Stern Orbitor One

Orbitor One can be compared to Q*Bert's Quest.. They are both pinball machines with a very weird playfield and low production run. It's not very popular (or even known) among the general public, although most people like it once they play the game and serious pinball collectors are interested in it.

Stern Orbitor 1 backglass

Stern Orbitor 1 playfield

Orbitor 1 is a unique game. Almost everything about this game makes it stand out in a row of pinball games. It has 2 backglasses: the inner one is a 3d moulded plastic with planets, and in front of that one there's a clear plexi which has a large bulge in it.
The game has a wide body, very impressive and heavy. Because of the special playfield the plunger is much lower on the cabinet than on a regular game. And the playfield is the most special thing about this game. It's not made of wood.. it's even not flat !

The playfield also consists of 2 plastic layers.. The bottom one is a molded 3D plastic and represents a moon surface. Above this is a clear curved plexi bowl on which the ball rolls. It can best be compared to a plastic bath tub with some curves in it..
There are 2 red spinning bumpers in the middle of the playfield, which bounce the ball away and give it a lot of spin. In good conditions (semi-dark room, well cleaned plastic) you can hardly see the clear plastic on which the ball rolls, and you probably won't notice the bumpers spin around. So when you play the game, it really looks as if the pinball is orbiting the bumpers and flying above a 3D moon-surface.

Stern Orbitor 1 clear plexi playfield
In this picture you can see very good the curved, clear plexi playfield where the pinball rolls on. A 3D and painted plastic underneath it to give the illusion of the lunar surface.

So I hope you now have an idea what makes this game so unique. People who played it at my home were all very positive about it, they were happy to play such a different pinball game.

I've written an article about the history of Orbitor One. It's a must-read for anyone interested in this game and pinball history ! This game was not designed by Stern themselves but by engineers who had worked for NASA and also invented foam materials for use in sneakers !


Playing this game is an experience words just cannot describe.
If you see someone playing it's sometimes hilarious what the ball does, especially when it rolls behind or between the flippers.
If you play yourself, you'll be amazed and frustrated at the same time. Forget everything you know about playing pinball, you have to learn everything again and keep in mind the playfield is curved. You have to be concentrated all the time because this game is very fast ! There isn't a lot on the playfield, so the ball quickly returns to the flippers. And unlike other pinball games, it's almost impossible to trap a pinball on a flipper to pause for a moment ! This game is non-stop action.

The rotating bumpers put a lot of spin on the pinball, which causes weird effects. On this game you see a pinball do tricks which are just impossible to do on any other pingame. Or of which you thought they were even impossible to do anyway, because they defy any law of physics and gravity ! The ball can lay spinning for a second behind a post and start moving again.. or suddenly start to roll uphill.. or even jump out of the outhole and go in front of a flipper so you can shoot it away again !
It really is amazing, and all of this is caused because the ball spins a lot on this curved playfield, most people think there are moving magnets underneath the playfield.

Stern Orbitor 1 rotating spinner
A close up of the rotating spinner. It's made out of the foam that's being used in sneakers !

Gameplay can be quite hard and frustrating. Ball times of only 3 or 4 seconds happen. Keep the ball in play for more than 60 seconds and it feels like you have been working out for an hour.
Luckily the game has '3 balls or minimum play time' rules. You get minimum 3 balls to play, but if gameplay does not last long enough, the game gives you extra balls until you reach this minimum play time. In my opinion this makes gameplay more complicated, especially if you're playing in a group. You don't see how many time has passed in total so you have to guess if the game will still give an extra ball or not. So you maybe lauch 10 balls, and someone you play against may launch 20 balls because he looses them faster.
Because locking a ball (to start multiball) or knocking down the row of targets in the back is easy to do when you launch a ball in gameplay, it is sometimes a much better strategy to loose a ball quickly and launch a new ball, than to try and keep it in the game.

The game has interesting rules. Locking a ball is easy, just shoot it into the hole at the back left. Most of the time you can achieve this when you pull the plunger at full strength.
To start multiball you have to knock down all orbitor drop targets in the back. Each of these drop targets has a regular target behind it, and letters will lit when hit. You advance the bonus multiplier by knocking one of the 3 target banks completely, or by lighing O-B-T-R or R-I-O. It gets really difficult to collect a special or extra ball.
To get a special you have to shoot in one shot through the spinner and light the second 'R' target. To collect an extra ball you have to shoot in one shot through the spinner and hit the 'T' target. There's also a target on the back left of the game which increases the spinner value.

My game

This is actually the second Orbitor One game I own. The first one I bought a few years ago, not working. It wasn't in good condition, it was a real 'project game'. It had been stored for years in a garden shed, was covered with dust, had leaves in the cabinet, ..
Because of several reasons I never had time to start fixing it, so in the end I sold it to a french collector. I did regret this as I really wanted to play this unique game. So when I had the opportunity to buy another Orbitor, I didn't doubt any moment. This was btw the longest trip I made to pick up a pinball game, we really drove for hours.

This game is in excellent condition. I bought it from someone who had it in his home for 15 years and took good care about it. The only damage was around the outhole (as most O1 games have), and the plexi backglass has a burn mark..
Luckily I was able to buy a new plexi backglass for it.

There were only some minor problems with it.. It had just stopped working one day. There was one bad connector.. and the biggest problem was a non-booting mpu. I only got 4 out of the 7 'beeps'. Although the mpu board looked good and a new battery capacitor was mounted, the original battery had leaked in the past. The bottom row of the U11 socket was corroded. So once the damage was neutralised and a new socket was soldered in, the game worked !

Stern Orbitor 1 playfield
The playfield can move up for serviceing. It's huge compared to pinball games with flat wood playfields.

Things to look for when buying an Orbitor One pinball machine

  • Bumpers. The red bumpers spin fast, and have an opto which registers if their speed lowers when they are hit by a pinball. Both the motor as the opto part can break.
  • Check all plastic parts for scratches and other damage.
  • The hollow clear plastic above the playfield is often damaged at the outhole.
  • Check for broken or bent plastics. The flat plastics often bend up so balls can get stuck between them.
  • Backglasses. The game has 2 backglasses: a real glass with a 3D shaped plastic before it. Before that there's a clear plastic backglass.
  • Speech card. Some games shipped with only a sound card, others also had an additional speech card installed.
  • Battery damage. Every game from this generation had a battery soldered onto the cpu board. If it was not removed in time, this can leak and damage the board.

Stern Orbitor 1 backglass detail


This is the only game ever made with a non-flat playfield.

Stern owned the Seeburg company when Orbitor 1 was produced, so the backglass has both the Stern and Seeburg logo.

Only 889 games have been produced. This was the last game produced before Stern stopped with pinball games. After Orbitor One Stern continued making video arcade games until they went bankrupt in 1984.

Its hollow playfield makes people remember it. Posts in the usenet group about 'what game was this' usually are about an Orbitor One.

In Europe the game was distributed by Nova games. It came with a german manual and german instruction cards/decals on it.

European games usually do not have a speach card installed, it was optional to cut costs.
Here are the instructions to add a speach pcb to your Orbitor One pinball machine.

Click here to see the IPDB entry of this game.