Who Would Ever Dream of Pinballs?

As a follow-up to my previous post, I here take a good look at one of my favourite games of all times and why it matters.

Pinball Dreams was released back in 1992 and was one of the last big hits for the Amiga. It came quite out of the blue, made by first-comers Digital Illusions (DI), also known in the demo scene as The Silents. Pinball Dreams is a pinball game with 4 different tables with different themes.

I think the demoscene background of DI shows in this game. The technical execution is impeccable, but also the way the game looks and sounds is pretty close to perfection. The game looks completely different than most games on the Amiga I remember from that era. It’s much more colourful and the colours are perfectly chosen to suit the different tables. Not just the colours, but also the different themes and sounds within tables form a distinct whole. I think this is one of the lessons this game have for us. It’s not a practical lesson mind you but I think it serves as a designery goal; Make Everything the Player Sees, Hears and Is Made to Do (NB!) Part of a Coherent Whole.

As I mentioned the game is also technically near-perfect. The simulation of the balls movement is believable and this is part of the fun of this game. The player controls the ball indirectly with flippers and the satisfaction comes from being able to make the ball do what one wants with just those flippers. This wouldn’t work if the balls movement was anything but predictable. Of course it could be predictable in a different way that we know from reality steel balls acting, but this would add huge extra cognitive load for the player i.e. extra-stuff to familiarize oneself with.

Partly because of this well-implemented physical simulation and partly because of the table-design the player can almost always blame himself for screwing up. This makes for a huge factor in wanting to have another go. Because the game has a distinct unpredictability associated with it, the ball will always escape even the most proficient player. Conversely this means that no matter how lousy you are at playing the game you will score big points sooner or later.

As a more personal note, I have always enjoyed how the game teaches you to play itself.