Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Michigan Pinball Expo 2012

ALRIGHT ALRIGHT I know it's been about a month since I attended Michigan Pinball Expo 2012 but that doesn't mean it is no longer fresh in my mind! It's just a matter of where to start talking about it... Basically, it's a banquet hall filled with a ton of pinball machines.
This was my second year attending. It was cool to see some new machines at the Expo and a couple of old favourites pop up from the previous year. One would think that you wouldn't be able to recognize a particular pinball machine but when you have something like this...

It was nice to see the same machines at the Expo, although it can be bittersweet. Williams' BLACK KNIGHT 2000 was at the Expo again but there was definitely some noticeable wear. The first time I played was at Michigan Pinball Expo 2011 and it played pretty well (pretty awesome). This year the flippers were feeling pretty weak. If you're familiar with BLACK KNIGHT 2000, you will know how difficult it can be to make some of the shots. For those not in the know, BK2K has two playfields, keeping in tune with it's predecessor, BLACK KNIGHT.
Trying to hit a ball up the ramp to the higher playfield becomes very difficult as the ramp is placed high up on the playfield and therefore is pretty steep. If you don't have the right angle or enough speed, the ball will just keep returning to the right flipper or go straight down the middle. Keeping with the weak flippers, the flipper on the upper playfield caused a lot of problems. It was easy to lower the drawbridge but getting up and around the ramp for ball lock is tough if you don't have enough speed. Hitting the loop is difficult as well as you can't get enough speed and instead usually get caught up in the WAR targets and jet bumpers. Steve Richie's machines are known to be fast players and speed is always essential when playing them. Having weak flippers on BK2K really pulls the teeth on an otherwise ferocious table. It was sad to see this particular BK2K machine in the condition it was in but knowing I had played it before during better times was a nice thought. Also, the music wasn't loud enough and when you have a soundtrack that sounds like Black Knight's, well...
It really kills the vibe! I'm big on music and soundtracks and what have you and find it really essential to Pinball. The soundtracks and sound effects I feel are just as important to the playability of a machine as is the actual playfield. If the sound isn't on or isn't loud enough, it takes me out of the immersion. I find pinball to be something that stimulates many senses at once, sound being one of them. Without sound... I don't know how to explain it exactly, but I just can't get into a machine. More so with later models that have complex soundtracks and sound effects, it is really polarizing without any sound. You just can't get the same sense of urgency during a Hurry-Up round or the craziness of Multiball without the sounds and the music.
Speaking of music... HOLY MOLEY was the expo loud this year! I know it's expected when you're at a pinball expo of all things but geeze it was much louder than last year. It just seemed like there was so much background noise. It was difficult to hear a lot of the machines which was a bummer, seeing as how much I already gushed about pinball soundtracks. As for the noise, I'd chalk it up to this...
AND this...
I mean these machines were LOUD. Stern's AC/DC Premium Edition machine had a big ol' set-up going on, speakers and all. AND it was AC/DC so of course it was going to be loud. I like to think that the volume setting is something like LOUD - VERY LOUD - HELL CAN HEAR YOU PLAY - MUTE. Now Data East's The Who's Tommy... That's a whole different story. There was nothing but the main speakers found on that machine and it somehow was able to contend with AC/DC. DAMN the whole time at the expo, I could hear the Tommy machine going off. EXTRA EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT! EXTRA EXTRA ... EXTRA BALL! Forget even hearing any of the machines around it. Tommy was ready to MAKE SOME NOISE! The music was really neat though. Most of the songs were digitized Who tracks like Pinball Wizard and Fiddle About. FAR OUT.
As for the AC/DC setup, they took a page out of PAPA-style set-ups and had a camera stationed up above the machine and focused on the playfield as well as another camera focused on the player so you could see others doing their thing.
AC/DC is an alright machine. It's another classic Steve Richie design with two ramps on each side of the playfield and lightning fast play. Personally, I'm not too big a fan of the band though they do have some tasty songs. Most of their big Classic Rock Radio hits are featured on the machine such as Shook Me All Night Long, Highway to Hell, Thunderstruck and TNT. It's a damn shame that Big Balls isn't a featured song... It would have been the perfect song! The Premium Edition really helps the machine stand above the Pro Edition (well, duh). The toys are pretty neat, especially Hell's Bell. It rocks back and forth now and it's really cool to see in action. Of course, Stern always goes all-out when it comes to the lighting in their Premium edition and AC/DC is no slouch. The Pro Edition is pretty bright on its own but DANG The Premium Edition is like a supernova! Besides the toys and lights, not much else is changed gameplay-wise. The Premium Edition does add a lower playfield to the mix. The lower playfield is a neat gimmick at first but then I found that you have to play it at the start of each ball if you select a particular song (Hell Ain't a Bad Place to Be, I think) and it takes about 30 seconds, which can be a lifetime when playing pinball. However, If you'd rather just skip the lower playfield, it's as easy as selecting a different song when you start the game.  I always go with WAR MACHINE because it sounds like a pretty badass song and one that I haven't heard as often as the others. I don't want to talk too much about AC/DC since the Pinball Cafe has a Pro Edition machine on site and I may save a review of it for another day.

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