Wednesday, November 14, 2012

TRIP REPORT... PART II: The Pinball Gallery in Downington, PA

I have so much I want to talk about the Pinball Gallery and I didn't want to write a Russian novel in my first post. Plus, I wanted to share as much pictures as possible and I understand that can slow some computers down. Hell, even watching YouTube videos on my computer slows it down to a crawl! Anyways, enough about computers and more talk about Pinball!

If you haven't had a chance to read Part I of my Trip Report to Pinball Gallery then STOP and do yourself a favour... Read it!

Since I ended the last post talking about one wicked unusual table, Gottlieb's Bone Busters Inc., why don't we start Part II talking about it!

Back in 1984, Gottlieb was closed down by its parent company, Columbia Pictures as they thought pinball wasn't making the money it used to. A former Gottlieb employee, Gilbert Pollack, got together a group of investors to buy out the old assets and bring the company back under a new name, Premier. That is why you see a lot of machines post-1984 alternating between Gottlieb/Premier. Bone Busters Inc., which debuted in 1984 is an example of this, as you can see Gottlieb on the card holder by the lock bars but also the tag line "The Premier name in Pinball" throughout the table. An Impromptu Review for Bone Busters Inc. dropped in on my previous post, Silver Ball Spook Show Special, so check it out here and dig on a few other timeless Horror-themed pinball tables.
In the early years of pinball, Gottlieb was one of the big dawgs of Pinball. Some of the most popular Electro-Mechanicals and early Solid-States were from Gottlieb. They were also HUGE innovators of Pinball. Just look at Black Hole!

Black Hole was one of the first tables to have a lower playfield below the main playfield. As well, Black Hole was the first machine to charge 50 cents per play! Often duplicated, Black Hole's lower playfield innovation soon began to appear on a mulitude of machines from many of the different manufacturers. In particular, Bally's Elektra bears a lower playfield and also an upper playfield reminiscent of Williams' Black Knight! Speaking of Elektra...

It was at the Pinball Gallery! I'm really sad I didn't get to play it as it looked like a lot of fun. I have never even heard of this machine, let alone see it.

I've seen some pretty obscure tables in my travels but this one has eluded me. I've never heard nor read anything about it. But unfortunately, I got caught up playing some of the other machines and didn't get a chance to play it. It came out in 1981, several months before Black Hole did but rather than having the main ball dropping down into the lower playfield, you drain your ball and the lower playfield will activate with a different pinball. I think it goes without saying though that Black Hole was the definitive pinball table with a lower playfield. It's always the one that first comes to mind for me at least.
Another relatively obscure pinball machine at the Gallery was Bally's Radical! In my update for the Pinball Cafe in September, which you can read here, I mentioned that another Bally table, The Party Zone, is totally '90s but Radical is the 90's INCARNATE. I mean, just the name alone, RADICAL!
Everything about this is 90's. It's so EXTREME. Even the kid on the glass reminds me of Bart Simpson. The table is pretty crazy. There are a ton of ramps going every which way and criss-crossing all over the playfield. The artwork is bright and all up in yer face! The sounds are hilarious too! I think during Multiball or a particular mode the machine will constantly yell at you SKATE... OR DIE! Oh daaaaaaaamn!
I didn't play too much of it though as I was feeling pretty fatigued. It was one of the last machines we played and after having walked nearly 30 miles in two and a half days, it was starting to catch up on me.
Nonetheless, Radical! is pretty fun if you're big on hitting ramps and watching the ball fly all over the table on them. There is a whirlpool drop that looks cool but can get kind of annoying. If the ball has a lot of speed, it will take a little while before it finally falls down the hole. It is a neat little thing though that I don't mind seeing once in a while on tables like Williams' White Water and Bally's Creature From The Black Lagoon!

Steve Ritchie was well represented at the Pinball Gallery which had a few of his designs throughout the years amongst their line-up. There was Stern's Spider-Man, Williams' Terminator 2: Judgement Day, The Getaway: High Speed II, which I reviewed in Part I, and Black Kni...



Dang I will never get used to these!

Black Knight 2000 is COOL. Building off of the success of Black Knight, which had a production run of over 13,000 units, Steve Ritchie returned with the futuristic Black Knight 2000 in another pinball battle! I fell in love with this machine the moment I saw it at the Michigan Pinball Expo back in 2011. It was the first machine I played there and I was just blown away. Everything about Black Knight 2000 just did something for me. The backglass and the upper playfield first caught my eye. Then when I began playing, the music and gameplay just solidified my love for this machine. It must be something in simplicity for me. Like The Getaway, which had an IMPROMPTU REVIEW in Part I of the Pinball Gallery, Black Knight 2000 has a pretty simple playfield. Yes, there is an upper playfield but unlike many of the machines coming out in 1989, like Williams' Earthshaker designed by Pat Lawlor and the previously mentioned Bone Busters Inc, which were starting to clutter the playfield with all sorts of shots, targets, ramps and what-have-you, Black Knight 2000 keeps it pretty simple.

There are two sets of three drop targets, the drawbridge lock with three targets, several roll-over lanes, a jet bumper cluster and several loop shots on Black Knight 2000. The big gimmick on BK2000, like its predecessor, is the upper playfield. However, unlike Black Knight's upper playfield with three ramps and two flippers, BK2000 only has one ramp leading up to the upper playfield. It's a pretty easy shot to make although you need to get some speed going in order to get up the ramp as it stretches from the middle part of the playfield all the way to the back of the table. The difficulty comes in building speed on the lower playfield while preventing any drainage. The lower playfield is pretty shallow and you don't have a whole heckuva lot of room so you have to be really careful about your shots. The drop targets can be a bit of trouble if the ball bounces off of them hard. Luckily there is MAGNA-SAVE above the right out-lane so if you have quick reflexes, you can use the Magna-Save to your advantage. There's a few loop and U-Turn shots to be made on the lower playfield that are useful in building up speed. One of the loops shoots the ball directly back at the right flipper so it gives you the perfect opportunity to hit the upper playfield ramp. This is especially useful when the Hurry-Up award so you can get HELLA POINTS! The upper playfield is where you can get some serious points going as well as Multiball. There's a flipper on the far-right of the playfield on which you will be making your shots from. You have to be precise in your shots though as the lower part of the upper playfield has three roll-over lanes that will drop your ball down to the lower playfield. If you're good with your body english, you can manage to bounce the ball on the posts to get it back to the flipper but beware of TILTing the machine (the tables at Pinball Gallery were on carpet which is hard as hell to nudge on). The two main shots you can make on the upper playfield are the loop and the drawbridge. the loop loops around the entire upper playfieldand when you get enough speed going, you can loop over-and-over again. Ritchie really seems to enjoy the loop shots as you can also find these on many of his table designs with a third flipper, like The Getaway as well as Stern's Elvis (an Elvis machine used to reside at Eton House which you can read about here). The other shot is the drawbridge. The Drawbridge is blocked off by three targets. Hitting the three targets (or getting the Drawbridge Mystery award) will lower the Drawbridge and open the Ball Lock. Getting Multiball on Black Knight has to be one of the most difficult Multiball modes I have encountered. Usually when I activate Multiball, I keep my eyes down on the flippers to control the onslaught of many balls flying around. The Pinball pros will tell you to capture the balls in order to hit the Jackpot shots but that's no fun! The chaos of three balls (or four... or five... or six... or even THIRTEEN) flying around the playfield is so exciting! And, as I am always one for impressing friends with pinball, it looks cool when you can have a good multiball round without all the balls draining in 10 seconds. As I said, my strategy is eyes on the flippers and get a quick glance as to where Jackpot is. Black Knight 2000 throws my strategy out of the window because of the dual playfields. During Multiball, I now have to keep my eyes on both the upper and lower playfield which is way hard when the balls are on two separate playfields. You have to make the jackpot shots on the upper playfield but you may also be trying to prevent other balls from draining on the lower playfield. TOUGH!... But fun, nonetheless!

I mentioned that the backglass was one of the things that stood out to me the most about BK2K.  I keep mentioning this but BK2K just oozes beautiful simplicity.  The playfield and backglass are awash in bright, warm colours like yellow, red and orange with bits of cool colours like blue, purple and black to offset the other colours. All the artwork consists of bold solid lines with simple shapes and designs built around the playfield objects. There are two different styles for the playfield plastics as well: Futuristic or Stone Castle. The Stone Castle is a throwback to the previous Black Knight while the Futuristic plastics are more suited for the IN THE YEAR 20XX style of BK2K. I believe the Gallery's BK2K had the Futuristic plastic parts which I prefer more.

Bearing even more similarities to The Getaway besides being designed by Steve Ritchie and their simplistic styles, Doug Watson did the artwork for Black Knight 2000 as well as The Getaway (although he only did the backglass, Mike Sprenger handled the playfield artwork).

The music was handled by a trio of artists for BK2K: Steve Ritchie, Brian Schmidt as well as Dan Forden, who, as you may have guessed already, worked on The Getaway! The music is really something else on Black Knight 2000. Play this video and listen before you continue reading.

SO COOL! It has a total 80's cheesy, over-the-top Heavy Metal style. If you're able to play long enough you even get to hear the best chorus ever.


The Black Knight was voiced by Steve Richie and it is so funny and ridiculous. Whenever you start up a game, you hear the Black Knight state his name... I AM THE BLACK KNIGHT! He throws a few quips at you throughout the game and they're just as cheesy and over-the-top as all get-out... but I wouldn't have any other way.

One problem with BK2K that I've heard and have encountered is that the upper flipper can get a bit weak which can cause a lot of problems. As I said, the upper flipper is pretty important for making a lot of the shots on the upper playfield. When it starts wearing down and acting up, the shots become even more difficult and even borderline impossible. I played BK2K at Michigan Pinball Expo 2012 (Part I of Trip Report here) and the upper playfield flipper wasn't doing too hot. I couldn't make any shots up the Skyway ramp because I could never get enough speed. If I managed to get the ball through the loop, it would often lose steam by the time it reached the upper roll over lanes and would just drop down into the jet bumpers. Thankfully, Bill and Shelly take very good care of their machines and Black Knight 2000 was up to the challenge. I was easily able to make the ball go the distance on the upper playfield.

I would consider Black Knight 2000 my all-time favourite pre-DMD pinball machines and one of my top 5 pinball machines, up there with the likes of World Cup Soccer, Theatre of Magic, JUDGE DREDD and The Getaway.

Just like when we were younger, my dad joined us for a bit of pinball. He got in on a few rounds of Black Knight 2000, Funhouse, The Getaway and Judge Dredd. He soon started getting frustrated by how fast some of the machines were and instead took a shot on Gottlieb's Genie.

Note the entirely different stances. Mine is more optimized for precise nudging and multiple pinball control while my dad's stance is... my dad's stance. We also use our middle fingers for the flipper buttons. I'm not sure if this is the traditional hand-set up but it has always been the way I have played.

My dad was just meandering about the Gallery when the Shrek machine piped up and yelled a few things at him which amused him. He told us it said "Aye, kickin' the tires a little bit, aren't ya?" I think he liked it because he's a big Mike Myers fan (both are Scarborough kids). Also, he tried his hand at Bally's Eight Ball but just got mad at the slow speed of the table and the little dinky sounds.

I remember him sounding off on it (nothing bad like swearing at the machine, don't think any less of my old man) while I was playing Spider-Man. Just saying some funny things about how lame he thought it was and how he didn't know what to do.

I was chatting with Shelly, who was operating the Gallery the night we came in. She was telling me that for her and her husband, Bill, the Pinball Gallery is just a hobby of theirs. They're open Thursday and Friday as well as on the weekend. They both have full-time jobs so they usually come in after work. They've been at their location for three years so they must not be doing too bad! Shelly had mentioned that there is a local ice cream parlor in town that they might be joining up with and moving to a new location. It reminded me of the Pinball Cafe, which also serves ice cream as a part of their Cafe side. I got news from their Facebook Page that they will be moving to a larger location with Margo’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor in Downington, PA! Check the post here. Congrats guys!

Shelly had also told me how they maintain the pinball machines. Basically, they build them at home from various parts and whatnot and once they are fully operational they are brought to the Pinball  Gallery. The machines are all available for play as well as for sale. I find that to be a neat idea, it's a great way to fund the hobby as well as keeping the line-up fresh! I can't say enough about how impressed I was about the condition of the machines.

I just want to say YOU'RE GREAT to Bill & Shelly Disney for owning and operating the Pinball Gallery. I was really impressed with the Gallery, the lineup and the condition of the machines. If you are ever in the Downington or Pennsylvania area, it is definitely well worth the trip out to the Pinball Gallery. This place is no slouch and you will get your money's worth! I know I did, I had $20 worth in quarters and I think I left with maybe $2-3 at the end of the night.


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