Mapping pinball trends for the casual enthusiast…

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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

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

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

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

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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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