by Kevin Steele
I am, for lack of a better word, a "tweaker" — I very rarely can leave anything "as is," and always seem to have some idea on how to make something better. This, of course, means that in addition to such things as overclocking my PC, I've gotten into "modding" my pinballs, adding new features or refining existing features on the machine (see my "Dr. Who MadLights Mod" article as an example of my pinball tweakery).
This tweaking hobby of mine has perhaps reached its zenith with my recent acquisition of a Bally 1993 Twilight Zone pinball machine, one of the most heavily modded pins of all time (not to mention one of the most popular pins of all time!)
The Twilight Zone pinball is one of the most "mod-friendly" pins you'll ever find: from the sheer number of playfield toys, to the "curio shop" theme which lends itself to decoration, to the vast number of "nooks and crannies" in the playfield design onto which you can mount things. Also, as owners have discovered gameplay annoyances, they've fixed it. Any design shortcoming has had a homebrew fix developed to take care of it.
As for me, I knew right off the bat that I was going to want to add a few mods to my Twilight Zone. Amazingly, those "few" grew to over a dozen modifications and improvements to my machine, all added within the first week of ownership. This "roundup" article summarizes the mods I've added as I've been helplessly sucked into the "Mod Zone," from which there is no escape...
The first thing I decided to "mod" was the gumball machine: it just looks incredibly bare in its "stock" configuration. Luckily, several companies have put out "gumball kits" which allow you to add a little color to the gumball machine.
Installing them isn't hard at all: you simply unscrew the top of the gumball machine, then push the gumballs into the side sections. Note that if you use your bare fingers, you're going to get some scratches and scuffed knuckles — it's a tight fit, and not that easy to just pop the balls in. I used a socket driver to push them in: the end of the driver held the balls securely as I squeezed them in.
I only filled the gumball machine half way, which in my opinion looks better (and lights up better using the Gumball Light kit below!) A full bag of glass gumballs (enough to fill both sides of the gumball machine) sells for $4.95. It's a simple and colorful addition to the machine.
Okay, so with the gumballs installed I had some color in a previously drab corner of the playfield. Problem was, that corner of the playfield is so dark that you really couldn't appreciate the new splash of color.
In my opinion, the kit from Martin Reynolds stands head and shoulders above the other lighting kits, for a number of reasons.
What are the reasons that this kit stands alone? First off, the kit is "all inclusive", including a professional looking circuit board with four ultrabright white LEDs on the sides and six red LEDs in the middle section (there's a reason for this, which I'll get to shortly). The assembly comes with a detachable connector, all the wiring needed, black and white zip ties, and even a pre-notched gumball guide plastic (all the other kits require you to cut/grind/saw your existing guide plastic).
Second, the light is more than a simple "always on" light: the center red LEDs are designed to flash when the gumball is ready to be loaded with a pinball. This is tied into the existing "load gumball" light.
The kit is fairly easy to install, although there is some minor soldering involved in attaching the wiring harness to both the GI lighting (for the white LEDs) and the gumball sign light (for the "load gumball" light). It only took me a few minutes to install even with the soldering, and the instructions (provided on the web site) are clear and concise.
The effect of this lighting kit is immediate: the gumball machine glows with a cool white light, and the entire corner of the playfield is illuminated, bringing it out of the murky darkness.
Martin's kit retails for $45 ($41 + $4 shipping) and honestly it's one of those "should have been factory-standard" additions.