ATEI 2003

21st January 2003

It was dull and miserable outside the Earls Court exhibition hall but things were much brighter inside.

ATEI is the amusement show for most of Europe and includes video games, slot machines, pushers, fairground rides and many parts suppliers. In the adjacent hall is the International Casino Exhibition (ICE) for the serious players and buyers.

The main hall was busy all day Tuesday, the first day, but there seemed to be more suited visitors and fewer scruffy types just out to play free video games all day.

As usual, the main interest for pinball fans is found on stand 1300 where Electrocoin are showing off the range of products for which they are the distributor.

This includes Stern Pinball and as you can see there were three Simpsons Pinball Party games plus a single Rollercoaster Tycoon - down from the seven games at the show last year and fewer than were on display at the IMA show in Germany last week.

These were all fitted with the ToPS tournament system although there was no prize offered for the best score or any other kind of promotion.

For those interested in such things, there were two posters advertising ToPS on the stand and the banner above.

Curiously, I'm sure we were told there was no remote control with the system, and yet there is one in the picture above.

For the official Pinball News review of The Simpsons Pinball Party you should head off to our Simpsons game page.

Elsewhere at the show the only other item of interest to pinball fans was a chance to look at TAB's Virtual Pinball - a plasma screen-based pinball simulator.

As we reported previously, the game uses a PC to run the simulation and given the high quality of the Visual Pinball and VpinMAME games our hopes were equally high.

But then we played it!

The layout is very heavily influenced by The Addams Family - all the ramps and flippers are in the same places, the jet bumpers are similar and the swamp, scoop, bookcase and train wreck are all there too. There are even some Cousin It targets and two inlanes on the left to finish off the design.

The theme is pop/rock music and there are various "locations" scattered around the playfield such as a radio station, record shop and recording studio which feature in the rules.

So far, so good, but then you hit the start button and the problems become very apparent.

First, the response of the flippers is not just sluggish, it's a elderly slug, with a dodgy heart, on tranquillisers, and a Zimmer frame. Forget reactive flips, there is no chance to make them. By the time the flipper button presses appear on the screen, the ball is long gone and you're flipping at thin air.

Secondly, the playfield looks so flat. There are actual scoops and buildings out there, but it's hard to distinguish them as they have been given no depth. Some elements work OK but others look like playfield artwork until the ball hits them and stops.

The ball movement is unrealistic and so are the jet bumpers, flippers and just about everything else. The PC running the simulation seems woefully inadequate as the game stops briefly when a mode finished and sometimes the ball moves too fast to be rendered correctly. Plus, there's only the one game - so no selection available.

This is not the final product - that launches in March - and no doubt improvements will be made between now and then but can they turn the game around and make bring it up to standard? There's still quite some way to go.

Which is a shame, as this platform has huge potential but the very poor game and €7000 price tag will mean this slug's trail doesn't extend very far.


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