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Dueling Works / Pinball

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Initiator Imitators/Competitors Description Implementation Winner?
Black Knight (1980) Flash Gordon (1980) Both Williams and Bally decided in 1980 that split-level playfields, with the upper third higher than the lower two-thirds, would be the next best thing in pinball. Steve Ritchie, at Williams, had accidentally leaked that his upcoming table would be split-level. Not wanting to fall behind, Bally set to making its own split-level game and tasked then-rookie Claude Fernandez (freshly-hired from Williams) with it. Black Knight wound up outselling Flash Gordon two-to-one. This is not necessarily a bad thing though, as Flash Gordon still sold five-digit amounts, an astonishing quantity for an arcade machine. Split-level playfields did not revolutionize the business though. In regards to legacy, it's more lopsided: Black Knight would become a classic and fan-favorite whereas Flash Gordon soon fell to obscurity, though Flash Gordon did rocket Fernandez into the big leagues.
Alien Poker (1980) Asteroid Annie and the Aliens (1980) Pinball games about playing poker with space aliens. Aside from the theme, the two games have very little in common — Alien Poker is loaded with complex rules and state-of-the-art voices, while Asteroid Annie was a budget no-frills table released to use up leftover components. Technically, Alien Poker wins by a landslide, but that was because Gottlieb only had enough controller boards for 211 Annie tables. Both games are actually well-regarded among players, with Alien Poker seen as having more complex gameplay, while Annie is lauded for its gorgeous Gordon Morison art.
Hyperball (1981) Rapid Fire (1982) Target shooting games involving turrets that shoot miniature ball bearings; whether they could be considered pinball at all is debatable. Hyperball was created by Williams in 1981 and involves trying to spell words by shooting the balls at holes labeled with letters from the alphabet. Rapid Fire by Bally four months later in 1982 is more akin to an analog version of Missile Command or the like. Neither; both were modest successes with production runs of 5,000, and have now faded into obscurity. Neither met either company's lofty expectations, leaving them with many spare backboxes. These backboxes got recycled into mostly re-releases or virtually identical Numbered Sequels to previous games.
Caveman (1982) Baby Pac-Man (1982) Pinball games whose primary gimmick was an embedded maze video game whose difficulty was determined by the player's performance on the pinball table. Considered to be the precursor to the Video Modes utilized by modern pinball tables. Caveman was released by Gottlieb in September 1982, while Baby Pac-Man was released by Bally a mere month later and was based on the hit Pac-Man series of arcade games. Baby Pac-Man outsold Caveman by a massive margin, becoming Bally's second-best selling game of the year (eclipsed, interestingly enough, only by its own predecessor, Mr. & Mrs. Pac-Man Pinball). However, Caveman seems to be more highly regarded by pinball enthusiasts, both for its more interesting table design and its considerably easier maze game (Baby Pac-Man's being notoriously difficult).
Gold Wings (1986) F-14 Tomcat (1987) Two pinballs based unofficially on Top Gun, with ace pilots against evil Communist fighters. Gold Wings was released by Gottlieb in 1986, while F-14 Tomcat came out a year later from Williams Electronics. F-14 Tomcat by a nautical mile. Designed by renown pinball creator Steve Ritchie ensured lots of fast action, addictive gameplay, and Rated M for Manly appeal. Gold Wings, in contrast, is best know for being a shameless Mockbuster of Top Gun.
White Water (1993) Wipe Out (1993) Vacation resort-themed games released in 1993. White Water was made by Williams and featured a white water rafting theme and voiceovers peppered with cowboy slang. Wipe Out was made by Gottlieb and centered around alpine slalom skiing featuring Surfer Dude voiceovers. Both games made heavy use of ramps. White Water is an incredibly well-regarded game among pinball enthusiasts due to its challenging shots and fast gameplay. Wipe Out was not a bad game though, and is often regarded as one of the better Gottlieb pinballs from their later years.
Tee'd Off (1993) No Good Gofers (1994) Two pinballs involving golfers and wisecracking gophers. Tee'd Off was released by Gottlieb in 1993, while No Good Gofers came out four years later by Williams Electronics. Despite the suspiciously similar themes, however, both were most likely inspired by Caddyshack. Mixed results for both; Tee'd Off is considered a decent game, but is often overlooked due to Gottlieb's smaller distribution. Pinball fans largely prefer No Good Gofers, but some still find it a letdown after Pat Lawlor's The Addams Family and The Twilight Zone. That being said, both tables received digital versions on The Pinball Arcade, although No Good Gofers eventually got delisted when FarSight lost the Williams and Bally license.
World Cup Soccer by Bally (1994) World Challenge Soccer by Gottlieb (1994) Two tables released in February 1994 about soccer. World Cup Soccer had a license for... well, the World Cup, while World Challenge Soccer had no such claim. World Cup Soccer by far. Has anyone even heard of World Challenge Soccer?
Theatre of Magic (1995) Pinball Magic (1995) Two pinball games centered around Stage Magicians, both released in 1995. Theatre was the second title designed by John Popadiuk, while Pinball Magic was the first pinball from Capcom's new pinball division. Theatre of Magic is centered on a magic performance, while Pinball Magic has the player being tested by a society of magicians and mystics. Theatre of Magic became the best-selling pinball machine of 1995, but Pinball Magic has a devoted following who prefer its more challenging ruleset.
America's Most Haunted (2016) Ghostbusters (2016) Two pinball games with a comical take about a quartet of people who hunt down ghosts and capture them. America's Most Haunted was made by Spooky Pinball and was their first release; Ghostbusters was made by Stern, which had been in the business for 17 years at that point. America's Most Haunted is themed on the paranormal investigators you'd find in real life, whereas Ghostbusters is, of course, Ghostbusters. Also, due to the close proximity of their releases, there were rumors that Stern made Ghostbusters in part as an attempt to take the wind out of Spooky's sails before they could really establish themselves as a competitor. This is unlikely, however, due to the long time needed to get a license sorted out—the Ghostbusters project likely began before America's Most Haunted. This was a David vs. Goliath matchup, with America's Most Haunted being Spooky Pinball's debut game, with a production cap of 150 machines, whereas Stern is an established and trusted name with a large factory, as well as Ghostbusters being a licensed theme. Goliath won out this time, with America's Most Haunted being a dot compared to Ghostbusters in sales and public visibility. However, opinion from fans edges toward America's Most Haunted due to its high theme integration, many humorous voice clips, and greater competitive viability. Ghostbusters has been slipping in popularity, however, due to some operators pulling the machines out of public due to its lead designer, John Trudeau, getting arrested the following year for child pornography charges.

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