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August 26th, 2012 11:56 pm

Pinbology is a retro-style pinball game where the zones, combos, and actions are themed around evolution. Originally I’d considered doing a Tower Defense game, but I thought that this would be far more unique.
Historically, pinball games have been themed with virtually every topic under the sun, from westerns to poker to movies — though I’m not sure if one has been made with “Evolution” before.


It was a challenge to create a physically accurate simulation of a 1950’s style electro-mechanical pinball machine while also conveying the spirit of the theme and doing some things that are only possible in a computer simulation.

I believe that my implementation of various pinball components (bumpers, kickers, spinners, drop targets, and rollovers) is relatively true to life, though unfortunately the lack of sample sound from a real cabinet blunts the authenticity. Additionally, it’s important to note that Pinbology works best with a fast computer, especially one with hardware-accelerated physics.

On the other hand, I was able to introduce elements that are impossible or impractical in the physical world, such as an organic “puddle” space to play in — a sort of platonic pool of primordial ooze where early life may have developed. Additionally, I wanted to introduce some over-the-top “toasts” when various events occurred, partially as a way to increase excitement and communicate the theme, but also because in many real pinball machines it’s not clear to the player what actions are activating various bonuses and enabling various combos.

Some of these are obvious, such as the camera shift when your “creature ball” enters geographical isolation, or the particles and lighting that emanates from the “breeding pool” (i.e. the ball lock mechanism that triggers the multi-ball). Some of these are more subtle: For example, when a “multi-ball” (a.k.a. “Survival of the Fittest”) is triggered, the color of the balls diverges from the “parent” ball, and the last ball to leave play is considered to be the dominant species and its color is used to spawn future balls.

My first goal in this, my 3rd competition, was to create a game that was first and foremost fun (especially considering the moodiness and over-ambition of my last two games). I really believe that I’ve accomplished this, but I also hope that I’ve also successfully expressed the theme — albeit in a unique and more indirect manner. I resisted the urge, both for time and also for the faithfulness to pinball, to add extreme “evolution” mechanics, such as changing the ball physics mechanics or transforming the paddles. These would not have been difficult to do (a mere tweaking of scaling, for example), but they didn’t feel appropriate for the game.

This game was made entirely before a livestream audience of 200-500 people. While I created all the art and program code myself, they provided invaluable moral support and inspiration, and I want to thank everyone who watched. I can’t wait for LD #25!!!

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