CHICAGO -- The reboot of Williams Electronics' Ye Olde Medieval Madness by Planetary Pinball and Chicago Gaming Co. has shown without a doubt that the home market is driving pinball machine sales. Announced in October at Pinball Expo 2013, Medieval's first run of 1,000 games was sold out within hours in advance orders. The remake of the most beloved of all pin games is expected to roll off the Chicago Gaming's production line in the second quarter.
Introduced in summer 1997, the game's production run ended at 4,016 units, a modest volume for the period. Although pinballs had been declining for operators, even the dwindling games out on the street couldn't stop the pin from attaining near-cult status among silver ball enthusiasts. Those original games, designed by Brian Eddy and programmed by Lyman Sheats, now fetch impressive prices on the collectors' marketplace. EBay prices for the game can top $20,000. The new version will sell for about $8,000.
"Some say it was the best pinball game of all time," said Chicago Gaming's Douglas Duba. "It's certainly one of the most collectible. It's got a great playfield layout and rule set. Both experts and novices enjoy this game."
San Jose, CA-based Planetary Pinball, which holds the rights to the Williams' game, is the producer of the remake; it will also distribute the line. Chicago Gaming is the manufacturer. Together, the companies will strive to create an accurate reproduction.
"It's built to the same exacting standards as the original," Duba said. "However, we needed to engineer an electronic platform because many of the original components from 20 years ago are no longer available. On the outside, every component is manufactured according to the original blueprint."
This accuracy extends, serendipitously, to the Chicago Gaming factory occupying the 100,000-sq.ft. formerly used by Williams to produced the original Medieval pin.
Duba predicts that it will be very difficult to distinguish the new Medieval Madness from its ancestor. What's more, the new game will use the original audio source files. The bonus here is that Tina Fey (yes, that Tina Fey) voiced a variety of the game character roles, along with other Chicagoans Kevin Adsit, Andrea Ferrell and Kevin Dorf.
The centerpiece of the Medieval Madness playfield is an animated castle with a solenoid-controlled portcullis and motorized drawbridge. One of the game's primary objectives is to "destroy" six castles by hitting the castle's entryway with the pinball. The game also features two Trolls, animated targets normally concealed below the playfield that can pop up during certain gameplay modes. The original game's ramps introduced a patented feature that would prevent a failed ramp shot from draining straight down the middle between the flippers.
Planetary and Chicago Gaming expect only a small percentage of their games to end up in street locations and FECs, with the majority being gobbled up by collectors. "The home market is just such a huge factor in pinball today," Duba said. "But I do think it influences operators' buying decisions. They often offer a used pin to the home market for nearly as much as they paid for it. So the resale value has influenced operators to buy pins."
The resale values of pinball machines have fueled something of a resurgence of the games on the street. Pins are among the few coin-op games generally not available to most casual players as home units. This fact only adds to their high-value target demographics. Whether the nearly certain success of the Medieval Madness reproduction will mean the release of additional classics is still uncertain. "Right now, were filling a demand for a specific game," Duba said.