The Pinball Arcade Interview

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Pinball is on a bit of a comeback as of late, between Crave's Pinball Hall of Fame compilations and Zen Studios' ongoing barrage of digital pinball releases, including Pinball FX 2 and Zen Pinball.  Now, Farsight Studios, the same team that worked on the Hall of Fame compilations, is giving their own digital collection a try with The Pinball Arcade, set to release this spring on Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, PlayStation Vita and various other platforms.

The collection will start off with four popular tables from the classic pinball era, including Theatre of Magic, Tales of the Arabian Knights, Ripley's Believe It Or Not and Black Hole.  Over the next few months, they'll release additional tables for download from the likes of Stern Pinball, Williams Pinball and other distributors, challenging gamers each month with new tournaments and leaderboards.

To get a better idea of what to expect from the upcoming release, we chatted with Farsight's Bobby King about what we can expect, and how carefully the team worked to recreate the pinball experience.  And yes, we asked about that Addams Family pinball as well...love that table...

Q: First off, Farsight Studios has been working on video game pinball projects for some time, with the Pinball Hall of Fame compilations.   What prompted you guys to work with this kind of development in the  first place?

Bobby: As you know, FarSight started with the Pinball Hall of Fame franchise published by Crave.  After our original puzzle game Mojo which featured a rolling ball, we were invited by Bob Bryant (a producer at Crave) to Tim Arnold's place for a pinball fundraiser (before there was a Pinball Hall of Fame) and got nostalgic for classic pinball and our favorite tables which we hadn't played in years.  We wanted to make a pinball game but we knew that great pinball design is a rare skill obtained through years of experience so we looked into what manufacturer license would be feasible to obtain.

Q: Is it true your office is loaded with vintage pinball machines?  Is there a particular favorite?

Bobby: Yes, we buy all of the tables that we re-created digitally.  Most of the tables in our rec room are someone's favorite.  Tales, Funhouse, and Taxi probably got played the most when we were making the original Williams collection.  Both Tales and Taxi will need to be repaired before our next internal pinball tournament.  We disabled the tilt mechanism from Taxi so we could work on our nudging skill with no reproductions. Currently, the most played table is one we haven't announced yet so I can't mention what it is.  Personally, I play a lot of whichever table I'm tuning at the time.

Q: What is it about your guys' development that nails the authenticity of pinball?  How hard is it to get every single little detail into video  game format?


Bobby: Well, it's not as hard as it used to be.  When we made the Gottlieb collection we gathered reference from the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas and recoded all of the rules from scratch, developing the physics engine as we went.  That was a challenge!  Now, we buy the tables, take them apart, and have a bunch of physics experience and tech (like ROM emulation) to make tables look and play almost exactly like the real thing.  It's been a learning experience, and it's our goal to continue to improve!

Q: Pinball was really popular back in the heyday of arcade gaming, do you  think it's back on the rise between your upcoming release and other games like Pinball FX 2 and Zen Pinball?

Bobby: Yeah, the Zen guys have done a good job of helping to bring pinball back - at least digitally - just look at the download numbers on XBLA.  We hope to make the video pinball community even bigger and even rekindle real pinball a little more.  Great pinball was very successful during it golden age for a good reason.  The design of the classic tables that we'll be reproducing have replayability that's just tremendous.  We can't wait to introduce new players to this great gameplay.

Q: What goes into your decision making when it comes to releasing games for The Pinball Arcade?  Do you listen to fans for suggestions or simply "go with your gut"?

Bobby: We look for tables that are universally recognized as being great (ipdb.org)and pinside.com are two sources that we respect); we throw in a large helping of what our fans want, what our pinball expert friends think would be good picks, and what tables we at FarSight love and think will make for great videogame simulations.  Of course, the final decision is also impacted by what's feasible to license.

Q: How much of a process do you have to go through in order to get the rights for a table, like Ripley's Believe It Or Not?  Or The Addams Family?

Bobby: It ranges quite a bit and it can be quite costly.  Ripley's only required one license and there aren't any exclusivities or big companies involved, so while it cost money, it was a relatively easy process.  Some tables are extremely complicated.  For example, Addams Family licensing would include licenses from The Addams Foundation, Paramount Picture, every actor used on the table and the music (which was an MC Hammer version of the theme from the movie).  We're going for it though.  It's a great table!  All things considered, we're doing really well getting many licenses for a bunch of great tables.  

Q: Are you making improvements to the newly offered tables, even though they might have appeared previously in Pinball Hall of Fame?

Bobby: Yes, the graphical tech and fidelity will be much better and the physics continue to evolve.  The gameplay is as close to real as it's ever been and we aim to keep improving.

Q: We know you're undergoing a beta test phase on some formats (iOS, Android).  How psyched are you to show this off to the pinball community?

Bobby: Very much so - the feedback for the iOS version has been great.  We'll be getting the Android build out today.  We're looking forward to seeing what people think and seeing if we're as compatible on as many devices as we project (about 90% of the Androids currently in use!).

Q: Are you guys planning on attending any events to get the word out  about Pinball Arcade?  Perhaps a tour of real pinball halls of fame,  perhaps?

Bobby: We've been attending the Pinball Expo every year.  Next year, we plan to have a booth.  We are looking into other pinball events and venues around the country.  Next month, we've been invited by Google to show our game off at a kiosk in the Android booth at the World Mobile Congress.  We're hoping that will help get us some good worldwide exposure.

Q: You're planning weekly or monthly releases?  Along with Medieval Madness, what else would you say is on the DLC slate?

Bobby: We're planning on monthly updates.  We plan to eventually release all of the tables from the PHOF collections (with a possible exception or two) along with more tables from Gottlieb and Williams as well as a dozen or so Bally and Stern tables.  And hopefully, that will just be the beginning.  Also, the monthly releases will include bug fixes and improvements to previously released tables when needed.

Q: Are you excited about working with new platforms like Wii U and PS Vita?  Or nervous?

Bobby: We are currently in submission at Sony.  We are scheduled to be a launch title on Vita through PSN.  Our engine guys are just starting to look at getting us up and running on our Wii-U dev kits.  Why would we be nervous? We love new hardware and both of these new consoles give us a chance to create great new user experiences with their designs.

Q: Will the games support online leaderboards?  It just wouldn't be the same if you couldn't challenge friends.

Bobby: Yes, we'll feature a facebook login and host our own database so that we can allow players to challenge their friends even if they're playing on different device.

Q: Any online tournaments coming up?

Bobby: Once we've released a few tables, we plan to start hosting cross-platform tournaments. In a typical tournament, players will have up to one week to a complete game on each table and post a score EVEN IF THE TABLE IS IN FREE MODE AND THEY HAVE NOT PURCHASED IT YET. We will feature many of the same basic tournaments rules and formats as the IFPA including Open Play, PinGolf, and Match Play. A rewarding tournament rating and ladder system will level the playing field for players of all abilities and give everyone a chance to win their division!

Q: Finally, mind if I humbly suggest Earthshaker or Dr. Dude for a future update?  Those are both prime choices in my eyes.

Bobby: You'll get one of those two in the first year. :)

Thanks to Bobby for chatting with us about the game.  Look for The Pinball Arcade this spring!

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Robert Workman
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