-THE "END OF AN ERA"
By Russ Jensen
A little over a week ago I happened to hear an announcement on a radio "financial report" which caught my attention when I heard the name "Bally". The report said that Bally Corporation was getting out of the pinball and video game business after over fifty years! The reporter said they were selling that part of their business to some outfit called "WMS Industries" which I was later to find out was a "holding company" for Williams Electronics, Bally's important competitor in the games field.
At the time I heard this announcement I was in the process of writing an article for COIN SLOT on another subject. After hearing the sad news about Bally I felt compelled to write this tribute to Bally and Ballygames, a subject which has always been near and dear to my heart. Don't worry, however, my other article will be completed and published in the future.
First I want to say a little about my personal fondness for Bally and their products. Then I shall present a somewhat brief, but very "pictorial", history of the past 56 years of Bally pinball games.
I AM A "BALLYFILE"
I consider myself a "Ballyfile" as I have, ever since I was a kid, had a special interest and relationship with the products of that great company. As most of should know by now, I got my "start" with pinball when I was about twelve years old and was given two Bally pinball games of 1939 vintage (VARIETY and VOGUE) by a friendly coin machine operator. At that time I got the address of Bally Manufacturing in Chicago and wrote them a letter asking if they could provide schematics for these games. They did answer my letter, but said the drawings were "no longer available".
As a result of that letter, I believe, I got on a Bally mailing list and started receiving their company newsletter called "BALLYHOO". This monthly publication mostly covered events at the plant and news of the employees (births, marriages, etc.) and generally had little to do with games.
But, the January 1953 issue commemorated "20 years of Ballygames" and featured pictures of one game for each year (except during World War II) from 1932 to 1953. The following is a list of the games shown. I have since acquired several of these games which are indicated by the asterisks shown in the list.
1932 BALLYHOO* 1941 41-DERBY 1933 AIRWAY 1946 VICTORY SPECIAL* 1934 ROCKET 1947 SPECIAL ENTRY 1935 JUMBO 1948 CITATION 1936 PREAKNESS 1949 CHAMPION 1937 BUMPER 1950 TURF KING* 1938 RESERVE 1951 SPOT LITE* 1939 VARIETY* 1952 BEAUTY 1940 SPORT KING
By the way, I kept that one issue all these years (probably because it showed my first game VARIETY) and I think it was at least partially responsible for reviving my interest in pingames in the early 1970's when I started my current pinball collection.
Ever since I started receiving BALLYHOO I have always remembered Bally's address, 2640 Belmont Ave., which was their main address up until just a few years ago. I was able to make use of that information two more times in my lifetime.
The first time was sometime in the fifties, during a trip to Chicago with my father, when I decided to pay a visit to the Bally plant and ask for a tour. I was granted my wish and given a brief tour of their assembly line. I only remember that they were producing a "bingo pinball" at that time, but don't recall which one.
My next visit to the plant was in 1974 during a trip to Chicago with my wife and kids. I had been into pinball collecting for about a year at that time and had obtained a copy of a booklet, titled Coin Operated Amusement, which had been written by Bally's long-time advertising manager, Mr. Herb Jones.
This booklet had three main sections, each discussing a different type of coin machine produced by Bally. These sections were "Slot Machines", "Pinball Games", and "Arcade Games". The booklet was quite well written, containing numerous footnotes. In the section on "slot machines" Mr. Jones talked of the concept of a slot machine not necessarily being a "gambling machine" but a form of "coin operated amusement".
The pinball section gave a brief history of pinball, included detailed descriptions of the operation of some of it's components, and ended with an article on the "Psychology of Pinball". There was also a two page article on "Bingo Pinball", which featured a picture of Bally's latest "bingo", BONUS-7. Other pins pictured in the pinball section were FIREBALL and EL TORO.
Incidentally, a revised version of this booklet, containing the pinball information only (minus the "bingo pinball" article) was later released by Bally and titled "Coin Operated Pinball Machines". It had a picture on the cover of Elton John standing next to a CAPTAIN FANTASTIC machine. I still have copies of both versions of the booklet and treasure them as great "Bally memorabilia".
Now back to my visit to the plant. Upon arriving in Chicago I telephoned Mr. Jones, told him how much I enjoyed Coin Operated Amusement, and of my great interest in pinball, and asked if I might visit him at the plant. He told me he had just came back to work after a serious illness and was only working a few hours each day. He did agree, however, to see me if I would make my visit brief. I agreed, and the next day went again to 2640 Belmont.
When I presented myself to the receptionist, she called Mr. Jones and he came down to escort me. We first took a brief tour of the pinball assembly line where they were assembling their current pingame, SKY KING. As we walked along I remember he struck up a conversation with an older lady working on the line. They seemed like old friends. Later he told me that he had known her ever since she started at the plant during World War II when Bally, as did the other amusement manufacturers, turned from game production to producing war related items.
After the tour we went upstairs to Mr. Jones' office for a chat. I told him how much I enjoyed his booklet and he told me that he had enjoyed writing it and that it was originally prepared to be used to help sell Bally equipment to the Italians. I then asked him about a passage in the book where he quoted a person who he referred to as "a veteran coin machine historian". I ask to whom he was referring since I was unaware of the existence of anyone like that. He surprised me by saying that the "historian" he mentioned was none other than himself! (later in this article I will quote the passage to which I am referring)
Mr. Jones told me that he started with Bally in the early thirties when he answered a "Help Wanted" ad in the newspaper. He said he enjoyed his work and had held the position of advertising manager for some years. He also said he had the idea for the "Feature Gram", the annotated playfield layout that Bally started using on the backs of their pinball brochures. He also told me about the time he appeared on the popular TV show "What's My Line" and that the panel was unable to guess that he was in the pinball business.
Before I left he gave me an original copy of the August, 1966 issue of "Esquire" magazine which contained an article titled "Mother Was A Pinball Machine", featuring an interview with veteran Bally game designer Ted Zale. I already had a xerox copy of the article but was thrilled to get the "original". Then, just prior to my leaving the plant, Mr. Jones took me on a brief tour of the cable forming area which was located in a building just across the street.
After that I said goodbye to Mr. Jones, thus ending one of my most pleasurable visits with a coin-machine industry personality. I really enjoyed talking to Mr. Jones and found him to be a "great man" and a tribute to Bally and the industry he served for so many years.
Before beginning my chronological review of Bally pinball games over the years, one final note concerning my personal fondness for Bally products. When I once visited the late pinball pioneer Harry Williams, and was showing him pictures of my pinball collection, he remarked "why do you have so many Bally machines?". My answer to him at the time was that they seemed easier to find. But, thinking about that now, I don't think that was the real reason.
One reason that I have so many Ballygames is because I like all forms of pinball games, including those with a primary "gambling motif" (ie."One-Balls" and "Bingos"). Unlike some pinball collectors, I have no prejudices against this type of pin. They have always fascinated me.
The reason for this is probably my fascination for their circuitry. Being an engineer by trade this type of thing interests me. I enjoy figuring out how various game functions are implemented, and then watching them in action. And no one can dispute that One-Balls and Bingos contain the most innovative and clever forms of electro- mechanical circuitry ever devised by the pinball industry.
Enough about me and my personal association with Bally and Ballygames. Now on to a brief history of Bally pinball machines from 1931 to 1988.
PICTORIAL HISTORY OF "BALLYPINS"
BALLYHOO TO BLACKWATER 100
The following is a brief history of Bally pingames from their beginning in 1931 with BALLYHOO to 1988's BLACKWATER 100. This history will be illustrated by pictures of games, both from my personal collection as well as the collections of others.
BALLYHOO - The first Ballygame, as most of you know, was a small counter-top game called BALLYHOO which was first produced late in 1931. The following is an excerpt from the Herb Jones booklet mentioned earlier describing the origination of ballyhoo:
"On a gloomy day in October of depression- clouded 1931", writes a veteran coin machine historian, "a young businessman, Raymond T. Moloney, after hours of stubborn argument, persuaded his senior partners in a small Chicago printing shop to join him in a bold venture." "As a result of their decision, a simple but fascinating color-splashed pinball game was introduced to america late in 1931. By the time 1932 dawned, under darker depression clouds than ever, the rainbow-bright game, BALLYHOO, was a national sensation. 50,000 BALLYHOO games were sold in a period of 7 months."
The name (and the idea for the playfield artwork, I am told) for this game was taken from a popular satire magazine of the day. The details of this story, I believe, will be told in Volume 2 of Dick Bueschel's projected series of pinball books. At any rate, when ray moloney decided to form a company to manufacture his games (I believe he contracted to D. Gottlieb & Co. to manufacture his first BALLYHOOs) he called his new company "Bally Manufacturing" after BALLYHOO, and thus that great company was born!
Well, there you have it, a very brief account of how the Bally company first got started and their first product, the pioneer pingame BALLYHOO.
AIRWAY - After playing any of the early pinball games (such as BALLYHOO) the player, at the conclusion of a game, had to locate the hole into which each of his balls had landed. He then had to add up the values of the points indicated next to each hole in order to determine his total score.
Early in 1933 Bally came up with a quite sophisticated design for it's game called AIRWAY. When a ball dropped into one of the scoring holes a metal cover would close over it and the ball would roll down to a "scoring area" at the bottom of the playfield. This action would cause a "score indicator" to flip into view displaying the value in points of the hole into which the ball had fallen. The player still had to add up his total score, but the job was made easier since he did not have to look for the balls, but only to add up the points indicated in a neat row at the bottom of the playfield.
ROCKET - One of the significant events in early Bally history (and pinball history, for that matter) occurred late in 1933 with the introduction by Bally of the first electrically operated (by batteries) automatic payout pinball, rocket. This was the beginning of the craze for "payout pinballs" which was to last for many years to come. It was also about that exact same time that pinball pioneer harry williams created the first electrically operated amusement pinball game, his famous contact.
The significance of this event, and some of it's immediate repercussions, were described in part 10 of coin machine publisher bill gersh's series of articles "pictorial history of pinball" Appearing in the april 1981 issue of his trade publication marketplace. Bill's article stated:
Bally ROCKET, the very first, the no. 1, created more than a sensation. it started much controversy. There were a few noted manufacturers who loudly proclaimed, "this is the end of the pin game industry."
Yes, Bally ROCKET was the very first one-ball automatic payout game. An all electric game. Simple. Easy to understand. Easy to play. Wherever it was located it brought in more coin than any game had ever before earned in that very same location.
In fact, Bally ROCKET captured more coin than had slots in the same locations. This news, when it leaked through to the top slot makers who, at first, couldn't believe any game could earn as much as a slot, got them started building One-Ball payouts.
But the one-ball automatic payout, Bally ROCKET, did not "end the pinball industry." Fact of the matter is - it stimulated greater effort which, in turn, resulted in outstanding sales. And because Bally ROCKET was priced high - pinballs increased price to $39.50.
Looking back to 1934 at this great ten trap pocket game, with the payout cup on the side of the game, the black cabinet trimmed in chrome, the speedy action payout, all in all this was truly a wonderful development and was destined to open wide the industry to electric automatic payouts for years yet to come.
BUMPER - While introduction of electric payout pingames with ROCKET was extremely significant as it introduced "payout pins" to the industry, Bally's biggest claim to pinball history fame had to be the introduction of an innovative new scoring device used on their revolutionary new game BUMPER, released late in 1936. This device, which came to be called the "Bumper" after the name of this game, consisted of a coiled spring of wire suspended from a metal post which, when hit by a ball in play, both made an electrical contact (to complete a scoring circuit) and caused the ball to bounce away from it adding "action" to the game.
With the exception of the "One-Ball Horserace" format payout pins (to be discussed next), within a few months the "bumper" began appearing on most of the pinball games, both "Novelty" and "Payout", being produced by many game manufacturers of the day. And as you know, a form of this device, still called a "bumper", appears on all the latest solid-state electronic pingames of today. No one can say that the introduction of Bally's BUMPER in 1936 did not have a truly profound effect on pinball games from that point on.
For those of you interested in the history and development of the "bumper" I refer you to my article "The Evolution Of The Bumper" in the summer 1985 issue of COIN SLOT.
FAIR GROUNDS - In the mid 1930's, payout pinballs appeared in many forms. The simplest were games in which holes on the playfield had numbers next to them indicating the amount (in cents) to be won if a ball was placed in that hole by the player. A more complicated motif of payout pin, which developed in the mid thirties and lasted until they were virtually outlawed in 1951, was the so-called "One-Ball Horserace" Pinball.
These games had originally three, and then four, sections of holes on their playfields labeled PURSE, SHOW, PLACE, and WIN, starting at the top. Each section contained either 7 or 8 numbered holes into which the one ball available per game could drop.
At the start of each game one or more numbers (of the 7 or 8 available on the game) would be lit on the game's backboard. In order for a player to "win" he had to get his ball into a hole corresponding to a lighted number in one of the "sections" on the playfield. "Odds", indicating how many coins the player would receive for matching a lighted number in each section of the playfield (WIN paying the most), would also light on the backboard at the start of each game.
Bally's FAIR GROUNDS of 1937 is a good example of how this type of pingame looked. It is interesting to note that most of these games had massive cabinets which extended nearly to the floor, rather than being mounted on legs as was customary with other pins. A little later in this article you will see two more games of this type made after the war and will notice that their basic format was not much different from their earlier "ancestors".
GOLDEN WHEEL - As I stated earlier, the new "bumpers" introduced on Bally's BUMPER began to be used on "payout", as well as "novelty" pingames. A fine example of a "bumper payout" pinball was Bally's GOLDEN WHEEL which appeared on the market in late 1937. The playfield of this game was literally covered with spring type bumpers. The game was beautifully made, and had an extremely interesting play concept as explained in the words of collector Jack Atkins of Ogden Utah who is the proud owner of one of these fascinating games.
Produced during the fast-changing pinball year of 1937, Bally's GOLDEN WHEEL used a scoring system which was different from most other games, both payout and novelty. The GOLDEN WHEEL was a 1-ball payout with 27 spring-type bumpers spaced uniformly across it's playfield, and a kicker positioned about 3 inches above the bottom center. The "payout hole" was located at the bottom in the place usually occupied by the "out hole" in most payout pinballs. When the ball finally ended up in this hole, after hopefully hitting many bumpers first, it closed a switch located at the bottom of the hole. If the final score was one of those which were lighted on the backglass, the player was rewarded with the number of nickels indicated in the "Odds Section" of the wheel which ranged from 2 to 40.
During play one point is added to the score every time the ball contacts one of the bumpers. This score is projected from behind the backglass onto a frosted area in the center of the wheel. Since the game uses a scoring increment of only 1 (instead of 10 or 100) it was possible for the game designers to set up the entire scoring range of 1 to 40 on the upper half of the wheel in a very simple but visually striking design, with the forty numbers divided into four semicircular sections as shown in the backglass photo.
The "Winning Selections" are lighted from behind the backglass in vertical groups of four, with one number in each of the four semicircles (for example, 1,11,21,31 or 4,14,24,34). Thus there were 10 Selection Groups from which the potential winners were chosen randomly at the start of each game. Since there were ten selections, instead of the seven offered on most of the "horserace pinballs" of this period, GOLDEN WHEEL offered two or more selections more frequently than did the horserace machines. Examination of the backglass photo shows that the odds layout, located on the lower half of the wheel, is exactly the same as many of the 1937 horserace games like Bally's PREAKNESS or ARLINGTON. Like the number selections, the odds on GOLDEN WHEEL were chosen at random when each new game began.
One other interesting fact should be noted about the GOLDEN WHEEL scoring. When the ball is shot onto the playfield it usually follows an irregular path and "bumpity-bumps" it's carefree way down towards the kicker where it will, if it makes contact, receive a boost back up for a return trip down the board.
Theoretically, a down-again, up again pattern could continue until the score reached the top of the register (43 points), but unfortunately for the player the ball seldom made more than one encore via the kicker. This seems rather surprising since the guard springs on each side of the kicker are spread apart invitingly and it appears relatively easy to enter the kicker zone for another go-around at the bumpers. But in practice a score above 20 is unusual and more than 30 very difficult. The game designers were obviously well aware of this fact because there was a standing award of 40 nickels for any score above 40. Winning this prize was probably not a common experience for even the most dedicated players of GOLDEN WHEEL. BROADCAST - In addition to their many varieties of "payout" pingames, Bally also produced many games which fit the "novelty" (the general term used in the mid thirties and forties to refer to a "non-payout" game) category. One example of such a game was Bally's broadcast of 1941.
The game was well constructed (as were all Bally games) and utilized the latest form of bumper made of molded plastic, somewhat similar in looks to the bumper still in use today. The game offered "free games" (or "replays" as they were often called) to players for obtaining certain scores. Games such as these, however, could also be used for gambling if the location owner redeemed for cash the "replays" the player had won.
Adding to it's lure as a gambling pin was it's feature, called "Top-O-Dial", by which a player, by completing certain game objectives, could win 25 to 75 replays at once, the value awarded being preset by the owner of the machine. Bally, as did many pinball manufacturers of the mid thirties, realized that "pinball gambling" was "where the money was" in the games business and either made direct payout pingames or "novelty" games, such as BROADCAST, with features which allowed them to be used for gambling if desired.
VICTORY SPECIAL - Bally, as did the other amusement industry manufacturers, quit producing amusement machines during World War II and converted their factories to producing war related items "for the duration". After the war ended, Bally was one of the first to again begin game production.
The first Bally pinball games to come out after the war were a pair of One-Ball Horserace games called VICTORY SPECIAL and VICTORY DERBY, the "victory", of course, commemorating the allied victory in the war. The only difference between these two games was that the latter was a "direct coin payout" machine, while the former only gave "replays".
In form these games were quite similar to the one-ball games made prior to the war, such as FAIR GROUNDS which was discussed earlier. Bally continued producing this type of game (often in "payout/replay pairs") until the early 1950's. One of the later models will be discussed shortly.
BALLYHOO (again!) - Gambling motif games (such as the One- Ball Horserace games) were not the only type of pinball produced by Bally in the late Forties. A good example of their "novelty" production was BALLYHOO (yes, it was named after the first ballygame, and no, it wasn't the last BALLYHOO, as a four-player game of 1969 also bore that famous name) which came out in mid 1947. This BALLYHOO was a flashy novelty game employing some of the new diamond shaped bumpers which were very popular at that time. It also featured many "kickout holes", first used to any great degree by Exhibit Supply just before the war, and used on almost all novelty pins after the war, and still in use today.
A few months after BALLYHOO was released, D. Gottlieb & Co. revolutionized the pinball industry (greatest innovation in pinball since Bally BUMPER) by introducing the "flipper" on their HUMPTY DUMPTY. Shortly after that Bally introduced their first "flipper game", MELODY. Bally produced some flipper games in the late forties, but their "big item" was still their fine "One- Balls".
TURF KING - Bally made two significant improvements in their One-Ball Horserace pinballs in 1949. CITATION introduced what was known as "Guaranteed Advancing Odds" which meant that the "payout odds" would either increase, or stay the same (but never decrease) with each additional coin deposited at the start of a game. Shortly after that "Reflex Play" was introduced in CHAMPION. The "reflex" circuitry caused the game's special features and odds (which the player tried to enable or increase at the start of each game by depositing additional coins) to become harder to obtain if the player had recently received a large "payout(s)", and easier to obtain when the player had deposited many coins without winning.
Then, in the Spring of 1951, Bally brought out TURF KING, their most sophisticated one-ball to date, which was advertised as a "5-Button Jumbo Pingame". The game had four buttons on it's front rail which the player could use to manually select which of the game's special features he wanted to try for when inserting extra coins at the start of a game. A fifth button gave him a chance at all of these features.
SPOT-LITE - It wasn't too long after TURF KING that "One- Balls" were, for all practical purposes, "outlawed" by being included in the classes of machines covered by the new Johnson Act. This law forbade interstate shipment of "gambling devices", except into states which allowed them. This was a big blow to Bally of course since "One-Balls" at that time were one of their big money makers.
As a result of this, an entirely new type of pingame was designed which could take the place of the old reliable "One- Ball". These "In-Line" games, as they were first known, used 5 (or more) balls, instead of 1, and required the player to light a row of 3 or more numbers on the backglass in a 5 by 5 matrix in the form of a common "bingo card". For this reason these games soon became known to players as "Bingo Pinballs".
Bally and United became the chief manufacturers of these new games, with a few being made by other outfits such as Keeney. Bally's first "Bingo" was called BRIGHT LIGHTS and came out in the Spring of 1951. Late in that year they came out with SPOT- LITE which had "advancing odds", like the later one-balls, and a number "spotting" feature which could cause "free numbers" on the "bingo card" to be lit up when extra coins were deposited at the start of a game. The playfields of these games contained 25 numbered holes (similar to their predecessors the one-balls) and had no flippers or bumpers like the "amusement" pins of the day.
BALLS-A-POPPIN' - Producing "Bingos" kept Bally busy in the early and mid Fifties. Although basically similar in format (ie. Lighting numbers in a pattern on the backglass "bingo card") a host of "special features" were devised by the Bally game designers, which gave each game an "intrigue" of it's own.
it wasn't until mid 1956 that Bally decided to produce another "flipper pinball". This game, called BALLS-A-POPPIN', was an early ancestor of today's "multi-ball" pingames, in which a player could qualify to have more than one ball in play at a time (without using up his allotted 5 balls per game). On BALLS- A-POPPIN' this was referred to as "Wild Balls".
Most people today think that this was the only flipper game produced by Bally from the early Fifties up until 1963 when Bally began regular flipper game production. This is not true, however, as Bally came out with two other flipper games in mid 1957. These games were called CIRCUS and CARNIVAL (not to be confused with the Bally game of that name released in 1948).
They were both "two-player" games, but CIRCUS, unlike the "multi-player" games being produced at that time by Gottlieb and Williams,, used "lighted panels" on the backglass to display each player's score, rather than digital "score reels". CARNIVAL, on the other hand, apparently used "reels", as an article announcing the game, appearing in the November 1957 issue of Coin Machine Journal, stated "Rotary totalizers indicate each player's score at a glance." While BALLS-A-POPPIN' is quite rare today, these two games are even rarer!
It is also interesting to note that even though BALLS-A- POPPIN' and CIRCUS used lighted panels on the backglass for score indication (rather than "score reels") they both used scoring in units of "1", rather than "10,000" as most other "light-scoring" games of that period used.
BIKINI - Bally "Bingos" were quite popular in many localities throughout the early and mid Fifties. Until 1957 they were exempt from the Johnson Act, but this was to change. A court case, U.S. versus Korpan, resulted in bingo pinballs being made subject to the Johnson Act restrictions on interstate shipment of "gambling devices". This did not stop shipment of bingo pinballs altogether, however, since they could still legally be shipped into states which allowed their use.
The demand for these games in "legal states", such as Tennessee and South Carolina, and foreign markets, kept the market open and Bally designers were constantly improving the games and making them more exciting to play. The introduction of the "Magic Screen" bingo card on CARNIVAL QUEEN late in 1958 gave the player the capability of actually changing the "winning patterns" on the card, if he qualified to do so during the insertion of extra coins before he shot the first ball.
To most "bingo pinball" players the so-called "OK Bingos", such as BIKINI from 1961, were the "epitome" of pinball play. In addition to employing the "Magic Screen", these games had a special screen section (the "OK Section") in which lighting 3 of it's 4 or 5 numbers gave the player guaranteed minimum "odds" and "special features" in the next game played, without depositing the usual "extra coins". Even though Bally came out with other ideas in bingo pinball (such as the "20 hole" machines) in later years, the "OK Games" were still considered by many players as the "ultimate bingo pinball".
MONTE CARLO - it wasn't until early 1963 that Bally decided to re-enter the "flipper pinball" field. Their first flipper game in about 5 years (and, as I said earlier, they hadn't made many in the past 10 years) was MOON SHOT, coming out early that year. These new Bally flipper games were very attractive and well built. In fact, in my opinion, Bally games have always been extremely well built when compared to games built by many other manufacturers. I even consider Ballygames to be "the 'Cadillac' of pingames".
One of the finest ballypins of that period was MONTE CARLO, which came out almost exactly one year after MOON SHOT. An interesting feature of this game was it's casino table "hold- over" feature, with it's associated "Big-Win" feature. Lighting all of the letters of "Big-Win" lighted the next number in the "1-10" number sequence on the casino table on the backglass which, when completed, scored 3 replays.
Both the "Big-Win" letters and the "1-10" numbers were "held- over" from one game to the next as a "come-on feature" to attract people to play the game, especially when the "1-10" sequence was almost completed. This idea was probably borrowed from many of the earlier Bally One-Ball Horserace games which had "Spell-Name" features (also held over from game to game) Where lighting all the letters in the name of the game on the backglass awarded the player a large number of replays, or some special feature in the next game played.
In addition to it's intriguing play features, MONTE CARLO had very colorful artwork, and featured brightly lighted pop bumpers adding to it's aesthetic appeal. All in all, it was a true "classic" of the early Sixties Bally flipper games which ushered in a new era of Bally flipper pins.
CAPTAIN FANTASTIC - Bally continued making their flipper games once they restarted them in 1963. Between 1963 and 1975 they produced generally between 6 and 10 new models a year, with the exception of 1970 when they made a whopping 13 different flipper games.
The release of the "rock opera" Tommy in 1975, which featured a pinball playing theme, was said by many to bring about a resurgence in interest in pingames by young people. Bally produced two games around that time with a "Tommy theme". The first was WIZARD, coming out in the Spring of 1975, which featured caricatures of the movie's stars, Ann Margaret and rock singer Roger Daltry.
About a year later Bally released CAPTAIN FANTASTIC featuring rock star Elton John on it's backglass. The fantastic artwork on this glass, by Bally's ace pinball artist Dave Christensen, depicted the pinball tournament scene from Tommy which pitted "pinball wizard" Elton against the blind, deaf, and dumb newcomer, Tommy.
This glass also had another very appealing feature. It was the first "amusement type" pinball for many, many years (probably since the late Forties or early Fifties) to employ a "mirrored" backglass. After that time, however, this type of glass became popular again on most of the solid-state pins of the Eighties.
THE COMING OF SOLID STATE- Bally was certainly one of the pioneers in the development of "solid-state" pinballs. According to Bally service manager ed schmidt, speaking at Pinball Expo '87, the prototype used during development of their first solid- state system was an electro-mechanical BOW AND ARROW which they converted to "digital". Proof of this was also demonstrated at that same show when Expo co-producer Mike Pacak found and purchased one of those prototype machines and showed it in the exhibit hall.
Mr. Schmidt went on to say that the first production machine to use this new technology was FREEDOM, which was released late in 1976. The second Bally "digital", he said, was EVIL KNEIVEL. Following that was EIGHT BALL with a caricature of "Fonzie" of Happy Days fame on it's backglass. They also produced "digital" and electro-mechanical versions of a few pins, such as NIGHT RIDER.
Bally produced an average of about 7 new solid-state pins a year between 1978 and 1982, this average dropping off to about 5 new pins per year between 1983 and 1987.
STRANGE SCIENCE - A typical example of the Bally solid-state pingame production of the mid 1980's was STRANGE SCIENCE, one of the new Bally models displayed at Pinball Expo '86.
The theme of this game probably came from the movie of the same name. The "strange" artwork on both the playfield and backglass fit very well with this theme. The fast action and strange sound effects used on these games certainly fits into this modern age in which we live.
BLACKWATER 100 - What appears to be the last of the long parade of Bally-produced pingames (well over 500 pins between 1931 and 1988) is the current game, BLACKWATER 100. The theme of this game is a well-known motorcycle ("dirt bike") race occurring each year in the swamps of West Virginia. This game so much simulates the actual race that race promoter, Dave Coombs, was quoted as saying to the motorcycle enthusiast press "When you play the game you're going to work up a sweat, just like when you're racing".
This was reported in an article appearing in the May 1988 issue of the coin machine trade magazine REPLAY, which went on to describe the play of the game as follows:
The game starts out very fast-paced, just like an actual race. Three balls ("racers") are at the starting gate and the player watches the Red-Yellow- Green light countdown for the start. Should the player properly anticipate the green "GO" light, and press the button to drop the starting gate, the balls are released one at a time and the player is rewarded with the bonus of 250,000 points for making this "hole shot" (racing term for being the first to the first turn.
Once you've got all three balls on the playfield, the idea is to land two of them in saucers, which are then held for an operator-adjustable amount of time. Then you've got one ball to control around the different areas of the playfield.
Since the real race is three laps long, the pinball is set up the same way. There are eight different "sections" to each "lap" of the blackwater "course" - Cliffhanger, Rocks, Swamp, Highway 93, Rapids, Hill Climb, Bog, and Downhill. These correspond to parts of the actual race. One section light will flash at a time (the player can move it by using a button). Completing a lit section, of course, increases the points. In addition, playing the bottom playfield is called taking the "fast line" through a section. In much the same way as you would on the race course, you're picking the quickest and easiest route.
Well, there you have it, a brief pictorial history of the last 57 years of Bally pinballs, along with the story of my personal association and feelings about Bally and Ballygames. Maybe it's "the end of an era", or maybe not, at least it's the end of "amusement" game production by the Bally organization.
After I was about halfway through writing this article I received additional information regarding the "Bally sale". An article with that title (subtitled "WMS to buy Bally pinball and video assets; will keep it going as separate entity"), appearing in the August 1988 issue of REPLAY, gave more details of the deal.
This article brought out the fact that the Bally brand name on flipper games and videos will not be "retired" by the buy-out, stating that "Williams had not purchased a competitor to remove it from the map; but acquired a whole new division which will be run in a reasonably autonomous fashion, complete with separate sales and R & D staffs". It was also pointed out that the R & D people at Bally/Midway, for the most part, will be invited to join the new organization.
It went on to describe exactly what Williams was "buying". This, it said, included the Bally brand name for "amusement products" and a cabinet/assembly factory (which it said was "a big part of the deal") including all tools, dies, jigs, etc. Also included were the rights to past, present, and future Bally game designs.
The article even said that the Bally sale is "no 'end of an era' thing" (well, there goes my title!), but to me it seems that way since I have always been familiar with "Ballygames" being made by Bally. Anyway, it remains to be seen how "separate" the "Williams-Williams" and "Williams-Bally" lines will be. So, bye- bye Bally-made amusement games, and "good luck" Williams on keeping the "Bally line" alive!
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