Monday, May 31, 2021

Problems with video recreations of classic pinball

 (This doesn't have to do with roguelikes much, but I needed a place to put this sequence of tweets that got hopelessly tangled on Twitter, on the subject of video pinball.)

One thing about licensed video recreations of pinball machines that bugs me is the implied function of preservation, that one can play the machines as originally intended despite the increasing rarity of the physical tables, and the thing is, I don't think they're good for that--

Let's take Zen Pinball 3, which offers a good number of licensed Bally/Williams tables, as an example. Even if one lets pass how no video pinball recreation plays like real pinball for various technical reasons, there are at least three major ways I've noticed their tables differ

1. "Improvements." 

One of my favorite real machines is Party Zone, mainly because my college had one once and I ruled at it. Lately, our local Pinball Palace got one in that I'm pretty sure is the same machine the college had, but that's off the subject--

Party Zone is a good example because all three of my complaints with Zen Pinball are illustrated by it. It's a table I'm really familiar with. As is often the way with video pinball, they attempt to "improve" the game in bad ways.

It don't think it's necessarily bad to offer play differences if they're done really well. My favorite example is Rare's Pin*Bot way back on NES, which has some really interesting modifications, including monsters and non-round pinballs.

It don't think it's necessarily bad to offer play differences if they're done really well. My favorite example is Rare's Pin*Bot way back on NES, which has some really interesting modifications, including monsters and non-round pinballs.

But Pin*Bot is a relatively simple table, so there's conceptual room for such changes. To offer such things in, say, Addams Family, which already has a lot going on, would be less welcome. Anyway...

Zen Pinball 3 offers two major kinds of "improvements," player aids (which I never end up using) and really distracting visual effects. Both can be disabled or just ignored, but the visual effects have a habit of turning themselves back on at the start of a game.

To its credit, it offers a "classic" mode that disables all such things, but it also changes the physics, supposedly in a way that makes play more realistic? It always tends to make shots harder to hit.

For various reasons, if video tables aren't carefully designed they can make shots harder to hit than on a real table, sometimes much harder. I think the tables were designed to make shots hittable in "normal" mode, meaning, "classic" mode's changes makes them artificially hard.

I should move on--

2. Lack of licensed music. 

This is something perhaps unavoidable in this litigious age, but it still counts, and the thing is, usually the publishers simply don't bother to mention the game soundtracks have been made much weaker.

There are two egregious examples. One, to my great sorrow, is Creature From The Black Lagoon, which has one of the best soundtracks in all of pinball, with multiple licensed songs, with the game picking a different one for every ball.

I know of no official recreation of CotBL, either Farsight's or Zen's, that offers the complete soundtrack. Thing is, neither of them mention this fact. They just silently offer the games without all the music, and hope you don't notice. That sucks for preservation!

Also bad is, again, Party Zone. Again, to their credit, they offer what is probably the headline song, The Who's Pinball Wizard. But it's not the only licensed song, a fact that I wouldn't expect most players to know.

That's because, to hear the other one, you have to score a Big Bang during play, which is quite a trick. If you do, you get treated to an excellent rendition of *Purple Haze*!

I've heard this on a real machine, and it's *awesome*. But it's just gone on Zen Pinball 3's version, replaced with Pinball Wizard again. You might even have already had it playing before multiball, it's a sorry replacement.

This is it (oddly, it's hearable on a Youtube compilation of the game's soundtrack): 



3. Rule changes 

I know of two games with a form of progressive jackpot, an element that carries over between games, that are changed in Zen PInball. The games are Dr Dude and (of course) Party Zone.

Dr. Dude advances the player state through five levels, carrying over between games, with each multiball. The 'Gazillion' point shot, the game's biggest award, is only available from "Super Dude" state, which is only about 1 in 5 multiballs.

Instead of doing this, Zen Pinball resets the game to Plain Dude, the lowest state, at the start of each game, making the Gazillion almost impossible to hit! You have to play five multiballs in one game, or be REALLY lucky with random awards!

Party Zone's Big Bang is a progressive jackpot that builds with each game. Defaulting to 20 Million, it's intended to keep climbing until someone hits it. Zen Pinball resets it with each game, meaning, it's never worth *huge* points.

And its rule discussion says the maximum is 50 million, which it's not, on a real table, it's 99,999,999, a value I have earned twice. (It's the only way to get a high score that ends in 9!)

Anyway! I will stop blathering about pinball now. These things are probably important to roughly five people, but I'm one of them dammit.

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