Monday, January 23, 2012

My Very First Pinball Machine!

I didn't mention it at the time, but my previous post about Marvel Pinball was a bit of foreshadowing as not quite two weeks ago a couple of gentlemen delivered my new 250 pound member of the family - the Stern Pinball Machine Spider-Man!

I've always wanted to own my own pinball machine and now, following an arguably foolhardy expenditure of funds to a gentleman in Georgia, that dream has become a reality. I was going to make my own gameplay video, but as you know I'm a sucker for game trailers and Stern made one of their own for the machine when it came out in June 2007 (to coincide with the theatrical release of Spider-Man 3) so I decided to go with that instead:

The machine was designed by Steve Ritchie and programmed by pinball champion Lyman Sheats. I'm not exactly a pinball industry expert so I admit that I hadn't heard of either of these two guys until I happened to catch the pinball documentary Special When Lit a while back in which they were both featured so I was surprised when I discovered later that they were responsible for Spider-Man.

Kevin O'Conner did the artwork for the cabinet and the first thing that grabs your attention on the machine is his great looking backglass:

I might have positioned the super villains so that they were facing Spidey in attack mode instead of radiating out from the center, but debatable nitpicking aside I really like it.  Check out that foreshortening and dynamic action!  I bet Kevin read "How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way" when he was younger. I still have my copy.

If only I'd stuck with art maybe I could be creating artwork on pinball machines too! But I digress...

The Spider-Man pinball is based on the movie franchise and combines pieces from all three movies, most importantly the four super villains that Spidey fights in them - the Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, Sandman and Venom. Each of the villains has his own scoring area and strategy shots on the playfield and you must defeat all of them to wage "Battle Royale".

There are a ton of different modes and scoring opportunities in the game, but I don't think it would be too interesting for me to document all of them in detail here. I will just talk briefly about the four super villains to allow me to include a photo of these nicely detailed toys.

In the upper-middle part of the playfield is the Sandman. He stands behind a motorized bank of three targets and you must hit all three to cause his protective wall to drop and start the first Sandman Stage - "Slammer Time".  Now you can hit Sandman himself or his "whirlwind of targets" and every time you do the yellow flasher lamps light up, big punch sounds and Sandman dialogue pump through the speakers and some digitized footage from the movie shows on the display. After you've hit him enough times Sandman raises up off the playfield to reveal the hole he was guarding. When you sink the ball into the hole you complete "Slammer Time". Sandman then lowers down to again protect the hole, the 3-bank wall of targets rises back up and the ball is launched straight up and over an arch called a web-slinger back onto the playfield for play to continue. This also sets up the next and progressively more difficult Sandman stages - "Subway Storm" and  then "Dunes of Doom".

In the middle right part of the playfield is my favorite villain/shot on the machine - Doctor Octopus.  Doc Ock starts in a raised position over a hole and when you sink a ball in it to start "Fusion Malfunction" he lowers to block it and a red flashing lamp glows as the movie scene plays - "Ladies and gentlemen, fasten your seatbelts" then the ball launches straight up and over a webslinger back onto the playfield. When you hit Doc Ock the next time the ball bounces off him and a magnet below the playfield stops it cold in the middle of a picture of the sun, all the lights go off, the red flasher glows and you hear "the power of the sun, in the palm of my hand" then the lights come back on and the magnet flings the ball back at Doc Ock and then towards you as a 2-ball multiball ensues.  This is one of my all-time favorite pinball sequences - just so cool. The other two Doc Ock stages, "Bank Bust" and "Armed at the Dock", introduce a few new twists.

Venom is in the back left corner of the table and to reach him you have to make a somewhat challenging cross-field ramp shot with the upper right flipper. When you are able to hit it solidly enough to hit Venom's target his blue flasher glows brightly and Venom screams out to start the "Goo On You" stage where you have to hit Venom's ramp several times to complete it as a timer and your bonus points for the stage quickly run down.  Venom's two other stages are "Brock's New Suit" and "You Ooze You Lose" (spelled 'Loose' on the sign).

The final villain, the Green Goblin, is on the lower left side of the playfield. He is hovering on his goblin glider over five pumpkin bomb targets. Once you have hit all five targets "Unity Day Festival" begins. You have to hit the targets six more times to complete the stage, with the Goblin shaking in pain after each hit. The other two Green Goblin stages "Suffer the Children" and "Godspeed Spider-Man" introduce other twists such as moving lit targets that you have to hit.

The sound for the machine is outstanding. Hard pumping tunes for the various stages that really seem to flow well with the playfield action.  Great sounding movie dialogue is also seamlessly sewn in at just the right times. Stern also hired J.K. Simmons, the actor who played J.Jonah Jameson in the movies, to record a wide variety of pinball-specific dialogue in-character so they all have that J.Jonah Jameson edge to them - "Extra ball is lit!  What are you waiting for?!", "Who do you think you are? Spider-Man?", etc. works perfectly.

And in my opinion the machine is gorgeous - the artwork, the lights, the cool movie scenes that play on the dot matrix video display. A real spectacle. Mix all that with my old comic book loyalties to the subject matter and the fact that it is a really fun pinball machine to play and it goes at or near the top of my all-time favorite pinball machines list - along with the likes of Medieval Madness, Scared Stiff, Monster Bash and Lord of the Rings. Suffice it to say I love it!  I also recently learned that Pinside members rank Spider-Man as the 10th best pinball of all-time (just a hair below Scared Stiff) on their weekly updated list of top 100 pinballs. So it's somewhat reassuring to hear that my high regard for the machine is not inconsistent with the views of pinball insiders.

So anyway, if you happen to be in a movie theater or somewhere and see this pinball in the corner you ought to go pump a few quarters into it and give it a go. It's a lot of fun!

Oh - as I was putting this post together I stumbled across a nice interview with the designer Steve Ritchie in the June 2007 edition of the dearly departed GameRoom Magazine. has the interview posted online here if you care to check it out.  See ya!

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gnome said...

Absolutely stunning. If things go well, I'll make sure to come over for a play sometime before we're both too old to press buttons.

MadPlanet said...

Too ol... aw Gnome I KNEW there was something I was forgetting to account for when I bought this thing. I'm damn near too old already!

The gameroom is usually open late so definitely stop on by if you're ever in the neighborhood :)

Fallguy40 said...

Very nice!! So, this would be the game from 2007 that you've been playing. I was way off base.

MadPlanet said...

Well you did guess the year anyway FG. When you asked me if it was old-gen or new-gen that I wasn't sure which to go with since Pinball is definitely old-school but the machine itself is less than 5 years old.

If you still have Netflix you ought to stream that Special When Lit and check it out.

Mik said...

Such a lovely machine, MP!

MadPlanet said...

Thanks Mik - stop by for a game if you're ever in southeast Texas. I'll even bring a 3DS for you to break into bits!

PungentOnion said...

It is pretty awesome!!!!!

I'll start with a slightly off-topic comment. I love seeing close-up pictures of things you see all the time but never actually see close-up. The pictures of the various characters in the game is very neat and gives a different perspective than you ever experience during game play.

With that random comment out of the way, the game looks very cool and I'll admit to being jealous!! Looking forward to playing it sometime.

MadPlanet said...

Thanks PO - actually I'm glad you mentioned that about the close-up pics because I thought the same thing.

I originally took all the pics with the more dramatic angles like on Sandman (had a really cool one of Doc Ock from the base looking up at him) but I didn't post them because they omitted the targets, magnet, etc. that are integral to the shot. So I elected to stick with the more conventional angles and relied on the extreme closeups to add enough impact.

Almost put the other ones on here too but figured nah - that would be too much. I already felt kinda like the guy that forces his friends to look at his vacation pictures or baby pictures...

PungentOnion said...

Since Joystix is only open twice a month, and then I only make it every 2 to 3 months, I've never had the chance to focus on getting better at pinball like I can with console games. For me I still just play with the objective of keeping the ball in play.....and often don't really succeed at that to often.

So, and maybe this is an odd question, how do you see your pinball skills improving over time since you can keep playing the same game over and over? Do you actually start learning different ways to get more points and direct the ball, keep it in play longer, etc.??

MadPlanet said...

Good question Onion. Up until not all that long ago my approach to pinball was basically to just try and keep the ball alive as long as possible and put a good flipper on it and see what happens.

Then more recently I started mixing in more intentional targets, but basically just the shots that I liked making, not necessarily the ones that made the most sense from a scoring perspective.

Now that I've been able to spend some focused time with a game in a private setting I do see improvement in both areas - physically: keeping the ball in play longer and directing it more accurately, and strategically: learning and understanding the rules to take advantage of scoring opportunities. And although some of it is specific to Spider-Man I definitely feel like the overall improvement will translate to other pins as well.

The more I learn the more I feel like I was just scratching the surface of the full pinball experience before. It's surprising how much I missed on the game when I used to play it at Clicks a few years ago.

Chalgyr Vokel said...

Very cool article. Man I miss real pinball tables. The pinball video games are all well and good, and I play quite a few of them, but my dad got me hooked on pinball tables a long time ago, and I've often joked about getting one (though where in my house it would fit I have no idea).

MadPlanet said...

Thanks Chalgyr! Agreed on the pinball video games - I recently did a post on them as I like both Visual Pinball and more recently Marvel Pinball, but there is just no substitute for the real thing. Unfortunately you just hardly ever see them around anymore.

so I guess what I'm saying is.... go get one and find a place to fit it in somewhere! You won't regret it! :)