More Than a Way to Unwind


| May 18, 2011 | in

At Don’t Panic Labs, we’re lucky enough to have various ways to unwind after several hours of productive, heads down development. When we’re not scheming and devising contraptions to unleash a deluge of cheeseballs on an unsuspecting victim, we can always take out some pent-up energy on one of our pinball machines.

These vintage pieces from a nearly bygone era have been carefully put back into serviceable order by Steve Ramos, a local individual who specializes in refurbishing and maintaining old arcade equipment, and Tyler Kurtzer.

But there’s more to these machines than simply giving our brains a break. There’s actually some pretty spectacular technology behind the scenes that helps make these games even more enjoyable.

Machine learning, simply put, is a scientific discipline of understanding and developing algorithms that enable computers to take information provided by sensors or databases and evolve its behavior based on that information. One of our pinball machines actually uses machine learning during gameplay.

One feature of the Addams Family pinball machine is for Thing (the disembodied servant hand) to flip for you and to try to hit your ball into the swamp. The technical term is a “game-controlled mini-flipper”. Sometimes he hits the shot, but sometimes he doesn’t. That’s cool, but the amazing part is that the machine will get better at that shot as time goes on. On either side of the swamp entrance is a target that can sense if the ball was flipped too early or too late. The game adjusts the timing to improve its accuracy to eventually be better at it than a human! Not too shabby for a pinball machine released in 1992.

If you’d like to learn more about this cool machine, check out this old promotional video produced by Bally when the game was originally released.

Here’s Nate walking through some of the interesting aspects of the Addams Family pinball machine.

YouTube video

And since we’re on the subject of pinball, here’s Nate demonstrating our latest addition, Funhouse.

YouTube video

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