I didn’t mean to overachieve tonight by playing two games vs. my obligatory one game. But I realized I had one more eGames title in my pile that was apparently not in MobyGames. A more careful dig into the database reveals that, in fact, eGames’ Pinball is already there. It’s just really difficult to find when it’s named something as generic as “pinball”. Memo to game companies: Try to distinguish your pinball titles a little better; same goes for typical sporting activities like football, baseball, etc.
This pinball game is not, I hasten to add, a Visual Basic game. The Conducent TimeSink tsad.dll spyware is back; who’s surprised? Also, this installation dialog strikes me as suspicious on several levels:
All of that nonsense notwithstanding, I think I might actually have a new favorite computer pinball game. This game has 3 unique table designs to choose from: Jungle Warrior, Curse of the Pharoah, and Viking’s Life. The game can run in 1024×768 mode with all manner of cool graphical effects. Further, the player can select from 5 different camera views which, unlike in Hot Wired, are all actually practical for gameplay. This is my favorite:
So, I guess what I’m trying to say here is that eGames can indeed attach their name to a decent, working game if they really try, even if they can’t unbundle the spyware without intervention from state attorneys general.
The final 2 games/tables from that 5-game Arcade Pinball compilation package covered in the last post are both soccer-themed games (that’s ‘football’ to you non-American foreigners). Here’s the first table, Soccer 98:
That’s an awesome level of detail and creativity on display. The grassy board, the soccer ball-colored pinball, the goal at the bottom of the table which symbolizes where you need to keep the ball out of. The opposite end of the table has a goal guarded by a goalie and 4 players. One purpose of the table is to knock down all 4 players and then you can go for the goal. Another cute detail is that there is a cameraman on the left side of the table that follows the ball everywhere it rolls. Novel though it may seem, I eventually realized this table was a little dull since there simply wasn’t much happening on much of the real estate. That’s when the game pulled through and raised up that giant, mutant, spinning soccer ball you see in the middle of the table field.
It’s interesting to note that in the intro animation for this table, the camera swoops down over a soccer stadium with 2 ads plainly visible: Judge Dredd and Zorro. That tells me that Pin-Ball Games Ltd. probably has a latter-themed pinball game in addition to a former-themed table.
This game and the next game, Team 98, appear to be based on a slightly different engine than the 3 tables described in the last post. Specifically this engine is more prone to crashing on my machine. But if you try running it enough times, you will eventually make it to the table. One of the new features I noticed is that shaking the board actually produces a visual effect (unlike the bubble level meter from the old engine).
The next game is easily the most interesting of the 5 in this collection: Team 98. It’s a 2-player competitive soccer-themed pinball game. That’s right– somehow, 2 players compete head-to-head against each other in a pinball-based soccer metaphor. Fraps had trouble capturing the main game screen but here is a shot of the table from the gallery:
It works like this: There are 3 15-minute rounds (where the time goes really fast, not real-time) and the game puts out a soccer pinball on each side. If the ball falls through your flippers (where the goal is), that counts as a goal for the other player. Then it gets pushed back out through the flippers. There is a similar player/goalie challenge at the other end of the board where you can score additional goals against the other player.
So it’s not very interesting in single-player mode. In fact, it gets downright annoying when, since there is no second player activating the other set of flippers, a British voice is heard to exclaim in disbelief, “He put it in his own net” every time player 2′s ball drops between the flippers. However, it occurred to me that this could very well prove to be the ultimate single-player pinball challenge. Imagine one player working to keep both balls on both tables in play!
I’m not sure where the title “Team 98″ comes from since it is clearly a 2-person competition. I would like to point out that there is some random chaos built into the game since you can leave the flippers on both sides alone at the start of the game and despite the game’s symmetry, the balls will take different paths.
This is easily the most I’ve ever enjoyed a game of soccer.
I had a pretty negative experience the other night with Pro Pinball on the Sega Saturn. To be fair, not entirely the game’s fault. I think a lot of it had to do with the difficulty of getting the game to run on the Saturn, and the video darkness and delay problems that result from sending the Saturn A/V through my computer. But then I remembered that I have at least 2 more pinball games in the queue, both of which were slim boxes purchased at the dollar section of a Super Target store, along with 5 other games yet to process; none of the 7 are in MobyGames yet.
So I broke out a title called Arcade Pinball. Since it was so cheap, and it has so many company logos on the box, in addition to AOL offers, I was eager to see who was actually, originally responsible for the actual game. When I go to install the game, I find out that it is not one game, but five! This is what MobyGames affectionately refers to as Compilation/Shovelware. It seems that a company appropriately called Pin-Ball Games Ltd. specialized in these games. Do you know what this means for this Gaming Pathology project? That having played all 5 of these games tonight, I have taken care of my gaming obligation through Monday! But I won’t do that. But I will split this up into 2 entries and cover the first 3 pinball games today. The other 2 games group well for tomorrow’s entry.
The first of the 3 pinball games is The Avengers Pinball. Fans of the old show (as I once was, before the dreadful 1998 movie) will recognize this intro clip lifted wholesale, but with the word “pinball” stuck in just the right places:
I haven’t even checked what format the video happened to be in. I just let YouTube worry about it! Magical! But I digress. About the actual pinball game, here’s the Avengers table:
You’ll notice it’s very crowded and busy. But what a refreshing change from the bland pinball board from the other day! And Robert was right when he said that many pinball games have the nudging feature; this game has it too. It does not actually show the table moving. However, if you look on the right side of the board, there is a little green bubble level meter — the same used as a construction tool — to indicate that the table has moved.
One of the unique features of this table is that the ball will go into the revolver seen in the lower left part of the screen which then cocks and shoots it back out into the table. See? That’s the kind of outlandish novelty I look for in a computer pinball simulation. There is a bonus round between ball launches where the letters AVENGERS light up in sequence and the player has to capture it when all the letters are lit.
Here is the next table, an adaptation of the comic book eventually turned into a movie, Judge Dredd:
All 3 of these pinball games (unlike the 2 which will be discussed tomorrow) look like they’re built on the same engine. On that note, here are some notes I jotted down that cover all 3 boards:
The title screens for the games have a slideshow. Pro Pinball had this as well. Perhaps this is a standard feature of modern pinball simulators. Unlike Pro Pinball, these boards are actually interesting enough to examine up close.
The flippers were awfully far apart, more so than any reasonable pinball game I have ever seen. However, this is the first time I have ever successfully leveraged the nudging feature to compensate.
I had trouble running the games. Lots of crashes on “winpin.exe”. There are also bizarre visual glitches: Lots of flickering, but mostly that is restricted to intro and setup screens.
Those numbers in the upper-left corner are artifacts from Fraps screen capture. It is supposed to be configured to not capture its own framerate count along with the screenshot, and that feature usually works. I think this is another artifact of the visual glitching.
There are apparently 5 languages supported as the first screen allows you to choose among 5 flags (when I make a game, I’m going to do the same thing, but with a U.S. flag, a U.K. flag, an Aussie flag, you get the idea),
Each pinball game has a setup screen which, apparently, allows you to select among “640″, “800″, and “1024″. I suspect that refers to video modes. But “1024″ is always disabled. Same for 24-bit mode (I can only select 8- and 16-bit). Same for 11 KHz over 22 KHz. Despite that, the video and audio are still amazing.
I’m not entirely convinced the physics are as accurate as they could be, but I still like the games. One of the more curious manfestations of quirky physics was when the ball bounces furiously between the forward bouncers, the ones just above the flippers (I’m not up on pinball technical terminology).
There is a high score count that allows you to enter your name when you make the cut. The board is pre-populated with the same name (e.g., “THE AVENGERS” on Judge Dredd). However, the field does not allow you to enter more than 7 characters.
The final game/table is an alien-themed Roswell:
This has a great, cheesy, 3D pre-rendered intro video. I wish I could find the right file and upload it to YouTube. This one has an alien ray gun that comes out of the lower-left corner and fires onto the table. I’m not sure what triggers that or what the net effect is, but it’s still cool.
Now that the Christmas-New Year holiday is officially over I decided to go with something easy this evening. According to my master spreadsheet, there is a Sega Saturn pinball game that has yet to make it’s way into the database: Pro Pinball by Empire Interactive. What game could be easier to process than a pinball game? Unfortunately, this is also the first Sega Saturn disc of this project to give me substantial trouble. Instead of booting, the Saturn just goes into its audio CD playback control console and offers to play any of the 25 red book audio tracks on the CD while thumping its stereo, 3D, rotating, ostensibly Gouraud-shaded volume power cubes. After enough console resets, the Saturn eventually agrees to play the disc and I fire up the video recording on my video capture card as I do not want to deal with this again.
Right away, the title screen informs me that this may merely be a new platform port of an existing game in the MobyGames database, Pro Pinball: The Web, already known to be available for DOS and Windows. Neither the Saturn plastic case copy nor the CD-ROM mention “The Web” but the title screen clearly does:
I’m not sure why the bottom of the title screen appears cut off. Perhaps a PAL game shoehorned into an NTSC format? The game’s boldest selling point is its endorsement by one Rick Stetta who I guess is the Kasparov of pinballing (Wikipedia knows something of his exploits). “The ultimate and most realistic computer pinball game I’ve ever played.”
It’s time to give it a whirl, especially since I went through so much trouble to get the game to boot in the first place. The main menu has an options screen with a sound test which also allows you to set the graphic sharpness (soft vs. sharp). I didn’t see a difference between the modes. Further, the main menu offers you a slideshow which shows up-close details of all aspects of the pinball table. Curious feature, but there it is.
The actual game is, well, a pinball game, pure and simple. Yes, the physics are all there and all very realistic. The control scheme is quite reasonable, with left on the gamepad affecting the 2 left-side flippers and the C button (the right-most button on the Saturn controller) triggering the right flipper. However, the response lag caused by piping the A/V through my ATI video card is killing me. Anyway, the ball is released, bounces around, hits things, the score mounts up, stuff flashes, there’s a dot-matrix screen where animations occur sometimes, and the game occasionally declares “Ball Frenzy!” where it shoots out lots of balls for you to bounce around simultaneously. The most interesting feature of this game that I have never seen before in a pinball sim is the ability to jolt the table, either forward by pressing up on the gamepad, or left or right by pressing the top left or right buttons on the controller.
Audio-wise, the game should stay entertaining with those 25 aformentioned red book CD audio tracks. And the right and left flippers actually come out of the correct speakers, though this was my first clue that something was amiss in the audio path between my Saturn and my headphones– the stereo was reversed.
So what’s my overall impression? Yeah, it’s a phenomenally accurate pinball simulation. But I have to tell you, I’m still highly partial to Epic MegaGames’ Epic Pinball. It occurred to me that this game might appeal to the pinball purist the way that the venerable Chessmaster series might appeal to the devotees of that timeless strategy game. Frankly, if I’m itching for a perfectly authentic pinball experience, I can always find some arcade or bar nearby with a machine. But I always appreciated the way that Epic Pinball brought some unusual twists (like the Enigma table) that you can’t get with a real pinball machine. Accurate computer simulations work best for things we can’t easily do in real life, like build cities or civilizations.