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.


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:
  • DO NOT FALL FOR THIS SCAM!! See 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.