28 August, 2012

On friends' influence

After I wrote a more than lukewarm critique on Zen Pinball, Dock/Nick and Marco Visser chimed in with praise for its tables. In particular the latter was enthousiastic about Excalibur (which exists on the iPad). Thus I decided it was time to give, at least to that particular table, a chance. I purchased Excalibur

and played it on the iPad. Well, all I can say is that I am not hooked. It has perhaps less intrusive bells and whistles than Sorcerer's Lair but, still, it's not a pinball I will return to regularly.

27 August, 2012

On tables and balls

The success of a physical pinball depends essentially on the table design and the gameplay scenario. There are limits on how complex the latter can be, some limits having simply to do with the laws of physics.  

Digital pinball on the other hand presents an additional difficulty, that of simulating accurately the real world. This should be the first worry of all digital pinballs designers but, unfortunately, quite often they get sidetracked and forget this crucial point.

Take for instance the pinballs of ASK Homework (already mentioned in the present blog when we talked about iOS pinballs). They started with some unnecessarily complicated tables, one example of which is Vampire

and evolved towards much simpler ones like the already mentioned Mummy and the more recent Aliens.

While this is commendable it does not suffice to make the ASK pinballs satisfactory. The first reason is the ball simulation. One has the impression that the ball has zero weight. The fact that balls of various materials and qualities are offered does not improve the situation in the least. On the contrary. To make thing worse, the designer offers a collection of flippers. Some of them are silly and none has good mechanics. So, while ASK did make a move in the right direction it is my opinion that much more work is necessary before they graduate to the high quality pinball class.

13 August, 2012

Another Littlewing masterpiece

Once Tristan was out the Fujitas went back to their initial plan for an iOS pinball: Crystal Caliburn. It appeared this month and it is, as expected for a Littlewing product, a superb pinball.

The table has been reworked (notice the darker lighting, which suits better the game atmosphere) and more 3D elements are present. The physics are, as always, top-notch and the gameplay perfect. Crystal Caliburn is a perfectly balanced game. You can play in a relaxed way and still manage to score something decent. However if you aim at a score in the billions then the game becomes hard and you must milk every extra ball for points. 

There is little wonder why I am an incurable Littlewing fan.

On iOS pinballs

I had convinced myself that I would never enter the iOS-pinball jungle. The reason is that in just three-four years the iOS-pinball production surpassed that of Mac-pinball, which was spread over almost thirty years. Also I was not willing to devote a non-negligible budget to the purchase of all iOS-pinballs around (which, even if I did, would have been an almost impossible task since some games may exist only for some specific iTunes store). Moreover, the necessary time for playing thoroughly every table and shape an opinion would have been both prohibitive and unwarranted. 

Still, since I was fatally attracted to both the iPhone and iPad, I ended playing pinballs and shaping an opinion on many of them. Thus, albeit reluctanty, I decided that it was time for some entry on iOS pinballs. However my presentation will focus only on the pinballs I deem worth mentioning. No mention of the infamous Pinball! any more. (By the way it is called Pinball-HD in iOS: the name  "Pinball" was already taken by some other forgettable game). 

You will not be astonished if I tell you that my preferred pinballs are the ones I already like most on the Mac. Thus the creations of Littlewing, Farsight and Gameprom offer the best pinball experience on the iPad. (Yes, one can play on the iPhone, but if one wishes to really enjoy a pinball one should rather use an iPad). Gameprom has some specific iOS tables of high quality (but all of them too complicated graphically for my taste), AC/DC, Da Vinci, Snow

Let's see how the new, under develoment tables will look.

There are several honourable mentions. First the big classics Pinball Dreams

and Pinball Fantasies 

have been ported to iOS. I played both of them on the iPhone (the iPad did not exist yet) and I cannot get hooked. Perhaps this is due to the fact that these were wintel-only pinballs and the nostalgia factor is absent for me.

Then there is a pinball which is definitely below-par, physics wise: Bronco.

Its main merit is that it reproduces a classical table. If only they could couple it with a decent physics engine…

ASK Homework have produced many pinballs in the series Real pinball and Age of Pinballs. They are decent but I somehow cannot get myself to like them. The only one I find somewhat more interesting is the single-table one, "Art of pinball, the Mummy"

Finally there is a pinball by Cartoon Smart called Kingpin:

The gameplay is not bad and the graphics rather nice. Unfortunately they are are insisting on the pistol-shooting aspect (even more so with the most recent Pinball Showdown) and this is spoiling the game.

In the first version of this entry I had forgotten another pinball (in fact the first iOS pinball I have seen, on a friend's iPhone, back when I had no i-device myself). It's the pinball in the iPhysics pack.

I like it because it has a very simple table. On the other hand the feeling is that of a flash-pinball and so, today, I find that it does not make the cut.

12 August, 2012

Dishonourable mentions

First we have our superstar: Pinball. (The name hints at a pinball-monotheism: there is only one pinball. I agree with the developer: there is only one pinball of such a bad quality). This time they hired some professional designer to draw the tables. 

There are 10 of them! Unfortunately adding uninteresting playfields only multiplies the user's annoyance. 

I have an acid test for pinball table designers. Suppose you are back in the golden era of electro-mechanical pinballs, let's say the 60s. Would you invest your own money into building a real pinball machine based on your table design? (If not, then why are you inflicting your contraptions on us).  How many such machines would you hope to sell? In the case of Pinball! (I am adding an exclamation point just to make clear I am talking about this specific, ridiculously-named, one) the number would have been something between 0 and zero. (And I should point out here that we haven't said anything about physics: in a real machine physics is taking care of itself. Unfortunately, this is a wholly different story in simulations).

Two more pinball by Nuclear Nova, Pinball Massacre 

and Pinball  Shuffle

belong to the same category: bad physics and uninteresting play.

Finally there is another pinball which is special in the sense that it is not available outside the U.S. (Why? Does the developers fear european-taste-based harsh critiques?). It is called Pinball Yeah! (I did not add the exclamation point this time: it was there from the outset) and it comes with four tables, A.I., Pirate Cove, Liquid Bread, Classic

The developers claim "real world physics" and "real 3D simulation". I beg to differ.

On pinball mediocrity

Some pinballs are not bad: you can play them if there is nothing better, otherwise you forget about them. Take for instance Dino madness. 

It's kind of a cute game with so-so physics.

Pinball City NY is better. 

I do like the black&white table which manages to convey some special atmosphere, although the perspective is, somehow, bothering me. I would have given it a honourable mention were it not for there next "city" pinball, Paris, which came out on iOS and which is really lousy. I know I am being unfair but I cannot help it.

Zen pinball is a five table game, Sorcerer's Lair, Marvel's, World War, Fear itself, Infinity Gauntlet,

I must admit that I played only the first, freeware, game. From what I saw I was not ready to spend money on tables I would most probably not like. Zen pinball, for me, is a game, not a pinball simulation. The tables are overburdened with graphics. During the game you have plenty of things moving, which distracts you from the game itself. Thus, although not totally devoid of interest, this game is not worth a honourable mention.

11 August, 2012

The Gameprom pinballs

Gameprom, an Unkraine-based company, started producing pinballs for iOS before graduating to the Mac. In fact they did so first by proposing a remote controller application for the iPhone which made possible to control the flippers of a pinball running on the Mac. Shortly afterwards they introduced the first three pinballs which run on the Mac, controlled by the keyboard. Still I find the idea of a remote controller really excellent and it's a pity that Gameprom did not find imitators.

Their pinballs are quite nice simulations with realistic physics. The first bunch of three tables, Wild West, The Deep and Jungle Style 

were of increasing intricacy in that order. Still they retained their playability and interest. However the tendency to more and more graphically weighty tables was confirmed in the following tables of the series. In particular the Slayer table

is borderline, esthetically-wise, (to say nothing of the accompanying music) while the three tables of War Pinball, Platoon, Navy Seals and Missing in Action, 

although much nicer, make for less playable simulations. Unfortunately this tendency is present in the iOS pinballs as well as we shall see later. Still, the Gameprom pinballs are, together with those of Littlewing and Farsight, the only ones I could recommend for the Mac.

Pinball Arcade by Farsight Studios

Pinball Arcade came to me as a surprise. I downloaded their demo with trepidation and I discovered another pinball-gem on par with the Littlewing pinballs or, come to think of it, with the famous (but, alas, defunct) Pro Pinballs. The formula is a surefire one: they have a top-quality simulation and instead of building their own tables (something calling for substantial talent) they trust the classics. In fact they purchased the rights to some of the greatest pinball machines. (I wonder how much this has costed: Littlewing is alluding to a prohibitive price for the rights of 8-ball proposed by Bally, which makes it impossible for them to revive that old pinball). 
Many tables do exist already, Arabian Nights, Believe it or Not, Black Hole, Theatre Magic

and many more ( Monster Bash, Medieval Madness, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Funhouse, Attack from Mars, Black Night, Space Shuttle, Pin-Bot, Circus Voltaire, Big Shot) through in-app purchase. 

Also PA is available both on the Mac and i-devices (although the in-app offers are not in perfect synchrony). I am a great fan of Funhouse, which had been cancelled twice till now (Amtex and the second installment of Microsoft pinball arcade). 

Funhouse would have been fabulous were it not for some PA quirks which spoil the gameplay for no apparent reason. First, why on earth do you have to use a physical plunger on a no-touch screen when you play on the Mac? Second, and much more annoying, the table focus shifts from a fixed, upright-table one (when, like myself, you make it your default one) to a variable-focus one when you go into multi-ball. I have lost count how many times I let a ball drain because of the shifting view. This is a serious flaw, both in the MacOS and iOS version and I am looking forward to Farsight fixing it.