It had been a long time since I had played a pinball machine until recently, which coincides perfectly with the film I am about to review. It is easy to forget what pinball feels like if you ignore it for a while. Unfortunately too many people fell into that category and it has been a long time since pinball’s heyday in the early 90’s. Many players will remember Williams pinball – the kings of the market for decades until they threw in the towel in late 1999. What is the history of pinball? What innovations came to pinball throughout these many years? How did pinball get to the point where it’s largest manufacturer left the market? What is it they did to try and change the market? These questions are answered with much more in the intriguing documentary TILT: The Battle to Save Pinball, a film which takes a look at Williams’ last ditch effort to save pinball with the innovative Pinball 2000 system.
This review will cover the special two-disc set of TILT that includes a second disc loaded with extras. Those will be covered at the end of the post. Tilt is presented in NTSC 4:3 ratio and I am doing the review using a Toshiba HD-A2 HD-DVD player with upconversion resolution set to 1080i and with standard Dolby 2.0 sound (the disc does support Dolby 5.0 surround but I don’t happen to have a nice sound system yet). It also supports subtitles in English, German, Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch and Norwegian.
Tilt is a real treat for both pinball and video game fans from start to finish. It includes plethora of in-depth interviews featuring industry greats such as George Gomez, Larry DeMar, Pat Lawlor, Roger Sharpe, Duncan Brown, Steve Kordek, Louis Koziarz, Jim Patla, Lyman Sheats, Cameron Silver and Tom Uban. Besides these personal interviews, the film is also spiced up with a number of pictures, animations and rarely seen videos that both inform and entertain the viewer during the hour long presentation. While I may be a larger video arcade fan than a pinball , it kept me intrigued the entire time and I learned a lot more about pinball then I had previously understood. While at first it may seem like that this is a story of only one pinball machine, it’s really about all of them as it recounts the rise of pins through popular titles such as High Speed and The Addams Family along with the downfall of pins that led to the development of Pinball 2000. (Hit the post break to continue reading)
TILT begins with a brief summary of what the documentary would cover, primarily the story of the Pinball 2000 and it’s development. For those unfamiliar with Pinball 2000, it was a revolutionary concept in pinball that successfully combined video images with a pinball game, almost giving it a holographic feel that used video images as actual playfield objects. This gave more depth to what could be done in a pinball game and 2 games were released using this technology: Revenge from Mars and Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace, both of which are covered in great detail, from the concept work to the design used to convince Williams management (as well as the rest of the team working on the project) that it would be a valid idea to bringing the games to market.
After the introduction we are presented with a comprehensive history of Williams pinball as well as the history of the product itself. This is certainly appreciated as it allows the viewer to understand the evolution of the market, it’s ups and downs along with some of the people that made it what it is today. Admittedly I never knew much about the history of pinball, especially in comparison to what I know about arcade history and the presentation in Tilt is done so well that it is downright fascinating.
The interviews themselves are a wealth of information for pinball fans but occasionally they mention arcades as well. No arcade is truly complete without some pins to grace an aisle or two. It was cool to see how a classic title like Asteroids Deluxe actually played a very helpful role in the inspiration of the Pinball 2000 platform but at the same time it was a bittersweet relationship as videos were constantly outdoing pins in popularity. Early into the film there is some video of people playing a number of classic arcades and you see titles such as Cosmic Chasm, Atari Football, Space War, Tempest, Donkey Kong, Robotron, Baby Pac-Man and others. It was definently surprising to see Cosmic Chasm in there considering how rare that game is. A few of pinball designers actually worked on a few popular classic arcades, such as Larry DeMar who assisted in designing both Defender and Robotron 2084.
The interviews have been perfectly integrated into the narrative and with many of the big names in the pinball industry making an appearance it really gives the film the weight needed to become an authoritative look at pinball. I do not believe that it could have been done better – with the sheer number of pinball designers weighing in on the subject it helps open the viewers eyes what it was like to be in the pinball business. It is difficult to fathom the work it takes to make a single pinball title but Tilt conveys the message with perfect clarity.
Pinball fans are sure to see a number of well-known pins throughout the film, including classics such as Black Knight, Space Shuttle, High Speed, The Addams Family, Twilight Zone, Terminator 2 and of course Revenge From Mars as well as many more.
Another highlight of the film would be the animations. Fortunately there are many well-thought out animations peppered in between the interviews that are used to not only help visualize what the current person is discussing but it’s fun to watch as well. Of particular interest would be the animation that shows the viewer how a typical pinball machine is designed and laid out from the ground up. Many times pictures are spruced up with a little extra animation or on an occasion or two a 3D pop-up look. It is very well done and the Extra disc even offers a small glimpse into how the director put a few things together.
Most importantly I believe that Tilt succeeds in conveying it’s story – it’s exciting to watch as well as depressing. Exciting as you feel yourself rooting for Pinball 2000 to work and while you watch the film you want to immediately go out and find a Revenge From Mars pin(or purchase one). Depressing because we know what happened despite all of the innovation and effort and Williams exited the pinball industry only 9 months after releasing one of their more profitable games in years. It’s also emotional towards the end as it covers the dissolution of Williams and the designers discuss their own disbelief at the situation.
Overall Tilt is a fantastic documentary that appeals both pinball and video game players alike. It even is appealing to anyone that is interested in business, with it’s in-depth look at the workings of both the pinball and arcade industry. Many of us can easily relate to working with a corporation that perhaps has made some foolish management decisions. Don’t make the foolish decision of passing over Tilt however – every fan of pinball owes it to themselves to check it out. Sadly it may not receive much recognition outside of the game community simply because it seems taboo these days to recognize a documentary that is not about some controversial political issue. That should not hold you back as Tilt proves that an entertaining documentary can be made about other subjects. This is the first effort of the director Greg Maletic and hopefully it will not be his sole effort. Personally I would quite enjoy a similar documentary about companies like Atari Games or Stern.
The second disc on the special edition is loaded with extras that will certainly please pinball fans. It includes more interview footage discussing other topics that may have disrupted the flow of the primary film but are interesting nonetheless. It also includes footage from the two other unreleased Pinball 2000 titles, Wizard and Playboy and footage from an unreleased but very interesting pin called Pinball Circus that was a ‘3D playing field’ with several levels of ramps and platforms.
It features the entire video of the Pinball 2000 promotional video (which is a little cheesy but it’s still nice to have), a cool 7-minute tour of the Williams pinball factory, a commentary track from the director, an audio panel discussion with the Pinball 2000 members and a look at a few of the special effects used in the film. All together if you are going to get Tilt, get the two disc set. Even if extras may not be your thing it has material that is interesting just like the documentary and should be enjoyable.
Thanks to Greg Maletic for letting us review his film as well as sending it to us. Photos from the film courtesy of Jim Schelberg of PinGame Journal, Duncan Brown, Greg Dunlap, and George Gomez