Pinball; Indirect Gaming



I’ve been playing some Pinball games in the last few days — Mario Pinball Land, Pinball of the Dead and a few less memorable ones. They’re addictive, but I have to say, I kind of hate them.

Pinball is contrary to one of my major philosophies in design, which is to give the player as much control as possible. Pinball, however, is a game mostly about twitchy reactions to mostly uncontrolled movement. The game gives you a small number of input points; paddles, and sometimes tilt (in the sense of shaking the machine).  Paddles are always in fixed locations, and are usually binary — they’re either up or down, in one speed. It’s not like a racket, which you can swing at different speeds or angles to get different results.

With paddles, there are two real factors that affect how they interact with the ball — their incoming vector, and the position in which the paddle hits the ball. Players often have very little control over the first; bumpers are other elements make the ball difficult to predict. The latter is often limited by the speed and motion of the ball, but is generally consistent.

I find it frustrating to play these games because I don’t feel like I’m having an impact on what happens, most of the time. Mario Pinball Land is exceptionally forgiving and operates in small spaces — the player has distinct control over their actions, and still it feels a lot like you’re cheering the game on enthusiastically, rather than actually playing. But it does bring rise to an interesting idea; gaming indirectly. Where the player has limited control of the game, and must anticipate how the game will act so that they may react to it when given the option.

Imagine, perhaps a war game where you never see the map you’re fighting on, but rather only battle reports from the troops you send out; where you give your soldiers orders but never see them executed. In a game on a large scale, this could be made interesting if done from a first person perspective, where the player may leave the safety of their bunker and engage soldiers on the field, but where it is always wiser to stay away from the combat.

Or, perhaps a game with a series of robots whom you control remotely. You give them instructions at a terminal, and can observe parts of their environment, but you cannot directly intervene with anything they do until they return to a terminal. You could start with only a few terminals and cameras, and maybe one or two robots, then over time you get them to repair more machines and activate more areas. (I may have to write up a full treatment for this!)

Or possibly you a game where you spend time training an animal, then take it to a space where you can interact with it, but only at a distance, and need to get it to do something particular. Hand signals, voice commands, whistles, lights, whatever. Perhaps different levels have different animals, or various animals can be used but act and react differently.

Really, any scenario where you give orders, commands, or instructions could be done. They could make for interesting strategy or puzzle games. This is the kind of thing I think of from pinball, what about you?


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