by Andrew Cole
The last few years have seen a growing number of challengers to Stern’s monopoly in the pinball manufacturing marketplace. Many of these companies have found out that making a 250 pound ruggedized computer / furniture / robot / artwork / toy is harder than it sounds.
LOW: Wayne Gillard AKA Mr. Pinball Australia had a long-discussed plan to build new Medieval Madness machines from the original design. Gillard acquired the rights to various Bally / Williams intellectual property in 2005, and took deposits from hopeful buyers, but the games were never produced. There hasn’t been much news about what happened to those deposits since the rights were sold again to Planetary Pinball in 2010, except that Planetary was not responsible for fulfilling those deposits.
HIGH: Since their acquisition of the rights, Planetary Pinball has partnered with Stern and Chicago Gaming to do a separate remake of Medieval Madness. As of September 2014 this project has progressed to the point where people have seen pre-production games, so it seems like it might succeed!
HIGH: Dutch Pinball (DP), after demonstrating their pinball programming skills on an extensively modified Bride of Pinbot, secured the rights to manufacture a Big Lebowski pinball machine, which they would do in The Netherlands.
LOW: Scandal erupted around the Lebowski project in late 2014 when a member of the DP team very publicly aired their dirty laundry, complaining of artwork disagreements with the licensor and deceptive advertising to pre-order customers. The issues seem to have since been resolved and the project is still on track, at least according to DP.
HIGH: Heighway Pinball announced in 2012 that they would begin manufacturing pins using a unique new system that would allow different playfields and artwork to be easily swapped in a single cabinet. After a false start with a mythology-themed title and successfully completing a flipperless promotional game for Bacardi, the Welsh company seems on track to deliver their first title this year.
LOW: Well-known pinball designer Dennis Nordman left Heighway pinball in late 2014. Nordman dissociated himself from the company’s second title, Alien, and expressed doubts about Heighway’s timeline for the project.
LOW: In 2012, a new company Skit-B Pinball announced that they had secured the rights to produce a game themed after the movie Predator. After taking deposits on the game and demonstrating mostly complete models at many pinball shows, the company failed to ship games and information became increasingly scarce. By 2015 it became public that Fox had not licensed the “Predator” theme to Skit-B, and had actually told them to stop making the games.
HIGH: Jersey Jack Pinball successfully shipped their first title, Wizard of Oz, to widespread praise in 2013. The game has the solid feel of a 90’s Williams machine but with greatly updated electronics including factory LED lighting and a video LCD panel in the backglass. Jersey Jack is due to ship their second title, The Hobbit, in 2015.
LOW: While Stern Pinball should be praised for releasing games at a regular interval, they have rarely significantly innovated in the last 20 years. Even their recent introduction of LED lighting seems to be a reaction to competition and new modern standards. They seem to even regress at times, such as with their most recent announcement of and public relations for the embarrassingly sexist Whoa Nellie.
Despite all the difficulties experienced by emergent pinball manufacturers, we see it as a sign of great promise for the game that so many are trying in the first place.
Originally published in Skill Shot 38. We’d like to give a big shout out to PinballNews.com as the source for much of this!