CREDIT DOT

Mapping pinball trends for the casual enthusiast…


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PEOPLE: Nate Shivers of Coast 2 Coast Pinball

In roughly one year, Nate Shivers become a very public figure at the forefront of this growing niche hobby. Host of the prolific Coast 2 Coast Pinball podcast, Mr. Shivers ignored the “One A Month, And Only If We Feel Like It” schedule of most pinball podcasts, and decided to record when news broke and when his schedule allowed…which turned out to be quite frequently. At his peak, he records three 45-minute shows per week. At publishing, Shivers is just sixteen episodes shy of an even hundred, and has done so in just about 52 weeks. You do the math. Based in San Diego, California, Shivers is a travelling guitar salesman (sounds like a job your grandpa should’ve had) and uses his frequent travel to hit pinball hot spots across the country, like Modern Pinball in NYC and the Silver Ball Museum in Asbury Park, and attend high status pinball shows, like the Midwest Gaming Classic and the Texas Pinball Festival. He has scored interviews with nearly every boutique manufacturer in the industry and even Gary Stern himself, but the heart of his show lies in the one-man opinion/commentary format the show usually follows. No matter, you can expect Mr. Shivers to consistently deliver a show with interesting content and high production values, whether he is recording from the comfort of his San Diego home or from a hotel in Syracuse, NY. He has a lot to say about pinball, and it seems we, the community, are eager to listen. I was lucky enough to be able to exchange e-mail correspondence with Nate earlier in the week, and conduct a brief interview with him. Credit Dot: Coast 2 Coast Pinball isn’t your first foray into the podcast arena. You have alluded to it on past episodes, but what is your history with the medium?

Nate Shivers: I had a podcast in the early to mid 2000’s called ‘The Tin Can’ with a friend of mine. I was living in the Baltimore area, and he was in Texas. It was just a general topic/comedy type show that we started out of boredom. We did a weekly episode on and off for a couple years. I also did college radio at Arizona State, so I have always been drawn to the radio/podcast world.

CD: I’m assuming Clay Harrell’s TOPcast was a big influence?

NS: I have listened to every TOP episode. I love hearing the history of the hobby from the designers. The early shows are not as compelling to me, as they really go down the rabbit hole of tech/repair which is not my forte, but I love that they were doing the show LIVE, and taking calls. You have to have an amazing amount of knowledge to field tech questions on the fly and actually be able to answer them right away. Clay is amazing like that.

CD: Are there any other figures inside or outside of the hobby that influenced what you were trying to do with Coast2Coast?

NS: The show is called “Coast 2 Coast Pinball” as a tip of the hat to Coast 2 Coast AM which was hosted for years by Art Bell and now by Greg Noory. It is a syndicated radio show that I grew up listening to late at night on AM radio when my family would go on road trips or I would travel with my dad. The show focuses on the paranormal, extraterrestrial life, and other “strange” topics, and I just love it. Art Bell was my favorite, and I loved his rapport with his listeners.

CD: I’m not an expert in this area by any means, but what is your hardware/software setup like for recording?

NS: More basic than most think… I use Reaper as the software, and either a nice condenser mic or a headset type mic when I am travelling. A little post editing with compression, eq, and reverb… That’s about it.

CD: I have chosen to “write”, while you have chosen to “record”. What are the similarities/ differences advantages/disadvantages between the two opinion mediums?

NS: I can just run my mouth for hours on end… It flows very easy. When I write, I tend to go back and edit over and over, which slows me down. I love podcasts as I can multitask with them… I can drive and listen, work on a pinball machine and listen, etc. I don’t have tons of time to just sit and read right now. I think writing may stand the test of time a bit better. When you do a podcast, you can easily date yourself.

CD: In the show, you refer to your “notes”. Are these pen and paper notes in a notebook? What are the advantages to using this medium to shape your thoughts?

NS: I have this college ruled composition notebook that acts as my “notes” for C2C. The first 40-50 episodes each have two full pages of notes… tons of writing, mostly hard to even read… but I wanted to be super prepared. As the show has started to cover more news, and my travels, I have leaned on the notebook a lot less. I still write the episode number on top of a new page every time, but some pages are totally blank, as I don’t need notes to talk about things as they are happening. Some episodes, especially when I go deep into a production year or a specific game are just wall to wall ink… as I need all the info right there.

CD: Start to finish, how long does it take you to produce one 45-minute episode?

NS: Notes can pile up for a day or a week… just random thoughts or bullet points I want to remember to touch on. Then I can bang out and episode from my first mic check to the upload of the podcast in about 2 hours. Sometimes I will spend longer on some dumb comedy attempt for the end of a show than it took to record the whole show. I thought it was very important from the start that the recording/editing process be as turn-key as possible, that way I could do shows really whenever I had something to cover.

CD: You introduced your podcast into an already crowded field, with shows like the Pinball Podcast and Spooky Pinball dominating the landscape. Were the formats of existing podcasts influential in the approach you took? What sets Coast2Coast apart from the rest?

NS: All I knew for sure when I started episode 1, was that I wanted a show that was shorter than what was out there, and that could be done multiple times a week. I personally don’t mind the long formats that others use on a monthly basis, but I knew I couldn’t do a 2+ hour show more than a few times a month, and it wouldn’t be as likely that someone would listen to a complete show if it was really long. I also wanted to cover news, happenings, and events as they happened, and not a monthly overview, which also just felt better in a 45 minute show. Some weeks I have done 3 shows, sometimes one show in 10 days. Not having a co-host or anyone else adding content has made that possible. I also worry sometimes that people will just get sick of one dude talking and talking and talking about the same stuff all the time… but so far, so good.

CD: There seems to be a real camaraderie between pinball podcasters. Is there a competitive spirit between you guys or is it all hugs and rainbows as it appears?

NS: I think everyone wants a bigger, more exciting pinball universe. So in that regard, I think it behooves all of us doing a podcast or a website or a blog to support each other and help our listeners find the other people adding content to the pinball hobby. I am sure there is a bit of a competitive vibe here and there… Anyone who keeps a show going for more than a few months, must want to be good, and do better work each time out, so you naturally listen to others and compare a bit. Luckily, it’s only pinball, and we are all just doing this for the fun of it, and nobody’s livelihood depends on their podcast.

CD: How much of a fanboy were you when you got to talk to industry heavyweights Gary Stern and John Popadiuk?

NS: Hmm. I respect these guys a ton. I appreciate their work immensely, but having worked in the guitar business for all these years, and meeting some of my childhood heroes in a work setting has really mellowed me out on the “fanboy” front. Gary Stern reminds me of Hartley Peavey the owner of Peavey Electronics… very similar in personality and demeanor. He is a businessman. The designers are much more like artists or musicians, and when you meet a guy who ends up being a really NICE guy, or seems to still be excited about the whole thing, like a Popaduik, or a Steve Ritchie, it really makes you feel good about pinball in general.

Nate with some legendary pinball designers at this year’s MGC.

CD: With such high volume output, trying not to burn out or get sour on the hobby must be a real challenge. How do you combat that?

NS: It is such a source of joy and fun for me. I am a huge music/guitar guy at heart, but I have worked in that industry for the past 17 years! I wouldn’t say I have burnt out or soured on guitars, but I certainly don’t go visit music stores when on vacation! Pinball is still mysterious and exciting. I meet guys who are selling their collections off because they bought everything they wanted and it just doesn’t have the “shine” like it used to. I am in no danger of that. When I travel and see a machine lit up waiting to be played I still get into it. There are always games to try and buy.. games to fix up, and thankfully new games being designed and released! This hobby is filled with 99% good people, and that makes it very easy to stay motivated to contribute.

CD: What are the challenges in balancing work and home life with your high output podcast?

NS: Sometimes I just have to tell Theresa, “Doing a show tonight”… She gets it. She knows it is a creative outlet for me. I have played in bands since I was 12, and don’t now… So I need this show! Work is the tough one. We have times in the year when I am just slammed all day long, stay late in the office and getting ready for a road trip, and just don’t have the energy to record… But I get out on that road trip, and the quiet, sometimes lonely hotel room provides a fantastic place to get a new episode going.

CD: Your wife Theresa makes frequent appearances on the show, and is met with tons of positive feedback. Why is Theresa such a popular component of the show?

NS: Obviously this is a male heavy hobby. Many of us have tried with varying degrees of success to get the women in our lives into pinball. Theresa loves it… and she is a total performer and knows how to play a great role on the show. She is funny, smart, and gorgeous… so that all helps. I have had more than one email about how jealous a guy is that I have a girl in my life like Theresa who embraces pinball and enjoys it too.

CD: I had the idea a to do a “Pinball Wives” interview series. Perhaps we could glean more information about ourselves and our “collecting disease” if we talked to hobby outsiders that have to put up with it every day of their lives. What do you think?

NS: Maybe… I am so lucky in that regard. I am scared to hear what other women might say about us grown men and out big expensive toys…

CD: On the heels of a rather nasty, and completely unwarranted, post on Pinside by a classless troll looking to incite a war of words with you, can you share a few thoughts or feelings about being a public figure in this niche hobby, and the challenges/opportunities that it brings? I guess you have become one of those “pinball celebrities” I was asking about earlier?

NS: Loved it. For anyone to spend that much energy and effort to try and bring me down… I must have struck a nerve somehow. Likely it is jealousy, or insecurity on someone’s part that they themselves aren’t happy with where their life is right now, which is pretty sad, but I would rather incite a troll here or there than be totally ignored. Now, if someone ever said that to my face, you know, not behind the great protective curtain of Internet anonymity… we would have a situation. It has been a bit of a trip to have people just walk up to me at shows or arcades and know so much about me, but that is part of the experience of a long term listener to any thing like a podcast or a radio show… You get to know the person behind the mic. I feel the same way with certain authors, fellow podcasters, etc… I think people quickly realize how boring I am, and we just play some pinball.

CD: Speaking of Pinside, how active are you on the forum? It is an extremely helpful tool to connect the community but can also be a frustrating experience due to a handful of unsavoury characters. What are your thoughts?

NS: Yeah, the Internet is full of people looking for attention… I don’t take much notice. A guy like Lloyd the Great does more good in one day than any troll can do in a month, so it all works out. Donate to Pinside!

CD: Your “catalogue” of recordings may seem daunting to someone who has never listened before. Other than picking the newest episode and working back, can you share a few episodes that would serve as a good “jumping off” point for new listeners?

NS: I am the guy who goes back and starts at the beginning of podcasts when they are monthly or even weekly, but 80+ episodes is a ton! So I guess it depends on what you want… I think you can check out the BLOG on coast2coastpinball.com and look for tidbits that are interesting. The interviews will be sort of “evergreen”… So: Episode 38 “An Evening With Brendan Bailey or Attack of Junkyard Cats” Episode 40 “An Evening with Scott Gullicks or To the Top of Olympus” Episode 46 “Evening with Ben Heck or America’s Coast Haunted” Episode 56 “An Evening with Josh Sharpe” Episode 83 “An Evening with Clay Harrell”

CD: What are your favourite episodes that you have recorded thus far?

NS: I like the Texas Pinball Festival, the Midwest Gaming Classic, and then probably the Twilight Zone special of Episode 50 and the stuff on the Medieval Madness remake. I have never gone back and listened to an entire show myself, but those were the episodes I liked doing the most.

CD: Can you share some listener stats? How many average downloads per day do you get? What was your most downloaded episode?

NS: It’s a funny thing… The show has 3 main avenues for listeners… Direct from my podcast host, which I can track, Stitcher Radio, which I can track, and then the big unknown factor is Itunes… More people tell me that they listen on Itunes than the other two platforms… and I can’t track podcast plays/downloads on Itunes… so the total listener-ship is likely bigger than I realize. The Josh Sharpe interview was the most downloaded until the Midwest Gaming Classic shows. Looks like the interview with Clay Harrell will be the most downloaded if it isn’t already.

CD: What are your thoughts on the future of the hobby? Where will we be in five or ten years?

NS: I see it continuing to grow. A lot of people who grew up loving pinball, like myself are now settling down, buying houses, making better money and remembering their love of the game. Prices on older games seem to be normalizing a bit, and the new games coming out of late are excellent. Better local clubs and groups are going to help drive the location aspect, and obviously the “Barcade” scene is hot now. I don’t see pinball getting back to the levels of the two or three golden ages we have seen, but as more games move to the home buyer, I think that is okay.

CD: It is well documented that Twilight Zone is your desert island game, so I can’t ask the typical “favourite game” question. In that case, maybe you could share a few games you have never played that really interest you.

NS: I have played just about all the A and B list games, and I always seem to have one or two haunting my thoughts. Champion Pub is a game I want to own. I have a deeper love for Circus Voltaire now than ever before… As far as games I have actually never played…. Congo and Pinball Magic are the only two games in the Pinside top 100 that I cannot remember playing. So, that would be cool to do. Also, Big Bang Bar is sort of a thorn in my side, but I have a chance to play one coming up this summer!

CD: To close out the questions, are there any future plans you can share about the direction of Coast2Coast Pinball?

NS: More video. I would like to do a monthly Video show… sort of what PAPA is doing with their Road Show, but with my pace and vibe. I have other ideas for live shows, call in shows, etc… but time is always the problem. I would expect to be near 150 shows by the end of 2014… There are some interviews I have loosely lined up, and will probably get too this year. I hope to get to more and more pinball shows and expos. Hopefully I can keep getting better at the podcast, maybe expand the videos, and get a little bit more interesting website going. I have always wanted Coast 2 Coast Pinball to be my commentary on the hobby for the guys who love the game and spend their money owning/playing pinball.

Catch Mr. Shivers doing his podcast thing over at Coast 2 Coast Pinball  and be on the lookout for him at pinball venues and conventions across the continent!

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FEATURE: Stumbling into Solid State! Gottlieb System 1

Who among us has a deep appreciation for Gottlieb System 1 games? I mean, a real appreciation. A basement full of appreciation. Countless are the collectors who have a wide assortment of early Stern games, and I can name a few people in my circle of collectors who pride themselves on having multiple examples of Gottlieb wedgehead EMs amongst their prized pinball possessions. But where are all the Gottleib System 1s? The same could be asked about System 1’s big brother, the Gottlieb System 80, but with a strong representation from Black Hole and Haunted House in that operating system, their numbers are more robust and examples easier to find. The System 1 was trouble from its inception, and the Gottlieb Co. did itself no favours along the way to alleviate it. Once a mighty giant of the industry, the System 1 experiment was the first move in a convoluted series of events that knocked Gottlieb from its throne, and ultimately began its long, slow demise. History has not been kind to the System 1 platform, and those difficulties only quantified as time marched forward, and pinball machines marched from the confines of the arcade to the privacy of our homes.


With competition being fierce in the silver (maybe bronze?) age of pinball of the late 1970s, it is almost unfathomable that Gottlieb wholly fumbled the ball the way it did. History tells us that Gottlieb had issues in-house creating their own Solid State operating system, whereas the transition was much more seamless for competitors Bally and Stern, who, to make matters worse, “teamed up” to use common technology and parts. Gottlieb eventually contracted out the Solid State platform creation to an outside firm, which would completely handcuff Gottlieb–certainly more so than if the system was created by one of their own inside the friendly confines of the Chicago factory. It added more steps to the overall creation process and would inevitably cost the company more in the long run. Not to mention you would have to work on someone else’s schedule instead of being able to tighten the screws on your own in-house crew.

The System 1 boardset was designed in such a way that there were a finite number of board driven devices that were able to be included in the game. Thus, Gottlieb games from this era seem somewhat lacking in unique features and designers had a hefty challenge on their hands to work within in the limitations of the computer’s controlling ability. Transistors had to be mounted to the underside of the playfield to control any extra features that could not be controlled by the drivers.

Another downfall, not tech related, would be the lack of licencing. Bally had the likes of Ann Margaret, Elton John, Bobby Orr, Evel Kinevel and the Six Million Dollar Man as a part of their pinball stable before Gottlieb even began to venture into viable licences. Their early System 1 games harken back to popular wedgehead themes that were recycled ad nauseam—generic sports, historical time periods, card games, and sci-fi absurdity. Moving forward into the 1980s, Bally kept it current and cool with the Harlem Globetrotters and the Rolling Stones, while Gottlieb used limited licencing, choosing to continue the EM tradition.  Thus, we were met with futuristic bucking broncos and girls with big hips in joker costumes.

To complicate issues, Gottlieb’s foray into Solid State coincided with their buy-out by the Columbia Pictures corporation. I’m sure the merger with the massive entertainment corporation based on opposite ends of the country (New York and LA–Chicago left in no-man’s land in the middle) only furthered Gottlieb’s lack of direction and corner cutting approach to building machines. It speaks volumes that the once iconic Gottlieb logo was slowly swallowed up by the image of the Columbia “rising torch”. It boggles my mind that Columbia, rich in potential music, television and film licences, waited as long as they did to push crossover licences onto Gottlieb pinball machines.  When they eventually did, it was nowhere the pace set by Bally. The bottom line here is that Gottlieb now had to march in line with a coastal, multi-faceted, entertainment-driven corporate agenda, rather than a corporate family philosophy that had been previously driven by one thing: making a profit by building great pinball machines.

Back on the tech side of things, Bally was able to go tits out and do a complete switch to a computerized operating system, whereas Gottlieb System 1s were a motley mix of both new Solid State technology and antiquated Electromechanical mechanisms (the best example of this would be the non-computer controlled, EM-style, switch-driven pop bumpers). Heck, Gottlieb was still towing the EM line a few games into SS production by making EM versions of the first five solid state games–Cleopatra, Sinbad, Joker Poker, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Dragon–albeit in limited numbers.  Perhaps this was done to burn off old stock, but more likely it was done to appease stubborn operators who refused to accept the half-assed System 1 OS. This should be another hint that Gottlieb was not fully confident in their Solid State operating system, even though the above mentioned games did sell well (9,000 games on average for that run of five).

There is certainly a leftover wedgehead “vibe” to these early System 1 games and for that reason you’d think they would be more popular with collectors as Gottlieb wedgeheads are top of the heap when it comes to Electromechanical style and substance. However, collectors and techs alike seem to steer away from this era of Solid State game due to various technical and mechanical issues that include, but are not limited to: 1) a hellish CPU mounted, fixed battery, that if not removed will obviously corrode and deteriorate the board and connections, 2) edge connectors, that are probably the only connection style more unreliable than the Williams IDC that everyone gripes about, 3) the nearly non-existent and difficult to navigate self test procedures, 4) grounding issues that were present right out of the factory, 5) availability of parts, and 6) cost of replacement parts.

I mention those last two as general umbrella “issues”. These machines, when restored, really have to be done for a love of the game, not for profit. Repair difficulty and tracking down pricy replacement parts make restoring a System 1 machine for resale (or a “I’ll get my money back if/when I sell it” scenario) absolutely cost prohibitive. If you are relying on the services of a pinball technician, this is one case where you should believe the tech when he says “The repairs are going to cost more than the machine is worth”. These games were released to the public in large numbers, by today’s standards, however you have to assume most found their way into the dumpster or scrap parts bin given the issues the system had.

I say “large numbers” above, but it is all relative…Gottlieb System 1 production numbers could be dismissed as minuscule compared to the massive production runs of Williams games from the same era. Gorgar, Flash, Black Knight and Firepower all eclipsed the 14,000 unit mark individually. Gottlieb released an impressive number of different titles per year (five in 1978, six in 1979) with respectable production runs, whereas Willaims seemed to craft one big hit (more often than not it was Steve Ritchie doing the crafting) and built it in prolific numbers…on a more reliable operating system at that. You can kind of follow the numbers here, and see how Williams carried pinball into the 1980s and 1990s while Gottlieb limped to their eventual demise. There seems to be an endless supply of Flash and Firepower units on Craigslist…the same cannot be said about Count-Down or Solar Ride. Operators perhaps didn’t have the patience or parts to prepare the Gottlieb games for the home market when their days of earning were through.

Now, however, there are options if you do wish to bring one of these games back to life. Steve Young at Pinball Resource will be a collector’s best friend if a complete restoration is what you wish to achieve, as he stocks unique signature items and other Gottlieb parts you will almost certainly need and won’t find anywhere else. However, Mr. Young’s antiquated octo-step payment system is a pain in the rear to traverse. New customers may be overwhelmed by the old school business practices, and would perhaps benefit by tagging their items onto orders of repeat customers. It is certainly not a click checkout/pay with PayPal scenario.

The entire System 1 boardset is readily available from aftermarket manufacturers like Rottendog and Ni-Wumpf, so you are covered if any backbox component is damaged beyond repair (at the applicable price, of course). A saviour for the entire System 1 OS has been around for a few years now, and his name is Pascal Janin. He has engineered his own version of System 1 replacement boards (and also System 80/80a/80b boards) that are more robust and reliable than the originals. They are affectionately known as “Pascal Boards”, after their creator, and are available directly from Janin’s FLIPPP! organization. The site claims that FLIPPP! makes no profit (!) from the sale of these boards, and that, quote, “Our only pleasure is to see games working back [sic] instead of being trashed because of no suitable boards”. Any one of Pascal’s System 1 boards will serve the complete line of System 1 games, as all information from the series of pinballs has been encapsulated into one board and is accessible through DIP switch settings. Janin also offers an all-in-one board option that replaces ALL backbox components (a combined CPU/Power Supply/Driver Board/Sound Board…fewer edge connectors! Pictured left.) However, it will set you back 235 Euro (that’s approximately $320USD at the time of writing) plus shipping from the EU. Individual boards are also available. To take the project a step further, Janin and Co. have programmed new rules for most of the games, including skill shots and general fixes for game exploits, giving these sometimes one dimensional games a breath of fresh air. All of these new rules can be toggled on and off with the flick of a DIP switch.

Just as Janin has designed not-for-profit boards for the troubled operating system in the interest of saving games, our friend Clay Harrell also seems bent on providing as much assistance as he can to collectors in order to save System 1 games from the scrap heap. As most will be aware, the majority of Clay’s repair guides for the more popular operating systems are not officially available from Clay himself and those that have been mirrored on the web are sorely incomplete. However, the System 1 repair guide is one of the last remaining complete guides available directly from Clay in an official capacity, and he has also posted a handful of YouTube videos showing oddities and helpful tips when working on the system. The main takeaway from the videos is that the games, while being generally shoddy in construction, are not any more difficult to fix than other Solid State games of the era…given the proper instruction.

I would not mind taking a crack at restoring one of these games myself, however their reputation of being bottomless money pits, accompanied by countless stories of collectors chasing ghosts in their machines, have me a bit worried, much like the majority of the collecting community. One overall saving grace is that the art on these games is superb. They are absolutely stunning to behold, as I stated when I reviewed a System 1 game, Cleopatra, earlier in the month. I think Totem holds claim to having one of the greatest art packages of this period, and even though Gottlieb was quite late to the party in the licencing arena, licences don’t get much better, for me, than Charlie’s Angles (even without Farrah). Sure Williams was doing volume during this era, but their art could not match that of Gottlieb workhorse Gordon Morison.  I was able to pick up a pair of “heavily enjoyed” System 1 playfields in Allentown, the aforementioned Totem and Charlie’s Angels…maybe I’ll just stick with cleaning those up and hanging them on my wall, rather than committing to the restoration of a machine that may be more trouble than its worth.

At the 2014 Allentown show, there were quite a few System 1 games on the free-play floor–Cleopatra, Pinball Pool avec Pascal Board, Buck Rogers,etc.  However, there were countless more outside in the flea market area in various states of disrepair, begging to be restored. Finding someone with the knowhow, patience and deep pockets to take on these games is a different story. Bless those that have tried to make the System 1 games more easy to work with through aftermarket parts production and detailed repair information, and let us not forget those that have rescued these games from the scrapheap–it is truly a labour of love for a series of Gottlieb pinballs that seemed to be doomed for failure from the very beginning.

Gottlieb System 1 Games (Year, Units Produced): Cleopatra (1977, 7,300), Sinbad (1978, 12,950), Joker Poker (1978, 9,280), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1978, 9,950), Dragon (1978, 6,550), Charlie’s Angles (1978,7.950), Solar Ride (1979, 8,800), Count-Down (1979, 9,899), Pinball Pool (1979, 7,200), The Incredible Hulk (1979, 6,150), Totem (1979, 6,643), Genie (1979, 6,800), Buck Rogers (1980, 7,410), Roller Disco (1980, 2,400), Torch (1980, 3,880), Asteroid Annie and the Aliens (1980, 211).

Further Reading:

FLIPPP! – Pascal Board homepage
Pinrepair.com – Gottlieb System 1 Pinball Repair
Pinball Repair on YouTube – System 1 Oddities
Pinball Repair on YouTube – System 1 First Time Power-on Procedure
Rottendog – Product Homepage
Ni-Wumph – Homepage
Pinside – Home for the Gottlieb SYS1-SYS80B guys, Yep it’s a club

 


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Mom tilts, and other memories

My mom played pinball. From what I gather, she played lots of it. When I brought my first machine into my childhood home, a Solar Fire when I was fourteen years old, I think my mother played it more than I did the first year it was in the house. I can remember lying in bed on school nights and hearing the now familiar sounds of that early solid state Williams game coming from the basement for hours and hours. I also got to watch my mom, who grew up a tomboy, unceremoniously tilt out on a Funhouse at our local arcade. She was a nudger, and not very lady-like about her technique. She was also adamant that Rudy was calling her a “bitch”…all these years later, I now know he’s saying “Biff”, however, I still think of my mom every time Rudy uses the poorly enunciated term. I never talked to my mother at any great length about her experiences with pinball while she grew up, but I can also remember hitting the recreation room with my aunt on yearly camping trips to play whatever pinball machine we could find. My aunt’s skill was more refined, so it must have been a popular past-time in their neighbourhood while they were growing up in the tourist trap of Niagara Falls in the 60s and 70s.

My mom passed away several years ago and my aunt several years before that. This past Easter, what remains of my mom’s side of the family came for dinner at our home, and we ended the night in the gameroom with all machines buzzing away. I couldn’t help but remember those old days when everyone would gather around Solar Fire after any given holiday dinner for a few games that got intense and very competitive in a hurry.

I miss my mom dearly and I wish more than anything that she was still with us so that she could experience, love and spoil her grandson and soon-to-be granddaughter as much as I know she would. I don’t have too many memories about my mom and pinball, I just thought it was apropos to share what I did remember, this being the day we celebrate all moms.


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MODS: A Trifecta of Transposing Translites

If you are adding a machine to your private collection, it goes without saying that you want it to look its very best. You can have a complete unbroken set of plastics, a quadruple clear coated playfield and a fresh sheet of Invisi-glass, but if Alec Baldwin’s icy stare is looking back at you from the backbox, nobody is going to notice any of that other stuff. There has been a recent trend for pinball fans to produce their own high quality replacement translites for machines that have otherwise questionable art choices. Again, this is the ingenuity of the community at work. These high quality works are not produced in art houses or fancy production companies, but rather on laptops in people’s homes. Well, one person’s home in particular.

The backglass for the once sleeper pinball machine The Shadow is almost universally panned by the pinball community as one of the worst to grace a machine since the Premier/Gottlieb photographic abominations of the mid-1980s. Necessity being the mother of invention, it was absolutely necessary for everyone to erase Alec Baldwin’s handsome face from the annals of pinball history.

Pinsider Aurich took it upon himself to create a brand new Shadow translite that looked better than the original and was of far better quality than any other alternate translites available on the market. Alternate homebrew Shadow translites existed before Aurich’s version, but none really cut the mustard in overall execution or print quality. For some reason, printing on large scale translucent plastic is tough for most sellers of aftermarket translites. Most are washed out, pixelated or just generally inferior. Aurich’s translite is a true work of art. It encapsulates the spirit of the 1930s Shadow serials and presents it in a straightforward, uncluttered manner. Further, to complete the package, a PETG speaker panel was manufactured and sold with the translite as a set. The new Aurich art matches the art deco feel of the playfield much better, in fact, than the original does. The general consensus from Pinsiders was that THIS version was the absolute definitive version. You can’t blame artist Doug Watson for the abomination that is the original. He was following the high-budget, high-concept, no-substance formula that gripped Hollywood in the mid-1990s, thus the original art is a good representation of those values. Also, I’m sure Williams/Bally/Midway was strong-armed by the production company to push Baldwin as a matinee idol, and what better way to do so than with a big ol’ Baldwin head front and centre. (As an aside, this was just one backglass in Doug Watson’s “Big Head Triliogy”, which also includes Terminator 2 and Demolition Man.)

As beautiful as the new art package looks, I’m torn as to whether I would display it on my Shadow machine, if I owned one. A lot of the drive I have in collecting and playing pinball is the connection it has to my youth and experiencing these machines in public spaces in their original forms. Hence, I have a lot of games that I remembered playing when I was younger, and no games that preceded that era or followed it (ie. no EMs, no early SS, no Sterns). Also, I’m not heavy into modding my machines, believing that a pinball machine is best left alone in order to accurately represent the time period from which is was released. I’ve actually taken out mods installed by previous owners after I have added them to my collection. Granted, I have not come across anything that needs modding quite like the Baldwin backglass does. The purist in me would like to think that I would keep the original on the game as historical document. It is far more interesting to keep it installed and preserve it as a snapshot of history…and to wonder how in God’s name someone at Williams/Bally/Midway AND the movie studio looked at it back in 1994 and said “Yup, nailed it!”. I say study/celebtate/comment/criticize the mistakes that have been made in history, don’t erase them.

But again, I think of how horribly executed that original art is compared to how WONDERFULLY executed Aurich’s art is. I guess it’s a good thing I don’t own a Shadow so I don’t have to make this kind of executive decision.

Aurich wasn’t done yet. Next he tackled Stern’s AC/DC art package…setting his sights on a shirtless old rock and roll star (the Premium edition). For his new version, Aurich took the route of so many eBay alternate translites that came before..he just added boobs.

So here we have a hellish female bearing the name of Helen, complete with come hither eyes, a large chest and erect nipples. Again, his package included extras to pull the package together, including a decal to cover up the sneering Angus Young face on the Pro playfield where the lower playfield resides on the more expensive editions. I personally have a few acquaintances who went bonkers over this translite and bought it without question based on the quality of Aurich’s Shadow work, only to have their wives say “Nope…not in this house!” upon its buxom arrival. It’s not family friendly, for sure. It would work in, say, frat houses and biker bars, but not in a family environment (many Pinsiders agree–the first comment from Jodester says: “This looks cool Aurich! My wife would never let me put it on my AC/DC though…”). What really sends me over the edge is that Aurich had requests in the original thread to make Helen topless. Really? Different strokes, I suppose. Almost concurrently with Aurich’s Helen production, Stern revamped the AC/DC game themselves and offered a “Luci” edition…with…you guessed it, no band members and multiple pairs of cartoon boobs. Aurich claims he didn’t make his Helen translite to mimic Stern’s lead. And I believe him. It doesn’t surprise me that two separate entities decided to add boobs to a translite to generate sales from middle-aged men.

The final occurance in the recent translite trifecta is more in line with historical detail. Pinsider RDReynolds, with the help of Aurich, retouched and cleaned up a poor quality reproduction of a Data East WWF Royal Rumble prototype translite and offered it up for sale to the community.

Pinball history maintains that the prototype was mocked up by either Paul Faris or Markus Rothkranz and submitted for use on test machines, yet was pulled before production due to several wrestlers on the prototype leaving the company before the release and to tone down the super-ripped bodies of the wrestlers (there was a steroid scandal just surfacing in the WWF at the time of the game’s development, and Vince McMahon didn’t want any undue attention brought upon it). Technically, boobs were added to this translite too…but they belong to Miss Elizabeth and she was class all the way so it’s a wash. I’m more comfortable giving thumbs way up to this translite as it’s not considered “alternate”…its considered a repro prototype. Upon first glance, it doesn’t appear to be drastically different from the original other than the fact that there are more wrestlers on it–it has the same art style and primary colours as the original, so it’s a seamless replacement. And the best part is that it was made to be there in the first place!

These three examples of backbox “pingenuity” are beautifully executed, of a high quality befitting of the high standards in the pinball community, and are almost universally accepted as being superior to the original art on the three machines. If Aurich choses to expand his portfolio, I’m sure there will be collectors ready to buy in. But like all projects lately, one must tread lightly in the copyright jungle. Aurich made sure to leave all copyrighted logos and images off of his translites (Midway/Bally logos, AC/DC logo) as to not infringe on any intellectual properties. However, if he were to take on, say, Demolition Man or Wheel of Fortune, he’d undoubtably have to contend with licenced likenesses, logos and trademarks in order to make the work flow with the rest of the machine. Will a pinball company just hire this guy already?

As of April 21st, there was another small run of Shadow translite packages available at $175USD shipping within the US included. Both the ACDC Helen and WWF Royal Rumble are in standby mode, and may be run again if demand warrants. Pricing for a Helen package was $125USD plus extras, and WWF Royal Rumble stand-alone translite was $75. Add a message to the thread if you are interested in getting in on a future run.  Links to the original Pinside threads are below.

Further Reading:

Pinside – The Shadow – New original translite
Pinside – AC/DC: New original translite, meet Helen!
Pinside – WWF Royal Rumble Prototype Trans


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NEWS: Coming Up…Vintage Flipper World Showcase, May 16-18, 2014

With Allentown just behind us, and all my money spent on the treasures there, I didn’t think that I would be able to get another pass from the family to head out to Clay Harrell’s grand opening showcase weekend of the Vintage Flipper World outside of Ann Arbor, MI. I was able to float the idea past my wife guised as a relaxing weekend away–-a weekend where our son would stay with his grandpa. To my surprise, she agreed! Probably because she saw the excursion as an excuse to shop while I spent the day playing pinball. Regardless, I’m planning to attend the Saturday event!

I’ve referenced Clay Harrell’s VFW project on this site a couple of times already so I won’t rehash the rich history. Just know that Harrell has filled an old Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) hall with 190 pinball games from every era and re-named the place the Vintage Flipper World (still VFW…I see what you did there).

The details: The showcase runs Friday May 16 5pm-10pm, Saturday May 17 10am-9pm and Sunday May 18 10am-4pm. Tickets are offered on a first come, first serve basis and are available here. Payment can be made through Paypal, and a printed Paypal receipt is required for admission. Friday and Sunday entrance fee is $20, while Saturday runs you $25. With Saturday’s ticket comes an entry into a draw for a Bally Odds and Evens pinball machine. You need not be there in person to win. Clay limited the number of patrons in the venue to not only control crowds, but to keep the lines short on the more popular games. The Saturday ticket is a hot commodity, so buy it fast if you plan on attending!

The games: This list is here. It is extensive. There are going to be complaints from almost everyone that their favorite game of a particular era isn’t present. That said, I’m going to complain in the most positive way possible! I’m surprised that Centigrade 37 and Volley do not make the cut in the 1970s category…then again, those are pretty popular games you’d be able to find at a friend’s place or on a league night (I know of three collections within 45 minutes of my house that have a C37, so there you go). The Bally solid-state lineup is impeccable. The System 11 collection hits all the high spots, however notable from their exclusions are Earthshaker and Dr. Dude. Since I’m a fan of this era, I wish more games that are unique for their rarity were present (Transporter: The Rescue, Radical!)…because using the above EM scenario, I can play a High Speed or F14 Tomcat nearly anywhere, but my chances of finding a Radical! is very limited. The DMD era games make up the bulk of the collection and its a pretty complete smattering of favourites and rarities (including a Safecracker and a Cactus Canyon).

The tournament (if you can call it that): Clay is de-emphasizing tournaments at the VFW. No world rankings, no whopper points, no hefty buy-ins. Certain games will be declared tournament games and if you drop a quarter in, you have entered the tournament. Highest score at the end of the day gets all the money in the coin box. Clay & Co. have the right to disqualify anyone they deem a “pro” or “ringer”. This is a very bold move. In essence, this show is for collectors, casual players and pinball connoisseurs, not for “pros” who spend hundreds of dollars to qualify to win a pot of $250.

The swap meet: The VFW site has plenty of room for folks to come and show off their wares. Vendors are encouraged. Parts guys from Pinball Life and Pin Restore will also be there.

The venue: As a Kickstarter backer, I got to see pictures and videos of this venue throughout its various stages of construction, and it looks to be the perfect place for a pinball showcase such as this. The venue is over 6000sq/ft and includes a pinball workshop on site. Surrounded by acres of land, there is plenty of room to barbecue or camp for the showcase weekend. The venue is located on the outskirts of Brighton, MI–at 8891 Spicer Rd, Brighton MI, 48116. Lodging available in nearby Brighton for those coming from out of town.

From Clay’s comments to Nate Shivers the other day on Coast2Coast Pinball, I fear this may be the only chance, or one of very few chances, we get to explore the wonders of the venue and its treasures within. It is cleared to open four times a year, yet Clay pretty much came out and said they would only be open once this calendar year, and left a big question mark if it would even maintain a yearly schedule. One can only hope this the opening weekend is a success. For me, the three-and-a-half hour drive is a drop in the hat to play some rare games, and some favourites too. For pinball starved aficionados in Michigan, Southern Ontario and Northern Ohio, excitement should be high for this type of event.

Further Reading:
Vintage Flipper World (VFW) – Home Page


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PODCAST: Coast2Coast Episode #83 – An Evening with Clay Harrell

Coast2Coast Episode #83 – An Evening with Clay Harrell

“The waves are big, and heavy, and really salty”. “I’d taken all the low hanging fruit, the ladder wasn’t tall enough”. Those are just two of many fantastic quotes taken from Nate Shivers’ interview with the unsinkable Clay Harrell. Nate covers all the bases in his interview with the pinball folk hero–the current Vintage Flipper World project, the failed Tilt Town venue, the TopCast interviews, and the Pinball Ninja webzine. This almost makes the article I wrote about Mr. Harrell a few weeks back seem moot…Nate got it all from the horse’s mouth!

A few observations:
— I find it very interesting that Clay had to bribe guests in the pinball community (the extent of which is not really discussed) in order for them to be interviewed on TOPcast. I wonder if Nate, in turn, had to bribe Clay?
— I love Clay’s stance on tournament players at pinball shows. He’s a COLLECTOR in every sense of the term. Ah, the age old dichotomy in this hobby…player vs. collector! He doesn’t dismiss tournaments completely, he’s just very matter-of-fact about how torpid they (and their participants) have become.
— Clay’s Vintage Flipper World is cleared by the township for four events per year. Clay’s language made it sound like there would only be one. If you read between the lines, there may only be one EVER. Hopefully the event is a success, and bitching is kept to a minimum so Clay and his gang have incentive to open the doors as often as possible.

I had a bit of insider information that this interview was coming…and I thank Nate for going out of his way to secure some time with Clay. Nate was a bit of a bystander for much of the episode, but he did have all the right questions that got Clay’s wheels turning. It didn’t take much…it’s almost as if Clay was waiting for an opportunity like this to open up about his place in the world of pinball. Clay is such a prolific character that I’m sure he has countless hours of interesting pinball stories left in him that could fill future episodes. Set up another interview, Nate!

Listen here!