Into the arcade

Friday April 13, 2012 Written by Nadia

How long have you been collecting pins?

I've been collecting pinballs, arcade machines and jukeboxes for about seven years. I only ever planned to have one or two machines, but it has become a hobby that I have become very passionate about. I now have about 80 games. I enjoy playing but also really enjoy restoring old games.

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Do you remember your first one?

Absolutely. I purchased a wide-body Williams called Demolition Man from eBay. It was a great game that I racked up many hours on and started to learn basic repairs on.

Tell us about your collection.

I started with '90s type games like Demolition Man and Terminator 2. I now have an extensive 'DMD' (Dot Matrix Display) range of games – games like Medieval Madness, Cactus Canyon, Cirqus Volataire, etc. These are 95% '90s games. I also have some newer Stern Games like Sopranos, Tron, Lord Of the Rings and am eagerly awaiting the arrival of an ACDC Limited Edition, which should come in the next couple of weeks. After my first few '90s games I gravitated towards the games I played in my earlier youth – KISS, Playboy, Space Invaders (the pinball) and Six Million Dollar Man. These late '70s early '80s games were the first generation of solid state games. I then went back further in time and acquired games from before I was born. This was the electro-mechanical era and I have about 30 games from this time. They are incredible feats of engineering when you start to learn how they work.

I also have many arcade games including Pacman and Asteroids, Star Wars and Battlezone. I am also into old jukeboxes and have several classics. I have a one tonne, solid oak, 16-foot electro mechanical bowling alley from 1962 that I restored a couple of years ago. I enjoy working on machines as much as playing them. I tend to enjoy the machines that swallowed my 20c pieces in the late '70s and early '80s the most. Playing those game takes me back to a simpler time and always evokes great memories of being a teenager in this era.

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If you could add any pin to your collection, what would it be?

I'd like to find a '80s Bally Fathom and I also like Stern's Batman Dark Knight. I'm not actively looking for these games, but I know they will pop up sooner or later.

Any tips for wannabe collectors?

Start with the games you played 'in the day' as these will hold the best memories for you. If you don't remember or didn't play much then start with a game that you like the theme of. Maybe car racing or a movie you liked, like Lord Of The Rings. Find locations where you can play pinball and try out a few different machines. There are many great online sites. I started on Aussie Arcade and it's great to discuss games and find locations where you can play them. There are always people that can help you with technical problems as well and tell you the fair price for a game you may be looking at.

Finding an old wreck and restoring it is a very satisfying experience, plus it will teach you how to maintain your machine. It's really not difficult or dangerous and just requires common sense and elbow grease. You can just buy one game to have a bit of fun with, or you can set up a dedicated games room and fill it with machines that you enjoy, plus jukeboxes and other cool stuff. The evolution of pinball from the '40s to present day also effectively tracks the evolution of electronics and pop culture. You see the pop culture part in the pinball back glasses and artwork and you see the technology evolution from wiper style contact switches and logic driven by motors and relays to the first Motorola CPUs that were used. Pinball was one of the first major users of transistor logic.

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Where's the best place to check out old pins in Australia?

It can be quite difficult for 'newbs' to find a machine they are looking for, or find a place where they can play a few different machines. However, by connecting with hobbyists on a local online forum you will soon find a regular 'meet' or locations where you can go to play. There are currently some people working on establishing some pinball leagues here in Australia, which will provide another meeting place for hobbyists. There is a great location in Newcastle called Pizza N Pinball. It is run by some passionate players and restorers, and they have a great range of classic machines. In Brisbane there is a great place called The Pinball Shed and it has just merged with The Pinball Warehouse. They generally have a great range of machines for play and sale and offer excellent after-sales service. There are several dealers in Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth as well. If you are after a particular machine then I would just say be patient – I've never struggled to find a machine I was interested in buying. If you are not sure about prices then ask for a price check on somewhere like Aussie Arcade. The regular members are pretty good at giving you the current state of the market and what you might expect to pay for a machine based on its condition. Parts are also abundantly available when you know where to look.

There is an exciting project under construction near the Gold Coast and it will be Australia's first ever pinball museum. They have an amazing collection of beautifully restored games and they are continuing to restore more. It is still two or three years from completion and opening, but promises to be an amazing venue to visit and see the full history of pinball in pristine and playable condition. I'm certain it will evoke many wonderful memories for a lot of people when it opens up.

On that note, there are many museums in the U.S. There is a great one in Las Vegas, the Pinball Hall of Fame. There are also some great websites hosted in the U.S. on pinball repairs and how to troubleshoot common problems.

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Are there a lot of pinball hobbyists around?

Lots of people still buy pins. Most people only buy one or two for their rumpus or family rooms, or even the garage when dad wants a break from the kids. The bigger collectors are generally the 35-60 demographic and they have large game rooms and sheds full of them. It seems retro gaming is making a big comeback. It's fun, nostalgic and a great way to enjoy spending time with friends and other enthusiasts. I've been lucky to meet many fantastic people through the pinball and arcade hobby.

Photographs of Stuart's KISS and Playboy machines (shot by Mindi Cooke) appeared as part of "Pinballs", an article in Smith volume two. It's sold out, but you can pick up a digi copy here. Images for this article (except lead) are thanks to Stuart McBrien and Aussie Arcade.