Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Saturday, April 26, 2021

Stern Pinball, Inc. is a company that’s in about the most concentrated niche industry that’s possible:

But this place, Stern Pinball Inc., is the last of its kind in the world. A range of companies once mass produced pinball machines, especially in the Chicago area, the one-time capital of the business. Now there is only Stern. And even the dinging and flipping here has slowed: Stern, which used to crank out 27,000 pinball machines each year, is down to around 10,000.

That Chicago connection also played a big part in coin-op videogaming history. In fact, Stern Pinball’s predecessor company produced some 1980s-era arcade videogames. And cross-town rival company Williams went a step further, not only delving into videogames but in fact producing some of the more memorable and challenging games from that era, notably Defender, Joust, and (my personal favorite) Robotron: 2084. As much as Silicon Valley gets credit for birthing Atari, Chicago should get some credit for fostering some eminently playable classic videogaming.

As for pinball, I’m not one who’ll miss it’s eventual passing. I never could get into it. I don’t mind the concept of the ball as a free radical, but so much of the game forces you to be an observer — you watch the ball spring forth, bounce around for a minute or more on various bumpers and bells, and then maybe drop down to the flippers area. Then, even if you get a decent hit, you usually have to wait another several seconds for the ball to descend back down to you. Or, more likely, it drops down dead center, where all your hapless flippering can’t prevent the end of the turn. Woo-hee.

One aside: They still call it the “coin-op industry”. Do any arcade machines still even accept coins — last I noticed, they all had dollar bill feeders, and the newest models even have card-swipe slots. I guess soda and snack machines are part of this business, and they still take coins, so maybe they still justify the industry’s name.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 04/26/2008 05:23:17 PM
Category: History, Pop Culture, Videogames
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  1. The disciples seem to have left…

    Pinball is on the wane and CT doesn’t care: I never could get into it. I don’t mind the concept of the ball as a free radical, but so much of the game forces you to be an observer —……

    Trackback by dustbury.com — 04/29/2008 @ 08:08:34 AM

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