Different generations of pinball machines

Different generations of pinball machines

Pinball is a game with a rich history that spans over a century, not including its predecessors like the bagatelle game. During this time, the pinball machine has undergone significant changes in form, technology, and business model. These advancements are reflected in the language and terminology used by enthusiasts and collectors to distinguish various periods in the game’s evolution. However, for those new to the world of pinball, the vast array of terms can be overwhelming. From electromechanical to digital, Solid State to Spike 1, WPC, and beyond, the lexicon used in the community can make it challenging to keep up. Therefore, in this article, we will break down the most frequently used terms in chronological order to help new players understand the game’s rich history and evolution.

Pinball machines named by their technology

Pinball enthusiasts, fondly referred to as pinheads, are known to categorize different generations of pinball machines based on the type of technology used in them. This classification not only highlights the advancements in technology but also depicts the evolution of pinball machines throughout history. The type of screen embedded in the front panel is often used to represent the various generations of pinball machines. From numeric to alphanumeric, DMD to LCD, each technology has made a significant impact on the pinball world. Pinheads take immense pride in the intricate details of these machines and how the development of technology has played a vital role in shaping them over the years. The journey has been filled with innovation, creativity, and a deep admiration for the art of pinball. So, let’s relive these moments and take a trip down memory lane to explore the fascinating world of pinball machines.

Mechanical pinball machines

Pinball, an arcade game with a long history, has evolved over time to become a classic favorite around the world. The earliest pinball machines were pure mechanical wonders, consisting of a few metal and glass parts and primarily made of wood. These early versions of the popular game often relied solely on chance and the ball launcher, with limited interaction for players beyond that initial start. For many years, pinball was considered a slot machine, with the potential for financial gain as the primary focus. However, as time progressed, the joy of playing took center stage for many pinball enthusiasts. Despite its humble beginnings and ever-changing landscape, pinball continues to be a beloved pastime for players of all ages.

Electromechanical pinball machines

Electromechanical pinball machines, also known as EM pinball machines, deserve an esteemed position in the world of gaming since they constituted the majority of pinball machines ever produced. The golden era of these machines started post-World War II and lasted until the late 1970s. The machines derive their name from the fact that they are partially electrically powered, which allowed them to exhibit features that have become synonymous with pinball machines. For instance, flippers, which are now an integral part of pinball machines, were introduced back in 1947 on Humpty Dumpty pinball machine. Similarly, mobile bumpers made their debut in 1948, adding a fun element to the gameplay. Another fascinating feature of EM pinball machines was the introduction of slingshots, which are the triangle-shaped rubber bands located above the flippers, and were first featured on Chicago Coin’s Super Hockey pinball machine. Not to mention the switches, drop targets, and many other features that made EM pinball machines so immensely popular among enthusiasts.

The game developers had a clever way of tracking and displaying scores in their creation. They utilized reels to showcase the score which increases in value as the player performs various actions throughout the game. At present, there is no computer element included in the game which makes the scoring process quite straightforward with uncomplicated counting rules in effect. Nevertheless, the designers have implemented innovative means to make the game engrossing such as applying bonus points to the score and validating the execution of some straightforward action combinations like knocking down all the targets. With their astute minds and imaginative thinking capabilities, these game creators found interesting ways to make their game more thrilling and satisfying for players.

The Solid State pinballs

Solid state devices are an intriguing concept in computer science wherein the components of a device remain fixed. Gone are the days when hard drives burned data onto disks and required the movement of a read/write head. In contrast, with SSD hard drives, all the backup components remain fixed, providing a more efficient solution. Interestingly, the advent of solid state pinballs marks the transition from relay pinballs to transistor pinballs. All the pinball machines mentioned in the following chapter are solid state, meaning that they contain no electromechanical features. This change paves the way for powerful beaters that, in turn, increase the speed of the ball and improve the slope. Over the years, the transition from EM to SS occurred gradually; there was no sudden change. Nevertheless, the difference between the first SS pinballs and the last EM pinballs is not immediately obvious. But, it’s safe to say that today’s solid state pinball machines are significantly faster and more peachy than their predecessors.

Numeric pinball machines

At the end of the 70s, the first digital pinball machines appears. The reels are replaced by digital displays. But as the name suggests, it’s all about numbers. To imagine what this means, think of the solar calculators we use today to perform simple calculations. They have 7 “segments”, i.e. 7 small bars to form a digit.

The rules for counting the scores are becoming more complex because some computer science is involved, but these machines are still very far from today’s standards.

Alphanumeric pins

In the world of pinball, there have been many technological advancements that have revolutionized the game over the years. One such change that enthusiasts of the past may recall is the use of numeric pinball machines. However, this era was short-lived, as in the mid-80s, an entirely new era emerged: the introduction of alphanumeric pinball machines. These new machines were capable of displaying both numbers and letters, which allowed for better communication between the machine and the player.

This innovation ultimately led to the enrichment of game mechanics and the advent of mission pinball. Missions in pinball refer to the various actions a player must take to complete a scenario, often leading to the appearance of certain sequences once multiple challenges have been completed. The incorporation of alphanumeric screens enabled the creation of Wizard Modes – final missions that indicate the player has achieved almost everything there is to do on the pinball machine.

With these advancements, this new gameplay felt like an epic adventure game with its own beginning and end. So the next time you play pinball, take a moment to appreciate the technologies that have helped create a more immersive gaming experience. It’s truly amazing to see how far we’ve come in making this classic game even more exciting and engaging for players of all ages.

Pinballs with DMD

The world of pinball machines witnessed a significant transformation in the early 90s with the arrival of the first DMD pinballs, which are widely regarded as the golden age of these entertainment devices. To explain, DMD is an acronym for Dot Matrix Display, which comprises screens that exhibit an array of tiny dots, often in orange color. Generally, the display resolution of these displays is 128 pixels width by 32 pixels height, and by switching these pixels on and off, it showcases an animation. With an expert animator at the helm, the DMD screen delivers contextual visual exposition that is genuinely pleasing to the senses. Furthermore, the screen expands the play experience by introducing video modes that nearly every pinball player must experience for themselves. Essentially, video mode is a mini-game embedded within DMD that enables players to interact using the same buttons that control the flippers.

LCD pinball machines

Pinball machines and their displays have come a long way. One of the most iconic components of a pinball machine is the Dot Matrix Display (DMD), which has been around for quite a while. For years, the DMD was a staple in pinball games and fascinated players with its colorful animations and text that would display during game play. The DMD became an essential component of pinball gameplay, and its importance can’t be overstated.

However, as with all technology, the DMD had its time and was dethroned by newer, more advanced forms of display. In 2013, Jersey Jack Pinball launched its Wizard of Oz table, which featured an LCD screen in place of the DMD. The LCD screen seems to occupy the majority of the front panel, providing players with vital information about the game. This innovation was a significant step in pinball display technology and was welcomed by enthusiasts globally. Today, pinball machines continue to incorporate cutting-edge displays that enhance the gameplay experience.

Stern Pinball has recently been challenged for the first time in a decade, but they have decided to follow suit while also keeping their personal touch. One of the ways they are doing this is by only slightly increasing the size of their screens from their previous DMD screens. This new innovation has allowed them to create an even better tribute to the various licenses that have been the foundation of pinball themes since the 2000s. With this advancement, movie sequences now become a part of your pinball experience! However, with this change comes the creation of a new profession in their design teams: the 3D animators. These professionals will now be responsible for staging the scores and the intermediate animations necessary between two film passages. Overall, Stern Pinball is committed to excellence and continuously elevating the pinball experience to new heights.

The Virtual Pinballs

When you conduct a search for “numeric pinball” on Google, the results presented to you are actually referring to Vpins. It is important to note the vast difference between the vintage pinball machines of the 80’s and the modern virtual pinball machines. However, due to the vague terminology used, there tends to be some confusion among individuals regarding the distinction between the two. As a helpful tip, it may be useful to research and educate oneself on the different types of pinball machines available in order to avoid any potential misunderstandings.

The Vpin is a hybrid between a real pinball machine and a computer. The playfield is replaced by an LCD screen, which allows hundreds of tables to be played on the same machine. The physics are reproduced in an increasingly realistic way to simulate the nudge (the action of moving the pinball to deflect the ball) or the dosage of the ball launcher. The sound is also the object of all the attention in order to reproduce the noise of the bumpers, of the ball rolling on both sides of the board…

But no need to add more, we have an article dedicated to virtual pinball.

Going into detail: more advanced pinball terms

As your helpful assistant, I would like to provide some additional information to expand upon the message you just read. Firstly, it is important to note that forums and datasheets can be a rich source of technical information for those working in the electronics industry. While the information provided in the previous message was not meant to be exhaustive, it was still quite informative.

One term mentioned was ‘System XX’, which refers to a range of electronic boards used in different generations of machines. The term MPU (Main Processor Unit) is often used to describe these types of electronic components. One example of a System XX board is the Gottlieb System 3 which covers machines with alphanumeric display and DMD.

Another term that was discussed was ‘System 11 pinball machines’. This type of board was used by Williams from 1986 to 1990 in their alphanumeric pinball machines. However, it is important to note that not all alphanumerics are System 11s, and the technology used can vary between different machines.

In summary, while the previous message provided a brief overview of these terms, it is always beneficial to do further research to gain a more comprehensive understanding of complex technical concepts.

WPC : Williams Pinball Controller

If you are new to pinball, you may come across the term “WPC” and wonder what it means. WPC stands for “Williams Pinball Controller” and it is an integrated circuit that Williams designed. It was mainly used from 1990 to 1999, which marked the end of alphanumeric pinball and the beginning of DMD pinball. However, even some late alphanumeric pinballs used WPC instead of System 11.
It is important to note that WPC comes in many sub-versions, with the most well-known being WPC 95. However, it was most commonly used in the DMD Bally/Williams machines that were popular in the 1990s, also known as the golden age of pinball. Unfortunately, Bally/Williams ceased its pinball activity in 1999, so WPC is no longer in use. I hope this explanation helps clear up any confusion you may have had about this term!

The Spike 1 and 2

Have you ever wondered what it means when a product is advertised as being “Compatible with Spike 1 and 2 pinball machines?” In case you are unfamiliar, Spike is the electronic card system used by the world-renowned manufacturer, Stern Pinball. Introduced in 2015 on the Wrestlemania pinball machine and utilized until 2018 on the Supreme custom pinball machine, Spike 1 is the predecessor to Spike 2. It should be noted that “Custom” is defined as a pinball machine that is commissioned by a third-party brand from Stern, and reuses the tray of an existing machine. In the case of the Supreme game, it utilizes the playfield of Marvel’s Spiderman Pro edition. Spike 2 has been the preferred system at Stern since 2016 when it was featured on the Batman 66 model. What distinguishes the second iteration from the first? Spike 2 supports full-color LCD screens and allows for the attachment of a topper, an optional decorative element placed above the back panel that is capable of reacting with the game, as demonstrated by the Black Knight Sword of Rage topper.

You know everything about pinball… Or almost

Are you passionate about pinball? Want to take your pinball experience to the next level? Look no further, because we have just the thing for you! Mastering the lexicon is a must-do task for any pinball enthusiast. Impress others with your extensive knowledge and be known as a true pinball connoisseur! But don’t fret, even if there are advanced players out there who possess even more knowledge – we’ve got you covered! Our comprehensive lexicon will provide you with all the essential basics you need to jump head-first into the exciting world of pinball. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced player, it’s never too late to familiarize yourself with all the pinball lingo and terms frequently tossed about in pinball circles. Trust us when we say that our help will take your pinball gaming experience to the next level and enhance your skills as a pinball player.

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