Episode 103 – Pinbutt

Jeff is joined by Jessica DeNardo as they talk about all the new stuff at Texas Pinball Festival, including that Bride of Pinbot 25th Anniversary machine…emotions might run hot there. We also dig into the WPPR changes announced for 2018.

Belles and Chimes PDX on Twitch: https://www.twitch.tv/bellespinballpdx

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Pinball Supernova

Episode 102 – Scrabble was called Scrabble

Jeff is joined by Jessica DeNardo and Bowen Kerins and it immediately gets awesomely weird. Listen in as the three of us go over game theory, what Taco Bell would look like as a pinball theme, new games coming out, competitive pinball format talk, and much, much more.

Check out Bowen’s Patreon at www.patreon.com/pinball to see more about the pinball tutorial videos he’s creating.

Belles and Chimes PDX on Twitch: https://www.twitch.tv/bellespinballpdx

Support our sponsors!

The Pinball Podcast is sponsored by NiftyLED.Click the banner to check out the new and improved NiftyLED.com!

rxEuUlPyIX5qTIutCqKsIA-MEZELmodsMezelMods.com is offering the code MAUDE for 15% off any Mezel-made items in their store!  Enter code at checkout.desktop-logo

ULEKstore.com us offering the code TPP for free shipping on pinball orders over $30!  Enter code at checkout.

Episode 101 – Pinball Therapy

With the first episode after Don’s flight into hiding, Jeff is joined by listener favorite, Jessica to discuss pinball machines that always seem to do them dirty in competition. Come for the therapy session and let it all out with us.

Next show we’ll be joined by Bowen Kerins, who will lend his words of pinball wisdom. Submit any questions or topics that you’d like us to discuss while Bowen is on the show to pinballpodcast@gmail.com.

Support our sponsors!

The Pinball Podcast is sponsored by NiftyLED.Click the banner to check out the new and improved NiftyLED.com!

rxEuUlPyIX5qTIutCqKsIA-MEZELmodsMezelMods.com is offering the code MAUDE for 15% off any Mezel-made items in their store!  Enter code at checkout.desktop-logo

ULEKstore.com us offering the code TPP for free shipping on pinball orders over $30!  Enter code at checkout.

This Flippin X The Pinball Podcast – Bonus Holiday Episode

We did a thing where we had the guys from This Flippin’ Podcast, Joe Zenkus, and Evan Bingham and ourselves all teamed up for a couple of hours of questionable content. It was fun for us, we hope you enjoy the show. Our regular episode schedule will continue.

Review – Ghostbusters Premium/LE Code 1.11 (and 1.10)

When Ghostbusters released, it released with fairly complete code and provided a pretty strong initial experience. Early feedback was mostly positive, but there were a few concerns about the game’s difficulty, the somewhat unneven score balancing, and some pretty basic usage of the game’s major features. With a fairly long gap in time between the 1.05 launch code and 1.10’s release (and the follow up 1.11), there were high expectations that the game would take a major leap forward. After putting significant time in on both 1.10 and 1.11, here’s how I feel the game has changed from launch.

To simplify talking about these two releases, I’m going to treat 1.11 as a single release. Stern has the actual readme files avilable to see exactly what 1.11 added over 1.10, but the main focus of the release was to address bugs. A couple of small things were added over 1.10 in addition to the bug fixes, such as adding light 2X scoring into the skill shots, but the two releases are essentially one major update. I’ll refer to the updates as the 1.11 update for the rest of the review.

With 1.11, it’s obvious that the main objective was to make the game more forgiving and more accessible to entry-level players. Whether this was a reaction to chirping on Pinside or a direct response to gathered data from exported audits from operators and owners, Stern felt that the game needed to be a bit easier to progress through. This was accomplished by adding the options (which are enbabled as factory default), to allow the player to time out active modes as well as to continue modes after a drain. It’s a seemingly small tweak, but it completely changes how Ghostbusters is played.

In 1.05, draining during an active mode was a huge setback to progressing through the game. If you drained out without finishing the mode, you would either need to use your skill shot to continue or start a new scene, or you had to spell G-H-O-S-T and hit Slimer three times to get your modes lit once more. The former method was safer, but it removed your ability to shoot for the rollover skill shots. Going through Slimer was riskier, but definitely higher on the risk/reward scale. In 1.11, you can now go right back into the mode on the plunge, allowing you to shoot for any of the skill shots you wish without harming your ability to progress in the game.

The biggest impact of this change is that you can fairly easily progress through a ladder to reach a mini wizard mode. If you want to get to We Came, We Saw… (WCWS), you can generally get there by ball one or two by just focusing solely on that left ramp ladder and leveraging the ability to continue or time out modes. Given the points available in WCWS and the relative ease of getting there, it’s a strong and safe way to get into big points rather than swapping ladders and trying to get through the first level modes. In addition, you’re going to be progressing through locks to start Storage Facility Multiball on the left ramp. This approach is so far and above any other, that really there’s no real other way to play the game if you’re shooting for a high score.

Nothing is stopping you from playing other ladders in the game, but nothing offers as easy of a path to surefire high scores than playing the “We Got One” ladder. If making the game easier was meant to open options up, the opposite has actually happened here.

The modes themselves haven’t been changed, but a new video mode has been added to the game. Don’t Cross the Streams is lit and collected the same way as Negative Reinforcement on ESP Ability. When collecting the lit video mode, you have the choice of which mode to play. Don’t Cross the Streams is much more interesting, but it would have been nice to have integrated it differently into the overall experience. Throwing it in as an option is kind of odd, especially as the playfield art only indicates the original video mode. As far as strategy goes, Don’t Cross the Streams is a more reliable source of points, but you can get a bigger payout on Negative Reinforcement if you’re lucky. All in all, it’s a pretty minor addition to the overall experience.

Unfortunately, 1.10 ushered in quite a few bugs into the game; some which were squashed by 1.11. At 1.11, it’s far more common to see power drops on the flippers, some issues where bonus isn’t awarded after a ball, awards (Tobin’s Spirit Guide, video mode) being lit but not able to be collected, some scoring oddities, and a few other things that are being identified by players fairly often. While it’s impossible to test code to the point of being absolutely certain that bugs don’t exist, these releases seem to have been very lightly tested. I ran into issues from the very first game I played and only found more as I went on. With some testing it would be impossible to miss some of these bugs, because they are consistent in their triggers and don’t involve rare behaviors. Hopefully the next code release not only cleans up current bugs, but it’s much better about introducing new issues into the mix.

Bugs aside, the code has some additional problems. It didn’t do much to address the uneven aspect of the scoring, and it’s still a rush to get to the mini wizard modes and multiballs. It would have been nice to see some combo scoring, new paths to score multipliers, incentives to swap to different ladders within the same game, and create better opportunities to get scoring going other than just going to the next mode (to help provide a more even ramp up in score). Some additional differentiation for the premium/LE would also be much appreciated, especially with how the Ecto Goggles and the right ramp being loopable could be more deeply explored.

I don’t think that 1.11 makes the game worse, but it doesn’t move it forward very much either. 1.11 is more of a lateral step that introduces a few things of nominal value to the overall package. I appreciate that the mode continues and mode timeouts are optional and that it will give more casual players an opportunity to see the wizard modes, but that’s the vast majority of what constitutes this update. If “easy mode” isn’t what you were looking for, there’s probably more bugs in this update than features for you. We also lost the ability to change the pulse power on the magna slings, which is a big bummer for the home user that is obsessive about dialing in his or her machine.

All that said, I do recommend updating to the newest code release, whether you’re on a pro or a premium/LE model. The issues aren’t showstopping, and the better use of the multipliers in skill shots, the new video mode, and some of the better use of RGB lighting makes it worth upgrading. I do think it’s fair to expect a much more impactful update from Stern in the future, especially if the game continues to sell as well as it has. Ghostbusters is a very good game right now, but a bit more of a push through code evolution could elevate the game into one of the all-time greatest games ever. I hope that Trudeau’s design eventually reaches its full potential.

Code updates are available directly from Stern’s official website.

A better approach to pro, premium, and LE models in pinball

Many pinball manufacturers split their offerings into a base and varying numbers of upgraded models. The base is usually the machine more aimed at operators or budget-minded buyers and the collector’s edition, premium, or LE model is more for the discerning home buyer. At times the differences between versions is minor, while at other times it’s pretty large. Stern Pinball has settled on a three model approach (pro, premium, LE) that looks to address buyer needs (choice) as well as the manufacturer’s needs (maximum margin and larger market share). Jersey Jack Pinball also offers different models in their games, but they typically offer two levels; standard and limited. The big difference between how Jersey Jack and Stern handle their model differences is that Stern offers differences in gameplay between models while JJP keeps differences to be purely cosmetic or in presentation. I feel like in a perfect world everybody would just make one game, but that’s probably never going to happen again in pinball. If we’re going to live with split offerings, I wish the three model approach could be tweaked in ways that are better for both the buyer and the seller; and I do believe that’s possible.

The three model per game approach wouldn’t be problematic if there wasn’t a difference in gameplay and code, but there is. It’s problematic for the buyer, and it’s a problem for the manufacturer as well. The differences should be in trim, non-interactive toys, art, and quantity limitations. Here’s only a handful of reasons why:

By having a difference in gameplay, it splits the code base. This is bad for everyone involved. On Stern’s end, it makes more work for each code update, because they have to account for differences in features between model. Those differences might also affect scoring balance (can’t do too much with the right ramp shot on GB, for example, because it returns to the left flipper on the LE/premium and would be abused; so you’re left keeping it lower value which harms the pro). Code also takes longer to develop, because you aren’t just making one set of code, you’re making two. But the worst effect is that less attention is put towards unique features, simply because it’s an element that affects only a portion of the overall owner base. If every GB had Ecto Goggles, I’m sure more creativity would have been put into using those, but it automatically falls to a lower priority due to the split base. This harms the premium/LE.

By having differences in gameplay, it forces the designer to make concessions to their design in some way. They’re either pulling out something they originally designed for a game, or they’re adding something in just for the sake of doing so. Whatever direction it goes, it’s not the original vision for the game. Game of Thrones is worse on the premium/LE level for that crammed in upper playfield while AC/DC loses a lot dropping to pro. We would simply get a designer’s best design if they weren’t forced to add or subtract for sake of a salesman’s bullet point.

On top of code and design, it affects manufacturing negatively. Rather than a single playfield, you get two variations. This slows down production at the playfield manufacturer and during assembly as they’re essentially treated as different games on the production line. Each version must be tested differently. Each version needs to be engineered differently. Playfields have to be created in waves rather than all at once. You end up with multiple cutting templates at the manufacturer, different wiring harnesses, different press template…it’s just not efficient overall as it could be.

Multiple playfield variations slows down order fulfillment. Pros and premiums/LEs have to be scheduled in different runs due to the physical differences. While there was a big backlog in orders on Game of Thrones Pro this year, premiums were on the line and people were left waiting. If the playfields were the same, it would be simple to alter the final steps in assembly to ship pros to satisfy outstanding demand rather than a powering through a possibly missed forecast.

I think having three versions is fine, but we’re simply not doing it in the best way right now. I would actually prefer having two (standard and collector’s edition), but even with identical playfields there is probably still enough that can be differentiated in add-on features to justify pro/premium/LE splits. Here’s a reasonable starting point, I feel:

Pro – No shaker, standard side rails, standard sound package, basic playfield toys, playfield pegs, basic plastics/molds

Premium – Shaker added, slide rails, armor added, alternate translite (plus the pro), upgraded toys (moving Recognizer in Tron), upgraded sound, headphone jack, upgraded playfield plastics/molds (library and containment unit on GB)

LE – Shaker, limited quantities, exclusive armor color, alternate translite (plus the other two), upgraded toys, premium sound, signed playfields, topper, exclusive LE art package (different cab, different plastics), slide rails, upgraded apron, headphone jack

Stern could easily reduce production cost, keep their margins (and probably improve them), and still give buyers a choice without forcing disparity between home and location play. Currently, everything being done with the three different versions is ignoring the increased benefits of higher levels of standardization. Hopefully we can see a day return to pinball when each game has one version of gameplay.

Review: Ghostbusters LE (latest update code 1.05)

Note: This review will be updated with each significant code update. As of the time writing this review, code is at 1.05. Updates will be edited in at the bottom of the post.

It’s been a long wait for me and my fellow Ghostbusters fans. One of the best franchises from the 1980s somehow never got a pinball machine, and it was always on my list of most-wanted pinball themes. If you’ve been a listener of the show for any amount of time, you’ll know that I’ve never wanted a theme more than I wanted Ghostbusters.

Having a podcast, people like to leak information to us. I keep it quiet when I hear stuff, because I don’t want to break the trust of my sources, and I know that the pinball companies out there appreciate the discretion. Because of peoples’ willingness to speak to us in confidence, I knew about Ghostbusters coming WAY before the announce date, and well ahead of the leaked information and early pics. I was excited, and it made the wait feel unbearable. My dream theme was finally coming, and John Trudeau was designing it with Zombie Yeti on the art and Dwight Sullivan on the code. Seemed all too good to be true.

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Fast forward through all the waiting and all the delays, and Ghostbusters LE #67 arrived at my house on July 8, 2016, courtesy of Game Exchange of Colorado. I wasted no time unboxing the game and moving it down into my basement. I set the machine up, familiarizing myself with the quirks and differences of the Spike system and everything that’s changed on the cabinets since my last NIB game from Stern. I was simply blown away by the game’s artwork. The quality of the lines, the coloring, and the composition is right with the best we’ve seen in modern pinball.

After getting the machine set in its place (at the end of the row, because of that dang power switch on the head), I waited for my wife and kids to get home from the walk they went on. As always, I wait to play until my wife has had the first game. I took the time to take stock of the changes I noticed from AC/DC, Tron, and Iron Man, my other three Stern NIB games. For some, this will be a retread of all observations, so feel free to skip the next couple of paragraphs if you want to jump straight into Ghostbusters stuff.

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With Spike, Stern changed quite a few things. Gone are the backbox locks, the coin door switch to interrupt high voltage, the service outlet in the cabinet (there’s one in the head), and the undercab power switch (which is also in the head). All of this seems to point to cost cutting, rather than convenience or improvement, and honestly, all of these changes are fairly annoying. Even on the LE you get lockbar latches rather than the traditional style lockbar, but I actually prefer these as they give a more snug and secure fit.

I also noticed that Stern continues to cut corners where possible to increase margin on these games. Components are lighter, there’s more plastic (less metal), and the cabinet decals are extremely thin. I installed some official art blades, and those decals are two to three times as thick as the cabinet decals. I don’t have a lot of confidence in long-term durability on the cabinet for location games. The game doesn’t feel flimsy, but it’s obvious that corners are being cut, and we’re running out of corners.

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After my wife got home, I fired up the game and impatiently dragged her in front of it. She was excited. She’s heard me talk about it for months, and it’s finally here. She plunges the ball, takes her first shot, and the ball is stuck. FIRST FLIP. The ball got wedged in the scoop, as it was bent down and there was no way for the ball to enter. Bummer.

Ok, I pull the glass, put the ball in the shooter lane, and bend the scoop up by hand. My wife plunges, and I notice that one of the rollovers doesn’t register. No big deal…switches often need adjustment out of the box. Oh, the switch at the exit of the pop bumpers didn’t register either. Oh, the Ecto Goggles aren’t working. The left ramp isn’t registering. The right orbit isn’t registering. Minute after minute I notice that things just aren’t working and it’s impossible to complete a single mode, because there aren’t enough working switches to make it happen. Many times you can’t finish Slimer, because often the third shot needs to happen on the Ecto Goggles.

Out of frustration I power the game down and start tearing things apart. This all happened on a Friday, and it wasn’t until the next Thursday that I got everything working. It wasn’t just some tweaking that the game needed, I had to break out my soldering station, adjustment tools, nut drivers, screwdrivers, and plenty more to do actual repairs. Either my game got skipped in the quality control process, or someone signed it off without much care. It’s impossible that a game could have so many problems just from some jiggling around in shipment. I spent several hours across the next few days to get the game going 100%. So, with that frustration, and it was a HUGE frustration, behind me, I could finally experience the game fully.

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Wow! Ghostbusters nearly gave me an angry meltdown, but it has been well worth the wait and the upfront tax on my patience. The game is an absolute winner for layout, art, features, and rules. Everything that really goes into making a game great, Ghostbusters has in spades.

Layout

The one thing that can make or break a pinball machine before even the earliest of code is loaded into a game is its layout. Ghostbusters has a layout thtat’s packed with things to shoot for, all squeezed into a standard body machine. This makes for some very tight shots that span from the extreme left to the extreme right. The shots go as follows (left to right): Collect Gear stand ups, left captive balls, left saucer, left orbit/spinner, left Scoleri drop target (when active), 2X multiplier stand up, left ramp, 3X multiplier stand up, Gozer stand up/pop bumper entry, Slimer stand up, center captive ball, right Scoleri drop target (when active), right orbit/Ecto Goggles, right ramp, Terror Dog stand up, right scoop. Add in Slimer that can roam between the left orbit and his own stand up, and you have the full shot chart. The main shots are the left saucer, left spinner, left ramp, right orbit, right ramp, and right scoop. Most modes will focus on main shots for completion, while hurry ups offer a mix between main and secondary targets.

Ghostbusters brings a very packed playfield, which makes for tough shots. Pretty much every shot, save the right orbit, is a tight one and must be hit cleanly. Ghostbusters is not a game where sloppy shooting will get you very far. Often games with tight shots can be frustrating of feel clunky, but Ghostbusters manages to still flow well while providing a good challenge. You’re never waiting long for the ball to return to the flippers, and the game really keeps you on your toes. Rather than frustrating the player with misses, Ghostbusters manages to create a sense of urgency and excitement. My wife, who by all accounts is very novice pinball player, has been glued to Ghostbusters in the late evenings and it’s simply making her a better pinball player. She’s really taken the challenge that the layout throws at her and has learned to aim better, trap up more often, and trust dead and live catching more as a control method.

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While the tight shots will provide most with a fun challenge, I will concede that it might be a bit of a pain point for a new player that’s still learning how to hit shots with any level of consistency.

Code

As of now, we’re on version 1.05, and Stern considers Ghostbusters to be a complete game in regards to code. While the game certainly feels finished, polished, and with plenty to do, there are some areas that could easily be improved upon and there are a handful of oddities and bugs that should get cleaned up.

In 1.05, the game has three main points of focus: modes, multiballs, and ghost collecting thresholds. Starting with modes, the game packs in quite a few to see. In a somewhat contoversial move, Ghostbusters has a linear mode progression, meaning that modes are always played out in the same order. There are 3 separate mode “ladders” to progress through, each with its own mini wizard mode at the end. You can move between ladders or start on whichever ladder you choose, but you can’t jump over modes in a given ladder. A main wizard mode is available for completing all ladders and their mini wizard modes.

Getting through ladders is no small task. While each individual mode is 3-4 shots to complete, the tight shots require several precise flips to get through a mode without draining. Once you drain, the mode can be continued where you left off, but you can’t time out modes…they must be completed to move up the ladder.

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The modes themselves are great. Shots feel satisfying and you’re often given 2-3 options to shoot for at a time. Modes are timed, so there’s a sense of urgency to them, but you generally only need to make a shot ever 7-10 seconds to be successful, and time can be added via random pop rewards.

As code is refined, mode objectives might change a little, but I expect that more of a focus will be on score balancing.

Multiballs aren’t easy to come by in Ghostbusters. The main multiball mode is Storage Facility Multiball, and it’s achieved by locking two balls via the left ramp and then starting it with another qualifying shot. The intro sequence is amazing, and the sounds and music that accompany the multiball are fantastic. Mass Hysteria is the second main multiball, which is achieved by collecting 100 ghosts. This multiball mode reverses your flippers, but hitting the center captive ball will swap them back. The rest of the multiball modes are tied to the mini and main wizard modes.

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The ghost collecting thresholds vary quite a bit. From simple things like lighting a reward to collect (extra ball, ball lock, etc.), to starting up PKE Frenzy (a timed mode that’s highly lucrative), collecting ghosts is an important part of the game. Focusing on ghost collects is a viable strategy, but in the current code the safest play is just to pick up ghosts passively as you complete other objectives. They’re a nice little perk to break up the game into smaller objectives in between large goals. It removes some of that “chopping wood” feel that plagues many modern games.

At 1.05, the code is great. With some refinement and some bug swatting, Dwight’s code should go down as one of the great recognized efforts from Stern.

Art and Sound

Even if you want to get highly nit picky, it’s hard to say anything but great things about Ghostbusters. The LE version in person is a jaw dropper. While it is loud with its green armor, it’s appropriately loud and it will stand out in any collection or stand up well alone. The pro and premiums are similarly striking, just a little more subdued.

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Jeremy Packer made an overall art package that will go down as one of pinball’s greatest. Fans of the Ghostbusters films will find all sorts of hidden nods to source material while casual fans will just see tons of fun and inviting imagery. Stick this game anywhere, and it’s going to draw long gazes.

The sound is one of the strongest aspects in Ghostbusters. The music is upbeat, fitting of the theme, and wonderfully varied. The sound effects are sharp and downright cool. The callouts are great, and the clips taken from the films are perfectly woven in with the custom speech provided by Ernie Hudson.

Features

The toys and unique features on Ghostbusters obviously vary by model, but on the LE there are plenty of killer features. The most noticeable toy on the game is Slimer, and he is key to the game’s action. Defeating Slimer lights modes, and he’s a fun bash toy that moves around the playfield while active. He looks and feels great.

The Ecto Goggles are unique to the premium and LE versions of the game, and they are positioned over the right orbit. Images appear in the Ecto Goggles and act as projected holograms. Opto sensors let you defeat ghosts in the goggles, and the effect is impressive. Not hugely impactful on gameplay, the Ecto Goggles are just cool added bit of flair.

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The real surprise in Ghostbusters is how well the magna slings work. Having removed kicker mechanisms from the slings, Trudeau put magnets under the playfield to pull and fling the ball around. The magna slings can act very close to standard slings at times, while at other times they can do some truly wild stuff, such as stopping the ball completely in place, making the ball move in circular patterns, or get thrown all the way up one of the orbits with impressive zip. While the slings are fairly predictable most the time, when they go crazy, it’s always a visual treat. The magna slings are great, and I hope we see them in more games going forward.

Criticisms

No game is perfect, and Ghostbusters doesn’t manage to become the first to overcome that rule. While flaws in some games can be major, the faults I have found in Ghostbusters are pretty minor. While incredibly addictive and appealing, sometimes Ghostbusters can feel just a bit mean and a touch unfair. Feeds from the pops to the left at times will create an impossible to save SDTM drain. Even feeds to the right of the pops will often come out too quickly and rebound off the orbit guide and head SDTM. In a game with a linear progression, these drains hurt.

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The magna slings are fantastic, but maybe 1-2% of the time, they’ll create an impossible to save situation. This happens with standard slings as well, but never in a way quite like the magna slings can. I’ve seen the ball zipping between the slings quickly only to just die straight in the center of the playfield and drop between the flippers. Harsh.

Slimer is a great toy, but he needs to be adjusted often. Every 30-40 games, he starts to register phantom hits, and you need to take apart his mech and tighten things up. Hopefully a mod comes out down the line that provides a long-term reliability fix.

Airballs are a bit more common on Ghostbusters than other games due to the game’s speed, but aside from the Scoleri targets and the playfield multiplier stand ups, most airballs only come from bricked shots. Airballs from the Scoleri and multiplier shots have calmed down significantly over time, so I expect them to be a non-issue over time.

My last real complaint about the game is once again minor, and it has nothing to do with the design of the game. As I mentioned earlier in the review, the build quality leaves something to be desired. I get that Stern needs to be careful controlling the bill of material, but the cost cutting is getting a bit ridiculous. The cabinet decals are thinner than a sheet of paper, metal is used sparingly, and even plastic is getting as thin as possible. The game may prove to be reliable after the initial dialing in, but I really hope Stern is done cutting costs. An LE game that comes at such a high cost premium should feel like a premium product. That’s not the case here. While Jersey Jack Pinball games have their issues, at least the component quality is noticeably higher, and it’s all at a similar price point.

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Conclusion

Mode progression and the polarizing opinions about that decision aside, Ghostbusters is set to be an all-time classic in pinball. Whether you go pro, premium, or managed to get in early enough to get an LE, you’re in for a real treat. The game is a unique experience that feels refreshing, challenging, addictive, and deeply satisfying. It’s impressive what John Trudeau, Jeremy Packer, and Dwight Sullivan have combined to create here, and anybody with the means to pick up a Ghostbusters should not hesitate to do so.

I feel that in Stern’s pantheon of games, that Ghostbusters already belongs among the likes of Lord of the Rings, The Simpsons Pinball Party, and AC/DC as the best Stern Pinball has to offer. It will be fun to see where the game evolves from here.

 

Fanboys (and haters) in pinball are their own worst enemy

Over the past few years, pinball has rallied as an industry. It wasn’t that long ago that Stern was the lone manufacturer and the forecast looked grim for them and for pinball as a whole. With the steady growth of new collectors and a return to location pinball, the industry has rebounded to a state where we have multiple manufacturers, games coming out with big feature sets, and a secondary market that is filled with high quality and HUO only machines. With this revival, we’ve seen two things spike: prices for both new and used games and fanboyism.

A fanboy goes beyond the realm of a person that can be considered a passionate supporter, and they’re hardly unique to pinball. Willfully ignoring faults in the products they choose to support while magnifying flaws in any products that can be viewed as competition to their preferred product, the fanboy works tirelessly to mold conversation to their liking.

There’s nothing wrong with a little passion. In fact, passion is actually great for the hobby. Where problems arise is when people start abandoning reason and objectivity to blindly support a company or product.

Even with pinball’s recent growth, the community is still pretty small. Individual voices carry weight in pinball more than they do in many other industries and hobbies. Opinions, both based on objectivity and subjectivity, are valuable to pinball designers, manufacturers, and accessory (mods) makers. Positive feedback drives a maintaining of the status quo, while negative opinions create change. This is true of many industries, but in pinball where the success of each title is so incredibly important, opinions are mined much more deeply than in other industries.

When fanboys take over the narrative over a certain game, feedback becomes very unreliable. Faults are minimized and passed off as no big deal and nice features are aggrandized to be the pinnacle of innovation and ingenuity in pinball. When haters grab hold of conversation, minor faults become the worst thing ever in a game, while actual innovations become dismissed as gimmicks or too weird to risk spending money on. People throwing out these overblown accolades or magnified nitpicks can actually do more to harm their cause than help it. Here’s how.

When a game is launched, pinball manufacturers look for feedback from three places: operators, distributors, and feedback from collectors. Operator feedback is usually based on how well a game earns and how well it holds up to large amounts of play. Distributor feedback is based on how well a game sells and on warranty claims for service. The collector gives feedback on a fuzzy metric: is the game fun, and how well does it hold up in regards to longevity in a collection (which typically goes a long way towards determining value)?

Since the operator and distributor are concerned most about their bottom line, their feedback is going to be mostly objective. They won’t quibble over art packages or code unless it is so bad that it affects their profits. With the majority of their feedback being objective, Stern, Spooky, JJP, Heighway, and the other pinball makers look to the collector to find out what is working and what’s a dud in playfield design.

If fanboys are driving discussion around a game, we get skewed perspectives. Let’s take an example. Say I’m a diehard Stern fanboy and I blindly support anything they put out. Let’s say that I’m intent to troll and hate on anything other manufacturers are putting out. Let’s say that I’m not alone in this practice. Now, let’s say that Stern releases Fraggle Rock and Jersey Jack Pinball releases The Muppets, roughly at the same time. Both games look good, and both games have their strengths and faults.

Oh, but I’m a fanboy, so I hide the fact that Fraggle Rock has a problematic mech that often gets stuck balls. My fellow fanboys run noise against people who complain about the mech. We paint them as whiners and deny that we’re seeing the same issues. Over time, we’re able to shift the narrative around the mech from being a “definite problem” to “something that just needs some tweaking.” Well, rather than offering a fix, Stern decides things aren’t that bad and advises that people adjust their games for optimal play. On top of that, that mech might get used again in another game in another way. An opportunity to help Stern improve got lost because of me and my fellow fanboys.

To continue this, imagine that JJP’s The Muppets has a really cool mech that hasn’t been seen before. Let’s say the Animal toy picks the ball up and throws it 3/4 the way across the playield and it lands on a ramp, feeding to a flipper. It’s the ultimate evolution of Thing Flips, of sorts. Now, say it works 99% of the time, but me and my group of Stern fanboys raise noise and claim that the problem is way bigger than 1% of the time. The narrative shifts from JJP having created one of pinball’s coolest new toys to a controversial one that is prone to failing and messing up your game. Since I don’t care about JJP, this shouldn’t be bad for me, right? Well, not exactly.

Pinball designers are notorious for borrowing ideas and concepts from one another. Maybe a Stern designer doesn’t rip that Animal mech off whole cloth, but maybe they might use it as inspiration to do something very similar, and a different version of that toy might be in the next game I’m planning to buy. Well, that would be nice, except for that me and my friends crushed it on the JJP game, and Stern deemed it to risky to iterate on. A great innovation dies before it can be carried forward, improved, and implemented in new ways.

If you don’t like something in pinball, express it. If you like something in pinball, say so. The key is to give reasons why that go beyond “because I like manufacturer X or designer Y.” In the end, properly expressing why we enjoy or dislike a certain experience in pinball helps designers make their next game better. It helps designers to know what they should eliminate from their own designs, and it keys them into what things they should look closer at from other designs to learn from.

One of the best things I’ve seen in regard to positive feedback recently is the community’s reaction to Game of Thrones. Aside from a few adamant premium and LE owners, most people have been very fair in their criticism of the game. The orbit issue is a major problem, and the upper playfield is confusing and really slows down the game. As a result of fair criticism, the pro model has become the favored model of Game of Thrones. Stern and Steve Ritchie will learn from the feedback and certainly try to avoid repeating those mistakes in the next game.

I understand that when you pay $5000-$8500 for something that your natural inclination is to defend your decision. You don’t want to feel like you made a bad decision or you don’t want to feel like you are now stuck with a dud of a game. But in the long run, if you’re just honest with yourself and others with your praises and criticisms, ultimately your collection and future titles will be better for it. Fair criticism could have prevented the Iron Man shortage, and it could also drive hidden gems to earn the praise they deserve.

Let’s resolve to be better and more fair in our shared opinions. If a game has a problem, explain WHY it’s a problem. If a game is a lot of fun, explain the WHY of it. That’s all it really takes.

Ghostbusters Launch Party Road Trip

On Sunday, May 1st, Pinball Jones in Fort Collins, Colorado hosted an official Stern launch party for Ghostbusters. I (Jeff) decided to drive out to Colorado that same morning, compete in the tournament, and then drive back through the night. As I went out and traveled back, I recorded a solo podcast of sorts, catching up on some listener questions, giving my thoughts on Ghostbusters, and going over some recent issues in the hobby.

I hope you like this special episode. If you do, let us know and we can try doing more road trip episodes. Sorry for the audio quality, a car traveling 80mph (that’s the speed limit, don’t yell at me for going that fast) on the freeway isn’t an ideal recording space.

For those that just want to know how I did at the tournament, I took second. Yes, second place…again. It’s always second with me.

Episode 58 – Live from the Rocky Mountain Pinball Showdown 2015

Hey guys, we had the opportunity past weekend to come together to record a live show in Denver at the Rocky Mountain Pinball Showdown. We had a nice audience in attendance and we had a great time meeting fans, having a few goofs, and playing lots and lots of pinball. Please excuse any rough audio, but I think we captured all the important parts clearly enough.

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Thanks again to Dan and Holly Nikolich for inviting us to the show and giving us an opportunity to record live and gather up listeners for a fun time. Thanks to Nifty LED and Mezel Mods for their continued support of the show.

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Left to Right: Don, Nate from NiftyLED, Jeff