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The 10 Best Science-Fiction Themed Pinball Machines

Popular Mechanics brings us 10 of the greatest sci-fi-inspired pinball machines ever made, from campy 60s machines to modern crossover hits. By Seth Porges

When Sci-Fi Meets Gaming

Science-fiction and pinball are a natural fit. The genre's expansive worlds offer pinball designers far-out imagery to use in their games, and there's a natural overlap in the fan bases. And while pinball designers have been making campy sci-fi-themed machines since at least the 1960s, the crossovers hit a new height in the 90s, when pinball manufacturers began a rush to build machines based on both past (Star Trek and Star Wars) and current (Waterworld) sci-fi blockbusters. 

Here are 10 of the greatest sci-fi-inspired pinball machines ever made, courtesy of Popular Mechanics. Want even more? Visit the site for 7 more classics!

Popular Mechanics

Star-Jet

Bally, 1963

While the 80s and 90s saw tons of sci-fi-themed pinball machines, game designers in the 60s seemed more concerned with mod culture and the Wild West. This game—whose art seems to take cues from both The Jetsons and early Space Ghost cartoons—was an exception.

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Popular Mechanics

Space Mission

Williams, 1976

According to the Internet Pinball Database (www.ipdb.org), pinball designer Steve Kordek derived the machine's back-glass art from a NASA picture. 

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Popular Mechanics

Centigrade 37

Gottleib, 1977

Despite art that leaves the impression that somebody is going to be cryogenically frozen, the game's titular temperature actually translates into 98.6 Fahrenheit—the temperature of the human body, or a warm Florida day.

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Popular Mechanics

Star Trek, 1979; Star Trek, 1991

Bally and Data East, respectively

There have been a total of three Star Trek–themed games over the years — including one based on Star Trek: The Next Generation. These two machines show two decades' differing approaches to the storied franchise. The first has a campy sci-fi feel (check out Kirk's pecs!) — much like the short-lived original series. And although the later machine is clearly trying to show the original series and not the movies (you can tell by Kirk and Spock's ages), its feel is more in line with the darker atmosphere of the films.

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Orbitor 1

Stern, 1982

Orbitor 1's chief accomplishment is a playfield that convincingly gives players the impression of depth. Adding to the out-of-this-world theme, the game's invisible sloping playfield makes for exceedingly frustrating gameplay that seems to defy gravity.

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Popular Mechanics

Space Shuttle

Williams, 1984

These days, it's hard to imagine there was a time when the idea of a reusable space shuttle was still novel. 

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Pin-bot

Williams, 1986

Few 80s games are well-remembered—they're often overshadowed by the technologically and thematically advanced games that came in the early 90s once manufacturers began integrating animation-capable dot-matrix displays into their designs. But Pin-bot is a standout from the era. Does this game look familiar? That is because Pin-bot is the game that Tom Hanks's character in Big purchases for his loft. 

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Space Station

Williams, 1987

This game's wheel-like space station concept was clearly inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Time Machine

1988, Data East

There's something less-than-innocent about this game's theme. The art depicts a time machine seemingly built into a space-ship-slash-car, driven by a disco guy who has picked up a 60s hippie, an Archie-like 50s jock, and a librarian of some sort. But could that car actually run? No, says PM senior auto editor Mike Allen. "It doesn't have any actual running gear on it so it couldn't be driven," Allen says. "You have to have a hole in the front for air to get into the radiator. You have to have headlights and turn signals. It's a parade float."

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Popular Mechanics

Star Wars

Data East, 1992

This Star Wars–inspired game allows players to "destroy" a model Death Star, and take aim for a small plastic R2D2 (which, to the chagrin of fanboys, is depicted as being larger than the supposedly moon-size space station).

Want even more? Visit PopularMechanics.com for 7 more classics! 

Or check out "11 Things You Didn't Know About Pinball." 

If you like these games, why not build your own? Check out "How to Build DIY Backyard Games (With Plans)."

Speaking of the classics, check out "5 Oregon Trail­Style Classic Games We Want for the iPhone."

Popular Mechanics

The 10 Best Science-Fiction Themed Pinball Machines

Popular Mechanics brings us 10 of the greatest sci-fi-inspired pinball machines ever made, from campy 60s machines to modern crossover hits. By Seth Porges

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