Despite some industry fears, video didn’t kill the pinball star. Flipper-fuelled action had been an arcade mainstay since long before the days of Pong, and pinball’s popularity was only enhanced by the flocks of kids entering arcades in the late 1970s for the latest round of Breakout or Space Invaders.
In 1979, Atari attempted to fuse the old school with the new, releasing Video Pinball to arcades everywhere.
To give the game an authentic feel, Atari designed a cabinet with a real 3-D playfield, lit up with LED’s and a blacklight, and illustrated with bright colours, stars, a cityscape and a disco couple.
The requisite bumpers, channels and bonus items were all permanent fixtures, but with the use of a mirror mounted in the game cabinet, the ball, flippers and drop targets were projected from a video screen onto the playfield.
Video Pinball played exactly like the real thing, complete with a plunger, flipper buttons, extra balls and other bonuses. The control panel even allowed players to nudge the ball by pressing down on it, being careful not to push their luck and get a Tilt.
The game had all the features and all the fun of a traditional pinball machine, but with so many real pinball machines still filling arcades, players preferred their video games with aliens or asteroids.
Atari released a version of Video Pinball for the 2600 home system, but no future arcade sequels were planned.