Monday, September 15, 2008

Pinball design - Part 4 - Grace periods

Grace periods are a large part of the pinball rule-set development time. I know it doesn’t seem that way but it’s true. I would put them 3rd in the list of time consuming pinball development areas. The top 5 would be: choreography, choreography conflicts, grace periods, device drivers, and finally the rules themselves.

In short a grace period is this. Some pinball feature / rule is available, and if the player does what the rule is asking for he will be rewarded, but you only have a limited amount of time to do it. If you succeed great you get the award. If the time runs out the game will seem to take away your opportunity. The light will go out and maybe even the music will change. Both indicate that your feature is no longer available.

BUT WAIT! What if the ball was flipped while the feature was available and the ball is now en route when the feature ends? Well when the ball arrives the software should remember that you had the feature available and give it to you anyway. This is a grace period; a period of time when you still can be awarded the feature even though the feature has gone away for whatever reason.

The first problem is when deciding when to show the total page. Often when a player finishes a timed event we like to show them how well they did for that event. We call this a total page. At first you would think that the total page would immediately show up when the event ends. Also the total page is important to add clousure to the feature that was running. The choreography could go like this: EVENT IS RUNNING 3 2 1 0 TOTAL PAGE and at the same time the music, background display, and lamps all change to reflect the feature has ended.

Now what about the grace period? The event ends and instantly you see the total page and then you score one more award during the grace. Now the total you saw is wrong. So should the Total page not come up until the grace period is over? But then you have akward presentation like this: EVENT IS RUNNING 3 2 1 0 music changes, display changes, lamps change A FEW MORE SECONDS then the total page. Lately this is how we have been doing it but I don’t like it that much.

Now there is the case where a grace period can restart the event. Imagine if you will you are playing a multiball like Battle Royal in Spider-Man. In Battle Royal you Super jackpot is lit by shooting each of the villain areas of the game. Then when you shoot the super jackpot shot you get an additional ball in play! Let’s say you have the super jackpot lit and you drain down to one ball ending the multiball. The super jackpot light goes out, but you shoot the shot during your grace peroid! The game will award you an additional ball into play and start your multiball up again! Cool huh?

In my current game, 24, there is a time in the game where you are trying to get someone to the hospital before they die. You have to make some number of shots or else they die. Let’s say you have one shot left and the time runs out and FLAT LINE! She dies. BUT then you make the shot during the grace period and it’s a miracle!

Anyway you can see that sometimes a lot of thought goes in to something as simple as grace periods.


Anonymous said...

That is very cool, thanks for sharing that

BlueMalibu said...

So to make it MORE fun (and harder to program?) you should get something EXTRA for bringing her back to life (secret "Miracle Award" or something). Yeah, that would be C-O-O-L!

But you only get the "Miracle Award" if you hit the shot during the grace period.

Thanks for sharing this. As a player I think grace periods are cool and add a lot to the game.


Anonymous said...

Wolffy again. There is a way I design applications (and now server items) to reflect real time changes and it can be ported over to your game rules simply.

The concept is called the dirty flag. When data, such as a file on your PC, is modified by the application, the dirty flag gets marked. This indicates to the application that something needs to be done to said data.

So... let's pick on Twilight Zone's Powerball Mania. When the multiball ends a powerball mania total is displayed to the user. Everytime the score collected for this feature changes the dirty flag is marked.

This allows you the following logic: 3, 2, 1, Time Out... show total... grace period time out... is dirty? show total. (I can't do flow charts in an edit box.) See, simple, not hard and the cost is one if statement plus a jump and one bit of memory. Basically a cost of 0 in an embedded device such as a pinball game.

Now the big question is... why is this your problem to begin with? The SAM system should have this already coded into the game framework. Lyman is too careful with his code to leave something this basic out. So stop pondering and use what the OS has provided for you!

Anonymous said...

so this is proof a tree makes noise when it falls when no one is around to hear. LOL..

This stuff is a little over my head but it is none the less interesting to hear what makes you tick.


Krellan said...

That's cool. One of the best-designed grace periods on Stern pinball machines, I've noticed, is LOTR.

It makes it absolutely clear to the player when the mode is over, by showing the total screen, and playing that distinctive sound (two-tone going up, G# then A). A voice counts down the seconds, and between "1" and the total screen, is the grace period.

Jonathan said...


Let me give my thoughts on this topic. i recently discovered this blog and I find it very interesting. Personally I recognise 2 different grace periods. The first, is the one which is most notable to most players. It is the grace period on the ball saver. Many Stern games (and Sega before that) have no grace period on the ball saver and it is very frustrating. Once the ball hits the outlane switch the ballsaver light is still blinking, but by the time the ball enters the trough it is off. Thus: no ball save. The grace time on WMS games was much friendlier.

The second type of grace time I would call the grace time of modes. I can understand there is some discussion, but as this grace time is less present, one could wonder if it is such a big deal, or you as developers are in a little too deep. In your example of 24 allow me to suggest the following: There is a mode running with a timer counting down. With every correct shot made the game could award 1, 2 or 3 seconds extra. The player will notice this on the display and understand it quickly. This is used in the Scared stiff mode in Scared Stiff and it works very well. In case a mode times out I suggest a maximum grace period of 2 seconds. In the specific example of 24, how about this: Timer runs out 3, 2, 1, 0. Display fades to black quickly, music continues for max 1 second (the grace period). If the correct switch is not triggered in the grace period the display shows the total for about 3 seconds. If possible acompanied by a special short music sequence to indicate the mode is over. Then the main musictheme (or other theme) comes back, regular display comes up and the game continues.

If the correct switch is triggered in the 24 game during the grace period, the faded display could come back on. The music is stil playing so no interuption there. If possible add a special animation which fits the mode. (I don't know why the person needs to go to the hospital. If it is appropriate to try to bring the person back to life with the 2 irons that send an electric shock trhu the body, that could make a great animation which would only be seen in such occasion. If it is not appropriate another animation might help out).

Personally I feel grace time in modes should not be too long, although it is nice to see a ball drain that should end the running multiball, but just by shooting the right switch another multiball is started actually stacking the 2 mball modes (happened recently on Batman to me).

Hope this helps.


Koral said...

Great blog. It must be such a cool job designing Pinball tables. Was wondering if you like to feature my game on this blog. I'm very curious to what you think and have it reviewed.
Irina Pinball

Giochi Flash said...

How many versions of this wonderful game: is my most favorite arcade, especially in the bar version in wood, glass and metal.

Did you know these digital pinball reources?

Larry DeMar said...

Cool discussion!