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Random Thoughts & Pictures

I was previously familiar with Xenon, but I really got hooked at the 2006 Pinball Expo in Chicago. As I recall, there were two Xenons in the free play area, one in the vendor area and several UltraPins with virtual Xenons. I spent more time with the Xenons than with any other game.

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I acquired my game on December 18, 2008 from Silverball Solutions near Richmond, Virginia. I bought this game in "un-shopped" condition. It wasn't quite plug-and-play, but after a few hours of tinkering I got it clunking along well enough to have some fun. I think it's been a long time since the game was last played or serviced.

The good news is that the cosmetics are great (which is why I bought it). As near as I can tell, the backglasses are perfect. The cabinet is smooth and sound. There's a little paint wear around the edges. The left side has a bit of fade and checking, but the right side is really nice. The playfield is in great shape with full Mylar. But the Mylar is not original since there is an ever-so-slight bit of wear around some of the inserts. And there's a bit of touchup around the insert below the tube shot. The Mylar is worn where the left flipper was dragging, but there's no paint damage. Finally, there's some slight wear around the rollover switches. And that's about it. Even the area around the Exit Chamber looks great. The Mylar is getting ugly, but has served the game well. Hopefully I'll get around to pulling it off someday. I think this game could be something special.

The game looks to have a new Transport Tube with a modern, blue LED light bar. Everything else looks original. The bumper caps, drop targets and plastics all look great (although I do have new targets and repro plastics for the game). The game has the notorious faded-to-transparent-pink playfield posts. But I have fresh new blue posts ready to go.

The picture below shows the sound boards in the lower right corner of the head. The AS-2518-56 "Sound Plus" board (right) is a modified version of the previous AS-2518-51 board. The -56 board is adapted to interface with the new -57 "Vocalizer" board (left). After Xenon, both boards were replaced with the -61 "Squawk & Talk" board. What's important here is that both of these sound boards are unique to Xenon. If you're buying a Xenon, the boards better be there and they better work. Note that the next game from Bally was Flash Gordon. Some early Flash Gordons were equipped with the Xenon-style Sound Plus/Vocalizer combo before switching to the new Squawk & Talk.

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Xenon sound boards.

I believe Xenon was the first game to move the transformer and power supply board from the head to the bottom of the cabinet. This move cleared space in the head for the larger sound boards noted above. Xenon also uses a -52 auxiliary lamp driver board which is mostly for driving insert panel lights and the infinity lights between the backglasses. The board is located on the back of the insert panel.

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Transformer and power supply board.

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Xenon's -52 auxiliary lamp driver board.

Xenon came out near the end of 1980 and closed the door on what I would call Bally's early solid state era. Xenon was something different. It was the first Bally game to innovatively combine features like an elevated ball path, multi-ball, continuous background sound, speech (the industry's first female voice) and a mirrored double backglass with infinity lighting. Xenon was also one of Bally's last big hits. By the middle of 1980 pinball production numbers were way down in the face of competition from video games. But Xenon created a big production spike with about 11,000 units produced. Despite the downturn in production, games after Xenon continued the trend of innovation. Bally games maintained a high level of complexity and sophistication throughout 1981. But innovation eventually gave way to cost cutting. The industry hunkered down and hoped for better days to come. By the mid-1980s, Williams emerged as the new leader in pinball. Williams went on to absorb Bally's pinball assets and Bally mostly lost its identity.

I believe Xenon was the second Bally game (after Rolling Stones) to implement a memory drop target bank. I'm not sure I like the memory feature. It makes for a heavy, complex device that uses up a lot of driver circuits. And its purpose is to essentially remove shots from the playfield. Drop targets are my favorite playfield feature. Do I really want the computer knocking them down for me? Also, the memory feature seems underutilized. The drop target bank needs to be completed several times per ball to make a big scoring impact. A few "free" targets at the beginning of a ball make little difference.

Sound and speech were developed by Suzanne Ciani. Below are three Xenon-related links from Suzanne Ciani's website (sevwave.com).
Page 1
Page 2
Page 3
Also, if you search "Bally Xenon" on YouTube, you should come up with the documentary clip about Suzanne Ciani and the development of sound and speech for Xenon

Hidden Playfield Signatures

A solid red playfield post was the covert signature of game designer Greg Kmiec. Xenon's solid red post is hidden under a playfield plastic near the left orbit ball gate.

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The Kmiec signature red post is hidden under a playfield plastic near the left orbit ball gate.

Another bit of playfield trivia is the name of the tube; Kinetic Molecular Integrated Evolution Cylinder (KMIEC). This is a nod to game designer Greg Kmiec from game artist Paul Faris.

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The Kinetic Molecular Integrated Evolution Cylinder.

There's a robot in front of a computer screen by each inlane. The left screen says "HUDSON". The right screen says "KMIEC". I would assume that "HUDSON" refers to Bally production artist Margaret Hudson. Also, note the two playfield figures flying toward the tube entrance. They appear to have writing on their backpacks, but I can't make it out.

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References to Margaret Hudson and Greg Kmiec by the inlanes.

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Shown above is the four page promotional flyer for Xenon. The fourth image shows another flyer signed by game designer Greg Kmiec. Click for larger picture.

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Original (I think) and CPR (right) promo key fobs.

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Shown above are patent drawings for Xenon's "Tube Shot". Click for larger image.