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Visual Pinball: Build Your Own Pinball Machine

Interview with Visual Pinball?s co-developer Randy Davis By Don Lee
Visual Pinball EditorWhen I did my recent article on the M.A.M.E. arcade emulator, I never knew that something just as cool was also available but to a different genre of gamers. Through my travels online, I came across this relatively small and probably not well known website which had these screenshots of a homemade pinball table. As I read more about it, the more I became intrigued because I had never heard of emulating a pinball machine in my six years of following the emulation scene.

What I had discovered was that there was an application called Visual Pinball which allows for aspiring pinball fans to create their own tables or recreate ones from yesteryear. I had a chance to interview Visual Pinball's co-developer Randy Davis about the technology, emulation in general and the future of Visual Pinball. If you're an aspiring game developer or just someone who always had visions of your ultimate pinball machine, then this program is one you should check out immediately. I guarantee that you will be amazed. Read on to find out more about Randy, Visual Pinball and its technology.

Digital Game Developer (DGD): What is your educational and professional background?

Randy Davis (RD): I graduated from the University of Alaska Fairbanks with a B.S. in computer science. I have worked as a software developer since then. My current employer has a thing about publicity so I prefer not to give any details.

DGD: Some have said that the program is similar to a classic application called Pinball Construction Set. What inspired you to create Visual Pinball?

RD: Pinball Construction Set was a big start; I played with that a lot in school and I was surprised that nobody had copied it afterwards. At some point in 1997-98, I was learning how to write ActiveX controls and a friend of mine kept a couple of pinball machines at work, and I saw a connection between the two as a bunch of separate components that talked to each other to make a whole. I started writing some ActiveX controls which were each pinball part, which could be imported into Visual Basic and placed on a form. Then when the form ran, the parts would all run and the game would result. The graphics and physics of that version were not good and VB was not a great hosting environment so I gave up for a long time. Im not sure what inspired me to start it up again; I guess I thought I had learned enough to do it a lot better.


DGD: The Visual Pinball application has a look similar to Visual Basic with its icon-based interface representing the pinball objects such as flippers, bumpers, etc. What language is the development environment created in and why?

Space Invaders pinballRD: VP is written in C++ with ATL (ATL helps create ActiveX controls.) Each component, true to the original idea, is an ActiveX control, just like the textboxes and buttons on the VB toolbar. That is why they lend themselves to be scripted with VB script, which was made for just this purpose. I scrapped Visual Basic as the design environment because there were just a ton of problems. The existing interface is a big part of the complete VP package, although sometimes I think its too bad that I could not create something that would integrate into any control host (VB, IE, Excel, Word) just imagine the possibilities.

DGD: I get a lot of questions from people who are interested in getting into some form of game development. What would a person need to know (technically) to design and create their own pinball games with Visual Pinball?

RD: Well, the one real absolute is that you have to become at least somewhat familiar with VB script. If youve ever programmed in any language, its very easy to pick up. There are tons of sample table available for download that people can look at for ideas, and the forum, www.vpforums.com, can help you answer a lot of questions. Beyond that, being a reasonable artist is always a plus of course. As for table layout, there are good designs and bad designs, but I dont have any real suggestions there. I cant claim to be a great pinball designer. I think having played a lot of pinball probably helps. In a more holistic sense, making the connection between the pinball parts and the objects in an object-oriented language is the first hurdle to get across.

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Related Keywords:Visual Pinball, Don Lee, Randy Davis, VPinMAME, emulation

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