Wait, Part 1? That’s right. While the other manufacturers had a reasonable amount of tables for this era, Williams has something like... 19 tables. That’s... a lot of tables to cover in one post. If I want to give Williams proper credit for their pin division (and they deserve it in this era, some of my favorite tables in the entire Pinball Arcade are here), I have to divvy up the posts.
Williams ended the ‘80s by making a power move in purchasing Bally/Midway’s pinball and video games division. This allowed them to bolster their arcade presence and more importantly acquire the talent that’d give them such a powerful presence in halls everywhere. Williams itself would end up selling its shares of Midway stock in 1998 and pull out of the Pinball business altogether in 1999 but we’re not there yet.
Much like every other manufacturer, Williams starts out this era alphanumeric solid state tables, and soon embraces the Dot Matrix display. Funhouse, the table displayed in the screenshot above, is an interesting romp inside the titular funhouse, where the goal is to, essentially tick off the talking doll Rudy by advancing the time to midnight, and then aiming a shot right into its stupid mouth. As far as playability is concerned, this table is interesting for beginners. The gimmick is nice, even though the voice clips aren’t, as it is difficult to unintentionally drain through a misaimed shot. Outlanes do exist, but hitting them isn’t frequent in my playthroughs.
This, unfortunately, is in stark contrast with Diner, the unofficial sequel and asset reuser, of the 80's Taxi. Some of the voice clips (namely, Boris) are directly reused from the previous table. Getting the jackpot is extremely difficult, and the clock multiplier does not help any matters. The table itself is kind of fun, but it’s fairly difficult to play for someone who’s just starting out.
Diner is not the only sequel in the Alphanumeric part of Williams’ manufacturing efforts. The Machine - Bride of Pin*Bot is the other and hoo boy is it ever a table. Getting the feature to trigger is a hell of an issue though. Getting the eyes onto the machine isn’t too bad, but getting both balls into the same part in order to get the metamorphosis is more difficult than it seems, and from there, it’s difficult. Draining is also very much a possibility due to the playfield being fairly narrow and with obstacles everywhere that’ll send the ball careening down the outlanes or the drain.
Whirlwind suffers from two problems. One is a personal one that’s related to its design - I absolutely hate anything that changes ball trajectory that isn’t controllable and that’s the entire gimmick of the table. The second has to do with one of the table’s features that cannot be emulated correctly. In order to truly make the player feel the sensation of being blown away, they placed some fans inside the machine that would trigger when reaching certain features. Unfortunately, for obvious reasons, that is not emulated correctly in Pinball Arcade and without those fans, this table is just a boring table with spinning discs.
The earliest tables you’ll find using Dot Matrix technology from Williams are Hurricane, a sequel to the 80's Cyclone and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. That’s right, an Arnold table, and this one is extremely fun. To simulate playing as the Terminator, you no longer use a plunger to fire the ball, but a makeshift gun that just sends the ball. The skillshot is no longer about carefully gauging the power necessary but rather about timing. As a table itself, the features are interesting, with lengthy loops, a wide-open playfield (which is a nice change from Bride of Pin*bot and other Alphanumeric tables) and several targets to hit that won’t nuke your gameplay early on. There’s also the beginnings of a ball save upon early drain.
Hurricane, much like Cyclone, is about as much fun as actually going to a county fair. Unfortunately, its’ problems lie more in Farsight’s decisions than the table itself. The ramps themselves are a bit stiff, but it’s hard to actually pay attention to the table and the spinning wheel, while an integral part of the table, does not need to be focused on at the expense of playability.
Since we’re on plunger-less tables, I must mention Fish Tales - A table that quickly became one of my early favorites, but one I’m kind of tired of playing. Proof positive that you could literally make a pin table with any subject and still have it be interesting, this table is all about spinning some yarn with your fellow fish enthusiasts. Several loops including a criss-cross, interestingly enough, a lot of targets and features that are accessible. It’s a good entry-level Dot Matrix table for people who are new to pinball.
In fact, the move to Dot Matrix was overall good for Williams. They developed their creativity and unleashed some craziness to pinball fans all over. Tables like White Water, based off rafting, had an interesting chute to the right of the table and it’s decent enough to play to boot.
Next, we’ll be covering the fall of pinball - Williams pulling out, and the last tables they did. Some of them outright becoming legends in their own right, such as Medieval Madness and Monster Bash. The former having so many mechanical parts such as pop-out trolls and the castle that it’s a wonder to even find a working one these days. After that... well, it’s gonna be a Stern future.