Playmeter Magazine:

Critics Corner

by Roger C. Sharpe

Oldies But Goodies

Playmeter Homepage

Reprinted with permission from Playmeter Magazine: November 15, 1979.

Two for the Show

For most of you, it's now Chicago and you're reading this in your hotel room, taking a break from the hospitality suites and trying to gear up for another day at the Hilton, walking around the exhibits and deciding which equipment is going to do the job for the coming months.

Others are looking at these words back in their own home town, not able to get to the AMOA, yet acutely aware that their future rests with what transpires over a three-day weekend.

And what's the news? Well, most of it you've had in bits and pieces or through this column over the months, but much is unfolding now and pointing to the future in remarkable fashion.

Things are going so smoothly from a manufacturing standpoint in the world of pins that it's almost scary--but appearances sometimes are deceiving. Whether you're in the Windy City in person, checking out the stuff first hand, or trying to get an Idea from words on a page, here Is a closer look at several of the outstanding of the pins on display.

At Bally, the celebrity line doesn't seem to quit with the likes of the Globetrotters ( reviewed last month), Dolly Parton ( upcoming on these pages next month) and even a few surprises that punch some life into an already strong line-up. Interestingly, this forerunner of the solid-state era has taken a perceptual swing in design to more conventional layouts and play on the board.

The in-line target feature is getting good play--it's incorporated into three games rather close together. But even without this innovation, Bally has continued to integrate memory better. probably, than anyone else in the field. Sound, artwork, and the whole cosmetic touch have been refined for this generation of machines, and, almost assuredly, a new wave will unfold for '80.

At Game Plan the mood is happy contentment with the positive reaction to its first conventional pin Sharpshooter, even though plans call for more sit-downs (which, incidentally, are what launched the company.) Two more machines are slated to follow the run of Sharpshooter. All indications seem to say that this company will be a tough and lasting contender in the pingame field.

Gottlieb's story is different. They have reacted well to the changes in the industry, even if they haven't initiated too many things. In fact, they're still the only major company which has integrated memory from ball to ball play. Hulk, of course, is the exception ( which we'll look at closely in the next few pages)—it's only on extra ball play where the bonus multiplier will stay intact.

Besides this glaring omission, which has also influenced the design parameters of recent machines, Gottlieb has entered the celebrity fray with a few notable editions and one upcoming space theme sure to catch more than a few eyes and quarters. But 1, for one, am waiting for the technological breakthrough from a company that may take a little bit longer to do things, but when they finally get around to it, lots of folks sit up and take notice.

Stern has exploded onto the scene this year with a dizzying array of machines as well as a startling development in drop targets which started on Trident and carried into its newest hit, Meteor (more on this game later).

The rap still seems to be, however, that the games wear a bit faster than the competitors. Fortunately, the problem was less evident on Magic, which bodes well for the games upcoming. Potential buyers who might have been turned off will, hopefully, reconsider the efforts of one of the major forces in the industry. Stern has established itself, and with a few more winners, who knows what the future holds.

Williams. What can you say about a company that's been on such an incredible hot streak? It has its stuff together, whether it be an imaginative wide-body or sturdy conventional model. Both artwork and sound effects have helped the surge but the playfield designs which have integrated unique formats, as well as memory and recall for play continuity, probably have been the biggest factor. Perhaps the company's most promising future ace lies in Williams' vocal capacity--sure to be the talk of the town.

Imports? Well. as I wrote about a few issues back, the challenge is a hard one and as you're reading this most of the viability already will have been decided. It is going to be interesting to see how the foreign competition copes, whether it be Zaccaria, Playmatic, Interflip, Recel, Sonic, or any others trying to enter into the fray.

Also, conspicuous by its absence of pins this year, has been Atari, which fell victim to many circumstances, one of which was a successor to the triumph of Superman. But then, '80 is going to be an I interesting time, and who knows what the end of winter will bring.

What is certain is that this AMOA the IAAPA, and the upcoming ATE are going to supply the necessary showcases for a variety of equipment that will keep a lot of people in business and keep the business of pinball an ongoing concern. After all, we are getting ready for a whole new decade--the beginning of the last twenty years of the twentieth cen- tury. Pretty heavy stuff, admittedly, but just consider that next year also marks the fiftieth year of the pinball industry. Not bad for a nickel and .dime business where penny arcades meant pennies and not today's quarters and dollars.

Innovation, increased costs for production, play in equipment, higher scores, and a more sophisticated audience are just some of the things to be aware of during this convention time. Just keep your eyes and ears open and play everything you can, make notes and remember the things that impressed you or stood out from the rest.

If you'd like a head start on your scouting, take a closer look at a movie spectacular tie-in and a comic book hero turned TV star turned pinball machine. And lest one forgets, the final tally of the Sharpshooter poll. On with the show...

Stern's METEOR

A great effort, really, a great effort and sound design from Steve Kirk make this game a winner on its own and a sure success with the American International movie tie-in. The artwork and the sound effects are also a big plus for what looks like the biggest pin this company has ever made.Meteor Backbox

PLAYFIELD: The action begins with a bit of a different alignment— the top features two pop bumpers and a sweep of three star rollover buttons just above a row of six drop targets ( M-E-T-E-O-R). Move down to the center of the top field and there's a lone thumper bumper and a flipper just to the right.

Further to the right is a spinner, while on the left is the first of three drop target banks with three drop targets each. A target just to the right of the bumper and below the top flipper finishes off the top before one gets to a left side and right side set of drop targets. The bottom is pure Stern with rubber-ringed posts and wire lanes down to the flippers and a play-more post between.

ANALYSIS: The big news on Meteor is the memory drop targets at the top with their "remote trip action." You can hit them, go over the top rollover buttons, hit the center target when it's at the right lit value, or go down the interior lanes to the flippers when they're lit for spotting a letter.

Every time M-E-T-E-O-R is made the bonus multiplier increases from 1X to 2X on up to a 7X possibility. Meteor--a great development in pinball history and should be noted as such--Stern should be commended for this improvement in pinball design. Playfield

But the scoring doesn't stop there. The spinner value increases along with M-E-T-E-O-R targets for a top of 2,200 points for each revolution.

And then there's the drop targets and a novel use of out-hole bonus lights integrated into the playfield graphics. The top left side bank (twos), the bottom left side bank (ones), and the bottom right side bank (threes) offer plenty of points and a great feature for when the values are lined up--you've gotten one target down in each bank, or two, or even multiples thereof that have the rockets all with the same value--suddenly there's a chance for a 70,000 point WOW value.

And with all the scoring and shot potential with plenty of reverses and long shots, as well as quick shots from the top flipper to the upper targets, Meteor also offers sound effects borrowed from the Williams' Flash school of continual auditory madness.

If all this combined weren't enough to get attention, there is an added touch that I'd like to see everyone adopt. Before the last ball is in play, the high score to date flashes so that a player knows what he's shooting for, just in case he's forgotten along the way.

Innovative touches and a package that takes advantage of the movie makes Meteor a game to look out for.

GRAPHICS: As I have mentioned, the graphics on Meteor are just super. It's a colorful, eye-catching theme with loads of black orange, red, blue, yellow, green, and goodies any player or operator would gladly notice and pay attention to. And if the movie proves to be a hit, wait for the instant recognition.

PLAY: This is a good three-ball effort which probably won't gain anything, except even higher scores, from an additional two balls. For limits in extra ball areas, try a 180,000 point start followed by 360,000 and 600,000 points. In free play areas you're going to have to raise these levels by a good 100,000 to 120,000 points at least, depending upon the location and the caliber of the players.



Backbox True visually to the comic book and not the television characters, the game features masterful artwork for the theme and sound effects that are a bit more rugged to fit the mood of the game. From Marvel to Gottlieb to you comes this eye-catcher in this company's tie-in effort.

PLAYFIELD: Four free-standing lanes are at the middle of the top not butted by an rebounding rubbers, start off the action. A bank of seven drop targets are on the right side, with two thumper bumpers in the middle of the field and a left side wide Gottlieb spinner finishing off the top portion.

Just below the left side spinner is a target ( two) with another ( one) below this one. In the middle is a sweep of four star rollover buttons while the right side offers a third target ( three) and a short rollover lane siding the plunger lane. Move down and there's a departure for Gottlieb--two kick-back kickers are featured, much longer than those used by Williams on such recent games as Contact, World Cup, and the conventional wire form lanes and flippers.

ANALYSIS: Hulk is an interesting game, with some decent reverses and play action. There is the immediacy of getting a bonus multiplier value off the plunger since the top lanes control the values from left to right of 2X, 3X, 4X, and 5X.

There's also a further tie-in of features with the kick-back kickers and drop targets denoted as A-B-C and the three targets as one-two-three for lighting specials and extra ball value on the field. Playfield

But the action is also limited by the left side wide spinner which offers good access back to the top on a precise hit but only a weak roll down on most shots. The targets and the spacing of shots away from the flippers make this a definite skill game without a lot of margin for error. A countdown bonus is offered after reaching 20,000 points on the out-hole bonus, but memory is restricted to only the bonus multiplier value ( if any) on extra ball play.

GRAPHICS: The green man is everywhere on this machine, from the transformation on the backglass to the main spelling of the name and primary figure on the playfield, along with green heads and a green fist to finish off the motif. All are faithfully reproduced from the pages of the Marvel classic and easily parlay the popularity of the television series.

PLAY: Once again, nothing is lost on three-ball settings with the features sustaining themselves nicely on shortened game time ( although five-ball wouldn't be bad for heightening the scoring. ) For extra ball locations you might want to try a 150,000 start followed by 300,000 and 500,000 points. On free play, Hulk should be okay at levels about 50,000 to 100,000 points greater.

And on five-ball play you might even want to tack on an additional 25,000 points, depending as always on the level of play at the location.

RATING ###3/4

Lastly, as for the Sharpshooter poll, the results are so encouraging, that they might even get me motivated enough to try to design another machine.

For now, it is pleasing to hear comments that are predominantly positive on everything from the features on the playfield to the sound effects and the way they tie-in with the theme ( I have to admit I'm partial to the galloping hooves of the spinner)...the million light ( which I hope more companies will start to utilize in the future)...and the mechanical reliability ( for which I will be eternally grateful and pleased).

One designer in the industry noted that the game is "very what happens after the drop targets are hit...thumpers on the bottom are good" are really something that has been coming in from many people. Others commented that the spinner lane might be a bit too narrow, there was no knocker for free plays and one even cited a dynamite explosion as a negative, but for the most part the feedback has been highly positive—which goes to show Sharpshooter is a game that just keeps on keeping on.

The figures look something like this, although I'm sure more feelings will surface at the show regarding the game:

#### = 77
### = 32
## = 16
# = 9

And one final tally from that same designer--###1/2

So, that's it for this time around. Next month, look for an AMOA wrap up with some comments on the highlights of the show. A few words about talking machines, celebrity sparkle, and innouatiue features, as well as what the foreign market holds for the future.

Until then, with a bit of my hometown under my belt, and some news of the upcoming new addition to the Sharpe line in December, I bid you adieu and the usual hope for the Bulls, Black Hawks, and some tears for those well and prosper.