“Party Zone” – Pinball Showcase and Review

I just pulled this game off route and decided to do a showcase video, so enjoy this quick overview and introduction to this really neat, rare, early WPC DMD game, “Party Zone” by Bally.


1991 Bally early WPC DMD game by Dennis Nordman with art by Greg Freres. Review and play overview and game introduction. This game also plays “Pinball Wizard” by the Who. It has lots of humor, is a non-licensed theme featuring a variety of characters from other pinball machines including Elvira and the Party Monsters, Dr. Dude, Monster Bash and others. Features cool 80s music and 2-ball multi-ball.

Basic Rules:

Start multi-ball and build jackpot. Special song plays if you hit the max jackpot (Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix). Visit the club three times to qualify multi-ball (shoot the right orbit-like shot, which isn’t an orbit but deposits the ball in a kick-out to the right ramp). During multi-ball shoot left orbit or right orbit shots to build the “rock-it fuel” jackpot, then the left ramp to collect. There is no ball save.

Various interesting features including, Captain B-Zarr – an amusing comical DJ that will play different songs you can select by hitting the center saucer after qualifying by hitting the two targets flanking the saucer.

Supersonic Robotic Comic: Random award qualified by hitting the three stand up targets to the right of this saucer, which kicks to the right ramp feeding the right flipper (same kickout the club shot goes do). The robot talks backwards in random gibberish and awards things like multi-ball, laugh attack (all switches score extra points), random points, and bop-till-you-drop where the pop bumpers score 1m each and punk music plays.

Eat, Drink, Be Merry: Shoot green stand up targets on the left to qualify, then shoot the left ramp for Eat (1m), then the right saucer (Supersonic Robotic Comic) for 2m, then the center saucer for “Be Merry” for 3m – amusing animations.

Way Out Of Control: Shoot the lower right stand up targets to qualify, each time enables a different mode for the far right shot (5m, 10x playfield, special, etc.) – when not qualified shoot this shot for 1m and more each shot.

End Zone: Outlanes when lit, reward points; more points by hitting the football player targets

Review:

Great game with great flow and a fun, unique theme. Beautiful artwork. Ruleset is simple yet challenging. A great game to practice pinball technique including nudging. Reliable game on location, lots of playability in home use as well. Short ball times with lots of repeat playability. Great game for competitive pinball.

Gameplay: 8 – Fun, challenging game with a lot of repeat playability; a bit difficult/unforgiving for beginner players.

Playfield Design: 8 – Excellent flow and satisfying shots; cool and unique ramps; looks more simple than it is.

Ruleset: 7 – Shallow but fun ruleset that gets players shooting all over the playfield; a few modes stack with each other allowing strategic play for higher caliber players. But otherwise a short list of modes and features that interrupt each other. Scoring is well-balanced.

Art: 7 – Gorgeous day-glow art package that is fun and frivolous. People are likely to either love or hate the art, not because of the talent or quality but depending upon whether they appreciate the offbeat theme.

Music: 7 – Another hit-or-miss. If you can appreciate the intentionally kitschy 80s-style adaptations of popular songs which fit in with the theme, you’ll enjoy this.

Theme: 7 – Unique, non-licensed theme.

Creativity: 7 – Overall a very creative pinball machine that takes more chances with art and theme than playfield or mechanics.

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…

Stern Ghostbusters Pro Pinball – One Shot Pinball Review

One of our awesome members, Paul, decided to have his new Ghostbusters machine shipped to the PinChurch to share with everybody so it’s been hanging around here for the last week. I put a bunch of games on it and am posting my first impression of the game and how it works for you all to enjoy.

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.

The 10 Commandments of Pinball Repair and Maintenance

(in no particular order of importance)

1. Thou shalt turn thy machine off when moving parts of it.

One of the most common “gotchas” when working on pinball machines is the tendency to pick up the playfield while the game is powered on. Most of the time this can be harmless, but there’s always that off-chance that a wire or solder joint can brush against a siderail, or a screw, nut or other playfield piece comes loose and shorts an electrical connection. if you need to pull the playfield up, power down the machine, lift the playfield, then turn the power on.

2. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.

Some enthusiasts new to pinball repair often try to clean or work on the entire machine when addressing one specific issue. The unfortunate end result can be one-step-forward, three-steps-back. This is especially true with EM games. If you find one switch that may need adjustment or cleaning, resist the impulse, while you’re there, to go through and clean them all. Until you become very familiar with a game’s architecture, it’s best to not poke around in areas that appear to be working properly.

3. Use the right tools.

Spend the money and take the time to use proper tools and techniques when working on games. From crimping and riveting to files and types of sandpaper, paints and soldering/desoldering tools, don’t skimp. Good quality tools will save you time and money. Cheap tools will give you headaches and cause damage. Invest in a reliable jack to raise and move your games. Have a comfortable, well-lit work area. Have parts well-organized and easy to find. Have plenty of spare storage bins and a system to label and store parts on works in progress.

4. Document your work!

Take lots of pictures, before, during and after your work.  If you unplug connectors or disassemble parts, take pictures of the way they were before from multiple angles.  I like to keep a little book with each game that chronicles what I’ve done to the machine and its history. I will also stick a post-it note on the top glass where I can make notes on items that need work with each game. This way when it comes time to perform maintenance on problem X, I’ll also note that while I have the machine apart, I should fix items A, B and C that are on my little post-it note. It’s frustrating to pull a game apart to fix a sluggish flipper, put it back together and then realize there are a few lights out I should have replaced at the time.

5. Keep batteries off the MPU boards and regularly replace them.

For solid-state machines, if you are lucky enough to have a vintage machine with no acid damage from batteries, don’t take any further chances. Install a remote battery pack, memory capacitor or other solution which will eliminate the problem. Change your batteries in the machine once-a-year just to be safe.  Many of us also believe not all battery brands are equal. (I will not put Engergizers in my machines)

6. Replace the balls and keep the playfield clean.

The #1 cause of damage to playfields is the result of aging pinballs that start to get scuffed or corroded and end up acting like sandpaper, tearing up playfield art, mylar, clear coat and everything else in their way. Balls are cheap. Regularly replace them if they begin to look even the slightest-bit rough. Also make a point of routinely dusting/cleaning the playfield. Swiffers work very well for getting into tight places and removing grit that could cause wear or balls to get stuck. Waxing (with 100% Carnuba wax) is always a good thing to do too, but be careful about getting wax residue in places you can’t clean it away.

7. Look for simple solutions first.

A 14th century philosopher, William of Ockham is credited with the maxim, “Occam’s Razor” which states, “Simpler explanations are, other things being equal, generally better than more complex ones.” Don’t make an issue more complicated than it needs to be. If your machine suddenly says 7 different playfield switches are no longer working, don’t assume you have 7 different switches broken; instead perhaps there is a common wire that has failed which is affecting all 7 switches? Look around for anything unusual and if you see something odd, use your eyes and experience to deduce where it needs to be.

Usually when things go wrong, beginners will get bogged down in seemingly more-direct “solutions” when the problem is the result of something even more simple than they imagine: a flipper not working? Beginners might start replacing coils and rebuilding things before checking to see if a fuse is blown, wire broke off or a connector isn’t plugged in all the way. You can often save time by pursuing the most common/easiest-to-fix cause of an issue, as opposed to the most obvious potential failure point. Along these lines, it’s safe to first check things like: fuses (noting that on most games there are fuses all over the place, even under the playfield itself – don’t assume a fuse is OK unless you physically remove it and check it), connectors (loose connectors or bad pins on connectors are a major cause of most problems), bad grounding (again, loose wires or boards not properly screwed into a grounding backplane).

8. Inspect a game before powering on, after moving it.

Any time you’ve transported or picked up a new game, resist the urge to quickly plug it in. Even if it was working 100% before you put it in your vehicle, transporting a game can cause things to shake loose, especially connectors, and you don’t want to run the risk of damaging the machine. Before turning the game on, go through the entire machine and make sure all the connectors are properly seated and nothing looks out of place.  If you turn a game on and a high power coil is locked on, power it down before the coil burns out.

9. Know how to pack, move and store a game properly

A lot of times games are damaged or even destroyed as a result of people not knowing how to pack and move a game. NEVER transport a game with head upright (for modern games the head can be folded down; older games the head should be unplugged and detached from the cabinet). If you don’t have 2+ people to move a game, do not try to do it yourself, or break the game down and move it in parts. It may be a pain to pull the playfield out and detach/re-attach things, but it’s much better than screwing up your back or damaging parts trying to move everything all at once.

Also be aware that there are many fragile parts to these games. Be extra careful with any tempered glass and backglasses. They can easily get scratched. Tempered glass, while designed to be impact resistant, is also very sensitive to “exploding” if damage is caused along the edges, or is exposed to rapid temperature changes. Also remember that moisture is a killer! Some backglass artwork can instantly delaminate if gotten wet. Some cabinets are made out of medium-density-fiberboard and will puff up and start to disintegrate if exposed to water. Extra care needs to be taken. When moving machines, always tighten down the cabinet, BUT NOT TOO TIGHT or you can break glass or ding the head and siderails. Always remove the balls from the machine and any other parts (or coins) inside the cabinet that could bounce around in transit.

10. Use your eyes!

The best way to find out what’s wrong with a pinball machine is use your eyes. Examine the game in detail and look for anything out of the ordinary. Even if it seems unrelated to a problem you’re having, like a light not going on or a switch not registering, and you find some odd, loose wire at the other end of the playfield, there’s a good chance they’re related.