Sometimes, it is funny what and how one learns in the ongoing learning experience that is life.
Take, for example, the fact that last month — May 2009, I discovered a pinball game on the slightly used laptop computer of which I am the new owner.
After providing information on the discovery, I’ll share thoughts on the plusses and minuses of the game — Space Cadet 3D Pinball – compared with a pinball machine.
My Discovery of Space Cadet 3D Pinball
While a pinball game on a laptop or a desktop computer may not matter to some people, it definitely was a reason for me to smile.
Prior to this discovery, I had always played pinball, a game I have enjoyed for many years, on a pinball machine. But it had been approximately three years since I last played. For a short time in 2006, two local pizzerias had a pinball machine.
For me as a fan of pinball, discovering Space Cadet 3D Pinball on the slightly used laptop of which I am the new owner was equivalent to someone who is lost in the desert finding an actual oasis. Today, it is rare to find a pinball machine in public places where they had once been fixtures, such as bars, bowling alleys and restaurants.
When the video game boom began in the mid-1980s, pinball machines began an irreversible decline.
One machine I played in 2006 in a local pizzeria — Attack from Mars — was manufactured by Midway and marketed under the Bally label. The other — FunHouse — was manufactured by Williams. The fact that both machines are among my all-time favorites was a bonus.
In the two months the machines were in the pizzerias, I played a lot of pinball and ate a lot of pizza.
I quickly put a stranglehold on the top scores on both machines. Then, my mission shifted to improving my top scores.
While playing Attack from Mars, I on a number of occasions did more than repel the attacks by the Martians on New York City, Berlin, London, Pisa (Italy) and Paris. I attacked and conquered Mars before falling short each time of the game’s ultimate achievement — Rule the Universe.
After about two months, the pizzerias removed Attack from Mars and FunHouse. Sadly, both pizzerias did not bring in another pinball machine. Since then, I haven’t found a pinball machine in a public place in my local area.
Prior to the two-month stretch in 2006, I hadn’t played pinball machines regularly since my second stint of living in the San Francisco Bay Area of California in the late 1990s. But based on my success on Attack from Mars and FunHouse, my level of play remained high.
In addition, returning to play pinball machines after a seven-year absence was like being re-united with a long, lost friend.
I first became acquainted with pinbal as a high school student in the mid-1970s. I took an immediate liking to what is a game of skill and concentration. And that liking has never waned.
Over the years, my skill as a player has steadily increased. I now consider myself highly proficient.
I probably still am in the red in terms of my investment in pinball. By that I mean the amount of money I inserted into pinball machines to become a highly proficient player exceeds the equivalent in money of the extra balls and free games I have won.
(When I first started playing pinball in the mid-1970s) , all machines accepted quarters. In the 1990s, I remember playing machines that accepted quarters and dollar bills. And pinball machines in arcades in which I played accepted tokens, which were, of course, purchased with money.)
Regardless, I have always viewed pinball as a challenge and great fun. And it is fact that once I became adept at controlling the ball with the flippers in the mid-1980s, the number of extra balls and free games I earned rose dramatically. The other key to success was understanding what were the priority targets on each machine.
There were times when my initial investment — then two dollars for five games — would result in me not relinquishing the pinball machine until I had played up to three times the initial number of games.
Fast forward to May 2009. It was time for me to put into service a laptop that I won in an auction on eBay. I had to retire my old laptop after eight-plus years of service because the water I accidentally spilled on the keyboard proved to be fatal to the motherboard.
The slightly used laptop of which I am the new owner is a huge improvement. For example, its processor is much faster than that of the old laptop. Also, it has much more Random Access Memory. And the hard drive is four times larger.
I learned of the existence of the pinball game on the slightly used laptop of which I am the new owner due to curiosity.
I noticed “Games” under “Programs” and decided to take a look. “Pinball” was in the suite of games. After double-clicking on “Pinball,” up came Space Cadet 3D Pinball, a version of the Space Cadet video pinball game that is bundled with various Microsoft products.
The Space Cadet video pinball game is one of three separate games in Full Tilt! Pinball, which was developed by Cinematronix and was published by Maxis.
Which was the first Microsoft product to include Space Cadet 3D Pinball? There is conflicting information on www.wikipedia.com. And I don’t know an “expert” to ask who can definitively answer the question.
According to the information on “Pinball” on www.wikipedia.com, Windows NT (4.0) was the first operating system with which Microsoft included Space Cadet 3D Pinball in the suite of games.
But according to the information on “Full Tilt! Pinball” on www.wikipedia.com, Space Cadet 3D Pinball was originally packaged with Microsoft Plus! for Windows 95, an enhancement product for the Windows 95 operating system.
After Windows 95, Cadet 3D Pinball then was included with four succeeding Microsoft operating systems — Windows NT, Windows Millennium Edition, Windows 2000 and Windows XP. (I believe Space Cadet 3D Pinball is not bundled with Windows Vista, Microsoft’s latest operating system.).
Regardless of what was the first Microsoft product with which Space Cadet 3D Pinball was bundled, the game is significant in the long history of pinball. That’s because it is pinball for the masses. A massive number of people could discover Space Cadet 3D Pinball because it is on countless Windows-based laptop and desktop computers.
There is one man I know of who may have failed to discover Space Cadet 3D Pinball in a timely fashion. Sadly, he is this writer.
The operating system on my old laptop was Windows Millennium Edition. The slightly used laptop of which I am the new owner runs Microsoft Windows XP (Home Edition, Version 2002, Service Pack 2).
Based on both pieces of information mentioned earlier from www.wikipedia.com, Space Cadet 3D Pinball should have been in the suite of games on my old laptop. Why didn’t I discover it?
There definitely was a suite of games on the old laptop when I purchased it new in April 2001 from the manufacturer. But I played only two of the games – Solitaire and Minesweeper. I honestly don’t know which other games were in the suite.
In mid-2002, I accidentally spilled a cup of coffee on the keyboard. In this instance as well, the motherboard expired. And other parts were damaged. But since the laptop was relatively new, I decided to have it repaired by the manufacturer.
After the repair was completed and the laptop was returned, a representative of the manufacturer, on a telephone call, led me through the re-installation of the operating system and other software.
After the laptop was back in service, I noticed that there now was no suite of games in “Programs.” But I was happy that the laptop again was functional and decided not to call the manufacturer about the absence of the suite of games.
As I mentioned earlier, I discovered Space Cadet 3D Pinball on the slightly used laptop of which I am the new owner in May 2009. The game may have b
een on the old laptop prior to the coffee spill. If it was, I unfortunately failed to discover it seven or eight years ago.
Playing Space Cadet 3D Pinball on the slightly used laptop of which I am the new owner obviously isn’t the same as playing pinball on a pinball machine. But since I don’t own a pinball machine and haven’t located one in a public place in my local area for three years and counting, it is great that I discovered the game.
At present — mid-June 2009, I have been playing Space Cadet 3D Pinball for less than one month. I am enjoying the game as I strive to rise through the ranks and raise my top five scores.
The layout is interesting and challenging. The movement of the ball is realistic. And the sounds are good.
A player advances from one rank to the next by accepting and completing a pre-set number of missions. In a few games, I have advanced to rank four – Captain – of nine.
And the game allows a player to enter his top five scores. So far, my top score is 23,952,750. My fifth-best score is 13,316,750.
Plusses of Space Cadet 3D Pinball Compared with a Pinball Machine
Inexpensive cost and constant availability are at the top of the list.
The only cost Iincur to play Space Cadet 3D Pinball is for electricity when I play the game on the slightly used laptop of which I am the new owner to play the game in my home.
And if my laptop and electricity or battery power is available, Space Cadet 3D Pinball is available. It doesn’t matter whether the time is 3 p.m. or 3 a.m. That’s constant availability.
I’ll also mention under constant availability that Space Cadet 3D Pinball has eliminated what was a sore point for me when playing on a pinball machine in a public place.
If someone wanted to be the next player, the standard procedure was to put a quarter or quarters (token or tokens) on the machine.
It made me mad when someone would put a quarter or quarters on the machine WHILE I was playing a ball. For some reason, the person just couldn’t wait until I lost the ball and somehow didn’t realize and/or care that he was interrupting my concentration.
I view putting a quarter or quarters on the machine while the ball is in play as a big lack of common courtesy. When I finished playing the ball, I would ALWAYS berate the offender. I then would always try to up my level of play in order to keep the offender — Allow me to change that last word to idiot. — waiting as long as possible.
Additional plusses of Space Cadet 3D Pinball compared with a pinball machine are integrity of play, cleanliness and documentation.
By integrity of play, I mean the challenge the game presents to the player.
The challenge presented by Space Cadet 3D Pinball is always the same. Because the game is software-based, no part of the playfield will ever break.
A pinball machine can be operational when one or more parts of the playfield, such as bumpers, slingshots and/or drop targets, are broken. These parts and others periodically break due to constant pounding from the ball.
A broken part will alter what should have been the natural path of the ball. Thus, a broken part can add to or subtract from the challenge of the game.
For example, I believe a broken bumper at the top of the playfield makes the challenge of a pinball machine greater. That’s because the ball will lose some or all of its momentum when it strikes a “dead” bumper. As a result, the ball will not have as good a chance to then strike other nearby parts of the playfield that would have earned points for the player.
In the worst-case scenario, the ball has little momentum prior to making contact with a “dead” bumper. The contact exhausts the ball’s momentum. Then, due to the incline of the playfield, the balls rolls down the middle and drains between the flippers.
Conversely, if a slingshot at the bottom of the playfield is out of commission, the challenge is reduced. That’s because the ball will harmlessly roll down to the flipper, giving the player a chance to easily control it and pick his shot.
If that slingshot is working properly, it will propel the ball toward the other side of the playfield. Because the player is not in control of the ball, he is at a disadvantage. And there’s no guarantee that he will regain control. The ball could end up draining along the side wall in the opposite corner.
Another plus under integrity of play is the fact that the ball cannot become stuck on the playfield of Space Cadet 3D Pinball.
If a ball becomes stuck in a pinball machine, the outcome for the player can be catastrophic or bad.
If the pinball machine is being rented by a business, such as a bar or restaurant, the result usually is catastrophic. The player’s game, and possibly his visit to the business, is over. The pinball machine will be out of order until a repairman can visit.
All the owner of the business can do is shake the machine a few times and, assuming the ball remains stuck, apologize.
If the machine is in an arcade, there’s a chance the outcome could be bad, which is better than catastrophic. If the owner or an attendant has the key to the machine, he will be able to open the machine and hopefully free the ball.
The outcome for the player is bad because he was not able to earn additional points on that ball through no fault of his own.
Cleanliness is next. I keep the keyboard and screen of my laptop clean.
But no amount of dust or other debris that could accumulate on my laptop can rival the junk I’ve seen on some pinball machines in public places, especially bars.
There were times that I’d have to ask the bartender for a cleaning solution and a clean rag to get rid of “foreign substances” from the glass over the playing surface.
Keep in mind that when I was playing pinball in bars, smoking was allowed. I will share that broken glass — from a beer bottle, a glass, a mug, etc. — was the worst “foreign substance” I ever found.
The documentation offered on Space Cadet 3D Pinball is far superior to that on a pinball machine. By documentation I mean the information that explains the game to the player.
All of the information that is needed to understand Space Cadet 3D Pinball is present under “Help.” And while the player is playing the game, ongoing information — such as how to accept a mission or what must be done to complete it — is provided in the bottom portion of the “board” on the right side of the screen. (The player’s score and the number of the ball being played are listed on other parts of the board.)
It is easy to read what is on the board for two reasons. First, the board is in the same field of vision as the playfield. The other reason is that the letters and numbers on the board, when it is is “enlarged” mode, seem to be as large as 24-point type.
Documentation on a typical pinball machine usually is limited to a card under the glass at the front of the machine where the player stands. The print is VERY small.
If the pinball machine is in a place where the light is dim, such as a bar, the combination of the small print and the lack of light make it difficult to read the documentation.
Also, I remember that some pinball machines in the 1980s and 1990s provided guidance on the backglass as to what to target. It was nice that the information was available. But it was difficult to glance up at the backglass and, thus, break concentration temporarily from playing the ball on the playfield.
Oops, I almost forgot. One other plus is the fact that Space Cadet 3D Pinball has a pause feature, which is activated and de-activated by hitting the F3 key.
Minuses of Space Cadet 3D Pinball Compared with a Pinball Machine
For me, there are fewer minuses than plusses in Space Cadet 3D Pinball.
The biggest minus has to do with size, specifically the small size of Space Cadet 3D Pinball on my laptop’s screen. So yes, size matters to me in pinball!
It is taking me some time to get used to playing Space Cadet 3D Pinball on my laptop’s screen. In “enlarged” mode, which is activated and de-activated by hitting the F4 key, the playfield takes up only 60 percent of the screen.
Also, I don’t feel “connected” with the game via the sense of touch as I am when playing a pinball machine. I am “connected” with the pinball machine because I am leaning against it and resting my hands on its sides, with one finger on each hand pressing a flipper button.
I certainly do not lean against my laptop when I play Space Cadet 3D Pinball. And I haven’t developed as good a feel for working the flippers as I’d like, although it may improve over time. Each flipper is operated by pushing down on a key on the keyboard.
I found on the Internet a computer peripheral that can solve this minus.
The Pinball Wizard PC Controller from NanoTech is a rectangular-shaped USB device that simulates the area of a pinball machine that the player controls. It includes a lockdown (metal) bar, flipper buttons and a plunger. As a result, it provides the all-important feel of a pinball machine.
Although the Pinball Wizard PC Controller looks excellent, I am not going to rush out and make a purchase. The price — $299.00 — is the stumbling block.
The other minus of Space Cadet 3D Pinball is something it shares with pinball machines. Parts of the playfield are programmed or positioned to be hazardous to players’ effort to keep the ball in play.
In Space Cadet 3D Pinball, there are two holes on the playfield that I find annoying.
First, there is the “Black Hole,” a knockout located on the left side of the middle portion of the playfield. The base amount of points it awards is 20,000. If the player increases the ‘Field Multiplier” by knocking down the required drop targets, the number of points the Black Hole will award is the product of the “Field Multiplier” and 20,000.
The Black Hole is programmed to eject the ball in a number of directions. When the ball comes to rest in the Black Hole, the player never knows in which direction it will be propelled. Unfortunately, one direction – into the outer lane in the lower right corner of the playfield — could result in a loss of the ball.
The ball may drain if the gate is closed. (If the gate is open, the ball will go to a spot from which it is re-launched to the top of the playfield.)
Ironically, the outer lane in the lower right corner of the playfield is one spot where a player can earn an extra ball. It seems the Black Hole “knows” when the extra ball is available and the gate is open. In the overwhhelming majority of instances, the “Black Hole” seems to launch the ball in another direction.
The silver lining is that if the Black Hole propels the ball in any of the other pre-programmed directions, it definitely will remain in play.
But if the gate is closed, meaning that the ball could drain, there’s a 75-25 chance that the Black Hole will propel the ball toward the outer lane in the lower rigt corner of the playfield.
In such an instance, I repeatedly click both flippers in an effort to create just enough vibration to slightly alter the path of the ball to prevent it from draining. Sometimes this tactic works. Sometimes, it fails.
The other annoying hole is directly in the middle of the board a few inches above the gap between the two flippers.
It only comes into play if the player advances to the fifth value awarded by the right ramp — “Gravity Well.”
The base amount of points earned from Gravity Well is 150,000. If the player has increased the “Field Multiplier” by knocking down the required drop targets, the number of points awarded by Gravity Well is the product of the Field Multiplier and 150,000.
When the player scores Gravity Well, a magnet under the playfield is activated that tries to pull the ball into the hole. When the ball lands in the hole, the magnet is turned off, restoring proper gravity.
Since the magnet is trying to pull the ball into the hole, it will alter the path of the ball on the lower half of the playfield. Sometimes, the magnet will cause the ball to drain down the middle. This occurs when the ball is rolling downhill from the top of the playfield with too much momentum to be pulled by the magnet into the hole.
I have a tactic to try to restore proper gravity and avoid having the magnet cause the ball to drain down the middle. If I am able to control the ball on a flipper, I press the key that controls the flipper as slightly as possible. The intent is to cause the ball to rise an inch or less off the flipper. The magnet hopefully will take over and pull the ball into the hole.
NOTE: I am proud to report that I set a new top score, in excess of — 36,335,750. This is the one and only time I will do so.
I exceeded my previous high score — 23,952,570 — by more than 12 milliom. The game took 77 minutes to play and spanned two days. It began at 11:34 p.m. Eastern (United States) time on Friday, June 26. It ended at 12:51 a.m. on Saturday the 27th.
I had achieved the rank of Lieutenant and was seeking to achieve Captain.