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.


Video games pioneer Atari fears plug set to be pulled

ATARI, the company which became the first giant of the video games industry, today warned there was "substantial doubt" about its ability to continue as a going concern.
The firm, whose shares fell by more than two-thirds in the past year, also reported an unexpected quarterly loss, and said finance boss Diane Baker had resigned to pursue other opportunities.

Atari, which created a sensation with its "Pong" arcade game in the 1970s, has been working to revive its business at the same time that a move to new console technology is denting overall industry sales.
Chairman and chief executive Bruno Bonnell said: "We will do everything in our potential to guarantee that Atari goes on," but stressed there was no guarantee such efforts would succeed.
The games group confirmed that HSBC Business Credit (USA) would not currently extend further credit. However, one analyst noted that Atari had ample assets and that it could reduce operating expenses to stay afloat.
The video games industry is transitioning to next-generation console technology, with Microsoft first to market with its Xbox 360 in November. However, holiday shortages exacerbated declining sales of existing games and consoles as consumers saved for cutting-edge products.
Sony, the number one console maker, and rival Nintendo are set to release their machines this year. Analysts expect 2006 to be another trying year for the sector.
Mr Bonnell said the drop in holiday sales was bigger than Atari had anticipated.
The company is looking at various cost-reducing options, including a "serious restructuring," the sale or license of selected intellectual property and the sale or closure of its studios, he added.


HOUSE FOLDS -- Deputies seize video gaming machines

By THOMAS BROWN, T&D Staff WriterThursday, February 09, 2006
Orangeburg County Sheriff’s deputies have seized almost 30 video gaming machines that they say were used for illegal gambling.The first seizure occurred last month, when eight machines were taken from an Ulmer Street residence.Deputies began their investigation after a concerned citizen complained of suspicious activity on Ulmer Street. After approximately two weeks of investigation, deputies seized the machines and charged James D. Cleckley, 53, of 1123 Deer Crossing Road, with unlawful games and betting, Orangeburg County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Clark Whetstone said.“The Ulmer Street location was a gambling house,” Whetstone said. “He had different bedrooms set up as gaming rooms. He had locations for people to smoke while they were gambling and places for nonsmokers.” Snack cakes were also sold at the location.Whetstone said the operation worked on a 70/30 split, with the house taking 30 percent of the money and giving 70 percent out in winnings.Deputies, acting with agents from the State Law Enforcement Division, seized an additional 21 machines from five other locations in Orangeburg County this month. Whetstone declined to give more information on the other locations because “this investigation is currently ongoing and being researched for further applicable laws in the case,” he said.The state Legislature voted in 1999 to end video poker on July 1, 2000, while giving voters an opportunity to keep the machines legal in a referendum. A month before the vote, the state Supreme Court ruled the referendum was unconstitutional but left the ban in place.The plug was pulled on more than 22,000 video gambling machines in the state. Experts called it the largest shutdown of legalized gambling in U.S. history.“When video poker was legal, a lot of people got hooked on it,” Whetstone said. “I’m sure a number of those people found their way to these locations. And we encourage our citizens to be involved and report any suspected criminal activity to law enforcement or Crime Stoppers at 888-832-7463.”Whetstone said the machines seized in the sweep, which include table top and floor models, will be destroyed after the cases go to trial.
T&D Staff Writer Thomas Brown can be reached by e-mail at tbrown@timesanddemocrat.com or by phone at 803-533-5532.



Arcade Claw Offers Live Lobster Prizes

A lobster dangles in a claw of a game machine that has a tank full of live lobsters in a neighborhood store in Scarborough, Maine, on Thursday, Feb. PAT WELLENBACH
By CLARKE CANFIELD (Associated Press Writer)
From Associated PressFebruary 06, 2006 3:37 AM EST
SCARBOROUGH, Maine - You don't have to be a fisherman to catch lobsters anymore. At a neighborhood store in this Portland suburb - and at restaurants and bars in more than a dozen states - customers can plunk down $2 for a chance to catch their very own lobster using a mechanical claw in an arcade-style game.
The apparatus is a new version of the old-style amusement game where players put in a quarter or two in hopes of grabbing a stuffed animal. But instead of plush toys, the Love Maine Lobster Claw game has a water-filled tank full of lobsters.
When a lobster is caught, the restaurants cook it for free and serve it with side dishes.
"He looks like a keeper," said Frank Margel of Westbrook, eyeing a mottled-green crustacean at Eight Corners Market before giving the game a try.
It's easier said than done, however.
Unlike stationary stuffed animals, the lobsters flap their tails, flail their claws and squirm this way and that, making them elusive prey.
"Those lobsters are lively. They're ready for competition," Margel said a minute later - and $2 poorer - after the crustacean slipped away.
Marine Ecological Habitats in Biddeford has been making the Love Maine Lobster game for just over a year and sold a couple of dozen, said Joe Zucchero, the company president.
The Maine-made machines can be found in restaurants and bars in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Maine, Zucchero said. A Florida company, The Lobster Zone Inc., makes a similar machine that it says can be found in more than 20 states.
The game has its critics. Animal rights activists contend it's cruel to toss a lobster into a boiling pot of water. And playing with the creatures before sending them to their deaths rubs some people the wrong way.
"Turning animal cruelty into a game is absolutely hideous," said Karin Robertson of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
A restaurant in Pittsburgh removed its lobster game last week in response to PETA's campaign against the machines.
Paul Carrozzi, owner of Roland's Seafood Grill, said he doesn't agree the machine is inhumane, but removed it after receiving threatening e-mails and calls. "It just wasn't worth it," he said.
Zucchero maintains that the machine has a gentle claw that won't hurt the animals.
"If it did," he said, "we'd have problems because then it would be destroying our inventory."
At Eight Corners Market, customers typically play the game 25 to 30 times a day and catch about eight or so lobsters a week, said store owner Peter Walsh, who also plans to sell lobsters out of the tank.
When the game's in play, it usually draws a crowd. A lighthouse-style beacon flashes on top of the machine when somebody catches a lobster.
"If somebody's playing this game and someone else walks in the store, I guarantee they'll play because they'll see how fun it is," Walsh said.
In Louisiana, Bill Bodin owns two of the machines, which he placed in seafood and Mexican restaurants in Lafayette. The machines do a brisk business, he said, especially when there are lines and people are looking for something to do - or for their kids to do - while waiting for a table.
At Eight Corners Market, Margel gets 30 seconds to catch a lobster for $2. Or he can get three plays for $5 or seven plays for $10.
Working a joystick and a pair of buttons, Margel lowers the claw, clamps it around the lobster and attempts to lift it out of the water. But the lobster fights back and escapes before he can deposit it in an opening and down a chute into his possession.
Margel leaves empty-handed, but he had good time.
"Who cares if you get a lobster for two bucks?" he said.

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