(Topic ID: 201953)

Poll: Your favorite Bally "Class of '81"?


By NicoVolta

1 year ago



Topic Stats

  • 45 posts
  • 33 Pinsiders participating
  • Latest reply 1 year ago by PopBumperPete
  • Topic is favorited by 11 Pinsiders

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Topic poll

“If you could only have one from Bally's "Class of '81"... which would it be?”

  • Flash Gordon 30 votes
    15%
  • Eight Ball Deluxe 48 votes
    24%
  • Embryon 8 votes
    4%
  • Fireball II 5 votes
    3%
  • Fathom 52 votes
    26%
  • Medusa 9 votes
    5%
  • Centaur 43 votes
    22%
  • Elektra 5 votes
    3%

(200 votes)

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PM03-cover-low-res (resized).jpg
mysticglass.jpg

#1 1 year ago

Bally's "Class of '81" represented the creative peak of the early SS-era. If you were trapped on a desert island (presumably with a solar panel and AC socket), which one would you pick to keep you occupied between catching fish and signaling planes and boats?

#2 1 year ago

Best year in pinball history

20
#3 1 year ago

Interesting... if you look at the production counts for Bally, you'll see how the story played out:

1974 - First SS prototypes: Bow and Arrow (17) and Flicker (1) using the "Bally Brain" Intel 4004 - world's first single-chip processor.

1975 - Wizard! With over 10,000 produced, "Tommy" license, and huge backglass w/commercial-quality art... this was the blockbuster which announced to Gottlieb (and the rest of the pinball world) that Bally was, indeed, now taking over the industry. Bow & Arrow also produced this year in high quantity (over 7600). Bally's excellent solid-state hardware platform is already primed for production.

1976 - Bigfoot concept (2 produced), an obvious early ancestor of Atari Hercules. Other games produced were Flip Flop, Old Chicago, Hokus Pokus, Aladdin's Castle, Night Rider, Hang Glider, Captain Fantastic (another blockbuster... over 16k produced!), and Freedom which was also the first commercial SS produced in quantity. Black Jack was slated for solid-state production and thus the EM version only had 120 produced... a sign of things to come. Also let's not forget how much solid-state practice Bally was getting via the Fireball home edition - a stupendous 10,000 produced!

1977 - Bally EM phase-out year! Only 155 Evel Knievel and 170 Mata Hari EM's built. "Kick Off" (prod 1655) used up the last of the EM parts. Meanwhile, TWO blockbusters this year... Evel Knievel 14,000 and Eight Ball setting a new all-time record with a massive 20,230 produced... which is why you always see so many on Craigslist! 7000 for Night Rider and nearly 5000 for Black Jack as well. The SS production machine is cranking 'em out like never before.

1978 - Bally EM's now totally gone except bingos (last big year for them). SS pinball hitting full throttle... every game released this year at least 10,000 production run! Skateball prototype built. Power Play. Mata Hari. Strikes and Spares. Lost World. Six Million Dollar Man. Playboy is the biggest seller topping 18,000 which in total makes a staggering 81,730 produced by Bally in '78... holy moly and still not the top!

1979 - First year for widebodies: Paragon followed by Future Spa. Bally still producing games in huge numbers with the exception of Voltan at only 365. Star Trek. Kiss. Harlem Globetrotters. Supersonic. Dolly Parton. Not to be outdone by the previous year, 1979 still stands as Bally's all-time pinball production peak at 81,967.

1980 - Production slows a little but is still healthy at 61,000 for the year. Blockbusters are Silverball Mania, Space Invaders, and Xenon but barely top 10,000 apiece. Hotdoggin' was the second widebody of 1980... only 2050 made. Nitro Ground Shaker. Rolling Stones. Mystic. Viking. Skateball. Frontier is the rarest at only 1850.

1981 - THE peak of the early SS-era and our beloved "Class of '81": Flash Gordon, Eight Ball Deluxe, Embryon, Fireball II, Fathom, Medusa, Centaur, Elektra. By now, Bally's creativity was on full boil and seemed unstoppable. HOWEVER... behind the scenes pinball production had nearly dropped in half to 36,200 for the year. Most of which only reach the 2500-3500 range except Eight Ball Deluxe at 8250 and Flash Gordon barely hitting 10,000. Alert! Video games are eating pinball's lunch!!!

1982 - Bally's pinball division is desperate for a breakout hit to stem the video game tsunami. They make wild swings in every direction... unfortunately missing the mark nearly every time. Vector (Vecturd) is a committee-kludge of a game. Spectrum is extremely innovative, albeit not very fun. Bally resorted to making some outright copies (Rapid Fire as Hyperball clone, Baby Pac-Man as Caveman clone). BMX had promise but was scrapped after only 406 made (was reborn in '87 as Hardbody). Speakeasy was a throwback to old EM roulette wheel games but wasn't that fun, and Eight Ball Deluxe LE was re-released for a quick buck to use up spare Rapid Fire cabs. Overall, not looking good... nearly 34,000 produced but most are duds and the Titanic is sinking fast.

Biggest irony of '82? The only pinballs which sold in significant quantity were video game licenses: Mr. & Mrs. Pac-Man and Baby Pac-Man. Ouch. The vids won. They would be Bally's last two games to reach near-blockbuster status... by a longshot.

In my opinion, this is the exact moment when Bally's momentum ran off the railroad tracks. Oh, but what a glorious ride it was. *sniff*

Looking a bit further ahead...

1983 - The video game crash nearly takes the entire pinball industry down with it. Fewer than 5000 Bally pinballs in total were made this year and only two were originals: Grand Slam and Gold Ball... blech! Another re-release, Centaur II, used up the last of the Rapid Fire cabs.

Subsequent games were generally of dubious quality and had low production runs (rarely exceeding 2500). If the Bally magic was struggling in '82, it was gone for good by '83... but never forgotten.

Williams, meanwhile, spent their early years messing around with goofy amateurish spaceship and D&D themes and hadn't managed to ramp up a single production game beyond 10,000 until as late as 1979. A few memorable breakout hits like Firepower, Gorgar, and Black Knight finally emerged, but overall Williams was unable to keep pace with the Bally juggernaut during the early years. 1981's numbers barely topped 15,000 in total and from 1982 through late 1984 Williams barely produced any pinball whatsoever!

Yet, somehow, in late 1984, completely against the odds, Williams turned the tables and surpassed Bally's commercial quality art, gameplay, and innovation with a brilliant and beautiful game. A game which blasted Williams solidly into first place, reinvigorated the entire pinball industry, and never looked back.

That game would be Space Shuttle. Ah, but that is another story...

#4 1 year ago

Still not sure if Medusa or Centaur would be my second-place choice after Fathom. Would need to own both and play them a lot to be certain. Anyone wanna loan me a pair for a year or so?

#5 1 year ago

Wow very informative thank you for that....I've had EBD for a few years now but just picked up a fully restored Fathom and waiting on a fully restored Frontier which should be another week away. I thought EBD was my favorite but Fathom is another level above imo. Let's see how Frontier fits in with these other nearly if not perfect machines. Yes I love WH20 and AFM but have some friends over and turn the jukebox on. Non pinheads will almost always turn to the simple games which can be understood very quickly and you don't need the music off to enjoy them as long as you can hear the games a little above the music just like the arcades were back in the day! It's pinball perfection and sometimes simple is better and less is more. 1980 & 81 were great years but 81 was the pinnacle.

#6 1 year ago

What a magic line up for Bally from this year. I'm a fan and lucky enough to own 2 machines from the list; a Fireball II and a Flash Gordon.

Flash Gordon is one of the best classic pins ever. But even the Fireball II, probably the least popular of Bally's class of 1981, is very fun and extremely beautiful. It's Dave Christensen's final piece of art in pinball.

#7 1 year ago

Flash Gordon !

#8 1 year ago

I enjoy playing embryon over the others but think fathom and centaur art are great.

Class of 80 was impressive as well

#9 1 year ago

I voted EBD. The early 80's were the best years for pinball.

#10 1 year ago

I am having a hard time deciding between Fathom and Centaur as my favorite. Fathom looks great, love the theme, and when I recently played it really liked the way it played (much better in person than on Pinball Arcade), but I've always had a fondness for Centaur. Love how it looks (black and white and the creepy theme), the reverberating deep voice, and the way it adds multiballs (orbs) are all pluses for me. I wish I could own both of them.

#11 1 year ago

Eightball deluxe all day long!

Fathom would be second for sure.

#12 1 year ago
Quoted from Pmaino:

Eightball deluxe all day long!
Fathom would be second for sure.

But Pete, you haven't even made it over to play Fathom yet ? Don't worry you'll see! Lol

#13 1 year ago

Man... What a decision. I really like Embryon because it has such a unique feeling playfield. Centaur is exceptional, and I think by all accounts, it might be the superior title. The black and white artwork contrasted with the colored inserts has never been done before or after, to my knowledge. And the multiball and shot precision needed are superb.

The only ones that I really don't like so much are Eight Ball Deluxe and Fireball II. I feel really bad saying that, but to me, they're just not as interesting as the others.

#14 1 year ago

Nice write up. I have a Centaur which is never leaving, and an Elektra that I'll probably sell. Would like a Flash Gordon. Hated it in the arcade but only because it was too hard. Didn't give it a chance.

btw Paragon was the first Bally widebody, and was produced before Future Spa.

#15 1 year ago
Quoted from RoyGBev:

btw Paragon was the first Bally widebody, and was produced before Future Spa.

Oops... sometimes sorting by date doesn't line up quite right via IPDB. Also "manufacture date" vs. "project date" sometimes messes things up (I go with manufacture date).

Corrected!

#16 1 year ago

There are extra Bally games that are missing from this list, if you "roll the clock" back by only a few months in manufacture, not years. Many titles used the Bally AS2517-35 or Stern M-200 MPUs very effectively and to their maximum limit.
My preference is Mystic, and not for exclusively for preference of the artwork, but the gameplay and ruleset which are equally comparable. I give special note and mention to Mystic early production examples that included the 3D illusion "all seeing eye" insert and reversed cabinet colors.
People may not realize quite a few titles in the past 30+ years took inspiration from this George Christian designed game in terms of both rulesets, artwork, and gameplay style, but it is often overlooked.
mysticglass.jpg

Added 17 months ago: Mystic is classified as a "1981 Bally" by pinball historians as production commenced in June 1980, and concluded in March 1981.
Its production run was not insignificant or small at 3950 units, which was HIGHER and MORE SUCCESSFUL than Fathom or Centaur.
It uses the EXACT same board and functionality of games such as Fathom, Centaur, Eight Ball Deluxe, and other mentioned titles.

#17 1 year ago

Fathom...between arguably the best art package of all time coupled with awesome gameplay that includes multiball. Hands down my favorite....and I own several of the other candidates on this list.

I've never played Mystic...looks like a challenging/fun game.

#18 1 year ago

Sooooo tough. I love the variety of shots and the difficulty of Flash Gordon the most but EBD and Fathom aren't far behind for me.

#19 1 year ago
Quoted from xTheBlackKnightx:

There are extra Bally games that are missing from this list, if you "roll the clock" back by only a few months in manufacture.

True... this was originally a cut-n-paste effort from my notes a few years ago when I was building historical data to help me learn about the games I personally liked.

I'll add the missing solid-state stragglers so it can be a more complete reference.

#20 1 year ago

I had the complete set. In order I'd go
Fathom
Centaur
Flash Gordon
Embryon
EBD
Fireball 2
Elektra

#21 1 year ago

Voted Centaur. True desert-island scenario I would probably choose EBD, but from an ownership standpoint in the real world (as I own none of them) I would pick Centaur. Too many EBD clones (LE, Bad Girls, Sharkey's Shootout) for me to feel it special to have the '81 version. Centaur is unique.

Flash Gorden would be close... I like it a lot. But I think Centaur is a better game.

#22 1 year ago
Quoted from epotech:

I had the complete set. In order I'd go
Fathom
Centaur
Flash Gordon
Embryon
EBD
Fireball 2
Elektra

No Medusa?

#23 1 year ago
Quoted from DennisK:

Voted Centaur. True desert-island scenario I would probably choose EBD, but from an ownership standpoint in the real world (as I own none of them) I would pick Centaur. Too many EBD clones (LE, Bad Girls, Sharkey's Shootout) for me to feel it special to have the '81 version. Centaur is unique.
Flash Gorden would be close... I like it a lot. But I think Centaur is a better game.

Centaur is great... I just can't decide if Medusa is better or not. Need to play more to be sure.

Fathom edges out Centaur and EBD for me because I get two paths of in-line drop targets (one of which is awesome to hit across the top), a spinner, multiball (though Centaur's 5-ball is insane for '81!), two rows of drops, and just a beautiful unusual theme.

Flash Gordon... damn. Hate that sumbitch. Such cool art. Such unforgiving gameplay. Really, the game should either give you a credit when pushing start or pop open the coin box and punch you in the stomach at random.

#24 1 year ago

Most listed are awesome pins, but I had to go with centaur. So many ways to get multi-ball going. One of my favorite pinballs.

#25 1 year ago

Very cool Bally info. Fireball II for me, but they are all good. 81 was a great year. I was 15 and it was a good time to be alive. Music was good too.........

#26 1 year ago
Quoted from NicoVolta:

I just can't decide if Medusa is better or not. Need to play more to be sure.

The secondary concept of "zipper flippers"...
Unfortunately, in this case this feature was timed.
When Wally Welch designed this game, he consulted Jim Patla directly, to whom was Thaddeus Zalewski's (Ted Zale) protege.

Sometimes pinball history is a circle, and innovations are not always what they seem.

#27 1 year ago
Quoted from DennisK:

Voted Centaur. True desert-island scenario I would probably choose EBD, but from an ownership standpoint in the real world (as I own none of them) I would pick Centaur. Too many EBD clones (LE, Bad Girls, Sharkey's Shootout) for me to feel it special to have the '81 version. Centaur is unique.
Flash Gorden would be close... I like it a lot. But I think Centaur is a better game.

This is exactly how I would have written my response (except that I do own both of them). Centaur is just uber cool.

#28 1 year ago
Quoted from NicoVolta:

Centaur is great... I just can't decide if Medusa is better or not. Need to play more to be sure.
Fathom edges out Centaur and EBD for me because I get two paths of in-line drop targets (one of which is awesome to hit across the top), a spinner, multiball (though Centaur's 5-ball is insane for '81!), two rows of drops, and just a beautiful unusual theme.
Flash Gordon... damn. Hate that sumbitch. Such cool art. Such unforgiving gameplay. Really, the game should either give you a credit when pushing start or pop open the coin box and punch you in the stomach at random.

I actually don't enjoy Medusa very much. Some cool ideas, but I've never enjoyed shooting it.

As for Flash Gordon, I have often had to question if I like the idea of a game that punishes you even when you *make* the shots that are ideal. But then I drop another quarter in it, so I guess the answer is "yes" and thus my internal questioning is pointless.

Looking at the list, I actually have no memory of ever playing Embryon. Surely I did somewhere, but I don't remember it.

#29 1 year ago

Concensus is that Fathom is the better playing game but I gotta go with Centaur. Amazing artwork, sound fx and light fx, and the evil reverb speech just puts it right over the top.

Quoted from bonzo442:

But Pete, you haven't even made it over to play Fathom yet ? Don't worry you'll see! Lol

Mike have you unpacked Fathom yet or still waiting to open it in Florida?

#30 1 year ago

My favorite year of pinball! Fathom for the desert island pin win, then Centaur, EBD, Embryon, Flash Gordon. Over the years 3 EBDs, 2 Fathoms, 2 Embryons and Flash Gordon have left the collection. My Fathom is waiting for me to get my act together for the swap and the Centaur already has a gold cpr playfield installed.

#31 1 year ago

I'm biased as I have only played and own Elektra, so it's all I have to go on, but the important thing is I love the game as it's tough as nails and the sound is phenomenal.

#32 1 year ago

Interesting thread. Bally's hey day is discussed in-depth in Pinball Magazine No. 3. A lot of Bally's success in those days can be pinpointed to one man: Tom Nieman, who is featured in PM03 besides Jim Patla and Kevin O'Connor. Tom Nieman invented licensing in pinball and it made Bally the No. 1 pinball manufacturer, while they had been struggling and were basically number 4 in line prior to that. Early 80's Tom Nieman got promoted to video and nobody took over his licensing duties. That explains the lack of licensed titles after '80 or so. The fact that Bill O'Donnell had to step down didn't help either as it appears it left the company without a clear direction. Video took of and pinball sales tumbled down. Interestingly when pinball came back due to Space Shuttle and High Speed, Roger Sharpe got into licensing, which resulted in a new golden era in pinball.

For those interested: Pinball Magazine No. 3 can be ordered in the Pinball magazine webshop: www.pinball-magazine.com/shop, or even here through the Pinside marketplace.

PM03-cover-low-res (resized).jpg

#33 1 year ago

81 also has many problems from keepers in a collection. I think right now I have Centaur , EBD, Fathom, Embryon, Flash Gordon, Medusa, Embryon. For my 80's I have Skateball, NGS, Mystic, Frontier, Viking, Stones. I would take the 1980 classic sterns and my 1980 Bally over my 81's but I am lucky to been able to own many of them. The 81's have some funky rules that just didn't get them quite there. The personalities of the games are amazing. Centaur - The whole lock ball and inlanes make the game a snore fest for anyone slightly good at pinball Too much multiball, just too much. Thanks god someone produced new ROMS. Fathom and the relock of the multiball. What were they thinkin'?. Horrible rules. Embryon is seriously cool. I like the game and still play it alot. EBD is a great game but geez thank god you can shut off Extra Ball. If I here shoot the "C" or "D" one more time I am going to break the backglass. At least you can spot both and shut up "Chet". Still hitting 70k over and over gets old. We still play it quite a bit though. Loved by all. Medusa is such a cool game and alot to shoot for. But "Klunky"/ All of them were much enjoyed back in the day but for the critical pinball player there is no better games then Mystic and Frontier. The most difficult and balanced games. I am fotunate to have owned my Bally's for many, many years so I am very familiar with the games, rules and how they last in a collection.

I realized over time "Sometimes I think NOT owning the 1981 Bally games actually make them a better game then owning them".

But hey these were some fantastic years to be in the arcade and I was fotunate to work for an op and open many of them NIB back in the day. Those were awesome days!!! We thought they were just amazing machines......and they were.

#34 1 year ago

Mike have you unpacked Fathom yet or still waiting to open it in Florida?

Fathom is unpacked and beautiful. We were in contract for a house in Naples Florida when hurricane Irma damaged the house. We've now decided to stay in NY

#35 1 year ago
Quoted from bonzo442:

Wow very informative thank you for that....I've had EBD for a few years now but just picked up a fully restored Fathom and waiting on a fully restored Frontier which should be another week away. I thought EBD was my favorite but Fathom is another level above imo.

I'm in the same boat as far as my EBD and Fathom as you know Mike, but I'm not ready to coronate the latter as the new king yet.

EBD still the champ for me with Fathom a very close 2nd. Centaur is my third choice.

#36 1 year ago
Quoted from unigroove:

Interesting thread. Bally's hey day is discussed in-depth in Pinball Magazine No. 3. A lot of Bally's success in those days can be pinpointed to one man: Tom Nieman, who is featured in PM03 besides Jim Patla and Kevin O'Connor. Tom Nieman invented licensing in pinball and it made Bally the No. 1 pinball manufacturer, while they had been struggling and were basically number 4 in line prior to that. Early 80's Tom Nieman got promoted to video and nobody took over his licensing duties. That explains the lack of licensed titles after '80 or so. The fact that Bill O'Donnell had to step down didn't help either as it appears it left the company without a clear direction. Video took of and pinball sales tumbled down. Interestingly when pinball came back due to Space Shuttle and High Speed, Roger Sharpe got into licensing, which resulted in a new golden era in pinball.
For those interested: Pinball Magazine No. 3 can be ordered in the Pinball magazine webshop: http://www.pinball-magazine.com/shop, or even here through the Pinside marketplace.

And yet Ballys best year, 1981, only had one licensed game

Just proves a killer theme will work

#37 1 year ago
Quoted from Tuna_Delight:

I'm in the same boat as far as my EBD and Fathom as you know Mike, but I'm not ready to coronate the latter as the new king yet.
EBD still the champ for me with Fathom a very close 2nd. Centaur is my third choice.

Hey Tim yea I'm sold on Fathom, don't think it's just a honeymoon phase either. More ways to score setting up MB's with the two inline traps, light spinner target which doubles as extra ball with 10 seconds to hit it, awesome! Easy on the eyes as well but EBD no slouch, it's close.

#38 1 year ago

I've had 2 EBDs, 3 Embryons, 1 Centaur and an Elektra.
Just can't stop playing Embryon

#39 1 year ago

Yes, you can't go wrong with most of there choices. But Fathom is an over-all killer for play, toys (for the day like inline drops) and looks.

Centaur and EBD are up there. I think Centaur edges EBD for being that bit different play and art wise.

FG is a killer short game, Medusa way different game with that "get it up top" panic. (I just wish I could get the skill shot down)

What a killer year.

#40 1 year ago

From that year, Eight Ball Deluxe. I really miss my Embryon, but EBD is a better game.

Bally had so many great games then, as did Stern. Good stuff.

#41 1 year ago

EBD was not only the best Bally pin of 1981, it's the best Bally pin ever produced... PERIOD!

While it's true that 1981 was the best year for early SS Bally pins and represents the peak of the golden age of pinball, video games were a new novelty that definitely ate into pin sales.

There were several great titles from 1981 but all of them (including Fathom) took a back seat to Eight Ball Deluxe. I remember driving miles out of our way as teenagers just to go to an arcade or bowling alley that had Eight Ball Deluxe. No other pin could motivate use to do anything even close to that.

#42 1 year ago

I'm going to cheat and say Fathom, because I could always get one of the later-run 8BDLEs or Centaur IIs.

#43 1 year ago

Totally agree with Gatecrasher, EBD. Best Bally pin ever? Yes. Never, ever get tired of playing it.

#44 1 year ago

Quit talking and start chalking......

#45 1 year ago

Back in the day, when ever I saw an EBD or Centaur, id play the game. Both are great , but for different reasons.

Flash Gordon unforgiving style makes it a harder game to master

Medusa is different

Only recently played Embyon, wide body but did not feel like it

The others I have never played

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