Long before video games, our father, grandfather and great-grandfather played Pinball games.
Pinball is much older than we can imagine.
The game is an evolution of outdoor games by rolling balls or stones on a grass field, such as bocce ball or bowling.
In the mid-18th century, a tabletop version of these games emerged, which eventually became known as “Bagatelle”.
In 1869, British inventor Montague Redgrave began making trifle tables in Cincinnati, Ohio. Redgrave received the US patent for its spring launcher in 1871, which was first introduced at Bagatelle.
The game has also shrunk in size to fit on top of a bar or counter.
At Bagatelle, players maneuvered balls past metal pegs into holes on the playing field.
To play these table games, a stick or plunger would drive the ball bearings in a wide range. The balls would then roll down the slope, bouncing off the pegs and falling into holes marked with different punctuation values.
The balls became marbles and the shutters became small metal pegs. These are the pins that gave pinball its name.
Redgrave’s popularization of the spring launcher and innovations in game design is recognized as the birth of pinball in its modern form.
Pinball with Flippers
The first pinball machines were built without flippers and didn’t involve skill. Players tossed balls onto the playing field and aimed for holes with various point values, hitting and tilting the machines. Pinball in its modern form was born during the Great Depression when Americans were looking for cheap entertainment.
But it was at the end of World War II when young people were looking for fun in bars and breweries, that pinball experienced a new golden era.
Innovations such as the tilt mechanism and free games, known as “replays” emerged. Gottlieb’s “Humpty Dumpty” table, released in 1947, was the first to have player-controlled flippers, adding a skill factor to pinball. This great innovation was one of many made by designer Steve Kordek. He also created the first “drop target” (in “Vagabond” 1962) and the “multiball” (in “Beat The Clock” 1963).
During the 1950s, several Chicago companies introduced many innovations in pinball. These innovations included multiplayer games, score counters, automated mechanisms, and more sophisticated visual art.
The games, which did not yet have electronic resources, were electromechanical and operated with a precarious balance of moving parts.
Pinball and video games
From the 1960s onwards games became more technologically advanced, but still used electromechanical coils, relays, and stepping units. It wasn’t until the late 1970s, with the introduction of microprocessors, that pinball entered the realm of electronic games.
The introduction of digital circuit boards and monitors made complex rules and digital sound effects possible. And it was at this time that Pinball reached its peak, selling more than 200,000 machines in 1979. But it was during this same period that arcade video games emerged. Pinball, despite its new and improved features, couldn’t beat the video game avalanche. The launch of Pac-Man, Space Invaders, OutRun, Galaga, and others has caused pinball game sales to drop sharply.
Pinball Addams Family
It was only in the early 90s that pinball started to grow again. The Addams Family game became the most popular pinball game of all time, selling over 20,000 units. But again, Pinball would be hampered by the rise of home game consoles.
Several Pinball factories, including Gottlieb, on the market since 1927, gave up on the business. One of the few companies that continued to invest in the segment was Williams Manufacturing Company, which now dominates 80% of the pinball production market in the world.
Williams determined that its designers reinvent the game, and Pinball 2000 was born, which mixed pinball and video games. The game was a success, but subsequent games did not repeat the feat, and Williams closed its pinball division in 1999.
Without Williams on the market, small manufacturers such as Stern Pinball, Jersey Jack Pinball, Spooky, and American Pinball are leftover.
These companies are managing, using modern electronics, to make games more and more complex and fascinating.
Pinball Hall of Fame
Several museums and arcades still exist in the country. And younger generations can enjoy themselves as their parents and grandparents did in arcades 50 or 60 years ago.
One of those spaces geared exclusively to Pinball is the “Pinball Hall of Fame” in Las Vegas. In the shed of the Pinball Hall of Fame, there are hundreds of machines, from the old ones from the 30s to the most modern ones.
Its founder is Tim Arnold, who owned an arcade in Michigan. In 1990, Tim sold his younger brother his share of the arcade and moved to Las Vegas, taking his 1,000+ pinball machines. He initially founded the Las Vegas pinball collectors club and, to raise funds to build a headquarters, opened the shed where he kept his machines so that the public could enjoy them.
In 2006, the Pinball Hall of Fame was finally inaugurated, where it was possible to house more than 400 machines already restored and in operation. A large part of the money raised from the machines goes to charity. Tim stays there all day, mostly fixing the pinball machines.
Pinball is addictive and fun, but above all Pinball is social as you can gather a group of friends around a machine to find out who is the most skillful.