Hello everyone from Chicago, where i’m not going to have time to go anywhere or play any machines. Alas, such is life.
Modest Mouse tour is going ok; kicked things off in Seattle, where pinball seems to be alive and well– visited Shorty’s, where I never seem to do very well. All the games are sensitive, but seem to get so much play, most have some maintenance issues, either weak flippers or something broken. Nothing new in terms of pinball, but it’s really frustrating when you don’t have a fair shot at a high score that was probably set when the machine was 100%. Best thing about Seattle: 24 hr pinball at the Hurricane cafe; although 3 of their 4 machines are fucked up, 24 hr access to pinball is rad. Hope they get them all working again.
In Vancouver BC, spent $20 on cab fare to the one bar i could find that had a pin near the venue– an Arabian Nights machine on which 2 of 3 ball locks and a number of other features were non-working. The game was still set up decently and fun enough to play that i killed a couple of hours there before the show, sharing the table for a while with a dude that looked like Charles Bronson and stood with his hands in his jean jacket while he wasn’t playing. Had a hard time getting multiball & couldn’t get on the board, not that familiar with the game since I only played a few times at goodfoot before it was removed.
Didn’t get to play in Boise, but i hear rumors that there is or will be a gaming museum built there, which should have a huge archive of playable pinball machines– supposed to be the largest museum of coin-op and home video games anywhere (twingalaxies.com)
Long drive from Boise to Minneapolis, with a layover in Billings, MT; we had day rooms at the sheraton plaza, the tallest building in the downtown, and at first i was psyched because they had two pins in the game room there– Batman Forever, and Baywatch– that is, until i played them. Both games had a severe left lean. The left flipper didn’t work at all on Batman, so i didn’t get further than the first ball. on Baywatch, the flippers worked when they felt like it. Sometimes not. In addition, at least three major shots didn’t register, and the ball search had to come on every time a ball ended up in a hole. I called the service number for Big Sky Amusements and talked to an old guy that operated the machines. He seemed surprised to hear anything from anyone, and said no one had called about the machines in a long time. I don’t think he’s done more than collect money once a month for a long while, but he was friendly and seemed sincere about wanting to get the games working.
I was stoked to get to Minneapolis because i’d read about SS Billiards online, a pool hall 15 minutes from downtown that hosts monthly tournaments, larger shows, and typically has about 20 machines up at any given time. I had a night off and took a cab out and played for about 4 hours. Not sure it was worth $45 in cab fare, but hell, I barely get to play when i’m on the road so i wanted to stock up and try some new games. I’m still not sure whether to be excited or depressed about SS Billiards. They do have a lot of games, but unfortunately a lot were down, including Big Bang, Dracula, and Tales from the Crypt, the 3 games i most wanted to play. They had an Addams Fam Gold in great shape and a lot of fun to play. Put CFF up on a recently re-set Pirates table with a score that will never last the week, but what the hell. They also had nicely working Midieval, AFM, and Nascar, and functional but sloppy-feeling Gofers, Indy 500, Corvette, and Demolition Man.
The owner/operator was super friendly and stayed late to chat. He was surprised to hear that pinball’s so healthy in portland, as he said it’s almost dead in minneapolis and many other cities. SS was dingy, with gross carpet, harsh fluorescents, and no food or drink other than a pop machine that didn’t give change on your dollar. I was told the city won’t grant a liquor license to the place, and that keeps a lot of people from wanting to hang out– that, no music, and terrible ambience made the place feel kind of like a neglected methodist church basement (but with awesome pinball.) We talked about the state of pinball in general, which seems to be terrible in most places. Bottom line is that operators don’t get a return on their money because the games take so much abuse– there are few well-trained service techs because servicing games tends to be a minimum wage job (operators don’t want to pay for service because they’re not making much on the games), but with the same skills the techs could be installing cable or something and making at least twice as much. Replacement parts are more expensive now because manufacturers aren’t making anything either, and a big chunk of their market is collectors who only need to replace parts once in a while. A lot of operators believe that a perfectly working machine makes barely more than a neglected machine that works only partly. Many major midwestern operators and distributors are saying that if they had something else to put in right now at hundreds of locations, they pull all their pins and sell them.
That just seems fucked to me. I don’t know why people can’t recognize that to rebuild the player base for pinball, the machines have to be out there and working. The game appeals to lots of folks in towns like portland, where retro/indie aesthetics rule everything from clothes and hair to what people spend their time doing in bars. Minneapolis, Chicago, New York, and tons of other large cities have thriving music scenes, and that COULD mean thriving pinball– but in order for that to happen, someone has to want it to– operators simply can’t treat pinball like a candy machine route and expect the industry to go anywhere but down. If they’re going to operate pins, they have to do it because they actually like pinball; that means educating their customers and encouraging people to get involved. On a manufacturing end, operators need a better cost ratio, and simply put, that means cheaper tables to buy and better reliability.
I left the conversation with the owner a bit dejected about pinball’s future, but still having enjoyed myself. I’m optimistic, but it will take actual effort from people who love pinball to promote the game and resurrect it. That is going to mean going beyond just playing, to being vocal and trying to get more and more players involved, if we want to be able to keep seeing pinball “til death.”
The next night I played Nascar, Sopranos, and Simpsons at Gameworks in downtown minneapolis, for a buck a game and a two dollar fee to get a swipe card, and little kids running around everywhere. All the games felt ok, but all 3 leaned left (what the hell?) The garage didn’t work on Nascar, Simpsons had the usual problems with the treehouse flippers, and the safe wouldn’t register any hits on Sopranos– it was just constantly open, so you couldn’t advance rank via the safe. They said they’d have their tech check it out…
The only good news of the tour was that the Irish Pub next door to the venue, the Orpheum, had a Sopranos and new Family Guy, both in great shape. Some local dude that the bar owner said goes to Pinburgh nationals every year, had the high score on both– around 350 mil (highest i’ve seen on a family guy.) I played for 6 hours, but the beer can stand up on FG only registered high-velocity, direct hits, so it was almost impossible to stack multiballs or beer modes, and i couldn’t do much better than 100 mil; otherwise the game was a blast, and i knew if i were back there often enough i could’ve gotten on board, even with the beer can crapping out. i botched quite a few tv wizard modes, and that would’ve done it right there.
Will keep you posted– looking forward to Toronto tomorrow, where there’s supposed to be a monday night pinball league i’m going to try and crash. CFF!