Tilt The Battle To Save Pinball. In an era where Video Games are king, there is still hope for the classic pinball machine. This is the story of how the Pinball Machine was saved. This documentary follows the story of how Midway came up with a new style pinball machine in the year 1999, called Pinball 2000. How it was to be the latest greatest thing and yet it nearly didn’t happen.
We start out with the history of Williams Manufacturing. Machines started out as simple games with lights, plungers, kick outs and bells. After adding flippers they became more interactive. The 1970s was a great era for pinball. Computers and electronic displays allowed for new features and advanced gameplay on pinball machines. Motors with ratcheting gears allowed for the classic bell sounds to be added to more modern machines. Disaster stuck when the first video games started hitting the market. Pong, space invaders, and others were easier for arcade owners to get into. Factors like smaller footprints, sold state games, shorter plays, and less maintenance required led to arcade owners putting in arcade machines where they had previously had pinball machines.
Williams reinvented the pinball machine in the 80‘s by adding things like double play fields, better themed machines. The games were slower games introducing order based tasks and targets. Pinball machines became more than just about high scores, they began to be able to tell a story. The early 90s was another great period for the pinball machine, this time for the high tech pinball machine. Williams was the place where visionaries were king. Designers had nearly complete control over their games. By the time the mid 90s came around the designers found out that they had done too good a job. Machines were lasting longer than they had anticipated. People were still playing models from years ago. The companies dwindled down to two. Sega and Williams.
This brought us to the Pinball 2000 machine. Something that could make pinball new again. They tried many different things, 100s of ball machines, 3d machines, computer monitors with animation. It was the computer based setup that would become pinball 2000. From here the documentary goes into how the designers went about creating pinball 2000. They clashed with the bigwigs, saying how pinball 2000 wasn’t going to revive the market. We get the story of how they came up with a holographic based pinball machine or Holopin as an alternative to a simple computer monitor display. This new display projected an image on the glass tabletop allowing for animations on the top level of the table and interaction with the ball. We then get to see the process and time frame of how a game goes from concept to market. Artwork, software, and music all have to be created. Holopin allowed for color overlays, mini games, and full tasks for the players. To keep costs low they tried to make the cabinets convertible. Arcade owners could buy one basic cabinet and change out the tables and marquee systems.
We then get a peak behind the design process with CAD animations showing the game parts and how much thought goes into things like spacing and paths the ball can take. After 18 months of development they brought in their biggest distributor and he fell in love with the pinball 2000 platform. During this time Williams also got into slot machines. That division was making money and the pinball division was losing money. Marketing for pinball 2000 consisted of flyers, videos, classes, basically more marketing materials than had been used for any other pinball machine or platform. Problems during launch included broken cabinets and software glitches. They repaired the damage and rebooted machines. Pinball 2000 was received by fans with mixed reaction. Some thought it was too much of a video game, but once they played it most players became fans. The pinball division at Williams made a profit for the first time in two years.
The fist pinball 2000 game was Revenge from Mars. Mars was a sequel to a hit pinball machine Attack from Mars. The second was Star Wars Episode I. Star Wars was developed in nearly complete secrecy. George Lucas didn’t want any details of the movie to leak out. The pinball game designers basically designed it by themselves without feedback from other pinball designers. Lucas had to approve everything found on the machine. When the game was finally revealed the other designers thought it was more movie than game. Delays came and the Star Wars didn’t ship in time for the movie. A price increase to help cover the cost of the license didn’t help Williams sell as many units f the Star Wars machine as they thought they would, Williams decided to end the run on Star Wars pinball manufacturing. The next pinball 2000 machines were not ready to go into manufacturing, this lead to a break in production and large loss. Expense of each unit and time frame/length of development were two factors in Williams’ decision to get out of the Pinball market.
Williams decided to stop making pinball 2000 machines and closed down the pinball division to focus on video games and slot machines. This decision left the designers with the choice of going to another division and losing their benefits/seniority or going elsewhere. There really wasn’t anywhere else to go. Some ended up in the video game division others became slot machine designers, others ended up with their own companies.
Overall a decent documentary. The first part was a decent history lesson that was paced. The second part was mostly from the perspective of the designers. The third part was the design and the journey of the pinball 2000 concept. We had interviews with the designers, stock shots from various arcades. The coolest part for me were the the CAD animations of pinball machine parts.
On a related note I believe the the next big move is virtual pinball using tools such as future pinball. http://www.futurepinball.com it is software based pinball. Anyone can take these tools and make their own virtual pinball machine out of a plasma/lcd flat panel TV and a computer:
I give Tilt The Battle To Save Pinball 3 out of 5 Monkeys