Article dated: December 2010
Take almost any list of the most popular pinball machines and there, nestling in the upper reaches, alongside the A-list dot matrix games, sits a very different alpha-numeric model.
Its layout is starkly individualistic, the theme is unique and the main toy is both wildly impractical and visually astonishing.
The Machine - Bride of Pinbot continues to earn players' affection for its easily-understood storyline, rewarding loop shots, excellent sound and lighting effects, striking imagery and captivating music.
John Youssi's Bride
The three things holding it back from the big time seems to be the somewhat limited and linear ruleset, the way the left ramp shot dominates the rules and the huge element of luck in earning the big payoffs. The same progression through the game is replayed every time, and the random rewards given by the Big Wheel feature can vary from 1 million to 50 million, a shot at 1 billion or no points at all (special).
The wheel awards
So, what can be done to improve the game's rules?
Jump back two years and head to The Netherlands, where software programmer and pinball owner Koen Heltzel was considering creating pinball tables for the Future Pinball emulation package. Future Pinball can produce some excellent looking games with great lighting effects and ball movement, but there's just one problem. Even if he designs the best game in the world, it will never be a real, physical machine.
A year later at the beginning of 2010, we reported on the new P-ROC pinball controller and its development software, created by Gerry Stellenberg and Adam Preble. P-ROC enabled those who wanted to build their own custom games to take an existing machine, replace the CPU board, hook it up to a computer and write their own ruleset.
The P-ROC board
Koen works for the interactive media company, Insert Media, owned by Barry Driessen. Apart from running the company and being a computer graphics designer, Barry is also a pinball fan, getting his fix by playing Koen's games and then eventually buying his own pinball - a Bride of Pinbot.
Bring together Koen, Barry, the P-ROC and the Bride of Pinbot, and exciting things start to happen.
New possibilities emerge.
As well as alphanumeric displays, P-ROC also has built-in support for a dot matrix display. The Bride, but of course, uses alphanumeric displays. But what if it didn't?
Dutch Pinball was born.
Their first project? A Bride of Pinbot with all-new rules and a dot matrix display.
The Dutch Pinball Bride of Pinbot
Often criticised as a 'one-shot-game', the Dutch Pinball version uses an unmodified playfield design but totally new rules to create new skill shots, modes, multiballs, jackpot multipliers and even a video mode.
The game was first revealed during the P-ROC seminar at Pinball Expo 2010 where the promotional video below was shown. The reaction was extraordinary.
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While the seminar had shown the system and its possibilities, and the Judge Dredd machine on display had demonstrated how an existing game could be recoded, the Bride took the concept a stage further.
Now, older games could be given features and rules never thought possible when they were created. If the spirit and community which made the Visual Pinball, VpinMAME and Future Pinball simulations and emulations so successful could be brought out of the virtual and into the physical, new versions of hundreds of games could be made available.
Dutch Pinball's Bride of Pinbot is the embodiment of those possibilities, so to find out more about how the game works, how it came about and where it goes from here, Pinball News spoke to Koen and Barry from Dutch Pinball as well as Gerry from P-ROC maker PinballControllers.com to see how the P-ROC system made the whole project possible.
PBN: Tell us a little about yourselves and when you got into pinball.
Koen: I’m a programmer, working mostly on websites, web applications and web games. When I started renting an apartment the first thing that I bought was a pinball machine (Starship Troopers). It has always been a fascination and the hobby has many aspects that appeal to me.
Barry: I’m the owner of an interactive media company in The Netherlands. Apart from the things that comes with running a business I focus on design and animation. I used to play pinball all the time when they were still out on route. Then when I hired Koen I started playing at his place and a few months later I bought my first game: The Bride of Pinbot.
PBN: What made you want to re-program a pinball game?
Koen: I had been looking into programming for Future Pinball two years ago, with the obvious downside being it would never be a real pinball machine. Then seeing the possibilities of Adam Preble’s framework for P-ROC got my creative juices flowing again.
PBN: Why did you choose BoP as the game to develop?
Koen: First I had considered my own machines (BSD, TOM, DW), but didn’t see the point to re-program them since their original software is already to my liking.
Barry: When Koen told me about the P-ROC I told him I was interested in doing animations. We started considering my machines too (CFTBL, BoP) and we instantly decided that we were a bit bored of the Bride’s software. In a small collection like mine, once you have some solid high scores there really isn’t much to play for with the Bride. Back then we didn’t know whether adding a DMD was actually possible. When Gerry from pinballcontrollers.com told us it was possible, we ordered a P-ROC right away and started thinking about the new software.
PBN: Did you consider just adding the DMD and keeping the rest of the game the same, or were you always going to completely re-write it?
Koen: No, just adding the DMD would in our opinion not lead to the game becoming more fun. For the experienced player, the rules (which shots to shoot, when and why) will eventually determine if the game is a keeper or a sleeper.
Fitting the DMD
PBN: What elements of the original game did you want to keep (if any)?
Koen: Of course we are limited by the current playfield lay-out, lamps, solenoids and switches. Some elements like the skillshot are pretty similar as a result, but aside from that we took a pretty fresh approach.
PBN: BoP tells a story of the gradual awakening and animation of the Bride. Does your game also tell a story?
Barry: Absolutely. We consider the story of the original BoP to be quite vague. Our story will be a lot clearer thanks to the animations on the DMD. What you have seen so far are still temporary graphics; they will do more story telling later on.
The standard score display
PBN: Talk us through your new rules so far.
Koen: We are putting more skill into the skillshot by making it a timed shot. If you want to shoot for the 200k, it’s best to do so when the “running light” reaches the 200k. This will award you the super skillshot (value X5).
The skill shot
The first thing that may strike the player is that the default face of the Bride is “Face 3” (the robot face without any holes). We chose this face to increase the flow of the game and to make the face a multiball specific toy.
The main goal of the game is still to reach the human face, which we will call the wizard mode. To reach the wizard mode you first have to go through multiball 1 and multiball 2.
To start every multiball the player has to light locks and then lock the three balls. The lighting (of the locks) is different at each stage and enables us to utilize more shots on the playfield.
Three balls locked for multiball
For multiball 1, every heartbeat ramp shot lights a lock, and the shuttle ramp then locks the ball. After locking 3 balls and the multiball start sequence, you will get a 3 ball multiball. During this multiball you can collect jackpots by shooting into the Bride’s mouth (“Face 1”) via the shuttle ramp. To make it more interesting there’s a jackpot multiplier (max X3) that you can increase by shooting the heartbeat ramp during multiball play. This multiplier decreases over time à la Doctor Who.
The jackpot multiplier
We won’t give anything away yet about multiball 2 or the wizard mode yet; we’re still working on their rules. Basically it will become increasingly hard and more fun to light, lock and score jackpots.
Then we have a video mode in the making that you “charge” by keeping the ball as long as possible in the mini-playfield. This usually takes at least 2 shots.
Charging up the video mode
We think it makes for a clear and simple thing to do when the ball is in the mini-playfield: nudge the ball up so it stays there as long as possible. When the video mode is charged (lit) you shoot the scoop to start it.
Video mode begins
In a nutshell that’s all we have right now. We’re still missing the in-depth implementation for: bonus scoring, jet bumpers, stand-up targets, small wheel, big wheel, loops, Pinbot value etc.
PBN: You say BoP is considered a one shot game. What have you done in your new rules to correct that?
Koen: When you play our current software you already feel the difference because the heartbeat ramp is being utilized for lighting locks and for the jackpot multiplier. During multiball the combo “heartbeat ramp --> shuttle ramp” with multiple balls somewhere in that combo feels great! Also as mentioned above we will use even more shots for the multiball 2 and of course the wizard mode.
PBN: Is the playfield exactly the same as BoP or have you made any hardware
modifications as well?
Koen: The playfield will remain unmodified. We want to be able to play the original ROM without taking the glass off. We already had code in place for the trough to handle 4(!) balls when we realised the original ROM couldn’t handle them, so we are sticking to 3 balls installed.
PBN: How are you doing the sounds and voice(s)?
Barry: At this time, we don’t have a final plan yet for the sounds or voice calls. We have some offers from a couple of sound designers to help us with the sound, but at this time there’s no definite solution.
PBN: Did you re-use any of the existing sounds or is everything new?
Barry: We currently use some sounds from the existing game, but this is just for testing purposes. The plan is to go for completely new sounds, music and effects, but we want to use the same ‘style’ as the original game. And we have to figure out a way to have the same sexy voice calls from The Bride; we definitely want to keep those : )
PBN: Bearing in mind your 3DS Max skills, did you build and animate the
models in that? Did you do the rest in After Effects, or something else?
Barry: First of all, the animations are still temporary. We are now planning and story boarding everything for the final game. A lot will change! Most of the animations and models are done in 3ds max. Post production and text animations are done in After Effects.
Modeling in 3D Studio Max
PBN: When making the dot matrix graphics, did you drop the resolution down to
128x32 early on in the process, or do everything at a higher resolution
and only downscale it at the end?
Barry: All animations and graphics are 1000% bigger than the final output, so I render and edit everything in 1280x320. This is mainly for preview purposes. I’ve made a preset for After Effects to convert my rendered footage to a 16 colour 128x32 DMD. This way we can see a very good preview of all animations before converting them to a PNG sequence. When I’m satisfied with the result I remove the preset and scale it down to 128x32 and render it. After that, Koen will convert the sequence to a DMD file and we can watch it almost immediately on the DMD.
Editing in After Effects
PBN: It looks like you chose a plasma DMD rather than an LED one which would
have avoided the high power requirements. Any special reason for that?
Barry: We had no LED display to test with and were not sure it could handle the 16 tints of orange like a plasma DMD can when connected to the P-ROC. As it turns out, a LED display handles them very nicely (as tested on the Judge Dredd game at Pinball Expo) so that definitely turned out to be the easiest solution.
PBN: Why did you choose the P-ROC system as the basis of your game?
Koen: Because of the impressive and very user friendly software framework by Adam Preble. This framework called pyprocgame makes it possible to write game rules in a high-level programming language (Python), meaning in this case you don’t really have to worry about the hardware aspect of the pinball machine, but just about the actual rules, lamps, switches and solenoids.
Programming the rules
PBN: At what point did you contact Gerry/Adam and what was their reaction to
Koen: They were very supporting and thought it was a great project. Of course announcing a project and actually producing results are two different things, so at that time talk was purely technical.
Gerry: When Barry and Koen first started discussing their plans with us, I didn't fully understand the scope of the project, but I'm incredibly impressed with what they've been able to accomplish. Adam and I first watched the video the day before the Expo presentation, and our reactions can best be summarized as 'holy crap!'. I've always known people would be able to create professional quality games using a P-ROC board and pyprocgame, but seeing the quality of their work eliminated any remaining doubt.
PBN: How easy has it been to program the game with the P-ROC development system?
Koen: Relatively easy. Again, the pyprocgame framework is wonderful and without it I personally wouldn’t have even considered the project. Being new to the Python programming language is much less of a problem when you have a solid framework you can grab onto. Still, there is definitely a learning curve, and with modes being stacked even in simple games, it can get pretty tricky to keep your code clean and bug-free.
PBN: Were there any things you wanted to implement which couldn't currently
be done with the P-ROC?
Koen: A small adjustment needed to be made to the P-ROC to control the pre-fliptronics flippers of the BoP.
For the video mode we would rather have disabled the flippers during play, but this is not possible (the flipper button switches only register when the circuit’s power is on). This is not a P-ROC issue; on a Funhouse or original Bride of Pinbot, the flippers flip too during high score entry.
PBN: Did the turning head cause any special difficulties?
Koen: Not really. Controlling it correctly is a combination of controlling the head motor, its relay, listening to a switch and timing your turning time. The original game can re-calibrate the head; we haven’t done this yet, but we do keep track of the head’s position in case the machine is powered off mid-game.
PBN: Did Adam/Gerry make any changes to the P-ROC software for BoP which then
fed back into their core development system?
Koen: We were among the first to really use pyprocgame for a full game, so we did ask for some small features to be added. Among those were:
- Support for DMD animations with alpha layers
- Flasher and G.I. support in the lightshow-timeline files
Also we encountered some small bugs which were fixed as soon as they were found. All of this with the support of both Adam and Gerry.
Gerry: As Koen mentioned, I made a minor improvement to the P-ROC to support the flipper switches in WPC-alphanumeric machines, and pyprocgame has improved significantly as a result of requests, recommendations, and code snippets from Koen. Our hope is that the P-ROC hardware, the low level interface library libpinproc, and the pinball game framework pyprocgame will continue to improve as more people start developing their own custom software. The forums at http://www.pinballcontrollers.com/forum are becoming more active every day, and I'd encourage everybody with new feature requests to suggest them on the forums.
PBN: How far is the project progressed so far?
Koen: If we had to give a percentage here it would probably be around 10 to 15% of the final player’s experience. Rough implementation of game rules is not that much work, but the details of sound, animation and light choreography definitely is.
PBN: Did the project go according to plan, or have there been some surprises
along the way?
Koen: Everything went relatively smooth, the biggest problem being that we only worked a few hours a week max. It’s good for inspiration (time to let stuff sink in) but bad for productivity. We are now planning to have a dedicated development night each week to keep progress steady.
PBN: Do you have a timescale to work to?
Koen: Unfortunately not. This is far from a full time occupation for us. We will try to keep the project rolling at a steady pace and keep our online followers updated with the developments.
PBN: If you were to give your game a new name, what would it be?
Koen: We haven’t really considered this. We try to respect the game's creators as much as possible and hope our game will be somewhat of a respectful homage and rightful interpretation of “Team Python’s” creation at the time.
PBN: When you've finished your BoP, will it be a one-of-a-kind or do you plan
to make your work available to other BoP owners who would like to follow
in your footsteps?
Koen: Good question. Our original plan (if there ever was one), was to just start programming a game to have some fun and see how far we could get. We definitely passed the feasibility test by now, and we also got a lot of positive feedback from the community. People are interested in “upgrading their BoP”, “buying the kit” etc. This talk is still really premature but we will definitely make the game available somehow once we finish it some day.
Gerry: Just like Koen, I've received a number of emails from people wishing there was a BoP/P-ROC kit they could purchase, which makes me think my original hope of people buying P-ROC's and running custom software developed by others might become a reality. Perhaps there will even be a way, via kits or some other avenue, for new custom software developers to get compensated for their efforts.
PBN: If you were starting again, are there any things you would do differently?
Barry: We would probably buy an LED DMD display.
PBN: Has the BoP experience made you eager to tackle other games as well? If
Koen: The experience so far has made us eager to keep working until we finish our first game, and to do that right. What to do after that (if we ever get there) depends on our state of mind then, but also on the state of the P-ROC community. Undoubtedly somebody will have started a “Funhouse with DMD” project by then... or else we just might...
Barry and Koen with their game
Thanks to Barry, Koen and Gerry for telling us all about the Dutch Pinball Bride of Pinbot project. You can see more game play as well as the earlier video at higher resolutions on the Dutch Pinball YouTube page and on the Dutch Pinball website.
We'll keep you updated on the team's progress and any developments which would make their work available to a wider audience, right here at Pinball News.
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