It's Pinfest time again! Once again, Fiona and I headed off to our annual Pinfest pilgrimage, this time for the fifth year in a row. This was Pinfest's second year at Club Macquarie in Argenton. The Newcastle Pinball Association is responsible for organising Pinfest each year and they did a fantastic job again. This venue is great for the event but as Pinfest gets more and more crowded every year, and people contribute more and more machines, it always seems as if we are short on space! All in all, it shows pinball is still popular and, if anything, getting more popular as time goes on. Not a bad problem to have!
In 2017 we brought Getaway (Williams, 1992) and last year we brought Fish Tales (Williams, 1992). I wanted to bring a different machine this year, but the garage had been a mess for months with parts all over the place and machines in various states of disassembly and repair, so things weren't exactly in order. I didn't have much time leading up to the event to test and bulletproof another game. Originally I planned to bring Judge Dredd (Bally, 1993), but then found out there was already going to be another Judge Dredd there. I had brought a "double-up" machine last year and this year I wanted to bring a machine that nobody else was bringing so that everyone attending the event would have as much variety as possible. So, I decided to bring Fish Tales again. It was tried and tested, and nobody else was bringing a Fish Tales along this year. So, come Friday afternoon, Fiona and I packed up the car and got ready to head to Newcastle.
One major difference this year was that I had recently sold my 2006 Subaru Forester, which until this point had been a reliable albeit small pinball transport. Several months ago I'd purchased a 2008 Holden Commodore VE ute, specifically for moving things around, including pinball machines! Loading machines into the ute tray was way easier than dealing with the limited space in the Forester, so loading the game up and unloading it again once we got to Newcastle was a breeze. A couple of ratchet straps were all that was needed to tie the machine down, and a tarpaulin and tonneau cover kept the machine protected. This setup won't work too well if it rains, so I may get a canopy at some point so I can move machines around in all weather conditions.
With the machine unloaded and set up on Friday night we checked into the hotel and had a rest before heading out again to test play a few pinball machines! There was a huge variety, like there is every year, and thanks need to go to the contributors for bringing such nice titles to the event. One of our favourite machines to play was Grant Levey's Battle Pinny; a two-player head-to-head pinball machine with and under-playfield magnets you can control to fling the ball between your opponent's flippers! It's awesome fun and we spent most of our Friday evening giving it a thrash. Jurassic Park (Stern, 2019) was also a highlight. I tend not to like newer Sterns but the flow and shots on Jurassic Park were great; I really enjoyed playing it.
Fish Tales was set up and running, so we had a couple of test games to make sure it was 100%. Unfortunately, we discovered an issue. The catapult wasn't firing balls out of the lock area as quickly as it should. Normally, the catapult will fire balls in quick succession, one after another, to clear the lock. There should be about one to two seconds between each ball being served. Balls are shot out by the catapult as soon as the catapult switch is activated. However, in our case, there was a delay of about five seconds between each ball. This is a software failsafe that ejects balls from the catapult even if the catapult switch isn't working. So, I knew that this switch had to be the problem. We lifted the playfield and activated the switch while in switch edge test. When wiggling one of the lugs on the switch, the switch started to activate intermittently. Turns out, this lug on the switch was the issue, and was not making a solid connection to the switch wires. All that was needed was to resolder the switch wire to the switch lug. After that, the switch worked flawlessly. The catapult had worked well in the days leading up to Pinfest, so I can only assume the wires were affected by the bumpy ride in the car. By this point it was late, so we turned in for the night, ready for the first day of Pinfest on Saturday.
Saturday was largely uneventful with Fish Tales playing quite well for the entire day. A couple of people mentioned that they enjoyed playing it and that it played very well. It's always a relief when you hear people say they actually enjoyed playing your machine! After a quick break for lunch, it was time for another session. Towards the end of the day, I saw that Fish Tales was free so I hopped on for a game to make sure everything was OK. There was one small issue: the ball launch was a little weak, and would not make it around the full left orbit about 30% of the time. Instead, it would hit a ball guide near the LIE lanes at the top of the playfield, and fall into the pop bumper area. Not a big issue, but one that I wanted to look at nonetheless.
When Pinfest closed for the day, we opened the machine and examined the launcher coil. It looked fine, and nothing was loose or obstructing it. Ball launches often lose power when the plunger doesn't align correctly with the centre of the ball, but this one seemed to be bang-on. I cleaned the assembly and installed a new coil sleeve but there was minimal improvement. With nothing else left to check, I installed a new coil, and this seemed to make the launch a bit more powerful; powerful enough to make it around the orbit to the left flipper at least 75% of the time. This would be good enough for tomorrow's session.
But that wasn't the end of the troubleshooting for the night! Wolfgang, who owned the Judge Dredd adjacent to my Fish Tales, was having some issues, too. I'm a sucker for doing repairs, so of course I offered to help! Captive ball switch 3 (standup target at the top of the captive ball area) was giving an error message. The switch didn't appear to register when hit with a ball, so it was time to have a closer look at it. After removing the switch from the underside of the playfield, I found that I could get it to register if I pressed hard on it. This was more strength than a ball may be able to impart on the switch, so it needed adjusting. The switch contact points only barely made contact when the switch was pressed manually, so I gapped them a little closer together so a hit would register more easily. That's all that was needed. Another switch was also giving an error (enter lock opto), but only because it had not been hit. Easy fixes!
That was it for Saturday. Fiona and I played a few more games that night before we headed to bed for a well earned rest!
Sunday was the longer play session, so the machines were going to be flogged harder than they had been on Saturday. The day was mostly uneventful for Fish Tales until the last hour of the day (of course). I noticed that one person achieved multiball and just as the balls were being ejected out of the catapult into play, the machine reset. I jumped on a replicated the issue by starting multiball and repeatedly hitting the flippers. The game reset consistently at this point. The 5 volt circuit was dropping too low and causing the MPU to restart. I had performed some bulletproofing when I worked on the power driver board a couple of years ago, including boosting the output of the 5 volt regulator. Apparently this was not enough, as the game was still resetting even though it was sitting pretty at 5.12 volts. I reseated the connectors for the transformer secondary input (J101), as well as the output for the MPU board (J114). This appeared to fix the issue, confirming that the connectors were not as reliable as they once were. I hadn't bothered to replace these connectors previously as they had never caused any issues before. However, I could feel that J101 was very hot. The heat from being powered on and played for so long was disrupting the connection as the connector pins expanded, causing the resets. Reseating the connectors fixed the issue for the rest of the afternoon, but the connectors will need to be replaced for long-term reliability. I'll replace the header pins (RTBB) as well as the crimp terminals (RS Components). Playing the game at home never triggered these resets as the game was never on for very long, and the connectors were never as stressed as they were at Pinfest.
And just like that, another Pinfest was over! It was a very efficient affair getting the machines packed up and out the door. It was great to catch up with some old friends and meet a few new people as well. Each year I attend Pinfest I'm proud to be a part of the pinball hobby; there are a lot of great people who come to Newcastle each year to share their passion for pinball. It is great to be surrounded by so many like-minded people all weekend, while trying to get new people hooked at the same time!
As is tradition, I kept track of the game audits over the Pinfest weekend. It is always interesting to see how many games were played, how many flippers were flipped, and how many times the machine was tilted! This year's statistics are below.
Having brought a machine to the last three Pinfests, I was able to compare their audit data against each other. It is interesting to see that there were fewer games played on Fish Tales in 2018, but Getaway in 2017 and Fish Tales in 2019 received a similar number of flipper flips. Each year they get more and more play.
Prologue. I was keen to fix whatever issue was causing the ball launcher coil to be weak at Pinfest on Saturday. However, once I plugged the machine back in at home, the launcher coil was back to full power like it should always have been. What the heck? I can only assume there may have been an issue with the machine's incline as it was setup at Pinfest which was robbing the ball of speed as it was launched. Or perhaps there was an issue with the power at Pinfest which made the coils a little weaker. I don't know. Back at home, it was as strong as ever and the ball made it around the loop 100% of the time. Go figure.
I also replaced the connector terminal pins and header pins on the power driver board and have had no reset issues since, even after leaving the machine on all day to heat up and replicate the conditions at Pinfest.
Here you will find logs of our pinball machine restorations, repairs, discussion about general pinball topics, and recounts of our random pinball adventures.
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