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Pinball / Total Nuclear Annihilation

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"Welcome to the future."

Total Nuclear Annihilation is a pinball machine designed by Scott Danesi and released by Spooky Pinball in September of 2017. It was originally an independent project by the former before the latter picked up the design to put into wider production.

Danesi's intent was to create a machine that was simple to learn, but difficult to master – much like pinball in the early-’80s, to be specific. To that end, the game is relatively feature-sparse, featuring no toys or fancy decoration like one would expect from a modern pinball game. The closest it has are a mini-playfield and an innovative way of locking balls for multiball – by shooting a ball into an enclosed area, a gate will pop up and hold it there. With two tiers of gates loaded, shooting a third ball into it will release both of them and properly start multiball. However, the presentation is comparatively elaborate, with retraux '80s artwork and music creating an implicit war-torn setting.

The game's focus is instead on the actual pinball action, which centers around starting, overheating, and destroying nuclear reactors (in that order). Shooting the scoop activates them, hitting the grid drop targets heats them up, and shooting the game's sole pop bumper will finally explosively overload it. Repeating this process will ultimately result in the titular total nuclear annihilation. This stripped-down approach results in a rather difficult but deceptively simple game that is well-suited for competitive play.

At the beginning of September 2022, Spooky announced that they would manufacture 250 units of Total Nuclear Annihilation 2.0, an Updated Re-release featuring a number of upgrades and extras (including "nuclear green" plastic protectors throughout the playfield and a topper signed by Scott Danesi).

Danesi's website hosts updates and other information about the game.


  • After the End: Implied by the artwork, which depicts a ruined landscape afflicted by war.
  • All There in the Manual: Scarlett (the woman depicted on the backglass) is only named in material outside the game, such as this page on Danesi's website and an interview with the Special When Lit podcast.
  • Ambiguous Situation: The game's premise is founded upon one, with Scarlett (and, by proxy, the player)'s motive for causing widespread nuclear devastation left completely unaddressed. This is only compounded by the fact that doing so destroys everything – including the player themselves. Whether Scarlett's role is that of an omnicidal Villain Protagonist, an otherwise decent person Driven to Suicide, or any other number of interpretations is completely up in the air.
  • Anti-Frustration Features:
    • The ball saver, traditional for modern pinball games, is fleshed out considerably here. For starters, the playfield has a timer clearly indicating how long it will last. Furthermore, completing 3 of the S-A-V-E rollover lanes allows the player to reactivate the ball saver when the ball goes into the unlit one; this can be delayed in order to repeat this process and stack ball saver levels. Finally, the scoop invariably ejects the ball unusually quickly after the latter enters it - since this can easily catch players off-guard, the ball save will briefly activate after the ball gets ejected. For a game that can be very difficult at times, the ball save rules are extremely fair.
    • If the player has used up all their tilt warnings, the Mystery Award will always give another one.
    • An option added in version 1.3.0 allows tilting to be disabled entirely if the ball is in the shooter lane. This is especially useful in tournaments, since inadvertently giving your opponents tilt warnings is usually grounds for disqualification.
  • Arrange Mode: Version 1.2.0 adds two modes:
    • Co-op Mode, activated by holding down the Start button when adding Player 1. All players in the game work together to complete the game, with score and reactor progress shared across all players(though the single points for destroying reactors will be given only to the player that destroys it). Replays and extra balls are disabled in this mode.
    • Team Vs. Mode, similar to Co-Op mode but sharing score and progress between Player 1 and 3 versus Player 2 and 4, is activated by holding the Start button down after activating Co-op Mode. Like Co-op mode, replays and extra balls are disabled.
  • Challenge Run: There is an operator setting that affects the number of reactors the player needs to destroy (9, the default, being its maximum). Scott Danesi has proposed setting it to 1 in order to create a noticeably different competitive experience – namely, one that prioritizes getting the reactor value as high as possible and as soon as possible (since the game immediately ends afterwards, with the end-game bonus getting multiplied by the number of balls remaining).
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Increasing ball saver levels are indicated by the appropriate lane flashing red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and finally purple.
  • Downer Ending: An implicit one. Destroying every reactor means that Scarlett has destroyed everything (including herself) along with it.
  • Excuse Plot: You're Scarlett, a woman in an '80s-inspired, likely post-apocalyptic future who is trying to overload nine different nuclear reactors. Any motivation as to why she'd want to do this is left unexplained. It doesn't help that the game implies that she dies upon getting a game over and ends the game entirely to emphasize the nuclear devastation that occurs if she does accomplish her goal, making her lack of motivation all the more glaring. Creator Scott Danesi noted as much in an interview:
    "The storyline is a little bit sad in TNA because Scarlet doesn’t make it out alive ever, no matter what... it is really sad."
  • Genre Throwback: Creator Scott Danesi specifically notes that the game was patterned after early-'80s Bally machines, with their relatively simplistic (but difficult to master) rules.
  • Going Critical: The main goal of the game is to overheat and destroy 9 nuclear reactors, which causes them to explode.
  • High-Tech Hexagons: The core mini-playfield features these for a retro-futuristic look.
  • Morton's Fork: The game's story ultimately turns into this. Getting a game over implicitly results in Scarlett's death, while managing to destroy every reactor also kills her (along with everything else). Scott Danesi has outright stated that "Scarlett doesn’t make it out alive ever, no matter what".
  • Nintendo Hard: The game demands good understanding of ball control to properly master – among other things, the grid that the game centers on is a risky shot to makenote , and the playfield's only scoop has a tendency to shoot the ball out very quickly and unpredictably (that being said, there is a short but fair ball saver in case the scoop actually shoots it down the middle).
  • Non-Standard Game Over: Destroying every reactor immediately kills the flippers and ends the game, with the player receiving a bonus partially based on the number of balls they had left.
  • No Plot? No Problem!: You're trying to destroy several nuclear reactors, causing them to explode (and destroying everything else by proxy). There's no other explanation for this (or rationale for why you're causing such nuclear devastation).
  • Painting the Medium:
    • According to Scott Danesinote , the LCD display replicates the screen on Scarlett's wrist computer as she goes about targeting each reactor.
    • The game ends completely when you destroy every reactor, shutting down the flippers and voiding any remaining balls. This is because you have achieved total nuclear annihilation, destroying everything - including yourself.
  • Retraux: Two-fold. The game's design hews close to the simpler pinball games of the 1980s and before (Bally was specifically cited as an influence), while its presentation is drenched in retro ‘80s aesthetic, from its neon visuals to its synthwave soundtrack.
  • Shout-Out:
    • When the player receives a Mystery Award, one of the random options that flashes by is "Lionman!!!", a meme derived from the late-'80s Williams game Swords Of Fury that had become an in-joke at Spooky Pinball. Likewise, a poster for what appears to be a movie titled Lionman!!! can be seen on the backglass, and "Lionman" is one of the default high scores.
    • The backglass features several barrels of toxic waste, one of which is labeled "Parts from Terry"; this alludes to Scott Danesi's job at Pinball Life, a parts shop owned by his longtime friend Terry.
    • After destroying every reactor and finishing the game, the display asks “Bowen Kerins is that you?” Bowen Kerins is a professional-level pinball player and tutorial producer.
    • The backbox topper included with 2.0 mimics the equivalent topper for High Speed, including a similar red pattern and a variant on the phrase "Hot Action Pinball."
  • Super Wrist-Gadget: Scarlett has a wrist computer; according to Word of God, the LCD display represents its screen.
  • Skill Shot: A more difficult take on the regular rollover lane shot – one lane is lit, and plunging the ball into it awards a ball saver level and finishes the grid. The catch is that, while the player can change the lane in question with the flippers, they must do it before plunging the ball. Otherwise, the shot downgrades and only awards a ball save level if completed.
  • Spelling Bonus:
    • C-O-R-E increases the end-of-ball multiplier.
    • R-A-D lights the Mystery Award.
    • S-A-V-E re-lights the ball saver.
  • Title Drop: Destroying every reactor nets you a "Total Nuclear Annihilation" bonus. It also immediately ends the game (the bonus goes up for each ball you had remaining), because you destroyed everything on the planet, including yourself - in other words, you've just caused total nuclear annihilation.
  • Whammy: Parodied; one of the random awards that can flash by on the Mystery Award is "Tournament DQ".