System 11 Junkie

By Ryguy80

January 11, 2022

This story got featured & frontpaged on January 28, 2022

4 months ago

I got my start playing pinball in the mid-1980s. High Speed and Pinbot were my introduction to mainstream pinball, which were found at the pizza places and bars. My Dad actually had an EM in our basement for a few years that he was holding for someone else, but don't exactly remember the name. It was a casino/card theme. Want to say it was a Bally Black Jack, but not 100 percent sure. I know the backglass had a green felt table in the foreground of the artwork, but I digress. Taxi was my first favorite pinball game as a child, it was a machine that brought me joy even if I did not fully understand it at the time. It seems that Williams dominated the pinball scene in the 1980s. Every place that had pinball was predominately Williams machines, whether it was Cyclone, Jokerz!, Comet, High Speed, Pinbot, Taxi, a random Millionaire machine, or some combination of those.

Once I got older, my attention switched over to video games with advances in technology - the Madden and NHL series occupied my time during my teen years. Once I left the house for college, my freshman year, the student center had a Whirlwind pinball machine. I had played Whirlwind a couple times before, but I found myself putting quarter after quarter into the machine and the rush of playing pinball returned. I thought Whirlwind was the bomb. I love thunderstorms, I loved the fan blowing air on you, the triple spinners in the playfield were cool. This game was the total package and it renewed my interest. I ended up transferring schools after my freshman year, so I had to say goodbye to Whirlwind. After college, I didn't play much pinball. Machines were scarce on location in the early 2000's after the downturn in the industry, and Williams no longer making pinball machines. Video games lost steam for me at this point in time as I didn't find games as innoviative as they were in the late 1980's, early 1990s. Everything was another first-person shooter clone, or the same sports game, only with updated rosters. I figured pinball was over at that point and sort of lost interest in it altogether until The Pinball Arcade was released for mobile devices and got me hooked again on the tables I grew up playing. The worldwide Covid pandemic spurred the idea of actually owning a pinball machine in search of additional entertainment options, which brought me here to Pinside to start my adventure!

Story photos

No photos are attached to this story.


3 months ago

Good luck on your adventure owning a real life pinball machine. Pinball is a very special thing. You know growing up I honestly never cared much for pinball until about four years ago. Before that I thought of them all as boring grandpa arcade machines, I was way too busy enjoying X-Men and Turtles in time. But in college, I too got bored of video games (online video games seemed ridiculous to me if I wanted to interact with people why would I be playing video games in the first place?) and by the time I was a 34 year old former CO/current SAHD father of back then one now two kids....I was pretty much bored of everything save writing and books...and breakfast sandwiches and booze ok? Pinball has been a jolt for me and one I felt I kinda needed, they are not digital and fake and they are not there to hold your hand or even show you mercy. What kind of a first pin are you looking for? How deep are you planning on getting into the hobby?

3 months ago

Great to read this! I actually bought the Whirlwind I played throughout college from 92-94 and still own it. I went to the local distributor in 97 and found it, bought it for $900 and still play it weekly!

Right now it is in total tear down mode and will come back stronger and better… it was the start of my pinball obsession and I play more than I ever now.. I have 8 machines.

3 months ago

This mirrors my experience almost exactly. Still trying to save for a Cyclone; current pricing has made it difficult. We'll get there, man.

3 months ago

@JMBailey - Thanks for the comments. I have a Police Force (wife's game) and SlugFest on the way. Have room for one more pin and in pursuit of a Whirlwind for myself. Was a toss up between Whirlwind and Taxi, but Police Force has similarities to Taxi and wanted something different and I feel that Whirlwind has more depth and lastability. Whirlwind kind of feels like playing golf, you need such precise, well-timed shots to do well and put up good scores.

3 months ago

me too. it's all about the williams 80's & 90's games, particularly the Python artwork ones. I've been looking for six months but keep missing the good deals. But last night I scored a Time Warp for $550, so I'm in the game! One day I'll get a Taxi or a Bad Cats or a Getaway...

3 months ago

Police Force was awesome! I think my most played System 11 games were Cyclone, Police Force, and Funhouse, though I'm certain I played Earthshaker and Whirlwind too.

3 months ago

Thanks all for the comments. Great to hear from other System 11 fans!

3 months ago

I. Can relate to a lot of the story too - I’m slightly older, so my experience with pins began in the 70s playing EMs in bowling alleys, and then followed me to college where we had a student union with the latest and greatest machines you could imagine. It didn’t hurt, I think, that the campus was just 125 miles or so south of Chicago (Urbana-Champaign). I always played at a Holiday Inn while on an annual vacation with my grandparents, too, also in a city just a couple hours away from Chi-town. So I got spoiled by it and the electronic version (Pinball Arcade, playing now on the same iPad I’m using to write here) but I want a real machine too. Prices seem silly high and I can’t decide anyway. I’m lucky to have a real arcade nearby that charges by the hour. Lots of tables, although they aren’t all in ideal condition they are all playable.

Anyway, I just wanted to chime in. Good luck with your search!

3 months ago

Yep, the 80s were the era of Williams, I was just the right age (born in 1975), and I remember they always seemed to have the edge over Bally and Gottlieb. I loved Taxi, Grand Lizard, Big Guns, Cyclone, PinBot, FunHouse…there was always something new and delightful coming from Williams pinball. 90s and later pinball have many great games and lots to recommend them, but there is a special something about the System 11 era which just feel like nothing else. Lots of creativity, *non-licensed themes*, envelope being pushed with every new release…
It’s very satisfying to restore those machines, too; I remember even when they weren’t very old, the frustration of putting a quarter into a game which hadn’t been maintained well. Decades later, I get to be the guy who gets them working properly once more, and that is a really nice feeling, releasing the machines back into the world as they were meant to be. It’s the closest thing I have found to a time machine or a fountain of youth.

3 months ago

I miss the days of the non-licensed themed pins. It pushed the envelope of creativity, now everything kind of feels a little cookie cutter.

3 months ago

I too grew up on System 11's. I have had a few pins over the years. Only 1 at a time though. I have had F-14 before and now have a High Speed.
Next week I will finally get to buy the pin that set this whole thing off for me 32 years ago. I will finally be getting my grail pin-Whirlwind!
11's to me were the greatest era. Cyclone, taxi, Dr. Dude, Comet, Radical, Jokerz, Bk2K, Earth Shaker and the list goes on and on. Simple yet Beautiful games.
Whirl Wind was the Goat of that era!!!!!!!!

79 days ago

I've owned Big Guns, Dr Dude, Road Kings, Jokerz, F14. Some awesome games. whirlwind was my favorite.

75 days ago

Williams was on a roll in the 90's! Best games and original themes!

67 days ago

Good to have you here, and good luck in your quest !

Add a comment

Wanna make a comment? Click here to sign in or register.