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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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:
Each year, a single tournament in each of fifteen different European countries is selected as that country’s qualifying tournament for the IFPA European Championship Series (ECS). The WPPR points earned by players from each tournament are totalled and a ranking table produced.
Once all the qualifying tournaments have been played, the top 32 players automatically qualify for the ECS finals which – wherever possible – are held in a different country each year. For the final of the 2016 season we were in Germany at Pinball Universe in the snowy town of Bünde, 90km west of Hanover.
Pinball Universe has several locations across Germany, but this custom-built building is their main base, and it’s an impressive operation. From the outset it is clear that brand recognition is an important part of the business.
Their main showroom is up a flight of stairs, and this was where the free play practice area was located.
Inside the showroom visitors get to see the latest Stern Pinball machines, which on this trip included Batman 66 Premium and Aerosmith Pro. Everything in the showroom is very clean, with a counter for drinks and a seating area.
The free play area extended into a side room where a selection of Pinball Universe’s restored games were set up along with a few more interesting new games such as Pabst Can Crusher, Spider-Man home edition, Rob Zombie’s Spookshow International and Scoregasm Master.
From the balcony overlooking the ground floor you get to see some of the boxes from the Stern games in the showroom.
But you need to head to the ground level for a much better idea of the sheer number of new games Pinball Universe must have in stock.
Since we are now on the lower level, let’s take a look at some of the other rooms.
A dining area was set up which initially contained fruit, snacks and a stocked refrigerator with fruit juices, water, soft drinks and beer.
This room would be where the daily meal was served on both Saturday and Sunday.
Next door was the machine preparation area where Pinball Universe take new-in-box pinball machines and undertake their own pre-delivery checks, mods and protectors.
In the room was a Batman Limited Edition which needed some protectors added to stop the ball breaking some of them plastics.
Pinball Universe cut their own plastics in another part of the building, so it shouldn’t take long create a set of protectors for a new game.
Then we come to the two tournament areas.
The main ECS area contained 35 dot-matrix pinballs from 1991 to the present.
Out in the warehouse, another twelve recent Stern Pinball machines were set up. These would be used for the side tournament on Saturday and then for Sunday’s tournament.
The machines were:
Main ECS Tournament Area
Iron Man Vault Edition
X-Men Magneto LE
Indiana Jones (Stern)
Pirates of the Caribbean
Batman – The Dark Knight
WWE Wrestlemania LE
World Cup Soccer
Creature from the Black Lagoon
Getaway, The – High Speed 2
Attack from Mars
Side Tournament Area
Iron Man Vault Edition
Walking Dead, The Pro
Star Trek Pro
Spider-Man Vault Edition
Game of Thrones Pro
And so to the tournaments themselves.
The main ECS took place on Saturday starting at 1pm. It was scheduled to finish between midnight and 1am, but everyone suspected it might take a few hours longer.
Entry to the whole weekend cost €120 ($128/£102) which included both main tournaments, the side-tournament (if available), access to the free play areas, unlimited drinks and a buffet meal each day. Everyone taking part had to register on the ground floor in order to get their player badge and to also receive a Pinball Universe goody bag.
This goodie bag included paper pads and a pen for running tournaments, packs of mints, hair tonic, a collapsible ruler, post cards, flyers, stickers and a Millennium Falcon model kit – all items made by firms local to Pinball Universe in Bünde.
IFPA Country Director for Germany, Tobias Wagemann explained the rules to players in the showroom before everyone trooped downstairs to begin.
The format pitched pairs of players against each in a best-of-seven match. The highest-seeded player had choice of machine or position for the first game, with the loser having choice after that.
Match pairings were pre-selected and shown on a paper chart.
Once a match had been decided, the winner continued to the next stage of the chart, while the loser entered the loser bracket for a second chance at making it to the final.
Once players were relegated to the loser bracket they played a best-of-five head-to-head match to continue. The loser from the pair was out of the ECS.
All was not over though, as there was a separate side tournament for those who were eliminated and for non-ECS players who wanted to take part.
This side tournament was held on the twelve machines on the warehouse floor.
The format for the side tournament gave each player sixteen entries which they could play over and of the twelve machines, although no single machine could be played more than twice.
All the scores on each machine were ranked and ranking points awarded, with 100 for the top score, 99 for second and so on. The total points for a player’s sixteen entries gave them their overall points score, with the top eight players going into the semi-finals.
With the ECS finals also taking place at the same time, only ECS players who had been eliminated from the ECS were allowed to compete in the side tournament. Also, because of the time required to play sixteen games, only those eliminated early could hope to play all their games before the end of qualifying at 8pm.
Before that, around 5pm, food was served to all competitors. Because of the timing of our games, by the time we got to the dining area most of it had already ben consumed, but you get an idea of what was available in the pictures below.
This consisted of soups, salad, bread and a selection of cold meats. The previously seen fruit, chocolate bars and drinks were also available.
Play continued in both tournaments as soon as dinner was over, so now would be a good time to have a look around the amazing Pinball Universe facility in Bünde while Saturday’s ECS play-offs and the side tournament were under way.
Returning to the tournament areas, the main ECS tournament was gradually whittling down the number of players in the winner bracket, as more matches were completed.
Those out of the ECS or who never qualified were free to play in the side tournament.
The top eight were:
Saturday Side Tournament Qualifiers
The eight were split into two groups of four with each group playing a single game to decide which two would go through to the final.
The final four were:
Saturday Side Tournament Finalists
The final was won by Ernö who finished ahead of Gabriele in second, with Peter third and Dirk fourth.
Meanwhile, the number of players left in the main ECS tournament began to dwindle as the night continued.
The main ECS tournament later on Saturday night
As we said earlier, the main ECS finals were unlikely to finish on time, and so it proved.
With a fresh tournament to play on Sunday, we stayed until around 1am at which point there was clearly still some way to go. As it turned out, the match above between Franck and Daniele was the semi-final in the winner bracket which Daniele won.
Franck then joined the loser bracket where he played Cayle George. Cayle had had a remarkable run having lost his first round match to Olivier Renders but continuing right through the loser bracket to the final match against Franck, which he also won. That made Franck third, and Taco Wouters – who he beat in the previous winner bracket round – was fourth.
So the final was between Daniele and Cayle. Cayle needed to beat Daniele in the best-of-seven match, and even if he did that, he then had to beat him again in the final best-of-five loser bracket match.
And that’s exactly what he did. A narrow 4-3 victory in the first match was followed by a 3-0 win in the second.
Both skill and stamina were needed, since the final didn’t actually end until 8am – the latest of any tournament Pinball News has ever reported from.
In order to allow some time to recover, the trophy presentation was deferred until 1pm on Sunday, but even then Daniele was sleeping and not able to attend. The trophies were presented by Tobias in the showroom upstairs.
Sunday’s tournament was a ‘Swiss-style’ format of 16 rounds, where players are drawn against different opponents and play different machines in each round. When all rounds have been played, the eight players with the most wins went into the play-offs to decide the overall winner.
The tournament began at 10am with the announcement of the first round draw.
When a match was over, the winner returned to the computer and selected the winner. Once all matches in a round were over, the next round was drawn.
At 1pm there was a break for lunch. Again, this was included in the cost of the event, but unlike yesterday most of the food was hot. It was generally agreed that players preferred Sunday’s hot food over Saturday’s cold buffet.
With lunch over, play resumed in Sunday’s tournament’s qualifying round.
Unfortunately we had an 8pm flight to catch from Hanover which is an hour’s drive away from Bünde, so we had to leave at 5:30pm, just after round 14 of 16 had been completed.
By the end of qualifying, the standings looked like this:
Sunday Tournament Qualifying
Mirco de Marchi
The final placings for both the ECS and Sunday’s tournament are still being drawn up, so we will update this report with those as soon as we get them..
Holding the ECS at Pinball Universe was undoubtedly a success. Their selection of new and expertly restored games has to be second to none, and they have the space to hold two tournaments simultaneously while still providing an extensive free play area. In fact, the whole facility is very impressive, with around as many new-in-box machines as you are likely to see at the Stern Pinball factory.
Talking to the company owners, they tell us these machines are selling because they are creating a new, untapped market for pinballs in Germany.
That’s hugely encouraging in itself, but they are also able to provide players with a world class tournament venue which will receive its next influx of guests at the forthcoming Pinball Universe Battle at the end of March.
Flex is a bar and music club founded more than twenty years ago in the Civic Centre of Munich.
It is located in the basement of an apartment block in a street with mostly residential properties, approximately a ten-minute walk from the Thersienwiese where the Octoberfest takes place every year.
Flex is very special compared to other bars. It has a rather worn-out furniture, stickers and inscriptions everywhere, and some parts of the installation look really rubbish.
But this is also the special charm of it, and it attracts visitors of all ages and from all social classes. You can see students celebrating their birthdays, as well as a businessman coming to drink a beer and play some pinball, pool or foosball, or a local guy living next door just drinking his evening beer.
The prices are quite reasonable compared to other Munich pubs. The music is often a bit louder than in other bars and some days the tracks are chosen by a DJ sitting at the mixing desk.
The Bar owner is named Olaf and he’s a very nice guy. The same applies to his whole crew which does a great job.
Since its opening in the mid ’90s, Flex has had space for arcade games and traditionally hosted two pinball machines besides darts, pool and three foosball tables.
A few years ago the pinball machines (Elvis and Ripleys) were in very poor condition, so via a friend we contacted the owner and took over the pinball operation. Since then we have tried to keep the games at Flex in very good shape, doing frequent checks and cleans.
A few weeks ago the number of games was increased to three, as can be seen in the pictures of an Addams Family, a Roadshow and an almost new Metallica Pro.
As far as I know it is the only commercial location in Munich area where more than one pinball machine is operated.
I still remember a famous match on my 52nd birthday where Zac Sharpe and my friend Klaus battled to be the evening’s champion – each of them winning a game.
A small tournament is organised here once a year, typically around mid-summer. So if you happen to be staying in Munich for a business trip, vacation or Octoberfest, stop by and play some games while drinking an Augustiner beer at Flex.
(PS. Flex is a famous maker of angle-grinders and THE name used for these tools in Germany.)
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.
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.
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.