Editor’s Note: This is the first iteration of our new column, Niche Spotlight. We’ll be regularly introducing new games to our fans, so please leave feedback and let us know if there’s a game you want us to cover!
Many people will already be familiar with the two big pinball games on the market right now: Pinball Arcade, faithfully recreating real world tables, and Zen Pinball, virtual tables with their own spin.
The downside to these tables is that they’re really expensive; owning the entire collection of Zen Pinball 2 costs at least a hundred bucks, and just owning all the Pinball Arcade tables costs $180USD, not even including the Pro versions.
What if I told you that there was a 3D pinball game that had both original tables and recreations of real ones, all for free on Windows PCs? In this iteration of Niche Spotlight, we’re checking out Future Pinball.
Future Pinball started life way back in 2005 as a pinball building kit; while it hasn’t been updated in the span of the last five years, it’s still entirely capable of being played on modern machines.
Many tables still come out on the regular – in the last year alone, over 100 tables have been updated on PinSimDB, and there’s over 1500 tables for Future Pinball alone on that site, so pinball fans will have a lot to play around with.
Those tables include both recreations of old and new tables from real life; a large amount of tables from Pinball Arcade are available as user made recreations, and even tables that either game doesn’t have yet, including multiple modern day Stern tables.
Then you have plenty of virtual recreations – did you want to see 3D Pinball Space Cadet remade in actual 3D? What about some of the tables from Pinball Dreams and Pinball Fantasies, like Million Dollar Gameshow?
They’re here too. And there are plenty of original tables; everything from Aliens to Spider-Man is represented in tables so well made, you’d swear they came from real life.
There’s a ton of additional things as well – the community loves this simulator, as there are plenty of physics mods and other continuations of the software available all over the internet.
Some crazy fools have even built physical cabinets with screens in the bottom to emulate actual pinball machines. The software behind these tables goes really, really deep, and someone with a lot of time on their hands could make something quite amazing.
With that said though, the process is a little complicated to get going even for simple PC virtual pinball; but don’t worry, I’m here to help. If you want to play Future Pinball, here’s a quick guide on how to get it, a bunch of mods to improve the look and feel, and a simple launcher.
There are other launchers and even other pinball simulators we could be looking at, so if you wonder what ‘Virtual Pinball’ is, you’re more than welcome to look that one up for yourself, it’s just outside the scope of this guide.
If you need a good start, look up anything with the name SLAMT1LT on it. Just make sure you read the tips following the setup guide before you start playing seriously.
Installing Future Pinball
- Install Future Pinball first. Once you’ve done that, rename the Future Pinball executable to “Future Pinball_old.exe” or something similar. With luck you won’t ever need it again, but keeping it around should be safe.
- Extract your downloaded tables into a folder. Note that some files are similarly named across table packs – it’s recommended to extract different tables to their own subfolders (VPLauncher can detect tables in subfolders so you should be fine). You don’t have to put your tables in the Tables folder specifically, just make sure you remember where you did put them for the VPLauncher step.
- Extract the Physics 2.7 mod over the top of the Future Pinball directory. Rename the executable to remove the 2.7 at the end. This is the main program we’ll be using.
- Extract the BAM mod into the same folder (so that FPLoader.exe and Future Pinball.exe are in the same folder). BAM stands for Better Arcade Mode – while most people following this guide will never need it, it makes changing physics modes easier and has a better quality renderer for better graphics.
- If you’re on Windows 7 or higher, right click both FPLoader and Future Pinball’s executables, go to Properties, Compatibility, and make sure both are running as Administrator. This fixes a LOT of problems.
- Open Future Pinball’s executable now. The next three bullet points are all through the Preferences menu option up top. You can close Future Pinball afterwards; you shouldn’t need to open it again unless you want to change video settings.
- In Editor Preferences, untick Load Image into Table Editor, then click OK. Some tables won’t load correctly if you don’t.
- In Video/Rendering Options, turn Model Quality to High, no matter what. Most of the rest of the settings can be changed how you like. That one setting can cause textures to disappear, it’s quite strange.
- In Game Keys and Controls, keep these controls in mind, and don’t change them if you can avoid it, as some tables rely on specific letters being available. You can map a joypad on the right, if you so desire.
- Install VPLauncher and use the desktop shortcut it placed to launch it. (It doesn’t make a shortcut in the start menu; you can just click and drag it if you want to). In the Configuration screen, the Path to Future Pinball should point to FPLoader.exe, and your directories Containing Pinball Tables should point to the Tables directory in the same folder. Once you click OK, all the .fpt files you have in your Tables folder should be listed in VPLauncher after a quick scan.
- Double click any table and it should load Future Pinball up automatically. Have fun with your tables!
Here’s some quick hints you should read too:
- If a table says it needs a specific Physics mod (2.4, 2.5, 2.6, Zedphysics) here’s how to do it. Look in the XML folder in Future Pinball’s folder, find the file that’s as close to what you need as possible, copy it to your Tables folder and rename it to be the same name as the table that needs it (is your table file name ‘Pinball.fpt’? rename the XML to ‘Pinball.xml’). You’ll have to do this for pretty much every SLAMT1LT table, but it’s worth it.
- Dual monitors don’t play well with these games due to their age. It’s unfortunate but you’ll have to turn one of them off or play in windowed mode.
- You can access the settings for BAM by hitting the Q or Tilde key and using the arrow keys. Play around with the lighting! Settings are saved table by table. With BAM as well, you can change your ball skin by pressing N or P.
- Some tables include custom surroundings, and some don’t, and some of those tables tend to blend with the default one and look weird (one of my screenshots shows this!). You can turn off Render the Game Room and Render Ornaments in the Video Options if you don’t like this, but it can’t be done table by table unfortunately.
- VPLauncher can get some data about some tables, but if you want to edit the data to make it look nicer, right click a table and click ‘Edit Table Information’. You can even import a screenshot from the clipboard if you want to get real fancy.
Post your favorite tables you found on PinSimDB.org in the comments!
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