Pinball Spotlight Series:
There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears, and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call … The Twilight Zone. Released in 1993, and designed by the one and only Pat Lawlor, Twilight Zone was the Lawlor’s followup to Addam’s Family (you know, only best selling pinball machine of all time, in case you were hit with a brick and somehow forgot). I have already covered Pat in previous spotlights for both Funhouse (1990) and for Addam’s Family (1992), so I won’t go too much further about him this time. If interested, check out my earlier spotlights for further information on this industry pioneer.
Twilight Zone was the first of the early 90s Bally/Williams series of widebody games, marketed at the time as “Superpins!”. A wide body, or “superpin” has a wider playfield and cabinet than the standard pinball dimensions. This allows for two main differences: 1) it allows the game designer to pack more shots, toys, and mechs into their playfield design by increasing the area in which they have to work with, and 2) it gives the pinball enthusiast the greatest gift imaginable; which is that it allows them to bitch that the game is a widebody, and (everyone together now) “….ALL WIDEBODIES SUCK!”
Art was done by John Youssi, back when he was allowed to do hand-drawn art, and it’s a stunning package. I really do miss seeing Youssi’s hand drawn work. He always seemed to be able to capture whimsy and fun, but his modern digital photographic art packages for Jersey Jack just bum me out. Not necessarily because they aren’t good; rather just that the man has much greater gifts than he has had the opportunity to showcase. Willy Wonka would have been epic if he had been able to draw it like back in the 1990s. But I digress, I love John Youssi’s work, and hopefully the future will allow him to spread his wings once more. He is a gifted artist, and he did the TZ theme justice here. The software was done by then rookie pinball coder Ted Estes, who sort of later became the unofficial king of widebodies having also worked on Demolition Man and Roadshow in the following years. Supposedly Ted had shown Larry DeMar (legendary pinball coder) at Williams a software program that he had developed that allowed him to take pinball ROMs and play them on his PC. Larry was impressed, and offered Ted a job. He got paired with Pat, and his first dive into pinball ended up being Twilight Zone. Not a bad start!
If you haven’t played a Twilight Zone, you need to find yourself down here to play it. It has many crazy mechanical gimmicks such as the functional gumball machine that dispenses pinballs when loaded, and sometimes a white ceramic ball instead, known as a “POWERBALL”. This feature is one of the most unique features of any pinball machine ever made. It’s significantly lighter than a standard steel pinball, and it totally changes the physics of the game. The goal is to return the powerball into the gumball machine for “Powerball Mania” which is an epic multiball mode. It also features an upper playfield with hidden magnets instead of flippers that are activated through the flipper buttons, and a functional clock on the playfield as well. There are also two magnets that will grab the ball in the spiral orbits, and stage the ball for shots off of the side flippers. There are subways, and unexpected kickouts, even a clever mech that takes the ball off of a ramp, flips it upside down, and leaves it in front of a mini side flipper for a chance at the Piano jackpot shot.
In summary, TZ pinball is a lot like the TZ TV show upon which it was based. It is strange, alluring, and richly detailed. Unlike anything that you have ever seen or played before. Both are often imitated, yet never duplicated, and both will stand the test of time as sterling examples of the greatest that their respective mediums have to offer. COME GET LOST IN THE ZONE!