An Addictive Little Game

 

© Copyright 2002 By John L Patton

 

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Authorís Note: This article appears only due to the kind permission of Jim Schelberg, publisher of PinGame Journal, where is originally appeared in Issue # 93, September 2002. Subscription and back issue information is available at www.PinGameJournal.com. Please note that this article was written for an audience not familiar with Visual Pinball or the VP community.

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In the summer of 1951, at the tender age of four-and-a-half years, I played my first game of pinball, standing on top of an upturned wooded beer case. I was hooked, to say the least. The game was Hayburners, and I really enjoyed that game. I played it on a regular basis for two years, until a Struggle Buggies was placed along side. After my first game of Struggle Buggies, I seldom played Hayburners again.

 

To this day, Struggle Buggies remains my favorite among all the pinball games Iíve played. If I could afford one, Iídown a Struggle Buggies, if I had room for it. That is how much I love that game. But there are many I like nearly as well; in fact, I have never met a pinball machine I didnít enjoy playing. When youíre hooked, is there such a thing as a lousy machine, or simply favorites?

 

My absolute favorites are the flipperless gambling devices that predated pinball, and those marvelous bingos from the early days of pinball. Sadly, few of these exist, or simply arenít available to most of us. This is why, when I discovered Visual Pinball, I felt I had found a fountain of youth. Now, many of the pinballs I knew from my growing up years are available to me again, to be played on my home computer. It isnít and never will be just the same as standing in front of a flesh and blood pinball machine. Not by a long shot. While they look like those old beauties I enjoyed in the Ď50s, Ď60s, and early Ď70s, looks can be deceiving. But if the choice is to never play these old and noble games again, or to play a simulation on my home computer, Iíll settle for the simulation. Of course, youíll have to decide for yourself.

 

In order to play Visual Pinball, which was created by Randy Davis, you will need to download and install on your system the Visual Pinball engine. The current version is Tech Beta 6 (build 0.6.2806), and can be gotten at www.shivaSite.com Youíll need to unzip the downloaded file, and then you run Setup.exe. If you have an earlier version, first select uninstall, and then select install again to install this newer version.

 

It is highly recommended that you install Visual Pinball to c:\pinball. Once installation is complete, youíll need to restart your computer. Now you are ready to download the files which are used to simulate these games, or tables. There are many that you can choose from, recreations and even some originals.

 

The games, or table files, which have a .vpt extension, can also be downloaded from www.shivaSite. Select the files you want to download, which are in .zip format, and save them to the \tables subdirectory under the directory created when you installed Visual Pinball. Most often, you will need to unzip these files, although if you have a program similar to Zip Magic, you might be able to run the zipped VPT files. But even if you can run zipped files, you should check for font and music files. The music files need to be placed in the \music subdirectory under the directory which holds Visual Pinball. The fonts need to be installed, and youíll need to refer to your Operating Systemís Help menu to find out the proper method for installing them.

 

Also, some of the original or recreated tables will use an external .vbs (Visual Basic Script) file, separate from the .vpt (Visual Pinball Table) file. If the zip file contains a .vbs file, it needs to be placed in the \tables directory under the directory which holds the Visual Pinball Program.

 

Then all youíll need to do is to start Visual Pinball, and choose which .vpt file you wish to run. Once your chosen file loads, youíll see a computerized table on your screen. If there are no instructions on how to begin your game, pressing 5 inserts a coin in the slot, and 1 begins a game, although sometimes pressing S will begin the game.

 

If youíre only interested in playing either originals or recreations up to the Ď80s, thatís all youíll need. If, on he other hand, you would like to be able play more modern recreations which use the actual ROMS to simulate play, you will need Visual PinMAME, the VBS Scripts, and possibly a few other files. If you are computer savvy, or are good atfollowing involved and detailed installation instructions, feel free to grab these files also. If, on the other hand, you are in any way a Tech No Go as I am, youíd do well to stick with Visual Pinball.

 

Sometime in the future, if there is enough interest from the PinGame Journal family for more information VpinMAME, I will seek out several friends who are knowledgeable, and provide detailed and hopefully understandable information about Visual PinMAME.

 

The men and women who have recreated these pinball machines for the computer use Visual Basic Scripting Language, which is a relatively easy programming language to learn. If you would care to try your hand at recreating a classic table yourself, or maybe design an original, I will provide you with information on downloading the files required for this in a future column, if there is enough interest.

 

For now, Iíll provide you with examples of some my favorite tables, and information on how to insert your coin and fire up the simulated machine of your choice. If you should have any problems, most of the zipped files in the tables folder contain rulesheets and other information.

 

The first recreated pin I would like to present is Contact, a 1939 flipperless, which was the first machine to have both an animated back glass, and pop-out kickers. All these years later. The game is still interesting and challenging. While the animation was merely sequential moving lighting behind the back glass, it was quite an advance for its day. Contact is recreated for Visual Pinball by skilled William Degelmann, who has a deep fondness for flipperless games and classical bingos, in addition to pre-pin gaming and gambling devices.

 

Will is driven to recreate these past relics as faithfully as Visual Pinball will allow, often spending months working on the most minor of details. He will not release a table if he isnít satisfied that it is the best that he is able to create. And he frequently updates released work, as his Visual Basic scripting abilities increase.

 

Willís dedication to his work is even more obvious when you study Contact onscreen, before playing your first game. Not a single detail is overlooked, as he seeks out owners of each table he hopes to recreate. He requests both the best graphics and rules information available, explaining his reverence for a dieing breed from the past. I think most anyone can easily see the care Will brings to recreating each of these lovely treasures. Here is how this piece of history plays.

 

Press S to begin a new game, and then L to feed a new ball to the plunger. Pull back the plunger and youíll hear the roll of the ball as it heads toward the playfield. Youíll hear the dull thud as the ball hits and rebounds off tenite bumpers. And when the ball is trapped in a kicker hole, you will need to hit those tenite bumpers a set number of times to release the ball. It can get noisy, but pinball noise is music to my ears.

 

The kicker holes in the middle of the playfield range from 500 to 3000 points, and require increasing numbers of hits to the tenite bumpers to eject the balls and collect those points. 500 point holes need four bumps to be ejected, 1000 point holes need 9 bumps, 1,500 point holes, 14 bumps, and the 3,000 point hole requires a whopping 28 bumps. So, if you have a good head for numbers, and a good memory, youíll be able to nudge the table to your advantage, and roll up some impressive point totals.

 

Each thump to a tenite bumper is worth 100 points, and they are shown among the clouds on the back glass, and are reset once another 1000 points is scored. While playing, each hit to one of the tenite bumpers will light one of planes that grace the back glass, giving the illusion on flying planes circling about the sky above the aircraft carriers.

 

Another interesting innovation of Contact was the Wonder Star bumpers, which were the first lights of any kind to be used on any pinball machine. Exhibit made three different tables before retiring this line. Hitting the Wonder Star bumper four times lights the troughs, and if the ball goes through the trough lane, youíll collect the 1000 points. As those points are collected, the Wonder Star light is reset, and will require another four hits to light the 1000-point award again.

 

If a ball is trapped in the 1500-point kick out hole, and a ball goes through the trough, that ball is rejected to make way for the new ball. The first ball will then usually fall into the 3000-point kick out hole. If both kick out holes are holding balls, both balls will kick out when another ball goes through the trough lane. The ball that had been in the 3000-point hole will then fall into the Trap hole.

 

The Trap Hole is a nifty but odd little feature that might give you an extra ball, if your nudges are just so. Once a ball is trapped, it is locked until another ball passes into the center trough. When that occurs, the Trap Hole releases its ball and returns it to the holding area for an additional play, and a lot more scoring possibilities.

 

There are a pair of kicker holes on both sides of Contactís playfield, which automatically eject the ball downward into†† either the next side kicker hole, or into the lower portion of the Contact playfield. So if you can manipulate the ball into the top side kicker hole, your score will be enriched by 2,500 points.

 

If you happen to download Visual Pinball and the Contact file, I hope youíll realize that while the simulation is extremely good, it isnít quite the same as playing the real pin. But I donít think many of you have a 1939 Exhibit Contact handy to play, so this PC simulation offers you a little piece of pinball history.

 

The next recreation Iíd like to introduce you to is Ballyís Balls A Poppiní, from 1956, and the first multiball machine as well as the first with two-player option. Douglas Silfen and Steve Robinshaw, who specialize in recreating the older EM pins, appreciates the historical value of the old Bingos and early EMs. A History professor, Douglas feels a deep obligation to bringing the pins from the Ď50s and Ď60s back to life on computers, since many older adults often donít understand code scripting.

 

Doug says that his simulation is faithful to the actual pin with only two exceptions. The rubber bands are a bit overly springy, due to the limitations of Visual Pinball, and the flippers are angled a small bit further upward than on the real machines. Balls a Poppiní wasone of only a few Bally pins of the entire 1950s. I think youíll agree that if they builtjust a handful in the fifties, they made a great choice in this fun and challenging game.

 

Balls A Poppiní is a low scoring game compared to pins from more recent years, but it is no less entertaining and great fun to play. The yellow, blue, and red bumpers only score a mere one to ten points, but certain bumpers trigger scoring for the slingshots. Your score will creep slowly higher and the game will seem a bit drab until the wildballs begin to spew forth from the left side wildball lane. Another glitch makes the wildball lane only partially visible in this PC version, opposed to the real, live machine.

 

There are a pair of silver buttons, oneís to the right, the other to the left of the top slingshots. As the ball passes over these, they light either the red pop bumpers, or the four slingshots, setting their values to ten points. Also thumping the top yellow and blue bumpers respectively can also light these.

 

All of this is fine and dandy, and makes for a nice little game, but the icing on the cake is the wildball feature. I was startled the first time the wildballs began popping up from every which angle. While all those balls were bounding about, all I could do is react, almost as if I were under attack. Only after a few of the balls have drained, and the action slowed some, was I able to chuckle at the madness of the game. Anywhere from one to six of those wildballs will erupt, all according to how many times you have advanced the counter.

 

The wildball indicator, which is displayed upon the back glass, is advanced either by rolling over the four silver buttons at the center of the playfield, or by hitting either black target at the top of the playfield, near the pop bumpers. Once at least one wildball is released to confound you, the counter is reset to zero.

 

The key to releasing wildballs, and building up your score is the center Wildball hole. Every time you land a ball in that hole, more devilish wildballs will be set loose upon you, unless the counter hasnít been advanced beyond zero. And donít worry, youíll never run out of wildballs, though†† you may find yourself wishing for a break in the action.

 

And while free game credits are meaningless on a computer simulation, they are still awarded as in the real machine. One free game credit is given at a score of 2,000 points, and again at 2,000-point intervals, up to a score total of 14,000 points. With the awarding of each game credit there will be three knocks. Once you have met the challenge of Balls A Poppiní, youíll wonder why it was the only Bally pin made during the fifties.

 

Our third pin to take a gander at is another Bally, Power Play from 1977. This table was recreated by Kinsey Hines, who is one of a very small number of women who give life to these recreations. Power Play is themed on pro hockey, and features the Toronto Maple Leafs against the Chicago Black Hawks, and at times the ball seems to travel as quickly as a hockey puck.

 

In addition to choosing 3 or 5 ball play, youíre able tochoose from either Liberal or Conservative game modes. The Liberal mode usually results in a much higher scoring game. Conservative mode sets point values lower, and alternates the lighting of bumpers and other bonus features. I prefer five balls per game, but I also prefer Conservative mode, since the lower scores are more in tune with the pins I grew up playing. There are also three very different replay modes to choose from.

 

Special Mode, which is actually the standard, normal mode, awards credits when you light the Specials, and gives you an Extra Ball when that light is lit. Extra Ball Mode will score Specials and Replays, and awards you an extra Ball instead of a free game. The Novelty Mode, offers Specialswhich score 50.000 points, but replays do not apply.

 

At the start of play, and with each new ball, bonuses reset to 1,000 points, the kick-out hole is rest to 3,000 points, both banks of drop targets are returned to the up position, and the ball-saver post below the flippers is in the down position. Conservative play sets the value of the rollovers in the upper right and left lanes at 100 points, instead of the more Liberal 1,000 points.

 

When lit for specials, the right and left out-lanes score a free replay. In liberal play, both lanes will be lit, while in Conservative, they alternate. Likewise, the two sets of drop targets, which are valued at 300 points each, are both reset in Conservative mode, once an entire bank of targets has been hit. In Liberal mode, only the completed bank of targets will be reset. The pop bumpers all score 100 points unlit and 1,000 points once lit. They are constantly lit in the Liberal mode, and alternately lit in Conservative mode.

 

The drop targets are where you can rack up some impressive points, since each bank is worth 3,000 points. But they are worth so much more. Each bank of targets dropped gives you three bonus advances, plus increasing the Multiplier. The third bank of targets you complete advances the Multiplier by 5, and gives you an extra ball in Liberal mode. The fourth set of targets you complete awards an extra ball, and allother completions light the specials.

 

The Kick-Out Hole can also have a healthy effect upon your score, beginning with 3,000 points and three bonus advances the first time you sink your silver orb there. Point values increase by 3,000 points, up to a maximum of 15,000 points, plus the three bonus advances each time. Making your second Kick-Out Hole lights the left lane rollover to score bonus advances. The 12,000 Kick-Out Hole lights up the right lane rollover, and the 15,000 Kick-Out Hole lights the Out-Lanes for collecting the Specials.

 

Interestingly, there is a maximum of 29,000 bonus points that can be collected on any given ball, which is awarded when the ball in play drains. Only one extra ball can be earned per ball, and is awarded when ďSame Player Shoots AgainĒ is lit. And finally, beating the current high score awards three replays.

 

But the feature I like best, and which can help build your point total to record highs, is the second pair of flippers built into the side of the rails about midpoint on the play field. Unlike most additional sets of flippers, these wonít influence the game when not in use. But timed just so, they can propel the ball either toward the banks of drop targets or send it to the top of the playfield. With practice, you will learn how to use these hidden side flippers to gain a bit of fame with higher scores, if no fortune.

 

So there you have it, PinGame Journal readers, our look at three pins from different eras, and each special in its own right. Since Power Play is only twenty-five years old, some may still be found, and enjoyed. But Balls A Poppiní will prove much harder to find, outside of private collections. And few folks other than collectors or pinball enthusiasts will have even heard of Contact.

 

And while I readily agree, there is and will never be a PC version of these glorious games that does them justice, I still think having the opportunity to play these and other beloved gems from the past is a plus. Struggle Buggies on a computer can never match the thrill I knew when I played it as a youngster. But the memories that I relive every time I do play the Visual Pinball version are sweeter than even my sack of penny candy once was.

 

I do hope youíll keep an open mind, and try Visual Pinball by Randy Davis. With an assist from super programmer Chris Leathley, Visual Pinball is constantly being improved with new features and capabilities. With each update, more ways to mimic flesh and blood pinball machines are added. I wholeheartedly endorse Visual Pinball, for no other reason than to stroll down the familiar and dusty back roads of your forgotten memories. Comments are always welcome at zifbob@juno.com or you can drop me a note at 2432 Kennon Ave, Norfolk, VA, 23513.

 

My gratitude and appreciation go to Jim Schelberg, the publisher of PinGame Journal, for the opportunity to write for Americaís only Pinball Magazine. And especially for allowing this article to be reprinted for the VP community. PinGame Journal is available by subscription at www.PinGameJournal.com, and offers an excellent mix of interesting articles by some of the most knowledgeable and respected Pinball writers anywhere.