…is it a video game? …is it a pinball machine? …No! Its Video Pinball!

We recently visited The Pixel Bunker in Milton Keynes. Despite its name is it actually in room upstairs in the Sci-Fi and Film Museum which is due to open in the coming months. I will be writing a more detailed piece on The Pixel Bunker itself, but I wanted first to write about what I thought was the most interesting cabinet in the exhibit; Atari’s 1978 Video Pinball.

Video Pinball Cabinet
The Video Pinball Cabinet at The Pixel Bunker in Milton Keynes.

The game itself was a simple pinball simulator played on a black and white CRT screen with four flippers, two at the bottom and two half way up the screen; but what made it interesting was the overlay and controls. Instead of simply having a card or plastic surround, in an attempt to immerse the player in the game, Video Pinball actually had a mock-up of a brightly coloured pinball table suspended at the top of the cabinet which was reflected onto a mirror above the CRT screen. This gave the illusion of playing on a real pinball table. The screen itself was completely black apart from the ball and four flippers, which were white. The ball travelled in straight lines and changed direction when it hit a flipper, or when it appeared to make contact with the mirrored pinball table elements.

The controls consisted of two buttons – left and right flipper function – which were located on either side of the control panel and a metal pinball plunger located on the front, right-hand side of the panel used to ‘release’ the ball. These controls mimicked a real pinball machine and I have to admit I winced the first few times I used the plunger as it felt somewhat unnatural to be releasing a spring-loaded piece of metal towards a television screen! The final control element was the ability to push down on the control panel which simulated the ‘nudge’ function of a real pinball machine. Again, I wasn’t very keen on using this as I was worried about man-handling a 43-year-old piece of gaming history! Even with tentative nudging the game played really well and was really enjoyable. A very simple, yet fun game made all the more interesting with its hybrid mechanics – Definitely worth a play!

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