PINBALL ON THE INTERNET
by Russ Jensen
Since I have become fairly heavily involved in "the wonderful world of pinball on-line" in the past year or so, I decided it was about time that I acquaint people with what is available "on-line" as far as pingames are concerned. I have made some mention of this in my coverage of the past two Pinball Expo shows, but I've decided now to devote an entire article to the subject.
Before I get into the "pinball content" of the Internet, a brief description of the "Net" seems to be in order since some of you may not yet be "on-line" and may not know what it's all about. Although today with all the publicity devoted to the Internet in the media, etc., there are probably not too many who do not know at least the basics of the world of "cyberspace".
The "Internet" is a world-wide network of computers linked together by a global communication network (phone lines, communication satellites, etc.). Most large companies, educational institutions, and scientific and government organizations, have computers which directly connect to the Net. Today more and more smaller companies are also connected. In addition, there are a host of companies connected to the Net which allow smaller users (such as individuals with home computers) to connect to the Net via their computers for a monthly (or sometime hourly - although this is starting to disappear) fee. These companies are known as "Internet Service Providers" (ISP's).
Two of the most widely used services on the Net are "email" (Electronic Mail) and "The World Wide Web" (WWW). Email is a system where people all over the world can communicate with each other in a matter of minutes (or hours). Each email user has his own personal "email address" which any other user can use to send him/her personal messages (much like postal mail - referred by Net users as "snail mail") to which the recipient can, of course, respond. It still amazes me how short of a time it takes to send/receive a message from Europe/Asia! My personal email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org .
The World Wide Web (WWW) has been one of the primary ways to obtain information via the Internet and is rapidly becoming a major advertising medium for small and large businesses alike. "Websites" can be set up by almost anybody nowadays (sometimes you need special software - and if you are not connected directly to the Net your ISP has to also provide this connection). Almost all large corporations, and many small companies and individuals, have websites.
Each website has an "address" (known as a Universal Resource Locator", or URL) which a person types in to access that site. After information from the site is retrieved by your computer the "main page" of the site is displayed, often containing some graphics (company logos, etc.) and textual information regarding the person/outfit hosting the site. The user in most cases can select additional information to be displayed or can "link" (transfer control) to other websites that the site owner thinks are informative.
The appearance and amount of information which can be presented at a given site is only limited by the software used to create the site, the ingenuity of the person who sets it up, and in cases where an ISP provides webpage capability to its subscribers, the amount of computer storage allowed to each subscriber.
URLs for websites are probably familiar to most people nowadays who watch TV or read advertisements, and are most commonly in the form - www.companyname.com. "www" meaning, of course, World Wide Web, 'companyname' is of course the name of the outfit that sponsors the site, and "com" indicates that it is a "commercial" outfit. Other common URL suffixes for websites and email addresses are: .edu (educational institution), .gov (government agency - even the White House has a website), .org (private organization), and .net (primarily an Internet provider - although many of these use ".com").
There are also some ISPs which enable their subscribers to set up their own "websites", except they don't have "www" (which I understand normally means that that outfit has a computer specifically devoted to the World Wide Web) in their URLs. For example, the URL of my personal "website" is: http://members.aol.com/rusjensen . (the "http://" is a prefix telling the network what "format" the information to be received is in - and actually stands for "hypertext transfer protocol"). That prefix, by the way, is also used for all World Wide Web sites as well, but is often not shown, it being assumed.
Another popular feature on the Internet is known as "Usenet Newsgroups", usually just referred to as "newsgroups". These are sort of "electronic message boards", each devoted to a particular subject - there are newsgroups devoted to almost any subject you can imagine! People "post" messages to the newsgroup posing questions or comments involving the subject of the particular group. Other people reading these "postings" can then attempt to answer those questions or make further comments (either agreeing or disagreeing with the original comment.)
Most software which reads these newsgroups attempts to group all postings with the exact same subject together, producing what are known as "threads" - often these "threads" consist of 10 or more related postings. The newsgroup dealing with pinball is called "rec.games.pinball" (recreation - games - pinball), but more about that later.
Before leaving the subject of Internet features and getting specifically into "pinball things", I should briefly mention two other Net capabilities. The first is known as "ftp" (File Transfer Protocol) and is a way of retrieving into your computer a myriad of information available for "free" from various on-line entities. This is often used by computer users to obtain (by being transferred directly to their computer's disk drive) much free computer software, and various other files containing information.
The other widely used Internet feature are the so-called "chat rooms" and are very popular with many Internet users. This is a way for many people all over the world to "talk" to each other (during "real time"). Each person participating in a "chat" either uses their "username" or often a pseudonym of their choosing. When a person types a comment on their computer their "name", followed by what they type is displayed on the screens of all other participants in that particular "chat" - resulting in a multi-person dialogue. Often "chat rooms" are devoted to particular subjects, and (as I shall mention later) there is one devoted to pinball.
MY EARLY INTERNET INVOLVEMENT
Now that I have given a general explanation of the Internet and many of its facilities, a little about my personal involvement with it. Long before I actually got "on-line" I had, of course, heard various things about the Internet, including the fact that somewhere on it there was a mention of my book "Pinball Troubleshooting Guide" - in fact, I occasionally received orders for my book in the mail with the letters indicating that they had read about it "on-line".
Well, when I attended Pinball Expo '95 in Chicago they had a short session on the pinball facilities on Internet, complete with an "on-line" demonstration with a computer logged-on to the Net and the computer's screen shown on a large monitor. This demonstration fascinated me, especially how quickly and easily they went from a "site" in Italy to one in this country in a matter of seconds. That session "whetted my appetite" to get on-line, but it was not until over six months later that I actually "took the plunge".
After obtaining a computer modem (a necessity to communicate with "The Net") I finally went on-line in July 1996. I subscribed to Internet service provider "America OnLine" (AOL), after trying it out using their offer of so many hours of free on-line time. The modem I was using at the time was extremely slow (2400 bits/second), but I managed to "plod along".
One of the first things I did, of course, was to "subscribe" to the "rec.games.pinball" (r.g.p) newsgroup mentioned earlier. Shortly after subscribing to r.g.p (by the way there is no cost involved in subscribing to a newsgroup) I was told (via email) from several pin friends that there were certain "unwritten rules" (often referred to as "netiquette") which newsgroup users were supposed to adhere to. I was politely warned to sort of "lay back" and read the messages posted to the group by the "old timers" before jumping in and posting things of my own.
I was a little intimidated at first by the r.g.p rules, and mostly read what other group members had posted. When I finally started posting on my own I discovered that most "r.g.p'ers" were nice people, and through the group made (and am still making) new "pin friends". My posting to the group increased after awhile, but now I only post occasionally - when I think I really have something useful to contribute to the discussions. I do, however, read the r.g.p postings almost every day and find many of them very interesting!
In addition to r.g.p, of course, I also utilize Electronic Mail (email) frequently to communicate with my pin-friends, (in the U.S. and around the world). It still constantly amazes me how quickly you can communicate over long distances in a relatively short time!
This should give you a little idea of how I personally got "on-line", and later I will say a little more about my current involvement. Next, however, I will outline some of the various facilities on Internet which are related to the "world of pinball".
INTERNET 'PINBALL RESOURCES'
(NOTE: Whenever I mention a pinball site in the following discussion I will include in parenthesis its "Universal Resource Locator" (URL). I will however omit the common prefix (http://) which would precede each one.)
With the exception of the r.g.p. newsgroup previously mentioned (more about that later), most of the pinball resources on the Net are "sites" on the "World Wide Web" (WWW). Probably the most extensive pinball website is located in Sweden (although the information is in English) and is called "The Pinball Pasture" (URL - www.lysator.liu.se/pinball/). It is maintained by a young man named David Byers who is a graduate student at a university there.
There is a host of pinball information on Pinball Pasture, including "links" to many other pinball related websites. One of the major facilities on the Pasture, however, is the massive "Internet Pinball Database" (IPD). This is a listing of almost every pinball machine ever made with quite a bit of information on each game. In addition to its name, manufacturer, and approximate date of release, the IPD has (when it is known to them) such information as the game's designer, artist, production quantities, and some of its play characteristics. Also, for many of the games (and more are coming) you can view pictures of the game's backglass and playfield. The IPD is a tremendous asset and is growing continuously!
Another interesting asset of The Pasture is the "Internet Pinball Project" (IPP). This is another database listing games and all the manufacturer's serial numbers of machines which are know to the compilers of this database. Pinball Pasture users who own any pinball machine are asked to submit the serial numbers of the machines they own. The purpose of this (and other similar serial number projects) is to try and estimate the quantities of each game which were produced, as these "production figures" are for some reason kept more of less "secret" by game manufacturers - but figures from some manufacturers are finally being uncovered and published.
Another asset of the Pasture is its fine "Pinball Bibliography". This is a listing of books and magazine articles on the subject of pinball - this listing is also growing as more information is provided to the people who maintain the database.
That should give you a little idea of some of the great information that is available to all who "come to The Pinball Pasture".
Speaking of magazine articles, another fantastic website for pinball fans wishing to read more about all aspects of pinball is the "Pinball Literature Index" (PLI). This site (URL - http://www.netreach.net/people/pinflipper/plindex.htm) is maintained by Doug Landman of Upper Darby, PA, who is putting out a great deal of effort in compiling/maintaining this listing! The basic PLI database is essentially divided into four sections.
The first section is a detailed listing of pinball related articles which have appeared over the years in "amusement related" publications (hobby magazines like COIN SLOT, etc. and industry "trade magazines"). The only articles excluded from this part of the database are those of a technical nature (including articles on game restoration) which are found in the third section of the database, and articles pertaining to specific games.
Articles relating to a specific game, plus photos of games appearing in magazines, and most of the pinball books which have come out over the years, are contained in the second section of the database. Each game pictured in a magazine article or book is listed along with the publication (book or specific issue of a magazine) in which it appears, and the page number where it can be found. This is a fantastic aid to anyone who wants to know what a specific pinball machine looked like or what its characteristics were!
The fourth and final part of the PLI is a listing of articles on pinball which have appeared over the years in various "popular" publications (Life, Look, Sports Illustrated, etc.). In addition to all this information, the first part of the listing contains much detailed information on how to use the listing, and includes publication information on almost all the magazines and books referenced in the body of the listing! This in itself is a valuable resource for anyone wanting to know what "pinball publications" have appeared over the years! "Hats off" to Doug for the work he does in keeping this massive list up to date!
Another interesting and fairly recent addition to pinball on the Web is the site of the "Pinball Arcade Preservation Society", commonly referred to as "PAPS". (URL - http://www.visi.com/~scraig/PAPS/PAPS.html). PAPS is maintained by Steven J. Craig in Minnesota and contains a list of pinball machines owned by various people - primarily pinball collectors. This listing is alphabetical by the names of the owners, and under each owner (such as myself) is a list of the pinball machines he/she owns.
The PAPS listing is growing all the time as more and more collectors submit lists of their personal collections. Also, once a month the maintainer of the listing compiles, and "posts" on the rec.games.pinball newsgroup, the "PAPS Top 50 List" - a list of the games owned by the largest number of persons listed in the PAPS.
Another very interesting (and fairly new) pinball item on "WWW" is actually a monthly "on-line magazine" devoted entirely to pinball! This "cyberpub" is called "Silverball News and Views" (SNV for short) and is put together by Scott Tiesma of Howell, MI (URL - http://www.livingonline.com/~tiesma/pinball/silver). In addition to putting out SNV, Scott is also one of the main contributors to the Pinball Bibliography on The Pinball Pasture mentioned earlier. At the time I wrote this (July 1997) there have been two issues of SNV (May and July, 1997).
SNV is a very fine "publication" and is improving with each issue. It includes such sections as: Current Reader Write-ins, Editorials, Old/New Game Reports/Reviews, Tournament and Event Wire-Ups, Original Articles/Stories/Prose, Cartoons/Humor, and Webpage Reviews. I wish to congratulate Scott on all the time and effort he is putting into publishing SNV, and to compliment him on his "graphic design" for the "cover" and in many articles!
While on the subject of "on-line magazines", I would like to make a brief mention of another one - although it is not related to pinball in any way. It is called "Windowatch" (URL - www.windowatch.com), and is published by a very nice lady in West Virginia (who is also a friend of my good friend and West Virginia pinball collector, John Campbell) named Lois Laulicht. It is a "computer techie" publication and covers a wide variety of topics connected with modern computing.
Windowatch has some great computer related articles, including a fantastic tutorial on the "HTML" language used to create almost all Internet "websites"! While it has no pinball content, there are computer articles written by several pinball fans, including the above mentioned John Campbell, a couple past "computer history" articles by your's truly, and articles by Virginia pinball enthusiast David Kindle who is an expert on "multimedia" and "computer based training".
Now back to pinball sites! Many private pinball collectors also have websites with various types of information on them. One of the largest of these is the FLIPPER PAGE site (URL - www.tilt.it/english.htm) put up by Italian pinball collector Federico Croci. Besides having a large pinball machine collection, and collections of pinball advertising flyers, etc., Federico is an expert on the special pingame versions put out by some pinball manufacturers for export to Italy, made to comply with certain idiosyncracies of Italian law. On Federico's site you can view pictures of the games and brochures in his collection, as well as read an article by him on the above mentioned "Italian version" pingames.
Still other Internet pinball sites are what you might call "utility sites". That type of site usually contains information on pingames, parts and literature offered for buy, sell, or trade, or tips on game repair, restoration, etc.. An example of such a site is Daina Petit's MR PINBALL website (URL - www.xmission.com/~daina/pinball.html). Daina's site has a variety of "sections" which I shall briefly describe.
The first of these is titled "T-Shirts, Hat's and Mugs" wherein information is provided on those types of items which Daina has for sale. Next there is a place where a visitor can go and see a "Repair Tip of the Day" regarding pingames. This is apparently changed each day - and there is an "archive" available where you can see past "tips", as well.
The next area of Daina's site is labeled "Documentation" and is broken down into two areas. The first provides information on several versions of his "Mr. Pinball List" - a listing of almost all "flipper pinball" games made since 1947, plus baseball "pitch and bat" machines and "bingo pinballs". Those lists contain information on each game's manufacturer, date of release, production quantity (if known), and some game characteristics. Several versions of the list are offered for sale, including both printed and "computer" versions.
The other category of "documentation" offered for sale is pingame schematics and manuals. After providing some notes describing the material offered for sale and prices, there is a list of the games for which he currently has documentation available.
The next section of "Mr. Pinball" is a "Pinball Collectors Register". This was originally started a couple years ago by a fellow named Ray Nelson and recently taken over by Daina. Collectors wishing to be listed submit their name, address, email address, and information on the types and eras of pingames in which they are interested. Anyone wishing to be added to this listing can do so by filing out a "form" while "on-line".
The next, and one of the most extensive sections on the site, is "Pinball Classified". This ads section is divided into two major sections - Machines and Parts, which are further subdivided into For Sale and Wanted. In both For Sale sections (Machines and Parts) newer entries (those submitted within the past two weeks) are specially marked. The Machines For Sale subsection also has a "search" capability where you can search for a particular game you are looking for!
The final two sections of Daina's site are a "Photos" section and "Events". In the former you can view on your computer photos of the playfield and backglass of approximately 40 machines whose names are listed there. The "Events" section lists pinball related shows, etc. which will occur later.
Other pinball sites on Internet are more or less "commercial". Those are usually put up by dealers in pingames, parts, and literature. An example of such a site is that of ALL TECH VENDING of Poughkeepsie, NY (URL- www.idsi.net/alltech). When you get to their "main menu" you see that they first have a section where you can select categories of items for sale, including Pinballs, Video games, Jukeboxes, and "Misc.". These are subdivided into separate areas for each type of equipment - Machines and Parts
In the For Sale sections photos of some of the machines are shown, along with the machine's name, manufacturer, date, price, and also a "Comments" column. The Parts For Sale section for pinball lists such items as rubber ring sets, balls, bulbs, wax, and schematics - plus even a few backglasses.
Further down the "main page" you can select other "services" the company provides including: Repair Service, Equipment Rentals (for parties, etc.), and even putting machines "on location".
Now that I've given information on some of the pinball sites on the World Wide Web, I will say a little about my own personal "webpage" (URL - http://members.aol.com/rusjensen). My page is called "Russ Jensen's Pinball History Page" and begins with a photo of probably my favorite pingame in my personal collection, Genco's 1941 game METRO.
After the photo is a list of 11 of my previous articles (originally published in COIN SLOT over the years). Anyone wishing to read any of the articles "on-line" can do so. If a person wishes to copy an article to their computer a capability exists to "download" it. You can also view a list of all of the articles I have ever written - and if you like, you can email me and ask for a copy to be sent to you (either by mail or email) or ask that I add that article to the ones available for viewing. There is also available from my "webpage" an easy way to send email to me.
If a person is interested in my book, Pinball Troubleshooting Guide, he/she can go to a special page describing the book and providing ordering information. Also you can have another special page displayed which contains "links" where you can go to some of my favorite Internet sites, including most of those I have previously described. That pretty much describes my personal "webpage".
Before ending the discussion of webpages, I should emphasize that one common feature of most of those "pages" are "links" to other's pages as described above. Using those "links" a person can easily navigate between pages on the Internet in a matter of seconds (or minutes) and can view much information on a particular subject (such as pinball) from all around the world!
Now I would like to discuss in more detail one of my favorite "pinball facilities" of the Internet, the "rec.games.pinball" Usenet Newsgroup, better known to its contributors as simply "r.g.p".
As I said earlier, a "newsgroup" on Internet is sort of a "electronic message board" where people post messages on the subject to which that particular newsgroup is devoted - in the case of r.g.p that is, of course, pinball. The topics of postings on r.g.p cover a variety of categories, including items for buy, sell, or trade, information on characteristics of old and new pingames, pinball history questions, and requests for help with particular pinball related problems, etc..
The number of postings to r.g.p vary somewhat from day to day, but usually average over 50 or so per day I would estimate! The number of individuals contributing posts also varies, and there is generally a "core" of contributors who post a majority of the messages. One of the r.g.p regulars used to publish monthly statistics on such things, but he has discontinued that.
The r.g.p contributors are generally a good group of people (well, so are most pinball fans, aren't they?) and there is much less "controversy" on that newsgroup I am told than on other newsgroups. There is a practice on many newsgroups known as "flaming" where people post insulting comments regarding other people's posts, but this is extremely rare on r.g.p. All in all, r.g.p users are a very friendly and helpful group, and provide much valuable information to their fellow "pin fans".
Much of the information posted to r.g.p has to do with answering questions and solving problems. A person, for instance, might know of a game offered for sale in his area and post a query asking others for the age, fair price, or opinions on the playability or rarity of the game. A good many r.g.p postings deal with problems someone is having with a particular game, with many others responding with their ideas on possible solutions to the particular problem.
While some of the pingames discussed on r.g.p are of the older type (my major area of pinball interest), most have to do with the later model (and current) solid-state pingames. When a new game comes out there is much discussion on r.g.p as to its characteristics and playability, both pro and con. Some people also offer suggestions on ideas they have for new games, with others quickly commenting on them.
The above should give a little idea of what goes on on the r.g.p newsgroup, and a good part of my "Internet related time" is occupied by reading (and occasionally posting to) that great newsgroup. I cannot overemphasize the usefulness of r.g.p to the "pinball community"!
Before ending this discussion I should mention an area of Internet which I myself do not participate in, however to many pinball fans it is very important. That is the weekly Internet "chat room" devoted to pinball. It utilizes an Internet facility called "Internet Relay Chat", or "IRC" for short.
(NOTE: For those interested in this "pinball facility" here is a little information I received from Scott Tiesma regarding how to get there - This is at irc.citenet.net and the channel is #pinball (for those who do use IRC they might want the address). It is customarily done at 9:00 pm EST on Sundays, though people do congregate there throughout the week as well. Also, various industry insiders pop‑up from time to time... and some are regulars.)
Since I have never attempted to participate in this activity I can't say too much about it. All I know is that every Sunday evening a group of pinball fans get together in a special "chat room" on Internet and have a group participation discussion of pinball related items. Maybe someday I will investigate this aspect of Internet, but probably not for awhile.
To end my discussion of Internet pinball activities, I would like to say a little about an activity which has taken up a great deal of my time in the past year - the "repairing" of pinball machines via email. All in all I have helped probably ten or twelve people in various areas of the country and the world (Canada, Germany, Australia, etc.) to fix problems in their electro-mechanical pingames.
Often when someone posts a plea for help on r.g.p describing a problem they are having with their game, I reply via email (I could reply by posting to r.g.p, but these "repair sessions" usually involve several "back and forth" messages which would tend to "clutter up" the newsgroup) giving suggestions as to what might be causing their particular problem(s). After several back and forth email messages their problem is always solved.
Well, that ends my overview of "pinball activities" on the Internet. I know I have only "scratched the surface" of the many, many pinball related "websites", etc. on the Net. In fact, if you perform a "topic search" on "pinball" using one of the so-called "Search Engines" available on Internet, you will come up with over 2000 websites, I believe - and this does not include many websites (like my own) which are not "registered" with these search facilities.
All I can say is if your not already involved "try it, you'll like it" when it comes to getting "on-line" and delving into "the wonderful world of pinball on the Internet"! If you have any questions about this subject feel free to email me at: email@example.com. Happy surfing!