from Mars Mini-Saucer LED Kit
Review by Kevin Steele
Attack from Mars, produced by Bally/Williams in 1996, is a particularly flashy pinball machine, and I mean that literally — featuring a strobe light and a large number of #906 flashers, Attack from Mars is a bright, blinking spectacle of light. Everything on the playfield is awash in animated lights.
Well, almost everything — I couldn't help but notice that the six smaller saucers that surround the main saucer were pretty bland. Sure, they had a flasher dome, but other than that they just sat there during gameplay, not doing much of anything.
The "Attack from Mars Mini-Saucer LED kit" from UFO Pinball adds a lighting feature to this classic pinball machine that, to me, looks like it should have been "factory original": namely, filling in the holes on the six smaller saucers with animated LED lights. Looking at a saucer with its normally empty holes, it seemed obvious what should have been in those holes. With this kit, the saucers look complete.
The LED kit from UFO pinball does more than just provide LED lights, however. Those LEDs have a common controller board, one that provides a large number of animation patterns for those lights. The patterns aren't just limited to the LEDs on each individual saucer, either: they race back and forth across the entire fleet, strobing and flashing in an ever-changing cycle.
The LED lighting controller board is one of the most professional pieces of hobby equipment I've seen: a clean board layout, one that includes such great touches as diagnostic LEDs and a fuse. There are even mysterious "expansion connectors" on the board for future goodies (Oh, and note the cute picture of a saucer and pinball/flipper in the upper-right hand corner!)
The attention to detail on this board extends even to its mounting point: an unused corner of the backbox, complete with mounting holes already in the backplane.
The kit includes standoffs and screws for mounting the board in this corner, making installing the board an extremely simple procedure. The board is powered by an unused connector on the power driver board, once again making this kit look like missing original equipment.
In fact, there is no "hacking" involved at all with this kit, with the minor exception of one cable that is screwed to the top of transistor Q25 to detect when the main saucer is hit. Everything is easily removable, and no modifications or changes to the original equipment are necessary at all to the pinball machine.
Once the board is installed, the LED harnesses must then be installed in each of the saucers. This part of the installation process was tedious — not really difficult, just time consuming (it took me about an hour and a half to complete the installation).
Bill Ung's attention to detail shines again here: he's included a mini-screwdriver set, which is perfect for poking the ring of LEDs on each harness up into the unused holes in the mini-saucer shells. The LEDs are held in place by friction, which means that no gluing is involved.
The LED harness was the most "amateur" looking part of this kit, with the LED leads soldered together with big balls of solder to form a ring. Still, I'm hard pressed to think of a better way to do this, and it certainly works fine for the project. All of the harnesses are numbered according to their position on the playfield, and the harness cables were sized according to their distance from the backbox.
Once you've installed all the LED harnesses, the second-most tedious part of this installation has to take place: namely, routing the cables and reinstalling the saucers. The "lobster ramp" needs to be removed to route one cable, and a couple of the rear saucers actually use a previously unused cable routing hole in the playfield (once again, it's as if this machine was designed to accomodate this mod!)
Most of the other cables can be simply slid into position without removing anything else from the playfield, although I did loosen up the main saucer bracket so I could reach underneath it. I did use zip ties to attach the new cables, the one small oversight in an otherwise all-inclusive installation kit (Bill even includes a spare fuse!)
Once everything's in place, just turn on the machine and be amazed. The LEDs on the mini-saucers begin to spin and flash, with patterns racing across each of the saucers and the entire fleet. The patterns change about every five seconds, which usually coincides with some new mode during gameplay.
Even better yet, when the main saucer is hit, all of the mini-saucers' LEDs change to a pattern that matches the main saucer's LED animation pattern. It's a great effect, and really adds to the "damage" you've just inflicted on the attacking martians.
Are there any negatives? Just a few minor nits: one, I would loved to have seen a few pictures in the otherwise detailed instruction guide. Two: the lights are a bit distracting at first — I missed the ball several times in the first few games when I stopped to stare at the mesmerizing pattern changes! You soon learn to concentrate on the ball, however. And three: it would be nice if the animations stopped during periods when the whole playfield goes dark, such as Strobe Multiball and Video Mode.
The Attack from Mars Mini-Saucer LED kit sells for $149.99, which may at first seem expensive for a pinball mod, but now to me seems like a bargain after seeing the kit in action. Does it improve your game? No, not really (I've found myself focusing more on destroying the saucers than working towards Total Annihilation or Multiball), but it does really add to the overall gameplay experience, in my opinion. If you've got an Attack from Mars pinball machine, this is an excellent addition. Recommended by RetroBlast.
Video of the LED Kit in Action