Friday, January 27, 2012

Texas Pinball Festival Right Around the Corner

My usual gaming habit is to wildly bounce between consoles, computers, arcade, retro, current-gen, etc. with no real rhyme or reason, but lately I've been hitting the Spider-Man pinball pretty much exclusively so forgive me if my posts are a bit pin-centric for a while. Along those lines I'd like to point out to you fine folks that the 2012 installment of the Texas Pinball Festival is rapidly approaching - March 23-25 - a mere two months away!

The Festival is being held at the Hilton DFW Lakes Executive Conference Center in Grapevine, Texas which is on the north side of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. That's like a 5-hour drive for me so... not exactly right around the corner, but I've been considering making a road trip to this thing ever since I discovered it a few years back and since for me personally 2012 is the Year of the Pinball, well, I do believe I'm finally gonna make it happen this year!  Gnome and Mik - can I expect to see you guys there?  What? Atlantic shmatlantic c'mon, hop on a plane and you'll be there before you know it. Fallguy, you only have to cross the Red River so that's completely doable - I'm putting you down as an attendee right now.  And Onion and Twiggamortis, you guys are no farther away than I am so I'm marking you down as well.

With two months to go the games line-up is still preliminary, but it's already shaping up quite nicely with tons of great pinball machines (surprise!) including a premium and four limited edition models of Stern's soon-to-be-released AC/DC pin.

Steve Ritchie, the designer behind Stern's Spider-Man, also designed AC/DC so I'm guessing I might like it.  There will also be a lesser, but still decent, selection of video games which will include some rarities like Quantum (1982), Lunar Lander (1979) and Gun Fight (1975). Over 250 games on free play all weekend!

Speaking of Steve Ritchie, he is going to be making an appearance and will be signing autographs, so I think I might bring my Spidey translite and get him to autograph it. I'm wondering if I need to bring my own pen for something like that or if they will set him up?

George Gomez will be their special guest speaker on March 24 - he is behind some great pins like Monster Bash, Corvette, Revenge from Mars, Lord of the Rings, Batman and the new one from 2011 that I just played recently for the first time - Transformers. There will also be pinball technicians, hobbyists and vendors giving seminars and/or selling their wares as well.

Speaking of Transformers - there will be several pinball tournaments going on throughout the event and one of the tournament machines will be a brand new Transformers Pro and after the tournament is complete it will be raffled off with proceeds to benefit the American Red Cross.

I'm normally not a big buyer of raffle tickets, but I'm getting one (or quite possibly three) of these. And even if you don't win the Transformers the raffle tickets qualify you for many other drawings throughout the weekend for prizes like translites, t-shirts, pinball DVDs, magazines, flyers, etc.

There is also going to be a swap meet on March 24 starting at 8:00 AM.  I might swap some of my time at that for another hour or two of sleep, but it goes through noon so I'll check it out.

Should be fun so I'll see you there!

Festival Hours
Friday, March 23: 5pm-1am
Saturday, March 24: 10am-1am (swap meet from 8:00am-Noon)
Sunday, March 25: 9am-2:30pm

Hilton DFW Lakes Executive Conference Center (in the Texas Grand Ballroom)
1800 Highway 26 East
Grapevine, Texas, 76051
Reservations: 1-800-984-1344

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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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Friday, January 6, 2012

Spidey's Got Such a Supple Wrist!

It's no secret that I like arcades.  Historically I have spent most of my arcade time on video games and just a passing amount of attention to their older brother the pinball machine. But in recent years I have refocused a good deal of my attention to these wonderful machines. I think a big part of the reason for this is that I have visited more and more retro arcades and started getting my fill of a lot of the more commonly recurring classics like Asteroids, Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Galaga, etc. Don't get me wrong I still love those games but at this point I've seen them enough that I'd rather trade some of my time on them for some time with the silver ball. Also, one of my friends greatly prefers pinball over video games and is very knowledgeable about them and after quite a few pinball matches I'm guessing some of that interest probably rubbed off on me as well.

Thanks to the unfortunate demise of my beloved 60GB backwards-compatible PS3 and my subsequent purchase of a 320GB Uncharted 3 Bundle PS3 (that was on sale) I am currently a member of Sony's PlayStation Plus. One of the benefits of membership is that you get to download a free PS3 game each month and the game of the month in December was Marvel Pinball. I haven't paid much attention to console video pinball games in a long time so I didn't even have it on my radar before I got it as a freebie but I must say I am quite enjoying it and would heartily recommend it to anyone who enjoys pinball, arcade style video games, or Marvel comics - and especially to those individuals like myself who are a fan of all three!

Playing it reminds of my first experience with a video-oriented pinball game which was Video Pinball on my trusty Atari 2600 (cue wavy curtain flashback effect).  Much like driving games, video pinball technology has come quite a ways in 30 years but the general gameplay mechanic remains more or less the same.

Hey, she may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts kid!  I guess I liked it so much that I asked my parents for it twice because I have 2 copies of the cartridge at home.

And speaking of pinball from my childhood, I was recently over at my mom's house and I brought back a box of old goodies (I always leave my mom's house with a box of old stuff) which included a Viewmaster, an 8-track tape player and carousel, a Star Wars jigsaw puzzle, and Wildfire Pinball - a handheld pinball game released by Parker Brothers in 1979.  Did anyone else have this thing?

I think it was actually my brother's so I didn't play it nearly as much as I did Video Pinball, but I figured it would fit nicely in the game room on the shelf next to the Merlin and the Game Boy.

Fast forward to maybe 8-9 years ago or so when I discovered Visual Pinball, a freeware pinball simulation program. When coupled with PinMAME (which emulates the pinball ROMs) it allows you play pretty much any real pinball machine you can think of right on your computer - basically the pinball version of MAME.  If you are interested in pinball and have never tried Visual Pinball you ought to check it because it is cool! (and free!). The tables that this community of pinball enthusiasts have developed are very impressive. Be forewarned though that it is even less user-friendly and documented for the novice to set up than MAME. Here is a video with some very brief glimpses of a bunch of Visual Pinball tables in action:

And finally this brings me back full circle to Marvel Pinball - released late 2010 by Zen Studios and finally checked out by me just last month. It is like Visual Pinball on steroids.  Here is the trailer:

It has the same authentic-feeling pinball play and great realistic physics of Visual Pinball combined with some really cool animated 3D action by the super villain set pieces that of course wouldn't be possible on a real pinball machine.  The art/graphics are gorgeous and the sound is very good. The game comes with 4 tables installed - Spider-Man, Iron Man, Blade and Wolverine.  They're all good but my favorite so far is definitely Spider-Man. Least favorite is probably Iron Man. That mirrors reality because I love the real Stern Spider-Man pinball but have never really cared a whole lot for the Iron Man.

The gameplay, if you enjoy pinball at all, is very addictive. Like real pinball it is simple to play but challenging to master. You basically only use 3 buttons - the left and right shoulder buttons for the flippers and the X button for the launch which you can vary to try and get skill shot points. As a pinball fan I can definitely say this game feels like the real thing with the added bonus of the realistic interaction with the various villains on each table who are bent on bringing you down. For instance on the Spider-Man table that includes Mysterio hitting you with hallucinogenic gas which reverses your flipper controls, the Green Goblin flying around and throwing exploding pumpkin bombs/pinballs on the table and Doctor Octopus grabbing your pinballs with his mechanical arms. Each villain attack feels like something you might see on a real pinball table even though the action is too complex for it to actually be mechanically possible outside the video world. Other features include online multiplayer play and several different camera angles you can choose. You can also nudge the table with the motion detection of the controller, although I found that particular control to be somewhat difficult to use and mostly just distracting so I pretty much ignore it.

I already liked this game quite a bit when I first started playing it last month despite a slight lag on the flippers which annoyed me, but then I remembered my TV has a "game" setting so I turned it on and that fixed the lag - so now the game went from really good to great!  If you aren't in PlayStation Plus the main game with 4 tables only costs $10 and in my opinion well worth the money.

They also offer a Fantastic Four and Captain America table as downloadable content for $2.99 each with one for the Hulk in the wings. I just love these little video trailers so here are those.

Finally, in mid-December they released a DLC 4-pack of tables called Vengeance and Virtue that features Ghost Rider, Moon Knight, Thor and the X-Men which costs $10. I collected Ghost Rider, Moon Knight and X-Men comics back in the day so I'm particularly curious about those. Here is a look at the Vengeance and Virtue pack - I might just have to get it at some point.

So obviously I think this game is pretty darn good.  One of the things I like about PS+ is that it basically forces me to try out games that I most likely wouldn't have ever gotten around to trying out otherwise. This has introduced me to a few stinkers, but has also allowed me to find a few gems as well, of which this is one. If you think pinball is boring and repetitive then you should definitely stay away from it as it wouldn't be for you, but if you like pinball like I do then this game is definitely worth buying.

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Thursday, January 5, 2012


Hello folks and a 4-day belated happy new year!  There seems to be a pattern emerging with me wishing folks a happy holiday 4 days after the holiday actually occurs. Oh well, as anyone who's ever waited for me to arrive at a party or at work or for an appointment will tell you - I'm typically late. Always have been, and if past performance is any indicator, always will be.

I'm working up a post on my new game Rocksmith (spoiler alert - I like it!) but haven't finished it yet so today's post is admittedly a gap-filler to keep my posting wheels rolling.

As I've mentioned before, I missed out on the NES gaming craze so I never developed much love for Jumpman, er... Mario.  And frankly there is such a tremendous amount of love for him out there from Nintendo fans that I grow a little weary of him sometimes, but nevertheless I stumbled across these 2 Mario-related videos the last few days that I thought were worth a nod.  If only I could learn that there Twitter gadget I could just tweet a link, but for now I'll just have to make do with an embed post!

First from is an early meeting between Mario and his slimy agent.

And, yet another floppy drive music video - this one from Silent's Homepage. I don't know why these fascinate me so, but this one features an entire symphony of (i.e. 8) 3.5" floppy drives belting out the Super Mario Bros tune. Enjoy!

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