Friday, April 24, 2009

Pinball Passions

I promised last week that there would be a new pinball article written by my brother, and here it is, slightly later than expected. From here on in until the end of the article, everything you read was written by Kevyn rather than myself apart from a few editorial comments.

Whitewater is a very good looking table and consistently ranks as one of the best, but we just couldn't get on with it.

I never was very good at the arcade games in the 80's but I always enjoyed pinball. Didn't read the rules about amassing scores, I just enjoyed the game as a whole. We used to go to a Pontins in Brean Sands (situated in the west of England - Ed) annually - they always had a selection of tables there and I used to enjoy shovelling pounds into them for the weekend. The tables which stand out my memory are Star Trek: The Next Generation (ST:TNG), Hook, Whitewater and Dr Who. Then times moved on, the holiday stopped and the opportunity to play pinball didn't come up.

Then two years ago my brother heard a podcast about restoring and owning pinballs (Suburubrat's Hardware Flashback segment on Retro Gaming Radio) as he has always been passionate about gaming they are a natural spin off from arcades. At this point life for me had moved on, the kids were out of nappies and disposable income was increasing. Another interest of mine, classic American cars had run its course and so the big yank tank in the garage was sold. At that point Dave suggested, possibly in jest, that a pin would be good. "What a good idea" I thought and within a week a table local to me had been sourced and was installed in the garage where the car had stood.

I hadn't researched anything about pinball at this point and knew nothing of the IPDB, the UK Pinball Group forum or the various places which deal in pinballs. Subsequently the first table was not the best to be had, namely Hurricane, but wasn't in a poor condition and the served to start the interest. It wasn't long before a second table was sourced via eBay and so two were now in the garage. This one was Star Trek 25th Anniversary which was a much better game and by now I was studying the rule sheet to score multiple jackpots etc. Then I recalled the holidays and looked into some of the games I remembered. I subsequently found Hook nearby and that too came home. Now we had three tables which wasn't really the idea so Dave took ownership of Hurricane to keep the house harmonious.

By now it had become necessary to learn how to maintain these things as all the tables had developed niggly little faults, but in truth these are mainly failed switches, poor contacts or broken wires, all of which really only needed a basic meter and a soldering iron (board faults would come later). Then the annual Pinball Show for 2007 was upon us and so I travelled up to Kettering to spend an entire day playing pinball non-stop. What an absolute belter of a day too, thoroughly recommended, and never has 9 hours disappeared so quickly. It was here that I a very reasonably priced ST:TNG was found and that too made its way to the garage. Again three tables could not be kept and so Hook draw the short straw and was sold on. I wasn't tired of the game and wouldn't mind one again. The situation remained static then until just after Christmas when in January 2008 I felt the need for a new table and so sourced a Jurrasic Park (JP) through the UK Pinball Group. This was in fact a decision that would have much deeper repercussions that I realised at the time.

Through the art of gentle persuasion three tables were now accepted as the norm ad so all of them held residence in the garage, but it was cold and damp out there especially in February, so a seed of an idea was sown. The guy who had sold me JP had a superb log cabin to house all of his tables in. In our garden we had an unused greenhouse and a rotting shed, so I suggested we clear out the area and get a log cabin. Ideal, I enthused, for the kids to play in, as a workshop for my various projects and as a games room. And so in March 08 the cabin was erected and the tables took up residence there. Dave had also spoken about a MAME cabinet and had played various emulators on the PC, so I sourced one on eBay and set that up too. This has provided many hours of enjoyment with the kids playing some all time classics like Space Invaders, Galaxian, Bubble Bobble, Joust, Dig Dug, Robotron etc.

The log cabin in a fairly early iteration with the JP and ST:TNG tables along with the MAME cab.

I had grown tired of ST 25th by then so that was moved on and a Whitewater took its place. Now this might be rated as one of the best tables around by some but I couldn't get on with it at all and within 6 weeks it had been replaced by a Tales of the Arabian Nights (TOTAN). The ST:TNG had also quickly lost its appeal and that moved on in June 08 for a Stern Lord of the Rings (LOTR). Now that was a very good table to play, lots of missions, lots of shots, lots of samples, so much so that I re watched the movie trilogy.

Things stayed constant then until February 2009 when the LOTR went at a good price and enabled me to get two more table in its place - Creature from the Black Lagoon (CFTBL) which was in a really poor condition and needed completely stripping, cleaning and re rubbering to get to a good table, and High Speed 2: The Getaway (HS2) which is simply awesome due to its speed. The super charger is also a very cool toy. And so there were are at the moment, 4 tables: JP, TOTAN, CFTBL, and HS2 plus a MAME cab. Along the way lots of different repairs have had to be undertaken in order to keep playing and keep costs down but there is a good degree of self satisfaction in carrying out the repairs. I have also had great fun playing them and met a very good bunch in the group who offer advice and keep the spirit of pinball when and truly alive. For the future JP may well go this year as it has been here for nearly 18 months now which is quite and achievement, and possibly CFTBL depending on what can be found to replace it.

The log cabin in its current set up.

Many thanks to Kevyn for taking the time to put this article together. We will hopefully have some more pinball table reviews in the future, and we also plan to attend the Monster Meet organised by Pinballers Anonymous which is taking place again soon.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

You should check out: Co-Op

I have a new pinball article coming very soon thanks to my brother Kevyn - it should be posted some time this week. In the meantime, I recommend that you watch Co-Op if you don't already - it's a great weekly video podcast which features a lot of past and current staff discussing the latest and greatest video games - from the big releases to the smaller independent games. You can find the latest episode here.