The Film-to-Pin Inversion Principle
by the Duchess of Bourbon
Congo, Demolition Man, The Shadow, Tron: Legacy, Johnny Mnemonic, The Flintstones, Lost in Space, Barb Wire…what do these games have in common, you ask? They all rank highly in the game-quality-to-film-suck ratio. Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of crap/crap, eh/eh, and awesome/awesome examples out there too, such as Star Wars: Episode 1, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Addams Family respectively, though we may agree to disagree. But you simply can’t deny the long list of crummy films that birthed great games.
Despite being damn fun pins, these titles represent some of the worst movies to have ever graced the silver screen. They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and perhaps this is the proof. This phenomenon has been discussed in the pinball community for years, but how does it happen so often?
Is it because licensing is too expensive for popular movies? Manufacturers have pulled out the big bucks for some top releases such as The Hobbit, The Avengers, and Avatar which have resulted in pretty mediocre games. They’ve also hired some of the best designers and programmers in the biz for these pins, but the unique and engaging concepts and gameplay just weren’t there.
Or do the folks who make the pinball machines just have crappy taste in films? Maybe they consider Congo a brilliant film (who wouldn’t love a medley of talking gorillas, diamonds, lasers, aliens, and Tim Curry, right?). Or is it perhaps the pressure of having to live up to the quality of the film in the game they create is just too much to handle? Nah. Game designers have done fine with classics such as the Star Trek franchise.
Most likely it’s that relentlessly cheesy movies offer a plethora of campy elements to include in games. Cheese and pinball have long been happy bedfellows, which is why it makes perfect sense that some of the worst movies result in some of the best pinball games. The excess of funny material, the freedom to reinterpret flawed properties, and the kitsch factor are winning elements in the arcade. Following this argument to its logical conclusion, if we scare up some of the worst movies of all time we will have potentially identified some of the best pinball machines yet to be made. Make it happen, Gary, Jack, and company! If there is any justice in this world it should only be a matter of time before we see a Plan 9 From Outer Space pinball.
The Film-to-Pin Inversion Principle is an imperfect but fun theory for which there are many exceptions. The subjectivity of any opinion-based hypothesis means this is a deeply unscientific exercise, but that shouldn’t stop us from exploring it to its bitter end! Kayla and Graham discussed it earlier this year on the Skill Shot Pincast, inspiring a graph from listener Phil G. comparing Rotten Tomatoes and Pinside ratings (included). In the latest issue of Drop Target, a dream machine is drawn up based on the notoriously terrible Troll 2. Further down the rabbit hole, there’s plenty to be said about the relationship between comic books and TV shows and the pins they’ve inspired. Put down this zine, grab a drink, and spark a conversation.
Movie Game Analysis graph courtesy of Phil Grimaldi – originally published on Tilt Forums.com