‘Xenon’ Pinball Machine, 1980

Exhibit / October 11, 2016

Object Name: Xenon Pinball Machine
Maker and Year: Bally Entertainment, 1980
Object Type: Pinball machine
Description: (Richard McKenna)

Released by Bally in 1980, Xenon was the first pinball game to feature a female voice (the first speaking pinball machine being the previous year’s sword and sorcery-themed Gorgar). Designed by Greg Kmiec and featuring sensual artwork by Paul Faris—which clearly showed the influence of underground and European comics—the game’s distinctive features included an illuminated transparent tube that moved the ball from one side of the gaming table to the other and a strobascopic backbox with infinity lighting. What made Xenon unique, however, were its music and digital vocals (described as “incredibly alluring” in the sales brochure), both provided by now-famous synth musician and sound designer Suzanne Ciani. After observing pinball lovers at play, Ciani proposed using a computer voice chip to make the game reactive, helping usher in a new chapter in the history of coin-operated games. (Ciani is filmed working on Xenon and describing the process in a 1981 episode of Omni: The New Frontier.) The fictional backstory of the futuristic game is obscure, but seems to involve visitors to the world of Xenon attempting to transform themselves into godlike beings similar to the graceful alien creature featured in the game’s artwork.

8 thoughts on “‘Xenon’ Pinball Machine, 1980

  1. I played both Xenon and Gorgar fairly recently at a local vintage arcade. Fun stuff! Never knew about the Suzanne Ciani connection.

  2. I have fond memories of this machine. The late 70s early 80s pinball machines really went for that high concept/surrealistic/sci-fi vibe that marked me the deepest. They were cool and weird.

    • You’re not kidding they were high concept surrealism – mass entertainment as high-concept transcendent experience!

  3. Pingback: Suzanne Ciani on Two Television Programs, 1980

  4. Pingback: Photon Instructional Video, 1986

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