WALL OF TEXT INCOMING: Short version, Hobbit was cool to see!
Played Hobbit today (the one pictured above, the owner, Pat, plays in league with me). Was great to get hands on time with it, I didn't get a chance at Expo, only watched some gameplay on it, never had the time to stand in line. (Insert Molly hogging the game all Expo joke! I know you're lurking!)
So I'm aware that I'm working on Alien, and I'm competing with Hobbit for dollars. There's no ignoring that. So I just want to be say that I was happy to be able to see and talk to Jack today, and we're on nothing but good terms as far as I know. And I'd like to keep it that way! And they're finally able to show off a ton of work, and that's awesome.
So I'd like to give some impressions, but I want to be fair and not say anything that wouldn't be fair as a competitor to say. I think I've pushed that line too far in that past. So how about I list some of my favorite things about it, and then maybe give a couple thoughts just in terms of what I'd like to know more about or didn't get. And I'll do my best to be fair and just share my thoughts in a constructive and positive way.
First off, the game really looks great. Ton of polish put into it. Big hats off to JP DeWin, the animation is really just glowing with the effort put into it. The playfield looks great, and really works with the LCD in terms of linking together styles. The playfield being really Photoshop photorealistic, with the addition of a lot of geometric flourishes ties to the display nicely I think, everything is very saturated, and layered across all of the game. It feels bright, and colorful in a good way.
Jack and I were chatting about the old playfield and what I said when it was revealed (friendly chat, honestly) and I really want to give him credit for being glad they decided to make things right. It's better, he knows it just like everyone else, and I think they should be proud of the end result. Not every company would take the time (and money) to do that.
I was in a loud room, full of people talking and competing, probably 12 games going at once, so I couldn't really enjoy the audio enough. I'm really excited to hear what David Thiel has done when I can play it in a home setting (Jack, ship Nimblepin's game soon!). My favorite sound effect though was the fish slopping down into the barrel. Such a great sound, it really sells the visual on the screen.
Overall I thought it was a really impressive package. End of story, whatever else I think should be secondary to that.
Here's how I'd list some personal things I noticed when I was playing and watching, but I'm not trying to be negative if I say that I didn't get some parts of it or something. I'd totally welcome answers if people know, or even just opinions in response.
I loved the LCD animation, but I did find the information on the game pretty overwhelming. It's all rendered really well, and I can tell there's a lot of thought put into the quadrants, and a true system and logic to it all. And the book LCD really improved, and I thought the look it has is very cool, and the page turning animation looks great. It's a great addition to the game and doesn't feel like an afterthought at all. If you felt that way before I'd understand it, I did too a bit, but I'm totally won over.
But it's a lot to take in while playing pinball. There's just a lot of things moving and asking for your attention when you glance up, and at least as a new player it's hard to parse. I think I'd like to play some back to back games, or have someone who knows the rules explain it to me, because I'm sure it starts to become useful and interesting once you get it more.
I feel like maybe there was a video that pointed out what the different screens were all for, does anyone else remember that? Like obviously the lower left quadrant is about the beast pop ups. But I wasn't always clear on what the screen was really telling me. It seemed like it was constantly saying hurry up ready on each one, with bouncing text that made it seem important. But I'm not following what I'm tracking there, does anyone know the rules for it? Like, when are they ready or not ready? It seems like those pop ups come up constantly as you play, and I'm not really clear what I'm trying to strive for there and track in that part of the screen. Is there some end goal? Am I supposed to be aiming for or avoiding the inlanes for them strategically?
I know there was a beast hurry up frenzy, but I'm not sure what started it. It's apparently endless as long as you can keep the balls in play and not let the hurry up timer run down. That's what Jack told me at least. So I was trying to figure out how it all goes together. Like is it just a constant of the game that you shoot the beast pop ups with a fairly consistent regularity, or is there some overarching goal?
The lower right is dwarves, and that's a great look. It's nicely restrained, with the greyed out, almost stone looking dwarves and the lit up, color ones. And the bottom score area is great, love that it shows the other players scores. We're doing the same thing on Alien, and at the bottom too, I'm just convinced that's the smartest place for it from a UX standpoint, both in terms of general UI considerations. It's just good design. (WOZ did this too of course.)
The honeycomb looks great. Good design, good animation. It is overwhelming in terms of how many things occupy it. Again, I'm sure with time it will become more clear what it all means. It's just hard to know what I'm looking at it for. It does show how many empty things you've filled in, and I know sometimes they're bigger and animated, and I think that's what mode is currently running right? And if you stack do you see multiple big ones? It was hard to follow the screen and the gameplay at the same time since I'm not familiar with the rules. I assume you're just generally trying to fill it up though. A lot of things to fill, I don't doubt it will take an epic game to actually finish everything.
The ring button is used in lots of clever ways. Like the skill shot change is great. It wasn't clear that I was supposed to hit that outlane target on the right, but my friend did it on his game, and won the ring meter game for a ball save. Now that I know I'll go for that. I like that it's short and sweet. Changing skill shots is great. I like seeing a button really used in a versatile way like that on a pin, I'd love to see more of that.
There doesn't appear to be a ball save light, that was confusing. There's a shoot again insert, assuming it just hasn't been turned on there yet.
The beasts are constantly popping up, and I'm not entirely sure why. Am I supposed to just keep hitting them all the time? I assume I want to constantly go for the inlanes that are lit to try and work them into triggering right? Do I ever want to not do that? They come up during multiball and make it hard to shoot things, I assume that's deliberate, right? Is there way to not have that happen or is it built into the basic rules?
Basically I think I need some tips on how some of the game structure works, a couple games and watching some others for a bit just isn't enough to put it all together as a big picture package yet.
I'd say that the game was full of lots of interesting ideas, some great ideas, and all rendered well. It's an impressive piece of work.
I'm just not sure yet to make of it as a game yet. It's a lot to take in. The narrative jumps all over the timeline, at one point you're in Bilbo's apartment, and he's looking at the contract, and then suddenly he's running from Smaug, because you started multiball. It's interesting how different it feels from LOTR, and that was actually a comment several different people told me. I guess it's inevitable the two will be compared though. Same general theme, same programmer, and two very different visions.
Very interested to see how it develops further, and how I learn more about it. I'm not much of a fan of the movies, I think they're bloated and meandering and even Peter Jackson admits it. Maybe the pin will be able to distill just the best bits, and maybe it doesn't matter that they all mash together and jump around the timeline. Could be the right way to do it all. I just feel like for first impressions it was hard to piece it all together. Curious to hear how owners feel after they have it for a bit and get it all, bet they'll be able to explain a lot more to me.
Great job all around JJP.
If I can be permitted one Alien plug, what I'll say is that our game and Hobbit are going to be very different games. They might share some similar bones, both widebodies with LCD screens, RGB lighting, movie themes, etc. But the approach is very different. And I think that's a great thing. Diversity and experimentation and new ideas are wonderful for the hobby. And I'm excited to see how both games develop, and my hope is that there are collectors who will put them side by side. (And if you can't decide, just buy Alien!! )