CREDIT DOT

Mapping pinball trends for the casual enthusiast…


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NEWS: Stern Walks with the Dead, Pictures of the Walking Dead

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Well, they did it! They listened! Stern didn’t clutter up the playfield of their next release, the Walking Dead (correction AMC’s Walking Dead), with photoshopped pictures of the cast! The community spoke, and Stern listened. The Gameroom Junkies got the jump on everyone, including Stern themselves, and served up photos of the game’s final form for the hungry pinball masses earlier today. The photos showed a standard “Pro” version, and a fancier, thus more expensive, version. Fans hoping for art from the Walking Dead comic won’t be getting what they want, but they’ll get the next best thing: a playfield that doesn’t feature the floating heads of the Walking Dead cast.

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The top of the playfield takes on that grainy, unwashed burlap colour, reminiscent of an aged photograph or a chamomile tea stain on a white tablecloth. Of course, there is the requisite blood spattering here and there to “brighten up” the design. As your eyes make their way to the bottom of the playfield, you are met with a horde of zombies, shadowed in blue, “crowding” the player around the flippers. Placed on top of this art, white and red inserts with bold lettering really pop against the earthy tones. A series of weapons are on inserts between the flippers (items to collect, possibly), while provisions and numbers that look to represent allies are on others.

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Lifting ramp with zombie head on the money edition.

The pictures present what looks to be another modified fan layout, crammed tight with shots. The “busy” nature of the machine reminds me of many of designer John Borg’s other designs: think X-Men and Tron. Each orbit and ramp shot represents an important location in the Walking Dead series: the Center for Disease Control, the Tunnel, the Arena and the Barn. A fifth, of the same insert design, reads “Riot” beside the barn toy. An insert with the text “Welcome to Woodbury” also lies near the right kicker. It looks as if the game is going to remain very true to the show. Ramp shots head through the backboard, a la Party Zone and Black Rose, which widens the space the ball can travel, not limiting it to the constraints of the playfield.  We also get ROLLOVERS, they appear beside the barn!  Toys are present: a barn with doors that open to reveal a zombie head inside and a water-bloated zombie from the bottom of the well mid-playfield (reminiscent of an undead Wolverine) that leans back to reveal some sort of scoop. The more expensive model of the game looks to feature a firing crossbow that emerges from the apron, a lifting ramp with a zombie head underneath and even more Zombie heads in a Governor-style fish tank on the back board.

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Characters are relegated to the side art on the Pro edition. I performed my own little fist pump when I saw that Carl, the annoying-cum-brooding son on main character Rick, was not featured prominently anywhere. The bigger dollar version has a boarded-up crate-look, an approach similar to the Metallica pinball’s road case design. Neither version features main characters on the backglass, instead, they feature zombies. Kudos to someone at Stern or AMC for putting the zombies front and centre. One of the first comments after the photos hit Pinside inquired about the harshness of the AMC logo on the backglass and cabinet art. AMC, being a cable David versus the network Goliaths, have always marketed themselves with a heavy hand. It isn’t just Mad Men or the Walking Dead, its AMC’s Mad Men and AMC’s the Walking Dead. Getting name recognition for a cable station that only six years ago moved away from showing a steady diet of classic films pulled out of moth balls is pretty important to them. They have certainly done it on this piece of merchandise.

I’m not sure if I’m the first to notice this, but the game is a bit of a throwback to some of the features found on Williams’ Fire! Both feature earthy browns and yellows in the artwork, a lifting ramp, miniature buildings, and, the one that struck me first, “huddled masses” artwork shadowed in blue that lie between the flippers. I’m not arguing plagiarism, but as a Fire! owner, those were the similarities that popped out at me.  Besides, it wouldn’t be a Credit Dot post without a Fire! reference.

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Blue shadowed masses of Fire!, much like the zombie crowd on Sterns TWD.

In commentary that should shock no one, it is my opinion that this playfield, looking at the playfield art alone, looks head and shoulders above the art on Jersey Jack Pinball’s Hobbit. Those looking to put their money on style over substance, the definition of a pinball pre-order, would be hard pressed to choose the Hobbit over the Walking Dead. I like that Stern’s art team went the minimalist route again, much like they did on Star Trek, letting the inserts, and thus the light show, become the “art”.

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Those that were on “Stern Strike” until games were released with more complete code, or those that pledged not to buy another Stern game until they played it first, will find themselves frantically calling their distributor on photographs alone for this one. Already, many local collectors in my area have been freeing up money by selling games, in anticipation, after laying eyes on this series of visuals. Having John Borg designing and Lyman Sheats coding should also give potential buyers some faith.

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More money = more dismembered zombie heads.

The macabre theme really speaks to arcade and pinball aficionados for some reason. The Walking Dead stands to be a game that plays horror seriously, for probably the first time since Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Other machines of the macabre have went the campy route and added humour to soften the terror: Scared Stiff and Tales from the Crypt come to mind. Will the theme be too much of a gore-fest to appear in a family gameroom? If Funhouse’s Rudy had the power to scare children, perhaps dismembered zombie heads will, too. Stern has really buttered their bread on the adult side with this one, which is a bit of a departure for them as of late. Is it just me, or does anyone else remember Gary Stern pledging that there would be “no zombies” from Stern, as it was counter to the company’s overall stance that they make pinball machines for everyone?

Anyhow, Mr. Borg HAS been quoted on record as saying this is his best design ever, and it will only be a few short months before these games hit private collections and basements across North America so we can judge for ourselves.

 

Further Reading:

Pinside – The Walking Dead Photos

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NEWS: CPR Catches Fire!

Hot off the press, from Classic Playfield Reproductions, comes a definitive reproduction playfield for the Williams 1987 release, Fire! I have raved about the art package on this game in the past, and the playfield is, without a doubt, the centrepiece, and perhaps one of the most beautiful of the entire System 11 era. Early photos released of these repro playfields show that the integrity of the original Mark Sprenger art remains in tact, as is nearly always the case with any release by the folks at CPR.

CPR’s repro on the left, a NOS original on the right. Courtesy of classicplayfields.com/photo156.html.

The Fire in Mr. Wright’s game room, as it appeared in the Pinside thread “Williams Fire! Club”

This may have been a particularly interesting project for CPR artist Stu Wright, as his current collection includes a Fire! that has a restored cabinet and colour-matched power coated trim. Mr. Wright contacted me after the article was posted, and commented:

“I spent about 1,200 Hours on the Fire! Playfield artwork. Call me crazy for doing it, but as an artist myself I just love this artwork and I appreciate the original artist’s painting — I hope my repro artwork does justice [to] this beautiful game.”

Please take a look at the absolutely detailed production notes for this reproduction process, as Mr. Wright the CPR team had to make some difficult decisions. Since Williams used various manufacturers to produce their playfields, there were always slight variations in colour, artwork, masking, registration, dimpling, cuts and registration. This makes the process difficult for the folks at Classic Playfields, as a “definitive” version has to be decided upon for reproduction. And we all know how picky us pinball folk can be. Classic Playfield’s FAQ describes the process of selecting a breadth of new-old-stock original material to use as master pieces and account for variations when preparing re-mastered artwork. Fire! looks to be a special case, with some weird variances in playfield art and design that made it into production games: cut-outs for the skill-shot switches came in a variety of variations, the centerpiece “burning buildings” art had differences in colour, and, probably the most notable, the main playfield colour was released in brown, dark brown and black versions. I’m sure some will cry foul that the skill shot switch lane has five cuts instead of two, or that the playfield is brown instead of the “original black”, but to get your hands on a Fire! playfield that isn’t completely blown out to put into your machine…you’ll have to deal with it.

Skill shot switch cut-outs, as collected by Pinside user “Lonzo”.

Light bleed on the original playfield. Courtesy of classicplayfields.com/photo156.html

In addition to this, CPR has addressed two nagging issues in the playfield design and took it upon themselves to correct them: the light-blocking layer of paint in the CPR version is darker which makes for a less washed out light show in the building inserts, and a complete re-imagining of the shape of the large insert behind the Fire! logo dead centre of the playfield to eliminate some ugly light bleed. Thus, CPR makes every attempt to be true to the original Williams design and art, and they also leave room for innovation and change where time has proven that the original design wasn’t executed in the most effective fashion.

CPR’s custom window. Courtesy of classicplayfields.com/photo156.html

It seems that Fire! payfields, in particular, take quite the beating, and I’ve never seen an original in a working game that isn’t completely blown out or suffering from noticeable damage. Fire!, in particular, is prone to some serious mylar bubbling, lifting the art right off of the playfield inserts. And with inserts as large as the ones on Fire!, this is a serious problem. Lots of these playfields suffer from serious planking issues as well, in the un-mylared areas. [Ed. note: Is it just me, or did Williams use less-than-quality materials all around on Fire! production? The cabinets have more knots than my two year old’s hair after a bath, and the playfields have aged about as well as Keith Richards.] Further, the art on the playfield between the top set of slings–around the ladder/inner horseshoe–-seem to suffer from heavy wear on nearly every game with an original playfield. That poor “Rescue Shot!” insert is nearly always ruined by lifting mylar, and no replacement decal exists. These top slings are so close together that the ball just hammers the playfield when it gets going back and forth, not to mention that it also severely wears the lip of the playfield where the ladder rises, catching a bit of air in the process if not adjusted properly. The mylar sheet comes to an end in this area as well, so you are left with quite the mess at the top of the playfield.

Courtesy of classicplayfields.com/photo156.html

With so many of these playfields beat to hell, it is great to see Mark Sprenger’s original artwork get a new lease on life. The beautifully rendered gold leaf seamlessly flows with the yellow and orange hues of the flames engulfing the buildings. These warm shades stand out against the dark background and surround the moonlit huddled masses of Chicago seeking protection from the raging, city-wide fire. The shadowy crowd was addressed using black and blue shades of the night, with orange and yellow highlights depicting just how powerful the raging fire is against the darkness of night. Sprenger perfectly captures the chaos and panic in downtown Chicago in one single mass of humanity–men, women and children headed in every direction. Also, it is nice to see the majority of the men wearing fancy hats, as was the style at the time, proving that even in times of high chaos, the 19th Century man still had an eye for fashion. Billowy smoke gives way to an intricate cobblestone design that dominates the upper symmetrical orbits, the majority of which is hidden by the playfield plastics and ramps. The vacuum-formed houses are obviously one of the most striking physical features of the completed game, however seeing the playfield without any hardware or plastic decor on it really highlights how much detail Sprenger put into his creation.

The author’s planking playfield.

The Fire! playfield in my game is better than some I’ve seen, but still displays much of the wear I’ve described above. I’m on the CPR list but my spot is near the bottom: as bad luck would have it, I got my Fire! one day after they closed their pre-order list. This playfield has been on the pre-order page for quite some time, and was there to properly gauge interest from collectors via e-mail. It appears that, like many of the CPR offerings such as their High Speed repro playfield from last year, that quantities will be limited to the approximate interest from collectors. It makes little financial sense for CPR to press thousands of these, with an unknown market. As of writing, the pre-order page states that interested parties are now being notified via e-mail, in “batches of twenty”, first come first served, that the playfields are ready to ship and that payment is due.

The author’s abused upper playfield. The mylar stops just below the ladder cut-out.

Even though it is a game that is not in particular demand, Fire! is the perfect candidate for a CPR repro: existing playfields are nearly always gassed, and it’s a high production game with a unique theme and gameplay that makes for a very small but dedicated fan base. Some will argue that dropping in a new playfield would be like polishing a turd-–sure, your Fire! will look fantastic, but it is STILL a Fire! Personally, if I do end up getting the invoice for a CPR playfield, $699USD+$59USD shipping, I’d be into my game within the range of about $1800-$2000CDN, which is by all accounts, even in today’s topsy-turvy pinball market, an amount I would never be able to get out of the machine if I decided to sell it sometime down the road. Given the steep ticket price of the reproduction playfields, any pre-1992 production game getting the CPR playfield treatment had better be a keeper (or done simply for the welfare of the game), as you’d be hard pressed to recoup your output when it comes time to move along (unless you can find someone who absolutely must have the given title in plug-and-play condition or, in the case of Fire!, a fire chief with deep pockets). Unless space really gets tight, I don’t see myself having a fire sale for the Fire! (see what I did there?), so I think the game is going to be a CPR candidate if I get the call.

With their work on Fire!, Classic Playfield Reproductions continues their tradition of quality and dedication to this hobby of ours that is constantly striving for polish and shine in aging, mass-produced, commercial amusement machines. I’m particularly proud that these guys are Canadian, if only for the fact that, as a Canadian, I pay ten dollars less for playfield shipping than those south of the border. For many, $699USD is far too much to pay to refurbish any game, let alone a lowly System 11/Oursler designed Fire!–bubbling mylar, worn playfield art down to the wood and broken plastics will suit them just fine. But for those looking to bring elegance and shine back to the topside of their fatigued Fires!, it is again CPR to the rescue. (I couldn’t have included more fire and rescue innuendo in this article if I tried…find them all!)

Further Reading:
Classic Playfield Reproductions – Fire! Reproduction Playfields
Pinside – Williams Fire Restoration (Thread started by user “Lonzo”, referenced in the switch cut-out photo)
Pinside – |\/\/\/\/| Williams Fire! Club – Save My Baby!
Marco Specialties – CPR’s Fire! (Williams) Plastic Set


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NEWS: Vonnie D’s Bad Week

One week ago, after an extended build-up, a fledging pinball manufacturer announced plans for their first release via a crowd-funding campaign. What must have been an exciting time for Vonnie D Pinball quickly spiralled into a public relations disaster and near total alienation from their core customers…all in one short week.

The Vonnie D Pinball Kickstarter campaign for their first release, Pinball Gremlins, went live nearly one week ago, and has since been met with both questions and scorn. As of writing, the campaign has only managed to secure 30 backers who have promised a total of $8,218USD. The project will only be considered “funded” if $100,000USD is raised. The majority of that $8,218USD comes from a single backer who has pledged $7,000USD for the chance to own a Limited Edition Pinball Gremlins machine. You read right, only one machine, thus far, has been spoken for. When crunching the numbers, success doesn’t seem that much of a challenge: Vonnie D need only find fifteen people to step forward and pledge to “pre-order”, with full payment, the standard version of their machine at $6,500USD to reach their goal. However, finding fifteen people willing to shell out without seeing a flipping prototype or sample game is a different challenge.

If you want to find a seething crowd of pinball enthusiasts, many of which are gun-shy to the idea of pre-orders due to past disappointments, look no further than Pinside. The original thread that first announced the arrival of the Pinball Gremlins on Kickstarter had its share of users taking proverbial whacks at the beehive, however many serious and well written concerns were also raised. Jersey Jack Pinball’s delay in shipping their Wizard of Oz machines has made folks extremely careful with their pinball money, for fear that they will be waiting three years to actually receive a game. The idea of the pre-order has also been maligned with Stern Pinball’s past inability to update game code in a timely fashion after the initial release–-Metallica and X-Men owners suffered for about a year before code finally made their games whole. However, nearly all of the boutique manufacturers base their production on pre-order schemes. Almost all of them operate in the same way: they require a refundable deposit, always less than fifty percent of the purchase price, to sign up and secure your spot on the list. While not technically a “pre-order”, Vonnie D’s Kickstarter program requires a 100% outright purchase of the machine if you wish to participate, and no mention of refunds either. After a deposit has been taken, most boutique manufacturers, Skit-B for example with their Predator machine, will give the customer much, much more to work with after the refundable deposit is in so that the customer can make the determination of whether or not they are willing to buy the game.  Skit-B has provided their customers with, amongst other things, technical details, photos of whitewood prototypes, completed art packages, toys, special features/modes, gameplay video and even a chance to play the actual machine.  Only then did they ask for full payment.  Vonnie D Pinball has given nearly none of what has been mentioned. What they have provided amounts to some sketch drawings and a 3D rendering of the playfield. They did announce that long-time Williams designer Barry Oursler was “working with” the company, but the extent of his participation was unclear from the Kickstarter information. Vonnie D Pinball claims a whitewood prototype does exist. In my opinion, they absolutely needed to release photos (or a video) of this prototype if they had their heart set on offering the machines through Kickstarter, even if the whitewood was in the early test stages. It wouldn’t have guaranteed backers, but it would be a start. Post after post on that original Pinside announcement thread raised concerns from a community already feeling the squeeze on their wallet (and patience) from pinball manufactures jockeying for position (and cash) within a crowded market. Asking for full payment from members of this community with nothing more offered than a good idea for a theme and a video with two talking heads was interpreted as a bold slap in the face.

Then things got downright out of hand. Pinside user “VonnieD”, presumably Pinball Gremlins designer Von Davis himself, posted this message to Pinside:

“First just so it is clear we do have Barry Oursler already on board helping with his knowledge of pinball and designing game modes.

Second, the items necessary for our prototype have been completely purchased and we have all the parts we have been waiting on suppliers like the cabinet, prototype metal pieces and currently the playfield. We have went through 3 of them getting it perfect to be populated. I am personally cutting the playfield by hand to make sure everything is where I want it before I start hiring or purchasing a CNC machine to run my G-code. The game was designed quickly in future pinball just to get ideas of shots, the real machine is designed in SolidWorks 2014.

Thirdly, I understand the pre-order issue you do not have to pre-order to help us out. We thought we would go to the pinball community to help get an efficient production line up and going, so we could avoid many of the delays you commonly see with boutique pinball makers. Even purchasing a T-shirt, a poster, or whatever you are financially able and willing to, will help the project. If necessary, we have interested backers, however we do not want to lose the flexibility of designing to a venture capitalist or drive prices up to meet an investors profit demand. We have other pinball themes and layouts ready at lower costs, however Kickstarter rules require we fund a specific project (so we choose Pinball Gremlins) and our first pin has many additional costs that future ones won’t as a result of being the first to use our custom boards, lights, etc.”

Puppets used to promote Vonnie D Pinball.

Thus, according to Mr. Davis, everything was just a big misunderstanding. Vonnie D Pinball doesn’t want pre-orders. They just wanted a way to involve the community in their excitement and passion for their new pinball project. Unfortunately, that was not the way it was interpreted by anyone in the community. A goal of $100,000USD, and stretch goals of $200K and $300K, are not reached by people kicking in ten bucks for a keychain or fifty bucks for a tee-shirt.  These goals are reached by people committing to BUYING MACHINES.  If you didn’t need the money, why was a Kickstarter created?  Just give away tee-shirts or stickers or keychains to get your name out there and get people excited about your product.  Regardless, when this thread appeared, many who had offered constructive criticism in the previous thread continued to ask questions in this one, hoping for an answer from Mr. Davis himself. Many who took potshots, well, continued to take potshots. Some claimed laziness, others claimed outright lies. The thread slowly adopted a mob mentality as user “VonnieD” remained quiet and did not bother to respond to the issues that were raised. It took 52 hours from when the thread was first created for a response to appear from the manufacturer: in the form of Pinball Gremlins “producer”, Wes Upchurch. Upchurch joined the discussion and did address some issues, but it was too far gone to salvage by this point. There were too many questions being bandied about, and far too many comments that sent reasonable thinking right off the rails. The credibility of the company was now being called into question–using everything from Vonnie D Pinball’s use of hand puppets to promote the Kickstarter campaign to Upchurch’s prior business ventures and financial solvency. I interjected early, urging Vonnie D to respond as it seemed that he wanted to take on the role of a “public designer” (like Ben Heckendorn or Charlie Emery), but in hindsight, perhaps it is best he didn’t. The positive buzz the company wanted to mold, like it or not, through a series of indiscretions, had been ripped from the hands of its creators and placed in the hands of the masses who have now surrounded it with an aura of negativity. Damage had been done.  It is impossible to find fault or lay blame in this situation anymore, it is everyone and no one all at once.

It has been suggested by many that Vonnie D Pinball step back and re-evaluate their place within the current pinball landscape. Upchurch promised a working, flipping whitewood at the Chicago Pinball Expo this fall. Perhaps the company should lay low until then–keeping their eyes on the prize, and not on Pinside threads or Kickstarter funding. Only ask for money once something tangible has been built. There is a potential to create something special with this theme. If well designed and well executed, there will be buyers.

If nothing else, this whole fiasco has brought Vonnie D Pinball some good advice. Ben Heckendorn, designer of the Spooky Pinball release America’s Most Haunted, added his two cents to the Pinside thread:

“Unless you’re John Popadiuk, an unlicensed theme is like an uphill battle with no bullets and both of your legs crippled.

Here’s what Vonnie D should have done (from my Pinside/Kickstarter/Pin-building experience)
1) Build a cool whitewood that shoots great and has some cool features.
2) Get a quote for the cost of a pin/geek friendly license (Army of Darkness, Battlestar Galactica, Aliens) Have it ready to go pending down payment.
3) Kickstart the license cost like Farsight (Pinball Arcade) has done, successfully, several times. This would be around 50-60k, HALF of what they’re looking for now. (They’d probably have to pay a % on each game too, but that can come out the back end)
4) Have MANY reward tiers, all of which can be taken against the cost of buying the full game down the road. But have nothing higher than a 50% down payment.
5) Make it a $6000 standard body.
6) Don’t spend your whole video explaining what pinball is – explain what the GAME is. Non-pinball people don’t give a damn and will be on the latest Hipster Skinny Jeans RFID-Blocking Wallet page, not yours.

Once the Kickstarter succeeds and you secure your license, then start taking deposits to fund the game.”

I don’t often agree with what the man named Heck has to say, but it is some great advice for anyone looking to start a pinball company, and advice I’m sure Mr. Heckendorn would have given to Vonnie D Pinball if they would have just asked him before any of this had occurred.

What I have attempted to chronicle here is how an approach selected by a first-time pinball manufacturer went horribly wrong. They say any publicity is good publicity…well, at least a legion of pinball aficionados now know the name “Vonnie D”, but maybe for the wrong reasons. It ultimately went awry because the tightly-knit pinball community judged it to be the wrong way to go about asking for money. Like it or not, these are the people you have to satisfy. One week before Vonnie D’s Kickstarter went live, Circus Maximus Games quietly announced their Pinball Circus project at the Southern Fried Gameroom Expo.  They showed some whitewood samples, stated their basic intentions and asked for absolutely no money.  Two different approaches to announcing pinball projects–one has created anticipation and positive buzz while the other has an uphill battle to climb to regain the support of their target audience.  I have no doubts that Vonnie D Pinball will have a version of Pinball Gremlins for display at Expo, but the way in which they choose to get there, through both public relations and private creativity, will ultimately spell success or failure for this freshman manufacturer.

Further Reading:
Vonnie D Pinball – Homepage
Pinside – Vonnie D Pinball—-Now Live With Videos…Kickstarter LE?
Pinside – Vonnie D Pinball Update


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NEWS: Vonnie D Pinball announces “PINBALL GREMLINS”

Early this morning, after a lengthy teaser countdown, the pinball community was introduced to Vonnie D Pinball’s new project entitled Pinball Gremlins. The new machine was announced by way of a Kickstarter campaign and introduction video that asked for the community’s supportin realizing their dream of building a pinball machine. The video highlighted some lofty aspirations, which is fantastic, but only if those aspirations are realized. The goal they wish to achieve through crowd funding is $100,000USD, with supporter rewards that run from keychain-style trinkets to limited edition machines.

The Kickstarter announcement video featured engineer Von Davis and producer Wes Upchurch sitting in front of a row of pinball machines, speaking about the table they wish to produce. To appeal to a younger audience more attuned to video games, their Pinball Gremlins machine will be more “interactive” with the player, having players battle Gremlin “bosses” that actually “fight back” in various ways. I like the theme of “Gremlins in the machine”, as it is something everyone in the community can relate to–we’ve all had that nagging mechanical issue that can’t be explained within a machine in our collection and can only be attributed to a “pinball gremlin” wreaking havoc on the inside. And no, Pinball Gremlins has nothing to do with the 1984 film of the same name, but I’m sure confusion will exist.

Vonnie D Pinball stated that they are working with Pinball Life and Marco Specialties to provide the parts they require for production, and will have a board set developed by Pinball Controllers (the P-Roc guys). The game will be made in a widebody style. They have pinball designer Barry Oursler on board to provide further help in the design arena. With the original theme comes original artwork, which looks quite intriguing even though what was released isn’t much more than ink sketches at this time. LED lighting, a full-colour DMD and smaller LCD display screens near the playfield round out the features of note thus far. A playfield layout sketch was also released.

The Kickstarter funds don’t seem to cover anything special, they’ll just support the day-to-day operations of the company and help get the machine produced. As for the machines themselves, a $6,500USD Kickstarter donation gets you a standard version of the machine, while $7,000USD will get you a Limited Edition (that price raises to $8,000USD once ten at the $7,000USD level are sold). This version of the LE looks to have a run of 500. To complicate things further, there also exists a $9,000USD pledge that will get you a Kickstarter Limited Edition and a $10,000USD pledge for an “Ultra Rare Limited Edition Gold” version. You almost need a spreadsheet to keep track.

 

The announcement comes on the heels of Circus Maximus’ announcement over the weekend that they will be re-imagining Python Anghelo’s Pinball Circus and starting full-scale production without the aid of pre-orders of crowd funding. This market is getting dangerously crowded. The boutique market is seriously ready to collapse under its own weight unless one of these manufacturers can step up and prove that pinball on a small scale can actually run with Stern and Jersey Jack Pinball. Vonnie D marks another “boutique” manufacturer looking for money from the community up front to help get their machine made. However, there is already the feeling in the community that pre-ordering machines without actually seeing, touching and playing them first is just not best-practice anymore. Vonnie D has their work cut out for them, as their goal is quite lofty. However, selling a handful of their limited edition machines through Kickstarter will certainly get them there. It will be interesting to see if the community responds.

More insight and analysis to follow once more details are released.

Further Reading:
Kickstarter – Pinball Gremlins Pinball Machine
Vonnie D Pinball – Homepage

 

 


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NEWS: Python Anghelo’s Pinball Circus to be produced!

News broke at the Southern Fried Gameroom Expo on Sunday that a company called Circus Maximus Games will be producing a version of Python Anghelo’s prototype masterpiece Pinball Circus. Southern Fried’s Twitter feed broke the story giving just a few details: Circus Maximus is building two whitewood test tables, twelve prototype models, followed by a regular run of games with a production number yet to be determined. They also provided the picture to left of one of the Pinball Circus playfields, which is signed by the pinball vampire himself.

You had the feeling some sort of Python Anghelo project was on the horizon. From his final interview with Spooky Pinball, his last show appearance at the Louisville Arcade Expo and the final video released to his fans on Kickstarter and Pinside, you could tell something was bubbling just beneath the surface that Mr. Anghelo was excited to talk about. There was lots of speculation that he spent the final months before his death doing what he loved: designing pinball machines. This is probably one of the fruits of his final hours labour. How fitting that Mr. Anghelo’s legacy will be carried on by producing his controversial Williams design, a design that turned out to be his last for the company.

I had the pleasure of playing this rare game at the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas. The production run of the game sits at just two prototype units. The Hall of Fame machine was donated to operator Tim Arnold by longtime Williams honcho Steve Kordek, and each play on the machine will run you one dollar. Much has been said about its unique four level vertical design, and most of it has to do with its novelty and rarity. There is not much to the gameplay–it is very simple and quite repetitive. The game sits inside of a modified upright arcade cabinet, and a DMD is located in the play area itself, a la Cirqus Voltaire. Gameplay focuses on progressing through the three rings of a circus represented by three different playfields. The fourth, and last, playfield represents a final battle with a circus clown. The game has odd flipper configurations throughout: the main playfield has off-set pair of primary flippers, while the third has only one right flipper with a kicker in place of left. After three or four games on the Pinball Circus, I had done all that there was to do in the game.

The main tagline associated with Pinball Circus from those who have played it is: “You’ve gotta play it, at least once.” The translation being: there ain’t that much to it, but it is unique enough to hold your attention for a game or two. Nate Shivers, Coast 2 Coast Pinball host and Southern Fried attendee, stated on Facebook that the Circus Maximus folks would be introduing features that Python Anghelo originally planned to have in the game. We can only hope that these changes will make the game a little more deep than the original prototype. Otherwise, Circus Maximus is going to have a hard time finding average customers who are willing to spend thousands of dollars on a one trick pony with so many other viable options in the market today. Nostalgia for Mr. Angelo alone will not sell the game, unfortunately. There will be some collectors who will buy this game in a heartbeat on reputation alone, but folks tight on money and space will probably have a hard time justifying the purchase.

As of press time I couldn’t find any information about Circus Maximus games or who they have on board as “talent”. Hopefully more details will roll out from the attending parties at the Expo once the excitement dies down. Wonder if this means a Zingy Bingy is on the horizon, too?


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NEWS: JJP’s Hobbit Playfield (a lament for hand-drawn artwork)

On the heels of Stern announcing their Vault Edition of Iron Man, Jersey Jack Pinball ponied up with the playfield art for their forthcoming Hobbit machine. Reviews within the community were mixed, as they tend to be. If you are okay with photographic collages, you’ll probably be okay with the look of this playfield. It attempts to follow the lead of grander and “epic-ness” set by Stern’s Lord of the Rings. In that respect, it’ll look good next to its predecessor. But, there is something off…maybe it’s the lack of originality. I’m looking at this in terms of art alone, not actual playfield mechanics, because frankly, there isn’t much there yet in terms of mechanics to dissect.

I’m kind of sad that Jersey Jack Pinball didn’t go outside the box on this one. I get it, it’s a licence. They were probably handcuffed by the studio to employ a certain style or a specific set of images. Yet, whatever happened to a time when a pinball company could put out a game like Demolition Man or Jurassic Park and uphold their end of the licence while having appropriated hand-drawn art? Maybe it’s just far easier now to get a graphic artist to cut and paste from production stills. Also, these photo paste-up playfields better serve the studio’s unified vision of the original film. Without sounding like an old man–“In the good ol’ days, sonny, we used to have hand-drawn art on our playfields…!”–-I really DO lament those bygone days. Sure, most of the art on the 1990s Data East games looked whispy and weak, but Williams/Bally/Midway had it down to a science with their robust black outlines and bold colour choices. Games used to stand alone as their own work, with a fresh take. Now, they are just pieces of merchandise that carry pre-approved production images–-the same ones that are sent out to toy companies, food manufacturers and the Bradford Exchange.

What the community wouldn’t give to have this Hobbit playfield carry “Tolkien-style” artwork, or at least one artist’s rendering of the film’s characters in that style. The literary roots of the franchise begs for a more refined, delicate approach. I’ve never read the Hobbit books, nor am I a fan of this brand of fantasy, but don’t hand drawn maps play a huge role in these kinds of books? There are maps on Jack’s playfield, but they are tucked away in the upper right and left orbits. I believe there are a whole host of artists who make their salt by drawing elves, dragons and wizards. However, time is not on Jersey Jack’s side, it never has been, and one can assume art approval would have ate up valuable manpower in an already tight production schedule, even if that was an approach the company wanted to take. Maybe cut-and-paste art was the way to go here, given time and budget: the path of least resistance. This game has to get out by the end of the year in time for the release of the third film in the series.

What makes this artwork choice for the Hobbit playfield even more curious, is that Stern, who perfected the cut-and-paste technique, has made a marked effort to move away from the approach with its recent releases. They tried to make up for past indiscretions by releasing a new version of AC/DC, removing all photographic art on the cabinet and translite and replacing it with images bearing the artist’s touch. Metallica was lauded for signalling a return to the “playfield artist”, thanks to the participation of Dirty Donny. Even Mustang tried to bestow artistic credibility upon itself by boasting the inclusion of artist/designer Camilo Pardo to the creative team. Stern is listening: we wanted original art, and we got it. It’ll be interesting to see if they are strong-armed back to their old ways with future releases, especially those with high profile film or television licences attached to them.

It boils down to this: the community wants something value added and something unique that doesn’t look like DVD packaging or a plastic collector’s cup from Burger King. The easiest way to inject value, yet probably the costliest, is through drawn art. Everything about a pinball machine is considered “art” these days–the mechanics, the toys, the electronics, the way the ball moves–but the actual art package of the machine is what injects heart and soul into an otherwise cold and commercial unit. This Hobbit playfield art doesn’t scream hear and soul, unfortunately. Its computer generated images are just one step away from the static electronics contained inside the backbox.

What is present isn’t that impressive. The cut-and-paste dragon on the middle of the playfield looks oddly out of place, as do the disembodied heads by the drop targets and inserts. There also seem to be too many shadowy images of scenes from the film scattered mid-playfield. The artist in charge is trying to tell too much of the epic story on the playfield. You guys have an LCD SCREEN IN THE BACKBOX for crying out loud! Let your most powerful mode of communication in the entire machine tell the story. A lit insert with a bit of text would suffice on the playfield as a place holder. Steve Ritchie, the king of in-your-face, over-the-top style, took a step back with the most recent Star Trek and allowed the art to be more subdued, leaving the playfield uncluttered and allowing the game’s yarn to unravel through physics, animations and programming. Once the toys and wire forms are included I’m sure the playfield will seem less offensive to the senses. I am, however, glad the playfield isn’t scattered with hundreds of inserts, like Jersey Jack’s Wizard of Oz. Different themes call for different approaches, and less inserts on the Hobbit was the right approach to take. I hope the inserts that are added work to fill out some of the colours in the game. Stern’s Lord of the Rings playfield is extremely colourful in artistic flourishes, whereas the Hobbit doesn’t stray far from muddy earth tones and hints of gold.

I suppose it is a difficult task to capture the events of nine cinematic hours of film in a single machine with the licensor’s gun to your head. But Stern somehow did it with Lord of the Rings, with less disembodied heads and way more colour. It still boggles my mind how Stern can change their artistic ways after all these years to the universal applause of the pinball community, while Jersey Jack Pinball chooses to rely upon the same old drag n’ drop principles of playfield art. Someone please call John Youssi or Mark Sprenger, their services are desperately needed.

Further Reading:
Pinside – Hobbit Artwork Revealed!
Fun With Bonus – Jersey Jack’s The Hobbit Playfield