Responding to the rising popularity of arcade video games at the time, in 1982 Williams Electronics released Varkon, a Physical Pinball Table designed by Tony Kraemer, programmed by Bill Pfutzenreuter, and with art by Seamus McLaughlin and Constantino Mitchell.
While games like Caveman and Baby Pac-Man attempted to combine pinballs with video games, Varkon took the simpler approach of disguising a pinball table as an arcade game. The game featured two playfields: the upper one shows a warrior confronting a magic portal, through which the lower playfield — with the demonic face of Varkon — can be seen. Both playfields are tilted away from the player and viewed through a mirror, which the player sees vertically, while lightning bolts and scores are projected over the action. Players control the flippers with two joysticks, while buttons controlled the rollover lights. Hitting targets on the upper playfield enables the lower playfield, so the player can attack Varkon directly.
As a pinball, Varkon fares reasonably well, given the limitations of the design — the small playfield results in a fast and simple game that still manages to have a fair amount of challenge. The plexiglass upper playfield and the inverted display throw new players for a loop, at least until they've had a few games to become accustomed to the ball's behavior, but in the end the game lacks the depth for long-term playability. Unfortunately, there was very little operator interest in Varkon, and only 90 machines were made; the few that survive today tend to be hoarded by pinball collectors looking for a truly novel game in their collection.
The Varkon pinball demonstrates the following tropes:
- Cool Gate: Varkon is seen through a stone circle leading... somewhere.
- Featureless Protagonist: The hero's only known features are that he's male, Caucasian, and has blonde/white hair. Even his face is never seen.
- Horned Humanoid: Played with; the two arrow lights on the lower playfield make Varkon appear to have small orange horns.
- Monstrous Humanoid: Varkon, who has small fangs and a rounded, brutish face filled with wrinkles.
- Red Eyes, Take Warning: Varkon has round red eyes.
- Spelling Bonus: V-A-R increases the bumper values, while K-O-N raises the bonus multiplier.