Bally Pin (Bally Professional Arcade, 1979)
Off the top of my head, I'd have to say Bally Pin is the most fun we've had on the Bally Professional Arcade yet, and it's possibly the most addictive fun we've had with a videogame in our chronology thus far.
Like the various videogame portings of Baseball, Black Jack or Hangman represent attempts to mix the older school leisures of sports, cards and puzzle games into the new past-time on the block, so too, does the attempt to forcibly integrate Pinball with its younger sibling, the Videogame. Ports of Baseball, Black Jack or Hangman may not always hit their mark in the fun zone, but their technical accuracy usually isn't very far off. Pinball, on the other hand, seems to have evaded capture.
Looking at some of the previous translations of Pinball into the videogame realm, we find Atari Video Pinball (dedicated console, 1977), APF's Pinball (APF M1000, 1978), Fairchild's Video Pinball (Channel F, 1978) and Thunderball (Odyssey^2, 1979). The Atari Video Pinball console (un-chronogamed as of yet, sorry) and APF's Pinball each have their little pluses and big minuses, the minuses having to do with their failed attempts to simulate flippers. Channel F's Video Pinball isn't even pinball, it's a Breakout clone; mention it not. Thunderball for the Odyssey^2 is just too fast for me to appreciate, though, it at least makes an attempt to get the flippers right.
As I've said before, I am not a person who plays pinball in the real world. Other than a few games of Eight Ball at a bowling alley back in 1979, I've since, more or less intentionally, limited my exposure due to a lack of interest.
Bally Pin makes Pinball interesting to me again. Rather than feeling like each flipper is merely a gate keeper designed to prevent the ball from leaving play, the flippers on Bally Pin are implemented in such a way that they can be used to actually direct the ball to an intended destination. This adds greatly to the feeling that one is playing a game rather than passively participating in a pachinko session. There's still a luck factor, but for the first time it feels like skill and intent have something to do with a high score.
Bally Pin comes with two pinball playfields: Red and Yellow. Yellow seems like the easier field, but that's just my opinion. Each field has traditional pinball elements in them: targets, drop targets, bumpers and spinners. The targets light the bumpers. Hit all the targets during one ball and you increase your score multiplier. The targets and lit bumpers reset at the beginning of each ball, so, to lose your ball is to lose your target progress. Unlike the targets, the drop targets stay hit between balls. Eventually, if you drop them all by hitting them, you'll get a score multiplier. Only after clearing all of the drop targets do they reset. The spinner doesn't seem to do anything. We thought it would rotate the bumper lights, or reset some of the drop targets, but we haven't yet observed such behavior.
The flippers and the plunger are the only devices the player manipulates to directly affect the course of the ball. Regrettably, there is no "nudge" simulator, though players should feel free to contort themselves in an attempt to do so, as it amuses the other players. Before ball launch, the plunger moves up and down in its slot. For a "low force" introduction of the ball, you activate the plunger at the top of its oscillation, for a high force ball injection you activate the plunger at the low point in its oscillation. I know we will again see this player-reflex technique of allowing a player to choose the amount of force to be applied in a particular context in the future, but I can't recall seeing it before. This may be an innovation unless I'm forgetting something in one of the golf games. There are four flippers. Two left flippers and two right. The controls for activating these flippers are so awesome that I'm going to give them their own paragraph!
If you're not familiar with the Bally Professional Arcade controller then you should be told that they are thought of as "pistol grip" controllers; they are actually shaped how I imagine the handle of a Colt .45 is shaped. The fire button is in the spot where the trigger of a gun would be and one activates it with very much the same finger motion one would use to fire a gun. The joystick portion extends slightly up from the grip and doubles as an 8-way joystick/paddle combination. Not only can one move the joystick in eight directions, one may also twist the knob like a paddle. So, how is a controller such as this used to play Bally Pin? Well, to be quite honest, a controller isn't used at all, instead we use two! Each controller's trigger acts as a flipper button! It is quite effective as a control mechanism for pinball.
Of course, Bally Pin is more than its controllers. The ball and flipper movement is smooth, the ball speed is manageable, the playfield goals are readily apparent (take out the targets). Instead of merely trying to keep the ball in play, the player can increase their scoring capacity by clearing the drop targets or by lighting all the bumpers with their targets to achieve a 2x or 3x score multiplier. It's very engaging and very addictive. My entire family participated in a four-player game last night, and I didn't even have to coax or beg them to play again. Really! They simply wanted to, even in spite of the brand new Wii sitting in the next room!
So, we didn't merely "like" Bally Pin, we heartily enjoyed it. I'd name it something like "game of the decade" but that might imply that I liked it more than Superman which I also like a lot, but for different reasons. Unlike many of the games we've played, Bally Pin is something the whole family wants to play again. I just asked if anyone wants to play this afternoon and my son, daughter and wife each said "yes" with enthusiasm!
So, there we have it. The 1970s are over, in the sense that after 1979 no more years have the words "nineteen" and "seventy" in their pronunciation. Thus ends the first phase of Chronogamer. I hope to start the next phase, 1980-1984, soon. I'll post a list of everything I think I need to be playing in 1980 when I'm ready to get started in the next phase.
Thanks for everyone's kind words of encouragement during this exercise in drooling self-delusion. With the exception of parenting and marriage, Chronogaming--researching, acquiring, playing and writing about these games--has probably represented the most focused attention I've ever given a single project in my entire life. I can't think of anything I've ever started that's lasted more than two continuous years while still "getting done"! This doesn't say much for me as a project manager, I guess, but it certainly says, um, something.
I won't be updating this blog for a little while, but feel free to drop by www.chronogaming.com as I try to convert this blog into a less siteware dependent format. (ie, should a site stop providing blogspace, I'll still have a place to put all of this.)
Anyway, thanks for reading and I hope to see people at CGE. 12700
EDIT: added "to me again" when I say Bally Pin makes pinball interesting. I did think Eight Ball was interesting for all the reasons I like Bally Pin, just not as interesting as videogames were to me back in 1979 (when I wanted an Atari soooo badly, but didn't have one yet). Playing Bally Pin has made me re-understand Pinball's appeal.