How The Pinball Machine Inspires Mobile Game Makers

Unsurprisingly, the pinball machine, one of the most enduringly popular games of all time, has been a huge influence on computer and mobile game developers.  Computer versions of pinball never quite match up to playing it for real: Sometimes it feels as though the computer is deciding on the high scores, regardless of gameplay, the controls are often too simplistic to feel as though you’re really playing.  Simply, clicking a button just isn’t the same as concentrating all your efforts to release the ball with just the right amount of force!

The simple challenge of trying to beat your best score by hitting bonus points and setting the pinball into an endless journey can become quite addictive.  To cash in on the popularity of pinball and to try to recreate the player’s experience of leaning over the table, watching levers flip and lights ping alive, digital game developers started off by making faithful recreations of traditional pinball machines, such as the free pinball game that is standard with most Microsoft computers.

The table layout of computer Pinball, with its primary colours, springs and levers is reminiscent of a classic table (designed to look like the tables found at amusement arcades), but, as many people have found, the game gets boring pretty quickly.  This version of the game is repetitive and just doesn’t offer enough intrigue to be played again and again.

People who play computer games are used to playing different levels that follow on from one another as skills develop, rather than making the same action, in the same setting.

So, when people started turning computer games into mobile versions, they looked at creating a whole new form of the computer pinball game; mobile pinball is as related to the classic game as rounders is to baseball!

The biggest change was incorporating different levels, or table backgrounds into the game.  There are all sorts of themes available – Wild West, Jungle, Outer Space, Army & Navy – you name it, there’s a pinball game to suit.

This made the game for more interesting for players, but it was still limited. This development was taking place when mobile technology was still in its infancy, the graphics were great, but the user-interface was clunky and un-satisfying to play.  It was still pretty much click a button and watch the graphics light up – with no chance of improving your score by trying to tip the table a bit, or develop skills…

Even though mobile pinball games were still proving to be less than perfect, the addictive pseudo simplicity of pinball meant that as a genre it was still in demand and this made developers even more determined to finally crack a great digital version of the classic game.

Touch-screen functionality, which came along with the iPhone, has proved to be a major boon, with games of all genres enjoying a new lease of life. Now games are more interactive as the player feels that they can really influence play.

There are now dozens of popular versions of pinball which can be found for mobile and tablet devices. So does that mean that games developers have finally achieved their dream – an electronic pinball game that is as good as the real thing?

Well, there are understandably plenty of fans of the mobile versions of the game as they really do boast some pretty impressive features.  Looking at one of the best-rated and most popular versions (Pinball HD), this is what players can expect -

  • Stunning 3D graphics
  • Multiple table themes
  • View in landscape or portrait
  • Toggle to zoom in or view the whole table
  • Realistic physical movements of the pinballs
  • Local and global high scores
  • Tap screen controls to play the flipper
  • On the iPad you can shake and tilt to emulate the feeling of tilting a pinball table

This is all genuinely impressive,  a long way from the rather static boring games of old, but reading through those bullet points, we can’t help but think that in creating these super-realistic mobile pinball games, they’ve pretty much re-invented the wheel!  It’s almost realistic, they are boasting.

As well as creating “traditional-style” mobile pinball games, there are a wealth of games that are inspired by pinball, without following the classic format.  These are games that focus on the classic element of firing a ball (or similar) onto a platform with a host of bonus areas, obstacles and things to bounce against – all with the aim of gaining a high score. Sound familiar?

One of these games, which can’t strictly speaking be described as pinball, but certainly has its origins in the traditional game, is Peggle.  A ball is launched into an area where you try to hit as many pegs as possible, gradually clearing the pegs away to earn your score.  The “adventure” part of the game isn’t pinball at all, but in the special challenge section, players are urged to aim for the biggest score possible by hitting the right pegs to make special moves.  Like classic pinball, striving to make the perfect moves becomes utterly addictive and, even if it was designed for children, lots of adults have become sucked into playing it again and again.

A whole generation is being introduced to pinball by these mobile games in both traditional and innovative formats and surely (just as old school games like Atari and Space Invaders have proven to be just as popular with gamers as the newer ones with sophisticated graphics and gameplay are) this is a good thing for the classic table game.  For the younger generation raised on computer games, pinball is both a mainstream favourite and a cult classic!


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