Behind the Scenes: Designing the Dominos Pinball Machine

I attended a seminar in Houston featuring some of the design team behind the Dominos Spectacular Pizza Adventure pinball machine. Yea, yea, I know. But I was there and I recorded the seminar, so if you’re interested here’s some info on the process which led to that machine…

I got a chance to play the game and I was not very impressed with it. But then again, I don’t honestly think this is a game for pinball enthusiasts. It’s a marketing thing for Dominos. Along those lines, it’s very cool. I absolutely love pinball machines being promoted and used for promotion. So that’s a good thing.

But as a pinball enthusiast, I thought the game was somewhat lackluster. The DMD animation was not on par with other games, the sound effects were invasive and chaotic. There were a lot of tight shots on the game – I think the designers added too many shots so those shots are more narrow – and that’s where I think the design fails. If you’re targeting this game to non-pinball-enthusiasts, it should be easier; it should be flashier, but this game is hard to play. In any case, they had most of the games sold before they even started production — such is the pre-order model. So there you have it.

However, if you’ve ever wondered what goes into licensing and approval to make a pinball machine, this panel discussion goes over the process and the design changes and challenges. Pretty interesting…

How to survey, appriase and evaluate a pinball machine in the wild?

I made a video for a friend who was going to check out a game for me at an estate sale, and I thought, in the process, let me outline a few basic ideas on how to evaluate, appraise or give a “look-see” to a pinball machine in the wild and determine what kind of condition it’s in? There is no fool-proof guide, but here are some ideas and suggestions for when you come across a game, what to look for and what to do in order to asses its value.

If you have friends that know you’re a pinball enthusiast who occasionally forward you leads on games, this video also is worth them seeing so they know what kind of info you are looking for, and what to look at with these machines to determine if they’re worth pursuing. In this video I go over all the basics, including identifying the different “eras” of machine and what makes them more/less valuable, as well as how to disassemble and transport a machine.

By the way, I am available to help appraise pinball machines if anyone needs any guidance. ūüôā

Comparing Online Pinball Suppliers

Sometimes getting parts can be frustrating and time consuming. Is there a source for the best parts and service with the best prices? Or does it depend upon what type of parts you need? I decided to do a short study on parts and prices. These prices cover a span of several months or longer as I put together this article, but the pricing and availability for any specific part were all checked on the exact same day.

NOTE: These results have been tabulated over a long period of time. I first started comparing prices more than a year ago, and realized how tedious it was, and I created a draft and didn’t finish. But every once in awhile when I’m looking for a part, I research it and post the details here. So these prices may not reflect current prices but they do reflect prices offered at the same time from various suppliers over a period of a year or more. (On newer comparisons I will list the date I looked things up)

The results are quite interesting. In some cases we found price differences on the same part by more than 250%! It pays to shop around.

 Comparing online pinball suppliers:

5647-12133-12 Microswitch - A common switch used in outholes/troughs
(8/7/2013) - This was the result of looking for a trough switch assembly 
A-10417 which was not found anywhere - this switch would be part of it 
I believe.

Pinball Life            3.25
Mad Amusements          3.25
Marco Specialties       5.95
Competitive products    N/A
Planetary Pinball       nothing - their microswitch page was completely empty
Bay Area Amusements     N/A (had some other switches but not this one and no 
info on comparables)


 1" White rubber ring:

 PinballLife:           0.27  (10+ .243)
 Mad Amusements         0.29  (5+ .27)
 Bay Area Amusements    0.29  (no qty discount)
 Competitive products   0.41  (100+ .38)
 Marcos:                0.49  (10+ .45)
 
555 incandescent bulbs (clear 1 box of 10) (6/29/13)

Marcos:                 3.00 (qty 1), (10+ $1.50)
eBay:                   (10+ $1.25 - $1.50 some with free shipping)
Bay Area Amusements     3.00 (no qty discount)
PinballLife             N/A (closed)
Competitive Products    1.50 (sold individually @ 0.15 ea)


Game-specific Parts:

Bally Black Rose back ball trough (Part #A-14825) 6/26/13

Marco                 79.95
Bay Area Amusements   69.00 (out of stock)
Pinball Life            N/A (entire store closed until 7/6/13 for vacation)
Mad Amusements          N/A


Bally Black Rose Cannon Body (Part #03-8566) (date not noted)
  
Bay Area Amusements     69.00  (door for $12, no decal, actually upon 
contacting them, they had the decal out of stock $25 but not listed under
 parts for the game)
Marcos:                $89.00  (door for $19, no decal)
Mad Amusements            N/A
PinballLife               N/A
Planetary Pinball         N/A  (door for $19, decal for $25 out of stock)

Simpsons Pinball Party Couch Weld Fix (Part #535-9307-00 on 3/28/12)

PinballLife            $14.95
Bay Area Amusements     46.00
Marcos:                 46.40
Mad Amusements            N/A
Planetary Pinball         N/A (doesn't appear to sell Stern parts)

Red & Ted's Road Show plunger link assembly, used for slingshots 
- common on many B/W games (#A-15847  9/9/12)

Competitive Products    $2.25
Planetary Pinball        2.75
Bay Area Amusements      3.00
Marcos:                  3.99
Planetary Pinball         N/A
Mad Amusements            N/A

Attack from Mars - slingshot/kicker leaf switch - the assembly was unavailable
but the individual switch could be found.  (#SW-1a-420 9/4/13)
Pinball Life has the entire assembly with the bracket for $6.95. Marcos
did not.

Marcos                    4.50
Pinball Life              2.75
Bay Area Amusements       2.75

First Impressions: Metallica LE Pinball

metleI visited a friend today and got a chance to play his Metallica LE game. He had it next to a BiBLE and several other “A-list” games. I’d say I put at least 40+ games on the machine and went through a good bit of the modes and thought I might share my first impressions…

Visually the game is very striking and a lot more colorful than the ACDC variants. The hand-drawn artwork really makes the game “pop”. I agree with others that the powder coating doesn’t seem to be as high-quality as it should and things like undecorated siderails and hinges, at the price these things are going for, seems a bit insulting to not include, especially when I can look at the gorgeous siderails and custom-hinges on the ACDC LE which cost quite a bit less. Other issues like the snake sans fangs (apparently the snake on the playfield originally came with long fangs but nobody at Stern realized being hit by the ball would cause them to break, so instead of addressing the issue or replacing broken snakes, Stern simply ground off the fangs for all future games from what I’ve been told) . You’d expect a company that has been in business a few years to do, but not one that’s been producing “the only real pinball machines” for decades. Why include a smaller subwoofer than ACDC? Why not include the shaker motor in the uber-expensive LEs?? At this price, Stern still seems to be making cost-cuts, design snafus, and compromises that aren’t easily forgivable. But as long as people spend their kids’ college fund on these things sight-unseen, I don’t see that changing.

With that out of the way and the quintessential cost-cutting that Stern seems to be famous for and often gets criticized over, I have to say the game feels quite solid. There isn’t an abundance of plastic dingleberries riveted here-or-there, or stupid action figures purchased from Target shoehorned onto the playfield as an afterthought. The toys look great and act solid. The hammer is cool, but it seems lame that there’s a phillips screw smack in your field of view.. like they couldn’t put that around the side? The mechanical design seems to have rudimentary aesthetic flaws… granted they’re minor, but at the amount of money these things are going for, it would be nice to see a heightened attention to detail.

The toys are pretty cool though. The coffin multiball is a fun action. The snake “puking” the ball back at you is neat. The progressive drop targets are a crowd pleaser. Even though there are a number of “hit this X times to make something happen” targets on the playfield, Stern has done a good job of not making you feel like you’re playing whack-a-mole or engaging in monotonous, repetitive behavior. There’s lots of things to hit all around the playfield, and there aren’t a lot of “dead shots” where the ball doesn’t register. There’s a LOT going on with this playfield and the multi-ball sequences are very fun to unlock.. the shot callouts are cool too – and I can see this is an area where things will get even better. Lots of really cool touches.. like the double-bass beats when you shoot a ball through a spinner.. music and light integration is well done (and hopefully will improve even more).

What I like most about this game is that it looks like it has a really nice balance between having a lot going on so a first-time or inexperienced player can have fun, as well as an experienced pro can continue to find challenge. I found my first few games on the machine had long ball times — this game is clearly a lot easier than ACDC, and offers more short-term gratification, but the more you learn the ruleset, the more challenging the game becomes. Contrast this with ACDC where the game is frustrating and hard for both inexperienced and seasoned players, and then proceeds to become even more frustrating and challenging as you learn the ruleset. Metallica is more approachable across-the-board for any type of player. The shots are much more definitive and combos are very satisfying.

I think Metallica is a great hybrid of what is great about ACDC + Tron. ACDC’s rather convoluted and confusing ruleset gives way to a more linear setup in Metallica, with much better flow and more satisfying combo shots and a lot less “dead shots” where you lose control of the ball and start to pray you can get it back. Metallica is both a novice and a player’s game.

In short order, from simply playing, I was able to get an easier grasp of what was going on with the ruleset and how I could stack certain things. Whereas with ACDC it was (and still seems to be) very confusing.

I have to admit that I much prefer ACDC to Metallica from a musical/theme standpoint. But gameplay wise, I think Metallica is a better game. They’re both fun games, but Metallica is a better game – with a layout with more shots and more things going on and a more approachable ruleset. It’s a very good game. And in its software infancy, it will probably get a lot better.

Congrats to the team behind Metallica. Very impressive.