2019 REVIEW OF THE YEAR

Rock-ola

Administrator
Staff member
Hello and welcome to our annual look back at the past twelve months in the world of pinball and your chance to vote for the Game of the Year for 2019.


An exciting twelve months for pinball

It’s an indicator of the popularity of pinball and the lower barriers facing new manufacturers that this year we will be examining the varying fortunes of fifteen companies who either built or are planning to build commercial pinball machines.

STERN PINBALL

The Great White in the pinball manufacturing pool continues to be Stern Pinball and they have had a very busy year in 2019, promoting five new games as well as several re-versions of existing games and launching a new fan programme.

In January Stern Pinball were promoting their new The Munsters game at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.


The Munsters Premium

The John Borg design had been announced at the end of 2019, but it wasn’t until January in Vegas when the game got its first public showing. Gary Stern, Zach Sharpe and Jack Danger all got in on the act, dressing up as Grandpa, Wolfy and Herman respectively.

Gary turned up in London at the EAG International show later the same month along with Doug Skor, Dave Peterson and John Buscaglia to promote a range of Stern games which were being shown on the Electrocoin stand.


John Buscaglia and Gary Stern

In February, Stern Pinball launched a new revenue stream with their Stern Insider programme. For an annual subscription of $29.99, Stern Insiders were promised exclusive early ‘behind-the-scenes’ access and interviews with the development teams creating each new game.

It might be early access, but Stern Pinball also set up a clear new game launch process whereby they show material first to their distributors, then to the Stern Insider subscribers, and finally to the wider public.

As part of this increased opening-up, Stern Pinball also published on their website the schematics of the various boards which make up their Spike and Spike 2 systems, to help home owners and operators repair any hardware faults no longer covered under warranty.

Although subsequent titles were being widely discussed on many forums, The Munsters continued to be Stern’s focus of promotion right through March, mainly because Eddie Munster (Butch Patrick) and Marilyn Munster (Pat Priest) were to be guests at the Texas Pinball Festival that month. Stern, the TPF organisers and Marco Specialties put on some exclusive commemorative events to mark the game’s release.


Pat Priest and Butch Patrick signing posters

The Limited Edition model was especially popular, with the original limit of 500 machines being increased to 600 due to demand – perhaps due in part to a mixed reaction to the Premium model only being available with a black & white art package.

However, once the Texas show was over, Stern wasted no time before moving on to their next title, the third game in the Steve Ritchie-designed series, Black Knight: Sword of Rage.


The Black Knight: Sword of Rage LE playfield

The game was available in the usual three variants – Pro, Premium and LE – with the Pro lacking the upper playfield which was such a signature feature of the original Black Knight and its sequel Black Knight 2000. Despite that, the game featured a rocking soundtrack by Scott Ian of Anthrax, and introduced a bunch of new characters to the Black Knight universe.

At the Midwest Gaming Classic held in Milwaukee in April, Stern had an impressive display, showing more than twenty Black Knight: Sword of Rage machines on the Marco Specialties stand.


Stern’s new Black Knight: Sword of Rage was at the MGC show in force

The following month, Stern responded to the calls for a full-colour Premium model of The Munsters by announcing exactly that, creating a fourth variant of the title.

Not only that, in May they also showed a new Catwoman Signature Edition of their Batman 66 title which was first revealed in October 2016. The Catwoman Signature Edition was based on the lowest-tiered Premium model but featured its own art package, with the first 100 produced including a signed Topps cards autographed by the original Catwoman herself, Julie Newmar.


Stern’s Catwoman Signature Edition of Batman 66

Stern officially ‘called time’ on Batman 66 a month later, saying no more machines were planned. Naturally, plans can change.

Both the Batman 66 Catwoman Special Edition and The Munsters colour Premium models were designed around previously-produced artwork from Christopher Franchi. Having been the doyen of pinball artists at Stern Pinball in recent years, Christopher and Stern decided to go their separate ways for a while, with freelancer Franchi starting a podcast and doing some work for Chicago Gaming as we shall see later.

Black Knight: Sword of Rage continued to be Stern’s staple product throughout June and into July, with appearances at the Pintastic show and at the Comic-Con in San Diego, where a limited edition run of 100 vinyl albums of the music from Black Knight sold out very quickly. The album was subsequently re-released in November on red-coloured vinyl with different sleeve artwork.

There was also a free retro-fit mod kit available for the Premium and LE models to make the upper playfield a little more interesting by adding a ‘bump’ to the feed to the upper flipper, replicating the kind of bounce available when the ball exits the upper playfield on Black Knight 2000. The kit also includes some protective plastics, while the game’s code added in some classic BK2K features such as Ransom and Last Chance.

Any thoughts of a quiet summer at Stern were dispelled as the company showed its latest attempt to appeal to home buyers with a Star Wars Home Edition.


Star Wars Home Edition

Although there was a general consensus that a $1,995-$2,495 model could do well with those looking to make a casual purchase for their home arcade or game room and despite having a more economical cabinet and smaller display, Stern pitched their Star Wars Home Edition at $3,995. Stern never reveal their production numbers but it would appear reasonable to say this game isn’t going to be the one to conquer the home market and sell in large numbers.

What did sell in large numbers was Stern’s other release in July, Jurassic Park.


The Pro and LE Jurassic Park games

This was designer Keith Elwin’s second game for Stern after Iron Maiden, and came in the usual three variants, Pro, Premium and LE.

The key attraction of the Premium and LE models was the ball-eating and ball-throwing T-Rex head on the left ramp (which was static on the Pro). This was unashamedly classic Jurassic Park, based on the 1993 original movie as opposed to any of the numerous Jurassic Park and Jurassic World follow-ups. However it didn’t include any clips from the movie, with the Stern team choosing instead to develop their own storyline based around the original concept but using in-house graphics and audio. Wayne Knight reprised his role as computer expert turned saboteur Dennis Nedry for the game by providing hundreds of voice calls and appearing in the playfield artwork.


Wayne Knight’s Dennis Nedry is the only movie character in the game – well, the only human one

Jurassic Park was to be the first game of 2019 to involve pre-announcement ‘leaks’ of promotional material before an official announcement was made. In this instance, images from a distributor preview presentation appeared online soon after they were shown in a webcast. ‘Leaks’ like this were to become a familiar part of new game launches for Stern in 2019.


One of the ‘leaked’ images

September saw another new game launch from Stern, although this time it wasn’t what they describe as a ‘Cornerstone’ game – i.e. one all of their own making.

Elvira’s House of Horrors was the third Elvira-themed game after Elvira & the Party Monsters and Scared Stiff, and the third Elvira title from Dennis Nordman and Greg Freres. Their WhizBang Pinball company was the design studio behind Elvira’s House of Horrors, having previous created the Whoa Nellie! Big Juicy Melons game which Stern subsequently manufactured (and re-versioned as The Pabst Can Crusher and Primus).


The Limited Edition model’s playfield

The game was ‘leaked’ with several pre-announcement images appearing online even before distributors were briefed. The official announcement followed a few days later, with Elvira following the pattern of earlier ‘Studio’ titles Batman 66 and The Beatles: Beatlemania Pinball by not offering a Pro model as such, but starting with a Premium and then moving up to a Limited Edition and a top-of-the-range Signature Edition. All three had the same playfield feature set and gameplay, with the upper models differentiated by their varying trim, bling and add-on options.


The signed Elvira collector card on the Signature Edition

The following month, Elvira’s alter ego, Cassandra Peterson, was at the 35th Pinball Expo to help promote the new game, sign autographs and have selfies taken as Stern and Marco Specialties put on a huge display of their new titles in their own games hall. Cassandra also appeared (briefly) in the ‘making of’ seminar all about the new game.


A row of Elvira’s House of Horrors machines

Greg Freres, Tom Kopera, Dennis Nordman, Lyman Sheats, Jerry Thompson, Chuck Ernst, Paul Chamnankit, Lindsey Freres, Schubkegel and Special Guest Cassandra Peterson (Elvira)

Cassandra was also inducted into the Pinball Expo Hall of Fame

Not content with launching the Elvira game in September, Stern also announced a re-arting of their Steve Ritchie-designed Star Wars game. While the first version was based on the original movie series with the art coming from numerous graphic artists, this new version used the Star Wars comic books as its inspiration, with Randy Martinez creating the art package.


The Star Wars Comic Art Edition

New versions of the software are such frequent occurrences that we wouldn’t normally mention the plethora of updates every manufacturer’s more recent titles receive until they are deemed ‘feature complete’ – i.e. ‘finished’. However, in September Stern released an update for their March 2016 title, Ghostbusters.

This game had been in need of additional work to complete some of the features and rework many others, and much to the delight of game owners it finally received version 1.16 which did all that and much more, including new sub-wizard and wizard modes. The current (at the time of writing) version of 1.17 came out soon after which fixed a few issues introduced with the new rules and made a couple of minor adjustments to timers and scoring.

With a new Home Edition and Comic Art package, Stern’s Star Wars game had received more than its fair share of attention in 2019, but there was one final ‘icing on the cake’ for this title, as the long-awaited R2D2 animated topper was finally released.

Buyers hoping to snap one up had to have deep pockets and fast reactions though, as the run was limited to 500 units and the price set at $749 plus shipping. Despite those hurdles, it is thought Star Wars collectors – whether they has the pinball or not – snapped these up in the hope that the rarity will make them both collectable and valuable.

We had been expecting another new game announcement from Stern Pinball before the end of the year, but the company cut it fine by waiting until just prior to Christmas to reveal their latest release.

Stranger Things marked the Brian Eddy’s return to pinball design following his three-game career at Williams creating Attack from Mars, Medieval Madness and The Shadow.


The Limited Edition model

There were elements of the first two of those titles in the design for Stranger Things, but the innovative new feature was the projector mounted below the bottom apron which projects images and animations onto a large screen and onto drop targets, standups and a spinner, allowing dynamic artwork which reacts to the game play and rules.

Rather predictably there was a ‘leak’ of a promo video from Stern before the official announcement. It was quickly taken down but the video showed the projector in action on a Premium game in a darkened room. When Stern launched the game they only demonstrated the Pro model which lacks the projector feature.


The projector feature on the Premium and Limited Edition models

A problem which affected several pinball manufacturers was the chipping and/or pooling of clearcoat on the playfield. The issue manifested around playfield posts and could cause the clearcoat to chip off – sometimes taking the playfield artwork below with it.

No explanation for the sudden appearance of the problem across several playfield manufacturers was forthcoming, but changes to the clearcoat composition, different playfield wood properties, new ink mixes and lack of time for the clear to properly cure were all suggested.

Stern attempted to mitigate the problem by not printing artwork around slingshot posts to allow better clearcoat adhesion, but both they and Jersey Jack Pinball have been working with owners of affected games to understand the issues and make things right.

Understandably, no company is overly keen to publicly admit there are problems. Jersey Jack’s Jack Guarnieri went furthest by making a statement to the Pinball Magazine & Pinball News podcast stating the company’s position and detailing the steps any affected game owners should take.

JERSEY JACK PINBALL

Speaking of Jersey Jack Pinball, while 2019 was a busy year, it wasn’t as busy as they perhaps initially expected.

Our podcast with Pinball Magazine featured an interview with Jack Guarnieri at the EAG International show in January where Jack talked about the company’s new deal with Bandai Namco to distribute JJP games in Japan.


Three Jersey Jack Pinball games in Sega Akihabara in Tokyo
(picture by John, our roving reporter)

Jack also revealed that he expected the company to release two new games in 2019 – one in the spring and another in the autumn.

Before that though, a new Yellow Brick Road Edition of JJP’s first release – The Wizard of Oz – was unveiled at the Texas Pinball Festival in March. Limited to 500 machines and priced at $11,500, the first 200 were expected to be built in 2019.


The Yellow Brick Road Limited Edition playfield

The new variant includes sparkle effects on the playfield beneath the clearcoat, and sports a bright yellow trim package, but doesn’t include the Winged Monkey mechanism which had been problematic on some earlier games.

The first of the new titles was unveiled in April in a dual launch at the Midwest Gaming Classic in Milwaukee and at the Flip Expo show in France.

The brightly-coloured Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is a Pat Lawlor design available in Standard, Limited Edition and Collectors Edition models.


The playfield from the Limited Edition model

Featuring four flippers and three ramps, the playfield is packed with shots and mechanisms including a spinning gobstopper, a Secret Machine which reveals an underground shot, a kickout which sends the ball back to the shooter lane and, on the upper models, a Wonkavator ball lock on the back panel which carried locked balls over from player to player and game to game.

The Collectors Edition added candy red metalwork, cabinet interior artwork decals, a gobstopper shooter rod, a mirrored backglass, under cabinet lighting, playfield sparkle effects, RadCals super-glossy cabinet artwork and custom in-game speech by Dawn Cole who played Veronica Salt in the movie.


Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory Collectors Edition

The new Willy Wonka game went into production in June with the Standard Editions being the first to roll down the line. Limited Edition models followed the next month but the Collector Editions didn’t start shipping until October.

With those Willy Wonka Collector Editions and the Limited Editions taking up production to the end of the year, there was no second new title launched in 2019.

With 2020 looking like a busy year for new releases, it’s not clear exactly when Jersey Jack Pinball’s sixth game will be announced, but as Jack told us back in January, the company hoped to be releasing more than one new title a year by now.

SPOOKY PINBALL

For Spooky Pinball, most of the year’s production was taken up making their Alice Cooper’s Nightmare Castle title.


Charlie with the Alice Cooper’s Nightmare Castle game

The company can produce around 500 machines a year, and with nearly all 500 of the limited run of Alice Cooper sold, that kept the factory busy through 2019.

Elsewhere at the company, they launched their Spooky Pinball Fang Club which, like the Stern Insider programme, offered exclusive rewards and insider access for members at a cost of $45 for the US, $55 for Canada and $95 for other countries. Membership of the Fang Club would prove to be especially important later in the year for anyone hoping to buy Spooky Pinball’s next title.

That next title would be designed by Scott Danesi, but his work developing it didn’t stand in the way of him releasing updated code for his Total Nuclear Annihilation and also, in September, releasing a new expanded album of music from the game featuring remixes and a new track.

At Pinball Expo in 2018, Scott told the Spooky Pinball seminar audience that the title of his next game was Haunted House Party. This was widely seen as a working title, and sure enough in November Scott’s second title was actually announced as Rick and Morty, based on the popular Adult Swim cartoon series.


Spooky Pinball announces their next title

While Scott is still responsible for much of the new game, Rick and Morty has Eric Priepke programming with game rules from Bowen Kerins, David van Es creating the display graphics, and the show’s co-creator and voice of both Rick and Morty – Justin Roiland – recording custom voice calls for the game’s many features.

Rick and Morty was revealed in December at which point the game was available to pre-order by Fang Club members who had a two-week advance window over the general public. Not that two weeks were needed, as the limited run of 750 machines sold out in a matter of hours.


The whole Rick and Morty playfield

The Rick and Morty pinball could be bought as either a Standard Edition or a Bloodsucker Edition with added bling for $6,995 and $7,520 respectively.


The Blood Sucker Edition

The vast majority of the 750 were purchased as the Blood Sucker Edition which will be produced ahead of the Standard Editions. That meant, with current capacity, the small number of buyers of the Standard Editions will be waiting around fifteen months until their games go into production.

CHICAGO GAMING

The Monster Bash remake continued to be Chicago Gaming’s primary title throughout much of 2019.

There were some playfield issues at the start of the year which resulted in minor delays to production, but those were overcome and the Limited Edition models were soon working their way along the production line.

In October we visited the Chicago Gaming and Churchill Cabinets factory in Cicero and saw the production process for ourselves.


Monster Bash Remake playfields on the line

At the time, the company was just getting ready to show their new Medieval Madness remake which is an update on their original Medieval Madness remake, utilising the new technology they are employing in Monster Bash. This includes a new computer and full RGB lighting throughout, while the top-of-the-range Royal Edition features a 3D-molded topper.


The new Medieval Madness topper

The background comes from Christopher Franchi who, as we mentioned earlier, is doing some work for Chicago Gaming. Owners of the first run of the Medieval Madness remake can purchase an upgrade kit to give them the same new RGB lighting effects, the option of a new larger RGB display, and the 3D topper.

What we didn’t see from Chicago Gaming in 2019 is the announcement of their fourth title – be it another remake or a new design. That is expected to be announced at the Texas Pinball Festival in March 2020.

AMERICAN PINBALL

American Pinball ended 2018 having announced Oktoberfest as their second title and revealed prototype games at Pinball Expo in October.


The Oktoberfest playfield

It would take until April before the game actually went into production, but in the meantime the company registered four trademarks for potential upcoming titles – Poker Run, Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes and Valkyries. There’s no guarantee any of these will be made of course, and none of them are expected to be the theme of American Pinball’s game three.

That third game wasn’t announced or revealed during 2019. Instead, it too is expected to be shown at the Texas Pinball Festival in March 2020.

American Pinball had shown us around their new 35,000 square feet factory in Palatine in October 2018 with plans to start production there before the end of the year.


Part of the production space in the new American Pinball building

Delays in refurbishing the factory and getting the required permits meant the timescale for moving in slipped to the summer of 2019, then to the end of that year.

We visited the company in October at their original facility in Streamwood just before Pinball Expo. They were getting ready to unveil their first redemption game, The Flying Dutchman. Designed by Bryan Hansen who also designed the Pinball Magic and Flipper Football pinballs, this large arcade piece was marketed under the firm’s new American Arcade brand.


The Flying Dutchman from American Arcade

Later in October, American Pinball was part of the Aimtronfest at the new facility where they will share production facilities with their sister company Aimtron. The PCB and technology company already has a large building in Palatine, but will bring some of the manufacturing it currently does elsewhere into the new building alongside American Pinball.


The Aimtron facility in Palatine

Aimtronfest celebrated the start of Aimtron’s tenth year of business and gave visitors the chance to see their new building.

As if October wasn’t busy enough, Oktoberfest received a big code update that month which added lots of new music, voice calls, display animations and fixed a number of bugs.

MULTIMORPHIC

2019 was a year of further consolidation for Multimorphic – building on and expanding their P3 pinball platform into new areas.

A new ‘pitch & bat’ game was released for the platform at the start of the year. Using the Cannon Lagoon playfield module, Grand Slam Rally had been shown in prototype form in 2018, but was officially released in January by Multimorphic and the game’s third-party developer Pixel86 at a price of $399.


Grand Slam Rally and Cosmic Cart Racing

Another game which had been previewed the previous year was Cosmic Cart Racing which uses its own playfield module, but when we visited the Multimorphic factory in March we got to experience the new four-player head-to-head play using four network-connected P3 machines.

This play style was subsequently shown to the public at the Texas Pinball Festival where the new, free Hoopin’ It Up! game for use with the Lexi Lightspeed playfield module was also announced.


Multimorphic’s four linked P3 machines playing Cosmic Cart Racing

Connected head-to-head play became Multimorphic’s main focus over the summer, as their new game Heads Up! for use with the Cannon Lagoon platform was announced. Those without their own hardware could play the game at Buffalo Billiards and Dave & Buster’s, both in Austin, Texas, close to the Multimorphic base. Dave & Busters abandoned pinball in their locations some time ago, so it was good to see it making at least a limited return.

The company rounded off their year by announcing a new industry-leading limited two year warranty on their P3 pinball platform and associated game modules.

DUTCH PINBALL

2019 was a landmark year for a company which has seen more than its fair share of drama.

Dutch Pinball began the year embroiled in the same deadlocked legal battle with which they ended 2018. Their former contract manufacturer, ARA, was still suing Dutch Pinball for the parts they bought and the work they undertook building The Big Lebowski pinball machines.


The Big Lebowski inside the ARA factory

The issue had been to court and a judge had ordered both sides to come to a settlement or face a ruling from the court. Negotiations towards a deal had not been productive, with both sides confident of their respective cases.

Dutch Pinball had been founded by Jaap Nauta and Barry Driessen, and the two had been doing their best to deal with all the legal tussles and customer relations. In July the company announced that, due to the return of a cancer previously thought to have been successfully treated, Jaap would no longer play an active role and Barry would become the sole owner of Dutch Pinball.


Jaap Nauta

This news came with another bombshell in which, following their failure to agree a settlement, the court had rules against Dutch Pinball and in favour of ARA. Dutch Pinball no longer had the funds to pay ARA, while ARA held around 40 completed games, several partially-complete machines, and a large stock of parts.

Forcing Dutch Pinball into bankruptcy and liquidation of the stock seemed almost inevitable, but at the last minute a deal was struck where Barry would buy all the The Big Lebowski games and parts. Barry exclusively told our pinball podcast with Pinball Magazine all about the deal and his plans going forward.


Barry Driessen

Getting the funds to complete the transaction was the challenge. Although Barry had help from friends and family, he would need a lot more. So, the forty complete (or near complete) The Big Lebowski machines were put up for sale by Barry in August through CoinTaker and Nitro Pinball in North America at a price of $12,500. They sold out in the blink of an eye.

Armed with the funds to clear his debts with Ara, Barry took the remaining stock and started to build new machines, beginning in October.

It was a slow process with two to three games a week being completed and these initial machines were still only initially offered to new buyers, but those owed machines were given the opportunity to jump the queue and buy one of the first new builds. When enough of these new buyers had come on board, Barry would be able to start fulfilling orders to those Early Achievers who had already pre-paid. If one of those Early Achievers had bought one of the new games, they could choose to either get a second game or get a refund for their new game purchase price.

There’s still a long way to go. New parts will be needed to complete all the pre- and new orders while some tasks will be outsourced and some new staff employed, but Barry and the team appear to have pulled-off the near impossible and, despite all the “strikes and gutters”, are heading towards bringing the whole The Big Lebowski saga to a happy, if late, conclusion.

I don’t know about you, but I take comfort in that.

SUNCOAST PINBALL

Not everyone was able to perform the ‘Phoenix from the Flames’ trick though.

Suncoast Pinball began 2019 by continuing work on their first title, Cosmic Carnival. The initial signs were promising. Suncoast Arcade was an established manufacturer of in-home multicade arcade games and had contracted Dirty Donny to create the artwork for Cosmic Carnival. It was a typically distinctive and eye-catching design, giving the game an increased air of professionalism.

Cosmic Carnival was then exhibited at the Texas Pinball Festival in March, where the rich artwork went some way to compensating for the fact that the game had no rules, lighting effects or display animations, and an uninspiring playfield layout. While it flipped, shooting shots with no feedback or sense of reward was a fairly joyless experience.


The playfield from Cosmic Carnival by Suncoast Pinball

It did look good though, and with lots of work to bring it to life it could be a reasonable first effort from a new company.


Suncoast Pinball had two Cosmic Carnival demonstration machines plus assorted branded apparel

In April, Suncoast Pinball put a price of $5,995 on the game and limited it to a run of 250 machines. They stared small, building the first five in May and ordering parts for another five, but these are small numbers in the pinball business and it came as little surprise when the number of Cosmic Carnival machines to be built was reduced to just 100 in August.

Despite the obvious poor sales, Suncoast Pinball announced they were already working on games two and three, but that proved to be hugely optimistic when in September Suncoast Pinball put themselves into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The business owed $15,000 on the lease of its factory units and we investigated to discover the true state of the finances. The website and Facebook account were closed down and the pinball operation effectively ceased.


Some of the documents filed in the civil case against Suncoast Arcade

The arcade video game business appears to have survived and is an ongoing concern, but Suncoast Pinball never survived beyond its first title and was in fact the only confirmed victim of 2019’s highly-competitive pinball market.

HOMEPIN

May:
China-based Homepin had an interesting 2019 following production of their first pinball title, Thunderbirds, in 2018.

With such a crowded market for pinball sales in North America and Europe, and the constant threat of increased tariffs, Homepin’s focus shifted increasingly towards the Chinese market.

Their first new product for 2019 was a reimagining of the classic Taito game, Ice Cold Beer, which they called Ride The Wave.

The basic gameplay was similar, but Homepin added new music and background sounds.


The true purpose of Homepin is in their name though, and their second pinball machine was announced in October.

China Zombies is a Chinese zombie-themed game aimed at the Chinese market. Zombies are popular there but Chinese zombies hop like kangaroos rather than wander around aimlessly.

Homepin’s Mike Kalinowski told our joint podcast with Pinball Magazine how the game features a hopping zombie on the playfield, but is nevertheless a simple game designed to appeal to the Chinese market which is unfamiliar with traditional pinball as we know it and thus needs to be gently introduced to the concept.


Homepin’s China Zombies
(picture: Homepin)

Although not fully revealed yet, China Zombies includes a DMD display and will feature family-friendly artwork devoid of any blood or guts. There are plans to produce a western version of the game, but China is definitely Homepin’s core market for this title.

HAGGIS PINBALL

While Homepin may have its roots in Australia, Haggis Pinball from Cranbourne West near Melbourne was enthusiastically waving the national flag with their plans to not only produce their first title but to document every step of the journey.

Haggis Pinball’s plan at the start of 2019 was to produce their Wraith design and bring it to the Texas Pinball Festival in March, but as the show drew ever closer they changed their minds and decided instead to bring their second title, Celts.

The game they brought was a very bare-bones design which had been dismantled in Australia, shipped to the US and then re-built just the night before. It was an early stage proof-of-concept rather than anything representative of the final product.


Haggis Pinball brought an early version of their Celts game

Work continued over the following months and Haggis Pinball were confident enough that they announced they would officially launch Celts at the Brisbane Masters in mid-August and would then ship ten games to Pinball Expo in October.

Both plans proved to be overly-ambitious, with the launch event dropped and only a single game making it to Chicago. However, the Celts game exhibited on the Haggis Pinball stand at Expo was a huge leap from the game shown six months earlier with a professional-quality finish, an attractive art package and some interesting gameplay features.


The Celts game from Haggis Pinball

Celts was available to pre-order at Pinball Expo for $5,250, although prices are not currently displayed on the haggispinball.com website’s webshop. A number of options have been added to allow buyers to have their name on the display, choose a trim finish and add some playfield models.


The Pinball Expo price for the game was $5,250

Perhaps most impressive has been Haggis’s Damian Hartin who has been posting daily video updates, recently passing the fifty mark as Celts moves towards production.


You can watch all his videos on the Haggis Pinball Facebook page.

GREAT LAKES PINBALL

Great Lakes Pinball announced their intention to build their Exposé game in 2018 and started 2019 by revealing two characters from the game.


Leroy from the Exposé game

Leroy and Sasquatch Bruce were announced in January and February respectively, while the company also said they had contracted Chicago-based artist Tom Deja to create the artwork for Exposé.


The logo for the Exposé game

The team from Great Lakes Pinball made an appearance at the Pinball at the Zoo show in April 2019, but despite their minimal website claiming they would reveal the Exposé game during 2019, nothing appeared and there have been no more updates since April.

Will Exposé finally appear in 2020 or is Great Lakes Pinball no more? We’ll have to wait and see.

PINBALL BUZZ

Pinball Buzz made their name in pinball with their Pinball Adventures series of books, but owner Andrew MacBain had been planning to enter the world of pinball machine manufacturing for some time.

In March, Pinball Buzz announced the titles of five up-coming gamesPunny Factory, Sushi Mania, First Class, Ninja Mania and Canada Eh! – and said they had teamed up with an established pinball company to get them made.


The flyer for Punny Factory

In August it was revealed Team Pinball – who designed and built the The Mafia game at their studio in south Wales – were working with Pinball Buzz on the first of those titles.

Pinball News duly visited the Team Pinball studio to check out the Punny Factory game and talked to Andrew about his plans for this and future titles.


The Punny Factory playfield design

The Punny Factory playfield

Punny Factory should go into production in early-to-mid 2020, although the timescale for this and subsequent titles is very relaxed.

DEEPROOT PINBALL

For Deeproot Pinball the year began very quietly. Having already postponed their ‘Five Days of Deeproot‘ which was to be their big launch at the Texas Pinball Festival in March, the company waited until April to give any more details about their upcoming products.

The focus throughout 2019 was solely on their Retro Atomic Zombie Adventureland (RAZA) title, starting with a teaser video from the business’s content arm, Deeproot Studios, explaining the game’s rather involved storyline.


Deeproot Studios have a large staff – the website shows a team of 40 artists, modellers, animators, technicians and storyline developers – working on content. It seems doubtful all their work will only ever end up being used in pinball machines. Indeed, the website suggests they wish to develop content for TV, movies, video games, AR/VR applications and for board/card games.

The launch of Deeproot Pinball was tentatively rescheduled to take place sometime between Autumn 2019 and Summer 2020, while the company attacked the current pinball manufacturers lack of ambition and build quality, saying how their products would revolutionise pinball.

The company also promised to show, at a minimum, several RAZA prototype machines at the Houston Arcade Expo in November.

Before that though, Deeproot Pinball made good on their promise to refund those Zidware customers who lost money when the RAZA and Magic Girl games they had paid for were never produced. There was the option of a cash settlement or credit towards upcoming Deeproot titles, and those who opted for the cash received it in August.

In November two RAZA prototype machines were duly shown at the Houston Arcade Expo, although some ‘expectation management’ had been applied the previous month when it was made clear the games appearing would be early prototypes without final art, code, build, sounds or rules. In fact, Deeproot said there would be minimal presence from the company, with the machines only being monitored to see how they stood up to a weekend’s constant play.

Despite all those caveats, the game looked excellent and did include the kind of novel playfield features we’ve come to expect in a John Popadiuk design.

Several videos were posted showing how the two prototype games played. Here are a couple of them but you can find more on YouTube.


Finally, Deeproot confirmed they would hold a public launch of one or more titles at the 2020 Texas Pinball Festival, preceded by a press launch at the company’s facility in San Antonio, Texas two days earlier.

Pinball News will be there, of course, and at the Texas Pinball Festival too.

CIRCUS MAXIMUS

It was, on the face of it, a quiet year for the Circus Maximus team after all the publicity in 2018 for their plans for a Capcom Kingpin remake.

Kingpin has taken priority over the earlier plans to re-manufacture the Williams title Pinball Circus, but progress has been slow. What we do know is that Kingpin will use the same P3-ROC pinball controller from Multimorphic used on Houdini, Total Nuclear Annihilation and other recent titles, while Matt Reisterer from Back Alley Creations is working on some additional toys for the game.

The first re-built Kingpin has appeared at many shows, although it is more of a concept game as is clear once the playfield is lifted.


Circus Maximus were also showing their prototype Kingpin remake

Circus Maximus did say that they expected the first remake Kingpins to be delivered to buyers by the end of 2019, but we don’t believe that happened.

Fingers-crossed for 2020 then.

QUETZAL PINBALL

For Spanish pinball company Quetzal Pinball it was quite a year.

After ending 2018 by announcing their partnership with game repairer and restorer STR Pinball in south-eastern Spain to make the Tokyo Perfect Drift, Quetzal Pinball surprised the pinball community by revealing a second collaborative new title.


The flyer for Super Canasta

Super Canasta continues the popular ‘Canasta’ (basket or hoop, in English) series which continues to evoke fond memories from operators. The company Bitronic contacted Quetzal to enquire about a pinball machine to add to their range or slot machine and assorted coin-op amusements.


Quetzal Pinball’s Antonio and Gustavo with Super Canasta, Tokyo Perfect Drift and Captain Nemo at Pinball Expo 2019

The game premiered at Pinball Expo in October, and Pinball News found out all about its making in a special article.


The playfield artwork by Lord Hiryu

One of the prototype games in the Bitronic factory

Super Canasta features relatively simple and understandable rules, with six modes, a multiball and several shot combos. It was due to be available to purchase at the end of 2019 at a price of €4,200.

That concludes our look at the fortunes of the various pinball manufacturers, past, present and future.

Of course it was a busy year for many others involved in pinball, so here are a few snippets of news from throughout 2019.

OTHER NEWS

It wasn’t a story we took any pleasure in reporting, but in January former pinball designer John Trudeau pleaded guilty in two separate court cases related to sexual abuse and possession of illegal child abuse material.

In both cases he was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment minus time served. In the second more serious case all but the most minor charge were dropped as part of a plea bargain.

The Pinburgh tournament, the World’s biggest competitive pinball event held as part of the ReplayFX show, sold out in record time when tickets went on sale in February 2019.

This year the number of entries has been increased to 1,000 and they go on sale at midday Eastern time on 22nd February. Stand by for the madness.

One of the many highlights of the Texas Pinball Festival was seeing a new take on the Monster Bash translite from artist Brian Allen.

Brian gave the Universal Monsters a scarier, sharper edge to their portrayal which was so popular that it was licensed through Planetary Pinball, Williams and Universal for general sale.


Brian’s Monster Bash translite

Brian then went on to produce an alternative Attack from Mars translite and is currently working on his take on Medieval Madness for release in 2020.

The first edition of a new pinball publication was released in 2018, with the first copies of Coin-Op Carnival sold at the Texas Pinball Festival.



The publication is unusual in several ways, the main one being it is fully illustrated by Ryan Claytor who, together with co-author Nicholas Baldridge presents the content in a comic-book style.


Ryan Claytor and Nick Baldridge preparing to sell the first copies of their Coin-Op Carnival publication

The pair plan to release a total of four issues of Coin-Op Carnival with a two-year interval between issues. Copies can be bought at various pinball shows, through distributors or direct through the website.

Speaking of publications… It’s three years since PaperFlock’s Keeping the Ball Alive: 30 Years of Stern Pinball book was successfully funded on Kickstarter with 444 backers pledging $55,313. Back then, delivery of the book was planned for May 2017, but a long series of delays, redesigns and other content changes means the final pages have only just been completed.

The book’s content is now in the review stage, while the jacket design and project backer perks are worked on. Realistically, and barring any more unforeseen delays, we would expect delivery of the book to begin a nice round three year late in May 2020.

One stalwart of the pinball shows circuit is PinSound, maker of the replacement sound board to add alternative music, voices and effects to a game.

In July they announced their new Motion Control kit which allows you to add a shaker motor to numerous games from Bally/Williams, Data East, Sega and Stern which never incorporated one in the original design. So far more than 100 titles are supported.

In November we saw the passing of Gene Cunningham, the founder and owner of Illinois Pin Ball Company.


Gene Cunningham

A serial collector (some might say ‘hoarder’), at one time Gene had well over 1,000 pinball machines stored in several warehouses and was one of the two licence-holders able to re-manufacture Williams/Bally pinball parts once the pinball manufacturer closed its doors.

He also bought out much of the inventory when pinball companies closed, getting parts, paperwork, computers, files, artwork, tooling and prototype machines from Williams, Capcom and Alvin G.

While the parts sales business was run in a rather chaotic manner, Gene will be best remembered for his stoic determination to manufacture the Capcom game Big Bang Bar which had only ever reached the sample game stage at Capcom Pinball.

The Big Bang Bar remakes were announced at Pinball Expo in 2004 and offered at a price of $4,500, plus $250 more for optional gold trim.



It took almost three years to achieve, but in June 2007 the first batch from the overall total of 183 machines were shipped to buyers in Europe in time to beat the introduction of RoHS legislation which banned the lead used in the game’s solder.

Eventually though, Gene ran into financial difficulties and had to sell or close down all his business interests, including his pinball collection, parts stock and licensing rights. Most of those parts went to Planetary Pinball or Pinball Inc., while the Strong Museum now houses and curates much of the historic paperwork from Williams.

Finally in this review, a word about Pinball News itself.

The start of 2020 marks twenty years since Pinball News began. It was set up in the wake of the closure or Williams Pinball to help promote pinball and remind the world that the game was not only alive, but actually flourishing with a huge collector base, a massive enthusiastic following, and dozens of companies still making games, mods and parts. Not only that, all over the world there were businesses operating games, making good money, and a large (and growing) community of competitive and casual pinball players supporting existing locations.

It was tough to begin with when so many people though Williams’ departure meant the end of pinball, but we persisted by showing how new games were being made, new shows and tournaments were popping up, and shows celebrating the past, present and future of pinball were thriving all over the world.

At the end of 1999, there was just one pinball company left. Twenty years later and we are reporting on fifteen current, past and future pinball manufacturers. Sure, some companies fail, and that’s inevitable, but we’ve never been more optimistic about pinball’s future, not only from the number of companies building them, but in the way technology has allowed the game to grow and become far more accessible.

But, despite the technical advancements, having a really good playfield design which is both fun and challenging to shoot ensures the essence of pinball lives on in a way we could only dream of twenty years ago.

Enjoy 2020. As Castor from Tron: Legacy said, “This is going to be quite a ride.

See you in 2020

We come now to our annual vote for the Pinball News Game of the Year and your chance to decide which new release is worthy of the coveted award.

Previous winners included Total Nuclear Annihilation in 2017 and Iron Maiden in 2018. Who will be 2019’s victor?

New pinball designs manufactured and shipped in 2019 are eligible, including ‘remake’ models. Any titles announced but not shipping by the end of the year will be included in the 2020 poll (we’re looking at you, Rick and Morty).



WHICH TITLE SHOULD WIN PINBALL NEWS GAME OF THE YEAR?
  • Alice Cooper's Nightmare Castle (Spooky Pinball)
  • Batman 66 Catwoman Signature Edition (Stern Pinball/Ka-Pow! Pinball)
  • Black Knight: Sword of Rage (Stern Pinball)
  • Cosmic Carnival (Suncoast Pinball)
  • Cosmic Cart Racing (P3, Multimorphic)
  • Elvira's House of Horrors (Stern Pinball/WhizBang Pinball)
  • Grand Slam Rally (P3, Multimorphic/Pixel86)
  • Hoopin' It Up! (P3, Multimorphic)
  • Jurassic Park (Stern Pinball)
  • Medieval Madness Remake 2nd Edition (Chicago Gaming)
  • Monster Bash Remake (Chicago Gaming)
  • The Munsters (Stern Pinball)
  • Oktoberfest (American Pinball)
  • Pirates of the Caribbean (Jersey Jack Pinball)
  • Star Wars Comic Art Edition (Stern Pinball)
  • Star Wars Home Edition (Stern Pinball)
  • Stranger Things (Stern Pinball)
  • Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (Jersey Jack Pinball)
  • The Wizard of Oz: Yellow Brick Road Limited Edition (Jersey Jack Pinball)
  • Tokyo Perfect Drift (Quetzal Pinball/STR Pinball)
VoteView Results

Voting closes at midnight 1st March, 2020. Please only vote once. All votes are recorded and multiple votes will all be deleted, so please be nice.

The winning company will be presented with their Pinball News Game of the Year award soon after the poll closes – probably at the Texas Pinball Festival in March.

Thanks for voting and for reading our Review of the Year 2019.

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