This was originally going to be 1 long post, but I've divided it into 3 parts: Why I like pinball, quick thoughts about pinball games I own, and games I want or don't want.
In this first of 3 posts, I'd like to talk for a moment about why I like pinball. I've mentioned that as I kid I was entranced by pinball machines in the arcades, and that I came to love pinball more than video games. But why? I've wracked my brain, tried to think of exactly what it is that draws me to a pinball machine and led me to wanting to own several of them. This is what I came up with:
- Unlike a video game, pinball has a physical, tangible feel to it. While video games of the 80s and 90s were nothing more than pixels on a screen, a pinball machine is real. The ball itself is a metal object that spins across a playfield, bumping into things, traveling up and down ramps, is attracted by magnets, can be launched by cannons or kickouts, and is able to move in a different direction by bumping the table. Coils and solenoids activate flippers and kickouts, switches are tripped, lights are energized and flash. You can remove the glass from the pinball, reach in and actually touch the parts. A video game, on the other hand, is simply software code running on a two dimensional screen with some circuit boards and wiring.
- Getting my hands dirty. Pinballs require maintenance. A lot of maintenance. I'm not talking just about circuit boards and wiring - video games have that too. I'm talking about cleaning parts, polishing ramps and playfields, repairing flippers and rubbers and broken parts. It is a blending of mechanical and electrical, video and electronics, elbow grease and troubleshooting. Maintaining a pinball is, to me, an essential part of the experience. Although it can be frustrating when a game goes down, and is sometimes hard to find parts, there is a certain satisfaction in bringing a machine back to life.
- Visual Appeal. Between the lighting of the playfield and beautiful artwork on the backglass, plus artwork on the sides of the cabinet, most pinball machines are gorgeous to look at. Usually a lot of thought went into the design of the pinball in order to attract players to a machine that was one of many in a crowded arcade. Most pinballs of the 80s and 90s have what's called an Attract Mode. This is a flashing of the playfield lights (and sometimes backbox lights) in a sequence designed to make a player ooh and ahh. Sometimes instead of playing, I just enjoy watching the lights flash in Attract Mode - it's truly a thing of beauty.
- Unpredictability. No two pinball games are exactly the same. You can have a bad game and then have a good one. You are at the mercy of physics and the bounce of the ball. Games like Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong are coded to be the same every time you play them, and I get easily bored with that kind of game.
- Multiball. Often chaotic and exciting, the release of multiple balls in to the playfield is a blast, especially when there is a buildup and then the adrenaline rush is released. For those games that do multiball well, it is an outstanding feature.
- Toys. The addition of objects into the playfield in the 80s came to be known as "toys". Sometimes toys are only for looks, like some of the action figures in Lord of the Rings. In other games, toys are an essential part of the game, such as the bigfoot in White Water or the spinning trunk in Theatre of Magic. When toys are used in this manner, they add another dimension to the game and are a conversation point for visitors who walk up to the machine.
Well, this ends the first post, and should give you an idea of why I like pinball machines. In the second post, I'll talk a little bit about how I came to own my current crop of games and offer a brief opinion about each one.