Gottlieb System 1 pinball machines are an interesting mixture of both
great mechanical design and poor electronics design.
Gottlieb was late getting into the solid state era of pinball
machines. Both Bally and Williams had at least a 2 year head
start on designing their own solid state pinball control systems.
Some reports say that Gottlieb did not believe that the solid state
pinball machines would catch on. Even if the reason why is not
known for sure, what is known is that Gottlieb was late to the
solid state party. When the first solid state Bally pinball games
hit the street, they were
wildly successful! Production and sales numbers were much higher
than seen in decades. The trouble for Gottlieb was that once
new solid state games hit the streetl, all of their mechanical pinball
suddenly looked old. Some say this was the beginning of the end
for Gottlieb - they never fully recovered. The Gottlieb
family may have realized this trouble was coming as the company was
Columbia Pictures in 1977. The company made a comeback in the
early 80s with Black Hole and some other titles but eventually closed
the doors in 1996.
While Bally and Williams designed their first solid state pinball
control systems in house, Gottlieb chose to outsource the design.
Gottlieb chose Rockwell International, a large well known controls
firm. Choosing a well established large firm for this work
probably was logical at time. However, history proved that their
were several problems with the design. And while Bally and
Williams quickly created new and better revisions of their control
systems, Gottlieb was stuck with System 1 and it's problems for
far too long. Maybe this is a business lesson in the dangers of
outsourcing your core competency or made it was bad luck!
Major issues with Gottlieb System 1 Pinball
Very simple architecture:
4 bit system design did not allow the game to be much more complex than
electromechanical game. Gottlieb did get to remove many
mechanical components from the games just as Bally and Williams
did. But Bally and Williams quickly began adding new, never
before seen features into their games, while Gottlieb could
design of the system did not properly ground all the circuit boards
together. This caused intermittent errors that were difficult for
the operators to troubleshoot. To make matters worse, these grounding
errors sometimes caused CPU controlled coils to lock on, which damaged
the coils and compoments on the circuit boards.
Rechargeable Ni-Cad battery:
was mounted to the bottom of the CPU board directly over a critical
battery would leak and corrode the CPU and the connectors. Bally
and Williams had this issue also.
Use of edge connectors between
The edge connectors used by System 1 had more
trouble than the pin connectors used by both Bally and Williams.
Use of custom "spider" chips:
Williams used common off the shelf components on their
systems, Rockwell used two specialized custom chips on their CPU
board. These chips were not socketed and very difficult to
replace as they were surface mounted to the board. Bally
and Williams designed their boards to be serviceable, while Gottlieb
expected the operator to replace the entire board if anything went
wrong. These chips are also fragile and failed often.
Today, this chips are nearly impossible to find. For awhile it
looked like that these obsolete chips were going to doom all System 1
games. Fortunaley, a new processor has been designed to overcome
this problem, the Ni-Wumpf System 1
The result of the above problem is that many games broke and/or
frustrated the pinball operators. At the same time, Bally and
Williams were releasing more complex games. This combination
caused the operators to start pulling the Gottlieb System 1 games off
ordering Bally and Williams games instead.
So is there any good
Yes, since many of these games broke early on they can now be found in
generally good cosmetic condition. Many of the Williams and
especially the Bally games were played to death and trashed. The
Gottliebs were thrown in the operators warehouses, not working, but in
generally good shape. Finding good shape Gottlieb system 1 games
is relatively easy to do and they are priced lower than comparable
Bally and Williams games.
Gottlieb system 1 games are electronic disasters they are mechanical
The design of the flippers, pop bumpers, target
banks, and other mechanical components are top notch. The
cabinets are very solid. They are described as tanks.
The Gottlieb system 1 games also have good
period artwork and are fun
to play. We have restored a few of these games and they are now
rock solid and fun games.