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