974 days. 3 hours. 5 minutes.

974 days, 3 hours, 5 minutes and 0 seconds can be converted to one of these units:

  • 84,164,700 seconds
  • 1,402,745 minutes
  • 23,379 hours (rounded down)
  • 974 days (rounded down)
  • 139 weeks (rounded down)

I ordered my Emerald City Limited Edition Wizard of Oz from Jersey Jack Pinball on January 25, 2011 at 9:25am.  It arrived last week, September 25, 2013 at 12:30pm.

Much has been said/written/trolled about the multiple setbacks as Jersey Jack Pinball became the biggest upstart pinball company to come along since… Capcom?  In the late ’90s?  Here’s my take, dumping my thoughts and feelings *sniff* about the pin, the process and the payoff, no punches pulled.

When the whole ‘deal’ was announced publicly (on the Spooky Pinball Podcast as it were), there was a bit of buzz right off the bat, but it was still early.  The goal was that a respected distributor of over 30 years was going to try his hand at building his own pinball company to bring back the big toys and the wow factor of late ’90s pinball design.  The initial deposit was $250.  You had to make regular payments (roughly $500 a month, but in lump sums), but you had until August to pull out for a full refund.  (I think even now Jack is honoring full refunds if you pull out this late, but I could be mistaken.)  It seemed like little risk, and my wife was cool with trying it out and pulling out if we didn’t like what we saw.  And at that time, Stern had released Avatar, Big Buck Hunter, Iron Man, 24 and NBA as their previous five titles.  None of those did a whole lot for us, personally (although I do like NBA), and some fresh design/competition couldn’t hurt.  (I’d still like to see some new designers even now!  Is John Borg the ‘newest’ designer in pinball, with only 20 years of experience?  But that’s another topic…) The team names thrown around included major players like Nordman, Blacer, Freres, Matt Riesterer of Back Alley Creations, Jerry Vanderstelt, and the major selling points for me: Keith Johnson and Chris Granner.  I chose number #839 (of 1000 Emerald City Limited Edition games) because the film was released in August 1939.  8/39.  I thought it was a cool nod to fans of the film.

_DSC0474

There was an early video of a melting Wicked Witch toy, that dropped into the playfield.  I can’t seem to find it now, but that was the first look at what they were going for with the game.  Then we got a sample of the music.  The familiar ‘Follow the Yellow Brick Road’ loop that everyone following the project heard over and over for years. You can hear it here, over a whitewood gameplay video that was published in October 2011.

[youtube]http://youtu.be/6kJ3vaFgNGk[/youtube]

We saw the cabinet art and I think a CAD-type drawing of the playfield before the August 2011 ‘pull out deadline’.  It’s a little blurry at this point.  We didn’t really tell anyone we had bought it that first year or so, just because it was/is kind of an extravagant purchase for middle class folks in Albuquerque, and pins were a lot cheaper three years ago! Again, we were semi-expecting it to arrive between the initial December 2011 date and June 2012 (our waaaay out there, if it’s running waaaay behind date).  We knew the game had five flippers, two miniplayfields, an LCD monitor to substitute the twenty-year-old standard DMD, and several toys to match the great pins of the late ’90s.  I will say right now that WOZ as we know it today is not the pin that we ordered in 2011.  Jack has said that it is not the pin he envisioned initially either.  It’s much more than that at this point, but of course in the time since WOZ was announced, until the time I received my game, Stern had released EIGHT games (not including Premiums, LE’s, Classics, etc.  EIGHT different licenses.)  Needless to say, they had a longer window to work on the game, and Jack seems to have let the design team throw in everything they could dream of into the final game.

The next several months were kinda quiet, if I remember correctly. Eventually we were shown this video, of an animated logo for JJP with music by the guitarist from Creed.
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAF3nrGODEA[/youtube]

I think shortly after that we went to the Texas Pinball Festival and Jack showed us some of the backglass animations that were developed for the LCD monitor.  That’s where the ‘reverse flippers’ rule was leaked (as of this time, it has not been implemented into the game yet.)  Again, that was 19 months ago in itself, so things are a little blurry, we may have seen a bit more at that point.

I remember the first playfield art that was shown was the Witches castle miniplayfield.  It was very different than I had imagined.  In my head, I was thinking it would be similar to The Addams Family, or Twilight Zone.  Licensed images, but hand drawn art.  I was really shocked to see clipart of the Winkie Guards.  woz-witchescastle-print

No one said it was going to be all hand-drawn, that’s just what I envisioned.  The art surrounding the clipart is beautifully done and reminiscent of TAF and TZ, so its a mix of both, and it actually works pretty well.  Either way, that turned my expectations on their ear, and now I really wanted to see where the game was going to end up, visually.  At the Rocky Mountain Pinball Showdown in April 2012, we were shown some plastics for the first time.  Again, they were not what I expected, but I still think they look great.  Very bright and colorful.  Unconventional in their subject matter too.  A Winkie Guard and Emerald City Guard adorn the slingshots, each with a green starburst pattern behind them.  Slingshot art always drives me nuts.  It’s often terrible (Rescue 911 anyone? Spider-Man?), but as its right by the flippers, you’re staring at it all the time!  And its closer to your face than the playfield AND its lit up!

99

At some point, there was discussion of controlled LEDs and how that was thought to be impossible, but Jack had figured it out.  We didn’t know how far it was going to change the game. I would say, without question, that everyones first impression of WOZ is that its ‘so bright and colorful!’  You can see it in action in this clip, but seeing it in person is much different.

[youtube]http://youtu.be/dKiPJI_BHOw[/youtube]

Every time we would see Jack at a convention, our zest would be renewed.  Remember, even in April of 2012 our game had been on order for 16 months, which was AGES and felt even longer.  Especially my wife would be more excited after he spoke.  ‘Well, yeah, Jack is a salesman.  His job is to get people excited about his product.’ I would tell her.  Jack is a very charismatic guy, with a long background in sales and customer satisfaction.  I think without his enthusiastic charm, the project would have died long ago.  He made you WANT to stay attached, you WANTED to believe all these lofty promises.  With the XBox One coming next month, I’ve been looking back at the promises of what the Xbox 360 would do, as made eight years ago as it was preparing to launch.  Many of the features disappeared, never came to fruition, were abandoned, etc.  With Jack, his mantra was ‘underpromise, overdeliver’ and he stuck to that.  All these lofty promises CAME TRUE.  I’m hard pressed to think of anything he said they were working on that didn’t happen or isn’t in the works.  Yeah, the topper isn’t all that ‘interactive’, and I’m still praying for some wifi-working online tournaments for WOZ, but the nail isn’t in the coffin yet.

After a year or so of not really telling anyone, we started to tell people that we had ordered a WOZ.  Not only that, but we got in EARLY.  It had to be arriving any day, right?!!  Well, that turned into years of people ribbing us, non-pinheads by the way, ‘So, when is your game coming?’, ‘Did you get your game yet?’ etc. Even last week, my father-in-law asked ‘You ordered it like a year ago, right?’  Er, no, almost three years ago… ‘THREE YEARS?!’

For the most part, the carrot was always dangling RIGHT THERE.  Why pull out now? It should ship next month.  That’s what we told ourselves for the past year and a half or so after the game publicly debuted at E3 in early June 2012.  They made the game.  It exists.  Location games were rolling out to select locations around the country.  We got in early, our game must be one the line, right?  Then, in April 2013, nearly a year later, the first games start shipping to actual, home-use-only customers!  Well, it turns out there were a jillion giant orders or something in the first day or two.  And since I ordered January 25th (the first orders were January 9th I think, with a few people who got in personally with Jack before that), it felt like I was at the back of the line again.  We were ‘on January orders’ FOREVER.  Six months, in fact.  People were (and still are) comparing invoice numbers to try and figure out when their game would ship. When games started shipping, the price went up too.  Positions for games on Pinside were hitting $8500-$9k regularly.  This was the first time I really thought about pulling out.  We waited forever and still not game, so we might as well sell while the slots are hot.  On the other hand, we are SO CLOSE!  Why would we even think of selling now?

There were many periods during the past 2 years and 8 months (to the day) that I just kinda stopped caring.  Yeah, it looks great, so does Salma Hayek, but I’m not bringing her home either.  In July 2012, my wife became pregnant with our twins, who were born in March 2013.  They were born more than two years after we ordered.  We went to a wedding last week for a couple that MET in May 2011.  The wait is a substantial amount of the ‘discount’ and the emotions going into the game.  Jack will tell you that the waiting was harder for him than anyone, and I believe him, but man… that’s one horrendous wait.  Metallica was announced in April/May 2013 and started shipping three weeks later.  I ordered one and got it six weeks later.  I was deep in the excitement of a new pin, and a pin that I was actually interested in, and a pin that I actually ordered and was shipping!  It was a wait, but it was the best kind.  It just kept you waking up everyday like Christmas morning, hitting the forums to read the latest news and reviews about it.  WOZ doesn’t have that benefit.  I should also note that I paid for WOZ with the money I had saved to order a Capcom Kingpin when it was supposed to be reproduced, so THAT project is even more drawn out.  It’s still happening, allegedly, but its no where near as real as WOZ.  WOZ is not ‘vaporware’, and I’ll give them props for that.  Still, we had planned an unboxing party, and ordered a custom cake, in March 2012.  We’ve since cancelled the party/cake/fanfare.

At a certain point, even I had seen so much of WOZ that early details about the NEXT JJP game, The Hobbit, were more exciting to me.  Then I started kicking myself.  Why am I getting excited about details for a game that is two years away when the game I ordered 2 1/2 years ago still isn’t here?!

I did play WOZ twice at the Rocky Mountain Pinball Showdown in April 2013.  I limited myself to just two quick plays.  I already knew everything about it, right?  What’s the harm in slapping a ball around for 2 minutes?  I waited in the long line to play it, and my games were brief.  I didn’t let my wife come near it, as she stopped caring about it about a year and a half ago and had never even seen the playfield assembled until we unboxed our game last week.  So what did I think after my two quick games?  My first thought was ‘How can I find the money to order The Hobbit?’  haha… WOZ was clearly sooooo far ahead of any other recent pins that I was wanting to get in on the next game NOW.  (I didn’t order The Hobbit by the way, although the playfield looks great and I love the theme.  I’ll wait until it actually comes to life before considering it.)

Wizard of Oz was in the theaters last week.  So is the new Metallica movie.  Both companies nailed it when choosing licenses.  Also, for a couple days before Stern Star Trek shipped, we owned both of the most recent pins available, and could compare them side by side.  Metallica is a great game, but the comparison is similar to the way Pinbot looks sitting next to Road Show.  It’s not an EM/SS divide, but it’s definately the biggest, boldest expansion of pinball since the integration of the DMD in 1991…. TWENTY TWO YEARS AGO.  (RIP Pinball 2000…) Can you imagine if we were only playing Super Nintendo for the past 22 years and then the Xbox 360 came out?  It would be a game changer (literally!  ZING!).

I hope WOZ is the game changer.  Pinball has been growing by leaps and bounds since WOZ was announced.  Not BECAUSE it was announced, but its plain to see that the innovations of JJP have pushed their competitors to change their game plan and battle for your pinball dollar.  The success of JJP has also inspired many others to start their own ’boutique’ pinball companies, and there are more pin projects alive right now than ever(?).  I expect to be blown away by whatever JPop is working on in his secret bunker.  Predator looks awesome already.  Heighway Pinball has made their mark overseas.  The Spooky Pinball People have launched their own business model for home pinball sales with original themes/titles.  No one can deny the mark JJP has left on our hobby already, missed deadlines and delays aside.

Speaking of which, now everyone is asking me ‘Was it worth the wait?’  It’s a bit of a mixed bag honestly.  First, a few small issues put a damper on the experience. We got the game unboxed and set up and noticed that the plunger wouldn’t move.  It turns out that both playfield hangers were snapped._DSC0587

As such, the playfield was resting on the plunger.  The autoplunger specifically was pressing down so the plunger wouldn’t move.  So… if we wanted to play that first night, we needed to raise the playfield.  I snapped a pencil and stuck it under the part of the hook we could see.

_DSC0597

 

We were able to play that first night, but couldn’t put the glass on because the lockdown bar wouldn’t attach as the playfield was too high.  Then, after a handful of games (8-10?), one of the RGB LED boards went out, and since they are wired in series, everything wired after it went out.  I eventually found the bad board and swapped it with the furthest similar board in the line, and that brought about 85% of the lights to life.  The RAINBOW lights were still out, making ‘There’s No Place Like Home’ mode nearly impossible to complete.  While I was looking for the bad board, I noticed a lug on one of the standup targets was snapped off.  It snapped in such a way that it could not be rigged/repaired.  I ordered new hangers, a new RGB board and a new target and Lloyd had them ordered to ship an hour later.  Great service.  I was bummed that they were shipped by ground service though, which meant the game was ‘broken’ for the next six days until the parts arrived.  I swapped the hangers with the hangers on Pinbot so I could play with the glass on.  We have babies in the house now, so my pinball time is severely limited as it is.

Next, I’d already seen everything about the game over and over for years now.  No surprises out of the box.  That’s not a bad thing, I mean, you know what you’re getting when you buy an Addams Family right now, right?  Doesn’t make the game any less interesting, but it makes the NIB experience a little diminished I guess.  Learning some of the rules and seeing them in action is still pretty exciting, even for a seasoned pinball guy.  When you see inserts flicker like flames in ‘Firefight’ mode, or everything turn sepia-tone as you try to rescue TOTO, it really feels like something new and different.

Was the worth the wait…?  Honestly, I’ll never know.  It was a wait whether we wanted it or not.  In June 2011, I had a chance to buy a TRON LE for $5k, which seemed insane then, but I could have played it for two years until WOZ was available and then easily sold it for over $10k.  Even paying a premium for WOZ now, I would have a lot of cash in pocket and my money wouldn’t have been tied up for the past several years.  I’m not bitter about it, but it is a pinball game and they’re way more fun to play when they’re in your home and not in pieces in a warehouse across the country for years.

WOZ is excellent, easily the visual showpiece of nearly any collection, and it’s more than just a pretty face.  It’s a fun game.  The rules are fantastic, the shots are fun, the randomness of the two outlane ‘ball saver gimmicks’ are interesting.  Code updates seem to be coming about once a month now, which is fine, it still has a long ways to go, but it’s deeper and more fleshed out than Metallica is already.  The team at JJP has been great about replying to concerns, joining in forum conversations, answering questions, adding stuff to the game that the community wants, etc.  I probably wouldn’t have done this if I could go back.  All the games are supposed to have shipped by this January.  Games have been available from distributors and people who have pulled out for several months now.  It feels good to be part of an upstart that changed the face of the game, if not forever, for right now at least.  It was a weird journey, and I’m glad it’s over, but as a great man once said ‘Hey!  It’s only pinball!’.

_DSC0532

_DSC0573

photo

8 thoughts on “974 days. 3 hours. 5 minutes.”

  1. Love the write-up. Well written, emotional, lots of depth. This is not a fluff review by someone trying to justify their extravagant purchase by piling on the praise (see: Avengers LE owners). Perhaps one could call this a review of the JJP experience rather than the game itself. Great work capturing the essence of the wait. Enjoyed reading it.

  2. I had a similar experience with my ACDC premium. We were able to play it for about 3 hrs then it was DOA for a week. Turned out to be a ground wire on one of the connectors which had been pressed in so hard it practically severed it. It was my first NIB and was pretty disheartening. Just got my WOZ today and we are opening it tomorrow. I’m hoping for a better experience this time around. Thanks for sharing yours, and I’m sorry it wasn’t the greatest.

  3. I haven’t had a chance to play WOZ yet, and it may be the greatest pinball ever, but the integration of the LCD into the backbox looks like something a teenager building a MAME cabinet would have done… No bezel to cover the edge? sheesh…

Leave a Reply to Mike H. Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *