It’s far from a new phenomenon, but pinball has shown how it can really play a significant role in aiding the recovery and treatment of hospital patients, and in particular youngsters.
Just recently, UK pinball owner Erdinch Degirmenciogl of the Pinball Mill was able to supply a Star Trek pinball to the Young Oncology Unit at Christie Hospital in Manchester.
The Unit is run by the Teenage Cancer Trust, the chosen charity of Northern Lights Pinball who supply and run the pinball element at the Play Expo show in Manchester each year. They have worked with the Teenage Cancer Trust in previous promotions, and at the last Play Expo show the charity asked about getting a pinball into their dedicated hospital unit.
Lorraine Wright, the Teenage Cancer Trust Youth Support Coordinator at the Christie Ward, told Pinball News how they were looking for something to engage the young male patients and give then something new to occupy their mind during their hospital stay.
She said, “We recognised that something with a competitive edge generally gets their interest and David (another member of my team) suggested a pinball machine. The machine is fabulous. It is already getting lots of use and everyone seems to love it! It’s another opportunity for young people to get involved in something when they are here having their treatment – this is invaluable as it stops boredom and low mood and ultimately aids young people through their treatment.”
This is probably the first such case of pinball helping with the treatment and recovery for youngsters in the UK, but it’s a well-known aid in the US where charities such as the Pinball Outreach Project and Project Pinball as well as several individuals and pinball suppliers work closely with hospitals and support groups to leverage pinball as a therapeutic and recuperative aid.
Nicole Anne Reik-Dunlap is the founder and Executive Director of the Pinball Outreach Project and is a volunteer at Randall Children’s Hospital in Portland, Oregon. She told Pinball News how she introduced pinball into the lives of patients at the Hospital and the effect it had on them.
She said, “We had two games at the hospital for almost a year and I came up with an idea for a program called Friday Night Lights. On Friday nights I would go around to the rooms inviting patients and their families to play pinball with me. A lot of the parents were excited for an opportunity to have someone engage with their child as most of them have been staying in the hospital for long periods of time. There’s also a great physical component that allows patients to get up and out of their beds for a while. It’s a motivator for them.“
Playing pinball with their children has brought further benefits beyond the purely therapeutic ones. Nicole explained how she has seen “…parent’s having the opportunity to bond with their kids over something from their generation, something they can’t do with the video game consoles that you see at every hospital game room.”
The remedial effects are easily seen as Jessica Thompson, Child Life Specialist at Randall confirmed. She said, “Pinball provides a great opportunity for our patients and siblings, especially our older kids and teens, to engage in developmentally appropriate play, get out of their rooms and interact with peers, and forget about being ‘sick’ for a small amount of time.”
Lori Mathios from Rady’s Children’s Hospital in San Diego, California, is another beneficiary of the Pinball Outreach Project’s work. She also expressed how pinball helps both the children and their parents at such a difficult time. “The pinball machines provided a much needed diversionary for our patients and their siblings, and allowed the parents to relive their own childhoods”, she said.
So if you have a pinball you could spare and maintain, you too could change the lives of countless children at a local hospital or therapy centre. Pinball is all about having fun, and who needs fun more than children going through such an incredibly tough time?
After all, as Amber Chavez from the Cherese Mari Laulhere Child Life Department at CHOC Children’s Hospital in Orange, California explained, “Patients are able to take their minds off of being in the hospital and enjoy some quality time with their families. Thank you for making that possible and brightening up their day.”
We are back in Manchester at the EventCity exhibition complex for the annual Play Expo gaming show.
Although the show didn’t open until the next day, we were here for the set-up so we can get a preview of what’s in store for the thousands of visitors who will line up outside the following morning.
With the public entrance closed, we headed round the back to the loading bays to get in.
Heading into the main hall we found work well underway on setting up the scores of pinballs expected at the show, as well as the thousands of square metres of games of all kinds.
The organisers of the pinball zone – Northern Lights Pinball – were expecting more than 100 pinballs, and with many machines already here they were confident of reaching that target.
The newest titles were there courtesy of Pinball Heaven who had the latest offerings from Stern, Jersey Jack and Chicago Gaming, as well as some restored games.
Heighway Pinball’s Full Throttle was also here.
Before it is allowed to be played, each machine has to be tested for electrical safety (PAT tested).
There was also a nice line-up of Gottlieb solid-state machines here, including several lesser-spotted varieties.
As important as it is, the Pinball Zone is only a small part of Play Expo, so let’s have a quick look around the rest of the hall.
The Play Expo show opened to the public at 10am on Saturday, and as usual there was a large crowd queueing outside eager to get through the doors.
It didn’t take long before the aisles between the pinball machines became crowded and all the machines were occupied.
Here’s the list of free play pinballs at the show:
Free Play Machines
Addams Family, The
Addams Family, The
Batman, Dark Knight
Batman, Dark Knight
Black Knight 2000
Black Knight 2000
Bride of Pinbot – The Machine
Bride of Pinbot – The Machine
Creature from the Black Lagoon
Creature from the Black Lagoon
Dracula, Bram Stoker’s
Eight Ball Deluxe
Game of Thrones Pro
Getaway, The: High Speed 2
Guns N’ Roses
Hobbit standard, The
Indiana Jones (custom)
Indiana Jones (WMS)
Last Action Hero
Lord of the Rings, The
Lord of the Rings, The
Medieval Madness Remake
Mr. & Mrs. Pac-Man*
Pirates of the Caribbean
Popeye Saves The Earth
Revenge from Mars
Revenge from Mars
Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!
Rocky & Bullwinkle
Rolling Stones (Stern), The
Star Trek Pro
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Star Wars (DE)
Star Wars (DE)
Swords of Fury
Tag Team Pinball
Theatre of Magic
Walking Dead, The
Wizard of Oz 75th, The
Wizard of Oz standard, The
World Poker Tour
There were three competition machines amongst the mix. A Shrek was the junior high score machine, with a No Good Gofers next to it performing the same role for the adult event. A William’s Heat Wave was used for the EM Challenge, where players vied to either achieve the day’s highest score, or raise the temperature high enough to ‘Blow Your Top’ and win a cash prize.
No Good Gofers
Further into the Pinball Zone, the machines were just as popular with a few parts vendors setting up their stalls.
Jim Askey had his Hacking Lab to show a customised Stern Indiana Jones running a version of the Williams Indiana Jones rules, his replacement Stern flasher boards, custom saucers for Revenge from Mars, as well as demonstration PCBs and assorted pinball parts.
Making a return after its first outing at last year’s show was the Addams Family Challenge shock chair. Players sit in the chair and use the control handles to flip the flippers, but achieving certain objectives produces unexpected results from the chair’s lighting and sound effects, shaker motors and smoke machine.
The Northern Lights Pinball team use this event to raise money for the Teenage Cancer Trust, and the charity was well represented at the show with their own stand.
A predicted, the tombola stand was especially popular, with any ticket number ending in a 5 winning a prize. Tickets cost £1 for three, £5 for eighteen or £10 for forty.
You can take our exclusive Twelve Minute Tour of the Pinball Zone by clicking below, or by visiting the Pinball News YouTube channel.
While it was obviously our favourite bit, the Pinball Zone was a relatively small part of the overall Play Expo show.
So let’s have a quick look at some of the other stands and exhibits.
Right next door to the pinballs in other half of the Arcade Zone were the arcade video games.
Not everything needs to have a power supply to be fun. Tabletop games were a popular part of the show.
However, if you could find a power outlet…
Play Expo also featured an Education Zone, where college courses could be explored and gaming skills learned. One stand we especially appreciated was teaching visitors soldering skills – something often overlooked when everything seems to come pre-assembled with no user-fixable parts.
When it all got too much, there were several food stand at the front and back of the hall.
Needless to say, there were dozens of vendor stands selling everything from knives and swords to T-shirts, framed prints, plush toys, game discs and cartridges, retro consoles and character models.
Here are just a few of them.
You can see all the stands and gaming areas in our Twenty Nine Minute Tour video below.
And that concludes our look at Play Expo 2016 and the Northern Lights Pinball’s collection of machines. The team raised an amazing grand total of £6,950.41 for the Teenage Cancer Trust charity.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer scale of Play Expo and the number of different types of gaming on display, but at the end of the day this mantra still holds true…
The story starts a few years back during a lull at work, while partaking in a favourite pastime; scouring Ebay looking for anything and everything – things I must have, things I don’t need and things I never even knew existed.
I usually start in the pinball section of course, but then I have to scour arcade machines too. This day I came across a large wooden chair resembling something out of an American prison. Think Stephen King’s The Green Mile. The chair was non-working, only a few miles away and, most importantly, cheap.
The more I looked at the pictures, the more I knew I had to have this ex-amusement machine. I didn’t care that it was a non-working example. It was super cool in just being a chair and would look great in any gameroom environment.
Having travelled far and wide to buy pinballs, the proximity of a few miles just over the bridge was telling me to get in the car and check it out.
It was being sold by an amusement specialist who had an array of ‘bandits’, boxing machines and all sorts of other arcade goodies. Sitting in the corner, covered in dirt ‘n dust, sat ‘The Original Shocker’.
This particular example had served its time on location at Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach; well, that’s what its stickers said.
These were produced by a firm in the UK called Nova Productions. The company had gone bust, nobody fixed the circuit boards, and the story went that this chair donated its innards to help keep another game running. The chair had sacrificed itself for another. I had to have this chair.
The sellers were keen to let the Ebay auction run its course, and any cheeky offers had been quickly turned down. I went home and made by auction bid, crossed my fingers and hoped no one else wanted it.
Well, the arcade gods were on my side as not a single other bid was made, and we are talking a cheap opening price. When the auction ended the following week I won the chair, and then had to ‘fess-up at home to another crazy purchase.
The chair arrived and I placed it into deep storage at the back of my garage, under the usual knickknacks that live in everybody’s over-full garages. There had been no point turning it on as it was missing its motherboard. I thought I would do some more searching and see if I could find the missing parts, although if I was unsuccessful it still worked as a chair.
I shared my recent purchase with my friends at Northern Lights Pinball (NLP) to see if they could put out feelers to see if we could get the game back to life. I was even searching for non-working examples of the circuit boards as I have some very clever and resourceful friends.
Nothing seemed to be available. I even had a phone conversation with an operator who had three of these chairs – all in non-working condition. He didn’t have a good word to say about Nova Productions. He wished me well in my search but he wouldn’t sell me any of his non-working parts. This project could probably take some time.
At the time I also mentioned it to a programming friend a.k.a. Dr Pinball, who has had some success with his DMD Extender kit. He thought that it was quite likely that we could Raspberry Pi some life into it, but he was too busy at the moment.
Fast forward about eighteen months to 2015. The chair is still sitting in the back of my garage under even more junk and I get a text from my pinball friend Chris ‘ Poibug’ Williams. “Have you still got that electric chair?“, he asked.
The NLP think-tank had been having a meeting and were looking for novel ways to play pinball. They had already come up with playing a Flintstones using your feet on a dance mat and putting a Fish Tales side-by-side with its electronic counterpart on Pinball Arcade, with the real-world pinball played via a Playstation joypad.
“Eh? Yes Chris.“, I replied. So with a month to go before the NLP held their annual show as part of the huge Play Expo event, four pinheads met in my garage to dig out the chair and come up with a cunning plan.
Our primary objective was to hook up the chair so that it could be used to control a real pinball machine. Which pinball? Well it was obvious and agreed unanimously that The Addams Family would be the perfect choice.
The secondary objective was that it would be interactive and, most importantly, FUN!
The first night was spent stripping the chair down and removing the parts to see what we had to work with and come up with a plan to move forward.
The team consisted of me (a.k.a. Mooseman) – an electrician and generally handy-with-a-tool kinda guy, Chris (a.k.a. Poibug) who is an aircraft technician with many years of pinball repairs and service under his belt, Paul Garner (a.k.a. Wizcat) who is a computer programmer, and David Robinson (a.k.a. Dr Pinball) – also a software wizard and DMD Extender designer. We would co-opt others to help as the project continued.
A little history about this kind of amusement is probably needed around now.
The idea of the original game was to sit in a very realistic-looking ‘Old Sparky’ type of electric chair. You put your coins into the machine and then hold on to the two protruding handles which, as the game progresses, will ‘shock’ you. The longer you hold, the more you are ‘shocked’, the louder it gets, the more lights come on, the meter rises ever higher and ultimately smoke is seen rising from your head.
It’s a very visual experience. Totally non-politically-correct, but a lot of fun. The punter isn’t really shocked though – it’s just an illusion of being shocked. The handles contain vibrating motors which oscillate at ever-increasing speeds.
Now, wouldn’t it be good if we could shock the person playing The Addams Family?
Having dismantled the two handles, David took them home to see if he could get them to vibrate and work out if switches could be added to control the flippers. In fact, we all went away with various tasks to find, build, or come-up with solutions to make the project work.
I stripped the chair down further and spent an age sanding it to remove its original ‘Shocker’ logo which was stained into the wood. That had to go and something better sourced.
My neighbour, Paul Glending, is a very talented graphic artist and so he was co-opted onto the team to graphically bling the project. He went away and designed the Addams Family Shocker Challenge decal, plotted and weeded it all, and fixed it in place in about a week.
Good news – both handle motors are in working condition and they vibrate. Bad news – we can only get them to operate at one speed. Good news – it’s the fastest, insane speed. There is also room in the handle to fit two small push button switches.
It’s looking like objective one – getting the chair to control the pinball – can be achieved Objective two’s interactivity now needs looking at.
It was decided that, as we had no motherboard, a substitute surrogate mother needed to be found. We settled on the Arduino microcontroller would be a likely candidate, but a board would need to be designed to add all the inputs and outputs we would like to have working on the chair. It was also decided that the DMD technology could be used to activate certain things interactively with the gameplay.
A Raspberry Pi is used on the DMD Extender and this could recognise when certain screens were on the display. The RPi could then tell the Arduino to do something about it. We now had a way to make the chair truly interactive.
The chair is not an ideal height from which to play, so we looked into increasing its height. A skilled woodworker would be needed, and so Darren Ball (a.k.a. Replicas) built us a platform to sit the chair upon to give the player a better viewing angle.
The chair’s transformation was now picking up momentum with the four of us meeting after work about twice a week and staying into the wee hours rebuilding and rewiring its various components.
The smoke machine was missing but after searching on the ‘net a model train smoke generator was found to be an exact replacement. This, and a servo motor to control the smoke fluid’s, flow were purchased.
The ammeter didn’t really measure amps but gave the illusion through the use of a servo. Another servo was purchased.
The lights were changed for lower-power but much brighter LEDs. The sound was to feed through to the chair’s three speakers, so an amplifier had to be found and fitted. Further strobe-type lighting was installed under the chair and an extra vibro motor fitted under the seat.
This chair is going to ROCK!
The Addams pinball was fitted with the Raspberry Pi, and this communicates with the Arduino in the chair via a Cat 5 network cable. The sound is channelled down a separate audio cable from the pinball to the chair.
Having got the individual components to work, getting them to all work together was a further challenge that had us scratching our collective heads as the deadline for the NLP show got nearer and nearer.
A few loose wires and a credit dot on the display played some part in the problems, but eventually a working one-of-a-kind Addams Family Shocker Challenge debuted at the 2015 Northern Lights Pinball Show, part of the Play Expo show at EventCity in Manchester.
The chair and game combo was a huge hit, with queues of people waiting to have a go. Screams and giggles could be heard from afar as players were shocked mid-concentration as they were trying to keep the ball alive. As it was so popular, a fundraising bucket was set up and donations collected to supplement the total raised for the worthy charity, Teenage Cancer Trust.
The chair lasted well into the first day of the show before losing its power supply. A spare was quickly found, fitted, and on with the fun.
On the Sunday, the second day of the show, one of the handles sadly stopped vibrating. As it was quite dark in the venue and there were lots of wires, it was decided to let the game continue to on to the end without a repair as it was still a great experience.
Fast forward another six months to 2016 and we decided to make some improvements to the chair.
The broken vibration motor was just a loose wire, but this must be eliminated and more smoke was needed, as the train unit wasn’t dramatic enough for us.
The Arduino motherboard was redesigned with Molex connectors incorporated, a new, bigger smoke machine was added along with extra strobe lighting to accentuate the smoke.
The chair is now up and running, and about to go to the NLP show for 2016.
Comments on the internet have been very positive, and people can’t wait to give it a go again.