The pinball revival: Nostalgia meets technology

The pinball revival: Nostalgia meets technology
The pinball revival: Nostalgia meets technology

Pinball has made a strong comeback, with a boom that blends nostalgia for bygone eras with modern technology and deep storytelling. This article explores how pinball, through innovations in design and creativity in film and TV adaptations, has recaptured the attention of fans and new players alike. We look at the evolution of pinball, its cultural impact, and the creative minds behind its resurgence, with a special focus on the Stern Pinball company and its innovative designer Keith Elwin.

The rebirth of pinball

Pinball, a game that many remember from arcades and bars, has seen a remarkable resurgence in recent years. This new era of pinball is not only based on nostalgia, but also on technological sophistication and narrative creativity. The combination of balls and bumpers has evolved to include complex storylines, interactive LCD screens, and challenges that keep players glued to the machine.

According to Keith Elwin, designer of Stern Pinball, “In today’s era of LCD screens, games are more narrative-driven than ever before.” Known as one of the greatest pinball players of all time, Elwin has contributed significantly to this transformation, designing games that not only challenge players, but also tell an immersive story.

Stern Pinball Innovation

Based in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, Stern Pinball is The world’s largest manufacturer of pinball machinesThe company employs hundreds of people and is known for its innovation in the industry. Despite the rise of arcades, about 70 percent of pinball machines are now sold directly to homes, with prices ranging from $7,000 to $12,000.

Keith Elwin joined Stern in 2017 as lead designer, part of an exclusive group of pinball champions turned designers. His first major success was Iron Maiden: Legacy of the Beast, a game based on the band’s music that became a hit thanks to its immersive narrative and dynamic gameplay.

Evolution of pinball: From simple to complex

Pinball has come a long way since its invention in the 1930s. For decades, the game was fairly simple until designers in the 1970s introduced features like extra balls and multiball play. In the 1980s, more complex challenges and dynamic scoring systems arrived. However, it was in the 1990s that the concept of “wizard mode” was introduced – a master level of play unlocked by completing other objectives.

For example, the 1992 Addams Family game, co-designed by pinball champion Pat Lawlor, included a “wizard mode” called “Tour the Mansion.” This mode required players to hit a series of targets such as an electric chair and the character Cousin Itt, while a light show flashed and a timer ticked away.

The complexity of modern games

Today, modern “rule sets”—that is, the rules and objectives that dictate how a game is played—are more complex and better than ever. Take 2019’s Jurassic Park, designed by Elwin, for example. This game is structured with three main modes: T. Rex, Triceratops, and Raptor, where players must contain angry dinosaurs, rescue park staff, and escape.

LCD screen technology, which has only been incorporated into pinball in the last decade, allows for video cutscenes that guide players through the game. Only the most skilled players can reach the final wizard mode, Escape Nublar, where they must hit various targets to escape the park – a true test of skill and reflexes.

The fusion of technology and narrative

Creating a modern pinball game isn’t just about mechanics, it’s also about telling a story. Elwin explains that one of the biggest challenges is how to represent memorable moments from a movie with a physical mechanism. For example, in the Jaws game, he designed the game so that a menacing dorsal fin would appear and move around the playing field, recreating the tension of the movie in a physical and exciting way.

George Gomez, Stern’s chief creative officer, highlights the importance of passion in game development: “It’s so important for development teams to work on intellectual properties that they are passionate about because that really comes through in the final product.” This approach has led to the creation of innovative and successful games that capture the essence of the stories they are based on.

Additional reflections

The resurgence of pinball is not only a testament to nostalgia, but also to the ability of designers to innovate and adapt the game to modern times. With complex narratives, advanced technology, and carefully thought-out design, pinball remains a game that appeals to veterans and new players alike.

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