BlahCade 260: Diving DEEP with Pinball FX's Peter Grafl

Jared Morgan Jared Morgan Follow May 15, 2023 · 5 mins read
BlahCade 260: Diving DEEP with Pinball FX's Peter Grafl
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We had the opportunity to send several questions to Peter 'Deep' Grafl, the lead pinball designer at Zen.

Today we share his answers with all of you!

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Show notes

12:50 - Favourite pinball designers

Who are some of your favorite pinball designers, and what of their influences can we see on your designs?

15:11 - Favourite pinball toy

Do you have a favorite pinball thing? For instance, ramps, bash toys, drop targets, multiball, wireframe habitrails, etc.?

17:10 - Code updates

Why doesn’t Zen follow the model of releasing code updates to tables in response to user feedback, much like Stern, JJP, and Spooky? Even 90’s era Williams had multiple ROM updates.

22:30 - ROM status

Is there a reason ROM status isn’t carried over game-to-game for Williams/Bally recreations? Some Zen originals have this, like Epic Quest and, most recently, Brothers In Arms. When System 11 titles come into play, this will be more and more critical.

30:00 - Design influences

Has working on WMS recreations changed how you design pinball? How so?

32:55 -DMD message speed

A gripe we’ve had for several years with Zen originals is how critical DMD information is displayed when the ball is heading toward the flipper. Is this by choice? Is it a scripting issue? Or is it something you’ve never even noticed?

38:00 - General illumination lighting approaches

Talk to us about lighting. On Zen originals, physical GI lighting seems scarce compared to an actual machine. Does any thought go into how you’d light a purely digital table like a physical machine?

45:00 - Modern light shows

The light show on modern pinball machines has ramped up since Jersey Jack stepped onto the scene with Wizard of Oz. A lot goes into it, from making the lighting informational to help tell the story of what is going on with a mode. Some machines now have over 300 RGB lights on them! Can we expect Zen to try and follow suit?

47:30 - Pinball designer responsibilities

We learned from this last Pinball Show that the lead designer controls every aspect of a table. We know the layout is what designers are most known for, but are they responsible for scripting callouts, creating game rules, talking with licensors, sound design, etc.? Seems rather than 'designer', they are more 'director'!

51:30 - Table do-over

What Zen creation from the past do you think is great as-is, and what design would you love to have a second go at, whether it be a color pallet, rules, music, or layout? This is across the entire Zen catalog, not just your designs.

55:55 - Unreal Engine 5

Switching to Unreal Engine, what opportunities have opened up both for existing tables and new ones yet to be released? Will switching to Unreal 5 be on the horizon, and if so, what challenges or advantages do you anticipate?

57:00 - Simulated mechanical differences

Different eras of machines have different mechanics. Flippers from an early 80s Bally are nothing like a modern Stern. Depending on the machine, springs on plungers have different tensile strengths (such as Twilight Zone’s soft spring). Do you use different physics on table parts to accurately simulate how a machine plays? Or do you have one size fits all table parts you’ve modeled?

1:03:00 - Cabinet interfaces for accessories

Do you think about how pinball cabinet accessories like rumble motors, solenoids, backglass interaction, and the like might need to be considered?

1:04:00 - Dual-flipper buttons

Zen has avoided dual flipper buttons in all their titles to date. Even so, we know that certain titles like The Shadow or Black Knight demand it. Has this been a discussion point?

Also, why can’t we remap buttons on controllers in any way we want, unlike the set controller options offered?

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Jared Morgan
Written by Jared Morgan Follow
Technical writer, product person, VR junkie.