23 December, 2014

Follow-up on ProPinball excellence

I wrote a post last week concerning my correspondence with Adrian Barritt of the ProPinball team and the ball visibility, in particular when playing on the iPhone. The answer at that time was that they were going to take care of this. One week later this is already taken care of.

The Barnstorm team are prepping Timeshock for public release on iDevices. Given that the iTunes store is closed during the Christmas vacations this will have to wait till January. In the meantime some minor bugs are getting fixed and some features are being implemented. Among the ones that are already there is the ball visibility.

In the screenshot one can read "bright highlight added to ball in order to make it easier to see". When Timeshock comes out we'll see if this is suffices (and you know that I am a heckler when it comes to ball visibility) but the important thing is that they reacted immediately to this users' suggestion.

By the way, I find the move of the Barnstorm people to release TImeshock for iOS immediately and then continue work on more platforms quite clever. Selling Timeshock on the iTunes store will ensure some fresh funds making the development of the remaining versions more serene.

21 December, 2014

Farsight’s Christmas present

By now everybody knows that I am a sucker when it comes to Pat Lawlor pinballs. This time Farsight decided to offer us a Christmas present with one of the very first Lawlor pinballs, Earthshaker.

While it is just the second pinball designed by the grand master it is a great table with all the features that make the Lawlor pinballs unique. The graphics are superb and the gameplay really interesting. I was hooked to the game from the very first moment. 

My only deception is that the sinking building feature does not seem to be implemented in the digital version. (But then I just played a few games and I may be wrong).

At this point I will repeat myself: the game is made harder to play by the “invisible” ball. In fact I was not able to find a ball with a suitable colour. The table is multicoloured and thus whatever I tried was not really satisfactory. Perhaps a green ball is slightly better than the white one but still (very) far from perfect. It is not clear whether Farsight will one day correct this (despite their answer to my friend Marco’s mail that they will be looking into this).

17 December, 2014

Why ProPinballs are the best

A new beta of Timeshock for the iDevices just came out with bug fixes and some additions. However what attracted my attention was the list of things to be implemented and which are in progress. Here is a screen capture from the ProPinball forum.

Notice the “Ball can be hard to see”. In fact when the first beta came out I wrote to Adrian Barritt pointing him to my blog entry where I was commenting on the ball’s visibility (in particular when playing in a small screen like the iPhone’s). He answered saying that they were going to look into this. I was not the only one unhappy with this feature. Other people in the forum had had the same impression. And now the problem is in the list of features/bugs to be taken care of.

How many times have myself (and other people as well) contacted Farsight complaining about the ball without effect? The fast reaction of the Barnstorm team is another proof (as if we were needing one) of their excellence. Their devotion to quality is what made (and is making) the ProPinball line the best pinball simulation ever.

11 December, 2014

The new Zen table: Venom

As you know I do not care much about Zen pinballs (well, with some exceptions). The most recent table, Venom, is of part of the ones I do not like at all. I watched the trailer and that sufficed to convince me to forget about this game. Why on earth should a pinball comprise gesticulating “super heroes”? They are spoiling the game! 

On the other hand there are people, probably even among the readers of this blog, who do like such pinballs. (Otherwise Zen Studios would stop producing them). For them my advice is to track down the trailer and decide for themselves if they like the game to the point of buying it. I, for one, will not.

05 December, 2014

Pinball and iPad Plus rumours

My recent post on Timeshock playability on the iPhone got me thinking about my preferred screen size and in particular when it comes to playing pinball. When the iPad mini made its appearance I abandoned my iPad 2 and started using the mini almost exclusively. However after having experienced this, admittedly very nice, machine I did not hesitate to ditch it in favour of the iPad Air. Playing on the latter’s screen is much more comfortable than trying to follow the ball on a 7 inch screen.

Recently we have been hearing rumours of a 12 inch iPad Air Plus and I, for one, am looking forward to this jumbo-size iPad. It will definitely be my favourite machine, when it comes to playing pinball (and other games as well). After a few years' experience on screens of various sizes my preferences are now well established. When I play pinball on the iPad I tend to favour simple tables like Tristan or Big Shot. I only try other tables for the blog’s sake. I enjoy playing more elaborate tables only on my iMac’s big screen. Although Timeshock is perfectly playable on the iPad I am still looking forward to the beta version for the Mac. I almost never play pinball on the iPhone. Perhaps if I had a iPhone 6 Plus I could let myself be tempted but since I hate phablets this is never going to happen.

01 December, 2014

Zaccaria’s Strike

OK, I admit it. I am a little bit old-school when it comes to my pinball preferences. I like simple pinballs with a pared-down table layout and without elaborate rules. Of course the most important thing is gameplay: it has to be somewhat challenging and always fun.

Most pinballs of the Zaccaria line do not live up to my expectations. However the most recent addition, Strike,

is an exception. The game cannot get simpler than this. Still (and in particular since those outlanes are there just for the ball to drain) the gameplay is not trivial. For once, I did not get annoyed by the sluggishness which is characteristic of all ASK Homework pinballs. Perhaps the game got more fluid after the most recent massive update of the Zaccaria pinball line or the sluggishness is there but somehow blends with the oldie (but goodie) theme of the table.

29 November, 2014

Timeshock on iOS: first (or, rather, second) impressions

I have been playing Timeshock on iDevices for one week now, mainly on my iPad Air. The game is great. It is really fluid even in multiball and the music goes on playing without a single hitch. 

Usually I turn the music off but this time, for I kept it on for testing.
In most pinballs I even turn the sounds off but I never do this in the case of ProPinballs: they are really great. I found out that the glass-off mode is implemented in the beta version. Here is a photo (taken with an iPhone under dubious lighting conditions):

The one thing that I do not like is the ball visibility. Still, while playing on the iPad, it is not too hard to follow the ball. Where the things get ugly is with the iPhone. To put it in a nutshell, the game is, if not unplayable, certainly not much fun playing. Perhaps the situation will improve when we’ll be able to adjust the lighting, but right now, with the harsh, blinking, lights and a silver ball I start having Farsight reminiscences.

20 November, 2014

Timeshock iOS beta is available

The long awaited Timeshock beta has arrived on the iPad (and iPhone too). What started as an alpha version became finally a beta and I must admit that the Barnstorm team did not exaggerate at all when they started calling this version a beta. It is true that there are several features missing but having tried the game (only on the iPad and just for a few exploratory games) I must admit  that it is perfectly stable. There is no comparison with the alpha version on my iMac.

The game looks gorgeous on my iPad Air retina screen. It plays really fluidly even for multiballs. The one thing I could not tell is whether the physics engine is new or just the port of the old one to ARM processors. Be it as it may I am bound to agree with my friend Marco: sometimes it is better to wait a little bit longer in order to have a great product.

17 November, 2014

Zaccaria’s slimming diet

The Zaccaria pinball line, by ASK Homework has been updated to version 2.9. The most impressive change is that instead of taking a whopping 800 MB of storage the new version manages to cramm everything into 200 MB only. This was obtained, according to their announcement thanks to removing some unnecessary files and features as well as compressing some textures. In fact every time I was inspecting the state of my iPad I was hesitating about dumping Zaccaria altogether (but relenting each time).

The update came with a new table, the bowling themed Star’s Phoenix.

I did not like this table at all. In fact this is the first time that I see a ball drain right after launch. The problem is that the Zaccaria pinballs are old and since, in my case, there is no nostalgia I, as a general rule, cannot appreciate them.

16 November, 2014

Party Zone is out

The new, season 4, table of Farsight has arrived: Party Zone. Just a look at the table has sufficed to make me realise that I was not going to like this game much.

Please do not get me wrong. There are plenty of interesting things in this game. However under the Farsight implementation I find it hardly playable. Clearly, there is a problem with the ball. I had reminiscences of White Water when I tried to find a single ball that had satisfactory contrast with the table … and failed. The blue ball is probably the best one can do but still not quite OK. Moreover the ball moves really rapidly which makes it even harder to follow. To top it all the ball drains too easily be it from the centre or the sides.

Still, I do like the graphics of the table and I find the long semi-transparent serpentine ramps particularly nice. The lower part of the table is uncluttered which to my eyes is always a plus. I may come back to this game from time to time, just as I do with White Water, but it will definitely not become part of my top list.

15 November, 2014

Timeshock on iOS has almost landed

I know, I know. At the time I am writing these lines it has not arrived yet but yesterday the Barnstorm team announced that the first iOS beta of Timeshock was submitted to the iTunes store. The alpha/beta testers will have access to it shortly. It goes without saying that I will report on it asap.

You have noticed that they are labelling it a “beta” test. According to their announcement the beta has almost all of the content they expect to have in the first public release, with the exception of nudging, online leaderboards, ambient light level control and a few other little things.

Beta’s for other platforms are under preparation. Ade (Adrian Barritt who is heading the Barnstorm team) is ending the announcement acknowledging that the development “… is taking longer than any of us would've liked, but we're doing all we can to get it to you as soon as we can”.

The announcement included some interesting screen captures.

They came with an added note:
“In case you are wondering what 'Deluxe only' means; the plan is to offer a standard version without Glass Off Mode and the Operator's Menu, and a Deluxe version that includes them”.
Well, I guess this is a reasonable choice. But on the other hand, being a backer I will be getting this feature automatically (not that I haven’t payed for it already). 

14 November, 2014

Zen to the fourth

The last update of the Zen Pinball reserved a nice surprise for all pinball fans. Four new tables were ported to iDevices. All four existed previously on other platforms and their adaptation to iOS was a matter of time. They are graphically superb as you can judge for yourself. We have, 

Secrets of the Deep



and Pasha

I was waiting for this last one since I have seen the table on the Zen Studios website and I purchased it right away. The game is nice, the graphics rather unobtrusive (not like the graphics of some other Zen pinballs). I would have liked some more heavily oriental-accented voices and, to tell the truth, the musical background is pretty lame. But all in all the game stood up to my expectations.

I did not purchase any other table and, since there is no demo, I cannot give a precise opinion. You have to find out for yourself. But they are not that expensive and you could let yourself be tempted.

13 November, 2014

Tanks by Gameprom

A new pinball table accompanied the update of Pinball HD, Tanks. As a rule I do like the pinballs of Gameprom but this time I must draw the line. This game is nothing but a slight modification of their Navy Seals table. You can judge for yourself. Here is Tanks

And here is the 2013 Navy Seals table

Yes, the Tanks table is really nice graphically but as far as gameplay is concerned it is not worth its price.

You don’t have to take my word. Since you can play the game for free for over a minute you can try it and shape your own opinion. 

01 November, 2014

Mensis Mirabilis

I cannot think of another magical month for digital pinball, like the one just over. It started with the Zaccaria pinball series new addition: Spooky. 

I did not report on that table. I did try it and it has the usual qualities and imperfections of the ASK-Homework/Zaccaria line: a not bad pinball, without many bells and whistles but one which shows its age. Anyway, the month was on a good start. 

The very same day Gameprom published two tables: the long-awaited Red Planet and Pirates. I did like both tables (although my friend Marco was of a different opinion). 

Soon afterwards the Kickstarter for the Addams family table was successfully funded, which means that in a few months we'll get to play this classic of classics.

Just after this successful kickstarter, Farsight launched the fourth season of tables with Phantom of the Opera. 

Zen Studios followed suit with two South Park inspired tables, which I purchased for the Mac (and never regretted).

Since Halloween is approaching, Farsight published a table independent from the Pinball Arcade line, inspired by the movie Ghostbusters.

Count them: we have 7 new tables and a quasi-certainty for a big classic to come in a near future. When have we seen an activity even remotely comparable? Yes, October 2014 was indeed a mensis mirabilis for digital pinball.

Ah! If only Littlewing had not folded ...

I was hoping that on the very last day of the month, Timeshock alpha would arrive on iOS. People at Barnstorm games have been hinting about this alpha being almost ready and I was counting the days hoping that they would indeed release it before the end of October. Alas, there has been another delay. The wait is getting longer and longer.

25 October, 2014

Ghostbusters by Farsight

Delivering on their promise, Farsight released the Ghostbusters table for iDevices. The theme is inspired by the movie and features paranormal entities distributed among the three levels of the table.

The table is touted as an original one but I am not of the same opinion. Even a cursory glance makes bells ring and it does not take long to understand why. The game is a dressing up of the Haunted House table, which is part of the Pinball Arcade series, with some minor tweaks.

Did I like playing Ghostbusters? Yes. It is indeed a nice game. However I like the original Haunted House table even more.

Ghostbusters marks a departure from the standard Farsight pricing policy. You get the game free of charge and 10 tokens to begin with. Once they are over you must either purchase a bunch of 10 tokens or wait 4 hours for another token to materialise. (Or, is it 6 hours if Pinball Arcade is not installed on your device? Not sure). People have been nagging about this but I do not find the new system so constraining. However, I rarely play a given table more than three times in a row. Perhaps what Farsight are trying to do with the Ghostbusters table is to explore the freemium possibilities as a viable commercial policy. Will this replace the standard Farsight one where you pay for a table and can play it as many times as you wish? Only time will tell.

17 October, 2014

Two nice new pinballs by Zen

I could not imagine that I was going to become a Zen pinball fan. As you may remember I did like their Walking Dead pinball and the series continues with the two South Park themed tables. I purchased them as soon as they came to the Mac, since my recent experience is that one can best appreciate  Zen pinballs on a large screen. Imagine what it will be on a 5K iMac screen ;-). (Perhaps it is the large screen that is making me change my mind about Zen pinballs. Who knows?).

The two tables are based on the South Park animated series. We have South Park Super-Sweet 

featuring the series main characters Cartman, Kyle, Stan and Kenny and many others.The second table is South Park Butters' Very Own, 

featuring the famous "Professor Chaos".

Both tables are very nice graphically. One does enjoy the gameplay and the reflections on the ball are cleverly arranged so that the ball remains clearly visible all the time. Should I add that the price is 40 % lower than that of the Farsight pinballs?  

I haven't watched a single episode of South Park but, having enjoyed the pinballs, I may well give the series a try.

16 October, 2014

Phantom of the Opera

When I discovered that Farsight had launched a kickstarter for the Addams Family table and moreover season three was coming to an end I started thinking that we were going to have to wait for February or so for the Addams Family to materialise, playing the same old season 1 to 3 pinballs over and over again. It turned out that I was unnecessarily pessimistic. While pursuing the development of special tables like the Addams Family, Farsight keeps producing new tables with clockwork regularity.

Season four was thus launched with a bang, bringing another classic to the digital pinball arena: Phantom of the Opera. 

After playing a few games I may say that I do like the game (although it will never be in my top list). The graphics are nice and the table is uncluttered (which, if you have been following this blog, is something very important for me). The standard ball is, of course, to be proscribed and even the white one, which works in most circumstances, is not always perfectly visible. The one thing I like a lot in this game are multiballs, which are easily obtained. And the one thing I hate are those constantly blinking lights which manage (at least for me) to spoil the game and put me in a foul mood. 

All in all this is a nice pinball which can keep us occupied till the arrival of Addams Family.

11 October, 2014

Gameprom delivers

In a recent post of mine I was making clear that I am sceptical about the bright future of digital pinball. I was ending that post with the sentence “How long have we been waiting for Gameprom’s Red Planet?“. Well, at least as far as Red Planet is concerned, my pessimism was not fully justified. Red Planet is here and it is a beaut. 

I haven’t explored yet all the possibilities of the game but the table is simply gorgeous. Combine this with the fact that the ball does not drain too easily and one can really enjoy playing Red Planet. There are some unnecessarily moving parts (I am thinking at the shuttle loading the next ball) but they do not interfere with the gameplay. 

And in this case good things come in pairs. Another new table is delivered along with Red Planet, Pirates

This one puts the player upon the deck of old-times pirate ship. While respecting the layout of a ship’s deck the Gameprom people managed to have a mainly uncluttered table together with secondary tables which add to the interest of the game. Multiballs are really fluid and I find the fact that at times you are playing simultaneously in two different parts of the table refreshingly challenging.

The two tables are sold at less than the price of a single season-three Farsight table. There is no reason to hesitate.

07 October, 2014

A Kickstarter for Farsight

I was going to write a post to urge you to go and pledge something for the Kickstarter project of Farsight to be funded. The project ends on October 12 and a few days ago it was 10000 off its goal. While checking today, just before I posted this entry, I had the nice surprise to see the total of pledges exceeding the goal. So the project will be funded.
In case you wonder, I pledged 7 $ so that I get the table on a single platform, which in my case will a Mac. Having played Plants vs. Zombies and Walking Dead on a big screen I feel that a classic like Addams family can only be fully appreciated on the largest possible screen.

Yes, it’s the Addams Family we are talking about here. One of the best pinballs ever designed by whom I consider the best pinball designer: Pat Lawlor. It is supposed to be available on this coming February and I am convinced that Farsight will respect the deadline they set themselves. 

I do not miss an occasion to criticise Farsight. However I must admit that they are doing their best in order to preserve the classics. Of course they are in this business in order to make money but the fact that they are reviving the pinballs we loved is highly commendable. In the present occasion I am 100 % supporting Farsight.

03 October, 2014

Voicing my anxiety

I have written about this before but I cannot help it. As time goes by I start worrying about the chances of a real ProPinball revival. Let us see the facts. 

More than a year ago  the Timeshock was successfully funded (more than 60000 euros were pledged).
On the same kickstarter page the delivery date was estimated at December 2013. To tell the truth I did not believe this overly optimistic estimate but now I have the feeling that things are taking a bad turn.

In February, after people started vociferously complaining, Adrian Barritt promised that there would be a weekly update on the advancement of Timeshock. This promise was perfectly kept … but, we are now in October, closing in on the the first anniversary of the estimated delivery, and where do we stand.

An Alpha version of Timeshock was proposed to testers. The graphics were partly unfinished but the gameplay was rather OK. Mind you it was using the old physics engine. A second Alpha version came more recently, practically finished graphically, and it was a definite disappointment. Even powerful machines were chocking on the graphics and the constant stuttering made the game unpleasant. I hear you saying: “it’s an Alpha, stupid”. Still, I was expecting the second alpha to be an improvement over the first one. And to cap it all, the physics engine is the same old one. No word has transpired concerning work on the new engine. In the meantime work is going on for the iOS version of the game but every week we get a progress report and nothing materialises.

Assuming that the kickstarter treasure has been spread evenly over the past year, this makes 5000 euros available every month for 12 months. What can you do with this money? Let us throw caution to the wind and posit that you can pay two developers with this sum. Even if this were true the 60 k€ must have evaporated by now. Admittedly, the ProPinball team is now part of Barnstorm Games, an enterprise hopefully capable to weather the Timeshock production. 

So, my guess is that one day we’ll see Timeshock on our machines. But when? My friend Marco has chimed in saying that it is better to wait for a top quality product than to have another of these thow-away pinballs that pollute the iTunes store. What is worrying me are the dynamics of the ProPinball team. If the Timeshock project is taking so long to materialise, are they going to have the stamina to tackle the revival of Big Race USA and of Fantastic Journey, to say nothing of The Web? 

I guess we’ll have to just cross our fingers and wait. But I cannot help feeling anxious about the whole project.

18 September, 2014

Farsight is a blogger’s blessing

I am criticising Farsight all the time, mostly on technical grounds (but also, since the launch of the Season 3 tables, for their exaggerated pricing). Still, I must admit that when it comes to providing material for a blog, Farsight is the blogger’s friend. Every month they are proposing a new table and thus they offer me the possibility to update my blog. (I know, I am being unfair. Farsight is important in the digital pinball world because they are reviving the classics and this is highly commendable. Still, from my egoistic point of view, the main usefulness of Farsight is that they help keeping the blog alive).

This month’s table is a great classic (Bram Stoker’s) Dracula.

This table, unless I misunderstood, is the last one of season 3. (Let’s hope season 4 does not bring another price hike). I did like the table, although you have to play it with a white ball in order to have some chance at a decent play. The feature I liked most was chasing the ghost ball. The uncluttered playfield makes for a rather easygoing game were it not for the central drain which is large as a highway. It is really unfortunate that just when the game becomes interesting the ball drains and frustration starts setting in.

30 August, 2014

Zaccaria pinballs update

ASK Homework have just updated their Zaccaria pinball line and released the 23rd table simulation, Mystic Star getting closer to the 27-table collection (out of a total of 46 Zaccaria machines which are known to have existed over the years). 

This update, according to the developers announcement, boasts a new physics engine with more realistic bal movement, bounce and bumper effects as well as flipper handling. I tried it on various tables and I must admit that there is some improvement compared to the previous engine. Moreover the new physics engine is highly customisable which can help things a bit. 

The only downside is the in order to be able to tweak the game’s physics you must fork out money for an in-app purchase. And that’s not all. In-app purchases are proposed also for ball size, used table look, light/dark environment, additional balls (2), ball pack, flipper pack, premium camera editor and graphics tweaks. Moreover, given the default colour and light settings, you must purchase the graphics tweaks pack if you wish to have something visually acceptable. I understand that developers must make a living and I could justify almost all in-apps. After all if you wish to have a table looking old and used, well, a small expense is not unjustified. But to have to pay in order to get rid of dazzling lights on an almost black table, this is where I would draw the line.

28 August, 2014

Walking Dead pinball by Zen Studios

Zen Studios, in collaboration with Telltale Games, have just published a table based on the Walking Dead game, itself based on the homonymous comic book series. This time I decided to splurge and I purchased the table on the Mac rather than the iOS version. (In fact I have trouble understanding why the Mac version is more expensive than the iOS one). That was a good choice since the table is graphically superb. Playing full-screen on a 27” monitor is an incomparable experience. I must admit the Zen Studios are doing an excellent job with their full-screen graphics.

For once the moving parts are mainly confined to the periphery of the table and do not spoil the game. I am not a fan of either the game or the series so the fact that the locations and characters in the table are close to the game/comics ones does not mean much to me. To tell the truth I was hoping that the game would be as funny as the Plants vs. Zombies one but that was not the case. I found the gameplay rather uninteresting and, since the ball was not draining too easily, somewhat boring after some time.

If you are a Walking Dead fan do not hesitate a single instant: go and buy the game. If you are not, well, the table is still cheaper than those of Farsight, so you decide. 

15 August, 2014

This is serendipity

Two days ago I published a post on what I consider acceptable pinballs where I was saying, among others, that an electromechanical pinball could indeed be built based on the template of the pinballs of the ProPinball collection.

And just yesterday the people at Barnstorm Games, who are preparing the Ultra edition of Timeshock, sent an email announcing that a Dutch company, Silver Castle Pinball
is building a true, electromechanical, Timeshock pinball. 

I couldn’t believe my eyes! There’s a long article in Pinball News with plenty of details. This is not a vague project. A whitewood with functional flippers, bumpers and ramps does exist and the various technical problems are being solved one after the other. These guys are serious. They are really building a Timeshock pinball.

But wait! They have plans beyond Timeshock. In fact they have started thinking at their next game which will be another ProPinball.

So what we can do is cross our fingers and hope that the project is successful. This synergy between electromechanical pinballs and digital ones would strengthen the Barnstorm Games position and with a little bit of luck we’ll have the full collection of ProPinballs running on modern machines.