Welcome to our update report on Stern's Family Guy pinball.
In the in-depth review we looked at the game running pre-production software. Since then, there have been several major updates so the current version at the time of writing is v10 and it is this we will use to update the review.
None of the playfield features have changed, nor has the artwork or any other physical part of the game. The new software had made improvements to the rules, the sounds, the lighting effects and the dot matrix animations.
We'll look at the changes in the same order they were covered in the original in-depth review.
At the start of the ball, the first thing that has changed is the new range of quotes played as the ball is kicked into the plunger lane. There are plenty of them and they are nearly all designed to get you laughing before you've even flipped a ball.
The next change is the skill shot. While it is still collected at the bottom of the four drop targets, there is now a super skill shot achieved by immediately shooting the ball through the Super Jackpot tunnel from the upper flipper.
The TV modes bring us to something which was in flux at the time of the main review - the Chicken Fight. Originally a video mode played with the flipper buttons, this has now changed so the major shots score punches in order to beat the chicken. The more shots you make and the faster you make them, the more chance you have of defeating the chicken before he defeats you.
The same animations are shown on the display as before, it's just the method of scoring hits that has changed.
A more minor change is the display shown when shooting an unlit scoop. Rather than a simple message telling you the TV is not plugged in yet, that Addams-esque display has been replaced by a random small points award, like the "Odd Change" award from an unlit player piano in Twilight Zone.
In general, all the rules for the TV modes have been beefed-up from what was previously mostly shoot all shots for a certain points value, to include the opportunity to build the value and also to require certain shots to be made in sequence rather than allowing the same shot to be made over and over.
There were three programmers at Stern working on the code for Family Guy - Lonnie Ropp, Keith Johnson and Dwight Sullivan. We stated in the main review how the game sorely needed both a TV wizard mode and an overall wizard mode for completing all the features. Well, we've not been disappointed, as both these have been added giving a target to aim for besides simply achieving a high score.
Keith is responsible for the wizard modes and he has the reputation for creative ideas far beyond the regular "everything is lit" type feature common in earlier games. And true to form, the TV Wizard Mode for Family Guy implements some neat ideas.
The TV Wizard mode is the sixth TV mode and is only available after starting the main five modes. Then, after lighting the TV scoop by making the required number of spinner spins in the Lois lane, you shoot the scoop. No other TV modes can be played until the TV wizard mode is played.
First of all, it's not a multiball. That might seem a bit disappointing but there are enough multiballs in the game already and the strategy required would be harder to achieve when you have to worry about two or more balls.
When the mode starts, a series of instructions flash by on the display very quickly, so you need to pay attention here. You are presented with a base jackpot value which is then increased depending on the number of successful shots you made during each TV mode.
This means you can get to the TV Wizard Mode by simply starting all the regular TV modes. But you really do need to play them and collect plenty of awards, not just for the points they award instantly, but also to build your jackpot value when you reach the TV Wizard Mode.
A reasonable game should see your jackpot build to around the 1 million mark, a good game will reach 1.5 million.
With your new jackpot value, the ball is kicked out of the TV scoop and all major shots are now lit for that jackpot. But two things happen. Firstly, the jackpot value starts counting down, and secondly, each shot is worth increasing multiples of the current jackpot value. So the first shot is 1x the jackpot, the second is 2x and so on but the jackpot value is reducing all the time.
Once you collect a jackpot, that shot is unlit and cannot be collected again. But after collecting one jackpot, the TV scoop is lit again.
Shooting the TV scoop does three things. It resets the jackpot value to the original value, it resets the jackpot multiplier to 1x and it relights all the major shots for jackpots.
This presents you with a dilemma - do you keep going for multiple jackpots, knowing the value is reducing while the multiplier is increasing, or do you bail out at some point, shoot the TV scoop and reset everything?
There are two additional considerations to take into account. If you allow the jackpot value to count down to its minimum, shortly afterwards the TV Wizard Mode will end. And, the TV scoop requires an additional jackpot shot each time to relight it. So one jackpot relights it the first time, two the second, and so on meaning you can't keep shooting the ramp and then the scoop over and over.
So, strategic thinking is needed and some quick decision making if you're to get maximum points and prevent the mode ending prematurely.
It really is a creative wizard mode requiring planning and consideration to get the best payback, and it's still not the main wizard mode.
The beer can modes are virtually unchanged from the in-depth review and - with the exception of Lard Multiball - can almost be started without noticing. They mostly rely on the DMD animations to indicate a beer mode has started, and since they can begin at almost any time, it's still easy to overlook them in the midst of a TV mode or multiball.
To be fair, the Collect Beer Can sounds have been beefed-up which is good for home users who can actually hear their games, but some dramatic playfield lighting effects are still called for, to help in those locations where you can't hear the game.
Family Guy's biggest (and yet smallest) toy is undoubtedly Stewie Pinball.
The basic functionality of the game hasn't changed but it now becomes harder to complete the more times you play it. Initially (by default), you can score two letters for each shot to Peter, Brian and Chris the first time around. For the second completion, you only get one letter per hit.
The dot matrix display of each character has been strengthened, with their faces much stronger and in frames, although the order still doesn't match the Stewie Pinball shot order. It's also worth noting how the Meg and Peter targets employ piezo technology to sense hits. When the target is struck, a piezo-electric element is deformed which causes it to produce a voltage. Their use should lead to longer life for the targets and they shouldn't need adjusting since it is the deformation that produces the voltage and not the absolute position of the target.
Because the flippers are scaled-down versions, an unfortunate side effect is the flippers' lack of height which can allow balls to jump them and head straight for the drain, especially after shooting the Lois ramp, which can be frustrating.
Scoring during Stewie Pinball appears to have been reduced by about 50% to make it more balanced when compared to other awards in the game. Additionally, a new adjustment has been included to allow the game owner to restrict the time the player can spend on Stewie Pinball. Once the built-up time has expired, a ten second timer is counted down by Peter, after which the mini flippers die and the feature ends. This is presumably to addresses the problem of over-long ball times which seem to be quite common on Family Guy.
While, in general, most display animations and their associated quotes can be aborted by pressing both flipper buttons, the one you probably want to kill the most is the Stewie quote at the end of Stewie Pinball before returning to regular play. In version 10, however, that's sadly still not possible and you're forced to wait a few seconds.
And while we're on the subject of long quotes, there are several used in Stewie Pinball when you make (or miss) one of the shots. In general, the long quotes don't work as well as the shorter ones and become the most noticeably repetitive. Some work is needed to make sure quotes repeat less often during Stewie Pinball.
When Stewie Pinball is completed, Stewie Multiball begins. The animation for this has now been delayed slightly to allow the points for completing the final family member to be shown. Although it's good to know your points have indeed been awarded, the effect of delaying the multiball start animation is to significantly reduce its impact. When you make that last shot to complete Stewie Pinball it was much better when the game went mad with thumping sounds and flashing lights the moment the shot was registered.
Despite that, Stewie Multiball now requires you to make all the characters' shots on both the main playfield and the Stewie Pinball playfield to light super jackpot. It's easy enough on the main playfield but you have to keep and eye on both and there is a time limit on the Stewie Pinball playfield.
You can add more time by hitting the Stewie targets on the main playfield and once you've got more time built up, Stewie Pinball is active again. In addition, you can hit the captive ball to spell P-I-N-B-A-L-L and add another ball to the multiball (unless you already have all 4 balls in play).
As we said before, we expected a final wizard mode would be added and thankfully it now has been included.
Sperm Attack is its name and in a throwback to much earlier games such as Data East's Star Wars and much more recent ones like The Simpsons Pinball Party, you have to complete six tasks to enable it.
Because Sperm Attack was added much later in the design process, there's no playfield artwork or special inserts to indicate its presence in the game, so you have to look to the dot matrix display to see your progress towards it. The tasks you have completed and those yet to be achieved are shown every time you fulfil one of the six requirements, or you can check it by holding in one of the flipper buttons during regular play to show Instant Info.
The six tasks you have to complete during your game are:
When completed, the TV scoop is lit to start the wizard mode.
Play begins on Stewie's Pinball, where all shots are lit for a timed period to allow you to build up a base jackpot value. When the timer ends, play returns to the lower playfield and a four-ball multiball begins with all shots lit for that jackpot value.
This continues until you are down to just two balls. At this point you need to lock those two in the Drunken Clam saucer and the TV scoop. Achieving this returns play to Stewie's Pinball with another timed session to build the jackpot further, before heading back to the main playfield with your two balls and a new third one launched into play.
When you lose one ball and are back to two, you can repeat the lock and build process, and keep playing in this way until you have fewer than two balls in play at which point the mode ends.
If you can keep the multiball going, Sperm Attack mode can be highly lucrative, scoring hundreds of millions of points.
It's tough to get all six tasks collected in the same game but it's not totally out of reach for the good player and probably is set just high enough to provide a long term goal while the pay-off for successfully getting to Sperm Attack definitely makes it worthwhile.
So the rules have improved considerably and now have a completed feel to them. It's just a pity the two wizard modes couldn't have been decided upon much earlier in the design process and incorporated into the playfield artwork.
The death drop target raises the centre post to help prevent centre ball drains.
We said previously how the repetition of the same quote each time the target was hit became slightly annoying. Well, the good news here is the addition of a range of different Death quotes both when the post is raised and when the timer for it is about to expire.
In fact, now is probably a good time to talk about the different quotes used in the game. In the earlier version we enthused about the number and range of voice samples heard during game play and, amazing as it may seem, there are now noticeably even more in there. With the exception of Stewie Pinball as noted above, there is no issue with repetition elsewhere in the game and players will still be hearing new quotes for weeks after their first game. In this regard, Family Guy sets the new benchmark for future games to aspire to.
Musically, nothing much has changed which means it's good if not exceptional. The fanfares for completing the characters in Stewie Pinball work well while the toy piano music is clever, but (intentionally) not very musical, and the repeated note played once the timer runs out is bordering on the annoying (which is perhaps also intentional but no less irritating for that).
Elsewhere, various new sound effects have been added to improve the feedback to the player when they make required shots.
Overall then, the sound is greatly improved from the earlier version we reviewed.
This is another area with obvious improvements. The new wizard modes obviously called for new lighting effects and several of them - such as TV Wizard Mode jackpot collected - are dramatic and integrate very nicely with the DMD animations, boosting the overall effect and clearly flagging up a successful shot.
The start of Fart Multiball now has a better flasher display and while other enhancements are more subtle, they are still noticeable and help make the whole package more rounded.
Those animations shown in the previous review are, for the most part, largely unchanged except as noted previously in this article.
The new features include new display effects and, as with the associated lighting effect, the TV Wizard Mode jackpot animation stands out for its vibrancy and ability to make the whole display seem brighter that you thought possible.
Overall, though, the display effects complement the rest of the game and utilise the new range of shades well.
When we first reviewed Family Guy back in February 2007, the game was running pre-production software (v0.7) and it was clear a number of changes would be made over the coming weeks and months.
We're now up to version 10 with another update to 11 expected before too long and although the version number increments 1 with every release no matter how many changes or how significant, there really have been some substantial improvements in the code as you have seen in this updated review.
Our initial numerical ratings were:
Layout hasn't changed since then, and neither has the artwork so their ratings remain. The music is little changed too and keeps its initial rating.
The sounds, though, have improved even further and warrant a new rating as do the lighting, dots and rules.
So, our new scores based on the improvements we've described in this update article are:
Remember, these are proper marks out of 10 for each element of the game, so a rating of 8 means Family Guy is 80% as good as the best ever game in that category. They are totally subjective and are included only as a guide.
© Pinball News 2007