1.1 Pre-modern: Development of outdoor and tabletop ball games
1.2 Late 1700s: Spring launcher invented
1.3 1869: Spring launchers become mainstream
1.4 1931: Coin operation introduced
1.5 1933: Electrification and active bumpers introduced
1.6 1947: Flippers introduced
1.7 1970s: Solid-state electronics and digital displays introduced
1.8 1980s and 1990s:
3 Machine layout
3.1.1 Plunger 3.1.2 Flippers 3.1.3 Bumpers 3.1.4 Kickers and slingshots 3.1.5 Targets 3.1.6 Holes and saucers 3.1.7 Spinners and rollovers 3.1.8 Switches, gates, and stoppers 3.1.9 Ramps 3.1.10 Toys, magnets and captive balls 3.1.11 Common features 3.1.12 Unique features
4 Scoring points
5 Playing techniques
5.1 Nudging 5.2 Trapping
6 Competitions 7 Manufacturing process
8 Computer pinball simulation 9 Custom pinball machines 10 In popular culture 11 See also 12 References 13 External links
History Pre-modern: Development of outdoor and tabletop ball games The origins of pinball are intertwined with the history of many other games. Games played outdoors by rolling balls or stones on a grass course, such as bocce or bowls, eventually evolved into various local ground billiards games played by hitting the balls with sticks and propelling them at targets, often around obstacles. Croquet, golf and paille-maille eventually derived from ground billiards variants. The evolving and specializing outdoor games finally led to indoor versions that could be played on a table, such as billiards, or on the floor of a pub, like bowling and shuffleboard. The tabletop versions of these games became the ancestors of modern pinball. Late 1700s: Spring launcher invented
Billard japonais, Southern Germany/Alsace ca. 1750–70. It already has a spring mechanism to propel the ball, 100 years prior to Montague Redgrave's patent.
In France, during the long 1643–1715 reign of Louis XIV, billiard tables were narrowed, with wooden pins or skittles at one end of the table, and players would shoot balls with a stick or cue from the other end, in a game inspired as much by bowling as billiards. Pins took too long to reset when knocked down, so they were eventually fixed to the table, and holes in the bed of the table became the targets. Players could ricochet balls off the pins to achieve the harder scorable holes. A standardized version of the game eventually became known as bagatelle. Somewhere between the 1750s and 1770s, the bagatelle variant Billard japonais, or Japanese billiards in English, was invented in Western Europe, despite its name. It used thin metal pins and replaced the cue at the player's end of the table with a coiled spring and a plunger. The player shot balls up the inclined playfield toward the scoring targets using this plunger, a device that remains in use in pinball to this day, and the game was also directly ancestral to pachinko. 1869: Spring launchers become mainstream In 1869, British inventor Montague Redgrave settled in the US and manufactured bagatelle tables in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1871 Redgrave was granted US Patent #115,357 for his "Improvements in Bagatelle", another name for the spring launcher that was first introduced in Billard japonais. The game also shrank in size to fit atop a bar or counter. The balls became marbles and the wickets became small metal pins. Redgrave's popularization of the spring launcher and innovations in game design are acknowledged as the birth of pinball in its modern form. 1931: Coin operation introduced
An early pinball game without flippers, circa 1932
By the 1930s, manufacturers were producing coin-operated versions of
bagatelles, now known as "marble games" or "pin games". The table was
under glass and used M. Redgrave's plunger device to propel the ball
into the upper playfield. In 1931 David Gottlieb's
A clear walled electromechanical pinball machine created by the
Pacific Pinball Museum
The introduction of microprocessors brought pinball into the realm of
electronic gaming. The electromechanical relays and scoring reels that
drove games in the 1950s and 1960s were replaced in the 1970s with
circuit boards and digital displays. The first solid-state pinball is
believed to be Mirco Games' The Spirit of '76 (1976), though the
first mainstream solid-state game was Williams' Hot Tip (1977). This
new technology led to a boom for Williams and Bally, who attracted
more players with games featuring more complex rules, digital sound
effects, and speech.
The video game boom of the 1980s signaled the end of the boom for
pinball. Arcades replaced rows of pinball machines with video games
like 1978's Space Invaders, 1979's Asteroids, 1980's Pac-Man, and
1981's Galaga. These earned significantly greater profits than the
pinball machines of the day, while simultaneously requiring less
maintenance. Bally, Williams, and
A row of pinball machines at the
Pinball Hall of Fame
After the collapse of the coin-operated video game industry, pinball
saw another comeback in the 1990s. Some new manufacturers entered the
field such as Capcom
The playfield of the High Speed pinball machine
The playfield is a planar surface inclined upward from three to seven degrees (current convention is six and a half degrees), away from the player, and includes multiple targets and scoring objectives. Some operators intentionally extend threaded levelers on the rear legs and/or shorten or remove the levelers on the front legs to create additional incline in the playfield, making the ball move faster and harder to play. It is important that the playfield be level left-to-right; a quick visual test compares the top of the back cabinet against a brick or block wall behind it, or to roll a marble down the center of the playfield glass. If it clearly rolls off to one side, a player may be inclined to stuff folded paper beneath the legs on the lower side to level the playfield. Additionally, leg levelers that are all extended fully make the game easier to nudge; when collapsed low, the entire game is more stable, and nudging becomes harder. The ball is put into play by use of the plunger, a spring-loaded rod that strikes the ball as it rests in an entry lane, or as in some newer games, by a button that signals the game logic to fire a solenoid that strikes the ball. With both devices the result is the same: The ball is propelled upwards onto the playfield. Once a ball is in play, it tends to move downward towards the player, although the ball can move in any direction, sometimes unpredictably, due to contact with objects on the playfield or by the player's own actions. To return the ball to the upper part of the playfield, the player makes use of one or more flippers. Manipulation of the ball may also be accomplished by various tricks, such as "nudging". However, excessive nudging is generally penalized by the loss of the current player's turn (known as tilting) or ending of the entire game when the nudging is particularly violent (known as slam tilting). This penalty was instituted because nudging the machine too much may damage it. Many games also have a slam tilt in the bottom of the lower cabinet to end the game if the cabinet is raised and dropped to the floor in an attempt to falsely trigger the coin counting switch. Plunger The plunger is a spring-loaded rod with a small handle, used to propel the ball into the playfield. The player can control the amount of force used for launching by pulling the plunger a certain distance (thus changing the spring compression). This is often used for a "skill shot," in which a player attempts to launch a ball so that it exactly hits a specified target. Once the ball is in motion in the main area of the playfield, the plunger is not used again until another ball must be brought onto the playfield. In modern machines, an electronically controlled launcher is sometimes substituted for the plunger. The shape of the ball launch button that replaces the plunger may be modified to fit the aesthetics of a particular game's theme, such as being made to look like the trigger of a gun in a game with a military or action-hero theme. Flippers
Flippers are used by the player to redirect the ball
The flippers are one or more small mechanically or electromechanically controlled levers, roughly 3 to 7 cm (1 1⁄4 to 2 3⁄4 in) in length, used for redirecting the ball up the playfield. They are the main control that the player has over the ball. Careful timing and positional control allows the player to intentionally direct the ball in a range of directions with various levels of velocity. With the flippers, the player attempts to move the ball to hit various types of scoring targets, and to keep the ball from disappearing off the bottom of the playfield. The very first pinball games appeared in the early 1930s and did not have flippers; after launch the ball simply proceeded down the playfield, directed by static nails (or "pins") to one of several scoring areas. (These pins gave the game its name.) In 1947, the first mechanical flippers appeared on Gottlieb's Humpty Dumpty and by the early 1950s, the familiar two-flipper configuration, with the flippers at the bottom of the playfield above the center drain, had become standard. Some machines also added a third or fourth flipper midway up the playfield. The new flipper ushered in the "golden age" of pinball, where the fierce competition between the various pinball manufacturers led to constant innovation in the field. Various types of stationary and moving targets were added, spinning scoring reels replaced games featuring static scores lit from behind. Multiplayer scores were added soon after, and then bells and other noise-makers, all of which began to make pinball less a game and more of an experience. The flippers have loaned pinball its common name in many languages, where the game is known mainly as "flipper". Bumpers Bumpers are round knobs that, when hit, will actively push the ball away. There is also an earlier variety of bumper (known as a dead bumper or passive bumper) that doesn't propel the ball away; most bumpers on machines built since the 1960s are active bumpers, variously called "pop bumpers," "thumper bumpers," "jet bumpers," or "turbo bumpers." Most recent games include a set of pop bumpers, usually three, sometimes more or fewer depending on the designer's goals. Bumpers predate flippers, and active bumpers added a great deal of spice to older games. Pop bumpers are operated by a switch connected to a ring surrounding the bottom circumference of the bumper that is suspended several millimeters above the playfield surface. When the ball rolls over this ring and forces one side of it down, a switch is closed that activates the bumper's solenoid. This pulls down a tapered ring surrounding the central post of the bumper that pushes downward and outward on the ball, propelling it away. Kickers and slingshots
Slingshots have rubber pads which detect the ball's impact and automatically push it away at speed
Kickers and slingshots are rubber pads which propel the ball away upon impact, like bumpers, but are usually a horizontal side of a wall. Every recent pinball machine includes slingshots to the upper left and upper right of the lowest set of flippers; older games used more experimental arrangements. They operate similarly to pop bumpers, with a switch on each side of a solenoid-operated lever arm in a typical arrangement. The switches are closed by ball contact with the rubber on the face of the kicker and this activates the solenoid. Early pinball machines typically had full solenoid current passing through trigger switches for all types of solenoids, from kickers to pop bumpers to the flippers themselves. This caused arcing across switch contacts and rapid contact fouling and failure. As electronics were gradually implemented in pinball design, solenoids began to be switched by power transistors under software control to lower switch voltage and current, vastly extend switch service lifetime, and add flexibility to game design. As an example, some later machines had flippers that could be operated independently of the flipper button by the machine's software. The upper-left flipper during "Thing Flips" on The Addams Family pinball machine triggers automatically a brief moment after the ball passes an optical sensor just above the flipper. The smaller, lower-powered solenoids were first to be transistorized, followed later by the higher-current solenoids as the price, performance, and reliability of power transistors improved over the years. Targets
Stationary targets detect the ball's impact and typically increment the player's score
Stationary Targets: These are static targets that simply record when a ball strikes them. These are generally the simplest playfield elements. They are also known as spot targets or standup targets. Bullseye Targets: These are static targets that have two concentric elements, similar to a stationary target. Hitting the outer ring usually scores lower than hitting the center bull's eye. They are found mostly on older electro-mechanical games. Drop targets: These are targets that drop below the playfield when hit. Eliminating an entire row in this manner may lead to any of various features. Once an entire bank of drop targets is hit, the bank may reset or pop back up. Alternatively, the drop targets can be placed in front of other targets, requiring the drop target to be knocked down before the targets behind can be hit, or the drop target may only pop up at specific times to deny the player the ability to shoot the ball into whatever is behind it. If used in the latter way, the target is usually blocking a lane or ramp. Kicking Target: Used rarely, these targets look like stationary targets, but when hit they kick the ball away in the opposite direction much like a slingshot or bumper. Vari-Target: These targets reward a different number of points depending on how hard the target was hit. It is a metal arm that pivots under the playfield. When a ball hits it, it ratchets back sometimes, resetting immediately or resetting only after it is hit all the way back. A large sum of points is usually rewarded when the target is hit back all the way with one strike of the ball.
Holes and saucers
Holes: The player directs the ball into a hole. On modern games, there are both vertical and horizontal holes (also called scoops), and the game may include mechanisms to move the ball between them. On some older games, a "gobble hole" is sometimes included, usually awarding a large bonus or a game feature, but not giving the ball back. Saucers: A shallow hole with a kicker inside. The ball remains visible on the playfield and is kicked out either straight up (usually into a duct or rail chute) or sideways back onto the playfield.
Originally holes and saucers worked by using tubes behind the playing field, with a pin at the top to hold the ball for later drops. Another version of the tube uses two spinning wheels to transfer the ball from hole to hole. Newer versions use an electronic track with a carriage or an electromagnet to pull the ball between holes. Spinners and rollovers
Rollovers detect when the ball passes over them
Spinners: A ball can push through a flat surface that is hinged in the middle, causing it to spin; each rotation adds points. Rollovers: These are targets activated when a ball rolls over them. Often a series of rollover targets are placed side-by-side and with dividers between them forming "lanes"; the player must guide the ball to particular lanes (or to all lanes) in order to complete an objective. Such lanes are frequently placed at the bottom sides of the playfield: "inlanes" feed the ball back to the flippers, "outlanes" cause the ball to immediately drain. On many machines, outlanes can have extra balls or "specials" lit to act in the same role as the older gobble holes. Whirlwind Spinner(s): Used in some games, a whirlwind spinner is a rapidly rotating (often rubberized) disk on the playfield that momentarily "grabs" the ball and throws it in a random direction. Some games couple a whirlwind spinner with a magnet placed in the center, although DataEast seems to be the only manufacturer to do so. Bally's "Fireball" and Chicago Coin's "Casino" were popular games with a whirlwind spinner.
Switches, gates, and stoppers
Switch: A switch is an area that is blocked off after the ball passes through it once. An example of this is the initial firing lane: as a ball passes through the firing lane, it hits a switch and cannot reenter that chute. Gate: This is a block that will allow balls to come through one way but will block the ball if it is going the other way. Stopper: Also called a magic post, this is a small pole most often found centered between and just below the lowest set of flippers and also rarely next to the outlanes. When activated (typically by hitting a specific target or targets), the pole ascends from inside the machine, blocking the area between the flippers for a limited time, making it more difficult to drain and lose the ball. After time expires, it returns to its resting place just below the playfield.
A wire ramp along which the ball can travel
Ramps are inclined planes with a gentle enough slope that the ball may travel along it. The player attempts to direct the ball with enough force to make it to the top of the ramp and down the other side. If the player succeeds, a "ramp shot" has been made. Ramps frequently end in such a way that the ball goes to a flipper so one can make several ramp shots in a row. Often, the number of ramp shots scored in a game is tallied, and reaching certain numbers may lead to various game features. At other times, the ramps will go to smaller "mini-playfields" (small playfields, usually raised above the main game surface, with special goals or scoring). Toys, magnets and captive balls
Toys: Toys are various items on, above, or beneath the playfield (items beneath the playfield visible through windows) or attached to the cabinet (usually to the backbox). Usually, each toy is unique to the machine it was made for, and reflects the theme of the game. They may be visual only, and have no effect on game play; they may be alternate ways of performing common game functions (for example, instead of using a drop hole to hold the ball, a hand or claw might reach out, grab the ball, and capture it that way); or they may be an integral part of the game rules and play (for instance, having a smaller playfield over the main playfield that can be tilted right and left by the player, using the flipper buttons). Electromagnets: Some machines feature electrically operated magnets below the playfield to affect the ball's speed and/or trajectory according to the current state of game play. This may be done to make the ball's movement unpredictable, to temporarily halt the ball (as a ball saver, for example), or to otherwise control the ball by non-mechanical means. Electromagnets may also be used in above-playfield elements (often as part of the playfield toys) to grab the ball and move it elsewhere (onto a mini-playfield, for example). The Williams machine The Twilight Zone featured a mini-playfield that used electromagnets controlled by the flipper buttons, allowing the player to flip the ball on the mini-playfield, essentially working as invisible flippers. Contrary to somewhat popular myth, there are no professionally produced pinball machines known to contain magnets under the playfield intended to clandestinely make game play harder or increase ball losses. Captive balls: Sometimes a ball is allowed to move around only within a confined area. A typical application of this is having a short lane on the playfield with a narrow opening, inside which a captive ball is held. The player can strike this captive ball with the ball in play, pushing it along the lane to activate a rollover switch or target. In games such as Theatre of Magic, captive balls sometimes have what's called a "Newton Ball," which is a stationary ball adjacent to a free ball in a small lane. The ball being played strikes the Newton ball which, in turn, transfers its momentum to the adjacent ball, which causes it to move.
There are other idiosyncratic features on many pinball playfields.
Ball lock: Each time a ball goes into a specific hole or target, it is
locked, and a new ball appears at the plunger. When the player has
locked the required number of balls (often three), the multiball
feature starts. On some games, the balls are physically locked in
place by solenoid-actuated gates, but many newer machines use virtual
ball locks instead, in which the game merely keeps count of the number
of locked balls and then auto-launches them from the main ball trough
when it is time for them to be released.
Multiball: This occurs when there is more than one ball in play at a
time and usually includes some kind of jackpot scoring. Multiball ends
when all but one ball is lost down the bottom of the playfield, and
then regular play resumes.
Jackpot: Some targets on the playfield increase the scoring value of
something else, which could be as simple as hitting a ramp, or a
complicated sequence of targets. Upon their inception, the jackpot was
the main goal of most pinball machines in the 1980s. Jackpots would
often range from one to four million (back when this was a significant
addition to the score), and their value would accrue between games
until it was scored. Scoring it was usually a complicated task. Modern
games often dilute the meaning of "jackpot". Modern games give off
several jackpots in each multiball mode, which is usually quite easy
to attain, and the value of today's jackpots is far less significant.
Many jackpots awarded during special modes often do not increase at
all, but are instead simply fixed-value bonuses.
End-of-ball bonus: After each ball is played, the player scores bonus
points depending on how many times certain features have been
activated or the numbers of items that the player may obtain. Some
games award a seemingly arbitrary number of points that depend on the
number of times any switch has been hit. Virtually all games have the
ability to assign a multiplier to the bonus. Most games cap the bonus
multiplier at 5x or 10x, although more modern games apparently have no
Extra ball: If a player has earned this, when they lose a ball they
get another one to play immediately afterward and the machine does not
count the lost ball towards the limit of balls for that game. For
example, if the player were on ball two and they earn an extra ball,
the next ball will still be counted as ball two instead of the third
ball. When a machine says "SHOOT AGAIN" on the scoreboard, it
signifies that an extra ball will shoot. In a multiplayer game, the
player who just lost the ball is the same one to shoot again.
Kickback: When a ball goes into one of the outlanes the ball instead
of draining goes into a kicker that will launch the ball back into
play. Their use is limited and has to be earned to be used.
Various timed rounds (modes): For example, if the player hit a
specific target three times within the next 20 seconds, they might
score several tens of millions of points for it. There are many and
various time-related features in pinball. Progression through each
mode is frequently accompanied by DMD animations and sound.
Stackability: To stack means that the player can run one play mode
while another mode is in progress. This strategy usually yields higher
scores. A noted example of this is Williams' Bram Stoker's Dracula,
with its Multi-Multiball feature.
Wizard Mode: This is a special scoring mode, which is reached after
meeting certain prerequisites to access this mode (e.g., finishing all
modes). This is the pinball equivalent of the final boss fight in
video games. Classic examples of this include Williams' Black Knight
2000 (The King's Ransom) and Midway's Twilight Zone (Lost in the
Zone). Named after The Who's song "
Unique features In the 1990s, game designers often put hidden, recurring images or references in their games, which became known as Easter eggs. For example, Williams' designers hid cows in the video displays of the games, and Pat Lawlor would place a red button in the artwork of games he developed. The methods used to find the hidden items usually involved pressing the flipper buttons in a certain order or during specific events. Designers also included hidden messages or in-jokes; one example of this is the phrase "DOHO" sometimes seen quickly displayed on the dot matrix displays, a reference to Dorris Ho, the wife of then-Williams display artist Scott "Matrix" Slomiany. DOHO was popularly thought to be an acronym for Documented Occurrence of a Hidden Object until its true meaning was revealed in a PinGame Journal article on the subject. The game Star Trek:The Next Generation went so far as to embed a hidden Breakout-like game, available only after a complex sequence of events had been accomplished during the game. Backglass
The backglass from Jungle Lord, a 1981 pinball game
The backglass is a vertical graphic panel mounted on the front of the backbox, which is the upright box at the top back of the machine. The backglass contains the name of the machine, eye-catching graphics, (usually) the score displays (lights, mechanical wheels, an LED display, or a dot-matrix display depending on the era), and sometimes a mechanical device tied to game play, for example, elevator doors that opened on an image or a woman swatting a cat with a broom such as on Williams' 1989 "Bad Cats". For older games, the backglass image is screen printed in layers on the reverse side of a piece of glass; in more recent games, the image is imprinted into a translucent piece of plastic-like material called a translite which is mounted behind a piece of glass and which is easily removable. The earliest games did not have backglasses or backboxes and were little more than playfields in boxes. Games are generally built around a particular theme, such as a sport or character and the backglass art reflects this theme to attract the attention of players. Recent machines are typically tied into other enterprises such as a popular film series, toy, or brand name. The entire machine is designed to be as eye-catching as possible to attract players and their money; every possible space is filled with colorful graphics, blinking lights, and themed objects, and the backglass is usually the first artwork the players see from a distance. Since the artistic value of the backglass may be quite impressive, it is not uncommon for enthusiasts to use a deep frame around a backglass (lighted from behind) and hang it as art after the remainder of the game is discarded. Scoring points
Dot Matrix Display
Contact with or manipulation of scoring elements (such as targets or
ramps) scores points for the player. Electrical switches embedded in
the scoring elements detect contact and relay this information to the
scoring mechanism. Older pinball machines used an electromechanical
system for scoring wherein a pulse from a switch would cause a complex
mechanism composed of relays to ratchet up the score. In later games
these tasks have been taken over by semiconductor chips and displays
are made on electronic segmented or dot-matrix displays (DMD). The
first DMD on a pinball machine was used by Checkpoint and features
also video mode minigames. MarsaPlay in Spain
manufactured a remake of Inder's original Canasta titled New Canasta,
Replay Score: An extra game is rewarded if the player exceeds a specified score. Some machines allow the operator to set this score to increase with each consecutive game in which the replay score is achieved, in order to prevent a skilled player from gaining virtually unlimited play on one credit by simply achieving the same replay score in every game. Special: A mechanism to get an extra game during play is usually called a "special." Typically, some hard-to-reach feature of the game will light the outlanes (the areas to the extreme left and right of the flippers) for special. Since the outlanes always lose the ball, having "special" there makes it worth shooting for them (and is usually the only time, if this is the case). Match: At the end of the game, if a set digit of the player's score matches a random digit, an extra game is rewarded. In earlier machines, the set digit was usually the ones place; after a phenomenon often referred to as score inflation had happened (causing almost all scores to end in 0), the set digit was usually the tens place. The chances of a match appear to be 1 in 10, but the operator can alter this probability – the default is usually 7% in all modern Williams and Bally games for example. Other non-numeric methods are sometimes used to award a match. High Score: Most machines award 1–3 bonus games if a player gets on the high score list. Typically, one or two credits are awarded for a 1st–4th place listing, and three for the Grand Champion.
When an extra game is won, the machine typically makes a single loud bang, most often with a solenoid that strikes a piece of metal, or the side of the cabinet, with a rod, known as a knocker, or less commonly with loudspeakers. "Knocking" is the act of winning an extra game when the knocker makes the loud and distinctive noise. Playing techniques The primary skill of pinball involves application of the proper timing and technique to the operation of the flippers, nudging the playfield when appropriate without tilting, and choosing targets for scores or features. A skilled player can quickly "learn the angles" and gain a high level of control of ball motion, even on a machine they have never played. Skilled players can often play on a machine for long periods of time on a single coin. By earning extra balls, a single game can be stretched out for a long period, and if the player is playing well he or she can earn replays known as "specials." A placard is usually placed in a lower corner of the playfield. It may simply show pricing information, but should also show critical details about special scoring techniques. This information is vital to achieving higher scores; it typically describes a series of events that must take place (e.g., shoot right ramp and left drop targets to light 'extra ball' rollover). Learning these details makes the game more fun and challenging. With practice — and a machine in good operating condition — a player can often achieve specific targets and higher scores and trigger exciting events. Nudging Skillful players can influence the movement of the ball by moving or bumping the pinball machine, a technique known as "nudging." There are tilt mechanisms which guard against excessive manipulation of this sort. The mechanisms generally include:
a grounded plumb bob centered in an electrified metal ring – when the machine is jostled or shaken too far or too hard, the bob contacts the ring, completing a circuit. The bob is usually cone-shaped allowing the operator to slide it vertically, controlling the sensitivity. an electrified ball on a slight ramp with a grounded post at the top of the ramp – when the front of the machine is lifted (literally, tilted) too high, the ball rolls to the top of the ramp and completes the circuit. an impact sensor – usually located on the coin door, the playfield and/or the cabinet itself.
When any of these sensors is activated, the game registers a "tilt"
and locks out, disabling solenoids for the flippers and other
playfield systems so that the ball can do nothing other than roll down
the playfield directly to the drain. A tilt will usually result in
loss of bonus points earned by the player during that ball; the game
ends if it's the last ball and the player has no extra ball. Older
games would immediately end the ball in play on a tilt. Modern games
give tilt warnings before sacrificing the ball in play. The number of
tilt warnings can be adjusted by the operator of the machine. Until
recently most games also had a "slam tilt" switch which guarded
against kicking or slamming the coin mechanism, or for overly
aggressive behavior with the machine, which could give a false
indication that a coin had been inserted, thereby giving a free game
or credit. This feature was recently taken out by default in new Stern
S.A.M System games, but can be added as an option. A
slam tilt will typically end the current game for all players.
Skilled players can also hold a ball in place with the flipper, giving
them more control over where they want to place the ball when they
shoot it forward. This is known as trapping. This technique involves
catching the ball in the corner between the base of the flipper and
the wall to its side, just as the ball falls towards the flipper; the
flipper is then released, which allows the ball to roll slowly
downward against the flipper. The player then chooses the moment to
hit the flipper again, timing the shot as the ball slides slowly
against the flipper. Multi-ball games, in particular, reward trapping
techniques. Usually this is done by trapping one or more balls out of
play with one flipper, then using the other flipper to score points
with the remaining ball or balls.
Once a player has successfully trapped a ball, they may then attempt
to "juggle" the ball to the other flipper. This is done by tapping the
flipper button quickly enough so that the trapped ball is knocked back
at an angle of less than 90 degrees into the bottom of the nearest
slingshot. The ball will then often bounce across the playfield to the
other flipper, where the ball may then be hit (or trapped) by the
Occasionally a pinball machine will have a pin or post placed directly
between the two bottom flippers. When this feature is present, the
advanced player may then attempt to perform a "chill maneuver" when
the ball is heading directly toward the pin by opting not to hit a
flipper. If successful, this will cause the ball to bounce up and back
into play. A related move, the "dead flipper pass," is performed by
not flipping when a ball is heading toward a flipper. If done
properly, the ball will bounce off the "dead" flipper, across to the
other flipper, where it may be trapped and controlled.
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The first part of a pinball machine's construction involves the wiring for the game's electronic system. A color-coded wiring arrangement is wrapped around pins and connectors on a circuit board. Technicians then follow through using a meticulous set of instructions to ensure that the almost-half mile of wire is engineered properly. During this time the playing field is set onto foam strips and a bed of nails. The nails are then pressed in the playing board as the bed raises and compresses them against the header. Afterward anchors come and are hammered into place. The anchors help secure a metal railing that keeps the balls from exiting the playing field. After the main construction is processed, it then comes down to fitting a few lampposts, some plastic bumpers, and flashing lights. All of the wiring is permanently fastened and speakers are bolted into the cabinet. Along with this comes the most crucial tool, the spring power plunger, which is set into place. Finally, a few other toys and gimmicks are added, such as toy villains and other small themed characters. Once everything is tested and seems to be running alright, the playfield is set on top of the lower box. The lower box on computerized games is essentially empty. On older electromechanical games, the entire floor of the lower box was used to mount custom relays and special scoring switches, making older games much heavier. To protect the top of the playfield, a tempered glass window is installed, secured by a metal bar that is locked into place. The expensive, unique, painted vertical backglass is fragile. The backglass covers the custom microprocessor boards on newer games, or electromechanical scoring wheels on older games. On older games, a broken backglass might be impossible to replace, ruining the game's appeal. Solenoids
Solenoids or coils: These are found in every modern pinball machine since the flipper age. They are usually hidden under the playfield, or covered by playfield components. By applying power to the coil, the magnetic field created by electromagnetism causes a metal object (usually called a plunger) to move. The plunger is then connected mechanically to a feature or accessory on the playfield.
Flipper solenoids contain two coil windings in one package; a short,
heavy gage 'power' winding to give the flipper its initial thrust up,
and a long, light gage 'hold' winding that uses lower power (and
creates far less heat) and essentially just holds the flipper up
allowing the player to capture the ball in the inlane for more precise
aiming. As the flipper nears the end of its upward travel, a switch
under the flipper disconnects the power-winding and leaves only the
second sustain winding to hold the flipper up in place. If this switch
fails 'open' the flipper will be too weak to be usable, since only the
weak winding is available. If it fails 'closed' the coil will overheat
and destroy itself, since both windings will hold the flipper at the
top of its stroke.
Solenoids also control pop-bumpers, kickbacks, drop target resets, and
many other features on the machine. These solenoid coils contain a
single coil winding. The plunger size and wire gage & length are
matched to the strength required for each coil to do its work, so some
types are repeated throughout the game, some are not.
All solenoids and coils used on microprocessor games include a special
reverse-biased diode to eliminate a high-voltage pulse of reverse EMF
(electromotive force). Without this diode, when the solenoid is
de-energized, the magnetic field that was built up in the coil
collapses and generates a brief, high-voltage pulse backward into the
wiring, capable of destroying the solid-state components used to
control the solenoid. Proper wiring polarity must be retained during
coil replacement or this diode will act as a dead short, immediately
destroying electronic switches. Older electromechanical AC game
solenoids do not require this diode, since they were controlled with
mechanical switches. However, electromechanical games running on DC do
require diodes to protect the rectifier.
All but very old games use low DC voltages to power the solenoids and
electronics (or relays). Some microprocessor games use high voltages
(potentially hazardous) for the score displays. Very early games used
low-voltage AC power for solenoids, requiring fewer components, but AC
is less efficient for powering solenoids, causing heavier wiring and
slower performance. For locations that suffer from low AC wall outlet
voltage, additional taps may be provided on the AC transformer in
electromechanical games to permit raising the game's DC voltage
levels, thus strengthening the solenoids.
Some hobbyists and small companies modify existing pinball machines or
create their own custom pinball machines. Some want, for example, a
game with a specific subject or theme that cannot be bought in this
form or was never built at all. Some custom games are built by
using the programmable P-ROC controller board. Modifications
include the use of ColorDMD that is used to replace the standard mono
color dot-matrix displays or the addition of features, e.g.
figures or other toys.
A few notable examples of custom pinball machines include a
List of pinball machines
Glossary of pinball terms
List of pinball manufacturers
Pinball Hall of Fame
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