Pinball Spotlight Series:
“Behold! A New Power is Rising!” This is 2003’s The Lord of the Rings released by Stern Pinball. Lord of the Rings is an epic game released by a then fledgling Stern Pinball. It was released four years after the shutdown of the last pinball manufacturer Williams in 1999. The market place for coin-op games was tanking, and this was especially true for pinball machines because of their constant need of maintenance and repair. This game came out the same year as Simpson’s Pinball Party, and both titles are now considered classics. It’s strange because this is smack dead in the middle of a dead period for pinball. Stern was busy releasing lackluster games with uninspired licensed themes like : Harley Davidson 1999, Austin Powers 2001, Monopoly 2001 (yes, after the board game that nobody likes), Roller Coaster Tycoon 2002, Playboy 2002, Nascar 2005, and World Poker Tour 2006 to name but a few.
I would argue that Simpson’s was the first A-list title that they licensed, although it was licensed well past the show’s prime. The Lord of the Rings however, was a brilliant get on Stern’s part as it was as popular a license as anything ever can be, not named Star Wars. They released the game at the end of 2003, when the third film of the trilogy had just come out in theaters. Perfect synchronization to maximize the game’s potential audience. And this game is a blockbuster on all counts as well. Tons of shots, and a great layout by designer George Gomez (now Executive Vice President and Chief Creative Officer for Stern Pinball). The layout has the Gomez stamp all over it. It’s easy to control the ball, and no shot is too punishing, making it a long playing game. This is always a hit with new players, and it’s no surprise that LOTR is many people’s first favorite pinball machine.
It’s got some of the most developed code in pinball history by lead coder Keith Johnson (with assistance from Dwight Sullivan). The code is the perfect blend of accessibility and depth. This is an epic code set for an epic game. Even some of the best players in the world haven’t seen Valinor (the final wizard mode, yes there are multiple wizard modes!). This game unfolds nicely as you play it and no matter how skilled you get, there is always something more to accomplish.
Sound and music design was done by the greatest pinball sound engineer of all time, Chris Granner. He is a master of milking the most out of every hardware system that he works with and is responsible for some of the best sound packages ever like: Fish Tales, Whirlwind, Funhouse, Whitewater, and T2 to name but a few. It’s also got excellent call outs by John Rhys Davies whom starred in the movie trilogy as Gimli the dwarf.
It might be hyperbole to say that this title saved Stern and therefore pinball in general, but it no doubt played a major role. It was the big hit that the fledgling company needed to survive. It’s an enduring classic and even Stern haters (aka IDIOTS), have to admit that this is a classic pin. Now this is the part where I encourage you to come down and check out the game to play it for yourself. But let’s be real, if you are reading this: you have already played it. You probably already love it. You don’t need a sales pitch. So I will bid you adieu without one.