So we covered bang backs back on Saturday. Let’s look at another tournament-illegal pinball maneuver, the deathsave. Here’s video from PAPA showing a couple being successfully performed (1 minute):
It’s another trick that involves the machine being bumped forcefully from the front in a specific way, this time to save balls going down the right outlane. I’ve never done one myself (even if I could muster the force, I don’t really want to). There are tables, including Rocky & Bullwinkle and The Last Action Hero, that are even set up to recognize when they’ve happened and reward it, or at least inform the player: I saw what you did there.
It prioritizes players with sufficient strength to shove the machine hard enough, and risks damaging it, so it’s illegal in tournament play. Due to the nature of tilt sensors, which are typically plum bobs with a conductive ring around them, depending on the details of the table it need not even incur a tilt warning, although it could run afoul of the slam tilt sensor, a separate device. Tilt sensors exist to allow some nudging but punish excessive use, and tilting results in the loss of a ball and any bonus. Slam tilt sensors are designed to protect the hardware itself, and immediately end the current game, which forfeits even the chance to enter initials. Essentially it resets the game’s computer. So, be careful with that.
An unalterable law of pinball is, when the ball slips between the flippers, or goes down an outlane, it is lost, too bad so sad, cue the bonus count, unless you tilted when you tried to save it, that is.
But this is not actually true.
There are a small number of what we might call “dark arts” in pinball, techniques to save balls that otherwise would not be saveable. This is one of the things that’s interesting about pinball. It’s not like video games where everything that happens is the result of processors moving bits around. There is room for things to happen on a pinball table that the game software has no control over.
One might even make a case, if they were feeling argumentative, that the scoring and the rules have an at-best incidental influence over the real game, which takes place purely in the physical realm. This isn’t completely true: the software awards extra balls, controls playfield toys, enforces tilts, and otherwise manipulates the game’s Newtonian world, but it is true that, if the machine is in working order, and the player never misses their shots, that they can play indefinitely, and even score popcorn points for hitting low-value targets. Pull that off long enough and you can earn arbitrarily high scores, but I hope you’re good enough to hit the same shot over and over thousands of times, though, not to mention have the spare time to do it in.
A consequence of this is, lost balls can be rescued, in a number of ways. One of them is the bang back.
When the ball goes down the left outlane, along the side and bottom of the playfield, if the left flipper is raised and the right flipper left down, a sudden forceful blow by the player’s hand against the lockdown bar at the right spot can impart enough force to the ball to cause it to leap up onto the right flipper, and back into play. Even though the machine “knows” the ball went down the outlane, due to triggering its switch, it generally won’t penalize the player for doing this. The ball-ending event is it coming to rest in the trough, the receptacle for out-of-play pinballs beneath the playfield. Until the ball reaches it, it’s live.
Bang backs are a dark art because they enable extra-long turns, and also the force required to execute them risks damaging both the machine and the player’s hand, and so are illegal in tournament play. But they can be pulled off pretty consistently, as this video from the PAPApinball channel (1 minute) demonstrates:
Another dark art of pinball is the deathsave, but let’s save that for later….
Over on Mastodon, Dan Fixes Coin-Ops has been documenting an epic quest: the repair of a Baby Pac-Man machine.
It’s one of the non-Namco Pac-Man spinoffs that Bally/Midway released in the wake of the original’s extremely high popularity. I’d like to remind readers that while Namco has been the sole beneficiary of Pac-Man’s heights lately, the original game, at first called Puck-Man in Japan, was not popular there. The spin-offs, console ports, handheld games, trading cards, stickers, clothing, cartoon show, Christmas special, breakfast cereal and unnumbered other items, that was all Bally/Midway’s doing. Toru Iwatani created and designed it, his team made it into a game and cabinet, Namco released it in Japan to middling success, and from there Bally/Midway got behind it and turned it into one of the most gigantic video game hits there’s ever been, a machine that at one point had one hundred thousand units.
Now, I’m not going to deny that their effort led to some erasure of knowledge of Namco’s existence at the time. All those Pac-Man machines and spin-offs mentioned “Bally Midway Mfg. Co.,” with nary a mention of Namco. But it’s undeniable now that erasure is happening in the other direction: a search over the History page on official Pac-Man website has no mention of Bally at all, even though the page acknowledges that the game was “a major hit in the United States.”
Some of that success leaked back to Japan and fueled some Namco-made sequels: Super Pac-Man, Pac N Pal, Pac-Land, Pac-Mania, Pac-Man Arrangement and eventually Pac-Man Battle Royale and Pac-Man Championship Edition, and more recently things like World’s Largest Pac-Man and Pac-Man Battle Royale Chompionship.
Bally/Midway made their own sequels. One of those, Ms. Pac-Man (created by GCC), came to eclipse the original in popularity, but in addition to their licensing of Super Pac-Man and Pac N Pal they made Jr. Pac-Man (also from GCC), as well as Professor Pac-Man and this game here. The one Dan Fixes Coin-Ops repaired. Baby Pac-Man.
Baby Pac-Man is a game that only could be made by Bally, because it’s a video game/pinball hybrid.
Bally, together with the company that would buy them, Williams, is arguably the greatest pinball maker there’s ever been. Up until around 2000 (a heartbreaking year) they made wonderful machines like The Addams Family, Twilight Zone, Attack From Mars, Star Trek: The Next Generation and quite a few others. In 1982 though pinball was in a slump while video games had reign over arcades. The decision to make a game that connected one of the greatest arcade games of all with pinball must have seemed obvious. (It wasn’t their only attempt to capitalize on their golden license with a pinball table, witness Mr. & Mrs. Pac-Man, which I’m informed was released eight months before Baby Pac-Man.)
The combination of an arcade video game and pinball makes for a unique experience. It also makes for a game which breaks down even more often than your standard arcade game, as the thread notes: there’s three computers in the thing, and it’s subject to all the typical arcade game problems, all the typical pinball problems, and special problems with the portions of the machine that connect the two halves together.
The thread begins memorably:
In case y’all were tired of hearing about popular Fediverse people making bad decisions, just thought I’d let y’all know I bought a 1980’s hybrid pinball/videogame tonight
Like this isn’t for a client, I’m not working on it to earn. This game COST money. This is my game now, I paid for it and it lives in my house. I’m not gonna get to give anybody a bill.
This is such a perversion of the natural order of things. I’ll probably route it one day, but for now this is an arcade machine that I SPEND money on!
It’s taken me a little while to get it into the house and have a chat with the mate who sold it to me and let the littleun have a go and put her to bed and fix a couple things and have a go myself so I’ve not been catching up on my notifications, I saw some questions so I’ll do a little thread on it over the next couple of days
I cannot stress enough that you should not buy one of these things
Folk who like 80’s pinball want stuff like this or Haunted House and you shouldn’t buy a Haunted House either
These are games for pinball techs or people with money to hire pinball techs or very close friends of pinball techs
Except Baby Pac-Man needs you to be friends with an arcade tech too.
He finally got it working after three months of work, and what a journey it is. He did it for love of the game: while Baby Pac-Man is dissed in some circles it’s a genuinely interesting game. But to like it, you have to abandon the relatively lenient expectations of classic arcade video games. Pinball is inherently unfair, and that unfairness oozes out and coats even the video portion of Baby Pac: the ghosts don’t waste time in coming after you, and you start with no Energizers: you have to earn them in the pinball portion, which for the most part you can only visit once per life/board. You can return to the video portion temporarily though by locking the ball in a scoop.
Every once in a while I take a look over at what’s happening in the arcade side of gaming. Usually I’m left feeling pretty sad. The age when there were dozens of cool arcade concepts being released every year was very long ago at this point. For arcade video games made in the US, the only two companies I’m aware of that are doing anything substantive are Raw Thrills (who are ubiquitous) and Play Mechanix. I mean, there’s also Incredible Technologies, still making their yearly Golden Tee updates. And of you consider screened slot machines to be a kind of “video game” then sure there’s more–but I don’t. I don’t consider them to be video games.
All of this is just from a cursory look, mind you. I haven’t had the will to follow the current-day arcade industry, from any country, for a good while. The demise of Atari Games and Midway took a lot out of me. I’ve carped a bit about Raw Thrills a bit, but honestly that’s probably just how upset I am that Atari is gone. A lot of the games that are made seem to be things like driving or light-gun games, usually with a big-cabinet or ride-like component. Mind you, a local arcade has two Raw Thrills Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles machines, but they’re so inferior in play to Konami’s classic cabinets, even running on thirty-year-old tech, that I’m embarrassed to watch them on their behalf.
But there are a few interesting newer games in arcades. Two places local to me have interesting Space Invaders-themed light gun games, that use a large bank of LEDs for a screen. And… well, that’s actually about it, as far as recent games I’ve gotten my own hands on that I find remotely interesting.
But the blog Arcade Heroes, which makes the arcade scene its beat, sometimes uncovers some games I’d like to have a play on, if I ever were to encounter one, which seems mostly unlikely, alas.
For example. While I find them theme on most current pinball releases to be a bit lacking, for example focusing on rock bands consisting of senior citizens, in the case of the upcoming table based on Spinal Tap, that actually makes the machine more entertaining instead of less.
Bandai-Namco has a game coming up called Bike Dash Delivery, which actually allows players to (gasp) actually explore a little, instead of being stuck on a set course like so many other arcade titles in these sad times. The article mentions both Crazy Taxi and Propcycle, both machines beloved by me, so I’m rather hopeful this game will make it to the States!
Kevin Williams has a recurring column on the arcade scene over there, and his most recent is a retrospective on the years of 1982 and 1983, the end of the “classic era” of arcade gaming. Whether for history or nostalgia, it’s worth a look.
More low-effort posts about game things spotted at Atlanta’s pop culture mega-convention.
A Cosmic Smash cabinet!
That recent arcade port of NES obscurity Mr. Gimmick!
A 2007 arcade version of Rhythm Heaven, completely in Japanese! This was perhaps the coolest game at the convention.
Sadly blurry in this shot, but: Space Invaders! Without the color overlay though. The monitor didn’t work for like two entire days, too.
Twilight Zone pinball, this picture being of the time I nearly completed the door but lost my last ball before collecting that hated Question Mark! (Don’t worry though, the next day I came back and did it, and played Lost In The Zone. I left with the #2 score on the machine–although oddly, it seems someone else who plays these games also has my initials? JWH? Their Terminator 2 machine’s scoreboard is full of JWH but I’ve never played it!)
The games were brought this year by Save Point, who mostly provided Japanese games and some pinballs, and Joystick Gamebar, which provided a good number or retro arcade machines and more pinball, including that Twilight Zone.
I’ve got hundreds of pictures that I’ve yet to sift through. More tomorrow!
Cows have had a long history associated with pinball. Not that long compared to the whole range of pinball, going back to the Great Depression, but in the days of games with dot-matrix displays, it became a tradition to hide cows in pinball games in some way.
Just one example. In Attack From Mars, if you hit the Big-O-Beam ramp, sometimes the animal being enlarged is a cow. (If you can’t take your eyes off the game, listen for the woman saying “Would you look at the size of that cow?!”) Further, if you press the start button several times during this animation (each press will be punctuated by a MOO), it’ll turn the Saucer Attack minigame into Cow Attack, which is actually slightly easier I find; the hit detection is pixel-accurate, and the cows make for bigger targets. Here’s Cow Attack in action (one minute):
A history of pinball cows would take quite a while to explain, and that’s not the purpose of this post. No, what I’m here to tell you is that the legend of the Pinball Bovines has crossed to the makers of Metroid Prime Pinball on the Nintendo DS, which contains a cow! Here is video proof (33 seconds):
Remrod: “Indeed I am. I am renting two squash courts to store about 100 machines. But our DS version of pinball is more fun than the real thing!” (laughter)
Terasaki: “That’s right. There’s even an unexpected appearance from a cow.”
NOM: “A cow? What’s that got to do with Metroid?”
Barritt: “There was a pinball game in the 1980s called ‘Fire!’ in which a cow puts in an appearance. The game is about a huge fire that once broke out in Chicago. The cause of the fire was a cow kicking over a lantern. Ever since then, cows have become a fixture as hidden characters in pinball machines. This is well-known among pinball aficionados in Europe and the States, and perhaps around half of the pinball games released since then have featured a cow concealed in them. Naturally, we also put one in Super Mario Ball…” (laughter)
Terasaki: “If you do happen to find the cow, please leave it in peace!” (laughter)
The cow in the game has wings and flies around. Please, if you play it, respect this noble beast.
It’s a great article! It starts out covering the classic-era games everyone remembers, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr. and Mario Bros., and then slowly gets less and less well-known. It even mentions the two Gottlieb pinball games!
Data East Pinball, later Sega Pinball, currently Stern Pinball, is the oldest pinball manufacturer still in business. I remember in the early 90s they had a tough time against the real powerhouse of that era, Bally/Williams, but they did release some fondly remembered games, including Jurassic Park, the table that has a T-Rex eat a pinball.
Nowadays Williams is owned by “Light and Wonder,” formerly Scientific Games, a company that seems only interested in gambling devices, which in its multivariate insidious forms are the antithesis of video gaming. Still, Stern continues rolling along. Pinball now looks in pretty good shape with several companies in the sector, making unique games that incorporate video monitors. I still prefer the late 80s/early 90s machines myself, of which Jurassic Park is an example.
The people at VPcabs in the video above found, back in 2019, what may have been the last new, unopened, Jurassic Park pinball machine in existence, and, willfully ending an era, opened it up for us on camera. It was mostly as it would have been opening one up back in 1993. The AA batteries were dead but not leaking, and playfield rubber wasn’t in the best shape but not decrepit either.
Among the finds inside the crate is a poster promoting the release of the movie, reading at the bottom: “Opens June 11th.”
“We scour the Earth web for indie, retro, and niche gaming news so you don’t have to, drebnar!” – your faithful reporter
We’ve been distracted here at the news desk lately. A couple of our planet’s moons regularly collide with each other, causing both to reverberate and flex in a disconcerting way that causes them to warm appreciably, and will inevitably cause them both to disintegrate, resulting in major tidal trauma on the planet’s surface that our scientists insist “is nothing to worry about.” It’s still difficult not to be concerned, but I’m sure things like that happen on Earth all the time. Let’s get to the important stuff: video game news.
Ollie Reynolds at NintendoLife notes that Sega Sammy’s finances are looking up this quarter, due both to the release of Sonic Origins (yay) and pachinko machines (boo). Jeepers Horatio Chrysler, it’s like gambling is slowly swallowing up every aspect of computerized gaming. It’s devoured most of Konami and all of former gaming stalwarts Bally, Williams, and Midway, is responsible for gacha mechanisms in mobile, and is behind several of the most odious aspects of that whole NFT thing. At least Sonic Origins is doing well.
Owen S. Good at Polygon chimes in with this week’s legally-mandated Multiversus news, noting that it’s getting ranked and arcade modes. I mean, on one hand it’s completely obvious that the game is the result of the same kind of soulless corporate mandate that resulted in the execrable Space Jam: A New Legacy, a movie that somehow took a 90s movie based off of a series of sneaker commercials and made the concept worse, but on the other hand it’s got Steven Universe in it. With the parent company in disarray, cancelling nearly complete $90 million dollar movies in order to take a tax writeup, it’s amazing WB, now WB Discovery, can do anything right at the moment.
At Ars Technica, Sam Machkovech reports on 1Up’s new pinball cabinet, which provides emulated (well, simulated) versions of several classic Bally/Williams games in digital form. No video pinball game can hold a candle to real pinball, because of framerate limitations, because of the importance of nudging the machine, and because pinball is cool because it’s a physical ball shooting around the table. Still though, most people can’t afford to pay thousands of dollars for a real table. The unit is one of three pinball products they’re releasing, with this one offering 10 games running Zen Studio’s engine. The headliner is Attack From Mars, but most of the games are really solid, including some underrated classics like Junk Yard and No Good Gofers. Sadly, Machkovech reports that White Water suffers from stuttering and input lag, which speaking as a habitué of Wet Willie’s, is unacceptable for that game. For the record, the other games are Fish Tales, Medieval Madness, Road Show, Hurricane, and Tales of the Arabian Nights. So, no Funhouse. I dunno, for $600 you’d think they’d just include all the games they had the license for?
Cameron Bald at PCGamesN was just asking for our rancorous commentary when he wrote what he claims are the best roguelikes and roguelites on PC. I mean we host @Play now, honor demands that we chime in! The list is Hades, The Binding of Isaac, Darkest Dungeon, Dead Cells, Don’t Starve, Downwell, Into The Breach, Slay the Spire, and Spelunky 2. While, yeah, they’re all good games and I’ve nothing bad to say about any of them, they’re all commercial roguelites. Nothing about NetHack or Angband or anything. Oh well.
Whew, that’s a high commentary-to-link ratio. Let’s continue the list next time. Toodles!
Gizmodo’s Andre Liszewski brings up a new controller from 8BitDo that puts all its buttons on the face. No shoulder buttons remain! It’s intended for accessibility purposes, although that doesn’t mean anyone can’t use it. And it’s only $35! Sadly it only works with the Switch and Android devices, although I don’t see why it couldn’t be put to use on PCs too? Is it blocked from working on PCs somehow, and for some reason?
Samuel Claiborn at IGN brings information about Jersey Jack’s upcoming Toy Story 4 pinball machine, designed by Addams Family and Twilight Zone designer Pat Lawlor! I have a friend who’s really jazzed up to get their hands on it, and has preordered it, despite it selling out in three minutes and costing $15,000!