I recently watched TILT: The Battle to Save Pinball [Official site here], a documentary about the decline of pinball, of Williams (the industry's leading manufacturer), and of the effort to save the industry through one last big R&D project.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
I really liked it on a number of levels.
First off, it was really fun to see the design process behind the games themselves. Seeing footage of these guys storyboarding out designs, laying out playing fields in cad packages, considering technology tradeoffs, etc. This was all really cool. Very similar to what we see in game design, but with a tangible, physical element that we don't have (except maybe at Harmonix?)
Secondly, it was humbling - and maybe a little frightening - to see how quickly the industry declined. Many assume it was videogaming's introduction that lead to pinball's downfall. That certainly was a factor, but for several years pinball continued to grow even at the height of the arcade boom. So there are other factors we can learn from, and that have some similarity to games - concentration on few genres/themes, viewing big licenses as an excuse for poor gameplay, increasing complexity to win the hardcore consumer may have frightened off newcomers, etc. The footage of pinball trade shows at their high look an awful lot like E3 does today. Most of those attending didn't realize they'd be out of a job in a few short years.
Highly recommended for anyone in the games industry and/or those who grow up pumping quarters into Black Knight, High Speed, and others.
[Update: A friend was in town for a visit so we dropped by Ground Kontrol. Shame on me for having been here over a decade and never set foot in it before! Anyhow, I got to play Revenge from Mars, the first game based on the Pinball 2000 machine/platform. Its pretty rad but definitely not for pinball purists. The reflected video overlay is pretty neat but is distracting from the ball and playfield underneath. It feels like they could have done something like painted the playfield a dark color in order to light up just the ball, so that the ball's location would come through clearly. Anyhow, if you ever see one, give it a go. Piece of history!]