Top 5 Friday: A Tribute to Python Anghelo (1954-2014)

Even if you aren’t familiar with his name, if you were a gamer and/or pinball player in the 80’s and early 90’s, you’ve seen Python Anghelo’s iconic artwork from his 15 years at Williams/Midway. Without question one of the legends of Chicago gaming history, Anghelo sadly lost a hard-fought battle with cancer on Wednesday. For this week’s top 5, we have decided to do something a little different and honor Anghelo’s legacy with a list of 5 games that best showcase his varied art and design talents. While the overall list is in no particular order, it’s kind of hard to deny that #1 deserves to be so.

5. Bubbles
One of Williams’ more unique and lighthearted arcade games released during its early 80’s golden age, Anghelo not only did the art for Bubbles but also co-designed it. The object of the game was to pilot a bubble around a kitchen sink, cleaning up the dirt and grime while avoiding hazards like razors blades and cockroaches. Not only was Anghelo’s cabinet art for Bubbles top-notch, but he also came up with an innovative all-plastic cabinet design that was put to use for only a small number of Bubbles machines. This early foray into hardware design no doubt got his gears turning for the pinball table work that became the focal point for most of his career.

4. Popeye Saves The Earth
You don’t have to be a fan of Popeye OR pinball to appreciate the detail and artistry Anghelo put into this terrific table. In addition to the colorful artwork showcasing classic Popeye characters both famous and obscure, the table-spanning Bluto portrait that appears to be rising to life with its three-dimensional plastic head is a brilliant touch and a wonderful callback to the classic Williams pinball machine Fun House. Given Anghelo’s obsession with circuses and carnivals, it’s hard to believe he didn’t design or at least work on Fun House; maybe this was his way of reconciling that.

3. Sinistar
While Sinistar‘s artwork and the design of Sinistar himself are as iconic as anything from early 80’s gaming, what is arguably the most memorable thing about the game are the terrifying audio clips of the monster taunting players with quips like “I hunger!” and “Beware, coward!” Well, as was common for game development of the time, everyone kind of did everything, and Anghelo was said to be the one who actually recorded those voices – from radio personality and friend John Doremus – and also worked on the distortion and digitization that gave Doremus’ voice its distinctive robotic gurgle.

Arguably the most famous pinball machine Anghelo designed and his most iconic work (other than #1), the artwork for Pin-Bot is like an amalgam of every 80’s album cover, sci-fi movie poster, and Heavy Metal comic. There is nothing extremely unique or innovative about the actual pinball play itself, but this was at a time before pinball became about trying to stay relevant against the ever-advancing technology – and popularity – of arcade and home video games with various gimmicks and novelties. Pin-Bot was just pure, solid, classic pinball action, with some badass art to accompany it. There’s even a Pin-Bot machine in the Tom Hanks comedy Big, further immortalizing this classic table and Anghelo’s trademark art.

1. Joust
We could easily just put Anghelo’s much-beloved and instantly recognizable Joust art here with little text to accompany it, and it would be the perfect way to end this list and pay homage to his career. In fact, that’s exactly what we’re going to do. Farewell to a true visionary whose art helped to define an entire era of video gaming, and did so right here in Chicago.

(We apologize for the poor quality of this image. Only digital scans from existing hard prints are available online.)