Pinball 2000 – back from the grave?

Pinball 2000 was meant to make it easy for operators to change the game in a pinball cabinet from one title to another.  There was just one problem: in 1999, after the successful Revenge From Mars and the half-arsed Star Wars Episode 1, Williams pulled the plug on pinball and no more games were made.

The good news for RFM and SWE1 owners hoping for a new title is the wait might finally be over. That’s because there’s a new Pinball 2000 game under development, offering the very real prospect of being able to open up that aging Pin2K cabinet, sliding in a new playfield,  and partying like its 1999.

Linolium works on haunted Cruise in the middle of every night

Linolium works on Haunted Cruise in the middle of every night

The game is called Haunted Cruise, and it’s set on an old ship called the Grand Douleur that’s filled with ghosts both good and evil. There will also be mermaids,  as well as beautiful (and no doubt huge-breasted) spirits.

“There hasn’t been a real haunted pinball machine for quite a while – all the modern ones are more tongue in cheek,” says John K Manuelian, the man behind the project. “I am aiming for something that’s spooky and eerie rather than funny, although there will be some humour in it.”

Developing for the Pinball 2000 format could be seen as a strange decision since less that 7,000 RFMs and about 3,600 SWE1s were ever made. Realistically that means that there well under 10,000 Pinball 2000 cabinets in existence, so the potential market for a new title is limited.

Revenge from Mars photo

Revenge From Mars uses the Pepper’s Ghost illusion

But Linolium (the handle that Manuelian prefers to go by) has his reasons for choosing Pinball 2000. “When I first started working on Haunted Cruise I wanted to have a couple of spirits on the playfield using Pepper’s Ghost,” he explains. (Pepper’s Ghost is the name of the technique that allows images to be projected – often used in haunted theme park rides.)

He invented a system that projected images from a playfield apron, but found that it only worked in very low light conditions. “But Pinball 2000’s screen is a pure Pepper’s Ghost effect, so I decided to use that instead,” Linolium says.

That of course brings up various licensing issues, because Planetary Pinball Supplies (PPS) has the rights to Pinball 2000’s Pepper’s Ghost effect as well as various other hardware designs, Linolium says. He has been in touch with Rick from PPS, and they’ve agreed that he can keep designing and then worry about licenses if and when the game finally goes into production.

pinballistik

Linolium worked on the PS3 game Pinballistik

There’s lots of people starting pinball projects, but Linolium certainly has some impressive credentials. His day job is developing console and mobile games, and he has already worked on virtual pinball projects like the PS3 game Pinballistik.

He says he has learned quite a bit from working on that and designing one of the tables in the game, but he’s resisted the temptation to design Haunted Cruise as a simulation in software before turning it in to a physical game. He prefers to build the game old school style: using multiple sheets of paper and a light box.

“I have used visual pinball to make rough mock-ups but the physics is never quite right,” he explains. “If you design a game in software you find that there is a big difference where the balls actually go (on a physical machine.)”

Linolium says he enjoys the physical aspect of designing and building the playfield, but writing the software is where his real skills lie. He uses C++ to write the software to drive the Pinball 2000 hardware, and C# through the Unity 3D game engine to write the software for the Pinball 2000 screen. “There is much more to do with a screen than there is with a traditional DMD, but working with screens and 3D is what I do every day in my job,” he says.

The current design has an upper playfield

Haunted Cruise: the playfield so far

The computer used in Pinball 2000 games is now pretty much a museum piece, so Linolium plans to provide new computing hardware as well as a playfield, cabinet art and translite with his Haunted Cruise kit. The cabinet itself won’t be included. He plans to enlist a professional video game artist to design the screen graphics, as well as a local artist to draw the art for the playfield, cabinet and translite.

The new computing kit should be grunty enough to power future Pinball 2000 projects that Linolium wants to do over the next three of four years, he says. “The original P2Ks used pre-rendered graphics. But with new computing hardware I will be using full 3D graphics with shaders, particles and so on. The audio will also be much clearer, with many more sound effects, and I also want to make use of Internet protocol,” he adds.

For what purpose? Linolium won’t elaborate on this at the moment, but concedes that Internet connectivity could be used for software updates and multi-player gaming.

ghost photo

Not funny: Haunted Cruise is going for an eerie vibe

It’s not clear when the machine will be finished, as Linolium only gets to work on it between 10pm and 2am during the week – when he’s not too exhausted from his day job. But the intention is to show something at Pinball Expo in Chicago in October.

There’s still much to be done, and questions remain over what the demand will be for the game and who would build it. And mixed in with that is the matter of how much it will cost. “I aim to charge less than the price of a new Stern game. That’s the goal,” Linolium says.

 

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RFM photo by madmiked

Feature photo by warriorwoman531

Ghost Photo by goldberg

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