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February 21, 2011 6:09 PM   Subscribe

Pinball retailer Jersey Jack Guarnieri has started a new pinball company to challenge Stern. Stern is currently the only major manufacturer of pinball tables. However, their recent Avatar table has been criticized for its simple rules and lack of mechanical toys. Jack is already accepting pre-orders for his official Wizard of Oz pinball table. But will he be able to take on Stern and return competition to the industry?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn (74 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Howard! Howard! Howard! Howaaaaad!

Baba Booey!
posted by orthogonality at 6:19 PM on February 21, 2011


A brand new pinball machine for $6,500 plus freight? That's a good chunk of my next car...

I'm going to have to think about this. How many miles to the gallon?
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:31 PM on February 21, 2011


wait, MeFi has TWO Lovecrafts who like pinball?

I'm excited about Oz, but at $7,500 I'm not going to be buying one anytime soon. There's also Gene Cunningham's Illinois Pinball Company making Kingpin (also around $7,500).

Stern's next machine is Tron, which everyone was demanding two machines ago before the new movie came out. But instead they made Avatar, several months after all the hubbub over the movie died down, and there's a lot of concern that they're also making Tron too late.
posted by luvcraft at 6:36 PM on February 21, 2011


On the one hand, there may not be enough of a pinball market to support more than one company.

On the other hand, some of Stern's machines are annoyingly simple, especially compared to the glory days of Bally/Williams.
posted by JHarris at 6:38 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


wait, MeFi has TWO Lovecrafts who like pinball?

Paging L.P. Hatecraft....
posted by JHarris at 6:38 PM on February 21, 2011


No offense to people who are nostalgic about pinball, but what exactly do pinball games offer that a modern arcade machine or console could easily emulate (the physics are simple, there's motion controls for banging the machine, etc)? I mean, it's not like you get to touch the mechanical stuff, and on just about every modern pinball machine I've seen, the controls are all electronic buttons.

I see this the same way I saw the return of Polaroid film: Nice in theory, but is there any really reason for it in this day and age?

Or is this pure nostalgia a child of the 90's wouldn't get?

Now, what I would pay for is a floppy drive motor peripheral for your computer that makes those delightful noises every time your computer accesses the hard disk. Modern computers really don't make it much obvious they're doing stuff anymore, save for occasionally hearing the fans rev up harder to dissipate some heat.
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:53 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I always loved Addams Family pinball. Not that I was any good....

Pinball aficionados... which are considered the "best" of the machines? If you ever see X machine you have to try it, etc...
posted by starman at 7:00 PM on February 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


mccarty--

A couple of things:

1) Gameplay faster than 60 frames per second. There's this weird belief that we don't see faster than 60fps, or even 30fps. The reality is that we've got a bunch of different systems operating at different frame rates, and -- importantly -- it's doubtful any of them degrade to static images like your average frame renderer does. Sure, you can do motion blur, but usually it's just implemented as leaving some of the old frame there. Not good enough.

2) A very large display surface. Yes, there are pinball sized displays, but they're usually laid out horizontally in front of you, so your peripheral vision can compensate. There's some interesting things the brain has to do, strategically, to decide where on the field to look. This is probably the biggest aspect of why pinball on your laptop doesn't really work.

3) Gameplay, period. Pinball involves these enormous constraints in which the game field really can't be mutated all that much. So everything on the field must actually be fun and interesting to interact with. It's much less straightforward than the latest graphical tour de brute force to develop, or to experience.

4) Social behavior. Have you noticed just how much work it is, with normal gaming, to sit in the same room as someone and play with them? It's like everybody saw Goldeneye and said, man, what we really need to do is get all these nerds to stay at home and play online. With Pinball, there's one machine, and multiple players can reasonably trade off as they compete for score.

Put simply, there's totally a role for pinball. Heck, there's a lot modern gaming could learn from it.
posted by effugas at 7:04 PM on February 21, 2011 [19 favorites]


No offense to people who are nostalgic about pinball, but what exactly do pinball games offer that a modern arcade machine or console could easily emulate (the physics are simple, there's motion controls for banging the machine, etc)? I mean, it's not like you get to touch the mechanical stuff, and on just about every modern pinball machine I've seen, the controls are all electronic buttons.
Or is this pure nostalgia a child of the 90's wouldn't get?

I'm 25. I grew up on videogames, and I still love pinball
It's the physical feel of it. I still play console them way too much. But pinball is tactile. You really can 'play by instinct', like the Who song says. And there's such a strange combination of luck and skill that it's thrilling when you can make the balls do what you want them to.
Plus there's all the weird little mechanical doodads and gizmos. Magnets that make the pinball move. A working gumball machine (Twilight Zone). Magnetic 'flippers' (Twilight Zone again). Tiny TVs and action figures. Lord of the Rings has an awesome light-up Balrog that you can bash. Doctor Who has little curtains representing Daleks.

There's also the communal/public aspect. In Sydney most of the pinball tables are in pubs so you can play while listening to bands (loud ones, obviously) or chatting with your friends or taking a break. It's neat finding a good table. My local has Twilight Zone!

I've tried playing videogame pinball and it's not the same. The best ones are the ones like Mario Pinball Adventure that just ignore real physics and give you cool stuff to play with, like weird little monsters. I tried the pinball demo that came with my 360 and it didn't do it for me at all
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:06 PM on February 21, 2011


Pinball aficionados... which are considered the "best" of the machines? If you ever see X machine you have to try it, etc...

Twilight Zone, i think. Adams Family is the best selling one, and its pure genius.

Umberto Eco has a bit in Foucoult's Pendulum about how sexy pinball is.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:07 PM on February 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


...what exactly do pinball games offer that a modern arcade machine or console could easily emulate...

Unlike video games, it's a closed system. It's an actual goddamn thing. It's a physical game, even if you're not touching the ball itself.

I wouldn't say it's a nostalgia thing at all. Video pinball is deeply unsatisfying, in that you're not perched on this brink of forcing yet not forcing this steel ball into places not the pit at the bottom.
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:08 PM on February 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


Adams and Twilight are best in breed. I've also got a soft spot for the Doctor Who game. Great endgame.
posted by lumpenprole at 7:09 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Put simply, there's totally a role for pinball. Heck, there's a lot modern gaming could learn from it.

Sonic Colors had a few pinball like bits (though not an actual pinball stage, like some Sonic games). All those bits where the game takes over and you're racing at impossible speeds.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:09 PM on February 21, 2011


I'm not really into pinball, but you pinball aficionados may be interested in the latest Gamers With Jobs podcast, where a couple of the guys describe buying a vintage non-digital pinball machine (4 Square). They talk about the unsatisfactoriness of a virtual pinball table too.
posted by kmz at 7:12 PM on February 21, 2011


Seattle-area silverball fans please note, ifn you hain't aready:

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Seattle-Pinball-Museum/131237786915560

http://www.seattlepi.com/local/435025_pinball07.html
posted by mwhybark at 7:14 PM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Portland, OR Pinball Map
posted by wcfields at 7:24 PM on February 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


Tons of well maintained vintage machines are available for a fraction of the current new retail cost at the Pinball Expo in Chicago every year.

Also, I was with y'all on the unsatisfactory nature of video pinball (PINBALL CONSTRUCTION SET notwithstanding) until playing the Williams and Gottlieb emulators for PS2 and PS3. Amazing how well gameplay is duplicated; the key is the force feedback in the controllers, replicating the kick-back you'd feel on your flipper-button fingers playing a real table.
posted by jtron at 7:27 PM on February 21, 2011


Ah, but has he played New York City skyscrapers as a pinball game?!
posted by nickyskye at 7:31 PM on February 21, 2011


mccarty.tim wrote: "No offense to people who are nostalgic about pinball, but what exactly do pinball games offer that a modern arcade machine or console could easily emulate (the physics are simple, there's motion controls for banging the machine, etc)?"

Even the best motion controls suck compared to actually physically bumping the machine. Besides, half the fun of pinball machines is dealing with the wonkiness of the individual unit, say one flipper that always pops a tenth of a second late.
posted by wierdo at 7:35 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


mccarty.tim: That's like asking if I'd rather drive a Bugatti Veyron around Nürburgring in Forza 3 instead of actually driving a Veyron around Nürburgring. It doesn't compare.

Also, I can't slam my hips against my Xbox360 to stop a ball from dropping down the wrong side gutter or shake it a little to grab some extra points from the bumpers.
posted by eyeballkid at 7:40 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Stern has its business model, which is doing only licensed games-- Spranos, NASCAR, Lord of the Rings, Monopoly, etc. Some are decent games, even great. Some are absolute piles of trash that will not only not stand the test of time, but will hurt pinball long term. I'm thinking CSI, NBA, Elvis, and even Batman for starters. When I say hurt, I mean after the hoopla has dies down a bit over certain games, and their strong identity with current pop-culture, someone or some operating company will still have these machines have a hard time getting people to play them. Stern's games have been so reliant on the brand that playability and ruleset have taken taken a back seat. Stern's statements say they are going after the casual player, which is fine. But what that often translates into is a sloppy machine, one that real lovers of pinball often avoid.

A new player in the market it great. I hope they bring in different ideas and realize that the success of a game could be more on playability and rules than just a simple contractual tie-in. Medieval Madness, 8 Ball Deluxe, Firepower, Centaur, Monster Bash, Theatre of Magic... these are great games where people will still pay .50-.75 a game 20 and 30 years later. Thank god Friends is not in production anymore or Stern would turn that into a shallow game with Ugly Naked Guy multi-ball or something.
posted by l2p at 8:02 PM on February 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


32 - and didn't "get" pinball machines until I was 18 and playing old decks at bars, and antique decks in the as-then-unrenovated-for-who-know's-how-long rec room in the student union building in the tiny town my college was at.

There's something extra visceral about a really mechanical machine; being able to feel the entire table in your hands (they weigh more than I do/did) and the biophysical feedback on some of the buttons; some machines had "mushy" buttons like a video game, in other machines it almost felt like hitting harder/softer made the flippers go faster/slower. You could feel the heavy metal pinball rumbling down a slide or smoothly glide down it in your knuckles if you managed to hit it just right.

Haven't played any software pinball games (aside from a couple on an ipod touch for shits and giggles) but I don't know if any current software pinball game can recreate the sound of an old-school pinball table. I dunno if 3D surround is sensitive enough to emulate hearing the mechanical parts of the table move, anticipating table configuration changes or the clunk of the pinball against a missed plate, &c.

In addition, there's the enjoyment of something beautifully and well made; polished and aligned rails, craftfully laid laminate, craftsman level wiring... sure, I can appreciate "art" (which in the last decade has become increasingly rare especially compared to "graphics," although there are definitely notable counterexamples) and the craftsmanship behind good code, but an old-school pinball machine is a mechanical beauty. Kinda like comparing an Aston Martin to a Toyota Civic. Or maybe the difference between flying a plane and playing a really good simulator. Or maybe like having sex with another person compared to masturbating in a realdoll.
posted by porpoise at 8:06 PM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Pinball is great but so many mechanical parts that you've got to budget a lot of time and money to keep one running at home.
posted by furtive at 8:15 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Pinball on a real machine is an intensely physical game. The THUMP of the solenoids, the sensitivity of the tilt, the subtleties of the launch spring. I love pinball sims as much as the next nerd, but you just have to give a kid a bag of quarters and set them up at a real machine to see the addiction mechanism kick in. Bring them back to the sim and see the disappointment.
posted by unSane at 8:15 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have always wanted to play Odama, the wargame/pinball hybrid.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 8:34 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


In other news, did you guys know Pinball was illegal for over thirty years in most major cities?
posted by effugas at 8:42 PM on February 21, 2011


I just had the best birthday party this weekend - there is this little crappy arcade in Toronto's union station - I got all my friends and half my family to meet there and play pinball while discreetly sipping from flasks, and it was insanely fun. There really is something extra engaging with pinball - the feedback you get from the feel of the flippers, the way you can tell how hard you're hitting the ball by the vibrations and sound of the game - it forces you to pay more attention to your whole environment than games where your only input is from a screen and the speakers. It's more social, I think.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 8:55 PM on February 21, 2011


Anyone remember Bonzai Run, about motorcycle racing? WELCOME RACE FANS, TO THE BONZAI RUN! It had the backbox that was kind of gimmicky but I loved it.

I lost mountains of quarters over the years to Funhouse, Twilight Zone, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Dr. Who.... I remember when my work put in a game room, and they had 1 pin, "Who Dunnit". It didn't do much for me at first, but I got really into it and ended up loving it.

Every year or two I think about buying a used machine for my house, but I get seriously worried that I'd never leave the basement.
posted by oceansize at 8:59 PM on February 21, 2011


One of the links mentions Pinball 2000, if you want to see more about that the documentary Tilt: The Battle to Save Pinball is on Netflix in the US, not available in Canada, though, as I just looked. It's very good, and you get a surprisingly in-depth view into how pinblall machines actually work, including a few screenfulls of C++ code behind the game logic.
posted by Space Coyote at 9:02 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't know if any current software pinball game can recreate the sound of an old-school pinball table. I dunno if 3D surround is sensitive enough to emulate hearing the mechanical parts of the table move, anticipating table configuration changes or the clunk of the pinball against a missed plate, &c.

Nope. And it's not just the positional stuff, either. It's pretty mindblowing (to me, anyway) how complicated this stuff gets, JUST in the sound aspect alone:

We can make pretty serviceable car engine audio nowadays by exhaustively (haha) sampling loops of dozens of RPM ranges and gearshift noises in extreme detail, sticking a mic on the turbo and programming it to wind up at exactly the right place, using granular synthesis to stitch together segments of fan belt ticking and A/C whirs, simulating pebbles occasionally hitting the undercarriage, scaling the noise of air flowing over the car by the speed you're travelling and filtering it according to the car's shape or even the drag coefficient, recording the grinding of tires against 20 different surfaces including 3 different textures of dirt, physically modelling and synthesizing the exhaust note based on the muffler geometry, and then fighting with programmers for the requisite 280 megs of RAM per vehicle to hold all this data.

Then you get in the real version of the car for 10 seconds, and you realize how dumb your dumb little simulation sounds, how very little you've actually managed to capture in the past 300 hours of painstaking work. Joe Gamer may not give two flying kayaks as long as it goes VROOM VROOM, but they aren't the ones we go into so much detail to please -- it's the hardcore enthusiasts. You wouldn't believe how crazy some people are about tiny little details missing from, say, Forza engines.

So it is with pinball. There's too much metal and plastic and rubber interacting in too many nonlinear, unpredictable ways in too many different locations in a huge resonant box; you can only weakly recreate that satisfying feedback in a game. Even the solenoid buttons don't make precisely the same sound twice in a row; even if it seems like they do, the actual waveform that reaches your ears is always unique and depends on the exact state of a billion different things at once. You can sample that click a hundred times and play them back randomly to give the illusion of non-repetition, but then you're just hearing randomness, not actual physics.

And that's where the simulation falls apart. So much of pinball's strategy involves our reactions to this nonlinearity. Our brains pick up on incredibly subtle changes in a clink or a clank, and this helps us figure out where the ball's going next. You can create new types of video games that involve similar perceptual mechanisms, but doing a convincing simulation of a mechanical game is just insanely hard. As these guys and these guys know well.
posted by jake at 9:07 PM on February 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


My father-in-law has Elvis pinball game (a Stern!) and it is way more fun than it has any right to be. Any time we go to his house, everyone ends up just kind of migrating to the table, and then a tournament breaks out.

That Doctor Who one is awesome, but if they came out with a NuWho one I might just have to find a way to make it mine. MINE.
posted by sugarfish at 9:22 PM on February 21, 2011


I've never been a big pinball guy, but there was one machine that really had me hooked, Pinbot. It was my first exposure to multiball play, and I put a ridiculous number of quarters into that thing, when I didn't have all that many quarters to begin with.

I've tried other machines, but nothing's ever had quite the same appeal. There was just something about that table, and other games just haven't measured up.
posted by Malor at 9:36 PM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I can understand why a Tron-based or an Avatar-based video game making enough extra sales to cover the licensing fee, but... the primary market for pinball machines is arcades (right? Is this still true or have enthusiests eclipsed arcades as pinball buyers?)

Does a Tron or Avatar theme to a pinball game make a whit's difference to whether customers play the pinball machine? I guess it does, but it surprises me that it would be enough to make the licensing worthwhile.

But pinball has been mostly licensed IP for so long now that presumably the numbers make sense. Maybe they get cheaper licensing terms?
posted by -harlequin- at 9:39 PM on February 21, 2011


Seems like a good thread to mention the Pacific Pinball Museum. They have a museum in Alameda, California, where you can play a ton of machines, and an expo once a year in San Rafael. I volunteer there and always have a great time.

I'm glad to see another manufacturer going after the market. I don't know if they'll move enough units to stay in business, but I hope that they learn from the mistakes that have been made in the past and don't repeat them (pinball 2000, Williams takeover of Bally, etc).

For those who are interested, I highly recommend getting your own old machine. Many can be had for under $500 and provide years of entertainment. Maintaining a electro-Mechanical machine is really cool and rewarding. Keeping an older solid State machine working can be tougher, as the electronics can be a bit of a black-box. But there are tons of resources out there to help you.
posted by Four Flavors at 10:00 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]



I just had the best birthday party this weekend - there is this little crappy arcade in Toronto's union station - I got all my friends and half my family to meet there and play pinball while discreetly sipping from flasks, and it was insanely fun. There really is something extra engaging with pinball - the feedback you get from the feel of the flippers, the way you can tell how hard you're hitting the ball by the vibrations and sound of the game - it forces you to pay more attention to your whole environment than games where your only input is from a screen and the speakers. It's more social, I think.


oh my, I know exactly where you're stalking about. So many memories of killing time in that room waiting for GO trains back to the suburbs when I was a kid.

Incidentally, last summer my parents moved from the Western suburb where I grew up to a small rural area 2 hrs. East of the city, so whenever I come back to visit it's a chore scheduling some kind of downtown meetup with my old highschool buddies. Union Station, flasks and an arcade is such a brilliant solution ... thanks!
posted by mannequito at 10:01 PM on February 21, 2011


No pinball sim I've ever encountered has ever been able to make me jump out of my skin with the mighty CRACK! when I hit a replay.
posted by TheCoug at 10:36 PM on February 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Malor, we had Pinbot in our dorm lounge, maintained by students, and it was awesome. I don't think I ever managed to roll it, but we sure spent a lot of fun hours playing the damn thing.
posted by flaterik at 10:47 PM on February 21, 2011


Yeah, I don't know what it was, but Pinbot was fun. It just got so crazy with all the stuff going on -- it had a really nice ramp up, where it started simple and got more and more complex and interesting. Great adrenaline rush when you had a good game going.

I'd love to own a Pinbot table, but I just don't have the skills to maintain one. :(
posted by Malor at 11:03 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


K, thanks for the explanations as to why the real thing is better, guys! I stand corrected!

Again, keep in mind that I can count the number of arcades I've been to on one hand, so I really legitimately didn't understand what makes real pinball so different.
posted by mccarty.tim at 11:10 PM on February 21, 2011


If drunk engineering students can do it then you can, Malor!
posted by flaterik at 12:41 AM on February 22, 2011


Bill Paxton Pinball.

People roll their own sometimes.
posted by vicx at 1:45 AM on February 22, 2011


Stern's next machine is Tron

Unfortunately Tron is not happening, and Rolling Stones will be the next pin that Stern produces. None of us serious pinballers are happy about this. It will likely feature a similar layout to Avatar, Iron Man, and Big Buck (which is to say, a boring, shitty one). Stern seems content to keep recycling the same features machine after machine. They're all about cutting costs right now and the results show on their machines, the last few have felt like toys.

There is much hope among enthusiasts about Wizard of Oz. The company has made statements about it being a game for players. There has been too long a spell of shitty licensed pins designed to appeal to the 'casual player'. But the casual player doesn't really get into them because they're shit, and the serious player can't enjoy them for the same reason.

this comes from someone who played a pinball tournament tonight (and won, an easy hundred bucks) where the highlight was a bunch of private collection late 70's Bally widebodies.
posted by Jawn at 1:53 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


No offense to people who are nostalgic about pinball, but what exactly do pinball games offer that a modern arcade machine or console could easily emulate (the physics are simple, there's motion controls for banging the machine, etc)? [...] I see this the same way I saw the return of Polaroid film: Nice in theory, but is there any really reason for it in this day and age?

Unfortunately I do do some things other than obsessively scan Metafilter for comments to respond to, so I hope you see this before the thread becomes unwieldy.

Yes, pinball still has much to offer that "modern" arcade games and consoles do not. Arcade games definitely, since most arcade games now are redemption machines that are purposely kept simple both to allow even little kids to play and so the operator will be sure to keep winnings under control, or one of the small number of rigid genres that arcades have fallen into since the days of Street Fighter II. Consoles, because most console game experiences have fallen into the narrative trap, the idea that the game needs to tell a story. Pinball, even in those games that "tell" a story, it is still obviously beholden to the structure of pinball itself.

Pinball is simply a full-on game of a sort little seen in video gaming currently other than in niches like roguelikes. It is a hard game of skill, with a lot of randomness in the actions of the ball. Although there are definitely cases where the player is screwed, with skillful play those can be minimized. The difference between a pinball neophyte and a wizard are tremendous; there are few kinds of games that open themselves up to skilled play than pinball, and yet, even good players have bad games sometimes, so it tends to remain challenging even for the best.

Pinball is ultimately a game of control. You need to manipulate the ball to make shots, sure, but you also need to get the ball back after those shots, before it can drawn down the bottom of the table. Also, to make shots reliably you have to make them, as often as possible, from a zero-state, to reduce the variables you have to account for, and by getting the ball under control you can make more different kinds of shots.

An expert player will do this by trying to make shots "safely," making the shots that are important when they count, trapping the ball to zero out its momentum and make shots easier, building ball-passing skills that allow him to move the ball from one flipper to the other, learning which shots will return the ball to the other flipper, learning the art of the timely nudge, and advanced players will even learn "black arts" like bangbacks and deathsaves, techniques that can rescue a ball headed for the trough.

Due to various reasons, no version of video pinball has ever matched up to a real table. Here are some reasons for this:
1. A physical table cannot "cheat." Sometimes you can even make shots that one might not expect were possible, from the randomness of the physics. (Some of the more canny tables will actually recognize these occurrences and reward them with special awards and animations.)

2. The timing of the frame rate is problematic in pinball in a way little seen in other games. From a zero-point of a ball trapped on a flipper, on a real pinball table, any shot available from that flipper will be possible. This is not usually the case in video pinball, because the game world is composed of discrete instances. That zero-state puts the ball into a definite position. Most video games don't bother simulating the game at a resolution less than the frame rate. Thus, on the frames after the release of a flipper, the ball will have reproduceable speeds and positions that are the same after every ball trap, and only a certain number of frames on which the player can interact with the ball. Because of this there are set destinations for the ball should the player flip on each frame, and I have found that it is very often the case that one or two shots do not line up with those destinations, making those shots basically impossible from a trapped ball. This necessitates risky play, like making quick shots, if one hopes to make one of those shots. And sometimes the shot is important enough that not making it makes real progress in the game impossible. Real life pinball doesn't run on a set framerate, and thus a fuller continuum of possible shots is available.

3. Physical pinball has a cool factor because of the physics of the moving ball, and that ultimately the ball is a real object that cannot be summoned into being, but must be transported around the board, not just by flips, ramps, lanes, orbits and such but by hidden tunnels beneath the surface of the table, and sometimes even by weirder things. Video games have the freedom to be much more arbitrary, but as is the case with many things, the increased ease with which they operate lessens the appreciation for well-made examples.

4. The randomness of the physics and game awards combine to provide for different play experiences each time. This is the roguelike principle, but it perhaps would be more accurately called the pinball principle. Even though the board of most pinball tables is mostly static, the randomness of the game allows each game to progress differently, giving the player different advantages and available targets. And unlike even roguelikes, the randomness of Newtonian physics is never _completely_ random; everything that happens on a well-made table is ultimately the player's fault. There is no gnome with a wand of death in pinball. If a ball goes down an outlane, it's because the player made a shot that sent it there. Even very good players do that sometimes, but it doesn't change the fact that, if the player were slightly better, it might not have gone that way at all.

Best pinball machines? As stated earlier, Addams Family and Twilight Zone are perhaps the best. Addams Family is the best-selling pinball machine of all time, and Twilight Zone is an elaboration of its design with lots more STUFF, but not so much that it ruins the game. Both were designed by Pat Lawlor, who still designs pinball games to day in his company Pat Lawlor Designs, who have hired some of Williams' old talent and produce games for Stern.

Addams Family has a number of Lawlor trademark features:
* A high-up flipper aimed at tricky shots that score jackpots in multiball.
* Ramps that earn some feature that the player tries to "build" throughout the game (Bear Kicks, Robots, etc.), worth end-of-ball bonus points and special awards at given numbers (notably two extra balls, the first at a reflexing number of shots, the second at some high number) and also relights the "door" award.
* That "door" award is a shot somewhere on the table, usually a scoop, that awards a flashing award printed on the table. There are a number of these awards that can be cycled through, usually from hitting the jet bumpers, and hitting the "door" (the mansion or swamp on Addams Family, the slot machine or player piano on TZ) earns the flashing one. There's a good variety of these: flat score awards, timed game modes, special rewards, extra balls, quick multiballs and other things.
* A "wizard mode" earned from collecting all the door awards. When a door prize is earned it is lit solidly and becomes unavailable for collection. This means that later awards come from the unearned prizes. Eventually the player lights them all up, which usually causes a special "?" award to start flashing, worth an awesome mega-award if earned. On Addams Family this is "Tour The Mansion," which is every door prize awarded *again*, one after another, with 50 million points tacked on just for making it that far. On Twilight Zone, however, it's REALLY AWESOME. If you like pinball at ALL you've got to find a TZ machine RIGHT NOW and play it obsessively until to complete that whole damn door and its 14 prizes. It's "Lost In The Zone," it's a 6-ball immortal multiball during which all lost balls are automatically replunged for 45 seconds, it's got its own scoreboard entry, and with the game's great sound and graphics it just has to be experienced to understand why it's so amazing.
posted by JHarris at 2:01 AM on February 22, 2011 [20 favorites]


Union Station, flasks and an arcade is such a brilliant solution ... thanks!

yea, it's so fun - my brother, his wife and their kids jumped on the go train from scarborough, we played for over 4 hours, both adults could drink because no-one had to drive home. There's even a little bar across the hall for when you want to take a break and sit down a bit.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 2:31 AM on February 22, 2011


Cannot believe no one has mentioned Guns n' Roses pinball. Easily the best ever.
posted by josher71 at 5:07 AM on February 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


what exactly do pinball games offer that a modern arcade machine or console could easily emulate

Ummmm.....that it's not being emulated?

posted by XQUZYPHYR at 5:29 AM on February 22, 2011


Speaking of sound, there's nothing that can come close to feel the whole-table *thwak* of earning a "Special" - you can sample it, but you won't feel it; and until they make a mahogany-encased 120V force-feedback controller you never will on a sim. And on those rare games where you can earn three at once - wow, those Skinner boxes really do their stuff.

My brain knows it's just a solenoid smacking on some wood, but it's also indelibly linked to hours of other great sensations. If only I lived closer to Chicago.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 5:37 AM on February 22, 2011


No pinball sim I've ever encountered has ever been able to make me jump out of my skin with the mighty CRACK! when I hit a replay.

This.
A gazillion times, this.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:02 AM on February 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


I've always been an idle fan of pinball - I'll drop my quarter when there's a game in a bar or whatever, but lately I've been sort of getting into it. A new pinball-focused arcade opened up in my neighborhood and I find myself going back again and again. I'm going to join the league, I think.

Whenever I go I am torn between the extra simple old-timers (of which they have many), or the fancy flashy 'new' guys (of which they also have many). The old-timers really expose my lack of ability as a player and are, generally speaking, 'harder'. I invariably don't play for as long on my money on the 70's/80's machines. They can be just brutal. But the new ones, as flashy and explosive and novel as they are, are somehow more abstract and less immediate than the super-simple single level games. So I play both.

It's fun to do a run of 90's licensed cheez with the superfecta of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (with the articulated DeNiro figurine), Twister (with the rotating twister panel and, shit, Pullman), Bram Stoker's Dracula (awful, nearly unplayable. The only redeeming thing it has going for it is Tom Waits on the back glass), and Last Action Hero (unpredictable but fun, not sure if that is the game or this machine. Giant rotating crane thing).

But yeah: Avatar? Total garbage. This is the first I've heard of the Wizard of Oz machine, and I really, really hope that it is amazing. If Avatar represents the future, or even present, of pinball Something Must Be Done.
posted by dirtdirt at 6:59 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


The silver ballroom in South St. Louis is a dive bar dedicated to pinball...I played a few dollars worth of Champion Pub and Dr. Who last week.

Personal Favorites: Champion Pub, LOTR, Funhouse, Addam's Family, Twilight Zone, Whirlwind, Elvira: Scared Stiff.

Bonus for Pittsburgh mefites, check out PAPA, a pinball "museum" that has big tournaments.
posted by schyler523 at 7:24 AM on February 22, 2011


When I was 12ish, there was an arcade in the shopping mall called Silverball. They had exactly two pinball machines. One was Funhouse, the other was The Addams Family. They didn't really live up to their name, but at least the machines they had were good ones.

When my sister lived in Columbus, I always made sure to get to the airport extra early when I was flying out because they had (maybe have, this has been several years now) an Addams Family pinball game. Despite being pretty broken down and ratty, it was still a blast to play.
posted by wierdo at 7:29 AM on February 22, 2011


Awww... man. Medieval Madness. When I make my first million I'm buying me one. Also, point of interest, Tina Fey did one of the voices.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 8:30 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


There is no gnome with a wand of death in pinball.

There will be in my Nethack-themed pinball table.

...oh man if only I had the resources to create such a thing.
posted by IjonTichy at 8:54 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


but what exactly do pinball games offer that a modern arcade machine or console could easily emulate

Others have already covered the main points, but weirdly the first thing that popped into my head would be something most consider a bug: when the game goes squirrelly and the ball ricochets in such a way that it cracks into the glass and makes everyone standing around the machine jump.

I love that.

I also am a big fan of when the game is trying to find the ball (like if you have it trapped on a flipper for a while, for instance) and it goes through its purge cycle where it quickly trips all of the release mechanisms and bumpers in an attempt to knock a stuck ball free.

There's just something very organic about it, like it's trying to clear its throat. An videogame version could certainly emulate this, but it would have no purpose and seem out of place.
posted by quin at 8:59 AM on February 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


Lots of hours killed in the Union Station arcade here, too. Maybe that should be the next Toronto MeFi meetup location!

One other thing that pinball does better than video games is inspire pure raging hate and loathing for BAD MAINTENANCE. There's nothing worse than dropping your quarters in a machine and then finding out that the machine is tilted violently to the left and has a half dead flipper. Sure, video games get this too, but all the moving parts in a pinball unit make it far more prevalent.
posted by CaseyB at 10:24 AM on February 22, 2011


If someone gets this new machine within 200km of me I guarantee to pitch in at least $20 quarters for a chance to play it!
posted by Theta States at 10:47 AM on February 22, 2011


Give me a bar with a good pinball machine over foosball or a pool table any day of the week.
posted by mikeh at 10:54 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Toronto's Union Station is great. I am never in town with the time to really get focus on it, alas.
Also the Winnipeg airport has 8 machines as well, 6 or so even before security gates and therefore accessible to the public.
posted by Theta States at 11:24 AM on February 22, 2011


@Jawn: Rolling Stones was their last machine, current indications are that they're doing Tron next.
posted by luvcraft at 12:37 PM on February 22, 2011


@Jawn: Rolling Stones was their last machine, current indications are that they're doing Tron next.

Rolling Stones hasn't been released yet, as far as I know (and I would know if it had). I haven't heard what they're planning on doing after RS, but all rumors about Tron had indicated that it would be coming out now instead of RS. Releasing Tron six months from now would be pretty stupid. But I don't hope for anything better from Stern anymore.

And looking at the playfield layout for RS gives me no hope whatsoever that this game will be enjoyable. It's the same cheap, simplistic features that Stern's been using since Big Buck came out. I've been tying to convince my boss not to buy it, but he likes to pick up every new pin when it comes out. It'll sit at the bar for six months until a new machine gets released, then it'll disappear forever. Not one of the newer Stern games has been able to unseat any of the classic Ballys and Williams that we've got. Batman seems to be the last with any staying power (and surprise, it was the last with any originality in features and gameplay). The other three Stern spots just rotate through as they release new pins. Happily Big Buck will be going away once RS comes out, I guess that gives me something to look forward to about RS.
posted by Jawn at 1:34 PM on February 22, 2011


Rolling Stones hasn't been released yet, as far as I know (and I would know if it had).

OK. I haven't seen one in the wild yet (there's nowhere in Albuquerque that buys new pinball machines anymore), so I was going off this, this, and Stern's official announcement that it's now available.

I haven't really been following it at all since the theme doesn't interest me.
posted by luvcraft at 1:55 PM on February 22, 2011


Ah, yes, it does appear to actually be out now. I imagine I'll get a chance to play it sometime in the next week or two.
posted by Jawn at 2:20 PM on February 22, 2011


There will be in my Nethack-themed pinball table.

I would play the crap out of that table....
posted by lumpenprole at 6:40 PM on February 22, 2011


Cannot believe no one has mentioned Guns n' Roses pinball. Easily the best ever.

I had the good fortune to have Data East/Sega as my first professional multimedia gig. I did animation for GnR, including coming up with and animating the match feature (which was rotoscoped, meow). I also got to get loaded with Slash during one of his consultations with John Borg as co-designer. As is so often the case with rock stars, he was a very soft spoken, friendly guy. It's a great game and a great place to work I still miss it.
posted by Scoo at 8:02 PM on February 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


The main goal of the Nethack pinball table would, of course, be to assemble an ascension kit.
posted by IjonTichy at 8:33 PM on February 22, 2011


Las Vegas has the Pinball Hall of Fame, which I am told is worth traveling off the strip for.
posted by kgander at 12:24 AM on February 23, 2011


I have always wanted to play Odama, the wargame/pinball hybrid.

I own this game. It is great, an exception to my previous rule that video game pinball is usually not that good, because it is a lot more than "just" pinball. It's also a love letter to Nintendo! Just really nice all around.
posted by JHarris at 2:15 AM on February 23, 2011


There will be in my Nethack-themed pinball table.

I would play the crap out of that table....


SKILL SHOT: Offered on the first ball of the game, awards one of four "roles" to play. Missing the skillshot means playing as a BARBARIAN, making the easy skillshot means playing as a KNIGHT, making moderate means playing a WIZARD, making hard means playing TOURIST. More difficult roles mean having to make more shots to complete modes, but increase the points awarded. Other subtle play differences may be seen as well.

Rollover lanes above jet bumpers: Four, spelling PLUS. Complete them all to raise the end-of-ball bonus multiplier by one maxes out at x7. If you go beyond, you "evaporate your sword" and bonus returns to x1... but you actually earn bonus immediately, and light Extra Ball at the Amulet of Life Saving scoop. The multiplier can then be rebuilt to x7, but nothing happens if it's advanced further.

ELBERETH: All the major shots on the table bear a letter in ELBERETH. They begin each ball unlit. Each shot that's made solidly lights that letter. When all are made 20M points are awarded, outlane kickback is lit, and the center post raises for ten seconds. Once done, all the letters remain lit and it cannot be spelled again on that ball.

BELL OF OPENING, CANDELABRUM OF INVOCATION and BOOK OF THE DEAD:
All three of these must be earned on the way to wizard mode.
BELL OF OPENING: An upper flipper shot akin to the train in Addams Family. These "rings" are counted over the course of the game; the Bell is earned after seven hits. Ringing the bell also relights any unlit targets.
CANDELABRUM: Obtained by entering and winning the Vlad's Pad miniplayfield. The player must collect, from various other features, seven candles to make use of it.
BOOK OF THE DEAD: Once the player has made it to experience level 14 this is automatically awarded. This is actually a sort of special kind of mode. Once it's collected, it continues for the rest of the game or the player completes the Astral Plane wizard mode. Randomly, after making another shot, the player will be harassed by the Wizard Of Yendor, who messes with the ball using under-playfield magnets.

THE CHEST: A prominent low-board scoop like electric chair from TAF or Slot Machine from Twilight Zone. In the true Lawlor style, hitting this earns another item to collect on the way to wizard mode, here another item in the player's "ascension kit." Items include:
GRAY DRAGON SCALE MAIL - You have to collect it by killing a dragon! Timed two-ball multiball. Make three shots to kill the dragon. Afterwards the player still has to shoot the READ A SCROLL ramp to enchant the armor, but this can be done after the mode has ended, or even on a later ball.
SPEED BOOTS - Requires the player hit three ramps in quick succession, like a combo.
COCKATRICE CORPSE - A dangerous mode that could force a ball drain. Every shot automatically completes some other gameplay objective, but if you hit the same shot twice in a row you begin turning to stone... make another shot within eight seconds or lose the ball. The kickbacks in this cause the player to drop the corpse, ending the mode early, but safely. If the player has earned a LIZARD CORPSE (gotten after seven
AMULET OF REFLECTION - Making any three upper-flipper shots completes this mode.
BAG OF HOLDING - Not a mode but a feature. When this is lit on the playfield, modes last longer and can be stacked with each other, and even started during multiball!
EXCALIBUR/VORPAL BLADE/STORMBRINGER - a.k.a. the "artifact." When this is collected, it lasts the rest of the ball. Every shot made counts as two towards whatever goal is active at that time, and doubles scoring. This is very useful for making the experience ramp pay off, since the player must make it to level 14 to get the Book Of The Dead.

EXPERIENCE RAMP: Every time the player hits this, he earns "experience points," which are like Addams Family's Bear Kicks. Every 3 means earning a level, awarding some award like points, a free multiplier, a reflexing extra ball, candles, or free ascension kit items. The 14th level earns the Book Of The Dead. That's 42 shots, but various other features award extra experience, and the artifact doubles credit for ramp shots.

RUB THE LAMP: The lamp would be a playfield gimmick that could be hit to make a wish for a random-ish award. Wishes alternate between minor but useful awards and collecting ascension kit items. The third and ninth wishes light Extra Ball. If the player has the candelabrum, then one of the minor random awards will be for seven candles.

ASTRAL PLANE MULTIBALL: It's a secret! No spoilers here.
posted by JHarris at 2:45 AM on February 23, 2011 [7 favorites]


Forgot to finish "COCKATRICE CORPSE" up above. I forget, however, what it was you need seven of to collect it.

(If anyone wants to turn my ranting into a real table, it's fine with me!)
posted by JHarris at 11:12 AM on February 23, 2011


I tried playing NetHack Pinball once but after I messed up the skill shot it told me I'd put on an amulet of strangling. Game over, insert coin please :(
posted by jtron at 12:27 PM on February 23, 2011


Scoo,

Thank you. I put many quarters in that machine. My friends and I are on the hunt for one in Baltimore right now but to no avail.
posted by josher71 at 1:13 PM on February 23, 2011


Randomly, after making another shot, the player will be harassed by the Wizard Of Yendor, who messes with the ball using under-playfield magnets.

I was thinking about Nethack pinball yesterday. One idea, which I don't know feasibility on, would be to have the table start tilting up slightly from the back during the endgame. It would hit maximum tilt during the Astral Plane sequence, whatever that might be.

I like the magnets idea, too. Clever. :-)
posted by Malor at 7:15 PM on February 23, 2011


(Not being a pinball guy, I have no clue if that's even a new idea, but it seemed suitably evil for a Nethack game.)
posted by Malor at 7:16 PM on February 23, 2011


I was thinking about Nethack pinball yesterday. One idea, which I don't know feasibility on, would be to have the table start tilting up slightly from the back during the endgame. It would hit maximum tilt during the Astral Plane sequence, whatever that might be.

Only problem with that is, to be true to Nethack, it would have to start decreasing tilt. Of course pinball games are more required to stay true to the lore of the property being covered than the reality of it.

I like the magnets idea, too.

Of course I stole the idea, shamelessly, from Addams Family.
posted by JHarris at 12:03 AM on February 24, 2011


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