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This is the new way to play!

First pin. Then video. Now HYPERBALL.
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Almost every renowned creator has a work that didn't perform as well as people had expected. Kevin Costner has Waterworld, Joss Whedon has Firefly, and Tim Schafer has Psychonauts.

Steve Ritchie has Hyperball.

The game was borne from Ritchie's frustration at designing mechanical games in the growing popularity of Video Games. When Williams Electronics' management refused his request to create a video game, he became determined to do something different, and Hyperball was the result.

Although it is housed in a Pinball cabinet, Hyperball doesn't play like a pinball. The center of the playfield is empty, and all along the perimeter is a series of lettered targets. During the game, lightning bolts travel up the sides until they reach the top, then strike downwards to hit the player's Energy Centers. His only defense is to shoot the bolt before it drops, using two gun-grips to aim the Hyper-Cannon, a turret that fired three-quarter-inch-diameter ball bearings. A "Z Bomb" button on the apron could be pressed to instantly destroy all enemies on the playfield. The turret could fire 250 balls a minute, and the game's fast nature required players to rapidly pull the triggers to keep the balls launching. Spelling words during the game would yield more points, and every fifth wave would be a bonus "Reflex Wave", which involved shooting the lightning bolts in less than three seconds.

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After fourteen months of development, Williams management was hyped for the game, with some predicting sales of up to 50,000 units. Unfortunately, Hyperball proved to be a troublesome table in the field: the rapid-firing balls clattering against each other and the glass produced noise levels of 90 decibels (enough to cause permanent hearing damage with prolonged exposure), and the ball-feeder and firing mechanisms were prone to jamming, distortion, and other problems. Its hybrid gameplay also doomed it: video gamers dismissed it as another pinball table, while the pinheads weren't quite sure what to do with it. Worse, the default difficulty settings were Nintendo Hard, which quickly frustrated the curious.

In the end, only 5,000 tables were manufactured — a modest success, but nowhere near the numbers planned, and the unused hardware ended up being recycled for other pinball games instead. Some pinball purists insist that Hyperball is not a pinball game at all, saying it's more akin to a target-shooting game than anything else. It has gathered a cult following, however, for fans who enjoy its unique white-knuckled action.

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Hyperball demonstrates the following tropes:

  • Alternate Company Equivalent: Four months after the release of Hyperball, Bally introduced Rapid Fire, which used the same dual-grips-to-shoot-ball-bearings-at-alien-invaders gameplay. Williams employees internally derided it as "Operation Xerox".
  • Call a Hit Point a "Smeerp": The player doesn't have Shields or Hit Points, he has "Energy Centers".
  • Difficulty by Acceleration: The lightning bolts moved faster on higher difficulty levels.
  • Endless Game
  • Hold the Line: This is the player's objective, to defend his Energy Centers against the attacking bolts.
  • Life Meter: The Energy Centers.
  • Nintendo Hard: The default game settings are ridiculously difficult, and even getting past the first level is an achievement. Collectors universally advise turning down the difficulty to make it less frustrating for home play.
  • Shoot 'em Up
  • Smart Bomb: The "Z Bomb".
  • Spelling Bonus: To get the highest scores, players had to shoot the letter targets around the playfield and spell the current word being displayed.
  • Starfish Aliens: The attackers are moving lights which evolve into lightning bolts.
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