Non Sequitur Fridays

Pinball Obsession

This post is part of our Non Sequitur Fridays series, which will feature a different Wistia team member's take on a non-Wistia-related topic each week. It's like our "employee of the month" but less "of the month"-y. Ben Ruedlinger is VP of operations at Wistia. His last Non Sequitur was about rainbow loom. For further Wistian pinball reading, read Dan's post on pinball and why everyone needs a hobby.

My family got our first pinball machine when I was about 3 years old. It was an old electro-mechanical machine called Wizard! from 1975. From the moment it entered our house, I was absolutely hooked. I was so little at the time that I had to stand on a chair to be able to reach the flippers. It was from those hundreds (if not thousands) of hours of playing that machine as a kid that my love of pinball developed.

I grew up in the heyday of pinball. Going to arcades from the early 1980s through the mid-1990s, I feel incredibly lucky to have gotten to play many of the best machines ever made. I feel just as fortunate to have played many of the machines from that era that are not as remembered but were also extremely entertaining.

Based on this thirty-plus-year history playing pinball, here are my three favorite machines of all time.

High Speed (1986)

High Speed represented a turning point for pinball machines. Up until High Speed, pinball machines always had a theme associated with them, but not much more. High Speed took this a step further by having a story associated with the gameplay, engaging the player even more.

The story of High Speed is that you are driving a sports car. There are traffic lights around the playfield. The first major goal is to light all of the traffic lights in order (green, yellow, red). Then, you "run the red light" by shooting the ball up the ramp. At this point, the police are in pursuit, and you must get away. Once you "get away," multi-ball play begins and you really rack up the points.

Here is a video showing someone just as they are running the red light:

I remember being obsessed with this game because it was so incredibly immersive. Playing it at the age of 10 at our local bowling alley, outrunning the cops (even if it was only in a pinball machine) had a forbidden feeling to it. Even as adult, I feel a little bit of adrenaline each time I play this game and run the red light.

Medieval Madness (1997)

Widely regarded as the best pinball machine ever made, this machine really lives up to the hype. I was lucky enough to have this machine in the arcade at the MIT student center during my time there in the early 2000s.

The gameplay on Medieval Madness is top notch. There are many fun features, such as the catapult and the trolls that pop up in the middle of the playfield. The centerpiece of this machine is an animatronic castle that you must break into and then destroy. Upon completing the task, the castle "explodes":

Fortunately for pinball enthusiasts, a company in Chicago is remaking this machine. To be released at the end of 2014, it's supposed to be almost identical to the original Medieval Madness machines, which are some of the most sought after pinball machines around (and command some of the highest prices).

Metallica (2013)

Full disclosure: we have a Metallica machine in the Wistia office. As a result, I (we) may be a little bit biased.

Metallica is one of the latest releases from the top pinball manufacturer, Stern. Even though this machine was recently designed and built, one of the things that impressed me the most is that it has the same feel to it as the machines from the '80s and '90s.

The artwork and voiceovers on this machine are more than irreverent. You can choose from classic Metallica songs for your background music while being constantly insulted by James Hetfield and the gang. The themes of this machine are as dark as Metallica's music (think graveyards, coffins, serpents, and electric chairs). If you're easily offended, this is probably not the machine for you.

The thing I like most about this machine is that gameplay is really hard. Not just, "oh darn, better luck next time," but rage-quit inducing hard. Many of the shots are seemingly designed to tempt you into risky behavior that will cause you to lose the ball.

All that said, the gameplay is fantastic. They have layered games within games that allow you to strategize your gameplay less like a simple game of pinball and more like a game of chess. There are four separate multi-ball games each with a different flavor and a "Crank it up!" mode where you can score tens of millions of points. This is a machine that never gets boring and begs to be played every day.

Post Script

If you don't have the opportunity to play these games in the flesh, Pinball Arcade is definitely worth checking out. It's a pinball simulator available for Mac, Windows, or iOS, and many of the classic machines (including Medieval Madness and High Speed) are available to play. While definitely not as good as standing at a pinball cabinet and feeling the response of the machine as you play it, Pinball Arcade is still great fun.

Keep Learning
Here are some related guides and posts that you might enjoy next.