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Portrait of The Last Remaining Pinball Wizard

timothy posted about 9 years ago | from the sole-proprietorship dept.

Businesses 296

Ant writes "Shacknews posted BusinessWeek's Pinball's Last Remaining Wizard article that is a portrait piece on Gary Stern, president and owner of Stern Pinball, which is the last remaining pinball manufacturer in the world. Yearly, his company produces 10,000 hand-built machines and designs about 3-4 different models. A few of their most recent releases used licensed rights of the Sopranos and The Simpsons."

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FP! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12159853)


Note to moderators: (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12160007)

Pinball Wizard by the Who.

Ever since I was a young boy
I've 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

He stands like a statue
Becomes part of the machine
Feeling all the bumpers
Always playing clean
He plays by intuition
The digit counters fall
That deaf, dumb and blind kid
Sure plays a mean pinball

He's a pinball wizard
There's got to be a twist
A pinball wizard
He's got such a supple wrist

How do you think he does it?
(I don't know)
What makes him so good?

He ain't got no distractions
Can't hear those buzzers and bells
Don't see lights a flashin'
Plays by sense of smell
Always gets a replay
Never tilts at all
That deaf, dumb and blind kid
Sure plays a mean pinball

I thought I was
The Bally table king
But I just handed
My pinball crown to him

Even on my usual table
He can beat my best
His disciples lead him in
And he just does the rest
He's got crazy flipper fingers
Never seen him fall
That deaf, dumb and blind kid
Sure plays a mean pinball

love pinball! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12159861)

- but there can only be ONE! :-)

ahh... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12159870)

First post...TILT!

Pinball Wizard? (4, Funny)

Dogtanian (588974) | about 9 years ago | (#12159873)

I'm deaf, dumb and blind, you insensitive clod!

Oh, hang on....

Seen lack of playability imagination (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12160180)

The latest machine I played "Star Wars - Episode I" failed to even qualify as a semi-OK machine.

It had three things to hit:
1. Center top playfield targer - hidden by a video screen which cycled through scenes in the movie
2. Top left ramp
3. Top right ramp

The entire game had 1 objective, hit center top playfield target, then hit it again or hit a ramp.

Everything else did nothing special.

Skip the video screen BS it is not any good.

Use decent machines like Addams Family, Count Down, Jungle Queen, Eight Ball Delux, plyboy.

Recreate the better 1970s machines and skip the gimmics.

I've been a pinball fan since playing machines in the early 1970s - maybe about 1/2 or more of the ones pictured in the book 'Lure of the Silver Ball'.

Tommy - The Who (4, Funny)

Vamphyri (26309) | about 9 years ago | (#12159878)

I thought the story was going to be about an actual pinball machine player who gets massive highscores, not the CEO of a game corporation. That's one minute of my life I will never get back.

Re:Tommy - The Who (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12159931)

actually 2 minutes after you posted

Not the way I know it... (2, Funny)

MikeXpop (614167) | about 9 years ago | (#12160075)

That blind, deaf, and dumb boy,
Sure runs a successful pinball-producing company.

Deaf, dumb, blind? (3, Funny)

nacturation (646836) | about 9 years ago | (#12159880)

But the real question is, does he always get the replay?

Re:Deaf, dumb, blind? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12159967)

I've never seen him fall.

Re:Deaf, dumb, blind? (4, Funny)

Tackhead (54550) | about 9 years ago | (#12160044)

> But the real question is, does he always get the replay?

Sits there like a statue, reloads like a machine,
Clicks on the day passes, gets the first post clean,
Smokes crack like he's got mod points, never seen him fall,
That insensitive clod - Slashdotting Stern pinball!

He's a Slashdot wizard, there has to be a twist!
None of my business where he got those supple wrists...

Slashdot Pinball (4, Funny)

jd (1658) | about 9 years ago | (#12160182)

Ah, now a Slashdot pinball machine would be a game worth playing. Knock over webservers and destroy bandwidth to get the bonus. Multiplay after three first-posts in a row.

Re:Deaf, dumb, blind? (4, Interesting)

iamlucky13 (795185) | about 9 years ago | (#12160086)

Reminds me of a story my freshmen physics professor told.

When he was young, he got a big magnet from an old radar that had been scrapped. He snuck it into the arcade in his backpack with the intention of manuevering the ball through the extra life gate with it. Unfortunately, when he moved it over the ball, the ball jumped up and smacked the glass with enough force to break it. He had to refine his technique a little bit and pick a different arcade, but it eventually worked.

Shake It! (4, Funny)

INetEngineer (816350) | about 9 years ago | (#12159884)

So, is he allowed to shake his own machines without the TILT going off?

Re:Shake It! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12159997)

Funny story, the "Viper" game was in the UIC bowling alley five or six years ago. Apparently it was a test machine and the tilt mechanism was turned off. You could play that game forever if you were quick enough to lift the front end of the machine when your ball was headed down the drain.

Tommy can you hear me? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12159895)

"That deaf, dumb and blind kid..." - I still listen to it ever so often

Haven't played pinball in some time (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12159910)

So, what, do you need like 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 points to get a free game these days? Ah, the olden days of THOCK!

I hate to say it.... (5, Interesting)

ZosX (517789) | about 9 years ago | (#12159912)

But the Stern machines are not nearly as nice or as well designed as the old Bally/Williams machines. Pinball is a dying form of entertainment (along with the arcades) and while its great to see one lone survivor still out there, it would be even better if they were up to the quality of late Williams machines. Attack from Mars, Addams Family (BRUTAL!), and Medieval Madness all come to mind. Revenge from Mars was gimmicky along with Episode 1, and as a result I see very few of those machines still around. While Stern makes competetent machines, the Simpsons cannot hold a candle to the sheer genius that Attack From Mars was.

Oh FP btw!

Re:I hate to say it.... (1)

Threni (635302) | about 9 years ago | (#12159965)

I find pinball games too hard, and the apparant need to rely on luck is just tedious. I'm sure there are good players out there, but I guess not enough to make it worthwhile producing new tables. Perhaps in the future someone will produce a table that's actually fun to play if you're not obsessed with pinball?

Re:I hate to say it.... (3, Interesting)

mwa (26272) | about 9 years ago | (#12160236)

I find pinball games too hard, and the apparant need to rely on luck is just tedious. I'm sure there are good players out there, but I guess not enough to make it worthwhile producing new tables.

Actually, I think you've got it backwards. My friends and I used to play at lunch every day. The more you play, luck becomes less and less of a factor. Which means the more good players there are out there, the less $$ the tables produce. For about $1, 3 or 4 of us got a good hour or more entertainment.

It's frustrating as hell when the game isn't working right though, and that's the state of most machines these days. I think it's half "too much maintenance required" and half "if it works, people start beating it."

Re: FP (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12159977)

Oh FP btw!

Is that First Pinball? Otherwise, you fucking fail it!

Addams Family (4, Interesting)

frankthechicken (607647) | about 9 years ago | (#12159985)

Without doubt one of my favorite machines made.

Pat Lawlor's finest creation in my opinion. That man was so damn prolific, and passionate about his machines. One of the defining quotes of his, which sort of sums him up:-

"Anyone in this business who designs something looks at that product like it is one of their children. You take a year to create this thing, put your own personality into it, and heaven forbid something should happen when you release it because it's like your child is misbehaving. You become attached to the games and they are important to you."

A true craftsman.

Re:Addams Family (1)

SpaceLifeForm (228190) | about 9 years ago | (#12160255)

Truly an excellent game. It always gave me good workout taking over an hour to play one game, scoring over 2,000,000,000 points usually in the process. After you got your 100 Super Bear Kicks, there was little left to do as the big electromagnet underneath the playing surface would eventually kick the last ball down the drain. Sometimes the magnet would grab the ball and hold it in the center and you had to reset. After a while, that would fail, and the electromagnet would have to be replaced. But, that was the only problem I ever experienced with that game.

Re:I hate to say it.... (1)

mbadolato (105588) | about 9 years ago | (#12160052)

I couldn't agree more. Stern, Data East and Gottleib machines never felt right. Bally and WIlliams machines always had the right feel. They were usually great games too.

I recently gave up my arcade [badolato.com] in order to keep from having to throw everything in storage and then move it, when our new house is finished being built (a lot needed work so wasn't that big a deal to dump em). The only part that really hurt was the selling of my High Speed and Pinbot machines. I miss them.

But, when I move into my new place later this year, I'll be persuing an Attack From Mars.

Re:I hate to say it.... (1)

hedley (8715) | about 9 years ago | (#12160060)

Williams rocked.

Funhouse (It's getting....*late*)
Whirlwind (for those hot summer nights)
Earthshaker (don't sit your drink on here, do sit your gf on it tho).

*sigh* They wont be like that again.


Re:I hate to say it.... (1)

TheHawke (237817) | about 9 years ago | (#12160479)

I kicked Whirlwind's ass on more than one occassion. There were two in my town at the time. One's gravity was set too low, which allowed me to kick its ass royally. The other one was set just right but the fan's bearings were going out. When that fan came on, i'd get distracted by the dammed thing's loud rattling and the ball would go down the drain.

Ahh, there was two more on my list of good pins. The Comet, which I made jump and rattle like it was going out of style. And The Cyclone, which had great mechanicals. Both were in restaurants (separate places) and i'd get them dancing and dinging away, have folks leaving their pizzas and come over wondering what in the world was I doing to the poor things.

Best machines evar!! (1)

ImaLamer (260199) | about 9 years ago | (#12160226)

Jurassic Park [ipdb.org] - DataEast
Star Wars [ipdb.org] - DataEast

The best machines, from DataEast, were the movie machines because they had all of your favorite lines.

"Shoot the Death Star", "Ian Freeze!", ah that was fun. It was like being part of the movie (not really, but fun!)

Internet Pinball Database:
http://www.ipdb.org/ [ipdb.org]

"Swords of Fury" was good. (2, Interesting)

jd (1658) | about 9 years ago | (#12160249)

Five ball multiplay. The paddles were so powerful, you could actually launch balls over the walls and onto the next layer up. The paddles at the base were close enough together that you could catch anything if you were good enough. There was a bug in the software that allowed you infinite lives.

Ah, now those were the days.

Re:"Swords of Fury" was good. (3, Interesting)

Luigi30 (656867) | about 9 years ago | (#12160538)

If you think five balls is enough, try Apollo 13. 13-ball multiball in that one. Yes, you read 13 correctly.

Re:I hate to say it.... (2, Interesting)

immovable_object (569797) | about 9 years ago | (#12160511)

I beg to differ. I purchased the Lord of the Rings pinball last year, and I am VERY impressed by the play. The construction feels solid, and I am never tired of the game. I highly recommend the game.

After all, hearing Gimli say "Extra Ball!" and Frodo "We go through Moria!" is really fun.

Competition? (3, Interesting)

dshaw858 (828072) | about 9 years ago | (#12159913)

[...] which is the last remaining pinball manufacturer in the world.

You'd think that with a lot of arcades around the world using pinball machines, some other companies would want to compete with these guys... or perhaps there's such a huge monopoly that everyone else just gives up. Makes you wonder about monopoly laws, though...

- dshaw

Re:Competition? (1)

0racle (667029) | about 9 years ago | (#12159959)

What arcades?

Re:Competition? (1)

CSMastermind (847625) | about 9 years ago | (#12160018)

I can think of four acrades within driving distance of my house, one at each mall around here, one by itself downtown and another that's kind of an unoffical hangout...I guess it's a pizza place but every goes there to play video games. We have a pinball machine down at the bar too.

Re:Competition? (1)

evolutionaryLawyer (838264) | about 9 years ago | (#12159975)

Anti-trust laws really only affect collusion among supposed competitors or aquisition of competitors. If your competition drops out of the game or goes bankrupt, you can't be held for violating anti-trust law.

Re:Competition? (2, Interesting)

temojen (678985) | about 9 years ago | (#12160000)

Or it could be that pinball machines are so well made and timeless that few customers are buying new ones rather than repairing or buying used.

Re:Competition? (4, Informative)

swv3752 (187722) | about 9 years ago | (#12160002)

They only make 10,000 machines a year. Their break even is 65%-75% of that and if you read between the lines, they are struggling to sell all those machines. It seems that there is just not a big market.

Re:Competition? (4, Insightful)

yotto (590067) | about 9 years ago | (#12160017)

The problem isn't that they're quashing competition, it's that the worldwide demand for pinball machines is 10,000.
Think about it. Would you want to devote all the time, money, and resources into building a company that will only produce 5,000 units a year?

Re:Competition? (2, Interesting)

CmdrTostado (653672) | about 9 years ago | (#12160250)

Yes, a small company, perhaps. 5000 a year with about 250 working days a year is 20 units per day or 2.5 units per hour @ about $4000.00 per unit equals $400,000 gross per week ($2,000,000.00 a year) Build this number (1/2 his volume) with 1/2 the employees (he has 56) and you have 28 full time employees and 75 temps. It seems to work out OK, if you can survive the startup expenses. I would assume this product would be low liability. Perhaps the mechanical arcade games will outlast the digital ones, because you just can't reproduce the whole pinball experience on a video screen.

Re:Competition? (4, Informative)

Fizzog (600837) | about 9 years ago | (#12160026)

"some other companies would want to compete with these guys"

As a matter of fact just a few days ago an Australian company bought the rights to the Bally name and to reproduce most of Williams' parts.

They are also developing their first pinball machine which should be out later this year.

There's life in the silver ball yet!

(and for you RGP'ers out there: TZ, CFTBL, Farfalla, Firepower, Gameshow, Zac Circus)

Re:Competition? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12160434)

There's life in the silver ball yet!
I'm surprised nobody has mentioned these guys [pinballnews.com] yet.

Rumor has it the guy in Australia may move production of cabinets and associated hardware to China & surrounding areas. This should result in massive savings since putting a cabinet together is extremely hand-labor intensive, since it's made of tons of components.

But moving to video takes care of the tremendous maintenance required after purchase, which affects both operators (guys who have to run around constantly maintaining the machine) and players (who won't play a game that breaks down).

It's shaping up to be an interesting time for pinball.

Re:Competition? (1)

murderlegendre (776042) | about 9 years ago | (#12160045)

As someone who builds hand-wired analog electronics, I can understand fully the lack of competition. Not only are electronics of this ilk difficult to build from the start, but finding people with the required skills to execute a given design is becoming more difficult by the day. And even when properly built, these units require maintenence and repair - when's the last time you met anyone who fixes pinball machines for a living? An even better question: When's the last time you met anyone who is training to do any of the jobs mentioned?

And of course, no two designs are the same.. not only do they have different logic (for scoring, etc) but this logic has to translate into solenoids, bumpers, magnets, springs, switches, etc etc. The complexity is astonishing, especially for something that is a (relatively) low-production item.

My hat is off to the folks who can design, build and then keep these machines running - sometimes for 20+ years.

Re:Competition? (1)

Desert Raven (52125) | about 9 years ago | (#12160081)

It is not illegal to be a monopoly.

It is illegal to use your position as a monopoly to stifle competition.

Pinball helped me nab my wife! (5, Interesting)

jkeegan (35099) | about 9 years ago | (#12159918)

Man, I hope they keep making machines. Pinball was a large part of how I proposed to my wife (indirectly):

The Birthday/Proposal Story [keegan.org]

Of course, Theatre of Magic is a Bally machine, amd they're already gone. :(

Re:Pinball helped me nab my wife! (1)

kanotspell (520779) | about 9 years ago | (#12160039)

Theatre of Magic was a signifigant contributer to my dropping out of college. "The magic is within you"

Re:Pinball helped me nab my wife! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12160259)

I helped me "Nab" your wife too. Beefore you were dating of course. A friend of mine also head a "stab"

Any one have a cheap source for pinball mchns? (1)

RiotXIX (230569) | about 9 years ago | (#12159921)

They cost loads...

Re:Any one have a cheap source for pinball mchns? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12160325)

If you are too tight to afford a few vowels, you can do with mltrs!

Re:Any one have a cheap source for pinball mchns? (1)

SydShamino (547793) | about 9 years ago | (#12160373)

Nearly new ones? They are way way expensive. Older ones, though, can be had for much less.

We have a Galahad [ipdb.org] and a Friendship 7 [ipdb.org] , from 1969 and 1962, respectively. The first we bought at an auction in Tennessee for $75 in 2000; the second I paid $150 for in Texas last year. (The market seems to be cheapest on the East Coast; auctions around here from places like Super Auctions [superauctions.com] are too expensive.

Re:Any one have a cheap source for pinball mchns? (1)

Life2Short (593815) | about 9 years ago | (#12160380)

Probably not much help to you but sometimes you can catch the odd table at your local auction. I got my Williams "Space Odyssey" circa 1974 a few years back for $65. Had to fix the right flipper, but somebody had left some old parts in the coin box and the soldering was so simple on those old machines that even with my weak solder fu I was able to get it working.

Re:Any one have a cheap source for pinball mchns? (1)

bVork (772426) | about 9 years ago | (#12160437)

Your best bet is probably checking the newsgroup rec.games.pinball, or the Mr Pinball classifieds at http://www.xmission.com/~daina/classified/ [xmission.com] .

It also helps to be looking for older pins. A Twilight Zone will still cost a couple thousand. Medieval Madness seems to stay at about $5000. But go back 15 or 20 years, and pins are around $500.

So whose with me? (3, Funny)

CSMastermind (847625) | about 9 years ago | (#12159936)

All right I see a market that's ripe for the picking, anybody else want to post the captial to get my new company off the ground?

Re:So whose with me? (1)

Dogtanian (588974) | about 9 years ago | (#12160035)

All right I see a market that's ripe for the picking, anybody else want to post the captial to get my new company off the ground?

If it were that simple, the market wouldn't be so empty. That's not to say there isn't an opportunity that others have missed (or perhaps they followed the mantra that any business that "merely" turns a decent profit isn't profitable enough *cough*).

But frankly, I'd want to investigate the market further before I threw money at it.

Re:So whose with me? (1)

CSMastermind (847625) | about 9 years ago | (#12160076)

:-) I meant that in a sort of joking way, I know that the market is far from "ripe for the picking". Personally I wish that weren't the case. But I do think it would be neat to see maybe some smaller computerized pinball machines, with lcd screens and small buttons on either side to use the paddles. You could set them on the coners of bars ect. I don't really plan on going into business :).

Re:So whose with me? (1)

Fizzog (600837) | about 9 years ago | (#12160299)

"perhaps they followed the mantra that any business that "merely" turns a decent profit isn't profitable enough"

Actually that is what happened to Williams. They were only making a small profit from their pinball division, but their slot machine division was a license to print money.

So they closed the pinball side because it wasn't profitable enough in comparison.

Re:So whose with me? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12160064)

Put me down for it, I've got 25 cents.

Virtual pinball, use for PPUs (3, Insightful)

dameron (307970) | about 9 years ago | (#12159940)

The first thing I though of when I heard about physics processing units [anandtech.com] was that you might be able to make a realistic pinball simulation on the pc.

The 3d effects and models have been around for a while, but what makes most computerized pinball games lame to me is their arbitrary and clunky "feel" when the ball interacts with the environment.

Physics processing units might add that extra kick of realism and make it easier to stomach the dwindling population of real pinball machines. Lot of room for force feedback pinbabll controllers here.


Re:Virtual pinball, use for PPUs (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12160021)

The problem I've had with most electronic pinball game is the perspective. You either have a top-down view, which makes all of the targets and artwork very small, or a 3/4 perspective where you can't see the entire table at once and constanly lose your ball down the drain because the screen doesn't scroll quickly enough.

Re:Virtual pinball, use for PPUs (1)

SB5 (165464) | about 9 years ago | (#12160224)

Nothing beats the real thing, in 3 dimensions, not the 2d you see on your monitor. You can move your head and you can see the ball or whatever better.

Re:Virtual pinball, use for PPUs (2, Interesting)

Cthefuture (665326) | about 9 years ago | (#12160320)

vpinball [vpforums.com] has a pretty good physics model. Coupled with VpinMAME and you get something close to the real machine.

However, last I heard vpinball is no longer being developed and is a closed-source Windows-only application. Ah well...

I occasionally fire it up on my home-built arcade machine that has pinball flipper buttons on the sides of the machine.

Nothing beats the real thing though. There is just so much "stuff" in a pinball machine. The real ones are much easier to see what's going on. A 2D pinball game can't replicated the complexity of the real machines and a 3D model is difficult to see.

Lord of the Rings (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12159943)

The Simpsons and Sopranos games are OK, but the best new pinball game of the last several years in my mind is definitely Lord of the Rings [pinballnews.com] . I hated that movie (I only saw the first one... boring!) but even without really knowing the story, the game is just amazing.

Get to an arcade and play it! Highly reccomended!

Greatest Pinball Machine of all time (2, Insightful)

tcd004 (134130) | about 9 years ago | (#12159948)

Theatre of Magic


Re:Greatest Pinball Machine of all time (1)

k98sven (324383) | about 9 years ago | (#12160038)

Bah, too easy to get the Theatre Multiball.

I'd go with Scared Stiff!

Re:Greatest Pinball Machine of all time (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12160260)

Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts has one in its campus center near the mail room. Just FYI. ;)

Why I stopped playing pinball (5, Interesting)

LordOfYourPants (145342) | about 9 years ago | (#12159979)

The price went up to $0.50 to play and I stopped there. Cold. Actually, I stopped going to the arcades in general at that point.

Once every couple of years I'll go to play a pinball game and reconfirm why I stopped: the game never seems to work properly. A flipper will be half dead, the ball will get stuck in some bizarre part of the board, or the game itself will be dead. I'm sure it's because the games don't get a lot of play and therefore see less maintenance, but it's a vicious cycle that, for me, started with the game costing $0.50.

Nowadays I see machines set to $1 to play. I'm not going to risk $1 on a machine that, these days, seems to have a 90% chance of being broken.

It's a shame to see that there's only one pinball machine manufacturer left, but I'm unwilling to pay $1 each time to help them out.

Re:Why I stopped playing pinball (2, Interesting)

Greyfox (87712) | about 9 years ago | (#12160166)

For as long as I can recall, it was a pretty good bet that pinball machines would not work quite correctly. Even when they were just competing against space invaders and galaga, the pinball machines always took a back seat to the video games. Not that a there were a lot of arcades that were particularly concerned with keeping their video games working correctly either.

These days I'd just as soon spend my money on a playstation game and not have to deal with the poorly kept up games and the lack of creativity of the current generation of arcade games. They can all go out of business for all I care. I do miss the pinball though...

Re:Why I stopped playing pinball (1)

RFC959 (121594) | about 9 years ago | (#12160499)

Yeah, well, that was the problem. Pinball machines are physically complex and require a lot of routine maintenance - at least relative to video games, with nothing to clean beyond wiping down the front and no moving parts beyond a joystick and a few buttons. That's part of what mortally wounded pinball. No arcade operator wants to do that kind of work when he could get the same money for much less work with video machines. I play pinball now and then when I get a chance, but I hardly ever even see one these days.

emulate most pinball games (3, Insightful)

havaloc (50551) | about 9 years ago | (#12160016)

You can download various tables and emulate most pinball games, including many favorite Williams tables, such as Indiana Jones, and Star Trek the Next Generation, and Addams Family. These were classics, and the emulation is very good.

You need Vpinmame [vpinmame.com] and Visual Pinball [randydavis.com] working together. It's a little complicated to get setup, but it works well. You then need to download table files.

There are some good sites on how to make them work together, but I don't want to slashdot them.

Re:emulate most pinball games (1)

un4given (114183) | about 9 years ago | (#12160292)

You can download various tables and emulate most pinball games

Anyone who talks of emulating a pinball machine is obviously not a pinball player.
Pinball is all about feel: The bumpers, the angle of the table, how easily the machine tilts,
how 'fast' it plays and how tight the out lanes are on both sides.
A good pinball player can slide, shake, and bump a machine to keep the ball in play. You can't emulate that.

Memories... (5, Interesting)

Huxley_Dunsany (659554) | about 9 years ago | (#12160047)

When I was a kid (late '80s, early '90s), for a couple years my family lived just a couple blocks away from "The Pinball Place", an old warehouse in Berkeley, CA, which had been converted to a repair shop / museum / arcade for pinball machines and memorabilia. I was young enough that my memories are a little hazy, but I recall that on a certain Saturday or Sunday of every month, the management would throw open the doors to the local kids and let everyone play for free on any of the dozens (hundreds?) of machines that were currently functional. I have so many fond memories of playing tons of antique pinball games - "The World's Largest Pinball Machine" ("Hercules"?) seemed to my child-eyes to use chrome bowling-balls, and required one person on each side to push the dinner-plate sized buttons. I also clearly remember playing a pinball machine based on the original Star Trek series...

Anyway, enough wallowing in nostalgia for me - I'm still an avid pinball fan, and look forward to the day when I can own my own machine. It's nice to see such dedication to a wonderful form of electro-mechanical art.


Re:Memories... (1)

TheHawke (237817) | about 9 years ago | (#12160315)

Yup, Atari's attempt to breach the pinball market was the ole Hercules. It actually used a pool cueball as it's playing ball. It didn't do well on the market and atari soon closed it's pinball department and moved on.

The best one that i've ever played, and got my ass kicked left and right was the Addams Family pinball. They had the gravity cranked up just a little higher than usual, making for some interesting situations. We broke it on more than a couple of occasions.

Re:Memories... (1)

Mister Transistor (259842) | about 9 years ago | (#12160353)

Heheh... I played a Hercules once too. The balls were actually Pool cueballs painted silver! You'll be glad to know that the game IS one of the ones emulated by Visual Pinball/VpinMAME!!

I have a real Flight 2000 (Stern) and a Fireball (Bally) both real classics, Fireball was the first multi-level machine (small upper table but, hey...) and Flight 2000 was one of the first "wide body" style games.

I highly recommend owning one. It's a cool piece of history, an excellent conversation piece, a nice bit of furniture, an auxilliary cocktail table, a home bank/safe, and a launching pad for all sorts of interesting things ;)

Gone with arcades (5, Interesting)

Telastyn (206146) | about 9 years ago | (#12160094)

The problem with pinball machines is they were tied to the old style arcades. Arcades would have a guy come out every 3 months or so and bring them new games in exchange for old ones.

Since pinball machines break down [damned mechanical beasties] pretty often, the guy would often spruce them up, and/or replace the little broken bits here and there.

With arcades moving to smaller, less dedicated areas [in movie theatres for example] they don't replace the machines as often. If the machine breaks a little after 2 months, suddenly it's less desirable for maybe 4 months rather than 1.

Futher the larger, less complex video games meant the video game guy turned into more of a mover rather than a mechanic. Pinball machines stay broken longer, or aren't fixed as well. They make less money.

A shame. Pat Lawlor should be as famous as Sid Meier or Will Wright or Chris Sawyer.

Re:Gone with arcades (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12160181)

Pat Lawlor should be as famous as Sid Meier or Will Wright or Chris Sawyer

Uhm, he is, at least to me. I ain't never heard of none of em!

(Well, I have heard of Sid Meier, but the point still stands...)

tr0llkorE (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12160110)

the bottoms buut that supports and Michael Smith

Pinball Wizard? (1)

ajlitt (19055) | about 9 years ago | (#12160116)

No The Who reference in the From * Dept. line? Timmy, Taco will beat you with lead pipes when he finds out.

Slot machines are much more profitable to make. (1, Insightful)

johndierks (784521) | about 9 years ago | (#12160118)

It's sad to see such a great pasttime die out. With the advent of super slick console gaming systems [playstation.com] the industry has really fallen apart. It doesn't help that the best pinball manufacturers [ballygaming.com] make a lot more money developing slot machines than pinball machines.

Re:Slot machines are much more profitable to make. (1)

mikael (484) | about 9 years ago | (#12160458)

With the advent of super slick console gaming systems the industry has really fallen apart.

It's not just that there are super slick console systems. It's that the places where the arcades were located (if not the arcades themselves) were seen by parents to be rather dodgy. Invariably, they would be dimly lit (due to the burnt out screens), and would be relatively expensive (2-3 minutes = 50 pence/cents). For several weekends worth of gaming you could have your own arcade centre, and in the safety of your own home, along with the drinks and snacks of your choice, and without the hassle from any of the 'regulars'.

Cost? (2)

ed271828 (845260) | about 9 years ago | (#12160157)

Anyone have a ballpark figure about what ones of these babies cost new?.. (one day!)

Re:Cost? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12160457)

"Anyone have a ballpark figure about what ones of these babies cost new?"

A new Stern pinball is typically around the $4000 mark. Retailers charge a lot more (like $5.5k) but if you shop around you can get them for $3700 - $4000.

Trade (1)

fishmasta (827305) | about 9 years ago | (#12160253)

When my dad was first starting out his dental practice, he used to sometimes take trades in return for dental work. One time we got a classic style pinball machine (I forget which company, but it was about a circus). We've had that machine for the last 20 years and it's needed to be repaired several times. Hopefully with all the pinball manufacturers going out of business, it won't become hard to find a repair shop for it. I hope to have that thing for another 20 years.

Pinball -- Rules (1)

doon (23278) | about 9 years ago | (#12160399)

Being a die hard pinhead (no not that pinhead), i can Say pinball rules. I miss the old days of being able to go into an arcade and merrily drop quarters into machines. Now that pinball is being removed from most arcades (the ones that are left are mostly redemption machines and DDR), it is getting harder and harder to play, a lot of us are starting to collect them. There is a pretty active discussion on all things pinball at Rec.games.pinball [google.com] . Where all of the things in this article and the resulting discussion have be brought up and beat to death.

That being said here is a picture of my humble collection, once we upgrade from apartment 0.5 to house 1.0, we are building a pinball arcade in the basement and this number will grow. My Machines [muldoon.us] One skill that reading rec.games.pinball has shown me is important is fixing them. Part of the reason pins are leaving arcades it that they require maintenance. Changing balls, new rubbers, waxing. Whereas regular games you windex the screen and empty the coin box. I guess it is the engineer in me, and my sucking really bad at video games, that says I hope pinball never dies.

I worked for Atari Games (5, Informative)

RayDude (798709) | about 9 years ago | (#12160405)

I worked for Atari Games in the 90s. They were ultimately bought by Williams at about the same time Williams started seriously considering killing their Pin Ball development.

The big problem with Pin Ball and Video Games is supporting the hardware. Kids are brutal with the hardware and it breaks down a lot. That support costs a lot of money and the arcade owners don't want to pay for it. Pin Ball is much more brutal than Video Games, maintenance wise and that's why Williams stopped producing more than a few models of the things per year while I worked for them.

They thought the future was in Video Games, and they were right, what they didn't know is that the video games would be in the home, not at the arcade.

Coin op video game hardware was out paced by the home computer and eventually the home video game. Coin op volumes and gross margins were so low, that not much could be spent on research and that removed the graphic advantage that coin op had originally used to bring in kids.

They could still make better interfaces (steering wheels, joysticks, track balls etc) but kids were dumbed down by their Nintendo controllers, they didn't need the fancy / different controllers anymore and maybe they didn't want them either.

Pin still exists because its a physical challenge with real physics, a real ball and real flippers. Its simply fun no matter how its put together and you don't have to spend six million dollars to model people and cars, etc like 3D video games, so the development overhead is controllable.

I imagine maintenance is still high, but Stern is the only game left in town, so he can charge the right amount and the remaining operators have to pay it, they have no choice.

I didn't know he still made new pins (that's how long its been since I went to an arcade) and I think its awesome he's still going.


From the pinhead's perspective... (5, Insightful)

MrPerfekt (414248) | about 9 years ago | (#12160532)

It's truly amusing to see this come up on slashdot. Being both a computer and pinball aficionado, it's interesting to see that the slashdot crowd knows very little about pinball.

Lets clear up some misconceptions that I've seen in some posts thus far:

1) Why isn't there another manufacturer to compete with Stern? Monopolies are evil. Well, the problem with that is that the pinball market is very small. 10,000 units is pretty small for a global market. The article mentions that it takes about 6,500 to 7,000 units for Stern to just breakeven. Said another way, the 7,001st machine is where they start to make profit. This is because...

2) Pinballs are very expensive. Expensive to design, expensive to make and difficult to sell a decent quantity of. All told, a new-in-box machine goes for about $4,000. Damn near impossible to sell to a consumer and getting harder to sell to operators in the waning coin-op market. I suppose that there may be some ways for them to cut corners and churn out a slightly cheaper machine but if anyone has seen a Bally/Williams machine from the 90s and compared it with a current Stern product, the difference in quality is noticable. That is because...

3) In the heyday of Williams/Bally, the market was much bigger. Then it wasn't unusual to pump out 30,000 machines of the same model instead of the under 10,000 of current models. More sales equal more profit equals more development funds. The more money available general leads to better development of "toys" and new technologies (optical switches, new hardware platforms, etc). Most Williams machines have several unique "toys" in each model and added a great amount of excitement. Stern usually only puts one "toy" in a machine and isn't exceptionally exciting. That just comes from having to shave back the cost of each machine to try and make a profit easier. It's simple business math and I can't really blame them since the slack between profit and loss is very thin.

All-in-all, hopefully Stern will keep pinball alive for many many years to come. On most "pinhead's" wishlists though is for Stern to be a little bit more innovative and make machines that are a bit more complex like old Williams/Bally machines. But undoubtedly, we'll continue to keep cheering Stern on regardless because he's keeping the dream alive.

Waiting for the newest pinball machine (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#12160547)

Software which uses Apple's Sudden Motion Sensor on the Powerbooks.
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