Monday, October 31, 2011

New Pinball: Paragon - Bally, 1979

Paragon is one of the hardest of the late 1970's/early 1980's pins, one that probably scares more people away from it than endears them to it. It's a widebody, which means it plays somewhat slower than a regular pin, but it requires extremely fast reflexes and a great amout of skill and touch on the flippers to make any sort of a descent score. Which is probably why I love it as I do.

I wanted to get a pin that was equal parts hard and rewarding with fast ball times and old school play. Even though its only the year before Firepower, it feels like its from another age of pinball and quite possibly the best example of that style of play.

Thanks to Bowen Kerins, I got a chance to learn a lot about this game and just how difficult it is before ever buying it. His tutorials on the PAPA blog, Tilt Warning, are exceptional and a lot of fun to watch.

I found one locally in amazing shape for a stellar price and snatched it up the same week I got the Firepower. It's a very hard and super rewarding game, one that requires a lot of patience and determination. It doesn't hand you jackpots or multiballs every five seconds. If there was such a thing as a 'Pro' machine, this might be it. I'm really dedicated to learning this machine and getting to the 5x multiplier frequently - out of the hundred or so games I have played I have maybe gotten it five times.

It also got some of the most bitchin' artwork I have ever seen on a pinball machine, courtesy of Paul Faris. The backglass, playfield and ever cabinet side art is stellar.

This is definitely one of my favorite machines of all time, maybe only second to my most recent acquisition...

Sunday, October 30, 2011

New Pinball: Firepower - Williams, 1980

I knew that I was going to be getting a few machines - based on my rule of threes (three of any one thing is the minimum number you should have) - and I knew I dug early 1980's games, being that is when I grew up. What better way to get started than 1980's Firepower by Williams.

After 1979's Flash, Williams needed another game that pushed the envelope and got Flash's creator, Steve Richie ( The King Of Flow) and their best programer, Eugene Jarvis, to make one of the best pins of all-time.

1980's Firepower was a return to multiball, but that may be the only old idea on the machine. The sounds are stellar, early electro gun sounds, explosions, bleeps and bloops and just awesome. The art package is very cool - sci-fi, slightly comic book style and even has a bit of a story - you are in a fire fight and need to take down the enemy ship, or ships.

For the first time, the displays did something besides just display score - they counted down 9 to 1 when you locked the third ball for multiball. Which seems like a small thing now, but back in the day, even people inside at Williams were worried that when the display showed something besides the score, that the score might forever disappear. It didn't and its an awesome bit of showyness that makes getting multiball just so much fun.

It's a really tough game, but super fun, fast and challenging. It's a great one to turn the volume up on and play for an hour and just immerse yourself in. So awesome.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Pinball Hall Of Fame (Las Vegas, NV) and a burgeoning pinball obsession

For some reason, arcade people and pinball people seem to be pretty seperate groups of people. Not a lot of arcade guys collect or play pinball much and vice-versa. But strangely, it seems like a good amount of my fellow shmuppers have gotten into pinball in the last few years. Having played a bunch when I was younger in the second golden age of pinball in the early 1980's, I thought maybe I would have some fun getting into and playing older machines.

Like most things with me, if I get into it, I have to know everything about it, like who was the best designer, what are the best titles, what are the hardest games, what games are the hardest to find, etc. I learned and read what felt like the entire internet's worth of pinball information - and then realized I was heading out to Vegas on business - right where the Pinball Hall Of Fame is located.

Normally, I do a lot of reading and chilling out in Vegas, preferring scotch and a good cigar from one of the many Davidoff stands in the Venetian where we usually stay rather than nights of drinking and gambling and strip clubs - not that I don't enjoy naked girls and alchohol, but Vegas is pretty much overkill on all fronts.

The second night I was there I got a chance to check it out and took a cab out there, past the airport, way off the strip and arrived in a little strip mall where the Pinball HoF lies. The sign is almost an afterthought, a vinyl banner about 5'x3', hung up about 25 feet off the ground, so you need to crane your neck up and squint to see it. I was a bit put off by this, but hey, the Libarace Museum is right across the street, so the HoF is in good company, it should be great right?...

And it was. There are a ton of games - way too many to play on three successive nights of aggressive playing. Most were in good shape, with a couple of small problems, some were in excellent shape and some were completely shut off. A lot of the games I had come to play were in good working order, like Firepower, Eight Ball Deluxe, Funhouse, Mata Hari, Whitewater, Space Shuttle, Medieval Madness, Centigrade 37, Cyclone and Black Knight.

I played the hell out of Firepower and dug the sounds, very early 1980's Williams, like playing Defender and Robotron together. Centigrade 37 is an early Gottleib EM machine and is incredible amounts of fun, with its Jack Kirby-inspired backglass and art. It's not very difficult and I did roll the counter while I was there. I played Eight Ball Deluxe and enjoyed the hell out of it, Black Knight for two nights pretty intently, had a killer game of Medieval Madness rolling until they turned off the games on me while they were closing. I was so into the game, I didn't even notice they had shut down!

It think it was at the time that I realized that I was hopelessly and happily addicted. I pretty much knew I was going to buy a few machines very soon and that I probably had the beginnings of a new hobby on my hands.

When I got back to Chicago, I started looking through Craigslist and every pinball forum I could find, contacting owners and getting some good deep knowledge aout the games through my own research. And because I am a bit of a competitive guy, I started to learn about competitive players and their techniques and found Bowen's tutorials on the PAPA (Professiona and Amateur Pinball Association) blog, Tilt Warning. I have now watched every tutorial on there about 5-10 each. No bullshit.

I've learned about post-transfers, drop catches, live catches and 'Shatzing the Inlane' and am loving every moment of playing. It helps that I have made fast friends with Zespy - a fellow video game/pinball and record guy and the owner of Logan Hardware - a used record and arcade room with a bunch of pinballs and tons of arcades. It is now my favorite store in Chicago. I play there at least three nights a week, getting in games of Pinbot and Doctor Who and Johnny Mnemonic while buying Weather Report and Hawkwind records. Awesome.

This past week, I picked up two new pinballs, classics from two different decades (update post soon to follow) and I am hopefully going to have a third on its way soon. I am also headed out to the Pinball Expo in Wheeling tonight to play as long as I continue to stand up as the room is open all night for free play, some 100+ games being present.