Hello! This is RetroAhoy, and this – is Game
A retrospective on some of the less-well known
but still significant titles of the decades
past in gaming.
In this episode we’re taking a look at the
genesis of what might be the finest series
of pinball simulators of the 1990s … with
Released in 1992 on the Commodore Amiga by
publishers 21st Century Entertainment, and
developed by the then-unknown studio Digital
Illusions – Pinball Dreams was a foray into
the realistic digital Pinball Simulator scene.
21st Century Entertainment were founded in
1991, and had a few titles to their name prior
to the release of Pinball Dreams – such as
Rubicon, Zarathrusta, and Nebulus 2.
Digital Illusions can trace their routes to
Swedish DemoScene group ‘The Silents’, as
the four founders – Ulf Mandorff, Olof Gustafsson,
Fredrik Liliegren and Andreas Axelsson – were
all former members.
Pinball Dreams was their first commercial
effort, and the slick graphics, titling and
music synchronisation reflects the demoscene
Aside from the great presentation, the game
was also notable for its commitment to the
real pinball experience – rather than some
of the more fanciful features seen in other
pinball games, the intent with Pinball Dreams
was to emulate a real table as closely as
To this extent, the game was a success – the
tables were authentic enough, and the physics
behind the game – while occasionally floaty
or mildly quirky – was solid.
The game featured 4 tables total – each with
a significantly different theme and layout,
and offered a substantial alteration to gameplay
in each instance.
The first, Ignition, is a spaceship-themed
affair in which the ultimate goal is to travel
the solar system by collecting ‘FUEL’, then
hitting the launch chute.
It’s a wide open table with few major features
– fast paced but predictable.
Steel Wheel is the second, a wild-west American
Railroad themed table, in a suitably dusty
Here you collect new carriages and raise your
ticket prices to attain the higher scores
– running the repeatable ramps yields great
score bonuses as a reward for accuracy here.
The third, Beat Box, simulates your rise to
fame in the 90s music industry, as by hitting
targets and running ramps you can rise up
the charts and embark on global tours.
Most of the action is towards the bottom of
the table, requiring you to repeatedly run
routes in quick succession to unlock the higher
Nightmare, the final table – labelled as ‘graveyard’
on the backdrop, oddly enough – is a crypt-themed
table in which you advance the clock slowly
to midnight, and strive for the jackpot and
‘super jackpot’, with a multi-million point
yield sure to secure a spot on the high score
These four tables boast diverse gameplay elements,
with each offering a unique graphical style
and reactive music soundtrack.
Although there had been many pinball games
before, few had captured the essence of a
real table in the way that Digital Illusions
were able to.
Through fusion of slick controls, smooth scrolling
and good – realistic – table design, the pinball
experience was more authentic than most other
digital simulators at the time.
More importantly than that, though – the game
was actually fun!
Beyond the slick mechanics and presentation,
the table design was such that achieving the
higher levels and top scores was no mean feat
– but very satisfying when you were on a hot
The addictive gameplay was bolstered by the
persistent high-scores, with your previous
best efforts saved to disk as a future yardstick
to strive for.
It’s this combination of factors that made
Pinball Dreams a fitting tribute to what was
a fading cultural phenomenom – with the advent
of more advanced graphics and the increased
focus on home systems over the arcade, the
mechanical pinball machines of yesteryear
were starting to fade from popular culture.
Pinball Dreams was generally praised by critics,
with most scores in the high 80s, pushing
the 90 percent mark.
The engine behind the game went on to some
good use – and the same year a sequel was
released, in Pinball Fantasies.
This sequel offered a few technical improvements
– taller tables, a third flipper on some,
and a more advanced matrix display for backboard
1995 saw another sequel in Pinball Illusions
– which introduced support for the more advanced
graphics architecture on the Amiga 1200 and
on MS-DOS, and the inclusion of a ‘multiball’
‘True Pinball’ would be the last pinball simulator
by the developers – developed for the PlayStation
and Sega Saturn, it was essentially a 3D version
of Pinball Illusions, as it included the same
Some of the Digital Illusions developers would
join Liquid Dezign, who went on to produce
the last great Amiga pinball game – Slam Tilt,
also published by 21st Century.
Following the publication of Slam Tilt, 21st
Century would see few subsequent successes
– little more than a few rehashed pinball
games before the company finally closed its
doors in the year 2000.
Their name, along with their griffon logotype,
will be remembered for Digital Illusion’s
pinball series – but with the slow death of
the Amiga, Digital Illusions were set to move
onto greater pursuits.
In 2002 Digital Illusions Creative Entertainment
– now branded as DICE – embarked upon a new
franchise, some distance away from their pinball
games – with a military themed first person
Battlefield 1942 was the first in what was
to be a long-running series, published by
Electronic Arts, or EA.
Boasting a great multiplayer experience, the
game was a hit – and EA invested heavily in
DICE, buying 19% of their stock for majority
The series was followed by Battlefield 2 in
2005, Battlefield 2142 in 2006, And a series
of Bad Company Games developed from 2008 specifically
for the consoles.
By this point, the studio was purchased wholesale
by EA and became a permanent addition to their
stable, and have since been working on new
IPs such as Mirrors Edge, and the continuation
of the familiar Battlefield series with the
forthcoming Battlefield 3.
Pinball’s heyday has long since passed, with
the noisy, bulky, mechanical boxes edged out
in arcades by newer, more reliable, forms
of digital entertainment.
With the shift away from the arcade in the
90s, home computers would prove a more fertile
ground for game developers, sounding the death
knell for the coin-ops.
For those who missed the height of the pinball
era, the chance to relive some of the simplistic
excitement of a steel ball, tilted plane and
mechanical flippers was a welcome one – which
goes some way to explain the popularity of
pinball games in the early 90s.
Pinball Dreams, then, is a homage to the old
guard – a cultural echo of a fading treasure,
a memory of bustling arcades and pinball wizards
of time gone by.
Join me next time, as we cover another entry
in the history of gaming – as we explore the
roots of the shoot-em-up, with arcade title
Until then, farewell.