The resurgence of pinball
A few days ago, I was strolling through a shopping mall looking for a birthday gift for a loved one. The place is a large open-air gallery; no doubt it is a bad choice to visit it in the middle of summer at noon. The heat was really oppressive, so I decided to take a break and go to a bar in search of refreshments. I looked around, and in one corner loomed an industrial-style brewery. As I entered, my eyes fell on something I hadn’t expected to find: A lighted pinball table. I greeted the waitress and immediately asked if the Pinball was operational, but unfortunately, it was out of order.
Anyway, my enthusiasm continued, and I took some pictures to send to my father, a fan of this type of machine in his youth and responsible for instilling in me his fanaticism that led me to spend endless hours in front of the PC playing with table simulators. The theme of the game was Hook, Captain Hook. My curiosity led me to inspect the entire table in search of the name of the manufacturer until I found it: “Data East.” A Japanese engineering company that lived its heyday in the 1980s and decided to venture into the manufacture of Pinballs in 1987, a division that would sell to Sega in 1996, and in turn, Sega would be divested in 1999 and would be acquired by the Stern family that, believe it or not, continues to manufacture pinball tables today.
It was a lot of information in a very short time, but while I drank my beer and waited for my hamburger, I could continue researching. That’s how I discovered that pinball tables were banned in New York and other US states in the 1940s because they were considered gambling machines. It turns out that at that time, Pinball machines had a very basic operation that was operated by a pair of levers. The ball was launched and could enter through different holes, and each one of them meant a prize in coins. In fact, International Game Technology (NYSE: IGT), one of the main manufacturers of slot machines in the world, has a model called “Pinball Double Gold” in homage to the kinship that existed between this type of machine.
A hunt of disproportionate proportions began. The pinball machines became gambling machines that were easily accessible to children; therefore, it was not enough to simply kidnap them; a media show was needed, including throwing them into the river and destroying them with large sledgehammers. In addition, the USA was entering the Second World War and needed to gather as much metal as possible for the manufacture of armaments, and the pinball tables worked precisely with copper and nickel coins.
Decades passed before the prohibition was lifted. Arcade machines flooded the arcades, demonstrating that electronic and mechanical games could be used for the simple fact of demonstrating skill without obtaining any economic prize. But while the electronic entertainment industry was turning to the manufacture of video game machines and the companies were leaving aside the manufacture of Pinball to manufacture Arcade machines, the company Stern Electronics would do the opposite precisely, leaving the manufacture of video games and buying Sega’s Pinball division.
This is how Stern Pinball Inc was born, which today is perhaps the only reference in the manufacture of high-quality Pinball tables. Its work team, made up of veteran designers and expert players, added to the experience of technology director Erica Frohm, who participated in several successful projects of International Game Technology (NYSE: IGT), giving life to the most spectacular tables with themes of movies, video games, rock bands, sports and prestigious brands. The tables were so successful that video game manufacturer FarSight Studios recreated them in digital format and released the “Stern Pinball Arcade” video game for PC, Nintendo, Playstation and Xbox.
Nowadays, the market for Pinball tables continues to be very wide. It is enough to check social networks to find communities of buying and selling second-hand tables, tournaments of official organizations and collectors who invite us to see in detail the machines in their possession. Sometimes I am surprised when I discover artifacts from past decades that continue to be in force today, but the truth is that they never disappeared, but it is oneself who, overwhelmed by technological advances, quickly forgets the past until nostalgia shakes our body and soul.