Tuesday, November 22, 2011

new tables

I'm not sure if I should avoid the consumer narrative that led me to the actions which I would like to describe. I've been playing a lot of simulated pinball on the Xbox 360 for about a year now. The tables come in packs of 4 and many are sold singly. I finally bought the older table pack today when it went on sale. I've played their trial versions for a while now, but I'm such a pinball fan at this point that I had to jump on the opportunity even though I'll have to borrow the $5 from December's gaming budget.
The tables I've played since January are a new breed. Zen studios has drawn their lines as to what physical qualities of the tables should be emulated, and what should be innovated upon due to the abilities of a videogame simulation. The tables are far too expensive to make in real life and feature animated toys, but for the most part, the game's mechanics are all based on what can be done to a steel ball on a wooden playfield. The difference in economic models from physical tables also has affected game design. These digital simulations of pinball don't become popular by quickly robbing your coins with casino-house advantages. The design intent seems to be to reward new players quickly with significant events that are obviously triggered by the player. The games are meant to be more empowering.
This older pack, however, contains most of the artifacts from the physical-inspirations. Thirsty outlanes, subtle game modes, and difficult targets dominate the experience. These are the things I have been able to notice from my 1 minute demo-versions. It wasn't until I purchased the tables and committed to learning them that I found their idiosyncratic pleasures.
Initially stubborn, Xtreme seems like a shallow playfield due to its obtusely divided playfield. Most shots seem to bump dud spots unsatisfactorily. This was really off-putting to me, especially because it felt that there wasn't much else to do but enter the upper playfield for brief moments of not nearing the drain. But when I was able to give it time in the full version I found that most of those seemingly useless targets initiate a trigger in a lower hole that begins the main mission type.
Xtreme is themed as a skater-culture table. A hip-hop synthesizer plays a track as dudes rap on it. The table is covered in a colorful graffitti theme and toys men take slack postures on the playfield which doubles as a doll-house skatepark. You as the player are an enthusiast of the skateboard and are testing your abilities in competitions. The main mode is initiated by shooting 7 basic, unsatisfying targets that spell "airwalk" Once you have "proven yourself" by nailing these basic shots, you can begin a competition my shooting the ball into an "entry ticket" hole. In a way, it feels that those initial target shots are a way to qualify for the competition. Once you have entered the competition, you are presented with a few lit ramps and are instructed to do the mandatory "tricks" in a limited amount of time, but to then embellish with a few additional shots of your choosing immediately afterword. This task seems so reflective of what I imagine a skate-competition would be like. I love the way Zen Studios expresses their chosen themes by painting the targets in context and then requiring a protocol of shots that seem to mimic the process which it represents. It's a neat perspective on both the them and on pinball itself.
The Zen tables are full of these kinds of inspired representations. It's so neat to me.

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