CREDIT DOT

Mapping pinball trends for the casual enthusiast…


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REVIEW: Pop Bumper Showdown, Part 3: The Wrap-Up

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Part One, featuring BriteMods, can be found here.  Part Two, featuring Comet Pinball, can be found here.

I don’t think there is a clear cut, flat out winner in the Pop Bumper Showdown. Like Art from Comet Pinball is known to say: it all comes down to personal preference. Different games call for different lighting solutions. Pin*Bot will be keeping a set of Comet’s 6LED Crystal Fans installed, paired with a set of Dennis Nordman’s sparkly pop bumper “thingies” (see below). The Comet fan offers a more traditional feel–the upper bagatelle playfield that lies atop the Pin*Bot pop bumper nest calls for a less harsh lighting option than the SMD rings and discs provide. As far as non-traditional pop bumper options go, I would recommend either Comet’s Pop Bumper Rings or BriteMods’ BriteCaps EVO. Both look fantastic installed, and both light the playfield beneath the pop bumpers (by way of bottom mounted SMD lights) which is a major selling point for both of these lighting options. The interactive flashing of the centre SMDs on the EVO is a nice touch, but in itself does not make the EVO a clear cut winner. The Comet rings just look darn cool and really pop, so much so that pinheads and non-pinheads alike have been marveling at the rings installed in my Mousin’ Around (its yellow pops are smack dab in the centre of the playfield and are now bright and bold thanks to the Comet touch). The Comet rings, however, may have a few points deducted because of installation issues (I had one short out on me, thanks to user error in test). The BriteCaps EVO lose points for the possibility of fit issues in areas with tight clearance, an issue I ran into on Pin*Bot during test. When all is said, the price really sets these options apart. If you want a great looking non-traditional lighting option at a great value, choose the Comet rings; if you want a total light experience with build quality akin to a Sherman tank and money is not a factor, go with the EVO. A clear cut winner is difficult to choose, given that, in the end, one man’s eye candy is another man’s eyesore.

All of the games that I used on test had pop bumpers with static lighting. Pin*Bot, Rollergames, Mousin’ Around and World Cup Soccer ’94 have pop lighting that is either on or off without the aid of computer controls. I attempted to test all of the available options in Funhouse, which has computer controlled lighting, and it was an utter failure. All of the options suffered from ghosting and leakage. The small amount of voltage present in the line which is burnt off by the incandescent without lighting the bulb is actually enough to fully light the lower voltage LED/SMDs. The newer technology doesn’t contain enough resistance to eat up that lingering voltage. In Funhouse, the SMD rings and discs were lit when they were not supposed to be, and even when one pop bumper was trying to behave normally, it still flickered and ghosted something awful. An LED OCD board would do the trick here, however, a two hundred dollar solution to a ten dollar problem isn’t something I’m willing to consider.  I’ll stick with incandescent bulbs in the Funhouse pops for the time being. This should serve as a word of warning to those wanting to mod games with computer-lit bumpers (it’s mostly Lawlor games, lets be honest).

Those Sparkly Thingies

00-pbwrap04The name itself is ridiculous: “Nordman’s Sparkly Pop Bumper Enhancement Thingy”, but it really does wonders in a pop bumper. I used them to bolster the look of Comet’s traditional LED choices in Part 2 of the review with fantastic results. It’ll come as no surprise from the name, that the little plastic disc was designed by famed pinball designer Dennis Nordman. The beauty of the design is in its simplicity. The plastic nests into the pop bumper body, and its sparkly design does a good job catching and reflecting light. Furthermore, it covers up the ugly guts of the pop bumper giving it a more clean look overall. The discs work great with a traditional 555 incandescent bulbs but really stand out when using a Comet bulb that directs light, such as the 6SMD Crystal Fan. It is a winning combination. The design is simple, and to be honest, can be easily replicated in your home workshop with a piece of Lexan and a roll of foil gift wrap. For those less inclined, the discs are available through Pinball Life for $2.95USD per “thingy” and are well worth the money…even though spending nearly ten bucks for a set of three pieces of plastic sounds kind of ridiculous!

Where’s CoinTaker?

Conspicuous by their absence in the Showdown were products from CoinTaker, but I’d like to give them some attention here in the wrap up. Their pop bumper-specific product is called the Afterburner, a disc-like lighting option akin to Comet’s disc. I was not able to do a full scale review of the Afterburner, as the products I bought for test, to be frank, blew up. I installed a red Afterburner in Pin*Bot as I did with the other lighting options, and when I gave the machine power, a loud pop was heard followed by smoke and that concerning smell of burnt plastic components. I feared the worst, obviously. Taking out the Afterburner, I noticed one of the components on the Afterburner was completely obliterated. I replaced the Afterburner with a Comet LED and (thankfully) there appeared to be no permanent damage to the game itself, however, the Afterburner was toast. I thought user error might have played a part, or even faulty wiring in my game, so I tried to install the remaining two Afterburners in both Rollergames and Elvira and the Party Monsters. However, the same meltdown results occurred to the Afterburner, which points to an error in the CoinTaker design, or a bad batch of components. I have emailed CoinTaker about the issue, but as of writing, I have received no response, explanation or replacement. I was informed that the red Afterburners used in the Pin*Bot test were a newer version of the product which boasted non-ghosting technology. I tested out an older version of the Afterburner in white, apparently without the non-ghosting technology, in my World Cup Soccer ’94, and it lit up just fine. I’m awaiting CoinTaker’s final word on why a set of their Afterburners went up in smoke in three different games of mine. The look of the Afterburner, once I got it lit in the WCS94, is very similar to that of Comet’s 11-SMD disc. Both products carry the same lighting pattern and come in a similar color palate, but the main difference is that Comet’s disc can have its brightness adjusted via an adjustment screw, whereas the CoinTaker Afterburner cannot. The price really sets the products apart: the Afterburner is $4.99USD for white but if you want colour you’ll have to pay $1.00 more (!) while the Comet disc is $4.95USD each across the board. The brightness adjustment feature and value give Comet the upper hand over the Afterburner.

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CoinTaker’s 4/1LED bulbs.

CoinTaker also carries a pop bumper light that I was not able to test, which contains four side SMDs and one on top. I was able to test the forerunner to that 4/1SMD, which is essentially the same lighting layout, except using LED technology. I tried to locate this product on the CoinTaker’s new website, but could not.  I did, however, find the product here on the old CoinTaker website. The 4 perimeter LEDs actually did a good job lighting up the pop bumpers without being too harsh on the eyes, allowing the bulb to be a viable alternative to anything sold by Comet.  Check the picture below where the two right pops contain the CoinTaker4/1LED in green and bathe the area in a nice green hue.  I cannot speak to the SMD version of the bulb, but both the SMD and the LED versions have a price comparable to that of Comet’s “Crystal Fan” option.

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Left pop bumper contains a warm white CoinTaker Afterburner, the right two contain a CoinTaker 4/1 LED.

As you can see, my attempt at reviewing CoinTaker products kind of fell flat and was an overall disappointing showing from a traditionally cutting-edge leader in the hobby. I don’t base that statement solely on the faulty products I received from the company, either. For a long time, CoinTaker was the only lighting game in town, their name synonymous with pinball lighting alternatives. CoinTaker LED kits used to be the gold standard in modding and was major selling feature for games that had them installed. However, with the emergence of Comet LED, BriteMods and other pinball lighting companies, it appears to me that CoinTaker has not stepped up their game to match or exceed the ingenuity, value and choice being offered in a cutthroat lighting market.

WINNERS!

To end on a positive note, the random winners of the BriteMods contest are Katie C. and Stephen L. Katie C will receive a set of BriteMods BriteCaps EVO and a set of BriteMods BriteButtons. Stephen L will get a set of BriteMods BriteButtons. The winners of the Comet Pinball contest are Josiah C. and Tony L. Both winners will receive a prize pack including some of Comet’s pop bumper lighting solutions as well as other Comet goodies. Thanks to the great people over at BriteMods and Comet Pinball for their generous donation of prizes! Thanks to all who emailed in—the response was overwhelming. I guess everyone loves free stuff!


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FEATURE: Pinball in a Hall, the Strong Museum’s “Pinball Playfields”

00-strong00 When my wife suggested a trip to the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York, with our two kids, I was game. I had the inside track. I knew they had pinball machines there and she didn’t. Thus, my wife, who has been the subject of scammed trips in the past to the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas and Clay Harrell’s VFW Showcase in Brighton, MI, had walked right into this one. She logged onto the Museum’s website and said, “Oh, looks like they have a big pinball display going on”. I ambled over to the computer, and sure enough, a banner on their main page touted “Pinball Playfields”. It promised more pinball machines than the normally feature in the permanent collection and insight into the creation of the wooden decks that the silver ball rolls upon. It was going to be tough to ditch my wife and kids on a family trip at the Museum of Play to play pinball, but I was up for the challenge.

The Strong Museum is a really odd place. It is one of those museums that cropped up in the seventies and eighties which takes popular (low) culture subject matter and turns it into high culture by putting it into a museum. Where else would you find a Tickle Me Elmo doll, new in box, preserved behind glass and tagged with its official manufacture date? That said, the museum prides itself on its “hands-on” activities: craft stations, dress-up areas, a small-sized play restaurant and supermarket, console gaming stations, and so forth. The problem I found, is that I had no time to enjoy the vintage toys behind glass or the interactive displays because I was too busy running after my two-and-a-half year old, making sure he was sharing and taking turns with the billion other kids that were visiting on the afternoon we were there. I could have let my child run wild–there was plenty of that going on, to be sure– but as a responsible parent I followed a few meters behind my son, keeping an eye on him, as he tore running and laughing from exhibit-to-exhibit for six hours.  Visiting isn’t about the parents enjoying themselves. My wife was nice enough, however, to take sole guardianship of the kids as I explored the pinball display. And that’s where the story finally begins.

Keep in mind the information posted on their website:

“Play your way through more than 80 years of pinball history in this all-new exhibit at The Strong museum. Trace the evolution of the playfield—the surface where the ball ricochets through a maze of lights and obstacles to rack up points—from countertop games of the 1930s to sophisticated, electronic versions that remain popular today.

  • View pioneering pinball machines from The Strong’s collections including Ballyhoo (1932), Humpty Dumpty (1947), and Triple Action (1948).
  • Rack up the high-score on machines such as Vagabond (1962), FunHouse (1990), Monster Bash (1998), and Lord of the Rings (2003).
  • Wrap your arms around Hercules (1979), the world’s largest commercial pinball machine.
  • View unique artifacts, including playfield prototypes and sketches by pinball machine designers.
  • Design your own playfield and see if you have what it takes to be a pinball machine designer.

Playable machines in Pinball Playfields require purchased tokens. Money collected from the sale of tokens helps maintain these original artifacts.”

The Strong has two arcades, one “Boardwalk arcade” on the main floor with redemption games and vintage arcade offerings, and another on the second floor which focusses on gaming through the ages. The “special exhibit” about pinball playfields was in a transient hallway between one part of the museum and another. It was a weird place for these machines to be set up, given they could have carved out a space within one of the two existing arcade spaces to set up the display. While playing the games, with a wide stance one foot in front of the other, I was definitely in the way of passers-by, as this hallway is a main artery that connects two main parts of the museum. To be honest, it really reminded me of the Pinball Hall of Fame Annex at the Rivera Hotel and Casino: a bunch of games thrown into a hallway, and labelled an attraction. They had a couple artifacts on the wall for viewing: a George Gomez photograph with a couple of quotes, some original pre-production drawings and photos from the Gomez-designed Johnny Mnemonic and Monster Bash, an original High Speed whitewood and flyer, and a few written tidbits about the evolution of the playfield. Add to this two vintage wood rails and a bagatelle style game displayed for viewing only and a few random pinball flyers, and that was about it for the display. As an “exhibit”, it left a lot to be desired. But then again, I didn’t see many people reading the walls, most, like me, were playing the machines.

The machines were not on free play, however, required only one token to play. And five tokens were only a buck. Replays seemed to be set very low, and I matched a handful of times while playing as well. I played a lot on just a couple of bucks. And had enough left over to give to my son to aimlessly flip around on a few games at the end of the day. I was impressed at this, at first, but then I remembered that, as an adult, I was required to pay $13.50USD for entrance into the museum in the first place. Anyone over the age of two was required to pay this amount, thus I was on the hook for forty bucks for the entire family. But parking was free, which really blew my mind, so it’s a wash in the end.

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The author tilting Hercules.

The lineup of games to play within the main floor exhibit were: Gottlieb Incredible Hulk, Atari Superman, Williams Scorpion, Atari Hercules, Black Knight, Banzai Run, Funhouse, Cirqus Voltaire, Monster Bash, Lord of the Rings, Wizard of Oz and Stern’s Star Trek Pro. All games appeared to be in decent condition, but all had a credit dot (free advertising for this blog!). The only major issues were that WoZ was scoring with each press of the flipper button, and Hercules had a lame left flipper spring that wouldn’t return the massive bat to its rest position. Luckily, it made drop catches easy to execute, given the sheer weight of the massive ball, returning the flipper to its rest position before a well timed flip sent the ball back up the playfield. It was my first time playing Hercules in any capacity, and it was a real blast. Like many have said before me, it’s a game that everyone needs to play once, but nobody needs to own. It was bigger than I thought it would be. However, I was still able to tilt the behemoth with a couple of ill-advised nudges. The Cirqus Voltaire was in tip-top shape, as was the Monster Bash. The vintage superhero games played well too, but seemed like they were an afterthought. It really felt like they were moved from the Marvel/DC superhero exhibit that was literally fifty meters away in an attempt to bulk up this rag-tag pinball exhibit and add age to its lineup.  The advertising write-up touts that you can play through the ages…as long as those ages are 1980 thru present day.  I guess Gottlieb wedgeheads aren’t a part of Strong’s truncated pinball history.

00-strong09Upstairs in the arcade exhibit is where you will find more machines, again requiring only one token per play. As you walk into the area, a bank of four games greets you: Gottlieb Haunted House, Williams Indiana Jones, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Stern Avengers. A display further in attempts to recreate the crowded feel of a 1980s arcade, and there you’ll find a Gottlieb Spiderman, High Speed, Tron LE, and Transformers. The High Speed was eating tokens, displaying 30 credits at the time I approached it, but refused to start a game. All other games were in great condition, especially the Haunted House. It was the nicest example I’ve ever played, granted, I’ve only played maybe four different copies of it in the past. I heard an Addams Family exists at the Strong, but I could not locate it. Out for service perhaps, or maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough?

Overall, I’m impressed at the condition of the games and their slight cost to play, if not a little disappointed that the pinball exhibit didn’t present more unique artifacts, a wider breadth of games, or give proper space for the games to be displayed. They certainly have a fantastic lineup of pingames in the collection from one of the greatest pinball eras spread out in two different areas, but gaps exist in their history. Perhaps putting all games in one dedicated exhibit area would make the display more powerful. However, you’d be shooting yourself in the foot: patrons, especially those with small children, could easily skip over it and move on to something more “kid-friendly” (a parent looks at a museum map: “Pinball? Who plays that anymore? Let’s go to the Berenstain Bears area.”) Having ten-plus machines on a major thoroughfare in the museum gets pinball seen by the greatest number of people possible and hopefully, parents and children alike choose to stop and drop a couple of tokens.

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The author’s two-and-a-half year old son putting some serious leg english on the Hulk.

Given that pinball is a slightly dead medium, you are likely to find credits on these games: racked up by unknowing players via replay or match, or through the sheer kindness of strangers walking away from them leaving behind accumulated credits. I left a few that I earned on Cirqus Voltaire and Funhouse for someone to take advantage of. My wife said she was surprised the games were not on free play, however, I’m sure it prevents exuberant toddlers from starting four games, launching one ball, and then walking away. As for my son’s experience, he was immediately drawn to Funhouse, as we own one and he has dubbed it his favourite, and the Incredible Hulk, as he has underwear with the Hulk’s green visage on them. One person playing next to us was surprised that my son had the patience and ability (albeit very limited ability) to keep the ball alive and play out an entire game. I explained that we had a basement full of games at home for him to practice on, to which the person became even more surprised. Even though we are in a “pinball resurgence”, we are still entrenched in a very, very niche hobby.

Kudos to the Strong for a valiant attempt at spotlighting pinball as one form of play with this current exhibit. Their scope is a bit misleading however: the “history” of the playfield is certainly skewed towards the 80s and 90s, and their “unique artifacts” amounted to little more than someone could easily acquire on eBay or through Pinside if they knew who to ask. I didn’t even spot the “design your own playfield” area, unless it was the row of tables with construction paper and markers twenty meters away in the atrium. They should have just labelled the exhibit “Look! Functioning Pinball Machines in this Hallway!”, as that is what it amounted to, and I’m sure people would have been equally impressed. The Strong does boast a fantastic selection of games, but the collection is only available for play if admission to the museum is paid. Honestly, you can only really enjoy the museum’s games without being impeded by your own children, and I’m not sure how comfortable a single grown adult would be paying admission to a museum geared towards children/families just to play pinball amongst hyperactive four-year-olds making crowns out of construction paper and pretending to shop at a kid-sized grocery store. If you visit with your kids, like I did, you are obligated to spend time doing things that they are interested in, and chances are, their interests won’t lie in the pinball exhibit for very long. The exhibit is a positive for pinball’s exposure to a younger audience, however seasoned pinheads will find a wider breadth of machines and a more extensive collection of artifacts in some of the better private collections across the US and Canada. I got to play pinball at a privately-funded museum on a family trip, so I can’t complain that much, but I still left wholly underwhelmed by unfilled potential.

The Strong National Museum of play is located at One Manhattan Square in downtown Rochester, NY.  The museum is open Monday-Thursday 10am-5pm, Friday-Saturday 10am-8pm, and Sunday Noon-5pm.  The Pinball Playfields exhibit runs through September 7th, 2014.

Further Reading:

The Strong National Museum of Play – Pinball Playfields


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PEOPLE: “Pinsanity” Organizer Ken Rossi

Every May, there is an annual 32-player pinball tournament held in Somers Point, New Jersey, just a stone’s throw away from the home of wrestler King Kong Bundy: Atlantic City.  The tournament was dreamt up by one man, Ken Rossi, and he has been hosting the tournament in his well-stocked gameroom for the past three years.  The tournament attracts some of the best players in the Northeast, but more popular than the tournament itself are the posters that Mr. Rossi has created that promotes not only the tournament, but the pinball hobby as well.  Mr. Rossi has sold his posters across the US, and internationally for that matter, for his small basement tournament.  Never has a tournament, from Pinburgh on down to local league tournaments, had such a unified vision and integrated theme.  Because of demand, Mr. Rossi has had to up the limited production run of this year’s posters, and also consider re-running past posters that sold out quickly.  I had the chance to ask Ken Rossi about the challenges of running a tournament out of his home and pick his brain about the artistry associated with the Pinsanity project.

Credit Dot: This past May, you hosted the third yearly incarnation of the Pinsanity tournament. Can you give us some info about the tournament and its history?

Ken Rossi: After buying my first pinball machine in around 2009, I became quickly addicted as many of us do. I started to look for tournaments and shows locally or within a few hours drive to dive deeper into the hobby. I was told to go to a tournament at a guys home in Broomall, PA–his name was Rick Prince. After seeing Rick’s collection and having a ton of fun, I knew I had to eventually host my own tournament and invite him and the rest of those folks to my house. It took me a few years to build my collection to where I felt it was tournament worthy. While building, I would attend other tournaments and get ideas of how to run things: formats, game settings, etc. My collection quickly grew from 1 game to 3 games to 16 games. I had to finish off the garage, build the gameroom, restore the games, and learn to do board work–that’s how Pinsanity v1.0 was born. The Tournament is an all day event. The first half of the tournament is generally match play format similar to Pinburgh. I use Brian Smith’s software for that which is called Monthly Masters Tournament–you can buy it on iTunes for the iPad. This seeds the players for the second half of the day, which is some sort of elimination style format. Next year will be a new format I’m working on: survivor style with a double elimination twist. We also do a side tournament usually with 2 or 3 classic games which is played like a PAPA style Bank, and it has its own payout and is usually $3 or $5 per entry.

CD: Can you highlight some of the games that appeared at this year’s tournament?

KR: This year we had World Cup Soccer, Theatre of Magic, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Judge Dredd, Demolition Man, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, AC/DC, Jurassic Park, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Lord of the Rings, The Machine: Bride of Pinbot, High Speed, King Pin, Airborne Avenger, Conquest 200, Centaur…that’s most of them, but I might be missing some!

CD: The tournament is limited to 32 players…why the cap?

KR: Really, the cap is limited for two reasons. First, I just don’t have the space for more people to be comfortable, especially if the weather is bad. Luckily every year the weather has cooperated–we like to move games outside under tents for the side tournament, and put ping pong and foosball outside so people can unwind between rounds, I like to make it feel a little like a mini-festival. The other reason is the amount of games to people ratio. I like to have plenty of games in case something breaks, which something always does. And for the finals, the one thing you don’t want is people waiting around for games to end late into the night.

CD: How stressful is it running AND playing in your own tournament?

KR: It can be extremely stressful, especially if you are the one fixing the games, designing the posters and shirts, ordering the food and preparing your home for 30-40+ people to invade, all while doing your normal day to day stuff, like running a company. The stressful part for me is probably doing all the artwork for the posters and T-shirts, getting everything printed and coordinated, and building the trophy each year… but it is also the part I most love to do. As far as playing in the tournament, I’ve played terrible at Pinsanity every year so far. You’re always getting pulled in different directions, so I really do it for the folks that come…I can play well at THEIR tournaments when I’m not feeling so pressured.

CD: What are some of the highlights from the first three years of Pinsanity?

KR: Well, there are always some incredible players that come from the Northeast…lots of guys in the Top 100 play at this tournament so some unbelievable scores get put up and matches get played. How fast the registration fills up is also amazing. I’m glad people enjoy the tournament that much! A non-pinball related highlight for me was during Pinsanity v1.0–my friend Ewan Dobson played guitar during the dinner break. He’s pretty unbelievable on guitar. Do yourself a favor and check out some of his YouTube videos here.

CD: The main reason this tournament is so widely known across North America is because of the fantastic posters you make to promote the event. Why did you decide to make posters for an event with such a limited number of attendees?

KR: I started making the artwork and posters because I wanted Pinsanity to feel more like an special event or festival about pinball then just a tournament on a Saturday at some guys house in Jersey. I live five minutes from the beach so some of the artwork, like the roller coaster and Ferris Wheel in Pinsanity v2.0, are sort of attributed to the location I’m from. There is a theme throughout, and each year I try and decorate the gameroom or trophy with bits of those elements. Last year when you registered, the day of the tournament, everyone was given a small toy alien, some of them are marked with prizes like a free t-shirt or free poster, this year everyone got small astronauts. Next year everyone will get dinosaurs…I hope I’m not giving to much away! The theme of the tournament is just something I really like to play off of creatively, and it helps me procrastinate from doing my real job!

(L) The trophy doubles as a drink shaker (R) Pinsanity moonmen

CD: Can you describe the printing process? Each poster is hand-printed and signed by you?

KR: The printing process is basically two color silk screen printed on a nice heavy paper. I get my posters printed at Enemy Ink in Florida, these guys do really great work. I sign and number each one and ship them to pinball enthusiasts all over the world…it is really an honor to see pictures of the posters I designed hanging in other peoples gamerooms. The pinball community is a tight knit group of amazing, kind and friendly people…it is a special hobby that deserves a little artwork.

CD: Are you a graphic artist by trade?

KR: Yes, I went to school for fine art and graphic design near Philadelphia.  I now own a small design company called Evolve Studios, and we mostly focus on print and web design and development.

CD: How did you arrive at the original “Mortal Man vs. Machine” theme?

KR: I’m not really sure how that came about, but pinball is really a physical battle between you and the machine. For Pinsanity v1.0, I came up with that when I was designing the robot made of pinball parts–I wanted something that felt like the winner was not only battling all the other players at the tournament but in the end had to defeat the machines to take home the trophy. I’ve always been into mechanical things and robots and space aliens and time travel…so I just kind of ran with it.

Courtesy of Pinsider SilverUnicorn.

CD: Each poster seems to add to an overall story. Can you elaborate on that? At what point did you decide to approach the posters in that way?

KR: Yes there is a story or theme…sort of.  Pinsanity v1.0 was about man fighting an evil robot constructed of pinball parts. He got defeated by Chris Newsome (winner of Pinsanity v1.0.) People wanted the robot to be integrated into the following year’s theme, but that wouldn’t totally make sense, so I decided from that point forward I would put parts of every past poster into the current one. So I turned the robot into scraps and made him a pinball machine as you can see in v2.0.

In Pinsanity v2.0, the aliens steal that pinball machine in hopes to resurrect their original evil robot. The aliens succeed in stealing the machine but not before Koi Morris (winner of Pinsanity v2.0) battles them into outerspace.

In Pinsanity v3.0 is about retrieving the Machine from the aliens and bringing it back to Earth to keep Humanity safe from the most evil pinball machine ever made.

For Pinsanity v4.0, well …. lets just say they make it back to earth, but they’re a few million years in the past!


CD: Even though they are limited to fifty per run, are you thinking of reprinting prior posters collectors may have missed?

KR: The first two years were limited to fifty.  This year’s was limited to 90 because of demand. I have thought about re-running the older posters, if I did I would probably make them a limited version–maybe different colors or just something different so the original short run keeps its integrity and collectability.  Not that they will be worth anything…but you never know…

CD: How humbling is it to know that your art is hanging in game rooms across North America?

KR: Its extremely humbling to know not only is my artwork in some incredible game rooms in America, but I have sent posters all over the world: Canada, New Zealand, Australia, France, The Netherlands and more! I love that people around the globe like the work and enjoy playing pinball as much as the rest of us do.

CD:With the word spreading about Pinsanity through the popularity of the posters, is there any chance that you will expand the tournament next year to include more players?

KR: I would like to expand the tournament, but right now its just not possible, unless I move or decide to get a bigger location it will probably just stay the size it is. I’m good friends with another collector about fifteen minutes away, so this year we had a tournament the night before at his house from 9pm to 2am called Pinsomnia – these two tournaments may piggy back again or could turn into a full weekend event with Saturday and Sunday tournaments! [Ed. note: Pinsanity?  Pinsomnia?  C’mon! Ken comes up with the coolest tournament names, doesn’t he!  Please make Pinsomnia posters!]

CD: This project seems like a labour of love. At $25 per poster, shipping included. There doesn’t seem to be much money to be made here. Am I correct?

KR: Yep totally a labor of love, I make a few bucks on each poster but in reality the time invested and spent doing everything actually costs me money, its about making something people can enjoy and helping the pinball community and pinball in general grow and survive.

CD: T-shirts with the same design as the poster are also available. Is this the first year for them?

KR: Nope I’ve done T-shirts for all three years. They are just very limited because of the sizes and cost. I dont want to have 20 xxl shirts sitting here that I can’t get rid of, so I do a small run mainly for the guys that show up at the tournament.

CD: A question unrelated to the Pinsanity project. What are your absolute keeper games in your collection that you never get tired of playing? Any games currently on your radar you’d like to add?

KR: I like games that are good tournament playing games, so games like Bram Stokers Dracula will probably never leave, and others like Centaur, High Speed, Lord of the Rings, too. I would like to get another Funhouse, and maybe add a game like White Water or an older Solid State game like Harlem Globetrotters On Tour to the collection.

CD: I’d like to close with a philosophical question…who IS winning in the battle in the recent resurgence of pinball? Man OR machine?

KR: I would have to say the Machines are still winning, men come and go but I have machines that are 40 years old and play like the day they came out of the box, not to many men can say that!

Ken Rossi’s Pinsanity posters are available directly by contacting Mr. Rossi at ken@evolvestudios.com.  As of writing, only the 2014 edition, V3.0, are available, but are extremely limited.  Best to buy them ASAP if you want one.  Pricing is set at $25USD including shipping within the USA, $30USD including shipping to Canada, and $35USD including shipping to Australia.  T-shirts from the 2014 tournament are also available for $25USD, but sizing is limited.  Check the below Pinside link for sizes.  Look for V4.0 of the poster (and the tournament) in May of 2015.

Further Reading:
Pinsanity – Official Site
Ken Rossi’s Evolve Studios – Official Site
Pinside – Pinsanity V3.0 Posters
Pinside – Pinsanity V3.0 T-Shirts Very Limited Quantity


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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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Mom tilts, and other memories

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

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

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