Skill Shot Interview with IPDB Senior Editor Jay Stafford

In May 2011, Skill Shot spoke with Jay Stafford of Seattle, the Senior Editor of the Internet Pinball Database at Jay, along with Chris Wolf (who manages the technical end), have been the driving force behind the IPDB since 2002.  Working with over 1,500 contributors, they’ve built the Wikipedia of pinball, with an average of 5,000 to 6,000 unique visitors daily.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction/Beginnings
  2. Content/Re-themed games
  3. Content/Contributors and Credits
  4. Licensed games v. Original Titles
  5. Pinball in the Movies
  6. Lists and Searches
  7. Growth – Visitors, Manufacturers & Community
  8. Projects, Archives, Preserving Past Work and Preparing for Work Ahead
  9. Personal Favorites/Collection
  10. Surf Champ & Serial Numbers
  11. Bangbacks, Playing Techniques and Cheating

1. Introduction/Beginnings

SS – How would you describe the IPDB?

JS – I would describe it as an inventory of every commercially made pinball machine that we can find, going back before 1932 up until the present.  And I say 1932 because that’s when Baffle Ball was invented. And that’s usually a historic milestone that people are familiar with.  There are pinball machines that preceded 1932, but they weren’t in a form that we’d recognize.  More like bagatelle.

SS – When was Ballyhoo?

JS – Ballyhoo was one of them, around the same time, Baffle Ball, you bet.  They were all table-top and they’re pretty much slanted playfield with nails and holes or pockets that the balls would fall in.  Not necessarily pockets, sometimes the nails would be shaped like horseshoes to catch the ball.  Other times it would just be depressions in the playfield the ball would fall in, and other times they would fall in pockets where there would be a baffle board underneath where you’d insert a coin and push the coinslide and the baffle would move slightly to allow the balls to fall down into the machine and roll down to where they could be lifted by the ball lift shooter mechanism so you could shoot it.

SS – Right, so they’d come back to the top.

JS – Yeah.

SS – I guess some of the older pinball machines still have those, you see them at the pinball show (PAGS) whatever that thing is called where you push the ball in –

JS – — Ball lift knob.  Then you have a shooter knob, and they used that until, oh, the late 60’s, mid-to-late 60’s.

SS – It’s kind of surprising

JS – — Actually I’d say ’66, Gottlieb was the last one to convert to the automatic ball serve mechanism, so I’ll say ’66.

SS – How long have you been working on the IPDB?

JS – I’ve been working on it since 2002, so that would make it about 9 years now.  And actually the IPDB started out as a subset of somebody else’s database called the Pinball Pasture.  And this was a subsite.  And those people eventually moved on to other things and they weren’t updating the website very much, and my partner in this, Christopher Wolf, who’s the webmaster, he was looking for something that would combine his love for pinball with his computer programming.  So he stumbled on this, and he asked the guy who owned the previous site if he could have it and revive it, and the guy said, “Sure.”  So this was about March of 2002, and I came on about April, I’d say, and joined him.  And we’ve been going ever since!

SS – Does Wolf live in Seattle also?

JS – No, he lives down in Texas.  In fact, it’s kind of funny because I didn’t talk to him over the phone for the first two years.  We just worked online together, we never met each other, we never spoke to each other, and I was just getting the biggest kick out of that, I thought, well this is true, you know, internet!  Until one day he finally says, “Look this is weird, we need to talk!”  So I called him up and we talked, and —

SS – Just to make sure you’re on the same page.

JS – Yeah, I guess so we could hear each other’s voice.  But I wanted to see how long it would go, I would’ve gone, you know, a few more years for the kick of it.

SS – So the original site was part of the Pinball Pasture,

JS – Yes.

SS – And I guess that started in 1996..

JS – Well let’s see, that was –

SS – I got that off your website.  [laughs]

JS – Okay, then it was.  [laughs]  I have to think of the dates here, yeah.

SS – And then you guys took it over in 2002…

JS – 2002 we took it over, you bet.  And we changed the URL to what it is today,

SS – So as the senior editor, what does that mean?

JS – That means I am the only editor.  [laughs]  Actually Chris is, well he likes to be called Wolf, by his last name.  So Wolf is an editor, but he, we used to do the same things for the site, except he did more because he was keeping the site going, but after a few years of that he decided to focus his attention on just maintaining the website, and then I do everything else, which is provide content, interact with people, go to the shows, do what I call outreach which is just try to find pinball machines and pictures and data that we don’t have and bring it into the site, collaborate with other historians and try to build history, and research history, so we can have things to say about the games rather than just some antiseptic listing of name, rank and serial number.  Oh, and the picture.

SS – So he works with the computers & hardware…

JS – He keeps the website up and running and I do everything else, so the senior editor, I think that was a promotion when Frank Laughlin was still there, I can’t remember now.  But it was a promotion, you know, in title only.

SS – What did Frank do?

Frank was one of the original people on the first website, and he would bring pictures, and he had a lot of data he brought to the site.  And he would, well, do a little bit of what I’m doing.   He didn’t keep the site running like Chris, uh, Wolf does, um, he would do what I do.  And he’s since retired a few years ago.  I guess he’s off gallivanting in his RV.  Checks his email twice a year, I hear, if that.

SS – I didn’t write down the name of who it was, but I read that the original IPDB was somebody’s own little personal listing of their games.

JS –  — Oh Yeah —

SS — And they decided to see if anyone was interested –

JS – David Byers.  Yeah, he had a list, he had a huge collection of data on games.  And he wanted to just put it online and decided then to share it.  And it went from there, and I think he solicited on RGP for input and help and he got some bites and some other people, Scott Speigle

SS – Is that the Google groups?

JS – Yes, RGP, Rec. Games Pinball.  Usenet newsgroup.  That was since adopted by Google, so it’s a Google group now.  And so, anyway, that’s how that happened.  He just started off wanting to do his own little thing and he decided to share it, and it just went from there.

SS – And now it’s like, I don’t know if there’s anything that’s like it on the Internet at all.

JS – I don’t think there is!  I think there are things that are niche websites that handle things amazingly well, probably some of them better than the IPDB, for instance, I’m thinking of a System 11 website.  This will provide you with information about all the System 11 games.  And I remember looking at it last time I was visiting it and I went, Wow!  This guy knows stuff!  And he knows more about it than I would, and probably he has more to say about system 11 games than I would bother to put in our listing ourselves, so he has a very knowledgeable base of information, so I’m saying that yeah, we probably are the gorilla in the room, but there are other websites that have their specialties, and I think they’re great.  I think, for instance, Frederico Croci, a collector in Italy, who also has his own database, , and then one of his aliases is – Italian Pinball Database, he started that and then he kind of cooled it.  He thought, no, I don’t want to get confused with the IPDB, but anyway, he’s like my Italian correspondent.  If I have anything Italian, I go to him.  He’s the go-to guy.  He knows stuff.  And he’s been a great help.  Besides running an excellent website of his own, he’s had no problems sharing information with us.  He’s cool.


2. Content/Re-Themed Games

SS – You guys share information with everybody.

JS – Yeah, we do. Just, here it is.

SS – A lot like a library.

JS – Yeah, it’s important, I think, to not be loose with what we share.  I try to verify everything we say.  And what we can say is factual we try to, if it’s not well-known information, we try to say where our sources were.  If we can’t validate it, then I’ll use cautionary language in the listing and I’ll say, “well, this is what we think.”  Or, “until we have more information.”  Or, “reportedly.” So that we’re not trying to take a stand on stuff that isn’t true and then find out as the years go by people are going around repeating it as fact when maybe it never was.

SS – You say you only want to have pictures of the games in factory conditions. How can you tell?

JS – It’s an art sometimes, how to tell. A lot of it is trust, but a lot of it isn’t.  I get pictures of a game, especially older games, beat up around the corners. I doubt they were recently painted. Reproduction parts can be a little harder.  But by and large people are very upfront about it.  Where I might have a problem is we have a European audience and not everybody speaks English. And therefore I think that they don’t benefit from ongoing conversations [online] or maybe they can’t read our pages that say, you know, don’t send us paint jobs.  Sometimes I get well-meaning people that will send us pictures that are obviously beautiful repaints, but we can’t use them.  Sometimes people will say, “I restored this game and I thought you’d want to have pictures”, and they’re very proud of what they’ve done – and they ought to be!  I’ll ask them, “what do you mean by restored? Is it just a good cleaning and a rubber changing, or did you actually get out a brush and start doing things?”  And they’ll tell me.

SS – Is that what you’re trying to avoid, if somebody’s painting the machines…

JS – Yeah, we’re trying to show factory condition.  Although people can actually repaint their games and restore them to be probably identical to factory, I’m getting pictures of them, and there’s already a color translation in that, I imagine, but more so we want people to come to our site and believe they’re looking at factory condition, and not wonder if some collector had decided this is the color that belongs.

The other thing is if we allow repaints, we probably would be receiving a lot of people’s repaints to show everybody how well they can repaint.  Some people do it for commercial reasons, some people do it because they’re really proud of what they’ve done. I’m not against restoring at all.  But as far as what we put on the database, we don’t want repaints and anything that didn’t come from the factory.

SS – I guess there isn’t a limit on how many have to come from the factory. Galactic Girl, for example.  There’s a production of 1, but because it’s an original game and it’s not a modified older game…

JS – Oh yeah.  Here’s the thing on that.  Up until a few years ago it was very rare to see anyone take a factory-made game and repaint it and give it a brand new theme.  It wasn’t an issue.  But lately there’s been an explosion in the hobby of people who want to “re-theme” their games. Totally repaint it, change it.  And they have the facility and the talent to do that and make it look as professional as if it came from the manufacturer.  They may only make one, they may make a few, whatever, but those games get exposure, and people will come to our website eventually and they’ll want to learn more about that.  And if we don’t show those re-themed games on our website, then for one, we’re probably not performing the service we should be, and for two, people might think, well we need to be told about it. So what we decided to do is create a category on the pinball database and call it “re-themed games”, so these ones that aren’t manufactured, we’ll put them up on the website, if nothing else so when people go to look they’ll at least see, okay, they’re aware of it, and it’s a re-themed game, and it’s not a historical manufacturer-produced game, meaning manufacturers that we know: Stern, Bally, Gottlieb, and the zillions that came before.  You know, Galactic Girl [wasn’t] made by a historical manufacturer, it was made by a hobbyist or a collector.

SS – A private artist.

JS – Right.

SS – Like there’s that Bill Paxton one, I don’t know if you’ve seen that.

JS – I have, and we have it up [on the site.]  So in showing those games, we’re breaking our own rules.  But we feel we had to, again, because we wanted to not have people come to us and not be satisfied. So what we do for those re-themed games is we make them unique and we show a modicum of information, just a few pictures, yeah, this is what it is.  But we don’t feature it in full bloom.  We really don’t want to become commercialized by people who might some day say “I want to sell these.”  We don’t really want the commercialization of the site. To become someone’s showroom, maybe they should host their own pictures if they’re doing it for business purposes.  So it’s a slippery slope there, but I think we’re keeping a handle on it.

SS – There are different ways of doing it. Dominique built his own playfield, but there are some people who just take the playfield and just change the artwork or the theme.

JS – You get it all.  You get people who design the complete playfield. I think we have a game [where] the guy made his own parts!  Now how exactly — I don’t know if he wound his own coils, I can’t say.  And then others just will simply take a game, sand down the playfield to nothing, and then paint it over again.  And how they do the backglasses, I’ve never asked them.  But I’ve had silkscreened ones, and ones that are just translucent, like a translite.

Within the last few years I’ve seen more than I’ve ever seen in all the years before that.  The hobby’s exploding.  It isn’t just people collecting games and sticking them in their basement.  I think that men like to work with toys, machines and tools, so after awhile it’s not enough to own them, you want to do things to them.  And so we start to do things, and we get more emboldened by our successes and sharing the tips in how you do this and that.  And before you know it, well, we have what we have, we have a lot of people who know how to restore really well.  Having these games out there, it’s only natural in the way the hobby’s going.  The fact that we stick with the original means that we’re not in step with that part of the hobby.

SS – Which is a little bit different from, wasn’t it during WWII, where their resources were rationed, the companies would take their games and re-theme them themselves?

JS – I’m glad you brought that up!  And we thought about that, “what’s the difference there?”  Well, for one, they’re historical, for two, they’re dead and they’re not trying to make money, you know, so we can find a way to draw the line there.

SS – They probably also made more than one.

JS – Oh yeah, they did plenty. They advertised in Billboard and places like that, so, we still view them as historical manufacturers. Even though there may be a company that only did one and folded!  [laughs]  But yeah, they did do re-themed games.  But we called them “conversions” back then.  Today’s stuff are “re-themed.” Those are “converted” now.  We can mince words but that’s the separation we’re giving it.

3. Content/Contributors and Credits

SS – What would you guesstimate, the percentage of all the pinball machines on your site, as compared to all the pinball machines that have ever been made?

JS – You mean that are re-themes on our site?

SS – No, just at all.

JS – Oh, what we’ve inventoried versus everything?  We have, hmm, we have over 5000 games on the site.  And I already know there are a few thousand more in the encyclopedia of pinballs 1 & 2.  Older games, for which we’ll probably never see pictures.

SS – Right.

JS – You know, and, in other words, Dick Bueschel, who authored the encyclopedia of pinball, volumes 1 & 2, and then the predecessor which was Pinball 1, he had in the middle of the book — I call them the middle pages — just a small, the smallest typeset, columns and columns of old games, and who made them, and what year.  I mean, the man was incredible.  Now, I was going to spend one vacation time a few years ago uploading all that information on the IPDB and after two weeks of it my eyes went crazy and I said, “Wolf, I can’t do this.  I just can’t do it.  I’m going nuts.”  So we gave up on it, so now we draw from it as needed, but, you asked for a percentage?  I’m gonna say we have….at least two thirds…four fifths might be a liiiittle generous to us.

SS – And that’s American, or…?

JS – Oh, worldwide.  You know, they’ve got British pinball, French, not just in the 60’s, but all the way back to the 30’s and even 20’s.  Now if I get a picture on any game that we can find in those “middle pages” of the encyclopedia, then I’ll, for sure, I’ll throw it up.  So anything with a picture goes on.  But not necessarily anything from Bueschel’s book unless I need to add it to the site to make reference to it to link to it from another game.  Because there’s only so much time for me in the day to do it.

SS – Right.  Because you’re pretty much doing all the data entry yourself?

JS – Yeah.

SS – I mean I know that people contribute, but when they contribute it goes to you —

JS – — It goes to me, right.  None of it goes automatically on.  We have to make sure that the information is accurate, that there’s no advertising, that it’s consistent with other information we know,  and things are spelled correctly, even.  Like I said, we have a lot of international users.

SS – I totally use you for spelling.  For spell check of the game names.  [laughs]

JS – And we put in some alternate spellings of game names, you know, just in case.  If there’s an accent on one of the letters, then we’ll program the computers so…your computer won’t have that little key with the accent graf or accent igue [accented u?] on it, but, we’ll make it so you can type in your best shot at it, and it should pull it up.  And if it doesn’t, let us know!

SS – I totally look at your website for every issue of Skill Shot, we’re always checking the name of the game, and the year, and the manufacturer, a lot of the time we’ll include that in the indicta, like for the covers and stuff like that.  And I haven’t gotten, but I probably should do more about who the artist is, when it’s known.

JS – What do you mean?

SS – Like, who might’ve actually painted the detail of what we’re blowing up.

JS – Oh, like in your zine?

SS – Yeah.

JS – Like you’ll feature [it in] the zine and say the name?

SS – I’ll say who took the photograph, but I have yet to make reference to who painted it.  And I should.

JS – Oh, maybe you should consider that, because there’s a whole subset of hobbyists that collect games made by certain artists or favor them or if they don’t collect them, they can hold good discussions about this artist versus that artist.

SS – I think it’s only recently, because more of the older craftsmen are starting to get back into it after Stern had moved away from only television and movie themes where there wasn’t that much art, original art involved.  I didn’t really think about those people still being around, and then now we’ve got Greg Freres who just did the poster for PAGS this year.

JS – Oh, alright!  I didn’t know that.

SS – Yeah, I haven’t seen any around yet, but I saw it online.  And that’s kind of awoken my, not interest, but awareness of those people.  And that they are still around, and we should give them more credit.

4. Licensed games v. Original Titles

JS – How do you feel about licensed games?

SS – What do you mean?  Like, all of them?  Like all of the Stern ones?

JS – Yeah, as opposed to an artist coming up with his or her own idea?

SS – I certainly wish there was a mix.  Some of the themes I like, like Wheel of Fortune, I think that that’s — and I’m probably in the minority, but I like that theme, and I think that that’s a fun game.  But it could also just be the game itself.

JS – It’s good to know what you like.  I like games that a lot of people don’t like, and I don’t care, you have to know what you like.  Sometimes if I see collectors that are new to the hobby, and they’re interested in, “what should I get, what should I get?”  if they ever ask me, I tell them, play enough games and decide what you like, and don’t worry what everyone else likes.  Find what you like.  And collect that.  You know?  That’s the way I look at it.

SS – But I like the ones that are just original ones, like I have Rod’s Xenon in my office right now.  And just looking at that, what were they thinking, you know?  Who made this game?  The theme could be anything!  They could’ve painted anything on this and you know, it could’ve been about pool, or cowboys and Indians, is a popular theme!

JS – Right, and they just made it “Xenon.”

SS – Science fiction is a popular theme.

JS – Oh I remember when that game came out.  Man, it’s when they just started to do elevated playfields.  It had that tube going across there.  They weren’t doing a whole lot of it back then, but, oh it was tricky!  They had the little disco lights going across, disco was still happening around there, 1980 I think it was.

SS – And it has those mirrors on the [corners of the backglass.]

JS – Right, right!

SS – It’s a pretty cool game.

JS – I mean, if you were there in ’80, that’s how I saw it, is, ok, disco lights and mirrors!  It’s a space them, yeah, but I saw those little lights and that’s what it reminded me of.  [laughs]

SS – I don’t remember seeing Xenon back then, but I remember Black Knight and Gorgar, Firepower.

JS – Black Knight, I remember when that game came out, I thought, no way am I going to play a game that laughs at me when I drain the ball!  No way!

SS – [laughs]

JS – But I remember this one bar where they had that game, and, you know the backglass reflects so where the upper playfield, you can’t hardly see it some times.  Because the backglass was reflecting in it.  So what I would do was, I brought one time from my house a cardboard, 8 1/2 by 11″ cardboard?  And I taped it on the backglass.  Just so I could play.  And when I was done, before I’d leave the bar, I’d take the cardboard off the front of the backglass and I’d tape it on the back of the machine, and on my next visit it would still be there, and I would pull it around and put it up, and people used to look at me like, what is he doing?  [laughs]

5. Pinball in the Movies

SS – That’s clever.  So, let me see…Another thing I was noticing, going back to those specialized [re-themed] games, some of them, like I saw from The Accused you have, um, what’s it called.  Slamdunk?

JS – Oh yeah, yeah!

SS – Jodie Foster movie, in there, I thought that was interesting.

JS – Yeah, that one, boy that one was quite a find.   And of course just for the fact that it was the game it was, I thought “Ohhh, let’s put this up!  This is cool.  This is a coup!”  You know?

SS – Did somebody buy that?  Did somebody own it?

JS – Somebody, yeah, somebody picked it up.  And it was garbage inside.  But they had pictures.  And if memory serves me correctly, maybe it was on eBay?  I can’t remember now off-hand, but, when we discovered it, for sure we thought we’d have to put that up.  And if it would pass around in the hobby, then people would want to go to the site and learn about it.  And again, that’s what we want to be there for.

SS – For historical reference.

JS – Yeah.

SS – Can you think of any other games that are like that? I guess there’s that one where they made a pornographic one, the same playfield but then they changed the backglass?  There’s like four of them?

JS – Yeah, there’s a number of them.  I know there was one, Go Girl, it’s not porno, but they changed it into a cross-dressing theme, you know, and it’s too bad I didn’t go to the Expo when it was there.  Because I would’ve loved to have seen it.  But there was that.  Now there was a game, you remember the movie from the what, the 1940’s called “The Time of Your Life?”  There was a pinball machine in that movie.  And they had modified it in the movie so that when the guy would win, believe it or not, another backglass would rise up from inside the game, and cover the real backglass, and then flags would come out the top, and sparks, and all this noise? And who thinks about where that game went, but somebody found it in a Burbank, CA consignment shop a number of years ago, and recognized what it was, and bought it, and sent us pictures.  So that one went up!  It’s crazy stuff.

SS – What’s that game called, do you remember?

JS – I forget which one it was a conversion of, but I think we have it on the site.  Maybe it’s not “The Time of your Life”, I forget.

SS – If you can find that out —

JS – Yeah, I’ll tell you what that is, yeah.  You could probably do a quick search on William Saroyan, and that’ll come right up.  Just put in his last name, Saroyan, because I remember writing in the notes field that this was based on a William Saroyan play.

6. Lists and Searches

SS – So if I did a search on your site, his last name, on the list search?

JS – Yeah, on the quick search, on the home page, there’s a quick search box.  You can search anything in the notes field, even that’s non-pinball.  You can just put it in there.  And it oughta come up.

SS – I know sometimes it will just say “There’s too many!”  Like if you did, Bally, or something.  [laughs]

JS – Yeah, you get way too many.  I think we limit you to 25.

SS – Oh yeah?

JS – You get 25 hits, that that would show you images of, otherwise we just show you the matrix that pops up first, that just shows up the game and not the pictures, and we’ll say hey, you’ve got too many.

SS – So then, that’s when you go to the list search, where you have to log in and type your name and email address and then you can get a list of all the Bally games, is that how that works?

JS – Well, no, what you could do is if you do a quick search and you get too many hits, we figure you’re probably looking for something specific, maybe, on a quick search, so why spend the bandwidth to load all of these pictures you’re not even going to look at.  But we give you 25 with the idea that if you can’t find what you want in the 25, maybe narrow your search down or something.  But, otherwise, you can go to the advanced search screen, and there whatever you put in the name field will only search the name field of all the games.  Or otherwise you have all this criteria you can filter in and filter out what you want.  Does that answer your question?

SS – I think so.  I have to admit, I had never really done the login except as an anonymous guest.

JS – Yeah, and that login, I gotta think now.  What do we make you log in for?

SS – This is for longer lists, I thought it was.  It might say advanced search, I should’ve taken a screenshot.

JS – I don’t think it’s advanced search.  It’s probably under game lists, I’ll bet you.  You go under game lists —

SS – And then it tells you that unless you log in with your email address —

JS – Right. You do that once and then you store your cookie.  In fact I did that so long ago, I forgot.  I just go there, I don’t have to, you know, log in.

SS – And is that where, if I wanted to look at just a list of all the Bally games —

JS – — Yes.  Probably a list, I think a list of the whole site.  And then a list of the most popular 300 EMs, and Solid States, and I don’t even think we have a list of 300 popular EMS.  I think it craps out somewhere around 225, if I remember.  [laughs]

SS – Yeah, that’s where I’ve looked at it before, just to see, how is that determined?  That’s something I wanted to know.  It says here your top 10 solid state and your top 10 EM games.  Is that just from viewer votes?

JS – Yeah, it’s based on voting.  It’s not based on visits. It’s based on voting.  And that voting, that’s a formula I couldn’t tell you.

SS – That’s Wolf’s domain?

JS – Yeah.  And if I did know, I probably wouldn’t want to tell you, because there’s people out there who want to skew the results.

SS – Oh yes, so they could sell them.  It said that Jumping Jack was high up there for awhile, and I liked that, because there’s a Jumping Jack in town you could play.  It’s like, oh, that’s interesting!  Now that I see the game and I see it here, that’s really cool.  It *is* fun.

JS – Well it trips me out that anyone would *want* to skew the results, I mean, if you like your game, sure, I guess you want everyone to appreciate your choices, but not everyone’s top 10 is — I mean, how many users do we have?  We have like 5 to 6 thousand users a *day*.  Everyone can’t have their favorite 10 on the home page, so the idea that — Anyone who wants to steer results, I really don’t understand that too well.

7. Growth – Visitors, Manufacturers & Community

SS – How many users did you say you have a day?

JS – I think we have between 5 and 6 thousand people showing up a day.

SS – Is that number steady for a number of years, or has it been increasing or lowering lately?

JS – Well, over the years it’s increased.  But I think it’s leveled off, well, I can’t say.  I remember the last time I looked over the years’ time, I think it dipped in the summer time.  But not by much.  And I need to go back and check the figure 5-6.  You know, I’m starting to get dreamy about that data.  Am I really meaning a whole month, or what?  I’ll let you know.

SS – Could you even tell, is pinball maybe more popular now, again?

JS – Well if you just go by users of our site, we keep growing.  But if you’d ask more popular in terms of attendance of the shows, I guess you’d have to ask them.  Although, there’s many more than there used to be, isn’t there, Gordon?

SS – Yeah.

JS – Oh gosh, and we’ve got one here coming up in Seattle.

SS – Right.  And I saw there’s a new one in Florida this year.

JS – Is there now?

SS – Someone sent me an email about it.  And who knows about all the ones I don’t get emails for.  And sometimes I wonder if our outlook of viewing things is a little bit skewed because in the Pacific Northwest we have lots of pinball.  In some of the other parts of the country there doesn’t seem to be as much unless it’s private collectors.

JS – You know, I think so.  I think in the United States, we probably have, I don’t know, an arguably provincial view of pinball.  I don’t know, I talk to enough people from Europe and, we don’t have any deep discussions, but I know there’s more out there.  They have things to say that we haven’t heard yet.  Let me say that.

SS – What do you mean by that?

JS – I mean, just, they have games they like, they have manufacturers that we don’t ever get into.  I do, because I inventory everything, but when I listen to people in discussion or on Rec Games Pinball, maybe they’re talking about playmatics once in awhile, but you don’t see the wild interest like you do for Gottlieb.  Or the modern Solid states.  But yet there’s games made in France — right now, I’m on a French binge where I’m trying to bring games from France on to the site.  And I hooked with some people over there that are helping me research history.  Claude Verpy’s one of them.  What a guy!  He’s really, he’s really, he’s really going to town bringing some marvelous information about French pinball history to the site.

SS – Are there current French manufacturers?

JS – Um, not current.  No, not current.

SS – So is Stern really the only one in the whole world?

JS – No, there’s like two others: One is this guy where is he now, he’s over in Europe, and so far I only know he made one game.  And what was he doing?  Oh, he was all LEDs on his playfield.  If I would’ve brought my iPad, we could’ve pulled it up right here and I could’ve showed you.  But this other one, is this guy that’s all in the Pinball News right now, what’s his name?  It’s —

SS – Oh, Jersey Jack?

JS – Yeah.  So I haven’t really figured out if he’s actually produced a game yet.

SS – Not yet.

JS – I’ll know when everyone starts billing and cooing and talking about it, and I’ll go, “Ok.”

SS – I wasn’t going to count him yet, because the game hasn’t come out yet.  He’s in another category.

JS – So, we wait until the game’s actually produced.

SS – He’s like the guy in Australia until we see the game.

JS – Yeah, you remember that game that they were going to produce?  What was it, it was, uh —

SS – Crocodile Hunter?

JS – Crocodile Hunter? Yeah, someone gave me a flyer for the game, wanted me to put it up on the listing, and I said, well, is this game out yet?  “well, no..”, “well, we’ll wait.”

SS – That’s what I tell people when they want to add stuff to the pinball list.  I go, “Is it there yet?”  “No.”  “Well, we’ll wait until it gets there.”  What they want to happen and what actually happens can be two different things.

JS – And we can’t be a historical website if we’re predicting the future.

SS – Right!  [laughs] That’s true.

8. Projects, Archives, Preserving Past Work and Preparing for Work Ahead

SS – So, do you consider the IPDB to be finished as far as how it’s structured, and just adding more information to it, or…

JS – No, it’s not finished.  There are some things we want to do, but we have a huge to-do list.  And Wolf’s the programmer, not me.  And he’s busier than I am.  I’m hard to catch and he’s even harder to catch.  *I* have trouble catching his attention sometimes.

But yeah, there are things we’d like to do to the site to improve it, or to make it more useful.  And the one I talk about, when I do, is I want to make it international and multi-lingual.  With the little flags of the countries.  And so people who do submit games, who don’t speak English, can at least have a running shot of what we are and what we aren’t.  You know?  We probably wouldn’t be able to translate every single thing, because there are too many pages, but probably the static pages, like uploading instructions, or who we are…

SS – …FAQ….

JS – …right.  Information that doesn’t change.  We could do that in a few languages.  But even that’s a matter of — I’ve got people who will do it.  I’ve got people who will translate for me.  But I’m waiting until that idea finds its way to the top of the to-do list.  And then we’re gonna just [snaps fingers] grab the momentum and I’ll get everyone and I’ll say, “here, Wolf, here’s all these translations.  Go!” [laughs]

SS – I saw you have Russ Jensen archives in your archive section, but there’s nothing else in there right now.

JS – Nothing else.

SS – Do you have any other ideas as to what might go into the archives in the future?

JS – Yeah, the archives just started because Russ Jensen passed away.  And we figured all his information would just disappear, off of the web.  We didn’t necessarily know who was going to take ownership of it so that we could even go ask, “are you going to run it, or not?”  So, we captured it.  And I don’t think we just captured it without checking but it turned it was the right thing to do.  So we called it the archives, because what else are you going to call it, and I don’t think we wanted to call it, you know, “where things go when people pass away.”


This is where your stuff will be, by the way.

SS – Graveyard.

JS – “Do you feel aches and pains?  Call us now, reserve your spot!”  [laughs] But there was someone else who passed away, and I won’t mention his name, and we gently asked about it, and we still found out that someone wants to continue the site.  And so we just, you know, backed off.

SS – Well, it’s a nice tribute to somebody who spent so much time building their site that, you know, there would be a place that it could go.  I would assume their family would be happy to hear that.

JS – And I don’t know, I don’t know the rest of his family.  I know there’s hobbyists out there, that if they were to, say, pass away, their relatives would probably be throw it in the garbage and say, “what is this?”  I think half of *mine* would!  Unless I gave them instructions on who to call and who might fly in and pick it up or truck in and get it.  What are you going to do with all this arcane material?

SS – That’s what I wonder about my zine stuff.  To somebody it would just be a box of papers but to somebody else it would be…

JS – …A gold mine.

SS – It’s the archives!

JS – Right, right, exactly.  But also, it’s not just going to be a place for people who give up their websites, but, I think eventually when we get around to it, we’ll put the Gottlieb engineering cards, which is currently a link on the front page.  We’ll put it back there.  And I have some information on some manufacturers that you just can’t find anywhere else, and I think we’ll put some links there.  And probably some non-game specific information that won’t fit in just one game listing, that might cover a piece of history that crosses manufacturers and crosses decades of time, and then we could put it there and call it archives.

SS – That’s a work in progress then, too?

JS – Yeah.  I think all I gotta do is get Wolf to build the tool where I can start building archives without having to come to him each time.  If he builds a tool for that, then just watch what I’ll do. because I’ve got a lot of stuff ready to go.  You know, cool stuff.  It’s just that I need to get him to do it.

9. Personal Favorites/Collection

SS – What machine is your personal favorite?

JS – Oh, heck.

SS – Do you have one?

JS – Yeah, you know, it’s like… 8 Ball Deluxe is one I really like.  Um, Centaur.  I like…

SS – Either one?

JS – Yeah.  I like Skyline.  See, I can’t give you one favorite, I guess.  I can’t do that, but, I like Skyline, that’s a ’65 Gottlieb.  And I really like Ice-Revue, that’s ’65 or ’66.

SS – What is it?

JS – Ice-Revue?

SS – Ice-Revue?

JS – Yeah, back when I got it, nobody liked it.  And that’s one of those games where I said, I don’t care what anybody likes, I like it.  And now I see, there’s people who appreciate it.  It’s a pretty cool game.  It’s a shooting game.  You just keep shooting the ball, but it’s really nice.

SS – You have any games?

JS – Yeah.  I have about 55.

SS – 55?

JS – Yeah.

SS – Wow.  All at your house?

JS – Yeah.  Not all up on legs, though.  And I collect from, oh, ’56, Balls-a-poppin’, up to 1982 with Thunderball.  And that was a game they only made 10 of.

SS – Thunderball?

JS – Thunderball.  So you don’t see those around.  And mostly EM then, but I like the Bally solid states from 1978 to 1981.  I’ve always liked those, that series.  You know, KISS, 8 Ball Deluxe, Playboy, Star Trek, Embryon, I don’t have an Embryon, you know —

SS – Xenon…

JS – Paragon, Xenon, yeah, that whole thing, they were like solid, well-built games.

SS – Does that include Harlem Globetrotters, too?

JS – Mmhmm!

SS – Like mid-70’s?

JS – Yeah.  I really like Harlem Globetrotters, it surprises me, though, because I’m not really a sports-themed pinball guy, but that one is the exception.  I really like it.

SS – Well, they’re all very similar and they usually have a saucer at the top, and there’s some drop targets or standups.

JS – Well listen, the rulesets aren’t hugely deep, you know, but that’s what I like.  I just shoot the ball, play, the talent is just in watching where to the shoot the ball — you know, I like pop bumpers that are random, a lot of the old EM games, you know, nothing said “Go for the pop bumpers”, they were just up there.  You’d figure out how to light them up, and then go up — you got tired of the ball flipping around here, you would shoot it up and let the pop bumpers beat the ball to death.  And then it would come down again.  Williams often would use an array of 5 pop bumpers.  I mean, 5 of them!  Gottlieb might do 4, but Williams would have 5, and I always thought that was cool.  And close together, too!  Boom-boom-boom-boom-boom-boom-boom! I really liked that.

10. Surf Champ & Serial Numbers

SS – I’ve been really liking the Gottlieb Surf Champ they have at Shorty’s.  I’ve been playing that a lot lately.  It just has a little bit of everything in it!

JS – Doesn’t it, though?  You know, that’s funny you mention Surf Champ, because that game, we show that Gottlieb made a quantity of 1,071, and over the years we’ve been getting people that would email me and say, “Jay, that number can’t be right, because we’ve seen many more of those Surf Champs than that number would warrant, so that’s gotta be wrong.”  I said, well, that’s the number they gave us!  So, I hooked up with Wayne Neiance the other day, day, because I thought, “you know what, I gotta really, I’ll say something on the IPDB about it, at least to let people know, ‘yeah we’re aware of what you’re saying.'”  So Wayne verified his data, yeah, it’s 1,071.  But if you go to the serial number, internet pinball serial number database for that game, you’ll see serial numbers that are spread apart about 4,000 numbers apart.  And I showed that to Wayne, I said “Lookee here.” I said, “Plus, you know, look at the fact that other 4-player games of that 1976 were in larger quantities.  So, you think there was a typo or something?” And he says, “Well, it’s possible.” So I put that in that listing.  I still can’t change the number, because what am I going to change it to?  I don’t have any proof.  So we’ll leave it what it is, but I added a note there, on Surf Champ.  And I did that within the last month or so.

SS – That there may be more.

JS – There may be, yeah.  Well, that the serial number spread suggests over 4,000 games.  And someone even said, well there’s more than that, and I go, “Well, I’m just saying what the serial numbers tell us.”

SS – It seems like there’ve been quite a few of them around here.

JS – Right, right.

SS – Just, like, out on route.

JS – So maybe there was a mistake in writing down the numbers of whatever.

SS – It’s a good game too.

JS – It had a little bit of everything.  You know, Super Spin was like that, and Jet Spin, it had a little bit of everything.  It had rollover targets, it had recessed target, it had a kickout hole, um, what else did it have.  Pop bumpers, well,  it sounds like not much once you itemize it!

SS – …Spinners, rollovers…I like it though.  I don’t know if there was anything else i was going to ask you in particular.  All the contributors, I saw that there’s 1,577, is the number that you have on there.  Does that change [inaudible, espresso machine]

JS – I think when we started in 2002, I remember a number like 200-and-something contributors.  And these are contributors that I think of…well, I don’t know.  I never thought about that.  I assumed it was the number of people who wanted photo credit and brought their names to the website, for display.  But maybe it’s just the number of people who have ever… unique contributors.  I’ll have to ask Wolf about that.  I might have assumed one and maybe it’s the other.

SS – I assumed it was unique contributors, when I saw it.

JS – Maybe it else.  I’ll have to ask him.  I don’t know!  Huh.

SS – What was this, you said the Pinball Serial Number Database?  What’s that?

JS – Oh yeah!  That’s, um, Jess Askee.  Lives in Fort Collins[, Colorado].  He has a website called the IPSND, right?  Internet Pinball Serial Number Database, dot NET.  And every listing of ours links to the equivalent listing on his site, it’s like a sister website.  And his website, you submit serial numbers from your games.  and it’s on the honor system, but, everybody’s submission is assigned a weighted value based on the likelihood it isn’t BS, I guess you’d say.  So if you just submit and say, “This is the number I have,” he’ll ask you, well, did you read it yourself, or did you get it in some other way?  And based on your answer you might get a heavier weight to your contribution.  If you submit a picture of the serial number, then your weight goes way up.  And so then what you could do, or what anybody could do, you could go directly to his site — or if you’re on our site, for, say, Super Spin or something, you could click on the link we have in that listing, and it will take you directly to his listing for Super Spin.  Because we share the same game ID numbers.  And then you could see all the people who have ever contributed serial numbers.  This is for people who are into that, and what that can tell you.

SS – Which is, what can it tell you?

JS – Well, it can tell you maybe how many games were made, or in the case of the game where someone said they’d only made 1,071 [Surf Champ], well, this site helps show from all the people that contributed their serial numbers that it’s probably more like 4,000.  It can help identify what games in a production run might have had the artwork changed somewhere in the production run, or some design change.  For instance, many games at the beginning of the production run are sample games, or what we call early production, and they find out that they need to change something very early in the production for the rest of the run.  And so they will.  So we find these games and we go, “well, wait a minute, how come these two games, they have this difference that we can’t explain.”  Well, let’s look at serial numbers.  So this site can ask you when you contribute your serial number, what about this feature, which way is done on your game?  And then if they answer that question, if everyone answers that question, you can look at the whole list and see, oh ok, they must have had this feature up until about the 50th game and then they changed.  So for people into that stuff it’s just, maybe to find out how rare something else.  I’d say that.

SS – More exact.

JS – Yeah.  There are hobbyists into that, too.  So that’s cool.

11. Bangbacks, Playing Techniques and Cheating

SS – Oh, the glossary and playing skills.  Who wrote those?

JS – Oh, the playing skills.  I don’t know who wrote the playing skills.  I think I knew at the time, but I’ve forgotten.  It wasn’t me.  I think maybe if it wasn’t all Wolf, it was somebody else.  But the glossary, Wolf wrote a lot of it, I wrote a lot of it, I remember when we put it online, he was asking me, you know, to come up with a lot of definitions for a lot of things, so I did.  Some of them I look back now and I go, “I wrote that?”

SS – So that was done by you and Wolf during the re-launch.

JS – I don’t even remember half the stuff I wrote, what i mean is I go back and I read the definition, and I’m going, I didn’t even know that today!  And I wrote that.  [laughs]

SS – I like how on the playing skills, like, bangbacks, are not that far down the list. [laughs]   It’s like, oh but you’re not supposed to do that!  At a lot of the tournaments, you’re not allowed to do that.

JS – I remember when bangbacks first came into vogue — I used to run pinball tournaments years ago.  And so, that was the rule, “No Bangbacks.”  And of course everybody wanted to *see* someone who *knew* how to do bangbacks, so they could watch and be amazed.  I did too!  But, just not during the tournament.

SS – Then you get to see their bruises.

JS – Yeah.  People still into that?

SS – They do it sometimes, but it kind of messes the games up, I think.  And also it hurts.  People are trying to get us to make Skill Shot bangback gloves, so they’d have a pad here.  So it protects your hand.

JS – Oh, that’s how you psych out your opponent, you show up with one of these wristbands, like your a bangbacker.

SS – Well, there are some people who wear them for support.

JS – I was hoping that whole trick would go the way of the mullet!


SS – Nope, people still can do it.  And on some of the newer games it’s easier.

JS – Really?

SS – Because they’re not so sensitive to tilting.  Like the Rolling Stones and those Avatars, when they first get them, you can usually shake them quite a bit.

JS – Oh, really.

SS – Yeah, they’re not so sensitive.  I don’t know if they just have it that way so people play them and not get frustrated as they will on maybe the —

JS – Tighten it up?  Yeah.  Huh.

SS – I’m not sure, I just suspect.  I never really ask, I don’t think that Avout or any of them will tell you.

JS – You know, I never really was a guy who hit games.  I never was.  I’ve seen all sorts of things.  I’ve seen other people kick the front of the coin door, I’ve seen them lift up the game and drop it, all sorts of stuff.  Bang the glass with their fist.  I never was.

SS – Yeah, I don’t really care for that either.  I’ll nudge it a little bit.

JS – Maybe a few four letter words, but…

SS – There was this one game we were playing last weekend, it was a Frankenstein, and the launcher wouldn’t launch the ball.  And luckily we already know it didn’t tilt, it was a very low, low tilt.  So then we had to pull it away from the wall a little bit, and then pick it up so the ball would roll out into the playfield.

JS – [laughs]  I remember putting glass ashtrays under the front legs of a game on location, I remember doing that…cheating!  You know.

SS – Oh yeah, in the back, it’s more common.

JS – Yeah, but I think that was about the worst I ever did.  As far as that goes.

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