27 May, 2013

On tables' perspective

Since I got my iPad mini I am only playing on it, to the detriment of my normal iPad, to say nothing of the iMac. I have been since constantly complaining (quite justifiably) on the non-visibility of the Farsight ball. In fact I had the same complaints when I was playing on my normal iPad.

Recently, I started playing again on the iMac, a 27" one, and I discovered that, although I still hated the "almost invisible" Farsight ball I could play (in fullscreen) much better and, in most cases, enjoy tables which were frustrating on the iPad. (This does not apply to all tables of course: White Water is still unplayable).

So, I decided to analyse the situation using my professional tools: intuition and back-of-the-envelope calculations (while in my professional life I often have to do more sophisticated calculations, I enjoy greatly the back-of-the-envelope ones). First, I had to find out at what distance were my eyes with respect to the screens in the various configurations. A rough measurement showed them to be respectively:
40 cm for the iPhone 5
50 cm for the iPad mini
55 cm for the iPad
60 cm for the iMac 
(I decided not to bother about the MacBook Air: enough is enough).
The variation of the distances is not big (after all the length of our arms is a serious constraint) but still there exists a 50 % distance increase between the iPhone and the iMac.
Next came the measurement of the respective portions of the screen (the whole screen for the iDevices and the part of the screen containing the same part of the table for the iMac): 
5 cm x 9 cm for the iPhone 5
12 cm x 16 cm for the iPad mini
15 cm x 20 cm for the iPad
32 cm x 33 cm for the iMac 
It is instructive at this point to give the value of the solid angle under which we are seeing the screen. We obtain it, in an approximate way, by dividing the surface of the object by the square of the distance. We find:
0.03 for the iPhone5
0.08 for the iPad mini
0.1 for the iPad
0.3 for the iMac

Two interesting conclusions can be drawn at this level. First, there is no big difference between the iPad mini and the normal iPad. On the other hand going from the iPad to the iMac there is a leap in viewing angle, comparable to the one going from the iPhone to the iPad. In order to visualise the difference between the subjective appreciation of the various tables I give below a comparison of the playfield (for one of my favourites, Big Shot) for the iMac, the iPad mini and the iPhone where I have corrected the surface in order to take into account the distance at which the screen is situated. A picture is more telling than a solid angle measurement :-)

I have made a special effort to obtain screenshots with the ball clearly visible in the case of the iPad and the iPhone. In a normal play this is not always the case. 

Just by looking at the picture one can draw the conclusion that playing on the iMac is much easier than on the iPad let alone the iPhone. This is not a conclusion limited to the Farsight pinballs. I do indeed find playing Tristan fullscreen on the iMac much easier than on the iPad. From the iPad to the iPhone things get really hairy: my top score on the iPhone is half that on the iPad. Even pinballs are not exceptional in this respect. I do like playing Bird Jumper a lot, both on the iPhone and on the iPad. Still my top score on the iPad is 50 % better than the one on the iPhone. 

Does all this analysis mean that the iPad is not a good game machine? Not at all! The iPads (both normal and mini) are great (I wouldn't be as affirmative in the case of the iPhone). It is just that when a developer makes a bad choice, like the one Farsight is doing with the reflections on the ball (which, in the name of realism, make it at times almost invisible) the playbility of a game diminishes. While this is only marginally annoying in the case of a big screen, where one has time to see the ball and react, it becomes easily a factor of frustration on smaller screens. Let's hope Farsight does something about this one day.

26 May, 2013

Farsight inaugurates Season Two

Farsight is continuing its steady production of classical pinball tables with what they call the Season Two collection. The first two tables are both oldies. I did like Centaur

a lot. Of course, playing on a black and white tabletop with a grey ball is a nightmare but this is one of the rare cases where the custom, coloured, balls that Farsight proposes may help. For this pinball I would prefer a green ball since the only green light is at the upper part of the table and would not cause any confusion. All in all the game is interesting and given that the ball does not drain too easily one can enjoy the game.

The second game, Pinbot,

is simply not interesting. Despite the fact that the tabletop is uncluttered (always a plus for me) I did not enjoy playing it. However I am well aware that this is a matter of personal taste, so your opinion on this point may differ from mine.

(This entry is labeled as iOS only but given the experience on how Farsight does things it is most probable that very soon the OSX version of these two pinballs will become available).

Note added

It's done. Mac version is out.

22 May, 2013

Shaman by Zen Pinball

A new table by Zen Pinball just came out: Shaman

I was attracted by its multicoloured playfield and I purchased it without much hesitation. It turned out that that was a good choice. I like this game much more than other ones by Zen Studio. The graphics are gorgeous. The colour theme is reminiscent of Jungle by Gameprom. But then the setting is similar, so ... 
There are moving parts (what did you expect from Zen?) but they are rather unobtrusive. The gameplay is interesting and the ball does not drain in frustrating ways. Still, I always wait for the day Zen ports Plants vs. Zombies 

pinball to the iPad.

Second thoughts

My friend Marco (see comment below) pointed out to me something that I usually neglect: sound effects. Most times I play pinball with sound off. In this case as soon as I turned the sound on I started to like the game a lot less. Even the animations on the table become tiresome when accompanied by music. From now on I have to test pinballs under realistic (i.e.  not mute) conditions.

16 May, 2013

Pinball Gold Pack

From time to time I am visiting the Good Old Games site. I confess that my hope is that one day they will produce a Mac version of Pro Pinballs (since their revival is taking more time that what we initially hoped). Recently I stumbled upon the only pinball for Macs, the Pinball Gold Pack

It contains the (DosBox ported versions of) Pinball Dreams, Pinball Fantasies and Pinball Illusions, all great classics of the 90s PC era. I unashamedly copy a comment from the GOG site:
Ok, after playing some of the more realistic pinball games on here you might think that this game would be a complete disappointment. The tables are not as intricate, the physics model is way more simplified, and the table themes are a little cheesy. However, this game makes up for it with pure charm and straight forward fun. Sure, it might not have as many ramps, magnets, and "toys" but I challenge you to put this game down after one play.

Unfortunately my opinion is not the same. I grew up with Tristan and the superb Mac graphics, so these old PC pinballs do indeed look cheesy. Nostalgia does not work for me in this case. Still, they are decent pinballs and would appeal to many Windows2Mac switchers.

A small improvement

My friend Doc/Nick is back after a long absence and while he was trying to catch up with the blog entries he spotted something that can only be qualified as my sloppiness. I tend not to make any distinction between Mac pinballs and iPad/iPhone ones. However not everybody have an iDevice and thus a distinction is mandatory. So, from now on (and perhaps going back over the most recent posts) I introduce a small logo based on the following images, for Macs

and for iDevices

If a pinball comes out simultaneously for both platforms (as is often the case for Farsight) I will blend the two logos. In that way there will be a visual guide for people interested in digital pinball simulations.