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Old 02-20-2005, 01:20 AM
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This article was started because of a poll at VP-Originals, asking us which era was your favorite. Well, I voted for the 50s, since it only gave me one vote, but I'd have to say the early 50s to the late 60s, and even the earliest 70s, to a lesser degree, were my pinball heydays. During that period, I played at least several times a week, to every day, and from several games to all day affairs. The greatest element of all this is that the cost of a game in about a 22 year period went from a nickel to only a thin dime, since inflation hadn't really kicked in yet in the US. So time-wise, from ages 4 to my mid-twenties, was the best time of my life for pinball. Now of course, using a PC and Visual Pinball, this has become the best time of my pinball life, since I get to play all my old favorites, plus so many pins that I never even knew existed. Both Leon and Bendigo are icons to me, since they both have recreated so many tables from my favorite era. In fact, the entire IRP team, past and present are superheroes to me.

Now, as for my favorite era of pinball styles, which was the real question asked in the VPO poll, I'd pretty much have to say the same time frame, and maybe even extending backwards, of course, into the flipperless era. Or an easier answer would be anything and everything purely EM, or ever earlier. I found these tables to be collectively more creative and imaginative, and more fun to play. I used to play a lot of counter top skill games too, as well as bingos, and the day I played my first SS game, that magic bubble burst as far as pinball and I were concerned. It not only seemed to me that the new SS machines were less imaginative and innovative, but also a lot less sturdily made.

To me, the dawning of SS marked the beginning of the end for pinball, with its tinny sounding electronic blips, and the cheesy looking back glasses. It seemed to me then and still does today that that was when the emphasis moved away from the actual mechanics of the game and switched to the presentation of glitz and sparkle, and then all the ramps and toys that in my opinion had and have less to do about pinball as a game of skill, and were simply trying to get the attention of a passerby so he or she would pop a coin into the slot. In my hey day, you wanted to play, nowadays, it's almost as if folks have to be forced, or at least reminded, to play.

Part of the problem for the manufacturers was that when video games and other kinds of electronic games started hitting the market, they panicked, I think, which I guess is to be expected. But also, they responded as business people instead of like pinball players. In my opinion, the problem wasn’t so much their products, or at least the product they had made before the advent of SS and beyond. Their mistake was in how they marketed pinball. Sure, they actually sell to distributors, but they needed and still need to market to the pinball player. Stern is beginning to do that, with their tournament game setup, but if they hadn’t panicked in the 80s, and even the 70s there would still be several companies alive, rather than just Stern.

I could go on endlessly expounding all the mistakes manufacturers made, but they weren't the only ones who made mistakes. Bar and tavern owners could have had family pinball nights, women's leagues, and afternoon soda pop and pinball teen times. What killed pinball was a lot of different things, but mostly abandoning that special niche that pinball had carved out for itself in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. Brothers used to compete against one another in pinball in my neighborhood, although they would never be seen together away from the pinball machine. My mother would be up to a few games occasionally at the German Beer Garden in our neighborhood back in the early and mid 50s. Back then, at least from what I remember, pinball was not simply a male thing. While girls seldom played in bars and taverns, they did play in drug stores, pizza parlors, and malt shops. And some of those girls were far better at pinball than I’ll ever hope to be.

No, what killed the pinball industry, in my opinion, wasn’t competition from the video and arcade games. Instead, there was and probably still is more money to be made making slot machines and other gambling devices for first Las Vegas, and now for the growing number of other locations that have legalized gambling for the tax revenue. If Pay Out devices hadn’t been outlawed, the face and character of pinball would be much different today, and probably a lot healthier. Manufacturers were a bit short sighted, I think, in marketing only to distributors. Of course that may have been their only real option, selling to distributors, but they should have marketed to the players through the bar, taverns, arcades, and even in high schools before the pinball machines got a negative reputation in the eyes of many parents. I always saw pinball as a fun diversion, and even the bingos I played when I was in high school, although gambling was involved, the stakes were low, and I did win a fair number of times.

Now before you tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about, consider something. At one time both bowling alleys and pool halls were frowned upon by what’s called polite society. In the 30s and 40s no self respecting parent would allow their children near those types of establishments. And since pinball machines were located in both those kinds of places, pinball got a bad reputation . . . guilt by association. But now bowling centers and billiard parlors are family outing destinations. Of course, time has passed Williams and Gottlieb by, and Stern has their marketing strategy that doesn’t fit my prototype. So when we lament the decline in pinball, there’s a lot more to look at than just higher production costs and more competition, we need to look back 35, and even 40 years, and see that video and arcade games possibly gave pinball companies a good excuse for switching to producing more profitable, and more in-demand products.

But maybe if Williams, Gottlieb, and Chicago Coin had borrowed and adapted the marketing ploy used for years by the Duncan Yoyo Company, they would have been able to build demand for their games, and sold many more units to distributors. The mid 50s was the end of the Duncan Yoyo Man era, so I never knew the full glory of it, but that increased sales of Duncan Yoyos like nothing else ever could have. Every summer, probably starting in the mid 30s, Duncan would hire men, and even a few young women from across the country, who were experts with the yoyo, to go into neighborhoods and put on Duncan Yoyo demonstrations. Newspaper and radio ads promoted these live events for weeks in advance.

Boys and girls from four years old to teens, and even young adults, would save their allowances for that special day, usually a Saturday. And these Duncan Yoyo Days lasted all day. First the Duncan Yoyo Champions, as they were called, traveled in pairs, and while one would be doing all the newest tricks, the other one would give us the history of the yoyo. Although it might have only been a story, we were told that the yoyo was originally a weapon. They would tell us all about the Duncan Yoyo factory, and even had a display of old Duncan Yoyos. And then the fun was ready to begin. Either using Duncan Yoyos we already had, or after buying the new models, everyone took part in yoyo contests, divided by age groups, with the best Duncan Yoyo’ers winning Deluxe Duncan Yoyos. While they did give away packs of Official Duncan Yoyo String, they never gave away Duncan Yoyos, except as prizes. Even kids from the poorest of families could afford to buy at least one yoyo. Most of us though either bought several models, or splurged on a Deluxe Duncan Yoyo.

But Duncan Yoyo also had another gimmick, the string. They sold two kinds of it, a basic, inexpensive string that sold 3 for a quarter. But they also sold a special one that was waxed, which not only lasted longer, but helped you do more of the tricks of the trade, and it sold 2 for fifty cents. For weeks after Duncan Yoyo Day, all of us kids held our own competition, and every store that sold Duncan Yoyos stocked up on string, and probably doubled their Duncan Yoyo orders. And while we all still played pinball, and still bought our soda pop and Cracker Jack, most of our money and attention for the entire summer was focused on Duncan Yoyos.

Now, if the pinball manufacturers had used a similar promotion, think of all those nickels and dimes that would have filled those coin boxes. Sure, they wouldn’t have gotten any of the money, but they would have profited from the increased demand for pinball machines in arcades, taverns, malt shops, and even grocery stores back in those days. All they would have had to do was hire some of the best players from all across the country, put them in company jackets, and send them out to show us average players how the Pros did it. They could have told us about the machines that were in the planning stages, and held competitions, giving the winners jackets, which would have been free advertising. They could have given away keychains with logos and graphics of their most popular pins. Now, they wouldn’t have had to give free games away even, just spring for some soda pop, pretzels, and chips.

This would have had everyone playing more pinball, first to practice for the pinball competitions, but also so we wouldn’t look quite so lame in the eyes of the pros. And at the same time, they could have signed players up for pinball leagues, which would have increased the number of players, and the demand for more on-location units. I know that I would have spent every spare dime I had back in those days, trying to improve my game, if there had been pinball leagues, and to make sure I didn’t look like a total loser when the Chicago Coin, Williams, or Gottlieb Professional Pinball Team came to town. Not only would this have increased the demand for machines, it would have forced each company to be more creative and innovative, trying to stay a step or two ahead of their competition. If only they had used a little imagination.

Maybe I’m way off base here, it wouldn’t be the first time. But if Williams and Gottlieb had really wanted to remain in the pinball business, they probably could have found a way. But that would have meant making changes, and maybe taking a step or two back in time to simpler designs and less fluff. If they had focused once again on game play and innovation, rather than trying to mimic arcade games, we might still have three or four manufacturers. At least for me, those old Gottliebs with triple stacked pairs of flippers along the sides are a lot more challenging than any modern game with ramps and spinning heads. Those clunky old Williams with pop bumpers, roto targets, and interesting placed kickers always got my attention a lot more than those DMD tables with blaring music and weak flippers. And those Gobble Holes that Bob and Warrior dislike so much, really made a player work on his strategy.

The only reason the more modern tables seem so appealing is that is what anyone under the age of 40 grew up with, so that’s all they know. I’m forever hearing VPers saying that they NEVER play EMs or anything older. That’s all well and good, you should play what you want. I just don’t understand why they won’t at least give any of the older table a try, they just might enjoy them. And maybe that’s what they’re afraid of, that they will enjoy them. For some reason, a lot of young folks are hooked on the newest, the shiniest, and the glitziest. Anything yesterday is Old-Fashioned, which is a label they’ll never be stuck with. But I’m going to give you a challenge. I’m going to list a half dozen tables, all but one flippered, all from the late 40s to the early 60s, and ask you to play each one three times. Please don’t play any modern games in between the six games I’ve listed. Now, do keep an open mind, and then decide if you had fun playing those six tables. Were they challenging? Did it matter than none of them had ramps that you could loop endlessly for billions of points? And did you notice the pure pinball sounds of the flippers, the bumpers, the roll of the ball, all sounds you can often miss hearing on more modern tables with blaring music and artificial sound effects?

I don’t expect anyone to come back and post here that I’ve converted them to old EMs, that’s not the point I’m trying to make. I simply want to expose you to six different tables that offer something other than what you’re used to. Now if you’ll be honest, I’ll bet you have to admit that those old EMs weren’t nearly as boring as you had imagined, and not nearly as easy, either. Just because flippers are now at the bottom of the table, and spaced closely opposite each other, doesn’t mean there aren’t other flipper placements that are even more interesting and challenging. Just because there weren’t any ramps doesn’t mean the games didn’t have goals to reach or ways of earning bonuses. And just because the point totals were usually only in thousands or the low millions and not super mega millions doesn’t make a high score was any less of an achievement. A good, solid and game is good and solid no matter when it was made, so I hope you’ll keep an open mind and take my six table Old Clunker challenge.

The tables are available here at Pinball Nirvana in the Unusual Flipper Treatments download section, as well as at: http://irpinball.ztnet.com/ with Shantytown in the 1949-1959 section, and all the others in the IRP Team Tables section. You'll need to click on the Downloads link at IRPinall to access the two sections mentioned, since direct links to those sections aren't possible. The six tables to give a test spin are:

Struggle Buggies, which is my favorite table of all, and the 2nd table I ever played as a boy. Besides being a challenging game in its own right, with flippers off to the sides and five rollover drain slots between those flippers, it also tracks the number of laps you complete. And it has some nifty kickers too. Made by Williams in 1953.

Shanty Town, made by Exhibit Supply in 1949. It has two reversed flippers down low, and one standard size flipper right in the middle of the table, but not at all the way you would expect it to be. Not the hardest game you’ll ever play, but it’s very tricky to master. And notice the brightly colored balls that the game used.

Golden Bells, a Williams 1959 model, sports a pair of interesting kickers flanking a gobble hole that makes this not only a challenging game, but there are also rollovers and targets which spot one of ten bell lights. Lighting 5 or 7 bells in a row, or all ten bells, gives you a chance at increasingly valuable specials, which will help you earn replays. This table is one that I come back and play at least weekly.

Vagabond, a 1962 Williams product, is one of the earliest and trickiest add-a-ball games you’ll run across. There are three ways to earn extra balls on the table, and three scores that you earn a ball by topping. At first glance, you’ll think it’ll be a piece of cake winning extra balls, but it’s not nearly as easy as it looks. Maybe it’s not as showy as Balls A Poppin’, but it’s not a bad little game folks.

Skyway has more tricks to it than you can shake a stick at, and only one flipper. But it also has ten scoring lanes on the left that lead to a kicker, that can lead to even a lot more points, and a lot more action. There is also a progressive ball lock on the right side, that adds to your score, and can add to your replays. And the game is a throwback to earlier days, with seven balls. And you can score well into the millions with this baby. Made by Williams in 1954.

Guy & Dolls, a 1953 Gottlieb offering, is technically a flipperless game, except that it has six moving posts, which with practice, a player can use just as effectively as any flipper ever made. There are also nine bumpers and a pair of rollovers that’ll help you earn replays. A challenging game that’s a bit different from what you might be used to playing. And hitting all nine of those bumpers with one ball isn’t naerly as easy a task as you might imagine.

I hope you’re willing to take my six-table challenge, and decide for yourself if I’m right that EMs can be fun and enjoyable games. And while all the tables listed are at IRPinball, you can also download them from the Unusual Flipper Treatments section here at Pinball Nirvana. My goal in making this challenge isn’t to convert you from your favorite kinds of tables, but only to broaden your horizons, and to show you that all eras of pinball can be fun. I’ve played every kind of table there is, including SS and VPMs, although I turn my speakers off when playing them, and while I still prefer flipperless and EMs best, I enjoyed nearly every game I played. Why not give these six a try, you might be surprised.

John
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Old 02-21-2005, 02:11 AM
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posted this about a year ago

http://www.vpforums.com/forum/showth...threadid=28184

But whilst I will download and play a couple of games of older style machines, I find most machines before 1970 not to be much fun
I don't like the machines with weak small flippers, I like games to last at leas a couple of minutes and I generally find that the machyines with the smaller flipers have them spaced a bit further apart, no fliper feeder lane and the flipper rarely can get the ball back to the top of the playfield
They almost seem desined to take your money and finish the game as soon as posible, where as from 1970 you get a desent amount of game time for your coin
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Old 02-21-2005, 02:36 AM
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Interesting post over there TMFP. I noticed that you even used the word Nivana long before we changed our name. I guess the reason I still prefer the old clunkers is that I have very poor hand and eye coordination, and lousy reflexes, which make for slow reaction time, so the slower ball speeds help me not play quite so baddly. And like was mentioned in that thread, nostalgia has a lot to do with it too. If you're only going to try a few of the ones I mentioned, the order I'd suggest would be Struggle Buggies, Golden Bells, and Skyway, Guys & Dolls, Vagabond, and Shantytown.

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Old 02-21-2005, 03:17 AM
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John, yes I do try these games out, mostly from IRP, but even table like 'Daffy' that everyone else seems to love I will just have one game and then move on to another table
But Centaur, F-14 Tomcat, Close encounters, Fire power I play over and over
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Old 02-21-2005, 04:56 AM
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I wish more folks were as open minded as you are TMFP, because I think they are cheating themselves if they only play tables from one era. It doesn't bother me if someone doesn't play the same games I enjoy, I just know that there are tables from every era that I have enjoyed, and think about all the fun they might be missing.

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Old 02-21-2005, 09:25 AM
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Hi John,

I started the poll at VPO to try and get people talking about pinball in a more open and, dare I say it, adventurous, way. I think adventurous is the right word because pinball is all about adventure. Each game is a trip to some far off land with lurks and perks galore. You might be transported to a ghostly mansion or a race track where cars speed around at a rate of knots. Pinball machines are an adventure to thrill the most laid back individual.

Now, as to your suggestions, I have already played Guys & Dolls and Shyway and enjoyed them. They may not be my "Cup of Tea" but the ability of VP to allow me to play a pinball table which would have been made when my parents were teenagers (sorry DizziDi) is too much of an opportunity to pass up. I will try the other tables in your list but I can already tell you what my response will be.

Pinball, in all it's shapes, sizes and era's, is COOL.

Have you guessed yet that my vote in the poll at VP-Oiriginals was "All of the above".

Now I have a reverse question for you. I will try to duplicate your challenge with one of my own at VP-O. I will pick six tables from our current list of Originals and the idea will be to play them and place them into an "era". Further to this, I will also ask players to try a wide range of table styles from what I perceive to be the standard variety.

Please feel free to coment on the thread.

Thanks for bringing a little insight into our sometimes clouded view.

CU

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Old 02-21-2005, 01:57 PM
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Thanks for your insightful comments Rocky, I couldn't agree with you more. Your dear mum and I are contemporaries, so I don't think you really had to say Sorry to her. I'm sure like me she feels lucky to have grown up in those days, when there were so many different tables made, and so many available for us to play just about anywhere and everywhere.

I saw your post at VPO and already commented. Interestingly, I have played all six table on your list at least within the past two weeks. I was a bit surprised that you include my Reactions, since like I said over there, I truly feel that Starman's Jiggleox is by far the best flipperless that has ever been made.

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Old 02-21-2005, 09:53 PM
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Your article is very amusing, interesting, and right on the spot, John.
Historical data like this helps one understand a lot better the hows and whys of pinball evolution. Of course I played all six games you mentioned (actually, when each of them was released on VP) and happen to enjoy them a lot.
To touch a sensitive spot on you, might I add that ironically, the company that invented the flipper seems to have helped, in the long run, to cause the trend you narrated. Pinball became identified, for many years, with a big Gottlieb flipper logo rather than with what those kind of games were before then. Even around here at South America, pinballs came to be known generically as "flippers". The term pinball (or a spanish equivalent thereof) simply doesn't exist. So when people found a flipperless, automatically they assumed that something was missing, which was really a pity. And all of this boils down to, IMHO, that the original motto of "A game of skill" wasn't intended to refer to only maneuvering the flippers, but also paying attention to judicious plunger throw force and careful nudging. Mind you, I play and enjoy flippered games a lot, mainly 60s and 70s EMs. But I've also grown very fond of lots of flipperless and bagatelle games that I mostly never knew for real (thanks to Randy's VP, of course, and the work of many generous folks like you who offer their kind work and talent for nothing !), that among other things showed me how to do more with less and how much cleverness had been actually built in those gems back then. Nobody said that "E=MC^2" lacked genius for being simple.
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Old 02-22-2005, 12:35 AM
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Thanks for your comments danblei, I'm glad that you enjoy the bagatelle I make. To be honest, although I make them because I love them, and their history, they are easier to make than other kinds of tables, and I have very minimal skills, especially in coding.

And yes, those old ones were truely Games Of Skill, and those counter top games and pay out machines were the worst, or best, of the bunch. The great thing about VP is that tables from every era, and from every country can be preserved. I probably played 200 different tables in real life, but with VP/VPM I've been able to play 1000s. Isn't life in VP Land wonderful?

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Old 02-23-2005, 03:38 AM
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Very interesting article. I must say I do find those little flippers on the old machines frustrating. I am old enough to remember them and remember that they really were that weak.

I think preference has a lot to do with what you grew up with. I like 70s machines since I grew up then and I must say, that apart from a few exceptions, I would wholeheartedly agree that the machines went downhill from the SS era on. There are some exceptions. The machine that gave us ramps and talking, Black Knight, remains one of my favourites.

I would encourage people to play some of the favourites from the 70s such as Jack in the Box, Delta Queen, Travel Time, Hot Shot, Fantastic and the like. Great machines.

One more observation: the flippers have got closer, you lose the ball quickly and you get it back, the outlanes are narrower and easier to avoid, the replay score goes down if you play badly - but pinball has lost popularity when these factors contribute to pinball being easier. Why is it so? I don't know but I reckon the change from 5 to 3 balls has a hell of a lot to do with it. I just feel cheated when I only get 3 balls, still after all these years. Bring back 5 balls!!

DS
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Old 02-24-2005, 01:44 AM
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John, I do believe that you are a trouble maker
I thought that you could not get pinmame to work, so how could you know how DMD era pinballs play
I cannot imagine that you have walked into an arcade in the last thirty years
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Old 02-24-2005, 03:03 PM
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Therein lies a sad story inded, TMFP. While the latest three upgrades to VPinMAME haven't worked for me, I did have one version , maybe 1.31 or 1.32 work for me. So I did get to play many of those DMD and other VPM tables. And some of them I really did enjoy, such as the Dude's Diner, and Joxer's Medieval Maddness, I think it was called.

But yes, I've been known to be a trouble maker. But I would guess I was last in an Arcade about 20-25 years ago, although I tried to escape as soon as I could, and probably had ringing ears for two months afterwards. I used to be a Big Brother, and went to not only arcades but billiard rooms and all sorts of neat places.

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Old 02-26-2005, 05:17 AM
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John, do you REALLY want to know why pre 1970 pinball machines are not loved???

Gobble holes,
I Hate Gobble Holes
Just downloaded 'goldenBells' (great recreation) playing nicely and thunk the ball goes down the gobble hole
If it goes between the flipers you may have a chance to save it, if it is going down an outlane you might nudge it out, but !#$%^$^#$@#$%@^%@ gobble holes, and you are shafted
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Old 02-26-2005, 06:09 AM
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I love Gobble Holes. With practice, you can keep hitting the kickers on both sides of that Gobble Hole, and build up some nice points, and if you're lucky, light a few more bells. The name of the game for me with EMs and flipperless is Challenge. In the long run, it all boils down to what you grew up with, and if nostalgia is a biggie with you or not. And as much as I like Golden Bells, it can be frustrating when my aim is off and I keep hitting those Gobble Holes.

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Old 10-20-2010, 06:28 PM
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tiltjlp tiltjlp is offline
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I hope we can get this discussion/challenge thread going again. Unlike 5 years ago, I can and do play VPM tables, but my favorites are still flippperless like both druadic & I make. And they're my favorites because they're flipperless and not because I made them. So, pick the 6 tables in my first post, amd play them a few times with an open mind. I wonder if the main issue isn't that the older era games offer a challenge, while mpre modern VPM tables offer diversion from stress and life itself, and gives you countless points in the bargain.
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