Pinball in the 1990's - the
age of pinball
[The Dot Matrix Display] [The Addams Family] [Competitors to the Addams Family]
[My Likes and Dislikes] [Wide playfield machines] [Pinball 2000]
[Owning a pinball] [Pinball Maintenance] [Pinball on the web]
For me, as no doubt for many people, pinball started at University/College. I went University between 1984 and 1987. There were always at least 10 pinballs available to me. I think they cost 10p a game, with 5 balls a game, although I am not sure. At the time, I did not know how well served, and lucky, I was.
I can only remember a few machines specifically, those being Haunted House, which was on 3 levels, and no doubt ahead of its time. Another was The Clown, where a clown target moved across the table. If you rocked the machine, you racked up points immediately, and got free games. Everybody knew this, but the engineers never did anything about it. The coin box must have had about 30p in it at the end of the week!
The more I played, the better I got, and the cheaper the hobby became.
As we entered the 1990's, I found that lunchtimes and time after work was increasingly being spent playing pinball with a new-found friend and fellow pinball player.
From this era, I remember playing Rollergames, Whirlwind, Monday Night Football and The Simpsons. The first two games were good ones, but not the latter two, which were not much of a test.
Oh, and then there was Bugs Bunny's Birthday Ball, the worst pinball of all time. Well, except for Strikes N Spares that is.
At this time (round about 1991), the dot matrix display was introduced. I think that the first dot matrix game that I played was Gilligan's Island. Or was it Data East's Star Wars?
Both were not bad games in their own way. Gilligan's was all about getting the finale, where a circular feature rotated to intoduce new shots. This was really well designed, however the long term playability of this game was not good.
I remember really liking Star Wars. However, this is quite an easy game, where you tend to get into auto-pilot repeatedly hitting the ramp shot. The sound and the new dot-matrix were good though.
Then came...the mighty...
Well, whether it is the best game ever or not...place your vote in the "best pin" section of this site.
TAF is certainly a good game, and I wish I had a pound for every game that I have played on it. The randomness of the features, linked to other incremental game play, means that you are never really sure what each game will bring you.
The great music, together with getting a "triple click" on the Seance feature draw attention to this machine wherever it is. TAF heralded the start of the golden age of pinball, when the best games would be released.
This is obviously a thing of personal choice, but The Twilight Zone is usually mentioned in the same breath as TAF. Indeed they were both designed by Pat Lawlor, and are similar in the overall design of the game. They both have a random feature, with many different awards, which alter the path that the game takes. Medieval Madness and Tales of the Arabian Nights are generally highly rated too.
Theatre of Magic is also a popular one with players, as are Cirqus Voltaire and Lord of the Rings (both of which I have only had a few goes on, so I am unable to comment).
Games that I personally like are Jackbot and The Machine Bride of Pinbot. Both of these games are spin-offs from the mid 1980s game Pinbot. Although Jackbot is the more recent game, 'Bride' is the more complex with a rotating head at the top of the playfield. I will also mention Surf N Safari and Red and Ted's Roadshow. Surf N Safari is a Gottlieb game, which generally do not have the long term playability that the Bally/Williams games have, but this is one of their better offerings.
Games that I personally think are overrated are Creature From the Black Lagoon, The Shadow and Medieval Madness. For me, Creature and Madness are too repetitive, particularly Madness where you seem to have to repeatedly hit the drawbridge, and more and more so as the game goes on. I do not like the lane changer on The Shadow, which gets in the way.
There are, of course, too many other inferior pinballs to mention. These tend to be the ones that are not Bally/Williams (Midway).
Wide playfield machines were experimented with in the mid-1990s.
Star Trek Next Generation was probably the best of this crop - a complex game with good long term playability. Others wide playfield machines that spring to mind are Demolition Man, Red and Ted's Roadshow, Popeye and Judge Dredd(ful).
This experimentation did not last for long, and standard width playfields were returned to. A few more pinballs followed such as Monster Bash and the rare Cactus Canyon, before...
Popping a TV screen on the back of a pinball machine had always seemed an obvious thing to do to me, and Pinball 2000 in the form of Revenge From Mars and Star Wars Episode 1 fulfilled this.
Revenge is the better of the two, but I am not keen on Pinball 2000...and I'll tell you for why. The playfield is far too small, leading to repetition (even boredom). There are only really five shots that you have to make, even if they are dressed up by the downward projection of a TV screen.
I had always envisaged pinball machines where new features 'came up' from the playfield as the game progressed, and I guess that Pinball 2000 provides this via the projection. If colour LCD flat screen technology had been available at the time, and the playfield had been standard size, then Pinball 2000 could have been a success.
I have owned four pinballs, and had a loan of an Addams Family for a while. Owning a pinball is becoming a must for all serious players now, as machines in good condition on site (certainly in the UK) are becoming rare now.
Owning a pinball is great, because you can play when you want, and it doesn't cost anything. However, most people get bored of playing the same machine all the time, so machines tend to get rotated between players, as players try to 'trade up'. Bear this in mind if you are thinking about owning a machine. I would avoid machines with video modes as they quickly get boring, and also avoid games like Scared Stiff (see later) and Operation Thunder where you basically follow the same strategy, in the same order, each time.
I have owned Black Rose (not a bad entry level game, however has 3 video modes), Demolition Man (good game with a certain amount of variety), Dracula (not bad, but you are playing for one game in ten when everything goes right), and Scared Stiff. Scared Stiff has the best artwork, and the commentary / innuendo is the best of any game in my opinion.
I don't know whether I am a perfectionist, but when owning machines, I have hated it when there was even the slightest thing wrong with them, and would not rest until the fault was corrected. Also, when I played machines anywhere else I could immediately tell what was wrong with the machine, even though they may have been playing basically OK.
If you have ever looked inside a pinball machine, you will see the spaghetti of wires, and assume that you could never maintain that. However, most people with a basic knowledge of electronics and a soldering iron should be able to do it.
(1) The pinball is intelligent, and will attempt to help you where it can. It will try to compensate for any features that are not operating properly, and also tell you which switches etc are not being tripped.
(2) There is an excellent maintenance/repair guide on the internet at pinrepair.com. This was my bible when I maintained pinball machines.
(3) Never use oil on a pinball! If you use a pinball wax, then use it very very sparingly, as the ball will spin around uncontrollably for some time after application, possibly flying off habitrails and damaging the machine.
(4) Don't forget your toothbrush! I always used an old toothbrush together with household spray polish sprayed onto non-fluffy cloths (and the toothbrush) to clean the machine. UK examples are Pledge and Mr Sheen, which provide a good anti-static playing surface. The toothbrush is ideal for cleaning inside the plastic solenoid sheathes and places that are awkward to get to. A high proportion of pinball faults and sub-optimal operation is down to an accumulation of 'dirt' - mainly tiny bits of rubber.
(5) Make sure the pinball is perfectly flat - put a spirit level horizontally across the front and back of the glass. Use the small in-built spirit level to ensure the playfield gradient is set correctly (refer to the operation manual if you have one). Generally the operation manual doesn't give you much more than is available from the pinball's help system and the pinrepair guide mentioned earlier.
(6) Pinballs are precision engineered such that the execution of a correct shot should return the ball to the flippers for another go. If this is not the case, then chances are the machine is not flat and/or has its gradient set incorrectly (eg ball draining down the outlane more than it should do).
In September 1999, I started Wakefield Pinball. This was my first project on the internet, and was initially just a list of pinball locations in Wakefield. I can remember the excitement of loading 2 pages to the internet, and getting them to link together!
Since then, work has continued on the site and about 12 other non-pinball related sites. Although the pinball site may seem relatively compact, a lot of work has gone into it over the years. Changes in browsers, screen dimensions, standards etc means that it is almost a continuous job to keep the site up to date. I have deliberately not introduced a blog because in my experience they tend to get abused, and require further maintenance.
Flagcounter is a nice free addition which shows which countries your visitors are coming from. I have introduced one at the bottom of my home page. Pinball is truly global, although you do not get many (if any) visitors from Africa. I have had a visitor from the Vatican City (Holy See - population 500), so obviously the Pope plays pinball too!
If you managed to get this far on this page, then thank you for visiting the site, don't forget to vote for your favourite pinball, and happy flipping...