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What are Dot Matrix Display Pinball Machines?

Here we take you through the development of Dot Matrix Display Pinball Machines...

In another section of our Pinball Machine Buying Advice Department we described the advent of the solid state pinball machines, using microprocessors to control the pinball machine, rather than the relays and switches on the earlier electro-mechanical machines. These solid state machines used digital alphanumeric displays to convey information to the player, including most essentially the score.

In 1991 the first Dot Matrix Display pinball machine came out, it was Checkpoint, made by Data East.

Checkpoint Pinball

These dot matrix displays enables the designers to include graphics and animations in the back-box, better communicating to the player how they are doing and what modes they are in or special bonuses that are available.

Internet Pinball Database describes Dot Matrix Displays:

Plasma displays (not usually LEDs which are much dimmer) in an individually addressable dot grid rectangular array, capable of displaying graphics and text by energizing selected dots of the display. These displays usually use Neon gas, which glows orange when ionized by a high voltage electric current passed through the segment.

The DMD is 128 pixels wide, by 32 pixels high. Given such a small canvas to work with there have been some amazing creations by designers over the years. It’s amazing what they have achieved.

DMD - Part

DMD Working - Theatre of Magic

It seems like we are focussing on the display as being the main innovation, and whilst it was another big step in the progress of pinball it was this sole invention that propelled the game into it’s golden age. The games that came in the 90s are amongst the best ever made.

Video games had boomed and busted, and interest in pinball returned in a big way. With all the technological advances that had been made pinball designers were able to tell a story and challenge the player more than ever. Pinball machines have a “feel”, a personality, they are alive. This is what makes playing pinball so captivating. The physical reaction of the ball and predicting it’s movement mixed with light, sound and a well designed playfield took pinball to a whole new level.

1990s: Manufacturers come and go.

During the 90s manufacturers came and went. Capcom Pinball started at the beginning of the decade. Alvin G. and Co. was started by David Gottlieb’s son. By 1996 they had all closed down.

Capcom - logo               Alvin G. and Co. - logo

Gottlieb, who had changed hands a number of times over the preceding decade, also closed in 1996.

Gottlieb - logo

Data East Pinball was also founded by Gary Stern in the early 90s, it was then bought by Sega in 1996.

Data East - logo         Sega - logo

By 1997 there were just two companies left in pinball, Sega and Williams. Williams had acquired Bally-Midway in 1998, producing pinballs under both the Bally and Williams names.

Williams - logo

In 1999 Sega sold their pinball division to Gary Stern, who was then president of Sega Pinball. He called his new company Stern Pinball. They still survive today and were for over a decade the only company manufacturing pinballs in the world.

Stern - logo

Williams sadly exited the business on October 25, 1999. Having raised the bar so significantly throughout the 90s, they innovated yet again with Pinball 2000, but production costs were higher than the market could bear. Having made two models - Revenge from Mars and Star Wars Episode one, they closed their doors on pinball.

What are the best DMD pinball machines?

As we have covered in our sections devoted to electro-magnetic (EM) and solid state (SS) pinballs, we refer to the two leading websites for our ratings:


Pinside.com: Top 100

Internet Pinball Database

Internet Pinball Database: Top 300

Both sites carry ratings for all solid state pinball machines, with the DMD models dominating the top 20 of both tables. Below we have amalgamated the review scores from both sites to give a blended score for the top games. Please bear in mind that these scores were taken on 24/3/14 - both sites run live scoring with players adding review scores all the time, so they may differ in the future.

Pinball Top 20 Games

Pinside and IPDB Combined Top 5 DMD Pinballs:

Star Trek LE Pinball        1. Star Trek: Premium/LE - Stern (2013)

4 Players, no production figures available.

Note: this score has come from relatively few reviews (only 10 on IPDB which has skewed it’s average rating), so may fluctuate in future.

More info: https://www.ipdb.org/machine.cgi?id=6046


Medieval Madness Pinball        2. Medieval Madness - Williams (1997)

4 Players, 4,016 units produced

More info: https://www.ipdb.org/machine.cgi?id=4032


Twilight Zone Pinball        3. Twilight Zone - Bally (1993)

4 Players, 15,235 units produced

More info: https://www.ipdb.org/machine.cgi?id=2684


Monster Bash Pinball        4. Monster Bash - Williams (1998)

4 Players, 3,361 units produced

More info: https://www.ipdb.org/machine.cgi?id=4441


Attack from Mars Pinball        5. Attack from Mars - Bally (1995)

4 Players, 3,450 units produced

More info: https://www.ipdb.org/machine.cgi?id=4441



  Written By: Andy Beresford
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