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Atari Video Pinball (Atari, 1977)

Mezrabad

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Thanks for all of the nice comments and PMs. You have no idea how much they push me forward on this project, not that I've ever considered abandoning it, I just get slow sometimes.

 

See, now we're "retro-chronogaming" -- playing the old games that we missed the first time we tried playing all those old games! I've got a few movies this time, so sorry to those on 56k lines.

 

(EDIT 2021: None of the video links work and I totally should have put everything on YouTube back then. Shame on me. If I find these old videos, I will post them. They may be on a hard drive or burned CD from 13 years ago or so...)

 

Atari Video Pinball (Atari, 1977)

 

The pictures below are of the Atari Video Pinball console. This is the version of the console which is, sadly, lacking in the faux woodgrain finish. On the top of the console, you can see the large knob. That's for controlling the paddle of the Breakout game included within the console. If you look on either side of the console, you can see what appear to be knobs protruding from either side. Those are actually oversized buttons used to control the pinball flippers in the video pinball variations.

 

blogentry-1571-1183828036_thumb.jpgblogentry-1571-1183828047_thumb.jpg

 

The person who thought of placing the flipper buttons on the sides of the console in imitation of the location of the flipper buttons on an actual pinball machine was either inspired, or just doing it the only way that made sense to them. This location of the controls has huge potential as when one starts hitting those buttons they start feeling that, 'hey this is just like real pinball!' kind of feeling.

 

A quality found in most PONG games is that they are 2-D and Zero G. When not being manhandled by an ENGLISH controller, as on the Odyssey, PONG balls normally sail across the viddy screen in a nice straight line. They also demonstrate an admirable symmetry in their angles of incidence and reflection when interacting with the upper and lower walls of the PONG playfield. In Video Pinball, they've kept the 2-D but they've added a G. Instead of a uniform straight line, the ball travels through graceful parabolic arcs interrupted only by a bunch of junk on the screen masquerading as pinball accessories.

 

Yes, I love the concept of adding gravity. Yes, I love the placement of the controls. The trouble with this pinball game is the activity of the on-screen flippers. For this, you'll need a visual.

Atari Video Pinball Gameplay Movie (6.14 MB)

(No, Sony is not a sponsor of my chronogaming. Though that IS a good idea. I should contact them and see if an arrangement could be made...)

 

Our experience with this game was not unpositive. The ball moves well and interacts with the various, um, squares in a satisfying way. The touble is in those flippers. They appear to not exist between their open state and their closed state, almost like how electrons disappear when moving through energy shell levels. At the end of that last clip, you can see that the flippers can indeed act on the ball when it is in that "in-between" below the exit but above the bottom of the abyss. However, flippers that appear to merely "switch" between open and closed aren't flippers at all. Yes, they should be called "switchers" or "binary state gates" something more clever but at the moment, I got nothin'.

 

You can see on the playfield, that there are some "drop switch" like squares that go away after the ball hits them a few times and they turn a few different colors. They'll reset after all of their brethren also drop away. You can also see the graceful parabolic movement of the ball. This play experience has potential, I just don't like those flipper wannabees.

 

Breakout

blogentry-1571-1183828022_thumb.jpg

This dedicated console is also dedicated to Breakout! Yes, the arcade smash hit is now available in your home! The big round dial serves well as the controller. My son and I found this version of Breakout to be, well, hard. The ball really picks up speed quickly and every seven or so hits puts very shallow angle on the ball's trajectory that's a pain in the paddle to hit. I should note that, unlike Video Pinball and the yet to be discussed Basketball, Breakout is in good old fashioned Zero G.

 

It should also be mentioned that one of the Pinball variations uses the Breakout paddle instead of the pseudo-flippers. I wasn't crazy about the gameplay for that version of Pinball either, but I prefered it to the flippers. There was no gravity effect in this one, in that respect it was also like Breakout.

 

Basketball

 

There are two Basketball variants and they illustrate my contention that one of the cool things about the Atari Video Pinball console is that the console itself essentially is the controller. It doesn't merely contain the controls; you practically hold this thing while playing Basketball or Pinball. Here is a video of my son playing one of the basketball games. Notice that his left hand is on one of the pinball buttons and his right hand is on the dial controller.

 

Controller shown and Basketball being played on Atari Video Pinball (3.95 MB)

::ASIDE::For those who care, that's a 34" Sony WEGA Flattube HDTV which I bought in 2004 just a few months before the Plasma HDTVs that you can hang on your wall got much cheaper. Poor market timing on my part, as that behemoth weighs over 100 kilograms. Underneath you see a Wii, a fat modded Korean PS2, a moded Korean Halo green Xbox and a Platinum GameCube with a matching Platinum Game Boy Player underneath it (don't see many of those, do ya? :) ) Yes, my kids take videogames for granted, but I make it very clear that these are MY toys.::END ASIDE::

 

The side button is used to give the ball a "boost" in its bounce. To score a basket, you try to maneuver the ball and paddle to a point from which you use the "boost" to get the ball through the top of the net. Which is better shown in the next vid...

Video of Basketball gameplay on Atari Video Pinball (3.45 MB)

The numbers at the top of the screen are, from left to right, the current score, the high score and the number of balls left. Notice also that, again, we've got gravity in this one.

 

Here is one more video of the other Basketball varient.

Deep net Basketball on the Atari Video Pinball console. (3.17 MB)

This version is a little harder because you have to get the ball a little higher to consider it "in" but, as you can see, getting it in through the side can also work. Also note the net moves to the other side when a basket is scored.

 

Up to four players can play any of the games by taking turns. Hmm, I don't know how it displays the scores after four people play. It probably cycles through them, but I didn't think to check while playing. When my daughter stops playing Hello Kitty on the 'Cube and I'm done cleaning the kitchen I'll have to check.

 

Next entry we'll laugh at my pathetic and failed attempts to fix my Coleco Combat. 13745

 

EDIT:: OH THE MISINFORMITY!!!

 

I made an assumption about the option settings being a number of player settings but I was wrong! For instance, in Breakout, option one gives you a big paddle and seven balls, option two gives the player five balls and a big paddle, option three gives five balls and a half-sized paddle and option four gives three balls and a half-sized paddle.

 

Whne a player manages to "breakout" the size of the paddle they are using is reduced by half. So in option one, the big paddle becomes the same size as the half-size paddle used at the start of options two, three and four. When a player "breaks out" in options two, three and four, their half-sized paddle becomes quarter sized--teeny, tiny!

 

So, I retract my statement about multiple players playing. It just isn't true and was an assumption! Good thing I got curious about how the games would display the score for multiplayer. Answer to that question is: there is no multiplayer!

 

So, Seven different games, 4 different options for each game. That's 28 games on this one console. I have to say that while I'm not crazy about the games, I'm still very impressed with the console. Does that make any sense? Oh, and Breakout isn't all that hard afterall, I just hadn't given myself a chance to get back into the Breakout groove. ;)



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You wouldn't want a plasma display for video games due to burn in. Newer plasma's are less susceptible, but it's still a problem - especially with older video games with lots of static images.

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You wouldn't want a plasma display for video games due to burn in. Newer plasma's are less susceptible, but it's still a problem - especially with older video games with lots of static images.

 

Good to know. I actually really, really like my TV, it's just really, really hard to move. I've not had a problem with burn-in on this one, although it is certainly a possibility. I figure, if by now, the SuperSmashBrosMelle screen elements haven't burnt in yet, then it will be awhile before something does.

 

FYI to anyone: I just added some "important" information about Atari Video Pinball regarding the multiplayer options I alledged earlier.

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Besides burn-in, there are a few other drawbacks with plasma TVs. They use more power and generate more heat than LCD TVs, their screens tend to be highly reflective, and they weigh a lot more. The plus side is they're cheaper, and tend to have better black levels than most LCDs.

 

I ended up buying a Sony LCD TV recently, and I'm very happy with it. The backlight is a little uneven (another common issue with LCD panels), but I only notice it if the picture is almost completely black. Videogames work great on it.

 

Thanks for another excellent chronogaming entry! The multiple game variations are interesting. I suppose they felt that it was best to give the consumer more bang for their buck, but not so much that they wouldn't buy the next dedicated console Atari was planning to sell. It does point to one of the reasons they built the VCS though - at some point, the average consumer would simply run out of space. How many dedicated systems would one family want to have piled up in front of their TV?

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Plasma TVs aren't any worse than CRTs (when properly adjusted for brightness/contrast) when it comes to burn-in. (They both use the same phosphors, after all.) Don't overdrive them with static images 24 hours a day and you'll be fine.

 

Hmm... number of dedicated systems... I've got an SNES (w/ SuperGameBoy), N64, GCN, PSX along with a DVD player, VCR and cable STB connected to my main TV. The bedroom TV only has a TiVo, DVD, VCR, 7800 and an old PC (masquerading as the TiVo mothership until Zap2It dies and I get a new dual tuner replacement). S-Video switchboxes are great things.

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Hi Michael,

 

You know how much I love your work (I already sent you private messages about his). It really fills a gap of history upon early systems which are always described too fast, without any real testing. The sociologic project in itself is really interesting, analysing how nowadays children may react when invited (who said forced?!) to play early games. Historically, the approach is perfect as it puts back each game in its own context. It will help understand how each game may have influenced the other, and why. I can only say bravo, and I will follow your posts for a long time for sure.

 

Besides, at www.old-computers.com we are actually developping a giant software database, and we are filling it with the same spirit, starting from the beginning to understand how things happened and who influenced who, how genre appeared and evolved, etc.

 

After your excellent Atari Video Pinball post, I modified our museum entry (http://www.old-computers.com/museum/comput...st=2&c=1111), and I discovered something interesting.

 

You know there are in fact several models of this systems:

- early Atari Video Pinball C-380 (woodgrain-like case)

- latter Atari Video Pinball C-380 (beige case)

- Sears Pinball Breakaway (http://www.old-computers.com/museum/comput...st=2&c=1114)

- Epoch TV Block (http://www.old-computers.com/museum/comput...?st=2&c=800)

 

I noticed differences in the games proposed! Early Atari models and Sears Pinball Breakway proposed another breakout variant called Breakthru or Breakway (depending models), whereas other models propose da Basketball variant called Basketball II/Rebound II.

 

I have put details of the different games in our BETA Software Database:

http://www.old-computers.com/museum/softwa...ew=2&page=1

 

Michael, could you tell me exactly how the game are named on your Atari Video Pinball beige version (if you have any documents listing them)?

 

The game names I was able to sort out so far are:

 

Atari Video Pinball (woodgrain)=Flipper Pinball I, Flipper Pinball II, Paddle Pinball I, Paddle Pinball II, Rebound, Breakout, Breakthru

Atari Video Pinball (beige)=Flipper Pinball I, Flipper Pinball II, Paddle Pinball I, Paddle Pinball II, Rebound I, Rebound II, Breakout

Sears Pinball Breakaway=Pinball I, Pinball II, Pinpaddle I, Pinpaddle II, Basketball, Breakout,Breakaway

Epoch TV-Block=Flipper Pinball I, Flipper Pinball II, Racket Pinball I, Racket Pinball II, Basketball I, Basketball II, Breakout

Atari Video Pinball (woodgrain)=Flipper Pinball I, Flipper Pinball II, Paddle Pinball I, Paddle Pinball II, Rebound, Breakout, Breakthru

 

Don't hesitate to make comments! :ponder:

 

PS : your videos are excellent really help to understand the whole thing. They should be uploaded to Youtube so that everyone could enjoy them (add your logo on the video for reference, this is also a good promotional mean to attact more visitor to your excellent blog)

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It really fills a gap of history upon early systems which are always described too fast, without any real testing. The sociologic project in itself is really interesting, analysing how nowadays children may react when invited (who said forced?!) to play early games. Historically, the approach is perfect as it puts back each game in its own context. It will help understand how each game may have influenced the other, and why. I can only say bravo, and I will follow your posts for a long time for sure.

 

Michael, could you tell me exactly how the game are named on your Atari Video Pinball beige version (if you have any documents listing them)?

 

-snip-

 

PS : your videos are excellent really help to understand the whole thing. They should be uploaded to Youtube so that everyone could enjoy them (add your logo on the video for reference, this is also a good promotional mean to attact more visitor to your excellent blog)

 

Thanks! It's really cool to hear what others like about the blog as some angles hadn't occured to me, such as the sociological impact on my kids. What if my son starts talking about an Atari game he really likes at school. What will be the reaction from other kids? Will they think he's weird or will he start a new retro trend among his classmates? (i.e. we went to Benjamin's house and his dad made us play this game called <insert game name here> and we had a blast!) or the opposite scenario where he becomes an outcast?

 

Unfortunately, I have no documentation for my Atari Video Pinball. :ponder: Thanks for listing the names of the games as that information is really interesting. Especially the title Breakaway on the Sears machine, as it explains why the Sears version of Atari's Super Breakout was called Breakaway IV (In the same way that Sears' version of Atari's Street Racer was Speedway II (I think), it is interesting to see the early occurances of sequels in the home market.

 

Posting the videos on Youtube is really good idea!!! I wish I'd video'd gameplay of some of the really rare Odyssey games I had. I need to buy a digitial video camera that actually captures sound, too.

 

Thanks for the links to old-computers.com; your site never ceases to amaze me. ;)

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Hah, nice to see old-computers.com posting here! It's a small community, after all! I've been devouring that site, and will continue for the foreseeable future!

 

Again, I wish your videos were still up. I hope you fix that soon!

 

I agree, the flippers in Video Pinball didn't work for me either. They're just weird. Doesn't feel like pinball at all, even though they did a good job with the buttons on the side.

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