Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Pinballz Arcade in Austin, Texas (and the Quest for Sea Wolf Complete!)

Greetings fellow video game enthusiasts! Sorry for the long delay since my last post, Mrs. MP and I spent the last 9 days or so wandering semi-aimlessly around the American Southwest in an RV. A nice respite from the dull daily demands of work that have now refixed their grip upon me. 

But just because I was knee-deep in non-electronic nature don't think for a minute that I wasn't able to work in SOME gaming. The very first day of the trip brought us through Austin which provided the perfect opportunity to check out the great new arcade up there - Pinballz!

Pinballz opened late last year in a 13,000 square foot facility and boasts a huge collection of new and old video games, pinball games, redemption games, and other arcade favorites like foosball, skeeball, air hockey, etc. and I'll tell you right now that I am already looking forward to my next visit.

As the name implies they have a GREAT selection of pinball machines. As I walked around I immediately saw all the classics - Medieval Madness, Twilight Zone, Addams Family, Taxi, Tales of the Arabian Knights, Gorgar, Fire!, Doctor Who, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Attack from Mars and tons more. They also had all the latest ones such as Iron Man, Lord of the Rings, Elvis, Batman the Dark Knight, Indiana Jones, Big Buck Hunter and Avatar.  I didn't see the brand new Rolling Stones pin anywhere yet but I would assume it is on their buy list.

I even got to play a fun pin I'd only seen once before in a Baltimore crab house/arcade called Twister (based on the movie). It has a fan mounted to the back that blows when the storms pick up and a spinning magnetic disk that spins like a tornado and redirects the balls that cross it. What's really cool is when you get a 5-ball multiball and all the balls get magnetized to the spinner and it spins around like wild until the bundle flies apart and balls go everywhere. Amazingly my wife beat me at it on three straight games - and by beat I mean SLAUGHTERED! She was like a Twister savante. She played as if she could play the game with her eyes closed, in fact I'm fairly certain she did just that on several occasions so I have no idea how she defeated me so handily, but she absolutely crushed me. Her unprecedented victories lent a unique twist to the visit - and hopefully also helped her cope for the evening with my incessant need to play games.

All the pins I played were in excellent condition - they looked and played great.  So needless to say, if you like pinball you should most definitely check out this place if you get a chance. You can see their current list of over 80 pinball games HERE.

But as much as I love pinball I've always been more of a video game guy and thankfully they had over 50 of those on hand as well!  You can check out their full list of video games HERE, HERE and HERE.  There was a nice variety of games and just like with the pins, most of the arcade cabinets were in excellent condition.

All the video games required at least 2 quarters to play which was a bit of a turnoff for me since back in the day when I did most of my playing everything was a single quarter - so pushing in two of them removed me from the nostalgic ambience a bit, but no big deal. I was happy to donate my 50 cents per play. If anything maybe it encouraged me to play a little harder like back in the day when 25 cents seemed like a little more money than it does now.

I had a blast playing the rare oldies like Tempest, Space Invaders Deluxe, Black Widow, Tron, Metal Slug 3, Gyruss, and Narc (an old favorite of mine from the late 80's) and even played a couple of games that I had never played before like Quasar and the arcade version of Feeding Frenzy, but by far the jewel of the collection for me was Sea Wolf. 

I think Sea Wolf is the oldest coin-op arcade game I specifically recall playing - probably back in the late 70's at a campground our family used to go to when I was around 9 or 10 years old.  I have been looking for a working Sea Wolf for a while and even my pilgrimage to the American Classic Arcade Museum in New Hampshire didn't prove fruitful (they had one but the monitor was bad). But once inside Pinballz I turned the corner to my left and there she was in all her old-school glory.

Sea Wolf was originally released by Midway way back in 1976 as a video game update to the 1970 electromechanical Midway game Sea Devil (which was itself the offspring of the 1966 game Periscope). The game is basically a single-screen vertical shooter in which you fire torpedoes from a submarine to destroy enemy ships that raced across the surface of the sea. Naturally, smaller faster vessels were worth more points than the slower larger ones. The ocean was also littered with mines that would serve to block your torpedoes and allow the enemies to escape unscathed.

Sea Wolf has a unique cabinet with a periscope that you looked through (Battlezone-style before Battlezone) and rotated left or right to aim your torpedoes which you fired by depressing the button on the right periscope handle.

The sound effects are very simple but awesome with the radar ping, the motor of the PT boats whizzing across the screen, the whoosh of the torpedoes being fired and the rumble of the explosions.

The graphics are black and white (hey it was 1976) but Midway added a blue overlay to provide the ocean color (so basically everything is blue). Back-lit transparancies were reflected inside the scope to show the target crosshairs, number of torpedoes left, and a reload light that flashed when you have launched all five torpedoes after which point you would have to wait momentarily while your men reloaded 5 more torpedoes. Onlookers could see the action on the ocean but only you could see all these indicators through the periscope. The explosions were displayed similarly with clearly drawn yellow and orange jagged displays (kind of like the "Bam!" "Pow" shapes that flashed on the old Batman TV show after Bats slugged the Joker). These old-school non-video features are faithfully simulated in MAME as long as you have the required artwork files installed and it definitely adds to the game so if you play MAME download the artwork files and play it! Just note you want to use an analog device for aiming - I use a trackball at home but a mouse should work just fine.

The game is time-based. You have an alloted amount of time (typically 70 seconds) to destroy as many ships as you can before the game is over. If you reach a certain score (4000 points I believe) bonus time is awarded. Also, Sea Wolf was one of the first arcade games to save and display the high score (until the machine was turned off). I have heard that the 1974 game Speed Race was actually the first, but I haven't been able to find that one yet to confirm that for myself.  The game was ported to the VIC-20 (which I owned but have no idea where it is now), the Commodore 64, and the Bally Astrocade.

The game was followed by Sea Wolf II in 1978, and by a current-gen arcade version in 2008 which came in both a sitdown and upright model.

All the games also had price tags on them so if you couldn't get enough play time in on your visit you could always just buy it and take it home.  The prices looked to be on the high side with a lot of prices hovering around the $2K mark, but like I mentioned before they WERE generally in excellent condition and the prices seemed to be fairly close to what I've seen at Joystix in Houston too so not too unexpected.

They also had a snack counter that sold things like water, energy drinks, and chips and are reportedly on the verge of opening a full-service place in-house called Mikki’s Replay Café that will offer food and drink - including beer and wine if you are so inclined (which I often am).

So I have to say I thorougly enjoyed this place and wish them the best of luck because I fully intend to plan return visits in the near future. If you enjoy arcade games or pinball and live anywhere in Texas - yes even you El Paso and Amarillo folks out there (hey you've got a car don't ya?!) then you simply MUST check out Pinballz Arcade.

And be sure to tell them MadPlanet sent you.  They won't know what the hell you are talking about, but it would greatly amuse me if you did so.

8940 Research Blvd., Suite 100
Austin, TX 78758
Phone: 512-420-TILT (8458)

[Updated 5/26/2011 with new extended hours]
Monday: Noon - 10:00 PM
Tuesday: Noon - 10:00 PM
Wednesday: Noon - 10:00 PM
Thursday: Noon - 10:00 PM
Friday: Noon-1:00 AM
Saturday: Noon-1:00 AM
Sunday: Noon-10:00 PM

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Fallguy40 said...

Welcome back MP. Pinballz looks pretty sweet!

I haven't seen a Sea Wolf in many, many years. That one looks to be in very good condition.

I'm also impressed with the Twister pinball. It's not often that a pinball machine can actually incorporate a major part of the movie plot into the game as they use the pinballs to recreate sending up all the little probes into the tornado. That's pretty clever.

MadPlanet said...

Thanks Fallguy! Yeah I quite enjoyed the place. They had lots of great games that I wanted to mention but the post really started droning on longer than I wanted, I could hear peoples eyes rolling into the back of their heads at my long-windedness.

Yeah Twister is a cool little pin. I saw it for sale in Houston a couple of years ago for like $700 or something like that and I kinda wish I would've bought it but oh well. Most people usually want $1500 or more for their pins if they are in good shape. One of these days I am going to add one to the game room.

gnome said...

Welcome back most refreshed MadPlanet. Must have been quite a trip eh? Did you try any of them abandoned Interstates?

Oh and Sea Wolf. Never seen one in person, mind, but it must be a pretty amazing thing. Cheers!

MadPlanet said...

Thank you friend Gnome! I did spend some time on Route 66 and, truth be told, did indeed get my kicks.

If I ever get around to actually owning real arcade games Sea Wolf would definitely be on my buy list for pre-1980 games along with Death Race, Asteroids, Space Invaders, Pong, crap - there's just too many...

gnome said...

Thing is I really don't know what would be better. Travelling them abandoned American highways or owning an arcade. Hmm... Decisions, decisions.

MadPlanet said...

Perfect solution - why don't you buy/build an arcade in Los Angeles, fly into Chicago, rent a car and drive the 2,400 miles of Route 66 to your arcade. Kill 2 birds with 1 stone!

Fallguy40 said...

Just be sure to have a refreshing soda at Pop's in Arcadia, Oklahoma (just a few short miles from the palatial Fallguy estate), and avoid the jail in Oatman, Arizona.

MadPlanet said...

Oatman! Damn - I was trying to remember the name of that ghost town when we were in AZ and I couldn't. Fallguy your memory is a lot better than mine!

Anonymous said...


I was hassled about returning a defective toy and 2 of the employees could not be bothered to answer a few simple questions. When I reported this to one of the owners, she was dismissive and couldn't care less.
In addition, several machines malfunctioned and trying to get help was an uphill battle.

MadPlanet said...

Really? That was not my experience at all, but you may have interacted with different people than I did.

I saw a few games that were not functional but overall the games I played were very well-maintained and in good condition. They have SO many games though that you may have been playing different ones. I hardly touched any of the redemption games upstairs because that's not really my bag.