It’s been an exciting year for pinball, with 2018 providing the usual mix of new games, new locations, more and more shows and, of course, plenty of drama.
That ‘drama’ saw one pinball company close their doors and another produce no games at all, while at others the pressure of competition has taken its toll. Not that that competitive landscape has dissuaded others from starting up new companies or unexpectedly announcing follow-up titles.
There’s no doubt 2018 made its mark in pinball history.
Let’s begin with the new titles announced or released in 2018, and it’s been another busy twelve months for the biggest of the manufacturers, Stern Pinball.
They began with the first European showing of their Guardians of the Galaxy game at the EAG International show in London, where it featured alongside Batman 66 and Ghostbusters. Guardians of the Galaxy had been announced at the end of October soon after Pinball Expo, and John Borg’s latest design was in full production soon after.
The company’s first new title to be announced in 2018 was the long awaited Iron Maiden. This was Keith Elwin’s first game for Stern and was heavily based on his home brew Archer game he created with brother, Randy.
The game was very well received and is believed to have sold well for the company.
Stern Pinball typically produces three ‘cornerstone’ titles each year – games both designed and manufactured in-house – and their third cornerstone title produced in 2018 was the George Gomez design, Deadpool.
Based on the Marvel comic book rather than the two Ryan Reynolds movies, Deadpool was announced on 7th August with the Pro model produced first. The LE and Premium models followed, and continued the trend of trend of recent titles where the higher level models add only slightly to the gameplay feature list but are more about added bling and relative exclusivity.
Exclusivity and bling were the name of the game with Stern’s collaboration with Ka-Pow Pinball in their follow-up to Batman 66, The Beatles: Beatlemania Pinball.
A maximum of 1,964 The Beatles pinballs would be built, with 100 Diamond Editions, 250 Platinum Editions and 1,614 Gold Editions. Perhaps stung by criticism of the prices of their Batman game, Stern and Ka-Pow didn’t publish any prices for the three variants, choosing instead to sell packages of ten machines (1 Diamond, 2 Platinums and 7 Golds) to distributors for around $70,000 and leave it up to them to determine how much they charged. In practice that resulted in the Gold Edition selling for around $8,000 and the Platinum Edition around $12,500. Diamond Editions were around $25,000.
If you wanted exclusivity, there were other options available from Stern too, this time as ‘private label’ titles built by Stern at the request of partner companies.
A Supreme pinball, based on the skateboarding fashion brand of the same name and sporting the same stark artwork, was available this year, with a limited run up to 500 machines.
While not to everyone’s taste, the design is true to the minimalist branding of the company’s other products and sold for $10,000 and up – way up in some cases, with the game on sale for both $55,000 and $70,000 new-in-box on Ebay. It is thought not many more than 100 of these were produced, although exact numbers are not published by either Supreme or Stern.
More affordable exclusivity came in the form of the latest Whoa Nellie design re-brand. After the Pabst Can Crusher came Primus: Welcome to this World.
With new artwork by Zombie Yeti (Jeremy Packer) and Zoltron who created the album artwork for the band, thirteen Primus tracks included and custom voice work by Les Claypool, Primus: Welcome to this World was limited to just 108 machines – 100 for general sale and the remaining eight going to the designers, the band and the licensing company. The price for this was a more-grounded $7,995 and, at the time of writing, it can still be purchased from the Primus store.
Finally, a quick look ahead to a game not yet officially announced but widely leaked – The Munsters. This John Borg design with artwork by Christopher Franchi is expected to be unveiled in early January 2019, probably to coincide with the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas January 8th-11th, with our first hands-on at the EAG International show in London in the middle of the month.
While it was a busy year in Elk Grove Village, other pinball manufacturers were busy producing current titles and announcing new ones.
Last year’s Pinball News Game of the Year – Total Nuclear Annihilation – was in full swing on the Spooky Pinball production line. Production of TNA is expected to cease by the end of the year at around the 550 count so that Spooky’s next title can be built.
That next title was officially unveiled at the Texas Pinball Festival in March as Alice Cooper’s Nightmare Castle.
Alice Cooper’s Nightmare Castle is limited to 500 units with a price of $6,450. It features 766 callouts from Alice along with ten classic Alice Cooper tracks and another six instrumentals.
TNA creator, Scott Danesi, made an appearance at Pinball Expo where he gave a hint at the title of his second game with Spooky. The title he showed was Haunted House Party!, although it’s not clear if that was real or a spoof.
Although actual production numbers are not released, the #2 pinball maker by volume could quite possibly be a company where pinball is only one of their products. But remaking classic Williams/Bally games has been a very successful part of Chicago Gaming’s business and this year they (eventually) confirmed that Monster Bash would be their third ‘remake’ title after Medieval Madness and Attack from Mars.
The official announcement was supposed to be made in March, then delayed again and eventually confirmation came after a search of the UL Certification for the company showed Medieval Madness, Attack from Mars and Monster Bash. The game was unveiled at Pinball Expo in October and Pinball News got the opportunity to tour the Chicago Gaming factory just prior to the show to see the new title being made, although we weren’t allowed to take any pictures until the reveal had been made.
Another company with a new game to launch at Expo was American Pinball.
Game designer Joe Balcer had already revealed the title as Oktoberfest: Pinball on Tap during his seminar at the Vancouver Flipout Pinball Expo in September, but the race was on to get the first two prototype games completed in time for the reveal.
Just prior to the first public showing, Pinball News went behind the scenes at American Pinball’s facility in Streamwood to see their Houdini game being made.
We then visited parent company Aimtron in Palatine to see how they make their circuit boards and where the work culture at American Pinball comes from, before heading over to the building which is to be the new home of American Pinball, just around the block from Aimtron in Palatine.
There were no new game reveals this year for Jersey Jack Pinball, as they continued manufacturing their first three game titles and began building their latest, Pirates of the Caribbean. There was some of that classic drama earlier in the year when Jersey Jack Pinball had to admit they couldn’t build a reliably functional version of the three ring spinning map they had shown in the reveal and had promoted as a key and unique feature of the game.
So the map became a single spinning disc, with the awards planned for the map now shown on the LCD screen instead. In an interview with Pinball News and Pinball Magazine, JJP’s Jack Guarnieri said they had learned the lessons of revealing a game before it was ready to build, and in future they would wait until they had a fully hardware-complete machine before showing it. True to his word, no JJP titles were announced, although Toy Story and Willy Wonka are strongly rumoured as upcoming titles.
Another company who did have something new to unveil in 2018 was P3 maker, Multimorphic. In March they showed the first release of their Cosmic Cart Racing game package.
At the time of writing the game is not yet available to purchase, but Multimorphic has introduced a revised art package for their Lexy Lightspeed: Escape from Earth game following customer feedback, and in July announced that all pre-orders for P3 machines had been filled. New orders take around two weeks to fulfil.
It’s been a busy year for Mike Kalinowski from Homepin as he has been building more Thunderbirds machines, moving the factory to a new location, and visiting pinball shows to help promote the game.
The company is also developing their second game which is aimed more at the Chinese market, although the theme does have some exposure in western countries too.
Talking of second games, in November the designer of Captain Nemo Dives Again revealed a game he has been developing.
The single-level drift racing game will initially be offered to US purchasers of Captain Nemo since delivery of their games was delayed, before being available to the public. The price will be €4,595 plus tax and shipping. In the meantime, Antonio has been working on his own Quetzal Pinball title which he expects to be announced during 2019.
In July Pinball News reported on the formation of a new pinball company and the announcement of their first title, The Mafia.
The Mafia comes from Team Pinball, based in Cardiff in South Wales. The team of Janos Kiss, Otília Pasaréti and Romain Fontaine had been working away in the office building the first ten of the single-level, retro-style games. The design brings modern technology to an EM-style game, combining full RGB LED lighting and an LCD display with thirties-style artwork and an easy-to-understand ruleset. Pinball News was at the launch at the company’s office, and brought you all the details on the formation of the business and development of their first release.
No New Games
Now we turn to titles where machines were actually made, but the run was truncated for related but differing reasons.
2018 was the year Heighway Pinball pulled the plug on their pinball manufacturing operation in South Wales. The business had struggled finding sufficient funding for several years, but the future looked rosier when a group of investors agreed to buy a majority stake in the company in 2017. That investment came with the condition that founder and CEO Andrew Heighway stepped away from his day-to-day running of the company.
So it was that the investor group ran Heighway Pinball until the end of April 2018, when they closed the doors, laid-off the employees, and moved most of the physical assets to Sweden. Many of the more recent equipment and stock purchases had been routed through a company called Pinball Brothers, run by several of the Heighway Pinball investors. Thus, just before those same directors called in the Liquidator, they reclaimed those assets which included machinery, parts and a number of Alien pinballs. Those Alien games have since been quietly sold along with a quantity of spares, but with nothing of value remaining for liquidation the original buyers were mostly unable to get either a return of their payments or the machines they had paid for.
There was much acrimony, and with the Pinball Brothers going to ground, much of that fell on Andrew Heighway for the way he had run the company and the promises he had made about game development progress and anticipated delivery schedules. He answered his critics in an exclusive Pinball News interview.
Whether any more Alien games will be made remains to be seen. Those who did get their games appear very happy with the gameplay and the sound/video package, although there are several reliability issues which are being addressed by the Alien owner community.
It was publicly confirmed what Pinball News had known for several years – that the next title after Alien was due to be based on the rock band Queen’s live performances, followed by an updated Playboy-themed game.
Over in the Netherlands, no new The Big Lebowski games were made in 2019, despite initial confidence that Dutch Pinball’s arrangement with Xytech in China would allow production to resume.
Predictably, it came down to funding as money was needed to begin building new games, while all the pre-order money for those games had been spent. Even Dutch Pinball’s plan to sell The Big Lebowski games to new buyers in order to fund manufacturing of the pre-orders came to nought, and the dispute with the original contract manufacturers, ARA, consumed the time and resources required to begin building new games.
The dispute is still mired in legal wranglings, but even if the court decides in Dutch Pinball’s favour the completed games in ARA’s possession still have to be paid for somehow, and that doesn’t help in building any new games.
Other games in development continued their journey towards completion through 2018.
Circus Maximus’s Python’s Pinball Circus was shown at Pinball Expo in October but further development has taken a back seat to the company’s plans to remake the Capcom Kingpin title.
Kingpin was revealed in prototype form at the Texas Pinball Festival in March, where game designer Mark Ritchie was joined the team of James, Paul and Jimmy.
Another company realising how long it takes to create pinball machines is Deeproot Pinball.
Having promised a ‘Five Days of Deeproot’ virtual take-over of 2019’s Texas Pinball Festival with the reveal of five new titles, Deeproot had to announce that progress was slower than anticipated, and that they wouldn’t be revealing any games at the show after all. They didn’t give any date when they would show their titles, but given how any presentation would probably be at a major US show, we are looking at Pinball Expo in October 2019 or the Texas Pinball Festival in 2020.
One interesting point is that Deeproot offered to buy the Queen licence – acquired by Heighway Pinball – from Pinball Brothers, but that offer was rejected. Company head, Robert Muller said they had no interest in buying Heighway Pinball’s other licence, Playboy.
Apart from new games being released or in development, there was plenty happening in the rest of the pinball world
At the end of July, Tim Arnold, the leading light at the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas, announced that the operation would be moving to a new, larger, higher-profile location.
The current home is on Tropicana Avenue, some three miles from the main road with all the flashy casinos and hotels – The Strip – and provides 8,600 square feet of floor space to house the collection. The intended new home is on a plot of land at one end of The Strip itself, making the Hall of Fame much more accessible and visible to tourists.
At his Pinball Expo seminar, Tim detailed the financials of the deal and the options and opportunities they have. With no existing building on the plot, the new home could be three times the size of the existing premises, or more if funds allowed, while an attractive offer to buy the current building could allow them to remain there while building the new home.
The funds raised went towards continuing running costs and to help find a new, permanent home for the museum’s collection of over 1,000 machines.
Several current or past PPM board members were involved with the Northern California Pinball Association which had run the Pin-A-Go-Go show in Dixon for the past six years, but who this year set up their own show in California’s wine region.
The Golden State Pinball Festival was held in Lodi in mid-May with three halls filled with games, vendors and tournaments, while a neighbouring hall hosted three days of seminars. Pinball News was there to help with the technicalities, report live and bring you audio of all the seminars.
Later in the year we tried an experiment where we recorded video of all the seminars at Pinball Expo, putting them online on our YouTube channel and on this website at the end of each day. Despite a few technical and logistical issues where equipment died, we hope you enjoyed all twenty-plus hours of them.
Pinball Expo itself was quite different this year too. The departure of Mike Pacak led to a number of changes, with organiser Rob Berk opting for a shorter but more intense format. There were more vendors and more free play machines available and a packed schedule of seminars, but no closing banquet on Saturday night and Sunday was officially not a show day anymore (although the tournaments continued into Sunday as before).
The UK got its annual pinball show back with the first UK Pinfest event, while shows around the world went from strength to strength. There’s certainly no sign of any reduction in the enthusiasm for pinball shows and tournaments.
More Pinball News
As unsavoury as it is, Pinball News has been chronicling the slow progress of the criminal case against former pinball designer, John Trudeau. He was arrested in August 2017 on two charges of possession of child pornography, but matters took and even darker turn in mid-April 2018 when he was charged on three new counts of predatory criminal sexual assault of a child, criminal sexual assault and aggravated criminal sexual abuse. Those three charges became five in July with the addition of aggravated criminal sexual abuse of a victim older than 5 years, and criminal sexual assault of a victim aged 13-17 while in a supervisory role.
John Trudeau had pleaded not guilty to all these charges and is currently being held in the custody of the Will County Sheriff in the county jail in Joliet, Illinois. He is due back in court on 17th January, 2019 for pre-trial hearings on the original two charges, and again the following day on the later five.
Podcasts are another growth area, with dozens of fans taking to the internet to share their thoughts on the happenings in the pinball world.
After a test recording following the Texas Pinball Festival, Pinball News’s Editor, Martin Ayub, teamed up with Pinball Magazine’s Editor, Jonathan Joosten for a joint free podcast in March 2018. With very positive feedback on the unique European perspective of the pinball scene, they have produced a new podcast each month since.
Talking of Pinball Magazine, the fifth edition was released in August. This time the life and works of Wayne Neyens was the feature article and, as you can imagine for someone whose work is so prolific, the magazine maxed out at 360 pages.
Elsewhere, there was another large helping of drama with the publication of the first volume of Pinball Adventures. The book was touted as consisting of ten volumes of reminiscences and stories from TNT Amusement’s Todd Tuckey, but it soon became clear there were different ambitions for the series from the author and the publisher. The first volume contained many typographical errors and was printed on low-grade paper stock. It has since been reprinted in an improved form, but future volumes of Pinball Adventures are unlikely to include any further contributions from Todd.
Finally, the 30 Years of Stern book which was funded through a Kickstarter campaign two years ago has yet to be published. The publisher, Paperflock, say in their latest update that they plan to have the finished layout sent to Stern for approval by the end of 2018, and that they hope to be given the go-ahead to start printing early in the new year.
Best New Game of 2018
Now it’s time for our annual award for the year’s Best New Game and your chance to vote. We’ve had some exceptional games release in the past twelve month, with everything from simple single-level designs to multi-level, multi-screen epics. But is bigger always better?
Last year’s winner was the relatively-uncomplicated but just plain fun Total Nuclear Annihilation, but who will win the coveted trophy for 2018? Only you can decide. It’s all just for fun, but we plan to present the winning game’s team with the Pinball News Best Game of 2018 award at a pinball show in early 2019. So, your vote really does make a difference.
The poll is only for titles actually produced and available to play in 2018.
Thank you for your vote. Please only vote once, as any multiple votes will be identified and they will all be cancelled.
Finally, a big thank you to all our amazing writers for their great work during 2018, and to you our readers for helping to make 2018 another hugely successful year for pinball in general and Pinball News in particular.
We’ll be back very shortly to start our 20th year of reporting on pinball events around the world, and we look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas. Contact us directly by e-mail, through the Contact Us panel on the right of this page, or leave a comment at the bottom of this page and tell us about your pinball 2018.
In the meantime, Happy Flipping!