Sunday, February 24, 2008

"The pinball that will blow you away!"

Not the pinball game that will blow you away—just "the pinball." That's some industry shorthand I'd never heard before.

I came across this advertisement recently while writing about Wesley Snipes's legal troubles and career (and southern fast-food chains) over at I didn't grow up playing a lot of pinball—early-'80s video games like Pac-Man and Frogger and the Atari home versions of those games were what excited me, so I would've figured that pinball games had peaked in popularity by the end of the '70s. Not so, according to a 2005 article in the Chicago Reader that focused on Chicago pinball manufacturers Stern Pinball and Williams Electronics, the manufacturer of the Demolition Man pinball ... game:

Sales of pinball machines peaked around 1992, when more than 100,000 were manufactured; among them was Bally's Addams Family game, the best-selling machine ever. But consumers were shifting to home video and computer games, and mall arcades were closing. One after another the remaining manufacturers folded. By 1996 only Williams Electronics—which had absorbed Bally and another legendary company, Midway—and Data East were left.

In 1999 Stern bought Data East's pinball division and renamed it Stern Pinball. A few months later Williams Electronics unveiled a new game that melded video games and traditional pinball, projecting video images onto the playing field. The company marketed it as the "future of pinball." But the machines were expensive to produce, and it was soon clear that a hybrid wasn't going to save pinball. Williams built only two games—Attack From Mars and Star Wars: Episode I—and that fall it decided to get out of pinball and focus on more lucrative slot machines. "I am the last man standing," says Stern.

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