Game Condition

From Bob Matthews EM Encyclopedia 2018
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Well, it’s an EM, so it’s over 40 years old, maybe 50. Things wear out. Flippers, slingshots, bumpers, rubbers and other playfield parts don’t last forever. There’s a good chance that the machine won’t play quite as it was intended to when it was brand new. In fact, none of the machine operators I knew back in the 1970’s thought that many (if any!) of those machines would still be in use 10 years from then, let alone 40. No arcade I visited at the time had machines more than 5-10 years old in it even though pinball games had been around for a couple of decades. I don’t know what the intended useful life span of the games was at the time they were built, but I’m sure we’re long past it.

What things about a machine have changed with time and how will that affect how the game plays? Here are a few I see often:


Weak flippers

This is the most common flaw - - flippers that have worn out. This can result in some shots being much harder to make, or more dangerous to take, than was intended when the game was built. Some of the shots you would normally take may be completely unhittable; others may be makeable, but only at much higher risk than as designed, e.g. more likely to miss and with a greater drain risk if you do miss or even if you hit the shot. If your flippers are weak, you may need to adjust your strategy to taking 2nd- or 3rd- best shots rather than the best ones if those are all you can make repeatedly. Your ability to transfer the ball between flippers may also be reduced.


Cratered lights

Many games have little circles in the lower center area of the playfield where the amount of bonus you have earned thus far during your latest ball in play is displayed. Each plastic circular disk shows an amount, and there are lights underneath - - the amount you’ve earned will be indicated by the disc that is lit. [In some cases, more than one light may be on, in which case you add the values for those disks to get your bonus total, e.g. the 20,000 light and the 7,000 light for 27,000 total.] Over the years, these discs tend to sink into the wood surface of the playfield, creating moon-like craters in the otherwise flat playfield surface. When the ball rolls over these, it will deflect along the curve. Unfortunately, many of these discs are directly above the gap between the flippers, and the way they deflect the ball can cause it to drain down the center when it would normally have rolled towards a flipper without the craters. This can be repaired, but it takes time and money to do so, and in many cases the owners will leave the game as is. There’s not much you can do about it other than be alert for it and if it is present, do your best to deal with it by nudging.

This can also be a problem with the outlanes, where a similar disk above the outlane switch indicates its value. Originally, with that area flat, a ball heading into the outlane might have bounced off the side wall enough to come back to the adjacent return lane and roll down to your flipper. A cratered disk in an outlane will tend to “grab” the ball and keep it in the outlane far more often.


Non-registering switches

Some playfield features may not register when the ball contacts them - - rollovers and targets may have reduced sensitivity and either not register at all or, more commonly, only register particularly strong hits to them. Again, not much you can do other than be aware of it and allow for it in your strategy. There’s a related thing to watch for, slow switches. If you hit one target and the ball quickly rebounds into a second target, the machine may not score fast enough to register the second target value.


Wood wear

After 40 years, the wood on the outlane side walls has sometimes lost its bounce and the ball may not ricochet into the return lane as often as when the game was new. Another item is that a groove often forms at the top arc of the game, which can make hitting top saucers harder, e.g. on Wizard - - the ball will follow the groove and tend to drop down along the sides at the top rather than more uniformly along the entire top arc.


Outlane pins and posts

On a few games there are thin pins that can deflect a ball that might drain back into play. As the machine ages, these may get bent such that they do not deflect the ball back as often, or at all in extreme cases.


Weak or dead bumpers and slingshots

A worn out old bumper or slingshot will not kick the ball as hard or as far as it was originally designed to. As a result, it may send the ball towards a drain or some other undesirable place. One more thing to watch out for and try to avoid or nudge to mitigate. Note that in some instances, a weak bumper or slingshot may actually work in your favor by either slowing the ball down to make it easier to control or directing it to a safer location than it normally would.

What to do with such well-worn games? If the guidance given here isn’t working, change tactics, technique or both. Keep in mind why I gave the guidance I did, though, e.g. if UTAD or the spinner or a certain drop target bank is where the points are, try to find an alternate way to get those points safely. If you can’t do so safely, choose the next-most valuable objective to go for. Take what the machine gives you and make the most of it.


Slippy Saucers

Games with saucers that the ball lands in get wear around the saucer edges. For the tight sharper-edged saucers, there’s rarely a problem, but for the flatter open saucers it can be. The saucer edges get smoother from wear, making the ball more likely to slip out rather than fall into the saucer.


Summary

What to do with such well-worn games? If the guidance given here isn’t working, change tactics, technique or both. Keep in mind why I gave the guidance I did, though, e.g. if UTAD or the spinner or a certain drop target bank is where the points are, try to find an alternate way to get those points safely. If you can’t do so safely, choose the next-most valuable objective to go for. Take what the machine gives you and make the most of it.



This page is one of many in the The Players Guide to Classic Pinball by written by Bob Matthews