Who Says You Can't Take It With You?! A Pinball Thread

I‘ve been playing a lot of virtual pinball during quarantine. Part of that is missing the bars and arcades that I associate with it, and part of that is that I don’t have to feel guilty for hogging a table when it's on my switch, and the rules and mechanics of these tables shine on rapid replays.

The more that I play the more I find myself in awe of Pat Lawlor and Larry DeMar, whose tables are not just the best pinball games, but for my money one of the best strings of games made by any team in any genre: Banzai Run, FunHouse, Addams Family and Twilight Zone in the span of 5 years.

Banzai Run's upper playfield is entirely vertical. There were secondary playfields before it, but none that made the physics of the game entirely different like this one did. It has that Devil's Crush feel where you can feel safer the further up the playfield but you'll never stay there long.

FunHouse is all about the goofy animatronic voiced by Ed Boon. Although this is the gimmick of all gimmicks you do grow to hate that bastard, which makes hitting him in the face all the more rewarding. And the flow is tuned to perfection: right flipper mirror, right flipper ramp, left flipper lock, upper flipper Rudy. When you get the rhythm down you feel like a boss, when you blink the ball is going down the outlane. This game puts other high scoring options in front of you that will all almost certainly fail. And watching it in competition is so fun because eventually you _will_ think you can take advantage of the Super Dog or the Trap Door and you _will_ be wrong.

Addams Family has two entirely separate scoring methods: lighting up the mansion and going for multiball. That these two options are both balanced scoring wise is a minor miracle. Seeing people on the same table trying completely different shots is a hell of a thing, and rarely works this well.

Twilight Zone is the victory lap. It takes FunHouse's left shot right shot flow and its upper flippers, Addams Family's wild magnets and huge centered objective list, and Banzai Run's second playing field (now with magnets as flippers) and melds them into the best pinball table of all time.

What are your some of your favorite pinball tables? And what do you think video games can learn from their design?

I love pinball but haven‘t really explored virtual pinball that emulates actual tables yet. I’ve played things like Last Gladiators and Necronomicon for Sega Saturn which are pretty great though. I really ought to start trying that out one of these days…

I haven't been since Covid hit but I live about 20 minutes away from a really cool pinball parlor (also a heavy metal record store and head shop although those parts of the business interest me less). I am nowhere near the level of serious players; I once asked about a local pinball league but never got a response from them and gave up. I aim to get high scores but rarely actually understand what I should be doing, even after reading the little rules card.
Addams Family is the table I have the most nostalgia for and I've long had the life-goal of owning a machine if/when I live in a house. IDK how realistic that goal might be though...

When it comes to actually playing, games I'd say my favorite is Monster Bash. A lot of that might just be because it has lots of cool plastic parts moving around and my love for monsters, but there's so much variety that I don't get tired of playing it.

The machine I seem to do best on is Tales of the Arabian Nights. I don't know if I'm just able to click with it in a way I don't with other machines, but I've ended up getting a good enough score for me to enter my initials on multiple occasions.

There are also new games made by Spooky Pinball which are pretty cool in terms of aesthetic but tend to be more expensive to play AND more difficult than a lot of older machines, so I'm a little torn about them.

@Nemoide#10170 Pinball FX3 has really good emulations of both Arabian Nights and Monster Bash if you want to dip your feet in that pond.

I have no sense of the mechanics, but for pure stupid spectacle, Guns 'n Roses pinball is one of my favorite things to play ever.


Cool! I was deep into pinball until a couple years ago. I ran tournaments and helped grow my local league. I even have a Street Fighter II, WWF Royal Rumble, and F-14 Tomcat (storing for a friend) in the garage. I wound up falling out mostly because of the community. There are really great folks in pinball, but the bad parts of the community are just-the-worst. I've participated in a lot of communities and sucked up a lot of bad shit, and this is the one that drove me off purely from a, “Fuck this noise.” standpoint.

But yeah! Gawd. It's a really unique and fantastic form of play. There was a small window of time where pinball design was just so much more interesting to me than video games. There's this whole thing around building narratives through rules and what the ball represents at any given time. Yet at the same time trying to tie those things around something designed for points and competition, and the risks vs rewards around that. Fun stuff.

I've always been a fan of Steve Ritchie (Firepower, High Speed, F-14, Terminator 2, AC/DC). High Speed is actually one of the more popular examples of narrative in pinball. Steve Ritchie was inspired to design it right after he had sent the cops on a high speed chase on i-5 in Northern California. He was doing 146 MPH!

Everything else you guys mentioned is great! My group of friends really had a thing for Stern's Lord of the Rings and The Simpsons. Just super long and involved games, telling stories, but competitive as well. There are just so many damned modes! :P

@sosadillatron#10176 I will never ever in my life be able to complete LotR. But I'm glad it exists.

Had no idea Steve Ritchie based High Speed on his own exploits, that's kind of hilarious.

And with you on the community. There are few places to talk pinball on the internet without serious bullshit. I feel the same way about shmups. Something about arcade obsessions tends to bring out the worst in people for some reason, maybe because they're competitive without requiring you to work with other people? What ever the reason it's a shame.

Thanks for taking one for the team and making a cool thread about pinball. I have a draft of my own IC pinball post that I can't seem to get out of my brain correctly!

Pinball somehow captured me as a "serious casual" player in college. I never played competitively, but I put a lot of money into the _Tales of the Arabian Nights_ machine at the Memorial Union hall at Oregon State early 2000s, and I sought out the games that have a "simulator" philosophy on PC. My favorites were the Pro Pinball series. Both _Timeshock_ and _Big Race USA_ were ported to a few different console platforms. These days, I greatly enjoy the _Pinball FX_ line of both recreations of the classics and for original tables. I think their more "simulation" original tables really shine like _Secrets of the Deep_.

I think pinball games suffer from both a discoverability problem and a difficulty curve that creates a barrier to new players.

I think rule sheets _as a concept_ need to be more discoverable to new players. The game is to advance through the tasks, not just keep the ball in play. Once I learned that you can get much better at pinball by shooting the flashing lights rather than just keeping the ball up, my enjoyment went through the roof. I don't think that is generally well explained even though the LCD screens are saying "go shoot this shot". I have good friends who are thoughtful about game design and UX deadpan ask me what is so special about any given pinball game because "they are all the same and just have different theming".

Difficulty is another thing that needs to be better understood. My biggest complaint about some tables is that I may activate a specific minigame maybe one time every 5 plays, and I don't even comprehend the rules before I fail at it. Pinball FX's _Pasha_ table and the physical _Indiana Jones_ physical table are both good (poor) examples of what I mean here. There is a "race the ball around with some magnets" minigame. Problem is I don't understand the timing of the inputs or even when I am allowed to start my inputs. When I activate this mode, the ball drains almost immediately and I've never advanced through that part of the game.

Going forward, I think pinball's primary design struggle going is how to keep people who have been playing in bars since the 70s (or earlier!) happy with new challenges while actually getting new people to invest the time to get over the initial skill floor. I know that this is possible at some level because my 10-year-old daughter **loves** pinball games. She spent the majority of her time at last year's Portland Retro Gaming Expo playing them.

Favorite Specific Pinball Games in No Particular Order

  • - _Tales of the Arabian Nights_ and _Theater of Magic_ (the predecessor to _Tales_)
  • - Jersey Jack's _Wizard of Oz_ table
  • - _Secrets of the Deep_ and _Paranormal_ on Pinball FX
  • - _Bobba Fett_ on Pinball FX which is one of my favorite "videogamy" pinball tables.
  • - Man, there is this one outer space themed table I played a few years back at Portland Retro Gaming Expo and the whole playfield is vacuum-formed plastic and curvy like with black holes and stuff and I don't remember the name of it and I can't seem to find it anywhere.
  • @MichaelDMcGrath#10179

    LOTR is definitely a journey, which in itself is kind of the point thematically. :P My group played it to DEATH, and there were at least 3 people that had one at home, on top of at our league spot. A few have completed it, but it's definitely not easy or short ... and their play has to be on point.

    @antillese#10181 Orbitor 1?



    “I think pinball’s primary design struggle going is how to keep people who have been playing in bars since the 70s (or earlier!) happy with new challenges while actually getting new people to invest the time to get over the initial skill floor.”

    I think the newer Jersey Jack and Stern tables are trying their darndest on that. Thinking about Brian Eddy's new Stranger Things table for Stern in particular, with its gorgeous projector + screen display and his trademark wide open playfield. It looks gorgeous and it seems to play like Attack from Mars. I say seems because it had the misfortune of dropping _just_ before lockdown and I haven't gotten a chance to sit down on it. But I think maybe more pretty tables that license popular shows instead of classic rock bands is a way to do this.


    @sosadillatron#10183 Yeeeeesssss! Orbitor 1… with two Os!!

    I know very little about pinball, but here‘s a cool thing. The old Williams Pinball website had a section on ’Scared Stiff' - One of two Elvira themed pinball games.


    It's got lots of sketches, concept art, models, sounds and stuff that was cut from the final game. They even have versions of the rom to download so you can update the software!
    Here's the credits aka 'Team Stiff'
    Design: Dennis Nordman, Mark Weyna
    Artwork/Design: Greg Freres
    Software/Design: Mike Boon, Cameron Silver
    Mechanical Engineering: Win Schilling, Bob Brown, Joe Loveday
    Sound and Music: Paul Heitsch, Dr. Dave Zabriskie
    Dot Matrix Animation: Adam Rhine, Brian Morris

    @hellomrkearns#10195 There is now a third! Stern made one last year with the same team that made the first two.


    @MichaelDMcGrath#10197 that rules! has any one person had as many?

    @hellomrkearns#10199 not to my knowledge no

    my main source of pinball knowledge is the years long saga of tom scharpling at the silverball arcade in new jersey as narrated on the best show

    @yeso#10202 Wait. Whaaaaaaat? I don't think I have heard him talk about this.

    Aw shit! Pinball.

    pre pandemic I would do weekly rides with a local moped club in the seattle area, and we'd usually pick an end point for our rides at a bar with pinball on it. multiple people in our group either work at or are the managment of pinball bars in Seattle. So I was around pinball a lot the past few years. I am not very good and watching someone just absolutely dominate a machine, unlocking secret modes, is wild to see.

    During this time I started to learn on some of the more vintage machines, because often there's less going on and it's easier to pay attention to things. to that end, the bike shop I used to go to began to acquire some of the machines that the bar owners wanted to keep around. Enter: Night Rider, an absolute bastard of a pinball table

    The other one that the shop had was Groundshaker. Which makes the absolute best sounding Atari-2600 engine revs. It also shakes too!


    The one I really learned on was World Soccer 94. Mostly because it was overlooked at the bar and so it was open a lot of the time. But I ended up really enjoying it's mechanics for some reason.

    I'm also a huge fan of Whitewater because I'm a huge sucker for elaborate ramps

    @robinhoodie#10206 it was off and on during the wfmu period, he had a minor hi score obsession for a while

    So glad to see some pinball appreciation - I have always been an amateur fan, but perhaps I should give digital tables a try - Pinball FX3 seem to be the go to game for that?

    Other tables I have enjoyed though include the aforementioned Stern "Simpsons' Pinball Party" table, a Bally "Gilligan's Island" table I used to play at a local ice hockey rink years ago, and I, of course, have very fond childhood memories of the infamous customized [Williams "Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure"](https://www.ipdb.org/machine.cgi?id=1267) table at Disneyland (though I believe there was another Indiana Jones table that came out years later that I used to have the high score on in my hometown's cinema, but I am unable to find the difference online at the moment).


    @siebold_magnolia#10232 Pinball FX3 seem to be the go to game for that?

    Yes - highly recommended. It's on basically all platforms gaming platforms. The iOS Pinball FX/Zen Pinball/Star Wars Pinball/Marvel Pinball are all the same engine/company too. I assume they have it on Android too.


    @marlfuchs2#10222 I’m also a huge fan of Whitewater because I’m a huge sucker for elaborate ramps

    Whitewater rules.