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Bally Midway in the Arcades and Casinos
by Carl Chapelle


Ballyhoo!

From their humble beginnings in 1932 as a manufacturer of Pinball machines, to their 1997 replica Eiffel Tower standing over the Paris Las Vegas hotel and casino, Bally has long been a successful and diverse name in entertainment.

You'd be forgiven for not having heard about them before, despite them probably having a hand in some of the most popular games on the planet.

In fact, Bally was created to produce arcade entertainment and their first product, Ballyhoo , was a pinball machine.

Their pinball, and later arcade machines, became so ubiquitous that they even got a name-check in the classic song by The Who - ‘'Pinball Wizard''.

Making Games and Making History

With pinball machines firmly under their belt, Bally soon became a leading manufacturer of games.

They expanded their repertoire, moving into producing flipper-less pinball machines, bingo machines and slot machines, similar to those you'd play on  popular websites whether American, English or Swedish gaming websites   in the modern age on your desktop computer or cell phone.

They also did their bit in World War II by manufacturing ammunitions and airplane parts.

But their real dominance came in the early 1960's however, when they held 90% of the worldwide market in Slot Machines.

This created a very powerful and successful company, who had already proved that they were willing to take risks and expand into new and sometimes untested areas.

This new success put them in a position to acquire Midway Manufacturing, a comparatively young but successful producer of amusement games.

By the early 1970's Midway turned its attention to video games and struck gold with its first mainstream hit by bringing the now iconic Space Invaders from its Japanese home to the US market.

The distribution of Space Invaders outside of Japan, saw video games mature, from a novelty form of entertainment, into a global industry and heralded the Golden Age of Arcade Video Games.

Lights, Sound, Action…

The game was ground-breaking on several levels.

The first was the innovative development of custom hardware by the games designer Nishikado Tomohiro, whose persistence and vision pushed the boundaries of gameplay despite still being restricted to 8-bit architecture.

The second was the introduction of background music, which had previously been limited to the title sequence of videogames, such as its predecessor, Breakout.

Finally, though not a consideration during the initial design of Tomohiro, Space Invaders brought colour to the video game world, with the Midway release featuring a clever use of green cellophane on the video screen to mimic colour.

Eventually technology caught up with the game, full colour displays became available, and colours were given to the various elements within the game.

Powering up

Following on the success of Space Invaders, Midway won the license to distribute another Japanese creation that, until then, had been overlooked in its own home.

We are of course talking about no other than Pac Man.

The game went on to become a legend in its own right, spawning numerous spin off games, two TV series' and myriad songs, including a parody by Weird Al Yankovic.

There was even a techno tune made, built almost entirely from samples from the Pac Man game, by Aphex Twin, under his alias Power Pill .

The game was a phenomenal success, being re-released over three decades, both as an arcade game, and for home entertainment systems such as the Atari.

Legacy, and Libations for Everyone

The impact and influence of the Bally-Midway partnership, not only encouraged the development of a new era in arcade and home entertainment but cemented their titles in the cultural consciousness of several generations.

The humble pinball machines of the 1930's gave rise to arcade titles such as Tron, and the Mortal Kombat Series.

The former taking its inspiration from the film of the same name.

Whilst Mortal Kombat, went the other way and was eventually developed into a film.

Pinball machines continued to be manufactured under the Bally Brand into the 1990's, whilst video games continued to be produced under the Midway name into the 2000's, often reflecting popular movies as they did with Tron.

Sadly, Midway's fate was one of liquidation, and whilst the Bally name continues to be licensed to pinball and arcade manufacturers, the company was bought by the Hilton Hotel Corporation and eventually Harrah's Entertainment.

Though no new titles have been developed directly by the Bally team in recent years, their innovation and partnership with Midway gave rise to the development of an entire industry.

Their games permeated the homes and arcades of generations of players and pushed the boundaries of technology, giving us the vibrant and exciting world of video entertainment that we see today.

And, helping us to extend a connection back to a more nostalgic era, where pinball machines ruled, and everyone tried their hand at being a wizard.




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