18 October, 2016

A new Pat Lawlor pinball

I know! This blog is supposed to talk about digital pinballs. But when a giant like Pat Lawlor  designs a new pinball (after 8 years of inaction and despite having predicted the demise of pinball industry at around 2012) one cannot remain silent. If you read my blog you certainly know my deep admiration for Lawlor. Last year I wrote a special post dedicated to this great pinball designer. So, when my friend Marco Visser (thanks a million, Marco) wrote to me about the new Lawlor designed pinball I could not resist the temptation to write about it. 

The company behind this new Lawlor pinball is Jersey Jack Pinball, headed by Jack Guarnieri, an amusement industry veteran. They have already produced a movie-themed pinball (the Hobbit) but this time they took the plunge by producing an original theme, without an existing won-over public. However having a designer like Lawlor does minimise the risk. In fact during the presentation of the new pinball Lawlor himself stated that "if players don’t get what you are trying to convey, you’ve just wasted several years of your life".

The new pinball is called Dialed In! A look at the table suffices to convince you that it's a beauty.

And, No, it is not about smartphones. As somebody wrote in pinside it is rather a "Sim City Disaster theme...being broadcast by an action news channel".

If you wish to see the gameplay there are several videos on YouTube. I am giving just one link but do not hesitate to hunt for more. To put it in a nutshell, Dialed In! is a great game. Really funny like all Lawlor pinballs with a captivating gameplay. 

In my "tribute" post I had included a video of the Wizard Blocks gameplay. It's a table of the Williams line that was never released. Looking at WB and Dialed In! I could not help noticing similarities. So, did Lawlor recycle some of the Wizard Blocks features into Dialed In! ? I cannot tell for sure but the similarities are there, so, at least, he must have gotten some inspiration from this old game of his.

The news of Lawlor designing a new pinball are great in particular since they come after our frustration with the ProPinball project. Remember, in 2012, Adrian Barritt announced the revival of the ProPinball series through a grandiose project where the four "classical" ProPinballs were to be accompanied by a brand new one designed by Pat Lawlor. The project was, alas, too ambitious and not only was the Lawlor digital-only design put on hold but the mere revival of a second ProPinball, after TimeShock, looks more improbable with each passing day.

I do not know if we are going to have a digital version of Dialed In! one day. To date, FarSight has produced nine (count them) Lawlor pinballs: Earthshaker!, Whirlwind, FunHouse, Red & Ted's Road Show, No Good Gofers, The Addams Family, The Twilight Zone, Safecracker and Ripley's Believe it or Not! That's about half of Lawlor's production. He has signed 19 pinballs in all, although his very first Wreck'n Ball existed only as a whitewood prototype. Wreck'n Ball had an almost vertical playfield, behind the backglass, a feature that carried over to the first Lawlor pinball to be actually produced, Banzai Run. (I am still crossing my fingers for FarSight to offer us one day a Banzai Run simulation).

06 October, 2016

Two new Zen pinball tables

Zen Studios surprised us with two new tables of the Marvel, Women of Power,  series. I have time and again written that I do not like the Zen tables because of their excessive animations and non-pinball features. Still I somehow feel compelled to test them because of the superb graphics and decent physics.

I do not care in the least for Marvel comics and so I do not have the slightest idea what the backstory of those two tables is. The various heroines which appear in the game are there, to my eyes of course, in order to distract one from pure pinball playing. Fortunately they are not too intrusive and thus one can still enjoy the game. The first table, A-Force,

is more 3D-looking while the second, Champions,

has a more cartoonish look. I played both for about the same time and my verdict is clear. I enjoyed a lot playing A-Force and I would have spent more time with this table were it not for Dr. Who. Champions is a totally different story. The first time you launch the ball you see arrive from the left at top speed and it drains before you can react (at least this is what happened to me). Once you expect this to happen you do have time to react but there is a simpler trick: just lift your left flipper in which case the ball jumps to the right one and you can take it from there. However I found Champions less engaging than A-Force: what is the interest in sending the ball over various lanes at high-speed? On the other hand if you are a Marvel comics buff both tables are for you.

03 October, 2016

Dr. Who is here

Just a few days after FarSight's announcement concerning the Kickstarter funded Dr. Who table, the pinball is here. And it's a beauty. After spending frustrating moments with Eight Ball Deluxe it was a real pleasure to lay my hands on this nice pinball. Everything in this game is great. The table is high in colours

but once you choose the right ball (in my case, a green one) it is very easy to play. Even in multiball you do not have any difficulty following the balls. The gameplay is interesting, with many different things to do. Even the sound effects (which I usually turn off) ore OK. There is also a video mode, but I must admit that (at least for the time being) I am very bad at it. 

My usual test of playability of a pinball is to try to reach the lower high score, which I did on the very second try. Now I have to keep playing for some time before I start climbing the high score ladder. However one should not get the impression, from this very positive account of mine, that Dr. Who is a trivially easy game. For instance while the ball does not drain too easily (Eight Ball, I am looking at you) try to stop it with your flipper at your own risk: if the ball has a more than minimal momentum you will see it disappear down the central drain before you can react. 

To put it in a nutshell, if you are looking for a nice pinball to spend a few dollars and quite a few hours on, do not hesitate.

01 October, 2016

More Eight Ball Deluxe frustrations

At some point I decided that even the iPad Pro screen was not large enough for Eight Ball and such a tough game necessitated the biggest possible screen. So I decided to start playing this game on the Mac. (Long story short. That was a good choice, my scores improved. Somewhat. Most games I play are shitty. But from time to time I get a not so bad one).

Now the problem is that I have two iMacs. The one that is most convenient for pinball is the more recent model (iMac 15.1) with a 5K screen. The older one is an iMac 14.2, with a 2K screen, but it is less convenient to play on it. So I tried to play on the 5K one and I was welcomed by the slow-down bug. The problem is not new. It goes on for quite some time now. (But I did not have to face it since I was playing on the iPad). Since I really wished to try Eight Ball on the Mac I bit the bullet and tried looking for advice. And then I realised several things. First, I was not alone. There are dozens of Mac users frustrated by the slow-down bug. Second, FarSight is doing next to nothing to fix it. Third, had FarSight cared about fixing it, they would have been unable to do it since, from what I understood, there is only one Mac programmer working at FarSight and the person changes from time to time. Finally people are ready to offer crazy advice which 99 % of the time does not work.

The only usefulness of the several recipes I went through is to convince me that a possible cure could be found in the general options. Four settings could be playing a role and I started experimenting. First post-processing. Default setting is off. If you turn it on then the table colours turn washed-out and drab. Don't do it. 

Of course there is no effect on the slow-down. Next comes level of detail set to high. Switching it to low does not affect the slow-down. Next comes lock to 30 frames per second (FPS). The default is off but when I turned it on the slow-down disappeared. (Note that the motion looks a bit unrealistic with this setting, but, at least, you can play). Finally there is the anti-alias setting. This is what people designate as the culprit for the slow-down. I found that it has no effect. You can as well let it at the default setting i.e. off.

And now comes the juicy part. Once I had set my iMac to off-high-on-off I decided to give a try to Eight Ball (but things are the same for any other table fo the Pinball Arcade) on my second iMac.  The tables played without slow-down and so I decided to check the settings. They were off-high-off-off i.e. without the PFS restriction. At that point I decided that it was time to throw the towel.