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Pinball Essay

1779 words - 8 pages

I wish Stern would string together games that have engaging gameplay, innovation, amusing quotes, and (dare I say it) clever and polished code. They can do it! They have had flashes of greatness and have made a handful of games that can stand side by side unashamed with the B/W greats. But unless LFS was involved in the game in a major way as of late, you can just about forget about the game being enjoyable.
And maybe move forward of the 90s with the overall presentation of the pin.

It used to be that I was very excited to see what new features the next pin would have. From the late eighties (when I started playing a good amount of pin) to the late nineties, most Williams and ...view middle of the document...

Were we supposed to get excited about SX and Monopoly after being treated to MM, Shadow, WW, and TZ? HRC's rules weren't bad (KEF's never are), but the layout and mechanics (and non-registering standups) left a lot to be desired.
Then lightning struck! TSPP's rules blew me away and made me reconsider my thoughts about Stern. The game was/is very engaging despite its buzzing subpar flippers and its sounds-about-as-good-as-a-system-11 sound system.
And then LoTR showed up. Despite all of its problems - sword lock issues, flippers that gave out way before the code did, the impossibility of destroying the ring on many examples, Balrog not registering, PoTD switches not working, Gollum being the worst shot in pinball in the last thirty years- this game earned a spot among the all time greats of pinball. The music is excellent, the quotes mesh perfectly with the game, and the rules are inspired. The flipper feel, audio quality, and fit and finish of the pin was not up to B/W standards by any means, and it played clunky, but the rules/quoted/music worked so well together that all of that could be overlooked. There was no doubt. TSPP was not a fluke. Stern had put out two great games just a few years after B/W closed shop.

Stern went on to make some cool mechs (PoTC ship, TDK ball on a chain) and KEF and LFS would grace games with their spectacular code.
Nordman made some interesting layouts as usual and the SAM system vastly improved the flippers, but overall the main improvement that Stern brought to the world of pinball was the occasional ultra deep, clever rulset by Keith or creative Lyman rules. Stern continued to produce 90s style games of lesser quality than the real 90s style games. Audio quality was worse than DCS (and certainly worse than P2K), flippers are not as responsive as fliptronics, photoshopped playfields, cabinet art quality is poor....

And that is where we are now. Stern will put out the occasional fun 90s style game (SM, ACDC), but aside from rules, where is the innovation??? Why do games from 2012 look just like games from 1991???? This never happened even over a ten year period from the 60s forward (probably could say from much further in the past but I'm not too familiar with games earlier than the 60s).
Games from the 70s do not look like or play like games from the 60s. The switch from EM to SS was huge and allowed the games to score properly, have soundtracks and quotes, and improved the flippers. Flippers and bumpers were stronger and gameplay was faster. SS games just plain made the EMs look, sound, and feel outdated.
80s games do not look or play like games from the 70s. There were jackpots, vastly improved sound quality, fun upper and lower playfields, the flippers were better than before, the games had a storyline, and we were treated to the first wizard modes. Steve Ritchie and Pat Lawlor raised the bar on playfield design and LED laid down the sweet code. Alpha...

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