Restoring Count-Down: Playfield

October 12th, 2009

I mention this every time I write up one of these, but I can’t stress it enough… take lots of pictures! If your memory is as unreliable as mine, reference photos will save your ass when it comes to the putting everything back together stage.

Playfield reference
Under playfield reference

Another tip: Punch all of your rails and nails into a piece of cardboard. Even better than a reference photo.
Rails and nails!

While the playfield plastics were mostly in decent shape, they were a bit warped. A hot afternoon in the sun pressed between sheets of glass (thanks Cyberball RIP!) flattened them out nicely.
Flattening plastics

First step before touchups was to clean the hell out of the playfield. Tim Arnold recommended Turtle Wax Chrome Polish, which also came in handy for the actual chrome bits later on, and I followed that with Novus2 and Magic Eraser melamine foam (with alcohol rather than water) to pull up some of the heavy ball swirls in the paint. Be careful with the melamine foam, as too much pressure can quickly chew through your playfield.

I used water based figure paints because I’m a nerd and had some on hand, but I dunno if I’d go this route again. Coverage was sometimes a pain, and I had some minor color shifting after the clearcoat application.
Touching up space and the Gottlieb logo

The above area, after touchups. The nosecone match was a bit off, but as I ended up repainting the entire cone, it looks fine assembled.

Touchup work is very delicate and time consuming, but the end results are worth it. Maybe. I mean, I love the way the playfield turned out, and thank God for podcasts to listen to in the background, but I spent many many hours hunkered over the thing. Something I’ll treasure for the rest of my life and all that, right?
Finished touchups!

Next step was clearcoating. Clay Harrell’s pinball restoration guide was a huge help here, and I recommend referencing it if you undertake a similar project. Between that and his repair guides, you could pretty much get from beginning to end with his articles as your sole source of information.
Clear coat time

I used Varathane semi-gloss clearcoat, applied liberally with a day or two of drying time between applications. Once I had a couple coats down, I added a round of light sanding between each coat, taking care to not tear into the layer beneath. After a total of six coats, I let it cure for a couple weeks and then took a final pass with the high grit sandpaper.

The whole clearcoating process took about a month, but the actual time requirements each week were minimal. The important part is having someplace for the playfield to dry where it won’t attract dirt and contaminants.

That's a Sea Devil reflecting in the playfield.

Next: restenciling the cabinet.

Restoring Count-Down

October 7th, 2009

I’ve been attempting to alternate project difficulty levels with the arcade restoration queue, partly for financial reasons (the pain in the ass projects also tend to be the most expensive), and partly to stagger the overall punishment thrown my way. With the relative ease of the Neo-Geo MVS and Missile Command projects, I figured it was time for a doozy.

Pinball fascinates me — not only did those guys (and as far as I can tell they were all guys) have to contend with standard aspects of game design such as gameplay, pacing, and theme, they had a slew of mechanical engineering and physics issues to deal with on top of ’em. I wanted a project pinball machine, something I could tear apart, learn a little bit about, and restore. Earlier this year, I found it: a 1979 Gottlieb Count-Down. Cosmetically rough, but complete. The game wouldn’t start (not unusual for a System 1, as I’ve learned) and had electrical and mechanical issues, but that’s part of the fun, right?

Here’s the cabinet as I began the initial cleanup and teardown.


Past owner touchup number one: several thick coats of latex white on the normally orange backbox. Luckily, aside from a few errant paint drops, the backglass itself was in fantastic shape.
Hey there, space babe.

Past owner touchup number two: spray can + lack of restraint =

While the playfield wear wasn’t horrible, the insert rings, the rocket cone, and a handful of other detail areas could all use repainting. There were lots of ball swirls to work out, too.
lower playfield
upper playfield

Next up, playfield touchup.

link love 080309

August 3rd, 2009

I got one of these this weekend. It smells like my childhood and model trains.

Bill Paxton Pinball

Ben Heckendorn’s scratch-built Bill Paxton Pinball (heh) is beginning to show some progress.

The Edge of Reason: The Tim Langdell Story.

Hurray, a new post at Damn Interesting! Hurray, the book is out!

link love 06-12-09

June 12th, 2009

Looking forward to a weekend of beer, tools, sandpaper, and paint. Oh, and a date with my wife.


TILT: The Battle to Save Pinball, the fascinating story behind Pinball 2000, is now available on both iTunes and Netflix. You can buy the dvd, too.

The Making Of: Asteroids. Keep doing these stories, Edge! [via Arcade Heroes]

Scribblenauts: How a Nobody Game Became the Talk of This Year’s E3.

And finally, a Harvard psychiatrist explains Zombie Neurobiology.

link love 02-13-09

February 13th, 2009

Okay, so now you’ve got your Madcatz FightStick, and you want to mod it. Go here, and here.


David Rosen of Wolfire Games has been releasing a series of game design toursAquaria is his forth.

Joystiq visits the Pinball Hall of Fame. Also, Tim Arnold has purchased a new building, so the whole place will be moving up a couple blocks sometime in the near future, doubling the space for pins and arcade cabinets.

This is all over the internets, but just in case:
add Emoji to your US iPhone. squee!