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Interview: Talking Zen Pinball 2 with Mel Kirk

Zen Pinball 2 Screenshot - 1118344

Over the past few years, Zen Studios has been making quite a name for itself when it came to pinball simulations.  It started on the Xbox 360 with the release of Pinball FX, then followed up on the PS3 with Zen Pinball.  Since then, we've seen a number of excellent pinball designs from the team, including several ones inspired by Marvel superheroes (most recently in the Avengers Chronicles pack, which came out earlier this year).

Next month, the team will push their PS3 experience even further with the release of Zen Pinball 2, which will use an interface similar to Pinball FX 2, with all the tables (including the Marvel ones) in one place, complete with leaderboards and challenges aplenty.  For good measure, the game will be available for the PlayStation Vita as well, with all Cross-Play purchase features intact.

To get more insight on Pinball FX 2, as well as the mystery PopCap Games table that's going to be announced next week at PAX Prime, we sat down with Zen Studios' Mel Kirk to see what players can expect…and what 2013 will look like in the world of digital pinball…

First off, what prompted you guys to say, "Hey, we need a better interface for Zen Pinball?"  Maybe it was the way Marvel Pinball was divided up from the product or...?

Mel Kirk: We have come a long, long way since the release of the original Zen Pinball back in 2009. Zen Pinball 2's interface is modeled after what we have found to be successful and user friendly with Pinball FX2 and Marvel Pinball, bringing all tables under one roof and visible to the user in the dashboard. The team has worked really hard to make the interface look really nice and polished, as we strive to present the game in the best way possible.   

zen pinball 2

What do you think users will notice first about the Zen Pinball 2 interface?  Ease of use?  Online interactions?

The first thing users will notice is that all of their tables from Zen Pinball and Marvel Pinball are now conveniently located in one game platform. We have enough user feedback to know that this is what people want, which will result in a much better experience for all players. The online interactions will not really be visible from the interface, however these will show up during gameplay with in-game notifications alerting players that they are about to beat their own score or a friends score. These new interactions really increase the level of competition between players! Beating your own score is only fun for so long, but beating your friends scores is ALWAYS fun!

This collection will bundle all the tables together, right?  So Marvel will sit right there with Super Street Fighter and Ninja Gaiden tables?

Correct. All Zen Pinball tables, which includes the Street Fighter II Tribute table and Ninja Gaiden Sigma II table, along with Marvel Pinball will be together in Zen Pinball 2. If you already own Zen Pinball or Marvel Pinball, you will be presented with the option to import your tables to Zen Pinball 2 for free. The older tables have all received updated graphics, physics and the new social system for free, so the tables will feel fresh and new. The free upgrade is our way of saying 'thank you' to all of those who have supported us over the years. Additionally, any content you have purchased or will purchase, is cross platform entitled, which is a fancy way of saying pay once and get it on both PS3 and PS Vita at no extra charge!

How hard was it to bring the game to the PlayStation Vita?  And are you guys ready for the competition from The Pinball Arcade team?

We are big fans of the PlayStation Vita. The device packs serious power and provided enough horsepower for us to create a game that is of the highest quality. The process was pretty straightforward and the team did not have any big issues getting the game ready. The Farsight guys have been around a long time and they do good work. As fans of pinball, we are really happy to see the classics getting remade for digital, and hopefully it will continue to help this pinball renaissance that seems to be happening. 

zen pinball 2

The game will feature cross-play, correct?  Tell us how the features will link between the PS3 and PS Vita.

The game will be cross platform entitled, which means you buy content once and it is playable on PS3 and PS Vita at no additional charge. I think the new term for this is 'cross buy,' which Sony announced during GamesCom last week. There are a few cross platform features, such as shared leaderboards, however most other features are platform specific and will not cross over. This was due primarily to file size limitations.

Now...about this new PopCap table.  How'd you coordinate with these guys to get the deal done?  Was it their idea or yours?

Every licensing deal requires a variety of parties to coordinate and get on the same page. From business development, legal, marketing, creative, etc, it is quite a process to make something like this happen, and it can take a long time. We will be discussing this during a Zen Studios - PopCap panel at PAX, "Love at First Bumper: The behind the scenes story of how pinball united Zen Studios and PopCap Games." Check it out Friday night @ 8:00 PM in the Unicorn Theater. Whoa, while I write this, I was just informed that Ty Roberts, the producer on the project, and scheduled speaker on the panel was just let go from PopCap. If anyone out there is looking for a stellar producer, Ty is awesome (http://www.twitter.com/tyjroberts).

This marks your latest effort to team with a development studio on a game, like you did with Twisted Pixel and Ms. Splosion Man.  How closely did your teams work together?

The Zen and PopCap teams worked together very closely on the project. The PopCap guys are extremely creative, forward thinking and simply brilliant. It is always so much fun when you get to work with creative minds of this caliber.

What goes into the design of a table?  Is there a certain "hook" that goes into the design?  Or are you guys mostly inspired by older tables?

zen pinball 2

Each table is designed from the ground up, and the theme dictates how the table will shape up. Table geometry is based on the most important aspects of the theme or IP we are working with, as we always try and include the key moments and highlights of a certain theme in the best possible way. Older tables have inspired us, but as we push on and pioneer this new wave of tables, I think we are really distancing ourselves from classic designs. 

We have a guess on the PopCap table...Plants vs. Zombies.  C'mon, you can tell us, right?  

The wait must go on a little bit longer! Things will get really fun on August 31 at PAX! Make sure to come by the PopCap booth to play the new Bookworm, I mean Zuma table. (smiles)

Finally, where do you see Zen Pinball going into 2013?  Any hints you care to drop?

I see Zen Pinball going BIG in 2013. In fact, I know we are going BIG. That's about all I can say without giving it away. It will be an exciting year for pinball fans, and hopefully for Zen Studios. This pinball thing is really working out well, we get to meet so many different people, work with amazing companies, and have a ton of fun. Thanks to everyone who has supported us!

Zen Pinball 2 will be available September 4th for PlayStation 3 and PS Vita.  The game itself is free, though the tables are sold separately (about $2.50 a pop).

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Robert Workman
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