The Pinball Factory

Reviewed by Mark Hutchinson


Issue 26

Mar/Apr 87

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I have always had a great urge to treat myself to a pinball table but have never gotten around to it. I have however tried several pinball simulations on the 8-bit ATARI, including the Pinball Construction Set (PCS) by Electronic Arts, so you can imagine that I was really looking forward to trying out The Pinball Factory from Microdeal.

The program comes in the usual nicely illustrated box with a 14 page booklet. The instructions are plain and concise and the program is so easy to use that you will only read the instructions a couple of times. The disk contains only the Pinball program which includes a sample table but why this was not held in a separate file alludes me. I would guess that the writer was afraid the original file might have been overwritten or corrupted by the user. If so, good thinking! I saved the demo to a file to give me something to work with but take note - if you are saving a file and the disk is write protected, the program will not trap the error! This means that the disk will spin and that is all. You may think your program has been saved but it has not.

On booting the program, the screen is set to low resolution automatically (nicer than getting an error message and having to reboot) and an intro screen is shown for a few seconds before coming to the main menu. Here you can edit, play, load or save a game, erase a file or take a directory from any of three drives. This is done in a way I find preferable to the normal GEM directory window

Choosing to edit the game will bring you to another menu where you can edit the board or logo, alter the rules or test the game. The edit logo option gives you everything, having been spoilt by DEGAS, that you have come to accept as standard from a graphics package. Edit board is just as good, giving you the usual 16 colours, brushes, fills etc. It even includes a magnify mode for better detail and the ability to cycle fills backwards and forwards.

The parts of the pinball table can be removed all at once or separately. To remove a single item you must set the remove box, choose a part similar to the one to be removed, move the icon directly over the part on the board and push the mouse button. If you do not place the icon exactly over the part then you could be left with garbage on the screen. Or you can use the T box to remove each item. The item can be chosen by arrow keys that will cycle through the parts on the board. I much prefer the way Bill Budge used PMG (sprites) to move the icons on and off the PCS board, but I can live with this.

The board itself is a basic shape and, unlike PCS, cannot be altered directly, however, using brush and paint you can redesign the board. The colours are of two kinds, one that is invisible to the ball (for all those pretty pictures you want on the table) and those that the ball will see and interact with. The latter are used to paint in lanes and bumpers.

The game itself plays very well but, when you come to design your own, you must remember to play test it fully. You can change such things as gravity, bounce etc. With PCS there were certain areas where the ball would stick and these would have to be redesigned. The author of The Pinball Factory has thoughtfully included a 'tilt' option and this could be beneficial with such areas (conversely, with 'tilt', these areas could then become a 'feature' of your board).

The program includes all the usual board features, including ball traps to give multiple ball play. Normally when multiple balls are in play a program runs slow and can become exasperating, however I found no difference between single and multiple ball play with this program. Better programming techniques or just the power of the 68000?

I am pleased that I was able to try this program out. It does not take long to become conversant with all the options available, but it does take time and careful preparation of the board to yield good results - but that is true of
most construction programs.

One option missing from this version is some sort of stand alone package. This was included with PCS and meant that pinball games could be placed in the public domain with the resulting free advertisement for the original construction program. The only problem is that this type of package tends not to have a dedicated algorithm (it must test for all options even when not on the board) and thus will run somewhat slower but this should not be much of a problem with the 68000. It might be worth contacting Microdeal to see if they intend to produce such a package in the near future, otherwise people might be tempted to copy the program itself in order to show their friends games they have designed.

My personal gripes are that I would prefer a higher resolution and a bigger table, plus the ability to have a sound select option. Taking everything into consideration (and the fact that I have condensed this review) I would still recommend this as a good buy for all pinball addicts. Besides which, you get an entry form for a design competition to win three prizes of 1000 each!