Printimus Pinball correspondent Michał Klimaszewski visits the Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
In the winter of 2014 I travelled to Russia and, while in Moscow, I visited the Museum of Soviet Entertainment Machines. The Museum was established in 2007, and for the last four years has had its home in a large brick building at 11 Baumanskaya Street, in an industrial district of Moscow.
After seven years in business, it has gained the status of a cult venue, where at certain times of the day hardcore gamers gather to compete fiercely against one another. Then, if you want to take a moment’s rest, you can sit at a table and have a cup of coffee and a bite to eat. There is also a pretty well-stocked souvenir shop offering fridge magnets, T-shirts, and even wind-up robots!
The entrance fee is 350 roubles (approximately $5/€4.50/£3.30) and you are given 15 'tokens' in the form of 15-kopeck coins, because that’s the denomination accepted by the Soviet arcade games during their heyday in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The two-floor space features over 70 games, but some machines are repeated several times, e.g. the periscope game Morskoi Boi (Sea Battle).
There is a fair number of simple arcade games with 8-bit graphics: clones of the immortal Pong, various platform games and racers – some of which can even be played by four players!
A separate category is electromechanical shooting galleries. In Zimnyaya Okhota (Winter Hunt) the player uses a sturdy shotgun to fire at illuminated targets representing hares, martens and wolves, which are placed on the board amidst winter scenery.
There are also several classic mechanical games for two players: table soccer, hockey, basketball, as well as test-your-strength machines – a familiar sight at Polish amusement parks – kiddie rides, and the like.
But what interested me most was pinball machines, because I had found out that there was a pinball made in Russia, or, more exactly, in the Soviet Union. In fact, there’s more than one!
The Museum has two such machines.
Circus is a 1990 pinball (by the way, the native pronunciation of the latter word is “peen-bow”). It was manufactured in Ryazan at the still-operating Teplopriborfactory. The pin found its way into the Museum from a recreation park in the town of Vidnoye near Moscow.
A plate attached to the machine warns you not to insert coins when a short tune intended to attract players comes on.
The game has a four-digit solid-state display and three flippers: a standard pair at the bottom and one in the top right-hand corner which is operated by a separate(!) button on the right side of the cabinet.
There are also three pop bumpers, five targets (30 points each) and a kick-out hole.
The game is rather lame, the flippers very weak, and there is little to do in terms of play. You can give it a spin, but more as a curiosity.
The second game, Sport was made in 1985 by the Dolgoprudnenskoye NPP (Scientific Production Plant) from the city of Dolgoprudny, Moscow Oblast.
In the 1930s the company designed and manufactured dirigibles, switching to bomber planes during the Second World War. At present it is part of the PVO Almaz-Antey, a Russian arms concern specialising in missile defence systems. So if anyone thinks that there might be another DNPP pinball in the works, they shouldn’t get their hopes up...
Sport also has a four-digit alphanumeric display, as well as four pop bumpers, three 10-point targets and two kick-out holes. Unfortunately, the game was out of order so I didn’t get to play it and was only able to take a few photos.
It is known that that there is a third Soviet pinball, Nu, Pogodi! based on the extremely popular animated cartoon series of the same title, which aired in Poland as The Wolf and the Hare. Sadly, the Museum does not have this machine.
A second branch of the Museum is located in St. Petersburg at 2b Konyushennaya Square. The large, two-level loft houses many machines (although not as many as the Moscow address).
Most of them are the same as the ones in the capital, with the notable exception of a rarity called Penalti (i.e. the penalty kick in soccer).
It’s a cross between a bagatelle and a Japanese pachinko, as the machine has a vertical orientation. The player shoots balls upwards, which then come down bouncing off an array of pins, the object of the game being to put the balls into the goal.
The Museum also holds a Circus but, bad luck again, the pin was broken when I visited. The staff assured me that it occasionally works, though.
Here's a video showing many of these games in action:
If you enjoy playing arcade games – whether video or pinball is your thing – and you happen to be in Moscow or St .Petersburg, it’s worth visiting the Museum as part of the local colour.
The games are not likely to set your pulse racing or bring back any fond memories, but you can definitely have a nice time playing them.
Written by Michał Klimaszewski, the Cat Traveller, author of the blog “Kocie podróże” (Cat Travels) about various cat-related venues and items around the world, such as cafés, monuments, festivals, beers, shops etc. As a pinball aficionado, Michał also keeps an eye open for the game. A proud owner of a Bad Cats, he is always looking for feline motifs in pinball machines.
This article was translated by Robert Gałązka, a certified translator and interpreter. Robert won the first season of Chmielowa Liga Flipperowa (Chmiel Pinball League) at Krakow’s Chmiel Beer pub in 2014, and the 3rd Polish Pinball Championships in 2004. He also assisted Łukasz with his appendix shown below.
Michał also contributed an article about Russian arcade museums to a Polish video and retro gaming magazine called Pixel which includes some information regarding pinball. It was published in the first issue where I also wrote about the history of Polish arcades.
As a matter of fact, I had never seen a Russian arcade machine (let alone a pinball) in Poland or even heard about their existence until Michał provided this information.
In the Communist period we in Poland had many Soviet products, mostly airplanes, cars, motorcycles and bicycles, photo cameras, television sets and other domestic appliances, as well as watches and military equipment.
Incidentally, during the Second World War the Red Army stole everything they could their get hands on, not only in Germany but also in liberated countries; they called those items трофейный – spoils or trophies).
As for Soviet military equipment, participants in the Printimus Pinball Cup (September 11th - 13th) had the unique opportunity to see, touch, even sit on/in Russian military vehicles such as tanks, armoured patrol cars, trucks and a rocket launcher.
This weaponry is in the collection of the Muzeum Techniki Wojskowej im. Jerzego Tadeusza Widuchowskiego (Jerzy Tadeusz Widuchowski Museum of Military Technology) in Zabrze. The full list can be found here.
The equipment held by the Museum is almost exclusively Russian or manufactured in Poland under license from the USSR because our military didn’t have any other kind. A substantial part of the Polish army continues to use it.
You could ask, "If you had so many Soviet goods, (and not just equipment; the products ranged from the famous “Champagne” Sovetskoye Igristoye to deluxe editions of Lenin’s complete works) why no arcade games?" The answer is quite simple.
Poland stood out among the countries of Communist Europe. We used to call ourselves "the funniest barrack in the camp" and were relatively open to the West, especially from the 1970s onwards. At that time, the first arcade and gambling machines were imported into Poland. Almost from the very beginning it was done by private or semi-private businesses, with many of those novelties being brought to the country by sailors. Who would want to buy a Soviet machine when the Western ones were so much better? Not to mention the fact that such a purchase from the East would probably be much more complicated, if not outright impossible.
The point is that the Russians used to copy a lot of equipment and other products from the West. A good example is Buran, the first Soviet 'Space Shuttle' orbiter, while the Tupolev Tu-144 airplane has many similarities with Concorde. But the best example of Soviet imitation is the Zorki camera, the first model of which is nearly a full replica of the German Leica.
As Michał pointed out, Russian arcade games were based, to a greater or lesser extent, on Western machines. Even more evident is what Russians did with the Nintendo Game & Watch handheld electronic games.
To quote from Wikipedia: “In the Soviet Union, clones of some wide-screen console games appeared by mid-1980s; they were sold under the universal Elektronika brand. The choice of titles included Octopus (renamed Mysteries of the Ocean), Chef, Egg (renamed Nu, pogodi! with the Wolf resembling the main character from the animated series), slightly different variants of Egg named Hunt (featuring a hunter firing at ducks) and Explorers from Space (featuring a space ship being fired upon), and many others.”
You can read more about the Nu, pogodi! game, popularly known in Poland as Jajeczka (little eggs), here, watch it below, and even play an online version of it for free. It was the first handheld game made in Communist Europe.
However it is much more difficult to find information on Russia's take on pinball. Even the entry for 'pinball' on the Russian version of Wikipedia ('pinball' is 'пинбол' in Russian) contains nothing about them, and what little you get from searching on the internet using the Cyrillic language is mostly about video pinball.
Thankfully though, the Museum of Soviet Entertainment Machines has preserved two genuine Soviet pinball machine designs, and makes them available for visitors to play.
© Pinball News 2015