BACK TO THE FUTURE
Not that long ago, games were widely available to play in bars, arcades, fast food outlets and fairgrounds. If you wanted to play a particular game you didn't have to wait too long before you found one nearby.
These days, the situation is more depressing.
Pinball games are harder to find and all those classic games have been snapped up by collectors or sell for silly prices at aution sites. But if you still hanker after playing your favourite game, or perhaps one from your youth, Visual Pinball may be the answer to your prayers.
Designing you own virtual pinball machine is not a new idea - such games have been around for over 15 years - but Visual Pinball for the PC has caught the imagination of the pinball community.
The reasons for this widespread acceptance are several.
Firstly, the software makes game creation easy and it is highly flexible in layout and rules.
Then there is the ability to bring in artwork and samples from a real game making it possible to do faithful recreations of real games.
Add to this the fact that you can download it for free. With this you can create your own or play other people's games and there are loads of games out there on the web to download (also for free - see links below). Some of these games are truly excellent in their attention to detail and the accuracy of the simulation.
So it all sounds too good to be true and to a degree it is. There are a few problems that prevent it being the miracle wonder-cure for pinball nostalgia.
Firstly, and perhaps crucially, the physics of the game don't truly match reality. Ball bounces are the biggest culprits and especially so around the flipper area and flips suffer from a degree of lag. If you're used to playing the Pro-Pinball games from Empire you will feel sorely let down in this area.
Although highly flexible, Visual Pinball doesn't allow you to make up *any* object, so those games with custom toys aren't totally faithful to the original. The toys have to be modified to produce the same effect without the look.
Finally, the more complex modern games are much harder to simulate using Visual Pinball and the dot-matrix animations are outside the capabilities of the package.
Which is where the PinMAME project comes in.
Originally designed to let you run Williams/Bally game ROM software in a simulated environment, VPinMame (Visual PinMAME) can now emulate almost all pinball operating systems and can piggy-back onto the Visual Pinball software to combine their abilities.
Now you can take your Visual Pinball table and add the real game rules, sounds and display animations. Of course you need to download the game's ROMs from a web site (see below) but they really add a huge degree of realism to a game.
In order for the VPinMAME software to work, it has to emulate the machine's operating system and the custom hardware and this takes a decent amount of processing power. You also, of course, have to run Visual Pinball itself to play the game so you do need a reasonably high powered PC to run the two together but VPinMAME can emulate all the Williams and Bally systems, along with the many vairants of Sega and Data East, Gottlieb and Stern.
The physics of Visual Pinball itself are the most obvious weak point when you're running a full emulation like this but it's possible they might improve with time. Even with that proviso, the result of combining the two products brings us some excellent emulations of our favourite games.
And the best part about all this from a player's perspective is that all this great software and the hard work put into designing the simulations is available totally free. This sharing of resources is one of the great collaborations by pinball enthusiasts around the world made possible by the internet. With new tables announced almost weekly, there will come a point where all the games have been simulated. After that, the focus will be on enhancing existing games and developing the software further.
You can download the latest version of Visual Pinball from: www.visualpinball.com
There are loads of table available at: www.hippie.net/shivasite/irpinball/
You can download Visual PinMAME here: www.vpinmame.com
There are plenty of VPinMAME tables at: www.hippie.net/shivasite/vptables/tables.html
© Pinball News 2002