(Topic ID: 232957)

Node Boards- Update- Stern tech fixes issue via email

By shacklersrevenge

5 months ago

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  • Latest reply 2 days ago by russdx
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#210 5 months ago

When it comes to Stern SPIKE system games, it's like pissing on a fence to test and see if it's electrified.
(insert Stern nodal board high voltage joke here)

Eventually the odds catch up and the owner is going to get "stream shocked" with multiple replacement costs, if the boards are even still available, which game specific they are often not anymore. The node boards are not reliable and continue to be susceptible to voltage regulation and vibration issues. A single issue can take out multiple boards at one time. The average price of a Stern node board is $150, but can reach to $1000 for a full CPU board. Techs cannot troubleshoot well in the field AT ALL most of these types of issues. Boards are repairable, but only those with identifiable circuit paths and components. The more SPIKE games a person owns the more complicated the issues can be both via generation and components.

I discussed much of this over a year ago here in multiple responses of the thread, "Stern Reliability: SAM versus SPIKE" and "What are your thoughts on the Spike II system?", but let us go even FURTHER back in time.

Operators asked for schematics in 2013 and made various technical recommendations for the system that for the most part have not been fulfilled. They were not complaints, they were observations like "providing an end user diagnosis of specific nodal control based a partial boot failure, because it was not explained in any form of manual". Stern techs could not even answer this type of question at the time. The OP information from Chaz confirmed that from the standpoint of design, things have not changed, but instead are doing manual resets on circuit boards (when applicable). This is nearly SIX YEARS of "coming soon". With the continued increase of cost of NIB games, the only thing which has been maintained in that period is Stern customer service. However, prices are now 1.5x higher for what reason? "Improvements"? How? Screw that, Stern, some remaining operators don't buy that excuse now. The SPIKE II system regressed further with circuit protection. This is another example of a big middle finger to everyone that is involved in the industry. If owners want to be treated like mushrooms, kept in the dark, and fed bullshit, I cannot do anything about this problem, but I will at least speak out for education. Coincidentally, Using "swapatronics" is not a particularly impressive form of significant flattery and technical solution, if a customer service representative is experienced.

This situation would have been absolutely intolerable, even in the 90s, but because the end user is now a consumer, it seems somehow accepted. There is nothing wrong with advances in technology, if supported with direct repairs, but, Stern fails to offer this option, including ANY FORM of training classes, that were provided by B/W.

SPIKE is NOT that "advanced solution", except in profit margins of the manufacturer. That was never its intended purpose. SPIKE was never designed to ease the burden of any part of Reliability-Serviceability-Durability (RSD) of pinball. It actually was meant as a evolutionary venture of the same kind of lackluster "improvements" that were offered in terms of reduced quality of construction of the game, including cabinets, power, playfields, and hardware. Every single Stern supporter remains completely bushwhacked each time they buy a game with this system. End users are not getting what they are paying for overall, and is partially why B/W games remain so popular, not just with collectors, but operators as well.

Think about these points before gambling with another use of disposable income, new or used SPIKE games. If you play, but don't own or operate, and think it does not matter, it completely does, as it reflects into the cost per game that operators must use to keep these titles running. Also, it really helps to know Stern's titles, as if they are SAM, as it will make a HUGE difference in cost savings in the long run for maintenance regardless of type of location.

#229 4 months ago

Let me put this way for potential skeptics of Stern's directives of use towards the SPIKE system and it's true reality of "planned technology obsolescence". It is not exclusive to profit margins of spare boards. This is not speculation.

No pinball system in the history of solid state games since 1976 has EVER went six years without released schematics, and additional instructions to operators. Even SAM additional schematics were made available up to 2012.

Stern does not want the boards to be easily repaired, as they don't want their present games completing against future releases in the short space of the next 5-10 years. These are lessons learned from Stern's own history from the Whitestar period.

The problem is NOW, not the future.

Failure rates of node boards is VERY common for most operators who have large volumes of titles regardless of age.
Many boards are already NLA, so owners are already out of luck, and these boards were UNDER the standard of 5 years of Stern stocked parts. However, there is not one specific board that can be identified as worse than another. The whole SPIKE system is an undercooked, undeveloped mess when it comes to both diagnostics and repairs.

Essentially, owners of used SPIKE games are already taking huge risks to acquire 250 lb paperweights. You can't fix what either cannot be fixed, or no parts exist. This is much riskier than even the present challenges of certain B/W games.

#234 4 months ago

Anyone that accepts lack of repair ability of a TV / phone to this same aspect to being relevant to a pinball machine clearly has already been brainwashed this is not a need of development, reliability, sustainability, or durability of this form of entertainment.

This is especially problematic when pinball machines are already been sold at the price of new and used cars.

People need know that this type of thinking unchecked could continue until every aspect of pinball is disposable. Stern has been testing these waters since 2010 with success with every single piece of hardware or device they remove from their games to both save money, reduce manufacturing and increase profits. Pinball that is disposable means it WILL disappear from culture.

Stop letting Stern make those look like a lemmings. Help educate. Otherwise, it's embarrassing.

#236 4 months ago
Quoted from hocuslocus:

I had no idea till recently that this node board stuff was first implemented on transformers the pin (home edition).

Yes and the overall improvements to the SPIKE system since 2012 has been marginal except in expanded control of solenoids, lights, power control, and base logic (program adaptability). The inital SPIKE system was NEVER designed to be run as a system for operators, ie heavy duty extended use. Several changes had to be implemented in order or to have sufficient reliability, but durability was not a primary development concern.

#238 4 months ago

I want to dispel some myths here.

Pinball companies absolutely can dictate the specifications of their board composition and components to ease repairability. This can be exampled by JJP, AP, and Spooky. Most every pinball company did it starting from the 1970s. Even Data East (Stern)!

In the case of SPIKE, it was a conscious development decision that started all the way back in 2010. Stern were trying to find a lower cost SAM alternative with enhanced video and sound capability. There was no concern for operators.

Full schematics of JJP games were provided after repeated requests by owners and operators, just recently in fact as another example. They are not a relic of the past.

Most devices used for commercial and industrial purposes have schematics today, so I am not sure where that is being referred. The area is NOT provided more often is consumer goods, which is exactly another reason why Stern would much rather "not go through the hassle".

Once again my point, if owners wish to accept pinball as a pure consumer electronic device, be prepared for terrible long term consequences.

Personally, I believe SPIKE only has less than 3-5 years remaining in its lifespan before Stern moves onto a new system anyway based on board advancements. This is not good news for present SPIKE owners based on weaknesses of explained system operation, reliability, durability, and parts availability.

1 week later
#322 4 months ago

The question people should be asking themselves is why do the same sets of SPIKE issues continue to brought up over and over again since 2013, if supposedly there are no system design problems?

Part of the answer is quite simple, as there are more enthusiasts and collectors which are buying Stern games and were not aware of the changes in hardware, or perhaps simply do not care.

BUT, people really have no idea what is being changed except at the "macro level" between SPIKE I and II. This includes operators and associated technicians. It actually has become quite a bit of a running joke theme on PinSide (and other locations) to see opening of this same discussion nearly every 6 months or so. I have to disagree with any comments that ALL present SPIKE node boards are available from distributors. Based on discussions with various distributors any specific boards for titles before GB (WWE, KISS, GoT) are NLA, if not backwards compatible. I do not have confirmation regarding actual Spike I CPU units themselves, but I suspect there are only low quantities. WNBJM specialized SPIKE node boards would not seem favorable either. This means that EVERY game title in the SPIKE I series is highly subject to potential early obsolescence already in much less than 10 years. This problem will only accelerate as more SPIKE II games are developed in the near future.

The only system I find comparable to the SPIKE system from pinball history is the Bally 6803 from 1985-1989, which had its own share of problems based on the control board, but mostly out of misunderstanding of the implementation of the "multiplexing", reduction of SCRs, and the multitude of different sub-boards variations for display and audio for the titles. Although repairable, the 6803 CPU control board could be unfriendly to diagnosis issues and used that stupid keypad, but an owner did have schematics and components were through hole or socketed. Another negative were that certain IC components were hard to find. Ultimately, due to the lack of sales of many of the games, spare parts for many of the titles were not available soon after production.

However, schematics are not the "solution" to this overarching SPIKE problem, but are simply a start in the right direction to have Stern ADMIT that there are issues that must be addressed in longevity of their games and provide loyalty to their customers. Nobody wants to call Stern customer service for better technical knowledge and costs of replacement only to be told they are "out of luck" because the game is no longer supported less than 5 years from the date of manufacture. IMHO, this has already started happening.

#426 4 months ago

The direct question of SPIKE was asked by Kaneda, and needed to be actively addressed, not continually hidden in the background. Six years is enough time since the system open development and implementation. For interest, I didn't even know that was going to be a question, but I could just as easily declined. I don't shurk around questions very often, but people can easily misinterpret answers without a proper background of a topic. I have never known Kaneda to want me to dive into full blown technical explanations of why a pinball operating system is reliable or not. I am not sure anybody really wants to hear that in a podcast anyway, so I had to keep things a bit lighter.

Those that may disagree that the SPIKE has no shortfalls are certainly entitled to their opinions. I have offered over 40 posts on PinSide to try and encapsulate the sets of problems with this system. I will not cover everything again. These posts can be found by a keyword search (SPIKE, SAM, and my username) in the forums.

I DO hope that Stern steps forward soon and offers real solutions for the future for the areas of schematics, parts/boards availability, training, diagnostics, and repair. Making promises on a podcast for corrections is just a false reinforcement. It actively does not solve anything. I don't "hate" Stern, but I do dislike many of their changes of business practices particularly since 2009, which was the year that the advisory council redirected the company, predominately in increase profit margins, as they were failing from investor standpoint. Remember George Gomez and Gary Stern don't control all decisions. People already have short memories that SPIKE training and schematics were already promised repeatedly at various pinball and trade shows over the past 5 years. It has not happened. It is no better than when Stern gets caught cutting corners, and then new owners tout they have something "amazing" put back in a game that was already standard for a title in the past.

Right now, the situation remains highly unacceptable and RSD of modern Stern games should be very concerning to new owners. The one thing that is preventing a public outcry is the complement of good Stern customer service.

#450 4 months ago
Quoted from yancy:

There was no crowdfunding to replace Bally MPUs. When enough of them were dead in the field that an opportunity existed, Alltek seized it.

I don't disagree with the fact that Alltek provided Bally MPU-35 and complement board replacements, but also consider the timeframe and circumstances. Alltek did not "magically ride to the rescue" when the games were in need of replacement boards. One of the earliest replacement boards for any game in volume were the first generation "Ni Wumph" boards for Gottlieb SS80s starting in 1995 before the mass production of Alltek years later.

It took nearly 20 years AFTER GAME PRODUCTION before third party manufacturers provided these many boards, and this was only due to the growing interest of "retro" games from that particular manufacturer, the value of the boardsets themselves, and the technology required to do so. This does not always occur, and should not be relied upon. THOUSANDS of early Bally games were destroyed either stripped for boards or simply thrown out. A few operators did hoard old games but mostly as donors for other types of parts. This same set of conditions occurred with WPC games and Rottendog after another near 15 years. I don't think a lot of people here were witness to see the high volume of games gutted like Black Rose or Gilligan's Island in 2000.

I was directly part of both eras that not only watched the conditions occur, but actively watched the peaks of insane costs before solutions were offered. Examples, I sold a working Xenon sounds plus board and vocalizer for over $400 in 1994 and an operational Centaur "Say It Again" reverb card for $350 a year later. However, in all cases, original boardsets were often repairable, UNLESS they had become damaged due to badly hacked repairs or leaked batteries. We hoarded these boards with a vengeance. Repair is not true with all boardsets today, even with proper tools, parts, and experience.

Immediate solutions in this industry (after a game company no longer supports a product) are completely dependent on enthusiasts with time, money, experience, and resources (both industry, reference documents, etc). Some game systems have never been replicated, even at high production volumes that make most modern games look very small in comparison.

#457 4 months ago

If a person believes there are no current SPIKE issues, awesome. I will not argue with anyone any further.

I offered my personal experience observing the modern era of SPIKE games since itself initial development in 2010, starting implementation in 2012-2013 with Stern "The Pin" titles, changes of use in commercial SPIKE 1 systems in 2015, advancements into SPIKE 2 systems in 2016, and at the verge of SPIKE 3 changes in the near future. Please do not misinterpret that I believe these SPIKE systems are going to "spontaneously combust" or other such nonsense, as that is not what I ever stated in terms of the design. Nor, am I speaking in pure reflection of pinball operational systems of past manufacturers which is not a representation of my discussion either. One major concern is being able to conduct proper diagnostics of a problem after a failure, not rely a basic message on screen or cross fingers by conducting "swapatronics" on a node board and hope the game will work afterwards. Presently, this is often impossible, or more guesswork. That is not how a commercial quality industrial product is supposed to be designed.

If a person listens to the interview, they may learn something useful. Good fortune.


#492 4 months ago

Two additional node board failure examples in just the past 24 hours.

SPIKE home use game, Aerosmith, fails for unknown reasons outside warranty. SPIKE 2 system.

Another, based on trough board issues, Ghostbusters. Another SPIKE 2. Most likely related to vibrational problems.
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#591 4 months ago

I agree, distributors do have better statistics for the present SPIKE failure rates. Unfortunately, often speaking out regarding Stern, their policies, agreements, or past problems can result in the said distributor getting their "pee pee" slapped. This is not an NDA "issue". Ask Mark Schneider or Nic Parks, both whom rather recently made the mistake. However, often not recommended if a company wants to remain a seller of Stern titles, and certainly not an advantage to sales themselves. Ultimately, distributors are not the "saviors" of an industry, but further protectors of direct manufacturers. Don't expect them to perfectly shield the consumer.

In the case of Stern controlled social media, individuals are immediately blocked (and have been for years) if reporting anything that is perceived negative or questionable, so I am not sure what people expect right now? Do enthusiasts really believe Stern is going to step forward, have a news conference (or inside this thread), and announce to the world that the pinball operating system they starting developing in 2010 as a replacement for the more costly (and more RSD) SAM system has had any issues since its inception? The SPIKE was not even fully discussed until 2015, except by technicians starting around 2013 as an increased curiosity of concern, but there was very little to evaluate as no operators were not going to buy overpriced "The Pin" games. How many people have even crawled underneath one of these early games? Even pinball designers who were outspoken against Stern decisions of game design, features, or profitability were quietly muffled.

I am not sure I could ever provide enough non-destructive testing, examples, or a written documented paper to make certain people believe anything here, but that is simply not my goal. This is like all owners that still believe that "wooden pinball playfields don't dimple". As a point, I also never stated that ALL boards were unrepairable, both on PinSide or my interview. This topic alone could have been discussed for over an hour, but is not very interesting.
BUT, what is most important here?
PinSide is a direct means to active discussion and often exposure to ongoing events, not a means to suppress ideas.

How do people think PROBLEMS get resolved?
Ignoring issues doesn't work. Dismissing things as imaginary has identical results.
Every single Stern shortfall correction (title or system) since 2001 was a result of public inquiries, either from an operator, private owner, or both. It started with repeated observations and reporting. That is how service bulletins are generated as well. Just because certain people were not around in the hobby to see it, does not mean it did not happen, or should not be evaluated. I just don't like people to start playing a "proverbial" ostrich with their head in the sand and trying to shove others heads down at the same time. That is very shortsighted. I have no doubts Stern is reading these threads, at least periodically.

I encourage any private collector to whom is concerned to perform their own SPIKE detective work, which includes present availability of CPU and node boards for their personal games, costs, present available repairability, and determining what Stern will provide in terms of customer service, 5 years after their title is released directly to their distributors, not Stern Customer Service. These are types of things which require very little technical expertise and only a few phone calls. Once an owner receives answers, they can make their own conclusions. Also, it will provide a basic scope of understanding. Nobody likes surprises.
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