Pinball Spotlight Series:
This is Williams’ Firepower – a game that was a smash hit upon release as it sold over 17,400 units making it the 5th best selling machine of all time! The man behind the game design was Steve Ritchie, who has since become an almost mythic figure in pinball history. He was the first great designer of the solid state era, and his design innovations had everyone else playing catch-up. Firepower was Ritchie’s sophomore game for Willams after another smash hit the year before (Flash 1979).
And it was groundbreaking. It was the first game to feature lane changing lights activated by flipper button control, allowing the player to move the unlit lane to where the ball was going. It seems small now, but all modern games have this feature. It’s now the standard. Playing a game where you can’t move the lanes just feels bad after this. But most importantly, it’s the first game with another now ubiquitous standard of pinball game design: MULTIBALL. Yep, Firepower was the first, now pinball just isn’t pinball without multiball play.
FP accomplished this with three saucer holes on the playfield that “lock” the ball in place until multiball starts. That is also where the term “locks” came from. It is still the term used for qualifying multiball in pinball to this day, despite the fact that it’s very rare that pinball machines actually “lock” a ball physically anymore and trap them on the playfield. Technology advanced but the name stuck.
Firepower also has animated display numerals, and a “shield” kicker to kick the ball back out of the outline and onto the playfield. A much appreciated feature to player because Firepower is a classic ass-kicker of a game. The two, 3-bank drops in the center are DEATH! Plus, the game has awesome sound effects and speech that really pull you into the gameplay.
But no essay on Firepower would be complete without mentioning the art. I guess that it’s got cool artistic composition with the jets firing missiles at a Death Star type planet and everything, but I am gonna be the one to say it: Constantino Mitchell (the artist) can’t draw, and the execution of the art package looks like it was cut out of construction paper. Seriously, his technique sucks. But even this is sort of endearing. It’s so bad it’s kinda good. Hmm, “interesting” is probably the best way to describe it. Come see it for yourself, Firepower is a true pinball classic!