Not long after finishing up on my X-Files machine, I was contacted by a guy who needed some help with an EM machine he owns. After reading the various posts I made on Space Orbit (Gottlieb) and Mariner (Bally), he was hopeful I might be able to assist with fixing his Playball machine. EM’s are really interesting to work on (plus a challenge), so was happy to offer my help. No promises were made, but I’d do what I could. Playball is a baseball themed pin released by Gottlieb in 1971. It has two sets of score reels, one to track the score and the other to track the home run count. It lacks a plunger to launch the ball, instead the ball is launched from between the flippers using the right flipper button to trigger a slingshot style arm. This actually gives the playfield area a little more space and room for features. Another really cool feature is the game has a ball save – if you fail to hit a 10 or 100 point target, the ball can be played again. I didn’t realise this kind of feature was present in EM’s – neat! I like the playfield on this game and I think it would be a fun title to play. That’s enough incentive to get cracking on it and get it working again so I can get a few games on it before it goes back to the owner.
The owner had already done some work on the machine, but had reached his limit and was unable to make further progress. What is wrong with the machine exactly? When you switch the game on it powers on correctly and both tilt and game over lamps are lit. An interesting thing to note here that the tilt lamp will be lit when you first turn the machine on. This is correct behavior and not an issue with the tilt relay. Anyway, when you press the reset (start) button, the score motor kicks in and runs continuously without the machine actually resetting. If I manually pull the reset bank arm in, the score reels begin to reset but the game remained in tilt / game over state and the score reels would not hit zero.
The behaviour seen on the score reels was an instant red flag, but there is something I wanted to check before them. The first place I started was the coin door – specifically the 3 coin switches. If any of these three are locked on it will be an issue and cause the motor to run forever. There were two 20 cent coin mechs installed in the door. I removed these and set them aside as this made it easier to inspect the coin switches. All three looked fine and were not locked on. While there I took a quick look at the play counter – almost 200,000 games put into the machine. I pulled each fuse out too and tested – all good. I wanted to make no assumptions on the work that had already been done and check everything.
I then moved to the score reels in the headbox. There are 6 in total – four are used to track the score up to 9,999 and another two are used to track the home runs up to 99. Here I found my first issue to resolve. On two of the score reels (home run 1’s and score 1000’s), the small arm which is used to toggle the state of the zero switch (0) and run out switches (1-9) was not sitting in the correct spot. This is how it looked on the 1’s reel for the home runs.
The arm was moved back between the two large switch blades, so the set of switches would correctly change state as the score reel advanced.
The same issue was seen on the 1000’s score reel, although this time the arm was on the opposite wrong side.
Time to try again. The machine was switched on, reset bank manually reset and then the start button pressed. The score reels ticked over and now all reset to zero. This was good – it’s some progress. But the score motor continued to run and the game remained in tilt / game over state.
So this tilt issue – what’s going on? The game has 4 tilt switches, along with two “bounce” (slam) switches. The bounce switches are the normally closed switches used to detect when the game is being mistreated. I started with the tilt switch attached to the coin door. It was closed – as it should be. I gave the contacts a clean and I disconnected the coin door jones plug and cleaned the pins with a wire brush to ensure good contact was being made. There is another slam switch on the base of the machine, near the reset bank and score motor. This is normally closed and looked to be fine. The other tilt switches are in a normally open state. There is one in the headbox, one under the playfield and two on the side of the cabinet for the tilt plumb and ball roll. All 4 were checked and looked to be fine.
Playball has a control bank towards the back of the cabinet that is home to several relays. One of these relays is the tilt relay.
I inspected the switches on the tilt relay and they looked fine. So why did the game never leave tilt?
The answer rests with the hold relay. If the hold relay is not activate, this will cause the tilt and game over relays to trip. The hold relay on this Playball had it’s coil replaced recently and a note next to the relay saying “burnt coil”. A close look at the relay showed some interesting things. The relay only has a make break switched attached to it. There are two screws used to attach the switch to the relay – a long screw and a short screw. Comparing this with the other relays in the machine, they were in the wrong spot and the position of the long screw was preventing full movement of the plate used to adjust the state of the relay. Image isn’t the best due to the lighting (and shadows).
The two screws were swapped around into their correct position. The relay now had nice movement, but one more issue could be seen. One of the arms was not adjusted properly, which meant that when the relay was activated, it would have both sides of the make break switch closed. This would no doubt cause the game some confusion. A small adjustment was made, so the relay would correctly toggle the make / break state.
The score reels were advanced manually to move them off zero, relay bank manually reset and then the machine switched on. The start button was pressed and the score reels ticked over to zero. The score motor continued to run as it did before. I manually pulled the reset bank arm in and this time, the game over and tilt lamps disappeared, the hold relay correctly engaged, the playfield lamps switched on and the score motor completed! The game looked to be in a state ready to play. Excitedly, I lowered the playfield, put the ball in and played a game.
Putting the ball into the apron advanced the ball count to 1. I could then use the right flipper to launch the ball. I rolled the ball around the playfield, testing the pop bumpers, sling shots, vari targets and scoring targets. It was going well. I let the ball drain and the game advanced to ball 2. I again rolled the ball around and then let it drain to ball 3 and then to game over. After the final ball, the game switched to game over successfully.
Ok, so this is looking better. More progress had been made. I had to manually pull the reset bank arm in to complete the reset sequence – so that’s an issue to resolve. But the fact I could then play a game through to completion is a great step forward. A couple of obvious issues were seen while I was rolling the ball around the playfield though. First was the carry on the 100’s reel. It would not advance the 1000’s reel when moving past the 9th position back to 0. Also the 100’s chime barely worked – it would fire maybe once in 20 attempts. The 1000’s chime was not quite as bad, but it too failed to fire on a few occasions.
I went to the back box and inspected the carry switch on the 100’s reel – it’s position looked fine and made contact on the 9th position. I gave the contacts on the switch a clean and put the reel back in place. I inspected the relays for the 100’s and 1000’s reels to make sure nice contact was being made to trigger the chimes. They looked fine. So I then headed to the chime box to see what it could tell me.
The chimes were removed and one of the issues was apparent. The plunger was stuck inside the coil sleeve. It showed resistance when trying to press it back down with my thumb. Without free movement, no wonder it was rarely hitting the chime.
The sleeve and plunger were removed and I could see why it was having trouble – there was some rust build up around the plunger that was thick enough to prevent it moving through the sleeve properly.
The plunger was cleaned up with steel wool and installed back into the chime box. The 1000’s plunger was a similar issue, but no where near as bad. It too was removed from the chime unit and cleaned up. Both plungers now had free movement through their coil sleeves. With the chime box installed again, the machine was powered up and the game started (again manually pressing the reset bank arm to complete the reset sequence). The score reels tested and the 100’s carry was now working 100%. The chimes on the 100’s and 1000’s reels were now both working 100% too. So a couple more wins!
I now really need to sort out this reset issue. From what I can see, it’s all to do with the reset bank arm not pulling in at the end of the reset sequence. This arm needs to pull in to release the game over and tilt relays. It also needs to release the reset relay. It could be an issue with the reset sequence, or an issue with a switch on the control bank itself. Time to do some further investigation.