Stern The Sopranos

The Sopranos is a very popular television series, broadcasted by HBO Network.
It's about a mafia family. It's now into its sixth series, is broadcast on teevee around the world and also available on DVD.

The Sopranos pinball machine prototype was presented at the ATEI show. This was held at 25 to 27 January 2005 in London. It's probably the largest coin-op related trade show in Europe. There really are lot of different amusement machines to see at this show.

Stern Pinball was there with 2 Elvis pinball machines and 2 of their latest The Sopranos pinball machines. The Sopranos were there as a preview, the software was totally not finished yet and some of the hardware even changed when machine went in production. But no company can afford to miss the launch of a new product at ATEI, so Gary Stern himself was there to present his games to everyone interested. A lot of people were interested and played the games, they were occupied all day, not only being played by pinball-fans but also by 'regular' visitors of the show.. so that's a good sign to see a lot of people are still interested in playing pinball.

The Sopranos pinball machine is based onto the popular HBO network television series. It's about an italian-american mafia family of Tony Soprano. The main characters in the show are shown on the cabinet and backglass. The playfield has references to the elements in the show: the Stugots boat, the Bada-bing gogo bar (the game even has two sexy pole dancers on it that rotate), and much more. In the back are even the pictures of the people who were killed in the show. The pinball machine ties in very well with the theme and the tv series story.

GarysThe 2 Garys: Gary Stern and Gary Flower. Former of Stern Pinball Inc, latter is author of a pinball book.
HBO Sopranos pinball Anyway, let's discuss the game. Cabinet artwork has been discussed already on other sites, and I like it. I like the backglass too. It has all the main characters of the show. The style is sober with the black and white, and fits the theme well. And if you play, you look at the ball and the playfield, not at the cabinet sides.
Sopranos fish The fish was also subject to discussion, not a lot of people like it.
in the first pictures of the game on the internet you saw it from its side, and then it looks large and ugly. However, when you're playing the game and stand in front of the game, you only see the small part of the fish. It doesn't become beautiful, but isn't obstructive anymore. There's a flasher in it which makes the eyes light up. And as you can see well in this picture, the bottom lip can move up and down, when it speaks to you during the game.
instruction card Software was not finished yet, but here's a (preliminary ?) instruction card of what to do when playing this game. Multiballs and jackpots, here we come !
instruction card Here's a full playfield shot, this time of the right side of the game. While this game was made for the UK and had extra posts in the outlanes, it also had a post between the flippers. It didn't come up while I played, but I did see it come up when someone else was playing. I think this is the first time in the history of Data East/Sega/Stern they use a post like this ? (it's like Williams used in Champion Pub, and many em-games.
Note: this post was dropped from production games.
right size This game shows that Stern keeps improving with every game. There's more attention to details than with previous games. The Stugots boat is nice and does a good job of locking 2 balls. The safe is very cool. It unfortunately isn't an impresive center toy like the castle of MM, but still, they way the safe opens is nice. And the right wireframe ramp has a clear, printed plastic on both it sides, so it really resembles a bridge. Especially this last thing shows they're adding more details to the game, they just could have left the metal bare.
pf top The top of the playfield. Check how the ball rolls behind the safe into the bumpers.
You probably want to know how it plays. That's difficult to tell. I didn't play a lot on it (about 10 games), and you could hardly hear the sounds or music, and software is not finished at all. The playfield layout is very good though ! I really like the shots and how the ball flowed. Sometimes you could make several loops after each other. Once the ball rolled down from the left side (I think from the fish kickout but am not sure) and it rolled nicely into the inlane (which is just large enough to let a ball pass). There are no real drain shots in this game, the safe shot is safe, only when a ball was kicked out from the Stugots lock, it came close to draining, but could be saved with a little nudge. Some shots were hard to make, some easy. A nice mix. The playfield art is not the nicest (too many thick borders around the inserts in my opinion), but it's good to play. The software and sounds will probably make or break this game.. I expect it to do well on location, but not sell well for home use.
hot girls pinball booth babes Sega weren't the only ones with almost nude booth babes at ATEI, here's Nick from Pinballers Anonymous in good company.. Pinball and babes, always a nice combination..

Update about the Sopranos:
Since ATEI I've played the production version of the Sopranos. The up-post between the flippers is gone. The artwork around the inserts in the middle of the playfield has also changed and looks much better.

Software is finished and I've played the game more.. I really like this game !!
Rules are simple and easy to understand.. the layout of the playfield is similar to Lord of the Rings.. But for Lord of the Rings you need to have seen the movie to understand more what to do.
Sopranos has simpler rules, average players can also have fun and know where to shoot at, and have a chance to reach the wizard mode.. not like LOTR where maybe only 10 percent of all players can possibly reach Valinor.

I really like the flow on this game. The game playes smooth, the ball goes around the playfield, shots can be made well, .. I played The Simpsons Pinball Party game the same night as Sopranos and the difference in a smooth ballflow or stop-and-go could not be any bigger.

Shooting at the vault is fun.. shoot it a few times to open. However the shot is a bit dangerous, there is a drain risk, sometimes you better wait until multiball is busy to shoot the vault.
But there are other shots that are a bit more difficult to do and earn more points.

I like the Stugots multiball. Shoot the drop target, then the Stugots ramp to lock a ball. Lock a second ball and multiball starts. Shoot the drop target for jackpot. Then lock a ball to setup double jackpot (or was it super jackpot ?). Anyway, you can earn a jackpot in different stages and have to work for it (it's not that every shot immediately awards a jackpot), but it's not very hard to do either so most pinball players can do it.

Only the skill shot disappointed me. There is one, get the ball over the lit rollover. It's just too easy.. You can change the rollover that's lit, so once you know how hard to plunge the ball on the machine you will always get the skill shot. Not a lot of skill is involved. It would have been nicer if there was an extra award for a hands-free skill shot: get the ball at the lit lane without moving it using the flipper buttons.

My high scores were in the 50 million.. Didn't become Boss or finished all episodes, so I don't know how the wizard mode is. But I had fun and will play the game again when I have the opportunity..

Click here to see the IPDB entry of this game.