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The History of the Pinball Construction Set: Launching Millions of Creative Possibilities
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The History of the Pinball Construction Set: Launching Millions of Creative Possibilities

February 6, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next

Of course, in the mid 1980s, nearly every personal computer came with a default programming language. At this time, many computer manufacturers hyped up these features as a key selling point. Typically, a personal computer shipped with BASIC,[9] which offered virtually unlimited development possibilities for those willing to put the time into learning its syntax and program structure.

Unfortunately, BASIC -- an interpreted language -- is designed to make programming easier, but not necessarily more efficient. Though far easier to master than a platform's respective machine or assembly language, BASIC is often slow and unsuitable for games with sophisticated audiovisuals.

Early on, however, clever developers released software to help augment users' programming efforts, like Bruce Artwick's subLOGIC A2-3D1 Animation System (1979) for the Apple II, a powerful assembly language package containing three development modules useful in the creation of Flight Simulator (see book Chapter 8, "Flight Simulator (1980): Digital Reality"); Penguin's The Graphics Magician (1982; Apple II, Commodore 64, and others), aimed at those who wanted to integrate high-quality graphics into their own code; and Epyx's similar Programmers' BASIC Toolkit (1985) for the Commodore 64, which promised, "Assembly Language Graphics with BASIC Convenience."

Unfortunately, none of this multitude of often-useful products was targeted at the more casual enthusiast who wanted to make games.

Back of the box for Gary Kitchen's GameMaker, Commodore 64 version.

Fortunately, a series of later titles took the concepts in PCS and applied them to other types of game development. These included Adventure Master (1984; Apple II, Atari 8-bit, Commodore 64) from CBS Software, for creating simple text and text and graphics adventures (or "interactive fiction"; see book Chapter 25, "Zork (1980): Text Imps versus Graphics Grues"); Adventure Creator (1984; Atari 8-bit, Commodore 64, and others) from Spinnaker Software, a simplified version of Smith's later ACS; and Gary Kitchen's GameMaker (1985; Apple II, Commodore 64) from Activision, which consisted of a series of intuitive development modules for nearly any type of game (additional libraries like "Sports" were sold separately).

As with PCS, all of these products faced technical limitations that restricted the sophistication of the users' creations, but they nonetheless provided a welcome avenue for creative individuals unwilling or unable to master traditional programming languages.

Screenshot from Virtual Pinball for the Sega Genesis, showcasing the unusual design aesthetic.

After retiring from videogame creation in the mid 1980s after burning out from the overwhelming pressure of trying to outdo PCS, Budge tried again with BudgeCo through EA with the 1993 release of Virtual Pinball for the Sega Genesis.

Says Budge, "I wanted to get back into game programming. EA and I thought this might do okay on the Genesis. I liked the challenge of the restrictions (no keyboard, disk, mouse) and the power (fast graphics, 68000 processor) and thought I could do a good job. It turned out great, in my opinion. I made the collision detection and physics more robust and it got me started on my current path, to develop technology for 3D graphics and modeling."[10]

Unfortunately, Budge's program was at the wrong place at the wrong time. Audiovisual expectations were higher than ever before, and the Sega Genesis already featured several excellent pinball titles. Virtual Pinball went straight down the middle and into the drain. A review by Benjamin Galway describes some of the downsides:

Being able to design unique pinball tables is the real draw of the game, even if the actual pinball play isn't up to snuff. Players can take any of the eighteen preloaded tables into the game's Workshop or start from scratch, then save their creations in the cartridge's generous ten memory slots. Tables are assembled via a cursor that can drop or destroy objects, selected via a basic menu. There is a handful of bumpers, flippers, walls, targets, and other items to be placed at the user's discretion along with six different styles available for the parts (Blueprint, Classic, Pool, Gore, Classic II, and Droid) and a dozen backgrounds adding some variety to the tables. Unfortunately, it's just not enough to sustain any long-term interest in the game. Enjoyment rests largely on one's ability to be creative with the construction tools, so anyone lacking an imagination will be at a loss. The Workshop is a bit lacking as well with its inability to allow for curved ramps and walls, grouping of targets instead of lumping them all together, and most any other concept to help add depth to the tables.[11]


[9] Standing for Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code.



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