Multiplayer is the New Pinball

Photo by Flickr user: Matteo Paciotti

It kinda stinks what’s happened to pinball isn’t it? In the time since arcades began declining and our modern gaming age, that classic game of flippers and steel balls has fallen from the epitome of fast-paced, yet deceptively complex, frantic fun and transformed into simple franchise tie-in machines getting turned out by the same company year after year. Happily, there’s been something of a resurgence in pinball development in recent years and we’re finally seeing some of the spirit that used to define pinball back in the glory days of the early 90’s. As a pinball guy I couldn’t be happier about that, but I’ve recently realized that we didn’t actually need pinball itself to come back in order to enjoy that which made it fun in the first place. Even as pinball was first beginning to fade, its successor was already well into development. You might that it’s video games I’m leading up to here, and if so you would be right…but not entirely. Video games took the place of pinball but it was multiplayer that succeeded it.

Okay, maybe not all multiplayer games. The careful strategy and assets management found in most RTS games really doesn’t fit, and I don’t recall a pinball game asking me to do busy work in order to advance…well maybe Lord of the Rings (figures.) Most everything else though, from racers to brawler and perhaps shooters especially, depend on all the same elements that used to make pinball so great: the accomplishment that comes with skill, the thrill of luck, and all the goading frustration found between them!

Just about any multiplayer game that relies on such things can be some sort of weird virtual abstraction of a pinball game. You’ve got your avatar acting as both the ball and flippers. The track or map acts as a playfield that the actual machines can only wish they had, while all your fellow players acting as bumpers and obstacles. Even the items and upgrades have their parallels in the plethora of bonus modes found within the realm of pinball! “What about trash-talking?” Yep. Got that too! (not really sure if that’s a good thing…)

It’s really amazing how these two arguably different activities are still united by the simple status of being games! One would think that an entirely digital experience based on anything from driving to shooting would have absolutely nothing in common with an analog, mostly mechanical device based almost entirely on knocking a ball around a field, but there the similarities are nonetheless!

So be glad my fellow Pinballers! Though the glory days of our once-great pastime are no more, we can rest secure in the knowledge that their spirit has been living on! Albeit in an unexpected form.


What are some odd gaming similarities you’ve noticed? What did it take for you to see them?


  1. tinkergoth says:

    I still play a lot of pinball. Most of the time I make do some of the better simulation games, like Zen Studio’s Zen Pinball 2 or FarSight Studio’s The Pinball Arcade, but whenever I’m headed down to the local game store (table top gaming, not video), or going to a concert at the university bar, I’ll make sure to take a stack of change along so I can get some time in on the machines they’ve got there.

    That said, I definitely agree that the multiplayer aspects of a lot of video games really have taken that place. I can’t comment on shooters, because I tend not to play online, but fighters and other local multiplayer games really help take that place for me (and of course, sometimes we play multiplayer pinball sims). The most obvious one for me is Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes. It’s a competitive puzzle game, and I’ve never found anything that rewards skill in multiplayer quite so well (accepting that again, I can’t comment on things like CoD or Battlefield). Fighting games always frustrated me, because I’d learn all the combos, figure out the super moves, perfect the characters… and then get stomped by someone just spamming one move over and over again. Clash of Heroes though, there’s no button mashing tactic there. You figure out the patterns, you learn the tricks, and if you’re the better player, you dominate. The only thing luck has to do with it is where your units will land when you call for reinforcements, and the game seems to be programmed to NOT give you what you need most of the time. So it all comes down to skill. So that’s my go to game for a quick bit of multiplayer fun when I have friends over.


    1. Hatm0nster says:

      I can definitely see the pinball in Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes. I’ve never played it, but what you’re describing sounds just like a lot of the pinball games I’ve played over the years, Medieval Madness especially comes to mind here. As for how it compares to shooters, I really can’t speak for Battlefield or CoD either, but I’m definitely seeing some Halo 3 in this game, as getting good at that game meant having to learn how weapons compared to one another along with how battles tended to develop on each map. Among other things of course.


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