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With Mike Vinikour
Mike Vinikour works at Stern Pinball and does software testing, helps with rule design, and runs the field test program at Stern Pinball. He’s worked in the game industry since 1993 when he started at Williams Bally/Midway.
Around the Playfield with Mike Vinikour
The Start Button: How did you first get into pinball?
When I was about six or seven years old (this was back in the 1970s), my dad took me to an arcade called Just Games. It was just down the street from our home in Downers Grove, IL. The place was wall to wall pinball machines along with some early EM shooters and stuff like that. My dad liked to play pinball a lot when he was growing up so when I was old enough to reach the flipper buttons he started taking me to the arcade on occasions to play a few games. I don’t recall what the first games were that I played, but I do have memories of playing EM’s and the early solid states at that arcade over the next few years. I also saw the first video games there and that changed my whole world. That arcade became one of the most important places in my life and at the time I had no idea that it would lead me to an eventual career in games, both video and pinball. I also made a lot of friends hanging out there who I’m still friends with to this day. When I was a teenager, I used to spend most days after school at that arcade and all day Saturday. When I was in my mid twenties I ended up working there as the assistant manager for the last couple of years they were in business until the place sadly closed down. I worked the very last shift and locked the doors for good on my way out. I still miss that place a lot.
The Plunge: What was the first pinball machine you bought?
The first game I bought was a Banzai Run. It was pretty beat up and I only kept it a few months before I traded it for a cocktail Ms. Pac Man. A year later I traded that Ms. Pac to one of my friends at work for his prototype Funhouse. I really consider that Funhouse to be my first game and that was the game that turned one game into an entire basement full of pinball machines as I kept getting more and more games after that. I even sold off nearly all of my arcade games back then to make room for more pins. I still have that Funhouse and I will never get rid of it.
The Skill Shot: What is your best pinball achievement or favorite pinball moment?
I don’t think I have a single favorite but I have a lot of good memories associated with pinball. Winning the B division in our pinball league and getting my first trophy is definitely a standout after coming up short for many years(and I don’t even like to compete!). I have a lot of good memories of playing pinball in my basement regularly until the middle of the night with the Sharpe brothers when we were all younger and didn’t have families yet. The excitement of bringing home a new machine and setting it up in my basement. The rush of beating a wizard mode in a game for the first time or beating my personal best on a game never fails to be exciting. Now that I think about it though, being able to work in pinball for a living definitely tops the list!
Good Shots, Bad Bounces: What is your favorite and least favorite pinball machine?
I love so many games that it is hard to pick just one but my default answer is that Addams Family is my favorite machine. That’s another one that no amount of money will ever get me to part with mine. As for least favorite, while any pinball is better than no pinball, there are quite a few that I’d be fine with never playing again for the rest of my life, but I couldn’t pick one that stands out as the game I dislike the most.
The Wizard Mode: What is your dream theme you’d like to see made into a pinball machine?
Due to the conditions of my NDA that isn’t something I can answer, suffice it to say that I absolutely do have one and I hope that one day I get the opportunity to make it for Stern.
The Tilt: What is the dumbest mistake you’ve made in pinball (mishap moving a machine, messing up trying to fix a machine, etc.)?
One time while setting up a Star Wars Episode 1 pinball at one of our field test sites, I pulled the playfield glass off to install the balls into the machine. After getting it out of the machine and holding it upright to set down, it randomly exploded in my hands. I didn’t even bump it into anything! Hundreds of pieces of glass were all over the floor and I had two small pieces still in my hands. The worst part was the arcade was almost an hour away from the office if there was no traffic and this was a Friday evening which meant that it would have been about a 3 hour round trip to go back for another sheet. Thankfully we had a Revenge From Mars there on test as well so I borrowed the glass off of that one, pushed the RFM into their back room, and then came back out on Monday with a new sheet of glass.
One week later I went back to the same location with a software update for the game. I removed the backglass to update the game and that one exploded in my hands too! That time all I could do was shake my head and laugh. The poor RFM had to once again donate a part to the SWEp1 for a couple of days.
The High Score: Describe the pinball hobby in one word.
Match – Next Game: Where do you see the pinball hobby in 5-10 years?
I’ve watched the business ride the waves up and down and nearly go extinct. I’m ecstatic that pinball has made a comeback in recent years and is still growing. It is an exciting time to be a part of it. As to what the future holds, I really don’t know. I just hope it continues to thrive and that new generations of people fall in love with the game like we all did so it never goes away.