The story behind Heighway Pinball and the Alien machine is a long, sad tale of a mismanaged company eventually going bankrupt. There were hundreds of thousands of dollars lost by investors, and even more disappointing, many collectors also lost money in deposits and prepayments. If you want to read the entire thing - here's the Pinside link. This page isn't about all that. This is my personal story with the game, and a few technical details thrown in because I'm geeky like that.
Back in 2016, I began hearing about the Alien pin. Alien had always been a dream theme for me. It was the very first R-rated movie I saw back in 1979 when me and a buddy snuck in 'cause we were only 14. I've always loved the Giger art, and remember playing 'Space Invaders' pinball back in the day solely because it looked so cool. It was an Alien rip-off and Bally eventually paid for that. But anyway, the more I heard about Alien pinball the more I wanted one. I've had a relationship with Charlie at Joystix, and asked him if he was ever going to get any. He said no, and warned me about dealing with Heighway. Well, I figured I'd try to get one anyway, so I contacted Cointaker, the only official US distributor. I talked to Melissa, and she informed me the only way to get one was to either leave a deposit with her and get on the wait-list, or pre-order directly from Heighway. Well, I'm not really the pre-order kinda guy - so I started asking if they were going to bring any demo games to the Texas Pinball Festival that I could buy with CASH. Melissa told me she really has no idea what Heighway will do or how many games they will bring. But sure enough, Andrew (CEO of Heighway) starts to say...well yes...I think we will have a game there for you maybe...can't be sure how many we will bring...but yes we should have one for you...probably. We had a bunch of back and forth until about a few weeks before TPF, when I finally got confirmation from Andrew and Melissa that indeed they would have a demo game I could buy with cash at TPF.
As you can imagine, I was SUPER excited for the March 2017 Texas Pinball Festival. I made the roadie up from Houston, and after checking in, I met with Melissa and Chris from Cointaker. I handed over the cash - got a receipt - and was invited to help un-box my Alien pin!!!. WoooooHoooooo!! ...everything was going great until we ran into the first of what would eventually be MANY, MANY problems with the machine.
When I first arrived, Chris and Andrew were setting up the first of three Alien machines
Getting ready to un-box the 'broken' machine #2 - check out the video below
CLICK HERE TO SEE VIDEO #1 - Unboxing the broken machine
here to download the file
After putting aside the broken machine, I help set up machine #3
CLICK HERE TO SEE VIDEO #2 - Unboxing the good machine
Click here to download the file
Putting on the legs
A selfie with my Alien - and Blake too!
Notice the Model and Serial No are Full Throttle - not Alien. Hmmmm
Andrew makes a few final adjustments before the show opens
When the show opens, the lines were quick to form.
The lines to play were usually about this long - but not as tall. Yeah, that guy is a former NBA player.
During the show, there were a few problems with the games which usually got fixed pretty quickly.
I got Andrews card but doubt it's any good now.
Damn, if that isn't a fine looking game!!
Blake helps me look at the damage caused by the 'sinking' LCD in the playfield
It was interesting talking to Andrew at TPF. He seemed super excited about Alien, but also seemed to be running around like a chicken with it's head cut off trying to get set up and fix last minute details - like putting the facehuggers on the slings. I did get a chance to talk to him about my Alien machine. He promised it was a true production machine, with the exception of the Xeno mech, which needed updated boards. Well, I was happy just to have a game, so I wasn't really worried about the Xeno head not working. Sure, it's a central toy in the game, but it doesn't really impact the game play at all. Besides, I figured Andrew would send me the new boards in a couple weeks as promised, and all would be well. Of course, that's not the way it went down....
As TPF was winding down on Sunday, I had to decide which of the three games would be coming home with me. Obviously, I did not want the one with the broken glass, so it was easy to rule that out. Of the two remaining, one had suffered playfield damage when the playfield LCD sunk down and balls were slamming the exposed edge. So it ended up being a pretty easy decision - we packed it up and I headed back home to Houston. I set up the game next to my Metallica, and proceeded to play the crap out of it~!
In the honeymoon phase - all is well
WooHoo - Looking good!!
With a cold adult beverage, Alien gets even better!
Love the changing colors - every light is RGB
This is the 'vent mode' - a very dark scary mode to play.
The start of Ambush Multiball is intense (even without the working Xeno)
"How do I get outa this chicken-shit outfit?"
Well, the honeymoon phase only lasted for a little while. It wasn't long before a few problems started taking some fun outa the game. For example, the ball would not launch into the shooter lane 100%, the airlock scoop would often fire straight down the middle, the pops were not responsive, and sometimes balls would not drop into the inlane from the ramp cleanly. These were all 'mechanical' problems, so I was sure I could fix them. In the process, I figured I'd document the issues on Pinside for any future owners.
Looking at the shooter lane, I could see the lane protector was getting in the way of a clean launch....
So I took it off, and hit it with a dremell to knock it down a bit (see below)
Fixed - launches into the shooter lane 100%%
It's kinda hard to see, but I covered up part of the tear shaped hole at the end of the ramps.
This stopped the ball from 'hopping out' of the inlane on a good ramp feed.
I don't have any pictures, but I also re-mounted the airlock scoop to prevent the STDM issue, and adjusted the pops.
I could fix all the mechanical issues listed above, but was stumped when the playfield LDC went out.
At this point, I was getting a little worried about my Alien. It had been several months since TPF, and I still had not received the new boards I needed for the Xeno head. Also, the playfield LCD was out, and I had a couple other lights on the playfield go out. I had been in contact with Cointaker and Heighway, and was always told parts were either being ordered, or should be arriving very soon. It was also around this time that new code for Alien was released. My machine from TPF was on version 0.94. The updated version of the code contained significant improvements and bug fixes, and I was eager to update. HOWEVER, I soon found out that my machine from TPF was not as 'production ready' as I was told. In fact, in order to update the code on my machine, I would need to replace all the GI lights, the drop target mech, the Xeno AND the entire PC too! WTF??
I kept contacting both Heighway and Cointaker asking for updated parts. Melissa would tell me 'I think they may be in this next shipment', but they never came. At one point, Heighway promised Melissa they would send complete playfield replacements so we would not have to replace all the parts ourselves, but like the many, many promises I received from Heighway, it too was broken. ...and then another code update came out. I would read the file documenting all the changes, and wish upon a star that someday I'd be able to update my machine as well. One of the last offers I had from Heighway to fix my issue was to pack up my game and they would have it shipped by boat over the ocean back to the UK where it would be repaired and returned to me. Ummmm, if they can't even send parts - did you think I had any confidence they'd fix my machine and get it back to me in a timely manner - if at all~!~! Thanks, but no thanks.
The original 'pre-production' PC
My original machine also included the EL lighted blades, which unfortunately my replacement machine did not.
A close-up of the audio amp.
Even without the playfield LCD, the game still looked and played great
The pre-prod boards. Notice the I/O boards are red, and the big PCB's are marked as "Version 0.94 Heighway Pinball"
At the top, you can see the game is marked PA-0025 - early pre-production.
The Houston Arcade Expo was scheduled for October of 2017, and I tried to use that as leverage to get updated parts from Heighway. I told them I was going to bring my game for all to play, and it would seem to me that Heighway would want the best representation possible. I mean, I figured Heighway would prefer to have folks play a fully working game - on updated code - with a working playfield LCD. Heck, it might even spawn a few new sales! ...but no. I got nothing from Heighway. Regardless, I brought Alien to HAAG, set it up in the free play area, and let everyone bang away on it all weekend. Overall it held up OK. I had a coil wire that needed resoldering, a flipper rubber that broke, and had to re-boot the game a few times when it would just loose track of how many balls were on the playfield. Oh, and both of the face-hugger tails broke off and got jammed in the ball trough. That was a fun fix when drunk.
Setting up Alien at the 2017 Houston Arcade Expo
Over the entire weekend, I never saw a time it wasn't being played
Even Mario played!!
Broken Facehugger tail.....boooo
Eventually, they both broke.
After the Houston Arcade Expo, I was still contacting Heighway and Cointaker in an attempt to get updated parts. As a last resort, I offered to bring my game to the 2018 Texas Pinball Festival, where Cointaker could replace it with a true production machine. Thankfully, Melissa came through, and that's what happened. Well, almost - Cointaker forgot to load up the Alien in their truck to TPF, so it was shipped to my house that same week.
The FedEx truck is here!!!!!
...and it's completely empty except for my game.
The box looks a little dented, let's cross our fingers and pray everything is OK
So far, so good...
The glass isn't broken - that's a VERY good sign!!
This was all that was in the goodie box
Getting it set up in my office...
Well lookie there - this one actually says "Alien" and has a real Alien serial number.
Peeling off the protective films - I got the true NIB experience here.
Checking connections - the cabinet is VERY clean
I did find that two of the monitors were not hooked up - scared me for a second before I figured out what was going on
And a completely new and different PC
Notice the I/O boards are now dark blue (instead of red)
Game is number PA-0130
In total, I think there were less than 150 games made
...and the PCB's are all marked 'Version 0.96b Pinball Brothers'
The airlock scoop (still the old style without the plastic insert)
...I'm not sure why my machine doesn't have the updated airlock..
...but it works 100% so I'm not complaining.
Getting ready to install the 'Cliffy' protector.
Cliffy installed and looking good.
Putting some games on the replacement machine....
Looking good - just needs a few minor adjustments (like the pops)
My Xeno finally works!~!~!~!~!
I took a bunch of pics of my replacement machine during my 'second honeymoon' phase....
...I started seeing some issues...
A quick fix I recommend - remove the post just under the upper right flipper.
This helps to make the lane and chestbuster shots just a bit easier to hit.
Unfortunately, after a few weeks of perfect play, my Xeno started acting up...
..and I was starting to see random strange behavior and the occasional lockup.
Found this and reconnected...
I also ended up having to rebuild the ball trough.
The game started to have a hard time recognizing the balls here, and so I took it apart, gave it a good cleaning and put it back together tightly.
That seems to fix it.
But my Xeno completely stopped working, so I broke it down to see what was going on.
I found that the motor was turning this shaft, but the attached gear was slipping.
Turns out, there is no set-screw or notch that secures this gear to the shaft.
(The picture above sent to me by a fellow Pinsider)
I decided I could fix my Xeno if I could secure that gear to the shaft.
While I was at it, I would completely disassemble the Xeno, tweak and lube as necessary
I made some minor adjustments to the 'tongue' switch and used gun oil to lube it up
I was able to disconnect the Xeno mech and lay it on it's side...
So I could drip some super glue right down on it.
And believe it or not - IT WORKS!!!
At this point in time, I have a completely working and updated Alien. WooooooHoooo!! Oh, and even after the company went bankrupt, the great folks who worked on Alien released version 1.2 of the code - and it is AWESOME! The magnet under the Xeno really flings the ball around now, and the lights/sounds are SERIOUSLY some of the best I have seen on any pinball machine. So that's it folks - my long history with the Alien pinball machine. I took a few pictures after installing version 1.2, and playing some seriously fun and exciting games..Enjoy!
Here's an action shot of the Xeno eating my ball
That's all folks!!