Welcome to this first part of the Pinball News in-depth look at Stern's newest game Family Guy.
First of all, who did what? The game is designed by Pat Lawlor Design (PLD) and licensed by Fox. Some of the art was done at Fox with John Youssi and Margaret Hudson completing the package. The show's creator Seth MacFarlane recorded many custom sound clips for the game with others coming from the shows or previous recordings.
The game reviewed here is not the finished version by any means but the changes made for production will mainly be in the rules, sounds and display effects so the hardware you see here is unlikely to change much. This first article will look at that hardware with the second part considering the rules and overall conclusions.
For those of you who either haven't seen Family Guy or have only seen a little of it, here's a brief summary of the characters and the setting for the show. If you've familiar with it or frankly just don't care you can skip this next section.
Family Guy is based in the town of Quahog, Rhode Island and stars the Griffin family of 31 Spooner Street.
Head of the household, or so he likes to think, is Peter Griffin. Larger than life in so many ways, Peter used to work at the Happy Go Lucky toys until he invited the boss round for dinner at which he choked to death, leaving Peter jobless. Such episodes are typical of Peter's life where he manages to say just the wrong thing or do the most embarrassing thing possible, often after several Pawtucket Patriot beers at his favourite watering hole The Drunken Clam.
Lois is married to Peter and is the most normal one in the family. Formerly Lois Pewterschmitd, she comes from a monied background, a fact her father never lets Peter forget. Lois and Peter met at her family's mansion during a party where Peter was a towel boy. Although normally calm, Lois has been known to lose it and run amok at time of extreme stress.
Peter and Lois have three children. Oldest is 16-year-old daughter Meg. Embarrassed to be part of the family, Meg is usually heard complaining and whining - often with good reason as she is frequently the butt of the shows many physical gags and her father's idiotic behaviour.
Next oldest is son Chris, 13. Constantly trying to please his father he is forever at that awkward age where nothing he does is right. He is not helped by an evil monkey hiding in his closet who torments him, and his overly childish outlook on life.
Youngest of the Griffin children is baby Stewie. But in the topsy-turvey world Family Guy inhabits, the oldest are the dumbest and the youngest the smartest, making Stewie a genius. The only problem is, he's an evil genius, hell-bent on world domination and the destruction of his family at every opportunity. His elaborate but thwarted attempts to kill his mother are all the more frustrating since nobody else seems to notice them.
Brian is the last of the family household. Intellectually on a par with Stewie, he usually comes out ahead in any battle of wits despite being the family dog. Brian is the voice of reason Peter ignores all too often although Brian is not without vices of his own such as his taste for cocktails and an eye for the ladies.
Other characters include Peter's drinking chums and neighbours; Glenn Quagmire - Spooner Street's resident sex addict, mild-mannered Cleveland Brown and Joe Swanson - the paraplegic ex-policeman, Action 5 news anchor Tom Tucker, the guy dressed as a giant chicken who is Peter's nemesis, and of course Death, who appears to have rather too many human-like frailties to be a convincing grim reaper.
So those are the characters who appear in the show and in the pinball game. If you want to see them in action, either watch it when broadcast, buy the DVDs or hop over to YouTube where there are hundreds of Family Guy clips to browse.
But back to the pinball game and the first impressions usually come from the backglass and cabinet artwork so let's take a look at those.
The backglass artwork is somewhat simplistic and unimaginative, consisting of the six family members in their garb from the show's title sequence (with the addition of buttons which were missing in the titles). Yes, it says "Family Guy" immediately and can be spotted across a crowded bar but lacks the creativity in the artwork of that other cartoon family in The Simpsons Pinball Party. It also doesn't work too well with the single fluorescent lamp in the backbox making the top and bottom - including the Family Guy logo - dark and murky as you can see below in a picture taken of the game. It's a shame because other recent Stern titles had done well in this regard.
Home owners should look to improve the backbox illumination to get the best out of the image.
The cabinet is a different kettle of fish though, with bright and vibrant colours showing artwork that looks designed for the game. Printing quality is the same as usual, so expect to see the coloured dots clearly if you get too close, but quite honestly it works well for cartoon-style flat colours. It's only when trying to get subtle shades or very fine detail that the process falls down and this artwork requires neither.
The same is true of the backbox sides which feature - in ascending order - Joe, Quagmire, Cleveland and Peter. Note that most of the artwork features graduated background colours which make it harder to retouch if it becomes damaged.
The rest of the external hardware - flipper buttons, side rails, trim and so forth is unchanged from other recent Stern games.
What's under the glass then? Certainly there are the models of all six family members - each one denoting their area of the game.
Buyers might like to stock up on a spare set of models from Mezco Toys by clicking here. They can also be reshaped to give different poses to those in the game.
Each character has a shot associated with them which helps tie in to the theme. Obviously the big toy is Stewie's Pinball - a shrunk-down pinball game. It dominates the playfield and hides a couple of the major shots which flow underneath, but overall the playfield looks graphically busy but fairly open with no obvious sucker shots.
So let's take a look in detail at each part of the playfield and see how the individual characters' areas work. Remember though, this game was not running full production software. In fact it was initially using version 0.64 which was upgraded to V0.70 during the review. Production games should have V1.00 or higher so there are several key features missing or not yet implemented in this review version which we'll point out as we go.
Starting at the lower flippers, there is the return of the centre post. UK players will remember this on Stern games up until NASCAR but the rest of the world hasn't seen one of these for a while. It is raised once the first ball is plunged into play to act as a ball saver and remains up for about six seconds. It can be reactivated during the game by hitting the Death drop target when it is available. On some older games, a raised centre post would coincide with a ball saver in case you were suitably inept with your flippers to allow the ball through. Not here though. If you fumble the ball and let it sneak past the post you get no sympathy from the game and Death awaits you.
The post is actually quite useful in setting up shots since a ball resting between the post and the left flipper just requires a simple flip to make the Lois shot on the right, whereas conversely, a ball resting between the post and the right flipper is lined up perfectly for a shot at Meg. This had me wondering how those angles were calculated because it really does work just as you'd hope and as someone once said, "that was no accident".
So, two standard flippers and the centre post lead us clockwise to the two inlanes and a single outlane on the left. This arrangement leads to fewer left side drains but allows a seemingly impossible bounce off the metal inlane diverter and down the outlane, seen on previous Lawlor games such as The Addams Family. The left most inlane lights the Lois spinner for double the number of spins, while the inner inlane pops up the Death drop target. The only ramp in the game returns to the left most inlane dropping nicely on the switch for the Lois double scoring opportunity.
The outlane has an insert labeled "Not Special" to contrast with the "Special" available on the opposite outlane. In this build there didn't seem to be an award given by the Not Special, living up to its name.
Above the left inlanes and outlane is the first of the six family member shots - Meg.
The Meg shot is simply a short lane ending in a standup target. Meg is sometime lit for various modes and is also a jackpot shot. Ball exiting the Meg lane roll down over the front face of the left slingshot which can give it a nasty unexpected kick on its way towards the left flipper.
Shots hitting the Meg target are recorded and added as part of your end-of-ball bonus plus you get some whining sound call complaining about something. She tends to be much more annoying in the game than she is in the show.
Meg's area, like those for Chris and Lois is colour-coded according to the colour of the top they are wearing. So Meg is purple, Chris is blue and Lois is turquoise.
Moving up the playfield, the next shot is Chris's lane.
This whole area is a little confusing because a number of shots and features are crammed into a small space and also because Chris's model in not next to his shot.
The Chris shot begins at the bottom left of the picture above and consists of a long blue lane ending in another standup target at the back left corner of the game. Like Meg, Chris features in modes and is a jackpot shot but making his shot also drops the Evil Monkey target at the entrance to the ramp. You can see the target in its down position in the picture above. If you know Rollercoaster Tycoon and the Ghost target on the centre ramp, well, this is exactly the same except it's now a monkey and he's evil.
The ramp does a quick u-turn and sends the ball above the playfield but down the same path as the Chris shot, past Meg and ends at the left most left inlane. When the Evil Monkey target is not down it just scores points.
Collecting the Evil Monkey target collects and advances the lit insert in front of the ramp advancing from 200K through to 500K and then starting Crazy Chris mode after which it resets to 200K.
Between the Chris shot and the ramp are two other features based around drop targets.
The first of these is the Death target. Hitting this when it is raised caused the centre post between the flippers to pop up for a timed period. The time is around 7 seconds and towards the end you get a death knell sound of four bongs and on the fourth the centre post drops. It's an effective way to signal the end of the post timer (assuming you can actually hear the sound where you play) as it seems to cut through other effects and music, despite whatever else is running at the time. There's also a lamp which flashes when the post is about to drop but it's not exactly clear just when that will happen from the lamp alone.
The Death drop target is raised by rolling through the inner left inlane and stays up until knocked down. Knocking it down also scores you 200K points for the first hit, increasing 50K for each subsequent hit.
Above the Death target are four more drop targets labeled F-A-R-T. Hey, nobody said this was going to be subtle, right? Well, anyway, the F drop target is the skill shot scoring 500K for the first ball and 250K more for each subsequent skill shot. Sometimes the launched ball will hit the F and the A target simultaneously but that still counts as a skill shot. There is no grace period here (or indeed anywhere else in the game it seemed) so if you hit the A target and the ball quickly rolls down to drop the F, that's not good enough.
The F-A-R-T targets advance you towards Fart Multiball.
You need to drop all the targets three times to start the multiball and your progress is shown by three inserts right down the playfield by the right slingshot. They are all lit initially and go out as you complete sets of targets counting down to multiball.
But back to the tour, and to the right of the ramp are three standup targets labeled X-X-X.
Before you get too excites, I should explain they are related to the bonus multiplier and completing all three adds 1X. If you've got lively pop bumpers you can easily max out the multiplier at 5X but the responsiveness of the pops seemed to vary across different machines.
The multiplier is actually quite valuable on Family Guy as bonuses can easily approach 20M after a good ball, this on a game where 100M+ would be considered a respectable score. You can see why they capped the multiplier at 5X. Unusually for a Pat Lawlor game there are no playfield inserts showing your bonus multiplier, just the dot matrix display.
To the right of the X-X-X targets are the game's three pop bumpers. The third is actually hidden beneath Stewie's mini-playfield and doesn't have a lamp or a bumper cap.
As is becoming increasingly common now, LEDs are used in place of regular incandescent lamps in the pop bumpers with caps. They are also used elsewhere in the game as we shall see later.
The Peter shot is actually the red-capped pop bumper on which he stands. The shot is used in a few of the modes but isn't a jackpot shot.
To the right of Peter's pop bumper is the Drunken Clam mystery hole.
This shot is as hard to make as it is to photograph. It's hidden by the pop bumpers which usually put the ball in the saucer for you and although it can be hit directly off the left flipper it's a far from easy shot to make reliably.
If you shoot it when it's lit, it cycles through three awards giving you the third one, which could be points, spotting a P-I-N-B-A-L-L letter, lighting the extra ball, spotting one of the family members or starting Crazy Chris or one of several other possibilities.
Below the lowest pop bumper is Brian standing on a beer can.
It's a bit strange looking not least because Brian is more of a cocktail dog than a beer drinking one, but overlooking that for a moment, the first reaction whenever anyone sees this mechanism is to think it raises up from, and lowers into, the playfield. Well, it doesn't. Despite the large hole in the playing surface, Brian and the beer can just sit there, registering hits but going nowhere.
The decal on the beer can may be swapped for a root beer one if that's a problem in your locality but in either case the sticker should probably be protected with a mylar cover as it started showing signs of wear rather too quickly on these early games.
Beer can strikes are counted through the game until collected in one of the modes triggered after hitting the beer can a certain number of times.
When the can has been hit the requisite number of times shown on the display, the lit mode just starts. We'll look at what each mode does later on in the rules section.
The next area of interest is to the right of the beer can.
This part of the playfield is so packed with shots it's almost impossible to hit the ball here without scoring something worthwhile. Although most can be hit with the lower left flipper, they're really designed to flow from the upper left flipper fed by either the Lois loop or a return from the Chris target.
So, immediately to the right of the beer can is the super jackpot lane. The angle of the ball guide makes it look like a shot here should send the ball up the playfield and into the pop bumpers but in fact it does just the opposite, feeding out through the entrance of the Lois lane on the right. It is the super jackpot shot and is also lit for Evil Monkey jackpot although that award was never spotted during play of this prototype software.
It might appear as though you need a strong shot into the super jackpot lane to make the loop around to the Lois lane but in practice, provided the shot is on target, even the softest bat of the ball into the mouth of the loop continues all the way around to Lois.
Moving down the playfield are two white standups which make up the Stewie shot. The ball can hit either or both of these and each hit adds 1 second to the timer for Stewie's mini pinball game. They also spot Stewie to collect awards during some of the modes.
Next is the first of two captive balls, or Newton balls if you prefer since there are actually two balls in each captive ball mechanism - one in front, trapped in a metal bracket and another behind which is free to roll up the lane and register a hit.
Hitting the captive ball adds a letter to P-I-N-B-A-L-L to advance towards Stewie pinball, scores a jackpot in some multiballs and this particular ball also collects extra balls. In a departure from convention, the extra ball target insert is not orange or red but plain white instead which makes it hard to spot the first time you light the extra ball.
Just around the corner and facing forward are another bunch of important shots.
To the left is a solitary green standup labeled "Pirate". The pirate in question is Seamus - the one with wooden arms and legs - but perhaps they thought using his name would be a bit too esoteric for non-fans of the show to understand.
Shooting the target when lit gives a helper award much like the Palantir in The Lord Of The Rings. That means the help you get depends on the features you currently have running or about the run. So if you are in a mode you may get more time, or in a multiball you may get another ball launched into play. Knowing this makes the target all the more useful as you can gamble on another ball being awarded and keep it up your sleeve during a multiball until it is just ending, and then collect it in the nick of time to keep multiball going. You have to be quick though as Family Guy is lightning fast at sensing drained balls and bringing your multiball to a close. Again, there is no grace period to collect that last jackpot in this version of the software.
Next to Seamus is the TV scoop. This is probably the single most important shot as it starts the TV modes when qualified and also Stewie pinball when you have spelled out P-I-N-B-A-L-L.
One of the reasons I suspect there are more features yet to come in future software releases is the "Multiball" arrow also pointing at the scoop. It isn't used to start any of the three multiball modes (Fart multiball, Lard Multiball or Stewie Multiball) found in the game thus far.
Also, although it may be too much to hope for, that big green screen on the TV could just be hiding an insert for a wizard mode of some kind. Probably not but it looks a little odd having all that green with just a very small "as seen on TV" label.
The second captive/newton ball next to the scoop - shown being hit by the ball in the picture above - acts like the first by spotting P-I-N-B-A-L-L letters and scoring jackpots in multiball but doesn't collect extra balls. Missed shots to the scoop or the Lois lane on the right will most likely hit this captive ball making it quite easy to light Stewie pinball.
It might be interesting to see how much harder it would be if an adjustment was made to the captive balls.
The two balls share a common lane with a post dividing it in two. If the software didn't complain about it, the game could be made harder by removing the post and introducing the possiblity of shoot the captive balls all the way round, disabling that shot until the opposing captive ball is shot first. That method could work with two captive balls or just the one.
The final major shot and one vital to playing the TV modes is the Lois lane.
There's simply no excuse for not spotting this as Lois's area. You've got her name and picture on the playfield, another picture on a spinner and her model to fully brand that area as hers.
Apart from being a jackpot shot in multiball, featuring in some of the modes and being an exit for the super jackpot lane, the Lois shot is most important for the spinner at the entrance. You need to make a certain number of spins to qualify the TV to start the flashing TV mode shown above the flippers. The numbers of spins needed might appear a little daunting initially - 25 for the first mode, adding 10 spins each time, but the spinner is quite lively and a few strong shots are all that you need to light that TV.
Below Lois is the exit from the shooter lane which points at the F-A-R-T drop targets.
It's the usual manual plunger with an auto-plunger for saved balls and multiball launches.
There's just one inlane on this side which doubles the number of hits to Meg but as it's not a natural shot and in this version doesn't seem to achieve anything other than boost the bonus very slightly, it probably best avoided.
The outlane is the special award when lit. It only seemed to be awarded at random from the Drunken Clam mystery award.
All of which leaves just one area not yet covered - Stewie's pinball.
Stewie stands in front of the game facing across the playfield until you shoot the scoop to start Stewie Pinball when he turns to look at you, says a funny quote and then turns to look at his mini pinball game. He stands on a red box which presumably contains the motor to turn him but it's not very pretty even if it does colour co-ordinate with his clothes.
This is, of course, the big toy of the game and it's worth taking a little time to examine because it's not just another mini playfield like we've seen many times before.
First of all, it's a scaled down version of a real game, meaning everything is miniature, from the ball to the flippers, the slingshots, the standup targets, the rubbers, the inserts and the ramp.
The flipper bats are not like the usual mini flippers - they are much thinner and look just like the shrunken real flippers they are supposed to be.
The mini ball lives at the bottom of the game and is kicked out up the launch lane at the bottom right during Stewie pinball for as long as any time is left on the clock. When the earned time runs out, you can continue to play Stewie Pinball but it's sudden death, meaning a drain ends your turn on the mini-playfield and play return to the main arena.
The dynamics of this game are very different to the main game. The small, light ball is actually quite hard to shoot in the normal fashion, so outer loops and the ramp are best made backhand. It sounds bizarre but the flippers have most of their strength near to the shaft and the power quickly drops away as you move along the bat. Perhaps the mini flipper mechanisms shown in this peek under the playfield are the reason for that.
The temptation is to flail away on the mini-playfield but Stewie Pinball rewards considered shots and good ball control.
The mini playfield is encased in perspex firstly to keep the mini ball inside and also to keep the bigger regular ball out. The perspex is much like the panels on Pirates Of The Caribbean - initially a nuisance but soon forgotten about.
It's also worth noting how all the inserts on the mini-playfield are lit with LEDs instead of incandescent lamps. There are also some nice dimming effects created using rapid switching on and off the LEDs. It's a little bit flickery but the effort is appreciated.
First of all, the music played when you've pressed start and the ball is waiting in the shooter lane.
© Pinball News 2007