Categories
news & gossip reviews

Sure Shot Classics

By Geoffro

Originally published in Skill Shot #4, Summer 2008

Maybe you’ve got a Jones for some pinball but you’ve already been down to Shorty’s three times this week. Or maybe you want to shoot a game or two and it also happens to be time for your once-a-month departure from Capitol Hill. Maybe you’re looking to drift back to a time before games took $5 bills and scored in the bazillions. Or maybe you’re just bored, dammit. In any case, a trip to the U-District for some pinball is never a bad idea, and the first games to head for are the 3 vintage pinball machines tucked away in the back room of the Sureshot Cafe.

You’ll find this coffee shop just off the corner of 45th and University. After purchasing a cup of Joe, wander on back to the game room. It is home to a number of classic arcades, as well as the occasional extra table or chair, but the centerpieces are definitely the pinball machines. On the far left is Wizard, originally manufactured by Bally in 1975. And yes, it is based on the movie Tommy. Wizard’s stand-out features are 4 flip flags on the right side of the playfield. The general idea is to flip these flags, primarily by hitting their corresponding stand up targets. After flipping as many flags as possible, shoot for the kick-out hole in the upper area of the playfield. Then merrily watch as it punches the ball down the right lane, resetting the flags and activating their various bonuses. Just one little quarter gives you 5 chances to do this as much as you can! Up to 4 pinball wizards can play at a time.

To the right of Wizard is another game by Bally from 1975, Hocus Pocus. It’s the only 2 player game in the room, and also unlike its counterparts, yields just 3 balls per game rather than 5, but it is possibly the most fun. The goal in Hocus Pocus is quite straightforward. There are 4 lit lanes in the upper playfield – A, B, C, and D. Once the ball has rolled down a lane, the letter goes out (various switches and targets accomplish this as well). Get A, B, C, and D all unlit and they reset, while you collect your prize. This can often be an extra ball or even a replay! A particularly satisfying feature of Hocus Pocus is going “over the top” (scoring 100,000 points), and listening to the machine buzz loudly for 5 to 10 seconds. Simply magical!

The third machine in the room is Space Mission, made by Williams in 1976. The central feature of Space Mission is obvious. It’s the “swinging target” plopped smack dab in the middle of the playfield, and the game revolves solely around it – like the earth around the sun… Also somewhat unique to this machine are the two ball kickers just outside of each flipper. Any ball that falls in one of these is immediately shot back out towards the swinging target, for better or worse. At times, hitting the target will cause “Extra Ball” to become unlit. Most of the time, however, hitting the target – without draining – yields positive results. Mastering this is the key to Space Mission.

All three games are nicely restored and, generally speaking, very well maintained. They’re refreshingly simple, and there’s something very pleasing about their primitive ticks and dings. In a city of ever-breaking and disappearing machines, it’s nice to know that these 3 relics continue to stand the test of time.

Sureshot Café is located at 4505 University Way NE

Categories
news & gossip

Skill Shot #3 News & Gossip

Originally published in Skill Shot issue 3, Spring 2008

The first Northwest Pinball and Game Room Show will be at the Seattle Center June 6 – 8. Word is that there will be over 100 games (all set on free play!). Tournaments, special guests and more! Check out their web site for more details: (nwpinballshow.com/)

While we are on the subject of web sites, be sure to check out the Skill Shot page on mySpace. We’re posting most of our reviews and such there, but more importantly, this is the place to find our most up-to-date Seattle Pinball Guide!  myspace.com/skillshott

The new Stern pin Wheel of Fortune made it’s much anticipated debut at Shorty’s recently! It is loads of fun and quite challenging to play. We have got to give props to Shorty’s for creating a unique pricing scale for this game, since it is a lot tougher than the similarly priced Spiderman.  Its 75 cents per game, 4 games for $2, and 11 games for $5!  Sweet.

While it doesn’t look as if Madison Pub is going to get a WoF after all, at least the Lord of the Rings is (mostly) fixed. Just watch out for the bum Balrog!

Capitol Hill has recently gained three more pins this winter with the openings of the (new) Elite and King Cobra. King Cobra is partly related to the recently closed Kincoras and we were really hoping that No Fear was going to relocate along with many of the employees, but no such luck. At least the Fun House isn’t turned up to a disturbing volume like the one at Jules Maes!

Speaking of Jules Maes, we were shocked to find out that the beloved White Water had been replaced with Fish Tales! However, we were happy to see the Redwood has replaced their broken Fish Tales with a working Attack from Mars.

A big thumbs up goes to the Hurricane Café for fixing the dot-matrix display on their Terminator 3! Meanwhile, their South Park is often on the fritz, sometimes giving 30 credits on a non-stop 6 player game, complete with surprise (and undeserved) multi-balls! Crazy!

Finally, according to www.pinballnews.com, there will be a new Shrek pin coming out in March.  It’s geared towards kids, but is built exactly like Family Guy, including the small playfield in the top corner. Sounds like fun!

Support Local Pinball!

Categories
news & gossip

Skill Shot #2 News & Gossip

Originally published in Skill Shot issue 2, Autumn 2007

A sad day here at Skill Shot, two games are leaving the hill; Monster Bash, and No Fear (which just replaced Elvira’s at Kincora’s). As they begin to tear down that whole block on Cap Hill we can only hope that No Fear finds a new home at Redwood. After all Fish Tales has seen better days. If that wasn’t enough, the word on the street says Twilight Exit is closing. Bye bye Med Madness and Junk Yard.

Ran across a pin at Gameworks the other day, High Roller Casino. For a fancy place like that it’s a shame to see a classic game in such disrepair. Come on game owners get those pins fixed. Nothing is worse then a broken game, unless you count The Hurricane’s South Park. Which gave us unlimited multi-balls, and no tilt (not for lack of trying).

Mad Pub finally fixed LOTR, only to have it break again. No matter those that are in the know say they will be getting a new pin soon. Can you say porcelain Dalmatian for $500?

Hey there’s a Pin Ball Machine at the 12th Ave Laundry on Capitol Hill: Taxi, one of the few games accessible to the under 21 crowds that’s actually fun to play.

Don’t forget to contact us if there is a game in your area, because knowledge is power!

Categories
news & gossip

Skill Shot #1 News & Gossip

Originally published in Skill Shot issue 1, September 2007

Canterbury recently replaced Tales of the Arabian Nights with a Fish Tales game. The Fish Tales is nice and clean but we’re going to miss Arabian Nights just because there’s already a F.T. in the neighborhood. Speaking of beautiful machines: PONY recently got their first(?) pin and it’s Monster Bash! It’s never been our favorite game in the past, but the game at PONY is well lit and in excellent working condition which makes it fun to play. Yeah!

Over at The Cuff, the pins got moved to make room for the expanded “leather store”; two are next to the juke box, but poor Star Wars has been exiled next to the stinky back bathroom! We’re guessing that one of the games is going to go. Crikey! Word on the street (or in the arcades) says that STERN is soon to release a Crocodile Hunter game. Apparently this was in the works before his unfortunate man-ray incident. We have also heard rumors of a soon to be announced Wheel of Fortune pin! Both games continue the trend of movie and TV properties being the basis of new games. We hope Best in Show is being considered also.

Lastly, we had a fabulous time at the Pinball-Halo-Birthday Bash up in the hills of Redmond earlier this summer. Birthday boy’s Dave and Keith hosted this awesome event that featured 8 different pinball machines! Thanks guys!  xxoo

Categories
news & gossip

Pinball History

Originally published in Skill Shot issues 1 – 5

by Gordon Gordon

Part one

It can be safely assumed that as long as there has been modern man there have been games. Rocks and sticks, bats and balls, dirt, cards, whatever; human’s like to play and have ample imagination to make things up if and when there’s a desire. Sometime around the 18th Century the idea of hitting a ball with a stick on a table became popular with Europeans and evolved into (at least) two different parlor games: Billiards and Bagatelle.

The main similarity between Billiards and Bagatelle was hitting (shooting) a ball with a (cue) stick. But unlike Billiards, Bagatelle has a play field that is slightly inclined and instead of having pockets on the side of the table, the scoring holes on a Bagatelle can be anywhere. Despite the table incline, the biggest difference between the two games is the placement of “pins” around the table on the Bagatelle. These pins had a dual purpose of deflecting the ball about the table and also for knocking the ball into (or away) from the score holes.

While billiard tables have stayed much the same over the years, Bagatelle tables have always had innumerable varieties. Scoring holes and pin placement was totally up to who ever created each individual game. The first major innovation to the game happened in the 1800’s when the cue stick was replaced with a coiled spring and a plunger. This made the game a little easier to play and helped direct the size of the games to smaller versions that could fit on the top of a bar or counter.

The next step on the road to modern pinball games happened in another area of American ingenuity: The Penny Arcade. At the turn of the century (1900’s) coin operated amusements were invented and became all the rage. Fortune Teller machines; simple movie projectors; Test of Strength and the like amused and delighted the masses. Arcades were springing up everywhere and countless new novelties and machines were needed for these businesses including one of the earliest flipperless pin-like games called Log Cabin. In Log Cabin the player would shoot the ball to the top of the game, hopefully landing the ball in one of the numbered scoring slots. Getting the ball in a numbered slot would win the player different amounts of cigars depending on the score.

While Log Cabin was a popular game, it wasn’t until 1931 that the first pin games truly appeared. Ballyhoo by the soon to be named Bally Company and Gottlieb’s Baffle Ball both came out that year and both game s were extremely popular. By placing the game under glass and feeding the plunger 7 to 10 balls per game, for a penny or a nickel the games started making their owners a nice bit a cash, all for a reasonable investment of less than 20 dollars. Flippers hadn’t been invented yet and you had to add up your own score, but for only a coin these two games were fun to play and started the pin-game craze.

Part Two

The mid-1930’s was a time of many innovations to the game we now know as pinball. As mentioned last issue the introduction of Baffle Ball and Ballyhoo brought widespread popularity as the games (which cost less than $20) spread across America. These games were not very large and easily fit on public counter tops and bars and at a penny a game gave people a cheap diversion during the depression years. One of the many things that make these games a curiosity today is that they were non-electrical and had none of the features that contemporary players are familiar with such as flippers, bumpers or even automatic scoring!

Before electricity pinball games were simple affairs similar to a gum ball machine; you put a penny into the slot and received a set number of balls, then shot the balls one at a time (with a spring launched plunger) up into the play field hopefully landing into a scoring hole. Since there were no flippers or bumpers, gravity was the main motor of these early games and either luck or a “slight” nudging was the only way to get the balls into the higher scoring positions. The addition of a battery to the pin-games brought then exciting features such as lights, bells and in 1935, perhaps the most annoying aspect of all modern pinball games: the tilt mechanism.

Up until the invention of the “tilt” players could jostle, lift and move the game as much as they wanted with no penalty unless the owner of the game happened to notice. Since many of the early games awarded prizes for high scores (like current redemption games) there was plenty of incentive to manipulate the machine as much as possible. But at the same time, since gravity was the main force moving the ball a certain nudging of the game was to be expected, just not too much. Around the same time automatic scoring also made its debut. Early scoring was done basically by illuminating numbers on the back glass as certain shots were made. Soon after the batteries were introduced to pinball games someone came up with the idea of adding an transformer to the machines and games were then able to be plugged into any electric outlet. This gave the games the added boost of power that led to the next big addition: electric bumpers.

With the addition of electric bumpers gravity no longer was the main propulsion of the balls, since the bumpers could bounce the balls in any and all directions. The Bally Company’s “Bumper” pinball machines (1937) were the first games to have these electric bumpers, but other companies soon added this important feature as well. Automatic scoring became connected to both the bumpers and the scoring holes, although the “holes” were soon eliminated because they stopped the movement of the balls.

Pinball games became all the rage at this time and hundreds of different games were soon being produced and enjoyed around the country and the world. So many different pinball machines were produced in the late 30’s- and 40’s that collectors are still discovering forgotten games to this day. But while the electric bumpers added movement and excitement to pinball there was still one important feature left to be invented: flippers!

Part Three

By the late 1930’s, there were hundreds of pinball machines being produced and the popularity of pinball was reaching an all-time high. The addition of electricity to pinball games added features that we currently take for granted, like automatic scoring, lights, sounds, and electric bumpers which made the games more fun to play than ever before. Pinball was an inexpensive way for people to entertain themselves and the games were available in a variety of places, such as drug stores and restaurants.

At the same time, gambling machines were also benefiting from the addition of electricity, and as these devices spread throughout the country, local governments began creating laws to restrict them. Many of the gambling machines at this time resembled pinball games, with the most popular and well known ones being the Bingo games. Bingo machines worked in much the same way as early pinball did, with the player shooting a ball to the top of the play field and into a scoring hole that resembled a giant bingo card. Since it was sometimes difficult to tell a gambling machine from a pinball machine, some local governments began to ban both types of games. The most extreme instance of this was in 1942, when the city of New York banned and then destroyed thousands of machines as part of a political publicity stunt.

During this same period, World War 2 was happening and most of the manufacturing companies in the U.S. were being diverted to war-time production. While new machines were not being produced, some companies were refurbishing old games and giving them patriotic themes. Despite the new laws and the interruption in production caused by the war, the makers of real pinball machines were ready with new games and designs once WW2 ended. While pinball flourished in the post war years, one thing was still missing that modern players would have noticed right away: flippers!

The first pinball machine with flippers was Humpty Dumpty, created by the Gottlieb Company in 1947. On this early game, they were called “flipper bumpers” and there were three sets of them running up the middle of the game and pointing outward (instead of pointing inward like modern pinball flippers do). Now, instead of relying on gravity and the mostly random bouncing of the electric bumpers, players could hit the ball with the flippers to keep the ball in play as long as possible. This important innovation gave the player more control of the game and made pinball more of a game of skill than ever before, further distancing itself from the gambling machines. Naturally, other manufacturers added flippers to their games, and that spelled the end of the flipper-less pinball era.

During the two decades that followed, other features that we take for granted today made their debuts, such as multiple player games, add-a-ball, multi-ball, and automatic ball return. Although these innovations, along with fantastic artwork, kept the games new and exciting throughout the sixties, it wasn’t until the 1970’s that the next big evolution happened in pinball.

Part Four

After the invention of flippers during the late 1940’s, other features that players of pinball would recognize began to be introduced during the decades that followed. Sling shot bumpers (1951), multiple players (’53), multi-ball (’56), extra ball (’60), drop targets (’62), spinners (’63), “mushroom” bumpers (’64), and the modern 3″ flippers (’68) were all created during this time. While various manufacturers introduced these features, it wasn’t long before they all included them, even if they called them by different names for copyright reasons (for example, “multi-ball” wasn’t called that on all games).

Despite these new gimmicks, pinball machines didn’t really change much due to their electro-mechanical (EM) nature, which gave them lots of wires, relays, solenoids, and moving parts (such as the scoring wheel). Pinball machines still had to attract players with their imaginative art work and the various buzzers and bells that are associated with the games of this period. Many people consider these EM machines to be part of the golden age of pinball, even though they may seem slow and clunky by today’s standards. But all of that was about to change with the introduction of computers and transistors to pinball, A.K.A. Solid State.

The first solid state (SS) pinball machine was a game called Spirit of ’76, released in 1975 by Micro Games. Although not many of these games were sold due to the unattractive playfield, other companies began to produce their own solid state machines (sometimes creating two versions of the same game, one EM and one SS). The new games were much easier to work on because they had less moving parts, and they also made it possible for pinball to include new features such as sound effects, music, and electronic scoring. In 1979, the first talking pinball machine was introduced (Gogar), and this was soon followed by other features such as multi-level play fields (1980’s Black Knight). These features rekindled interest in pinball, but the computer/game revolution almost ended that interest with the sudden popularity of video games.

As video games crowded out pinball in the bars and the newly established arcades, most companies soon began producing their own video games (and very few new pins). Things were looking bleak for pinball, as more companies left the pinball business and the ones that stayed were increasingly being consolidated into larger (sometimes non-pinball related) corporations. Fortunately, at around the same time the video craze crashed in the early 90’s, the most popular pinball machine of the modern era was released: The Addams Family.

Selling over 22,000 units, Bally’s The Addams Family was based on the popular movie and breathed new life into pinball. Soon new innovations such as the dot-matrix display, video-mode, ball-saver, and the automated ball plunger were introduced and the current era of modern pinball truly began. Medieval Madness, Twilight Zone, Monster Bash, Scared Stiff, and many others that are still popular today were created and sold respectably, but it was too little too late for many companies, as they were sold or dissolved by their parent corporations. In 1998 Williams Manufacturing introduced their Pinball 2000 series that combined pinball with video (Star Wars: Episode 1 and Revenge from Mars) but the sales were less than hoped for and they soon left the pinball business. That left just two companies, Sega Pinball and Stern Electronics.

In 1999, Stern bought Sega and became Stern Pinball, making them the sole manufacturer of new pinball machines today. Since then Stern has released new games at a steady pace that are exclusively based on licensed properties and proven able to attract new players (Family Guy) and challenge old ones (Wheel of Fortune.) Thanks to the rise of home game rooms and private collectors, the market for both used pinball machines and new ones has been growing in recent years and will hopefully continue to do so keeping pinball alive far into the 21st Century.