Tilt: The Battle to Save Pinball

Written by robin on May 25th, 2008.


Tilt: The Battle to Save Pinball

Written by robin, published May 25th, 2008. 4 comment(s).

THE SITUATION facing the pinball designers at Williams Electronic Games in 1998: come up with something new, or see the world's largest pinball manufacturer be shut down forever.

And Williams' designers did come up with something amazing: a brand new kind of pinball machine—"Pinball 2000"—that fused video with classic pinball gameplay, preserving what was great about pinball yet opening up all-new possibilities for a product thought to be on its last legs.

Yet soon after its successful and highly-profitable launch, Williams pulled the plug, leaving behind unanswered questions and abandoning one of the world's great design organizations. TILT: The Battle to Save Pinball is a documentary that tells the story behind one of entertainment's most mysterious failures.

The last Episode 1 pin, a sad photo.
The last Episode 1 pin, a sad photo.

The rise and fall of

Pinball 2000

It is not everyday that a full featured two-disc DVD documentary about our beloved hobby is released. Last month however, after 5 years in the making, first time director Greg Maletic released "Tilt! The Battle to Save Pinball". A story about the rise and fall of Pinball 2000, the biggest change to pinball since the introduction of the dot matrix display (some say even since the flippers but I wouldn't go as far personally). But also a story about game design, about company politics, triumphs and failures and much more stuff any pinball enthousiast will probably be interested in.

A funky red logo on the dvd's main menu screen.
A funky red logo on the dvd's main menu screen.
Catching interest

As soon as we pop in the first DVD of the two-disc set, we're greeted by a colourful designed menu. A nice pinball atmosphere is set by subtle blinking lights behind a funky red logo. We select the first menu option and jump right in the 60 minute documentary.

A three minute introduction is very well executed and all that the film needs to catch its viewers interest. First, the challenge made by the Williams executives (come up with something new or be closed down). Footage of the rare "third" Pinball 2000 machine Wizard Blocks is reason alone to buy this DVD!
Footage of the rare "third" Pinball 2000 machine Wizard Blocks is reason alone to buy this DVD!
The answer by the designers (flashes of the wonders of the Pinball 2000 system, the euphoria of the introduction and the awes of the pinball crowds). Then, the press release that Williams is to cease pinball production. It all leaves you with a big question mark? Why? Why shut down a product that you have tried so hard to create in the first place? The wonderfully designed title credits roll in, accompanied by a somewhat strange but soothing soundtrack (by Skip Heller). Yep, I was hooked in those first three minutes.

The Film

The film consists of eight chapters: First, an interesting lesson in pinball history. Followed by an introduction of the Pinball 2000 system. Then comes Revenge from Mars, the first Pinball 200 game. All this building up tension which is released in the "Launch" chapter, where nostalgia mixes with the euphoria of this new machines release. The film quite nicely makes you a part of that team and you can feel the excitement of the products release and also laugh about the little trivia surrounding the launch party.

Creating the famous Sith battle scene.
Creating the famous Sith battle scene.

Then the film takes quite a turn as it talks about Star Wars: Episode 1, the second Pinball 2000 machine, when things start to go wrong due to various issues, most notably the choice of license but also the timeing, pricing and playability of the pin. Unfortunately game designer John Popadiuk decided not to participate in the film (for unknown reasons) and the story remains a bit one-sided here. George Gomez gives his honest opinion about the machine nd so do several of Popadiuks team members. but John's word would have been interested in this.

All work on the Star Wars machine has to be done in secret to avoid legal issues with George Lucas.
All work on the Star Wars machine has to be done in secret to avoid legal issues with George Lucas.

In the final chapter the question is posed wether all of this really mattered or if the decision to close down the pinball division was already made? Again, this chapter is a bit one-sided and misses out a bit on commentary and insights from any of the Williams executives (most notably company CEO Neil Nicastro) or maybe even from competitors (like Sega). It still fascinates and gives a unique angle at the whole mystery of the end of Williams Pinball.

Still images brought to live in very clever and inspiring ways like this 'photobook' with moving and still images.
Still images brought to live in very clever and inspiring ways like this 'photobook' with moving and still images.
All in all, the 60-minute documentary is very well done. The film consists mainly of archival footage from various sources: Clips from Pinball Expo, from the Pin2k launch party, from Williams promo videos and more. There are also great up-and-close captures of games in action. Also interesting -and this is what I personally really enjoyed- is the use of still images, photos brought to life in various clever ways (as explained in the director commentary). Finally and maybe most importantly, there are fragments of interviews with the An Episode 1 machine is undone of its top secret black cover for a sneak preview during a Star Wars convention.
An Episode 1 machine is undone of its top secret black cover for a sneak preview during a Star Wars convention.
'heros' of pinball: Steve kordek, George Gomez, Pat Lawlor and many more who tell the story from their point of view. I find it great as a pinball collector to hear these people talk and to see the faces behind the names that I have admired for the last 10 to 15 years.

Bonus features

One of the big pluses of this two-disc set is the special features on disc two: over 6 hours of footage, including a factory tour of the Williams factory, many interviews with industry legends and -incredbily exciting for the real pinball fan- footage of three unreleased machines: Pinball circus, Wizard blocks and Playboy. Also very nice is the directors commentary that tells more about the creating of the movie, including some goofs and trivia.

Conclusion

Exciting for the avid pinball collector, insightful for those who just enjoy the occasional game; Tilt will please anyone who has an interest in pinball, game design or the workings of the arcade industry. Its quick paced storytelling and clever use of 3d graphics combined with the honest and articulate interviews with members of the pinball 2000 design teams makes Tilt a must see documentary!

You can order "Tilt! The Battle to Save Pinball" at Amazon now!

Enjoyed this review? Do you want to order the DVD and at the same time support the Pinside?  Then please order it via the above link. Thanks!


Comments

  • user avatar image

    gunstarhero commented on July 20, 2008 20:58:10

    Good movie. Kinda depressing that the end result was failure, but still, an enlightening trip to take. Great bonus features, tons and tons of extra content.

  • user avatar image

    juleshoddy commented on August 17, 2008 21:11:16

    Very well put together documentary. Pretty high production too. A great insight into the pinball industry, and it's (possibly) slightly premature decline. Good interviews with many prominent designers and technicians explain many aspects of creating these machines...and making them play well....and making them profitable. well worth watching if you have any interest at all in pinball.

  • user avatar image

    rv2 commented on September 23, 2008 23:33:23

    Wow, what a nice movie! The production quallity is indeed very good, I really liked the way the computer animations where produced from not much more than still images. Very well done and a fascinating story as well! highly recommended!

  • user avatar image

    jbscar commented on April 30, 2009 06:53:00

    Yes, this was a very good movie indeed! Very insightful! Has pinball history in the movie, not all just about the pinball 2000. Sad turn of events though, what could have been. Bad license and timing is what killed pinball?! No one will know for sure. All I do know is that the sales numbers were there, and if they didn't jack up the price on the Star Wars machines??? I think that Wizard Blocks one looked way more interesting!! Too bad that executives make the decision to go with something and can shut 'er down the next day. Damn politics is what killed pinball I tell ya!!!

Add a comment

Wanna make a comment? Click here to log in or register.


Discussion is good for your Pinside Karma! Note that Pinside moderators may moderate comments (according to our writing guidelines). If you see something uncool, you can report abuse here.






© 2001-2014 Pinside.com All rights reserved. Jump to topRSS feedsHelpContactCookiesDesigned by Keeple