Points vs Levels

As a player, how would you feel about a game that was designed with a level progression rather than a standard point-based pinball progression? For instance, would you be opposed to a game that asked you to complete three left ramps, killed the flippers, performed a light show, served you another ball, announced level 2, and then asked you to complete a different objective?

Feel free to ignore the specific objectives. I’m more interested in whether players would be interested in or revolt against a game that was level / objective based versus points.

Throughout gaming history, there have been many successful games that were measured in both areas. Pinball, to my knowledge, has never attempted to cross this boundary. Why?

I’d want the levels to be differentiated, so Level 1 would be something simple, but with a lot of options.

I’d also want the option to start at something other than Level 1, like you can do on Tempest or Crystal Castles, in exchange for some reward.

It’d be interesting and impressive. The closest game like this I can think of is Operation Thunder from Gottlieb, and it was not well-received, because some of the levels were timed (or end your ball if you don’t succeed), and after 15 levels the game ended. The other game that used a similar structure is Street Fighter II; a better version of that game could’ve been pretty sweet.

Interesting thought. My first reaction is I like it, it’s different and would be fun to try. The downsides are that goals = points based on a fairness of risk reward, are set by the layout, and scoring scale which are “balanced” by designers. But shots and objectives are easier to understand and take out rules knowledge advantages. In the end though, how do you monitor? Having a referee(s) watch each and every game, differences In how judges can accurately see goals being made - too much human error. To take out humans scoring with software aware of three ramps made, complete the mansion, destroy the ring, gets us back to scoring. Love the concept, bummed it seems unworkable

Change is extremely hard in pinball for some reason.

As already mentioned, a LOT of players back in the day didn’t like OT. A large part of it was in all likelihood due to the timed missions and the perceived “game is ripping me off” or “lack of value” because the game kills you. A similar reception can be seen with Safecracker, which was definitely a failure when it came out. (Modern era of people only playing games in basements obviously didn’t apply then… And who knows what that game would’ve done if it came out today instead. Would homeowners be as ready and willing to accept that game if it didn’t have the slow burn of 10+ years of homeownership to pump it up?)

There was a modern attempt at a more abstract scoring idea… Dwight wanted the “1-point scoring thing” in the final mode of POTC, so I wrote it for him. It was kind of interesting. He thought people would be comparing those final mode point scores and little else. Sadly, the rest of the game is generally WAY too hard for anyone to get to the end very often. Starting 4 Winds aside, completing that thing is a chore unto itself. So it was an experiment that really didn’t get to run its course.

Honestly I like the idea more for redemption. If Pinball Circus was a redemption game, or at the very least drained your ball whenever you lost off an upper playfield, it would’ve been a far far better game than what it was. Right now it’s basically trivial to keep going back up the playfields again. All reward, no risk. The reception to WOZ redemption has been interesting so far… Most people like it, but I’ve read a few pinball forum articles on how people think it’s the stupidest thing in the world. I just have to chalk that up to malice or ignorance, though, because the main game hasn’t been affected at all (other than getting some more adjustments and bugfixes - and how is that a bad thing?).

So to summarize, it’s an interesting idea that historically hasn’t gained traction, and therefore will make it extremely unlikely for people to design a game around just that concept. Unless some boutique maker tries it out.

I feel like a lot of people play … not level oriented but definitely goal oriented. They are very focused on Touring The Mansion or getting Lost In The Zone or getting the ball in Rudy’s mouth or whatever, but they barely pay attention to score at all. I sold my TZ to a friend like that, he recently told me he got LITZ twice in one game for the first time, and when I asked him his score he couldn’t remember. The games aren’t designed that way, but there are definitely players with that mindset so I think there would be people who would work with it.

I think it could work and be interesting. Do you view failing at a level as ending your ball, and you still get three balls? Sometimes people rebel against changing those basic concepts a lot more than scoring changes (see timed games.) I’m not sure how much home game traction it would have, eventually you would have to run out of levels and have game over. Maybe that would be appealing to some people though? “I win! I beat the game!” It would make it more obvious when you are improving at play. You see the progression of skill that is a little more plain than just getting better scores.

From a competitive aspect, I’m not sure how well it works. It locks you into one path through the game, which seems like it could get really boring, especially to watch. I would assume “score” from a competitive standpoint would be tied to levels completed, plus there would need to be something to resolve ties. (side note: we’ve had two ties on NBA Fastbreak in the last year in tournaments here in town.)

I don’t know, like many things it would probably depend on execution. I’d be interested to try it.

I think the WoZ redemption for mode completion with be a big money boost for operators. The problem I see with current redemption ideas, is that the ticket is 150 based on the pinball replay level is exploitable for a good player and for a ticket redemption kid player ages 5-12, can’t get the replay level. If the replay score bump is low, the good player can win 3 replays in a row and 450 tickets. I played a POTC that had a replay at $3mil and the bump for game 2 was only $6 mil.
The other extreme is Tron at a local game center - but its tickets were set at 2 for $2mil and then 1+for each $200k, with a max of 15 tickets. Most kids could get 15 tickets in just a few seconds. No real tie to play skill vs. reward, and 15 was too little to matter compared to other games. Neither ticket redemption pinball method was tied to mode completion.

I think modes = tickets is an incentive to actually pay attention to what you’re doing. The Tron example was just wild flipping, instant 15 tickets, and nobody cared what they were hitting. I think the JJP idea will get a lot of good feedback from players and ops - naysayers don’t understand location economics.

In none ticket locations - Jack had patented the idea of a multiple trading card redemption system for mode completion. I think the idea was if you complete Melt the Witch, you get a Witch tradning card from the dispenser. Rescue = dorothy, fireball frenzy = scarecrow - etc. The idea was to keep plyaing to complete the card set. Very innovative, and may not see real production, but the patent for the idea does show its unique and worth protecting.

Other ticket redemption games are pretty much hit anything and get 10 tickets for the under 5 yrs set. And if you like the game, like skeeball or hoops, its more for the game play than tickets.

If the WoZ ticket payout is relatively high compared to other games on the floor, and worth it for time spend = more tckets, players will start to pay attention to goals, and re-playability and the gambling risk/reward will make earnings jump. The almost there, let me try again, could come back to pinball - and is one of the elements today’s players don’t know about.

I think another kind of take on “leveling”, borrowed from video games, could be interesting.
Something like this:

Different shots not only award you regular points, but also experience points. Collect enough EXP and then you get to level up.

When leveling up you get to pick a shot to level up, say level 2 spinners, or level 2 right ramp for instance.
Higher level shots give you more points.

At certain levels you also unlock new objectives/combos/modes/stuff.
For example, perhaps you need at least level 4 pop bumpers and level 5 right loop to unlock a certain mode.

That could possibly lead to interesting choices and different ways to tackle the game, but I suspect it would be a nightmare to keep the scoring balanced though.


Spider-Man did a good job of this, and with risk-reward too. Start a mode, get a 2x, finish a mode, get a 3x. Select the upgraded shot by shooting it.

It would be difficult to balance this, and also difficult to convey the necessary information to the player.

It’s an interesting thing to compare these two. One is the “leveling” of 1980s video games: short levels, survive as many as you can, you have a score but you can also track your play by the level you reached. The closest examples of this are Operation Thunder and Hyperball.

Then there’s the “leveling” of games like World of Warcraft and some more recent vids that track you by user/passcode. The big difference here to me is session play: in World of Warcraft, it’s built around the player’s progress being saved from one session to the next. It would be a very different game to have progress reset each time … and those games can be popular too: Nethack … Binding of Isaac is a more recent example, but even that has “unlocks” that enable across multiple sessions. The closest pinball game to this is probably Zen’s Epic Quest table.

I don’t know what the answer is. I know that balance in multi-session play (like World of Warcraft) is very difficult, requires frequent tuning to keep people invested, and new high-level tasks and goals are added to keep players interested. It would be an interesting attempt, and if it succeeds could lead to people throwing a whole lot of money at one game to reach deep levels of play.

Kelly Packard’s Golden Cue (http://www.ipdb.org/machine.cgi?id=4383) seemed generally well-received when tested so I would imagine it would be pretty successful. I forgot the reason it never made it to production.

I don’t think it was that well received. There was definitely a reason we converted it. Probably mostly because Kelly Packard was a dumb license.

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I really loved the pressure of having to make the Eight Ball hurry-up as close to max points (102M ?) as possible once all the objectives were completed. To each their own.

This was an interesting experiment. What would have been interesting to me: after the Completion Bonus, don’t end the game – start everything over again at a higher value, but with more difficult goals and tighter time constraints.

Then a player could be judged in two ways: what was their total score, and how many levels did they get through?

Playing Golden Cue in a tournament was very frustrating. In qualifying at Pinball Fantasy, the #1 score came from a player who did not understand the game rules: after collecting the Completion Bonus, they told a tournament official that the game was broken since it just stopped. In final rounds, it was frustrating as Player 1, since Player 2 would know whether or not they needed Completion Bonus and, if so, exactly how big it needed to be to win.

Overall, and this could be a problem with any level- or time-based game, the game forced players to play using a specific style and specific strategy. You never really felt like anyone was doing something creative or different, and certain play styles (Neil Shatz’ style, for example) were detrimental to success.