Pinball Construction Set - Your Thoughts on the BudgeCo Title

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I've been doing some work now on the Pinball Construction Set chapter for the book and would love to hear some of your thoughts on this "software toy" construction set. Bill Budge's title, first published through his own BudgeCo company in 1982, was of course later picked up and published by Electronic Arts (one of their earliest titles that helped put the company on the map), starting in 1983, for Apple II, Apple Macintosh, Atari 8-bit, Coleco Adam (this release is overlooked by nearly every online source, by the way), Commodore 64 and PC. While I'd love to hear about your experiences with Budge's title and titles like it, I'd also like to hear about even some of the more hardcore construction sets or mainstream development tools, like, for instance, Penguin's The Graphics Magician. Every thought and tangent is appreciated. Thanks!

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yakumo9275
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The only thing I remember

The only thing I remember about this game on the PC was the limited table size on screen and table layouts were not all that great...

From memory it was the first 'construction' set EA put out and quickly followed by a bunch of others was it not?

I remember a very popular shoot em up construction kit on the C64 the only problem was all the games looked / played the same.

-- Stu --

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Bill Loguidice
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yakumo9275 wrote:

The only thing I remember about this game on the PC was the limited table size on screen and table layouts were not all that great...

From memory it was the first 'construction' set EA put out and quickly followed by a bunch of others was it not?

I remember a very popular shoot em up construction kit on the C64 the only problem was all the games looked / played the same.

-- Stu --

Certainly by the time it came out for the PC, which was 1985, it was already out for three years on the Apple II. It was actually a tiny, 30+K program on the PC, and only required 48K on the Apple II. You have to consider that to have a drag and drop construction set, really the very first of its kind for several years to come, back in 1982 was pretty darn revolutionary. While the table designs were somewhat limited, this was mitigated by the ability to pretty much modify anything, especially when you consider that you could pretty much draw anything. Again, nothing particularly impressive today, but there was nothing quite like it and it truly did allow ANYONE to build a pinball table. Personally I had the most fun with it when I added multiple balls, something that was the usual drag and drop simplicity. The nice thing about table building was that everything was done on the one screen. You could literally drag and drop whatever and then immediately play test. Great, groundbreaking stuff there.

Of course as you say, like with that shoot em up construction kit, there was a certain sameness to the creations, in part due to the simplicity and approachability of the toolset. Of course, over time, there were more and more advanced software tools, with one, Adventure Construction Set, appearing by 1985, that allowed for very sophisticated development, but of course lost some of Pinball Construction Set's approachability.

There were certainly other construction sets and virtual toys, like Designer's Pencil, Gary Kitchen's Gamemaker, Adventure Creator, etc., all with the goal to allow pretty much anyone to create either text adventures, text and graphics adventures, action games, animations, etc. Rudimentary stuff today, but definitely historically important.



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Rowdy Rob
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PCS was awesome!

Yet another high school computer club experience: we would sit around and create pinball tables on this amazing program, Pinball Construction Set, and then play each others creations!

PCS was, back then, a ground-breaking program. It had an easy, intuitive, and Mac-like interface, and even without a mouse, it was a snap to place various targets, bumpers, and flippers on the table. The flexibility of the program allowed you to create very odd-looking pinball games, and was a great experimental tool. This "game" was definitely a high point in the history of Apple II games. You could "snap together" a cool pinball game in under an hour, and your friends could play your games for longer than it took you to create the game! How rare is that?

I remember creating a pinball game where, instead of launching the ball up the right side (which is standard pinball procedure), I created a table where the ball launched up the MIDDLE of the table, and most of the action took place on either side of the ball-launcher. My computer club compatriots liked the idea so much that they copied the idea in several of their own pinball creations, which irritated me back then ("they ripped off my idea!"), but looking back, I should have been flattered. The point is that the program was THAT flexible; crazy pinball tables could be created and playtested without fear of crashing the program.

Budge's previous claim to fame was "Raster Blaster," a very realistic (for its time) pinball game for the Apple II, and PCS pretty much gave you the tools to recreate "Raster Blaster," and even surpass the previous standalone game! Pretty much anyone with basic computer (or gaming) experience could create a cool pinball table and play it; it was that easy. As a matter of fact, amongst my "pirated' game collection for the Atari 8-bit machines were several pinball games that were clearly created with PCS.

Although clearly surpassed today, the physics of the ball seemed very realistic back then, which amazed the heck out of me. You could set the game up for multi-ball too, which was really cool! It was the realistic physics that really stood out; you really felt like you were playing REAL pinball!

Even today, I can't think of an easier "game-making" tool than PCS. There is a very cool "freeware" Pinball-creation program for the Windows platform called Visual Pinball that is clearly inspired by PCS, but takes the complexity to a much higher level (which is great, don't get me wrong), making creating a table a much less approachable affair.

Here's the link: http://www.randydavis.com/vp/intro.htm

Pinball Construction Set is very dated today, and I'm not sure I would recommend it to anyone but the hardcore, but for its time, it was amazing and fun! I definitely would award it "ground-breaking" status, in my opinion. Perhaps a modern update is in order!

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Bill Loguidice
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Quotes in the book
Rowdy Rob wrote:

Yet another high school computer club experience: we would sit around and create pinball tables on this amazing program, Pinball Construction Set, and then play each others creations!

I think I'm going to pull out some of your comments and quote them in the chapter. I was hesitant to include forum comments since we've been sticking to "industry people", but these are really good. I'll do "Armchair Arcade member, Rowdy Rob, commenting on the game, " or something along those lines. May as well throw a few references to AA in the book (again, something I've been trying to avoid).



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Mark Vergeer
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PCS C64 version

Pinball Construction Set Cover
Played a lot with it by the way. I agree with Rowdy that it doesn't feel as good today as it did back then. Still love the cover art, so very much of those days.

C64 Pinball Construction Set - screenshot
I wasn't too hot about the colour scheme of the c64 version. Couldn't stand that s****y brown colour. Where those colours changable into different ones? Can't remember actually.
Bill how do the various versions compare? I remember the AppleII beeing quite similar if not identical.

Pinball Blaster C64
The 1988 Pinball Blaster on the c64 looked much nicer although I am not sure it played better than PCS.

Pinball Power - 1989 Mastertronic - C64
Pinball Power from 1989 by Mastertronic on the C64 even had some sort of 3D layout. But it did feature the same sh**y brown lightened up with a dab of orange on top.

Of course PCS was great because it allowed you to design your own limited pinball tables instead of only playing predefined ones.
Say Bill is the chapter only going to be about PCS or are you going to feature more Pinball games?

I remember the Revenge of the Gator Pinball game on the original gameboy being very good in my opinion. It had a good but after a while slightly annoying soundtrack and great game-physics, multiple table layers etc.
Gameboy Revenge of the Gator Game



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Bill Loguidice
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Focus of the chapter

It's actually not about pinball games, but construction sets, i.e., virtual toys, so I won't be mentioning any other pinball games. A favorite of mine back in the day was Night Mission Pinball by subLOGIC, the Flight Simulator people.

Speaking of cover art, I'm lucky enough to have the original BudgeCo release of Pinball Construction Set, which came in a small, colorful folder. While the EA version was very, very cool and slick, the BudgeCo release was very literal, basically showing a box of compartmentalized pinball parts. Not as slick or impactful, but very tasteful and obviously appropriate. I'll be featuring that in the chapter along with the later EA release that everyone is familiar with.

As for the versions of PCS, they're all pretty much identical, actually, though the PC version is probably the weakest, naturally. The Mac version is the most interesting and the most different, with its richly detailed black and white line drawing like graphics that were typical of the platform then. It was also the only version with a natural mouse driven interface. Most other versions only did joystick as their primary method, with keyboard and sometimes KoalaPad as alternatives.



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Rowdy Rob
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PCS color problems on Atari and C64.
Mark Vergeer wrote:

I wasn't too hot about the colour scheme of the c64 version. Couldn't stand that s****y brown colour. Where those colours changable into different ones? Can't remember actually.
Bill how do the various versions compare? I remember the AppleII beeing quite similar if not identical.

I believe the C-64 version suffered the same graphics problems as the Atari 8-bit version (which I had), and it was largely due to the way the C64/Atari handled colors in high resolution mode (320x200). I believe this is a case of "conversionitis," where the ported version actually suffered compared to the Apple II version.

The Atari had higher resolution (as did the C64) than the Apple II, but the Apple II graphics system allowed for an odd mix of "hi-res" and "medium res" on the same screen. On the Apple II, if you wanted to draw a white line, it plotted the line in hi-res on the screen, but if you wanted to plot a green line on the same screen, it plotted the line in "medium res," reducing the resolution of the line to produce the color. This allowed for more colors on the screen without much work from the artist, and without really sacrificing resolution if you were a careful artist.

The Atari could only produce one color in hi-res unless you "cheated" by using a technique called "artifacting," which utilized a quirk in the way TV sets plotted pixels. Since "hi-res" mode was actually higher resolution than the analog TV signal, an individual "pixel" would display either green or brownish-red, not white, unless two dots were placed together. By cleverly utilizing "artifacting," you could cheat the system and display more colors than the computer intended.

I believe the C64 system worked similarly in Hi-res mode, and many games utilized "artifacting." That's probably the reason of the "muddy brown" color of the tables. Of course, there was the "color cell" system with the C64 that could get around some of these limitations, but it was a very technical way to produce color and would not have worked with PCS, due to that "game's" flexibility and ease of use.

Thus, both the Atari and C-64 version probably suffered from a lack of colors compared to the Apple II version, even though both systems had ways to get around color limitations through technical means. Being a straight port of the Apple II version, the Atari version even had all the sounds coming from the computer's internal speaker, rather than through the TV's speaker! While this was normal for the Apple II system, on the Atari, it came across as low-tech and clunky.

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Let's get technical
Rowdy Rob wrote:

I believe the C-64 version suffered the same graphics problems as the Atari 8-bit version (which I had), and it was largely due to the way the C64/Atari handled colors in high resolution mode (320x200). I believe this is a case of "conversionitis," where the ported version actually suffered compared to the Apple II version.

You are certainly right about the "conversionitis" as the Atari and C64 ports are criminally cheap - they didn't even attempt to use the potential of these machines. One should note, though, that Bill Budge was an ace programmer on the Apple II and in part unlocked the potential of this machine for other game programmers! I don't know who did the ports but they apparently weren't in the same league.

Quote:

The Atari had higher resolution (as did the C64) than the Apple II, but the Apple II graphics system allowed for an odd mix of "hi-res" and "medium res" on the same screen. On the Apple II, if you wanted to draw a white line, it plotted the line in hi-res on the screen, but if you wanted to plot a green line on the same screen, it plotted the line in "medium res," reducing the resolution of the line to produce the color. This allowed for more colors on the screen

I'd like to point out some things I described about the Apple II graphics earlier (see my lenghty posts in this entry: http://www.armchairarcade.com/neo/node/1764) and add a few "bits" about the newer systems.

First of all the color generation of the Atari and the C64 are fundamentally different than the method used by the Apple II series (minus the IIgs) - they actually *can* produce colors, whereas the NTSC Apple II's only produces timed white pixels to generate NTSC colors via its composite video output - by "artifacting" (a PAL Apple II also outputs real colors but we ignore that here as the technical details of the frame buffer remain identical). A pixel that is sent to the screen is always white! The position of the pixel and if it is surrounded by other pixels decide if a color other than white is generated (by the display - not the Apple itself).

When two (white) pixels are next to each other they show up as the color white on screen. When a pixel is surrounded (left and right) by a "black" pixel (a "0 bit") then the position (=timing) decides which of the real colors (green, violet, blue & orange) is used in the hires mode. This also results in strangely colored text in hi-res mode like the Ultima I title screen, when the letters have one pixel thick parts. See: http://armchairarcade.com/neo/node/1956

The resolution of the Apple is 280 pixels and not 320 like with the Atari and C64 because it reserves one bit of the 40 byte (= 40 bits = 40 pixels) for the so-called "color bit" which shifts the timing of the displayed pixels by a half-pixel and that results in shifted frequencies and therefore different colors.
From a technical standpoint this complicated scheme is very clever: Instead of four colors you can generate an additional four colors with it (two are identical to the first four, though: black and white) so you get a grand total of six different colors. The hardware design for this functionality is pretty simple but it usually comes with an increase in the program's complexity.

Quote:

without much work from the artist,

Objection, your honor! ;-) It requires much more work as the above described color-bit produces a phenomenon called "color clash". This means that you can't use colors of the "first palette" (color-bit = 0) together with the "second palette" (color-bit = 1). In other words: A frame buffer byte in this Apple II hi-res mode is only able to display four out of the six different colors.
This results in wrong colors when you try to mix them - for example by drawing an orange line through a rectangle filled with green color. The orange line will look like a staircase with thick steps in this case - quite ugly. Therefore one has to carefully design the colors you want to appear on screen and tile-based games like the Ultima series were a logical consquence.

Quote:

and without really sacrificing resolution if you were a careful artist.

That's right but the "high resolution" of 280 pixels per line can only be white pixels and they have to be next to each other. A good example is the hand cursor in PCS or the population in the Ultima games which are mostly white in color.

Quote:

The Atari could only produce one color in hi-res unless you "cheated" by using a technique called "artifacting," which utilized a quirk in the way TV sets plotted pixels. Since "hi-res" mode was actually higher resolution than the analog TV signal, an individual "pixel" would display either green or brownish-red, not white, unless two dots were placed together. By cleverly utilizing "artifacting," you could cheat the system and display more colors than the computer intended. I believe the C64 system worked similarly in Hi-res mode, and many games utilized "artifacting." That's probably the reason of the "muddy brown" color of the tables. Of course, there was the "color cell" system with the C64 that could get around some of these limitations, but it was a very technical way to produce color and would not have worked with PCS, due to that "game's" flexibility and ease of use.

Both Atari and C64 are much more advanced compared to the Apple II because of their custom chips (and their later market launches) and support several modes of which two are interesting in this case (I simplify a bit here):

Atari: 320x192 with one color in two shades
C64: 320x200 with two colors in each 40x25 cell of 8x8 pixels (because of 1KB "Color RAM")
Both modes can use artifacting but the Atari has a) more need for it in this mode (it has no "Color RAM") and b) this only works reliably with NTSC and not PAL displays. This results in poor displays in PAL countries with the Atari versions of PCS and Ultima IV, for example.

If you want a higher color granulation (that is more colors per pixel field) then you have to use this mode:
Atari: 160x192 with four colors controlled by color registers
C64: 160x200 with four colors controlled by color registers and more if you use the Color RAM (8x8 pixel grid)
The advantage of this mode are that there is no color clash between the four main colors on both machines - resulting in a "clean" display and that you can change a single color on the screen with a simple manipulation of the color register.
The disadvantage is that you don't have the high white resolution of the Apple, though the C64 apparently allows for mixing graphics modes on a cell basis (if I understand that correctly), though it isn't used in the PCS port.

Now which modes are used by the PCS ports:
Atari: 320x192 with two shades of grey (white and black) resulting in color artifacting
C64: 160x200 with four colors and no use of the Color RAM, which you described above

Therefore the "muddy brown" was an intentional choice of the C64 port programmer and may actually resemble the artifacted screen of the Atari port. One can try the different combinations of NTSC/PAL video modes and artifacting settings due to different video chips (CTIA and GTIA) of the Atari in the emulator Atari800Win.

IMHO both conversions could've been better:
The Atari should've used it's 160x192 mode and the hand-cursor should be made with Player-Missile-Graphics. It would loose a bit of the resolution (not that important on the TV sets of that age) but it could've had a fifth color making it easier to discern than the EOR-ed shape of the hand it now has.
The C64 is in desperate need of better colors as pinball tables usually aren't black, muddy brown, dark blue and white (very easy to do) and also a sprite could've been used for the cursor.

Quote:

Thus, both the Atari and C-64 version probably suffered from a lack of colors compared to the Apple II version,

Very much so, as the Atari doesn't have the half-pixel shifting of the Apple and therefore less colors with artifacting. The C64 on the other hand also only uses four colors because it doesn't use its Color RAM. One *could've* used it, though, and though the added code complexity would've used a bit more RAM the argument isn't valid as it *has* 16K more RAM than the 48K Apple II (not even taking into account that the Apple loses a few K for its DOS while the C64 doesn't).

Quote:

even though both systems had ways to get around color limitations through technical means.

Both systems allow for more colors with sprites (Atari: "Player/Missile Graphics") and horizontal interrupts (Atari: "Display List Interrupts") which modify the color registers. All of them have their limitations though and a game which uses the whole area of the frame buffer more or less equally is not exactly an ideal situation.

Quote:

Being a straight port of the Apple II version, the Atari version even had all the sounds coming from the computer's internal speaker, rather than through the TV's speaker! While this was normal for the Apple II system, on the Atari, it came across as low-tech and clunky.

Such piss-poor conversions are really a shame. While I can (barely) understand why the artifacting was chosen for the Atari the ignorance of its sound capabilities is proof for incompetence (or will to cheat the customers out of their money). As the Atari port is copyrighted 1983 there really is no excuse for this as the internals of this machine were publicly known for roughly two years and lots of competent Apple machine language programmers fluctuated to the Atari - praising its better architecture (and many fluctuating later to the C64 because of its bigger market share ;-)

take care,
Calibrator

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Mark Vergeer
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Good points Rob

 C64 32x32 pixels The c64's graphic capabilities are even more complex than what Rob correctly has pointed out (very well done btw!). I've played around with those in the 80's and early 90's as I have done some of those side scrolling colourful demos with a little piece of music underneath myself.

Hires Mode
Is a screen with a 320x200 pixels@16 colors resolution consisting of 40x25 attribute cells.
Each attribute cell is 8x8 pixels big. In this mode you can use maximum 2 colours in one attribute cell.
It means that you can separately set the colour of background, and the colour of foreground (pixel colour).
It's very much like CGA in the early PCs. This screen mode resembles the spectrum screen but has a higher resolution. There are games that 'emulate this graphics mode' by the use of the text based mode with adapted character sets that is actually displayed at 320x200 resolution. There's a lot of c64 ports to spectrum games using this like the spectrum does, only the spectrum did it faster.
I've used this graphics mode with nmi-sprites on top (raster interrupt sprites to be able to display more than 8 sprites at once) to be able to simulate 320x200 pixels with 4 colours per 8x8 pixel attribute cells. Those sprites needed to be single colour/hires sprites in order for it to work. Multicoloured sprites had a horizontal resolution that was half the 320x200 resolution.

Multicolour Mode
Is a screen with half the resolution 160x200 pixels@16 colours. One pixel consisting of an area 2x1 pixels big. The pixels actually have doubled in horizontal size! The screen consists of 40x25 attribute cells with each attribute cell being 4*8 pixels big. In this mode a maximum of 4 colours per the attribute cell can be used. Each pixel is defined by 2 bytes and can have one of 4 different colours, with one of the colours being the background colour. Most c64 games use this mode with hires or multicoloured sprites.
Most c64 games use this mode with hires or multicoloured sprites.

I got this from the programmer's reference guide. But this website explains it much better than I do and shows some nice examples of enhanced graphics modes on the c64 that programmers have discovered and that where not thought possible by the original designers of the machine. The graphics modes consists of various interlaced modes being able to use more colours per attribute cell, simulate more than 16 colours by blending or interlacing. I just love the c64 because of the direct access to the hardware we were able to tap into possibilities the original designers didn't foresee to be possible!



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Matt Barton
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Good god! I'm glad we have

Good god! I'm glad we have Rob on onboard. That man is a technical master.

I didn't play PCS, sad to say, and didn't really get into the construction set stuff until Visionary for the Amiga. That got me hooked, and I even made a complete adventure/RPG text game with it. The game sucked, but it was so much fun making it! I loved every minute of it.

I must admit, I've never been big into the construction set games. That's chiefly because I had no one around to test my games on. No one ever played the above mentioned adventure/rpg game, for instance. Some people DID play my most recent effort (the c++ adventure game), but again I wasn't satisfied. I think Lord British is right; it's just not possible for one man to make a decent game nowdays. You need a team and a big budget to do anything worth playing.

That said, I know people did wonderful things with the NWN construction kit, and heard about earlier efforts with the Bard's Tale construction set. The DOOM engine was really put to its paces, with all kinds of neat outcomes.

When the book is done...Bill and Mark--I think the three of us should get together to create our own text adventure. I've been wanting to propose that for some time but lacked the courage, but I'm feeling more confident now. Mark and I have been discussing a potential concept, and I think the three of us could really do something special.

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