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Star Trek: The Next Generation
Galaxy Class Pinball. Engage!
Designer: Steve Ritchie
IPDB Link: http://www.ipdb.org/machine.cgi?id=2357
Date of Writing: 25th May 2005, 3rd July 2005
Repair & Restoration Logs
Star Trek: The Next Generation, which is commonly abbreviated by STTNG because of the long name (which needs to be fully written to avoid confusion with the classic Star Trek machine from Bally), is one of the biggest and most popular modern pinball games ever created. Many collectors never even think of giving their STTNG away, yet there are some in sale circulation all the time because so many were made. This means that acquiring an STTNG is very easy, however it's more difficult to find one without problems and in fine visual condition for a fair price. STTNG does have technical and optical problems which are very common and is therefore not for everyone, but the game itself is said to be one of the most complex and exciting pinball adventures of all time. Many simply find this machine to be the best on earth.
Of course, the Star Trek phenomenon serves as the perfect basis for the perfect (?) machine, and it is no surprise that Williams took the opportunity to make their biggest game ever in 1993 with the full license of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which is the most popular and most successful series of the franchise. At the time the series was scheduled to launch its final season #7, so the popularity had been laid down to create a true hit seller in the pinball industry. Probably everyone who has even remotely watched TV or has any knowledge of film and television knows what Star Trek is, so player access is the widest a pinball game can get.
I'm not a Star Trek fan. I wasn't interested in this machine until now. I saw lots of photos and noticed that the community loves the game, however there were some factors which just limited my interest in the game. Firstly it's a widebody machine, which means that it is a little wider than standard games and that the playfield naturally has more horizontal space for the elements and ball travel. I don't like most widebody games because many of them play slower than the tighter standard width machines. Then, I like playfields which are straight and have recognizable structures, and most of the older games are designed like this. However, starting with STTNG Williams began designing more and more "colourful" playfields with whirled ramps, wireforms, ball paths, lamp inserts and corresponding art-work. Good examples of this freehand design are Tales of the Arabian Nights and Cirqus Voltaire. I played both machines time ago and learned that they are excellent games, but I would still choose straight design over freehand. The experience made me more open to the other 90s machines, though.
However, what got me started with STTNG was something else. It wasn't like I never was interested in it at all, I just didn't care much about it. But I remembered playing it as a child as one of my first pinball games in my life. It were only two games I played and I didn't make it particularly far (I wasn't aware of the ruleset and all), but I walked away partially fascinated (however, any pinball machine fascinated me in that time). When my friend Chris learned that a Star Trek pinball machine exists, he always wanted to play it because he is a Star Trek viewer, and a while ago I read that there was an STTNG right down the street in a bar not far from here, so we went there to check it out. The machine was dirty and worn, but it played relatively well except for the upper flipper and the right slingshot. We played some games (and made it farther than I did as a child) and it was, as Data would say, intriguing. The machine had ten times greater appeal in reality than on photos or on my computer.
One morning I woke up and had an idea. It was so real that I wanted to make it come true. I thought, "you're going to sell your Terminator 2 and try buying the STTNG down there in that bar." Now why did this happen? I was starting to get bored with T2 although it was always a very cool machine and lots of fun. It was also the newest game I ever owned. But all of this didn't help that I needed something else than only my new Diner game, which was very nice and enjoyable - but I had one year of pinball after me and my game skill and demand for challenge and entertainment had grown. I now easily made big scores on Diner and I beat The Machine; only Black Knight 2000 gave me a challenge, however this game is not as complex as I'd like it to be. This didn't initially mean that I wanted to get rid of BK2000, but I needed something new, finally a machine from later than 1991 which had complex gameplay and more features. My need for a classic game is long over anyway; I've moved through several System 11 games and Xenon, and all of them left again be-cause they didn't hold long enough.
I could have gotten any modern machine since they are all complex and chal-lenging, however most of them have themes which don't attract me very much, and some of them cost a lot more money than I could ever afford now. Since I wanted to sell T2, which had practically no challenge left, I estimated to get 600 Euros for it which I would add to some money I had, and I wanted to get the most complex machine I could for under 1000 Euros, and STTNG was the only option, plus I had played it and I knew what I was going to buy. I was still skeptical because of the playfield design and artwork, and mostly because of the theme. But you don't need to know Star Trek to understand a pinball game.
I went down to the bar and asked. At first the guy wanted to tell me that pinball machines normally cost more than 3000 Euros on eBay. Yeah, right. He wasn't in charge though and he told me that the machine was maintained (was it ever?) by a private operator, and I returned later to find that guy and talked to him. He had far more realistic knowledge and I even offered my clean and working T2 to him in exchange for the STTNG shouldn't he want to sell the machine. He denied, but he said he would think about selling for one thousand. That was too much for such a condition and I wanted to stay under one grand, so I looked elsewhere. Frank, a pinball collector in Berlin from the Pinball Network forum whom I had visited earlier this year, owns an STTNG himself and kept looking for offers, and one morning he called me and told me there was an untested and unseen STTNG for sale on the forum for 480 Euros only! At first I didn't understand what he was talking about, but then I quickly looked over the offer. It was one of the forum's prime members selling a few machines from a friend of his who had most of these games stand around for a while and was now fearing space issues. I thought, "what the hell, for half the price it is worth, nothing can be asked for" and I bought it. With T2 selling for 550, I actually got money back! However, I had to invest this money and some more into a brand new dot matrix display because this STTNG was said to have none anymore. The DMD arrived one day before the machine and so the adventure began.
Star Trek: The Series
I started watching Star Trek: The Next Generation on a regular basis in May. All Star Trek series are somehow circling around German TV (all dubbed, as is the standard in Germany) on different channels and times. It used to be more regular a few years ago, but except for the new Enterprise series and Voyager, the Star Trek universe is more of a filler on afternoon and weekend TV. In my life I have seen a few episodes or at least minutes of every series, like so many people have, and of course I know what it is all about. Star Trek has never fascinated me enough to watch it regularly though because it is not what I consider space fiction. I find space very interesting and pinball builds greatly upon it, but I love the present day space exploration and movies which deal with tragedies and the dangers of space. Star Trek is a vision very distant from what we have today and it focuses so much on characters and their interaction with each other and aliens (most of which are hilariously humanoid), it seems more like a soap opera in space to me (and some others I've talked to). Many people like this, but it isn't what I fall for. Although I like strong character development a lot as I have come to see much more intensive character stories in Japanese animation, Star Trek just didn't do it for me. Plus, most of what I used to see was Voyager and all the terms they used and the problems they encountered were not clearly understandable. Obviously one needs to follow the whole uni-verse a bit to know what is what.
Nevertheless I was curious about The Next Generation because of its huge success and, because I want to see every film one of my pin-ball machines might be based on (for example, I would watch the Stargate movie once I get the pinball game), the machine got me interested in trying it out from the beginning where it was easy to understand and to follow the events as they unfolded. Not what you see when you just hop in to any episode running on TV. While being skeptical enough, I got my hands on the DVD version of the first TNG season and started watching (in English, unlike on TV). It was interesting to see it develop and to have the story from the beginning. It was also remarkable to know how early the series began and what it looked like at that time (in 1987), especially the characters who changed looks or disappeared (like Tasha) over the years. I watched the whole season in one week and learned a lot about what I saw and heard in the pinball game, and many things now make more sense to me. Star Trek is still nothing that fascinates me like many other things, but I found my way into TNG and its characters and I simply view it like a "space opera", ignoring the fact that it isn't what I consider great space fiction. Some episodes however do explore great theories and mysteries, and these are among the best I've seen. Also, character development is nice to follow as the characters in TNG are very likeable and sound very natural in the original English version. By now I have seen several seasons and I'm moving on till I've watched all seven, and with every season comes new information which enhances the background that makes the pinball game more enjoyable - although the gameplay itself doesn't require that.
Theme & Design
The characters, technology and story of Star Trek: The Next Generation are very well captured in this machine. If I had not watched the series, I wouldn't be able to comment on the theme like I can now. In essence, the game touches a lot of events that happen in the series, shows races like the Romulans, Cardassians and the Borg, implements technology like warp speed, weaponry and energy-matter transports, and connects all these things so that you go on a journey on board the Enterprise when you start playing. You find yourself among the lead cast on the bridge including the seven most important actors lending their voices to the game, a special appearance by Q (also represented by his actor) and some well-known voices from enemies and allies. While you play, the modes you start lead you into situations just like they happen in several TNG episodes, and once you face Borg multi-ball, you fight Starfleet's most fearsome enemy together with the Enterprise crew.
This approach is quite different from some other machines with licensed themes, and it's very interesting. However, not only the huge variety of characters and events makes STTNG so impressive; the audio which comes in DCS sound features the full theme compressed from rearranged fragments that make the music dynamic, as the song can be looped in intervals (for example at the start of a ball) or stopped for a musical change and later be picked up again. The sound quality is very high, it's not CD quality but DCS is in fact one of the most versatile pinball audio systems and the music in the game sounds very close to what you hear in the series. This also means that a lot of other pieces appear, specifically tailored to the mission or mode you play to give every situation acoustic significance. For example, the Time Rift mission features a very fantastic-sounding music loop which creates mystery and confusion, while the Borg multi-ball has extremely dramatic and pressurizing music which reaches its peak with each jackpot shot.
Audio goes on with a lot of Star Trek style sound effects, most of which can be recognized as computer sounds which appear in the ambience of the show, however there are definitively original sound effects too which sound somehow familiar, yet they never appeared in the series. The sound design was very well conceived and produced so that every shot you make either makes the machine vibrate under the deep bass of a ship's flyby or an explosion, or you hear phaser blasts and red alert klaxons enhancing the drama. Combine that with the mentioned musical impact and add the original voice cast, who did a very good job when recording the samples (and there are lots of voice samples on STTNG) = you can hardly dislike the audio of this game. The only downside is that some speech samples are timed very incorrectly, especially noticeable with Worf notifying you of a lit Neutral Zone, who often ends up interrupting another crew conversation because the software tries to use the wrong free moment to play his sample.
Visually, STTNG is a mixed bag. Some people and myself find that the artwork
on the playfield could have been more threedimensional; it looks very flat
on first sight, especially the Enterprise model in the center. The
characters on the backglass are quite well drawn, however each character has
something to their faces that isn't quite right. This is a little "common
practice" in pinball art, though. But because visuals aren't only about
depictions of objects, I like the colours of the playfield and cabinet a
lot. The cabinet artwork packs a punch, it looks truly what you would
expect from a modern Enterprise license of any kind. The playfield colour
scheme mixes very well with the objects attached to it and the lights -
STTNG looks especially alluring when you play it in the dark although the
playfield is a bit hard to see in the upper area because the GI lighting
isn't very bright there. Still, the lamps only add to the beautiful colour
mix of black, purple and blue and give it a slightly warm and spacey
ambience. Also, the flasher effects are stunning and really give vibrancy to
the upper area of the playfield. When Borg multiball starts, the whole
playfield goes dark and only the three flashers inside the Borg ship turn on
to light it up in a greenish blue tone while the Borg prepare to attack. And
when the Romulans appear in conflict with the Enterprise, the large green
flasher in the center of the Warbird ship model gives it just the mean green
look from the show. Other flasher effects are the standard white flashers
under some plastics which activate whenever a fight is going on, and the
three flasher under the playfield to light up the shield lamp inserts in
front of the Enterprise model.
The Star Trek theme also continues on the video side of the machine: the DMD
shows countless animations of TNG-related material, for example shuttles
flying by when you hit a ramp, the Enterprise doing its famous warp entrance
when you increase the warp factor, cha-racters appearing onscreen (which is
cool since the DMD is made up as the screen of the Enterprise) and computer
animations displaying information on missions. There is also a video mode on
the Holodeck where you steer a shuttle through a cave tunnel and must find
the right way out while avoiding mines. And to top it all off, a secret video
mode which is relatively easy to find has you play poker with Commander
The Missions: On the Enterprise model in the center of the lower
playfield you can see seven missions represented by lamps around the saucer
section. At game start, the top mission (Battle Simulation) is lit to be
started, but you can change missions by hitting the Q target in front of the
bumpers which normally acts as a mission advancer, i.e. the next mission
will be lit. Once you hit the always-available top center sinkhole under the
Borg ship, the lit mission will be started and you will have to try and
accomplish the given task by shooting the targets which are lit by the white
Starfleet emblems (every target on the playfield has an emblem lamp insert
to mark it for a shot). In some missions you have to keep shooting the same
target(s), in others you must hit specific ones. While missions like
Asteroid Thread (one of my favourites), Time Rift or Search the Galaxy are
usual missions which have to be completed before time runs out, Battle
Simu-lation is a mode purely designed for the cannons where you have to hit
the two top sinkholes alternatively with each cannon, and Q's Challenge is
different in that Q appears to "play a game" with the crew and he lights
certain targets which you must hit to keep the mission going, or you can add
another target by hitting the Q standup target which normally advances the
Video Modes: As mentioned above, there is a video mode on the
Holodeck featuring a shuttle which you must steer through cave tunnels going
to the left and right. These tunnels are filled with mines to avoid and big
points to collect. Since the mode is very fast, you have to time your
movements very well to reach the end, however it can be learned once and
then be repeated forever because the program never changes. Two secret video
modes which can be activated with keycodes feature a simple poker game with
William Riker as an homage to the poker nights they have in the series, and
a very well hidden Breakout game which requires a long code to be entered
before starting a game.
Update, 1st August 2005:
Some days ago I finished the playfield restoration; I have updated the
repair logs respectively. The mylar was removed and took some insert print
with it, so I had to retouch them. Three inserts including the two pictured
above got new text printed on self-adhesive film. Some of the playfield
photos in this article have been updated to show what the playfield now
looks like since this is how every other STTNG would look if not damaged.
The Bottom Line
|© 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.|