The team at Zen Studios has chosen The Pinball Chick Team to announce to the world that Black Rose, the 1992 Williams piracy classic, will be part of Pinball FX‘s launch lineup! When they tapped the six of us for this task, we had a meeting to discuss what highlights of the table. In the debate that followed, we came to realize that Black Rose is one of the most deceptively loaded pinball tables of all-time. It has something for everyone. Thusly, all six of us have something different to talk about! Why should YOU be excited to experience Black Rose on Pinball FX?
A PIRATE’S LIFE FOR ME
In the theme department Black Rose is a masterpiece.
But what makes a great theme?
Some might say “call-outs, toys, and artwork! Duh!”
But I would argue those are merely ingredients, and without the right recipe a great theme is not guaranteed.
The right recipe mixes call-outs, toys, and artwork into a package that builds an immersive world around the player and sometimes, even tells them a story. Yes, pinball can do that.
Black Rose doesn’t tell a deep story. But it does build an immersive world. You are a new crew member aboard the ship of Black Rose the pirate! Your job is to track down and sink enemy ships with the aid of the primary toy in the game, a rotating cannon. Various bonuses and aids are to be found in Davy Jones Locker which is hidden beneath one of the ramps. Video modes will have you walking the plank and evading sharks, swinging to other ships, and tossing knives. This really does feel like pinball on the high seas! The Zen Pinball FX3 table further builds on this with a 3d modeled and animated Black Rose herself holding tight to the rigging and animated pirate silhouettes swashbuckling in the background. There is even theme appropriate side art blades.
Sometimes Zen can go a bit overboard with the touch ups (Attack from Mars I’m Looking at you!). I’m happy to say that I feel everything in Black Rose is very complementary to the original theme and doesn’t distract at all. Oh, and fans of Brian Eddy will be happy to note that although this was one of his earlier Williams games, if you are paying attention, cows do make an appearance on the DMD. It’s all about the cows.
Black Rose is presented well on Pinball FX3. The visuals totally hold up. Even on a large screen at 4k! And the call-outs are appropriately piratey without coming off as campy, goofy, or overdone. This is about as respectful a take on a pirate’s life as you are going to get. I can’t wait to see what Zen has done with this table on their new FX engine!
THIS SHOULDN’T WORK… BUT IT DOES
by Dave Sanders
Black Rose is like nothing else to poke its head out of the Williams table in 1992.
I mean, look at it! It’s a mess. Can you gather at first glance about how this game is going to play? Liar! The pop bumpers are placed… somewhere. The shots go places but it’s going to require multiple plays just to figure out where. The center shot bisects the whole length of the playfield and into the back, making traditional orbits and loop shots impossible.
But, most of all, get a load of those stand-up targets. They absolutely CLUTTER the middle column of the playfield, all the way down. Cathy and her family coined the term “Valley Style” while I call it “The Grand Canyon”. No real care about where the ball will bounce off them to. The worst possible area at the worst possible vertical angles to aim for with the main flippers. It’s like they threw on the broadside and the stand-up targets first, then put the playfield through a hydraulic press before laying down any of the other shots. Granted, the targets ensure that every near-miss to the Broadside or with the cannon will hit something. But still, who would DO this?
Wait a minute. Cramped playfield? Haphazard object placement? Shots you can’t follow? Art that doesn’t direct the eye towards those shots, making them even less readable? One shtick that the rest of the game, for better or worse, completely hangs around?
THIS IS LIKE A GOTTLIEB GAME!
And yet, Black Rose pulls it off, and successfully demonstrates that a little variety never hurt anyone. The lead designer (John something), didn’t just graduate from the creatively avant-garde school of layout geometry; he practically invented it, so much so that after he changed companies and left his replacements with weird clown-shaped shoes to fill, instead of Gold Wings and Spring Break (games even more crowded than this one, believe it or not), Gottlieb was putting out the likes of Lights…Camera…Action!, Bone Busters, and Big House that were attempting the same conventions, but the results were uniformly horrible. Still, you have to wonder how much of this was grounded by the presence of future fan-layout specialist Brian Eddy. The center shot is undoubtedly his. (Compare as well the shot openings on Black Rose to those on The Shadow, Eddy’s own least-conventional solo design.) But ultimately, Black Rose is going to leave seasoned players with an impression that this is really a Gottlieb machine, only done properly!
HOT SEAT: THE AGONY OF DEFEAT
by Angela D. Vice
You hand off your controller after a well-played go at Black Rose’s hot seat mode. You made your shots. You hit plenty of combos. You almost got an extra ball shooting the whirlpool. You sank several ships. You’re winning! Your lead is massive. You’re up nearly a hundred-million points. Your opponent is on their final ball. Victory is at hand!
The next few moments are pure agony. Your opponent starts with a lit Double Broadside. For the next thirty seconds, every shot locked into the broadside will double the previous score. One million becomes two million, and then two million becomes four million. You cheer as they brick their fourth shot, your eyes never far from the timer. “How come it didn’t countdown that slowly when it was my turn?” you complain. To your utter horror, they’ve regained control of the ball with plenty of time to continue shooting. Eight million scored. SIXTEEN million scored. Your lead is vanishing quickly, but thankfully, their Double Broadside time expired before they could finish you off. You wipe your brow, then glance at the table and realize they need only one more letter to light the cannon to sink the winning ship. It’ll be their second ship sunk, worth 30,000,000 points. That’s enough to win the game. After a multiball played just well enough to light the letters, they load the cannon. You hold your breath.
The ball bounces around the outlanes, and you’re ready to bask in their failure! They’re grinding their teeth! You gasp as the ball just tips down the C lane. They have another chance, which they capitalize on. They hit the jackpot ramp and feed the cannon off the bat flipper. They take their time, the cannon swaying back-and-forth. The moment they fire, you know you’ve lost. With one glorious press of a button, they’ve sunk the ship, and you along with it. You hang your head in defeat, but you don’t say “I can’t believe they came back.” For with Black Rose, the word “insurmountable” doesn’t exist.
A MULTIBALL LIKE NO OTHER
by Oscar Vice
If you’ll allow me a tired cliché: there’s no multiball quite like Black Rose’s. Instead of merely shooting jackpots, you have three main goals: charge-up the S-I-N-K S-H-I-P letters by shooting flashing lanes, collect jewels, and re-lock the two balls into the Pirate’s Cove to convert your two-ball multiball into a three-ball affair. The cramped valley-type layout might seem too crowded to accommodate this, but Black Rose is a table deceptively tailored towards juggling.
Remember, multiball is only as chaotic as you allow it to be. For Black Rose, you control the serve of the second (or third) ball entering the playfield. A full-power plunge will clear the Steve Ritchie-like short orbit that is the closed Davey Jones ramp. As long as you remember that one or two more balls will be entering the playfield from the Pirate’s Cove, you should be able to avoid clearing out the multiball. Once you trap the balls, try to get into a juggling rhythm so you can score enough letters to load the cannon for the valuable SINK SHIP cannon shot. Or, you can go for the extra-valuable Hidden Treasure. And don’t forget: the extra ball attached to the Whirlpool is still yours for the taking, and in multiball, you have more shots to beat the timer on it. For players who like to come up with their own strategies, no 90s multiball offers more flexibility to skillful players than Black Rose.
BRUTALITY ON THE HIGH SEAS
by Cathy “Indie Gamer Chick” Vice
As you can see, Black Rose has a lot going for it. It’s one of the most visually-striking tables of its era. It introduced the world to Brian Eddy, who went on to lead the design of Pinball Chick Pantheon tables Attack from Mars and Medieval Madness. It has a uniquely versatile multiball. It’s well-suited for exciting versus matches. It feels like a table that should be more popular than it is. But, I actually get why Black Rose is one of those pins that gets forgotten in the discussion: it’s one of the most truly weird tables of its time.
Or any time, really. 1992 was the biggest year ever for pinball. Addams Family released and set sales records that stand to this day, and Williams had two other 12K Clubbers release (Fish Tales and Getaway: High Speed II). Data East released its only two 10,000 unit-selling tables (Star Wars and Lethal Weapon 3). Gottlieb’s best-selling 90s table released (Cue Ball Wizard). Of the twelve traditional pins released in 1992, Black Rose finished 10th in sales. Only Gottlieb’s Operation Thunder (which operators didn’t buy as it still used the now antiquated alpha-numeric score display) and Al’s Garage Band Goes on World Tour (from flailing start-up Alvin G. & Co, who had no nation-wide distribution) undersold it. It was hardly a bust or anything. To put Black Rose’s 3,746 units in perspective, Gottlieb, in their entire existence, only had four DMD-display tables that sold more units (in order: Cue Ball Wizard, Street Fighter 2, Super Mario Bros., and the truly putrid Rescue 911). Black Rose was successful. It just wasn’t a major milestone for pinball in a year defined by milestones.
Still, you would think that a table that is this gorgeous and has features that were scorching hot at the time, like the still new autogun, would have been an instant classic. But, Black Rose certainly wasn’t that. Arcade goers in 1992 wouldn’t have seen the cannon straight away, and in the pre-Jack Sparrow days, pirates weren’t exactly a lucrative commodity. But, I think Black Rose was forgotten in large part due to the maddening difficulty. The Vice Family alone put an additional twenty-hours of playtime into the Pinball FX3 build of Black Rose while making this feature. Even well into that twenty hours, it wasn’t unusual for games to end in less than a minute It wasn’t until recently that players started to recognize it for its depth, complexity, and razor-sharp scoring.
Getting good at Black Rose takes time and patience. With the exception of the Jackpot ramp, every other major shot in Black Rose is off-angle and frustrating as hell to drill into muscle memory. Oh, it’s rewarding to do so. Seriously, when you can consistently grind-up extra balls on the Whirlpool, you’ll feel like a world-beater. But, you’re going to need a lot of practice getting to that point. That practice cost players $0.50 a pop in 1992. Sure, there were other vicious pins during this time, but Black Rose is uniquely cruel. It has a fickle ball save that often doesn’t trigger, a primary shot that doubles as a demoralizing death drop if you miss, and one of the most ball-clearing multiballs in the sport. It can be a mean-spirited table. In thirty total Black Rose games played against each-other in Pinball FX3’s Classic mode, only one single game saw one of us break for a hundred-million. It was Oscar, putting up 168,091,440 in his first game. The next highest game didn’t even crack eighty-million. Yipes!
But, that’s the magic of digital pinball. In 1992, it would have been cost prohibitive to “git gud” at Black Rose. In 2022, you can purchase unlimited plays of it on Pinball FX. You’ll have all the time in the world to develop a strategy for multiball, or to practice the Whirlpool shot, or get the timing down just right for the lucrative Double Broadside mode. Black Rose kind of gets lost in the shuffle among heavy hitters like Attack from Mars, The Getaway, Monster Bash, etc. But, it’s one of our family’s favorite score-settling tables for a reason. It’s always exciting. Fitting for a table based around piracy, Black Rose might be Pinball FX’s greatest buried treasure. When it launches as part of the new Pinball FX, it’ll be one of the tables we keep going back to again and again.