(Topic ID: 358281)

HOT TAKES: Themes have become a crutch, and LCDs have no soul.

By WhiteMamba

23 days ago


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    #1 23 days ago

    Maybe I'm being dramatic. The conversation has been poured over, and I know licensing isn't going anywhere, but themes have become a crutch for manufacturers. While necessary for survival in the 2000s, the growing over-emphasis on theme, IP, and "assets" has shifted focus away from innovation and creativity. Indeed, it could be why some newer releases stir such immediate disappointment (sharknoeatball, gungate, justanotherfanlayout, Venom? really?). The fact that there are more pinball companies in business now (Stern, JJP, Spooky, Chicago Coin, American, Bros., Multimorphic) than there were in the 80's and 90's should be enough to prove we aren't in the early 00's anymore. It's time to step out of the comfort zone.

    At this point, theme to me is the name of a multiball. It's what you call your modes and maybe a toy but doesn't tell you anything about how fun a game will be. Do you like Jaws? John Wick? Already envisioning how cool it's going to be? Then you're going to love spending $9,000 on a game that looks nothing like the image you had in your head! See, when pinballs are themed after something people love, the people feel a shared sense of ownership, and thus, justified in b*tching about how it's "not supposed to be like that". Established IP is something you can "ruin", while original themes are Pinball Gods' gift to us, uncorrupted by prejudgment. Back to the Future is a dream theme for me, but Back to the Future: The Pinball is not a great game. It's been said that at Williams it was all about the playfield, the shots, the mechs.. but at Stern it was all about theme. I think there's something to that.

    LCD screens. What a dispassionate media to convey the electrifying emotions of pinball. If all the games smashed by Laguardia and his henchmen are looking down on us from pinball heaven, then every game with an LCD screen is cursed to walk this earth for eternity, bound to this mortal plane, for they have no soul. While there are some fun and original animations on LCDs (Foo and Elton, for instance) once again modern pinball has found a crutch. Do you like Jaws? John Wick? Then you're going to love watching the whole movie on a small screen while you're playing pinball! Dots had character and soul. Color DMDs gave us all the information we needed, while staying true to the inherent campiness of pinball, and subtly reminding the player that their attention should be on the game in front of them.

    Themed games (and those with LCDs) rank among the greatest of all time, and when done correctly and with intention and purpose they can create the setting for a grand pinball adventure to unfold. But when themes feel forced, it draws attention away from what truly makes a game great: fun shots, balanced scoring, innovative ball paths, and an immersive art and sound package. Original themes can accomplish all of that, and I'd like to see more.

    #2 23 days ago

    This is like a 2/10 on a spicy curry take out

    #3 23 days ago
    Quoted from WhiteMamba:

    Maybe I'm being dramatic. The conversation has been poured over, and I know licensing isn't going anywhere, but themes have become a crutch for manufacturers. While necessary for survival in the 2000s, the growing over-emphasis on theme, IP, and "assets" has shifted focus away from innovation and creativity. Indeed, it could be why some newer releases stir such immediate disappointment (sharknoeatball, gungate, justanotherfanlayout, Venom? really?). The fact that there are more pinball companies in business now (Stern, JJP, Spooky, Chicago Coin, American, Bros., Multimorphic) than there were in the 80's and 90's should be enough to prove we aren't in the early 00's anymore. It's time to step out of the comfort zone.
    At this point, theme to me is the name of a multiball. It's what you call your modes and maybe a toy but doesn't tell you anything about how fun a game will be. Do you like Jaws? John Wick? Already envisioning how cool it's going to be? Then you're going to love spending $9,000 on a game that looks nothing like the image you had in your head! See, when pinballs are themed after something people love, the people feel a shared sense of ownership, and thus, justified in b*tching about how it's "not supposed to be like that". Established IP is something you can "ruin", while original themes are Pinball Gods' gift to us, uncorrupted by prejudgment. Back to the Future is a dream theme for me, but Back to the Future: The Pinball is not a great game. It's been said that at Williams it was all about the playfield, the shots, the mechs.. but at Stern it was all about theme. I think there's something to that.
    LCD screens. What a dispassionate media to convey the electrifying emotions of pinball. If all the games smashed by Laguardia and his henchmen are looking down on us from pinball heaven, then every game with an LCD screen is cursed to walk this earth for eternity, bound to this mortal plane, for they have no soul. While there are some fun and original animations on LCDs (Foo and Elton, for instance) once again modern pinball has found a crutch. Do you like Jaws? John Wick? Then you're going to love watching the whole movie on a small screen while you're playing pinball! Dots had character and soul. Color DMDs gave us all the information we needed, while staying true to the inherent campiness of pinball, and subtly reminding the player that their attention should be on the game in front of them.
    Themed games (and those with LCDs) rank among the greatest of all time, and when done correctly and with intention and purpose they can create the setting for a grand pinball adventure to unfold. But when themes feel forced, it draws attention away from what truly makes a game great: fun shots, balanced scoring, innovative ball paths, and an immersive art and sound package. Original themes can accomplish all of that, and I'd like to see more.

    Just buy the Early Solid-States and early 90s games. Original Themes Galore!
    My latest favorite is Cactus Jack’s. Stupid, nonsensical, but endearing!

    #4 23 days ago
    Quoted from WhiteMamba:

    more pinball companies in business now (Stern, JJP, Spooky, Chicago Coin, American, Bros., Multimorphic) than there were in the 80's and 90's

    In the 1990's:

    Williams/Bally
    Data East - Sega Pinball
    Gottlieb
    Capcom
    Bromley
    Alvin G and company
    ICE
    Innovative Concepts

    ...and about six other overseas manufacturers.

    Expand this into the 80's and 90's and you can add more than ten other pinball makers. There really aren't more pinball companies now than in the 80's and 90's, in fact there are about 20 fewer.

    (From Mr Pinball's pinball guide 2018 edition).

    But I disagree with your argument.

    Good pinball is good pinball.

    Pinballs have many elements. When the theme, the sounds, the graphics, the shots, the rules, the flow, and a dozen other things magically end up greater than the sum of the parts you get Addams Family, Medieval Madness, Godzilla.

    When you have all the elements, but it doesn't end up being magically greater than the sum of the parts you get Dirty Harry, Last Action Hero, Junkyard.

    (In case you are wondering, when you do pinball poorly, you get Popeye. *grins*).

    You can speculate on why things just aren't 'magical' some of the time. There is always something to point to. You point to a disconnect between expectations and the theme... that's fair, but it's not enough.

    There is a special quality to the best of pinball. Where the parts are there, but something is greater than the sum of the parts.

    Call it magic.

    The best pinballs have it.

    Lesser pinballs have less of it.

    #5 23 days ago
    Quoted from WhiteMamba:

    Maybe I'm being dramatic. The conversation has been poured over, and I know licensing isn't going anywhere, but themes have become a crutch for manufacturers. While necessary for survival in the 2000s, the growing over-emphasis on theme, IP, and "assets" has shifted focus away from innovation and creativity. Indeed, it could be why some newer releases stir such immediate disappointment (sharknoeatball, gungate, justanotherfanlayout, Venom? really?). The fact that there are more pinball companies in business now (Stern, JJP, Spooky, Chicago Coin, American, Bros., Multimorphic) than there were in the 80's and 90's should be enough to prove we aren't in the early 00's anymore. It's time to step out of the comfort zone.
    At this point, theme to me is the name of a multiball. It's what you call your modes and maybe a toy but doesn't tell you anything about how fun a game will be. Do you like Jaws? John Wick? Already envisioning how cool it's going to be? Then you're going to love spending $9,000 on a game that looks nothing like the image you had in your head! See, when pinballs are themed after something people love, the people feel a shared sense of ownership, and thus, justified in b*tching about how it's "not supposed to be like that". Established IP is something you can "ruin", while original themes are Pinball Gods' gift to us, uncorrupted by prejudgment. Back to the Future is a dream theme for me, but Back to the Future: The Pinball is not a great game. It's been said that at Williams it was all about the playfield, the shots, the mechs.. but at Stern it was all about theme. I think there's something to that.
    LCD screens. What a dispassionate media to convey the electrifying emotions of pinball. If all the games smashed by Laguardia and his henchmen are looking down on us from pinball heaven, then every game with an LCD screen is cursed to walk this earth for eternity, bound to this mortal plane, for they have no soul. While there are some fun and original animations on LCDs (Foo and Elton, for instance) once again modern pinball has found a crutch. Do you like Jaws? John Wick? Then you're going to love watching the whole movie on a small screen while you're playing pinball! Dots had character and soul. Color DMDs gave us all the information we needed, while staying true to the inherent campiness of pinball, and subtly reminding the player that their attention should be on the game in front of them.
    Themed games (and those with LCDs) rank among the greatest of all time, and when done correctly and with intention and purpose they can create the setting for a grand pinball adventure to unfold. But when themes feel forced, it draws attention away from what truly makes a game great: fun shots, balanced scoring, innovative ball paths, and an immersive art and sound package. Original themes can accomplish all of that, and I'd like to see more.

    I agree with you about the LCD screens cutting down on the overall creativity. I think they’ve led to manufacturers becoming ‘lazy’ about the displays, and I’m sure it’s cheaper to throw in film clips than create a bunch of animations. The best use of LCDs I’ve seen so far are on ACNC and BKSOR.

    #6 23 days ago

    Yeah one of my favorite parts of pinball was seeing how they translate the theme onto the DMD and low-fi sound. I saw people talking about wanting an LCD on a LOTR vault and the first thing I thought as that we would probably be losing all the fun (albeit low quality) MIDI versions of all music if they did that. They would probably just switch to the movie assets.

    -1
    #7 23 days ago

    I'm with you, but if pinside is any guide, we are in the minority.

    folks around here will wax poetic about "the code" and how bond was shit when it was released but now the code has made it great

    and they'll point out all the original theme'd tables that have failed recently (bbbq, gtf)

    according the them manufacturers know what they are doing and themes help sell to both operators and home buyers.

    the real question is how much is an IP like wick or venom (both not hugely popular) really adding to the retail price? If there was a great playfield design original theme and it was 500 dollars cheaper, would it really sell so much better that it would be worth it for the company? we will probably never know.

    as for screens, yes, i hate them. Never seen anything on a screen that I though was worth it. all i really need up there is scores and maybe a hint about what I'm suppose to be shooting or what mode I'm in. certainly info that could be conveyed with a dmd or smaller, more utilitarian lcd. If I want to watch star wars, I'll do that on my giant tv and home theater system, not on my pinball machine. One of the main reasons I traded in my star wars (dream theme) for JP was I was just sick of all the video interruptions. I haven't updated to the movie code on my JP either, because I'm afraid it will just mean more and longer interruptions. but to each their own, some folks would rather watch movie clips than play pinball.

    #8 23 days ago

    I dunno man maybe you're right, but maybe we're in a new golden age of pinball where we are spoiled by the buffet of new machines, incredible homebrews incubating new designs, dynamic and deep new rule sets decorated with animations and video and music, and regular cycles of innovation.
    Hard to say.

    #9 23 days ago
    Quoted from JakeFAttie:

    Never seen anything on a screen that I though was worth it.

    Ever hit sparky on Metallica?

    #10 23 days ago
    Quoted from JakeFAttie:

    the real question is how much is an IP like wick or venom (both not hugely popular) really adding to the retail price? If there was a great playfield design original theme and it was 500 dollars cheaper, would it really sell so much better that it would be worth it for the company? we will probably never know.

    If unlicensed games sold as well or better than licensed games in the current market, Stern would be doing unlicensed titles all the time. The fact that Stern does not tells you all you need to know.

    Quoted from JakeFAttie:

    I haven't updated to the movie code on my JP either, because I'm afraid it will just mean more and longer interruptions

    How would changing the asset package on JP cause more interruptions? It doesn't change how the code works, just audio and video clips that play/display. That being said, if you don't care about what is on the screen anyway, why even think of changing?

    Quoted from JakeFAttie:

    some folks would rather watch movie clips than play pinball.

    Nobody who is playing pinball is watching the screen the whole time. They are watching the ball. Just like in the DMD era no one was watching the DMD the whole time. I wonder if when games transitioned from score displays to DMDs there were "some folks would rather watch animated dots than play pinball" naysayers.

    The LCD is just an evolution from the DMD, and I think it was a necessary one to keep pinball relevant. The increased size and resolution is for more than just video clips, in general I think it allows designers to display more information on one screen which helps keep track of stuff going on in today's deeper coded games with more complex modes.

    #11 23 days ago
    Quoted from WhiteMamba:

    Maybe I'm being dramatic.

    Very.

    #12 23 days ago

    What a take! Never heard this before! WOW! DONE WITH THEMES!!!! I’m going to go buy Galactic Tank Force & Barry’s BBQ…such daring and brave games. I wish I could go back in time and buy 5 Dialed Ins and 10 Oktoberfests!!! It took this post for me to see the light. Bless you, WhiteMamba, bless you!!!!

    #13 23 days ago
    Quoted from BudManPinFan:

    I agree with you about the LCD screens cutting down on the overall creativity. I think they’ve led to manufacturers becoming ‘lazy’ about the displays, and I’m sure it’s cheaper to throw in film clips than create a bunch of animations. The best use of LCDs I’ve seen so far are on ACNC and BKSOR.

    There are quite a few LCD games that don't use video clips. Deadpool, Foo, Venom, TMNT, AIQ, IMDN, Jurassic Park, etc. Having an LCD doesn't require using film clips, and even if they do use film clips they usually have other in house generated assets that get used as well.

    Considering the size of the graphics and animation teams for pinball machines I don't see how 'lazy' and 'cheaper' enter the conversation.

    #14 23 days ago
    Quoted from paul_8788:

    Considering the size of the graphics and animation teams for pinball machines I don't see how 'lazy' and 'cheaper' enter the conversation.

    We have people acting like all that happens is a bunch of clips & not mentioning all the other graphics, transitions, & animations that happen...AKA all the same shit DMDs had. (EDIT: oh sorry...if I call it "content" does that make it more impressive? ) Of course now you can hold your ball (weird concept on here for some reason) & look on the display and see a bunch of info right away.

    This was always going to be the issue with LCDs; how many/much clips there are.
    It IS lazy to just put was bunch of video footage of a Rush concert; but people buying it usually want it see Rush so what ya gonna do.

    DMDs just recreated theme footage in dots...the whole time probably dreaming of same day they could show video to make their lives easier

    #15 22 days ago

    I like lcds and from what I understand they cheaper than DMDs. I do suspect though, that creating the animations/graphics, etc. are driving up costs.

    #16 22 days ago
    reading (resized).jpgreading (resized).jpg
    #17 22 days ago
    Quoted from paul_8788:

    There are quite a few LCD games that don't use video clips. Deadpool, Foo, Venom, TMNT, AIQ, IMDN, Jurassic Park, etc. Having an LCD doesn't require using film clips, and even if they do use film clips they usually have other in house generated assets that get used as well.
    Considering the size of the graphics and animation teams for pinball machines I don't see how 'lazy' and 'cheaper' enter the conversation.

    Fair point. I guess the problem isn’t the manufacturers are being cheap, it’s that I’m missing the humor that always seemed to be in the animations on the DMD era machines. Some of that is probably the result of the themes that are being made today vs. the ones from back then.

    #18 22 days ago
    Quoted from WhiteMamba:

    Maybe I'm being dramatic.

    Full stop.

    Hopefully you get the original themes you want and buy them. It’s the only way they will catch on as quick as popular licenses.

    #19 22 days ago
    Quoted from Ribs:

    MIDI versions of all music if they did that.

    Gottlieb was the only company to do this type of sound anyway. I do love it though.

    #20 22 days ago
    Quoted from BudManPinFan:

    Fair point. I guess the problem isn’t the manufacturers are being cheap, it’s that I’m missing the humor that always seemed to be in the animations on the DMD era machines. Some of that is probably the result of the themes that are being made today vs. the ones from back then.

    The best humorous LCD era games so far:
    -Elvira: Doesn’t have a lot of animation, but the clips of her & the shitty movies are funny.
    -Foo Fighters: Hands down the best original LCD work yet. Well drawn, well animated, dynamic, & funny.
    -Rick & Morty: It’s mostly show clips, but it’s perfect for modes & it’s funny as hell.
    -Deadpool: Since it’s mostly 16-bit style, it’s full of DMD-esque charm. Lots of fun & funny stuff on the display.

    Honorable campy mentions: Godzilla, Batman’66, Scooby and Ultraman for using lots of funny 60s-70s light-hearted goofball footage.

    #21 22 days ago
    Quoted from Isochronic_Frost:

    Just buy the Early Solid-States and early 90s games. Original Themes Galore!
    My latest favorite is Cactus Jack’s. Stupid, nonsensical, but endearing!

    Cactus Jack's is a better theme than any license.

    #22 22 days ago

    Hot take? Funny. More like just another opinion, man.

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