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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!

the first room - left sidethe first room - right side

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.

room 2 - a view over the DMD gamesCirqus Voltaire's display is inside the cabinet!

The Addams FamilyThe 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!

CV's upper playfield with the Ringmaster figureCV's lower playfield with the neon tube

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.

room 2 - want a double pin? XDroom 3 - the valuables

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.

Medieval MadnessTwilight Zone

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.

TOTAN's upper playfieldI guess the main problem I had thus far was the lack of a real atmosphere in the rooms. As Hobbykoch told me, he hasn't got the time to rework all the nonfunctional machines and keep the others in perfect shape, as well as maintaining and polishing the rooms, all because he is constantly busy getting new machines in and throwing old ones out (selling them) and this was what it looked like. His whole collection had a kind of workshop feel, even with the top condition DMD games. It didn't give me the same classic feeling I had all three times when I entered Peter's basement. While his collection is pretty large with twelve machines and the basement is a combination of workshop area and playing room, there's definitely a lot more atmosphere down there regardless of the amount of old classics or 90s machines (of which he doesn't have many).
Actually this is a point I've been thinking about in the last couple of weeks. I've got three machines in my room and can't buy any more without throwing out one of them. This means I'm actually "forced" to stay with these three games for a while since I've finally found three machines I really like and none of them is for sale. I know that a lot of machines I could get might be "better" in terms of complexity, gameplay or theme than for example Terminator 2 (since this is the only machine I would give away if I did), but I still like T2 so much that the missing complexity or limited replay value don't scratch me - I find myself playing it even more than Black Knight 2000 recently, and I surely wouldn't sell BK2000 for any other game - well, maybe except for a Cirqus Voltaire, just to be fair with the price relation. And me staying true to my current machines results in one thing: they become a part of my life, something I get used to, and something that's not very refreshing after a while. It's like a classic rock album: you can listen to it anytime because it's an evergreen, but still there are times when you prefer something else so you can come back to the classic album later after you "recharged" your need for freshness, and enjoy the album more even though it's still the same. Since I cannot move my machines out of my room, it's even tougher because I see them every day, every minute I'm in here, and thus I don't feel the magic of pinball itself that I would perhaps get if my machines were in another room or basement that was a) fit to the pinball theme and b) a little away from me so I wouldn't get the chance to go in there any minute. WhenTOTAN's lower playfield Peter goes into his basement, he has to spend some quality time with his machines because he cannot simply play a quick game while he's waiting for the TV commercials to run through, sort of what I often do with my machines since they are in the same room. Once I move out and have my own (or shared) flat, I will try to keep the machines in a single room and my living space in another so that it will be more of an experience to see them all together only when I plan to actually play them for a while. And while Hobbykoch has his machines in even farther away rooms, these rooms just didn't do it for me - the lighting and the walls were wrong, the air was too sterile, there was just no arcade feeling present. Plus the amount of machines made for a visual overkill that took away the specialty of the pinball machine as itself, because when you see fifteen machines in one room, you're losing track of what a single one of these machines actually is - a finely crafted work of entertainment and art, and that's why some people actually prefer to have just one single machine in a room, because it draws the looks of people more to it than a dozen machines do.

room 4 - the basementa classic: Firepower

Diner's upper playfieldWhile 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 theDiner's lower playfield 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.

What I took with me from this visit were memories of about ten machines that I played, some of which I liked, some I didn't and one I loved. Especially for Cirqus Voltaire, this visit paid off. We also had a lot of things to talk about, starting with the magnitude of his pinball obsession compared to my struggling for a nice collection, going over machines he and I had (he has never played The Machine before), and coming down to discussions of personal taste, the organization of the upcoming tournament he wants to host, etc. The tournament was the actual plan before we met, and he originally wanted to do it in December 2004, inviting all the pinball people from Berlin, having a barbecue etc. It would be his third tournament and it's basically just for kicks so pinball fans can meet each other, check out the machines, and chat. Now he had invited me alone since the tournament had to be delayed till an uncertain date and he still wanted to show me an impression of all the games the forum members talk about so I could actually say, "I played them." Now I can, at least with ten of them. Thanks, Hobbykoch!

one of the widest machines ever: Paragon

 
 
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