That deaf, dumb, blind kid sure plays a mean...
March 8, 2005 10:28 AM   Subscribe

Pinball an historic American art form. Although early versions were boring by today’s standards, modern machines are a marvelous blend of sophisticated software and ingenious hardware. Pinball is often associated with gambling, and has always had a bad reputation. The industry has been in decline since Pong and Pac-man conspired to take over the arcade. With fewer and fewer machines available for the public to play, enthusiasts have started collecting and repairing the machines for home use. Some people take it to extremes.

The great pinball makers of the glory days are gone: Williams now makes slot machines, Gottlieb is long gone, and Bally was folded into Williams in the mid-90’s. Only one company is still making pinball machines: Stern Pinball, Inc. If you have an old favorite, find it in the Internet Pinball Database. For the sake of completeness, Mefites have talked about pinball before.
posted by cosmicbandito (57 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
posted by edgeways at 10:36 AM on March 8, 2005

My favorites:

Attack from Mars
Aadams Family
Medieval Madness
Gone Fishin'
posted by chaz at 10:41 AM on March 8, 2005

You've got the power
You've got the might
Get ready for battle
Beat the Black Knight
posted by Nelson at 10:44 AM on March 8, 2005

Chaz, I think you mean
"Fish Tales", which is a great game.
The others you listed are all excellent too. You should try to find some older games to play to complete the experience. The older electromechanical games require a completely different play strategy. They're much slower and require more nudging.
posted by cosmicbandito at 10:46 AM on March 8, 2005

Pins are wonderful, wonderful things and are sadly neglected in this day and age of 3D graphics and spraying blood...

I'll add to the list:
World Cup '94
Mousin' Around
Theatre of Magic
Twilight Zone
Cirqus Voltaire

Addams Family and Medieval Madness are fan-f'in-tastic. I hope for a day when I actually have a house and a basement into which I could throw a sweet pin...
posted by fet at 10:47 AM on March 8, 2005

Worth mentioning if you can't get your hands on a machine: Virtual Pinball (link to forum, pretty easy to find from there)
posted by sudasana at 10:52 AM on March 8, 2005

cosmic, you're right, that's the one. It's one of the only older games I really love (Bride of Pinbot is a good one too)... because I have a passion for multiball, and older games couldn't quite handle crazy multiball. Although I do like the nudging in the older games, as you mention.
posted by chaz at 10:58 AM on March 8, 2005

Favorite that I've Never Played: Astro-something. It supposedly had a 50 ball multiball which was either maddening or just stopped-up the machine.
posted by destro at 11:03 AM on March 8, 2005

Sorry it's Apollo 13 and it only had a 13 multiball.
posted by destro at 11:04 AM on March 8, 2005

Omigod, The Addams Family pinball game was incredible. I'd love to play that again. Anyone know of any sort of online pinball-machine-finder? Do such things exist in the magic world of the internet?

Great post!
posted by Dr. Wu at 11:05 AM on March 8, 2005

A good friend of mine had Butterfly in her basement when we were kids. It was excellent, except when it would shock you due to faulty wiring.

I have also put a quarter or a hundred into Indiana Jones, if only to hear the clips from the movies.
posted by Armen Tanzarian at 11:07 AM on March 8, 2005

actually, if you consider the history of pinball, bride of pinbot and fishtales are both fairly modern games. If you want the true "old pinball" experience, you have to play something like this. (note : minor breach of self link ettiquette. that's a machine i restored.)
It's pretty hard to find old games available for public play though. see if you can find a collector in Pinball Collector Register. Maybe somebody close to you has some older games. Pinheads (pinball collectors) are usually anxious to share their hobby and love to have people play their games.
posted by cosmicbandito at 11:09 AM on March 8, 2005

Dr. Wu, cruise over to and search for your general area. There's bound to be a few posts about what games are available for play. Barring that, look in the yellow pages under "amusement devices" and call the companies who have machines out on route. They'll be happy to tell you what games they have and where they're located.
posted by cosmicbandito at 11:14 AM on March 8, 2005

The Virtual Pinball site linked above also has a Pinball Locator.
posted by Otis at 11:34 AM on March 8, 2005

I fell in love with my girlfriend while playing Addam's Family with her...
posted by schyler523 at 11:39 AM on March 8, 2005

Jurassic Park
posted by poppo at 12:02 PM on March 8, 2005

Ha! Great post. Has anyone played what I believe to be "Heavy Metal Meltdown?" I couldn't find it in the locator. When you hit the left flipper it would shout "Heavy!" and the right flipper "Metal!" Between heavy and metal there were guitar licks abound. Pinball fun aside, I'd play it as the sounds we hilarious.
posted by AllesKlar at 12:04 PM on March 8, 2005

posted by a3matrix at 12:09 PM on March 8, 2005

it was indeed "Heavy Metal Meltdown".
game info here
posted by cosmicbandito at 12:17 PM on March 8, 2005

Cosmicbandito - Thanks!
posted by AllesKlar at 12:21 PM on March 8, 2005

When I was a lad, a local diner had a dusty old tennis themed game called Volley. I spent many hours racking up free games and drinking fantastic vanilla milkshakes.
posted by davebush at 12:24 PM on March 8, 2005

I always loved The Cyclone growing up. I pretty much stopped playing pinball when they disappeared. I was never a fan of the machines with the video screens on the back. They were too much like video games. I don't want to stop playing pinball to shoot some asteroids, thanks. If I wanted to do that, I'd, y'know, play Asteroids or something.
posted by Eideteker at 12:35 PM on March 8, 2005

William's Highspeed!

There is a really good pinball table emulator (similar to MAME, but for table games) called Visual Pinball. More here and here.

and some OLD virtual tables here.

Have fun...
posted by ae4rv at 12:36 PM on March 8, 2005

Dude, Start Trek TNG took away about an hour of my life everyday after dinner in college.

You got to engage to Borg...
posted by bardic at 12:36 PM on March 8, 2005

As a follow-up, I bought Ednaswap's "Wacko Magneto" almost totally because of the pinball theme and the ball bearing trapped in the jewel case. My mother raised me to love all things pinball. So: Thanks!
posted by Eideteker at 12:37 PM on March 8, 2005

whoops - I see now that virtual pinball is mentioned once above. Think of my comment as "adding to it".
posted by ae4rv at 12:37 PM on March 8, 2005

I'm a dedicated pin-dork, as in I don't just have favorite games, I have favorite designers (Pat Lawlor and John Popadiuk represent).

I grew up with a Twilight Zone in my house, and am convinced it is the perfect game (also on my shortlist: Theater of Magic, Attack from Mars, Pinball Magic)

I've also had a great (pin-dork) fortune of having the opportunity to play Big Bang Bar, a game that was being developed by Capcom when they're pinball division folded, and only exists as 12 prototypes (though I think a collectors run is being made of it now).
posted by cosmonaught at 12:42 PM on March 8, 2005

I grew up with an old Gottlieb Genie in the basement.

*sniff* Good times, good times.
posted by kyrademon at 12:48 PM on March 8, 2005

Circa 1972 , playing Fireball, LOTS of Fireball

"Release Wotan
Release Odin!"

What a hideous waste of time...

Thanks for the post. Hard to believe Dipsy Doodle was once my universe.
posted by Julie at 1:02 PM on March 8, 2005

I bought a Strange Science last year and fixed it up. It was one of the more satisfying things I've done. And now I have true batchelor pad with a pinball machine in my living room.

If you grew up in an arcade it's a great way to bring back a bit of that nostalgia. Plus you get to open the thing up and take it apart, which appeals to my inner (and outer) nerd.
posted by Four Flavors at 1:20 PM on March 8, 2005

Am I the only one who doesn't really enjoy pinball? I mean, it's theoretically fun, but I could never understand how a person was to avoid the seemingly random "deaths" without nudging the machine. Watching a ball roll slowly but surely right down the center between the flippers or shoot into one of the killer holes on the sides is just annoying. It all happens so fast it's really hard to believe a person can improve their skill greatly with practice; how can you possibly be confident a bumper won't fire your ball somewhere bad?
posted by kevspace at 1:23 PM on March 8, 2005

My favorites are Gold Strike! and Pin*Bot.
posted by rocketman at 1:25 PM on March 8, 2005

I saw The Who's Tommy pinball machine in New York in 1994, when the show was on Broadway. It was a really good game and I'm surprised it hadn't been made before 1993.

The Addams Family is a great game. I think there is one at Dave and Buster's. The other one I really liked was one based on truckers and it said things like "10-4 good buddy" and other popular CB phrases.

And that Playboy pinball machine was everywhere when I was growing up.
posted by SisterHavana at 1:43 PM on March 8, 2005

I am a professed pinball junkie. My favorites (and the machines I want most for my basement) are Earthshaker! and High Speed. Both of these are Williams machines, and that's no accident. I've never played a Sega, Gottlieb, or Bally that could touch Williams.

Kevspace, there is certainly skill to pinball. The nudging of the machine, the precise one-two of the flippers in sequence, the right shot up that ramp, ensuring no drainage...

Oh my! I'm all worked up.
posted by Kafkaesque at 1:45 PM on March 8, 2005

Man, I suck at pinball.
posted by graventy at 1:46 PM on March 8, 2005

And I have expounded at great length how the world really ended the day that the 1,000,000 shot ushered in the era of pinball inflation. Our innocence was lost. Gone were the days of the 250,000 point free game. Now millions, soon, billions!

We were frail Icaruses, too full of pinball hubris, and we have paid the price. Sob!
posted by Kafkaesque at 1:51 PM on March 8, 2005

kinda strange, I just spent an hour or so looking at this page last night. Strange because I don't usually look at obscure game sites.
small internet.
posted by hellbient at 1:52 PM on March 8, 2005

I love the closeup shots of Twilight Zone on that site. If I recall correctly, at the time, purists complained that it was a video game, not pinball, but it's by far my favorite. Most experts agree that Twilight Zone is the most complex pinball game ever created. The Virtual Pinball/PinMame version is really great too; in many ways better than the actual table, although I'd be hard pressed to say how. Definitely worth your time (and FREE!)
posted by TheStorm at 1:57 PM on March 8, 2005

kafkaesque, I feel your anguish...the old games had shots that were worth 1 point. No modern table has a shot worth less than 100 points. Are we to belive that our games are worth 100 times the score of the games of our forefathers?
posted by cosmicbandito at 2:03 PM on March 8, 2005

Kafka, I definitely agree about Williams, their games were consistently the best.

There is one Gottleib pin I really liked which was "Haunted House". I guess I go for the gimmicky pins, as long as there is a consistent 'step ladder' to getting rewards and stuff.

Sega is the absolute worst, in my opinion, as the physics seems all wrong.
posted by chaz at 2:05 PM on March 8, 2005

Twilight Zone was great....

Someone should make a new pinball, based on "all your base are belong to us"...shoot the ramp and hear, "someone set us up the bomb."

I would play that for hours/days...
posted by schyler523 at 2:43 PM on March 8, 2005

I had this one and then traded it in for this one. Damn. Good times. I actually have a Certificate of Pinball Wizardry for destroying all records on World Cup Soccer in 1994. I love pinnies. They don't like moving house as I recall. When I traded in my Gypsy Queen I went around to this collector's house where his entire house and two garages were full of machines and parts, from ancient 'pin' ball games (you used to bump the machine so the balls would bounce off pins, playfield was vertical) to the newest machines. It was heaven. Piles of playfields. Bushels of backglass. He had the nicest Black Knight in there, in absolutely mint condidtion. First multiball if I recall correctly. I have a thousand pinball stories. This has been one of them. If I was not at work now I would put up a few essays but...

And for the record, I have never played any pixel games. Hate 'em. My PC is without games. I do have some pinball emulators though they are far from satisfying.
posted by bdave at 2:59 PM on March 8, 2005

Nudging the machine is an essential part of playing pinball, old pinball machines didn't have flippers, or had them in such an worthless arrangement that the whole game was launching the ball and nudging.

The debate in my house was always over bangbacks, Slapping the front of the machine while holding up the flipper to save balls that have drained down the side. I'm quite adept at it, but have always felt like it taints my highscores. At the same time, I do think there is an argument that anything you can do within the limits of the game...
posted by cosmonaught at 3:10 PM on March 8, 2005

shameless plug... Pinball Hunter.
posted by bk at 3:55 PM on March 8, 2005

This all reminds me that the greatest pinball artist is Youssi. See, for instance, the side panel for Bride of Pinbot.
posted by Nelson at 3:57 PM on March 8, 2005

Oh, and more Bride of Pinbot.
posted by Nelson at 3:57 PM on March 8, 2005

Awesome post. I loves me some pinball.

I think my all-time favorite is Addams Family. That's a hell of a game. I had entirely forgotten about Flash Gordon until just now, but I used to play that one a lot as a kid. I also dug Hercules quite a bit, but it was sort of a novelty.

And Nelson, thanks for reminding me about Black Knight 2000. That's the game that got me back into pinball when I was a teenager.
posted by MrBadExample at 5:01 PM on March 8, 2005

Pinball is good... I just bought my first machine (Rollergames - Williams) and I've discovered that there's this whole crazy underground of people who keep 'em going. Parts are still available... you can even get ROMs custom burned for you if you want to experiment and change different aspects of the machine.
posted by ph00dz at 5:45 PM on March 8, 2005

I'm a pinball guy. I've always wanted a table, but have too little space. Judge Dredd was one of my favorite tables. Addams Family, Circus Voltaire, and Twilight Zone were very nice as well.

Seidel Games stopped making their one flipper pinball baseball game after they were purchased by Bay-Tek. I saw the last of them leave the factory.
posted by The Cardinal at 6:21 PM on March 8, 2005

my favourites are: Indiana Jones and Twilight Zone. I have a local arcade that is run by a bloke who maintains the machines himself, and is very passionate about having his machines in good condition.
posted by Jerub at 8:07 PM on March 8, 2005

Now I have both the money and a perfect place for a table. I doubt I could find any in South Africa, especially in the small town in which I live. ::sigh::

I like pinball. But I like most all games with balls that roll. Not that I'm good, just a life-long fascination with rolling balls. Pool, bowling, pins, and other toys that also have rolling balls.
posted by Goofyy at 2:06 AM on March 9, 2005

eyeballkid beat me to it, so I'll go with "Hey you, with the face!"

A few favorites:
Start Trek TNG - I get chills thinking about the absolute intensity of hitting the warp factor loop over and over until it's in the 9.x's, and all you hear is that hum. Awesome stuff.

Jurassic Park - First time that Raptor Cage spit the ball back out at top speed I think I jumped four feet

Judge Dredd - Because I was a huge fan of the comic. I thought it was pretty faithful. Great "move your car" mode, too.

Fish Tales was brutally hard. I sucked at it, but couldn't stop trying.

Anyone in the New Hampshire area with a jonesing for classic pins (and video games) should head up to Funspot. They aren't all in the best condition, but still quite a blast.
posted by schoolgirl report at 5:18 AM on March 9, 2005

Oh man I loved Jurassic Park. We had one at the Chuck E Cheese that I worked at, and I'd play it several times before each shift and several times after. The big T-Rex that was supposed to eat the ball worked about 1 time out of 100.

Good post.
posted by AgentRocket at 8:16 AM on March 9, 2005

I was very fortunate to get my start as a professional multi-media artist at Data-East/Sega as a dot matrix animator and then at Gottlieb after being laid of from Sega. A great bunch of people to work with at both companies.

I worked on the following tables:

WWF Wrestling (dots)
Guns 'n' Roses (dots and plastics) Also got loaded with Slash, he came by to help design the game! Nice guy, kinda quiet.
Maverick (dots)
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (dots)
Baywatch (dots)


The Big Hurt (Dots)
Barb Wire (Dots and plastics)
WaterWorld (Dots and playfield art)
Mario Andretti Racing (Dots and partial playfield art)
Brooks n Dunn (Dots)

The crazy thing was that a couple of the artists I worked with were either indifferent or even embarrassed to be working on Pins! I was incredulous.

"Don't you get it? You are one of the last practitioners of a dying art form! We're making history! This is genuine pop art!"

"Pop art, you say? Riiiiiight Scoo."

*Sniff* Sorry, I got something in my eye...

Oh man, what a blast it was. We actually played during the day as RnD!

Strangely, I am now working with dot matrix screens again, creating art and animation for a network of electronic signs in Atlanta MARTA transit system....
posted by Scoo at 11:26 AM on March 9, 2005 [2 favorites]

Twilight Zone ate up so much of my time when it was in my university halls bar. I was just lucky they replaced it 2 months before the exams. I've been tempted to buy it ever since.
posted by drill_here_fore_seismics at 12:48 PM on March 10, 2005

Sigh. Theatre of Magic. I used to play it with a little goth girl with whom I was sweetly, completely in love.

Hope I find something that good again before I die.
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:15 AM on March 17, 2005

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