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
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