A BRIEF HISTORY OF THIS PROJECT from the producer, Greg Maletic:

For a couple of years, I'd had a Williams Revenge From Mars pinball machine sitting in my office at my company, Zero G Software. I'd become enamored with this particular game when I first discovered it in a Paris cafe in 1999, and it wasn't long after then that I'd tracked down a brand new one on eBay and started playing it voraciously. Revenge From Mars was one of Williams' intriguing "Pinball 2000" machines that used a reflected video monitor to paint "virtual targets" on the pinball playfield. (For details, click here.) It was real pinball—with steel balls, flippers, etc.—but it utilized the video in a very clever way, to enhance rather than distract from the pinball experience. After a couple decades of video game playing, it got me interested in pinball again.

The Revenge From Mars publicity flyer.
(Copyright WMS Industries, Inc.)

I became exceedingly protective of my Revenge From Mars machine, knowing that I harbored what was now an endangered species: after producing this incredible machine in 1999, Williams shut down its pinball division for good. Not a surprise, I guess. Hadn't pinball been suffering for decades? The number of players was dwindling, of course, and there was no way pinball could possibly hold anyone's interest as flashier videogames took over the market. Right?

Then a strange thing happened. I knew I loved pinball, but I wasn't expecting that the other Zero G employees (none of whom were die-hard pinball players) would become as obsessed with playing Revenge From Mars as I was. So much for lack of interest in pinball. And after some research, I found that the conventional wisdom claiming pinball had been dying for years was mistaken as well. Pinball's strongest sales year ever was in 1993, long after video games had made their debut. This led me to wonder...how could this amazing thing have failed?

With this realization, I knew I had found the subject for a great documentary: the story of Pinball 2000, the pinball machine designed by arguably the greatest pinball manufacturer in the world—Williams Electronic Games of Chicago, Illinois—in an effort to save the pinball industry from extinction.

In the process of lining up trips to Chicago to interview former Williams employees, I found an ex-Williams employee named Greg Dunlap who in fact was working on the exact same project I was. (This story was too appealing for it to be completely undiscovered, I figured.) We both realized that two documentaries about Pinball 2000 were one too many, and we combined our efforts. After a few months of work, time constraints forced Greg to drop out in late 2002, but Greg was kind enough to help me find the people I needed to speak with to make the documentary a success.

At the time of this writing, the completion of the documentary is within sight. It's been a great project, and I hope that people are surprised and enthused by what the Williams engineers created, and by this incredibly interesting story of technology innovation.

Here in Silicon Valley, technologies die every day. For the most part, no one's sad to see them go; the replacements are always better and faster. But with pinball threatening to disappear (one company—Stern—is doing its best to keep it alive) there is no replacement technology on the horizon. When you see a Pinball 2000 machine, you can understand what a loss this is. Pinball 2000 was a re-invention of an ancient product that wasn't just new technology grafted onto old. Conventional wisdom says that pinball is dead, but if you take a look at a Pinball 2000 machine, you won't think that anymore. It's easy to see how pinball could be exciting again.

Click to discover more about the people
appearing in The Future of Pinball!