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My Visit to Hobbykoch
Date of Writing: 12th January 2005
Sometimes you want something so much that you're willing to give up everything else for it. It might just be pinball, at least this is the way some people in this world seem to think! Having three pins in my only room doesn't hold a candle to what some collectors call their own, and I had the opportunity to witness one such big collection yesterday night. Hobbykoch, which simply translates to "hobby cook" (for whatever reason), is a member of the Pinball Network forum who lives in Berlin. Like Peter who I bought The Machine and Pin*Bot from, Hobbykoch (I'll keep using his online pseudonym here) first contacted me on an occasion via private messaging and he offered a meeting for sample playing already twice before I finally said, "let's do it, now is the right time" and met up with him last night in his office. That's right, his office, because he is the CEO of a company started by his earlier family which buys and sells real estates, manages buildings and offers them for rent. In short: it's a big business and that explains why he's even got the money to afford 50 pinball machines (yes, FIFTY!) and the space to set them up. His office looked like a penthouse: marble was everywhere, there was a nice kitchen with design furniture, and the huge "living room" featuring even more design furniture, a fully populated dinner table and big wall-sized windows was just breathtaking. It looked like your typical Hollywood movie or penthouse scene from a computer game!
We didn't stay up there for long though, but went straight down to the first room. He uses two rooms on street level for a part of his collection plus one dumping room which contains racked-up machines, loads of unorganized replacement parts, old playfields stacked up for stripping the parts down as replacement for existing machines, etc. etc. The sight was incredible, but since it was so messy, there was nothing to really rave about. The first pinball room featured machines on every wall, all but one being old solid state Bally and Williams games from the 70s and early 80s, and some EM machines. About 50% of those did not function or were heavily occupied by parts, cleaners, tools, towels and whatnot, so he turned on a few of these games for sample playing. However, since machines from these old ages are really not my taste - they are just too boring for a "youngster" like me - we left that room pretty quickly and headed over to the second room which contained almost exclusively DMD machines.
The room was filled with DMD classics like The Addams Family, Road Show, Indiana Jones and also featured the "dream machine" Cirqus Voltaire, a game I was looking forward to playing because I had heard praises about it in all kinds of online locations, and since the price for this 1998 game is usually around 3000 (2500 being the very least), I wanted to know whether the price could be justified by gameplay. To my surprise, the whirly comical circus theme, which some people downright hate and which also made me look at the photos with a lot of doubt, is kept at an "adult" level, comparable to Chinese circus artistics and stunts, or even performance entertainment arts like Blue Man Group. This shows most vividly in the audio: the music is pure rock respectively light metal, and played with the DCS sound system which uses real samples (kind of a General MIDI standard for pinball), the music is just incredibly beautiful and memorable. It's just the kind of rock I always wanted to hear in a pinball machine! Speech is broadly featured with a lot of different perfectly acted voices, be it performers, animators, sexy chicks, the "jury" who value your bonus score, or the Ringmaster who looks like a modern clown on the playfield but has a rather deep and kind of threatening voice with which he announces the challenge he puts against you. The goal of the game involves completing tasks of circus programme acts and de-feating the Ringmaster by shooting him with the ball(s), making him bounce on his metal spring. At one point he rises up and lets the ball(s) fall under the playfield, locking or starting multiball. There are many multiball modes with different kinds of prizes and just a huge amount of bonus features and toys on the playfield, for example the gumball on the left which is just a soft kind of ball diverter (the gumball rolls around when hit by the pinball and diverts it randomly) or the pop-up bumper which is disguised as a balloon and comes up at a point to complete the bumper triangle (you normally have only two bumpers otherwise) and serving a special "boom" value. I never knew where I was in the game since it was so chock-full of surprises and effects, and the playfield is actually of the kind I rather dislike because I prefer straightforward playfields with a single colour theme and geometrically placed devices. Cirqus Voltaire, designed by the same people behind Tales of the Arabian Nights and Medieval Madness (that's what I was told), features this trademark "chaos" playfield with swirl ramps, randomly placed light inserts and artwork, and lots of hidden surprises. Since the game flew perfectly, had a lot of speed and felt of course very new and slick just like all newer DMD games, I kind of got into the groove just like with TOTAN earlier and I started to really like this machine. It is not one I will buy before some other games which attract me more because of theme, classic value or price, but Cirqus Voltaire definitely goes on my list of wanted machines!
I also played The Addams Family in this room. It's a nice game, has some cool features like the hand with the magnet that locks balls, the five bumpers which have a lot of power and give the game a good portion of rattle, and the artwork is nice too. It's based on the colour TV series, not the classic Addams Family series and movies. Many people love this game for its complexity and sound, but since I played only twice, I can hardly say anything about it. It's definitely not a game I would buy however.
On we went to the third room, but this one was located in Hobbykoch's family house just a few hundred meters away from his work. A complete room on street level right beside the entrance door was left unused and stuffed full of even more DMD machines, featuring such beauties as Attack from Mars, Medieval Madness, Cactus Canyon, Twilight Zone and Tales of the Arabian Nights. He also had a nice standup of former German pornstar Gina Wild at the end of the room XD After some chat and a lot of pictures I flashed with my digicam, he started playing Attack from Mars and I launched balls on TOTAN. It was nice to see this beauty again and this time see it in dream condition: a playfield with zero wear, new rubbers, fully working GI and insert lamps, no broken plastics, working bumpers. The game played as fast and beautiful as I had it in my memories and was a good start before I went over to try my hand at Twilight Zone, yet another machine many collectors love for its complexity, theme and specialties. As Hobbykoch described, this game is full of things you don't grasp the first time you play and you can still find out new tasks and prizes even after a thousand plays. I made only one game since this pin gave me the same feeling I always get when I play wide body machines: it was just awkward to have such a broad play-field, it made the ball slow and moving too far to the sides rather than farther away from me and back. The artwork turned me off too. The game was hard to play and I couldn't find the concentration anyway because of all the other machines around it and the chatter we permanently kept while playing.
This problem persisted when I started playing Medieval Madness which was
explained to me pretty easily: hit the castle multiple times so that it
unfolds its features, then shoot the ball into it so it's destroyed. Do this
with five castles (i.e. five times) to defeat the king in the finale. Sounds
simple? I cannot say how simple or complex MM's gameplay is because I played
only one game on it, but this game, al-though I didn't exactly follow any
rules, awarded me a lot of extra balls and took quite some time to complete.
I was impressed by the animation of the castle being destroyed and the
trolls popping up on the playfield similar to the Ringmaster on Cirqus
Voltaire, but since this game has a medieval fantasy theme, it didn't turn
me on by that, nor did I find any hilarious features or modes that made me
go "wow". Medieval Madness is probably the most referenced DMD pinball
machine when it comes to the top ten list; in other words, it's the best
machine for many. I can't understand why because as I said, the complexity
was lacking in this one game and I didn't find my way into the theme. Again,
this was a problem not necessarily connected to the game, but the room,
noise, impression of the other machines and continuing talk-while-play. What
I did like about MM was the sheer speed of the ramp shots and loops. It's
probably the fastest DMD game I ever played, but Hobbykoch told me that
there's one game that's faster - Johnny Mnemonic! Now that is a
reason to get this game next, as I was thinking about before.
While I'm rambling on about missing atmosphere, I can come back to a rather
positive conclusion of this topic with the fourth room. It was his basement,
a rather small room with about nine machines of which two were DMD games
(Flintstones and Scared Stiff) and the others were old, classic solid state
games. The widest machine I ever saw was Paragon, but I did not play it
because I rather wanted to go for Diner, a System 11C game if I'm correct
from 1990, shortly before WPC appeared. Diner is a game I hate for its
optics since it looks just like that, a diner with red and white square
tiles all over the playfield, food and drinks, comic characters who are your
customers, a kitschy backglass in the style of the 50s diners; it was all
there. However, what I realized on the first game was that the playfield was
perfectly designed - the bumpers were in the center and got a lot of ball
contact, sounding off a nice satisfying "pop" I've never heard before. My
Machine has the loudest bumpers ever with a plastic, compressed whack sound
due to the second playfield over them, BK2000 has metallic sounding bumpers
since they are on the top level and you can clearly see and hear the metal
mechanism, and T2's bumpers are overshadowed by the gun sounds that go along
with every bump, plus they are very fast and give the game a good rattle.
The sound effects of pinball mechanics can make a difference that shouldn't
be underestimated because the fuller a machine sounds, the more likely you
will want to hear it again. Diner had exactly such a sound that it was new
to me, bumpers that popped and clicked powerfully, nice clean flippers, good
music, it was all there. It gave me a feeling that I was playing a special
machine again, a classic even though it's too new for the old-school feel
you get when playing early 80s games like Xenon. I still don't like Diner
enough to buy it for me since the theme of serving comic guests under time
pressure is, well, a matter of taste, but it was the only machine giving me
the feeling I am searching for in the moment. I think the loss of specialty
of my machines is not only a question of being used to them or not getting
any new games since even BK2000 doesn't get played more than any other
machine by now, and that one is fairly new. I enjoy all three games equally,
but they could have a more intensive feeling, and it might just very well be
that my room is not the right spot for these games, the lighting is wrong,
the fact that I see them every minute is degra-ding, etc. I think a game has
to cater to your taste to unfold a full atmo-sphere, but pinball needs to keep
you refreshed and flood the room with feeling. Many people use basements
for their collection and it's clear that the air, light and space are
different down there. Maybe this is what keeps them refreshed. The only
thing I can say for sure is that I felt the pinball magic all three times in
Peter's basement, but never in Hobbykoch's rooms. And I bet it also has to
do with the number of games, as I said above. They just lost their beauty
among all the others.
|© 2005 Maximilian Schulz - Williams, Bally, Gottlieb and all other names, all pinball games and software mentioned on this site are trademarks of their respective owners.|