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Feature: 'The History of the Pinball Construction Set'

Feature: 'The History of the Pinball Construction Set'

February 6, 2009 | By Staff

February 6, 2009 | By Staff
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Historians Matt Barton and Bill Loguidice present one of the earliest examples of a user generated content-driven game, in this exclusive web-only bonus chapter from their forthcoming book, Vintage Games: An Insider Look at the History of Grand Theft Auto, Super Mario, and the Most Influential Games of All Time.

Here, the duo presents a history of Pinball Construction Set, one of the earliest and most accessible examples of a game that engenders user-created content.

Before Pinball Construction Set, however, the game's creator, Bill Budge, released another pinball title for the Apple II in 1981, Raster Blaster, through a cooperative venture called BudgeCo Inc. formed with his sister.

"Raster Blaster was a fast-paced, single-screen pinball game inspired by Williams's Firepower pinball machine. Although Raster Blaster was a critical and commercial success, its greatest claim to fame was that it provided Budge with the experience necessary to develop his legendary follow-up, Pinball Construction Set (PCS), subtitled 'A video construction set from BudgeCo'.

The small cardboard folder included with the disk describes the game well: 'The Pinball Construction Set contains the pieces and tools to make millions of hi-res video pinball games. No programming or typing is necessary. Just take parts from the set and put them on the game board. Press a button to play! Use the video tools to make borders and obstacles. Add game logic and scoring rules with the wiring kit. Create hi-res designs and logos using the BudgeCo magnifier. Color your designs with the paint brush.'

The fact that Budge's own Raster Blaster could be recreated and even surpassed with PCS was enticing to anyone who had dreamed of making a virtual pinball game. Exciting stuff even today, it was downright groundbreaking in 1982 -- particularly considering that the Apple II had just 48K of RAM."


PCS was one of the very first "software toys," a game in which most of the fun was exploring one's own creative possibilities. It established several precedents that made it easier for novice users to get started -- everything took place on a single screen with a consolidated interface, and users could play-test their boards at any point in the development process:

"The title also came with a complement of sample tables for immediate play or inspiration. Though a bit clunky by modern standards, the tables featured physics-based rules and allowed for many realistic and interesting features like multiple balls.

There were also more fanciful options. [Armchair Arcade member] Rowdy Rob reminisces, "I remember creating a pinball game where, instead of launching the ball up the right side (which is standard pinball procedure), I created a table where the ball launched up the middle of the table, and most of the action took place on either side of the ball-launcher.'

'My computer club compatriots liked the idea so much that they copied the idea in several of their own pinball creations, which irritated me back then ('they ripped off my idea!'), but looking back, I should have been flattered. The point is that the program was that flexible; crazy pinball tables could be created and playtested without fear of crashing the program.'"


You can read the full feature, which also describes Electronic Arts' follow up Construction Set titles, and details other significant tools that enable amateur developers to create their own games (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from other websites).


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