CREDIT DOT

Mapping pinball trends for the casual enthusiast…

FEATURE: Game Plan and the Mike Bossy Scoring Machine

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I am an avid supporter of the New York Islanders hockey club. I started cheering for them when I was a kid–they were winning Stanley Cups in the early eighties so they easily achieved “favorite team” status. My current gameroom is painted orange, blue and white, Islanders colours, and memorabilia from their forty year history adorns the walls. Signed photos, game-worn jerseys, bobbleheads, sticks and pucks are just a few things down there. All that stuff seems less impressive to visitors as the memorabilia is out-muscled by an impressive row of pinball machines, my other collecting passion. Curiously, there is a point where these two collecting interests intersect–and it’s with Game Plan’s 1982 pinball machine, Mike Bossy: The Scoring Machine.

Game Plan began producing video games, slot machines and cocktail pinball tables in the late 1970s. Many of the pin games were designed by 1990s Data East stalwart Ed Cebula, who was, at the time, just starting out in the industry. The company found little success with their niche cocktail tables in an already crowded pinball market, itself on the verge of a massive collapse thanks to the popularity of upright video games. It is interesting to note that Game Plan saw licencing as a viable marketing strategy very early on. Black Velvet liquor, Real brand cigarettes and Camel Lights cigaterres were three early “themes” for the company, and remain the most interesting cross-promotional tables the pinball world has ever seen. It was no secret the intended market for Game Plan–-their early machines were not for kids in arcades, but rather for sophisticated, discerning adults in bars and private clubs. As time marched on and the pinball bust took effect, Game Plan reversed this strategy, whole heartedly in 1979, releasing the cocktail tables Family Fun!, which depicted the smiling faces of a mom, a dad and their leaping child, and Star Trip, a pseudo-Star Wars knockoff. These two “arcade friendly” games appear just before the company released their first traditional pinball table, and first real success, Sharpshooter. Sharpshooter was designed by Mr. Cebula, Joe Joos and pinball godfather Roger Sharpe (he’s also depicted as the main cowboy character on the backglass), and turned Game Plan into a viable upstart competitor to Williams, Stern and Bally.

Sadly, Game Plan would never reach the heights of success that Sharp Shooter had realized. The runs of their three following titles–Old Coney Island! (a knock-off of the Sharp Shooter design), Super Nova and Pinball Lizard-–barely sold as many games COMBINED as did Sharp Shooter’s entire run of 4,200 units. What followed those short run titles were two that never got out of the production stage at all: Global Warfare, a Cebula/Sharpe game with John Trudeau art (yes, THAT John Trudeau) that only managed ten sample games, and Mike Bossy: The Scoring Machine.

When Game Plan licenced the Bossy machine, he was at the top of his game. He was in the process of helping lead the Islanders to four straight Stanley Cups, and, in true “Scoring Machine” fashion, racked up fifty goal seasons in each of the campaigns he played. Further, he has the honour of being the only player to score back-to-back Stanley Cup game winning goals and the only player to score four game winning goals in one best-of-seven playoff series. All this on his way to holding the highest regular season goals-per-game average in NHL history, a record that stands to this day. He was undoubtedly worthy of his own pinball machine, yet it still seems an odd choice, because a young upstart named Wayne Gretzky was tearing it up in the NHL at the very same time. Bossy was a more proven and successful commodity, but Gretzky had youth, good looks and marketability on his side….AND his own action figure. The sports world has never really given the Islanders their due, even when they were dominating the NHL in a way rarely seen since, and Game Plan’s selection of Bossy was a rare instance of putting the spotlight on a member of the rag-tag franchise. Regardless, the game never made it to production. Only one prototype exists. Maybe they should have went with Gretzky.

The dual-layered backglass, think Bally’s Space Invaders or Stern’s Iron Maiden, featured a rear glass with a soft portrait of Bossy, and a front transparent glass with a depiction of Bossy skating, an Islanders goalie, and the game title text. The “O” in Bossy featured the Islanders logo. “Concept” for the overall game is credited to Gil Pollock, whose only other pinball credit is on another sports theme: Premier’s Chicago Cubs Triple Play. Game Plan workhorse Mr. Cebula is credited as designer. The playfield is sparse, to say the least. It is a three-flipper game–-the third mini-flipper is utilized near the top right of the playfield to help players snipe “goals” into a “net” located in the top left corner. The “net” is a bank of what looks to be four targets, with a single left-to-right moving target acting as the goalie trying to stop the ball from hitting the four-bank. Each goal is supposedly accompanied by a flashing goal light and the sound of a goal siren. Further, spelling “MIKE BOSSY”, through the orbit gate when lit or via targets that run down the right hand side of the machine, will help amass more points. The art itself relies on hockey sticks and shooting stars on the periphery, with Bossy stick-handling around three helmetless players in what look to be Boston Bruin uniforms as the main centrepiece of the playfield. The Isles logo appears amongst the busyness of the playfield and plastics, so not only was it a Mike Bossy machine, it was a New York Islanders machine as well. The art is very Bobby Orr Power Play-esque, which was probably the model that Game Plan was shooting for, so to speak. Photographs exist of the playfield with Islanders logos on the pop bumper caps. The photo of the playfield above was taken from the wonderful resource http://www.gameplanpinball.com, which is absolutely worth a visit for a complete rundown of Game Plan’s pinball history.

Overall, the game looks like it would be a dud. It has the sparse feel of a prototype mockup, which it is, however it must have made it through the white-wood prototype stage, as a complete populated playfield and professionally rendered backglass both exist. It also looked to be marketed as a multi-player game, as it would keep score, up to nine goals, between four different opponents. The promotional materials were vague at best, boasting the word “HOCKEY” over the name Mike Bossy, and claiming it was a “hockey game you play like a pin ball game”. It appears as if the Scoring Machine fell into some sort of neither region–a convoluted mix between a traditional pinball, a puck bowler, table top hockey and a pitch and bat–without actually deciding what the game was going to be. Instead of working out the kinks, I guess the idea was just completely scrapped.

Louisville, KY collector Jeremy Fleitz is the current owner of the only Bossy machine in existence, and according to his Pinball Magazine interview in Issue #1, the ROMs that do exist for the game are incomplete, so he’s taking it upon himself to write his own code to make the game function properly and more accurately replicate a “hockey game”. The game is cobbled together from one populated playfield and the two backglasses, which were all the fruits of a tireless hunt for Mr. Fleitz, whose collection boasts all the traditional pinball tables Game Plan ever made.

The reason I felt compelled to write this essay for Credit Dot at this time, is that I won an exclusive meet and greet with Mr. Bossy which occurred last night at a venue just outside of Toronto. After asking Mr. Bossy about his fifty goals in fifty games feat, and he asking me how on earth I became a New York Islanders fan living on the outskirts of Toronto, I brought up the subject of the Game Plan pinball machine. The aging Scoring Machine they now call “Boss” got a look of childlike wonder on his face, staring off into the distance with a faint smile. He said “It’s funny you should ask that, I had forgotten all about it.” I told him what I knew about the game and asked him what he remembered. He didn’t recall much. He remembered going to Chicago to meet with the folks from Game Plan, and obviously recalled that the game never actually materialized. “They didn’t actually make them, did they?”, he said. I told him what I knew about the one in existence. He said he was given a backglass at one point as a gesture of good will, but wasn’t sure what became of it. He bent down to sign a photo I had brought. The pen stopped, inches from the photo, and he shook his head, “I hadn’t thought about that in years!” he said quietly, “I’ll have to go digging through my things in the basement. You’ll have to give me your email address and I’ll let you know what I find.” I’ve had some epic moments in my life, but this nearly trumps them all: the greatest New York Islander of all-time asked for my email address so we could talk about pinball. They nearly had to scrape me up off the ground.

The author, his son, and the legend

It took three years for Game Plan to produce a commercially run machine between 1981’s Pinball Lizard and their 1983 offering Sharp Shooter II. That limbo period in between was taken up with producing video games and slot machines, and monkeying around with the Mike Bossy Scoring Machine pinball table. Established companies were having problems selling pinball games during these years as well, so folding on the Scoring Machine, a machine seriously lacking in direction, was probably a wise option. Finding a Mike Bossy machine for my pinball/Islanders basement game room is a next to impossible task–-I don’t see Mr. Fleitz parting with the only known one in existence any time soon. I’ll have to take solace in the fact that I stirred up some long forgotten pinball memories in one of the greatest players to ever pick up a hockey stick…and hope that he emails me about some further recollections of the project.

Further Reading:
Game Plan Pinball – Mike Bossy the Scoring Machine
Internet Pinball Database – Mike Bossy the Scoring Machine
Wikipedia – Mike Bossy the Scoring Machine
Pinball Magazine – Issue #1 Homepage

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