WPT Pinball: A Futuristic Blast From the PastStern Pinball, Inc. Releases New Card-Themed Game

by Bob Pajich
It’s been years since a poker-themed pinball machine was introduced to the public. But with the immense popularity of poker, thanks in particular to the success of the World Poker Tour, now was the logical time to build a new poker-themed pinball machine.
“There was no denying that Texas hold’em is a wave that swept the country, and maybe the world,” says Steve Ritchie, the designer of the WPT Pinball machine. “At the same time, we have not seen a card-themed (pinball) game in a long time.”
Richie runs Steve Ritchie Productions, his own pinball machine design firm, and designed the WPT game for Stern Pinball, Inc, which was just released this week.
Gary Stern, the president of Stern Pinball, is thrilled to have his company contribute to the once-popular genre of card-themed pinball machines.
Chicago’s Stern Pinball is the only pinball manufacturing company in the world. Once upon a time, all pinball companies manufactured machines with card themes. That changed as the popularity of card games wavered.
Now that the popularity is back, the WPT was the natural brand to base a poker machine around.
“It’s lost it’s sizzle for awhile, and it clearly got its sizzle back now,” Stern says. “The World Poker Tour is obviously the king of TV with it.”
Keith Johnson designed the software used in this machine. A regular Card Player Magazine reader and poker buff, he helped Ritchie, who wasn’t a great fan of poker before designing this game, with the texture of the game.
“Basically, I did all the rules of the game as well as the terminology and what the goals of the game should be, and how to incorporate the rules of the show,” Johnson says. “We can’t do a poker simulation because it is a pinball game, but touching on all the elements of poker can be loosely formed into a fun set of rules to play.”
The design was challenging for Ritchie because of the obvious contrasts between a good pinball game and a good poker match. A good poker match is usually quiet and intense, with sporadic outbursts of emotion. Non-poker fans can’t believe people can sit and watch a game of poker for hours.
A good pinball machine is bright, noisy, and flashy with nonstop action that can mesmerize people who have never played the game.
The game has players traveling from city to city in hopes of making it to the WPT final table. A dot matrix display is located in the center of the playfield, showing players their holecards, as well as the flop, turn, and river cards.
The machine also features the most drop-down targets of any game released in recent years. This was traditionally a featured used in the old card-themed pinball machines. Players make hands by hitting the drop targets, which look like cards. The better the hands players make, the higher they score.
The game also features a second playing field that Ritchie loves.
“It’s very exciting to play up there,” he says.
Ritchie says he has learned to appreciate the game of poker, thanks mostly to Johnson’s love of the game.
“I became a fan of hold’em while I was making the game. Keith definitely influenced me,” Ritchie says.
Although he’s talking about his latest pinball machine, Ritchie seems to have come out of the project understanding at least one fact about poker.
“It’s going to take somebody a hell of a long time to beat this game,” Ritchie says.

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