Wednesday, March 13, 2013

DATA EAST's Star Wars

I am getting awfully tired of talking about Stern tables! Not to say that Stern tables are lame or anything but they do cover the majority of tables in the city. Not surprising though seeing as Stern is the only current pinball manufacturer at this time (There is Jersey Jack Pinball and their Wizard of Oz table but good luck seeing that in the wild around these parts). There are not enough classic tables in the city! World Cup Soccer is out and about but it's a shame that there aren't more golden era tables in the wild. The Pinball Cafe covered that niche but unfortunately, it is no longer with us. There is, however, a little gem hiding out in the corner of Unlovable on Dundas West. That table being DATA EAST's Star Wars!

So, technically speaking, this is still a Stern table. DATA EAST, moreso known for their arcade and home console games, also tried to get their slice of the arcade pie in the late 80's and early 90's by releasing pinball machines. Data East was kind of the underdog of the pinball game; they couldn't hold up to Bally and Williams but were fighting for arcade space with former pinball great Premier/Gottlieb.
Data East tables weren't as well designed or as reliable as the big names and although they were never quite up to snuff compared to tables under the Bally and Williams banner, Data East did put out some decent tables, like Guns 'N' Roses and WWF Royal Rumble as well as some real contenders, like Jurassic Park, Tales From The Crypt and Star Wars.

Reading through reviews on, many people have noted the clunkiness of Data East tables and I am inclined to agree with them. Many of Data East's tables don't quite have the flow that connects shots and allows for easy combos; I find that on playing Data East tables, my ball tends to bounce off things when coming down from a ramp or loop and eject holes that tend to shoot the ball more towards the middle drain rather than at a sweet spot on the flippers.

John Borg was Data East's main man throughout their stint in pinball when it came to design. Some of his work with Data East includes Jurassic Park, Tales From The Crypt, Guns 'N' Roses, and in particular Star Wars which many pinball enthusiasts consider to be top-of-the-line Data East. Star Wars is a fast table with a few great shots but also some frustrating design choices and kind of a narrow scope to the rule set.

The table is actually somewhat basic and only has one ramp. Much of the shots focus on hitting targets and the loops which makes for a fast playing table and good flow. The trouble with this though is when it comes to playfield design, ya gotta know how to make it flow. The loops have to be designed in a way that will safely return the ball to the flippers after making a loop. An important thing to consider is the angle of the loops and orbits; the loop has to be able to drop the ball right at the sweet spot on the flipper, right around the middle, in order to maximize one's shots. If the angle is too sharp, the ball will drop too close to the middle drain on the flippers and cause you to flip wildly to prevent a drain or, in extreme cases, cause the ball to go right down the middle.

For example, Bally's Attack From Mars and Williams' Medieval Madness are two very lauded tables in regards to their designs. Both tables have fantastic flow and bear some fine examples of how loops should work. The loops on each of these tables are at such an angle that the ball often will land at the center of the flipper, making the ball much easier to anticipate and control. If you want a specific example of this, then find yerself an Attack From Mars or Medieval Madness table, either physical or virtual. Before launching the ball onto the playfield, hold the left flipper for the Super Skill Shot. Instead of dropping down into the jet bumpers, the ball will sail through the loop right down to the sweet spot of the left flipper, allowing you to catch it or smack it at one of the shots no problem.

Star Wars' loops feel somewhat off and bear a tendency to launch the ball back towards the flippers at high speeds into risk zones, most often near the very tip of the flippers. It's a tough area to keep control as there is too much momentum on the flipper to easily catch the ball. The ball will sometimes bounce up onto one of the slingshots and goes wild. I find myself often having to give quick nudges just to keep the ball from draining down the center as well. In particular for the two right loops, if the ball doesn't have enough momentum to make the lap, it often comes crashing down on the top rubber post of the right slingshot which can be harrowing as the ball has a tendency to bounce over through to the right out-lane.

Star Wars also bears an early example of Borg's Jet Bumper Cluster shot...

This same set-up can also be seen on Borg's later designs, like Stern's X-MEN...

As well as Stern's Indiana Jones.

The Bumper Cluster shot is really dangerous on Star Wars as the lowest bumper isn't as well protected by the eject hole as on later Borg-designed tables and can shoot the ball right down the middle.

Another issue I have found comes from the eject holes. I'm not too big a fan of eject holes as they tend to break up the flow of a game but they are a necessary component of late-era pinball. They can be used effectively to activate modes or reward points and extra balls. However, they can be dangerous. Some eject holes, depending on placement, can end up becoming a huge risk as they can spew the ball at the flippers at high speeds or even towards the middle drain if the table is off-kilter. Unlovable's Star Wars table isn't the most taken care of (just take a look at the closeups of the lower playfield and the grime on them! GROSS) and I'm beginning to think it is level as the Jabba's Bounty eject hole on the right side of the playfield has a tendency to shoot the ball right for the drain. Compounding the problem is that the ball will fall into the Jabba's Bounty eject hole from the right orbit if it doesn't have enough speed coming back down. If you're playing at Unlovable, be prepared to make a snap-nudge to save the ball from Jabba's Bounty as it comes at a high speed out of there. Since it's pretty low on the playfield as well, you have a split second to save the ball. On the other hand, (or should I say other side of the playfield harharhar) the Force eject hole is a bit more forgiving. Rather than spitting the ball out with hella conviction, it kinda lets the ball drop down to the flipper at a manageable speed, allowing you to make some precise shots towards the right loops.

There's two main shots on Star Wars: The center ramp and the Death Star. Let's start with the center ramp. This is the only ramp on Star Wars and is placed smack dab right in the center of the upper playfield. It is precariously placed as the ball can come flying straight down the middle if the shot is off. It is an important shot though as lots of points can be earned from it as well as lighting Extra Ball. Now it's time for SOME PRO TIPS!

A little bit of disclosure first, though. Star Wars tables can have the options adjusted so instead of lighting Extra Ball by hitting the ramp several times, it will just award points. Unlovable's table has gone back and forth between lighting Extra Ball and awarding points. As of September 28, 2013, it's lighting Extra Ball. 

So what you want to do is aim for this ramp right away and light extra ball. Make your shots at the ramp with the right flipper. The trajectory is much more clear from that area; the shot from the left flipper is more cluttered with the drop targets to the left of the ramp. Additionally, the ramp has a bit of a curve to it that makes it easier for the ball to travel up the ramp. Keep in mind that this ramp is really steep and if you don't have enough momentum coming off your shot, the ball can come careening straight down the middle. Hit the ramp about three times and Extra Ball will be lit in the right loop, next to the Death Star.

Getting Extra Ball is a bit trickier. As I mentioned, the loops on Star Wars are really tight and require precision shots. This is especially true for the right loop as it is high on the table and has a sharp angle around the back of the Death Star. The ball must smoothly curve through the loop otherwise it will bounce against the ramp walls and fall out back towards the lower playfield. My key strategy to get extra ball is to make the shot from the left flipper. It's a long shot but it is more open and easier to direct. If you need momentum, I suggest using The Force eject hole to give the ball some speed. This is easily set up as well; just backhand the ball into the eject hole from the left flipper and it will spout it back towards the flipper with enough speed to get you up to the loop and around it if your shot is accurate.

It is possible to make the Extra Ball shot off of a backhand from the right flipper but keep in mind it is a bit of a risky shot because of the lack of momentum you may have coming off the right flipper. The reason I make it off the left is due to the long distance. The ball can pick up more speed and reach around the loop. However, from the right flipper, the loop is closer to the flipper and therefore, the ball doesn't gain as much speed going into the loop.

I often complain about how I can't hear the music of the many pinball machines in Toronto because they're usually in bars and the music is loud. Well, when I was last at Unlovable, the music was quiet enough in the bar but the music on the pinball machine was turned down! Oddly enough, I could stilll hear the sound effects loud and clear but the music was barely audiable. I thought this to be odd as I thought you could only adjust the audio altogether and not the separate channels of sound effects and music. It's kind of a bummer because from what I hear, the music for Star Wars is pretty neat! It has a sort of new-wave/disco take on classic Star Wars tunes like the Cantina Band song!

Speaking of Cantina Band, that is one of the modes you can light. Many of the modes are lit through the Force eject hole, though they are kinda weak and don't offer much in terms of rewards or things to do. Most of the ones I've seen are just hurry-ups where you gotta make the shot as quickly as possible for large amounts of points like R2-D2 Runaway, or each shot is worth X amount of points, like the aforementioned Cantina Band.

There's a really unusual "Video Mode" where you get attacked by Storm Troopers. It seems to happen at completely random intervals while in the midst of your game. It's a risky game to play as you must shoot the Storm Troopers as quickly as possible by pressing the button on the plunger. This requires you to take your right hand off the flipper so be prepared and move quickly if you want to get the points. It's not necessary to do but it feels pretty awesome to pull off in the middle of a game.

Star Wars was released in 1992 when Dot Matrix Displays had become the standard for pinball machines. Data East boasted that they were the pioneers of Dot Matrix Display (you can see this statement as one of the DMD Attract Mode animations). It was a strong claim but there is definitely no doubt that Data East knew what they were doing when it came to DMD animations. Star Wars' DMD animations are really well done though some animations take waaay too damn long. The worst part of this is you can't skip some of the animations. A good example of the DMD animation is the opening scene where the Star Destroyer comes flying in. It's pretty neat to see that on something that was released in 1992 when at the time home consoles were only pushing 16 Bits. On the other hand, activating Multiball is an exercise in patience. Jason, formerly of the Pinball Cafe, used to call animations like this one "Sip-A-Beer" shots. (at least that is what I remember him calling them) Seeing as they take a little while, you can step away from the machine momentarily and have a quick swig to quench your thirst. However, for Star Wars' Multi Ball animation, you can friggin' chug a beer it is so damn long. Need a bathroom break? Go right as you light Multiball! Haha I kid I kid, but seriously folks, this animation is looooong... and unskippable. What's even worse is there is very little to no ball save so if you drain your multiball right away, that's a lot of wasted time. The animation is really well done though and is neat to see the first time around.

Not the greatest example of the DMD but that score on the right is really well done!
I would say that THIS is also a well done high score!


I don't what happened but I think I may have hit the start button too hard. That's MMMUF to you!

You think THAT is good? PFFFFT

I got a promotion!

This Star Wars table takes up residence at Unlovable a few steps east of Dufferin at 1415 Dundas West. It's a basement bar, situated beneath a travel agency so it's really easy to miss. The pinball table is tucked into the corner to your left as you walk in, in a little crevice between the doors and the wall. It is in a bit of an awkward spot as there is seating right behind it so if there are people sitting there, it's a little too close for comfort. It is a perfect spot for a pinball machine though as it takes up a spot that otherwise would be useless. The opposite side is just filled with junk and bric-a-brac. The downside is you can't do much Whitby Shufflin' since there is so little room to move about but Star Wars keeps that in check with a pretty strict TILT sensor.
One of the cooler TILT animations I've seen.
If you're tired of playing the Stern tables in Toronto, may I suggest that you mosey on over to Unlovable for a little bit of Data East's Star Wars. The bar has a real chill vibe and the people there are pretty cool. The table recently got fixed up and is looking downright beautiful! The playfield has been thoroughly cleaned up and many of the lights have been replaced. Look at it! WOW

Here's how it used to look before...

Night and day, my friends...


AK managed to get this one caught right on the inner lip of the Death Star.
No Taun Taun today!

This one just goes to show how dirty the table was. Grime on the playfield and flippers is so built up that it managed to stop the ball in its tracks.

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