Stern's "The Munsters" and making pinball accessible to novices


In the attract mode on the LCD, Stern has provided a helpful visual movie to show how it works, though I doubt anyone actually watches it


Something humorous… when I first ran into Pac Man as a little kid, I saw the “PUSH START BUTTON ONE PLAYER ONLY” message and actually thought the game would sound an alarm or something bad would occur if one dared to push the 2P button with only one credit. Eventually I dared to push it one day and was disappointed/relieved nothing happened LOL


I’m running a Women’s tournament with the intent of introducing new players to pinball and have created the following poster: Pinball basics

It’s still pretty rough, but I think it covers a lot of the things that newbies don’t know intuitively. Feel free to adapt it for your own purposes or provide feedback. The event is a few weeks off, so I’ll likely tweak it between now and then.


I first started playing at tournaments in 2011. I spent a lot of time in my first year or two of playing messing up matches because I didn’t remember to start multiple players, or didn’t know how to, mainly because I’d grown up with this same experience.

When I think about it, I don’t quite get why that was, because in the early 2000s, even before I played in tournaments, I’d play with friends whenever we ran into pinball machines. I must have figured it out, but I either didn’t know it was intuitive or didn’t know that it was the same concept on all machines.

Back to the subject at hand, I very strongly believe doing things that make it clearer what’s happening when you put your quarters in a machine will be a good thing for pinball in terms of widening its adoption.

I also don’t get why ball-savers would be a problem. Anyone I’ve witnessed who doesn’t know about them seems generally thrilled that they get “another chance.”

Love the idea of the pinball basics poster @MCS did. Rough or not, it makes things clear. I really like the “They work independently, so you don’t have to push both at the same time!” note with the flippers. I feel like something similar could be done at arcades elsewhere. I know some arcades in Portland have folks on staff who are great designers who I could see making posters like this, but even this is a really great thing to have available.


I like that sheet you made - might be nice to have a plunger version and the gun/button version too. If you or someone else makes more would use them at some of the locations we have around town!


I would add that the display often tells you what to aim for


I’ve now also created Pinball basics - EM to supplement the one I previously posted (now Pinball basics - DMD).

@misterschu, I added your suggestion to the DMD version.


I think this is part of the reason that the concept of “ball save” is confusing for novices. If they notice the “ball save” animation on the screen, they’re much more likely to understand what’s happening, in my experience, but most non-aficionados are only focused on the flippers.


Another suggested caption - “Playfield lights/arrows - Generally more blinking lights = make the ball go there for more points!” or something along those lines


Really looking forward to playing Munsters at our location. Great to hear that the game has good callouts and LCD info for beginners - people regularly struggle to find start buttons, even those that are huge, green, and flashing; anything that makes this more obvious is welcomed by players and locations alike.

I have my complaints about games I see that give confusing directions to players. For example, I’ve noticed that people often hear the audio callout “Shoot the left ramp” on Dialed In (often triggered on plunge for some low-point hurry up), and aim for that continuously, expecting something to happen when they make the shot; when really they should be shooting QED and/or the phone.

New players just need to be given a clear target to shoot for that results in something cool happening - it’s great that manufacturers seem to be finding creative ways of doing this.


I played a fresh out of the box pro yesterday and did not get the impression that the game was designed in part for novices. As always, I didn’t read much about the game beforehand. I like to learn the shots as I learn the rules. Because it has a button on the lockbar, I did read one line on the instruction card about the button. It said hit the button when it flashes, so I did.

If I was trying to make a game accessible to noobs, I would not have a button on the lockbar. It’s hard enough to keep them from flipping both flippers at the same time. Asking them to remove a hand from a flipper button is too much. I get the impression that even experienced players are getting tired of all the lockbar buttons and the different rules that came with them. I know I am. I really didn’t notice much difference in the display and audio clues. The layout seems simple enough, but the jackpot pocket on the left is not an easy shot. Hardly noob friendly.

It seemed fun enough from the 5 or 6 games I played, but it certainly didn’t seem easier to understand. Also, the shots didn’t seem especially easier. Even the bash target isn’t as wide of a shot as say Sparky. I also don’t get removing the ball saver. The operator installing the game I played is a big fan of ball savers. He turned on the ball saver for at least 5 seconds for this game.

The Herman bash target and relatively simple layout are great. That will attract new players in attract mode. The button won’t. Stern (and all the other manufacturers) don’t need to cater too much to the noobs IMO. They learn just fine. And the learning is part of the fun.

The two ops at this location both talked about the game being more accessible to noobs. We’ll see. This location attracts a lot of noobs. There’s also a IMDN pro there, which does seem to intimidate the noobs.

This is just my initial impressions after maybe 5 or 6 games. As I said, it seems fun enough. Just didn’t get the impression that it was aimed at noobs in any way. Perhaps the younger folks coming into the hobby (who grew up playing video games) are better at picking up clues from the instruction card, display and audio. I’m an old fark, if that wasn’t clear. Started playing pinball before Pong was a thing.

If you’re playing on location regularly, you’re seeing more noobs. The hobby is definitely enjoying somewhat of a resurgence. Part of the fun of a new hobby is learning all the do’s and don’ts. While Star Wars may have been a little overboard slanted towards the experienced player (and GB & GOT), I don’t think Stern needs to bend over backwards too far to accommodate noobs. These kids are used to complicated rules for video games.


I also wonder how many new players really know what the “left ramp” is on a game like Dialed in where there’s also a “side ramp.” I must admit that there are far more games than I’d admit where I’m like “OH, that’s a ramp!” It’s often not as intuitive as we regular players have come to think it is.

In general, lingo can be a tricky balance. Specific terms that help seasoned players understand what they want to shoot for can be gibberish to newcomers. What’s an “orbit?” What’s a “scoop?” Those two are, yes, fairly straightforward, but if you’re not looking for those features they might not be obvious. Other features like standups as opposed to drops can be confusing. If I didn’t know that a drop target dropped, i’d think standup was a fair term for it (also, since they pop up again eventually, “standup” would seem to fit a "drop).

Even a pop bumper vs a jet bumper can be confusing. How would a newcomer not know that a sling is a pop bumper? The rubber looks more like a bumper on a car than a pop bumper does, and the ball pops off it! I might very well think a kicker is a sling, as it slings the ball! Or that a sling, or a pop bumper is a kicker.

I realize there’s a huge balance that has to be struck between giving information to pinball fans and new players. There’s also only so much information one can give in the five seconds or so before a player decides whether to play a game or pass by. So I’m probably over thinking all of this. But I do think that if we want more people to understand general objectives in a pinball machine, and how to have more satisfaction playing pinball, it’s probably a good idea to think about what a game really looks like to someone who has never played, and what we call its features.


Brings back memories of my early days as a pinball player. Games would say “shoot for the jets!” (not even “jet bumpers”) and I would have absolutely no idea what in the game would be called a “jet.” Before my SO (a more experienced player) set me straight, I also used to think kickers/slingshots were “bumpers” and I don’t think I had any name for actual bumpers.


on the newer sterns in settings you can select “start game upon money inserted”.
you can also start upon pressing the zap/action button. or just normal start button.
so that issue is resolved.
you can also make ems start upon dropping coins in. i have all of mine like that on location. drop in quarter, game starts automatically.


It might be nice if modern Stern games ran a Pinball 101 tutorial if a game hasn’t been played in quite a while, say 20 minutes. Maybe some basic flipper skills as well as how to start a game. The instruction cards are obviously helpful, but now that LCD screens are a thing, you might as well use that real estate for something other than just high scores and attract mode at least once in a while.


I was initially concerned about the action button as well, but in reality, it really isn’t necessary. Zap Jackpots aren’t really worth a whole lot outside of qualifying their Super Jackpot and during Munster Madness, so it can essentially be ignored by novices without missing out on a major feature of the game. Also… the Dragula shot is one of those shots that can easily be made as a random bounce in during a Multiball round, so I’m not as concerned about that.


They already cover how to start a game, although some text would be nice to have.


They should cover how to deal with a stuck ball before anything else though since it’s the most important skill for a beginner right now.



How would you wordlessly convey with a generic animation “trap up and yell for a TD”?


The button just physically being there is intimidating to novice players. They know about the flippers and flipper buttons, but a button on the lockbar is not something they’re familiar with. If they read the instruction card, it tells them to push the button when it’s flashing, which happens while one or more balls are in play. Not something you want a novice trying.

It also flashes during attract mode. Because it’s up front and in the middle, it’s hard to miss.


Sounds like this is solved by this

Why not? Maybe they will think it’s fun?

That’s a good thing. It will start a game for them. Lots of novices don’t know where to push start or that you need to push start.