[Gamasutra presents its second exclusive web-only
bonus chapter from Bill Loguidice and Matt Barton's 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.]
In 1981, when
it was still possible to sell commercial computer games in plastic baggies,
Bill Budge released his latest game, Raster Blaster, for the Apple II. It was published
through his own company, BudgeCo Inc., a cooperative venture formed with his
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".
BudgeCo's Raster Blaster.
Right up to the early 1980s,
commercial computer software often came in plastic baggies or small cardboard
folders. Note the expanded contents from the zipper storage bag of subLOGIC's
configurable Pinball (also known as Night Mission Pinball, 1982) game from
Bruce Artwick of Flight Simulator fame.
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.
Partial scan of the exterior
folder from BudgeCo's original release of Pinball
Construction Set, featuring a very literal cover design.
was another critical and commercial success for BudgeCo, Budge and his sister
were soon overwhelmed with the demands of running a software publishing
business in an increasingly sophisticated and competitive marketplace.
agreed to work with Trip Hawkins and his fledgling startup, Electronic Arts
(EA), whose goal at the time was to promote the idea of developer as
"software artist" (or superstar), while at the same time presenting
computer games in attractive, professional packaging. Computer games had
remained on the margins of popular culture, and Hawkins's goal was not just to
sell his own games but to sell gaming as a worthwhile medium.
Thus, in 1983,
Electronic Arts published Pinball Construction Set in the company's
iconic record album-style packaging with slick cover art, complete with a
greatly expanded (though arguably superfluous) instruction manual. The game was
eventually ported to the Apple Macintosh, Atari 8-bit, Coleco Adam,
Commodore 64, and PC. It was a big success for EA and instrumental in
establishing the publisher's reputation for quality products.
Exterior (top) and interior
(bottom) views of the unfolded album-style packaging for the Electronic Arts
version of Pinball Construction Set,
which portrayed Budge as an artistic superstar and his product as the
revolution that it was.
 The Ziploc® brand or plastic zipper storage bags.
 As part of The Best
of Electronic Arts, along with platformer Hard Hat Mack.