Life has been busy over the last few months so it has taken me a while to finally write a report on Pinfest 2022. Better late than never, so here it is! 2022 was the first year since the pandemic that things were back to "normal". Machines were set up so the venue was at capacity and social distancing was no longer mandatory. Ticket sales for each session were capped, but this was more to ensure everyone had a chance to play the machines rather than a limit set due to Covid restrictions. Pinfest 2021 was a great show, but it did feel a little emptier than usual, so Fiona and I were excited to get back into the swing of things properly.
Of course, we were volunteering another machine for Pinfest this year, and this time we decided to bring Super Mario Bros (Gottlieb, 1992). Now, you may notice that this is a machine for which there is no restoration blog entry yet. That's because I bought this machine a couple of years ago and it had been sitting in the corner of the garage patiently awaiting the time it was brought to the front of the restoration queue. Fiona and I decided that Pinfest would be that time. So in the couple of weeks leading up to Pinfest, we pulled Mario out of the shadows to give it a complete tear down and overhaul just in time for the show. This will be the subject of another blog post in the near future, so this post will focus on the issues that cropped up during the Pinfest weekend rather than during the restoration.
This year was also the first time a Super Mario Bros was available for the public to play at Pinfest. There aren't many games that haven't been to Pinfest at least once, so it was cool to bring something new along. We loaded the machine into the ute and drove up to Newcastle on Friday afternoon. Once we checked into the hotel, it was time to get the machine unloaded and set up!
Setup went smoothly apart from some minor issues with the machine passing the electrical inspection (test and tag). The test and tag process involves checking a number of things, including whether or not the machine is properly grounded/earthed. All external metal parts of the machine should be connected to the game's ground braid, which in turn is connected to the earth pin of the power plug. The test and tag instrument probes are clamped onto the earth pin of the power plug, and then a piece of metal on the cabinet. The tester then checks there is continuity between the two. If there is no continuity, this is a potential safety issue, as it means a part of the cabinet (e.g. the lockdown bar) could become energised, and shock someone who is in contact with it at that moment in time. This can only really happen if something else were to go wrong inside the cabinet (i.e. a wire supplying power to a coil breaks free and touches the lockdown bar). However, it's not the kind of experience you want to give someone who may be playing pinball for the very first time at Pinfest!
The issue we had was a poor connection of the tester's probe with the earth pin of the power plug. The machine failed a couple of earthing tests, but our own multimeter showed that there was good continuity between the two points the tester was clamped to. This suggested an issue with the tester itself, or the connection of the clamps. An adjustment of the clamp on the earth pin, as well as a brief polish of the earth pin with some metal polish (Bunnings) allowed it to pass the earthing test on the next try. With the machine set up, we played a few test games to make sure everything was working properly. All seemed to be OK!
We spent the rest of the Friday evening testing other games and helping other contributors getting their games set up. There are always a bunch of last minute issues that crop up as they games are getting set up, so we like to hang around and help out where we can! Before long, it was time for bed, and time to pray that the machines all make it through the first session on Saturday morning!
Thankfully, the prayers paid off, and Super Mario lasted the distance on Saturday! Mario got a lot of play, which was good, because this was the first time it was getting the snot played out of it since it had been serviced. There was only one minor issue which presented itself. On one occasion, the ball got stuck in the castle hole. I could see the ball sitting at the top of the subway ramp, just below the castle hole. It was somehow stuck here, and I had to flick it down the subway ramp so it would get kicked back out onto the playfield. After dropping several balls into the castle hole again, I finally saw one get stuck again. I took the ramp off the game to get a better look, and realised that there was a small depression or indent in the plastic adjacent one of the rivets (the top rivet in the photo below). Balls were getting stuck in this little valley.
When we originally gave this machine a service before Pinfest, we found a screw that had been driven through the bottom of the subway ramp. This was probably stopping balls from getting stuck in this area originally, but with the screw now gone, balls could get stuck in the indented area gain. I needed to build this area up again so balls would not roll into the divot. Hot glue turned out to be a good solution to this problem. A small mound of it in the affected area stopped balls from getting stuck here again.
The morning and afternoon sessions on Saturday came and went, and it was a blast to see and chat with everyone in the pinball community for the first time in a while. Saturday evening rolled around which is always my favourite part of Pinfest: a chance to walk around, chat to other contributors, and play the machines! I got the chance to play a couple of new machines I hadn't seen in person yet. One of them was Rush (Stern, 2022). I've found some of the newer Stern machines to be a bit hit-and-miss, and unfortunately Rush was a bit of a miss for me. I don't know the band so I have no emotional connection to the theme. The gameplay itself was quite fun, but I didn't find myself wanting to play too many games on it. The layout reminded me a lot of KISS (Stern, 2015) except with the time machine instead of Gene Simmons' head.
I also got to play Celts (Haggis, 2021). Celts is a simple game with a single level playfield, and no ramps or subways. However it is very fun to shoot, with a horseshoe orbit in the centre of the playfield, and nice orbit shots. The modes are interesting too, with some punishing you for making the wrong shots. Fathom (Haggis, 2022) was also on display at the show. I didn't get a chance to play it, but it looked beautiful!
And that was about it for Saturday! Sunday rolled around and we went to check that Mario was good to go for another day of thrashing. Sunday is a longer session, so I was expecting an issue or two throughout the day. A few hours into the session, the issue appeared. The ball appeared to be getting stuck in the hole in the upper playfield. Normally, the ball gets kicked out of this hole by an upkicker, and then follows the wireform along the left side of the playfield before being returned to the left flipper. Going into test mode, I confirmed that the switch for this upkicker (switch 36) and the upkicker coil (solenoid 11) were working properly. However, when a ball fell into the upper playfield hole, the upkicker wasn't able to push it onto the wireform above. It kept hitting the wireform and falling back into the hole. A few cycles of this would eventually cause the game to halt, producing a "BALL STUCK" message on the screen. I managed to get a slow motion video showing what was happening.
Based on the slow motion footage, the problem appeared to be alignment of the wireform. Gottlieb System 3 games seem to suffer from this issue a lot, with the use of underpowered upkicker coils not helping the situation either. In this case the ball appeared to be hitting the wireform at the highest point, where it was relatively flat, then bouncing straight back down. I tried adjusting the wireform but even though it had slotted mounting holes which allowed for some minor adjustment, it wasn't quite enough to get it to work consistently. I actually found that the wireform sat in a better position when one of these screws (top left screw) was removed completely. This allowed the ramp to sit further towards the front and left side of the playfield. In this position, the ball entered the wireform at just the right angle to slide up and into it.
As always, I tried to keep track of some game audits to see how much Super Mario got played over the Pinfest weekend. Unfortunately, I forgot to take note of the audits before the Saturday morning session! I recorded the audits after the Saturday morning session and after each successive session, so I used the Saturday afternoon session figures to estimate what the Saturday morning figures would have been. Thinking conservatively, there may have been slightly fewer people in on the Saturday morning, so I estimated that Saturday morning figures would have been 80% of the Sunday morning figures. So if I saw 10 tilts after the Saturday afternoon session, I assumed there had been 8 on the Saturday morning. A breakdown of the totals for the whole Pinfest weekend appears below.
Just over 350 total plays was towards the higher end for games at Pinfest, as most other contributors reported plays in the 250-400 range. Last year, Fish Tales (Williams, 1992) got 370 plays - a pretty similar amount. So, it seems Super Mario got a good workout! Also interesting to note how many times multiball or extra balls were achieved; Super Mario is a pretty generous game that way.
Most years, if I have time, I like to create a custom set of instruction and pricing cards for the apron of each game I bring to Pinfest. However, it is hard to get anybody to read the information on these cards at the best of times, so most of the custom cards I make never get noticed. I decided to do something a little different this year. A little while ago I had purchased a small LED name badge (AliExpress) for another event, and it was a huge hit! Everyone commented on it and wanted to know where they could get one. By happy coincidence, the size and style of the display vaguely represents a pinball machine dot matrix display. Hmm! Suddenly, I had an idea...
You can get these name badges in a range of colours but they are all basically the same style. They connect to your phone via Bluetooth, or you can plug them into your computer via USB. Then, you use an app to program the message you want the name badge to display, any special effects, and sync the message to the name badge. Voila! Now, while these are funky to use for their intended purpose (name badges), I thought they would be a cool alternative to the custom apron cards that nobody ever seems to notice. I programmed one of the displays with my name (this one I would actually use as a name badge) and the other with a custom message for Pinfest 2022. These badges sit neatly on the apron area and slide right under the glass. I noticed a few people checking the messages out while they played, so I think they're a good alternative to boring instruction cards!
And that was the end of another great Pinfest event! This year had a lot of great new games to play and the contributors put on a great show with their donated machines, most of which were in fantastic condition. Fiona and I can't wait to do it again next year. With this year being the first time we have brought a Gottlieb game to the event, maybe we will continue that tradition next year with another Gottlieb. Or perhaps a different manufacturer altogether! Keep an eye on the restoration blog to see what might be making an appearance!
Many thanks to David Hamilton for some of the great photos taken over the course of the weekend. Check them all out on the Newcastle Pinball Association Facebook page.
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