Today, I took the bus down to the International District and went to the Seattle Pinball Museum. They have about fifty machines there, all of which are in playable order. You walk in, pay one fee, and you get to play all of the pinball that your heart could ever desire.
They have machines from the 1960’s and 1970’s to the present.
A couple of notes comparing machines from different eras. First of all (and probably most obviously), the 1960’s machines are much simpler in play and appear to be more overtly mechanical. I’m sure most people are too young to remember, but on gas pumps, the amount of gas pumped and the dollar amount to pay used to be analog. There would be audible clicks as numbers changed. These older games used that same concept.
The older games are hard! The oldest one there has tiny little paddles with a huge gap between them. I’d see the ball going down the middle and there was nothing that I could do. The newer games are more forgiving. That’s probably why the older games had five balls per play while the newer games had three balls.
Somewhere in the 80’s and beyond, commercialization starts to kick in. The sixties games were quaint in their subjects. There was a shoot-out game, a bowling game, some pseudo space astro game. When you get to the 80’s, now you have product placement games for AC/DC, Metallica, Indiana Jones, Terminator, Rocky and Bullwinkle, NBA, NHL, and Sopranos, among many others. Above each game is a short little description of the game and the year built. From that, you can walk through this little pinball history and see what the cultural zeitgeist was at that time.
The older games gave zero fucks about how you felt about yourself! The newer games you score millions of points. Sure, a free play is probably about fifty million points, so you won’t get a free play anyway, but you can feel like you scored a lot of points and did well. On the old games, a free play was around a thousand and I barely cracked five hundred at my best. It was depressing to look up after your first ball and realized you scored a big old nineteen. In the new games, if you failed out right away, they’d often immediately line up another ball for you to try again. Not with the old game; sorry bud, you’re a loser.
On the opposite end from the 1960’s old school game was a completely virtual pinball game. It was about the same size as a normal game and it had the usual buttons on the side to control the paddles. However, when you looked down at where the game usually is, it’s an LCD screen. You choose from what appears to be dozens of games (for instance, I chose a Sopranos game). It then loaded up the game and the LCD screen became a full screen representation of a pinball game. Once loaded, it played just like a normal pinball game. They tried to add effects (like periodic shakes) to simulate the physical experience. It was interesting to play, but I did prefer the ‘real’ machines.
One highlight is the world’s largest pinball game. It’s the Hercules (pictured above). It is huge. The ball, as far as I an tell, is a pool cue ball. Just to put the ball into play requires a certain amount of muscle. The game play was, as you can probably imagine, pretty slow. You can only push a cue ball around so much.
They offered old-school soft drinks. At one point I was sitting there, drinking a Dad’s root beer, playing a 1970’s era game called Quick Draw, and realized that I could have been doing this exact same thing at a pinball parlor that was in my neighborhood back when I was a child. It was a nice throwback to my own simpler times.