If there is one suicidal shot pinball made, you could make the argument it was the release of Popeye.
While everyone thinks this was the times, Steve Ritchie adds an interesting take on the demise of pinball to a point, attributing this partially to Popeye.
While I think, and have wrote about this many times, that Popeye can be a good game with changes, there is no question that it was a complete and total disaster that should not have happened at the time. There are severe design flaws that, when you are someone like me who has torn into virtually every b/w game, you question if the same quality control was even sent a memo about this machine coming out.
Again, I like Popeye.... now, as a home collector, with many key physical changes, but as an attempt when it came out, the points Steve brings up here, in combination with the increase in home gaming, really paints a clear picture as to what happened.
Popeye killed off the powerhouse success that Williams had accomplished with one poorly planned machine.
Here it is:
“Some Popeye Facts and My Opinions and Recollections:
Barry Oursler designed the game, but it was Python's theme, including
the weird euphorics-influenced eco-connection.
Python was not, and never will be a game designer. He will SAY
anything, truthful or not. This is not to say that he didn't come up
with many good ideas for the games he worked on, but he never drew
anything more than sketches except when doing the artwork for the
playfield, back glass and plastics. A pinball designer makes a full
scale drawing of his games with all components shown. He does the
fitting of components and at least some of the mechanical
engineering. A pinball designer chases down and looks after every
component and mechanism on his game. He deals with a BOM, management,
and other members on the team. Barry was the designer of Popeye.
The game designer was not always the team leader of the pinball teams
at W/B/M. If another member of a team was more suited to carrying the
vision and dealing with other members, then he would take the reins
with the designer's permission. Barry liked to let others on his team
lead things. Steve Kordek, Chris Granner and Python were probably
the most influential on Barry's teams to my recollection.
Popeye was the game that followed ST:TNG. Popeye didn't make money on
the street. The theme was stinky and the geometry was funky, chunky
and clunky. No real players liked the hidden shots and generally poor
visibility that allowed function to follow form. Its hard-to-play
upper playfield didn't win it any friends. Graphics and art were just
nasty, and speech, sounds, script and music were less than stellar.
Popeye was expensive to build and carried hefty tooling and mold costs
that were never amortized. Williams lost money on Popeye, something
that hadn't happened for many many years prior.
The real reason that Popeye is/was universally despised was that all
of the Williams/Bally/Midway distributors were signed up to take
minimum amounts of every run of machines we manufactured. They were
not upset when they had to buy minimum quantities of ST:TNGs and other
titles, but they were very angry that they had to take a minimum # of
Popeye machines. To make matters worse, Willy raised the price of
Popeye! The theme was ridiculous. Who cares about Popeye? Popeye
was nothing in Europe (our second through fourth ranked markets) even
when it was fresh. Not one distributor cared for the license. We who
were in charge should have stopped the game, because we all knew that
it was a steaming pile well before it was released. There were
politics involved, and I seem to recall that we couldn't get anything
on the line quickly enough if we did not release Popeye to production.
The distributors were screaming and making threats of lawsuits and
dumping Willy as a represented manufacturer. Eventually Williams
canceled the minimums clause in their contracts with distribs. Popeye
had a very bad stigma attached to it for a long time which, of course,
was played up by our competitors. Some people say Popeye was "the
beginning of the end" of pinball at Williams. It was hard to sell
large runs of games after Popeye. The failure of pinball cannot be
blamed on Popeye, but it sure didn't help our business.
I do not agree that less people like wide bodies than regular width
games. They were harder to design because of the slightly larger
spans of time required for the ball to get to the targets. The worst
wide body width was Stellar Wars/Superman/Pokerino. Until I/we moved
the flippers and slings into the same familiar location as a narrow
body, they were really horrible in my mind. Some designers went crazy
with more flippers and more drain space between them! The outer orbit
shots were actually miserable to make because the ball was so far down
the flipper end in order to hit them. The ball doesn't carrying much
speed or power at that angle. The widest games are the ones that I
never want to make again. The Superpin width was/is much better. I
can design in at least one more shot in a Superpin width, and more and
larger toys can be utilized.
I do have to admit that my favorite playfield size to play and create
within is the standard 20-1/4" X 46" I would like to make a longer
(48") game someday, but it is not a high priority.
I don't enjoy dumping on others games, but don't try to tell me that
Popeye was a good game. If you enjoy playing it, that's certainly
your prerogative. Most Williams engineering/management folks don't
want to think about Popeye. It was an awful time in Williams