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October 2014 Retro Gaming Article


October 16, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

With an 18-square-foot playfield, Atari's massive Hercules Pinball table (1979) uses a cue ball!

Atari released it's 4-player Hercules Pinball table in May of 1979. It wasn't a tie-in project - it's name came from it's sheer size! Having an 18 square foot playfield, it is Herculean in proportions. It measures 39" wide by 93" deep and stands 83" tall. Many often refer to the size in relative terms, but I believe this table uses an actual cue ball - straight from any standard pool table.

I recently heard about this large pinball machine from a press release about the grand opening of the Replay Amusements Museum arcade in FL. They had a Hercules table and were touting it's size in order to draw crowds.

Atari's Hercules Pinball table References to this machine always include some mention of it's size, but never do we see "fast play" or "exciting challenge" in those mentions. In today's arcade era, this sort of machine may attract first-timers or those curious about it's size, but it won't generate much repeat play. The main complaint is speed. It's a slow table due to the large heavy ball - more novelty than playability. Some suggested it might be more fun with a tennis ball!

Atari's Hercules Pinball table It's size was the main attraction. Thus, as an earning machine, it didn't do well in localized arcades where boredom set in quickly. Tourist destinations or locales with higher player turn-overs could get by on it's novelty. Obviously, it took up a lot of space which didn't help it's earning factor when operators needed income from every inch of floor space.

Atari's Hercules Pinball flyer The other issue was repairs. Few of the parts were standard issue and it wasn't scaled up for durability. In other words that big cue ball wreaked havoc on the flippers and wore out many of the posts. It really wasn't designed for such a heavy ball. The novelty of a cue-ball was a nice touch, but the weight was part of it's demise.

This machine came in the early days of solid state electronics and evolved from it's electromechanical predecessor via Bally's, Bigfoot (1976). After a prototype was created, Bally opted out of production and sold the rights to Atari who turned it into Hercules. I'm guessing that many operators thought it's size would attract crowds without knowing much about it's slower game play and repair issues. Also at that time, floor space wasn't as much of a consideration as it would be in the next several years.

This machine is likely in more demand as a collectable item than it was an an arcade fixture in the early 80s. Sometimes "bigger is better" doesn't always pay out.

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