Pinball is making a huge comeback from its haydays in the '70's, 80's and 90's!
Pinball is actually cool again. Pinball is making a huge comeback in bars, barcades, home game rooms and corporate break rooms. Pinball is wild and you will never have the same game twice and that is what makes playing pinball so much fun! Pinball as a hobby is also growing among young adults who or 25 to 40 years of age, because they are now established, have a home and have a successful career.
Pinball Machines at Great American Pinball
At Great American Pinball, we take a lot of pride in the products we offer to the public. We carry the largest selection of pinball machines from Electromechanical pinball machines to Solid State pinball machines. If you’re looking for an arcade video game, we have that too. Great American Pinball has a huge selection of the best pinball machines to fit your needs right on our showroom floor.
When you’re looking for a new or used pinball, there are many things to consider. What is your budget when purchasing a pinball machine? What theme would your family prefer in a pinball: Rock n Roll theme, Sci-fi theme, Animation theme, Super Hero's theme or a Blockbuster movie theme? Do you want a pinball machine that is a classic oldie or something new and modern with all the bells and whistles.
Remember, you’re not looking for cheap pinball machines, you’re looking for the best most reliable machine that will provide years of entertainment and fun.
History of Pinball
Modern Pinball has only been around for the last century or so, but the origins of pinball go back to the original creation of games!
Pinball is basically a game where you have a ball and try to hit targets. In this way, the beginnings of pinball can be seen linked to games like Croquet, Golf or even horseshoes.
It wasn’t until the invention of springs that something like the modern day pinball table was created. The introduction of coin operation allowed early pinball machines to become monetized, but the biggest leap forward in pinball came from adding electricity, flipper bats and lights.
With the ability to add electric switches and pop bumpers, the game became even more interesting and wild. During World War II, the pinball industry suffered drastically. Like other manufacturers, the pinball companies in the Chicago area had to assist in the war effort. Manufacturers couldn’t use copper as it was being used overseas.
Many manufacturers tried to refurbish older machines or otherwise stay relevant and by the end of WWII, only 10% of pinball manufacturers had weathered the storm. The gold lining? Those who remained saw a resurgence in pinball manufacturing as the war ended and people wanted to get back to playing pinball.
Flipper bats were then introduced to pinball machines to help keep the ball stay in play longer. Manufacturers were always on the lookout for how to make the game more interesting or innovative. Pinball machines where once considered illegal because it was deemed a "game of chance" Many companies added flippers to control the ball, to aim their shot and turn pinball into a game of skill.
Since its humble beginnings, pinball has been on the up-and-up. Pinball continued to grow and change in a market, and forced companies to innovate and become competitive. Companies came and went, were sold or just closed down, but here's a list of the most influential pinball manufactures from the early days of pinball.
Pinball Manufacturers of the Past
Bally is one of the original names in pinball. Bally began making pinball machines in 1932, when its parent company Lion Manufacturing established a pinball division. Bally worked to improve upon all coin operated devices until it’s founder passed away in 1958. Bally was then bought by investors in 1963. Bally continued working on pinball machines, coin operated machines, including slot machines and at one point had about 90% of the coin operated market worldwide. Bally also acquired many other companies, including Midway Games. As Bally made acquisitions, namely in the amusement and casino markets, they soon found themselves low on funds and their pinball division was sold to Williams in 1988.
Williams started as a manufacturer of pinball machines in 1943. They were able to acquire and modify existing pinball games. Their first all original machine was created in 1946. While they produced both pinball and arcade games, it was not until 1977 that they produced their first solid state game. In 1992, Williams produced the most popular pinball machine of all time, The Addams Family pinball machine. While they continued to produce games, it was the introduction of Pinball 2000 that ultimately made Williams pull out of the pinball market.
Data East was a Japanese company that originally manufactured video games. They started an American headquarters and in 1987 produced its first pinball machine. Their pinball machines were some of the first to include stereo sound and large dot matrix displays. Data East chose to forgo many unlicensed titles and worked with big names licenses to develop some really cool pinball machines based on tv shows, movies and rock n roll bands. While this lead to popular games, it also lead to very small profits. Some of their popular titles include: Guns N Roses, Star Wars, Back to the Future, and The Simpsons.
Data East entered the pinball market by buying the pinball division of Stern Electronics and they exited by selling their pinball division to Sega in 1994.
Stern Electronics was formed when the Stern family bought Chicago Coin in 1977. Stern Electronics focused on video games when they became popular in the 80s, but soon found themselves exiting the amusement industry. With the downturn of the pinball industry in the late 90s, many companies were looking to get out of pinball completely. This allowed Gary Stern to purchase many of the companies who were left. In 1999, Gary founded what is present day Stern Pinball.
Gottlieb was established in 1927 and produced pinball machines eventually expanding into pitch-and-bat and bowling games. Gottlieb was also the manufacturer who held on to electromechanical games for longest. They made many great pinball machines, but always seemed to lag just behind its competition. In 1996, their pinball division was sold off due to decreased popularity of pinball.
Current Pinball Machine Manufacturers
Since 1999 Stern Pinball has been producing excellent pinball machines. They’ve been able to take the best of what they learned from Data East and Sega. Having started their official pinball branch during the hardest times of pinball, they have seen a meteoric rise. Today they produce many machines at once and offer about 4 new pinball tables each year.
American Pinball is one of the newest pinball manufacturers around and recently introduced their first pinball Machine Houdini. This game was unveiled at the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas on September 26th, 2016. Houdini has gotten its far share of fans and critics, but it’s fair to say that American Pinball has shown it can make one heck of a pinball machine.
Chicago Gaming Company
Chicago Gaming makes all forms of entertainment devices, from tabletop games like foosball, jukeboxes, to arcade video games like Arcades Legends 3 and ms pacman galaga arcade games. Chicago Gaming Company has teamed with Planetary Pinball to reproduce some of the very best pins around. They’ve released Attack from Mars and Medieval Madness, and have a highly anticipated Monster Bash pinball machine on the way.
In 2013, Spooky Pinball was created our of Benton, Wisconsin by Charlie Emery. It was the brainchild of a father who wanted to make sure he could share pinball with his children. He worked on making his own custom game and discovered there was a market for a full fledged Boutique pinball company. Starting with Ben Heck’s “America’s Most Haunted,” Spooky has set itself apart with interesting titles that are spooky in their own right. Spooky Teamed up with Scott Denasi, a guy who built his own pinball machine from scratch called Total Annihilation and has sold over 500 games so far. Spooky recently announced there third game Alice Cooper's Nightmare Castle and the pinball machine is now in full production
Jersey Jack Pinball
Founded in 2011 by Jack Guarnieri, Jersey Jack Pinball debuted with The Wizard of Oz based on the film of the same name. Jersey Jack has made a name for itself by making games based on great franchises and innovating at the same time.
Future of Pinball
As pinball progresses, there is always the drive to innovate. There’s no way to know the true future of pinball, but there are some things that have been on our minds. Here are a few ideas of what we may be seeing in the future:
Bluetooth and Wireless Connectivity - We may be seeing pinball machines that have wireless or bluetooth connectivity. This would be very easy for manufacturers to incorporate already since most new machines already run on what is essentially a computer. This would make it easy to incorporate headphones or other peripherals. It would also allow connection to cellular phones for game based apps. Perhaps this can assist with troubleshooting and diagnostics.
Virtual Reality - The incorporation of Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality can be another aspect of growth. Special layers within the machine can be used to project images. Something like this is already used in Ghostbusters by Stern. Their Ecto Goggles projects targets during gameplay. Virtual Reality is still in its infancy, so it will be interesting to see how it progresses in pinball.
Online Gaming - If the future of pinball does include wireless or other digital connections, we may see the start of online gaming. Tournaments are a great part of pinball, but for people who are unable to travel, online tournaments would be a great way to create a huge tournament. Imagine playing on your physical pinball machine and playing against someone across the globe. Now imagine having online and camera integration, so you can see the face of your friend as they post their high score!
Multi layer playfield - Using multiple layers in a pinball machine is not new, but it can be used to even greater effect. Even games like Stern’s Aerosmith has an upper playfield and their AC/DC Luci has a lower playfield. Games in the future may start incorporating multiple playfields to make the games even more interesting.
While we may not be able to know the future of pinball, one thing’s for certain. It’s going to be fun!
High Quality Pinball Games at Great American Pinball
The one thing we love about pinball is the enjoyment we see on a young kids face when they play pinball for the first time. Everyone has a different story of how they got into pinball, but for us we grew up playing pinball in the 70's. We can still remember that feeling of excitement as we played the first pinball game on our Captain Fantastic pinball machine and we enjoy helping others experience that exact same feeling. It’s like seeing the Wizard of Oz for the first time. Do you remember Dorothy surviving the tornado, throwing open her door to the vibrantly colored Munchkin Kingdom? Did you know there is a Wizard of Oz pinball machine?
The best way to share that pinball feeling is by helping new pinball enthusiasts enter the hobby by helping them select and purchase their first pinball machine. At Great American Pinball, we only sell the best pinball machines online. No video game could possibly match the joy and excitement of a great game of pinball.
Classic Pinball in Modern Machines
A high quality pinball machine takes many aspects into consideration. Some games like the Wizard of Oz really try to harken back to the good old days of pinball. Here are some aspects that make fantastic pinball games.
What Makes a Good Pinball Machine Great?
It’s a very simple question, but the response would be different depending on who you ask. So, the answer to what makes a good pinball great is entirely subjective. The best person to answer that question is you!
That said, there are a few features that most people can agree help make a pinball machine great. These features include:
Theme - This is usually important. The theme is what a player sees at first glance. If the pinball has a theme they like, say The Walking Dead for example, then that person is already hooked. Just walking up to the machine and giving a touch to the buttons, checking out the translite, watching the playfield light up is enough to draw that person in. They’ve already made a connection to the game.
If someone hates sci-fi, then they probably wouldn’t want to play a Guardians of the Galaxy or Star Wars pinball machine. While Stern pinball does make great machines, those examples just wouldn’t speak to someone.
Sound - Sound is another big feature that weighs heavily on the scale of importance in pinball. Imagine if you played an Aerosmith pinball machine or a Metallica pinball machine and the speakers were dinky little things. How much of a slap in the face would that be? Imagine having a pinball modeled after one of the greatest bands in rock history only to barely hear your favorite songs!
Again, in this example, Stern Pinball creates these games and puts a lot of effort into creating a sound system to drive home the joy. Stern Pinball themselves says that, “Experienced players will recognize a more engaging overall game experience and quickly appreciate the enhanced illumination effects and higher quality sound.” If one of the largest and oldest manufacturers of arcade game quality pinball machines is taking progressive steps to make sure their sound system is the best it can be, you better believe that it’s important!
Rule Set / Shot Layout - A pinball is not just a silver ball getting batted around a pinball machine. In every pinball game, there is a set of rules or challenges to overcome. Take for example The Lord of the Rings pinball.
The Peter Jackson film franchise is very popular. Stern Pinball’s The Lord of the Rings pinball machine is equally popular and for good reason. It may seem easy upon first glance, but you would be mistaken to think that. To reach the final mode of the game, you have to play through 3 different multi balls, play through all game modes, collect all the “Gifts of the Elves,” play “There and Back Again,” and destroy the Ring of Power. Only after completing basically everything you can does the final game mode become accessible. It is said to be one of the most difficult wizard modes to achieve, but as with any game, the challenge is the fun.
Uniqueness - Some pinball machines simply stand out because they implement a unique ruleset, have a different or interesting build or are collectable.
The Lord of the Rings pinball machine by Stern Pinball is pretty unique in its ruleset. That’s one thing that makes it stand out to enthusiasts.
Great American Pinball’s Indiana Jones and Scared Stiff are rather unique in that they have been built into a custom cabinet. The Indiana Jones that we’ve built is a replica of the same pinball game built by Disney’s Imagineers in Disneyland. The case mimics the crate used to house the Ark of the Covenant in the famous ending sequence of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Last, some games are simply collectable because a few models have been made. Stern Pinball produces their pinball machines at different price points. Their high end models are usually signed by the creators and have special features not available in the other models and have specialty artwork. Stern Pinball adds these features only to their high end models so they become a bit of a collector's item. This collectability is one aspect that makes the pinball machine unique.
Playfield Features - Some of the playfield features of a pinball machine also add to the enjoyment of playing pinball.
For example, a game like Funhouse has the big Rudy head in the playfield. This is a nice target with which players can interact with.
Another pinball game with a similar feature would be the New Guardians of the Galaxy by Stern Pinball. Players get to interact with a large Groot head. A player can open his mouth by hitting it three times and then locking a ball in his mouth. Adding two more balls will start Groot Multi Ball.
Ghostbusters is another pinball game with unique features. There is the Slimer toy that floats around the playfield waiting to be hit by a pinball. Your pinball can also hit the Scoleri Brothers drop targets.
Stern Pinball’s Star Wars has an LCD screen included in the playfield, which is rather unique when compared to many other pinball games.
These unique playfield features are what makes a game interesting, different or new. Pinball manufacturers are constantly working to create a pinball that pushes the boundaries of what has previously been known in the world of pinball. With that in mind, it’s safe to say that we can expect the world of pinball to change drastically while new technologies are developed.
Flow - The flow of the pinball can also be described as how fluid ball travels in the game. Some people prefer a pinball to always be in a state of motion, always looking out for a trick shot and always nudging the game to make sure the pinball lines up just right. Others prefer to take their time and place the pinball shots exactly where they want after almost meditating on each shot. Here, there’s no right or wrong answer. This choice if just left to preference. Really, you should just pick a pinball game that has the right level of action you want.
Some Great Pinball Machines
Theatre of Magic - This pinball ranked number 18 in Pinside’s list of Best Pinball Games, Theatre of Magic is a game that has captured the imaginations of many flippers. Bally made Theatre of Magic in 1995, but it’s ease of play and prominent features has made it a classic pinball to own.
Attack From Mars - Some pinball machine are so popular that even after they run out of production, they get remade. Attack From Mars from Chicago Gaming Company is one such game. The original game was released by Bally. Since Bally doesn’t produce pinball machines anymore, Chicago Gaming Company obtained rights to the game and produced Attack From Mars remake. They now produce one of the most popular games in pinball. Team that with Chicago Gaming Company’s Medieval Madness Remake and Chicago Gaming Company holds the rights to some of pinball’s greatest games.
Star Wars - This pinball is relatively new. Stern pulled out all stops with this one too. It’s got an extra large LCD screen that gives very clear instructions to the game modes as well as a smaller LCD screen that’s located on the playfield. The smaller screen also has instructions, but it is a bit more interactive. You can shoot for it to try and hit the Tie Fighters, or you can slap the LED Action Button to fire at the enemy!
One of the most popular franchises in history might be Star War pinball. And you can get yourself a piece of that history too with Stern Pinball's Star War Pinball machine.
Lethal Weapon - Lethal Weapon was never really ranked very high as a must own classic pinball. That said, it’s won a cozy spot in the hearts of many pinball enthusiasts. Lethal Weapon’s humor and action is what has made it such a popular franchise (even prompting a television spinoff). This classic pinball machine, much like Murtaugh, is sure to never retire.
Really, any list of great pinball machines can be rather long winded. Maybe that is why Pinside has created a list of the top rated 100 Pinball Machines. Sometimes we need a way to whittle down the best from the good.
Choosing the Right Pinball Machine for You
Really what we emphasize at Great American Pinball is getting a pinball that you will love. Looking at the Pinside Top 100 might be a nice place to start your pinball search, but by no means is it canon. What you really want to do when choosing your own pinball is think about what you are going to want in your home or place of business. What pinball theme or franchise do you like? What kind of pinball player are you? What expectations are you coming to pinball with?
Let Us Help You Choose The Right Pinball Game
Searching for a pinball is one of the fun aspects of owning a pinball machine. At Great American Pinball we encourage you to come visit our pinball showroom. We have between 30 and 40 different pinball machines waiting for you to try out. From new pinball to classic pinball, we have a wide selection. Our pinball stock changes constantly too. So many people contact us to sell games or trade up for a new pinball game.
Making Sure You Get a Great Pinball Game
Great American Pinball does have new stock, but we also do our best to acquire used pinball machines in great condition. We are proud to come to your home or business to drop off and set up your pinball machine for you, because we know that the pinball you purchase is a great game in great condition.
We encourage you to come check out our showroom. We’ll be happy to show you our current stock of pinball machines and arcade games. You will actually be able to play our new pinball games from companies like Stern Pinball and Chicago Gaming Company pinball, as well as look through our stock of used pinball machine.
We’re also looking forward to building our relationship with American Pinball, creators of the new Houdini Pinball Machine.
Contact Great American Pinball
If you have any questions about how to clean or maintain your pinball, feel free to contact us today! We are always willing to help customers with any of their pinball needs.
Please feel free to come check out our showroom in West Chicago, IL, or give us a call to talk some pinball!