My history with Digital Pinball
Pinball is a very physical game, the skill that you need to hit the ramps at the right point in time and be able to nudge the table just enough while avoiding activating the tilt switches is a real skill. Pinball machines date right back to the 1930’s, my attraction to actual machines probably started in the 1980’s where I remember playing on them in an arcade while I was on holiday with my parents. Now the history of Pinball itself is something that is well documented on the internet so rather than tell you something that you can just go and look up I thought I would tell you about my personal history with the digital version of the same game.
It all started for me around 1992 when I first played the hit game Pinball Dreams on the Amiga. Programmed by a small Swedish company called Digital Illusions, eventually, they were made a subsidiary of Electronic Arts and most people might know them now as EA DICE. I have already written about my love for the Amiga in general but I am sure that Pinball Dreams and the games that followed it contributed significantly. The game shipped with four tables that all had a theme, they were called Ignition, Steel Wheel, Beat Box and Nightmare, all of which were well designed with plenty of room to learn where the combinations, modes and jackpots were. I had played other digital versions of pinball before then and the thing that made Pinball Dreams so different was that the ball actually felt like it had weight. You could aim it, even juggle it between one set of flippers and another with some ease. Remember that this game was made way before the Havok physics engine existed and the processing power of the machines in those days was rather limited.
In the latter months of 1992, Digital Illusions released the first sequel Pinball Fantasies, needless to say with the amount of time that I had put into Pinball Dreams it was almost an instant purchase for me as soon as I could afford it. It was not just pinball games on the Amiga that I enjoyed, in 1993 one of my friends owned a Sega Megadrive and we clubbed together to buy the crossover game Sonic Spinball. There was something very oddly playable about Sonic Spinball. They had added a mechanic where you could actually control Sonic in mid-flight which allowed you to get a greater amount control over the game.
It took Digital Illusions two more years to come out with a new pinball related game and it was to be the final one that they would release named Pinball Illusions. Again I must have put hours into this game challenging my friends’ scores by uploading them to a bulletin board. My obsession with the digital version of pinball did not stop there because in 1996 a new batch of developers took up the mantle by the name of Liquid Dezign as they produced Slam Tilt. As far as I am aware this was the only game that they ever made.
Finding a good digital pinball game today is a tricky thing to do. If you have a powerful enough Apple-based mobile device then you might want to check out the work of Cowboy Radio Apps who has remade both Pinball Dreams and Pinball Fantasies in normal and HD. I have no idea how accurate or good these are but if I had an Apple-based phone they would be on my list of things to try. However, if you have some version of Windows or an XBox then I can highly recommend Pinball FX 2 and now the more recent Pinball FX 3. Let’s put it this way, I think I have Pinball FX 2 for both PC and XBox, that’s how much I liked it.
There are several reasons as to why I like the game. The newest version is available for free via Steam and you get a single table to try out, the game itself is graphically pretty, it plays smoothly even on low-end machines and the ball has that weighted feeling that allows you to do trick shots once you get used to the mechanics. As a bonus, if you already own tables for Pinball FX 2 then you can use them in the third version at no extra cost. As a slight criticism, the cost of a single table can range from £1.99 to £7.99 per table so you will find it is best to buy packs of tables and/or well worth waiting for a sale to pick up your favourites.
I do have one bit of advice for you if you are planning on playing Pinball FX 3 on a Windows machine. Turn off sticky keys. The defaults for the game are the left and right shift buttons to use the flippers and it only takes Windows a few moments to offer you the option of “sticky keys” and if you don’t turn it off then it can get quite annoying. Have you played any good Digital Pinball games or are you a pinball purest sticking solely to the physical form? Get in touch with us in the usual way of dropping us some comments or via Facebook, Twitter and Reddit
Love and multi-ball jackpots to you all