Physics? What’s That?

This table is seriously in the running for the weirdest pinball ever made.  Except for the cabinet design, you almost could call it something else.  Enter Orbitor 1.

It Can’t Roll That Way!

Imagine gravity and the rest of physics pretty much going out the window, and you’ve got the gist of Orbitor 1.  This game is unique in pinball history.  Not only was it the first to induce such bizarre behavior in pinballs, but no other table has ever gone so far out of the box as this one does.  There are spinning bumpers, magnets, and other kickers like slingshots which send the ball careening wildly around the playfield.  It’s almost impossible to predict where the ball will go, so a good strategy for this game is to simply try and keep the ball in play.  The playfield is very simple, but there’s a molded plastic piece over a moonscape layer underneath AND cool illumination from below, making this table an eye-catcher as well as a brain-twister.

Orbitor 1 has some other claims to fame, too.  It was the last game made by Stern Electronics before they went into video games in the early 1980s, but of course we know that Stern eventually came back to pinball and is still building some great new tables.  It did not include speech originally, but that feature was a mod that coudl be retrofitted.  The speech was not as novel as that in Gorgar, but at the time it was pretty neat.

As frustrating as the wild physics can be, this table does have one redeeming feature: minimum play time.  If you don’t keep the ball in play long enough, you get another ball to play.  This is a bit different different from the “ball save” feature on modern tables, and is more in line with the “sympathy ball” aspects found in some Williams games from the mid-80s.  What’s really interesting about this is that the minimum play time feature could not be disabled by the operator.  I’m sure there were a lot of operators who weren’t happy about that, but in the long run I think it was a good choice.  If a game is too difficult or frustrating to play, no one will play it.

I first encountered Orbitor 1 at an arcade called The Electric Palace in a mall way back in the early 1980s.  I had no idea it was as rare as it turned out to be–there were only 889 units built.  All I knew was it was space-looking and totally contrary to any pinball principles I knew at that time.  I played it often, and then didn’t see another copy until one turned up at Next Level Pinball, where I can be found playing it at least once every visit.  it’s simply too weird not to play!

I encourage people to play this machine anytime they find it.  It will be a humbling experience, and it may actually help you become a better player by focusing on making the best out of whatever situation the ball ends up in.