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November 20, 2011 / jwaxo

Epic Pinball (Tilt)

Also taught me the meaning of the word “android”.

Arcades were really cool, back when we were kids. Let me rephrase: arcades are really cool. But back in the day they weren’t just cool, they were these havens of kid-dom, where you could do whatever you wanted while playing video games. In the coolest movies, there were even cooler, more fantastic arcades: The Wizard and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles having two of the most nostalgia-inducing examples that I can think of on the spot. We did our best to sake our need to go to these exclusive clubs of cool kids and excitement by begging our parents to take us to Chuck E. Cheese’s or Pojos, the local, more big-kid friendly version. Somehow, these arcades never captured quite the range of freedom and flashy-neon-ness of the movie arcades we lusted after, but they helped.

They also almost never had pinball machines.

Pinball machines could be found in maybe a pizza place, when you had no quarters, or in the corner of a convenience store that you didn’t want to stay at, anyway. What I mean to say is, I almost never played real pinball when I was a kid. Maybe because the few opportunities I had made me look at the machine and be unsatisfied with the amount of ramps and lights, already being jaded by other, fantastic versions. Or maybe because they never gave tickets that I could use to buy yet another bouncy ball.

In any case, I was in love with the idea of pinball machines, but never could find a real one to actually play. Which made Epic Pinball the perfect way to make me happy.

It found its way to our house on a lone floppy disc, like so many other game demos, and offered a single table to us out of a selection of 16 advertised tables. This one table was simply named “Android”, and it was what every pinball table should have been. There was a strange story that one had to play out through the bells and whistles, of getting the android calibrated and hooked up; there was a flow to the table that one could pick up and understand through repetition and continual play; best of all, there was a ton of ramps and bumpers and those long metal cage chutes. In other words, everything I ever wanted.

Oh, to be a ball on that table…

The game was played by simulating a real pinball table: press the left Ctrl key to move the left bumped, press the right Ctrl key to–you get the idea. Control the bumpers, hold back on the arrow keys to control the plunger, and you have a full pinball setup.

But there was another button. A secret, important button.

The keyboard.

The keyboard could save your butt. It could stop the ball from going into a deathtrap, or judge it just enough to hit the score multiplier. It was your savior and, if used poorly, your personal demon, because the game might lock up if you pressed the keyboard too much. If you did press it, though, a mysterious shake would run through your screen, and your ball would move a desperate few millimeters.

For reasons unknown to me, this was called the “Tilt” key.

After a time, I learned to never use the Tilt button. All it did was seem to make the game hate me, locking it up or shooting my ball everywhere. My brother used it judiciously, skillfully, although he sometimes overshot it, too, and would get angry at everything and everyone nearby.

Years later, I finally learned what the Tilt key was all about, why it would make the digital display freak out. “Tilt” meant “tilting the pinball machine”. My whole world was suddenly put into perspective: the game punishing you for pressing it because it was cheating, a weird way to simulate the real pinball table.

It’s pretty funny that I still built up a belief about the Tilt button, despite not knowing its true definition, that it was something to be used sparingly and only in emergencies. Because, as I understand, in the pinball community that’s pretty much how it’s viewed, too.

Fun fact: some pinball table owners would stick nails through the bottom of their tables, to “discourage” tilting.

Nice.

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