hand, a gaming console sits conveniently next to their TV at home, allowing them to game whenever they have time.

Pinball has no cooperative component; it's a "single-player" game. Looking at the popularity of multiplayer and online games, I'd say gamers these days value an experience in which their friends can participate. They don't get that with pinball.

I personally love pinball, but it doesn't provide what contemporary gamers want.

Re:Pinball is too expensive... (2, Interesting)

An Ominous Cow Erred (28892) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205078)

Pinball has no cooperative component; it's a "single-player" game. Looking at the popularity of multiplayer and online games, I'd say gamers these days value an experience in which their friends can participate. They don't get that with pinball.
You bring up an interesting observation. =)

It makes me wonder if there could be a way to make competitive pinball -- a double-ended table made more like a hill than a single slope.

Or cooperative pinball with multiple sets of flippers and catchers, where you had to cooperate to fire the balls simultaneously or pass balls to eachother. =)

Re:Pinball is too expensive... (4, Informative)

RelaxedTension (914174) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205270)

The real point of pinball is to see my name above yours in the high scores list, just like on all of video games. Co-op has it's place, but so does good old fashioned competition.

Oh, and making the ball a slave to your will is very satisfying too.

Competitive Pinball ... Joust Pinball! (3, Interesting)

Sir Toby (660923) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205632)

It makes me wonder if there could be a way to make competitive pinball -- a double-ended table made more like a hill than a single slope.

This has actually been done. However, only one game that I am aware of had such a feature, and it only had a production run of 402 units. Which is probably why no one knows about it...

Joust Pinball [pinballrebel.com]

The machine features a double-ended table. The two players play across from each other. They are able to pass balls back and forth. When I've managed to track one down at the various pinball and classic arcade expos, I've found it to be a fun and unique experience. But so few got created that it is near impossible to find one.

While it is possible to create a competitive pinball machine, it doesn't look like the idea ever really took off.

Nah.... (2, Funny)

Belial6 (794905) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205216)

Nah. The problem is that there is no grind. They just need to make a table that has no no drain. That way anyone can just sit all day and grand away hitting the ball into a target. That way they can feel good that they are doing well.

Re:Pinball is too expensive... (5, Insightful)

electrosoccertux (874415) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205008)

I think we're missing the point of pinball.

Arcades made zero sense to me until I had pretty much played every genre of video game. Now that I don't own a console...

You start doing other things besides playing video games all the time, like socializing and hanging out. You start thinking, hm, what could be a fun, cheap, casual date destination? And suddenly the arcade makes all the sense in the world. Think about it-- after class Friday, you walk to the local college arcade with your S.O. and play some pinball, 2-player Tekken, Galaga, whatever. Cheap, easy fun that gives you the option to make small talk about whatever, but also the option to stop and have a decent conversation when you find a common interest. BUT there are none (or very few) of the tense, silent moments where you're both just looking around trying to come up with something to talk about (like during a conventional date when you go get something to eat and sit down at Applebee's for 45m) and where your apparent lack of ability at making conversation rears its ugliest. Then, after, you can drop by the Graeters/Baskin-Robins 31 for some ice cream before you head back to your dorms.

I think us gamers were so far gone from the normal world that the obvious social genius behind the arcade was lost like the forest in the trees.

Re:Pinball is too expensive... (4, Insightful)

BorgCopyeditor (590345) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205102)

The fact that you realize this just as arcades are about to become a thing of the past is what Hegel had in mind when he said that the owl of Minerva flies only at dusk.

Re:Pinball is too expensive... (1)

cgenman (325138) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205052)

So you're paying a 150% markup for seeing balls bounce around which is cute but it also seems to last a lot less time than normal video games too.

Normal arcade games only last a minute or two as well. And they're dying out too. The only thing keeping arcade games in development is cheaply spinning them off of home versions. Most arcade machines these days are redemption / gambling machines, or arcade machines from the late 90's. House of the Dead 2? San Francisco Rush?

Re:Pinball is too expensive... (4, Insightful)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205084)

Arcades killed themselves. Kids have no interest in dropping $1.00Us to $2.00Us to play a video game. The racing ones are crappier graphics than a PS1 and gameplay sucks because most games are broken in one way or another.

$0.25US is the key price point it always has been. $0.50US is tolerable but their insane prices today makes it so that nobody plays.

Hell by the time you master an arcade game nowdays you could by the PS3 and a couple of games. Back when Atari2600 was out I could master 5 games for the same price.

Re:Pinball is too expensive... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23205206)

I think the reason Pinball is dying out is purely the cost of playing it.

I mean you pay 50p for three balls. Or 20p for three lives in most other arcade games.

So you're paying a 150% markup for seeing balls bounce around which is cute but it also seems to last a lot less time than normal video games too.

So higher cost, plus shorter games just means that people won't use the pinball tables anymore.

They'll either spend less for cheap video games or spend a little more for a much more interactive game like table football, dancing, or shooting.

Pinball killed its self... They set the price too high and over-valued their product.
wow, in AU it's not uncommon to pay $2 for an arcade machine. You are talking in sterling but that's still a huge price difference (AU$1 ~ US$0.95).

Better than arcades (4, Insightful)

CopaceticOpus (965603) | more than 6 years ago | (#23204776)

In an age of video game consoles, there's not much reason to pay for a 3 minute arcade game. But pinball is something that most people don't have at home, and video simulations just don't cut it. There's something viscerally satisfying in the experience of playing on a real machine with a real steel ball flying around the table.

There's a pinball machine at my local laundromat, and it gets a buck or two out of me every time I wash clothes. I think pinball will always be around.

Playing out of spite (2, Interesting)

Freaky Spook (811861) | more than 6 years ago | (#23204828)

I'm not normally a pinball player, but a couple of years ago in my local pool hall my mates and we got burned really badly by a machine one night, it was a monster that would eat your money as soon as you put it in.
We were back there every week feeding coins into it until we all mastered it.

I can't say I have played pinball a lot, but the machines I seem to get addicted to are the ones that are incredibly difficult and don't give you a score of a few hundred thousand points for only like 2 minutes of play. Those machines I just get angry with and keep feeding money till I beat them.

The easy machines I am bored by the time my first turn is done. My friends were the same, we all got so angry with this one machine we made it our mission to beat it.
I know everyone is different, but I think pinball still would have a market if people were motivated to play it, it can get pretty competitive.

Re:Playing out of spite (1)

ufoolme (1111815) | more than 6 years ago | (#23204980)

Dude, I run my life in exactly the same way. Spite ftw! Pinball games need to be made bigger, at least 5 times bigger. That'd get more people interested, and they need to be mega hard as per the above post.

Re:Playing out of spite (1)

JudgeFurious (455868) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205278)

Absolutely agree. There's something just so satisfying to me about being able to stay on a pinball machine as long as I want when that machine used to just kill me every time I had the gall to put money into it. The process of learning the table and mastering it was, at least to me unique in the world of "games". I know everybody who digs "something" thinks that one thing they like is special. That's how I saw pinball. Nothing else in an arcade even comes close. It's more like playing pool than playing Mortal Kombat if you ask me. It's also sort of like golf in the way that you're always playing against yourself really.

Re:Better than arcades (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 6 years ago | (#23204892)

My uncle is into the really old games. He had a mechanical pinball machine at one point, although I think he has since traded it in for some other arcade game. I played it and it is quite different than the newer pinball machines that I was used to. The game was made so that you had to jostle the machine a bit to get the ball to go where you wanted it to go, and jostle it just enough so it wouldn't "tilt". Not like the newer ones that weight 1500 lbs. and are bolted to the floor.

Re:Better than arcades (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23204948)

Oh come on. Everyone knows that /. posters don't bathe or do laundry. Who are you trying to kid?

Re:Better than arcades (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205028)

You can play for a long time if you hit replay after replay for just the cost of 1 game.

Re:Better than arcades (1)

tooth (111958) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205272)

I've always been a fan of pinball, I think because it's real world analog. I don't have to know any secret combo etc. Yeap, i sucked at streetfighter :)

Nostalgia (1, Interesting)

sayfawa (1099071) | more than 6 years ago | (#23204804)

Nostalgia can be fun, but this is too far. If I'm still playing PS2 games 30 years from now instead of whatever awesome stuff will be out then, I hope my kid shoots me.

Shit. I just remembered that I played through the original Zelda last week. Oh well, at least that didn't cost me money or take up an enormous amount of room in my apartment like a pinball machine would.

Re:Nostalgia (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 6 years ago | (#23204912)

I'm in the middle of replaying the original Zelda on my Wii. I'm on Level 9 of the first quest. I think we had much better imaginations back then, because there isn't really much to the game. It's way under 10 hours of gameplay if you know where you are going. Not at all like the games of today. I'm almost at the end of Twilight Princess. I've spend 40 hours on that, and not much time of that was spent on side quests or getting lost. I guess that's one problem with the newer Zeldas over the original. There's much more guidance in the newer ones on exactly where to go. In the original, you basically had to wander around until you found stuff.

Re:Nostalgia (1)

sayfawa (1099071) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205112)

In the original, you basically had to wander around until you found stuff.

:) I had to cheat and go to the net to find one of the dungeons. And even after I got the location I still can't imagine how I found it when I was a kid. Just wandered around playing the flute at every location on the map, I guess.

Links Dead (1)

francisstp (1137345) | more than 6 years ago | (#23204834)

Unfortunately the links in the nano-pinball story are all dead.

Where have they all gone? (5, Interesting)

buss_error (142273) | more than 6 years ago | (#23204954)

My first "real" job was as a tech for a game/vending company. I was always struck that Stern was a solid money maker. Never first, never more reliable, almost never more innovative than Bally, Williams, Gottieb, Atari (when video got popular) or Capcom, but a solid money maker.

As with any first job, there Was a Mistake Made. Mine was to trouble shoot a Williams shoot 'em up game that used a rifle and a sensor board to detect where the rifle was pointed. Several wires had been cold soldered and were just hanging around without being attached. Since I don't come equipped with a third hand, I put the solder coil in my mouth so I could use my left hand to guide the wire to it's proper place, my right hand weilding the soldering iron, and by moving my head around and using my lips, guide the solder to the pad to secure wire to circuit board. (Let's leave aside for the moment the wisdom of putting 60% lead wire in one's mouth. Explains quite a bit about my later life though....)

The only problem was that I had not powered down the game to make my repairs. If you think a fresh 9 volt battery makes an impression when you lick the terminals, let me assure you that 24 volts AC leaves an even more lasting impression.

For the NEXT loose wire, I used a alagator clip. It took longer to get everything situated, but was much less painful.

A week after that, Atari came out with "Asteriods", and we put it in the current "hot spot" for pinball games. Two days later, the business where it was set called to say it was on the fritz. I went out, and found that due to the construction of the game, and the amount of quarters pumped into it, the coins had over flowed into the power supply and shorted it out.

If I remember correctly, the bucket to hold quarters was far larger and deeper than any other game to date. I don't know how much money was in the game (the techs were not permitted to empty money or to count it from the games, that was the work of the owner of the game company), but I suspect it was more than the rest of the games combined. After that, we visited the place of business daily for the next six months to empty the game.

Reliving this brings many more memories to mind, but none involve Stern games other than to note that while they were not the most trouble prone (CapCom earns that easily), nor the most money (Bally and later Atari had that tied up), Nor the most reliable (Williams had that tied up), they were like the plodders in the world. Never the best, never the worst.

One thing I remember from that time was cleaning the games. The owner of the game company was always saying "Make it shine like a diamond in a goat's a$$!". We used a glass cleaner called "Glass Wax", which went on as a pink liquid and was removed with vigerious use of a rough rag and newspaper. I can't find it now, even using Google, but it was the BEST product I ever used to clean glass and make it shine.

Re:Where have they all gone? (2, Informative)

conlaw (983784) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205096)

I don't know where all the pinball machines have gone, but the Glass Wax is still available from the Vermont Country Store. http://www.vermontcountrystore.com/shopping/product/detailmain.jsp?itemID=11768&itemType=PRODUCT&RS=1&keyword=glass+wax [vermontcountrystore.com]

Re:Where have they all gone? (1)

MrSteveSD (801820) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205160)

let me assure you that 24 volts AC leaves an even more lasting impression.


Mmmm, tangy :)

Maintenance (2, Insightful)

rodrigoandrade (713371) | more than 6 years ago | (#23204964)

The REAL reason pinballs died was the maintenance those things required, compared to video games on PCBs. I knew several arcade operators when I was a kid and they all frowned at new machines arriving at the bar. It took a long time to change out light bulbs, fix jammed balls, clean, etc. Meanwhile, video games don't require anything, just plug and play.

Add to that the fact that assholes like myself refuse to play on crap machines, and these poor souls have a much harder job.

I believe the silverballs will become more and more a collector's item for people who lived those early days. Like many already said here, kids nowadays just dont see the fun of it.

Oh yeah, my local arcade only has Mars Attack, John Mnemonic, Pinball Revenge (or whatever...), and Addams Family, and I still enjoy those...

Re:Maintenance (1)

HEbGb (6544) | more than 6 years ago | (#23204992)

You are absolutely right. I love pinball, and own a machine myself (Pinbot), but an arcade or location owner is going to choose a good videogame every time. Repairing those machines is NOT cheap, and seriously cuts into revenue. It's simple business, nothing more.

Re:Maintenance (1)

tpjunkie (911544) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205204)

Attack from Mars is one of my favorite pinball games of all time. Loads to do, and a number of different ways to earn replays!

Pinball games give you free games unlike video gam (4, Interesting)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 6 years ago | (#23204970)

Pinball games give you free games unlike most video games and with stern TOPS you can win cash as well. Stern should put the knocker back in to the games it cool to hear it go off when you get a free game.

Too hard (4, Interesting)

Hao Wu (652581) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205002)

Too many times the ball will coast helplessly through the bumpers, dead centered.

That just goes with the game, but that's why I don't play pinball. There's something unfair about losing that way.

Shove the machine (5, Insightful)

Weaselmancer (533834) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205380)

Give the machine a decent nudge to the left or the right. The ball will continue to follow a path with its original inertia. You just move the playing field so that the ball isn't dead center.

Pinball is physical. Playing it like a video game is a sure way to lose.

Re:Shove the machine (2, Interesting)

StormyWeather (543593) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205522)

Man we had the adams family pinball game, which is the best pinball game ever built in our bowling alley where I was a kid, and the cleaning staff did a great job of waxing the floors. So good that we could always push the machine back and forth, and usually left 40 or 50 credits on the machine by the time we were done pwning it ;).

Re:Too hard (1)

plover (150551) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205386)

Once you play a table for a while, you learn its sweet spots, and its dead zones. Get to know a game and you stop shooting at the big target in the middle because you know it's a trap. Then, when you learn how to raise the middle post (or whatever the magic trick is) you wait until it's safe, then you can pound the heck out of that center target, ratcheting up the bonus multiplier, or unlocking multi-ball, or whatever the cool feature of the game is.

And one of the difficulties of those games is the unreliability of hardware. Sometimes the damn bumper switches just don't fire, leaving your ball rolling lifelessly toward the drain. It happens.

Helloooo... give it a nudge! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23205474)

You've got to be kidding?!?! If the ball is going straight down the centre give the machine a good "nudge". With practice you'll know how hard you can nudge without tilting.

Re:Too hard (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23205586)

I gave up playing pinball when nudging the machine became a required part of the game. Also, missed shots that would immediately result in the ball going straight down the middle, reports of magnets under certain parts of the playfield to draw the ball towards draining in an outlane, etc. essentially turned pinball into more into a gambling machine than a skill game, at least that's how it seemed to me.

Pinball Hall of Fame (3, Informative)

evel aka matt (123728) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205030)

For those of you that like pinball, The Pinball Hall of Fame mentioned in the article is a worthy trip. Not only do they have a shit ton of machines to play, including a couple that you can't find anywhere else in the world, but the proceeds go to the Salvation Army. Next time you're in Vegas, check it out.. www.pinballhall.org

Re:Pinball Hall of Fame (2, Informative)

TechwoIf (1004763) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205496)

I managed to get a couple days in Las Vegas just to visit that place. http://www.pinballmuseum.org/ [pinballmuseum.org] Its well worth it. Pinballs packed nearly wall to wall with a few classic video games mixed in for good measure. They currently have a one of a kind prototype Williams game. They spent 2 million R&D and made two machines for testing. Feedback from the operators was "Why would I spend $10K+ for a game that makes the same as that new $5k game." After the testing, it was shelved and the two machines was warehoused and never went into production. The owner of one of them lent it to Pinball Hall of Fame for the public to play. :-) *searches....* Found it. Pinball Circus http://www.marvin3m.com/arcade/pincir.htm [marvin3m.com]

Count me among the direct-to-home buyers (1)

illegalcortex (1007791) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205062)

I picked up a brand new Simpsons Pinball Party for my birthday a while back. Quite a fun game, especially for someone well versed in the Simpsons.

Re:Count me among the direct-to-home buyers (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205088)

do you ever get to hard to get to Super Duper Mega Extreme Wizard Mode?

Re:Count me among the direct-to-home buyers (1)

illegalcortex (1007791) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205300)

Haha, no. I'm actually quite bad at it. I'm just happy when I can get a couch multi-ball or even better, the mystery spot multi-ball.

Hard to keep these things running (1)

Whuffo (1043790) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205066)

I worked on pinball machines back in my younger days; some of them were amazing assemblages of all kinds of custom relays. Thousands of relay and switch contacts - and even one bad one would cause weird and amazing malfunctions.

Just keeping them clean inside and fresh rubber on the pegs (much less a set of good light bulbs) took a significant amount of time; the maintenance expense on these games is what killed them. For the same price you could get an electronic game that would run for years without problem.

Much easier to get the "unlimited life" hack ... (4, Funny)

Silicon_Knight (66140) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205118)

We used to bring a HD magnet down to the pin ball machine in high school. The owner of the Lamp Post pizza didn't mind as long as we kept buying drinks and pizza... he thought it was pretty clever :-)

(Pinballs are basically big steel bearings... place HD magnet at the bottom pass the flipper and voila! Unlimited life.)

Never did manage to leverage that little tidbit of knowledge to get a date... :sigh:

Re:Much easier to get the "unlimited life" hack .. (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205148)

some games use there own magnets to push the ball around.

Good learning tool (1)

Alarindris (1253418) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205140)

When I was young, about 13 or 14, my neighbor had a pinball machine that he couldn't quite get to work properly. At that time I was really getting the hang of building simple circuits, radios, etc. and he let me take a look at it.
We never fixed it completely, but did make quite a bit of progress over a month or two poking around in it.

Was a fascinating experience, a truly beautiful combination of electronics and kinetics, comparatively commonsense compared to a PC for example. Would be a great study for a high school engineering class.

Coin-op videogames also disappearing (2, Interesting)

Zobeid (314469) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205242)

In the early 1980s there were coin-op videogames all over the place. It seemed like every convenience store had one or two. Cafes and pizza parlors had them, corner grocery stores had them. Now they've mostly disappeared. In my town there's one burger joint that still has a few vandalized, worn-out and broken down games in the back room, and I think they've quit even turning on the power (which is just as well). I think the laundromat may have a couple too. That's all.

I'm building my own MAME cabinet just because I miss those games, and this is the only way I'll get to play them anymore. (Or play them properly, I should say. A mouse and keyboard just isn't the same.)

Arcade games have declined mostly due to home console games and inflation. Serious game players have gravitated toward sophisticated computer and console games -- that takes many hours to play. A lot of the old classic and popular (and profitable in their day) coin-op games were the sort we would now sneeringly dismiss as "casual games". As for inflation. . . The components that go into a game machine haven't changed much, they still cost money to build. Meanwhile the quarter you plunked into a Pac Man machine in 1980 would be worth about 55-60 cents in today's money. Yet, people remain resistant to the idea of putting in two coins for only one play.

And pinball? Same thing only worse. Pinball machines are more expensive and much harder to maintain, take up more space, and have, I would say, probably a more seedy image. People still like to play pinball, but the economics are working against it.

With regard to image. . . The lady who runs the local coffee shop heard about my MAME cabinet, and now tells me she wants a cocktail-table videogame for her shop. She wants a Ms Pacman, Lady Bug, Frogger, Donkey Kong, or Arkanoid. . . something nice like that, not a Defender or SF2T machine scaring people away. I doubt whether she'd accept an upright cabinet, and although I haven't mentioned it to her, I suspect a pinball machine is right out of the question (even if she could afford one, which is also out of the question).

Williams? Are they gone. (1)

SeaFox (739806) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205256)

I hope Williams is not gone. Attack From Mars is one of the best machines ever and I want spare parts to be around for it.

Re:Williams? Are they gone. (2, Informative)

CyberZen (97536) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205536)

They stopped manufacturing in 1999. They just do slots now.

Used Table Market (2, Interesting)

nuclearpenguins (907128) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205274)

The used pinball table market is strong, at least according to my father who has recently acquired two tables. Craigslist pointed him to this little old lady who's husband used to own a few beachside arcades. She was looking to get rid of a few tables for cheap ($500-ish) From her he picked up a 1978 Star Trek [ipdb.org] table. One of the scoreboard displays was flickering so she gave him the number of a repairman who deals exclusively with pinball tables.
While dealing with him my father somehow got talked into buying a 1991 Ninja Turtles [ipdb.org] table. This guy also told my dad that he knows of many other people in the New England area who have used tables for sale and trade and to get in touch with him if he was ever interested in adding to his collection.

The Star Trek one is really neat due to the old, yet somehow in perfect working condition, circuitry. The lady who sold it to him also gave him the original owners guide which has has fold-out circuit diagrams and self-test code lists. Really interesting stuff.

The Ninja Turtle table has this annoying spinning pizza on the board that constantly messes up rail combos.

I'm a gamer (1)

networkzombie (921324) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205280)

I grew up playing Star Raiders on an Atari 400, held a high score on BERZERK, and I play a game based on some ID based engine pretty much every night. I still try any game that I can get my hands on, even MMORPGs. I would love playing pinball if it wasn't a trade off of 50 cents for 20 seconds of agony. Even Battlezone and Joust lasts longer than any pinball machine I've ever played. Re-design or die. Good riddance to the armless one-armed bandit. The ONLY good thing about pinball is the artwork. Okay, maybe the sounds too.

Indiana Jones was My Favorite Pinball Game (1)

CodeBuster (516420) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205302)

The Indiana Jones Pinball [ipdb.org] game was really the best of the few which I can remember playing. It had all of the movie scenes from Raiders to Crusade covered in the modes and the funny one-liners from the movie mostly made it into the game too, giving the humour a sarcastic, irreverent, and dry feel that was just perfect for the whole Indy theme. For example, you received 25,000 points for "choosing poorly" in the grail scene (complete with rapidly decomposing corpse). If I could own any Pinball cabinet of my choice then it would have to be Indiana Jones.

Stern / Chicago Coin (2, Interesting)

pfman (761522) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205330)

This story brought back many memories! When I was in college (1975 - gasp!) I had a summer job at Chicago Coin Co. which was the former name of Stern electronics. I built the Dolphin game and a few others. They would produce a game for about 30 days, then change over production to a new one. Their plant was on Diversey Ave in Chicago before moving to the suburbs. The site of their plant is now elegant condo-townhomes. I worked there with the largely mexican, black, and Appalachian workers. I started with basic assembly tasks (such as putting light bulbs into sockets over and over) but eventually moved to the manual assembly line and attached parts to the game surfaces. I longed to move up to the tester positions. On that game you got a free ball after 100,000 points. Believe it or not, there were actually guys at the end of the assy line who played each game up to 100,000 just to test the free ball function! Many more memories are flooding back - too many to tell. Glad that Stern has kept the place alive.

Here's the article text (3, Informative)

Nero Nimbus (1104415) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205346)

For a Pinball Survivor, the Game Isn't Over By MONICA DAVEY

MELROSE PARK, Ill. -- Being inside a pinball machine factory sounds exactly as you think it would. Across a 40,000-square-foot warehouse here, a cheery cacophony of flippers flip, bells ding, bumpers bump and balls click in an endless, echoing loop. The quarter never runs out.

But this place, Stern Pinball Inc., is the last of its kind in the world. A range of companies once mass produced pinball machines, especially in the Chicago area, the one-time capital of the business. Now there is only Stern. And even the dinging and flipping here has slowed: Stern, which used to crank out 27,000 pinball machines each year, is down to around 10,000.

To most, the story seems familiar -- of a craze that had its moment, of computers that grew sophisticated, of a culture that started staying home for fun, of being replaced by video games. But to pinball people, this is a painful fading, and one that, some insist, might yet be turned around.

"There are a lot of things I look at and scratch my head," said Tim Arnold, who ran an arcade during a heyday of pinball in the 1970s and recently opened The Pinball Hall of Fame, a nonprofit museum in a Las Vegas strip mall. "Why are people playing games on their cellphones while they write e-mail? I don't get it."

"The thing that's killing pinball," Mr. Arnold added, "is not that people don't like it. It's that there's nowhere to play it."

Along the factory line in this suburb west of Chicago, scores of workers pull and twist at colored wires, drill holes in wooden frames, screw in flippers and tiny light bulbs and assorted game characters who will eventually move and spin and taunt you.

Though pinball has roots in the 1800s game of bagatelle, these are by no means simple machines. Each one contains a half-mile of wire and 3,500 tiny components, and takes 32 hours to build -- as the company's president, Gary Stern, likes to say, longer than a Ford Taurus.

Mr. Stern, the last pinball machine magnate, is a wise-cracking, fast-talking 62-year-old with a shock of white hair, matching white frame glasses and a deep tan who eats jelly beans at his desk and recently hurt a rib snowboarding in Colorado.

The manufacturing plant is a game geek's fantasy job, a Willy Wonka factory of pinball.

Some designers sit in private glass offices seated across from their pinball machines.

Some workers are required to spend 15 minutes a day in the "game room" playing the latest models or risk the wrath of Mr. Stern. "You work at a pinball company," he explained, grumpily, "you're going to play a lot of pinball." (On a clipboard here, the professionals must jot their critiques, which, on a recent day, included "flipper feels soft" and "stupid display.")

And in a testing laboratory devoted to the physics of all of this, silver balls bounce around alone in cases for hours to record how well certain kickers and flippers and bumpers hold up.

Mr. Stern's father, Samuel Stern, spent his life in the pinball business, starting out as a game operator in the 1930s -- when a simple version of the modern mass-produced pinball machine first appeared. Dozens of companies were soon producing the machines, said Roger Sharpe, widely considered a foremost historian of the sport after the 1977 publication of his book, "Pinball!"

The creation of the flipper -- popularized by the Humpty Dumpty game in 1947 -- transformed the activity, which went on to surges in the 1950s, '70s and early '90s.

"Everybody thinks of it as retro, as nostalgia," Mr. Sharpe said. "But it's not. These are sophisticated games. Pinball is timeless."

Perhaps, but even Mr. Stern acknowledges that demand is down. The hard-core players are faithful; the International Flipper Pinball Association keeps careful watch of the top-ranked players in the world. But the casual player has drifted.

"The whole coin-op industry is not what it once was," Mr. Stern said.

Corner shops, pubs, arcades and bowling alleys stopped stocking pinball machines. A younger audience turned to video games. Men of a certain age, said Mr. Arnold, who is 52, became the reliable audience. ("Chicks," he announced, "don't get it.")

And so for Mr. Stern, the pinball buyer is shifting.

In the United States, Mr. Stern said, half of his new machines, which cost about $5,000 and are bought through distributors, now go directly into people's homes and not a corner arcade. He said nearly 40 percent of the machines -- some designed to appeal to French, German, Italian and Spanish players -- were exported, and he added that he had been working to make inroads in China, India, the Middle East and Russia.

Mr. Stern said the notion underlying this game was universal, lasting.

Ask him about the future and Mr. Stern offers a rare pause. In 10 years, he said, pinball will be fine. His company will be here, cranking out pinball machines. Fifty years hence? It is too far away to think about, he said. But pressed to ponder it, he said he was certain of one thing: Pinball will be around.

"Look, pinball is like tennis," said Mr. Stern, noting that a tennis court could never, for instance, be made round and that certain elements of a pinball play field are equally unchangeable and lasting. "This is a ball game. It's a bat and ball game, O.K.?"

Visual Pinball... (1)

antdude (79039) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205384)

Visual Pinball [vpforums.com] is emulated for Windows, but not the same as real thing.

*POP* (1)

CrazyJim1 (809850) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205422)

The one things most video games lacked is the chance that you'll get to play again for free.

Days of the Pinball Wizards gone... (1)

Mr. Altaco (1051486) | more than 6 years ago | (#23205452)

Ever since I was a young boy, I played the silver ball... from Soho down to Brighton, I must have played them all... but I ain't seen nothing like him, in any amusement hall... that deaf, dumb, and blind kid, sure plays a mean pinball... good times.

You;re suppose to HIT THE MACHINE!!!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23205538)

I always found a great release in pinball, because part of the play is HITTING THE MACHINE! If you were feeling particularly tweeked, you could pick it up and drop it to force a deliberate tilt. Every programmers dream, you didn't have to hold back your frustration, you could go for the direct physical action. Even with the WII baton, there is no comparison. I pity a generation that lacks an outlet for direct aggression against hardware.

Also, when you got good, you could keep playing by winning more games. I could spend a few hours on less then $3 if I was on top of my game. Sometimes it was fun to walk away from a machine and leave a few games on it, just to show how good you were.

I still use a few phrases from the pinball days: "Without the double bonus, life is just a diet of worms". I know it sounds insane. Also, I still describe some activities as being "like pinball"; when you succeed, all you get is more of the same. In some sense, it's really pure, because success is circular. THe reward for winning is more playing.

The Physics Gods have left me... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23205572)

I stopped playing pinball when I could no longer get 3 balls to stay in motion for longer than 2 minutes. Insert "vacuum pump" joke here.

But seriously, I used to kick ass back in the day of Pinbot, T2, Motocross, Simpsons, Earthshaker, and Adams Family.. wha happen? Where's the mojo, baby?
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