If you’ve ever been to an arcade, then you’ll have seen and probably played the rows of pinball table games lining the sides of the room. Pinball has been a gaming staple since the 1930s and, like many traditional games, it has successfully transitioned to digital form.
Here we take a look at the evolution of pinball, and the pros and cons of each form of the game.
Following the template of classic games
Pinball belongs to a loose category of “classic” games that could well have been lost to the internet, were it not for their inherent gameplay qualities, tendency to evoke nostalgia, and ability to move with the times. Chess, blackjack and slots – all have found new homes online as well as continuing to attract traditionalists in their physical form.
The original slot machines gained popularity in the late 1800s and, back then, they were entirely mechanical. The player pulled a lever to turn a bunch of gears which span the reels. This was how slots worked for a long time and traditional machines still exist today.
But mechanical slots machines have increasingly been replaced by digital machines powered by computer software. From the player’s perspective, the experience is similar. They push a button, or often pull a lever, and reels would spin. Online slots also sprang up offering players hundreds, if not thousands of titles on a single platform.
Traditional pinball becomes digital
The first coin operated pinball machines arrived on the arcade scene in the 1930s. As with slots, the original machines were entirely mechanical, in this case relying entirely on spring loaded plungers, flippers, and a steel ball, all contained within a gaming cabinet. This is how pinball would stay for decades to come.
That is, until the first virtual pinball machine was developed in the early 1990s. Players still used buttons to operate flippers, but the entire machine relied on computer software and screens to recreate the experience. At this point, these digital machines were still contained within a cabinet, just like the originals.
This transition from purely physical to digital form divided players, and still does today. Traditionalists prefer the experience of playing with mechanical elements, which essentially offer more control and more possible outcomes for where the ball ends up.
Every movement has to be programmed into a digital machine. Developers are refining this to bring it close to how physical flippers and balls respond, and are getting much better at doing so.
The real advantage to digital pinball machines it that it’s possible to access hundreds of games with a single table. You might pay a similar amount of money for a high quality digital machine as you would for a traditional machine ($5,000 to $15,000), but with a digital machine you would get an extensive library of games that you can switch between at any time.
Pinball for PC and console
As would be expected for a traditional game of its calibre, pinball is also now available as a PC, console and mobile game. It first appeared on PC in the form of 3D Pinball: Space Cadet, which came installed on Windows all the way up to Windows Vista. Now, there are dozens of games available, some higher quality than others.
Pinball FX3 is one of the more realistic pinball sims out there, and is available for PC, Xbox and PlayStation. It includes over 70 unique tables, with games from Star Wars, Williams, DreamWorks, Universal, Jurassic World, as well as originals from the developers Zen Studios.
Obviously, the cost of getting a console or PC pinball game is much lower than buying a machine of any kind. The trade off is that the experience will be further removed from the original arcade buzz.
Which pinball game is right for you?
If you’re just looking to play a few casual games of pinball and aren’t too concerned with the realism of the physics, then a mobile, console or PC version of pinball is a good place to start. You won’t have to spend much, you’ll need only basic hardware like a monitor, and you can always upgrade to a physical table if you become truly enthusiastic about the game.
If you are a pinball lover (or an arcade owner) and you have the space and budget, then you might want to invest in a real machine. There’s nothing quite like the mechanical pinball machines for realism and enjoyment, but a digital machine offers hundreds of titles at a lower cost.