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Pinball is a type of arcade game, usually coin-operated, where a player attempts to score points by manipulating one or more metal balls on a playfield inside a glass-covered case called a pinball machine. The primary objective of the game is to score as many points as possible. Secondary objectives are to maximize the time spent playing (by earning extra balls and keeping the ball in play as long as possible) and to earn free games (known as replays).
The origins of pinball are intertwined with the history of many other games. Games played outdoors by rolling balls or stones on a grass course, such as bocce or bowls, eventually evolved into games played by hitting the balls with sticks and propelling them at targets. Croquet, golf and shuffleboard are examples of these games.
These games led to indoor versions that could be played on a table, such as billiards, or on the floor of a pub, like bowling. The tabletop versions of these games became the ancestor of the modern pinball machine.
The existence of table-based games dates back to the 15th century. While some games took the wickets and balls of Croquet and turned them into the pockets of modern billiards, some tables became smaller and had the holes placed in strategic areas in the middle of the table.
In France, during the reign of King Louis XIV, someone took a billiard table and narrowed it, placing pins at one end of the table while making the player shoot balls with a stick or cue from the other end. Pins took too long to reset when knocked down, so the pins eventually were fixed to the table and holes took the place of targets. Players could ricochet the ball off the pins to achieve the harder scorable holes.
In 1777, a party was thrown in honor of the King and his wife at the Château de Bagatelle, owned by the brother of the king. The highlight of the party was a new table game featuring the slender table and cue sticks, which players used to shoot ivory balls up an inclined playfield. The table game was dubbed Bagatelle by the King's brother and shortly after swept through France.
Some French soldiers carried their favorite bagatelle tables with them to America while helping to fight the British in the American Revolutionary War. Bagatelle spread and became so popular in America as well that a political cartoon from 1863 even depicts President Abraham Lincoln playing a tabletop bagatelle game.
In 1869, a British inventor named Montague Redgrave settled in America and manufactured bagatelle tables out of his factory in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1871 Redgrave was granted US Patent #115,357 for his "Improvements in Bagatelle", which replaced the cue at the player's end of the table with a coiled spring and a plunger. The player shot balls up the inclined playfield using this plunger, a device that remains in pinball to this day. This innovation made the game friendlier to players. The game also shrank in size and began to fit on top of a bar or counter. The balls became marbles and the wickets became small "pins". Redgrave's innovations in game design are acknowledged as the birth of pinball in its modern form.
By the 1930s, manufacturers were producing coin-operated versions of bagatelles, now known as "marble games" or "pin games". The table was under glass and used Redgrave's plunger device to propel the ball into the upper playfield. In 1931 David Gottlieb's Baffle Ball became the first overnight hit of the coin-operated era. Selling for $17.50, the game dispensed five to seven balls for a penny. The game struck a chord with a public eager for cheap entertainment in a depression-era economy. Most drugstores and taverns in America operated pinball machines, with many locations making back the cost of the game in a matter of days. Baffle Ball sold over 50,000 units and established Gottlieb as the first major manufacturer of pinball machines.
In 1932, Gottlieb distributor Ray Moloney found it hard to obtain more Baffle Ball units to sell. In his frustration he founded Lion Manufacturing to produce a game of his own design, Ballyhoo, named after a popular magazine of the day. The game became a smash hit as well; its larger playfield and ten pockets making it more of a challenge than Baffle Ball, selling 50,000 units in 7 months. Moloney eventually changed the name of his company to Bally to reflect the success of this game. These early machines were relatively small, mechanically simple and originally designed to sit on a counter or bar top.
The 1930s saw a leap forward in innovation in pinball design and devices with the introduction of electrification. A company called Pacific Amusements in Los Angeles, California, USA produced a game called Contact in 1933. Contact had an electrically powered solenoid to propel the ball out of a bonus hole in the middle of the playfield. Another solenoid rang a bell to reward the player. The designer of Contact, Harry Williams, would eventually form his own company, Williams Manufacturing, in 1944. Other manufacturers quickly followed suit with similar features. In addition, electric lights soon became a standard feature of all subsequent pinball games, designed to attract people to the game.
By the end of 1932 there were approximately 150 companies manufacturing pinball machines, most of them in the city of Chicago. Chicago has been the center of pinball manufacturing ever since. Competition among the companies was brutal, however, and by 1934 there were only 14 companies left.
During World War II all of the major manufacturing companies in coin-operated games were put into use manufacturing equipment for the American war effort. Some companies like Williams bought old games from operators and refurbished them, adding new artwork with a patriotic theme. By the end of the war, a generation of Americans looked for amusement in their bars and malt shops. Pinball saw another golden age of growth. Innovations such as the tilt mechanism and free games (known as replays) appeared.
The post-war era was dominated by Gottlieb. Game designer Wayne Neyens along with artist Leroy Parker turned out game after game that collectors consider some of the most classic pinball machines ever designed. Gottlieb's Humpty Dumpty, introduced in 1947, was the first game to add player-controlled flippers to keep the ball in play longer and added a skill factor to the game. The low power of the Humpty Dumpty flippers necessitated that three pairs be placed around the playfield in order to get the ball to the top. But the addition of a DC power supply enabled the flippers on Humpty Dumpty to become only two, more powerful ones at the bottom of the Triple Action playfield—one of many innovations by designer Steve Kordek, who is also credited with introducing the very first "drop target" (1962 on Vagabond) and "multiball" (1963 on Beat the Clock) concepts to the game.
The advent of the microprocessor brought another new age for pinball as it entered the realm of electronic gaming. The electromechanical relays and scoring reels that drove games in the 1950s and 1960s were replaced in the 1970s with circuit boards and digital displays. Williams introduced their first solid-state electronic game, Hot Tip, in 1977, and because of this new technology, they and Bally thrived in this era as they both sold large numbers of games with fancy sound effects, speech, and game features that only a computer could make possible.
The video game boom of the 1980s, however, signaled the end of the boom for pinball. Arcades quickly replaced rows of pinball machines with games like 1978's Space Invaders, 1979's Asteroids, 1980's Pac-Man, and 1981's Galaga. The video games earned significantly greater profits than the pinball machines of the day. Bally, Williams, and Gottlieb continued to quietly make pinball machines while they also manufactured video games in much higher numbers. Many of the larger companies were acquired by, or merged with, other companies. Chicago Coin was purchased by the Stern family who brought the company into the digital era as Stern Enterprises, which closed its doors in the mid-1980s. Bally exited the pinball business in 1988 and sold their assets to Williams, who subsequently used the Bally trademark from then on for about half of their pinball releases.
While the video game craze of the late '70s and early '80s dealt a severe blow to pinball revenue, it did spark the creative talents within the industry. All companies involved tried to take advantage of the new solid state technology to improve player appeal of pinball and win back former players from the video games. Some of this creativity resulted in landmark designs and features still present today. Some of these include Speech like on Williams' "Gorgar", ramps for the ball to travel around such as Williams "Space Shuttle", "multiball" used on William's "Firepower", multi-level games like Gottlieb's "Black Hole" and Williams' "Black Knight", and blinking chase lights as used on Bally's "Xenon". Although these novel features did not entirely win back players as the manufacturers had hoped, they did change the way pinball would be perceived by players for decades to come.
After the collapse of the coin-operated video game industry, pinball saw another comeback in the 1990s. Some new manufacturers entered the field such as Capcom Pinball and Alvin G. and Company, founded by Alvin Gottlieb, son of David Gottlieb. Gary Stern, the son of Williams co-founder Sam Stern, founded Data East Pinball with funding from Data East Japan.
The games from Williams now dominated the industry, with complicated mechanical devices and more elaborate display and sound systems attracting new players to the game. Licensing popular movies and icons of the day became a staple for pinball, with Bally/Williams' The Addams Family hitting an all-time modern sales record of 20,270 machines. Two years later, Williams commemorated this benchmark with a limited edition of 1,000 Addams Family Gold pinball machines, featuring gold-colored trim and updated software with new game features. Other notable popular licenses included Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Expanding markets in Europe and Asia helped fuel the revival of interest. Pat Lawlor was a designer, working for Williams up until their exit from the industry in 1999. About a year later, Lawlor announced a return to the industry, starting his own company. working in conjunction with Stern Pinball to produce new games into the new millennium.
The end of the 1990s saw another downturn in the industry, with Gottlieb, Capcom, and Alvin G. all closing their doors by the end of 1996. Data East's pinball division was acquired by Sega and became Sega Pinball in 1996. By 1997 there were only two companies left: Sega Pinball and Williams. In 1999 Sega sold their pinball division to Gary Stern (President of Sega Pinball at the time) who called his company Stern Pinball. By this time, Williams games rarely sold more than 4,000 units. In 1999 Williams attempted to revive sales with the Pinball 2000 line of games, merging a video display into the pinball playfield. The reception was initially good with Revenge From Mars selling well over six thousand machines, but well short of the ten thousand and up production runs for releases just a half dozen years earlier. The next Pinball 2000 game, Star Wars Episode I, managed to sell only a little over 3,500 machines. Williams exited the financially weak pinball business to focus on making gaming equipment for casinos, which was significantly more profitable. They licensed the rights to reproduce Bally/Williams parts to Illinois Pinball and the rights to reproduce full sized machines to The Pinball Factory. Stern Pinball is the only remaining manufacturer of original pinball machines. Almost all members of the design teams for Stern Pinball are former employees of Williams.
In November 2005 The Pinball Factory (TPF), based in Melbourne, Australia, announced that they would be producing a new Crocodile Hunter-themed pinball machine under the Bally label. However, with the death of Steve Irwin, it was announced that the future of this game has become uncertain. In 2006 TPF announced that they would be reproducing two popular 90's era Williams machines, Medieval Madness and Cactus Canyon. TPF however was unable to make good on its promises to produce new machines, and in October, 2010 transferred its Williams Electronics Games licenses as well as its pinball spare parts manufacturing and distribution business to Planetary Pinball Supply Inc, a California distributor of pinball replacement parts.
In 2006, Illinois pinball company PinBall Manufacturing Inc. produced 178 reproductions of Capcom's Big Bang Bar for the European market and U.S. markets.
In 2011, Jersey Jack Pinball of Lakewood, NJ announced plans to produce a pinball machine called Wizard of Oz.
Pinball machines, like many other mechanical games, were sometimes used as gambling devices. Some pinball machines, such as Bally's "bingos", featured a grid on the backglass scoring area with spaces corresponding to targets or holes on the playfield. Free games could be won if the player was able to get the balls to land in a winning pattern; however, doing this was nearly random, and a common use for such machines was for gambling. Other machines allowed a player to win and accumulate large numbers of "free games" which could then be cashed out for money with the location owner. Later, this type of feature was discontinued in an effort to legitimize the machines, and to avoid legal problems in areas where awarding free games was considered illegal, some games, called Add-A-Ball, did away with the free game feature, instead giving players extra balls to play (between 5 and 25 in most cases). These extra balls were indicated via lighted graphics in the backglass or by a ball count wheel, but in some areas even that was disallowed and so some games came with a sticker to cover over the counters.
Pinball was banned beginning in the early 1940s until 1976 in New York City. New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia was responsible for the ban, believing that it robbed school children of their hard earned nickels and dimes. La Guardia spearheaded major raids throughout the city, collecting thousands of machines. The mayor himself participated alongside the police in destroying the machines with sledgehammers before dumping the remnants into the city's rivers.
The ban ended when Roger Sharpe (a star witness for the AMOA - Amusement and Music Operators Association) testified in April 1976 before a committee in a Manhattan courtroom that pinball games had become games of skill and were no longer games of chance (i.e. gambling). He began to play one of two games set up in the courtroom, and — in a move he compares to Babe Ruth's home run in the 1932 World Series — called out precisely what he was going to shoot for, and then proceeded to do exactly so. Astonished committee members reportedly then voted to remove the ban, a result which was then followed in many other cities. (Sharpe reportedly acknowledges his courtroom shot was by sheer luck.)
Like New York, Los Angeles banned pinball machines in 1939. The ban was overturned by the Supreme Court of California in 1974 because (1) if pinball machines were games of chance, the ordinance was preempted by state law governing games of chance in general, and (2) if they were games of skill, the ordinance was unconstitutional as a denial of the equal protection of the laws. Regardless of these events, some towns in America still have such bans on the law books over fifty years later, and several countries still ban the games and their rewards. More recent games are clearly labeled "FOR AMUSEMENT ONLY" in an attempt to emphasize their legitimate, legal nature.
Another close but distinct relative of pinball is pachinko, a gambling game played in Japan. Although they share a common ancestry, the games are very different, in that pachinko simply involves shooting many small balls one after the other into a nearly-vertical playfield, while pinball is about the manipulation of the small number of balls currently in play.
The key attribute of a successful pinball game is an interesting and challenging layout of scoring opportunities on the playfield. Many types of targets and features have been developed over the years.
The playfield is a planar surface inclined upward from three to seven degrees (current convention is six and a half degrees), away from the player, and includes multiple targets and scoring objectives. Some operators intentionally extend (to raise) threaded levelers on the rear legs and/or shorten or remove the levelers on the front legs to create additional incline in the playfield, making the ball move faster and harder to play. It is important that the playfield be level left-to-right; a quick visual test compares the top of the back cabinet against a brick or block wall behind it, or to roll a marble down the center of the playfield glass. If it clearly rolls off to one side, a player may be inclined to stuff folded paper beneath the legs on the lower side to level the playfield. Additionally, leg levelers that are all extended fully make the game easier to nudge; when collapsed low, the entire game is more stable, and nudging becomes harder. A game that's fun to play makes more money for the owner; a game that is faulty does not get repeat customers.
The ball is put into play by use of the plunger, a spring-loaded rod that strikes the ball as it rests in an entry lane, or as in some newer games, by a button that signals the game logic to fire a solenoid that strikes the ball. With both devices the result is the same: The ball is propelled upwards onto the playfield. Once a ball is in play, it tends to move downward towards the player, although the ball can move in any direction, sometimes unpredictably, as the result of contact with objects on the playfield or by the player's own actions. To return the ball to the upper part of the playfield, the player makes use of one or more flippers. Manipulation of the ball may also be accomplished by nudging (physically pushing the cabinet). However, excessive nudging is generally penalized by the loss of the current player's turn (known as tilting) or ending of the entire game when the nudging is particularly violent (known as slam tilting). This penalty was instituted because nudging the machine too much may damage it. Many games also have a slam tilt in the bottom of the lower cabinet to end the game if the cabinet is raised and dropped to the floor in an attempt to falsely trigger the coin counting switch.
The plunger is a spring-loaded rod with a small handle, used to propel the ball into the playfield. The player can control the amount of force used for launching by pulling the plunger a certain distance (thus changing the spring compression). This is often used for a "skill shot", in which a player attempts to launch a ball so that it exactly hits a specified target. Once the ball is in motion in the main area of the playfield, the plunger is not used again until another ball must be brought onto the playfield. In modern machines, an electronically-controlled launcher is sometimes substituted for the plunger.
The flippers are one or more small mechanically or electromechanically-controlled levers, roughly 3 to 7 cm in length, used for redirecting the ball up the playfield. They are the main control that the player has over the ball. Careful timing and positional control allows the player to intentionally direct the ball in a range of directions with various levels of velocity. With the flippers, the player attempts to move the ball to hit various types of scoring targets, and to keep the ball from disappearing off the bottom of the playfield. The very first pinball games appeared in the early 1930s and did not have flippers; after launch the ball simply proceeded down the playfield, directed by static nails (or "pins") to one of several scoring areas. (These pins gave the game its name). In 1947, the first mechanical flippers appeared on Gottlieb's Humpty Dumpty and by the early 1950s, the familiar two-flipper configuration, with the flippers at the bottom of the playfield above the center drain, had become standard. Some machines also added a third or fourth flipper midway up the playfield.
The new flipper ushered in the "golden age" of pinball, where the fierce competition between the various pinball manufacturers led to constant innovation in the field. Various types of stationary and moving targets were added, spinning scoring reels replaced games featuring static scores lit from behind. Multiplayer scores were added soon after, and then bells and other noise-makers, all of which began to make pinball less a game and more of an experience. The flippers have loaned pinball its common name in many languages, where the game is known mainly as "flipper".
Round knobs that, when hit, will actively push the ball away. There is also an earlier variety of bumper (known as a dead bumper or passive bumper) that doesn't propel the ball away; most bumpers on machines built since the 1960s are active bumpers, variously called "pop bumpers", "thumper bumpers", "jet bumpers", or "turbo bumpers". Most recent games include a set of pop bumpers, usually three, sometimes more or less depending on the designer's goals. Bumpers predate flippers, and active bumpers added a great deal of spice to older games.
Pop bumpers are operated by a switch connected to a ring surrounding the bottom circumference of the bumper that is suspended several millimeters above the playfield surface. When the ball rolls over this ring and forces one side of it down, a switch is closed that activates the bumper's solenoid. This pulls down a tapered ring surrounding the central post of the bumper that pushes downward and outward on the ball, propelling it away.
Rubber pads which propel the ball away upon impact, like bumpers, but are usually a horizontal side of a wall. Every recent pinball machine includes slingshots to the upper left and upper right of the lowest set of flippers; older games used more experimental arrangements. They operate similarly to pop bumpers, with a switch on each side of a solenoid-operated lever arm in a typical arrangement. The switches are closed by ball contact with the rubber on the face of the kicker and this activates the solenoid.
Early pinball machines typically had full solenoid current passing through trigger switches for all types of solenoids, from kickers to pop bumpers to the flippers themselves. This caused arcing across switch contacts and rapid contact fouling and failure. As electronics were gradually implemented in pinball design, solenoids began to be switched by power transistors under software control to lower switch voltage and current, vastly extend switch service lifetime, and add flexibility to game design.
As an example, some later machines had flippers that could be operated independently of the flipper button by the machine's software. The upper-left flipper during Thing Flips on The Addams Family pinball machine triggers automatically a brief moment after the ball passes an optical sensor just above the flipper.
The smaller, lower-powered solenoids were first to be transistorized, followed later by the higher-current solenoids as the price, performance, and reliability of power transistors improved over the years.
Originally holes and saucers worked by using tubes behind the playing field, with a pin at the top to hold the ball for later drops. Another version of the tube uses two spinning wheels to transfer the ball from hole to hole. Newer versions use an electronic track with a carriage or an electromagnet to pull the ball between holes.
As the name implies, ramps are inclined planes, with a gentle enough slope that the ball may travel along it. The player attempts to direct the ball with enough force to make it to the top of the ramp and down the other side. If the player succeeds, a "ramp shot" has been made. Ramps frequently end in such a way that the ball goes to a flipper so one can make several ramp shots in a row. Often, the number of ramp shots scored in a game is tallied, and reaching certain numbers may lead to various game features. At other times, the ramps will go to smaller "mini-playfields" (small playfields, usually raised above the main game surface, with special goals or scoring).
There are other idiosyncratic features on many pinball playfields. Pinball games have become increasingly complex and multiple play modes, multi-level playfields, and even progression through a rudimentary "plot" have become common features on recent games. Pinball scoring objectives can be quite complex and require a series of targets to be hit in a particular order. Recent pinball games are distinguished by increasingly complex rule sets that require a measure of strategy and planning by the player for maximum scoring. Players seeking highest scores would be well-advised to study the placard (usually found in the lower-left corner of the playfield) to learn each game's specific patterns required for these advanced features and scoring.
Common features in modern pinball games include the following:
In the '90s, game designers often put hidden, recurring images or references in their games called Easter Eggs, similar to how easter eggs are placed in video games and other PC software. For example, Williams' designers hid cows in the video displays of the games, and Pat Lawlor would place a red button in the artwork of games he developed. The methods used to find the hidden items usually involved pressing the flipper buttons in a certain order or during specific events. Designers also included hidden messages or in-jokes; one example of this is the phrase "DOHO" sometimes seen quickly displayed on the dot matrix displays, a reference to Dorris Ho, the wife of then-Williams display artist Scott Slomiany [AKA Scott Matrix]. DOHO was popularly thought to be an acronym for Documented Occurrence of a Hidden Object until its true meaning was revealed in a PinGame Journal article on the subject. The game Star Trek:The Next Generation went so far as to embed a hidden Breakout-like game available only after a complex sequence of events was accomplished during the game.
The backglass is a vertical graphic panel mounted on the front of the backbox, which is the upright box at the top back of the machine. The backglass contains the name of the machine, eye-catching graphics, (usually) the score displays (lights, mechanical wheels, digital displays, or a dot matrix display depending on the era), and sometimes a mechanical device tied to game play, for example, elevator doors that opened on an image or a woman swatting a cat with a broom such as on Williams' 1989 "Bad Cats". For older games, the backglass image is painted in layers on the reverse side of a piece of glass; in more recent games, the image is imprinted into a translucent piece of plastic-like material called a translite which is mounted behind a piece of glass and which is easily removable. The earliest games did not have backglasses or backboxes and were little more than playfields in boxes. Games are generally built around a particular theme, such as a sport or character and the backglass art reflects this theme to attract the attention of players. Recent machines are typically "tied-in" to other enterprises such as a popular film series, toy, or brand name. The entire machine is designed to be as eye-catching as possible to attract players and their quarters; every possible space is filled with colorful graphics, blinking lights, and themed objects, and the backglass is usually the first artwork the players see from a distance. Since the artistic value of the backglass may be quite impressive, it is not uncommon for enthusiasts to use a deep frame around a backglass (with a light behind it) and hang it on a wall after the rest of the game is discarded.
Contact with or manipulation of scoring elements (such as targets or ramps) scores points for the player. Electrical switches embedded in the scoring elements detect contact and relay this information to the scoring mechanism. Older pinball machines used an electromechanical system for scoring wherein a pulse from a switch would cause a complex mechanism composed of relays to ratchet up the score. In later games these tasks have been taken over by semiconductor chips and displays are made on electronic segmented or dot-matrix displays.
Pinball scoring can be peculiar and varies greatly from machine to machine. During the 1930s and the 1940s, lights mounted behind the painted backglasses were used for scoring purposes, making the scoring somewhat arbitrary. (Frequently the lights represented scores in the hundreds of thousands.) Then later, during the 1950s and 1960s when the scoring mechanism was limited to mechanical wheels, high scores were frequently only in the hundreds or thousands. (Although, in an effort to keep with the traditional high scores attained with the painted backglass games, the first pinball machines to use mechanical wheels for scoring, such as Army Navy, allowed the score to reach into the millions by adding a number of permanent zeros to the end of the score.) The average score changed again in the 1970s with the advent of electronic displays. Average scores soon began to commonly increase back into tens or hundreds of thousands. Since then, there has been a trend of scoring inflation, with modern machines often requiring scores of over a billion points to win a free game. At the peak of this trend, two machines, Johnny Mnemonic and Attack From Mars, have been played into the trillions. Another recent curiosity is the 1997 Bally game NBA Fastbreak which, true to its theme, awards points in terms of a real basketball score: Each successful shot can give from one to three points. Getting a hundred points by the end of a game is considered respectable, which makes it one of the lowest scoring pinball machines of all time. The inflated scores are the source of one of the Spanish-language names of pinball machines, máquina del millón ("million machine").
Pinball designers also entice players with the chance to win an extra game or replay. Ways to get a replay might include the following:
When an extra game is won, the machine typically makes a single loud bang, most often with a solenoid that strikes a piece of metal, or the side of the cabinet, with a rod, known as a knocker, or less commonly with loudspeakers. "Knocking" is the act of winning an extra game when the knocker makes the loud and distinctive noise.
The primary skill of pinball involves application of the proper timing and technique to the operation of the flippers, nudging the playfield when appropriate without tilting, and choosing targets for scores or features. A skilled player can quickly "learn the angles" and gain a high level of control of ball motion, even on a table they've never played. Skilled players can often play on a machine for long periods of time on a single coin. By earning extra balls, a single game can be stretched out for a long period, and if the player is playing well he or she can earn replays by points and possibly also free games, known as "specials".
A placard is usually placed in a lower corner of the playfield. It may simply show pricing information, but should also show critical details about special scoring techniques. This information is vital to achieving higher scores; it typically describes a series of events that must take place (e.g., shoot right ramp and left drop targets to light 'extra ball' rollover). Learning these details makes the game more fun and challenging. With practice—and a table in good operating condition—a player can often achieve specific targets and higher scores as well as trigger exciting events.
Skillful players can influence the movement of the ball by nudging or bumping the pinball machine, a technique known as "nudging." There are tilt mechanisms which guard against excessive manipulation of this sort. The mechanisms generally include:
When one of these sensors is activated, the game registers a "tilt" and locks out, disabling solenoids for the flippers and other playfield systems so that the ball can do nothing other than roll all the way down the playfield to the drain. A tilt will usually also result in the loss of any bonus points earned by the player during that ball. Older games would immediately end the ball in play on a tilt. Modern games give tilt warnings before sacrificing the ball in play. The number of tilt warnings can be adjusted by the operator/owner of the machine. Until recently most games also had a "slam tilt" switch which guarded against kicking or slamming the coin mechanism (or for overly aggressive behavior with the machine), which could give a false indication that a coin had been inserted, thereby giving a free game or credit. Apparently, this feature was recently taken out by default in new Stern S.A.M System games. However, it can be added as an option. A slam tilt will typically end the current game for all players.
Skilled players can also hold a ball in place with the flipper, giving them more control over where they want to place the ball when they shoot it forward. This is known as "trapping". This technique involves catching the ball in the corner between the base of the flipper and the wall to its side, just as the ball falls towards the flipper; the flipper is then released, which allows the ball to roll slowly downward against the flipper. The player then chooses the moment to hit the flipper again, timing the shot as the ball slides slowly against the flipper. Multi-ball games, in particular, reward trapping techniques. Usually this is done by trapping one or more balls out of play with one flipper, then using the other flipper to score points with the remaining ball or balls.
Once a player has successfully trapped a ball, they may then attempt to "juggle" the ball to the other flipper. This is done by tapping the flipper button quickly enough so that the trapped ball is knocked back at an angle of less than 90 degrees into the bottom of the nearest slingshot. The ball will then often bounce across the table to the other flipper, where the ball may then be hit (or trapped) by the opposite flipper.
Occasionally a pinball machine will have a pin or post placed directly between the two bottom flippers. When this feature is present, the advanced player may then attempt to perform a "chill maneuver" when the ball is heading directly toward the pin by opting not to hit a flipper. If successful, this will cause the ball to bounce up and back into play. A related move, the "dead flipper pass," is performed by not flipping when a ball is heading toward a flipper. If done properly, the ball will bounce off the "dead" flipper, across to the other flipper, where it may be trapped and controlled.
One controversial technique for saving the ball is called a "death save" or "bangback". Very few pinball players can successfully perform this advanced technique. The death save may only be performed when a ball has dropped through an outlane and is heading down toward the drain. If the timing is exactly correct, a player may hold a flipper up and then nudge the machine hard enough (but not so hard as to tilt the machine) to pop the ball back up into play on to the opposite flipper. Usually the death save is performed by kicking one of the legs of the machine with great force, which is why the move is unpopular with many players, and is often strongly frowned upon by less-experienced arcade operators. More recent machines have recognized this maneuver as a legitimate one though, even going so far as to grant the player a point reward for a successful death save.
A player may try to obtain free games by attaching a piece of string to a coin and lowering it to the counter switch, then raise and lower it to obtain free credits. This is actually quite difficult to do, since a coin acceptor mechanism is designed to reject anything other than a true coin, and uses thickness, diameter, weight and inertia as tests. A slow-moving coin on a string is simply treated as a slug and rejected.
Slugs made from hammered metal pieces or foreign coins are sometimes tried. An operator can modify the acceptor mechanism to be less forgiving and so reject further attempts.
Electromechanical pinball machines manufactured by Williams (until approximately 1973) had a wiring anomaly which could be exploited with one or more credits remaining on the game reel. By depositing a single coin and pressing the reset button one-quarter to one-half second later, up to five games could be obtained.
Some early (late '70s) computerized games could be fooled into giving free credits by switching the power off and on quickly, or applying a static shock to the coin door. These issues were quickly fixed, and today, may cause existing credits to be removed.
Sometimes, a faulty playfield item will bounce or switch to rack up extra points that are not earned. The result is that a solenoid may be destroyed in the process of constant triggering.
Gottlieb machines had a mechanical game counter (like an odometer) that could be advanced with a long-handled 'ladies' comb wedged under the back panel cover to manipulate the counter mechanism.
In 1974, students at Jersey City State College wanted to make pinball playing a varsity school sport, like football was, so they started a Pinball Club Team to compete against clubs at other schools. They asked two other schools to participate. St. Peter's College took up the challenge, while the other school did not.
Many pinball leagues have formed, with varying levels of competitiveness, formality and structure. These leagues exist everywhere from the Free State Pinball Association (FSPA) in the Washington, DC area to the Tokyo Pinball Organization (TPO)] in Japan. In the late 1990s, game manufacturers added messages to some games encouraging players to join a local league, providing website addresses for prospective league players to investigate.
Competitive pinball has become increasingly popular in recent years, with the relaunch of both the Professional and Amateur Pinball Association (PAPA) and the International Flipper Pinball Association (IFPA).
Two different systems for ranking pinball players exist. The World Pinball Player Rankings (WPPR) was created by the IFPA. The WPPR formula takes into account the quantity and quality of the players in the field, and awards points based on that calculation for the nearly 200 IFPA endorsed events worldwide. PAPA manages a ranking system known as the PAPA Advanced Rating System (PARS), which uses the Glicko Rating System to mathematically analyze the results of more than 100,000 competitive matches. In 2008 and again in 2009, the IFPA held a World Championship tournament, inviting the top-ranked WPPR players to compete; the winner both years was Bowen Kerins of the USA.
PAPA also designates the winner of the A Division in the annual PAPA World Pinball Championships as the World Pinball Champion; the current holder of this title (three years running) is Keith Elwin from the USA. Current Junior (16 and under) and Senior (50 and over) World Champions are Joshua Henderson and Joe Schall, respectively.
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The pinball machine is first constructed with the wiring for the game’s electronic system. It starts off with a color-coded wiring arrangement that is wrapped around pins and connectors on the circuit board. On average one machine carries almost a half of mile of wire. It is then up to technicians to follow a meticulous set of instructions from a diagram that has been engineered to keep things from getting confused. During this time the playing field is set onto foam strips and a bed of nails. The nails are then pressed in the playing board as the bed raises and compress them against the header. Following come the anchors that is then hammered into place. The anchors help secure a metal railing that keeps the balls from exiting the playing field.
After the main construction is processed, it then comes down to fitting a few lampposts, some plastic bumpers, and one hundred and fifteen flashing lights. All of the wiring is permanently fastened and speakers are bolted into the cabinet. Along with this comes the most crucial tool, the spring power plunger, which is set into place.
Finally, a few other toys and gimmicks are added, such as toy villains and other small themed characters. Once everything is tested and seems to be running alright, the playfield is set on top of the lower box. The lower box on computerized games is essentially empty. On older electromechanical games, the entire floor of the lower box was used to mount custom relays and special scoring switches, making older games much heavier. To protect the top of the playfield, a tempered glass window is installed, secured by a metal bar that is locked into place. The expensive, unique, painted vertical backglass is fragile. The backglass covers the custom microprocessor boards on newer games, or electromechanical scoring wheels on older games. On older games, a broken backglass might be impossible to replace, ruining the game's appeal.
Flipper solenoids contain two coil windings in one package; a short, heavy gage 'power' winding to give the flipper its initial thrust up, and a long, light gage 'hold' winding that uses lower power (and creates far less heat) and essentially just holds the flipper up allowing the player to capture the ball in the inlane for more precise aiming. As the flipper nears the end of its upward travel, a switch under the flipper disconnects the power-winding and leaves only the second sustain winding to hold the flipper up in place. If this switch fails 'open' the flipper will be too weak to be usable, since only the weak winding is available. If it fails 'closed' the coil will overheat and destroy itself, since both windings will hold the flipper at the top of its stroke.
Solenoids also control pop-bumpers, kickbacks, drop target resets, and many other features on the machine. These solenoid coils contain a single coil winding. The plunger size and wire gage & length are matched to the strength required for each coil to do its work, so some types are repeated throughout the game, some are not.
All solenoids and coils used on microprocessor games include a special reverse-biased diode to eliminate a high-voltage pulse of reverse EMF (electromagnetic force). Without this diode, when the solenoid is de-energized, the magnetic field that was built up in the coil collapses and generates a brief, high-voltage pulse backward into the wiring, capable of destroying the solid-state components used to control the solenoid. Proper wiring polarity must be retained during coil replacement or this diode will act as a dead short, immediately destroying electronic switches. Older electromechanical game solenoids do not require this diode, since they were controlled with mechanical switches.
All but very old games use low DC voltages to power the solenoids and electronics (or relays). Some microprocessor games use high voltages (potentially hazardous) for the score displays. Very early games used low-voltage AC power for solenoids, requiring fewer components, but AC is less efficient for powering solenoids, causing heavier wiring and slower performance. For locations that suffer from low AC wall outlet voltage, additional taps may be provided on the AC transformer in electromechanical games to permit raising the game's DC voltage levels, thus strengthening the solenoids. Microprocessor games have electronic power supplies that automatically compensate for inaccurate AC supply voltages.
Simulating a pinball machine has also been a popular theme of computer games, most famously when Bill Budge wrote Pinball Construction Set for the Apple II in 1983. While there had been earlier pinball video games, such as Video Pinball for the Atari 2600, Pinball Construction Set was the first program that allowed the user to create his own simulated pinball machine and then play it.
Most early simulations were top-down 2D. As processor and graphics capabilities have improved, more accurate ball physics and 3D pinball simulations have become possible. Tilting has also been simulated, which can be activated using one or more keys (sometimes the space bar) for "moving" the table. Flipper button computer peripherals were also released, allowing pinball fans to add an accurate feel to their game play instead of using the keyboard or mouse. Modern pinball video games are often based around established franchises such as Metroid Prime Pinball, Super Mario Ball and Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball
There have been pinball programs released for all major home video game and computer systems, such as: David's Midnight Magic, Pinball Dreams, 3D Pinball: Space Cadet, Visual Pinball, Future Pinball and Pinball FX 2. Simulators also exist for gaming consoles such as Xbox, PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable and Wii.
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Pinball games have frequently been featured in popular culture, often as a symbol of rebellion or toughness. Perhaps the most famous instance is the rock opera album Tommy (1969) by The Who, which centers on the title character, a "deaf, dumb, and blind kid", who nevertheless becomes a "Pinball Wizard" and who later uses pinball as a symbol and tool for his messianic mission. (The album was subsequently made into a movie and stage musical.) Wizard has since moved into popular usage as a term for an expert pinball player. Things came full circle when Bally created the Tommy Pinball Wizard pinball game featuring Ann-Margret and The Who's Roger Daltrey on the backglass. In the movie version, Tommy plays a Gottlieb Kings and Queens machine, while The Champ plays a Gottlieb Buckaroo machine. In 1976, Bally released "Capt.Fantastic", which had an image of Elton John on the backglass, playing pinball in a similar costume as used in the movie Tommy.
Other examples of pinball in pop culture include:
^ Bally's 1981 Elektra also had three playfields, and predated Haunted House. However, Elektra's lower playfield was a self-contained area that used its own captive ball for scoring. Haunted House's lower playfield was accessible during regular gameplay from both the main and upper play areas.
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