INplay 2012
Rollers of the Realm

By Ricky Lima - May 18th, 2012

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Our own beloved roaming reporter Ricky Lima attended INplay 2012 and met with Tony Walsh from Phantom Compass.

Everybody loves pinball. Even if you want to convince yourself that you hate pinball for some silly reason, you still actually love it deep down in your soul. There’s something about a little ball bouncing around frantically making all types of lights flash on the board that’s very appealing. I’m drawn to simple and fun games like pinball but I’m also drawn to deeper experiences like RPG’s. That is why when I met with Phantom Compass’ Tony Walsh and talked to him about their new game, Rollers of the Realm, I was really excited to learn as much about it as I could.

Walsh describes the game as “a mash-up between classic arcade pinball and fantasy role playing games. It’s basically pinball meets Dungeons and Dragons.” I was hooked; but he continued to bring the goods: “It’s a single player game where you work your way through a multi-chaptered story line one scene at a time, and each scene in the story is a different pinball board. There’s all kinds of different pinball boards from town settings to wilderness, dungeons, and battlefields.” Looking at the game it’s clear that the integration of pinball goodness and RPG conventions have been blended expertly.

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Some very amazing boards exist within this game.

Walsh elaborates: “Some widgets in the game you’ll be familiar with: in standard pinball, there are the standard kickers and bumpers and then there are other weird things like black holes and rivers and all sorts of things like that. So we kind of integrate pinball ‘widgetry’ in with fantasy wizardry. Each character in the game is represented by a pinball so when they’re on the pinball playing field you get a character portrait and you’ve got the actual ball that’s them. Each character has different attributes like you would expect in an RPG as well. So some characters are bigger and heavier than others and some move differently. You can nudge the ball right or left and some characters have more tilt or less than others.”

“There are also special abilities,” Walsh continues, “that get charged up as you play. The way you charge up your special ability is by bouncing into different kickers and bumpers. There are certain areas that have more kickers and bumpers that you want to get them into so you can build up ‘mana'; because enemies will start to attack in many of the boards…sooner or later the bad guys will start to converge on your flippers. They will all start to walk out and certain ones will take stations up on the playing field and start to shoot arrows or throw swords at your flippers wearing them down. And -obviously- in a pinball game, the length of the flipper is actually important, so if they’re whittling your flippers down to a nub you’re eventually going to lose the game because you don’t have anything left to hit the ball with. What you can do is build up your ‘mana’, activate your special ability and kick ass. The orphan summons a dog, which becomes a multi-ball; there’s also a mage character who has a lightning field around her that electrocutes enemies when she passes by them. It’s very much combining elements from both genres in more than just a thematic way.”

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I wonder if they will have a Gunslinger class…

After hearing about all the lovely features the game contained, I had to get my hands on it. I played a quick demo of an early build of Rollers of the Realm and I loved it. Think of it as a standard pinball game without the odd abstractions that most pinball games use. By abstractions I mean the way pinball games give you missions and objectives. With traditional pinball games you complete goals by hitting specific bumpers that are suppose to represent many things. In Rollers of the Realm that abstraction of the bumper is replaced with real objects your ball interacts with. Those objects being enemies walking about the board or treasure chests and barrels about the level. I found this to be a much more satisfying way of playing pinball because it actually feels as if you’re doing something in the level. Your targets can be seen as real things; not just lights on the board.

The abstraction mentioned above was due in part because of the limitations of a physical pinball machine. It is impossible to have tiny enemies or chests pop up on the physical board, so lights were used to represent everything that you needed to interact with. The odd thing is that this language of representation carried over to the virtual world; virtual pinball games sought to recreate the nostalgic feel of pinball games. Thankfully though, Phantom Compass is looking to break that mold and bring pinball to a modern age, utilizing all of the technology and methods of representation that video games can give game makers. It’s a huge, welcome breath of fresh air for me.

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I love the character portraits in this game.

The game plays very much as you would expect a pinball game to play. Two buttons work the flippers and another activates the ball launcher. Where Rollers of the Realm differs is with its tilt function, its special abilities, and character classes. With a press of a button, players can make the ball curve to the right or left, and depending on the character, the tilt will be stronger or weaker. As one character with great tilting ability (the Squire class I believe), I was able to use the tilt function to bounce off of one enemy at least three times in a row. Doing that was easy and intuitive; no one had to tell me I could do that -it just came naturally. The special abilities are dependent on the class the players are playing as (classes can be changed live by cradling the ball with the flipper and pressing the tilt buttons). To activate the power (for instance: the Mage’s electricity or the Orphan’s dog) the player just needs to press the ball launcher button while playing. It’s simple – just the way I like it.

Rollers of the Realm by Phantom Compass is shaping up to be a game that will deeply engage people that play it. The inherent action of pinball mixed with the fantasy storylines and themes will capture a large breadth of interests and is sure to be a hit. It’s very hard to screw up pinball and even harder to make it better than the current schema; but Phantom Compass is on its way to making a game that will redefine pinball for a new generation. This is pinball 2.0.

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