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.