Pinball has a long and varied history, with roots that stretch back hundreds of years. In the 18th century, the game Billard japonais (Japanese billiards) introduced the spring launcher that is a staple of all modern pinball machines. A little under 200 years later, David Gottlieb gave the world Baffle Ball, the first truly successful coin operated pinball machine. A few years later, Gottlieb created Humpty Dumpty, introducing the flippers used to keep the ball in play.
This tradition of innovation from Gottlieb continued over the years, as highlighted by the 1981 pinball machine called Caveman. Part of the machine was a standard pinball cabinet, decorated with a dinosaurs and cavemen. Now, I will resist the urge to point out how historically inaccurate it is to lump dinos and cavemen together. I certainly won’t mention the fact that the very last of the dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago and the earliest humans didn’t exist until 6 million years ago. Those facts are completely beside the point and I won’t waste any time screaming into the void about them.
Since I didn’t waste any time discussing it’s horrific scientific and historical inaccuracies, I can explain why I’m writing about a pinball machine when I typically focus on video games. Caveman was a hybrid machine. In addition to all the standard pinball accouterments (pop targets, vari targets, etc.) it had a built in screen and a joystick. Hit the ball in the right spot, and play switched from pinball to video game. You controlled a caveman in a variation on the classic maze game. Your mission was to hunt pterodactyls, brontosauruses and triceratopses. T-rexes were trying to eat you as you made your way through the maze. To return to classic pinball, you exited the maze. You also returned if one of the t-rexes caught and devoured you. However, in that case you also lost a ball.
Released in 1981, Gottlieb advertised the machine as the “World’s First Pinball Video Game,” a concept which presumably was an attempt to stem the flow of players switching from pinball to video games. It was an entertaining and novel idea, even if it didn’t save the pinball industry as a whole.