CREDIT DOT

Mapping pinball trends for the casual enthusiast…


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MODS: Lighting up Demo Man

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As a follow-up to yesterday’s interview with Art from Comet Pinball LED, I’d like to share a modification I made to my Demolition Man using Comet’s products.

There are two plastic girders that run along the top of the backboard of the game that sit dark 95% of the time despite having transparent blue plastic worked into their design. This is an area begging to be lit up. There are three flashers back there…but their use is limited, leaving the plastics dark most of the time.

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The area in question: the two girders that run along the back of the game.

In a recent Demolition Man refurb video by TNT Amusements, they drilled out an extra four or five holes in the backboard and install individual sockets so that superbright LEDs could be placed in there. This option makes for a very centralized and spotty lighting effect as you can see in the picture below.

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TNT Amusements attempt at lighting the same area with single super-bright LEDs.

I picked up a few SMD light strips from Comet LED (a steal at $2.95USD per strip, available in both 3- and 7-SMD versions in a variety of colours available here). I hoped this would give the light more wash, rather than the centralized throw found in TNT’s modification of the game.

00-demog03As you can see from the image at right, each SMD strip comes complete with three different female ends, depending on how you want to hook up the lights. This also makes for less of a destructive footprint when drilling out the backboard: you need only drill a hole large enough to feed the male lead of the wire through, rather than having to feed an entire socket through. I went with Comet’s blue SMD strips…but I suppose white would have worked as well, as the transparent plastic already had a blue hue. I wired up the lights for each plastic girder to one common lead as seen in the photo below. The smaller left girder was lit using two 3-SMD strips, and the larger right one (pictured below) was lit using two 7-SMDs and one 3-SMD.  The strips can also be trimmed to any length needed.  No permanent modification to the original plastic pieces themselves needed to be done…the SMD stips come with adhesive backing.  Just make sure the area is clean before affixing the strips.  I attached them to the inside top of the grey plastic allowing the SMD glow to shine downward rather than directly at the player.

 

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With a common lead for each, I needed only drill two holes in the backbox to feed the female lead through. Once fed through, I attached the male 47-bulb style end. To keep things tidy, I wired in two extra sockets off of the general illumination string that lights up the rear portion of the playfied (which are also mounted to the backside of the backboard). Leads plugged into the sockets and voila…a nice subtle blue glow to the upper rear of the playfield.

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The final product with a beautiful blue hue.

I find it matches the overall “blue-ness” of the game, and makes for a great contrast against the red lights of the ACMAG and Cryo-Claw. Even with the area being constantly lit, the flashers still have a descernable effect when they are activated.  The strip lighting is extremely versatile and the price point cannot be beat.  These subtle lighting mods are a great way to make old games looking fresh.  Check back for more lighting modifications using Comet Pinball LED products in the future.

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MODS: Creech Speaker Panel Follow-Up and Installation!

In one of the very first essay-style articles on Credit Dot, I talked up the impending arrival of the Creature from the Black Lagoon speaker panel mod like it was the second coming of Christ himself. The brainchild of Jeff Thompson, the speaker panel added lights to the “Starlight Drive- In” sign, the moon, the UFO and the tail lights of all the classic cars lined up watching the DMD. Supposedly, it was something that was to be included in production games, but the project went over-budget and it was axed from the final version. Mr. Thompson has now begun asking for payment, and the first few batches of the mod are being installed in Creeches across the globe. Unfortunately, as of writing, it has been indicated by Mr. Thompson that all of the mods have been spoken for. However, perhaps if you e-mail him directly or message him on Pinside (username: thompso9, and be patient for a response), you can be put on a stand-by list, as there are bound to be people who will back out.

The mod as it arrived on my doorstep.

The panel arrived at my door this past week, and it took everything I had to not clear my schedule and install the mod upon arrival. However, things like this are best done when interruptions are minimized, and I waited until Saturday afternoon for installation, when I knew I’d have a chunk of spare time to dedicate. The mod was packaged extremely well. Contents of the box, as it arrived, included: the wooden panel backer with embedded PCB light boards, four new screws to mount the DMD, detailed instructions and the optional vinyl mask for the standard speaker plastic. Not being an owner of the Deluxe “chromed” panel from Classic Playfield Reproductions–and it wasn’t without a couple of failed attempts at trying to track one down in the past few months–I paid the extra ten bucks for the vinyl light mask that would have to be affixed to the back of my current speaker panel overlay. My total cost, shipping and optional vinyl mask included, was $180.00USD.

The sticky black mask peeled back to reveal the red taillights.

If you have the CPR speaker overlay, this step that is not needed, as it will already has the proper masking cut-outs for the lights. If you are using the original that is on your machine, like me, you’ll have to prep the overlay for installation of the $10 vinyl mask. Removing the speaker plastic from the wood panel was the first step and it was extremely easy. Twenty years of age had dried out the adhesive that held the plastic to the original wood. The wood side adhesive may have dried out, but the other side, that affixed the original blackout mask to the plastic was still holding strong. This was by far the most difficult and time consuming step of the entire installation. The blackout mask came off in large sticky strips, leaving behind a stickier film on the printed side of the plastic. In some places, the paper would pull off but leave behind a thin layer of black paper fibre. Despite the difficulty, it was cool to see the red tail lights first appear from under the blackout; they were originally left uncovered by the white paint mask which all but proves for certain that John Trudeau and the art department had visions of lighting them at one point.

The final Goo Gone clean-up.

The most frustrating part of this process is that you cannot use any sort of scraper to aid in removal of the blackout mask, as there is a chance you will damage the back-printed artwork. Thank god for my caveman-like, unkempt fingernails, as they were the perfect tool to lift and scrape the adhesive without damaging the plastic. Goo-Gone was also a godsend, batting cleanup, and removing any left behind adhesive and black paper fibre. A final rinse with soap and water and the panel backside was ready for the vinyl mask.

Installing the vinyl light mask on the original speaker panel. No fancy CPR panel for this guy, unfortunately.

The reason the vinyl mask needs to be applied is that it contains cut-outs that will focus the light from the PCB onto one single area, rather than being diffused and muddy. Thus, getting the cut-outs lined up with the taillights, Starlight sign, moon and UFO is extremely important. The instructions tell of both the wet and dry method of getting the vinyl mask onto the panel. The dry method is pretty much peel the vinyl mask so the sticky side is exposed, stick it onto the panel, remove the second backing and pray that you got it right. Some Pinside users who have purchased the mod have shared that cutting the large mask into smaller, more manageable sections has helped make placement more precise. I, however, left it as one piece and went with the wet method. I soaked the backside of the panel with Windex, peeled the backing so the sticky side was exposed, and placed it sticky side down on the panel. The Windex allowed me to shift and move the mask exactly where I wanted it without the adhesive taking permanent hold. Once properly lined up with the art, I squeegeed out the Windex allowing the adhesive to bond, and then peeled off the second paper backing. It took just one attempt, and it turned out pretty well.

Speaker and hardware configuration of the original wood panel.

The replacement wood panel is made of quality materials and is precision cut. All counter-sunk T-nuts are placed accurately with respect to the original. There is a plastic cut-out used to help focus the cascade effect of the Starlight sign, and on my unit, it had come loose and was floating around in the box. Thankfully, it wasn’t trashed with the packaging materials, and two dabs of glue put the plastic back in place. The rest of the installation was a breeze, as it was just a matter of moving over the speakers, DMD, plastic H-Channel and hardware from the old wood panel to the new one. The only hardware items that do not get recycled are four mounting screws that hold the DMD-–they are replaced by the four long screws included in order to accommodate, I assume, a ColorDMD. Two holes need to be drilled to hold the capacitor and wire clip that are in line with the smaller speaker. I found that they needed to be placed a little higher than their original locations, as to not damage the embedded PCB on the front of the panel. The completed masked plastic overlay from above was affixed to the front of the wood panel with the included 3M double-sided tape, and that finished the changeover.

Old (bottom) vs. New (Top)

Speakers and hardware installed on the new panel. Note the placement of the speaker capacitor and wire clip. Small starter holes for these two screws needed to be drilled with care as to not damage the embedded PCB on the other side.

The panel has a jumper located on the back that will allow the taillights to stay on, or perform dynamically, which makes them turn on an off at random intervals. It is a neat touch. It ships dynamic and I left it that way, but simply moving the jumper over one pin will make the taillights static. I plugged the mod’s four pin connector into J116 as indicated in the instructions. The red, yellow and black cable that runs from the panel has both a female connector plug and male pins on it. The mod’s female connector plugs directly onto the board at J116 (or J117, J118 can also be used), and the female connector originally plugged into the board is connected to the male pins on the panel’s wire. I fired the game up and the panel lit with no issues. It looks as if the panel lights need time to warm up: upon start-up, the DMD will be fully into its attract sequence before dynamic light movement of the Starlight sign and taillights begin.

Wiring hookup via J116.

Start to finish, the installation took less than two hours. I like that this mod is shipped with all the hard stuff done for you. Many DIY modders may feel differently, relishing a challenge. I was very happy that this mod wasn’t shipped as a handful of PCBs to affix onto (and embed into) the original wooden panel. Shipping a plug-and-play wooden panel, complete with reproduction speaker grilles, was the way to go. The embedded lights on the PCBs are nice and bright–the blue of the Starlight sign really pops–and the mask does a good job on focussing the light source. However, as I was installing this, I thought to myself: “Did I just spend $180.00USD for a few small lights on a panel I hardly ever look up at?” I also realized that these funds were about half-way to the price of a ColorDMD, which is the ultimate speaker panel upgrade. I’m kind of torn here. Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely $180.00USD worth of craftsmanship in the mod, and the end product is fantastic, but I’m left to wonder what these lights really add to the game, especially in a game that has so many other mods and upgrades to consider. Look at it this way: if you invested in the CPR Deluxe speaker plastic, this mod AND a ColorDMD, you would be the proud owner of a $700.00USD+ speaker panel. That’s about the price I paid for my Williams Fire! at Allentown this year, for crying out loud.

Voila! The final product.

The interest in the mod is definitely there, and the early reviews have people raving about it. Pinside user nudgefree stated, “To me it ranks right up there with the Tron Arcade mod as ‘Best mod ever,’” while user schlockdoc says “It looks awesome with the Color DMD and deluxe panel. Worth the wait.” I don’t regret my decision of buying in at all: I’m spending more time looking up at the Creech DMD now than I ever did! The game is a keeper for me, so I felt compelled. I have a new set of ramps, plastics and hardware to put onto the game in the near future to make it an above average example, so this mod is the icing on the cake. Given the five year ordeal of getting these panels made, it looked to be now or never for this mod. You’ll probably never see a run of these again, and if they are re-ran by another individual or company, they probably won’t be made with such precision or to such a high standard of quality. This is a package that wouldn’t be easily replicated in a basement or garage by a hobbyist modder, either. I’m thankful that Mr.Thompson has accepted the call and released these speaker panels to a community hungry for this particular mod, and I can’t wait to hear of his future projects (rumoured: Twilight Zone lit speaker panels). All that is left now, I guess, is to start saving my pennies for a ColorDMD to REALLY make this Creech speaker panel complete…

Further Reading:
Pinside – Interest / Advice on CFTBL Speaker Panel LED Mod Re-Run
Credit Dot Pinball (that’s me!) – MODS: Startling! Shocking! Creature From the Unlit Speaker Panel!


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MODS: That Sinking Feeling– Earthshaker’s Sinking Institute

Here sits the head accountant of Williams, in a small office, just before Christmas of 1988. Sad, threadbare Christmas decorations that were purchased in the late 1960s hang in his office. Gloom surrounds him. He sharpens his pencil and looks over some documents, dreading the time he would have to spend time with his extended family over the holidays. Cousin Al would drink too much and likely go on a tirade fuelled by egg nog and bigotry, his ungrateful children would be disappointed at their large haul of gifts (again), and his mother and wife would fail miserably at trying to hide their distain for one another. His heart sank. If HE wasn’t going to be happy over the Christmas holidays, nobody else would either. He dropped his pencil, grabbed the closest bill of materials report and picked up a red felt-tipped pen. “This oughta do it,” he whispered to himself as a twisted smile crept across his lips. He slowly struck out a line reading “Sinking ES Institute” on the Earthshaker bill of materials, and beside it wrote in big letters “OVER BUDGET – REMOVE IMMEDIATELY”. He let the pen drop from his hands and pressed a red button on an intercom. Softly, he said to his secretary, “Janet, can you please come in here and run a very important document down to Mr. Lawlor and his team?” The secretary enters the office, and the accountant extends the document across the desk. The secretary attempts to take the document, but the accountant’s grip will not relinquish. Their eyes meet. “Oh, and Janet,” the accountant whispers almost incoherently, “Tell Pat to have a Merry Christmas…” He lets go of the document and the secretary slowly backs out of the office. The melancholy account leans back in his chair, holds his head in his hands and begins to weep.

That’s how I imagine it happening, but it was probably a more subtle process. Regardless of how it happened, it did happen. Late in the production of Williams Earthshaker in early 1989, due to budget constraints, a device that would make the Earthshaker Institute sink into the playfield was removed from the bill of materials. About 200 units made it to market with the sinking feature, many of them sample games. The removal was decided so late into production that the playfield was still cut and drilled to include the feature and the programming still contained code to make the device work properly. This was the perfect toy to include in the earthquake-themed game, but was probably low on the list of importance given the other toys included–the California-Nevada fault line which directly impacts gameplay by diverting balls, and the almost mandatory (in an earthquake game, anyhow) shaker motor. Lawlor’s games always seem packed with toys and expensive hardware, Roadshow being the ultimate example of this. I think if Earthshaker would have been released after Funhouse and Addams Family, there would be absolutely no question that the sinking institute would have been left in, as Williams pretty much let Lawlor go to town after having these back-to-back grand slam successes. But Earthshaker was Mr. Lawlor’s second game after Banzai Run, an expensive game in its own right, and perhaps this reigning in process, in terms of budget was a Williams strategy to keep him in check. The subject of why the sinking institute was cut was brought up on part one of Clay Harrell’s three part interview with Lawlor, but Lawlor heads off in another direction to talk about High Speed and theme selection instead of answering the question as it was asked. As I interpret the answer, the sinking building helped reinforce the overall theme and helped set a specific mood, thus Lawlor saw it as an important element of Earthshaker and it should have been included in the final version.

Time for pingenuity to take over once again. With all the proper holes and programming to make the building sink, dammit if someone didn’t step forward and build a rig similar to the original to make it sink! Al Warner (Pinside ID: awarner) and Mark Davidson from Basement Arcade have become the brain trusts of the Earthshaker Institute. The two had previously formed Pinball Obsession, which had offered the kit, however, that website has since ceased operation and the Earthshaker kit now calls Basement Arcade its home on the web. The project of reintroducing movement to the building has roots all the way back to 2003, and has been engineered to near perfection since. Mr. Davidson was able to create an original rig by setting two Earthshakers side by side–a prototype model with lowering Institute and the more common production version with stationary building. Within a month of starting the project, Mr. Davidson had a sinking institute in his production version that sank much like the original.

The process of installing one of these kits seems simple enough. Remove the stationary building from the playfield and attach it to the rig that is provided. The most delicate part appears to be drilling out two rivets on the original assembly. Using the piggyback connectors supplied, wire the unit up through the power and interconnect boards and attach the connector to the rig itself. Then it is just a matter of reinstalling the new assembly below the playfield. It’s as easy as that really. There has been one slight hiccup: buildings raise in such a way that it will bind on games that have reproduction ramps, resulting in the owner having to notch their repro ramp for the proper clearance. Other than that, Mr. Davidson has done all the hard work for you, and left the end user with a very simple installation process and detailed photographic instructions to help you along the way. I particularly like the fact that piggyback connectors are provided, so those collectors who are not adept at splicing wires or crimping connectors would be able to install this mod with ease (also a plus for lazy modders, I guess). Further, it makes this mod completely reversible with little effort. However, once this mod goes in, it will probably never come out.

I find it incredible that this piece of machinery is made by hand by Mr. Davidson in his free time. Much of this sort of thing is farmed out overseas to minimise cost these days. At $275USD plus shipping, the mod is a pricy one, and all for the up and down movement of a square piece of plastic. Many have balked at the price, and in response, Mr. Warner, on Pinside, outlined all the man-hours and craftsmanship put into making one of these and touted its glowing track record:

“All of the parts are made, one at a time with a C&C. Some individual parts take over an hour each. After you have all the parts you made (at considerable expense), you then have to source motors that will work. You purchase the motors (that probably went up since the last time you made these) and now all you need is wiring harnesses which uses connectors that are not available anywhere so you MAKE YOUR OWN CONNECTORS that allow the unit to be installed without having to splice a single wire. Finally, you assemble it all and put it in a box to sell. Because you don’t have unlimited funds, you can only spend $5000.00 of your own money until you get some more orders or can sell the ones you made. then when you sell them, some people start complaining that “They are too expensive” or “They can make them cheaper”. This goes along until you sell them all and people want them again. Then they complain that they would pay anything for one now and that you should spend your entire life making these things not knowing if you’ll ever sell another. We have lives with Families. We make this stuff for a modest profit and provide something that no one else does. We can’t make them faster, we can only make them well and on our schedule. We’ve had one return in the 10 years we’ve made [Dr. Who] Wobble Heads and ES kits […] Everyone that has them has had no complaints.”

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Credit Dot write-up without some bad news: the availability is very limited. Mr. Warner revived the idea of putting the kits back into production as recently as one month ago, and Mr. Davidson fulfilled the interest by making five (yes, just five) more kits to satisfy demand. I’m unaware if any of these kits are left for purchase at the current time. It appears from the Pinside conversation that finding and purchasing the motors for the unit is the key to the whole operation (besides the time needed to put the mech together). As much as the quality looks to be top notch on these kits, I’ll mention the Basement Arcade website is ghastly to navigate and not very appealing to the eye. It may turn some away. It is a good thing much of the interest is garnered through Pinside without having to go to the Basement Arcade to get your hands on a kit. There are a large number of DIY instruction pages on the web that show you how to make your own sinking Institute, if you’d rather not spend the money on the professionally made kit.

I’m actually surprised that a larger pinball company has not tried to build their own Institute kit at a lower price point, or even approached Mr. Davidson to make a small quantity to be offered on their conglomerate webstore. The thread I quoted above was started by a Pinside user looking to buy one of the sold out building kits, and it heads off of the garden path rather quickly into a discussion about the perceived high cost of the item. Mr. Warner mentions the Dalek wobblehead kit in the above quote, a project he and Mr. Davidson also worked on which brought motion back to the Dr. Who topper (motion that was also axed before production). It seems a version of their kit was offered by a different company for a lower price than what Pinball Obsession was offering it, but the quality was grossly inferior. Again, I’m shocked that it hasn’t happened with the Earthshaker kit as well, given the cutthroat mentality of some folks in this community. Perhaps it proves that there is still no substitute for quality.

Production of this mod looks to be a labour of love for Mr. Davidson. I’m not saying there is no money to be made here, but any profits to be had are well-deserved, as the time and effort that goes into making them appears to be at a maximum. The mod itself has been through three revisions throughout its existence. Revisions, as I observe them, are a redesign of the arm that raises and lowers the building, a clean up of the wiring/connectors and an overall sprucing up of the fit and finish of the actual unit.

If Earthshaker is a game that will reside in your collection for any length of time, this is the ultimate mod to have. It is a feature that was meant to be there all along, so it is only natural to retro-fit it back into the game. It is a modification that appears to be easily reversible, so one could conceivably remove it to keep the price of their game saleable, however, the feature is much sought after and if left in, would be a key selling point for the game. I personally do not have an Earthshaker, but I do enjoy the game immensely (more so than its disaster brethren, Whirlwind). I would have one, but having limited space in my gameroom and having two of those spaces taken up by Lawlor games already, I’m hesitant to add another. If I did have one, I would probably suck it up and spend the money on this kit. It’s a cool feature that doesn’t have much to do with gameplay, but it was part of the original vision for the game, and that is enough for most collectors to buy in. Here’s hoping production continues at a pace that satisfies demand.

If you are interested in adding your name to the list for an upcoming run of the Earthshaker Sinking Institute Kit, please contact Al Warner via Pinside PM (username “awarner”) or email Mark Davidson at mark[at]basementarcade.com.

Further Reading:

Pinside – Earthshaker Sinking Building
Basement Arcade – Earthshaker Institute Sinking Building Kit
Basement Arcade – Operation Moving EI
Pinball Obsession – Homepage (Inactive)
Pinball Obsession – Earthshaker Kit Manual Version 1 (original)Version 2Version 3 (Current)
KLOV/VAPS – Earthshaker Sinking Building Kit (2011/12)
Instructables – DIY Earthshaker Sinking Institute


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MODS: Foiled Again! The White Water Topper Reproduction

You could easily file this next twisted tale of never-ending reproduction development in the same category as the Creature from the Black Lagoon speaker panel mod I wrote about earlier in the month. While the definitive Creech speaker panel is slowly making its way into the hands of collectors as you read this, the White Water reproduction topper foil is still surrounded by question marks and disappointment.

An original White Water topper is a sight to behold. I had seen the effect in arcades when I was younger, but I was still blown away when I bought my White Water and fired it up for the first time. To this day I’m still amazed at the ingenuity used to create a feature that was completely divorced from gameplay. It was purely a hook used to snag quarters from across a busy arcade. Like the Addams Family before it, the game title was featured on the topper alone, not on the backglass. This glowing topper also makes the game stand taller than all the rest in a lineup, mountainous even, which works well with the overall theme. Like many toppers of the era, quite a few were discarded, broken or stolen over their life in the arcade, so finding one with a complete assembly attached, no matter the condition, should be considered a bonus. I was lucky to get mine complete: with a relatively un-faded foil sticker, properly cascading lights and decent clear dome. However, many of the twenty-year-old assemblies have seen better days. The special bulbs used in the topper obviously generate heat, and the enclosed plastic dome hinders proper ventilation–so many of the white plastic backers are cracked and brittle, and the affixed waterfall foils bubbled, faded and stressed. The metallic sticker is a four-colour process on a heavy foil cardstock and embossed using a die, so that the sweeping lights reflect off of the stamped ridges, making the water and mist looks as if it is in constant motion. A bubbled or stressed sticker will interfere with this delicate effect. Further, UV rays have not been kind to the orange and blue hues, fading them to a muddy mess.

Great Lakes’ WH20 Topper Light PCB

Treasure Cove’s “masking” solution

I guess the good news first: if your topper is missing completely, you can get pretty close to replacing the entire assembly. The cascading lamp PCBs are available from the good folks at Great Lakes Modular for $30USD each (the game uses two). Keep in mind the bulb size for these lamps are the oddball 194s, not your standard 555s. A reproduction dome, the same one that is used by Fish Tales to house that damn flapping fish, is readily available from many sources, like Marco Specialties, for $69.00. Unfortunately, one piece of the puzzle is missing: the foil die-pressed sticker. The only solution offered to this point is available from Treasure Cove. Two versions are offered: a complete sticker printed on vinyl that lacks die pressing which does not reproduce the cascading effect at all, and a “cutout” version, also printed on vinyl, that would leave the original embossing exposed and would only cover up the faded colour artwork. This is by no means a definitive solution…but I guess it would look okay, and some have settled for it. If someone would come up with a true reproduction of the original effect on a foil sticker, there WOULD be a market for it. Word of a true reproduction surfaced on rec.games.pinball (RGP) in December 2011 via Daren Jacobs of Phoenix Arcade. Mr. Jacobs wrote:

“I have been in touch with the original artist Phillip Grear who says for sure the plates are gone for good. I take him at his word and didnt question them. New plates need to be made and he says he can do them but attached a very hefty price tag to them. There is also a relatively new process I’ve found through a company who says they can do this. Once we get a little further with this Ill get some samples from them. I also visited a company in PHX when I lived there that does this type of work and seen samples in person. But it was quite pricey to do. We want to target $200 and not go above it. That’s the goal.”

Response seemed fairly positive. Folks were willing to pre-order to cover costs, if necessary, and genuinely thought $200 was a fair price for the foil sticker. It would be up to the purchaser to obtain the white plastic support or reuse their old one. Having the original artist on board for consult and direction was a good sign. Rough numbers were bandied about, and it was stated that a cost-effective run would be in the area of 500 units and 250 would have to be sold to hit the break-even mark. 250 is a lot, however, there were a lot of sorry looking WH20 toppers out there with owners that wanted them looking their best. The die tooling would probably eat up the majority of start-up costs. James Loflin of Pinball Inc. posted in the thread and said he would help fund the costs of the project, which was met with, one can assume, off-board discussion between Mr. Jacobs and Mr. Loflin, however there was no sign that Mr. Loflin would be involved (Loflin will make his return later on in this story, so keep reading). Months passed, before Mr. Jacobs gave this update in March 2012:

“Made a little more progress and established a working relationship with the original foil artist Philip Grear who will be highly instrumental in getting this project done. At this point I’m stepping aside to let Rick [Bartlett, of Planetary Pinball/Bay Area Amusements] take it from here and get you all a sweet new topper. Just ask that you continue to be patient. I’m confident Rick will make you all pretty happy.”

Thus, the project was handed over to Mr. Bartlett. There is a gap that needs to be filled in here as to why. Funding? Licencing? General difficulty in getting this item manufactured? My money is on general difficulty. Regardless, it seemed the project was in Mr. Bartlett’s capable hands. The thread goes dead here after a few promises of progress. Then, in May of 2013, nearly a year and a half after the original suggestion of the project, a post appeared on Pinside announcing the White Water topper decal would be available from Twisted Pins, a relatively new pinball restoration online retailer. The post announced:

“Twisted Pins is pleased to announce that we have released a Whitewater foil topper that is approved and available under the PPS license. As you may know this topper has never been reproduced by anybody. Our topper decal is made the exact same way Williams made it. The topper is printed using a 4-color process over white and embossed artwork using .010 foil stock. These are not paper thin decals or printed by an inkjet printer or next generation technology.”

Screen cap from Twisted Pins’ web store

The original cost for the foil sticker with white plastic support was $179USD, or you could add the clear tub to the package for $219USD (prices have since increased). The foreshadowing should not be lost here: the project passed hands from Bartlett, a trusted retailer of quality repro parts, to an unproven player in the market with a shallow track record in large scale press production. Regardless, a pre-order schedule was included in this original announcement and folks started sending in their money. The printing and embossing work was done in Germany, as Twisted Pins claimed that nobody in the US could work with a die as large as this one. With hindsight being an author’s best friend, its very interesting to see so many participants in the Pinside thread asking to see a video of their first samples or early production pieces. Video was promised, but not offered. A photo surfaced of an original next to a Twisted Pins reproduction piece. One user, “ShaunoftheDead”, responded:

“It looks weird in the photos, the original seems more detailed, deeper embossed – the foil part. Be interesting to see if its just the way its been pictured, but I guess video will tell.. […] Surprised they announced/put it up for sale before a video…”

This post, read now, speaks volumes. The grand unveiling was to be at Pin-A-Go-Go 2013, however Twisted Pins were unable to fulfill the promise due to shipping logistics. Interested parties, those that had purchased and those that were waiting for further video evidence, were still waiting with baited breath. When the topper finally reached the hands of those that had pre-ordered, following the Pin-A-Go-Go-No-Show, the first signs of disappointment surfaced, led by user “Tortelvis”:

“Mine arrived today and I don’t see the same cascading water illusion like the original has.”

Many other “fail” reviews, and the above videos, followed. Quick on the recovery, Twisted Pins chimed in:

“We stand behind everything we sell. We will gladly exchange out the toppers at no cost for anybody who wishes when we get our next run done in 2 weeks. We currently are making a new die for the embossing that will allow for it to be much deeper. Should anybody wish to return it that is fine also.”

As an outsider, not having a horse in the race and reading this thread as it unfolded, it sure seems to me that Twisted Pins shipped a product that they knew did not accurately replicate the original. That isn’t good business. Especially not in a small hobby where trust is key and customers have an elephant’s memory. Twisted Pins claimed that if you used a shim under the white plastic support (in the form of a washer) the cascading effect would be more pronounced. Regardless, when the first batch arrived at Twisted Pins HQ and they tested the product, they most certainly should have been scrapped rather than shipped, or at least offered a video of its performance for their customers to decide if it was up to their standards. It’s great to have a customer friendly return policy, but how about being friendly to customers in the first place by not wasting their time by shipping them a product that does not live up to expectations.

Time marched on in the eight page Pinside post, up until the present day. James Loflin (see! I promised!) joined the conversation briefly in the thread. There now sits a series of blank posts where Mr. Loflin and Travis of Twisted Pins had a back and forth, presumably relating to Mr. Loflin’s non-involvement dating back to the Phoenix Arcade initiation. Every so often, Twisted Pins surfaces in the thread and offers that progress, albeit slow, is being made. They claim they have “too much money invested” in the project to let it fail–and I believe that–but how many failed die pressings does it take before you wash your hands of the entire project? Maybe someone else needs to take the reins. Maybe a different solution has to be implemented in the form of a digital display. The failure or unwillingness to follow through with topper reproduction by two other known and trusted commercial entities in the pinball community should speak volumes as to the difficulty of replicating the original.

Twisted Pins has recently announced they are going to start making ramps, beginning with the Taxi “Spinout” ramp. There is a lot of call for this particular ramp, however, to say that Twisted Pins has damaged their reputation in the White Water topper disaster is an absolute understatement. I sincerely hope they get everything sorted out, and a viable foil topper reproduction can enter the marketplace. Many have received refunds for their toppers, while others have kept them, waiting and hoping for a replacement to be sent. Either way, I’m afraid this story doesn’t have a happy ending just yet…

(Note: Twisted Pins was contacted through their contact email address AND through the “Contact Us” form on their website on May 15 2014, but no one bothered to reply. I clearly stated my intentions for this article, to chronicle the history of the WH20 topper with as little muck-raking as possible. I also included a timeframe as to when I was going to post it. They were either unwilling or unable to respond.)


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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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MODS: Startling! Shocking! Creature From the Unlit Speaker Panel!

As if Creature from the Black Lagoon owners didn’t have enough to concern them already–fading hologram, retrofitting pop bumper lights, expensive LCD screen mods, general difficultly in regular maintenance due to an overcrowded playfield–they have forever been plagued with the absence of, or difficulty with, a lit speaker panel. No other game lends itself quite like Creech does for a lit speaker panel; the car taillights, the moon, the UFO and the Starlight Drive-In all beg for lighting from third-party ingenuity. Many have tried to get this project off the ground, but there is no definitive “final form” for Creech owners to install. But there is hope…

There was some indication that the panel was going to be lit right out of the Williams factory back in 1992, but having no impact on the gameplay and bill of materials probably already astronomical, the idea was axed. Ever since collectors started putting these machines in our private homes, the chase was on to find a fully thought out and easy to work with solution to spice up the already busy area around the DMD. Options have been available, and some Creech games do exist with this mod in place. Some folks just went ahead and built their own controller board and mounted their own LEDs, while companies like Pinball Decals and Orbit Pinball have attempted to produce their own makeshift versions, which I’m sure work just fine, but are far from a definitive solution. The price of a Pinball Decals Inc. mod is prohibitive at $400USD. One could use that money to obtain a ColorDMD or a new hologram solution. Here is a video to the Pinball Decals Inc mod fully installed:

Price aside, there was hope for an end-all version. Pinbits–a company whose products quickly become the gold standard of mods soon after release due to their impeccable design and quality–promised a Creech panel mod. However, it has been marred in perpetual development for what seems to be ages. One of the hold ups for Pinbits was re-configuration due to the Classic Playfield Reproductions speaker panel they released in 2010. CPR released three versions of the panel; a true reproduction of the original, an enhanced version with lightblock masking that would work with panel illumination, and a deluxe edition that included the masking along with the added feature of chrome accents. The enhanced and deluxe editions are now sold out. The CPR website specifically notes that the panel was created with the Pinbits mod in mind. There is indication on the Pinbits website that the mod had to be adjusted to agree with differences in the CPR speaker panel plastic. That same page has not been updated for some time with the last entry promising “Design in February, Build in March”. Not sure if this was March 2012, 2013 or 2014; in any case the mod can be considered “past due” from the folks at Pinbits.

Any lighting mods that have arrived over the years have the extra annoyance of not being able to fit on the panel with a ColorDMD. The ColorDMD adds a fantastic new dimension to any of their featured games (Creech seems to be one of the best looking in my opinion) but owners were forced to choose between an intricately lit panel or the amazing coloured animations, as there was little room for both. Workarounds, in the form of spacers, do exist, but did not solve the problem outright. Thus, not only did Pinbits have to redesign what they had due to slight variations in the CPR light mask, they must also make sure their product will work for a collector who wants to run a ColorDMD in the panel. Oh, the problems of integrating modern technology with twenty year old pinball technology.

Creech owners were annoyed at the delay, to be sure, but would have been more up in arms if it wasn’t for PinballMikeD’s Creech Hologram mod that removed the under-playfield hologram altogether and replaced it with an interactive LCD screen. I would argue that this soothed the Creech fanbase, as the design was ingenious and added pop to an area that had been ignored for years. Those that were willing to tinker with panel lighting are the same people that would have an interest in replacing the hologram. A temporary massaging of a sore spot by another example of pin community ingenuity. However, the seed of DMD panel lighting had been planted and someone was going to have to step forward and reap the fertile soil.

With the Pinbits mod in infinite delay, and having some prior experience making light mods, Pinside user Jeff Thompson (thompso9) of Pittsburgh, PA saw a need and posted this about a year and a half ago:

So I just got a bunch of PM’s from RGP as a result of a bump of an old thread about the CFTBL speaker panel mods I made about a year ago. For those of you who aren’t aware of the mod, it is designed to work with the CPR repro speaker panel plastics with the light mask. It lights up the taillights of the cars, the moon, UFO, and chases the Starlight sign. I also offered a peel-and-stick vinyl light mask to be used with the original speaker panel plastic if someone didn’t want to spring for the new panel. I have a video of it in action that I’ll post once I find it again.
It seems there could be enough interest to do another run. I have had some people show interest in a version of this mod that had some lighting effects based on game triggers. So I am interested to know: a) are there are more people who want this mod, b) if there is interest, how much interest is there in a rev 2 mod that will have some lighting effects linked to gameplay, and c) if b, then what kind of effects are you interested in seeing?

Some questions about the mod were answered early on in this six page thread:

1) Can I use the original panel?
Yes, I have created a custom-cut vinyl peel-and-stick mask for using the original speaker panel for $15. The original is set up for backlighting but Bally/WMS applied the black adhesive mask on the back of the panel like they do on many games that completely blacked out the entire panel. This needs to be removed with Goo Gone (or similar) and some elbow grease. If you are willing to do this, then the $15 will save you the cost of the CPR repro panel. Mind you, the CPR panels are very nicely done and the premium version includes the mirrored car bumpers which looks really neat. FYI the video I posted is of my original panel with the light mask as I scratched the crap out of my CPR repro during the development process (there are lots of sharp things in my workshop).
2) What is included?
The panel itself is baltic birch plywood (not cheap MDF like the original), painted black and custom routed to contain the PCBs and other hardware from the original panel. You’ll need to transfer over all the metal parts, except t-nuts and display mounting screws, which are already installed, to the new panel. Speaker grilles are also included since the cutting of these is pretty intricate to create openings for the LEDS and i didn’t want people to be cursing as they accidentally cut too much off their originals, or cut them jagged and scratched the artwork on the panel, anyway you get the idea. There is a plug and pass-through connector that plugs onto one of the +5V connectors on the power driver board. That’s basically it. I will post the installation instructions for the kit when I get a chance so you can all see how it will go.

This looked promising. Finally a version of the mod that would take into consideration all the trouble areas that have popped up, work with the existing CPR panels if you were able to get one and also work with the panel currently in your machine if a CPR version eluded your grasp. On top of that, the mod promised a dynamic light show during game play. A version was shipped by Mr. Thompson about six months after the original announcement, and folks seemed genuinely happy with it. There are a slew of people waiting for the next revision of the mod as well–wading through the “I’m in!” posts in the original thread to find actual information about the progress is a frustrating task. An upcoming revised version of the panel mod, which could end up being the ultimate definitive version, is still unshipped at the time of writing, but unlike the Pinbits mod, an end seems to be in sight. An update was given by Mr. Thompson three months back outlining the revisions and price:

I figure this is the best way to get word out that the latest run of CFTBL speaker panel LED kits is going to be available very soon. PCBs are on order now and parts are coming in for the new build.
Here are the changes/improvements in this latest revision:
1) All connectors encapsulated in the panel: ColorDMD and other mods should fit without interference now due to the fact that there is no wire harness connecting the LED boards together externally. Everything is done inside the cavities in the panel now and won’t even be visible from the back anymore (save the power entry connector).
2) Jumper-selectable taillight behavior: A jumper will configure whether the taillights are always on or dynamic.
3) Thinner PCBs: This will move the LED boards back from the bezel a bit and allow the light to spread out more to reduce pinpoint brightness issues.
As before the panel still supports game integration features that I have been dragging my feet on implementing. I have a PCB design that should do the trick and need to get that done after these ship.
Price is $149. I know this is a bit more than last time but costs never seem to go down anymore, everything costs more each time I do this. Shipping is generally via USPS Priority Mail for $15 anywhere in the contiguous US, but I do also ship elsewhere, at various rates.
Shipping will occur in groups as soon as I get the PCBs back from the assembler. This is the biggest unknown right now as this is not a huge job for them and they need to squeeze it in between other stuff. But things are on track and I want to make sure everyone knows that this next batch is definitely going to happen.


That isn’t a typo. $149USD for the painted wood panel with lighting installed, complete with a PCB, speaker grilles and room for a ColorDMD. Another $15 for a light mask if you don’t have the CPR panel. Plus $15 to ship it all. People were practically crawling over each other to give Mr. Thompson their PIN numbers. Joking aside, this looks to be the grand finale of a very long journey at a price and quality that certainly blows any version that currently exists right out of the water. I started writing this post a few days ago, then finally, last night, as if Mr. Thompson knew my essay needed a happy ending:

The wait is over! CFTBL panels are slated to start shipping this month! I’ll be notifying the first shipping group by email (or Pinside mail, whichever I happen to have on file) in the next 2 weeks. The emails will include payment instructions and a serial # to help me match up people with panels.
Here are some pics of a finished panel. You’ll see in the pictures below that there is a new component added to the design, a light block to prevent bleed from letter to letter over the Starlight sign. This, in my opinion, was needed because of the change over to the white circuit boards, and because the boards are now further back from the panel plastic. While this spreads the light out more and fights “hotspots” in the lighting, it does also give the light more opportunity to bleed over to neighboring areas where it doesn’t belong. With the addition of the light block the sign looks much more crisp during animation.
What’s really cool is the view from the inside of the panel – no wires save for the power connector! Everything is wide open for ColorDMD to lay down flat with no interference.
Thanks for your patience, everyone. This has been the biggest batch of panels yet and I’ve brought some other people into the process so we can get LED panels for some other titles out there as well. TZ is a likely next game but others have been discussed. Suggestions are welcome.

As far as I know, as a Creech owner, I’m on the list to get this mod. I’ll be watching my inbox feverishly. I don’t have the CPR Enhanced or Deluxe plastic panel, so I’m going the light mask/tape removal route. I shouldn’t count my chickens before they hatch through, from what I can decipher, I’m pretty far down the list (I hope I don’t get bumped). All signs point to a happy ending for this sordid, four year mod soap opera for everyone involved. However there will still be folks adding Creech machines to their collections in the future, and those people will be out in the cold, mod-less, unless Mr. Thompson decides to run another batch. For owners, was it worth going down this road in the first place? Spending money on inferior light mods that no longer cut the mustard? Buying speaker panels in anticipation of mod production? Belly aching about the various delays? I’ve only owned my Creech machine for five months or so, so I’m not as invested as some owners that have been waiting years…but I’ll make sure to follow up in a few months with an answer if and when I get my hands on one…

Further Reading:
Pinside – Interest/Advice on CFTBL Speaker Panel LED Mod Re-Run
Pinside – Update on CFTBL Light Mod
Classic Playfield Reproductions – Creature Backbox Speaker Panels Photo Gallery
Kansas Pinball – Creature from the Black Lagoon DMD Panel Mod Page
Pinball Decals Inc. – CFTBL Tail Light Mod
Pinbits – CFTBL Tail Light LED Kit
Pinball Mike D – CFTBL Hologram Mod