Hello and welcome to our annual round-up of the year’s major events in the world of pinball.
It’s been a fascinating twelve months, filled with exciting new game releases, exceptional pinball shows, remarkable news events, numerous new locations and a continuation of the growth seen in the previous few years.
The year began with Stern Pinball showing their Aerosmith game at trade shows in Las Vegas and London.
The John Borg design was the second Stern game – after Batman 66 – to use the larger colour LCD display and the supporting Spike 2 boardset.
Stern Pinball have stated their desire to release three new in-house (or ‘cornerstone’ as they call them) titles a year, and that’s exactly what they did in 2017.
Their second game to come out of their Elk Grove Village facility was the much-anticipated Star Wars.
Based on the original trilogy of movies rather than the more recent releases, this Steve Ritchie design featured a complex and extensive set of rules to provide plenty of scoring strategies for those willing to invest their time understanding the game.
Stern’s third model of the year was Guardians of the Galaxy.
Although rumours of this title had been circulating for some time, it wasn’t until later in the year that John Borg’s second game of 2017 rose to the top of the list of anticipated releases. Another Marvel theme following on from Iron Man, The Avengers, Spider-Man and X-Men, the brightly-coloured playfield and large Groot character received a positive reception when first pictures appeared.
Also the subject of rumours was another collaboration with Cassandra Peterson to produce a third Elvira-themed game. This was confirmed in March by Dennis Nordman and Greg Freres who created the first two Elvira games, with Stern expected to make the title. No projected release date was announced.
Dennis was also busy promoting his own pitch-and-bat game from his new company Gizmo Games. Available in two variants called All Star Baseball and Zombie League All Stars, it is a modern take on the classic coin-op baseball game, complete with mechanical running-man unit in the backbox.
Stern recruited two top competitive players to their team in 2017. Keith Elwin joined as a game designer, while Zach Sharpe was recruited as Director of Marketing.
A dark cloud hung over the industry and the hobby as game designer John Trudeau was arrested and charged with two counts of possession of child pornography in August. The case is still on-going with the next court date set for 11th January 2018 and John Trudeau contesting the charges, although he has agreed a severance deal with Stern and is no longer an employee there.
2017 was the year Stern added their HD anti-reflective playfield glass to their range of mods. Priced at $239.99 for a standard-size sheet, it entered a crowded market and seemed to sit alongside Jersey Jack Pinball’s Invisiglass for effectiveness in reducing reflections.
Stern ended the year by announcing the creation of an importer and distributor for their products in China. Guangzhou Stern Electronic Technology Company Ltd. is a collaboration between Stern and several experienced gaming operators, marketeers and distributors, and will market Stern games to both the commercial and retail channels. A couple of weeks later, Hot Toys Japan Co was appointed to the same role in Japan.
Spooky Pinball have had another busy twelve months, starting with their announcement of their collaboration with The Pinball Company to build The Jetsons in January.
The simplistic design was aimed at family buyers, with a limited run of up to 300 machines.
Then in March, the premier of the documentary Things That Go Bump in the Night about how Spooky Pinball began was shown at the Texas Pinball Festival. The film is now available to watch on Vimeo.
That screening was followed by the announcement of Spooky’s next – and third home-grown – title, Alice Cooper’s Nightmare Castle.
The game would be limited to 500 units with only a single model available, although various customisations would be offered to buyers.
Not content with those, Spooky Pinball then announced at the Midwest Gaming Classic that they would be building Scott Danesi’s Total Annihilation design, now renamed Total Nuclear Annihilation to avoid a name clash with an existing video game. The finished game was shown at October’s Pinball Life Open House and at Pinball Expo, gaining a very good reputation for gameplay, lighting and – especially – the soundtrack.
For Jersey Jack Pinball, their policy of releasing one new title each year continued into 2017.
While Dialed In! had been shown in October 2016 at Pinball Expo, the Pat Lawlor design didn’t go into full production until the middle of 2017. While the title didn’t help sell the game, those who got to play it were generally very impressed by the flow, the feature-packed rules and playfield, and the polish of the presentation.
Then in October Jersey Jack Pinball unveiled their fourth game at this year’s Expo. Their Pirates of the Caribbean was the first game design from the company’s newest game designer, Eric Meunier.
Featuring a multi-ring spinning disc, a rocking mini-playfield and a cannon which fires the ball to sink ships, the game will next be shown at the EAG trade show in London later this month. We will be there, of course.
2017 was a landmark year for several other pinball manufacturers too, as either their first ever release or their second title went into production.
After six years in development, Multimorphic shipped their first P3 pinball platform machines.
The P3 has a number of game titles available to run on it, with Lexy Lightspeed: Escape from Earth being their showcase game. The system includes a swappable upper playfield module, with Lexy and Cannon Lagoon modules currently available, and is assembled by a contract manufacturer in the Austin area.
We published out In-Depth Review of the P3 just a few days ago.
American Pinball made good on their promise to ship their first production machine in 2017. With just a couple of days of the year remaining, game designer Joe Balcer announced their first production Houdini title had shipped from the American Pinball factory in Streamwood to its buyer.
The original John Popadiuk layout was completely redesigned by Joe after its first showing at Pinball Expo in 2016, with prototypes shown at the Texas Pinball Festival in March and at shows throughout the summer. American Pinball certainly win the prize for the fastest recent pinball start-up to ship their first product.
Although one or two had been delivered to buyers, completion and shipping of the bulk of the Captain Nemo Dives Again models from Antonio Ortuño’s Quetzal Pinball in Spain took place in 2017, five years after the project was first announced.
Integrating the playfield and embedded monitor artwork, the game continues to receive updates and tweaks. We were fortunate enough to get our hands on one to do another In-Depth Review, and discovered a beautiful looking game with a simple but well-integrated ruleset.
If we’re holding a vote for the most beautiful-looking game, it would be hard to beat this unexpected entrant into the candidate list.
In the latest twist to one of the more bizarre pinball start-up stories, those who pre-ordered the John Popaduik-designed Magic Girl unexpectedly received notification that their game was ready. John had teamed up with Houdini manufacturer American Pinball to build the games at American Pinball’s Streamwood facility in return for designing the Houdini game for them.
What those pre-orderers received, however, was a far-from-complete game. While it did flip and kick out a ball, major mechanisms and sensors were missing, others didn’t work correctly or at all, while there were few rules in the software. We were fortunate enough to play and review one of these rare Magic Girl machines.
Since then, John Popadiuk has teamed up with Austin-based pinball start-up Deeproot Pinball, and an offer has been made to existing Magic Girl owners to provide them with a working but simplified game which would then be mass-produced (removing any exclusivity) in exchange for dropping their law suit against John and his company Zidware. Not unsurprisingly, the offer was rejected and subsequently withdrawn.
Those were the pinball makers releasing their first game, but there were a couple who had moved onto game number two in 2017.
There were big changes a Heighway Pinball as company founder Andrew Heighway stood down to allow the company’s investors to take over. The reorganisation took some time, but eventually production of their Alien title picked up pace at their factory in Ebbw Vale, South Wales, and the first Limited Edition models were shipped.
Despite a few mechanical issues, those who received their games in 2017 were generally delighted at such a well-integrated theme, with excellent music and lighting complementing a fast-flowing multi-shot playfield.
It was also game two from the Chicago Gaming Company as their remake of Medieval Madness was followed by Attack from Mars. Rather than just announce the game title, they turned up at pinball shows with complete machines available to purchase.
Whereas Medieval Madness was built for the company by Stern Pinball, the Attack from Mars remake is being manufactured by CGC themselves, and future re-makes are also expected to be made in-house. There were three variants of the game, with the upper two getting newly-rendered high-resolution colour dot-matrix artwork, and the top tier featuring a larger colour DMD display between the speakers. With a slew of licences agreed, we can look forward to many more remakes coming out of Chicago Gaming in the coming years.
Then there were the companies for whom 2017 was a year where no machines were shipped.
Dutch Pinball had a torrid twelve months. The deal they had with their contract manufacturer, ARA, to build The Big Lebowski broke down in an acrimonious fashion, with ARA demanding increased payments and Dutch Pinball refusing to pay above the contracted price. Some forty completed machines were held by ARA pending payment, as was a large stock of parts for more games.
With no resolution in sight, Dutch Pinball looks for an alternative contract manufacturer. However they had no funds to start building games again from scratch, so tried to raise money by announcing their second game – Bride of Pinbot 25th Anniversary – to a rather lukewarm reaction.
Eventually they found a new manufacturing partner – XYTECH Modules Technologies, based in China – who would build the pre-ordered games as well as a number of new orders to help fund them. An XYTECH-built game was shown alongside an ARA-built one at the DPO Expo in November, and with no indication of the different manufacturers nobody spotted much of a difference between them.
Another year passed without Homepin manufacturing their Thunderbirds Are Go machine at their China factory.
Homepin’s Mike Kalinowski has been busy building video games and pinball parts, while getting Thunderbirds Are Go assets approved by the licensor, but the game has yet to go into production.
PINBALL IN PRINT
In the area of pinball publishing it has been a mixed year.
Pinball Magazine released the fourth edition at the start of the year, focusing on the career of Mark Ritchie, continuing the look and feel which makes it more like a book than a magazine. Issue five is expected around March 2018, with the life and career of Wayne Neyens under the spotlight ahead of his 100th birthday.
Plans for a second coffee-table book from Pinball Magazine featuring photographs by Santiago Ciuffo, Pinball Road Trip, were dropped when the Kickstarter fundraiser fell short of its target of €25,000.
One reason cited for that failure is the amount of money tied-up in another pinball book, 30 Years of Stern Pinball. Funded through Kickstarter in December 2016, there have been multiple delays and rewrites, including one resulting from the John Trudeau news above and the decision to include the more recent 2017 titles.
The publishers – PaperFlock – remain upbeat about it though. Our best guess is that the book will come out in the second quarter of 2018.
Gameroom Magazine continued its comeback with a sixth issue in January 2017 featuring publisher Nic Parks’ The Jetson’s project. Since then though the magazine has gone from intending to publish quarterly to intending to publish bi-annually. We say ‘intending’ because there were no further issues produced in 2017 since that one in January.
The PinGame Journal is also maintaining a sporadic publication schedule. An issue was produced in March showcasing the Alien pinball, but we haven’t seen anything more since. It’s also unclear whether there will be a calendar produced for 2018, although they have turned up weeks or months into the new year in the past, so let’s see what happens.
One publication which did come out was Adam Ruben’s book Pinball Wizards: Jackpots, Drains and the Cult of the Silver Ball.
This entertaining read covers pinball’s history set against Adam’s own growing enjoyment and involvement in the game. Adam spoke about the book and read excerpts at Pinball Expo in October.
The magazine of the Dutch Pinball Association, Spinner, celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2017. Issue #1 came out in 1992, while the most recent quarterly edition was available at the DPO Expo show in November, along with the unveiling of the Association’s new logo.
While all the latest releases already include colour LCD displays, new colourised displays for monochrome DMD machines continued to be released throughout 2017.
While the Attack from Mars remake had both colour and high-resolution display artwork, Colour DMD released a steady stream of new titles such as Game of Thrones, World Cup Soccer, Godzilla, Star Trek, Dirty Harry, The Champion Pub, No Fear and many more, taking the total available up to sixty-nine.
Pinball and gameroom shows in general seem to be getting every larger.
In the US, Pinball Expo has the longest history and can claim to have created the concept of the modern pinball show, but while it offers a number of unique attractions such as the Stern Pinball factory tour and the range of pinball personalities attending the event, its position as the biggest has been under threat in recent years.
The Texas Pinball Festival has grown in both size and scope, and despite not having the same number of pinball people on its doorstep as Expo, it has flown in many big names both from the pinball world and from wider popular culture. Cassandra Peterson (Elvira) and Sam Jones (Flash Gordon) were at the 2017 show with long lines of guests eager for an autograph and a selfie with then, while Lou Ferrigno (Incredible Hulk) is scheduled for 2018. Add in 400+ machines to play and a number of new game announcements, and you can see why it has become the big spring show alongside Expo in the autumn.
Not that the south is having all the fun in the first half of the year. The Midwest Gaming Classic has long been bursting at the seams at its old home in Brookfield, Wisconsin. For 2018 it moves to downtown Milwaukee and the much larger Convention Center. Over in the top-left corner of the country, the Northwest Pinball & Arcade Show continues to pack in the machines and the visitors, while both the Pintastic show on the opposite coast and the Southern Fried Gameroom Show down in Georgia grow by leaps and bounds every year.
Watch out for Pinball Expo’s response. We hear talk of big changes ahead for 2018 and will bring you full details as soon as they are confirmed.
But that’s not counting all the other incredible shows taking place all across the country, and beyond. The pinball show diary is now so packed it is hard to avoid clashes, with two or three large shows all taking place on the same weekend in some instances.
Outside the US, you didn’t have to travel far to find more great shows. Just across the border in fact to Toronto for the Canadian National Exhibition Pinball Championship. But if you looked further afield, Europe had a great selection of top-notch events.
The DPO Expo took over the spaceship-style Evoluon in Eindhoven and packed it full of pinballs. 468 of them in fact spread across the four rings and the ground floor, creating spectacular views from inside.
Big games shows also took place in Budapest in Hungary and in Manchester in the UK, while tournaments continues to hold their own in just about every western European country, along with growth being seen in Central Europe. Across the world, the bar is constantly being raised and show and tournament organisers are responding.
If you will indulge us for a moment, 2017 was also a significant year for us here at Pinball News. Not only did we have our greatest range of article authors ever, we were also better able to showcase their wonderful reports after moving to the new platform and website design you see here.
After nineteen years of a narrow, yellow and maroon layout, we transitioned to a responsive, high-resolution format which allowed us to have much bigger pictures, far better navigation, and a much cleaner look. Thanks to everyone who contributed their thoughts and ideas. We’re still working on making it even better and converting our archives to the new look, while continuing to add many more new articles.
BEST NEW GAME OF 2017
Finally, here’s our traditional opportunity for you to cast your vote on the best new pinball of 2017. It was another year of amazing games, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible by rolling a steel ball around a sheet of wood.
It’s all just for fun, but we plan to present the winning game’s team with the Pinball News Best Game of 2017 award at a pinball show in early 2018. So your vote really does make a difference.
Ready then? OK, cast your vote now. We’ll keep the poll open until the end of January.
And feel free to tell us about your pinball highlights of 2017. Did you buy a machine, go to a show, meet a pinball personality or just have the game of your life? Share it with the world in our comments section.
Thanks for reading our look back on 2017 in pinball. We hope you enjoyed it and are looking forward to an even better and more exciting 2018. I know we are.