If I were to close my eyes and visualize my impressions of 1970s futurist design, generic a handful of hazy images would come to mind.
The interior of one of the MBTA’s Orange Line trains. Childhood trips to the Museum of Science and the New England Aquarium. Snippets from Rollerball. Punchcards, health spools of spinning tape drives, and the “computerized” font which graced the covers of so many sci-fi potboilers and screeds about the perils of “future shock.”
There’s one image, however, that perfectly captures the essence of the Me Decade’s “world that’s coming” as half-remembered by a tow-headed tyke who lived through the era —
— the layout of the Time 2000 pinball table, released by Atari in 1977.
Where other pinball manufacturers opted for a baroque aesthetic calculated to emphazise the lurid sensationalism of the age, Atari’s handful of releases went with a different design approach.
Atari’s tables were cluttered yet simple. Aquarian Age sci-fi and fantasy visuals shared table space with crisp geometric shapes and clean lines, all brought to life through color pallets that managed to be eye-catchingly bright yet contextually muted. It’s a style familiar to anyone who ever gazed with longing at the boxes of old school Atari 2600 boxes, only writ larger, brighter, and noisier.
Truth to tell, I’ve never seen one of these machines — or any of its siblings — in the wild. By the time I got past my childhood fixation with phosphor dot pay-as-you-go fantasies enough to appreciate pinball, the arcade scene was all but dead. I have played re-creations of the tables via Visual Pinball/VPinMAME but found them to be unenjoyably frustrating (though I’m not sure whether the fault lies with the digital remakes being too faithful or not faithful enough to the original machines) with the exception of this fair flower of retrological beauty…