Want to be a Pinball Wizard?
August 10, 2011 7:47 PM   Subscribe

Pinball machines, when you can find one, have gotten pretty complex over the years (for a notable example of pinball complexity, check out the Twilight Zone pinball machine). The average person likely plays one for a bit, figures it's about keeping the ball alive as long as possible, and hopes for the best. Why did I just rack up a million points on that go-around? Who knows.

There are certain skills required for becoming proficient at pinball. First, people who are good understand the complicated rule sets of the particular game they are playing on, in order to obtain the highest score possible. Here is a list of the rules for 175 different pinball machines.

However, it's one thing to know how the points are best accumulated. It's another thing to get the ball where it needs to go. There are essential skills that can be cultivated for proficient ball handling.

skill shots 1

skill shots 2

Here is a list of skills to cultivate based on your experience level: Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, and Wizard. You can also develop skills that deal with multiball situations. Don't forget mental preparation.

The people who have mastered these skills sometimes play here, at pinball championships.

Are pinball machines dying? Some argue that pinball is a dying art form, but for some it's worth the effort to keep the magic alive.
posted by SpacemanStix (62 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
We used to have that Twilight Zone pinball machine in a lab at my work. It was pretty cool, but it broke down a lot.
posted by smcameron at 7:51 PM on August 10, 2011

I used to play some pinball games that had a magnet in it that would mess with your balls. I always thought they should have made one ball out of aluminum or porcelain or something non-magnetic. That would have ruled.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:58 PM on August 10, 2011

My husband and I go here quite frequently, the progression of the games through the years is pretty neat.
posted by yodelingisfun at 8:03 PM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

In my fantasy world -- where my budget isn't ruled by mortgage payments, braces, college savings and the like -- I have a home with it's own game room, where a Funhouse machine sits next to the my retro game consoles and my approving wife never thinks of them as being a waste of time or space.
posted by bionic.junkie at 8:04 PM on August 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

You've got the power
You've got the might
Get ready for battle
Beat the Black Knight

I studied this pinball machine a whole lot in college
posted by Nelson at 8:08 PM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Wow, I didn't realize how many of the Intermediate skills I had down, or that some of the traps I did were "Advanced". On the other hand, there's only a few games I was good at hitting targets with, and for the most part, the rest was keeping it going long enough to get lucky shots for more points.
posted by yeloson at 8:11 PM on August 10, 2011

Many years ago I had learned (barely) how to play pinball on a Funhouse machine set to free play. Thanks Apple! Oh, in the bay area Playland Not At the Beach in El Cerrito has all vintages of pinball machines including Funhouse. $15 gets you in for all the free play you can take. Wonderful place!
posted by njohnson23 at 8:16 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I never played more than a couple of games of real pinball as a kid; I played some Alien Crush and had fond memories of that for years, and had a certain "Man, pinball is old school, I should totally be into that!" thought for a long while after that.

A couple of years ago I picked up the Williams Collection on Wii on a whim and was blown away by some of the incredibly complex interactions; pinball tables are pretty amazing mechanical computers.
posted by curious nu at 8:16 PM on August 10, 2011

Good Lord, you're right! I played World Cup 94 for hours stuck in a hotel arcade in Nevada while my grandparents gambled. I had no idea the rules were so complicated. I just kept trying to get the ball in the net so the game would shout GOOAAAALLL! I still get a rush from remembering that chippy voice.

posted by damo at 8:21 PM on August 10, 2011

I definitely remember playing Twilight Zone a few times, and enjoyed it, but the games that really stand out in my memory are Cactus Canyon (High Noon shootout at about 9:17 of that video) and Arabian Nights, which also featured a magnetic ball catcher. (It also caused the balls to become magnetized, causing problems at times.)

Cactus Canyon had four standup shots that were not easy to make, and really satisfying when you did manage to make them.

Oddly, it was the Austin Powers game that got me in to pinball. Shooting the ball into a giant toilet to Fat Bastard's laughter, random Dr. Evil quotes ("Laaaaa-zer") and a very easy multiball were really enticing to a newbie. After months away from the game though, I came back to it and found I didn't enjoy it nearly as much. It was way too easy to make the important shots, and the rules were actually fairly simple. Funny how that works.
posted by A dead Quaker at 8:26 PM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Man. Pinball was so awesome. I haven't seen a working pinball machine in over 10 years. I loved going to mall arcades during that last great age of arcade games. I'd play SF2 for a while, or some Mortal Kombat, or Samurai Showdown on the NeoGeo box for a while, but when it became real was after that thirst was sated and it was time to blow my remaining $5 on pinball games. The Pin Bot family, Adams Family movie tie-in, really I didn't care which particular licensed pinball game it was but that physical snap-thunk of the steel against glass. That was like heaven.

I've tried to get that pinball emulator thing working several times to no avail.
posted by BeerFilter at 8:32 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Does anyone know what happened with the Pinball Ninja's blog? It was good...

My favorite game is Red and Ted's Roadshow...
posted by Hoosier Prospector at 8:32 PM on August 10, 2011

Ah yes! Twilight Zone! Damn, good times. :)
posted by BeerFilter at 8:33 PM on August 10, 2011

Metafilter: had a magnet in it that would mess with your balls.
posted by rifflesby at 8:58 PM on August 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

I have Twilight Zone at my local.

I like to think of myself as a decent pinball player. Around me I have Adams Family and Twilight Zone and a few other machines, and I play them regularly can can beat most novices. So a few weeks ago I'm out a gig, and I'm chasing after the same girl as a young guy. I've seen him around, and I knew his band. We got to talking, and it turned out he was a pinball fan.

But not in the way I was. He knew how to PLAY. He knew all the shots, all the tricks. He read the manuals and could actually play properly. I still beat him on Twilight Zone, but I felt humbled. I can't really call myself a proper pinball fan anymore.

I still love it, though. Its so tactile! And its a nice way to disengage/meditate when I'm out at the pub.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:05 PM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

I always thought they should have made one ball out of aluminum or porcelain or something non-magnetic. That would have ruled.

I'm not sure if you read the wiki link about it, but they did exactly that in the Twilight Zone pin: a ceramic ball called the "Powerball" that is not affected by the game's magnetic second playfield (as well as exhibiting different physics the rest of the time). It features into certain game modes and multiballs, as well as showing up somewhat randomly (IIRC) the rest of the time.
posted by waterunderground at 9:13 PM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

The Bram Stoker's Dracula pinball machine has a thing that would move a magnetized ball across the playfield. Sometimes if you'd hit it the two balls would get stuck together.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:22 PM on August 10, 2011

Am I the only one who was under the belief that the scoring was somewhat arbitrary? Rather bizarre skimming through the rules.
posted by whyareyouatriangle at 9:30 PM on August 10, 2011

There's probably somewhere nearby where you can play some pinball.
posted by action man bow-tie at 9:31 PM on August 10, 2011

Also, there are leagues popping up everywhere these days.

Or you can just come on over and play Firepower in my garage. (Comet, too, once i get the damn thing working.)
posted by action man bow-tie at 9:38 PM on August 10, 2011

There's probably somewhere nearby where you can play some pinball.

I've been wanting to make a pinball map for Australia. If you're anywhere near Sydney stop into the Courthouse Hotel. There are about 10 machines there.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:41 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Mmm, can't wait for my virtual pinball cabinet. Another couple of weeks and I'll finally have the money put together to get it started.

Yeah, yeah, it's not quite as good as a real pinball machine, but for the price of one machine I can play most of them.
posted by wierdo at 9:43 PM on August 10, 2011

Why did I just rack up a million points on that go-around? Who knows.

I know. Because I read the rule sheets and figure out what I need to do to play well. I was the best player at Georgia Southern by a wide margin back when the student union had a game room, and filled up the scoreboards with my initials. I don't actually think I'm terrifically great at pinball, but just knowing what to do is half the game. If you just flail at the ball you'll do well once in a while but won't be able to do it anywhere near consistently.

Twilight Zone does indeed have the ceramic, non-magnetic Powerball, and both a working clock and gumball machine on the table, and a mini-playfield with magnet flippers, and a total of four shots on the board, including a hidden shot beneath one of the upper flippers. And awesome sound effects.

waterunderground: The Powerball is not random at all. It really can't be; the trough, the place inside the machine the balls hang out in when not in play, is linear after all. If there are three balls in the trough, and you lose the Powerball, it becomes the fourth ball there. Four launched balls later and there it is. Although it's a little less obvious, the gumball machine is also linear, and so is the ball luck. So, it's possible to store the Powerball somewhere and get it back later. (In fact this is what you're supposed to do; if you put the Powerball into the gumball machine, by shooting it up the right orbit, before losing it, you start Powerball Mania, a high-scoring multiball mode.)

One cool thing about that Powerball. Not only do the magnets in the machine not affect it (it is NOT true that most pinball machines use magnets to mess with the ball, but both Addams Family and Twilight Zone do at times, although in obvious ways), but the game can tell whether it is a metal or ceramic pinball that enters a scoop target by its electrical characteristics. This is how the game knows when the Powerball is in play. While it's active scoring is doubled. During multiball, of course, the game is less sure, but it can still tell when it lands in a scoop. The jackpot shot is a scoop, so if you score a multiball jackpot with the Powerball, the game recognizes it and doubles the jackpot!

My favorite game is Red and Ted's Roadshow...

Maybe Pat Lawlor's least-known game. He also did Banzai Run, Whirlwind, Funhouse, Addams Family, Twilight Zone, No Good Gofers and Monopoly. He's probably the highest grossing pinball designer of all.

curious nu: The Williams collection is actually rife with emulation errors. Or rather it would be, if it was emulated. Unlike PinMAME, the pinball software is only recreated, which means among other things Funhouse's sound and rules are wrong in several subtle ways.
posted by JHarris at 9:55 PM on August 10, 2011 [7 favorites]

A mark of modern pinbal is the wizard mode, a difficult mode to start that only really good players will ever see. I've described Twilight Zone's in a previous pinball thread.

Attack From Mars has an excellent wizard mode called Rule The Universe. It's very hard to achieve as you have to Conquer Mars as well as do all kinds of other things in one game. Some of the things, like the Super Jackpot and the 5-Way Combo, are highly skill based beyond mere survival, so you can play for a very long time and still never light it.
posted by JHarris at 10:00 PM on August 10, 2011

Yeah, it's an awesome thing. That one isn't quite finished, but you should check out the video with it completed. He did a Bride of Pinbot theme and it's freakin' awesome.

Mine should be right around $3000, including all the screens, the cabinet, and the buttons, knockers, and electronics. Luckily, I have a friend who is an expert woodworker who has a (working) shop with all the tools a person could ever need for this sort of project, so I just have to buy a bottle of tequila and all the parts. The assembly of the electronics is the easy part for me.

JHarris, Red and Ted is awesome, but I like The Getaway: High Speed 2 and ST:TNG better. Twilight Zone is also a fun game, as are Funhouse and TAF, but just not as much to me. I guess Ritchie's style is closer to my preference than Lawlor's style is.

I actually got my start on Funhouse and TAF. Well, that and Baby Pac-Man, which a friend of mine had.
posted by wierdo at 10:02 PM on August 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Oh, silly me, that link was directed at jcreigh.
posted by wierdo at 10:03 PM on August 10, 2011

Yeah, it's an awesome thing.

Wow, that is awesome. Thanks for the link.
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:04 PM on August 10, 2011

I love pinball. I'm fortunate enough to have a couple of great arcades nearby.

Trivia: The original owners of Pinball Pete's went on to found the Pinball Hall of Fame.

I'll just be satisfied to have a machine or two in my basement someday. The Williams Pinball Hall of Fame for the Xbox 360 is really a ton of fun, even if not everything is a perfect reproduction (Funhouse at the very least is missing a couple things).
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 10:05 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

weirdb: Star Trek TNG is loads of fun yes, they got like everyone from the show to do voices and the theme is perfect. It feels exactly like the show in pinball form.
posted by JHarris at 10:16 PM on August 10, 2011

I miss pinball. Over the years, the machines have vanished from all the pubs I go to, and what machines are left are in poor repair and aren't really any fun to play. (Or are shitty Stern machines that aren't fun to play even when perfectly maintained)

While Twilight Zone and TaF are certainly classics, I still have a soft spot in my heart for High Speed 2. I smiled that it was the machine being used in the shot demo videos linked in the post.
posted by russm at 11:02 PM on August 10, 2011

My local arcade near my old work had a Twilight Zone machine, and the owner was a pinball wizard. There were about a dozen of us who would play the machine during the day, and if we had a fault on the machine (which happened often, those old machines had some odd faults) I would either tell the owner if he was there, or leave a written note with the bored teenager manning the arcade.

The twlight zone machine had two main faults, things that would fail: the clock was a working clock but with the heat and use would jam and die. This was annoying because there was a special mode where you had to beat the clock - its hands would swing between 12 o'clock backwards and forwards, and if it reached there, the mode ended. You reversed the direction by hitting the center target (between the ramps), arguably the easiest shot on the board, but without an indication about which way you want the hands on the clock to swing, you couldn't be tactical about it without a functioning clock.

The second failure was ultimately catastrophic for the playability of the machine. Twilight Zone is a 6 ball machine, 1-3 balls would be in play, and another 3-5 would be in the Gumball Machine. In normal play you would usually have the powerball (ceramic ball, double point scoring, lighter and faster, noted above) in the gumball machine, because reloading it into the gumball machine unlocked a high point scoring multiball mode.

Without a functioning gumball machine, you either simply get the powerball at random, or worse, have it locked away forever in the gumball machine. And the Wizard Mode (6 ball multiball every special mode active, reward for completing every special mode) doesn't work properly.
posted by Jerub at 1:36 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is my favourite pinball machine.
posted by Fizz at 4:44 AM on August 11, 2011

Once upon a time, I was a hard-core High Speed junkie. Exceeded the published world record, but I expect lots of people did. Oh, pinball, how thee ruined my first year of university. Well, possibly combined with some drinking, card playing, .... but still, I missed more classes not wanting to bail on my game then for any other reason.
posted by Bovine Love at 5:10 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I came up playing pinball during the heyday of the pinball arcades of the 70's (soon to be converted into video arcades). I really miss the simpler machines of those days. These complex machines now are a completely different game. They make me feel like I'm more of a viewer, rather than a player.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:21 AM on August 11, 2011

Twilight Zone tutorial part 1.
The PAPA tutorial vids on youtube feature some incredible playing and walk you through some of the point-earning strategies of some great machines. Highly recommended.
posted by Theta States at 6:26 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Does anyone know what happened with the Pinball Ninja's blog? It was good...

He finished. He wanted to document 500 game repairs in 1 year, and he did it, and it was amazing.
But it took him a lot of time and effort, and since he met his goal, he stopped the blog. His play-by-play repair work will be invaluable for the next crop of pinball restorers.
posted by Theta States at 6:30 AM on August 11, 2011

posted by grog at 6:39 AM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Man, now I want to go and play pinball. Poorly, because that's how I roll. But still, I wants to play.
posted by antifuse at 7:02 AM on August 11, 2011

Mmm, can't wait for my virtual pinball cabinet. Another couple of weeks and I'll finally have the money put together to get it started.

Wow. Is that every pinball machine in the world in one box? It's like the "KTEL -- every record ever recorded!" ad routine by a comedian I forget. I watched the link to the explanation of the set-up, and it's all kinds of awesome.


The reason I like(d) pinball, and got into a snit from which I've never recovered when the first video games began to replace some of my favourite machines, is that they aren't "virtual." There's an actual ball, a physical thing, that gravity keeps pulling towards the inevitable. But with dexterity, timing and verve you might earn more time for your coin, maybe even a free game, and feel for once as if you're the master of the machine world, and getting more than your money's worth for something.

I thought pinball would never die because it had something video games didn't -- the tilt. This was genius, a way to highlight the battle line between the living and the contraption. At certain times when you were about to lose the ball down, say, the center space between the flippers, you could do a rapid left-right slap move on the sides of the machine at the flipper buttons that would move the box just enough to alter the course of the ball so that it hits the tip of one and then the other flipper, getting launched back into play. Slap just a little too hard and TILT, you went over the line, broke the rules, and suffered the consequences of sadly watching the machine lock up while the ball mockingly bounced a few times off unlit bumpers on its way into the unseen bowels of the unit.

I'm sure there's an equivalent today in computer games that does all this and more, and the player experience is far richer and more realistic and I don't care, I want PacMan and all his squeaky friends off my lawn.
posted by ecourbanist at 7:06 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm sure there's an equivalent today in computer games that does all this and more

My friends swears that it is useful when he tosses his PS3 controller in rage...
posted by Theta States at 7:19 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Once upon a time, I was a hard-core High Speed junkie.

Yeah, I used to own (figuratively, not literally) that machine. It's strange how badly I could suck on some machines, and completely master others.
posted by malocchio at 8:27 AM on August 11, 2011

For those of you in the San Francisco Bay Area, do try to make a visit to the Pacific Pinball Museum in Alameda. It's terrific fun. All those machines & I don't have to insert quarter after quarter? Game on!

They have 4 rooms of pinball games, vintage and newer. $15 gets you unlimited play that day, with in & out privileges so you can go have lunch or dinner & then come back.
They are open late Saturdays & Sundays.

Hint: If you are going to go more than a few times, you might consider the $20 JuJu Card. It gives you $5 off admissions for you + a guest for a year. You can use it the day you buy it so it pays for itself quickly.
posted by trixare4kids at 8:33 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

@cjorgensen: It was Twilight Zone. One of the balls was a ceramic ball called the "power ball" which wasn't affected by the magnets.

@Nelson: http://soundcloud.com/dj-dain/black-power-2000-mashup

@Hoosier Prospector: due to a lot of HIGH DRAMA, Clay Harrell took down both his Pinball Ninja repair blog AND Pinrepair.com, which was the definitive source for pinball repair info. Pinball repair hobbyists are still scrambling to come up with an alternative, and are mostly relying on torrents of an outdated backup of the site.
posted by luvcraft at 9:11 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Are the rules even listed on the machine?
posted by smackfu at 10:01 AM on August 11, 2011

There's little good pinball near me. I flew into Calgary not long ago and discovered multiple small arcades (3-4 machines each) across the airport, which was fantastic.

I still think the Williams collection for the Xbox 360 does a good job of the physics, even if you can't feel the table, and Gorgar's wizard goals infuriate me.

I have fond memories of visiting an arcade in Toronto in the 1970's, though. As clear a memory as I have of anything. I didn't know it wouldn't be around forever.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:16 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

And since I don't see a link to it here, though I know it's been mentioned on the blue before: Tilt: The Battle to Save Pinball.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:17 AM on August 11, 2011

@Hoosier Prospector: due to a lot of HIGH DRAMA, Clay Harrell took down both his Pinball Ninja repair blog AND Pinrepair.com, which was the definitive source for pinball repair info.

What happened?
That is so tragic that something caused basically the ultimate source of one topic to be wiped off the internet...
posted by Theta States at 10:35 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Jerub: Both of the Twilight Zone problems you had, however, are eventually recognized by the machine and compensated for. Williams-era pinball machines are generally pretty good about this. They keep track of how often shots that break down easily are made or features that rely on playfield toys are detected, and if they don't happen for a good while they'll sometimes assume them to be broken and deactivate them, preparing a software compensation. The clock falls back to a software-based timer, and the gumball machine is turned off, and the Powerball mode (if not the ball itself) is granted regularly.

Durn Bronzefist:
I have fond memories of visiting an arcade in Toronto in the 1970's, though. As clear a memory as I have of anything. I didn't know it wouldn't be around forever.

I think it is not necessarily the case that the days of the arcade are dead forever, although they evolved into a state where they became "about" serving the gaming needs of a legion of teenage males, with their dozens of fighting and driving games. That's what drove me away from arcades. But playing games can be a social experience, and there is no venue like an arcade for that if the games are explicitly designed for it. That's why Dance Dance Revolution did well for a while, and why Namco's taking a chance with Pac-Man Battle Royale. The same goes for pinball, which is more fun when people are playing against each other and laughing at the randomness of the game than in your basement alone.

Are the rules even listed on the machine?

Most pinball machines have a rulecard, posted on the machine beneath the glass to the left of the flippers that inform of the basic play goals. Some machines will explain important shots and techniques on the scoreboard at some point during attract mode. During the game the scoreboard will usually explain progress made towards some goals, like Bear Kicks collected. The playfield lights are an important clue for what you're doing; for example, they indicate which cities are left to be saved in Attack From Mars and which tricks you need to perform to build towards Rule The Universe.

And nearly all 90s-era machines will, if you hold a flipper button down during play for several seconds (practically, only possible if you've trapped the ball), present on the scoreboard a detailed counting of the game's play state at that time, including progress towards all major features. You can usually even page through this quickly by pressing the other flipper button.

This isn't really answering your question though. The real answer is that, while the game presents all of these ways in which the player can figure out the rules over time, few games will bother to explain all of the game features. In fact, some games have secret awards (like shot combos on many machines). And most machines that have some kind of "random" award, the award is really a lot less random than it appears. Attack From Mars has the supposedly-random Stroke of Luck scoop, for example, but the award Strobe Multiball always occurs as the third award from that, and never more than once per game. These are much like easter eggs in video games; if the game explained them, the point would be lost.

This aspect of pinball, the obscurity of the actual rules, is by design, and makes it more interesting in two ways. First, it gives experienced players something to learn to play better, in order to improve their skills, and it's great at that. Second, and more importantly, it means anyone can walk up and play the game for a few minutes without having to know how to reach multiball, or complete the Mirror, or Tour the Mansion, or the Big Bang, or Final Frontier, or whatever. Pinball is fun to play even without knowing about the deeper ruleset, which casual players won't care much about anyway. If they do care, then they've taken their first step towards real pinball skill, but they aren't casual anymore.
posted by JHarris at 10:54 AM on August 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

They have 4 rooms of pinball games, vintage and newer. $15 gets you unlimited play that day, with in & out privileges so you can go have lunch or dinner & then come back.

I can understand the appeal of that kind of value, but it kind of detracts from one of the most appealing things about pinball, the opportunity to win replays. Most pinball games have a target score to try to achieve that's worth a free game. (It usually "reflexes," in that the more replays you earn on a string of credits the higher the value gets, and also that over time it seeks to reach an average base score for replays so that only a certain percentage of games earn them.) If you can play free all day then what's the point?
posted by JHarris at 2:15 PM on August 11, 2011

Theta States' link to the Twilight Zone tutorial videos is excellent. It gives you a good idea of what a basic game of Twilight Zone is like. It's on a very hard machine, but it's played by an excellent player, and he explains everything he's trying to do while he's doing it. If you want to know what really good players are thinking when they play, load it up.
posted by JHarris at 2:45 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Some coworkers and I were stuck in Las Vegas for most of last week and visited the Pinball Hall of Fame (mentioned upthread) one night. It was definitely the best and most redeeming experience we had while there.

(Pinball machine noises and slot machine noises: So similar, so closely linked in origin, and yet such a different effect...)
posted by brennen at 4:57 PM on August 11, 2011

Riiiide The Comet!
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 5:45 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

White Water and Creature From the Black Lagoon still always get me to play whenever I see them (which come to think of it, has been a while).
posted by Casimir at 6:19 PM on August 11, 2011

@theta states: details are hazy, and nobody will talk about it publicly, but this is what I've gathered happened:

Two things first:

1 - rec.games.pinball is still the internet hangout for pinball afficionadoes, and on most days it's the #1 most active text-only newsgroup on usenet. If there's anything you want to know about pinball, be it general skills, specific repairs, opinions on machines, or news about upcoming releases, you can ask it there and will typically get half a dozen useful answers within an hour, and possibly three or four trolls. (it is usenet, after all.)

2 - Despite his amazing corpus of charity work, free pinball repair information, work chronicling the history of pre-video arcade machines, and free podcast of dozens of great interviews with the legends of pinball creation, Clay himself is kind of a jerk. He frequently gets into huge arguments on rec.games.pinball about the "correct" way to repair pinball machines, usually with people with even more pinball repair experience than he has. He's apparently not very approachable in person, either, and this has not won him many friends either online or IRL.

So, with those two points in mind:

After successfully completing the 500-repairs-in-a-year challenge of the Pinball Ninja blog, Clay opened a "pinball club" in Detroit called Tilt Town, which comprised of a whole bunch of machines from all eras in perfect condition all set to free play, open only to paid members most of the time, but with frequent $10-a-head open house nights, with all of the proceeds past rent and utilities going to charity.

On one of the first of these open house nights, one of Clay's enemies thought it would be funny to post the party to the Detroit craigslist, with the embellishments that, in addition to free-play pinball machines, there would also be strippers and hookers and drugs. Clay was oblivious to this post, and a couple hours before the party was about to start a city councilor showed up with the fire marshall, waving a print-out of the craigslist post, and had the place shut down indefinitely on a number of rarely-cited-but-difficult-to-fix building code violations.

Clay posted about the whole ordeal to rec.games.pinball, hoping for some sympathy and some advice on what to do next. There were a lot of sympathetic responses, and there were a lot of responses with helpful suggestions, but there were also a lot of responses from people who Clay had pissed off in the past, basically telling him that he got what he deserved.

There may have been something else bad that happened to Clay around this same time that was on par with Tilt Town getting shut down, but I can't find any details.

In retaliation for his perceived mistreatment by the pinball community, Clay threw a paywall up on pinrepair.com, and stated that all proceeds beyond his hosting fees would be donated to the Pacific Pinball Museum. (This was similar to a model he had used five years earlier, when he sold a series of pinball repair DVDs with all proceeds donated to the initial funding of the Pinball Hall of Fame.)

Naturally, a paywall suddenly appearing on the one and only site that hundreds of people rely on daily for free pinball repair information did not go over well (this would basically be on par with a paywall suddenly appearing on w3schools.com or perl.org). There was a huge uproar on rec.games.pinball, and many of the people who had contributed information to pinrepair.com pointed out to Clay that they had done so with the understanding that the information would remain free in perpetuity, and this paywall was a breach of contract. Even the Pacific Pinball Museum declined his offer (which he had not discussed with them beforehand), stating that they thought the paywall was a bad idea.

Exasperated, Clay "took his ball and went home", shutting down the Pinball Ninja repair blog, removing all of the guides except for the one most basic "Beginning Pinball Repair" guide from pinrepair.com, and had all mirrors shut down, including the archives of the site on archive.org. That was in May.

In addition to that basic "Beginning Pinball Repair" guide, Clay has left online his exhaustive history of pre-video arcade games, his informative documentation of cosmetic restorations on a number of older pinball machines, and his podcast archive of 65 interviews with almost all of the living legends or the pinball industry. (All of which can be found via links on what's left of pinrepair.com.)

So, that's the current state of affairs. Clay has been incommunicado since he took the pinrepair guides offline and shut down Pinball Ninja, and a few people have been scrambling to put together alternative free pinball repair wikis and sites, but so far they all pale in comparison to pinrepair.com (which makes sense since pinrepair.com was written over the course of 10 years, and the new sites have only been around for a few months). Given the tenacity with which Clay had all of the mirrors and archives of pinrepair.com taken down, the new sites are also being very careful not to plagiarize pinrepair.com for fear of lawsuits (Clay clearly copyrighted every page of pinrepair.com).

(This is the course of events to the best of my understanding from reading discussions on rec.games.pinball, and I'm sure there are lots of other "behind the scenes" details that I haven't been privy to, so there's probably a lot more to this story than this, but this is the basic gist of it.)
posted by luvcraft at 12:50 PM on August 12, 2011 [5 favorites]

You've got the power
You've got the might
Get ready for battle
Beat the Black Knight

I have a Black Knight 2000 in my garage. I love that thing in a very real and almost illegal way.

I feel first for High Speed, later Earthshakers!, Whirlwind, Funhouse, even Bad Cats. I've always been a Williams purist.

At the last California Extreme they debuted the new Stern Tron Legacy machine--didn't get a chance to play it but it looked pretty tasty.
posted by Kafkaesque at 1:14 PM on August 12, 2011

Hmm. A classic case of internet escalation. Sounds like Clay was legitimately wronged by a few people, and I'd be angry too if that Craigslist thing happened to me. But the mark of character is how you respond when you are wronged, and it sounds like he switched into "fuck the world" mode. He might not have been an asshole before, but he certainly is one now.
posted by JHarris at 1:14 PM on August 12, 2011

Kafkaesque, I've heard that the most recent Stern machines have been pretty crappy rule-wise. that the company is going hard for the casual market now and that it's resulted in much shallower game mechanics. I can't say for sure myself, I've had very little access to pinball lately.
posted by JHarris at 1:17 PM on August 12, 2011

Yeah, I've never been a fan of Stern games, except on principle because they are at least still making machines. Thanks for the heads-up though, JHarris.
posted by Kafkaesque at 1:22 PM on August 12, 2011

It's like the "KTEL -- every record ever recorded!" ad routine by a comedian I forget.

SCTV - Gordon Lightfoot Sings Every Song Ever Written
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 1:28 PM on August 12, 2011

That pinball simulator is awesome. I miss pinball a lot, and I'm glad to see others feel the same and that they're keeping it alive.

There was two different Attack from Mars machines. I think the other one was Mars Attacks, but I'm not positive. They were very different, but both were great machines.

I'm going to study the tips posted, and use them on my Marvel Pinball and Zen Pinball games on my ps3.
posted by BurnChao at 2:17 PM on August 12, 2011

Weirdly, I wasn't able to find the 360 version of the Williams collection at any Canadian retailers (only the PS3 version). So, ebay it is!
posted by antifuse at 11:04 AM on August 17, 2011

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