This is the story of two pinball video games, three computers, and a custom controller...
The story begins in 1994 with Obsession Pinball (also known as Obsession), a pinball video game for the Commodore Amiga and Atari STe, and the first title from the small Swedish firm Unique Development Studios (UDS). Published by 21st Century Entertainment, it came with four tables:
- "Aquatic Adventure"
- "Balls 'n Bats"
- "Desert Run"
- "X-ile Zone"
The game was clearly inspired by other pinball video games of the time, particularly Pinball Dreams (also published by 21st Century Entertainment). Although UDS was a fledging company, Obsession quickly garnered praise for the game's realistic physics and fast action, and the game became a best-seller among European Atari and Amiga owners.
Two years later, the popularity of Obsession prompted UDS to set their sights on the PC world, and Absolute Pinball was released in 1996 by 21st Century Entertainment for the IBM Personal Computer.
Absolute Pinball was a Polished Port of Obsession, with improved graphics, remixed theme music, tweaks to the physics engine, and the addition of several video modes to the tables. Furthermore, Absolute had improved screen resolution support; setting the game into High Res mode would allow viewing more of the table with letterboxing, while "VESA Flip" handled rotating monitors by displaying the entire table sideways. In a more substantive change, the "X-ile Zone" table was replaced with "The Dream Factory," centered on Hollywood stardom.
Although Absolute's gameplay was nearly identical to those of Obsession, the lateness of the port hurt it; Absolute looked dated compared to the three-dimensional graphics of other digital pinball games of the time, particularly Pro Pinball and 3-D Ultra Pinball.
Attempting to cash in on the nascent audience for PC pinball games, in 1997 Philips introduced the Virtual Pinball computer peripheral. This was a full-sized plastic replica of the front of a pinball table, with two flipper buttons and a spring-operated launcher.
By connecting the controller to the computer's PS2 port, it would send various keystrokes to the PC, and a set of DIP switches on the back changed the keystroke mappings. Dedicated players could even mount it to a fixed surface, then "nudge" the pinball game by shaking the controller left, right, or forward.
A copy of Absolute Pinball was included with the controller, though it's fairly easy to make it work with any other computer pinball gamenote . Older controllers can be found occasionally for sale online, but die-hard pinheads feel it's more trouble than it's worth.
Obsession Pinball and Absolute Pinball demonstrate the following tropes:
- Alternate Company Equivalent: Obsession Pinball is this for Pinball Dreams, down to including little seams and screws in the playfield pieces.
- Appeal to Novelty: The Virtual Pinball controller, full stop.
- Baseball Episode: "Balls 'n Bats," which even includes a jingoistic American flag on the playfield.
- The Big Race: "Desert Run" is based on the Paris-Dakar cross-country desert rally.
- Camera Screw: In "Desert Run," the indicator of what Place you're at in the race is only visible when the camera is at the top of the playfield.
- Cyberpunk: The theme for "X-ile Zone".
- Dramatic Gun Cock: "X-ile Zone" shows the unnamed heroine dramatically holding a large-barrel grenade launcher upright.
- Friendly, Playful Dolphin: A smiling cartoon dolphin appears on the playfield of "Aquatic Adventure".
- Frothy Mugs of Water: Reversed in "Balls 'n Bats"; originally, the upper mini-playfield had rollovers that spelled S-A-F-E. Absolute Pinball changed them to spell B-E-E-R instead.
- Hollywood Hollywood: This is the theme of "The Dream Factory," which has the player hire actors, attend parties, and shoot an Oscar-winning film.
- Never Say "Die": Averted; "X-ile Zone" includes a Spelling Bonus for DEATH.
- Spelling Bonus: Several, such as S-E-A and D-I-V-E-R for "Aquatic Adventure;" W-A-R, L-I-F-E and D-E-A-T-H in "X-ile Zone;" and O-I-L in "Desert Run."
- Top-Down View
- Unexpectedly Realistic Gameplay
- In "Balls 'n Bats," hitting a specific target will make the pitcher throw the ball towards your flippers; "batting" it rewards points, while missing the ball results in a "strike." The ball is lost after three strikes.
- Along with playing pinball, "Desert Run" requires you to repeatedly shoot the "Place" ramp to maintain and advance your position in the race, and the "Pitstop" ramp to get more gas to continue.