24 December, 2017

The sad state of iOS pinballs

I am regularly visiting the TouchArcade page, where one can find most useful info concerning iOS games, both released and upcoming. They are not particularly fond of pinballs but one can find an occasional reference to Zen and FarSight tables. Today I ran across their sum-up of the year in games.

They are giving their list of the top 100 iOS games. And, guess what, not a single pinball  has made the list. I cannot judge the value of their list not being an expert in games other than pinballs. I could recognise some games I do appreciate like Flip-flop, Framed, Monument Valley but no pinball. (By the way, I went back to the best of 2016 and 2015 lists. Same thing: no pinball). Although we are talking here about the TouchArcade people preferences, the fact that pinballs have been totally ignored is telling. Are we witnessing the end of digital pinball? I am not very optimistic.

23 December, 2017

Just before the turn of the year: two new Zen pinballs

Two new Zen pinball tables made their appearance recently. They are part of what was initially the Zen one line, which now has expanded to include all the non-franchise tables. The first table is Adventure Land, and is based on a theme which is very popular among pinball devs, an amusement park.

It is graphically superb although the high in colours playfield makes following the ball somewhat difficult. Still I did enjoy the game, all the more so since the ball does not drain too easily. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this game.

Quite the opposite is true for the second table: Hercules. Given the title one would expect something loosely based on Hercules' labours. Unfortunately what we got was an ugly table without any link to the hero's myth. 

While I am not a great fan of Zen pinballs I do acknowledge their good taste when it comes to creating original tables. In this case they did disappoint me. So, unless you are a Zen pinball collector you can safely forget about this table.

10 December, 2017

They've done it again

I have frequently written about these awful games which have pinball in their title just because they use flippers to hit on a ball. They are not pinballs. I don't know why I keep downloading and trying these games. They are definitely not worth the effort. 

The latest in the series is a game called "Battle Pinball".

One is facing an opponent (who can be the CPU) and try, by hitting on a ball, to make it drain on the opponent's side. Once you play a game you have to watch a 20 second video before being allowed to play again! 

I cannot understand why people are doing this. I am not saying that there are no pinball inspired, non-pinball, games which are not worth their while. Pinout and INKS spring to mind. But they are the two exceptions (along with perhaps ZenDots which is so-so but acceptable) in a quagmire of sh...y games which are slowly polluting the iOS pinball landscape. Anyhow, Battle Pinball is a game with uninteresting gameplay, bad physics and simplistic graphics. We can easily forget about it.

01 December, 2017

Two oldies by FarSight

This time around we were treated to a double feature by FarSight, two great oldies from the 70s. Those who follow my blog know that I have a soft spot for old pinballs. I do like the simple play and unsophisticated tables. The first and oldest of the two is Spanish Eyes

It's a nice pinball and I did like particularly the bumper over the drain lane. It adds an element of suspense to the gameplay because when the ball enters this zone you never know whether you'll manage to get it back into play. But perhaps the best feature of Spanish Eyes is the artwork of the backglass. Have a look for yourselves.

The second table is Wild Card. One game sufficed for the table to join my top list. It is really great. I find the gameplay particularly well balanced. 

The graphics are nothing special but the table is uncluttered and one can easily find a visible ball (this time I chose a yellow one). I managed to score all top scores after just a dozen games and I keep improving. It's been quite some time since I have enjoyed a pinball so much. 

So, do not hesitate, give these two tables a try.

15 November, 2017

FarSight's new record

I have been complaining (for quite some time now) about the scoring bug affecting Big Shot. It's not a systematic one. From time to time the score in the game's counter is not properly updated and there is a 10 k difference between that score and the final one. The problem exists in both the MacOS and iOS version.  

This time I got a new record. Instead of a 10 k difference I got a whopping 40 k one. I don't know of any other game where this does happen (but then I am only playing a handful of tables on a regular basis). However, even if the bug existed only for Big Shot that would still be a shame. In particular since it's been years since I have been pointing this out. But FatSight will always be FarSight.

12 November, 2017

Ghostbusters Premium, by FarSight

Season 7 of Pinball Arcade just got a new table, Ghostbusters Premium. FarSight has already proposed a Ghostbusters table but that was a slight modification of the Haunted House one (and a below-par table). The new Ghostbusters, with the "premium" added to its name is a brand new table. 

And one I did not enjoy in the least. First, it refused to play on my iPad mini claiming that there not enough RAM. When I did manage to get it to run on my brand new, 10.5", iPad Pro, I discovered a table with so garish colours as to make the choice of a proper ball impossible. One might as well play with the standard ball. (That's what i did, in fact). I am not a Ghostbusters fan: I have not seen the movie and I do not care. Perhaps, if you have liked the Ghostbusters saga you could relate with this table. I could not. I played just long enough to get a rough idea (and be able to write this post) and now I am going to forget about this table.

14 October, 2017

The new FarSight pinball, Fathom

The arrival of the three new Zen tables threw my schedule a little bit off and I haven't written about the new FarSight table, Fathom. It's an oldie and thus by definition it should have been something that I would appreciate.

Well, I don't, and I don't know why. I think that the excessively dark lower part of the table puts me off. I find that there is simply no good ball colour choice. Also, while I do like the old-style, "kick the ball as long as you can" type of play, I find that in the case of Fathom there is not much to do. 

The one point this pinball excels is in the backglass artwork. I tracked down a picture of the original one and it's a beauty. I remember doing the same thing for Paragon and Eight-Ball. It's a fact, those old pinball machines had class.

08 October, 2017

Zen Studios' Universal Classics

It's been quite some time since the last Zen pinball. The wait is over. Three new pinball tables just made their appearance. They are movie themed ones inspired from such great classics like E.T.

Back to the Future

and Jaws

The tables are graphically superb. I have included the official table views instead of a screen capture because I find the presentation really great.

I am on record criticising the pinballs of Zen studios for their excessive animations and the non-realistic features. While I still stand by that opinion of mine I must say that I did enjoy playing the three Zen-Universal tables. I haven't seen the Back to the Future movie but that was the table I enjoyed most (E.T. coming next). It took me some time to get accustomed to the darkish table but the fact that in the Zen pinballs the ball does not drain all to easily did help. Physics is always OK and the sound effects not disruptive. 

So, if you are a Zen pinball fan, you should not miss this new release. If you are not, well, this is perhaps the occasion to give Zen a second try. 

02 October, 2017

Wait! It's getting worse

I had just written about the Pinball Cadet game of FarSight when I got an email about their new Kickstarter project. It's called Pinball Invaders. The Pinball Cadet was not a one off case. In fact FarSight is working with an Argentina-based studio (Trick Gaming) in order to produce Pinball Invaders (the Cadet game being just a proof of concept).

They have launched a Kickstarter campaign in order to fund this new game of theirs. I have been in the past a contributor to the FarSight Kickstarter campaigns but this is where I draw the line. Pinball Invaders is not a pinball. It may be an interesting game. The graphics are excellent and from what I saw in Pinball Cadet the physics is OK. But I will not support a game which pretends to be a pinball (you must fork out 8 $ for an ad-free Invaders game).

I just hope that this is a passing fad for FarSight and that they are not going to abandon their genuine pinball recreation business. 

01 October, 2017

FarSight's new folly

I have been frequently writing about games that are abusing the term pinball. The only pinball-ish feature in these games is the fact that you hit on a ball with flippers. Most of them are totally uninteresting.  So I was somehow taken aback when I stumbled upon the new game by FarSight, Pinball Cadet

It's not a pinball. Of course, there is a ball moving on a tilted plane and you can hit it with flippers. There the pinball analogy stops. The game is not bad. It's an invaders-like game situated in a spaceship. Graphically nice with quite acceptable ball physics. I gave it a try and I can tell that it is not as bad as the majority of games with pinball in their title. It is even better than quite a few awful pinball games out there. However it is definitely not a pinball. So, as far as I am concerned, I am going to simply forget it.

24 September, 2017

Out of the blue: Tristan and Crystal Caliburn update

I was going to post the article on LIttlewing below on September 19th. But then I left for short vacations and it had been impossible to post the article as initially planned. I had to do it upon my return on the 23rd. While I was away my friend Marco sent me an email announcing something surprising: an update to the iOS version of both Tristan and Crystal Caliburn had surfaced. And, lo and behold, when I checked my iPad the two updates were there.

These are the versions 1.9 for Tristan and 1.5 CC2 and what really matters is that they are 64-bit versions. This means that they will be running even when one updates to iOS 11. (For me this means next month, when I buy a new iPadPro, the 10.5" version).

Those are great news. Since Littlewing folded there have been (quite understandably) no updates of the various pinball games, with as a result the disappearance of all PowerPC Mac tables except for Monster Fair, Fairy Tower and Mad Daedalus. Alas all three tables are compiled for 32-bit processors which means that we will be unable to play them in MacOS 10.14, the successor to High Sierra. Unless, Fujita-san surprises us again, but I wouldn't hold my breath. At best we might see an update of the AppStore-distributed Tristan. As you probably know, if you have read my post, Fujita-san is out of the pinball business and works fo Google in the US. So, let's count our blessings and continue playing the two surviving Littlewing pinballs. They are here to stay.

23 September, 2017

A Littlewing eulogy

Every year, when September arrives, I cannot help reminiscing Littlewing and the days when digital pinball had a future. Alas, for reasons I have already explained Littlewing folded five years ago and we lost a real pinball wizard. 

I remember when Tristan first came out, the excitation, the infatuation with this simple but, oh so realistic, game. I remember its superb graphics and the hours spent trying to integrate the small physics cheats Fujita-san had implemented in order to make the game more interesting. Littlewing thrived for quite a few year (well, perhaps not thrived, managed to survive is probably closer to the truth) but then one day they decided that enough was enough.

The rest is history and a great loss for the digital pinball world.

08 September, 2017

Ah, the balls of Farsight

I know. I'm always complaining about FarSight while I should be recognising the fact that they are the only active digital pinball provider today. Be that as it may there are positive and negative things in what FarSight is doing and whenever I find something that irks me I cannot keep quiet. So, I am going to write once more about the balls of FarSight pinballs. Well, look for yourselves. On iOS some brain-damaged designer decided that the table was reflecting and so we have a reflection of the ball accompanying it. (Was it meant as a shadow? If this were the case things are even worse).

The funny thing is that this shadow-reflection is absent from the MacOS version of the table. Why, of why, did they have to do this?

On a more positive tone now, I recently stumbled upon the new fluorescent balls offered by FarSight. and I must say that I love them. There are 7 of them with various colours and for once the reflections of the table on the ball are absent. For a given table it is always easy to find a ball of suitable colour and thus most of the previous problems go away. Were it not for the stupid reflection. Come on FarSight. Drop the reflection and I will never complain about the ball visibility again.

01 September, 2017

World Champion Soccer by FarSight

We have by now reached a point where the only thing that happens in the digital pinball scene are the monthly releases by FarSight. As long as this lasts we'll have a fresh table every month (and I will have something to write about in this blog). So this month's table is World Champion Soccer (a pinball initially released as World Cup Soccer).

And it's a beauty. It's rare that I love a table so much at first sight. Champion Soccer did captivate me from the outset. The gameplay is very interesting and I find the generous scoring a very nice feature. There are plenty of things to do and the sheer pleasure of scoring a goal is unique. It does not take much to obtain a multiball and once you get there you can obtain easily high scores. Also I got to play the game with the new balls and this is definitely a plus. (I will be writing about the new balls offered by Farsight in my next post).

I don't know if this is due to the summer slow-down but I start being worried about the state of digital pinballs, be they iOS or MacOS. It's been months since something came out from a source different from FarSight. Is the end of digital pinball in sight?

08 August, 2017

The blog is five years old

Last year I was writing that I was really disappointed by the attendance levels of the blog. It started with 3000 the first year, jumped to 10000 on the second, then to 19000 on the third only to fall down to 25500 on the fourth year. And the downturn continues. This year we are reaching a total of 32000: this is 6500 over this year's period on par with the disappointing 6500 of last year.

What does that mean? I think that the message is clear. Nobody (well, almost) cares about digital pinballs. So, the number of developers who can make a living out of digital pinballs is shrinking. The day FarSight goes, the whole business is dead and the only thing to do will be to let the blog die. In the meantime it stays on under life-support meaning that I will publish whenever something new appears and will not push it. I was thinking about writing about the crappy pinballs that plague the AppStore, about writing something a bit more technical from time to time, but what is the point. With fewer than one visit per hour this is not worth the effort. 

So the blog continues, be it only as a repository of the digital pinballs available for MacOS and iOS, be it only for the few friends who follow it loyally (and to which I am deeply indebted). 

01 August, 2017

Firepower of FarSight is out

Firepower II is the new table of the Pinball Arcade. As I was saying in my previous blog, thanks to FarSight I have something to write about every month and thus keeping this blog (barely) alive. (More on this in my 5th anniversary post to be published next week). Anyhow, Firepower II is here. 

In fact it is the evolution of a previous table named (you guessed it) Firepower and which had been a very successful one. Most probably Williams, the original maker of the pinball machine, decided to surf on the success of the first Firepower and proposed a "re-charged" sequel (whatever re-charged means). In case you are wondering, here is a view of the playfield of the original Firepower

Well, back to Firepower II. First remark, it's a oldie and thus the gameplay is rather simple. (But, as you know, I do like this). The feature I did like most was the two-ball multiball which automatically has a double score. I would have been interested in playing the original Firepower also, just to be able to compare, but I don't think that now that FarSight opted for the second they are ever going to produce the first one.

17 July, 2017

Timeshock is alive (sort of)

No, we are not talking about Barnstorm's Timeshock, which by now, I am convinced, is dead and buried. I am talking about the real pinball machine based on Timeshock which was being developed by a company called Silver Castle. I have written about the Silver Castle Timeshock here and here.

Having had no news for over a year I was thinking that this project had gone the way of the dodo like the ProPinball revival project  I was wrong. My friend Marco chimed in to let me know that the project is advancing. The team behind the project has started building the first prototype. Here's a view of the playfield.

I must say that I like a lot the graphics with their cartoonish look. You can catch a short fly-over of the table at YouTube.

If you wait till the end of the video the next video YouTube is proposing is the announcement of the ProPinball Kickstarter by Adrian Barritt. What a waste, my God!

08 July, 2017

FarSight is saving my bacon

Let’s face it: pinball simulations have never been particularly popular. They have always been confined to a niche gaming activity and the arrival of iPhones/iPads did not improve the situation in any appreciable way. Things got rather worse in fact, since the milieu was polluted by a slew of crappy games. Recently there is a notable downturn as the few remaining pinball developers have slowed-down their production. Only FarSight keeps cranking out new pinballs with clockwork regularity. For a pinball blogger like myself this is priceless.

So, this month’s new pinball is here. Wipe Out

is a ski-themed table. A rather easy table but unfortunately a not very interesting one. The slalom track is definitely an original feature (but on the other hand I was unable to figure out how to guide the ball in an efficient way, in particular in a multiball situation). A thing that i did like is the fact that the ball does not drain too easily. Choosing the proper colour for the ball is always a challenge in Pinball Arcade. This time I opted for the white ball, a choice appropriate for a snow-themed table.

01 June, 2017

Paragon is here

Season 7 of Pinball Arcade starts with a bang. The first table of the series is an oldie (I adore them) and a beauty. I wrote in my previous post that I was looking forward to this table. In fact I was captivated by its backglass and the artwork of Paul Faris. And now Paragon is here!

I did not have the time to test it thoroughly but I can assure you that this table is hard. Usually I manage to get to the lowest high score at my first try (barring accident). For Paragon it took me several tries. And I have the feeling that It will necessitate an effort akin to that for Eight Ball before I register a real progress.

There are so many things that I do like in this game. First the fact that it is an oldie and thus, while having a relatively simple layout, it manages to provide a challenging gameplay. I did really like the original touches like the isolated bumper guarding the outlane gap or the inline drop targets. Managing the four flippers effectively is a major challenge, all the more so since the two lower right ones have a draining gap between them.

As always with FarSight pinballs I had to find the most visible ball. The fact that the playfield is high in colours does not help either. After having tried the black and the white balls I finally opted for the blue one. It is probably the best compromise.

I any case, Paragon is a great pinball and you should absolutely give it a try.

27 May, 2017

They keep doing it!

I have written several times about games that are abusively called pinballs. I wrote for instance about Ascending Pinball and Super Hyper Ball both of which we can readily forget. They present no interest whatsoever and I wouldn't consider them even as a pastime.

Now don't get me wrong. Sometimes people are managing to do something really original with flippers and, although the game is not a pinball, it is interesting and really worth one's time. I have written very nice critiques for games like INKS or Pinout. They are games I did (and still do) enjoy.

However, when I saw the new breakout variant, Throw Pinball, I knew immediately that I was not going to waste a dollar just to give it a try. 

If you are curious you can track down the video of gameplay, just in order to convince yourself that the game has zero value as pinball. Of course there are plenty of pinballs in the App Store that are pure trash. But at least they are pinballs. Pinning the name of pinball on a game that just happens to hit a ball with flippers is something I cannot stand.

04 May, 2017

Season 7 of Pinball Arcade announced

Back in my March 16th post I was predicting that Cactus Jack's was going to be the last table of Season 6. Well, I was wrong but just by a hairbreadth. Swords of Fury came at the beginning of April and with them Season 6 was indeed completed. In a recent newsletter FarSight teased about the first table of Season 7, Paragon. An oldie (as I like them) and in particular one with graphics by a great artist, Paul Faris. Faris has designed many pinballs starting in the seventies. Two of his creations are already part of the Pinball Arcade: Phantom of the Opera and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. But what FarSight is promising for some time in May is Paragon. Just have a look at the artwork of the backglass.

It's fabulous. Now I am itching to get the Paragon table and take it for a ride. 

By the way, Paul Faris did the graphics for the first Eight Ball pinball in 1977. I have included a picture of the table in my post on Eight Ball tables. Just so that you can appreciate it in its totality I give below a picture of the backglass. 

Still. I like Paragon's backglass artwork much, much more. I don't know, it's its Frazetta-esque quality that attracts me.

02 April, 2017

Swords of Fury: the new FarSight table

Last month I made the prediction that Cactus Jack’s was to be the last table of season 6. I was wrong. Season 6 continues with a new table bringing thus its total to 12, compared to 11 for season 5 and just 10 for seasons 3 and 4. Anyhow the numbering of the seasons is immaterial and what counts is the fact that new tables keep arriving. So, this month’s table is Swords of Fury:

It’s an almost 30 years’s old table. The playfield is high in colours and thus one has to make the proper choice for the ball. I chose the blue one but probably the green one would be equally visible. The game is interesting and far from easy. I did particularly like the two single flippers. The one situated at the very upper left part is a kind on mini game in itself and keeping the ball going is rather tricky. 

So, if you like oldies (in fact, even if you don’t) give this game a try. But don’t expect to excel in it unless you invest some time in order to master it.

16 March, 2017

Cactus Jack's from FarSight

The new Pinball Arcade table is here. It could probably signal the end of season 6 since we are now reaching release number 60. This does not mean that there are just 60 tables. in fact, since seasons 1 and 2 had mainly two tables per release we have now 82 recreated tables plus an original one (that of Dr. Who, Master of Time. Anyhow, the new table is Cactus Jack's

It's an oldie and thus it should a priori be to my taste. Unfortunately I could not relate to this game. The table is too gaudy, the ball drains all too easily and I just could find that many interesting things to do in the game. The only feature that I really did appreciate was the 2-ball multiball that you can obtain very easily. It does, somehow, compensate for the ball  drain. 

One advice. While I usually try new pinballs with mute on, I did slip this time and left the sound on. Don't do it. If you wish to appreciate what is there to appreciate do turn the sound off.

09 March, 2017

Timeshock and Arcooda

If you follow this blog you may have surmised that I consider the ProPinball revival a total loss. Three years of efforts led to Timeshock running on MacOS and iOS with the same old physics (which to be fair is perfectly OK as far as I am concerned) and the hope of seeing the remaining Pro Pinballs revived becoming more and more remote. A few months ago the developers went into radio silence and I considered this as last nail on the coffin of Pro Pinballs. The situation has not changed since then. However a new announcement is making the rounds and one may interpret it as a positive sign for the revival of (at least one) Pro Pinball.

Arcooda is an australian company specialising in gaming hardware. They recently announced a video pinball machine. It definitely looks great (but I shudder at the thought of the price). Of course having a pinball machine one needs pinball games and thus the Arcooda cemented a partnership with FarSight which will make the Pinball Arcade tables available on the video pinball machine. (Yes, I know. I should have reported on this earlier, but I only came to realise this once I got wind of the Arcooda-Barnstorm partnership).

A few weeks ago Arcooda announced that they had secured Timeshock for their video pinball machine. This is of course a tribute to the great Pro Pinball line since Timeshock is the only virtual pinball of the collection, the FarSight ones being recreations of real pinballs. The announcement is enthusiastic. In the words of the Arcooda CEO:

Pro Pinball is one of the premium titles available as a video pinball table with a rich history. We are extremely happy to be working with Barnstorm who are adding additional features to an already feature packed pinball game software. When combined with our machines, it will play and feel like a real pinball".

This announcement is just a few weeks old, so the fact that it says that additional features are being added to Timeshock might be interpreted as meaning that the Pro Pinball line is not dead yet. I will definitely not cross my fingers (being of the pessimistic persuasion) but at least there is now something one can look forward to.

01 March, 2017

Pinball Arcade got a new name

The last update of Pinball Arcade on iOS was accompanied by a renaming of the app. Pinball arcade is now known as Pinball Arcade Plus. The new version, 6.8.5, is supposed to bring updated tuning, a plunger button, updated sounds and some fixes.

I don't know what spurred the renaming of the app. My guess is that since recently we have seen several iOS pinball games incorporating the moniker "arcade" into their title or their description, FarSight opted for the "plus" qualifier in order to distinguish their app form the intruders. A simpler explanation could be that, since there exists a free version of the Pinball Arcade, FarSight decided to make a clear distinction by renaming the paying version as "plus". 

As to what are the real improvements in this new version, I guess we'll have to wait and see.

21 February, 2017

FarSight will always be FarSight (bis)

I know. I have already used this title back in July when commenting about a bug in Pinball Arcade scoring. This time I was playing on my iMac 5K and on the second screen I noticed another instance of jumbled graphics.

I also know that the Mac is not a priority for FarSight and that more serious issues do exist, like he infamous slow-down, which really spoils gameplay. But stil, when you come across situations like this one you can wonder whether there is anyone supervising the Mac-developer's work. (I am using the singular here because I am convinced that at no time are there more than one persons taking care of the Mac port of Pinball Arcade).

Update. I checked the second screen on other, non-5K, iMacs. The graphics are OK there, which means that FarSight is not testing on 5K iMacs.

16 February, 2017

Star Wars Rogue One, Zen pinball

I have stated it clearly in the past: I do not like the Star Wars pinballs of Zen Studios. They have excessive animations with plenty of moving things that disrupt the gameplay. So I was surprised when I tried Rogue One. 

The animations are kept at a minimum and one can concentrate on the gameplay. The graphics are as always of high quality. I am not a fan of Star Wars, so I cannot relate to the characters on the lower half of the table. The physics is the standard Zen pinballs one, i.e. more than adequate, and the ball is not trying to drain out on you. 

Did I enjoy the game? Well, yes and no. It is definitely the one Star Wars table that I prefer. On the other hand I did not find the gameplay particularly exciting. So, if you are a Star Wars fan go ahead and give it a try. If not, well, wait for the next, non-Star Wars Zen pinball.

02 February, 2017

Al's Garage Band goes on a World Tour

I know, it's a mouthful. But one does not get to choose. That's the name of the latest FarSight pinball table. Just in case people were wondering (I did) whether FarSight would abandon Pinball Arcade and concentrate on the Stern thing we are now reassured. The regular Pinball Arcade releases do go on. So, this month's table is the Al's ... World Tour (no way I am going to write the whole title again).

It's a nice table and there are certainly plenty of interesting things to do, but I couldn't figure out exactly how to get to them. So, I just kept playing carefully, trying to get to multiball and build up the score. The game is fast and sometimes tricky, when you see the ball at the very last moment. The rather gaudy colours make the choice of the ball delicate. In the end I opted for a white ball. There is also a video mode: if somebody knows how to play it, please, do not hesitate to leave a comment.

I did like the game but I think that an update is necessary. In fact, the ball can get stuck at the spinning wheel but also at the upper multiball trap. Anyhow, these things do not happen all the time and so you can enjoy the game without worry.