essays and pithy thoughts

A few thoughts about Timeshock

in notepad

…and then I’ll leave it be. Just playing it again yesterday made me rediscover why I burned so many hours playing this back in the day.

I’m curious why the hardcore sim genre seems to have pottered out and died. Were they just not profitable? Not just the pinball sims, or the various war sims, but sims in general seem to have fallen off the landscape. I’ll admit, some sims just aren’t any fun to play; they may be interestingly accurate treatments of some real-world mechanic, but the returns diminish sharply the more time you spend with them. I think there’s some things that can be more fun to play the more accurately they’re simulated, and pinball’s one of them.

Timeshock isn’t simply a computer pinball game. It crosses over into the realm of simulation, and it’s that much more awesome for it. It’s been written to recreate every aspect of a physical pinball machine as close as it possibly can – right down to the administration menus, complete with light tests, ‘burn in’ mode, high-score resets, the works. Instead of being content with slapping a paint-able area at the top to display scores and other nonsense, they’ve modeled a dot matrix HUD instead.

But really, the most mind-blowing thing about this sim is the level of detail put into the board, and the fluidity of the ball physics, and yet this isn’t a 3D-rendered game. This thing was built in 1997; to ask machines in those days to render the board on-the-fly at anything approaching a playable framerate would have been laughable. Instead, the board was rendered down from 3D models from four different angles, to give the player a choice of perspectives, and all the animations are done from 2D sprites, which allows the game to run at a good rate on what would be mid-range boxes…fourteen years ago.

This game would have been utter crap then if they’d tried to shoot for the moon and render 3D on the fly; hell, even today you wouldn’t be able to crank the AA and AF high enough to produce as polished a rendering of the board while maintaining a decent performance level on most machines. To me, it’s a lesson in how having to work within restraints, and embracing those restraints instead of stubbornly plugging away against them, can result in a far better product.