After blockbuster success in The '90s, Pinball manufacturer Williams Electronics hit a major sales slump in the second half of the decade as distributors stopped buying new games. Threatened with shutdown, the pinball design team (led by Larry DeMar, George Gomez, Pat Lawlor, and John Popadiuk) are challenged to come up with some kind of paradigm-shifting idea that will "save" pinball. Their response was a new platform called "Pinball 2000," which projected video images over the playfield and give a new level of immersion and activity. However, though the first two Pinball 2000 games (Revenge from Mars and Star Wars Episode I) were successful, Williams management decided to shut down the entire pinball division and focus solely on more profitable slot machines, leaving the pinball industry at near-death.
Interestingly, Maletic had originally intended only to create a documentary about how a product gets designed, and chose "Pinball 2000" because it was the most interesting subject he found. For casual viewers, Tilt is a short, intriguing glimpse into a critical period in Arcade Game history. Pinball fans are advised to get the two-disc DVD set, as the second disc contains nearly six hours of supplementary material of interest to die-hards.
This documentary features the following tropes:
- Executive Meddling: Invoked repeatedly in the film.
- Williams president Neil Nicastro required "Pinball 2000" to be a convertible platform; this increased the system's complexity and raised the initial cost, but in theory would lower the cost of subsequent games.
- For Star Wars Episode I, Lucasfilm required the game to be developed in total secrecy, preventing most of Williams' other developers from reviewing it and giving feedback before release.Cameron Silver: "It's really hard to design a game by yourself."
- Similarly, SWE1's heavy use of Jar-Jar Binks was done at the insistence of George Lucas, who was banking on his fate as a Kid-Appeal Character.
- Failure Is the Only Option: The eventual fate of Pinball 2000; although Revenge from Mars was a successful seller and Star Wars Episode I broke even, president Neil Nicastro decided to shut down the pinball division just six months later.
- Gone Horribly Right: This was the cause of Williams' sales problems in the mid-nineties — although their pinball games were still popular money-makers,note they were also extremely durable. Because of this, distributors, operators, and location owners had no incentive to buy new pinball games when their existing ones were still doing fine."Williams was competing with itself. All of the machines they sold in 1993 were still out on the street and didn't need replacing."
- Hologram: The "Pinball 2000" platform, which produced a psuedo-holographic effect by using a mirrored glass to display animations, scores, and other information from a computer monitor onto the playfield.
- Pride: This is speculated as why president Neil Nicastro ultimately decided to shut down the pinball division instead of trying to sell it off (as Williams did with Midway previously).Roger Sharpe: "[In business,] you don't want to run the risk of being proven wrong. And if someone else can make a go of something that you have decided or determined is not viable... I don't know how well that sits."
- "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue