What a history I have in this one. In May of 2000, I visited my good friend Jeff Anderson who runs Videotopia. I played his Varkon for hours. Perhaps I should explain more about this really rare pinball machine. Uncle Willy's guide on the Williams Web Site described it this way:
|Question:||Can you tell me about the Varkon pinball?
|Answer:||Varkon was a pinball made in a video game cabinet. The cabinet was essentially the same as those used by early '80s Williams video games, such as Defender and Robotron.|
|Varkon was designed by Tony Kraemer in 1982. Artwork was by Constantino Mitchell and software was by Bill Pfutzenreuter. Less than a hundred of this game were made.|
|Bear with Uncle Willy as he tries his best to describe Varkon here. Readers may also want to search the r.g.p archive for articles on Varkon, as comments on this game pop up from time to time.|
|Varkon is a two-level game, although each playfield has its own ball. (The ball does not pass between the two playfields.) The lower playfield is visible through a window in the upper playfield.|
|Both playfields are tilted away from the player and viewed through a mirror. The mirror is mounted at eye-level, so the illusion is presented that the ball is moving about on a vertical playfield. The mirror is only partially silvered and the score displays are mounted behind it. Also mounted behind the mirror are some flash lamps behind a screened plastic. The effect of the flash lamps when they fire is to overlay lightning bolts over the reflected image of the playfield.|
|The playfield on Varkon is a combination of wood and plexiglass. The plexiglass overlays the wood, and is screened with artwork.|
|Uncle Willy has found Varkon an entertaining and strange game to play. The ball behaves differently on the plexiglass than on a typical wooden playfield. The fact that the playfield slopes downward away from the playfield means that nudging the game doesn't do what one might expect -- it's backwards. Combine all this with the illusion of a vertical playfield to get a very different pinball experience. (Uncle Willy has heard Varkon likened to playing Banzai Run on the moon.)|
Time passes, I'm living in Georgia now, and I'm on the IRC chat with a guy named Joe Magiera. He told me that he was bidding on a warehouse full of games and there was a Varkon in there, but he lost it to Rob Stormets of Superauctions.
He said: "I found that warehouse in Milwaukee before Robbie did. I think that was my problem. The op turned me down and waited for a better offer and didn't get it. Robbie got it about 2 weeks later."
This was the first Varkon I had ever found in the wild and it was gone.
In March of 2004, a Varkon appears on eBay from a guy I had previously dealt with here in Georgia. I contacted him directly to see if he was interested in selling it outside the auction. He wanted to see what it would do. The auction ended at $3,686.96! That's a LOT of money and I was feeling pretty bad about not getting it.
So then in April of 2004, another one shows up on e-bay! Located in California. Looks awesome. I bid $3200 this time. It ends at $4,001.00!!! Friends, this is out of my league.
In June of 2004, Superauctions holds thier first live auction in conjunction with eBay. It worked just like a regular eBay auction except that people on the internet and at the live auction could bid against each other. There was a Varkon listed and this was the exact same game that Joe had found in the warehouse. I was low on money, so I put a $2200 bid in on the game, figuring that my chances were extremely bad.
I made a deal with a well known Pinball guy to buy a Jukebox and it required me to drive 4 hours each way to inspect and purchase the machine. Since my family was out of town, and I had nothing else to do, I started driving to do the deal on the juke. I knew that there was no way I was going to get the Varkon but I was very curious about how the bidding went. So while I'm driving to the deal, I put my friend Steve Zeuner on the cell speakerphone and he updates me on the progress. The bidding starts at $1600. Then it's $1600. Then it's "still $1600". "Bidding has ended." Wait, did you say that whoever has $1600 or more was the winner? Steve says - "Dude, I think you got a Varkon, what's your eBay password?". He checks, and I had indeed won a Varkon. The price was higher after buyer's premium and shipping were added, but this was do-able! I was thrilled. And when the Juke deal turned into a price bait and switch, I was a little annoyed at wasting my Saturday driving that far, but I had a Varkon, and all was right in the world for one instance in time.
The Internet Pinball Database mentioned that Mike Kubin was part of the development team and I was curious about his involvement. In August of 2004 I wrote Bill Pfutzenreuter asking about Mike Kubin's part in the design of Varkon since Bill did the software for the game (Bill had talked to me about the Doctor Who Wobble Head back in the day when were developing them). He wrote the following:
|Well, this was a long time ago… I can confirm that I did program Varkon. My memory for names & dates is very bad. So…, I called Python (He was there at the time too, but he did not do Varkon). He confirmed the "Uncle Willy" names: Tony Kramer, & Constantino Mitchell (Actually, I might have started rumor about Mike Kubin, ooops. I submitted a correction…)|
|Did you know that Tony died in an auto accident? He was walking out of the Bar Oinkers from Lunch, even I went there too, it was a gathering place for lots of Williams people. And he crossed an alley right next to Oinkers, unfortunately some lady was driving out of the alley at the same time and I hear that the wall of Oinkers blocked each others view. We were all sad to hear what happened…|
|But back to a happier subject… Varkon was an attempt to make pinball look like a video game. This was back when video games were hot and popular. Pinball games were not selling, so…. Tony designed a game so that the cabinet had a foot print (and looks) of a video game… The small playfield made for a very fast ball speeds, even though the flippers were made less powerful. Unfortunately, at the time, player reaction was still focused on video games. (it did not sell too many… (ed: Total of 90)) So it was the first and last of its kind for Williams…|
|This was the machine that got me wanting a Varkon. It was in May of 2000 and I was visiting my good friend Jeff Anderson at the Videotopia warehouse. A whole room of classic video games and I kept going back to this silverball game.|
|Yes, this is my game at a warehouse in Milwaukee prior to Rob Stormets of Superauctions buying it. Joe sent me this picture after I won the auction.|
|1st Picture from Superauction eBay ad.|
|2nd Picture from Superauction eBay ad.|
|3rd Picture from Superauction eBay ad. At least it seemed to work...|
|This is how it was packaged when I got it.|
|Actually well done. The game survived the trip from California to Georgia quite well.|
|Close up of the Control Panel and the Marquee and front plexi. Still hasn't been plugged in yet...|
|After Shopping - Full View of game. Click on picture to see a Higher resolution version.|
|The shopped playfield at about 95% completion (it's still missing a spinner that is being painted at the time).|
|The electronics are simply System 7. There is a neat effect when play is transferred between playfields with the lightning bolts. They shine through the two way mirror when lit by 3 flashers in each one. The sound effect at the same time makes the effect awesome.|
|Control Panel Marquee, Front Glass, and Playfield.|
James West created an Owners List for me and it is available HERE! If you own a Varkon, please put your info in and let's see how many are left of the 90!