So you want to own a complete 24-table pinball arcade? Without paying out $30,000 for real tables? Who wouldn't? You're in luck. PC pinball sims are very unfashionable in the gaming world - so even the very best pinball simulations can be had for very little cost on eBay. Here's my personal selection of the top 10...
Top-10 3D pinball sims for the PC:
1. Pro Pinball - The Web 2. Pro Pinball - Timeshock
3. Pro Pinball - Big Race 4. Pro Pinball - Fantastic Journey
5. Williams Pinball Classics 6. Avengers Pinball
7. Pure Pinball 8. Microsoft Pinball Arcade
9. Tilt! (aka: Hyper 3D) 10. 3D Ultra Pinball - Thrillride
Also well worth having:
Little Wing's Jinni Zeala (Arabian Nights theme)
Little Wing's Golden Logres (King Arthur theme)
Worms Pinball (aka 'Addiction Pinball')
Roswell Pinball (UFO theme) (I haven't played this one, but people say it's good)
There are also a few older 2D pinball sims that are well worth having, if the price is right. All are based on the superb 'Balls of Steel' game-engine:
Balls of Steel RARE
Devil's Island RARE
KISS Pinball COMMON
These can be forced into non-scrolling mode. Trust me; you don't want a scrolling pinball table unless you enjoy being seasick.
WILL THEY RUN? All of the above games (bar Roswell, Balls of Steel and Devil's Island, which I don't own) have been tested by me under Windows 98 SE, NVIDIA GeForce 4 MX440 & latest drivers, AMD Duron, DirectX 9 - and they all work fine. Pro Pinball Big Race and Fantastic Journey have some sound problems in mixing some sound samples; this results in some 'crackling' on playback - but that's probably just specific to my machine.
For Win ME/XP advice, ask on the excellent Tower of Pin message board.
DODGY TRADERS: Beware some traders who will show an image of the box on eBay, but then send you only a bare disk to "save on postage costs".
DODGY COMPILATIONS: Too many shovel-ware pinball compilations contain only shareware and demo versions.
HOW MUCH TO PAY?: I got all the above games (bar Roswell, Balls of Steel and Devil's Island) for about £50 UK pounds (the price of two full-price new&boxed PC games in the UK). It took me about two weeks before I had them all. Most came from eBay, some were in-print budget re-releases from online retailers. Most of the common ones are very cheap; a few pounds/dollars plus postage.
GERMANY: Buying from Germany is possible (where 3D pinsims seem reasonably popular, and there is a native one called Flipper) although they all expect a complicated & expensive bank transfer as payment. That's right - they've often never heard of PayPal! DO NOT PAY BY BANK TRANSFER - the German bank charges will eat up any small amounts you send, then the bank will auto-request you send again, etc. If you speak basic German (or try using Babelfish) then you can usually arrange to send the seller cash (as a Euro banknote, with the price generously rounded-up) instead.
VERY Important! Ramp up the in-game graphics-card/monitor settings from their basic levels, to get the most out of these sims. Also download & install the latest official patches for all titles you purchase, if available! Find out where these are by using Google or ask on the Tower of Pin message board.
Tilt! - the original large-box Virgin Interactive UK release is Win95 only. You should try to get the UK 'Sold Out' label budget release version (RARE) if it's to work under Win98 or later. I'm not sure about the compatability of the USA version of Tilt!, released under the name Hyper 3D Pinball.
Pro Pinball - The Web was re-released twice in the UK, each time as a free second disk which came with the budget re-releases of Pro Pinball - Fantastic Journey or Pro Pinball - Timeshock.
Some Pro Pinball titles (The Web, Timeshock, Fantastic Journey) and Williams Pinball Classics have been released as parts of multi-table compilations such as the mid-price Pinball Madness line (3 & 4) -- but it's alleged that some or all of the music was taken out for disk-size reasons and is likely to be missing on these releases. Similarly, printed manuals and video cutscenes may be missing or changed. You are better off getting the Pro Pinball solo releases - although Williams Pinball Classics is now very RARE as a stand-alone CD.
Pure Pinball was released 2003 in the USA as a boxed retail version, but seems to have sunk without trace. The developers have launched in various other countries - see their site for details.
Microsoft Pinball Arcade (RARE) is a deleted title and is no longer available from Microsoft. It's a well-done 'history of pinball tables', all playable.
3D Ultra Pinball - Thrillride may be thought my many to be too much of a 'kiddy' title to be in the top 10, and it has disappointing side-tables. But it's still a lot of fun to play. It was re-released on the budget 'Xplosiv' label in the UK in 2003.
Golden Logres was available as part of a four-table Little Wing compilation CD from Germany, titled 'Pinball Classics' and published by Hemming. Golden Logres is one of a series of odd pinsims from Japan.
Roswell Pinball is also on the 'Crazy Pinball' budget compliation.
Roswell Pinball, Avengers Pinball and Judge Dredd Pinball are on the 'Platinum Pinball' budget compilation, among others. Avengers & Judge Dredd were also re-released as stand-alone CDs on the 'Dynamite' budget label in the UK. Avengers is based on the cult British 60s TV series, not the Marvel comic superheroes.
Some recent quality books, on pinball history and collecting:
(And one "real-world" table to show your kids that they can exist outside of a screen! :-)
ONWARDS TO THE FUTURE!
ACTIVE PINSIM DEVELOPERS: Watch out for new PC-centric releases, 2005 onwards from:-
Williams Wildsnake Little Wing Iridon Mercom (Fastlane Pinball for the PC, out 2006) TopWare Dream Pinball - out now! Rave reviews!
Online pinsims made with Macromedia Flash may also take off in the next few years, as new physics engines are refined and PCs become more powerful through add-on physics cards. illogicz is developing a nice-looking table construction-kit for Flash, which is set for commercial launch.