austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

A good friend of mine, follow the stars

In the 90s Capcom got into making pinball. This is not so weird as you think. Pinball was no longer subject of public scorn or moral panics. Computer and display technology had opened up great new avenues of game design. And an incredible streak of all-time classics, unmatched before or since, were made then. But Capcom didn't last long in the market. Video games almost necessarily have lesser maintenance costs. Redemption-ticket games almost always have higher profits for the maintenance. And under the mad genius of Python Anghelo the pinball division sank ungodly sums of money into an obvious non-starter called Zingy Bingy, a Habakkuk of a project I will not describe here because you really need to look up an article about it while you're at work and surrounded by grim-faced people wondering what all the snickering is over.

One of the short-lived division's games was Pinball Magic. It came out surprisingly close to the Williams game Theatre of Magic, in that way sometimes rival companies just make the same theme thing at the same time for some reason. Apparently stage magic was just in the air. Theatre of Magic is one of the solid favorites of the 90s, no doubt because it appeased the devilbunny community. It's everywhere. Pinball Magic is not. The Silverball Museum advertised it would have one, but if they did, it was gone before we could ever visit. Bill had one. We'd been looking forward to the chance to see one. And nearly everyone at the tournament would be playing pretty near their first games ever on the table.

Pinball Magic has as its theme some of the classic styles of stage magic. Your classic guy-in-tuxedo-and-top-hat, your showy Las Vegas glitter bomb, your guy in Vaguely Oriental garb that's let's just say problematic, your wizened old guy in robes, all that. Different parts of the playfield correspond to different performance styles, and the modes of the game are to make shots in the appropriate corresponding areas.

There's a lot of clever, innovative thinking in the game. For example, right out of the plunger, the ball is launched onto into a wire-frame ramp. Normal enough. This one has a loop in it. That one I've never seen before. If you plunge just the right strength, the ball makes it halfway through the loop and drops into a top hat prop. That's not just novel, that's clever. Brilliant, even, given that it's the skill shot for the first and third balls. The second is a different shot.

On the playfield is a ramp that leads to a hand, holding a wand, itself leading to another ramp. There's a magnet inside the wand. If you shoot the ball there, it will hover on the underside of the wand, wobbling its way down that path. It looks magical. It's a fun shot to start with, and to have the game's flow reach a wondrous point like that ... well, it's grand. Innovative and clever. Great job all around.

The game was like that all around. We kept encountering new and clever and, generally, funny bits of business. Many of them included new uses of by-then standard tricks like electromagnets and ramps. We never quite felt sure we understood the game, but we got some good hypotheses going. We'd love to play more. And yes, the game did bow at least a bit in the devilbunny direction.

Even if the whole day were a fiasco --- which it wasn't --- the chance to discover Pinball Magic would have made it worthwhile.

Trivia: Gus Grissom and John Young carried a cylinder of sea urchin eggs on the Gemini III flight 23 March 1965. Unfortunately the lever to fertilize the eggs in orbit broke off in Grissom's hand. The ground controller on Earth duplicating the experiment broke his handle in the same way. Source: Animals In Space: From Research Rockets To The Space Shuttle, Colin Burgess, Chris Dubbs. (This seems like taking reproduction of experiments a bit too far.)

Currently Reading: Vic and Sade: The Best Radio Plays of Paul Rhymer, Editor Mary Frances Rhymer.

PS: Spherical Cycloids, some attractive objects.

Tags: bill's basement tournament, pinball

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