Ah, the 70's - Disco, corporate rock, the Vietnam War, and the natural evolution of Pinball. A lot of these tables look much closer to the tables we are mostly familiar with. The flippers are similar in size with what we have usually seen but the drains have not been made universal. Scoring is still quite low but has gone up from Central Park and similar table that ony had 4-digit scoring. We’re now up to 5 digits, with a marker for 100,000. This is where Pinball Arcade started having tables from several major manufacturers and where we can see the game of pinball start getting the shape we all know and love.
Gottlieb’s tables are plentiful in this era - Big Shot, a retooled version of Hot Shot for two players, El Dorado, Centigrade 37, Jacks Open and Genie are all part of this era, and each depict a little bit of weird pinball that we will come to know from Gottlieb.
Big Shot itself isn’t the most bizarre but it features an extremely wide open play area, forcing the player to make extremely long shots in order to light up every ball for maximum bonus. The wide open area is a bit jarring to me because it’s hard to properly angle shots across such a distance, but I suppose the people who love that table love it because of that. El Dorado is kind of similar but there are more stops in the middle with drop targets that grant 5,000 when the light covering that drop target is lit, this being the defining mechanic of the table.
Centigrade 37 looks like a classic pinball table, but it does have an extra mechanic of the temperature rising as you hit targets and complete lit-up lanes. When the temperature reaches max and you hit a gate, you get an extra ball. Since the temperature never goes down, there is likely a limit on extra balls but I’ve never been able to attain it. Meanwhile, on Jacks Open, you have a center-placed line of drop targets that task you to perform hands ranging from pair of Jacks to the vaulted Royal Flush in order to light up extra points on the table.
Genie is where you start seeing Gottlieb’s attempts at wide tables which will continue well into the 80s and it is the “Gottlieb Ass Table” of this era. On the upper left, there’s a mini pinball area with drop targets that add to the bonus as well as a target that grants an extra ball when lit. There’s drop targets all over the place as well as targets that extra balls and specials. There’s lines that drop onto a giant bumper to the left of the table. There’s 5 flippers on the table in total and it is absolutely nuts. I don’t really care for it, but I can see that they threw everything they could think of at the kitchen sink to see what they could get away with. This is also the table that switches to digital to show score. Still, they keep to their old ways with 5 balls per play... in Pinball Arcade. The instructions on the table actually says 3 balls per play, so I’m guessing this one’s on Farsight rather than the actual table.
Bally’s representation in the 70's era for Pinball Arcade is on the oldest and the latest table - Fireball and Paragon. Both seem to indicate that, at least for these designs, Bally just felt the need to follow the leader. Fireball itself could be confused for a “Gottlieb ass table” and Paragon plays much more closely to a table made in the 80s than the 70s, marking a change in philosophy over at Bally.
Fireball is the earliest instance of Multiball found in Pinball Arcade, though accessing it is definitely hard. First, the player needs to land a ball in either (or both) of the Odin or Wotan gates. Then, they must hit the ball release bumper for the respective gate, releasing the ball (and also opening the flipper if they are closed). The whole closing/opening the flippers is also bizarre in and of itself, changing the flippers’ position when hit to completely cover the center gap or revert to a more traditional Pinball stance.
The transition from Fireball to Paragon shows that while mechanically the tables have changed - Tables used to be 5 balls, but they are now limited to 3 with far less chances to gutter out (although Paragon is kind of a misnomer there, thanks to the Beast’s Lair, a feature on the left side of the table that can outright bump you out of the play area) - The center gap is far less wide on that table and there’s a ton of other scoring features. More importantly, the scoring is now digital, with 6 spaces ensuring that the table does not rollover until hitting the million and unlike more modern tables, there is not a guaranteed million shot.
All in all, I am not really a fan of the Bally tables in this generation. While Fireball seemed inspired, it’s just a giant mess. Paragon seems like an attempt to make something cool, but the art design is kind of uninspired and bland cheesecake fantasy.
Much like Bally, Williams essentially has two tables in this era - Spanish Eyes and Gorgar. Gorgar was introduced all the way in Season 1 but Spanish Eyes is one of the last Williams tables that got added prior to losing the license. It’s absolutely a weird table at first glance. The gap is faily large, but there’s a giant bumper in the middle of the gap that will usually force the ball upwards when hit. The rest of the table handles like a regular ol’ stereotypical pin table where you try to do shots and score points. A trick though is that the area behind the flippers is NOT solid, so if the bumper knocks the ball inside that area, you’ve lost your ball as it’ll drain guaranteed.
Gorgar is a fun table, enough that it got a song dedicated to it on Helloween’s first album as well as using some of the voice clips from the game. At least in Pinball Arcade, this is the first time you will encounter voice as part of the pinball experience. The table itself is nothing to write home about - 3 balls per play, standard size gap, digital score display, but it’s sound direction is the herald of a bold new era of pinball - Tables will speak to you from this day forward, and they will say some really dumb stuff.
So, we reach the end of the ‘70s. Gottlieb’s doing weird stuff and keeping true to its roots, Bally seems to be playing follow the leader after seeing the success of Gottlieb’s pin tables and integrating that into their gambling operations, and Williams has entered the ring and will be making some money moves in the next era, but for now, Pinball is still scorin’ high in the minds of gamers but video games are just around the corner, and pinball is about to get a rude awakening.