The Bottle Episode

Stern Vault Candidates | Amazing Pinball Race | Beginner’s Guide to Pinball Designers | Meme of the Week | More!

This Week in Pinball is a bottle episode. A bottle episode is this concept that’s prevalent in television, and it’s largely a response to the need to keep the content engine churning even in the face of budgetary or other logistical constraints.

Usually, bottle episodes deviate from a series’ regular formula by minimizing sets, shooting locations, cast members, etc., while attempting to still deliver substantive creative output to the viewer.

Famous examples include episodes like Fly (Breaking Bad), Cooperative Calligraphy (Community), Vision Quest (Archer), and The Suitcase (Mad Men).

This week’s TWIP is dipping its toes into bottle episode territory. There’s substance here (two original pieces and one that’s been refreshed), but I’m spending less time on it and largely pre-writing it earlier in the week.

Last week, I alluded to having some schedule requirements that would take me out of my regular publishing cadence this week. That’s still true (more to come next week, or follow Kineticist on Instagram or Facebook for possible real-time updates, as I have no idea what’s coming down the pike), but I really enjoy putting these out and thought I could pull some stuff together for you, time constraints and all.

Oh, and it’s a holiday weekend here in the United States, so hope you get a chance to relax a little and play some pins!

This Week’s Pinball Agenda:

  • Song of the Week (plus subscribe to our new playlist!)

  • Pinball News of the Week

    • A Numbers Case for Stern Vault Titles

    • A recap of The Amazing Pinball Race, a Stern Pro Circuit event

    • A Beginner’s Guide to Pinball Designers

  • Creator Highlights of the Week

  • Meme of the Week

  • Poll of the Week

Song of the Week

This week, we’ve got Lauren by the Canadian Dream Pop group Men I Trust. I’ve been listening to this song at least once a day for weeks now, so I had to share it here.

The song was released as a non-album single in 2016, and it’s a particularly good listen for those moments when you need to relax, focus, or remind yourself to check in with the outside world. I particularly dig the blend of Jessy Caron’s bass play, Emma Proulx/Odile Marmet-Rochefort’s vocals, and whatever the little skip beat drum pattern is (someone more musically inclined may be able to tell me what that is).

Playlist of the Week

If you’ve been enjoying our picks for the TWIP Song of the Week, follow along with our companion Spotify Playlist (sorry, Nudge, it’s a good idea).

Pinball News of the Week

A Numbers Case for Stern Vault Titles

With the possibility of some Stern vault titles in the news cycle again, I’ve been crunching more numbers in an effort to step into the head of a Stern executive and, based on the data available to me, see if I can come to a reasonable conclusion about what the priority of the next Stern vaulted titles might be.

Based on various interviews, they are primarily looking at games from their DMD-era catalog, which runs from about 1999, when they transitioned from Sega through Ghostbusters in 2016.

These games cover three different board systems, which more or less act as the OS for the game. Starting with Whitestar at the early end, moving to SAM around 2006, and SPIKE from about 2015 until SPIKE 2 (which is still in use today) made its first appearance in Batman 66 alongside LCD screens in 2016.

It sounds as if the further you go back in Stern’s catalog, and the more dated its underlying technology is, the harder it is for Stern to remake them. This is why licensing issues aside, even though there is demand for a new run of Lord of the Rings, the fact that it’s on a Whitestar board set makes the task more problematic than running a game like Tron: Legacy, which was built on the newer SAM system.

That said, I took a look at Stern’s DMD-era games and created a data set similar to other recent market analysis work we’ve done. In this case, as in the last few, it’s the number of games in the wild (in public locations or documented in home collections) versus the number of people who have the game added to a public wishlist on a site like Pinside.

I then calculated a simple demand ratio to see a simplified representation of the number of games in circulation versus the number of games of demand in the market.

As a reference point, Black Knight Sword of Rage, which was recently confirmed to be getting a new run, hit 1.03 on our calculated demand ratio, so I consider anything at 1 or more (1 game of demand for every 1 game currently in the market) to be a strong positive signal.

Based on that metric alone, here are the 10 most in-demand titles that I think Stern might consider running again.

Vault Candidates by Demand Ratio

Game

Demand Ratio

Board System

TRON: Legacy

1.57

SAM

Batman (The Dark Knight)

1.21

SAM

Mustang

1.11

SAM

Indiana Jones (2008)

1.10

SAM

Ripley’s Believe It or Not

1.10

Whitestar

Lord of the Rings

1.09

Whitestar

RollerCoaster Tycoon

1.02

Whitestar

High Roller Casino

0.96

Whitestar

Iron Man

0.92

SAM

Spider-Man

0.89

SAM

I think of the titles on this list; there are only two that would be 100% home-run, slam-dunk runs TRON: Legacy and Lord of the Rings.

Of interesting note is the lack of both Ghostbusters and Metallica, which have both been discussed frequently alongside other rumored remake games. Ghostbusters has a demand ratio of just 0.76, and Metallica has a demand ratio of 0.67. While both of those titles have well north of 1,000 wishlist ads, they also have decent supply in the market already, so it could be tough sledding getting a pure remake of either of these to sell well, even though both are attractive from an IP relevancy standpoint.

If we look at the list solely as a reflection of demand (wishlist adds), then it paints a different picture.

Vault Candidates by Wishlist Adds

Game

Wishlist Adds

Board System

Lord of the Rings

2,000+

Whitestar

Ghostbusters

~1,500

SPIKE

Metallica

~1,400

SAM

TRON: Legacy

~1,300

SAM

Star Trek

~1,300

SAM

Simpsons Pinball Party

~1,200

Whitestar

AC/DC

~1,200

SAM

Spider-Man

~1,000

SAM

Iron Man

~700

SAM

Game of Thrones

~500

SPIKE

We know that pinball enthusiasts like to buy, sell, and trade games frequently, so while it may seem easy to sort a list of titles by wishlist adds and call it a day, I think that a good portion of that demand is already satisfied by what's in the market, which is why the demand ratio calculation is more useful in my eyes.

If we go back to that list and remove all the Whitestar games (because we know they’re harder to produce), we’ll be left with a list that looks more like this.

Vault Candidates - SAM Boards Only

Game

Demand Ratio

Board System

TRON: Legacy

1.57

SAM

Batman (The Dark Knight)

1.21

SAM

Mustang

1.11

SAM

Indiana Jones (2008)

1.10

SAM

Iron Man

0.92

SAM

Spider-Man

0.89

SAM

Within this list, Mustang and Indiana Jones would seem like odd picks for me. We’ve heard rumblings that Stern let an Indiana Jones license expire, so it wouldn’t make sense for them to go back and vault the 2008 version of that game. Mustang, I think, is too much of a specialty title to warrant a run at Stern’s current scale. Both would likely struggle to sell 500-1,000 new units of product.

Batman is an interesting case—there’s demand for this title, but there’s also still demand for the 2.0 version of this layout, 2016’s Batman: 66. I think that points to more interest in the Batman IP broadly than either one of these specific games, so we can take that one out, too. If Stern were to revisit the Batman universe, they’d probably do so through a new game and a fresh take on the IP.

Vault Candidates - SAM Boards, Most Likely Titles 1.0

Game

Demand Ratio

Board System

TRON: Legacy

1.57

SAM

Iron Man

0.92

SAM

Spider-Man

0.89

SAM

Considering Iron Man and Spider-Man have both seen vault editions in the last decade, it makes sense that to go through the trouble of running any SAM game, you may as well run a few where there are some other pockets of guaranteed demand. In that case, I’d add Metallica and Star Trek to the list.

Vault Candidates - SAM Boards, Most Likely Titles 2.0

Game

Demand Ratio

Board System

TRON: Legacy

1.57

SAM

Iron Man

0.92

SAM

Spider-Man

0.89

SAM

Star Trek

0.80

SAM

Metallica

0.67

SAM

If Stern brings a few SAM titles to market and they sell well, I could see them looking further into their catalog for games from the Whitestar era. When and if that happens, these are the games I’d be looking at first.

Vault Candidates - Whitestar Boards, Most Likely Titles

Game

Demand Ratio

Board System

Ripley’s Believe It or Not

1.10

Whitestar

Lord of the Rings

1.09

Whitestar

RollerCoaster Tycoon

1.02

Whitestar

The Sopranos

0.84

Whitestar

Simpsons Pinball Party

0.81

Whitestar

My final list, with blended rankings, would look more like this.

Stern Vault Candidates - Final List

Game

Demand Ratio

Board System

Notes

Tron: Legacy

1.57

SAM

Slam dunk

Lord of the Rings

1.09

Whitestar

Slam dunk

Simpsons Pinball Party

0.81

Whitestar

Solid demand and evergreen IP

Star Trek

0.80

SAM

Solid demand, edge of nostalgia territory

Iron Man

0.92

SAM

Solid demand, edge of nostalgia territory

Metallica

0.67

SAM

Lower demand, easier sell

Spider-Man

0.89

SAM

Solid demand, Venom performance complicates

The Sopranos

0.84

Whitestar

Dark horse, IP still relevant, has nostalgia factor now

Ripley’s Believe It or Not

1.10

Whitestar

Dark horse, IP is not relevant but could appeal to enthusiasts

Ghostbusters

0.76

SPIKE

Easy, relevant IP but too controversial with designer

The Amazing Pinball Race: A Taste of the Stern Pro Circuit

Regular Kineticist contributor Matt Owen was fortunate enough to attend The Amazing Pinball Race, a Stern Pro Circuit event held over three days at Tilt Amusements in Ohio. Check out his recap of his experiences and why these larger tournaments featuring highly skilled players can be so much fun to experience in person

A Beginner’s Guide to Pinball Designers

For those of you who might be newer to pinball or who just haven’t gone off the total deep end like some of us have, we dusted off this Beginner’s Guide to Pinball Designers that was originally written by Dennis Kriesel (The Pinball Show, Eclectic Gamers Podcast) in 2018. We cleaned up a few things, added some of the newer crop of designers, and added some illustrative playfield photos. Thanks to James McFatter for helping with the new designer descriptions.

Creator Highlights of the Week

Poll of the Week

When you're at the cookout, which grilled food item do you prefer?

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Last Week’s Poll Results

Are you in or out on Pedretti's FunHouse remake?

🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ In 😁 (16)

🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩 Out 😢 (47)

🟨🟨🟨🟨🟨⬜️ Location play only! (40)

“I already have a game that fills the niche Funhouse would fill and I'm not tired of it yet. Also, I'm out on buying NiBs for the next few years. Maybe a trade at some point? I do unironically love the Rudy head - totally the right level of creepy.”

-Selected “Out”

“No creepy clowns in my house”

-Selected “Out”

“looks good but not a title i'm gagging for”

-Selected “Location play only!”

“I dig it. Bally's Circus was one of the first machines I can remember playing, so FunHouse looks good to me.”

-Selected “In”

“Simply, I'm out. I'm all about the gameplay and not what's on the playfield (enough about the lack of guns already), but I must have some deep rooted trauma seeded when I was a kid because I just cannot over the creepy Rudy head. "Give it a chance", they say, "its a great game". I tried, but after the panic attacks subside, I'm already playing game at the other side of the room. Maybe I'll try again after some counseling.”

-Selected “Out”

“Bonus question answer: boy howdy McGee, it sure does! 😰 never been a fan of animatronics. But that makes me work harder to emerge victorious ;)”

-Selected “Location play only!”

Meme of the Week

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