Thoughts on Pinball

What do you think of Pin ball?

Pinball is really interesting from a historical perspective. The original pinball machines were more like pachinko, no flippers, no spring, just put the balls in and let them roll downwards. They were more like gambling than the game we know today, and on the original machines, the only way to influence the ball’s movement was to tilt and bump the machine.

Later machines included tilt and bump sensors to detect if people were physically tilting them to cheat, usually tuned so there was a little tolerance, so players could still bump it, but not too much or the sensor would give you a warning, or eventually disable your flippers if you ran out of warnings. If you’ve ever seen old cartoons with the pinball gag, then this is where it comes from.

You can see it in this video at 2:50

I didn’t honestly understand why virtual pinball machines had the bump feature until I saw this clip and heard a lot of the history above:

This move is called the Death Save, it’s banned in tournament play and a lot of collectors won’t be happy if you try it on their private machines, because it can damage the machine, even if it looks cool as hell.

As a game, pinball is pretty cool, it’s about your skill in being able to accurately shoot a ball based on how it rolls down your flipper, and your reflexes in pressing the flippers to prevent it from leaving through the bottom. Some downsides are that some of the scoring can be kind of random, given how the ball goes off the bumpers and sometimes scores a lot and sometimes not much. This isn’t literally random, but when a system is too chaotic to be easily predicted or controlled, I tend to consider the results close to randomness.

Pinball’s an abstract type of game that to me represents how we can make real-time games based on reflexes and timing that are more abstract and don’t necessarily represent a subject of simulation. If a game like pinball can exist, then perhaps more abstract real-time action games that don’t strictly fit existing genres can exist out there.

I’ve really enjoyed Metroid Prime Pinball as well as other video game pinball machines, and my family used to own two physical pinball machines.

The prevalence of scoring in early arcade games was actually probably a carry-over from pinball machines, then the early NES games carried scoring over from that. It didn’t really work out for either of them. A lot of scoring systems in early arcade games were kinda crap, rewarding endurance more than skill, and most NES game scoring systems were out-and-out terrible.

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