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Games Entertainment

The Last Pinball Machine Factory 240

The New York Times is running a story about Stern Pinball Inc., which they say is the last pinball factory left worldwide. The story describes working there as a "game geek's fantasy job." The company president, Gary Stern, acknowledges the lack of demand, but he plans on sticking around. He also expects the industry to rebound within the next 10 years. We've previously discussed a slightly smaller version of pinball. "Corner shops, pubs, arcades and bowling alleys stopped stocking pinball machines. A younger audience turned to video games. Men of a certain age, said [Pinball Hall of Fame operator Tim Arnold], who is 52, became the reliable audience. ("Chicks," he announced, "don't get it.") And so for Mr. Stern, the pinball buyer is shifting. In the United States, Mr. Stern said, half of his new machines, which cost about $5,000 and are bought through distributors, now go directly into people's homes and not a corner arcade."
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The Last Pinball Machine Factory

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  • shifting... (Score:5, Funny)

    by gihan_ripper ( 785510 ) on Friday April 25, 2008 @09:36PM (#23204760) Homepage

    ...the pinball buyer is shifting...
    or is he tilting?
  • by Manip ( 656104 ) on Friday April 25, 2008 @09:39PM (#23204774)
    I think the reason Pinball is dying out is purely the cost of playing it.

    I mean you pay 50p for three balls. Or 20p for three lives in most other arcade games.

    So you're paying a 150% markup for seeing balls bounce around which is cute but it also seems to last a lot less time than normal video games too.

    So higher cost, plus shorter games just means that people won't use the pinball tables anymore.

    They'll either spend less for cheap video games or spend a little more for a much more interactive game like table football, dancing, or shooting.

    Pinball killed its self... They set the price too high and over-valued their product.
    • by justthinkit ( 954982 ) <> on Friday April 25, 2008 @10:00PM (#23204870) Homepage Journal
      I think the reason Pinball is dying out is purely the cost of fixing them.

      A mechanical game breaks all too often. Video games don't, and even damaged CDs are dealt with by downloading a cracked download. It's a shame -- hardly any pins anywhere any more.

      Machine cost means only the richer types could afford _one_, or they were in a public place but set very difficult so the owner & renter could recoup their investments.

      The Future Of Pinball [] just came out on DVD but I've yet to see it. Looking forward to it when I can. Pinball was the solitaire of physical sports. I miss it.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        I wish I could argue with this. I have one of the last all mechanical tables (Gottlieb Mustang, made in 1976-77)that's in need of extensive repair... It's going to cost me a ton...
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Chelloveck ( 14643 )

        I think the reason Pinball is dying out is purely the cost of fixing them.

        Amen, brother. I worked for Capcom's pinball division during the big crash around 1995, when all the major manufacturers packed it in. Maintenance cost was one of the driving factors. A pinball machine is a complex piece of equipment, full of finicky parts with tight tolerances. It takes constant tweaking by someone who knows what they're doing to keep it in good shape. A video game? Any high-school dropout can wipe down th

    • by CommunistHamster ( 949406 ) <> on Friday April 25, 2008 @10:02PM (#23204884)
      In my experience of buying and operating pool tables, pinball machines, foosball tables, videogame cabinets etc in schools and suchlike places, I can tell you the real reason that pinball died is because the machines are so incredibly complicated compared to everything else. Pool tables and foosball tables have a simple coinmech and a simple ball release mechanism, that and either a wooden pole (cue) or some rotatable plastic men on rails. Videogame cabinets, again, nothing can usually go wrong that you can't fix. Joysticks, buttons, steering wheels, pedals and lightguns are easily replaceable, the screen is easy to replace (just order a spare one), the coinmech is, well, just another coinmech. Inside it's just extrapolated from a games console, or an actual PC in some cases. But pinball? HUNDREDS of unique mechanical parts, all subject to wear and tear from heavy steel balls, lots of LEDs/bulbs to replace and make sure that all the wires are working, tilt sensors, the list goes on. The maintainance is not cheap.
      • by SeaFox ( 739806 ) on Friday April 25, 2008 @11:28PM (#23205228)

        But pinball? HUNDREDS of unique mechanical parts, all subject to wear and tear from heavy steel balls, lots of LEDs/bulbs to replace and make sure that all the wires are working, tilt sensors, the list goes on. The maintainance is not cheap.

        One thing I always wondered about is why pinball machines almost always seem to use regular bulbs still. I hardly ever see LED lights in them, which is dumb. The "retry" light - the one at the bottom between the pins and you get to shoot a ball again if you lose it within the first 30 seconds or so of play - burns out so fast because it's running in flash mode so much, and I've never seen a machine where it's an LED bulb.
      • by nukeade ( 583009 )
        In my years of playing pinball whenever possible (which was not very often), I broke a total of five machines while playing. Four of these five instances were caused during multiball sequences. In the other instance, the machine lit on fire.

        I guess the engineers are good at designing a table where the system can survive a single impact or a ball cannot go somewhere it's not supposed to alone, but when multiple balls are involved it's a lot less predictable. On the "Jurassic Park" table, for example, duri
    • by zeromemory ( 742402 ) on Friday April 25, 2008 @10:05PM (#23204896) Homepage

      I think the reason Pinball is dying out is purely the cost of playing it.

      I mean you pay 50p for three balls. Or 20p for three lives in most other arcade games.
      You don't spend much time around gamers, do you? I don't know of any gamers who spend the time thinking about how much a 'life' costs them. For gamers, it's about fun, convenience, and hanging out with friends.

      Pinball fails on the last two qualities. A pinball machine is outside the budget of casual gamers, so most people have to go to an arcade to play pinball. On the other hand, a gaming console sits conveniently next to their TV at home, allowing them to game whenever they have time.

      Pinball has no cooperative component; it's a "single-player" game. Looking at the popularity of multiplayer and online games, I'd say gamers these days value an experience in which their friends can participate. They don't get that with pinball.

      I personally love pinball, but it doesn't provide what contemporary gamers want.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Pinball has no cooperative component; it's a "single-player" game. Looking at the popularity of multiplayer and online games, I'd say gamers these days value an experience in which their friends can participate. They don't get that with pinball.

        You bring up an interesting observation. =)

        It makes me wonder if there could be a way to make competitive pinball -- a double-ended table made more like a hill than a single slope.

        Or cooperative pinball with multiple sets of flippers and catchers, where you had to co

        • by RelaxedTension ( 914174 ) on Friday April 25, 2008 @11:37PM (#23205270)
          The real point of pinball is to see my name above yours in the high scores list, just like on all of video games. Co-op has it's place, but so does good old fashioned competition.

          Oh, and making the ball a slave to your will is very satisfying too.
        • It makes me wonder if there could be a way to make competitive pinball -- a double-ended table made more like a hill than a single slope.

          This has actually been done. However, only one game that I am aware of had such a feature, and it only had a production run of 402 units. Which is probably why no one knows about it...

          Joust Pinball []

          The machine features a double-ended table. The two players play across from each other. They are able to pass balls back and forth. When I've managed to track one down at the various pinball and classic arcade expos, I've found it to be a fun and unique experience. But so few got created that it is near im

      • Nah.... (Score:3, Funny)

        by Belial6 ( 794905 )
        Nah. The problem is that there is no grind. They just need to make a table that has no no drain. That way anyone can just sit all day and grand away hitting the ball into a target. That way they can feel good that they are doing well.
      • Firstly I don't know many cafe/bar with a multiplayer videogame. Actually I know of NONE at all. All they offer are single player game. So your comment is valid only already for game arcades. A game arcades will have, what, 50, 100 games ? Cafe/bar around here have 1 up to 2. How many cafe/bar for how many arcade ? I doubt the MAIN buyer of pinball were EVER arcades.

        Secondly do you really think only people alone palyed on pinball ? There was this wonderful things called "taking turn, and mocking the lowes
        • Golf. . . All bars I know of have a golf game, and you play: Wait for it: GOLF. And you try and beat your buddy.
    • by electrosoccertux ( 874415 ) on Friday April 25, 2008 @10:33PM (#23205008)
      I think we're missing the point of pinball.

      Arcades made zero sense to me until I had pretty much played every genre of video game. Now that I don't own a console...

      You start doing other things besides playing video games all the time, like socializing and hanging out. You start thinking, hm, what could be a fun, cheap, casual date destination? And suddenly the arcade makes all the sense in the world. Think about it-- after class Friday, you walk to the local college arcade with your S.O. and play some pinball, 2-player Tekken, Galaga, whatever. Cheap, easy fun that gives you the option to make small talk about whatever, but also the option to stop and have a decent conversation when you find a common interest. BUT there are none (or very few) of the tense, silent moments where you're both just looking around trying to come up with something to talk about (like during a conventional date when you go get something to eat and sit down at Applebee's for 45m) and where your apparent lack of ability at making conversation rears its ugliest. Then, after, you can drop by the Graeters/Baskin-Robins 31 for some ice cream before you head back to your dorms.

      I think us gamers were so far gone from the normal world that the obvious social genius behind the arcade was lost like the forest in the trees.
      • by BorgCopyeditor ( 590345 ) on Friday April 25, 2008 @10:55PM (#23205102)
        The fact that you realize this just as arcades are about to become a thing of the past is what Hegel had in mind when he said that the owl of Minerva flies only at dusk.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        That's all well and good, but if geeks with girlfriends are required to sustain the pinball industry, it's basically doomed. The cost of the machine, the power, renting the space, etc, is to be amortized by the number and frequency of users, and if they are small in number the marginal cost per game will go up. Would pinball be such an attractive date option if it cost $5 a game? $10? Arcade games, too.

        I think, if pinball or arcades are to survive, they must start to appeal to young adults. Think about
    • by cgenman ( 325138 )
      So you're paying a 150% markup for seeing balls bounce around which is cute but it also seems to last a lot less time than normal video games too.

      Normal arcade games only last a minute or two as well. And they're dying out too. The only thing keeping arcade games in development is cheaply spinning them off of home versions. Most arcade machines these days are redemption / gambling machines, or arcade machines from the late 90's. House of the Dead 2? San Francisco Rush?

    • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Friday April 25, 2008 @10:50PM (#23205084) Homepage
      Arcades killed themselves. Kids have no interest in dropping $1.00Us to $2.00Us to play a video game. The racing ones are crappier graphics than a PS1 and gameplay sucks because most games are broken in one way or another.

      $0.25US is the key price point it always has been. $0.50US is tolerable but their insane prices today makes it so that nobody plays.

      Hell by the time you master an arcade game nowdays you could by the PS3 and a couple of games. Back when Atari2600 was out I could master 5 games for the same price.
    • So higher cost, plus shorter games just means that people won't use the pinball tables anymore.

      Ummmm... pinball was a quarter back in the 1970s, and has only gone up to 50cents or 50p in your neck of the woods? I wouldn't complain. It's been a while since I went to an arcade but 50cent games were not unusual 10 years ago... and in fact I suspect they are the norm now.

      Pinball is one of those games if you got the skill, you'll get a lot of play for your coin and a ton of replays. I don't have such skill, i'd be lucky to get one replay or two. But I'm just saying there are pinball wizards. You may

  • by CopaceticOpus ( 965603 ) on Friday April 25, 2008 @09:39PM (#23204776)
    In an age of video game consoles, there's not much reason to pay for a 3 minute arcade game. But pinball is something that most people don't have at home, and video simulations just don't cut it. There's something viscerally satisfying in the experience of playing on a real machine with a real steel ball flying around the table.

    There's a pinball machine at my local laundromat, and it gets a buck or two out of me every time I wash clothes. I think pinball will always be around.
    • I'm not normally a pinball player, but a couple of years ago in my local pool hall my mates and we got burned really badly by a machine one night, it was a monster that would eat your money as soon as you put it in.
      We were back there every week feeding coins into it until we all mastered it.

      I can't say I have played pinball a lot, but the machines I seem to get addicted to are the ones that are incredibly difficult and don't give you a score of a few hundred thousand points for only like 2 minutes of play.
      • Absolutely agree. There's something just so satisfying to me about being able to stay on a pinball machine as long as I want when that machine used to just kill me every time I had the gall to put money into it. The process of learning the table and mastering it was, at least to me unique in the world of "games". I know everybody who digs "something" thinks that one thing they like is special. That's how I saw pinball. Nothing else in an arcade even comes close. It's more like playing pool than playing Mort
    • My uncle is into the really old games. He had a mechanical pinball machine at one point, although I think he has since traded it in for some other arcade game. I played it and it is quite different than the newer pinball machines that I was used to. The game was made so that you had to jostle the machine a bit to get the ball to go where you wanted it to go, and jostle it just enough so it wouldn't "tilt". Not like the newer ones that weight 1500 lbs. and are bolted to the floor.
    • You can play for a long time if you hit replay after replay for just the cost of 1 game.
  • Nostalgia (Score:2, Interesting)

    by sayfawa ( 1099071 )
    Nostalgia can be fun, but this is too far. If I'm still playing PS2 games 30 years from now instead of whatever awesome stuff will be out then, I hope my kid shoots me.

    Shit. I just remembered that I played through the original Zelda last week. Oh well, at least that didn't cost me money or take up an enormous amount of room in my apartment like a pinball machine would.
    • I'm in the middle of replaying the original Zelda on my Wii. I'm on Level 9 of the first quest. I think we had much better imaginations back then, because there isn't really much to the game. It's way under 10 hours of gameplay if you know where you are going. Not at all like the games of today. I'm almost at the end of Twilight Princess. I've spend 40 hours on that, and not much time of that was spent on side quests or getting lost. I guess that's one problem with the newer Zeldas over the original.
      • In the original, you basically had to wander around until you found stuff.

        :) I had to cheat and go to the net to find one of the dungeons. And even after I got the location I still can't imagine how I found it when I was a kid. Just wandered around playing the flute at every location on the map, I guess.
  • by buss_error ( 142273 ) on Friday April 25, 2008 @10:21PM (#23204954) Homepage Journal
    My first "real" job was as a tech for a game/vending company. I was always struck that Stern was a solid money maker. Never first, never more reliable, almost never more innovative than Bally, Williams, Gottieb, Atari (when video got popular) or Capcom, but a solid money maker.

    As with any first job, there Was a Mistake Made. Mine was to trouble shoot a Williams shoot 'em up game that used a rifle and a sensor board to detect where the rifle was pointed. Several wires had been cold soldered and were just hanging around without being attached. Since I don't come equipped with a third hand, I put the solder coil in my mouth so I could use my left hand to guide the wire to it's proper place, my right hand weilding the soldering iron, and by moving my head around and using my lips, guide the solder to the pad to secure wire to circuit board. (Let's leave aside for the moment the wisdom of putting 60% lead wire in one's mouth. Explains quite a bit about my later life though....)

    The only problem was that I had not powered down the game to make my repairs. If you think a fresh 9 volt battery makes an impression when you lick the terminals, let me assure you that 24 volts AC leaves an even more lasting impression.

    For the NEXT loose wire, I used a alagator clip. It took longer to get everything situated, but was much less painful.

    A week after that, Atari came out with "Asteriods", and we put it in the current "hot spot" for pinball games. Two days later, the business where it was set called to say it was on the fritz. I went out, and found that due to the construction of the game, and the amount of quarters pumped into it, the coins had over flowed into the power supply and shorted it out.

    If I remember correctly, the bucket to hold quarters was far larger and deeper than any other game to date. I don't know how much money was in the game (the techs were not permitted to empty money or to count it from the games, that was the work of the owner of the game company), but I suspect it was more than the rest of the games combined. After that, we visited the place of business daily for the next six months to empty the game.

    Reliving this brings many more memories to mind, but none involve Stern games other than to note that while they were not the most trouble prone (CapCom earns that easily), nor the most money (Bally and later Atari had that tied up), Nor the most reliable (Williams had that tied up), they were like the plodders in the world. Never the best, never the worst.

    One thing I remember from that time was cleaning the games. The owner of the game company was always saying "Make it shine like a diamond in a goat's a$$!". We used a glass cleaner called "Glass Wax", which went on as a pink liquid and was removed with vigerious use of a rough rag and newspaper. I can't find it now, even using Google, but it was the BEST product I ever used to clean glass and make it shine.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by conlaw ( 983784 )
      I don't know where all the pinball machines have gone, but the Glass Wax is still available from the Vermont Country Store. []
    • let me assure you that 24 volts AC leaves an even more lasting impression.

      Mmmm, tangy :)
    • Man, you worked in the business in the DREAM era. Asteroids.
    • by mbstone ( 457308 )
      When I was a pinball tech in the 70s, the OEMs had just learned to build the logic out of TTL instead of relays and solenoids... but there was one lesson they hadn't yet learned. One day I was called to a room full of pins that had mysteriously stopped working. Remembering my NS TTL Data Book specs, I realized that the room was warm... the chips inside the back glass cabinets were operating above their (commercial) design temperature... and I went out and bought some boxer fans and placed them inside the
    • by Dzimas ( 547818 ) on Saturday April 26, 2008 @02:08AM (#23205778)
      You don't seem to be aware that Stern Electronics - the company that produced the machines you're referring to as unreliable - went out of business in 1985. The modern company, Stern Pinball, was founded by Sam Stern's son Gary in 1999. That was the year that Williams folded their pinball division to concentrate on slot machines. It was also the year that Sega (Data East) decided to get out of the market and sold their Pinball division to Gary Stern. Stern hired several brilliant Williams designers including Pat Lawlor, George Gomez and Steve Richie to design games for "Stern 2.0."
  • Maintenance (Score:2, Insightful)

    The REAL reason pinballs died was the maintenance those things required, compared to video games on PCBs. I knew several arcade operators when I was a kid and they all frowned at new machines arriving at the bar. It took a long time to change out light bulbs, fix jammed balls, clean, etc. Meanwhile, video games don't require anything, just plug and play.

    Add to that the fact that assholes like myself refuse to play on crap machines, and these poor souls have a much harder job.

    I believe the silverballs will b
    • by HEbGb ( 6544 )
      You are absolutely right. I love pinball, and own a machine myself (Pinbot), but an arcade or location owner is going to choose a good videogame every time. Repairing those machines is NOT cheap, and seriously cuts into revenue. It's simple business, nothing more.
    • Attack from Mars is one of my favorite pinball games of all time. Loads to do, and a number of different ways to earn replays!
    • I believe the silverballs will become more and more a collector's item for people...

      Hey, I have that pinball game, [] too! DOSBox is your friend!

  • by Joe The Dragon ( 967727 ) on Friday April 25, 2008 @10:25PM (#23204970)
    Pinball games give you free games unlike most video games and with stern TOPS you can win cash as well. Stern should put the knocker back in to the games it cool to hear it go off when you get a free game.
  • Too hard (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Hao Wu ( 652581 ) on Friday April 25, 2008 @10:31PM (#23205002) Homepage
    Too many times the ball will coast helplessly through the bumpers, dead centered.

    That just goes with the game, but that's why I don't play pinball. There's something unfair about losing that way.

    • Shove the machine (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Weaselmancer ( 533834 ) on Saturday April 26, 2008 @12:07AM (#23205380)

      Give the machine a decent nudge to the left or the right. The ball will continue to follow a path with its original inertia. You just move the playing field so that the ball isn't dead center.

      Pinball is physical. Playing it like a video game is a sure way to lose.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        Man we had the adams family pinball game, which is the best pinball game ever built in our bowling alley where I was a kid, and the cleaning staff did a great job of waxing the floors. So good that we could always push the machine back and forth, and usually left 40 or 50 credits on the machine by the time we were done pwning it ;).
    • by plover ( 150551 ) *
      Once you play a table for a while, you learn its sweet spots, and its dead zones. Get to know a game and you stop shooting at the big target in the middle because you know it's a trap. Then, when you learn how to raise the middle post (or whatever the magic trick is) you wait until it's safe, then you can pound the heck out of that center target, ratcheting up the bonus multiplier, or unlocking multi-ball, or whatever the cool feature of the game is.

      And one of the difficulties of those games is the unre

  • Pinball Hall of Fame (Score:4, Informative)

    by evel aka matt ( 123728 ) on Friday April 25, 2008 @10:37PM (#23205030)
    For those of you that like pinball, The Pinball Hall of Fame mentioned in the article is a worthy trip. Not only do they have a shit ton of machines to play, including a couple that you can't find anywhere else in the world, but the proceeds go to the Salvation Army. Next time you're in Vegas, check it out..
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by TechwoIf ( 1004763 )
      I managed to get a couple days in Las Vegas just to visit that place. [] Its well worth it. Pinballs packed nearly wall to wall with a few classic video games mixed in for good measure. They currently have a one of a kind prototype Williams game. They spent 2 million R&D and made two machines for testing. Feedback from the operators was "Why would I spend $10K+ for a game that makes the same as that new $5k game." After the testing, it was shelved and the two machines was ware
    • Lucky Ju Ju (Score:2, Informative)

      by dannyastro ( 790359 )
      For those in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can visit the Lucky Ju Ju pinball gallery in Alameda with over 30 machines: Also, there is the Pacific Pinball Exposition in Marin County October 3-5 with over 300 pinball machines from the 1930's to today: Happy Flipping!
      • by Flounder ( 42112 )
        Lucky Ju Ju is amazing. I grew up on modern pins with dot-matrix boards and strobes and everything. But that room with the older electro-mechanicals had me enthralled. Sure, I understand the principles. But the thought that all those games were done without ICs still blows my mind.
  • I picked up a brand new Simpsons Pinball Party for my birthday a while back. Quite a fun game, especially for someone well versed in the Simpsons.
  • I worked on pinball machines back in my younger days; some of them were amazing assemblages of all kinds of custom relays. Thousands of relay and switch contacts - and even one bad one would cause weird and amazing malfunctions.

    Just keeping them clean inside and fresh rubber on the pegs (much less a set of good light bulbs) took a significant amount of time; the maintenance expense on these games is what killed them. For the same price you could get an electronic game that would run for years without probl

  • by Silicon_Knight ( 66140 ) on Friday April 25, 2008 @11:00PM (#23205118)
    We used to bring a HD magnet down to the pin ball machine in high school. The owner of the Lamp Post pizza didn't mind as long as we kept buying drinks and pizza... he thought it was pretty clever :-)

    (Pinballs are basically big steel bearings... place HD magnet at the bottom pass the flipper and voila! Unlimited life.)

    Never did manage to leverage that little tidbit of knowledge to get a date... :sigh:
  • by Zobeid ( 314469 ) on Friday April 25, 2008 @11:31PM (#23205242)
    In the early 1980s there were coin-op videogames all over the place. It seemed like every convenience store had one or two. Cafes and pizza parlors had them, corner grocery stores had them. Now they've mostly disappeared. In my town there's one burger joint that still has a few vandalized, worn-out and broken down games in the back room, and I think they've quit even turning on the power (which is just as well). I think the laundromat may have a couple too. That's all.

    I'm building my own MAME cabinet just because I miss those games, and this is the only way I'll get to play them anymore. (Or play them properly, I should say. A mouse and keyboard just isn't the same.)

    Arcade games have declined mostly due to home console games and inflation. Serious game players have gravitated toward sophisticated computer and console games -- that takes many hours to play. A lot of the old classic and popular (and profitable in their day) coin-op games were the sort we would now sneeringly dismiss as "casual games". As for inflation. . . The components that go into a game machine haven't changed much, they still cost money to build. Meanwhile the quarter you plunked into a Pac Man machine in 1980 would be worth about 55-60 cents in today's money. Yet, people remain resistant to the idea of putting in two coins for only one play.

    And pinball? Same thing only worse. Pinball machines are more expensive and much harder to maintain, take up more space, and have, I would say, probably a more seedy image. People still like to play pinball, but the economics are working against it.

    With regard to image. . . The lady who runs the local coffee shop heard about my MAME cabinet, and now tells me she wants a cocktail-table videogame for her shop. She wants a Ms Pacman, Lady Bug, Frogger, Donkey Kong, or Arkanoid. . . something nice like that, not a Defender or SF2T machine scaring people away. I doubt whether she'd accept an upright cabinet, and although I haven't mentioned it to her, I suspect a pinball machine is right out of the question (even if she could afford one, which is also out of the question).
  • I hope Williams is not gone. Attack From Mars is one of the best machines ever and I want spare parts to be around for it.
  • The Indiana Jones Pinball [] game was really the best of the few which I can remember playing. It had all of the movie scenes from Raiders to Crusade covered in the modes and the funny one-liners from the movie mostly made it into the game too, giving the humour a sarcastic, irreverent, and dry feel that was just perfect for the whole Indy theme. For example, you received 25,000 points for "choosing poorly" in the grail scene (complete with rapidly decomposing corpse). If I could own any Pinball cabinet of my
  • Stern / Chicago Coin (Score:2, Interesting)

    by pfman ( 761522 )
    This story brought back many memories! When I was in college (1975 - gasp!) I had a summer job at Chicago Coin Co. which was the former name of Stern electronics. I built the Dolphin game and a few others. They would produce a game for about 30 days, then change over production to a new one. Their plant was on Diversey Ave in Chicago before moving to the suburbs. The site of their plant is now elegant condo-townhomes. I worked there with the largely mexican, black, and Appalachian workers. I start
  • by Nero Nimbus ( 1104415 ) on Friday April 25, 2008 @11:56PM (#23205346)
    For a Pinball Survivor, the Game Isn't Over By MONICA DAVEY

    MELROSE PARK, Ill. -- Being inside a pinball machine factory sounds exactly as you think it would. Across a 40,000-square-foot warehouse here, a cheery cacophony of flippers flip, bells ding, bumpers bump and balls click in an endless, echoing loop. The quarter never runs out.

    But this place, Stern Pinball Inc., is the last of its kind in the world. A range of companies once mass produced pinball machines, especially in the Chicago area, the one-time capital of the business. Now there is only Stern. And even the dinging and flipping here has slowed: Stern, which used to crank out 27,000 pinball machines each year, is down to around 10,000.

    To most, the story seems familiar -- of a craze that had its moment, of computers that grew sophisticated, of a culture that started staying home for fun, of being replaced by video games. But to pinball people, this is a painful fading, and one that, some insist, might yet be turned around.

    "There are a lot of things I look at and scratch my head," said Tim Arnold, who ran an arcade during a heyday of pinball in the 1970s and recently opened The Pinball Hall of Fame, a nonprofit museum in a Las Vegas strip mall. "Why are people playing games on their cellphones while they write e-mail? I don't get it."

    "The thing that's killing pinball," Mr. Arnold added, "is not that people don't like it. It's that there's nowhere to play it."

    Along the factory line in this suburb west of Chicago, scores of workers pull and twist at colored wires, drill holes in wooden frames, screw in flippers and tiny light bulbs and assorted game characters who will eventually move and spin and taunt you.

    Though pinball has roots in the 1800s game of bagatelle, these are by no means simple machines. Each one contains a half-mile of wire and 3,500 tiny components, and takes 32 hours to build -- as the company's president, Gary Stern, likes to say, longer than a Ford Taurus.

    Mr. Stern, the last pinball machine magnate, is a wise-cracking, fast-talking 62-year-old with a shock of white hair, matching white frame glasses and a deep tan who eats jelly beans at his desk and recently hurt a rib snowboarding in Colorado.

    The manufacturing plant is a game geek's fantasy job, a Willy Wonka factory of pinball.

    Some designers sit in private glass offices seated across from their pinball machines.

    Some workers are required to spend 15 minutes a day in the "game room" playing the latest models or risk the wrath of Mr. Stern. "You work at a pinball company," he explained, grumpily, "you're going to play a lot of pinball." (On a clipboard here, the professionals must jot their critiques, which, on a recent day, included "flipper feels soft" and "stupid display.")

    And in a testing laboratory devoted to the physics of all of this, silver balls bounce around alone in cases for hours to record how well certain kickers and flippers and bumpers hold up.

    Mr. Stern's father, Samuel Stern, spent his life in the pinball business, starting out as a game operator in the 1930s -- when a simple version of the modern mass-produced pinball machine first appeared. Dozens of companies were soon producing the machines, said Roger Sharpe, widely considered a foremost historian of the sport after the 1977 publication of his book, "Pinball!"

    The creation of the flipper -- popularized by the Humpty Dumpty game in 1947 -- transformed the activity, which went on to surges in the 1950s, '70s and early '90s.

    "Everybody thinks of it as retro, as nostalgia," Mr. Sharpe said. "But it's not. These are sophisticated games. Pinball is timeless."

    Perhaps, but even Mr. Stern acknowledges that demand is down. The hard-core players are faithful; the International Flipper Pinball Association keeps careful watch of the top-ranked players in the world. But the casual player has drifted.

    "The whole coin-op industry is not what it once was," Mr.
  • Visual Pinball [] is emulated for Windows, but not the same as real thing.
  • The one things most video games lacked is the chance that you'll get to play again for free.
  • by Comatose51 ( 687974 ) on Saturday April 26, 2008 @01:38AM (#23205706) Homepage
    My work has pinball machines lying around (tech company in Silicon Valley, go figure) and when they first arrived, I was pretty addicted to them, especially since I didn't have to pay. One day I finally realized that the almost total lack of control, especially for newbie for me, and hard to predict scoring system was a lot like playing the slot machines. Every time I'm done, I would say, "just one more game" and try to improve my score. Sometimes I would get a new personal high score but most of the times I don't. Nonetheless, I always felt like the next game would be it. This is something I never get from video games. Especially for strategy games, I would consistently get better and analyze and learn after each game.

    The one thing I can tell you though is that there are a lot of pinball addicts at my company and those machines break A LOT. I've seen the brand new game break down more than a couple of times within a few months. The surfaces are roughed up and within a month you can't tell the difference from machines that you see in bars. I've seem them get repaired and there is A LOT of electronics and moving parts inside, easily rivaling a PC.
  • I think we had an article here a few months ago when the last manufacturer of reel-to-reel audio tape closed. I can remember when I purchased a slide rule in the stationery section of Woolworths. Both no longer exist; I can't even remember the last time I saw a slide rule. Yet, I'm sure there will be places and applications where a slide rule might be more appropriate than either a hand-held computer or a calculator. Perhaps they'll be around again in the future. They still make buggy whips and equipmen

  • As a pinball addict, it was only the fact that pinball was vanishing everywhere that caused me to come off this nefarious drug.

    Bringing up this painful topic about a device that almost ruined my entire life is pure torture!

    I learned pinball in the basement of my fraternity house with a game called 'Royal Flush'. It was a simple game and the 'old guys' showed us how to really work the thing. After that, it was 'Target Alpha' - another simple game that really taught precision and dexterity. The end result w

  • by evilpukingheart ( 1279692 ) on Saturday April 26, 2008 @06:04AM (#23206300)
    the joy of pinball, and a feeling that you can only get once the brain pathways have been etched, is that you really do "feel" the ball through the flippers.

    Even though the ball is smooth and featureless, you can tell how it is spinning and can predict how it will rebound.

    The feature rich machines which have emerged since the late 80's like the Addams Family and Twighlight Zone (a notoriously unreliable machine) are brilliantly realized fun, but for me the subtlety of the old 60s and 70s mechanical machines is just as fascinating. And the mechanical sounds are great. The replay "thwack" was produced by a solonoid knocking on a metal plate. Every manufacturer had a different component making this sound, so every machine was different.

    Another great thing about pinball is that skills are transferable. There never was a good pinball player who was only good on one machine.

    I spent 1000s of hours playing pinball in my teens and 20s, and I can honestly say that when the game is going great and you have saved disaster over and over and feel you have the machine under your control, you feel like a god. It's obviously not the very best feeling in the world, but I think it's comparable to what it feels like to be onstage if you are a performer. Not many video games can ever give you that feeling.

    And of course, the next ball goes straight down the drain. And you miss the replay by 100 points... But then get the lucky number.

    I pity those who don't get pinball.

  • Zizzle manufactures pinball machines. Last FACTORY, maybe. Last pinball maker??? No way. *Goes to play on his PotC pinball*

    August 14-17, 2008 - come see what real pinball is.


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