Pinball Spotlight Series:
Pinball Spotlight Series: This is Fishtales released by Williams in 1992. The game was designed by the greatly underrated Mark Ritchie, brother of legendary pinball designer Steve Ritchie, whom we have previously covered in our Spotlight series on Firepower. Mark is a fantastic pinball designer perhaps best known for criss-crossing of ramp shots that he implemented in games like Taxi, Kingpin, and of course this game. The story is that the concept for the theme of Fishtales came to life at a bar in near the Williams factory named Oinker’s (YES!), from conversations between Pat McMahon (artist), Mark Ritchie (lead game designer), and the mythic Python Anghelo (deserving of his own Pinball Spotlight at some future point, given a co-designer credit on this pin). They ended up chartering a fishing trip out on Lake Michigan, getting hammered on a boat, and telling tall tales. They spent the whole time, in between drinking and occasionally fishing, fleshing out the concepts that would later become Fishtales. They returned home, and after nursing through their hangovers, got to work developing the game.
Fishtales is Mark’s best selling game design, with 13,640 units sold (astronomical numbers by today’s standards), and it isn’t hard to see why. The center boat ramp/playfield is immediately apparent and enticing to the player. Pat’s art package is hilarious, outlandish, and over the top, and is also probably the best work of his career. The fishing reel ball lock mech is inspired genius, and a rad interactive feature. Games like Fishtales, Attack From Mars, Medieval Madness, and Whitewater are what made the Bally/Williams 90s games so great, and are the pinnacle of unlicensed, original IP games complete with inspired sound, art, and animation packages to match. Speaking of sound…
Chris Granner was the sound and music programmer on this pin, and he really did some of his best work ever on it. What he teased out of that little Yamaha chip is unreal! Chris is an absolute legend, easily the best to ever do sound in pinball, and this is probably his magnum opus (YOU HEARD ME). The bluegrass score is perfectly matched to the theme, and is varied, bouncy, light, and playful. The sound package is very immersive, and a great showcase of the power of sound in a pinball machine. The sound as it builds through boat combo shots is a master class in how to make shots feel more valuable.
Our Fishtales has the infamous “Lightning Flippers” installed, just as they came from the Williams factory. Lightning flippers are 3/16ths of an inch shorter than the standard pinball flippers used on most modern games, and get their name for the lightning bolts molded on top of them. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1993) also utilized these smaller flippers. Mark Ritchie has said that he designed the game with standard flippers but that those were changed after a very large distributor in France played an early version of the game claimed the game was too easy and long playing for the European market. Williams developed these slightly shorter flippers to appease this distributor, and to sell more games overseas (the European market was HUGE at this time, roughly said to be about 60% of total pinball sales). It must have worked, because this game was a big hit. Although there is still debate to this date as to what flipper is best. Personally, I like the added challenge. Come down and see for yourself!