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  F-14 Tomcat
Now You Die

Creator: Williams
Designer: Steve Ritchie
Year: 1987
IPDB Link: http://www.ipdb.org/machine.cgi?id=804

Date of Writing: 3rd November 2004

the backglass shows the theme... with a display errorThis was the first pinball machine I ever had. Thank god I didn't have it for too long.
To be honest, I don't like this game at all anymore. Yes, it was fun to play at first, plus it was the new feeling of having a pinball game at home. However, the theme and the gameplay were both so out of my taste that I was very happy to replace this game with The Machine a month later.
F-14 was more of an opportunity buy than a want-to-have buy. My friend Elias dis-cussed pinball with me someday and I had just logged on to eBay when he pointed out that we should try looking for pinball machines there. Before this, I never had the idea of looking for used machines on eBay since I was not an eBay member and I was still believing that a regular pinball machine cost around 1000 or more bucks. While this is still true for the machines that are in production today (from Stern) and quite a few DMD games, the used Williams, Bally and Gottlieb machines can be had for 150 if you are VERY lucky and if you can cope with some technical or optical defects. Fully functional machines with a nice popular theme that were successful in the 80s can be had for 200 to 500, depending on how much of a collector's value they have - and the F-14 we spotted on eBay raised the anticipation in me that it would after all be possible to make a childhood dream come true, to have my own pinball machine at home! In the end, I got it for 200 Euros and since it was located in Berlin, the way to pick it up was only a few kilometers through town. And this is why it was not really a machine I wanted to have. I wanted any machine for a cheap price near my home, and F-14 was the way to go. That about sums up why I bought it; for financial reasons and missing knowledge.


the F-14 alone in my roomTransporting and assembling a pinball machine was new to me, so I quickly got informed via the Internet. I found the Pinball Network, a German fan community with a huge forum where everyone asked questions and got answers. This forum has helped me a great deal with all my pinball games and inspired me to try a lot of things. They welcomed me as the youngest member (I am 20 and they are 30 and up, talk about pinball being the game of an older generation) and wished me best luck with the F-14 that was about to arrive in a few days. I learned how to transport a pinball game and how to assemble it on location. So, when the big day came, my friend Lars and I entered his car and drove through the rainy city being a half hour later than we had planned. The seller from eBay had the machine for sale because he was not a collector and had had it for years, wishing to get rid of it as he was moving into the top floor of another house and carrying the thing up four stairs was not his bag. He got the 200, we got the game and carried it home. The first thing I noticed: those things are heavy. A standard pinball machine by Williams weighs about 100 kilos, so it was a rough challenge to carry it to and from the car. By the time I got used to doing this with other games though, and removing the backbox from the cabinet (including all wires) reduces the weight by estimated 40 percent!
In my room, I had made space in the left edge where my TV set used to stand. I rear-ranged all the cabling to move the TV in front of my bed and make way for the pinball game to move into the edge, and it fit perfectly. The space factor in my room was not dramatically reduced by it (which is now a different story with three machines) and I had a lot of fun playing around with the game in the first week. Problem number one that needed to be solved was the constant blowing of the outlet fuse in the flat every time you turned the machine on, but later I learned that it could be helped by having the outlet almost exclusive to the machine and moving my computer to another outlet. Obviously the fuse doesn't blow if you let the outlet give all of its power to the game when it's turned on because most pinball games suck a lot of voltage only in the first second to boot up, and if the outlet is strong enough, it will hold through this and the fuse will not blow. Once you have more devices like a computer or a stereo on the same outlet, this could pose a problem since the voltage isn't enough for the pinball game to boot up and the fuse will blow. However, this does not prevent my Terminator 2 from blowing it randomly sometimes even though it's alone on an outlet, and it works most of the time even with my computer being on the same outlet and running. The only safe way to keep a pinball game from doing this is installing a voltage control which reduces the voltage when it gets too high. This makes the game take longer to boot up, but it prevents the fuse from blowing every time. My Machine: Bride of Pin*Bot has such a thing installed thanks to Peter, its seller.


The player takes the role of an American top F-14 pilot who tries to kill the "evil Russian" general Yagov. It's cheap and very clichéd, and reminds everyone of the movie Top Gun. There are big fans of the F-14 for the theme and gameplay, but it was really not my cup of tea at all.
The theme is carried by explosive yellow and red optics and a lot of war sounds including turbines, missiles, explosions, screams and the pilots' voices (of course with American and Russian accents). The music, while not entirely annoying, is so classic 80s poppy that it gives you a very warm, old-school pinball feeling, however it is not spectacular. What is indeed spectacular are the dome lights on top of the backbox which turn on and start rotating once you have locked all balls. You can turn your room into a disco with this effect. Flashers are also on the playfield and brighten it up some (like most Steve Ritchie games do).


the lit playfieldIf F-14 failed for me besides the theme, it was in the gameplay. The playfield has the trademarks of Steve Ritchie's earlier games, with loops, long lanes, upstepping lane lights, 4-ball action-loaded multiball and most of all, fast rushing speed. The problem with my F-14 was that the flippers were weak and the mylar on the playfield was not made of one single large film, but many little parts that started coming off, taking flakes of paint along and looking really dirty. It slowed the ball down and the game was not very fast with the weak flippers anyway. At this time I did not know anything about the technology under the playfield, even if I looked at it, and thus I also didn't know how to tune the flippers to give them back their original power. Actually I felt fine with them until Peter came for a test play before we agreed to make the exchange deal with The Machine, and he told me that the flippers were very weak and needed to be tuned.
So why don't I like F-14's gameplay? The playfield is too open, it has four flippers (two at the top) which is too much in my opinion, there is only a single bumper in the middle which doesn't see much action, there are really no moving mechanics like drop targets, plastic models or motors... the gameplay is also very straightforward with only the multiball locks being the main goal, then getting the Fighter Jackpot by shooting the locks again (which is tough). Otherwise, you can go for the Kills which are named from Alpha to Golf, and once you've completed all of them, Extra Ball is lit. Not much more to do except advancing the bonus, shooting loops etc. The whole gameplay is too simple for my taste and doesn't keep me (or any of my friends) going for more than ten minutes. So, giving this game away was not a loss to me at all, especially since I could gain my highly anticipated Machine in exchange for it.


clearly visible: the mylar problemsNope, not at all since I had read quite a bit about mylar removal, but the risk was too high to try for a beginner like me. I would probably attempt to do it nowadays, but back then, I had absolutely no skills in restoration of a pinball machine, nor the technical knowledge to repair broken stuff. I did clean the plastics and the playfield with normal glass cleaner though, and I also re-placed the missing spinner which I got from a Pinball Network forum member (thanks, Mario). He also sent me self-made transparent stickers for the insert letters in case I still wanted to remove the mylar and apply those stickers to the inserts for continued lettering. I gave those stickers to Peter instead with the game. Also, I ordered a slingshot plastic replica from a professional forum user since the right slingshot had a different plastic on it. And there was the problem with the third display...
A defective EOS switch on the left flipper gave me some headaches because I was not sure how the flippers worked. I found most of it out on my own by studying the technology under the playfield and realizing which switches and contacts were installed on the intact right flipper. I replaced the broken part of the EOS switch with a metal plate that I taped to the leftover of the switch blade, and it worked for some time; however, it was never a perfect solution. So, what I did get from the F-14 was knowledge about the flippers and some basic stuff like playfield assembly on the top side, how the bumper and the slingshots worked, what mylar could turn out like, how to clean the lamps and so on. All the basic stuff you need to know I learned from this machine, but it was never enough to attempt anything serious with it.

Where is it Now?

the upper part features only one bumperThe F-14 found a temporary new home in Peter's basement, at the exact same spot where The Machine used to reside before she saw the light of day in my room. I was especially amazed at the power of the flippers, the smoothness of the playfield and the speed of the game packed with mecha-nical stuff that I so loved, that the F-14 was dead in my head already after my first game on The Machine. At this time, I had pretty much given up the thought of owning an older pinball game since I was branded by the F-14's weak gameplay and thought that every machine from the 80s was like this. Obviously this was wrong; there are great games from the 80s with lots of stuff to do, only that they are never as complex as the WPC games from the 90s (of which The Machine is one of the first). Actually it struck me later that I should indeed look for an older game that would be better than the F-14, and I found one or two. Peter's older machines, like Pin*Bot and Black Knight 2000, were a lot of fun and showed me what a fast 80s machine can be like. Still, I wanted The Machine first and foremost and I was and am still of the opinion that the 90s games fit more to my taste, especially because of the complex rules and the features on the playfield. I do like the basic player-near approach of the 80s, but only with selected machines.
Peter didn't like the F-14 too much by the time and sold it to another forum member, so I suppose it's now somewhere in the middle of Germany. I don't miss it; instead, I welcome my Machine every day and cuddle her like she deserves it. XD


There are no media for this game that I made. However, check out the Internet Pinball Database for some stuff.
© 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.