STAR WARS SEMINAR

Steve Ritchie spoke recently at the Northwest Pinball and Arcade Show in Tacoma, Washington, where he gave more details about his upcoming Star Wars game.

You can read the full show report in our Shows section, but here’s the relevant part about Star wars.

Steve Ritchie
Steve Ritchie

Steve said he was recovering from some optical treatment and therefore had to avoid the kind of bright light shining through the multiple glass panels in the seminar area.

He then continued by thanking the many people at Stern Pinball who had contributed to his latest game Star Wars which is soon to be released. He said production of the Pro model would begin in about a week.

Although always diplomatic about the details, it was clear from Steve’s talk that his and Stern’s dealings with Lucasfilm on the Star Wars franchise had not been without some difficulties, especially in getting approval for their artwork ideas for the game.

Steve was then joined by Greg Freres who talked further about the artwork approval process.

Steve and Greg
Steve and Greg

Greg showed pictures of the team’s initial ideas, working through the first licensor submissions to the final approved product.

Initial cabinet art ideas
Initial cabinet art ideas Click to expand

Initial backglass art ideas
Initial backglass art ideas Click to expand

Initial playfield art ideas
Initial playfield art ideas Click to expand

After showing a promo video for Star Wars Steve described the gameplay, saying at the start of the game you can choose one of four characters – Luke, Leia, Han or R2-D2. He said they had a lot of fun despite all the grief from the licensor, although they didn’t interfere with the design of the playfield.

Steve said there are nine multiball modes in the game, and when asked how Stern Pinball were able to secure the Star Wars licence said it was simply that they offered more money than anyone else.

We’ll have much more about the new Star Wars Pinball game very soon here at Pinball News.

STAR WARS ANNOUNCED

The Premium/Limited Edition playfield

Stern Pinball today released detailed pictures of their upcoming Star Wars pinball, together with a press release giving more details.

Let’s start with the art packages on the three different models.

The Pro features the most complete set of characters and ships from the three movies.

The Pro cabinet
The Pro cabinet
The Pro cabinet
The Pro cabinet

The Premium edition’s artwork is all about the Empire’s characters, space ships and attack craft.

The Premium cabinet
The Premium cabinet
The Premium cabinet
The Premium cabinet

The Limited Edition’s backglass shows the moment the Millennium Falcon jumps into hyperspace, while the rebels’ characters and ships make up the cabinet and backbox art.

The Limited Edition cabinet
The Limited Edition cabinet
The Limited Edition cabinet
The Limited Edition cabinet

On the playfield, the artwork is very similar on the Pro and Premium/LE variants.

The Pro playfield
The Pro playfield
The Premium/Limited Edition playfield
The Premium/Limited Edition playfield

Here’s a side-by-side comparison. As with all the pictures here, you can click for a much larger version.

The Pro on the left, the Premium & Limited Edition on the right
The Pro on the left, the Premium & Limited Edition on the right

Here’s what Stern Pinball had to say about their new title:

Stern Pinball Announces New Star Wars Pinball Machines

ELK GROVE VILLAGE, IL – June 6, 2017 – Stern Pinball, Inc., the world’s oldest and largest producer of arcade-quality pinball machines, proudly announced today the availability of a new line of pinball machines celebrating the Star Wars 40th Anniversary.

Star Wars Pinball machines will be available in Pro, Premium and Limited Edition models. The game will immerse players in the dynamic and challenging Star Wars pinball environment as they battle to restore justice to the Galaxy.
Stern’s Star Wars Pro, Premium and Limited Edition machines are packed with features that provide an irresistible game experience.

The game includes select speech and footage from the original Star Wars trilogy; color-changing LED-lighted inserts; a sculpted LED-lit Millennium Falcon; and a sculpted TIE Fighter.

The Limited Edition and Premium models also feature two LCD screens, an exploding Death Star interactive display, and a hyperspace ramp.

“We are excited to bring these pinball machines celebrating the Star Wars galaxy and adventures to our fans,” said Gary Stern, Chairman and CEO of Stern Pinball. “Our Star Wars Pinball machines give fans a fun, new way to enjoy the nonstop action and new game sounds, features and effects.”

In addition to the immersive theme and exciting game experience, Stern Pinball’s SPIKE-2 electronic platform enables high-definition graphics and innovative animations. The state-of-art electronic system also powers a high-fidelity 3-channel audio system that is three times more powerful than audio systems of previous generations.

Star Wars Pinball entertains with an amazing array of modern and classic features, making it suitable for all skill levels.


Pricing and Availability:

Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price: MSRP for sales to USA end-users, before any VAT, GST, Sales Tax, Duties, or other taxes

Pro Model: $US 6,199
Premium Model: $US 7,899
Limited Edition Model: $US 8,999

Star Wars Pinball is available through authorized Stern Pinball distributors and dealers around the world.


About Stern Pinball, Inc.

Stern Pinball, Inc., headquartered just outside Chicago, Illinois, is the oldest and largest producer of arcade-quality pinball games in the world. Stern Pinball’s highly talented creative and technical teams design, engineer and manufacture a full line of popular pinball games, merchandise and accessories. Recent Stern titles include Aerosmith, Batman, Ghostbusters, Game of Thrones, WWE WrestleMania, The Walking Dead, Mustang, Star Trek, Metallica, XMen,
AC/DC, Tron, Transformers, Avatar, and many more!

All of Stern Pinball’s games are crafted by hand and assembled by Stern Pinball’s expert team. A broad range of players enjoy Stern’s games from professional pinball players that compete in high-stakes international
competitions around the globe to novice players who are discovering the allure of the silver ball for the first time.

To join the fun and learn more, please visit: www.sternpinball.com or
www.facebook.com/sternpinball

STAR WARS and related properties are trademarks and/or copyrights, in the United States and other countries, of Lucasfilm Ltd. and/or its affiliates. © & TM Lucasfilm Ltd.

We’ll have much more about the new Star Wars Pinball game very soon here at Pinball News.

STAR WARS REVEALED

Star Wars by Stern Pinball

The fact that Steve Ritchie’s next game would be Star Wars had been pretty well-known
for several months, but an official announcement wasn’t expected until June 4th, 2017.

Today though (May 31st), The Star Wars Show let the cat out of the bag with details and pictures of the new game.

As expected, there are the usual three variants – Pro, Premium and Limited Edition, with different art packages for all three. The Pro shows all the characters, while the Premium focuses on the Empire’s forces, and the LE features the rebels.

The Pro edition
The Pro edition

The Premium edition
The Premium edition

The Limited Edition
The Limited Edition

Onto the playfield, and the Pro is lacking a number of features found on the higher models. Here’s the full-featured Premium/LE playfield.

The Premium/LE playfield
The Premium/LE playfield

Balls are locked in the Death Star which breaks open to release them for multiball. A wireform loops around in front of the flippers to provide some additional entertainment when balls are locked or released, while the ball is initially plunged across the playfield at the F-O-R-C-E targets.

There appear to be four sets of three modes, each set represented by a colour and a playfield shot – Hoth (blue, centre lane), Death Star (purple, left lane), Tatooine (red, right scoop) and Endor (green, left ramp).

The Pro playfield
The Pro playfield

The Death Star here appears to be a static toy, with plastic instead of metal ramps, no upper level to the right ramp, no loop-around wireform and no Millennium Falcon toy. The playfield art is very similar though, and all models feature a miniature LCD screen above the Tie-Fighter target bank and back panel artwork.

Stern Pinball will no doubt produce an official press release over the next day or so to bring us full details and prices, and Pinball News will bring you all that information just as soon as it’s available.

MAGIC GIRL: FIRST LOOK

Magic Girl backglass

It was just under two years ago that we brought you our exclusive report on the prototype Magic Girl game from Zidware when it was brought to the NW Pinball and Arcade Show in Tacoma, Washington.

An awful lot has happened in the time since then. A rescue plan to get the game made came and went, legal action was started in an attempt to recover the funds for buyers of Magic Girl, Retro Atomic Zombieland Adventure and Alice in Wonderland, and Zidware seemed destined for bankruptcy, either voluntary or involuntary.

That legal action is still ongoing, but in the third quarter of 2016, a new company – American Pinball – announced that they would be building Magic Girl as contract manufacturers for Zidware.

Incredulity turned to mere scepticism as pictures of cabinets appeared. Pinball News toured the American Pinball facility and saw how the playfields were indeed being put together on a small production line.

The 25 Magic Girl games were promised for pre-Christmas 2016 delivery, but that deadline was missed. However, John Popadiuk from Zidware contacted buyers to say delivery of their games would begin in March 2017.

Although the release of machines has been patchy, a few have been either delivered or collected.

Pinball News got our hands on one of them to pull it apart and see how much of a game has been delivered.

Our customary In-Depth Review of Magic Girl is coming, but these reviews take a long time to write and process all the pictures – we have more than a thousand pictures to work through! We also have a number of pinball shows over the next few weekends, and each of those need detailed reports.

But we understand that interest in these games is high, so we are bringing you a First Look review, where we give you a sneak-peek at the game, from the cabinet artwork to the playfield.

Naturally all our pictures are also available in high-resolution if you want to explore the details further and we have added a ten minute video of Magic Girl gameplay.

The granular detail will come in our full In-Depth Review, but in the meantime, we present our first look at Magic Girl from Zidware.

Zidware's Magic Girl
Zidware’s Magic Girl Click to expand

Magic Girl is a standard-width game, but not much else is standard. For a start, the playfield is longer than normal, and the playfield glass is also around 10cm (4 inches) longer than regular pinball glass – something which makes getting non-glare glass something of a problem.

The cabinet and backbox designs are also custom. The backbox has angled bottom edges and bespoke hinges, while the cabinet is an unusual shape – much less tall at the front and much deeper at the back.

The Magic Girl translite
The Magic Girl translite Click to expand

The score display is at the back of the playfield like Cirqus Voltaire, allowing the translite artwork to cover the whole backbox front with the minor exception of the backbox speaker mountings.

The reverse of the Magic Girl translite
The reverse of the Magic Girl translite Click to expand

The translite art is fantastically-detailed, with intense colours and rich purple hues dominating. This design really sets the scene for what we will find on the playfield a little later.

The cabinet art is somewhat different – equally interesting but using a different colour-set and exploring different aspects of the theme.

Right cabinet side art
Right cabinet side art Click to expand

Left cabinet side art
Left cabinet side art Click to expand

The cabinet front
The cabinet front Click to expand

The backbox side art
The backbox side art Click to expand

As we said, the backbox hinges are bespoke designs, featuring the trademark Zidware lightning bolt.

The backbox hinge
The backbox hinge Click to expand

While the custom design adds another layer to the look of the game, in this instance it was certainly a case of form over function, as this bracket on our review machine was bent in transit – the hinge’s rigidity no doubt being weakened by the large central cut-out.

Round the back, the design also varies from the usual.

The back of the machine
The back of the machine Click to expand

Although it looks pretty conventional, the power switch is incorporated into the mains power inlet, making it trickier to depower. Several ventilation grilles are included but there are no details of the machine on the game sticker. The only identification comes in the form of a machine-specific plaque bearing the MGxxx game number.

That’s our first look at the outside of Magic Girl. Under the (custom-size) glass we have the game’s playfield which we will examine in detail in our In-Depth Review.

The playfield
The playfield Click to expand

As you can see, it’s a packed playfield – packed with mechanisms, artwork and colours. There are shots, targets, LEDs and plastic pieces all over, with barely any part of the playfield periphery not turned into a scoring or feature opportunity. Several targets appear to be deliberately impossible to make and can only be hit by sheer chance.

The instruction card
The instruction card Click to expand

The replay levels card
The replay levels card Click to expand

The game’s display is mounted on the inside back wall of the cabinet. This results in part of it being obscured by the taller playfield features, but there’s no reason the information on the display cannot be crafted around the obstructions.

The game's display panel
The game’s display panel Click to expand

A display designed around the playfield components
A display designed around the playfield components Click to expand

Despite being jammed with shots and targets, the game only has two regular flippers.

The game's two flippers
The game’s two flippers Click to expand

We say ‘regular’ flippers because there are also two Twilight Zone-style magnetic flippers on a mini-playfield mounted above and at the back of the main playfield.

We will examine that along with all the other playfield mechanisms, lights and artwork in our full In-Depth Review.

Until then we will leave you with two more sneak-peaks.

The first is a look at the underside of the playfield.

The underside of the playfield
The underside of the playfield Click to expand

The main driver board is mounted under the playfield which keeps the interconnects with the solenoids, switches and LED boards short.

LEDs are a mixture of custom boards for RGB lighting and sockets for single-colour devices. There is an Arduino board mounted at the bottom-right of the picture above to control the RGB LEDs.

Although the bottom of the playfield appears to cram in as much as possible, there are actually many missing mechanisms and devices.

Some of the many unused connectors
Some of the many unused connectors Click to expand

In truth, Magic Girl is a long way from complete. Whole sections of the playfield are inoperable because the mechanism which feeds them is missing or the code to control them isn’t written yet.

The game’s control system appears quite mature and functional though. Apart from the boards mounted under the playfield, everything else lives in the base of the cabinet.

Inside the cabinet
Inside the cabinet Click to expand

The large metal box at the back contains the control system, and we will – quite literally – lift the lid on that in our In-Depth Review.

Until then, here’s a ten minute video of gameplay on Magic Girl.

It was shot to demonstrate a number of things. First, how well the lighting effects and artwork work together. Second, how the display animations look. Third, how the music and effects sound, and finally how the various shots work or don’t work.

Together, these elements should give you a good idea how complete Magic Girl is as a game.

We’ll be back soon with the In-Depth Review, right here at Pinball News.

DIALED IN! LAUNCH PARTY

As the European Jersey Jack Pinball Master Distributor, Alfred Pika, aka Freddy, hosted the European launch of JJP’s latest Dialed In! pinball machine designed by the legendary Pat Lawlor. The venue was Freddy’s Pinball Paradise In Echzell.

Freddy looks on as attendees try out Dialed In!
Freddy (left) looks on as attendees try out Dialed In!

Attendance at the launch party was by pre-registration. The modest entry fee of €3 ($3,17/£2.60), as well as any donations for the available food and drinks, benefited a local kindergarten.

There was one prototype LE machine for the couple of dozen attendees to try out. Software was only about 30% completed, but, surprisingly, the game felt very polished with many modes to try.

All eyes on the game
All eyes on the game

Pat Lawlor is one of the greatest pinball designers of all time, having designed many beloved tables, including the record selling 1992 The Addams Family, and his last Stern game CSI in 2008.

Lawlor began designing pinball machines in 1987 and produced eighteen games throughout his career, including many of the best-selling games in the history of the industry.

Jack Guarnieri recently recounted in the JJP newsletter how Pat’s return to pinball came about. Back in 2011, Jack rented a building in Harvard, IL from Pat and invited him to see the work JJP was doing on the The Wizard of Oz. As Pat witnessed first-hand JJP’s vision embodied in the making of their first game, he started toying with the idea of coming back to the industry.

In January 2014, to much excitement in the pinball community, JJP made the official announcement that Pat was coming out of nearly ten years of retirement to design an unlicenced game for JJP.

Pat and Jack
Pat and Jack (picture: Jersey Jack Pinball)

During the design of the game, Pat took the opportunity to revisit the actual cabinet design. In an interview with Pinball Magazine, Pat outlined his initial design goals:

  • Move the electronics back in the backbox for ease of access and added reliability.

  • Redesign the cabinet for better acoustics

  • And Improve serviceability access of cabinet head.

One of the most impressive serviceability design we saw was the new LCD mount.

After you remove the translite, the LCD screen is mounted on a impressively smooth swinging arm which extends and pivots to either side to provide full access to the cabinet head electronics.

Andy Hengstebeek, Freddy's right hand pinball man, shows the underside of the playfield
Andy Hengstebeek, Freddy’s right hand pinball man, shows the underside of the playfield

It is also the first game to feature bluetooth connectivity, and the innovative ‘selfie mode’ showcased the game camera. It employs face recognition technology to capture portraits of the player and close bystanders. This mode and the cascading ’emoji mode’ were big hits with the attendees.

The innovative selfie and emoji modes
The innovative selfie and emoji modes
The innovative selfie and emoji modes
The innovative selfie and emoji modes

The crossing hashlines inserts in the playfield are a familiar sight from the Wizard Blocks prototype game that Lawlor sadly never got to complete due to WMS Industries shutting down their pinball division in 1999.

The Quantum Reality Theater toy in the middle was very impressive with a bright and crisp interactive floating image similar to Pinball 2000 for which Pat Lawlor was also a major creative force.

Dialed-In! overhead view
Dialed-In! overhead view

The event was also the last day to order the game from Freddy at specially-discounted advance ordering prices. With a constant line to play the game during the whole event, and judging from the very positive reception of the game, one may guess there were quite a few games ordered that day.

In addition to the monthly openings of Freddy’s Pinball Paradise, the game will also be travelling around Europe to these upcoming events:

  • March 15th – 17th, Milan, Italy, Double Pinball showroom.

  • April 1st & 2nd, Le Treport, France, Flip Expo.

  • April 8th & 9th, Oberösterreich, Austria, Comic Con.

  • April 13th &14th, Badendorf in der Steiermark, Austria, ‘Auf Die Kugeln Fertig Los 3.0’ tournament.

 

Freddy’s Pinball Paradise

On the outskirts of the small village of Echzell, a 45- minute drive north of Frankfurt, it’s hard to miss these two pinball machines, beacons to all aficionados of the silver ball.

A welcoming sight
A welcoming sight

A closer inspection reveals no coin doors, leg mounts or bracket backbox hinges. We can all breathe easy as it seems no game was sacrificed for the making of these ingenious props.

Screen capture of a drone video from Freddy’s facebook page
Screen capture of a drone video from Freddy’s Facebook page

The store is on the left side, while the pinball hall is on the right. The hall is impressively spacious at 600 square meters (~6,500 sq. feet), a hint of its previous incarnation as a supermarket. The walls are adorned in a country and western decorative theme, with horse saddles, wagon wheels and horseshoes.

It houses about 170 pinball machines on free play, from 1960s electromechanical games to the latest Stern and JJP machines. The shop was founded in the summer of 2012 and the Pinball Paradise hosted the 2013 IFPA World Championships.

Alfred Pika, a.k.a. Freddy
Alfred Pika, aka Freddy

Freddy started buying and fixing games in his basement when he was just 14-years-old. Along the way he also started a successful business, Pika Autoteile GmbH, which sells parts and accessories for US made cars.

His right hand man for all things pinball related is Andy Hengstebeek. Andy is the main caretaker of the collection and he also looks after the shop.

Dark Rider conversion game for 1979 Bally Star Trek
Dark Rider conversion game for 1979 Bally Star Trek

Andy told me about the rare Dark Rider conversion game in the collection from German company Geiger-Automatenbau. Only 150 of these conversion kits were made. Andy found this game in an old gym. The playfield was completly white from rubbers having disingrated, but the playfield was pristine underneath.

He explained that these Geiger conversion kits came out a few years after the originals, and by then usually people had moved on to the latest pinball playfield layout and feature gimmicks.

In addition to all the popular WMS and Stern DMD games, the many solid-sate and Electromechanical machines there are many notable games at the Paradise, such as Cactus Canyon Extended, Atari’s Hercules, Akkon Automaten’s Sexy Girl, and the following games:

Rare 1982 Williams Defender in beautiful condition - only 369 made
Rare 1982 Williams Defender in beautiful condition – only 369 made
1985 Bally Cybernaut
1985 Bally Cybernaut
1979 Bally Paragon, European version with only 3 flippers
1979 Bally Paragon, European version with only 3 flippers
1984 Bell Games Tiger Rag conversion
1984 Bell Games Tiger Rag conversion
1984 Bell Games Super Bowl conversion
1984 Bell Games Super Bowl conversion
Geiger La Retata LA Police conversion kit for 1986 Williams High Speed
Geiger La Retata LA Police conversion kit for 1986 Williams High Speed
Geiger Lady Death conversion for 1978 Bally Mata Hari
Geiger Lady Death conversion for 1978 Bally Mata Hari

Freddy also sells the convolux plastic protectors which Pinball News had the opportunity to review in 2014.

Convolux plastic protectors
Convolux plastic protectors

Many of the games at the Paradise were outfitted to showcase these protectors. Here, on two 2013 Stern Star Treks, you can see how much Convolux protectors can change the mood of a playfield.

Star Treks with the Convolux plastic protectors
Star Trek with red Convolux plastic protectors
Star Treks with the Convolux plastic protectors
Star Trek with yellow Convolux plastic protectors

Here are some pictures of the inside of the Paradise.

Inside Freddy’s Pinball Paradise
Inside Freddy’s Pinball Paradise
Inside Freddy’s Pinball Paradise
Inside Freddy’s Pinball Paradise
Inside Freddy’s Pinball Paradise
Inside Freddy’s Pinball Paradise
Inside Freddy’s Pinball Paradise
Inside Freddy’s Pinball Paradise
Inside Freddy’s Pinball Paradise
Inside Freddy’s Pinball Paradise

Freddy’s Pinball Paradise is open once a month, usually the last saturday of the month. Current admission prices are €18 for adults and €10 for children aged 12-16 years.

More details are available at:

A nice last look at the end of a fun day of pinball
A nice last look at the end of a fun day of pinball

CAPTAIN NEMO: IN-DEPTH REVIEW

Captain Nemo Dives Again

Welcome to the latest in our continuing series of In-Depth Reviews, and today we are delving deep into Quetzal Pinball’s Captain Nemo Dives Again.

We have been following the development of Captain Nemo Dives Again – which we’ll simply refer to as Nemo from here on – since Antonio Ortuño first announced his plans to build thirty machines back in March 2012.

It’s now five years later and the games are finally being delivered to buyers. Five years does seem to be a common timescale for small-scale boutique game manufacturers to actually deliver their first game.

So, we assume you know the structure in these In-Depth Reviews. We’re basically going to rip the game to pieces, investigate every aspect and show you every angle, inside and out, starting with the outside and the cabinet artwork.

The left cabinet side
The left cabinet side Click to expand

The right cabinet side
The right cabinet side Click to expand

The backbox sides
The backbox sides Click to expand

The front of the cabinet is dominated by the standard single-slot coin door but there is still space for a nice frame design surrounding it.

The cabinet front
The cabinet front Click to expand

If we had one criticism of the decals, it would be how the exposed edges are white and can sometime show up on the corners. Otherwise though, they look great.

The backbox decal edges
The backbox decal edges Click to expand

Now would be a good moment to mention how our review machine was specified with gold trim which was available at extra cost at the time of order.

The polished gold finish
The polished gold finish Click to expand

Standard Nemo machines don’t have this gold finish, but it does look excellent and is very nicely done as we shall see throughout this review.

The game's translite
The game’s translite Click to expand

The translite brings us to something unusual about the game when compared to other production machines.

You might notice how there are four white dots om the translite picture above. These are actually the plastic rivets which appear to hold the translite to the clear acrylic sheet which covers and protects it.

The plastic rivet attaching the translite to the clear plastic sheet
The plastic rivet attaching the translite to the clear plastic sheet Click to expand

These are used in preference to the more common edging strips which clamp the translite to the glass on all four sides. The lower two of these rivets have plastic ‘nipples’ which can be used to lift the clear panel/translite sandwich to gain access to the backbox.

Another plastic rivet, this time with a 'nipple' to aid lifting the panel
Another plastic rivet, this time with a ‘nipple’ to aid lifting the panel Click to expand

However, there are a couple of problems here. Firstly, the translite isn’t firmly attached to the clear plastic cover. The rivets don’t actually hold the clear sheet to the translite very successfully. It seems a static bond was expected to attach the two parts, only this didn’t really work. So, the translite needs to be taped to the clear protective sheet using Scotch Tape or similar.

The translite is attached using Scotch Tape
The translite is attached using Scotch Tape Click to expand

The clear acrylic sheet is also too thin and can flex too easily, allowing it and the translite to fall out.

Then we come to the other problem; the translite doesn’t actually transmit much light. The white layer is so thick it blocks almost any light from passing through. It’s an easy problem to remedy – make the white layer thinner – but as it stands the translite is too dark. We’ll look at this a little more when we examine what’s in the backbox.

The translite thickness
The translite thickness Click to expand

Moving away from the visible part of the game and poking our camera around the back we find some interesting features.

The back of the machine
The back of the machine Click to expand

First of all, there’s a fan mounted on the back of the main cabinet. It’s an unfortunate consequence of using PC components for a game design that cooling is an important factor, and Nemo is no different in this regard. In fact, there’s an additional vent on the top of the backbox too.

The air vent on the top of the backbox
The air vent on the top of the backbox Click to expand

It may be unobtrusive and nearly silent, but this cabinet fan, when combined with others we shall see shortly, does provide some ambient noise when the game is otherwise silent. It really is minimal but it exists and, as with all games using the same type of cooling, in a home environment it could irritate.

Power is supplied by an IEC connector, and there are two lifting recesses at the very bottom of the cabinet which are very welcome nods to those who regularly move machines around.

The bottom of the back of the cabinet
The bottom of the back of the cabinet Click to expand

We’ll examine what’s actually inside the backbox and cabinet towards the end of this review, but now let’s move on to the part of the machine were the real action takes place. To do that we need to dive under the glass.

The Nemo playfield
The Nemo playfield Click to expand

The final artwork pieces are found on the metal bottom apron.

The bottom arch and gold trim
The bottom arch and gold trim Click to expand

The two side decals on the apron show the same rococo design, with the central decal featuring the game logo and the machine number out of the thirty machines produced.

The bottom apron decals
The bottom apron decals Click to expand

Nemo is a two-flippered six ball game, with the flippers in the usual place, front and centre, and it’s there that we start our tour of the playfield.

Nemo is a six-ball game
Nemo is a six-ball game Click to expand

The game is supplied with white flipper bats and red flipper rubbers – real rubber, not one of the polyurethane alternatives. The flipper bats do not carry any logo or branding at the pivot point.

The flipper area
The flipper area Click to expand

A large red Dive Again (shoot again) insert sits between the flippers, and the playfield is drilled with flipper alignment holes which should help with setting the flipper bats to the correct angle if you ever need to do that.

The flipper alignment guide holesThe flipper alignment guide holes Click to expand

Any balls which pass between the flippers soon find themselves falling into the trough, the entrance to which is covered by the bottom apron.

The view between the flippers into the troughThe view between the flippers into the trough Click to expand

As is customary in these In-Depth Reviews, we will continue our tour of the playfield features by moving clockwise, pausing only to admire the reflective quality of the gold-plated apron.

The mirrored apronThe mirrored apron Click to expand

Just above the apron in the left outlane is a panel listing credits for the game design, artwork, toy design, display animations, mechanical design, software and music/sounds.

Credits in the left outlane
Credits in the left outlane Click to expand

Incidentally, there is a corresponding copyright notice in the right outlane for Gustavo Díaz, a.k.a. Lord Hiryu who created the artwork, giving the year as 2012- when the original announcement of the game took place.

Credit text in the right outlane
Credit text in the right outlane Click to expand

As you can see, the inlane ball guides are lit with pure green LEDs. Lighting throughout the game uses LEDs and most are coloured. The coloured ones are single colours, and 44-style bayonet lamp holders are generally used to mount them. There is one incandescent lamp fitted to the game, but we will come back to that one later.

The left inlane ball guide
The left inlane ball guide Click to expand

In inlane ball guides are made from clear transparent plastic, topped with a printed butyrate featuring the phrase ‘Mobilis in Mobili’ which is the motto of the Nautilus and roughly translate from Latin as ‘Movement amidst movement’ to describe the vessel’s underwater adventures.

The left inlane and outlane
The left inlane and outlane Click to expand

There is one inlane and one outlane on the left side. Both feature traditional mechanical rollover switches to detect the ball and contain a large round insert – ‘F’ for the outlane and ‘I’ for the inlane. These combine with two corresponding inserts on the right to spell out F-I-R-E, and they have the lane change ability to rotate the lit and unlit inserts with the flipper buttons.

The F and I inserts in the left inlane and outlane
The F and I inserts in the left inlane and outlane Click to expand

The left inlane is also where the left ramp finishes. It deposits the ball just below the rollover switch, meaning you can’t repeatedly shoot the ramp to light the F-I-R-E letters.

The lower left playfield area
The lower left playfield area Click to expand

The left slingshot is a pretty basic assembly, with two leaf switches, a kicker arm and two single-colour green LEDs, surrounded by a white rubber ring stretched around three clear star posts, with the whole lot covered by a single printed slingshot plastic.

The left slingshot
The left slingshot Click to expand

Above the left outlane is an adjustable post with three positions to vary the width of the outlane entrance and thus the game’s difficulty.

Above that is a cluster of clear star posts which form a rebound area designed to add some randomness to the ball’s movement and make it harder to control.

The left adjustable post and rebound area
The left adjustable post and rebound area Click to expand

The next feature on Nemo’s playfield is the bank of drop targets

The game's drop targets
The game’s drop targets Click to expand

These four drop targets spell out N-E-M-O and sport an image of the Nautilus stretched across the four targets. Each target has a matching blue circular insert in front, and completing them resets the bank and adds a ball to the next multiball.

The individual drop targets are not resettable like they are in, say, The Hobbit. So only the whole bank can be reset to the up position, which it is between balls and between players.

The N-E-M-O drop target bank
The N-E-M-O drop target bank Click to expand

It is possible for the ball to get stuck on top of the drop targets – something which is only cleared when the game resets the targets as part of the ball search routine.

A ball hang-up on the drop targets
A ball hang-up on the drop targets Click to expand

Up the playfield from the drop targets is the entrance to the left lane.

The entrance to the left lane
The entrance to the left lane Click to expand

This lane travels up the left side of the playfield in what is often the position for an orbit lane. However, on Nemo this instead leads to a trap hole which in turn drops down to a subway tunnel.

The left lane
The left lane Click to expand

There is a large rectangular insert which lights when the lane is shot.

The insert in the left orbit
The insert in the left lane Click to expand

When the ball makes it all the way to the top of the lane, it passes over a rollover switch and into a trap hole. This leads to a subway which send the ball to the left side of the playfield and into an upkicker.

The top of the left lane
The top of the left lane Click to expand

The upkicker includes a nicely polished piece of curved metal which directs the ball onto a short metal ramp. This ramp joins the left ramp return to deposit the ball in the left inlane, as we saw earlier.

The left upkicker
The left upkicker Click to expand

Just to the right of the left lane is the game’s Extinct Volcano captive ball shot.

The captive ball
The captive ball Click to expand

This is another fairly simple mechanism, with just a single ball trapped behind a couple of posts. When shot, the ball travels up a short lane and hits a red circular standup target to register the hit.

The extinct volcano captive ball shot
The extinct volcano captive ball shot Click to expand

Although it looks quite a tight shot, in practice it’s pretty easy to shoot the captive ball. However, if you are not playing the appropriate mode and the Extinct Volcano insert isn’t lit, it does nothing; not even evoking a sound effect.

Our next feature is the first of the game’s two ramps – the left ramp.

The left ramp
The left ramp Click to expand

The ramp is made up from a metal U-turn which leads to an extended open metal rail. All these pieces are shiny metal (gold in this particular machine) and work very effectively despite their unusual design.

The entrance to the left ramp
The entrance to the left ramp Click to expand

The left ramp is where the skill shot award is collected if it is made directly after the ball is launched. It is also one of the jackpot shots and is one of the two shots during Protect the Sea mode.

The left ramp inserts
The left ramp inserts Click to expand

The left ramp U-turn
The left ramp U-turn Click to expand

The left ramp’s U-turn mechanism transfers the ball onto the metal ramp return which joins up with the return from the left lane’s upkicker. An attractively laser-cut metal panel prevents the ball falling off the ramp as it joins.

The left ramp return
The left ramp return Click to expand

The ramp return then sends the ball down the left side of the playfield, dropping it into the left inlane. It does this after the inlane switch, so there is no sound or lighting effect as the ball returns to the flipper.

The end of the left ramp
The end of the left ramp Click to expand

While one of the captive ball posts site on the left side of the ramp entrance, on the right side we find the first of two white rectangular standup targets.

The Hera standup target
The Hera standup target Click to expand

The Hera target is paired up with the Cles target on the right side to light lock for multiball at the left lane and the right saucer when both are shot.

Our next shot is the centre lane which is a fairly wide shot and easier to make than, say, the equivalent lane on Iron Man.

The centre lane shot
The centre lane shot Click to expand

The centre lane features a white rubber band on the left side of the entrance which makes the shot a little more demanding by rebounding any wayward shots while also providing some lateral movement for balls exiting the pop bumpers on that side.

The rebound ring in the centre lane
The rebound ring in the centre lane Click to expand

The centre lane leads up to the top of the playfield and to the three S-E-A rollover lanes which are bathed in a pool of blue light.

The top rollover lanes
The top rollover lanes Click to expand

There are one-way gates on either side of the S-E-A rollover lanes, which means any ball shot up here is guaranteed to enter the lanes. They feature the usual lane change ability, while lighting all three S-E-A inserts extinguishes them all and increases the end-of-ball bonus multiplier.

Pop bumper area artwork
Pop bumper area artwork Click to expand

The top rollover lanes lead to the pop bumper area, which contains the familiar arrangement of three pop bumpers and a central flasher insert.

The pop bumper area
The pop bumper area Click to expand

Although the pop bumpers provide reasonable ball movement action, they rarely send the ball back into the S-E-A lanes.

There are two exits from the pop bumpers – to the left into the centre lane, or to the right into the right lane – with the rubber ring in the centre lane helping to prevent the ball heading straight down the middle from that exit.

There is a potential ball trap on the lower bumper.

A ball trap on the bottom pop bumper
A ball trap on the bottom pop bumper Click to expand

This seemed to happen quite often on our review machine and required a ball search to free it, since it wasn’t easily cleared with a gentle tap of the cabinet side.

Above the left exit from the pop bumpers is a green circular standup target representing the Underwater Forest.

The Underwater Forest standup target
The Underwater Forest standup target Click to expand

This is used to advance the Underwater Treasures mode and can be surprisingly difficult to hit when needed. The blue rubber pad on the left and white rubber ring on the right mean it has to be an accurate shot to register.

A slightly easier target is the Bay of Vigo standup below and to the right which features in the same mode.

The Bay of Vigo standup target
The Bay of Vigo standup target Click to expand

This target is a little more open and accessible than the Underwater Forest one, and like its counterpart it requires multiple hits to complete the feature.

Below the Bay of Vigo is the Cles standup we mentioned earlier.

The Cles standup target
The Cles standup target Click to expand

This pairs up with the Hera standup to light lock for the start of multiball. Its insert flashes rapidly until the target is hit, at which point it lights solidly.

The Cles standup is positioned on the left side of the entrance to our next feature – the right ramp.

The right ramp
The right ramp Click to expand

This is another all-metal ramp with even the ramp flap having a shiny finish. Like the left ramp, it can score jackpots in multiball and advances the Protect the Sea feature.

The right ramp inserts
The right ramp inserts Click to expand

Despite having a pretty tight turn at the top, the right ramp is not a tricky or temperamental shot. The metal construction makes it nice and smooth, and there’s some satisfaction to be had comboing the two ramps to advance through the mode rapidly.

The turn at the top of the right ramp
The turn at the top of the right ramp Click to expand

The right ramp turns and heads down the right side of the playfield
The right ramp turns and heads down the right side of the playfield Click to expand

Successful shots to the ramp are recorded by a microswitch mounted on the ramp return which shares the attractive, open design of its left-side companion.

The switch on the right ramp
The switch on the right ramp Click to expand

The right ramp return also drops the ball into its respective inlane, however this time it falls above the inlane switch, allowing advancement of the F-I-R-E inserts.

The end of the right ramp
The end of the right ramp Click to expand

Moving right, we come to our next major shot which is the right lane.

Inserts in the right lane
Inserts in the right lane Click to expand

Were it not for the one-way gates at the top, the position of this shot could be thought of as an orbit lane. However, the gates mean it always leads to the S-E-A rollover lanes and the pop bumpers.

The one-way gate at the top of the right lane
The one-way gate at the top of the right lane Click to expand

The right lane is one of the shots during Build the Nautilus mode, and also starts Super Bumpers for increased scoring.

The right lane
The right lane Click to expand

The final major shot is on the far right and is an eject hole.

The eject hole lane
The eject hole lane Click to expand

This is a reasonably tricky shot and the ball can bounce out if the shot is too hard. However, even if that happens it will often register and award the lit feature.

The eject hole on the right of the playfield
The eject hole on the right of the playfield Click to expand

Those features include the start of multiball which happens instantly, without any delay while a display effect completes.

Inserts in the right lane
Inserts in the right lane Click to expand

The ball guide into the right eject hole
The ball guide into the right eject hole Click to expand

Below the eject hole lane is another rebound area which sits above the right outlane.

The rebound area above the right outlane
The rebound area above the right outlane Click to expand

As with the left outlane, the right side includes an adjustable post with three positions to vary the width of the lane entrance. The game is shopped with the post in the middle position.

The right outlane post has three possible positions
The right outlane post has three possible positions Click to expand

There’s just a single inlane and one outlane on the right. These contain the R and E inserts from F-I-R-E

The right ramp terminates at the right inlane
The right ramp terminates at the right inlane Click to expand

The R insert is mostly covered by the end of the right ramp, and its metal construction also partly obscures the ball as it bounces around, deciding whether to head for the inlane or the outlane.

The R and E inserts in the right inlane and outlane
The R and E inserts in the right inlane and outlane Click to expand

While the left ramp drops the ball in the left inlane below the rollover switch, that’s not possible on the right side due to another ramp occupying that position.

The right inlane and outlane
The right inlane and outlane Click to expand

In this case it is the ball launch ramp which claims that area of the playfield, so let’s take a look at that feature next.

A ball waiting in the shooter lane
A ball waiting in the shooter lane Click to expand

The ball shooter lane begins in a fairly conventional manner, with a wooden shooter lane and an auto-launch mechanism to propel the ball into play.

Rather than shooting the ball up to the rollover lanes as might b expected, the auto-launch instead sends it into another U-turn ramp which feeds the right inlane, much as it does on Indianapolis 500.

The ball shooter lane
The ball shooter lane Click to expand

The ball launch ramp
The ball launch ramp Click to expand

This is another attractively-mirrored metallic construction, although it is sometime unable to cope with the speed of the ball as it is launched, allowing it to fly off and drop into the outlane. This is more a function of an over-exuberant ball launch solenoid, and it could maybe do with a slightly weaker coil.

The end of the ball launch ramp
The end of the ball launch ramp Click to expand

If it is launched successfully, the ball quickly drops into the right inlane and rolls down to the right flipper for a skill shot on the left ramp. The ball moves pretty quickly, so you need to be paying attention or the ball will drain before you’ve had a chance to flip it.

The right inlane and outlane area
The right inlane and outlane area Click to expand

That brings us back to the flippers and means we’ve looked at all the main shots in the game, but we still have the single largest playfield feature to examine – the LCD panel.

The in-playfield display
The in-playfield display Click to expand

This 9.7-inch LCD panel is the only display in the game and so conveys all the usual information about score, ball number, credits available, mode status and diagnostics menus. The background image for most of the game is a continuation of the surrounding artwork. This helps blend it in, although the display is significantly brighter than the playfield.

The in-playfield LCD monitor
The in-playfield LCD monitor Click to expand

The high score entry screen
The high score entry screen Click to expand

The panel has the usual clear plastic window covering it and making it flush with the playfield, but it also has a larger Mylar sheet protecting it. In fact, it looked like there were two Mylar sheets, one larger than the other, with the top one bubbling a little around the edges of the lower one.

The Mylar covering the display
The Mylar covering the display Click to expand

When the game is powered up, the display shows the loading progress.

The playfield display during game start-up
The playfield display during game start-up Click to expand

At the start of a game, the player needs to choose which of the three main modes they wish to play. Each one requires different shots to advance through it.

The three mode choices
The three mode choices Click to expand

The completed modes and progress towards the Kraken wizard mode are shown on the playfield’s inserts.

The three modes and the wizard mode inserts
The three modes and the wizard mode inserts Click to expand

Other inserts on the playfield show awards available or collected.

Three playfield award inserts
Three playfield award inserts Click to expand

We said just now that the display is the biggest playfield feature, but there’s another game feature which is just as large, although it lives on the game’s back panel rather than on the playfield.

That feature is the Nautilus.

The Nautilus model
The Nautilus model Click to expand

The Nautilus is made from flat plastic sheets which interlock and slide over each other. There is a solenoid behind the model which moves it left and right during certain game events. It’s not that exciting, but it adds a little more movement to the game.

There’s another back panel feature, and this one takes the form of a power meter timer.

The timer on the back panel
The power meter timer on the back panel Click to expand

There are eight red LEDs arranged in a circle, and at the start of Protect the Sea mode they all light up. Gradually, one-by-one they begin flashing and then extinguishing as your power diminishes. The same information could be shown on the LCD panel, but it’s nice to see those bright red LEDs uring you to complete the mode.

The bottom part of the playfield
The bottom part of the playfield Click to expand

To help explain how the game plays, here our ten-minute video of the gameplay, from the initial game start right through to Kraken mode.

That completes our look at the playfield. Now it’s time to get the keys out and delve inside the game to see how it’s put together. A nice touch is the laser-cut Nemo key fob which comes with the game

The laser-cut key fob
The laser-cut key fob Click to expand

Let’s start with the easy part, and see what’s in the backbox.

The translite panel is secured with a barrel lock at the top.

The translite backbox lock
The translite backbox lock Click to expand

Inside the backbox
Inside the backbox Click to expand

Nemo has two backbox speakers mounted at the top.

One of the backbox speakers
One of the backbox speakers Click to expand

The sound from these speakers is projected through cut-outs in the translite panel.

The top of the translite
The top of the translite Click to expand

One of the speaker cut-outs
One of the speaker cut-outs Click to expand

The speakers are each fed with their own audio channel from an amplifier in the base of the cabinet, where there is also a third speaker.

Meanwhile, remaining in the backbox we find a switching power supply which drives the backbox’s three white LED strips.

The power supply in the backbox
The power supply in the backbox Click to expand

Connections to the backbox LEDs
Connections to the backbox LEDs Click to expand

Some of the power supply’s outputs also go into the cabinet, while mains power for the supply comes in from the cabinet.

Cabling from the cabinet to the backbox
Cabling from the cabinet to the backbox Click to expand

The backbox hinges and folds down as normal. With no backbox latch, it is held upright by two wing bolts. These look flimsier than their Williams equivalents but are actually the same diameter bolts.

The ground braid is clamped by the backbox bolts
The ground braid is clamped by the backbox bolts Click to expand

So there’s not much in the backbox – just a power supply, two speakers and some LED strips. To find the really interesting stuff we need to open up the cabinet, starting with the coin door.

Surprisingly there’s a coin mech fitted.

The coin mech supplied with the game
The coin mech supplied with the game Click to expand

It’s a single coin device and we’re not sure which coin it takes – quarters, Euros, or something else. In any case, there were no controls to set the game pricing scheme in the menus in this version, so it’s a moot point.

Inside the coin door we have more interesting items to examine.

Looking through the coin door
Looking through the coin door Click to expand

At the top, we have the yellow-sleeved lock bar lever and a coin door switch. We originally thought this switch would disable the solenoid power, but it didn’t. In fact, we couldn’t see that it made any discernible difference to anything.

In the bottom, we find a cash box which can be bolted into the cabinet using a lock mechanism while at the bottom left corner of the coin door we have two diagnostic buttons and the game’s volume control.

The menu buttons and volume control
The menu buttons and volume control Click to expand

The volume control is a little basic and could really do with housing in a discrete box with a knob added to finish it off more neatly.

The volume control board
The volume control board Click to expand

The two buttons on the left are used to diagnose problems, adjust the game settings or depower the game.

Nemo runs on PC hardware using a Linux operating system. Pressing the red button shuts down the current session and allows a change of user just like pressing the power button on a PC.

Pressing the power button
Pressing the power button Click to expand

Using any of these options requires a mouse and/or keyboard so this isn’t a button you would generally want to press. You can, however, press and hold the button to depower the PC. This doesn’t shut down the whole game as LEDs remain lit and the display continues to operate, however once the PC is shut down you can press the button again to start it up again.

The black button is the more useful one as that takes us into the diagnostic and configuration menus.

We are presented with five menus: Game Settings, Language, Diagnostics, System and Return. For all menu options, the left and right flipper buttons move through the menu options, the ball launch button is the ‘enter’ key and the game start button is the ‘back’ key.

The menu system
The menu system Click to expand

Game settings opens more options to enable or disable the sound, change the number of balls per game, adjust how many (if any) extra balls are allowed, the number of permitted tilt warnings and the duration of the ball saver.

Standard game settings
Standard game settings Click to expand

In this version of the software (0.911) quite a few of these didn’t work properly, but they have been corrected in the latest release (0.912) which came out around nine days after our review session.

The game supports four different languages – English, Spanish, French and German.

The four supported languages
The four supported languages Click to expand

The diagnostic tools are limited. The Show Playfield selection adds an overlay to the monitor showing which switches are closed and which are open. As a switch changes state, it is shown on the playfield map, although the map is overlaid over a busy background and the text all overlaps, making it hard to work out what’s going on.

Diagnostic menu options
Diagnostic menu options Click to expand

Fire coils allows you to energise individual solenoids; again, using the flipper buttons to choose the coil and the ball launch to activate it. The name of the coil is shown, but it is underneath the playfield map and so mostly illegible.

Other menu options are to log actions or to end the ball in play.

The System menu is where you update the game code, or shut down/reboot either the whole game or just the PC.

System menu options
System menu options Click to expand

Return takes you out of the menus and back to the game.

Time to lift up the playfield and take a proper look at Nemo’s hardware.

The lock bar is a standard Williams-type mechanism, with the familiar latch bolted to the front top of the cabinet above the coin door.

The lock bar latch
The lock bar latch Click to expand

Lifting the playfield, we find that it rotates about a pivot point towards the back, but doesn’t slide forward. The playfield can only be lifted so far due to objects in the base of the cabinet getting in the way.

Inside the cabinet
Inside the cabinet Click to expand

Because the playfield doesn’t slide forward, to work on the game you need to use the playfield prop arm. This is attached to the underside of the playfield and can slot into either of two prop brackets for different heights.

The playfield prop arm
The playfield prop arm Click to expand

The playfield lifts and can be propped up
The playfield lifts and can be propped up Click to expand

The two playfield prop brackets
The two playfield prop brackets Click to expand

With the playfield raised we can see the underside of the playfield.

The bottom of the playfield
The bottom of the playfield Click to expand

The wiring is relatively straightforward with microswitches used throughout and all the LEDs mounted in lamp-style bayonet sockets.

The trough and ball eject solenoid
The trough and ball eject solenoid Click to expand

The ball trough and ball shooter solenoid
The ball trough and ball shooter solenoid Click to expand

The coils are a mix of Williams-branded ones and others from APB Enterprises.

The flipper assemblies
The flipper assemblies Click to expand

Socketed LEDs under the playfield
Socketed LEDs under the playfield Click to expand

The drop target assembly
The drop target assembly Click to expand

The playfield plywood
The playfield plywood Click to expand

The in-playfield display panel
The in-playfield display panel Click to expand

The only PCB mounted to the playfield is a bespoke interface board which brings together all the solenoid, LED and switch cables so they can be bundled into one playfield wiring loom.

The playfield cables connect to the interface board
The playfield cables connect to the interface board Click to expand

The switch, solenoid and LED cables come to the interface board
The switch, solenoid and LED cables come to the interface board Click to expand

The interface board
The interface board Click to expand

The playfield isn’t the only place we find switches. The cabinet has a few for the flipper buttons, the start and launch buttons, the power and menu buttons, and the tilt bob.

The front left corner of the cabinet
The front left corner of the cabinet Click to expand

These switches are connected to another interface board which sends them back to the control system on a ribbon cable.

The left flipper switch, start button, menu controls and plumb bob
The left flipper switch, start button, menu controls and plumb bob Click to expand

The right flipper switch and launch button
The right flipper switch and launch button Click to expand

The only incandescent lamp in the game, even though it's disconnected
The only incandescent lamp in the game, even though it’s disconnected Click to expand

On the right side of the cabinet base is a metal power switch box. This contains the main game fuse and covers the rocker power switch which is accessed from under the cabinet in the traditional place at the front right corner.

The power switch box
The power switch box Click to expand

Towards the back of the cabinet base we have three more parts of the pinball system. In the middle we find the cabinet base speaker.

The cabinet speaker
The cabinet speaker Click to expand

It’s not a huge speaker but it’s perfectly adequate for this application and more than capable of handline the power thrown at it.

To the left of the speaker is a traditional transformer for solenoid power and various other voltages.

The transformer in the base of the cabinet
The transformer in the base of the cabinet Click to expand

As we said before, Nemo is a PC-based game, so there is a switching power supply for the PC motherboard and this is found to the right of the cabinet speaker.

The PC power supply
The PC power supply Click to expand

The PC power supply
The PC power supply Click to expand

With the backbox power supply that’s three different power supplies so far, but there’s one more to go and that’s a small switching supply on the left side of the cabinet base which is for the playfield display.

The power supply for the display panel
The power supply for the display panel Click to expand

That just leaves the large metal box to examine.

This arrangement is quite similar to the Jersey Jack Pinball system which uses a similar metal box to house its control system. As we shall see, the similarities don’t end there.

The large metal box in the base of the cabinet
The large metal box in the base of the cabinet Click to expand

We saw in the menu system how you can update the system software. This is done by plugging a USB stick containing the new code into one of the two USB ports on the front of the box.

Two USB ports on the front of the metal box
Two USB ports on the front of the metal box Click to expand

To find out what they connect to we need to remove the cover from the metal box.

Inside the metal box
Inside the metal box Click to expand

Inside we find four main components. The first is a Micro-ATX PC motherboard made by MSI, model H81M-P33. This contains on-board graphics for the playfield display and supports any of the 4th generation Intel Core processors, although we didn’t pull it to pieces to see which processor was installed.

The PC motherboard
The PC motherboard Click to expand

If the metal box and the elements within have more than a passing resemblance to the way Jersey Jack Pinball games are built, the sound board mounted next to the motherboard is the exact same Pinnovators board found in JJP games.

The Pinnovators audio board
The Pinnovators audio board Click to expand

Although the Nemo implementation doesn’t use the coin door digital volume control found on The Wizard of Oz and The Hobbit, the connector is on the board if someone wished to add it.

The board contains four channels of amplification although only three are used in Nemo for the one cabinet and two backbox speakers.

The third item in the metal box is a custom power driver board called the Quetzal Pinball Controller or QPC.

The custom Quetzal Pinball Controller power driver board
The custom Quetzal Pinball Controller power driver board Click to expand

This is where the two interface boards connect and thus where the switch inputs are fed back to the PC, and the LED and solenoids are driven. There is also AC voltage rectification and smoothing to provide some DC voltages.

The Quetzal Pinball Controller board
The Quetzal Pinball Controller board Click to expand

This is a custom Quetzal board which also provides fuse protection against short circuits.

The power driver board
The power driver board Click to expand

The fourth and final main hardware component inside the metal box is a 120GB Kingston SSD containing the game code and assets such as music and display animations.

The 120GB SSD containing the code and assets
The 120GB SSD containing the code and assets Click to expand

The box also contains a small fan to assist with airflow and cooling in addition to the fan mounted on the processor.

All of which brings us to the end of our look inside the Nemo game.

The Captain Nemo playfield
The Captain Nemo playfield Click to expand

When the game is shipped it doesn’t come with a manual, but it does have two copied of the game flyer from 2012 and a pair of spare slingshot plastics.

The flyers and slingshot plastics included with the game
The flyers and slingshot plastics included with the game Click to expand

Quetzal’s Captain Nemo Dives Again game looks excellent and for the original asking price of between €4,000 and €4,500 provides good value for money.

The game is not perfect of course. The software is still quite incomplete and lacks the polish expected of modern games, while the playfield and backbox lighting are both pretty dark.

But all these can be fixed. The hardware problems are overwhelmingly of the variety which call for tweaks rather than wholesale redesigns.

When Antonio first announced Nemo it was stated it would be open source. Many things have changed with various aspects of the design and specification of Nemo in the intervening five years, but it could make an interesting project to either enhance the existing rules or even create an alternative ruleset which owners could download.

Antonio is not finished yet, though. He is both building the remaining games and continuing to develop the software based on customer feedback.

It’s great to see that at least one of the boutique pinball manufacturers is delivering their contracted games without all the drama and heartache experienced elsewhere.

Finally, huge thanks to John Gilbody for the use of his machine which made this review possible.

We’ll be back with another Pinball News In-Depth Review very soon.

THE JETSONS

The Jetsons pinball

The next game to be built by Spooky Pinball was announced today. However, The Jetsons is not Spooky Pinball’s own title.

The Jetsons backglass artwork
The Jetsons backglass artwork

The game is actually the product of Nic Park’s The Pinball Company which is based in Columbia, Missouri and which also produced the relaunched Gameroom Magazine. Nic is having the game built by Spooky Pinball in Benton, Wisconsin, for purchase through The Pinball Company’s website and showroom. Spooky Pinball will also be offering to sell the game.

So what of the game itself? Cabinet artwork looks very clean and bright, featuring characters and settings from the Hanna-Barbera animated TV series.

The cabinet and backbox side artwork
The cabinet and backbox side artwork
The cabinet side detail
The cabinet side detail
The cabinet front
The cabinet front
The cabinet front detail
The cabinet front detail

The Jetsons‘ playfield is said to be intentionally simple and easy-to-understand in order to appeal to families, and it is to this market that The Pinball Company is looking to market the game.

The playfield
The playfield

There is a single ramp on the left side which returns the ball into the right inlane, and six stand-up targets in two banks of three to spell out G-E-O and R-G-E. An addition standup on the lower left awards the extra ball when lit.

The central playfield area
The central playfield area

An orbit lane has right and left entrances, both graced with spinners, while an inner orbit is joined by a captive ball and a scoop on the lower left of the playfield.

The left orbit and ramp entrance
The left orbit and ramp entrance

Three rollover lanes feeding to the three pop bumpers compete the top of the playfield, while a single inlane and outlane on each side and the two flippers round off the feature set.

The flippers area
The flippers area

Collecting all the characters seems to be the key to starting Orbit City Multiball, while this and Spacely vs Cogswell Multiball are both needed to qualify the wizard mode.

The feature matrix
The feature matrix

The Jetsons was designed by Dan and Nathan Goett with art from Jon Chad, and is limited to a maximum of 300 machines, with shipping anticipated for late March.

The whole The Jetsons game
The whole The Jetsons game

You might expect the simplified playfield feature-set to equate to a low-end price tag, but The Jetsons is priced at $5,999.00 putting it above a Pro model from Stern. However, these pictures do not show a number of playfield toys which expected to be added but are still the subject of approval by the licensor.

The left slingshot
The left slingshot
The right slingshot
The right slingshot

The Jetsons is expected to debut at the Texas Pinball Festival in March and naturally Pinball News will be there to report on it and the rest of the show.

There has been no official press release about the game, but here’s the flyer instead. You can also find out more and order the game on The Pinball Company’s website.

The flyer for the game
The flyer for the game

AEROSMITH PINBALL ANNOUNCED

Aerosmith playfield

Stern Pinball today revealed details and pictures of their next rock band-themed pinball, Aerosmith.

Aerosmith backglass artwork
Aerosmith backglass artwork

Like earlier Stern Pinball games based on The Rolling Stones, Metallica and Kiss their new Aerosmith model is designed by John Borg, and features a lavish art package by ‘Dirty’ Donny Gillies. It also incorporates the company’s new colour LCD panel driven by the Spike 2 board system.

As usual, there are three models – a top-end Limited Edition of 500 machines, an unlimited Premium and a base Pro version which lacks some of the nicer playfield features. Each model sports slightly different cabinet artwork and colour schemes – dark blue for the LE, purple for the Premium and light blue for the Pro. The LE also features a numbered plaque above the left backbox speaker.

The Aerosmith Limited Edition model
The Aerosmith Limited Edition model
The Aerosmith Limited Edition model
The Aerosmith Limited Edition model
The Aerosmith Premium model
The Aerosmith Premium model
The Aerosmith Pro model
The Aerosmith Pro model

So let’s take a look at the playfield, and it’s a mix of the familiar and a couple of new, unique mechanisms. The LE and Premium both have the full-feature playfield, so let’s look at that first.

The Aerosmith LE playfield
The Aerosmith LE playfield

Bearing a certain similarity to the Kiss playfield, Aerosmith‘s two main toys are the toy box and the upper mini-playfield.

The toy box on the Aerosmith LE playfield
The toy box on the Aerosmith LE playfield

The toy box works like the Ark of the Covenant on Stern’s Indiana Jones – keep shooting it to add toys (locks) and then shoot the lock lane. The lid of the box is lifted and ball is ejected up and into the box.

As with Mustang, players can choose whether to start a 2-ball multiball, or lock more balls to increase the mayhem and the jackpot values.

When they take the multiball, the locked balls are lifted up inside the toy box Ark-style, and dumped onto the playfield.

The toy box on the Aerosmith LE playfield
The toy box on the Aerosmith LE playfield

The other key feature is the upper mini-playfield.

The upper mini-playfield
The upper mini-playfield

The is a single full-size flipper on the mini-playfield, along with an orbit lane, five standup targets and the Love in an Elevator exit to the lower playfield.

The toy box on the Aerosmith LE playfield
The upper mini-playfield

The mini-playfield is only available on the LE and Premium models. In the Pro only the metal ramp and wireform remain, while the Love in an Elevator toy moves down onto the main playfield.

No mini-playfield on the Pro model
No mini-playfield on the Pro model

Here’s the whole of the Pro playfield.

The Aerosmith Pro playfield
The Aerosmith Pro playfield

The through-the-bumpers and scoop shots are there from Kiss (albeit with the scoop slightly repositioned), as are the centre and ramp shots. The de rigueur lock bar action button is also present, while we get two inlanes on the left side which mean a thin metal shooter lane ball guide.

Inner cabinet art also seems to be available
Inner cabinet art also seems to be available

Nine Aerosmith tracks are included in the game, with each mapping to a feature in the ruleset. The nine are:

  • Toys in the Attic
  • Love in an Elevator
  • Rats in the Cellar
  • Dude Looks Like a Lady
  • Back in the Saddle
  • Sweet Emotion
  • Walk This Way
  • Same Old Song & Dance
  • Last Child
The game's nine tracks
The game’s nine tracks

The feature matrix shows the differences between the three models of the game.

The game's feature matrix
The game’s feature matrix

Here’s how Stern Pinball announced their Aerosmith game:

Stern Pinball Gets Back in the Rock and Roll Saddle With Its Release Of Aerosmith Pinball

Leading Pinball Manufacturer and Global Brand Management Firm Epic Rights Announce Newest Addition to Rock Lineup

ELK GROVE VILLAGE, IL – January 4, 2016 – Stern Pinball, Inc., the world’s oldest and largest producer of arcade-quality pinball machines, and Epic Rights, Aerosmith’s global licensing agent, jointly announced today the availability of a new line of pinball machines that honor the classic and iconic rock band, Aerosmith.

Stern Pinball’s Aerosmith machines reflect the high-energy and excitement that accompanies the experience of a live Aerosmith concert. Players will rock to nine famous Aerosmith hits in the concert arena playfield and embark on an exhilarating pinball experience. Players score points and finish game objectives to raise the audience’s levels of energy, thrill and enjoyment. Higher scores amplify the experience–the higher the energy level, the bigger and louder the show–resulting in an Aerosmith pinball experience that cannot be matched.

The hard-hitting feisty American rock group best known for their powerful fusion of rock and blues has reached fans for more than four decades. This colorful band includes the much loved pop culture personalities of Steven Tyler and Joe Perry. With sales of more than 70 million albums in the United States and more than 150 million albums worldwide, Aerosmith is one of the world’s all time best-selling American rock bands. To date, they have been awarded 25 gold albums, 18 platinum albums and 12 multi-platinum albums.

“We’re thrilled to have Aerosmith join the ranks of Stern Pinball’s rock and roll line-up,” said Gary Stern, Chairman and CEO of Stern Pinball. “Aerosmith is an iconic band with a devoted fan base. Fans of both the band and pinball will be able to appreciate the extraordinary experience that the Aerosmith pinball machines provide.”

The Aerosmith machines all feature original hand-drawn art provided by “Dirty” Donny Gillies, who has produced work for bands including The Hellacopters, The Melvins, Queens of the Stone Age, The Wildhearts, Electric Frankenstein and the 5.6.7.8’s, but is most noted for his work with metal band Metallica. In addition, the machines feature custom speech from Brendon Small, creator of Metalocalypse, the American animated television series centering around a death metal band. Players will be mesmerized by the interactive “Jacky on the Box” mechanical feature on the playfield. Jacky sits on a toy box allowing players to launch pinballs through the air and slam dunk the steel ball into the box. The more balls launched into the box, the higher the opportunity for a player to earn multiballs.

“The Aerosmith pinball machines are an ideal way to expand the band’s global brand because they provide a unique and fun experience for fans and consumers of all ages,” said Lisa Streff, Executive Vice President, Global Licensing, of Epic Rights.

In addition to the heart pounding music and game experience, the machine features a full-color high-definition display. In conjunction with Stern Pinball’s new SPIKE-2 electronic platform, the display enables high-definition graphics and innovative animations. The game includes a highfidelity 3-channel audio system that is three times more powerful than audio systems of previous generations. Aerosmith Pinball entertains with an amazing array of modern and classic features, making it suitable for all skill levels.

Pricing and Availability:

  • Pro Model: $6,199 MSRP
  • Premium Model: $7,899 MSRP
  • Limited Edition Model: $8,999 MSRP

Aerosmith Pinball is available through authorized Stern Pinball distributors and dealers around the world.

About Stern Pinball, Inc.
Stern Pinball, Inc., headquartered just outside Chicago, Illinois, is the oldest and largest producer of arcade-quality pinball games in the world. Stern Pinball’s highly talented creative and technical teams design, engineer and manufacture a full line of popular pinball games, merchandise and accessories. Recent Stern titles include Batman ‘66, Ghostbusters, Game of Thrones, WWE WrestleMania, The Walking Dead, Mustang, Star Trek, Metallica, The Avengers, X-Men, AC/DC, Tron, Transformers, Avatar, Iron Man, Batman, Spiderman and many more! All of Stern Pinball’s’s games are crafted by hand and assembled by Stern Pinball’s expert team. A broad range of players enjoy Stern’s games from professional pinball players that compete in high-stakes international competitions around the globe to novice players who are discovering the allure of the silver ball for the first time. To join the fun and learn more, please visit www.sternpinball.com.

About Epic Rights:
Epic Rights is a full-service merchandise, branding/licensing and social media marketing company focused on building music artist and entertainment brands via its broad global network of retailers, licensees and agents. Working with a roster of top clients and brands, Epic Rights services include licensing/branding, music merchandising, official website and social media management, VIP ticketing and official fan communities. Epic Rights also oversees sponsorships and endorsements, digital archiving of all creative/photo/media assets and manages worldwide e-commerce for its clients in addition to providing in-house legal resources for trademark registration and audit management. For more information visit Epic Rights.

###

All trademarks and product names are the property of their respective companies.

So prices have risen slightly since Ghostbusters – up $200 for the Pro, $300 for the Premium and $200 for the Limited Edition model – but remain significantly below the Batman 66 prices.

We’ll be back with much more on the new Aerosmith game soon here at Pinball News, but in the meantime Stern Pinball have released a preview video showing parts of the gameplay on their Facebook page.

AMERICAN PINBALL’S HOUDINI REVEAL

American Pinball's Houdini

Las Vegas was built on magic. How else can one explain this lush paradise smack dab in the middle of the desert? And there are magicians everywhere you turn in Vegas; either performing tricks to a captive audience on stage, or all the magical ways this town can separate you from your money.

So what better place than Las Vegas to see the reveal of American Pinball’s Houdini: Master Mystery pinball?

It’s been one heck of a week for this pinball upstart out of Streamwood, Illinois. They went from “Who is American Pinball?” to being the hottest gossip in the pinball industry, all due to their post on Facebook on September 23rd, proclaiming the end of the Magic Girl fiasco, with the machines being promised to the rightful owners by the end of the year.

Not only that, but also the announcement of a brand new Houdini pinball machine!

It all sounded like slight-of-hand. So in an effort to present the pinball community with the best, most up-to-date information, I contacted American Pinball to see if I could check out this brand-spanking-new pin in person.

And much to my delight, they welcomed me with open arms!

The entire drive throughout the desert had me worried that this was all going to be a trick. But I had to know the truth! Was this going to be all smoke and mirrors, or the real thing?

And then, I was summoned to the Venetian. They were ready to let me peek behind the curtain!

After getting very, very lost in the Venetian / Palazzo (who knew they were connected?), I finally met with Dhaval Vasani and Scott Goldberg of American Pinball. They welcomed me warmly, then led me through the maze of hallways leading up to their suite.

My heart raced as we walked. Was I about to see magic? Or was I going to leave disappointed… a nonbeliever?

The door to the suite opened, and… there it was, at the other end of the room.

Inside the suite at the Venetian; a Houdini pinball
Inside the suite at the Venetian; the Houdini pinball

The real thing! The glowing lights of the unknown made my palms sweaty. I walked closer and closer, tentatively, like if I got to close, it would disappear. I almost expected it to shimmer like an oasis as I reached out to touch it. But it was real! And it is gorgeous. Full-on gorgeous.

Now, I have good news and bad news for you, gentle readers.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way: I didn’t get to play the machine. Now, that’s not to say that it wasn’t playable. It’s just not to the point that American Pinball can truthfully let anyone play it and say that they’ve seen the finished product.

While the gentlemen of American Pinball insisted on holding their cards close to their vest, keep in mind that what the pin standing right in front of me was the product of only three months work. So far, even though I wasn’t able to play Houdini, what is available to be seen is an incredible effort. This is not the “box of blinking lights” that the Magic Girl reveal was. This is right around the bend from being ready to go.

What’s the good news, you ask?

Here it is: the game is gorgeous. It’s got that John Popadiuk magical vibe throughout it. The artwork is by a brand new, soon-to-be-named artist who hasn’t worked in the industry before. To me, it had a real Matt Wagner-esque feel to it. Very eye-catching, indeed!

Houdini: Master Mystery
Houdini: Master Mystery

I was also told that they are using a new variety of RGB LEDs in these units, and you could see that they were warmer to the eye than some of the RGB LEDs you see in other titles.

Another fascinating thing about the Houdini pin is the display. It’s a full-color LED, not full sized like a Jersey Jack display, but bigger than your traditional DMD display – and it’s on the back of the playfield, like Cirqus Voltaire updated for 2016. I asked if this means there will be a video mode? Again, they didn’t want to say too much, but I could tell by their sly grins that they might have something spectacular up their sleeves.

In addition, the playfield had some really interesting toys on it! There is a catapult – yes, a catapult – that launches the ball towards a bullseye target. There is this wild loop-de-loop shot unlike anything I’ve ever seen in pinball before. There is a bumper that lifts out of the playfield. And there are ramps, both plastic and steel, flying to and fro. There is a steel ramp with lightning bolts on it, similar to the crossover ramp on AC/DC, that looks like more than meets the eye. And magnets? Well, what would a pinball game about Houdini be without magnets?

And now we come to the (Jeannie) elephant in the room. What does all this have to do with Jpop? What happened to Zidware? When are the people that ordered their games going to get them?

More than anything at all – even more than their excitement to share their new pin with me – American Pinball wanted me to share with all of you that they want to be a straightforward, honest, transparent company with integrity. To that end, they have announced that they will be fulfilling the Magic Girl orders, with their first units ready to go by the Chicago Pinball Expo in October, and the remaining orders shipped by the end of 2016.

People have been waiting for the Magic Girl situation to be resolved”, Scott told me. “These people had given up hope on ever receiving their product. Our plan is to make them whole, then move towards the future.

And what does the future hold for American Pinball? If they actually can make the Magic Girl fiasco right, they will be super – no, super-duper – heroes to the pinball community. If Houdini plays as good as it looks, at a retail price of $6995? Then the pinball industry has a new, serious challenger on their hands. Perhaps this might stifle the incredible inflation going on in the pinball industry right now?

They’re also very keen in bringing new blood into the pinball industry.

As I mentioned earlier, the person doing the art for Houdini has never worked within the pinball industry before. If there are any home-brew creators out there, you might want to send American Pinball your resume!

Finally, I asked Scott the tough question. The one I had been dreading asking all night. Why on Earth would this company want to work with John Popadiuk? Scott went on to tell me that they had worked together at Zizzle, and he was amazed at how many different ideas John had with. That John didn’t focus on just one aspect of creating pinball; he was able to work on all the different parts.

But most of all, Scott told me with a grin: “We’re a brand new company. Who would care about American Pinball if we didn’t have a big name behind us?

Or more than one big name, nudge nudge, say no more…

From the press kit:

The Greatest Magician of all time HARRY HOUDINI returns to the stage!

HOUDINI: MASTER MYSTERY PINBALL

Special game features include:


Main Features:

  • Houdini Orpheum Themed Playfield Design
  • Hand Painted Houdini Fantasy Back Glass
  • Hand Drawn “Pinball Style” Detailed Playfield Artwork
  • Xtreme “oversize” Cabinet Graphic Package
  • Floating Gargoyle Plastic Snetinels
  • Real Gryphon Playfield Figure
  • Real Jeannie Elephant Feature
  • Brilliant LED Light System with Color Changing Pixels
  • Classic Pinball Flippers, Bumpers and Kicking Rubbers
  • 15.6” Color LCD Display Screen
  • Stainless Steel Trim Package
  • Classic Quality Pinball Construction and Details
  • Full Color Playfield with “Q-Plate” Clear Coat


Game Features:

  • Magic Floating Card Shot
  • Bullet Catch Air Ball Magnet
  • Illuminated Kickout Saucers
  • Spirit Save Magnet Ball Device
  • Electric Up/Down Jet Bumper Device
  • Magnotron Spinning Thaumatrope
  • Reverse Standup Target Banks
  • Rotating Extra Ball & Special Lanes
  • Elevated Mystic Séance Ball
  • Laser Etched Theater Cross Ramp
  • Secret Passage Subway
  • Elevated Stage Catwalk
  • Multi-Way Jackpot Scoring
  • Magic Ring ABC Targets
  • Houdini Banner Art Package


Houdini Features:

  • Magic Beast Etched Playfield Shooter Guide
  • Milk Can Escape Bumpers
  • Straight Jacket Loop
  • Magic Beast Exit Lanes
  • Heavy Chained Detail and Artwork
  • Water Torture Cell Device
  • Chinese Serpent Mini Playfield
  • Magic Hand Magnetic Diverter
  • Buried Alive Magic Scoop
  • Hypnotic Eye Shot
  • King of Kards Magic Skill Lane
  • Believe Invisible Skill Shot
  • Jennie Illuminated Rollover Button
  • Hindu Rope Trick Device
  • Indian Needle Trick Targets
  • Hidden Bess Houdini Shot
  • Vertical Cobra Magnetic Ramp
  • Floating Bess Portrait
  • Ball Vanish Illusion
  • Magic Circle Ring Wizard Feature

And more…

Every American-Pinball Machine features hand-drawn graphics and artwork, full-size backglass, LED illumination, multi-level ball stages, real solenoid quicksteps and flippers, secret escapes, custom stainless steel trim package, and more!

Suggested retail: $6995

Contact: Scott Goldberg,
Sales@American-Pinball.com

 

PS: They were very reluctant for me to take any pictures, but after begging and begging, I managed to get the blurry, far-away one you see above.

AMERICAN PINBALL GOES PUBLIC

Magic Girl cabinets at the American Pinball factory

A new pinball design and manufacturing company has announced its presence.

American Pinball is based in Streamwood, Illinois to the west of Chicago. The company began work on their 15,000 square feet design and assembly facility at the end of last year and Pinball News has been following their progress since early this year.

The American Pinball logo
The American Pinball logo

The end of 2015 was not a happy time for many in the boutique pinball business, and especially everyone involved in Zidware’s Magic Girl, Retro Atomic Zombie Adventureland and Alice in Wonderland projects.

The attempt to salvage the Magic Girl game – the most developed of the three – earlier in the year had collapsed amid claims of misrepresentation about how much work still remained, and the pre-prototype game had been shipped back to Zidware’s facility.

The Zidware studio
The Zidware studio
Magic Girl games in the Zidware studio
Magic Girl games in the Zidware studio

A legal action against Zidware, John Popadiuk and his wife on behalf of a group of buyers to recover their payments was working its way through the courts, with the very real prospect John would have to file for bankruptcy if the action was successful.

John himself said publicly that the only way any of the games could be saved would be if a millionaire investor came along.

Many said, however, that someone who was just an investor wouldn’t help the situation, and what was really needed was for someone to take charge of the projects and have enough control to see them through to production. Even then it was hard to see how this person would be able to get the games to their buyers without losing a large sum of money in the process.

Enter American Pinball.

American Pinball was set up by Dhaval Vasani to design and manufacture high-end pinball machines as well as other amusement games. Vasani comes from the contract manufacturing business, so American Pinball is expected to offer manufacturing of games for other companies in addition to their own designs.

To, literally, get the ball rolling they needed some initial designs to build, and that’s where their collaboration with John Popadiuk began.

The Zidware studio was in an estate of office and light-industrial units in Sangra Ct in Streamwood, Illinois. American Pinball’s facility is in the same estate, albeit in a much larger unit.

That unit is still not large enough to support full machine manufacturing, so assemblies, cabinets and playfields are expected to be made off-site, with their design, assembly and testing taking place at Streamwood.

If American Pinball is looking for places to make key components for their games, it shouldn’t have to look too far.

The Vasani family runs the Aimtron contract manufacturing company which has a PCB making plant in China and an expanding surface-mount plant in India. It’s headquarters, though, are at it’s US manufacturing facility which is in… Streamwood, IL.

Which brings us back to Magic Girl and the other Zidware titles, and the opprobrium associated with Popadiuk from his failure to deliver the purchased games. How could those buyers be appeased so that John, his future designs and American Pinball be free from the failure and the fallout from those previous projects?

We have known for a couple of months how 25 near-complete Magic Girl games had been built and were sitting in the American Pinball warehouse. These, it was suggested to us, were to go to the litigants in the legal action, although on what terms they would be offered was not clear.

Not all those who signed up to the action paid the same amount (some may have only part paid, while others had purchased two or three games in full), and not all had even purchased the Magic Girl title.

We did not report this at the time in case it scuppered any potential deal to get machines to the buyers.

It was initially thought production of these 25 games could only make financial sense if they were followed by a bigger run of Magic Girl machines for sale to the general public. In order to keep the exclusivity and the accompanying high price, the original 25 machines would need to be a Limited Edition or other exclusive variant, but profits from the standard edition could then pay for the LEs to be made and delivered to the original purchasers at no further cost to them.

On Friday American Pinball made the joint announcement firstly of their existence, and also details of their first title, Houdini: Master Mystery, which will be unveiled ahead of the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas on Monday 26th September, 2016. The game is expected to retail at around $6,995.

Houdini: Master Mystery
Houdini: Master Mystery

American-Pinball™ to Launch its First Pinball Machine at the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas on September 26th

Chicago, IL – September 26, 2016 – American-Pinball, manufacturer of arcade games and amusements, is excited to announce the world-wide release of Houdini – Master Mystery™ pinball machine for the home, arcades, gaming centers and magic collectors. The unveiling will take place September 26th at the Venetian Las Vegas hotel on the eve of G2E, The Global Gaming Expo.

Based in the mecca of the pinball universe just outside Chicago, Illinois, American Pinball features a team with decades of industry experience and is launching its first pinball machine under the name Houdini for several reasons. Known as a masterful magician and Harry Houdini is considered the greatest magician, conjurer and escape artist that there ever was. Captivating audiences worldwide with his legendary escapes and shows was his specialty, the Houdini™ pinball will carry on that magical tradition as a beautiful crafted pinball machine featuring a one-of-a-kind pinball theater experience with an LCD color screen and patented cabinet.

“Houdini’s escapes, illusions and handcuff challenges are world renowned even today, and formulate the basis of our inventive new pinball machine,” said president of American-Pinball, Dhaval Vasani. “Our Houdini – Master Mystery pinball machine will bring the man back to life with supremely detailed hand-drawn game artwork, inventive ball tricks, brilliantly illuminated play surfaces and spirit devices while featuring all the classic pinball features like: action jet bumpers, multi level ball stages, sculpted magic toys, secret escapes and much more.”

American-Pinball has also added a performance of new Houdini™ features to amaze players including: The Floating Ball, Water Torture Cell, Levitating Bumper, The Bullet Catch, Hindu Needle Trick, Spirit Box, Buried Alive Sarcophagus, Lock Chambers, Magic Beasts, The Séance, Milk Can Escape and Jennie the Vanishing Elephant!

“Houdini – Master Mystery pinball transforms under the hood as well with the newest game motherboards created by award winning Gigabyte Technology to drive all of Houdini’s pinball effects, full color graphics, sounds, gameplay and music,” explained Vasani.

 

Although no mention is made of John Popadiuk’s name, there is enough corroborating evidence to suggest this is a re-themed (and possibly cost-reduced) version of his Magic Girl game.

Part of the Houdini: Mastery Mystery
Part of the Houdini: Mastery Mystery

Not unsurprisingly, the announcement of a new John Popadiuk game did not go down well with buyers of Magic Girl, Retro Atomic Zombie Adventureland or Alice in Wonderland, or those who sympathise with their plight.

To their credit, American Pinball has not deleted the less-than-flattering comments on their Facebook page ahead of the unveiling in Las Vegas.

  • Is JPOP going? Is he returning the $1M he stole from the pinball community?
  • This is going to end badly.
  • The greatest pinball magician: John Popadiuk! He makes people’s money disappear!!!!
  • This is a joke, right?
  • “And for the next magic trick, we are going to make the worst decision possible and use JPop as a designer.” Learn everything you need here: http://www.johnpopadiuk.com/
  • DO NOT FALL FOR THIS SCAM!! See http://www.johnpopadiuk.com/ for details on how he scammed over $1,000,000 from other pinball collectors. I also suspect this ‘Houdini’ machine will bear striking resemblance to the failed ‘Magic Girl’. RUN AWAY!!
  • If you want to become a serious Pinball Company, you should distance yourselves from JPOOP. Say you were scammed by him because he had a great line of BS. Fire him and give everyone he stole from a discount on the Houdini machine. Build some good will.
  • John Popadiuk needs to immediately refund the 1 million dollars he took from a lot of honest hard working people. John left a trail of lies and broken promises he should be ashamed of himself and if American pinball is connected to John they should also be ashamed of themselves!

…and so on.

Then American Pinball revealed the existence of the 25 Magic Girl machines through another Facebook posting.

Magic Girl cabinets
Magic Girl cabinets
Magic Girl cabinets
Magic Girl cabinets

They also posted how “by the end of 2016, Magic Girl machines will be delivered to their rightful owners“.

Here’s the American Pinball announcement in full.

There is a great deal of speculation in the industry as it relates to our relationship with John Popadiuk. To be clear, American-Pinball is a NEW pinball company and our mission is to create limited edition high-end American-made pinball machines, with our first one being “Houdini-Master Mystery”.

With decades of experience in the industry, we can all agree that “JPop” is an extremely skilled pinball professional. He is also a loving father & husband. We believe everyone deserves a 2nd chance and therefore we are supporting John to fulfill his prior commitments related to Magic Girl.

That said, we have some GREAT NEWS! These pictures are meant to show you what we’ve been up to, the progress that has gone on and the efforts that are underway. We American-Pinball empathize with the Zidware customers and therefore we are excited to share the following news with all of you.

By the end of 2016, Magic Girl machines will be delivered to their rightful owners.

We know you all have many questions about other efforts and will continue to update you as additional details are confirmed.

 

The announced intention to get the Magic Girl games to the remaining buyers may have placated some of the more vociferous critics, but big questions still remain concerning the fate of the Retro Atomic Zombie Adventureland and Alice in Wonderland buyers.

Retro Atomic Zombie Adventureland cabinets at the Zidware studio
Retro Atomic Zombie Adventureland cabinets at the Zidware studio

Will game two from American Pinball be a zombie-themed game, with special full-featured versions delivered to Retro Atomic Zombie Adventureland buyers? Will game three have an Alice in Wonderland theme?

For now we can only say that American Pinball has made a dramatic entrance onto the pinball scene. How the company handles the buyers of Zidware’s three undelivered titles and the suppliers who are still owed money will define the welcome they receive from the wider pinball community.

The initial signs are promising, but there’s a steep uphill climb ahead before the stigma from the presumed failure of those three titles can be quashed.

THE HOBBIT: IN-DEPTH REVIEW

The Hobbit from Jersey Jack Pinball

Hello and welcome to this Pinball News In-Depth Review of Jersey Jack Pinball’s latest game, The Hobbit.

For most of our In-Depth Reviews we only have access to a machine for a short time – typically just one day – in order to photograph and understand the inner workings of all the key components. This time we have been given the opportunity to have our sample game at the Pinball News office for a full ten days, which has hopefully lead to some nicer pictures and a deeper understanding of how everything works.

So let’s get on with our review, but first a reminder that you can click on most pictures to open them in a larger version in a new window.

This Standard Edition game arrived at Pinball News HQ from the UK distributor for JJP, Pinball Heaven.  It had previously been at a pinball show, but had been cleaned up and updated with the latest software and hardware fixes prior to its arrival here.

The Hobbit arrives
The Hobbit arrives

So we didn’t get to experience that unboxing moment, but pretty much everything else was like receiving a new-in-box game.

This edition of the game comes with silver legs fitted with extra-long leg levellers, allowing the back to be raised really high for a super-steep playfield angle.  These legs mount onto metal plates on the four cabinet corners.

Silver legs on the Standard Edition
Silver legs on the Standard Edition
Metal leg plates
Metal leg plates

These leg plates help protect the cabinet artwork, although we found some visible evidence of damage already appearing after just a few re-fittings of the legs, so some softer plastic or felt protectors might be a good addition if they aren’t too thick for the leg bolts.

The corner of the leg had already dug into the cabinet
The corner of the leg had already dug into the cabinet

Round the back of the cabinet we find two slide rails with nylon sliders fitted. We also get a metal hatch secured with four bolts.

Slide rails with nylon sliders
Slide rails with nylon sliders

This hatch carries a decal warning about the dangers behind the plate, although in practice there wasn’t anything there which could give a nasty jolt, just a piece of foam packing material which we soon removed.

Danger lies within
Danger lies within
Or not
Or not

Next to the other slide rail is the game sticker bearing the serial number, model type, build date and other useful details.

The game information sticker
The game information sticker (serial number obfuscated)

After opening the coin door, we found replacement plastics and decals inside the cash box, as well as some souvenir plastics and a couple of price stickers – one for $1 a game and one for free play.

Goodies inside the cash box
Goodies inside the cash box
Spare plastics and decals
Spare plastics and decals

A centre post is fitted between the flippers, but if you want to take it out and make the game a bit harder the black plastic plug above will fill the resulting hole.

The game’s five balls were also in the cash box, alongside the backbox lock’s hex key and a metal plate with two bolts to cover the power connector on the back of the cabinet.

The power connector plate
The power connector plate
The plate covers the power connector to stop people disconnecting the cable
The plate covers the power connector to stop people disconnecting the cable

JJP’s games use the same backbox latch system used by Stern up to and including Metallica – a rotary latch operated by a large 90-degree hex key. The key is inserted into the latch and rotated 270-degrees clockwise to lock or anti-clockwise to unlock.

The backbox latch
The backbox latch

On the rear of the backbox is a large decal displaying dire warnings about how you should never transport the game with the backbox raised and other safety advice in a number of languages.

More danger awaits
More danger awaits

The manufacturing date is also shown, and the whole package is signed-off by Jack Guarnieri himself for good measure.

Not a 'best before' date, but a 'born on' date
Not a ‘best before’ date, but a ‘born on’ date
Jack likes this!
Jack likes this!

One thing absent from The Hobbit which was found of The Wizard of Oz is an audio jack to connect the game to an external sound system. There is still a connection available to do this, but it is now hidden inside the game and not brought out onto the back of the cabinet.

Like all current and recent JJP games, this Standard Edition model has cabinet decals for the artwork.  Earlier The Wizard of Oz games featured direct printing to the cabinet, but this changed to decals mid-run and The Hobbit continues with that method.

Cabinet decals
Cabinet decals

Enhanced super-glossy decals are available as a paid upgrade, but the ones featured here are the regular matte-finish ones portraying all the main characters from the three movies.  The Smaug Edition has different decal artwork depicting the eponymous dragon.

The left cabinet artwork
The left cabinet artwork
The right cabinet artwork
The right cabinet artwork

The front of the cabinet continues the design of the side art, with a cut-out for the coin door with spaces for the plunger and start button.

The front cabinet artwork
The front cabinet artwork
Instruction decal on the coin door
Instruction decal on the coin door

This game features a European-style single multi-coin mechanism which accepts various denomination coins. A US-style coin door with dual quarter slots would presumably require a different decal.

The backbox sides feature Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen) and Bilbo (Martin Freeman) with their respective swords Glamdring and Sting.

The backbox side artwork
The backbox side artwork

The backbox front is made of tempered glass, with the game title artwork and monitor frame screen printed with a white diffuse layer on top.  The central part is clear and unprinted to display the image on the monitor mounted in the backbox.

The backglass
The backglass
The rear of the backglass
The rear of the backglass
The rear of the backglass
The rear of the backglass

That 27-inch monitor is an industrial chassis mounted on a MDF frame. The controls are brought out to the front on a remote panel, allowing the owner to adjust various parameters such as brightness, contrast and colour temperature.

The main monitor
The main monitor
The monitor is mounted on a MDF frame
The monitor is mounted on a MDF frame
The monitor controls
The monitor controls

Although the monitor is set to reasonable values by default, some minor improvement might be found by adjusting these when the game is in its intended environment.

The monitor adjustments menu
The monitor adjustments menu

A strip of LEDs is mounted above the monitor to illuminate the top of the backglass.  These are cold white LEDs and so make the artwork look similarly cold.

The LED lighting strip
The LED lighting strip

We feel adding a pale yellow gel over the strip or replacing it with warm white LEDs might make the game look more a little more inviting. An equivalent tweak to the monitor’s colour temperature might also be appropriate so the colours of the artwork and the display match.

As with The Wizard of Oz, the top of the backbox is occupied by the speaker bar.  The left and right front-facing speakers are located here, driven by the amplifier board in the base of the cabinet. The other backbox hardware is the knocker mechanism, which sits in the top left corner and produces a satisfying thwack when a free game is won.

The game's knocker in the top corner of the backbox
The game’s knocker in the top corner of the backbox
The left speaker connection
The left speaker connection

There are not many cables running from the cabinet to the backbox. The monitor takes a DVI cable and a 12V power supply. The speakers take left and right audio feeds, while the knocker power and the LED strip supply complete the list.

The backbox cabling
The backbox cabling
The monitor cable on the left, power and audio on the right
The monitor cable on the left, power and audio cables on the right

Moving round to the front of the cabinet we come to the various controls for the player. The start button is the first of these, and it has a different design to the one found on The Wizard Of Oz. This one is more recessed and slightly larger than its predecessor.

The game's start button
The game’s start button
The game's start button
The game’s start button

On the right side of the coin door we have the 1/8th-inch (3.5mm) headphone jack and its corresponding volume controls.

The headphone jack and volume controls
The headphone jack and volume controls

The buttons to the right increase or decrease the headphones’ volume level which is shown by the column of LEDs on the left. The bottom button mutes the headphones’ sound completely. These controls are only for the headphones’ volume and don’t change the volume of the game’s internal speakers.

On the right we have the shooter rod and its housing. There’s nothing special about this. It’s a combination manual/automatic plunger, giving the opportunity for a skill shot (actually several skill shots) at the start of each ball and auto-launching balls for multiball or after a ball save.

The shooter rod
The shooter rod

Moving around the corner, The Hobbit has a single flipper button on each side of the cabinet – yellow on this game, but the colour might vary between different games and different models.

One of the two flipper buttons on the game
One of the two flipper buttons on the game

The Hobbit is quite a complicated game, and so two flipper buttons by themselves are not enough to activate all the features and make all the decisions required from the player. So there is another button mounted on the lock bar.

The ring button
The ring button

This is an illuminated push button with a surrounding decal. Like any decal we can expect it to wear over time or be peeled off by inquisitive youngsters. There’s no replacement decal in the goodie bag.

While we’re here, let’s start pulling the game apart to see how it works, starting with that lock bar.

The bottom of the ring button
The bottom of the ring button

It is actually the head of the screw in the bottom of the ring button which actuates the switch. That allows you to screw it further in or out to adjust the button’s sensitivity. It presses down on a microswitch mounted in the lock bar frame next to a multi-colour LED board.

The ring button switch and LED
The ring button switch and LED

Opening the coin door we find the usual coin mech with an LED illuminating the coin slot surround.

Inside the coin door
Inside the coin door
Illumination for the coin slot
Illumination for the coin slot
The backbox key is in the usual place
The backbox key is in the usual place

Anyone familiar with pinballs will know about the danger of removing the glass with the coin door open, and the long scratch down the length of the playfield glass which can result. This is even more of a problem when the glass is an expensive non-reflective widebody sheet, so there is a warning decal on the top surface of the coin door.

Don't say you weren't warned
Don’t say you weren’t warned

The game uses the same four-button menu system found of The Wizard of Oz; a system which will be immediately familiar to owners of most dot-matrix pinballs.

The four menu buttons
The four menu buttons

Just as with the Williams operating system, the ‘enter’ button takes you into the set-up and diagnostics menus, the ‘+’ and ‘-‘ buttons navigate through those menus, change the settings, or control the volume when not in the menus, while the ‘back’ button moves up a level within the menus or adds a service credit.

Above the menu buttons is the PCB for the Pinnovators headphones controls and jack.

The Pinnovators headphones board
The Pinnovators headphones board

This board connects to a Pinnovators amplifier board in the base of the cabinet using a RJ45 Ethernet-style cable. A three-way slide switch on the left side enables or disables the volume controls, or totally mutes the headphones output.

Because there are several possible combinations of coin mechs and bill acceptors in use around the world, for this European model there is an interface board mounted on the back of the coin door which accepts connections from the game’s driver board and connects them to whichever payment devices are installed.

The coin door interface board
The coin door interface board

The game can accept up to five different coin denominations from the mech, as well as a sixth input from a redemption ticket dispenser should one be fitted.

Inside the cabinet are two push switches which detect when the coin door is open and cut the 70V high power supply to the solenoids.

The coin door switches
The coin door switches

Opening the coin door also triggers an overlay message on the monitor telling you about the loss of power and providing instructions for using the menu system.

Instructions for using the menu buttons
Instructions for the menu buttons

Jersey Jack Pinball games use the traditional latch to secure the lock bar, with the lock/release lever on the right side of the coin door frame.

The lock bar release lever
The lock bar release lever
The lock bar latch
The lock bar latch

There’s one final connection to mention which is accessible through the coin door, and that’s the PC’s USB socket. An extension cable brings this from the back of the cabinet round to the front so a USB flash memory stick with new game code can be plugged in.

A USB socket is provided inside the coin door
A USB socket is provided inside the coin door

The flash drive can also be used to backup game settings before a major update, and save audit reports.

OK, now it’s time to examine what is probably the most important part of the game, the playfield.

The Hobbit's playfield
The Hobbit’s playfield

One thing you appreciate immediately is how much brighter the general illumination is on The Hobbit compared to The Wizard of Oz.

That’s because the system used on the previous game was inefficient at transferring light from the LEDs below the playfield to the top surface and radiating it. The new system is better at that, but the GI is also now all-white, which allows higher-brightness LEDs to be used.

We’ll look at that in a short while, but let’s start our tour of the play at the usual place – the flippers.

The lower flippers
The lower flippers

The Hobbit is a three-flippered game, having two bats in the usual place at the bottom of the playfield, and a third half-way up on the right-hand side. An earlier design of the game included a fourth half-way up on the left, but that was taken out and replaced with a slingshot some time ago.

All three are yellow bats with red rubbers – real rubbers, not the Superbands or Titan silicone variety. They also have the Jersey Jack Pinball logo embossed at the pivot point, although it’s not all that visible when the game is new and the flippers clean. Let a bit of dirt build up and…

The lower flippers
The JJP logo on the flippers

There’s a post installed between the two lower flippers to help save ‘straight-down-the-middle’ balls or provide amusement for onlookers when the ball unexpectedly fails to bounce back into play.

The centre post
The centre post

The post features a nut-style base, allowing it to be unbolted and removed if required. If the post is taken out, the black plastic plug provided in the goodie bag can fill the resulting hole in the playfield.

Working around the playfield in a clockwise direction, we come to the left inlane and outlane.

The left inlane/outlane
The left inlane/outlane

The inlane feeds the ball back to the left flipper, passing over a ‘light mystery’ insert which tells you when the mystery standup target will be lit, ready for a semi-random award.

The lane guide is formed from two pairs of metal guides – one pair in the inlane and another pair in the outlane – with a green printed butyrate cover held aloft by a series of posts.

The left lane guide
The left inlane guide

This is a good point to mention the general illumination (GI) and how it works.

Below the playfield are small single-colour (white) LED boards.

The inlane guide LEDs
The inlane guide LEDs

These shine their light upwards through holes in the playfield, but sitting on top of the LEDs are semi-opaque light tubes with domed tops which take the light and dissipate it across the playfield in all directions. The result is an even pattern of light spread around each light tube, without the danger of a stray ball hitting and damaging the LED, since the device remains safely below the playfield.

The LEDs used here are quite a pure white – neither cool nor warm – leaving the artwork to generate the colours.

That artwork is both on the butyrate and on the playfield. The butyrate features some text written in Dwarf runes.

The inlane guide artwork
The inlane guide artwork

A little research shows that the text spells ‘JPDeWin’ (the artwork’s designer) ‘was•here’. There’s an equivalent lane guide on the right where the runes spell out the words ‘Jersey•Jack•Pinball’. If you want to make your own runes or check what a rune says in English, you can use this handy rune generator.

Down on the playfield itself, the mandatory copyright notice is printed in the left outlane on the way down to the ball trough.

The copyright notice in the left outlane
The copyright notice in the left outlane

There are two inlanes and one outlane on either side.

The left inlanes and outlane
The left inlanes and outlane

The inner-most inlane is also the destination for the right ramp return as it travels down the left side of the playfield, as we shall see a little later.

The right ramp ends above the inner left inlane
The right ramp ends above the inner left inlane

Each of the inlanes either qualifies or activates one of the four pop-up beasts in the centre of the playfield. If the insert in the lane is not lit when the ball rolls over the switch, it then lights. If it is already lit, it causes the associated beast pop-up to rise. The left inlanes activate beasts on the right of the playfield, and vice-versa.

The left outlane is a little more complicated.

The left outlane
The left outlane

The ball can be deliberately diverted from the right ramp return into the left outlane at the start of a mode. If this happens, a white post pops up and traps the ball on the outlane switch.

The left outlane
The left outlane
The left outlane post
The left outlane post

The mode start animation then plays on the LCD monitor and the ball is launched back into play by a Wind Lance kickback plunger located inside the apron.

The kickback plunger
The kickback plunger

This Wind Lance kickback activation can be automatic for some modes, while for others there is a strength control shown on the monitor which allows the kickback shot to be aimed at specific drop targets on the right side of the playfield, or all the way up to the upper flipper. Pressing the ring button at the appropriate time chooses the indicated strength level and uses that to kick the ball back onto the playfield.

This feature was originally going to use a motorised cam at the top of the outer ball guide in order to change the angle of the lane and hence aim the ball. While it was nice to see some mechanical action, the fact that the same effect can be achieved just by varying the strength of the kickback coil’s power made that mechanism redundant.

The kickback lane
The kickback lane

The ball is also diverted to the outlane and kicked back during Smaug Multiball when all the other stages have been completed and Load Arrow is lit to fire the Black Arrow to (spoiler alert) finally kill Smaug. This is the most dramatic point of the game, as the playfield goes dark, all the balls drain and movie clips of Smaug’s death are shown on the monitor.

Because the left side of the kickback lane is now fixed in order to aim the ball at the appropriate part of the playfield, the outlane width adjustment is made with a post located between the outlane and the inlanes.

The outlane width adjuster
The outlane width adjuster

The adjuster has three positions, making the game harder the lower it is set.

The left slingshot is a simple affair on the Standard Edition model of The Hobbit.

The left slingshot
The left slingshot

Limited Edition models have an axe device attached to the slingshot’s kicker arm which performs a chopping motion with each kick, but the Standard Edition doesn’t have that and instead has a regular slingshot design, with two leaf switches, a normal kicker arm, a post at each corner and three general illumination LED light tubes.

It looks like the right ramp return wireform attaches to the top slingshot post (and indeed it could) but in fact it is held slightly away and secured on the inlane/outlane divider.

The right ramp return is not attached to the slingshot
The right ramp return wireform is not attached to the slingshot
The wireform attaches to the inlane/outlane divider
The wireform attaches to the inlane/outlane divider

At the top of the left outlane or kickback lane is a pair of posts surrounded by a rubber ring, and immediately above that is the first of three drop target banks found on The Hobbit’s playfield.

The top of the left outlane
The top of the left outlane

Each bank spells out either E-L-F, D-W-A-R-F or M-A-N, and completing one of them qualifies a corresponding Elf, Dwarf or Man mode.

The E-L-F drop target bank
The E-L-F drop target bank

As with all three banks, each individual drop target can get raised or lowered under control of the game’s software. This provides a lot of shot combination option, something increased by the fact that behind almost all the drop targets is a yellow standup target.

Those standup targets not only provide a second sensor for each shot, they also mean shots to drop targets already down can be sensed and the appropriate reward or penalty awarded.

In front of each drop target is a multi-colour lit insert corresponding to one of the thirteen Dwarf characters in the movie trilogy. On the left is Gloin, Oin is in the middle, and Dwalin on the right.

The character inserts for the E-L-F drop targets
The character inserts for the E-L-F drop targets

Mounted above the E-L-F drop targets is the first of the game’s nine flashers – eight yellow ones on the playfield and one on the back panel.

The flasher above the drop targets
The flasher above the drop targets

These flashers are all single colour white LEDs driven by the Bus and GI Controller board mounted under the playfield. This board is designed to drive RGB multi-colour LEDs and so each flasher is treated as either the red, green or blue element of one output.

The next feature on the playfield is found just above the E-L-F drop target bank and it is the kicker we spoke about earlier as replacing the upper left flipper included in an earlier layout.

The kicker on the left side of the playfield
The kicker on the left side of the playfield

This is essentially the same as a slingshot mechanism, having the same two leaf switches, three posts and a kicker arm. However it also has a yellow flasher dome mounted on top which flashes when it fires.

Just above the kicker is the left entrance to the orbit lane which is the shot for Fili the Dwarf.

The left orbit lane
The left orbit lane

As with most of the main shots, the left orbit lane has two multi-colour inserts which indicate when the shot is lit for jackpots during one of the multiball modes, or is a required shot for the currently-running mode. Sometimes a shot will also be lit to show it should be avoided, and in the case of the orbit lanes the square insert can be lit green to show a ball lock is available.

The left orbit lane also includes one of the game’s two spinners.

The left orbit lane
The left orbit lane

Each spin of either spinner advances the company of Dwarves towards their ancestral home built deep within the mountain – Erebor.

The orbit lane travels around the top of the playfield, emerging at the same place on the opposite side, just above the upper flipper. As a result, balls shot up the right orbit lane entrance can exit at this left lane.

Along the way, though, the ball can be stopped at either of two locations thanks to a pair of electromagnets mounted below the playfield. We’ll look at how those work a little later.

On the right of the left orbit lane entrance we find the second bank of drop targets, and this time there are five of them.

The D-W-A-R-F drop targets
The D-W-A-R-F drop targets

These drops work a little differently to the E-L-F targets.

While the A-R-F targets represent Bifur, Bofur and Bombur and feature the yellow standup targets behind, the D and W drops guard a different type of feature.

Yellow standups behind the A, R and F drop targets
Yellow standups behind the A, R and F drop targets

The first of the game’s two vertical up-kickers (VUKs) lives behind the D and W drops.

The left vertical up-kicker
The left vertical up-kicker

Although the D and W drop targets prevent access to the drop target, only one really needs to be knocked down to allow the ball to pass. Because all the drops are directly-controlled, these targets can be automatically dropped when a shot to the VUK is required by a certain mode or feature.

The left vertical up-kicker
The left vertical up-kicker

The upkicker is the shot representing Balin the Dwarf. There is no standup target at the end of the lane behind the up-kicker’s hole, so the ball has to drop below the playfield and be sensed by the pair of optos just above the kicker before you get any kind of feedback about having made the shot.

The left VUK is a jackpot shot and a required shot in several of the modes. Along with its fellow upkicker on the right it is also one of the two shots needed to collect an extra ball when it is lit.

The left VUK scores jackpots and helps collect an extra ball
The left VUK scores jackpots and helps collect an extra ball

The VUK kicks the ball up and to the left, onto the right ramp return which ends up at the left inlane as we just saw.

The left VUK send the ball down to the left inlane
The left VUK send the ball down to the left inlane

Shooting the ball into the Balin hole is not the only way it can end up at the left VUK.

We mentioned earlier how there are two electromagnets on the orbit lane which can prevent the ball completing the circuit. The left-most of those comes into play when the orbit lane is lit to lock a ball.

The two magnets at the top of the orbit lane
The two magnets at the top of the orbit lane

When lock is lit, the left magnet grabs the ball for a short time to take away any momentum, and then releases it so it drops into a short lane which leads to a second hole and into the game’s subway system.

The subway entrance
The left magnet and subway entrance

A plastic subway transports the ball from this entrance to either of the game’s two VUKs depending on which orbit entrance was used to reach the magnet. By default the ball would roll to the right VUK, but a solenoid can activate to send it to the left one instead.

We’ll see how that works later when we look at the underside of the playfield, but now would be a good time to look at the left and right ramp entrances and see how they interact with the star of the show – Smaug.

To the right of the D-W-A-R-F target bank is the left ramp. This forms part of a pair of ramps, the paths for which cross over rather like the two ramps in the boat in Fish Tales. Like Fish Tales, the left ramp sends the ball to the right and the right ramp sends it to the left, and also like Fish Tales, there is a captive ball between the two ramp entrances.

The left and right ramps
The left and right ramps

We’ll break from our usual ‘clockwise’ direction of travel for a moment and take a look at the right ramp first, which is also the shot to collect Bilbo Baggins.

The right ramp
The right ramp

This is a laser-cut brushed steel ramp with under-ramp multi-colour lighting for the ‘lock’ and ‘mode’ cut-outs. There is also a plant motif above and below the word cut-outs, and a pair of optos which sense a shot to the ramp entrance. A second opto pair a little further along confirms the shot was successful.

The runes on the ramp decals spell out the JJP team members' names
The runes on the ramp decals spell out the JJP team members’ names

The right ramp can be lit to lock a ball for Smaug Multiball, or it can start one of the game’s 31 modes, or it can immediately send the ball back down the left ramp, or it can do none of those things and simply send the ball all the way along the ramp and down to the left inlane.

For a good part of its length, the right ramp sits above the left orbit lane and follows its path around the top left corner of the playfield. In doing this it passes behind the Smaug model.

The right ramp
The right ramp

As the star of both the movies and the game, Smaug is an elaborate and highly-detailed model who both turns and moves his mouth to speak in sync with his voice calls, and features internal red lighting to simulate his fiery breath.

Smaug
Smaug

Smaug is mostly buried beneath his pile of gold coins and trinkets, with only his head protruding. He normally has his head turned to the left so he can sleep behind a moulded plastic pillar, but when activated by locking a ball or starting multiball he awakens and turns to the right as his articulated jaw speaks one from his range of menacing threats to the player.

The red lighting inside his head glows as he speaks, while another light on the back panel adds a red wash to the whole area.

The back panel light for Smaug
The back panel light for Smaug

The texture of the gold coins extends from Smaug himself and covers all the surrounding plastics, including a sprinkle across the pillar behind which he normally rests.

Gold coins find their way onto the green pillar
Gold coins even find their way onto the green pillar

The gold coins seem as though they might flake off and spill all over the playfield if not handled carefully, but they are in fact reassuringly firmly attached.

The green pillar above is more than just decoration, as it actually covers a ball diverter mechanism which – if lock is lit – will prevent the ball continuing along the right ramp and will instead send it to a ball lock area.

The Smaug lock area is a short branch from the right ramp with an electromagnet at the end which stops the diverted ball momentarily before releasing it to drop off the end.

The Smaug lock lane
The Smaug lock lane

When it drops off the ramp’s branch, the ball falls onto the playfield and into a short lane which leads to another hole. This hole is hidden behind the coin pile moulded plastic and D-W-A-R-F target bank, but it leads down to the left upkicker. Strictly speaking the ball enters the under-playfield subway, but it is so close to the end of the left subway branch that the ball has no option but to roll to the left VUK.

The Smaug lock lane and subway hole
The Smaug lock lane and subway hole

After its detour, the left VUK then kicks the ball up and onto the right ramp return wireform for its journey to the left inlane. There is no physical ball lock here, so all locks are virtual.

The left VUK ejects the ball onto the right ramp wireform
The left VUK ejects the ball onto the right ramp wireform

Talking of the right ramp return wireform, it too has a slightly convoluted design, so now is a good moment to take a more In-Depth look at how that works.

Once it passes the left VUK, the right ramp wireform effectively splits to create two different destinations for the ball. If it is un-diverted, the ball rolls down to the right-most of the two left inlanes. That’s the normal condition, but the ball can also be pushed off the right ramp and onto a side ramp which leads to the left outlane or kickback lane.

The two destinations from the right ramp return wireform
The two destinations from the right ramp return wireform

To see how this diversion is achieved we need to look a little further upstream and peek behind a metal shield.

The diverter mechanism
The diverter mechanism

The two wireforms run in parallel for a while, but the right one has a blade which can rise and knock a passing ball onto the left wireform, down to the kickback lane.

The diverter mechanism
The diverter mechanism

The diverter seems rather crude in the way it deflects the ball but it is surprisingly effective. We can’t recall a time it should have sent a ball to the kickback lane but failed to do so.

To prevent a fast-moving ball flying up in the air and possibly falling off the ramp, there is a metal deflector covering the diverter mechanism which keeps the ball confined and nicely under control.

The ball deflector
The ball deflector

OK, we’ve seen the right ramp, so let’s go back to the top and look at the left ramp.

The left and right ramps
The left and right ramps

Both ramps have the triangular and square multi-colour inserts in front, so they can both give jackpots and be lit to progress through the modes.

The left ramp, which collects Gandalf, is mainly concerned with qualifying and selecting those modes.

The left ramp
The left ramp

Like its companion, the left ramp features two laser-cut words backlit with multi-colour LEDs, two symbol motifs and a pair of optos to register a shot to the ramp.

The left ramp's optos
The left ramp’s optos

Incidentally, search as we might we couldn’t find any reference for the motifs cut into either ramp. If you know their meaning or significance, please let us know through the comments section below.

Each of the Elf, Dwarf or Man modes relates to a scene in the movie which – more or less, but let’s not get into that – relates to the story in the book of The Hobbit.

When one of the three banks of drop targets is completed it qualifies some of the matching Elf, Dwarf or Man modes shown on the LCD screen. Each category has several modes with some requiring other shots such as the ramps or a VUK to be made too, so the word ‘Book’ lights when more than one mode is ready to be played. Shooting the left ramp with ‘Book’ lit allows the player to briefly use the flipper buttons to turn the pages of the book on the small LCD and change the next mode to be played.

Most of those modes are timed with a timer shown on the small LCD once the mode begins. ‘Time’ is lit blue when a mode starts, and a shot to the left ramp adds 10 seconds to the mode’s timer. It then turns purple and subsequent shots only add 3 seconds, which is barely more than the time it takes to shoot the ramp and get the ball back to the flipper.

The left ramp bends round to the right and sends the ball on a metal guide above the orbit lane which turns into a wireform as it winds its way over to the right side of the playfield.

The left ramp's route
The left ramp’s route
The left ramp winds on its way to the right of the playfield
The left ramp winds on its way to the right of the playfield

We’ll pick up the left ramp’s path in a moment, but we still have some unfinished business between the two ramps in the shape of another diverter and a captive ball.

While both ramps lead to their respective metal guides above the orbit lane and ultimately lead to their return wireforms, there is another mechanism which can intervene to prevent this happening.

The ramp diverter
The ramp diverter

A metal blade hovers above the cross-over point between the two ramps. During certain modes the blade can drop causing any ball shot up one of the ramps to immediately return down the opposite ramp.

The ramp diverter is lowered
The ramp diverter is lowered

The solenoid activating the blade is mounted behind the game’s back panel. Because it only needs to move the relatively light blade it doesn’t need to be a particularly powerful coil.

The ramp diverter solenoid
The ramp diverter solenoid

There’s no obvious indication of when the diverter is activated apart from spotting that the diverter blade has lowered, which initially lead us to think our ramp shots were unsuccessful and being rejected for some reason. Only later did we realise the game had changed, the blade was down and the ramps were working differently.

Back down at the playfield level we find the game’s captive ball shot.

The captive ball shot
The captive ball shot

There is a static ball at the bottom of the lane, with a free-moving ball behind it which cannons off the static ball when it is hit and rolls up the lane to hit the blue standup target at the end. This is the only sensor in the lane, so any shot without enough power to move the ball all the way to the end and press on the standup won’t register. Actually, in the version of software we were testing there’s very little in the way of feedback even when the shot is made correctly. No doubt that will improve in later updates.

The lane features an image of the Key to the Side Door of the mountain, and a circular insert to indicate a hit on the target. The captive ball lane is another of the main shots to collect jackpots and move through modes, and it also adds Thorin the Dwarf as well as providing helper awards every five hits such as big points, playfield multiplier and lighting the extra ball. It’s positioned in a crowded area of the playfield, so the inserts and artwork for it are a little further down.

The captive ball shot
The captive ball shot

Next to the right ramp entrance is another blue standup target, only this one is circular and gives out mystery awards when lit.

The mystery award target
The mystery award target

The placing of this is similar to the Glinda target on The Wizard of Oz and its function is the same – to give out either random or targeted awards, depending on which modes are currently running. If you are in a timed mode, the first award may well be to add more time, and in a multiball it will probably add another ball to the mix if it possibly can, but the quality of the award can vary depending on the colour of the insert in front.

The mystery award is qualified by sending the ball through both left and right inlanes (in either order). Making one inlane will light the Light Mystery insert on the opposite side. Completing both will light the mystery insert blue, but if you shoot the lanes again it will turn orange, then purple and finally green. The blue awards are useful and include things such as adding bonus multipliers, relighting the kickback and adding an uncollected dwarf, but the higher level awards include a mode start bonus shot and lighting the Gollum ball save.

The lane to the right of the mystery standup is the Bag End shot (Bilbo’s home village) and it leads to the pop bumper area.

The Bag End lane
The Bag End lane

The Bag End lane has no specific sensor, so when a shot here is required it is sensed by a hit on the pop bumpers without a preceding shot to either orbit lane which would be needed to reach the pop bumpers from the top. Because this sensing wouldn’t work during multiball, this is not one of the major shots for jackpots or progression through most of the modes.

We’ve just talked about the pop bumpers, so that’s our next area to explore.

Getting to the pop bumpers either involves shooting the ball around one the orbit lane when it isn’t lit to lock a ball or during a mode which opts for complete orbits instead, or entering through the Bag End lane we’ve just seen.

If you take the orbit route, the right-hand electromagnet at the top of the lane will grab the ball and drop it through a one-way gate into the pops.

The right magnet in the orbit lane
The right magnet in the orbit lane

There are three ‘barrel’ pop bumpers arranged in the familiar equilateral triangular pattern, however some things about the pop bumpers are not so familiar.

The pop bumpers
The pop bumpers

For a start, there are three inserts under the watery playfield artwork to add some lighting effects to the area when the bumpers are active. There is also a leaf switch behind a white rubber ring on the right. When this is triggered it fires all three barrel pop bumpers in quick succession to help throw the ball around. This switch can be a little over-sensitive, so if you find all three bumpers are firing randomly then this switch might need adjusting.

Because this is a Standard Edition model it unfortunately lacks the barrel-style bumper caps found on the Limited Edition variants.

One of the pop bumper caps missing from the Standard Edition
One of the pop bumper caps missing from the Standard Edition

There are two possible exits from the bumpers. The first is the Bag End lane we saw earlier which sends the ball dangerously towards the centre of the main flippers. The second is a short lane at the bottom right of the pops area which leads into the right orbit lane.

The right exit from the pop bumpers
The right exit from the pop bumpers

If the ball exits through this right lane, it will roll down to the upper flipper and one of the D-W-A-R-F drop targets will light. Shooting this will ‘kick-over’ one of the barrels. Kicking-over enough barrels eventually lights extra ball at the upkickers.

Mounted above the pop bumpers is the game’s second LCD monitor.

The book LCD monitor
The book LCD monitor

This is a standard commercial 4.3-inch LCD panel with a native resolution of 480×272 pixels. It is connected to the PC motherboard in the cabinet as a second monitor output, using the VGA connection. It is actually mounted upside-down, so when the game boots you might see an inverted JJP logo displayed briefly.

The back of the book LCD monitor
The back of the book LCD monitor
The VGA and 12V power cables pass through the back panel
The VGA and 12V power cables pass through the back panel

The book monitor has a moulded plastic frame stuck to the front with the combination mounted on a metal bracket which bolts to the playfield either side of the right orbit lane.

The book frame
The book frame
The mounting points for the book LCD monitor
The mounting points for the book LCD monitor

The monitor is firmly mounted but when raising the playfield it is important to fully slide it out of the cabinet to the service position, otherwise the monitor and frame can get crushed when the playfield is pivoted into the upright position.

Although it has a relatively low resolution when compared to the main monitor’s 1920×1080 pixels, the book LCD still manages to show video clips from the movie in more-than-acceptable quality.

Movie clips on the book LCD monitor
Movie clips on the book LCD monitor
Movie clips on the book LCD monitor
Movie clips on the book LCD monitor

Returning to the playfield level, we’ll pick up with the next feature after the Bag End lane and that’s the right vertical up-kicker.

The right VUK
The right VUK

This VUK is the Radagast shot when made from the top of the playfield, but the ball can also arrive here from the orbit ball lock thanks to the subway which can send the ball to either VUK.

The right VUK
The right VUK

The Radagast shot unlocks a number of modes, progresses through some of these and other modes, scores jackpots and is the second shot needed to collect an extra ball when the ‘Ball’ insert is lit.

The VUK ejects the ball up and to the right, onto the left ramp’s return wireform. From there it rolls down to the left-most right inlane.

The right VUK ejects onto the left ramp wireform
The right VUK ejects onto the left ramp wireform

Just to the right of the VUK is the right entrance to the orbit lane.

The right orbit lane
The right orbit lane

This is the Kili the Dwarf shot, and as you can see it advances through modes and collects jackpots when lit. It is also a mode lock shot when the square insert glows green, while the spinner at the start of the lane advances you towards Erebor.

The front of the right spinner
The front of the right spinner
The back of the right spinner
The back of the right spinner

If neither magnet is activated, a shot to the left orbit entrance will continue around the lane and exit the orbit here, ready for a shot from the upper flipper.

The upper flipper
The upper flipper

The main shot from the upper flipper is to the D-W-A-R-F target bank and the left VUK. It’s possible to get the captive ball as well, and, less desirably, the left kicker which then has a tendency to kick the ball down the right outlane.

At the tip of the upper flipper is the last of the three banks of drop targets.

The M-A-N drop targets
The M-A-N drop targets

Like the E-L-F targets, each drop in the bank conceals a yellow standup target and also collects a different Dwarf. These are, from left to right, Nori, Dori and Ori. Dropping all three targets qualifies one of the modes, and in combination with other shots qualifies more modes.

All the drop targets feature letter decals, and with no printing on the playfield these are the only indication of what the targets spell. Consequently there is a spare set of decals in the goodie bag for when the originals inevitably wear out.

Unlike many games, when a new ball is kicked out it isn’t launched into the right orbit lane. Instead The Hobbit has its own shooter lane entry onto the playfield and this is found directly below the M-A-N target bank.

The ball is ejected from the ball trough beneath the playfield under the bottom apron, and kicked into the shooter lane.

The ball trough eject into the shooter lane
The ball trough eject into the shooter lane

Happily, at the top of the eject hole from the trough is a small steel flap which swings across the hole when the playfield is lifted to prevent all the balls falling out (as they do in most other games). We don’t know whether this idea is protected by a patent (it first appeared on WMS’s Pinball 2000 games so it probably is, most likely as discussed at length here), but if not it should be made mandatory on all new pinballs.

The game features a combined manual and automatic ball shooter. The manual shooter rod is used at the start of each new ball, but the auto-plunger takes over after a ball save or when balls are added for multiballs.

The ball plunger
The ball plunger

A decal on the shooter housing gives a plunge strength gauge – something which is actually useful in this game where a skill shot can need just the right strength of plunge.

The ball travels about 40% of the way up the side of the playfield before the shooter lane curves left, directing the ball onto the main playfield area.

The shooter lane
The shooter lane
The shooter lane
The top of the shooter lane

There are four skill shot options available at the start of each new ball. These can be selected by the Ring button on the lock bar and involve four different areas of the playfield – the inlanes, the L-O-C-K rollovers, the E-L-F drop targets and the D-W-A-R-F drop targets.

Skill shot options
Skill shot options

So with four areas of the playfield to choose between and then trigger the required switches, you can see how getting the strength of the plunge right is important.

To the left of the shooter lane are the two right inlanes and the right outlane, and as with their counterparts on the left, there’s more to them than just simple lanes.

The right outlane and inlanes
The right outlane and inlanes

The right outlane has two features associated with it. The first is indicated by the Preciousss insert and gives you a chance to save the ball.

The Preciousss insert lights when a Gollum ball save is given as a Mystery award. It can be given as a random low-level award, or you can roll through the two inlanes several times to increase the level of the mystery award to its highest value which will guarantee a Gollum ball save is given on the next target hit.

However you get the Preciousss insert lit, if a ball drops down the outlane in single ball play, a strength meter similar to the left outlane kickback one appears on the main screen with a part of it highlighted. A strength indicator moves up and down and if you press the Ring button when it is in the highlighted area the ball is auto-launched back into play.

The more times you collect the Gollum ball save in a game, the faster the indicator moves and the harder it is to win your ball back.

If Gollum is only any help during single ball play, during Multiball you can try to get Beorn’s help to escape near-certain death.

At the bottom of the right outlane, tucked away under the apron is a white rubber ring stretched between two posts.

The right outlane rubber ring
The right outlane rubber ring

Facing this is the red Beorn standup target.

The Beorn standup target
The Beorn standup target

The target’s position and orientation means it can only reliably be hit by a sufficiently fast ball shooting down the outlane with just the right amount of momentum to bounce off the rubber ring and hit the standup target. If the game has a liberal (or no) tilt then you might be able to nudge the game enough to encourage the ball to hit the target, but as this only applies during multiball, your attention might be elsewhere when the ball sneaks down the outlane.

If you do manage to hit the Beorn standup, another ball is auto-launched to replace the one you just lost. If all the other four balls are in play, the same ball is re-launched as soon as it is ready.

How likely the ball is to end up in the outlane is controlled in part by the outlane adjuster post positioned at the top of the lane.

The outlane adjuster post
The outlane adjuster post

Two posts with rings provide some bounciness above the outlane, but it is the adjustable post which gives some variance to the lane entrance’s width. It has three positions and is shipped in the middle of the three.

The two inlanes on the right either qualify or activate the Goblin and Spider pop-ups. As with the left side, if the insert is not lit when the ball rolls through a lane it will light, and if it is lit it will activate the appropriate beast pop-up.

The right inlanes
The right inlanes

The left ramp return ends above the left-most inlane and, like on the left side, the wireform is attached to the inlane/outlane divider, which in this case is just a single post.

The right slingshot is as plain and unexciting as the left one, without any adornments or special features.

The right slingshot
The right slingshot

From there we follow the path of the inlane and end up back at the flippers.

The feed back to the right flipper
The feed back to the right flipper

Mounted at four positions around the outer edge of the playfield are some spot-lamps.

One of the playfield spotlights
One of the playfield spotlights

These are not just to provide additional lighting to the central playfield area, they are also targeting the four beast pop-ups.

The Spider Spotlight
The Spider spotlight

The four beasts are, clockwise from the flippers, Spider, Goblin, Orc and Warg and they all consist of a pop-up mechanism which is usually hidden below the playfield under a flap, but which rises to allow hits to be made before dropping down again.

The four beast pop-ups
The four beast pop-ups

Each beast has a corresponding custom-moulded face which is the normal part the ball strikes to register a hit, although it is also possible to register a hit from the back if the ball is moving fast enough. In addition, you can apparently use the Ring button with a ‘backstab’ to score two hits.

The Spider pop-up
The Spider pop-up
The Goblin pop-up
The Goblin pop-up
The Orc pop-up
The Orc pop-up
The Warg pop-up
The Warg pop-up

Each moulded face is mounted on a leaf switch, while the whole mechanism rides up and down on a carriage attached to a solenoid which pushes it up to raise the beast from under the playfield. It then latches in place in much the same way as a drop target.

A sprung flap sits above the carriage, with the spring ensuring the flap both sits tight on the playfield and also pivots up slightly at the front when the carriage is raised.

The Warg pop-up
The Warg pop-up

Another smaller solenoid is then used to push the carriage away from its latch so it can drop back below the playfield if the player fails to hit it within the time allowed.

The Spider and Warg pop-ups are quite close to the flippers and so especially dangerous if shot directly. The Goblin and Orc pop-ups sit directly in front of the left and right ramps respectively, making those shots difficult (although not impossible) to make if the beasts are activated.

The Goblin and Orc pop-ups
The Goblin and Orc pop-ups

It is possible for a ball to become trapped under the pop-up’s flap if it happens to be hitting the beast at the same moment the carriage drops. This tends to affect older The Hobbit games more (those produced before July 15, 2016) and an update kit is available free-of-charge for these games to help prevent this happening.

The update kit also includes improved springs for the drop targets and a mini-post with a rubber ring to make the right ramp return more reliable. Owners of these older games should contact Jersey Jack Pinball support for more details and to order the kit.

Sitting between the four beast pop-ups is a line of four illuminated rollover switches.

The L-O-C-K rollover switches
The L-O-C-K rollover switches

These L-O-C-K rollovers are used to light lock on the right ramp to advance towards starting Smaug Multiball. The multi-colour LEDs below the rollover buttons change colour as their corresponding switch is activated, and when all four have been rolled-over the word ‘LOCK’ lights on the right ramp. Depending on the difficulty setting it may be necessary to spell out L-O-C-K again to lock the second and third balls.

Locking three balls starts Smaug Multiball.

After playing Smaug Multiball it can become harder to light lock the next time, with the L-O-C-K rollovers needing to be completed two or more times to lock each ball.

Completing the L-O-C-K rollover switches also lights lock on either orbit lane to add a ball to the next book mode. This is a feature added with version 1.30 of the software and allows any book mode to become a multiball. Each completion of the rollovers before you start a mode lets you shoot the orbit lane to add another ball to build-up a 2, 3, 4 or 5 ball multiball, something which makes it somewhat easier to complete all the required shots for that mode in the time available.

The L-O-C-K rollovers are also one of the skill shots, with points awarded according to how many of the letters you can roll over from plunging the ball.

The final playfield feature is the progress grid which, despite the complexity of the game’s rules, is pretty minimal really.

The progress grid
The progress grid

The reason, of course, is that the main LCD monitor is used to convey much of the status information. So what we are left with as physical inserts are two Smaug lock indicators showing when your next lock will start Smaug Multiball, a shoot again one to show when you have an extra ball or when the ball saver is active, a Super X insert for increased playfield scoring, and four inserts relating to the mini- and final wizard modes.

Into The Fire, Barrel Escape and Battle of the Five Armies are mini-wizard modes which are played in sequence every time you collect the five pieces of the Arkenstone. A piece is awarded for starting Smaug Multiball, collecting all the Dwarfs, collecting all the beast pop-ups, completing one of the Elf, Dwarf or Man modes, and advancing all the way to Erebor.

Once all these have been achieved, shooting the lit VUK will start the lit mini-wizard mode.

At the time of writing with version 1.31 code being the latest, only the first two mini-wizard modes have been coded, so Battle of the Five Armies is not in the software yet, and neither is the main wizard mode which will require playing (and possibly completing) the three mini-wizard modes. This will presumably use the large over-printed insert just above the flippers to show when the mode is ready to play.

Behind the flippers is the metal bottom arch which is unusual in having a single large decal covering the top surface with no cut-out for an instruction card and only minimal space for pricing information.

The bottom apron decal
The bottom apron decal

There are two pricing cards included in the goodie bag as we saw at the start of this review. They are the same size as the game number decal, so one could fit there or on the opposite side.

The game number decal
The bottom apron decal

So we’ve examined the outside of the cabinet, inside the coin door, all the playfield features and artwork, and taken a look inside the backbox. That must mean it’s time to lift the playfield and see what’s hiding in the bottom of the cabinet.

We’re pleased to report that The Hobbit comes with proper playfield slide support rails fitted to all models.

Slide rails under the playfield
Slide rails under the playfield

These slide rails provide three service positions – slightly slid out, fully slid out, and raised. There is no playfield prop arm to hold the playfield in a semi-raised position, but given the weight of the playfield and all the components mounted on it, this is probably a good thing.

In case you were wondering (and to save you from counting) the playfield is made from 9-ply wood.

...and not just Gandalf's wit
…and not just Gandalf’s wit

You should be careful to only rest the playfield slide rails on the lock bar frame using the rubber feet, as otherwise the rail can rest on the shooter rod and could bend it.

The playfield slide rail resting on the shooter rod
The playfield slide rail resting on the shooter rod

After pulling the playfield fully out, we lifted it up to look inside the cabinet, safe in the knowledge that the balls won’t fall out of the trough.

Inside the bottom of the cabinet
Inside the bottom of the cabinet

The floor of the cabinet is dominated by the large metal case containing the computer and driver boards, but before we get to that we need to get some power to the game, and that means the main fuse and power switch.

The power switch box
The power switch box

The rocker switch to turn on power to the game is inside this box and accessed from under the cabinet in the traditional position at the front right corner. The main 1.25″ fuse for the game is mounted on top. The rating will vary according to the input voltage, being 10A/125V for a game on 110V/120V and 5A/250V for one running on 220V/240V.

The box contains a metal-oxide varistor connected across the live and neutral mains feeds. This is used to help alleviate any large voltage spikes which could occur from lightning strikes or other brief over-voltage fault conditions in the mains power. However this does mean that the varistor is live even if the game is switched off under the cabinet. Fires caused by catastrophic failure of a varistor have been documented many times, so it is always best to de-power the game at the power socket when it is not in use.

There is also a service outlet next to the fuse holder, although you will need to remove a warning sticker to access it. While this is fine to power a soldering iron or inspection lamp in the US, the US-style socket is generally-speaking pretty useless in Europe. Still, it’s better than nothing and can be used to provide a permanent supply to low-power mods.

Above the power switch box is the shooter rod and behind that the right flipper button.

The shooter rod and right flipper button
The shooter rod and right flipper button

Because The Hobbit has two flippers on the right side, the flipper button activates a two-stage leaf switch, powering the lower right flipper first so a ball can be trapped there while the upper flipper is flipped.

By contrast, the left flipper button only operates one flipper and has a simpler leaf switch.

The left flipper button
The left flipper button

Next to the left flipper button is the game’s tilt bob assembly.

The tilt mechanism
The tilt mechanism

It’s a standard and pretty minimal tilt mechanism which looks like it could do with a little alignment to perfectly centre the tilt bob within the outer ring.

Another copy of the model type and serial number sticker first seen on the back is found inside the cabinet, next to the tilt bob.

Another machine information sticker, this time inside the cabinet
Another machine information sticker, this time inside the cabinet

And so onto that large metal box which takes up so much space at the bottom of the cabinet. To see what it contains we took the lid off. This involves removing two knurled-knob thumb screws on the left side (arrowed in red below) and then pulling two rubberised locking handles (arrowed in green) up and away from the box.

Remove these to take the lid off the metal box
Remove these to take the lid off the metal box

The lid then lifts off using the built-in handle to reveal the contents.

Inside the metal box
Inside the metal box

Don’t forget about the lid though, as the carries a useful sticker detailing how to remove the snap-on connectors on the LED boards under the playfield.

How to disconnect the LED boards
How to disconnect the LED boards

Like any good engineer, let’s start looking at the contents of the box with the input, working through to the output.

The primary input has to be power, and the components in the metal box get their power from three different sources.

First we have a standard ATX 460W PC switching power supply located at the front right of the box.

The ATX power supply
The ATX power supply

This provides high current +/-12V and +5V DC supplies for the monitors, the input/output board, the PC motherboard, backbox lighting, coin mechs, optos, the sound board and much more, as well as a +3.3V DC supply for the CPU and a +24V DC feed to the sound board.

But the game needs quite a few more voltages in order to operate, and two of these come from the smaller metal box in front of the PC supply.

The secondary power supply
The secondary power supply

This takes in +12V DC and +5VDC and regulates them down to +7.5V and +4V for the GI LED lighting and RGB LEDs respectively.

But we’re still missing any kind of high power for the solenoids and motors, and to get that we have to leave the metal box for a moment and take a look further back in the cabinet for something a little more old-fashioned.

The game's transformer
The game’s transformer

A transformer may well be more ‘old-fashioned’ than a switching power supply but it’s still much better at providing a highly-resilient feed capable of handling large and sudden changes in current draw, such as when a whole bunch of high-power solenoids fire simultaneously.

The transformer connects directly to the mains power through the fuse in the switch box and outputs 48V and 18V – both in AC naturally. These voltages go into the metal box where they are regulated and smoothed by the I/O board into 70V, 20V and 12V DC for high-power solenoids, low-power solenoids, motors and extra game lighting.

So those are the voltages used by the game: +70V, +24V, +20V, +/-12V, +7.5V, +5V, +4V and +3.3V, all in DC.

Where do they go?

Most importantly, the +12V, -12V, +5V and +3.3V go to the PC motherboard located in the back right of the metal box.

The PC motherboard
The PC motherboard

This is an MSI H81M-P33 mini-ATX board which includes on-board graphics capability providing DVI and VGA outputs which, as we have seen, are respectively used to drive the 27″ backbox monitor and the 4.3″ book monitor.

Two 4GB sticks of DDR3 memory are installed, and the whole thing boots its Linux operating system from a Sandisk U110 SSD positioned on the right wall of the metal box next to the ATX power supply.

The SSD containing the operating system, game code and assets
The SSD containing the operating system, game code and assets

The SSD was originally specified as 32GB but if it hasn’t already happened then this small size of SSD is going to become difficult to obtain, so it will probably increase in size. Not that that is going to help game owners much, as those installed 32GB SSDs will limit how large any future additional assets can grow.

The back panel of the motherboard hosts a number of connections. The DVI and VGA feeds to the two monitors connect here, as do the USB connections to the input/output board and playfield, and the audio out. There is also a game-unique dongle which identifies the type of model to the software so certain in-game features and displays are unlocked or hidden. The dongle also tells the software whether the Pindemption ticket redemption system has been purchased and should be available for selection. Purchasing the Pindemption system after buying the game requires a change of USB dongle to enable the new feature.

The motherboard connections
The motherboard connections

Positioned between the ATX PSU and the motherboard is the sound board from Pinnovators.

The sound board
The sound board

The PC motherboard already provides multi-channel sound, so why the need for a sound board?

Well, for a start the motherboard only outputs line-level or headphones-level audio which is nowhere-near powerful enough to drive speakers. So the sound board amplifies this to a suitable level and sends it to the backbox and cabinet speakers. But it also manages the headphones audio feed and the volume control buttons mounted on the coin door, along with the LED volume indicators.

The pink jack socket takes the audio from the PC motherboard, while the green socket provides an (unused) additional auxiliary output on the back of the metal box which can be used to plug into a home or location sound system. It is this green aux output which is missing from the back of the cabinet.

The Ethernet connection is the link with the coin door jack and controls, with the three RCA/phono jacks sending the amplified audio to the two backbox speakers and the cabinet speaker through more connectors on the back of the metal box.

The amplified connections to the speakers
The amplified connections to the speakers and the spare aux output

The Pinnovators board needs 24V DC and this comes from the ATX switching supply – the only device in the game using this voltage.

The final item inside the metal box deals with most of the switch and A/C voltage inputs, and the outputs to the solenoids and the many LEDs, and so it’s called the input/output or I/O board, and it runs almost the entire length of the box.

The I/O board
The I/O board

The bottom section of the board handles the games many switches. There is a mix of dedicated switches for things such as the menu buttons, the coin mech, the tilt bob and the flipper switches, and a switch matrix for playfield sensors.

The switch handling area of the I/O board
The switch handling area of the I/O board
Dedicated switch connections
Dedicated switch connections

The matrix contains 16 columns and 8 rows for a maximum of 128 switches, although only 73 are actually used in The Hobbit of which 29 are optos.

The central section of the I/O board contains the drivers for the solenoids and motors.

Driver MOSFETS run down either side of the I/O board
Driver MOSFETS run down either side of the I/O board

The high power and low power solenoids and the motors are driven by IRL540 MOSFETs which in turn are driven through buffers from a pair of PIC microcontrollers.

In order to get those high power, low power and motor voltages, the top part of the board takes the 48V and 18V AC feeds from the transformer, and rectifies and smooths them into +70V, +20V and +12V unregulated DC.

Voltage rectification and smoothing
Voltage rectification and smoothing

This also where you will find most of the game’s fuses and the ones most likely to blow if a fault develops on the playfield. In fact there are sixteen different fuses on the I/O board – fourteen here in the power section and two blade-types at the bottom for the board logic – all with LED indicators to show their condition.

All the connections onto the I/O board come from more connectors on the back panel of the metal box, allowing the box to be disconnected and removed fairly easily if necessary.

Connections to the metal box
Connections to the metal box

As you can see there’s a lot of cabling at the back of the cabinet, barely leaving enough room for the final major component in the base – the cabinet speaker.

The cabinet speaker
The cabinet speaker

The WX85X 8-inch, 300W, 4-ohm subwoofer speaker is made by Pyramid and is part of their Originals range. It connects to the top RCA/phono jack on the back of the metal box.

The cabinet speaker
The cabinet speaker

The mains power for the whole game enters the cabinet through a filtered IEC inlet mounted on a small metal box so that the exterior plug is recessed and can be covered with the black metal plate we found in the coin box.

The mains IEC socket
The mains IEC socket

The filter helps prevent electromagnetic interference from the game exiting down the power cable and also assists with any electrically-noisy mains power outlet into which the machine might be plugged.

That’s what we find in the bottom of the cabinet. This Standard Edition doesn’t come with a shaker motor, although one can be added as an after-market purchase if you want and it is supported in the software.

So now let’s look at the underside of the playfield, and if you thought the cabinet was packed and full of cables…

Under the playfield
Under the playfield

As you can see (we encourage you to look at the high-resolution versions of these images to see the most detail), there is a serious amount of hardware hanging off that sheet of nine-ply. Most dominant are the four beast pop-ups and the three drop target banks.

The four beast pop-up mechanisms
The four beast pop-up mechanisms

These are substantial assemblies designed to withstand the repeated pop-ups, hits and drops they will no doubt have to endure.

The Warg pop-up mechanism
The Warg pop-up mechanism

The three banks of drop targets are no less thorough in their construction, with the individual solenoids to raise each target at the bottom and the knock-down solenoids mounted next to the playfield.

The D-W-A-R-F drop target bank
The D-W-A-R-F drop target bank

Adjuster screws next to the solenoids allow each target to be raised or lowered to ensure it sits level with the top of the playfield when it drops and doesn’t create a ball trap. Meanwhile, springs on the back of each target ensures it drops quickly and cleanly when struck.

The D-W-A-R-F drop target bank
The D-W-A-R-F drop target bank

These springs were modified after production began, with new, stronger springs included in the update kit we spoke about earlier.

The E-L-F drop target bank
The E-L-F drop target bank
The M-A-N drop target bank
The M-A-N drop target bank

Despite the size and complexity of the I/O board in the bottom of the cabinet, much of the control for the RGB LEDs is handled by smaller controller boards under the playfield.

One of the RGB LED controller boards
One of the RGB LED controller boards
Another RGB LED controller board
Another RGB LED controller board

There are several types of LED insert boards under the playfield, from individual single-colour boards for GI lighting to single, double or triple RGB LED boards.

White GI and RGB single LED insert boards
White GI and RGB single LED insert boards
A dual RGB LED board
A dual RGB LED board

There is also a Bus and GI controller board (B.A.G. board) which connects to the PC in the cabinet and both drives the GI LEDs and provides two Ultra-Fast Mode (UFM) I2C data buses – only one of which is used – and one Fast Mode (FM) I2C bus which link to the other controller boards under the playfield.

The B.A.G board on the left and the RGB LED board on the right
The B.A.G. board on the left and an RGB LED board on the right

The RGB inserts are on the Ultra-Fast Mode bus, since they do a lot of colour-changing fading effects and needs fast updates to produce smooth transitions.

The Arkenstone insert RGB LED board
The Arkenstone insert RGB LED board

The Smaug jaw assembly is driven by a separate controller board mounted above the playfield inside the Smaug head model. It has its own micro-controller for the mouth motor, while the motor which rotates the whole assembly is below the playfield.

The Smaug rotate motor
The Smaug rotate motor

These motors are all low-power devices. For more high-power items we need to look at the magnets in the orbit lane and the flippers.

The two ball-grab magnets at the top of the orbit lane
The two ball-grab magnets at the top of the orbit lane
The left flipper assembly
The left flipper assembly

That brings us to the end of this look under the playfield and our tour of The Hobbit’s hardware.

When we received the game it was pre-installed with the latest 1.30P (prototype) software. However, during the time it was in our grubby hands a new version of software was released, so we took the opportunity to check out the upgrade process.

JJP’s software updates come in two flavours – full and delta. A full update is a large file of quite a few gigabytes. It contains everything needed to run the game but takes a little more work to install. The more common update type is the delta which only contains the changes from the last full install file. These can be very small if they are right after a full install, growing in size as more and more new features, fixes and assets are added.

This update was a delta, taking us from version 1.30P to 1.31.

We first downloaded the new code from the Jersey Jack Pinball website, unzipped it and put it on a USB flash drive which we plugged into the USB socket inside the coin door.

Do touch the door
Do touch the door
The USB flash drive with the new code
The USB flash drive with the new code

Then it was into the game’s menu system by using the four buttons inside the coin door.

Out of the flash drive, into the menu
Out of the flash drive, into the menu

After finding the update option in Utilities, we hit ‘Enter’ and waited as it found the new software and began installing it.

Fingers crossed
Fingers crossed

Then came a nerve-wracking moment where the monitor went black and everything seemed to have stopped.

Hello... anybody home?
Hello… anybody home?

But just as we were starting to think we had bricked the game, it rebooted and a quick check of the menu showed the new code was up and running.

Success!
Success!

While we’re in the menu system, now would be a good time to take a quick look at how it works.

We covered it in our The Wizard of Oz In-Depth Review and not a huge amount has changed in the basic way it operates. Going into the menu gives the three options for the full menu, to change the game difficulty, or to install certain settings presets.

Naturally we want the full menu, and selecting that removes the original three options to give us a full range of choices, starting in the tests menu.

The full menu
The full menu

Most test options are self-explanatory, with the coil tests working just like the Williams system with ‘stop’, ‘repeat’ and ‘cycle’ options to test individual coils or all of them in sequence. The tests are improved over the Williams ones though, with more information presented on the LCD monitor to help diagnose any issues.

The range of system settings you can adjust is rather daunting and goes on for page after page on the monitor.

The settings menu
The settings menu

In another improvement over the WMS system, if an adjustment is not available due to another setting elsewhere it is shown as greyed-out rather than missing altogether, like the timed game settings above when the game type is set to a certain number of balls. At least that way you know the setting exists and needs to be unlocked. The explanatory text field on the right will probably tell you how to gain access to it.

More settings
More settings

Fine-tuning of how the game plays is also available thanks to the coil settings menu. Generally-speaking, coil power timings are kept away from the user/operator due to the possibility of over-driving the coils and hence over-heating them.

As far as we can recall, detailed coil power adjustments were first introduced with The Lord of the Rings to try to address problems with the flippers. Data East and Sega games had more general coil strength settings, but LOTR gave much finer control.

JJP games have strength controls for individual coils, although any temptation to turn everything up to ’11’ is tempered first by the fact that ’11’ is actually quite a low setting, and then by the big warning message when you enter this part of the menu.

Here be dragons, and orcs and wargs and...
Here be dragons, and orcs and wargs and…

We don’t need to go through all the tests, adjustments and audits available, but rest assured just about every plunge, flip, nudge, and shot is recorded in granular detail.

So what do we think of the game? Is it any good?

Although The Hobbit’s software is not yet finished, there’s plenty in there to see where it’s going and form an opinion of its execution, while the rest of what makes up the game is most certainly complete.

So let’s do this like our older In-Depth Reviews, section by section.


ARTWORK

In a word – ‘Yes’. The cabinet and backbox art is excellent. The Smaug Edition is certainly all about the star and that’s exactly what you want if that’s the model you chose. The Standard and LE models have an excellent montage of the characters from the three movies tastefully arranged in such a way that the two sides portray very different aspects of the story.

The only real reservation we have is how the non-Smaug versions are just that – totally devoid of any Smaug references or imagery, which seems an omission in an otherwise lavishly detailed cabinet art package. The cinematic reveal of Smaug’s appearance was embargoed until the release of the second movie, but that was some time before the first The Hobbit machines rolled off the production line. He’s on the playfield, of course, but should probably have some presence on the cabinet too.

We did also mention how the backglass image is lit with cold-white LEDs which give the game a cold and detached appearance, when the artwork has a richness which is held back by the lighting.

The playfield artwork eventually came together after an earlier revision was not well received. In contrast to the backglass, the cold feel of that original mountain-scape art has been replaced by an fiercely attacking Smaug – we do get to see him here at least – with the resultant flaming reds and yellow being the dominant hues in the lower part of the playfield.

The upper half is still blue, but in this context that contrast reflects the contrasts within the movies, from the watery escape at Rivendell and their boat rides to Esgaroth and on to the Lonely Mountain, to their fiery showdown with Smaug.

DISPLAY ART

We haven’t shown a great deal of the animations and frames on the 27″ LCD monitor, and that’s mainly because this review would be almost twice the length it is if we did. So we will talk about the display animations instead.

You would think having free access to three movies’-worth of assets would provide plenty of high-resolution material which would look amazing on the large full-HD monitor. And indeed it does, but simply playing clips from the movie in a complex game like The Hobbit is not that helpful by itself, even if you overlay the scores and other basic information a player would need.

In fact, nearly all the display animations on the main monitor were made just for the game, and it’s a testament to their quality that they look like they could have come from the movies. It’s only at key moments in the storyline – such as <spoiler alert> the killing of Smaug – that clean movie clips are used. Otherwise they are framed within windows as part of the status display, composited into other display animations or shown on the smaller book display.

A game like The Hobbit has a challenge to face when designing an informational display for the player, and it’s very different to the one faced by Stern with their dot-matrix display.

The Hobbit has a large, high-resolution, full-colour display which can be used to convey a mass of information, but the challenge is not to show all the information you can. It’s to show the least you can comfortably get away with.

Stern games have had to do that by using playfield inserts to guide the player and then to change the display completely every time a major event takes place, such as a jackpot being collected or a new mode starting.

The Hobbit – much like The Wizard of Oz – allows multiple features to run concurrently, and shows the status of them all in different parts of the large display. Once you get used to the game that’s a great benefit since you’re not relying on the game to show you the single piece of information you want at any particular time.

But the flip-side of that is how all that information can be overwhelming to the casual player. They don’t know where to look to see the result of their actions with the ball and the flippers. They complete the L-O-C-K rollovers and the whole display doesn’t dedicate itself to telling them how lock is now lit. The information is there, but it’s relatively small and easily overlooked.

That would be our main criticism in what is a beautifully-detailed design – more full-screen (with score/ball/player overlays), high-impact animations to give more feedback to the player when they do something important. There are some which do just that – extra ball, free game and ball lock, but the ball is trapped during these events. There needs to be more like these which grab the player’s attention while the ball is still in play and directs them to where the latest event is reflected in the overall status display.

Maybe that’s part of the polish which will be added as the game’s code nears completion. Let’s hope so.

That said, all the displays and animations are first-class and are perfectly in keeping with the look and feel of the movies and the rest of the game.


SOUNDS & MUSIC

While we thoroughly enjoyed the many different music tracks used throughout the game – and indeed would have liked them to be more up front at times – the effects and voice calls appeared to be one of the areas most in need of additional assets or tweaks in the next software update.

Killing Smaug (whoops, retrospective spoiler alert) resulted in total silence as he plummeted to earth and crashed to his eventual death. No music and no effects. Many of the targets are also in need of audible feedback to confirm they have been successfully hit, while the availability of certain awards is not suitably flagged-up to the player with an alerting sound effect or voice call.

There also some reuse of quotes, with seemingly the same “Super Jackpot” clip also being used for “Super Jackpot… is lit”, leading the player to wonder if Gandalf is telling them they just collected the Super Jackpot, or if will shortly hear the rest of his quote to find out they merely lit it. There also needs to be more variations of commonly-heard quotes. Gandalf saying “…and into the fire” in such an exaggerated way for the start of the mini-wizard mode of the same name, for instance, started to grate a little after hearing it multiple times.

Those are our bugbears, but let them not detract from the high-quality audio coming out of the game through the impressive amplifier and speakers combination. Having both an independent headphone jack with its own controls and a line-out for an external sound system or live stream is very welcome, covering all the bases except maybe bluetooth headsets.


LIGHTING

Comparing The Hobbit side-by-side with The Wizard of Oz (WOZ) they are like night and day – almost literally. The general illumination level in The Hobbit is a huge improvement, and the monochromatic nature of the GI never proves to be a problem.

The over-use of multi-coloured inserts in WOZ has been tamed and brought much more under control for Hobbit. That’s not to say multiple colours aren’t used throughout the game to indicate various states and awards, but sometimes less is more and the colours selected here are more to set the mood of the gameplay than to show off the game’s capabilities.

The colours of the inserts follow the action, spreading out from Smaug in flame colours as he tries to toast you (and not in the good way) at the start of his multiball, or turning blue when you need to ride the river during Barrel Escape.

This is much more how multi-coloured inserts should be used, rather than either being, at one end of the scale, simple indicators of shots, or at the other looking like an explosion in a paint factory.

The redesign of the lighting boards seems to have produced a far-more reliable system than the original WOZ design, putting it on a par with any other company’s RGB lighting for failure rates and building a solid platform for JJP’s future games.

However, we can’t leave this section without one bugbear, and it concerns over-exuberant light show effects, and in particular extra balls and free games. These sometimes take place while one or more balls are still in play, and can flash all the LEDs on and off for an extended period, making it almost impossible to see what’s going on if the game is in a darkened room. JJP are far from unique in this, but many times we heard the cry of, “stop flashing all the ****ing lights“, so some tempering of these effects might result in an equivalent tempering of the language used.


GAME DESIGN

The playfield layout is deceptive, not appearing at first glance to have much to shoot for in the centre.

The view from the flippers
The view from the flippers

Of course, once those beast pop-ups appear and start blocking your shots, or take you into Beast Frenzy multiball, the playfield become rather busier and the shots harder to make.

The beasts pop-up
The beast pop-ups

Compared to another widebody game such as WOZ it’s much more open, that’s true, but maybe WOZ tried to pack more features in at the expense of losing some of the flow and the feel of a widebody game. The Hobbit traps the ball less and builds up the speed more, which is fitting as WOZ is an older-style game for an older-style movie.

This has been an unusual game development process thanks to JJP’s decision to publicly reveal features and assemblies in a piecemeal way over a period of many months.

The result of that was a double-edged sword, where interest in the game was maintained through that period with speculation and excitement about how certain devices would work., but that was coupled with the evolution of these features which, in some cases, would show they were either unnecessary or just plain didn’t work reliably, leading to disappointment from buyers.

Such are the problems of developing a game in the glare of the public spotlight – something JJP have probably wisely avoided for their third game.

But from that process we know there was originally going to be a fourth flipper, how the Bag End lane was once a target bank, that the top of the kickback lane was to have a motorised cam to aim the ball, how there was to be a standup target in the left outlane as well as the right, and that the Smaug model was going to interact with the ball as it circled him on a wireform.

While those changes almost certainly made sense and are not at all unusual during game development, we are left wondering what Smaug might have been able to do with the ball had the original plan worked out.


RULES

Any game with more than 30 modes can’t be accused of skimping on the rules, and there’s no doubt that The Hobbit brings a lot to the gameplay party.

Although there’s no mention of the final wizard mode, here are the rules in graphic form thanks to the manual for The Hobbit.

The rules flowchart
The rules flowchart

Let us state straight away that we are big fans of much of programmer Keith Johnson’s earlier work, and love his previous collaboration with The Hobbit designer Joe Balcer with The Simpsons’ Pinball Party. That game gives you multiple ways to progress through the rules, with different areas all being enjoyable in their own right but also combining to lead you to the Super Duper Mega Extreme Wizard Mode.

There are certainly some similarities between The Simpsons and The Hobbit as far as rules but the balance is very different, not allowing you to concentrate on any one area to progress. Instead you need to complete challenges in several different areas to complete your Arkenstone.

There are also lots of really nice hidden rules for various features, such as charging up the mystery target, the progressive awards given by the captive ball, the super jets levels, the various features from the Ring button, and more.

The only problem here is that many of these features and awards are exactly that… hidden. Better communication to the player is needed, not only about what the next award will be but also what they can look forward to further down the line if they just buy that one extra credit and play that little bit better.

For the experienced and dedicate player, they can find that out in various way or eventually work it out for themselves, but to the casual player there are few immediately obvious goals beyond Smaug Multiball, especially when faced with more than 30 modes which they will never dream of completing. It seems like a very steep learning curve, even though getting to the mini-wizard modes is not actually as difficult as it might at first appear. If Gandalf told you “That’s the first piece collected, now get to Erebor” or whatever is the feature closest to completion is it would help guide the player through the game more.

Those mini-wizard modes are as complex as you would expect (and hope), with each one consisting of multiple stages followed by victory laps for completing them. On reflection we think we prefer this to a simpler, more obvious approach which can quickly get old. It fits better with the movie’s theme where having completed one challenge you are thrown straight into another, and another, and are constantly battling to stay alive.

We’ve yet to see how the third mini-wizard or the final modes work, but it’s a safe bet they won’t be the cop-out ‘everything is lit for jackpots’ type of modes.

The individually-controlled drop targets are a big part of both the feature set and the bill of materials. They are used well, but somehow don’t feel as compelling as they should be.

We think that’s because the staging and choreography doesn’t put enough emphasis on them through lighting, display and audio cues when they are performing their tricks. Those should be the moments your attention is grabbed by dramatic sounds and lighting effects, and you are distracted from whatever you were previously working towards. However, despite the mechanical noise they make it’s all too easy to not notice what the drop targets are up to until it’s too late to collect the award they were offering.

We’re being overly critical here of course because the vast majority of the coding for The Hobbit is very competently done, and we do appreciate the work which goes into the light shows, choreography, the syncing of video, speech and animatronics, and all the other features players take for granted. And that’s without having to code for a new lighting system and further development of the underlying operating system.

It does however bring into focus what a huge task coding for a modern game like The Hobbit is, and how it is has moved way beyond being a one-man job.

RATINGS

As this In-Depth Review draws to a close we’ll end by summarising our findings for the game as we reviewed it in numerical form.

These ratings look at each aspect of The Hobbit in its current state of development and compare it to the best examples of that element we have seen.  If a game ever gets a 10 then it, in our opinion, has beaten every other game ever and set the new standard for that feature with no obvious deficiencies. Consequently, getting a 10 is pretty unusual.  In this new format we have placed the scores at the bottom of this page.

If you jumped straight here, please go back and read the full review to see why we rated things as we did and see whether you agree with us and if you would put the same significance on certain features as we did.Don’t worry if these numbers don’t match your own personal opinions. They’re only that – personal opinions – and we’re bound to give different weightings to the various features.

Finally, a big thank you to Phil Palmer at Pinball Heaven for his assistance and loan of The Hobbit which made this review possible.

The Hobbit
The Hobbit

With that we end this In-Depth Review. Thank you for reading it and we hope you enjoyed it. We’ll be back soon with another in-depth review.

BATMAN 66 FEATURES

The Batman 66 flyer

Stern Pinball today finally announced details of their upcoming Batman game based on the original TV series rather than any of the numerous big screen variants, and they have brought in the original Batman, Adam West, to voice it.

The new Batman 66 game is named after the year when the TV series first aired on the US network ABC. That makes it 50 years old, and the game is being released to coincide with Stern’s own 30th anniversary year.

The Batman '66 flyer
The Batman 66 flyer

This is a landmark game for Stern in several ways.

To start with, it will be the first game to feature a full-colour LCD display instead of the traditional single-colour dot-matix display. The LCD display has been in development for several years and is expected to also herald the arrival of the Spike2 control board with more memory and processing power to drive the display.

Stern game have had LCD displays before of course. Whoa Nellie! – Big Juicy Melons has a less than big and juicy display built into the apron, while WWE Wrestlemania’s LE and Premium models had a more impressive panel showing wrestling clips. Ghostbusters LE and Premium also had a small LCD for the Ecto-Goggles feature, but this is expected to mark the end of the DMD panel for all but Vault Edition releases.

Not content with one LCD, Stern have also added a second smaller panel on the playfield for Batman 66.

This emphasises the point that this is not a simple re-branding of Stern’s 2008 Batman – The Dark Knight game in the same way the recent Spider-Man Vault Edition remake was re-branded by applying comic book artwork and characters to Steve Ritchie’s original design.

The Batman 66 will keep the crane toy from George Gomez’s Dark Knight design but other areas of the playfield will be changed.

Also new is how Batman 66 is squarely aimed at collectors rather than operators. In fact there will be no Pro level game at all, with only Premium, Limited Edition, and a new Super-LE to wring even more cash out of uber-collectors.

240 LEs will be available, each one requiring a $2,000 deposit now. An unlimited number of Premiums can be built, but a $500 deposit is needed to get Stern to actually send one of them down the production line.

30 Super-LEs can only be bought by invitation, although it’s not clear who will be invited or who will be inviting them.

The existence of the Batman 66 game has been known for some months and it was confirmed when Stern announced their Epic 30th Anniversary Extravaganza party during Pinball Expo in October. Entry to a special VIP meet-and-greet with Adam West and a Batmobile was said to only be open to buyers of the Batman 66 game, although no details were known about the game at that time.

The final point of interest is how Batman 66 is being produced with Ka-Pow Pinball which is a new company set up by Gary Stern’s former partner at Data East and Sega Pinball, Joe Kaminkow.

Gary Stern and Joe Kaminkow
Gary Stern and Joe Kaminkow

Head of Raw Thrills, Eugene Jarvis, is also apparently working on the game alongside George Gomez and Lyman Sheats from Stern.

Eugene Jarvis
Eugene Jarvis

Batman 66 is expected to be available in November and we’ll bring you all the latest details and pictures of the new game just as soon as we get them.

BATMAN 66 CONFIRMED

Having previously announced the existence of the Batman 66 game, Stern Pinball has now given more details of the features along with the prices for the three models.

The new Stern Pinball Batman 66 game
The new Stern Pinball Batman 66 game

Let’s start with the details.

We already knew how the original Batman – Adam West – would be voicing the game, but the original Robin – Burt Ward – is also part of this special game.

As we predicted, the new Spike-2 board is needed to drive the LCD score display and on-playfield monitor, and thus makes its debut on Batman 66.

It’s not clear what role Joe Kaminkow or his new company Ka-Pow Pinball plays in this game. Stern only says that the Batman 66 model was ‘inspired’ by him, even though it is designed by George Gomez and programmed by Lyman Sheats.

We previously reported how there would only be Premium, Limited Edition and Super-LE models of Batman 66 available, with the focus clearly on the home collector market. That has been confirmed with news that the 240 Limited Edition models will be split in two, with the first 120 named after episodes of the TV series and the second 120 named after the many ‘Bat Gadgets’ featured in the show.

The 30 Super LEs are available by invitation only, with potential applicants required to jump through a series of hoops, such as submitting a video showing why they should be considered and being contractually obliged not to sell the game for at least six months.

Stern were clearly milking this title for every last drop they can wring out of collectors, and that appears to be fully confirmed by the prices for the three models.

The unlimited-run Premium costs the same as the most expensive previous Limited Edition models at $8,599.

The 240 Limited Editions just scrape in under the $10K barrier at $9,999.

The Super-LE meanwhile shamelessly tries to cash-in with a price tag of $14,999 for the 30 machines available and the opportunity to meet Adam West at a special ‘VIP’ party during Pinball Expo in October.

Here’s how Stern announced their Batman 66 game:

Stern Pinball in Collaboration with Ka-Pow Pinball Celebrates 30 Years in Business with Release of Batman ‘66 Pinball Game!

Holy Golden Anniversary, Iconic Batman TV Show Turns 50!

ELK GROVE VILLAGE, IL – September 15, 2016 – Stern Pinball, Inc., the world’s oldest and largest producer of arcade-quality pinball machines, proudly announced today the availability of its highly anticipated Batman ‘66 Anniversary Edition pinball machine.

Stern Pinball is celebrating its 30th year in business and the 50th anniversary of the iconic American TV series with an Anniversary Edition pinball machine featuring the world famous “Dynamic Duo” of Batman and Robin. The game will immerse players in campy fun and heart-pounding action as the crime fighting Dynamic Duo comes to the aid of the Gotham City Police. Throughout the game, Batman and Robin work to deduce clues and discover super villain plots in an effort to thwart evil plans and capture bad guys. Players are guided through the game by the voices of none other than the original Batman and Robin, Adam West and Burt Ward.

A Hall of Fame pinball development team created the all new Anniversary Edition machine. The project was inspired by Joe Kaminkow of Ka-Pow Pinball and spearheaded by Stern Pinball product development chief, George Gomez, who, along with renowned programmer, Lyman Sheats, brought the game to life.

In addition to the fun title and game experience, the machine features a full color high definition display replacing the dot matrix display. In conjunction with Stern’s new SPIKE-2 electronic pinball platform, the display enables high definition graphics and innovative animations. This enables the game to feature actual TV footage from the iconic series. The game includes a second high definition display on the playfield as part of an interactive game feature.

“We are very proud to celebrate our 30th year in business by making a 50th anniversary Batman ‘66 game in collaboration with our good friend, Joe Kaminkow. Joe, who was instrumental in starting Stern Pinball 30 years ago and served as our company’s very first game designer, is now one of the gaming industry’s leaders,” said Gary Stern, Chairman and CEO of Stern Pinball, Inc.

Pricing and Availability:

The Batman ‘66 Anniversary Edition pinball machine will be available in Premium, Limited Edition, and Super Limited Edition models. The company has no current plans to produce a Pro model.

In celebration of Stern Pinball’s 30th anniversary and Batman’s 50th anniversary, Stern Pinball will build a Super Limited Edition model. The Super Limited Edition model also includes a one-of-kind art package plus multiple translites, a unique included topper and accessories package, and a high-fidelity 3-channel audio system that is three times more powerful than audio systems of previous generations. The Super Limited Edition model will be allocated by invitation and through an application process open to pinball collectors. Collectors can apply for a Super Limited Edition model by completing and submitting an application located at www.Batman66Application.com. Applications are due by 11:59 pm CST on September 30, 2016.

The Limited Edition model will be offered in two series of 120 games each. Each game in the first series will be named for one of the 120 episodes of the television show. Each game in the second series will be named for one of the iconic “bat gadgets” used in the series. In total, only 240 Limited Edition machines will be produced.

All purchasers who make a deposit on their game will also receive a VIP invitation to an exclusive “meet and greet” with Batman (Adam West) at the Westin Chicago North Shore Hotel in Wheeling, Illinois during the weekend of Chicago’s Pinball Expo.

Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price:

Premium Model: $US 8,599
Limited Edition Model: $US 9,999
Super Limited Edition Model: $US 14,999

The Premium and Limited Edition models of the Batman ‘66 Anniversary Edition pinball game will be available through authorized Stern Pinball distributors and dealers around the world. Please contact your distributor or dealer for more information. The Super Limited Edition model will be available direct from Stern Pinball.

About Stern Pinball, Inc.

Stern Pinball, Inc., headquartered just outside Chicago, Illinois, is the oldest and largest producer of arcade-quality pinball games in the world. Stern’s highly talented creative and technical teams design, engineer and manufacture a full line of popular pinball games, merchandise and accessories. Recent Stern titles include Ghostbusters, Spider-Man Vault Edition, Game of Thrones, KISS, WWE WrestleMania, The Walking Dead, Mustang, Star Trek, Metallica, The Avengers, X-Men, AC/DC, Tron, Transformers, Avatar, Iron Man and many more! All of Stern’s pinball games are crafted by hand and assembled by Stern’s expert team. A broad range of players enjoy Stern’s games from professional pinball players that compete in high-stakes international competitions around the globe to novice players who are discovering the allure of the silver ball for the first time. To join the fun and learn more, please visit http://www.sternpinball.com.

All trademarks and product names are the property of their respective companies.

 

THE PABST CAN CRUSHER

The Pabst Can Crusher by Stern Pinball

Stern Pinball today announced a special re-themed version of the WhizBang Pinball’s Whoa Nellie! Big Juicy Melons game.

The new The Pabst Can Crusher game is themed on the iconic Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) beer, and Pabst will be promoting the game at a number of their merchandising and sponsored events.

The Pabst Can Crusher backglass
The Pabst Can Crusher backglass

The game features all-new artwork by Dirty Donny Gillies featuring a typically highly-stylised design and many cameos, such as the band Red Fang who provide the music for the new game.

The Pabst Can Crusher also eschews the weathered wooden cabinet and legs in favour of a more modern design. However, it retains the score reels, backglass light indicators and the electromechanical essence of Big Juicy Melons.

The cabinet shape is also retained from the WhizBang game.

Left cabinet side
Left cabinet side
The front of the game
Right backbox side
Right backbox side
Right backbox side

The playfield design is unchanged from Big Juicy Melons but the artwork is as busy and colourful as the backglass image.

Can Crusher's playfield
Can Crusher’s playfield
The top of the playfield
The top of the playfield
The top of the playfield
The top of the playfield
The bottom left of the playfield
The bottom left of the playfield

Stern Pinball have not announced whether The Pabst Can Crusher will be available for retail sale, and if so whether it will be sold through Stern’s regular distribution channels. Nor have they revealed how many Can Crusher machines will be made or any potential price point.

The bottom right of the playfield
The bottom right of the playfield

Here’s what Stern Pinball had to say about the game, although the announcement appears to be credited to Pabst Brewing Company instead.

ELK GROVE VILLAGE, IL – July 13, 2016 – The Pabst Brewing Company, makers of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer (“PBR”), today proudly announced the debut of its new PBR-Themed “Can Crusher” pinball machine.

The new PBR machine will make its debut at Comic-Con International in San Diego on July 21st through July 24th at booth 501. The game was developed in partnership with Stern Pinball, Inc., the world’s oldest and largest producer of arcade-quality pinball machines

The “Can Crusher” pinball machine captures the iconic nature of the PBR brand with a retro game design,dynamic eye-popping art by artist and pinball phenomenon Dirty Donny Gillies and music by hard-hitting heavy metal band RED FANG.

The debut of this machine will not stop with its arrival at Comic-Con. Following Comic-Con, PBR will showcase the exclusive machine at several other venues including concerts, barcades, high profile events, and other community activities.

“To partner with Stern Pinball on the ‘Can Crusher’ and have a superstar artist like Dirty Donny and music from Red Fang was exactly what we set out to do when we wanted to make a pinball machine the PBR way. The game does a great job of capturing the essence of our brand,” said Pabst CMO Dan McHugh.

About Pabst Brewing Company

With over 30 beers in our portfolio, Pabst Brewing Company is the largest American-owned brewery. Since 1844, we’ve taken pride in brewing beers that have become iconic, cherished American brands. Brands that promote regional pride, and brands that express common bonds amongst people all over the world.

Pabst is honored to be part of so many lives. We work tirelessly to provide worthy products and memorable experiences in local communities. Loyalty is hard to come by these days. Being your beer of choice is a great privilege, which is why we deliver nothing less than award-winning taste and quality.

Trust your good times to Pabst. http://pabstbrewingco.com

About Stern Pinball, Inc.

Stern Pinball, Inc., headquartered just outside Chicago, Illinois, is the oldest and largest producer of arcade-quality pinball games in the world. Stern’s highly talented creative and technical teams design, engineer and manufacture a full line of popular pinball games, merchandise and accessories. Recent Stern titles include Ghostbusters, Spider-Man Vault, Game of Thrones, KISS, WWE WrestleMania, The Walking Dead, Mustang, Star Trek, Metallica, The Avengers, X-Men, AC/DC, Tron, Transformers, Avatar, Iron Man, Batman, and many more! All of Stern’s pinball games are crafted by hand and assembled by Stern’s expert team. A broad range of players enjoy Stern’s games from professional pinball players that compete in high-stakes international competitions around the globe to novice players who are discovering the allure of the silver ball for the first time. To join the fun and learn more, please visit http://www.sternpinball.com/

 

The central playfield area
The central playfield area

We’ll have all the latest news about The Pabst Can Crusher right here at Pinball News.