EARLY HISTORY OF VIDEO GAMES, PART 2
In my previous post (Part 1), I shared a bit of insight into the early days of “arcade gaming” with a history on bagatelle. I also briefly touched on pachinko. Let’s delve into that fun game a bit more, shall we?
Around 1930, in Nagoya, Japan, the Corinth game evolved into pachinko and gained popularity as an adult pastime. All of the parlors in Japan were closed during World War II, but the pastime showed up again in the late 1940s and has remained strong since. The very first commercial parlor opened in Nagoya in 1948, and you can still find pachinko parlors in Japan today.
While electronic arcades with pinball machines began appearing in the late 1970’s, pachinko machines remained mechanical until the 1980’s. And yes, “Plinko” (as seen on The Price is Right) is very much a form of pachinko. No wonder it’s one of the most popular games on the show!
Pinball machines also stemmed from bagatelle. Between 1750 and 1770, a variant was introduced called “Billard japonais” (or “Japanese billiards”) which utilized thin metal pins and a coiled spring and plunger (sound familiar?). Approximately 100 years after this invention, Montague Redgrave (a British inventor) filed a patent called “Improvements in Bagatelle” (US Patent #115,357) which added the spring launcher. At the same time, the size of the table shrank to fit on a counter top.
In the late 1920s and early-30’s, a few manufacturing companies began to produce coin-operated versions of bagatelle, which became known as “marble games” or “pin games” (having replaced the ball with a marble and the wickets with pins). The first of these was by Gottlieb. In 1931, ‘Baffle Ball‘ was released (click here for more). This machine sold for $17.50 and dispensed 5-7 balls for a penny. It did so well during the Great Depression (when people were seeking cheap entertainment) that it was in stores and pubs across the United States, with most locations rapidly recovering the cost of the machine.
One distributor, Ray Moloney, was having issues obtaining units of ‘Baffle Ball’ to sell and thus founded his own company: Lion Manufacturing. This is how ‘Ballyhoo‘ came to be. A game named after a popular magazine of the day. It had a larger field and more pockets- making it more challenging and thus more popular. He changed the name of his company to Bally to honor the success of his first game.
Through the 1930’s, electricity made these games more popular and more companies started up to manufacturer them (most of which were within Chicago- which has remained the pinball capitol since). During World War 2, all of the major manufacturers began working on equipment for the war effort. After the war, the need for entertainment drove a new era of pinball machines.
Gottlieb introduced ‘Humpty Dumpty‘ in 1947: the first game to add flippers to the game. It had three pairs of outward-facing flippers. The first machine to bear the pair of inward-facing flippers we know now was ‘Spot Bowler,’ which Gottlieb released in 1950. While many pinball companies existed then and now, Gottlieb dominated the post-war landscape and to this day, is considered to have some of the most collectible machines.
If one considers apes to be our distant ancestors, pinball machines and bagatelle can be thought of as the ancestors of modern-day video games.
While I’ve gone rather in depth as to the history of the mechanized gaming machines that came before modern day gaming, here’s a video with a brief history of pinball (including its time as an illegal activity!):
What is your earliest memory of pinball games? Did you visit arcades as a child? Share stories in the comments! We’d love to read and hear about your experiences.