Making pinball is, as we have described before, hard. But playing pinball can also be hard, and games which are overly challenging can turn off younger or novice players.
You might have your home pinballs set up to your preference so that they are tough but still manageable. Then at some point other people come around and they struggle to have any fun with your settings. “Play better!”, right? Well, maybe.
So, what can you do to make your game a little more accessible and beginner-friendly?
Pinball manufacturers help a little by letting you adjust the width of the outlanes slightly, but moving those posts is not always easy if game plastics are blocking the adjustment bolt. Then they only have two or three positions and even those can’t help if the ball keeps draining between the flippers.
Then there is the opposite situation – the guests coming around are the top local players for their league meeting or tournament event, and you want to toughen-up your machines to increase the challenge and keep game times down.
Finally, some games such as Ghostbusters or Fish Tales have an increased flipper gap straight from the factory which, while as the game designer intended, could be the source of much frustration even to the owner.
AdPin in Germany have come up with their solution – adjustable-length flippers.
The flipper bats are made from aluminium and come in a range of metallic colours – black, blue, red, green, violet, gold and silver. The finish is very attractive and even before you open the packet you sense the quality German design and engineering involved.
We tested a pair of green flippers and installed them on our Fish Tales game. The flipper bats come in either 3″ or 2″ sizes for main and mini-flippers. so they are suitable for nearly all Stern, Williams, Bally, Sega, Data East and Jersey Jack games with standard flippers. They don’t specifically make the shorter ‘lightning-bolt’ size used on a few Williams games, including Fish Tales and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but these titles are often seen playing particularly tough and occasionally turn up with 3″ flippers installed either deliberately or unintentionally.
In the pack we get the two flipper bats, two stainless steel flipper shafts with securing bolts, bolts and washers to secure the flippers, black plastic caps to cover them, a large bolt to remove the shaft from the flipper bat, two rubber rungs and a hex (allen) key to adjust the length.
Each flipper comes in two parts – the main body to which the shaft attaches, and the tip which can be moved away from or towards the main body along a track to vary the flipper’s length – with the two parts clamped together by a bolt and a metal plate. The range of adjustment is from -1.5mm to + 5mm compared to the regular 80mm length flipper. That actually means that even at the shortest setting it is still 1.6mm longer than a lightning bolf flipper, meaning these games are always going to be at least very slightly easier with the AdPin flippers installed.
In addition to sliding, there is an extra locking position at the end if you want to max-out the flipper’s length and keep it there.
The two parts feel very solid and well-built.
To set up the flippers we first put the two parts together and clamp them in position.
It’s important that the clamp doesn’t extend below the flipper where it could scratch the playfield, but there’s no problem here.
Before going any further it’s worth mentioning the flipper rubber. AdPin’s flippers are supplied with black rubbers which have no difficulty stretching when the flipper is extended to its maximum length. We kept the flipper at its full extension for four weeks to find out how well the rubber contracts when the flipper length is reduced and didn’t experience any issues with the rubber losing its elasticity. We did find it easier to remove the rubber before making any adjustments to the length, especially when reducing it to minimum where you risk pinching your fingers if you leave the rubber in place.
Silicone flipper bands such as SuperBands can be tough to fit even on standard-length flippers, so they will have a much harder time stretching to the fully-extended length of the AdPin flipper. These bands will require soaking in hot water to make them more pliable before attempting to fit or adjust.
So, with the flipper bat assembled, it’s time to insert the flipper shaft.
The shaft is nicely machined to fit tightly but precisely. It didn’t take any effort to insert it into the bat, but one it was in it was difficult to extract it by hand.
To ensure there is no slippage, the shaft has a threaded top into which a supplied bolt screws.
What this also means is that you can adjust the angle of the flippers by unbolting them from their shafts, making your changes and retightening the bolts without even lifting the playfield. If the angles are wildly out then you may need to retighten the flipper assembly, but for minor tweaks you can do it all from the top of the playfield.
When both bolts are inserted into the top of the flipper, there are black plastic caps which can be pushed in to cover the bolt heads. We were in two minds about whether we preferred the more polished look with the caps, or the rather more industrial look without them. Either way, you have the choice.
Once we had made one flipper, we did the same with the other one.
Then we fitted them to our test machine – Fish Tales.
Our Fish Tales has the original ‘lightning-bolt’ flippers fitted, but they were using Superbands rather than traditional rubber.
The originals looked pretty nice, but they had to come out for our test.
While the originals slid out fairly easily, the shafts of the new AdPin bats proved more of a struggle. The new shaft seemed to be ‘grippier’ than the original, so some extra effort was required to get them into the clamp of the flipper assembly located under the playfield. They dropped into the through-playfield flipper busing easily enough without leaving any ‘wobble’, so the diameter of the shaft is correct.
If you fancy upgrading the flipper bushings while you’re replacing the flippers, AdPin sell bronze replacements. You won’t see them from the top so it’s more for peace of mind and maybe some increased precision in the fit. We kept the original bushings and just fitted the new flippers.
The gap between the two parts of the extended flipper initially looks a little unusual, but you soon get used to it.
How did they perform? Well, we played a few test games and certainly found we were able to make centre saves much more easily, with our scores reflecting that. It felt a little like cheating, which we guess it was really. However, it did make the game much more enjoyable for novice players, and it was reassuring to know that we could easily return the flippers to their intended length after our tests were over without having to disassemble and realign everything.
The true test is whether we are going to leave the AdPin flippers on the game after the tests are over, and in this case, yes, we are. The only change we might make is to use brighter-colour flipper rubbers to increase definition, but apart from that we like the feel and the easy adjustment the AdPin flippers provide.
The adjustable 3-inch flippers cost €47.90 each or €89.90 for a pair. If you like the anodised metallic coloured look but don’t need the variable length feature you can buy fixed-length ones for €10.00 each less, while a fixed mini-flipper is also available for €29.90.
Full price details are on the AdPin website.
However, our tests of AdPin products were not over.
While we were in the game room and had our toolkit out, we turned our spotlight on AdPin’s VarioSwitch replacement flipper buttons.
If the adjustable flippers allowed you to fine-tune how the game plays, the VarioSwitches give you that same level of adjustment over the other end of the flipper control – at your fingertips.
Flipper buttons never get much consideration. They are just there, and they are what they are. It’s only when they are overly stiff or become sticky or misaligned in some way that you pay any attention to them, but like Goldilocks’ porridge, AdPin wants you to have them feeling just right.
To achieve this there are three parts, with the first being new coloured metallic switch mechanisms.
Our test VarioSwitches were blue, but they are also available in black, red, green and violet, as well as high-gloss chrome and gold.
Inside the pack we received two flipper buttons, each with an alternative spring.
As with the adjustable flippers, these are precision-machined parts with a feeling of quality about them. In fact, if you like how they feel you could just use them as supplied to replace your existing flipper buttons and be done.
But the ‘Vario’ part means you can adjust both the pressure needed to activate the flippers and how far you need to push the buttons.
The pressure can be adjusted by disassembling the switch body and changing the spring. A much stiffer spring was provided in our sample but we believe there are three different strengths available now, and if you wanted to go crazy and give your fingers a real work-out you might even be able to use more than one spring at a time.
We took one of the buttons apart to change over the spring. This involved removing the circlip (or C-clip) on the end of the button’s plunger so that the button part could be removed from its housing.
The button plunger can then be removed and the fitted spring swapped with the stronger alternative.
Before we reassemble it, the distance you need to move the flipper has two settings controlled by the position of a circlip on the end of the button’s plunger. You can see in the picture above how there are two notches on the top of the plunger. Using the lower one means the VarioSwitch is already partly pressed before you operate it, so you have less distance to move it. On some games you can achieve the same thing by adjusting the blade switch which operates the flippers, but it’s harder to get that adjusted as reliably and even trickier on machines which use opto switches for the flippers.
In the interest of only testing one thing at a time, we put the circlip back in the supplied position so we could try just the different spring strength.
As these are metallic blue we didn’t think they would suit our Fish Tales game, so we tried them in the adjacent Whitewater machine instead. As with Fish Tales though, the first stage is to remove the existing parts – in this case, the flipper buttons.
We had already changed these for transparent ones backlit by dedicated LEDs. ‘Clearly’ these metallic flipper buttons wouldn’t benefit from any backlighting, so we wouldn’t need that part.
Whitewater uses opto-controlled flippers, so the opto board and illuminating LED needed to be moved out of the way before the flipper button could be unscrewed from inside the cabinet.
Slotting in the new VarioSwitch button is a simple job.
The cabinet is routed with a small notch inside the flipper button hole which mates with a raised strip on the plastic flipper button to prevent the button being unscrewed from outside. The VarioSwitch doesn’t have this notch, so although it is unlikely to happen it might be possible for someone in a public location to twist the VarioSwitch button housing and unscrew them if they are not tightly secured.
With both VarioSwitches installed, we examined the look and feel.
As you can see above, the button looks very smart and feels impressively solid. The housing is slightly smaller than the button it is replacing which allowed a slight ring around it from the previous buttons to show. Not all games will have this of course, and the plain blue paintwork showed it more than a game with artwork in that area would.
Because we chose the further position on the plunger to attach the circlip when changing the spring we see two notches on the outside part of the flipper button. If we had moved the circlip to the closer notch we would only see the one.
We liked the quality feel and the smooth action of the VarioSwitch button. It initially felt a bit cold but that was due to our game being located in a garage and it soon warmed up after a little use.
We actually preferred the longer button plunge distance shown above to the shorter stroke which was more prone to accidental flipping on this game.
The alternative spring was far too stiff for our liking, while the default one felt just fine. However, that’s going to be down to personal preference, which is exactly what this review is all about – making adjustments so your machine plays to your liking.
The VarioSwitch flipper buttons cost €34.90 for a pair of the metallic ones, or €99.90 for the polished chrome or gold ones. More information and ordering details are on the AdPin website.