Hyperball: What was it?
Version 3.23

One of the FAQ's (Frequently Asked Questions) here on r.g.p usually goes something like this:

"I remember playing this game that looked like a pinball machine, that used a gun to shoot little pinballs. What *was* that?"

That, my friend, was most likely Hyperball by Williams Electronics. Yes, it could have been Bally's Rapid Fire, but Hyperball was much more prevalent. Thus, this little FAQ file.

This quasi-faq was assembled by me, with invaluable input from:

  • bill
  • Bill Anderson
  • Michael Burke
  • Federico "Wiz" Croci
  • Andy Oakland
  • Alan Whittle
  • Uncle Willy

Plus: the fine folks at pinGame journal

And: a conversation with: Steve Ritchie

  1. Hyper-FAQ History
  2. Description
  3. Design Team & History
  4. Rules
  5. Mechanical and Repair Notes
  6. Flyer Text
  7. Conclusion

Hyper-FAQ History

Version 3.23 - Changes the description of Steve Ritchie to Esteemed :)

Version 3.22 - Corrects mislabeling of FAQ (Was labeled 3.1, should've been 3.2)

Version 3.2 - Corrects number of players from 4 to 2, adds additional flyer text, plus some notes on Steve Ritchie's past credits.

Version 3.0 - New Format: Corrects release date, adds design team information from Steve Ritchie

Version 2.0 - Adds text of Williams Brochure, courtesy F Croci

Version 1.0 - Incorporated input from Anderson, Burke, & Whittle

Version 0.5 - My original post on Hyperball.


Hyperball was *NOT* a pinball machine. It *was* housed in a standard pinball body/backglass. The best way to describe it is a shooting game in a pinball housing with videogame rules.

Hyperball fired small ball bearings up the playfield. from a gun turret located where the middle drain would be on a pinball machine. The game used 55 balls, .750" diameter (3/4 of an inch). The center of the playfield was open, with lights and artwork. Up each side of the playfield were holes where you could shoot the balls. The holes had letters (a,b,c,) Across the top were a series of hanging targets which could be hit with the balls.

You controlled the game from two hand-grips with triggers, which rotated left to right and back. In between the hand grips was a *Z Bomb* button which would destroy all the attacking lights. You usually had three of those per game.

Design team & history

Hyperball was designed by the esteemed Steve Ritchie, longtime Williams designer. Steve's design credits include many of my personal favorites. In addition to Hyperball, he has given us:

  • Airborne Avenger
  • Superman
  • Flash
  • Stellar Wars
  • Firepower
  • Black Knight
  • High Speed
  • F-14 Tomcat
  • Rollergames
  • Black Knight 2000
  • Terminator 2
  • Getaway
  • Star Trek the Next Generation
  • No Fear

(Thanks to Uncle Willy for the list!)

Hyperball was programmed by Ed Suchocki (pronounced: SUH-HOCKEY). Jerry Hendricks served as the mechanical engineer.

Steve apparently wanted to design a video game, but it was not meant to be. (Steve did design two video games that were never produced, Devastator (a 3-D space game) and Chicken ala King.) If you've played Hyperball, there is a definite Space Invaders feel to parts of it.

Hyperball was released by Williams Electronics originally at the 1982 AMOA show. This initial version was apparently a mechanical nightmare. The game was substantially reworked in time for the 1983 spring ACME show. One of the major problems was with the ball feed/cannon firing system (see section <5>). The initial cannon problems were solved by Mike Stroll, the president of Williams. In addition to being the president, Mike is also a talented engineer. The original four-inch barrel was shortened and flared, which greatly improved the firing. Eventually, after a 14 month development cycle the game was released as Game # 509, with a production run of 4,444.

Rules (From Michael Burke)

Game Notes:

The object of the game is to shoot targets with the 'Hypercannon' (a centre mounted gun solenoid thing) and avoid losing your 'Energy Centres' (of which you have 3 in the default setting). You also have a 'Z Bomb' (a Defender type smart bomb) button on top of the machine which destroys all of the 'Lightning Bolts' as they "walk" around the playfield.

You also have the option of spelling words as the display indicates and this rewards you with huge amounts of points (if you spell it in the right order).

Each time you complete a wave you move onto a more difficult level which means the lightning bolts attack you faster and move aggressively.

On waves 5, 10, 15 and so on, you have 'Reflex Waves' which involve shooting the lightning bolts in a pre-defined timespan (typically 2-3 seconds) this awards you with a 50,000 bonus if you complete these waves (its hard). If you don't complete these waves a"YOU MISSED" is displayed.

Sound effects:

It uses the classic Williams sounds from that era, including many Defender sounds and the walking sounds from Robotron (another favourite of mine).

Note from Scott - Steve Ritchie was a conceptual contributor to Defender, so this is only fitting.

An absolutely awesome game that has huge amounts of "Firepower" (another great Williams game) and takes quite a number of years to master...

Mechanical and repair notes

Hyperball was a great deal of fun, but it's main problem appears to have been that it was a maintenance nightmare. Bill Anderson has the best read on this.

(Begin description from Bill)

As part of a deal I rebuilt a couple of Hyperballs Rick Schieve owned.

The ball feed mechanism took the greatest amount of time during the restorations due to disassembly and reassembly. They needed bead blasting to be cleaned, and I removed all burrs on the spindle used to lift the balls.

In regards to the post by Robert Cole:

"I actually liked it. Not as a game per se, but for the technical aspects. It used a linear accelerator to fire balls with a theoretical speed of four balls per second with an initial speed a metre and a half a second. Because of the impulse power required to fire the balls, the surge protection on the power lines was a problem and the power supply to the coils was incredible. I would love to get one of these and see if I could build it into a shooting gallery type game."

It's simply a coil whose plunger has a special tip extension. You can fire as fast as the hopper can load the balls through gravity feed, and a fan cools the coil. I wound up using the plunger from an extra playfield as in one machine the plunger was not hitting the center of the ball. This deformed the plunger tip, causing the ball hit the barrel of the gun instead of coming straight out, thus affecting the speed. I'd say that under aligned conditions after the rebuild the ball speed well exceeded 1.5 meters/second.

Flyer Text

Thanks to Federico Croci, here is the text from the giveaway instruction book/flyer.

THIS is the new way to play!

Armed with a Hyper-Cannon(TM) that can fire an incredible 250 balls a minute, the player must manipulate 2 trigger mechanisms to protect the Energy Center, the vital core of HYPERBALL(TM), from lightning bolts bent on draining its strength. 1 or 2 players can command this hyper-action. For standard 25c play and 2 Energy Centers, press 1 or 2 player start button once; for extended 50c play and 5 Energy Centers, press 1 or 2 player start button twice. Each Energy Center is powered by 5 Energy Units.

Lights sequence from target to target on both sides of the playfield. The Hyper-Cannon(TM) must score a direct hit at the lit target to stop the attacker from reaching the top.

If the sequencing lights reach the top of the playfield, they become lightning bolts which, if not blasted by the Hyper-Cannon(TM), streak downward to drain power from the Energy Center. Each bolt that strikes the Energy Center drains 1 Energy Unit.

The most dangerous of enemies that must be destroyed at all costs is the flashing Baiter. The elusive Baiter appears randomly and not only fires bolts at the Energy Center to drain Energy Units, but also dodges from side to side, making it more difficult to destroy. If the Baiter itself reaches the Energy Center, it will drain all remaining energy.

To extend play, hitting the flashing letter target specified on the alpha-numeric display earns Z Bombs, Energy Units or Bonus Points.

Spelling the word flashed on the alpha-numeric display awards even more Z Bombs, Energy Units or Bonus Points. To earn this high scoring bonus, the specified word must be spelled in sequence. If the word is not completed before the end of a wave, what has been spelled comes back on the next wave and the word can even continue to be spelled when it is no longer showing on the display.

When only 1 Energy Unit remains, "critical" is flashed on the alpha- numeric display.

When destruction of the Energy Center is imminent, a limited number of Z Bombs can be activated to eliminate all enemies from the playfield. Z Bomb will also score the bonus of any flashing letter target.

Scoring is awarded for hitting lit targets or bolts. Smashing 30 bolts completes an attack wave and awards a bonus equal to the number of remaining Energy Units times the wave completed times 1000. An additional Energy Center and Z Bomb are awarded for every 400,000 points.

Every 5th wave is a Special Reflex Wave. A target lights randomly and a rapidly decreasing score value is entered on the display. Hitting the target stops the countdown and the remaining score is awarded. There are 20 lit targets per wave. After the first 5 targets, failing to hit a lit target in the time allotted ends the wave with a "you missed" on the display. Completing a Reflex Wave earns an additional bonus and a "great reflex" on the display.

When a new high score is achieved, "great score-enter your initials" registers on the display. With the trigger mechanisms, the left one selecting letters from Z to A and the right from A to Z, the player can enter his initials, locking them in with the Z Bomb button. The player's initials, high score, number of waves completed are all displayed to tell the world he's champion of the bold, new way to play!

This next section came from another flyer, which was reprinted in pinGame journal, #11, page 14.

1st page - A game encounter of the 3rd kind

Across the 2nd-3rd pages - First pin... Then video Now the next evolution in games hyperball

Neither pin nor video, Hyperball evolves from an advanced technology that goes beyond these concepts to create a bold, new way to play. The dynamics, excitement and "feel" of pinball and the intense, demanding skill of video come together in a new generation of game that will be played for generations to come!

Armed with the incredible firing power of 250 balls a minute, Hyperball is revolutionizing play with shots heard 'round the world. The Energy Center is the throbbing, vital core of the game that must be protected by super skill and quick coordination from the lightning bolts bent on draining it's strength!

The unique play and technological innovations of Hyperball are a revelation! For "hyper-action" that never quits, there's the first ever alpha-numeric display that demands entirely new strategies and reactions, making Hyperball a constantly changing arena for constantly challenging play! For ultra-reliability, micro-switches and opto switches are deployed in all critical areas. And the wear-resistant plexiglass playfield won't give out before the players do!


Hyperball's maintenance is often cited as the main reason it didn't become a smashing success, spawning a slew of similar games. Another reason Hyperball never survived is that it never fit neatly into a category. The vid-kids left it alone, and the pinheads weren't quite sure what to do with it. I enjoyed it, and it does have something of a cult following. We here at r.g.p. have sort of adopted it as a prodigal cousin. (Hey, it looked like a pin, had two players, it used steel balls, it came from Williams) .

There you have it. A brief overview of Hyperball.


Editor's Notes

  • HTML added by David Gersic dgersic_@_niu.edu
  • E-mail addresses have been expunged to prevent web-bot spamming, and Web links have been updated where possible.

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