Date: 17th May, 2012
I know what you're thinking. The Pinball Compendium has been out for years, so why are we doing a review of it now? The answer is that it has been revised and updated with new machine prices and information on the newer Stern games.
Putting '...to Present' in the title of any printed publication is inviting comment on the fact that 'Present' means when the book was published, and it is therefore liable to be out-of-date even before it hits the bookshelves.
This third book in Michael Shalhoub's trilogy covering the history of pinball was originally published in 2005 and covered games and events up until the start of that year. But a lot has happened in the intervening seven years. New people have entered the business, many have changed jobs or left for alternative careers, while we have also lost a few well-known characters. There have also been many new games released, all of which have stories to tell.
Before we look at how these events have been covered in The Pinball Compendium, let's do a brief summary of the book as it was originally released.
Michael's in-depth examination of the history of pinball was divided into three distinct eras, with each receiving a book dedicated to it.
The first covered the electro-mechanical years which ran from pinball's beginnings in the 1930s to 1969. The second encompassed the end of the electro-mechanical era and the transition to solid-state technology up to 1981.
The third - which is the subject of this review - takes pinball from an established solid-state system in 1982 when the industry's attention was on the battle against the dominance of video games, through video's demise and the transition to dot-matrix display technology, to the Pinball 2000 experiment, and finally to the reduction in the number of pinball manufacturers to just one by 2005.
A number of seismic shifts took place in the pinball and coin-op industries during these years and Michael's book examines these and documents them thoroughly, through hundreds of pictures and extensive interviews with all those involved in pinball at the time.
While the game designers are given the most prominence, the book doesn't skip everyone else involved in the design, manufacture and marketing of pinball, during times when the market for - and the public's interest in - the game waxed and waned.
Artists, software programmers, mechanical engineers, sound composers, company owners and many more all get their time in the spotlight as The Pinball Compendium steps through the years one-by-one, allowing the reader to see for themselves how the games developed and how the complexity of both construction and gameplay increased.
It makes an excellent read and stands as an important historical record of how pinball developed, tried to adapt but ultimately declined.
So this update to take into account the past seven years' changes was eagerly awaited.
Unfortunately though, this update provides very little of the expansive coverage seen in the pages covering the previous twenty-three years.
New Stern games are merely listed along with stock publicity shots and the very briefest of descriptions. There are no new interviews with those involved in making them, leaving acres of empty whitespace where these and the interesting backstories would normally reside.
For example, the Big Buck Hunter Pro entry makes no reference to the cross-links between Stern Pinball and Play Mechanix/Raw Thrills, and the way former pinball personalities such as Mark Ritchie, George Petro, Scott Pikulski and Eugene Jarvis were involved in the game's creation.
Michael explains in his conclusion to the book that he has deliberately left out the interviews from these pages in order to use them in a forthcoming book covering the same years.
While this feels like short-changing buyers, it also raises the question of whether the update to this volume is a worthwhile addition, or whether it would have been better to simply update the prices and rename it The Pinball Compendium - 1982 to 2005? The '...to Present' in the title was optimistic when it was first published. This new second edition does little to further justify that title today.
Although valuation prices have been refreshed, the update is far from comprehensive in the pre-existing pages. Countless references to what is going to happen in 2005 and events in 2004 using the present tense still abound, while descriptions of long-gone shows, magazines and websites remain.
No, this second edition is still 99.9% the same as the excellent 1982 to 2005 first edition which we do thoroughly recommend. All the chapters slotted-in after that would best be regarded as bonus material and a teaser to what may or may not appear in a forthcoming book, because they are certainly not up to the same standard as the earlier pages.
If you haven't got either edition of this third volume in the Pinball Compendium series - get it. Now! If you already own the first edition, hold on to it, as there's no compelling argument to purchase this pretty minimal update.
© Pinball News 2012