Latest in Gaming

Image credit:

Stiq Flicks: Zen Pinball 2 and the Pinball-based films 'Tilt' and 'Special When Lit'

Kevin Kelly

Stiq Flicks – from film and video game industry freelance writer Kevin Kelly – examines video games and attempts to pair them with matching films. It's like wine and cheese, but with more aliens.

Earlier this week, Zen Pinball 2 finally made its way onto the PlayStation 3 and the PlayStation Vita, updating the genius of the Zen Studios experience and making it mobile on Sony's new handheld. It also brings with it the shambling spectacle of the Plants vs. Zombies table, based on PopCap's botanic home-defense title, pushing to an impressive number of tables available for the digital pinball experience.

Alternatively, this piece could have been titled The Pinball Arcade and Two Pinball Movies, in reference to FarSight Studios' equally impressive flipper-flicker that recreates classics such as the Theater of Magic and The Machine: Bride of PinBot tables. With Zen Studios creating original tables and FarSight Studios bringing the oldies back to life, it's a good time to be a pinball fan.

But that hasn't always been the case. Pinball, the mechanical godfather to the video game industry, once reigned as the king of quarter-dropping entertainment. Pinball pulled in more money than the US film industry did from the 1950s - 1960s. In 1983, one of EA's early hits was the classic Pinball Construction Set from Bill Budge. Creating these boxes of glass, wires, lights, and plastic where you send a silver ball careening around ramps, toward targets, and through tunnels is and was an art form that nearly died. Though the modern spin on the classic game probably won't bring it near its former glory, it has returned in some capacity thanks to select developers.

There are two movies that can help bridge the gap and fill you in about pinball: Special When Lit and Tilt: The Battle To Save Pinball. Both films are well-produced, extremely informative and surprisingly emotional. If you're looking to be a true pinball wizard, both of these films are required viewing.

Gallery: Zen Pinball THD | 17 Photos

With funky music and bang-on graphics, Special When Lit takes you through the history of pinball and talks to many of the game designers as well as the fans, highlighting the ups and downs of an industry that skirted the edge of gambling. For the most part, the players tell the story of this "hobby," chronicling the rise and fall of a game that was banned for many years in New York City and other locations, until it was proven before Congress it was a game of skill and not chance.

On the flipside, Tilt: The Battle To Save Pinball plays out more like a drama, documenting the monumental effort by designers at Williams Electronics to create something new in order to save pinball. Thus the Pinball 2000 project was created, and was extremely promising. But there's a reason you don't walk into arcades today in order to play Pinball 2000: it ultimately failed and there's a huge story behind what went into it, and why it didn't work.

There are moments when you're watching this film that you think, "That's pure genius! Of course it will save pinball!" and you see the enthusiasm and excitement for the product. But when it falters, the stories these developers tell tug at your heartstrings, and it's impossible not to empathize with them. Pinball tables are a legitimate art form, and seeing these artists being forced to say goodbye to what they love to do is heartbreaking.

Stiq Flicks Zen Pinball 2 and Two Pinball Movies
While it's easy to appreciate Zen Pinball 2 and The Pinball Arcade, watching both of these movies will give you a deeper respect for the classic pinball experience, and for how much work goes into the creation of a table, whether real or virtual. While we are very glad that pinball continues to live on, seeing where it came only increases that feeling.

Where You Can Watch Special When Lit and Tilt: The Battle To Save Pinball
Special When Lit is available practically everywhere right now. You can find it on iTunes, Hulu, Netflix, the PlayStation Store and the Xbox 360 video marketplace. You can also pick it up on DVD or Blu-ray directly through retailers such as Amazon, but it's cheaper to purchase them directly from the filmmakers.

Tilt: The Battle to Save Pinball is a bit harder to come by. It isn't available to stream anywhere right now, but you can purchase the DVD from Amazon or directly from the filmmakers. It's also available on iTunes. I would definitely recommend the DVD option, as you'll get a two-disc set that includes over three hours of extra interview footage, a video tour of the Williams pinball factory, commentary tracks and the Pinball 2000 launch video.

Now matter how you choose to watch these, give them a spin and see what went into creating some great feats of mechanical gaming. And if you're ever in Las Vegas, stop by and check out the Pinball Hall of Fame. There's a drool-worthy collection of pinball games laying inside, just waiting for your quarters.

Kevin Kelly is a writer and pop culture junkie with a fixation on video games, movies, and board games. His writing has been seen at Moviefone, io9, Film School Rejects, TechRadar, Wizard World, G4, and The Austin Chronicle. He lives in Los Angeles and does not know how to surf. Follow him on Twitter @kevinkelly.

From around the web

ear iconeye icontext filevr