By Bob Uphues
Although Doc Mack made his name in Brookfield as the owner of the world's largest video game arcade, Galloping Ghost Arcade, pinball machines were a tiny presence at the now 700-plus machine gaming emporium.
But any pinball enthusiast who may have felt slighted by their absence at Galloping Ghost's mothership can get their fix over at Mack's newest venture, Galloping Ghost Pinball inside a former insurance office at 9213 Ogden Ave.
The new arcade – sandwiched between the Galloping Ghost GAMA martial arts gym to the east and Galloping Ghost Productions Inc. to the west – opened March 1 with 31 machines dating from as far back as the 1970s right up to the present day.
In time, Mack said he expects the pinball arcade to expand into office space in the rear of the building, offering space for a total of about 50 machines.
"I don't know pinball as well as I do the videogame side, but we definitely want to have a lot of the rare games and the most well-known games as well," said Mack.
Pinball had such a small presence at the video arcade, Mack said, because the machines require a lot of maintenance. But when he finally decided to take them out completely, he got some pushback.
"The reason for even doing [the pinball arcade] was it was the thing people asked for the most," Mack said. "The more we put out crazy, rare [video] games, it was 'we want pinball.'"
So Mack sought out pinball dealer Troy Smith to help locate rare machines.
"The stuff he started finding for us was just outrageous," Mack said.
The pinball machines in the main room skew toward 1990s-era horror-movie and science fiction titles, like Creature from the Black Lagoon, Tales from the Crypt, Twilight Zone and Nightmare on Elm Street.
A smaller room to the west houses older games, like Fireball from 1977 and machines named after hugely popular early video arcade games like Defender and Q-Bert's Quest.
But what devotees will no doubt gravitate toward are one-of-a-kind unicorns like Varkon, a pinball game designed to look like an arcade game, with flippers operated by joy sticks and a mirror reflecting a recessed playing surface that serves as a "screen."
Once Troy Smith located Alien, another movie-themed rarity, Mack said he decided to go for seriously rare games.
"They did not make many of them and it, for collectors, is just like ridiculous," Mack said of Alien. "This was going to be our big showpiece, and then once we got this other games just started popping up."
Like the game Predator – a one-off game based on the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger film that is possibly the most controversial pinball machine ever produced.
The game's creators built the machine but failed to obtain licensing from the owners of the Predator, killing the project in its tracks. Lawsuits ensued by people who had posted cash for pre-orders of the promised machines, which never materialized.
Mack said Predator is easily the most expensive machine he's ever purchased. On average the machines cost $5,000 to $6,000, he said. Arcade games pale in comparison at a few hundred dollars each.
But the point is not to pay lots of money for a collector's item and have it gather dust, but to allow the game to be enjoyed by pinball enthusiasts.
"Any other collector, it would stay in a collection and nobody would get to play it, and it would just kind of be gone. Nobody would ever see it again," Mack said. "One of the reasons people have been so interested in us doing pinball is that there's so many games that people only dream of playing."
Galloping Ghost Pinball is open seven days a week from 3 to 11 p.m. and it will cost $15 to play all day. If you want to piggyback a trip to the video arcade down the street at 9415 Ogden Ave., it will cost you $30 for the day.
Mack said the hours of the pinball arcade will expand once all of the staffing is in place. In the meantime, he's been honing his pinball skills.
"There's so much depth to pinball," Mack said. "People think it's all just luck and I've seen pro pinball players that can play all day. They know the feel of the machine. They'll make every shot."
Asked where his skills stack up, Mack said he was a novice.
"I'm low. I'm a video guy," Mack said. "I love pinball but I'm still learning it."