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!


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,


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.


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.