ART & SCIENCE OF PINBALL EXHIBITION

We have reported on a number of pinball exhibitions in the past, but a new one has recent opened at the Chabot Space & Science Center in Northern California. Scott Horton tells us about it.

The science, engineering, design, whimsy and style covering nearly 200 years of the evolution of pinball will be featured in a new exhibition through September 24, 2017 at Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland, CA.

The Art & Science of Pinball Exhibition
The Art & Science of Pinball Exhibition

Co-curated by Michael Schiess and Melissa Harmon of the Pacific Pinball Museum in Alameda, The Art and Science of Pinball careens from bagatelle boards to the sophisticated contemporary machines.

Thirty-five pinball machines – the public can play all but two of them – are featured, from Parlor Bagatelle and Surf Queens, early flipperless games, all the way to the Hobbit from 2016. In addition, two see-through machine, models and diagrams that de-mystify and explain how the machines work and a full complement of public activities and programs will be presented through the exhibition run.

Thirty-three pinballs at the exhibition are available to play
Thirty-three pinballs at the exhibition are available to play

During the exhibition, Chabot Space & Science Center will be energized with the sounds of bells, buzzers and bumpers as pinball machines old and new fill the space and the public can enjoy an adrenaline rush learning about science in a completely new, interactive way. Pinball’s compelling mix of skill and chance together with increasingly ingenious and complex designs, engineering, science and art have made it enduringly popular for two centuries.

Some of the exhibits demonstrating the science of pinball
Some of the exhibits demonstrating the science of pinball

The Art and Science of Pinball unpacks the historical roots and the science and art behind the gravity-defying game using a selection of machines the public can actually play and learn about.

Score and credit reels explained
Score and credit reels explained

“Pinball is an amazing American art form, interactive kinetic art that is pay to play,” says exhibition co-curator Michael Schiess. “Its aesthetics are rooted in attraction and distraction as an attempt to remove coins from the pockets of what started out as a predominately male audience.  At first, the bright colors, flashing lights, bells, chimes and wild action of the ball zipping around the playfield brings an excitement to the player. Slowly, you realize the thing that enticed you to put a coin in and try your skill and luck is designed to distract and impede your abilities. But it does it in such a fun, entertaining way you don’t even care.”

Seeing how the game functions with the Visible Pinball
Seeing how the game functions with the Visible Pinball

Co-curator Melissa Harmon adds, “The Art and Science of Pinball tells stories on many levels.   Visitors view the fun and fantasy shown in the art, leading them to think creatively about the social situations at the time the machine was made.  They have a scientific vision of how pinball mechanisms evolved from pins in a board, and complexity grew over the last century. Then the visitor becomes a player and makes his or her own flashy combinations of silver ball magic!  The Chabot Space and Science Center is a great place for this exhibit, extending people’s imaginations from gaming into the final frontier, outer space.”

The exhibition runs until September 24th
The exhibition runs until September 24th

For information on the The Art and Science of Pinball exhibition visit www.chabotspace.org.

STERN APPOINTS NEW CONSUMER SALES POSITION

Stern Pinball

In recognition of the large and growing importance of sales of machines and merchandise to home buyers, Stern Pinball has made a new appointment to the post of Director of Consumer Sales.

Erik Gilly, the former US Sales Manager for Bandai-Namco with responsibility for contracts with Dave & Buster’s and Chuck-E-Cheese amongst others, takes up the role to promote sales of pinball machines, accessories and merchandise.

Erik Gilly
Erik Gilly

He will also be looking to grow the US network of Stern Pinball dealers, pushing the company’s products into new area.

Here’s how Stern Pinball made the announcement.

Stern Pinball Announces The Hiring of Erik Gilly New Director of Consumer Sales

Elk Grove Village, IL – May 22, 2017 – Stern Pinball, Inc., the world’s oldest and largest producer of arcade-quality pinball machines, announced today the hiring of Erik Gilly Director of Consumer Sales.

Erik most recently worked for Bandai Namco Entertainment where he served as U.S. Sales Manager since October 2012. Erik was accountable for managing a sales portfolio that included Dave and Buster’s, Chuck E Cheese, and other National Accounts.

Erik will lead SPI in expanding its rapidly growing U.S. dealer market while focusing on growing the Stern brand portfolio including pinball machines, merchandise, and accessories.

Erik is a great fit for Stern and has an industry background rooted in interactive gaming. Erik also shares our vision for Everything Pinball,” said John Buscaglia, Chief Revenue Officer of 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 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 ‘66, Ghostbusters, Game of Thrones, WWE WrestleMania, The Walking Dead, Mustang, Star Trek, Metallica, The Avengers, X-Men, Tron, Transformers, Avatar, Iron Man, Batman, Spider-Man 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.

ANDREW HEIGHWAY STEPS DOWN FROM HEIGHWAY PINBALL

Andrew Heighway of Heighway Pinball

Almost five years since first announcing his plans to set up a pinball manufacturing business, Andrew Heighway is to stand down from leadership of the company he established.

The Heighway Pinball logo
The Heighway Pinball logo

Heighway Pinball was an established business operating and trading pinball machines before Andrew took the decision to tackle the lack of choice for operators looking for an attractive, affordable and full-featured game to place on location.

Andrew Heighway when he announced his plans
Andrew Heighway when he announced his plans

Pinball News broke the news in July 2012 of his plans to set up a pinball manufacturing business, but as with Magic Girl and Capt. Nemo, five years seems to be the make-or-break point for new pinball ventures. 2017 saw all the Capt. Nemo machines delivered and some semblance of a Magic Girl manufactured and made available to original buyers. Five years is also the point where Heighway Pinball sees a change of leadership.

In those five years, Andrew built up a manufacturing facility in Merthyr Tydfill in South Wales and built the 250 Bacardi Baffle Ball games to a very tight timescale.

The original Heighway Pinball factory in Merthyr Tydfill
The original Heighway Pinball factory in Merthyr Tydfill

The Bacardi Baffle Ball games
The Bacardi Baffle Ball games

He also announced the Circe’s Animal House game, re-themed it to Full Throttle after taking on board potential buyers’ feedback, and built the game – the first production pinball with both a playfield and backbox LCD.

Full Throttle
Full Throttle

From the start, the focus was on keeping manufacturing costs low. Development grants and other commercial assistance allowed Heighway Pinball to set up and kit out the factory using a mix of manufacturing kit bought at auctions and ex-demonstration devices.

The first Heighway Pinball factory
The first Heighway Pinball factory

Pretty soon the company outgrew its original premises and moved across the street to a pair of units which, while providing much more space, ultimately proved too large and costly.

In a quest for a manufacturing home which was large enough but not too large, had more modern facilities and provided an attractive relocation package, the company moved from Merthyr Tydfil to its current home on an industrial estate in Ebbw Vale.

The current Heighway Pinball factory
The current Heighway Pinball factory

While Full Throttle was highly-regarded by those who bought or played it, sales were modest. What really excited buyers was the company’s second full title and their first licensed theme, Alien Pinball.

However, pinball manufacturing – especially in the early years – need to be a lean business. With minimal income from sales of the initial title, much of the development and building – both of the company and the machines – for the second and future titles needs to be done on a shoestring, helped along by favours and promises.

But that goodwill and the assorted start-up discounts can only go so far, and so in order to keep the business running, paying wages and paying suppliers for parts, a number of investors were brought in. Five major investors and several smaller ones provided financing to Heighway Pinball, following Andrew to pinball shows in Europe and the US to see how the company and its products were received.

All the investors were owners of other companies with a love of pinball who saw, in Heighway Pinball, the opportunity to help the company and the market grow by producing high-quality full-featured games of a kind not currently available.

However, despite the number of investors with a stake in the business, the running of the company stayed with Andrew.

We’ve covered why ‘Making Pinball is Hard‘ before, but besides being hard it is also costly. Delays in receiving parts of an acceptable quality, asset clearance from licensors and training staff all lead to increased costs, and with minimal sales of existing products, manufacturers can be excused for relying on pre-order money to finance ongoing development.

When extended delays means all that pre-order money is used up, there nothing left in the bank to buy the parts needed to actually build the games. Without those up-front funds, parts have to be bought in small quantities, and buying parts by the dozen costs significantly more per unit than buying them by the thousand, pushing up costs further.

The frustration of being unable to produce the game wanted in the quantities needed also leads to increased stress taking its toll throughout the business, and especially on the guy in charge.

It’s a downward spiral which can only really be escaped with another large injection of capital to build the games on a grander scale at reduced cost, and bring in many more sales.

There’s no doubt Alien Pinball is an excellent game, with an appealing layout, art, sounds and display effects, with the potential to sell by the thousand, if only they could be built by the thousand.

Andrew Heighway with Full Throttle and Alien
Andrew Heighway with Full Throttle and Alien

The investors can see that potential and have agreed to make another sizeable injection of capital into the company. The big caveat, though, is that they want to use their combined business skills to run the company their way, not Andrew’s way.

Pinball News has spoken to some of the major investors in Heighway Pinball and it is clear they see a bright future for the company, but believe it needs a kick-start with new management at the helm to push production forward, resolve outstanding issues with the games, rebuild relationships with suppliers and distributors, and deliver games at a much-increased rate.

So, Andrew has agreed to stand down from running the business which bears his name and which he founded back in 2012. While exact terms are still being ironed-out and he may do some consultancy work for the firm, the major investors have been working together use their combined business experience and skills to push Heighway Pinball forward.

Looking ahead, the future of Alien Pinball and the next few titles in the Heighway Pinball pipeline look far more assured. In the short term one of the major investors is likely to spearhead the changes, but the search is on for a new leader to push ahead with product development, promote the company and its products, and be the public face of Heighway Pinball.

For pre-orderers of Alien Pinball and anyone looking to buy one the message is clear – expect some rapid movement over next few weeks to ramp up production and deliver fully-functioning games. Parts orders are going in now, existing bottlenecks are being overcome, and there is a concerted effort to not just throw more money into the company, but utilise all available skills to accelerate the company’s growth.

Meanwhile, the company continues without the man whose passion for pinball was the driving force behind the establishment of Heighway Pinball as a manufacturer and who put his heart and soul into creating hugely playable games which could bring operators back to a game they may have previously written-off.


UPDATE:

Just under two weeks after we published the report above, Andrew made this posting to Facebook.

Just over five years have passed since I started Heighway Pinball Limited in my home garage. Now, the company has grown to be a multinational business with customers spread throughout the globe.

The company has faced many challenges along the way, which has culminated in our first game, Full Throttle, and our current game, Alien Pinball. I always strived to create a modern and relevant quality pinball product, with many exciting new ideas. I believe that we have fulfilled many of the goals I set for this company.

I am extremely proud of the games that we have produced. In particular, Alien Pinball is the result of tireless work, over the last three years, from a team comprising of some of the most talented and passionate pinball people I could have ever have hoped to assemble. ‘Alien’ is personally my favourite movie of all time, closely followed by ‘Aliens’. I could not be happier with the finished product and how it represents both movies.

The time has come for a change at Heighway Pinball. Substantial monies are being pumped immediately into this company by our existing investors to drive this company forward to producing hundreds of games every month within the coming months. These investors have not been actively involved in the running of the business up to this point but they bring a huge amount of pinball experience to the operating of this company. They are also very successful businessmen in their own rights. Their passion for pinball, business acumen and love of the company’s products will drive this company forwards. There are a lot of expectant customers out there who want delivery of this epic game as quickly as possible – and this is a commitment this company will now strive to deliver as soon as is possible.

As of now, I have now left Heighway Pinball and am no longer involved in any way with the company. A new management structure is already in place at the company, that is committed to delivering games to all of its customers and building the company up into becoming an important market player within the coming years. The company is being left in good hands, with the investors bringing a wealth of pinball experience into this company and everyone is committed to delivering customer games as quickly as possible.

I have not left pinball permanently – but am taking a break away from it as fresh finances and ideas drive the company forwards. I will likely still be seen at pinball/trade shows and look forward to meeting many of you again in the future.

I will no longer be contactable at andrew@heighwaypinball.com and I will not be posting here, any other pinball forums, on Facebook or on Twitter as ‘Heighway Pinball’ from now onwards.

I have met some amazing people over the last five years and would like to thank all of my customers, staff, contractors, investors, distributers and suppliers – who have shared my dream and supported myself and this company over the years. I step away from Heighway Pinball at an exciting time for the company and wish all those associated with the company all of the best for the future.

Andrew Heighway
Former CEO/Managing Director – Heighway Pinball

DIRTY DONNY’S PINBALL PUNK

AMT scale model kit company will be releasing the all new Dirty Donny’s ‘Pinball Punk!’ unassembled and unpainted resin figure kit in June 2017.

The kit includes a stand-up pinball machine with multiple graphic option decals. The figure and pinball machine when assembled is approximately 1/8 actual size.

Dirty Donny's Pinball Punk! resin kit
Dirty Donny’s Pinball Punk! resin kit

As Pinball News readers may recall, Dirty Donny (Gillies) has done backglass and playfield art for several games including the recently released Pabst Blue Ribbon Can Crusher, Aerosmith and Metallica, all produced by Stern Pinball.

Dirty Donny has collaborated with AMT in the design of other model kits including the Vantasy and Dirty Donny’s Super Bee. Suggested Retail Price (USA) $34.99.

AMT is a registered trade mark of Round 2 LLC, 4073 Meghan Beeler Court, South Bend, Indiana 46628, USA.

WELCOME TO THE NEW LOOK PINBALL NEWS

Hello, and welcome to this new look Pinball News.

Since it was founded at the end of 1999, the design of the Pinball News site has been largely unchanged.  However, in the nearly eighteen years since, a lot has changed in web technology, browser performance, internet availability and reader expectations.

The old Pinball News website
The old Pinball News website

The website has remained largely static HTML pages all that time which has made it very fast to load and easy to add to – both new articles and new layouts – but with nearly 2,000 web pages and 30,000 images it has become rather unweildy to manage by hand.  In addition, with more readers using mobile devices to view the site, a more responsive layout which adapts to the display size, shape and resolution was needed.  It has also become difficult to add new features without going back and modifying all those old pages.

While there are several technologies available to help with these problems, we settled on the WordPress platform.  It’s a very common system so there are lots of nice themes and useful plug-ins available to add things like calendars, response forms, article comments, user ratings and content management.  It’s also free to use with our existing web host, so we could set everything up in parallel with the previous site and port things across.

That said, with so many articles which have to be remade in the new layout it’s not going to be a quick transition, so please bear with us as we move more and more over.  We’ll keep the old site live until every last article has been converted to make sure you don’t lose anything, although once this new site is fully functional we will only add new articles to this new site.  But those new articles will feature bigger, sharper pictures and videos with more little helpers to navigate the site.

The new Pinball News website
The new Pinball News website

We have listed some of the new features below in more detail if you’d like to find out more about them.

We hope you like the new look. 

We’ve tried to keep the key features which made Pinball News attractive – a clean and spacious look, no annoying adverts or pop-ups, and a focus on the content rather than the delivery method – while adding some nice new features such as the next Diary events right there on the front page along with a much improved search facility, a way to send us a message and the abilty to comment on every page.  We have a number of new tricks up our sleeves too, including high-resolution photo and video galleries to help us tell the stories in a better and more entertaining way.

We’re still Pinball News, we’re still First and Free, and now we can give you a bigger and better Pinball News experience.

 

NEW FEATURES IN MORE DETAILS

This section will look at some of the new ways to interact with the Pinball News site.  The examples are from the desktop version, but many also apply to the mobile version of the site.

Let’s start with the basics.


FRONT PAGE

To get back to the front page at any time, click the Pinball News logo at the top of each page.

Pinball News

If you have scrolled down a page so that the logo is no longer visible, a small blue arrow will appear in the bottom right corner to take you staight back to the top.

Back to the top arrow

Below the logo is the menu bar.

New website menu bar

This is your direct access to each category of article.  Some (such as NEWS, SHOWS and GAMES) have multiple articles – indicated by a small arrow to the right – while others (such as DIARY, DIRECTORY and LINKS)  just go to a single page of information.

The menu category names should be self-explanatory and follow those found on the old Pinball News site.

If you hover your pointer over one of the categories with an arrow, a preview of the five most recent reports in that category pops up, allowing you quick access to these.

New website menu previews

You can click on any of the five previews to go to that report, or if you then click on the category name you go to a full page of report previews.

Incidentally, all categories are colour-coded.  Shows are blue, News is red, Sites is green and so on.  Various elements on the page recolour depending on the current category.

Below the menu, the page splits in two.

The left two-thirds shows details of the ten newest articles on the site in all categories. To explore older articles, there are buttons at the bottom to go through further sets of ten articles.

Front page extra pages

The right third of the page contains the sidebar.  This appears on almost every page and contains a number of useful gadgets.

New website sidebar

At the top of the sidebar is a miniature version of the Diary, showing the next few upcoming pinball events.  You can hover over any for a pop-up preview of the event, click on any for more details, or there is a link to go directly to the Diary page where you can see all upcoming events.

Below the Diary preview is a list of the five most recent articles on the Pinball News site so you can catch up on them without having to go back to the front page each time.

Then comes a sign-up box for the Update newsletters, followed by a search box and a contact form where you can easily send us a quick message.

 

ARTICLE PAGES

Most pages feature a representative image at the top over which the title is printed.  Apart from the title, there are also some useful links, such as a so-called ‘Breadcrumb Trail’ which shows you where in the website this article lives and allows you to click on any level to go straight there, details about who wrote it and when it was published with links to the author’s biography, and an approximate guide to how long it will take to read.

Top image details

Next to those are buttons and counters for comments on this article, a button the like this article along with the current number of likes, and the number of times it has been viewed.

As you start reading an article and scroll down, the menu bar will ‘float’ up to the top of the page and remain there.  Incidentally, as you read through an article, a thin progress bar appears at the very bottom of the page so you can see how much more is left to read.

There are more interesting controls at the bottom of each article.

Clicking on any of the Tags shows articles sharing the same tags.

You can share the current article directly on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest with their dedicated buttons.

There are links to the previous and next articles, by publication date and time.

Articles with some related elements such as tags are shown next, along with a preview image.

Finally, you can comment on any article by clicking the button, typing your message and submitting it.

There are tons more new features – we could write pages about just the new Diary, for instance – but we’ve covered the basic ways to navigate the Pinball News site. 

Feel free to try it out, hover over or click things and see what happens.

After all, that’s what we do. 🙂

KINGS & QUEENS: PINBALL, IMAGISTS & CHICAGO

Thunderball artwork

An exhibition that begs the question ‘Is Pinball a Legitimate Art Form?

In recent years, there have been several art exhibitions in the greater Chicago area that have attempted to tell the story of how pinball, art and Chicago are interwoven. I feel none have done as complete and easily-absorbed presentation as the current showing of Kings & Queens: Pinball, Imagists and Chicago at the Elmhurst Art Museum.

The exhibit’s Curator, New York’s Dan Nadel, has studied and written books and articles on the Hairy Who Chicago Imagist artist’s collective which have many works displayed in this exhibition.

Dan is also the co-editor of The Comics Journal and has published essays and critiques in such publications as The Washington Post, Frieze and Bookforum. Dan has curated past exhibitions presenting psychedelic and alternative art collections for museums in New York, Los Angeles and Lucerne, Switzerland.

Kings & Queens: Pinball, Imagists and Chicago has three elements of interest for the Pinball News reader.

Pinball

The exhibition has sixteen classic games loaned to the museum by Jim Schelberg, Logan Arcade, Scott Sheridan, Mark Weyna, Sharon Paschke, Vince Giovannone and Steven Malach. These games are intended to not only be viewed as works of ‘visual’ art, but also played as ‘interactive’ art that flashes, makes sounds and captures the visitor’s imagination.

Five of the sixteen games at the exhibition
Five of the sixteen games at the exhibition

Games from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s are represented;

  • Gottlieb’s Kings and Queens, Atlantis, Sheriff, Duotron and Expressway
Gottlieb's Sheriff heads this block of machines
Gottlieb’s Sheriff heads this block of machines
  • Bally’s Fireball, Old Chicago and Nip-It
Bally's Nip-It
Bally’s Nip-It
Bally's Nip-It
Bally’s Nip-It
  • Williams’ Apollo, Black Knight, Black Knight 2000, Blackout, Time Warp, Firepower, Gorgar and Spanish Eyes
Williams' Gorgar, Black Knight 2000 and Apollo
Williams’ Gorgar, Black Knight 2000 and Apollo
Atlantis, Fireball and Black Knight
Atlantis, Fireball and Black Knight
The exhibition's title game
The exhibition’s title game

It is worth noting that Elmhurst was the spiritual ‘home’ of D. Gottlieb and Co. who in the 1960s-1970s produced pinball machines considered to be the ‘Cadillac’ of pinball games.

Imagists (Art)

In the main exhibition gallery alongside the Williams Blackout game is the original oil on canvas Blackout (1980) proposal for the game’s backglass, designed and painted by Ed Paschke who, of course, was well-known in the Chicago Imagist art scene and had his works featured in Playboy magazine and, for a number of years, in the first floor windows of the Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company department store.

The Blackout game and proposed backglass artwork
The Blackout game and proposed backglass artwork

Ed’s proposal for Blackout was deemed to be too ‘far out’ by Williams executives and it was adjusted in collaboration with frequent collaborator Constantino Mitchell to bring it a little closer to a normal pinball style of artwork.

Ed Paschke Blackout artwork
Ed Paschke Blackout artwork
The backglass artwork used in the game
The backglass artwork used in the game

The exhibition shows a number of Paschke’s works such as Cobmaster, Chicaucus, Hairy Shoes, and Green Ava. Mitchell is also represented in the exhibition with his acrylics Deadly Weapon, Female Thunderball, Robo-War backglass and Thunderball backglass.

Constantino Mitchell's Thunderball
Constantino Mitchell’s Thunderball
Another Thunderball
Another Thunderball
Robo War is a featured artwork
Constantino Mitchell’s Robo-War is a featured artwork

The last pinball collaboration by Paschke and Mitchell would be the backglass for Gottlieb’s Bad Girls (1988).

Any exhibition of Chicago Imagist art would be incomplete without at least some of the works of Barbara Rossi, Christina Ramberg, Ed Flood, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Karl Wirsum, Roger Brown, Ray Yoshida and Suellen Rocca.

Karl Wirsum's Zing Zing Zip Zip
Karl Wirsum’s Zing Zing Zip Zip
More Chicago Imagists works
More Chicago Imagists works
More Chicago Imagists works
More Chicago Imagists works
Another Chicago Imagist piece
Another Chicago Imagist piece
Ed Flood's Silver Crown
Ed Flood’s Silver Crown

Elmhurst Art Museum comes through with high marks by showing some of the most iconic works from these artists including Wirsum’s Click (1971) and Nutt’s Officer Doodit (1968) which have become larger than life examples of the Chicago Imagist style.


Chicago

If pinball wasn’t invented in Chicago, the so called ‘second city’ has become pinball’s center of gravity and where it has achieved its pop culture status.

An impressive number of pinball’s classic manufacturers such as Bally, Williams, Gottlieb, Data East, and Chicago Coin as well as many of pinball’s best recognized personalities such as engineer Jim Shird, author-historian Roger C. Sharpe and artist Greg Freres have at one time called Chicago their home city. Stern Pinball, probably the largest pinball company in the world, designs and produces new games in Chicago to this day.

Many reasons exist for this, such as the large graphic arts community found in Chicago’s advertising agencies and the Chicago art collectives such as the Hairy Who and and other self-described artistic outsiders drawing (no pun intended!) inspiration from comic books, carnivals and arcades.

The presence of such incubators as the School of the Chicago Art Institute, Northwestern University, The Chicago Cultural Center, and the Whitney Museum of American Art (to name but a few) each made significant contributions to the pinball-friendly climate in Chicago.

During the early 1930s when pinball was beginning to become popular in America, Chicago was becoming known as a capitol of ‘adult’ entertainment. This rubbed off on pinball possibly in error and possibly not. Many pinball games in Chicago were in fact owned and operated by ‘gangsters’; as many cash-based businesses were in those days.

Likely because of pinball’s ties to the mob, mayors of cities such as Chicago, New York and Los Angeles came to the conclusion that pinball was a form of gambling rather than an entertaining game of skill. Former New York mayor LaGuardia even went so far as to label pinball as a ‘tool from the devil’.


Coda

Elmhurst Art Museum’s Kings & Queens: Pinball, Imagists and Chicago blends and ferments these three elements into a brew worthy of the latest frothy yellow refreshment from Two Brothers Brewing in Warrenville, IL.

By coincidence or design, Two Brothers Brewing supplied samples of their new craft brewed American Pale Ale Pinball for the opening night of Kings & Queens: Pinball, Imagists and Chicago on February 24th. I’m sure that you are thinking that Martin sent me to cover the exhibition because there was beer, and you’d be half right.

The launch party for the exhibition
The launch party for the exhibition

In addition to the exhibition itself, Elmhurst Art Museum has planned these events as an enhancement and extension of it:

18th March at 1:30pmKings & Queens: Pinball, Imagists and Chicago and Elmhurst College collection highlights tour with Suellen Rocca.

31st March at 6pm – Documentary film screening of Hairy Who and the Chicago Imagists at Elmhurst College

21st April at 6pm – Talk with Suellen Rocca, Curator and Director of Exhibitions at Elmhurst College

29th April at 12pmTilt Roger Brown eyeballs popular culture. Works from 1970-1997 presented and discussed

29th April at 1:30pmKings & Queens: Pinball, Imagists and Chicago and Elmhurst College collection highlights tour with Suellen Rocca

Kings & Queens: Pinball, Imagists and Chicago runs until 7th May, 2017 at the Elmhurst Art Museum, after which a modified version will run from 19th May to 21st August, 2017 at the Illinois State Museum.

NEW PINBALL-THEMED BEER

Two Brothers Pinball pale ale

Two Brothers Artisan Brewing in Warrenville, Illinois, just launched their new pinball-themed craft beer called Pinball Juicy Hop Pale Ale.

Of course, everyone knows drinking beer goes great with playing pinball, so I am reporting on what may be the first official pinball machine themed beer. The graphics on the can feature flippers, pop bumpers and pinballs.

Pinball machine graphics on the can
Pinball machine graphics on the can

The beer is light-bodied and highly-hopped. It has a tropical and citrus fruit flavor, hoppy and sweet. The alcohol content is 5.4% by volume.

The new Pinball Juicy Hop Pale Ale
The new Pinball Juicy Hop Pale Ale

The Pinball Pale Ale is available at the Two Brothers’ three locations in the Western suburbs of Chicago and at their location in Arizona. The beer is also sold in cans in stores in about a dozen states. Check their website at twobrothersbrewing.com to find out where it is available.

Time to get lit
Time to get lit

Fans of pinball machines and hoppy, sweet craft beers should give this new beer a taste.


UPDATE

Chris Giles wrote to tell us about another pinball beer. This is from Clifford Brewing in Hamilton, Ontario in Canada.

Pinball Wizard beer from Clifford Brewing
Pinball Wizard beer from Clifford Brewing

The 5.7% American Pale Ale is described by the brewers as having, “dominant aromas of citrus, pine, and tropical fruits, paired with a smooth bitterness, and balanced with a slightly bready malt body“.

Pinball Wizard doesn’t seem to be generally available outside Ontario, but if you find it in your local craft beer outlet please let us know.

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.

PINBALL ARTWORK EXHIBITION OPENS

The Skillshot, The Collaborative Art of Pinball exhibition

A new pinball exhibition, Skillshot, The Collaborative Art of Pinball opened in downtown Chicago on September 6th and runs through November 5th.

The exhibition is at the Glass Curtain Gallery inside the Columbia College building at 1104 S. Wabash. It is open daily and admission is free. Check their website for hours of operation.

Entrance to the Glass Curtain Gallery
The entrance to the Glass Curtain Gallery
Graphics for the exhibition
Graphics for the exhibition

The exhibition’s main focus is on the artwork created for pinball machines. Various playfield and backglass artworks are on display at the gallery.

A row of various playfields
A row of various playfields
A collection of backbox art
A collection of backbox art

The development of the artwork for some recent Stern Pinball titles is featured. Quite a bit of the artwork on display is by the venerable artists and designers Stern Pinball employs, such as Greg Freres, Kevin O’Connor, Dirty Donny, Jeremy Packer and George Gomez.

Lots of Kevin O’Connor’s Kiss artwork is on display
Lots of Kevin O’Connor’s Kiss artwork is on display
Pinball artwork from Dirty Donny
Pinball artwork from Dirty Donny
A close up Dirty Donny’s Beatniks backglass
A close-up Dirty Donny’s Beatniks backglass
Artwork development for Ghostbusters
Artwork development for Ghostbusters
Add-on interior cabinet art and body armor on Ghostbusters
Add-on interior cabinet art and body armor on Ghostbusters
A drawing from George Gomez for the Monster Bash game
A drawing from George Gomez for the Monster Bash game
Prototype sculptures for some newer Stern pinballs
Prototype sculptures for some newer Stern pinballs

The exhibit curator Mark Porter and his wife Kate are both big pinball fans. Mark told me that the idea for a pinball-themed exhibition came from his personal enthusiasm for pinball machines.

Artwork from Doug Watson for Barracuda before it became Barracora
Artwork from Doug Watson for Barracuda before it became Barracora

Since this an interactive art exhibition, there are nine pinball machine exhibits available on free play. Six are recent Stern titles and three are Bally/Williams classics.

Game list:

Spider-Man Vault Edition (Stern)
The Walking Dead (Stern)
Ghostbusters (Stern)
Game of Thrones LE (Stern)
Metallica (Stern)
Kiss (Stern)
Kiss (Bally)
Sorcerer (Williams)
Dolly Parton (Bally)

 

A row of recent Stern pinballs to play
A row of recent Stern pinballs to play: Spider-Man, The Walking Dead, Ghostbusters, Game of Thrones & Metallica
More of the pinballs in the exhibit
More of the pinballs in the exhibition: Kiss, Kiss, Sorcerer and Dolly Parton

I have seen interviews with Gary Stern in which he states that the pinball industry will eventually die unless the machines are out where people can play them. It is very clever of Stern Pinball to support a pinball exhibition in a college building. There’s a large number of young people that will be exposed to the exhibits and hopefully they will see how much fun they are, and then will play pins in the future.

A wall with pinball machine diagrams and a video from the movie Tommy
A wall with pinball machine diagrams and a video from the movie ‘Tommy’

The highlight of the exhibition for me was seeing the playfield development drawings of Medieval Madness by Greg Freres. It was fascinating to see the details progress in the multiple drawings.

Medieval Madness playfield drawings from Greg Freres
Medieval Madness playfield drawings from Greg Freres

I was very happy to see that the home of pinball machines has such a nice exhibition showcasing the art of pinball.

AUDIO COMPANY TACKLES PINBALL SOUND

Improved pinball audio

Teufel Systems is a well-respected audio company based in Berlin, Germany. The have been making loudspeakers since 1979 and sell their products across Europe, but recently faced a new challenge thanks to the arrival of a pinball machine.

The firm added a Stern Kiss pinball from Pinball Universe to their break room for their employees to enjoy over lunch, but were soon looking at ways to improve the quality of the sound coming out of the machine.

While the sound quality of pinballs has improved in leaps and bounds over the past decade thanks to the low price of memory needed to store high-quality samples and the ubiquity of hi-fi multichannel audio on PC motherboards, a pinball backbox or cabinet is far from ideal when it comes to speaker enclosure design.

Teufel know about these things, and concluded the best way to improve the sound was to take the amplification and speakers out of the game entirely.

The Teufel team test various speaker options
The Teufel team test various speaker options

They tried four combinations of tweeters, mid-range speakers, subwoofers and headphones to find the best solution for a range of environments. Perhaps not surprisingly they all sounded great and were a vast improvement on the game’s built-in sound system.

Even just headphones can be a great improvement
Even just headphones can be a great improvement

You can read their suggestions for each set-up on the Teufel blog page, but even if you don’t get their high-end systems there’s plenty of food-for-thought if you want a beefier sound pumping out from your pinball games.