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Are Pinball Games Too Complex?

By evaluating comments made on rec.games.pinball it becomes readily apparent that many contributors feel that current pinball games involve too much complexity. This complexity can be in the area of playfield design and/or in a machines ruleset. If a playfield is too complex they feel that it tends to confuse some players (clutter) or demand a skill level above that of the average player (tight shots). If the ruleset is too complex they feel that it prohibits some players from enjoying certain features without previous, in depth knowledge of the rules. Additionally, many of the proponents reference older games (usually from the 60's or 70's) as examples of simpler games to base future designs on.

Opponents of the theory that games have become too complex feel that this complexity actually makes the games better and helps to draw in new players. Additionally, they feel that although the games are complex, they are not so complex as to inhibit new or less skilled players from enjoying a game. The new player should be able just bat the ball around without knowing what they are doing (this would be regardless of the game - complex or simple) and have fun. The intermediate player should grasp that the game will give audio or visual cues as to what shots are best for him to shoot. The expert player will be able to devise a complex strategy based upon a goal he has set (e.g. playing cow video mode in Attack from Mars) or one of the games (e.g. wizard mode or some special combo such as the 3 way combo in Whirlwind).

Examining each others arguments one will find that they both agree that modern games have become more complex. The biggest changes have come about due to the introduction of a microprocessor. This addition provides the machine with memory. As a result designers have been able to incorporate intricate sets of rules. Additionally, the microprocessor provided machines with the ability to control playfield toys more easily. As a result, many playfields have become somewhat more occupied. Depending upon the vintage of the game a person compares a modern games to, this playfield 'clutter' can be a large or small difference.

So games have become more complex. Some people like this, some don't. One reason games have become more complex is due to societal and cultural changes (from a slower pace towards a faster pace). An example of this can be inferred from the statement of an rgp'er who thinks that today's games are too complicated to attract either new players or old-timers who remember when pinball was a more, well, relaxed pastime. Not every game has to be an adrenaline rush. But the problem is that most people would rather play Death Kombat 17 for the rush than relax playing pinball.

The best modern pinball games will take this into consideration and provide a means of allowing and rewarding both types of play. As such, most modern games now contain some of the features of video games in them to compete for the players money. The most notable change is the addition of game specific goals (generally in the form of modes and a wizard mode) on top of the generic goals (high score list, replay or special, etc.). Granted, game specific goals did exist in older games (such as hitting a sequence of targets in order) but these goals were less dynamic and only a few could be placed in a game (versus the 5-10+ in modern games).

Interestingly, two manufacturers have in the last two years each put out a machine that is more 'classic'. Williams re-leased an updated version of Pinbot called JackBot which contained an updated ruleset, artwork, and display but retained the exact same physical layout. Capcom released a completely new machine designed to resemble a 1970's style pin in playfield layout called Breakshot. The most notable throwbacks in Breakshot were drop targets and a lack of ramps. Neither of these games were a big hit with operators so sales were low even though players seemed to really enjoy the games.

Regardless which viewpoint is closer to your personal opinions, the fundamental objective of pinball is the same today as it has been for many years - Keep the ball in Play! Due to this fact, it is possible for anyone to bat the ball around in any pinball machine and have a good time without knowing anything at all about that specific game. Furthermore, rather recent games (such as The Addam's Family and Attack from Mars and Twister) show that some games do indeed attract and stimulate increased play

Updated Sep 15, 2005 Written by Unknown
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