A new generation of wizards sure play a mean pinball.
Atari and Nintendo were the death knell for pinball – but the bell tolls for thee.
A new generation is flipping for the flippers, and these days, pinball machines can do some things that will astound you.
It will always be considered a videogame ancestor, but that silver ball gets into your bloodstream and does some serious rolling around in your solar plexus.
Video arcades are as done as a fried VCR, but put a pinball machine in your personal rec room and it was nice knowing you.
Here we talk to Rich Huff, owner of Midwest Pinball and passionate pinball blogger. He’ll tell us how he got his crazy flipper fingers into this racquet, and how the pinball crown was handed to him.
Were you a lifelong gamer, or did you discover pinball later in life?
I didn’t play pinball when I was younger. They had arcades in the mid-‘80s, but I was more of a videogame guy.
In 2001, I reconnected with a friend of mine who was buying and selling pinball machines. He had a personal collection of about 25 games.
I wound up restoring games at his place. I have a degree in mechanical engineering. The mechanical part wasn’t tough; I had just never worked on a pinball machine before. I learned how to clean games so I could work on my own.
Do you service residential clients or commercial clients?
It’s all residential now: People who have a game in their house, but maybe they haven’t played it in ten or fifteen years. And they’re hosting Thanksgiving and they want to get it all cleaned up and ready to go.
For a lot of people, there is a lot of nostalgia there.
What types of pinball machines are there?
There are two big categories: electro-mechanical games and solid-state games.
Before 1978, all the games were electro-mechanical, which were classic. Wheels click over from zero to nine [to show your score].
Then in 1978, the manufacturers started incorporating circuit boards in solid state, so you have big digital displays and sounds like chimes.
Nowadays, you’ve got motors and animation on the screen. It can run a video if you want it to run a video.
So pinball is not dead?
Absolutely not. Pinball is actually growing at this point. There are two new pinball manufacturers as of 2014. We’re probably down to one company making full-size production machines.
What is the appeal of vintage pinball machines?
Mostly it’s the artwork. The artwork tends to be from a decade behind. If you look at those from the Sixties, the artwork looks very “Fifties.” It’s women in A-frame dresses, very clean; it’s couples walking through the park, skyscrapers, or young adults playing sports or driving around in cars. Very wholesome stuff.
How do you go about finding a pinball machine of your very own?
The first thing to do is to find a reputable dealer. You can also buy them on eBay or Craig’s List, but you are taking your chances.
If people buy a game from me, it comes with a warranty saying it’s working 100%, and for the next couple of months, we are here to take care of you. After that, we can offer a service contract. Our service area is in Chicagoland.
What are the mechanical hazards of a pinball machine?
The most common thing that goes wrong is the flippers. They break, they get worn out and weak, because that’s where most of the action is.
No matter which game that you have, you’re going to need regular maintenance on the flippers, because they are essentially pieces of plastic that are hitting on a metal ball. Eventually, they will break. And the mechanism in the flipper itself is wearable. They wear out over time.
Also, if you have a solid-state pinball machine, or if it’s digital, it’s got a battery in it.
If you put it in a storage unit for ten years, it’s like grabbing a couple Duracells and sticking them in a box for ten years. You open them up ten years later, and the batteries have died. They’ve corroded.
They leak battery acid into anything that’s close to them. For a pinball machine, that’s usually the circuit board.
In October, we send out a reminder: hey, if you’ve got a solid-state game, check the batteries. We do it in October because that’s when the networks do public service announcements about smoke detectors.
So if you’re putting a game into storage for a long time, take the batteries out, then put the game in storage. Otherwise, you are going to be very disappointed when you open it up.
Which are the most popular pinball machines?
The Addams Family and The Twilight Zone are pretty much at the top of the list. Beyond that, everybody has personal favorites.
The Addams Family is the perfect storm of pinball, because it has a remarkably well-balanced set of features: artwork, music and speech. The ball flow is very nice. The features of the game work very well with the whole theme.
Even if you’re not a fan of The Addams Family movie that it’s based on, it’s just a fun game to play.
Are pinball arcades gone for good? Are there any left?
There are, but they tend not to be pure arcades anymore. And they’re generally not geared towards kids; they’re geared towards adults. Dave & Busters restaurants, for instance.
How does playing pinball make you feel?
Check out Rich’s website and blog here.
Browse the cool pinball machines for sale here.