The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

June 16, 2010

In With the Old

Filed under: Games — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 2:33 am

As you probably know if you have any sort of interest in video games whatsoever, this week is the Electronic Entertainment Expo (more commonly known as E3) in Los Angeles.  This is the one week out of the year in which all the  latest and allegedly greatest in interactive entertainment for the coming year gets shown off to the public.  Although the show itself is restricted to members of the industry, you’d practically have to live under a rock to avoid all the coverage in the various media, and as such E3 is quite the spectacle these days.  To be perfectly honest, I haven’t really paid all that much attention to E3 this year, but based on what I’ve seen so far, I’m not particularly impressed with most of what’s being shown.  I might elaborate on this a little bit later on, but the offerings this year seem to be heavy on gimmicks and light on content, and don’t really make a compelling case for the shiny new toys being shown off.  Then again, all the interesting stuff from E3 tends to make its way to PAX, which is now less than three months away, so I’ll hold off on getting too specific until then. 

Providing a stark contrast to all the new stuff down in LA this week was this past weekend’s Northwest Pinball and Gameroom show, held in a few conference rooms in an bscure corner of Seattle Center that I apparently didn’t even know existed until now.  As anyone who has been reading this site for any length of time knows, I’ve written a number of posts about growing up as an arcade junkie (much to my parents’ chagrin I’m sure) and lamenting the demise of the arcades.  Yet at the same time arcades are disappearing (a few scattered diehards notwithstanding) collectors have picked up the slack and gone to great lengths to preserve the legacy of the arcades.  By their very nature arcade collectors are diehards (you almost have to be, the space commitment required to collect full-size video games and pinball machines mandates that,) and by drawing upon the resources of local arcade collectors, a rather impressive collection of classic arcade video games and  pinball machines was brought together in one place for a weekend of old-school arcade goodness.  Once the (slightly steep) admission fee was paid at the door, all of the games were set on free play, so it wasn’t even necessary to worry about bringing quarters along.

The show was set up in two main rooms:  One for the video games, and one for the pinball machines.  On the video game side, all but a handful of the machines were made prior to 1990, making this a truly classic arcade experience.  In addition to the usual Atari, Williams and Midway fare you’d expect to find (and plenty of it,) there were a number of oddities on offer as well, including a surprisingly large number of 70s games, a couple of Cinematronics vector games (including Armor Attack, one of my favorites I haven’t played in years) and even an electromechanical game or two.  For the most part, the games were in original dedicated cabinets, and were in surprisingly good shape given their age, a testament to the efforts of the collectors that have in some cases gone to great lengths to restore and preserve these games.  Unfortunately, it does also tend to put my decrepit old conversion cabinet to shame…

In spite of the impressive showing of video games, it was pretty clear that pinball was getting top billing at this show.  A number of special guests (including some prominent pinball designers) were in attendance, and the pinball room included machines throughout much of the history of pinball.  Electromechanical Bally and Gottlieb machines dating back as far as the early Sixties could be found sitting next to the latest Stern games, with just about everything in between represented.  I unfortunately didn’t get a chance to play too many of the pinball machines (if I was a bit more patient I probably could have done so) but one of the highlights of the show was getting to play Nip-it, a Bally table from 1974, for the first time.  This table’s most prominent claim to fame was its presence at Arnold’s on the show Happy Days, but in my case, it was of particular interest because a number of years ago I actually did most of the coding to build a version of this table in Visual Pinball, a pinball simulator which I got involved in development for back in the early part of the last decade and built a number of tables for.  Although I did have a bit of help along the way from someone who owned a machine, I was glad to learn that although I could think of a number of tweaks that could use to be applied, I at least managed to get the rules of the table mostly correct.  Oh, and it still quite a fun table too.  Unlike some of the game’s contemporaries with their relatively lethargic ball action and minuature flippers with all the raw ball-pushing power of an asthmatic housefly, the action on this game moves at a relatively rapid pace for an electromechanical table (just don’t try to compare it to a Steve Richie table, OK?) and the Zipper Flippers (a rather short-lived Bally invention which causes the flippers to “Zip” in and temporarily cover up the center drain) add a bit of interest as well.  Maybe one of these days if I can ever get the table back into shape (it appears that Visual Pinball has some rendering problems for me on my current machine) I’ll put up a post with the stuff I’ve done.  I’m actually surprised to see that there’s still a rather active Visual Pinball community out there, so it might actually be worth doing.

All in all, the Pinball and Gameroom Show was a nice chance to reacquaint myself with some of the dubious distractions of my youth, if only for one weekend.  As tends to be the case every so often, I find myself briefly considering the possibility of actually getting a pinball machine once again, but that usually runs into cold hard reality pretty quickly as I remember that not only are the good tables expensive as heck, but I have no space for one (heck, I have no space for an arcade game either, but I didn’t figure that out until I got one.)  I’m trying not to let myself live in the past, but it is still OK if I visit every once in a while, right?

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