Friday, July 11, 2014

Michigan Pinball Expo 2014 - Part II

Michigan Pinball Expo is still going strong here on Bright Lights Bumper City! If you've been following my trip reports from Ottawa Pinball Expo, you would know that the event was back in September 2013 but I am still posting about it in the case of Part IV! It is said that pictures are worth a thousand words and in the case of Bumper City, they certainly are! Lately when I go to events like Ottawa Pinball Expo, Michigan Pinball Expo or Guelph Pinball Club, I make sure to bring my camera and take as many pictures as possible so I can show you everything that I saw and played. It also helps me recall the events a little better; I have a good memory but sometimes the pictures help fill in the gaps. Michigan Pinball Expo was a little over a month ago back in the early days of April 2014. During my last trip report, we did a little Motor City theme and took a look at all sorts of automotive pinball tables like Mustang, Corvette and Truck Stop.
I cracked a joke about doing a Science Fiction themed post and looking at all the Sci-Fi tables on offer. Well heck, why don't we do that?

First and foremost, I want to talk about Stargate. I mention this table a lot because it was one of Gottlieb-Premier's best tables during 90's, a time when they were losing the pinball battle against Bally/Williams. Stargate is considered Gottlieb's swan song, one of the last tables they put out before shuttering their doors.

Gottlieb pulled out all the stops on Stargate with all sorts of neat toys and tricks. The pyramid located in the centre of the playfield raises up and sends out a little glidercraft.
There are also the Horus Targets located throughout the table. During certain modes, these targets will raise up and reveal new shots! Pretty neat take on "drop" targets.
Stargate's playfield includes two tough-as-nail ramps to hit. They are really steep and so if the flippers aren't up to par, they become nearly impossible to hit. Luckily, the ruleset of Stargate is pretty deep and so there are plenty of other shots to make.
I like Gottlieb because they were always trying new things with their tables. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. Stargate has a new take on Multiball in which it starts as 2-Ball Multiball but after scoring a few more jackpots, another ball or two is added to the playfield. It's a good way to keep a prolonged multiball even though you've drained a ball or two.

One complaint about Stargate is that the table is quite clunky. There are a ton of targets littered throughout the table with only the two ramps. What loops there are on the table are initially blocked off by targets which limits the amount of flow the table has.
Stargate's backglass has to be one of the most attractive pieces of the 90's. Taking a cue from the backglass of a previous Gottlieb table, Black Hole...
Stargate's backglass is multi-layered to create a pseudo-3D image which looks like you are walking up towards the stargate!
There were a couple of Star Trek: The Next Generation tables at the Expo.
One of them was outfitted with all sorts of knick-knacks like hella LEDs and colour Dot Matrix Display...
The LEDs on this Star Trek looked great and really added to the futuristic look of ST:TNG. It's a pretty big table and there's lots to talk about but... I'm going to save it for another day as I didn't get much play on it during the Expo. However, I did encounter ST:TNG during my trip to the Guelph Pinball Club and had a bit more time to play it there so maybe there will be something in the near future. Seeing as I have written about Stern's Star Trek, it would be fitting to write about the precursor to Steve Ritchie's latest table.
Speaking of Stern though, there was a pretty far out table from back in the day. In my latest post about Ottawa Pinball Expo, I discussed the experiments that were going on in the pinball world between Bally and Williams, stuff like dual layer playfields and banana flippers. Some real wacky and far-out features were popping up in pinball from all the manufacturers. Stern in particular went to the outer limits with this table right here.
Many pinball tables are made of wood but in the case of Orbitor-1, plastic and plexiglass were used to create quite the unusual playfield. The playfield consists of two layers, the lower layer being made of molded plastic to create the illusion of the moon's surface while the upper layer is curved plexi-glass to send the ball in all sorts of unpredictable directions. This is only exacerbated by the "bumpers" on the table; instead of bumping, they spin. The ball will either bump off of the bumpers, or it may get caught on them and get spun around, sometimes orbiting around the bumpers or flying off in any direction. The really cool thing about the playfield is that at first glance it doesn't look all out-of-whack. It's only really noticeable when the light catches the angles of the plexiglass.
Throw everything you know out about pinball when you're playing Orbitor-1. This table doesn't play the same way as most other tables do and trying to even hit a single thing may prove impossible.
That being said, Orbitor-1 is  a novelty table. It's fun to play a couple of rounds but once you get over the gimmick of the uneven playfield and unpredictable directions the ball will take, there isn't much else to do. This was also Stern's last table before dropping out of the pinball game back in the 70's and 80's. There's a lot of cool history behind Orbitor-1, such as being designed by former NASA designers. The fellow at, Aeneas Verhe, did quite a bit of research into Orbitor-1 and there's a helluva story behind the table. You can read all about it right here.
Last up is Sega's The X-Files. Sega wasn't known for having the best tables around and were fighting a losing battle at the time they joined the pinball world in 1994. By the time The X-Files was released in 1997, pinball was slowly dying out and so Sega just couldn't match up to the good ol' days of pinball. Credit has to be given to them though because they did make some decent tables, The X-Files being one of them.
Sega always made sure to outfit their tables with a couple of toys, some for strictly visual purposes, like the Alien Baby...
or Flukeman...
Then there is Mulder's File Cabinet which is used for ball locks.
Hit the cabinet enough and eventually the cabinet will lower enough to shoot a ball into the cabinet and activate multiball.

The playfield layout is quite similar to Theatre of Magic.
There's a small orbit that goes around the filing cabinet as well as a larger orbit that goes along the outside perimeter of the table. In addition to that, the ramps are laid out quite similar. The left ramp even leads to a lane diverter, either sending it down along to the right flipper or diverting it across a wireform rail to the left flipper, similar to Theatre of Magic's lane diverter.
There is even a trap door located below the right ramp ala The Haunted Basement!
I am a big fan of Theatre of Magic so I ended up enjoying The X Files. The ramps are tight shots and need precise aiming but if you can get a good combo going, the shots flow really well.
The artwork is not the prettiest. Sega tended to lean towards photo-realistic art packages like the one found on The X Files and they just don't look good. The backglass is a bit cooler looking with references to the show and some neat artwork but just kinda looks like a lot of DVD "Floating Heads" covers. There is a good pun on the playfield that I like though.
We've only scratched the surface of Michigan Pinball Expo so far! I've covered a couple of automotive pinball tables in the last post, like Mustang and Corvette, and now we've gotten to take a look at some of the science fiction tables that were on offer. Gottlieb's swan song, Stargate, made an appearance and despite being a bit of a clunky table, it is a great example of what Gottlieb was capable of before they went belly-up. A rare Stern hit the Expo floor as well. It wasn't a table from the current incarnation of Stern but from back in the 70's and 80's when pinball was experimenting with new ways to freshen up the game. Stern's attempt at far-out tables hit the outer limit with Orbitor-1, a pinball table that isn't quite what it seems with a curved playfield that sends the ball in all sorts of unpredictable directions. Last but not least, The X-Files made for a decent table in Sega's lineup, taking a bit of influence from Theatre of Magic's playfield layout, which is certainly not a bad table to emulate! I'm not sure what tables I will look at in the next trip report. I don't really feel like holding myself to any particular theme so maybe just a hodge-podge of tables I enjoyed! Keep an eye out for PART III of Michigan Pinball Expo!

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