Bally Safe Cracker


Safecracker backbox
Safecracker playfield

I love Safecracker ! It's one of Pat Lawlor's best pinball machines !
Unfortunately for its own success, Safe cracker is too special. Operators didn't buy this game at all, it was too strange, so now it's quite rare with only 1,148 units made. Because of that low production number it was also a long time a very underrated game: not a lot of people were able to play and discuss it. But that has changed and most people who own it love the game.

Everything is special about this game. Safecracker looks more like a redemption game than a pinball machine. It's much smaller than a regular WPC pinball machine. The playfield is shorter. There's kind of a game in the backbox. It has wings on the head to attract more people. It dispenses tokens. There's a rotating beacon on top of the backbox. And gameplay itself is time-based. But don't let this all trick you, it's a real pinball machine with deeper rules than most people give it credit for !

Gameplay

Safecracker clock Playing Safecracker is sooo much fun !

The timed play makes it very different from other games.
Whilst on 'normal' pinball games the goal is just to keep the ball in play for as long as possible (and get a high score whilst doing this), timed play changes this attitude.

Keeping the ball from draining helps but isn't necessary, sometimes you're even better off to let the ball drain fast so it gets kicked back into play, instead of keeping it into play and loose valuable seconds while it bounces around and doesn't hit targets.
You always have to keep an eye on the clock that's in the middle of the playfield.. when it starts to run out, you have to concentrate on getting back some time.. so instead of going for that ramp shot that takes a long time to get the ball back, you quickly want to get the ball between the pop bumpers.

Timed play is also the reason why some people don't like Safecracker. As you always have to keep the clock in mind while playing, strategy is very important.
very important is even an understatement: Strategy is everything on this game !
It's almost impossible to just have a game of mindless pinball fun by just keeping the pinball in play on this game, like you can on other pinball machines. If you want to play SC and enjoy it, you have to work for it ! Or you can always insert a magic token and play assault the vault..

Safe Cracker also doesn't feel like a 'regular' pinball machine.
The small flippers make it much harder to control the ball, and with the small playfield, the ball bounces around a lot. No long, clean shots on this machine ! (except for the ramp)

Normal game rules are good and quite complicated. Don't think this is a redemption game with simple rules. Safecracker may have a small playfield, but it's filled with a lot of things to shoot at, and it has quite deep rules which take a while to master.
There are several tasks you have to complete during this game. This game has a lot of drop targets (4 banks of 3) and they are important. Shoot the upper droptargets (and i.e. light all 3 rollovers) to earn extra time. You need your extra time to continue the game. Every switch adds a little bit of time too. As long as you have time left, the game will shoot a new ball on the playfield when you drain. When you don't have any time left the game switches to 'sudden death' mode and once the pinball in game drains, it's game over.

Safecracker bank and cellar The cellar and main entry can give an award, but therefor you have to shoot the spinner-post first. Once you've locked balls (by shooting up the ramp) you can knock down the left bank of drop targets to light additional entries.

Shoot the pinbal in one of the lit entries (roof, main entrance or basement) and the boardgame in the backbox will start.

The backbox boardgame is not very complicated. On the display you see quickly changing numbers. Press a flipper button to stop and you move the amount of steps the number says. Yellow positions are usually good for you (you earn money or another bonus) and red positions are usually bad for you.. Some just kick you out of the board game, others also do unless you did something before during gameplay (collect a special bonus or disabled alarms by shooting all yellow targets), and others start a timed mode, in which the main playfield becomes active again and you have to shoot a bank entry to continue the board game. Follow the complete path to get into the vault and you'll get a token and a multiball will start.

That's how you can earn lots of points on this pinball game. There are several types of multiball you can start: regular, TNT or Vault (token) multiball. In all types of multiball you have to shoot the ramp to collect the jackpot. Vault multiball only starts when you completed all 5 vault letters. During the boardgame you sometimes earn one as an award. They continue from game to game, so if the players before you did well, you can use it to your advantage. Vault/Token multiball will award a token when you shoot up the ramp. TNT multiball is similar, it can already be started from an award in the boardgame, you don't have to get into the vault for this. You have to shoot and complete a lot of drop targets to earn points here. And the regular jackpot is also nice, but sometimes difficult to play. The jackpot value is the money you earned during the board game. So let's hope you visited a lot of ATM machines on the board game (and maybe earned a 'hot atm card' from the cellar entry). During multiball then you have to shoot the ramp to collect this jackpot value, and shoot the spinner to relight it. Sounds more easy than it is, as you need a controlled, clean shot to get on the ramp and during multiball there are too many balls on the playfield..

This game is extremely goal-oriented. You have to know what to do (or have a lot of luck), the board game and jackpots are so important to score well. You can play for a long time but not finish the boardgame and end with a low number of points.. and you can play only half as long but do all the right things and score 10 times as much !

Attack the vault mode (when you insert a token) is also great !
You can compare it to the Lost in the Zone (LITZ) final mode of the Twilight Zone pinball game. But Twilight Zone is such a difficult game that most people hardly can reach this final mode (some people may never make it in their life). The tokens in Safecracker allow everyone to experience this rush of 90 seconds unlimited balls whilst trying to score as much as possible.

For those unfamiliar with Attack the vault mode: during normal game play you can win a token. This is ejected from below the dmd display and rolls down towards the player over the playfield glass. Quickly catch it while you are playing. Put this token back into the game, and you'll get a 'magic credit'. When you start a game now it'll start this mode. After a nice introduction on the dot matrix display, telling you what you have to aim for, a 90 seconds mode with unlimited balls starts. The only goal is to score as much as possible. So you have 2 (or 3 with the board game) different games in one small cabinet.

My game

Also a story on how I acquired this game. I knew it existed but it's very rare. I had never seen one on location and doubt they have ever been sold here in Belgium, as the tokens it dispenses may make it a gambling machine ?
Anyway, you also have had this - years pass and you never see a specific machine for sale, and suddenly a lot show up.

An operator I know was selling some machines, I asked if they had a Safecracker but they had never heard of it.. It was maybe never distributed in Belgium.
So I told someone I know in Luxemburg who often had pins for sale (and also has a SC) I was interested in a Safecracker.
My wife and I visited a few days later an arcade in the Netherlands where we played a Safe Cracker. With german sound roms.. aaargh :-( (the german female voice is very irritating) It was also the first game I played on Safecracker, didn't know very well what to do, even didn't get in the board game. My wife played much better than I and even got some replays.. But anyway, it was a cute machine and as room was becoming an issue in our house, a small pinball machine like this we could always fit somewhere..
Then fast forward a week or 2.. A friend of mine was looking for a Twilight Zone, I found one for sale. He asked me to come with him as I own one too and could check it, I know what to look for. The seller also had a Safecracker but it wasn't for sale. I played a bit and even won a token on my second game ! I told him I was interested in a Safecracker but wasn't convinced yet, and if I got a token so fast, was there more to the game ??
Well yes, as he explained, it isn't always so easy, and insert the token to get a rush.. Attack the vault really gives you a rush !
Anyway, I digress, let's continue with Safecrackers for sale..
Dutch Pinball Organisation meeting, and the host of the meeting also has a Safecracker ! He's even thinking about selling it but is not sure, or may trade it as he's looking for a Road Show. And I was planning to sell my RS ?! Although that deal didn't work out.
But all these events were in 2 or 3 weeks time, somewhere in the beginning of 2002. The past years I had never seen or heard about a Safecracker pinball machine, and all of a sudden I hear and see nothing than Safecrackers in a few weeks time ?! It must be pinball karma ?! One thing was sure, I was going to get me a Safecracker !!
So finally news came from the first friend who started this story: he found one for sale. Price is reasonable, but he doesn't know yet about the condition. Comes back later with more details, good condition, wings are present and (some) tokens too.. OK that one's for me !

Safecracker tokens
Actually buying this machine was also an experience.. Someone brought it all the way from Germany (he had driven all night) to a pinball show in Belgium that I and this friend were also attending. I bought the pin from the german guy, who came to buy some pins himself from this friend.. I felt it was a bit risky, buying pins untested in a parking lot from an unknown seller, after all, we're not talking broken project pins money here..
In the end everything was fine. The Safecracker looked just great. And yes it worked completely. I had my Safe Cracker !!

I shopped the game the first week I had it. At first sight it didn't need it, but some hidden parts did require cleaning. Also noticed a bit of wear at the kicker on the left side of the playfield, fixed this with clearcoat. Now the game is as new again.

With some trading and buying I was able to get a complete set of tokens. They hang in the hallway of our house, together with a scaled-down promotion poster. Later I also bought a set of prototype tokens.

Things to look for when buying

Safecracker backbox Broken plastics and ramps. Spare parts, especially ramps and plastics are just impossible to find. I hear the right ramp sometimes gets a crack at the Y-section.

The token mechanisms. They are a major part of the game. I've heard of some games for sale that had the whole mechanism missing in the backbox so it couldn't distribute a token.

You need 3 parts: the hopper in the backbox (see picture), a coin validator (at the inside of the coin door) that recognises tokens, and lastly you need tokens themselves. Tokens are needed to Attack the Vault mode, a special multiball mode.

If Safecracker can not distribute any tokens, it will award 'magic credits'. That is one way to at least play every mode the game offers. But then you do miss the thrill of catching a token that rolls during gameplay towards you over the playfield glass..

Tech tips

Safecracker wear spot My machine had a small wear spot at the left of the playfield. The black line where the ball gets kicked up needed some touch-up work. Adjusting the kicker arm may be necessary to prevent this.

Put a piece of mylar in the center part of the playfield (on top of the Safecracker logo). If not you may get a wear spot because the ball gets kicked out of the bank main entrance.

The playfield angle is very important on this game for gameplay. Probably because of the small playfield size, the steepness can make a huge difference to gameplay. So if your game is too difficult to play, try to experiment with this.

Safecracker drop targets It is very important that the drop targets work very well. Targets that go down slow will make you lose time and thus decrease your possibility of getting a high score.

On my game some drop targets were not installed correct, the metal washer was in a bad position.
Look at the red arrows in the picture. The left target is assembled correct. The order is: target - washer - spring - washed - c-clip.
The other two targets were somehow incorrect, they had one washer under the target and the spring pushed against the target.
Sometimes the spring got sideways and this interfered with the targets movement.

If your targets are assembled correct and still go down slow, you may have to change the tension of the spring that pulls them down. Look at the yellow arrows: just change the position where the spring is connected to the frame. Don't connect the spring at the end but make the spring a bit shorter. Don't exaggerate and be sure to test before assembling everything back to the playfield that the coil has enough power to move all the targets up !
Also check everything is clean. These targets operate 'dry', no oil or other lubrication may be added.

The pcb that goes on the drop target assembly is held in place with C-clips. Be careful when removing this as it's easy to lose them.. In case you need to buy some: they're C-clips of 4 millimeter. Best place to look for them are automotive parts shops.
The droptargets are held in position by slightly larger C-clips, these are 6 millimeter diameter.

Safecracker drop targets There is some confusion about what target goes where.. The game uses thick and thin targets. It is simple however: thin targets have a rubber behind them. Only use the thick targets in position where there is nothing behind them.
To summarize:

  • Top left row (white): all thin
  • Top right row (red): 2 thin and bottom one thick
  • Middle right (orange): all thin
  • Middle left (yellow): 2 thick and bottom one thin



Safecracker bottom playfield Because the game has so many assemblies on the playfield, it is the most difficult game to work on !

Forget to quick disassemble and adjust something.. it's almost impossible.

To reach most things you need to remove other parts..
if you buy this pinball machine, buy a very long magnetic screwdriver if you don't have one, because you are going to need it !

In the picture you see what I mean: 3 pop bumpers and 3 drop target banks are very close together, and the main wire loom is going over them..
Now just try to change those bumper skirts as they get damaged a lot.

Here is a technical article about how to adjust Safe Cracker to accept Magic Tokens.

Trivia

Safecracker red button
Safecracker was meant to have the Monopoly license. When Williams did not acquire the license, major parts of the game were already designed (like the playfield in the backbox). Instead of just stopping with the project, the theme of the game was changed into Safecracker.

Like every other Pat Lawlor designed game, there's someone holding the joystick with red button in the backbox.

Don't let the small size mislead you, this game (especially the playfield) is very heavy !

There's a set of domestic and international tokens. Both sets had to be developed because of laws in each country so there can be no substitute to local currency. Both sets contain of the same tokens (they have different logos on them) but are different in size.
A few years ago these tokens were getting rare and expensive, but new (repro) tokens sets are now available at Pinbal.com

Click here to see the IPDB entry of this game.

Click here for more Safecracker information and a detailed list of every available token.

And here moreSafe Cracker information: technical information and some unused dmd screenshots.

There's an easter egg in SC (well at least one, probably more ?), when you switch on the machine on October 24th, the game will show on its display: 'HAPPY BIRTHDAY AMANDA AND RYAN'.