Submission Text Full Submission Page

Game objectives

According to the game itself, the objective is to "Bring the android to life!". My specific goals were:
  • Aims to max out every game counter (Power Up value, bumper value, Android Millions, bonus multiplier, AI, Physical Systems, and Physical Systems tests) and bring the android to life
  • Manipulates luck
  • Makes entertainment and speed tradeoffs
  • Uses default angle settings
  • Emulator used: JPC-RR r10

Game description

Epic Pinball Shareware was widely distributed in the mid 1990's and consisted of a single table named Android (although the playfield art reads Super Android in versions after 1.1). The Android table was arguably the most complete and entertaining table in the Epic Pinball series. As was often the case at the time, the authors released the best they had as shareware and heavily promoted the full game. The shareware version contained many well-known cheat codes and several mostly unhelpful glitches. The general difficulty of the game and the excellent graphics and sound gave the game a very high replayability factor for being a free-as-in-lunch game. The game still holds a lot of nostalgia for many PC users of the time.
Because this is a shareware game it can be freely downloaded from a number of sources. This run was created with shareware version 2.1 found at the excellent http://www.classicdosgames.com site on the Epic Pinball page (and also mirrored here) with an MD5 sum of 5ff1e90b8225c330c010ea76427008d6 (the primary executable PINBALL.EXE has an MD5 sum of caf0205c1f92dc7275227ffbdedd98ad). I have confirmed that this run syncs with both the 2.1 and the 2.0 version of the game but it will not sync with version 1.1 as that version lacks the left ramp sinkhole and accompanying diverter. The actual disk image I created for JPC-RR can be found at http://sonic.net/~ac/tas/EpicPinball.

Run information

Emulator notes: This run was created with JPC-RR version r.10. JPC-RR cannot be played in real-time with any currently available computer hardware and version r.10 does not have a quick way to output the video to watch it in real-time. This means that the only way to truly see the result of a run is to dump the video which also happens at a fraction of real-time and thus is very time consuming (it was at a minimum a three hour process using my fastest system). Also of note is that DOS samples the keyboard up to 250 times a "frame" making sub-frame manipulation possible and in some cases necessary. To say that differently, attempting a TAS in a DOS environment with JPC-RR has unique challenges and advantages in comparison to console runs.
Game physics: The physics simulation used in the Epic Pinball series has some unusual characteristics.
  • The balls themselves seem to have an internal energy - if you trap and hold a ball with the flipper the ball will continue to move on its own, slowly rolling up the inlane and then back onto the flipper before repeating ad nauseum.
  • Momentum is not properly calculated when the ball collides with objects at high speeds which is primarily visible when the ball is bouncing back and forth between the slingshots as the ball's speed can suddenly drop significantly.
  • The ball sometimes comes to a dead stop when nearing the apex of a ramp, typically when another ball is at or above the same level on the playfield. This is demonstrated once or twice during the run.
  • When the ball is on or near the flipper and the flipper is triggered the ball's resulting velocity (literally speed and direction) is artificially limited to a small subset of possibilities. This above all else is the most limiting restriction as a shot that seems like it would be possible, well, isn't. The net result is that the run contains a lot of points where the ball is fired in a haphazard-looking direction in order to set up a subsequent shot. This is especially true when aiming for the far left Testing sinkhole, the left lane, and the far right Physical Systems sinkhole.
Glitches:
  • The drop target collision detection is very poor. If the ball is at all traveling quickly the shot will not register making it very hard to hit them successfully leading to some very creative methods of backhanding the ball to the left side of the playfield.
  • Balls frequently get stuck and copied in various different sinkholes meaning the next shot to that sinkhole doesn't take, although it does clear the copied ball out of the hole.
  • If an exit sinkhole (such as the Power sinkhole which is the exit for the testing sinkhole) has a copied ball in it the next shot to the entrance sinkhole will not register.
  • Occasionally shots fired at a sinkhole are immediately fired back out without registering even when there's no ball stuck in the sinkhole. This annoying behavior along with the stuck ball characteristic is very noticeable when playing normally outside of a TAS and can be very frustrating as there really isn't a great way to avoid it (these glitches nearly drove me to insanity when I was playing this game in the 90's).
  • If a ball is transitioning from one sinkhole to another and another ball on the playfield is at the same height or higher the first ball may drop out of the sinkhole and fall completely off of the table. This is demonstrated a couple of times in the run although it isn't generally detrimental to the run.
  • If multiball is in progress when a second multiball is started all balls in play may be instantly transported to the plunger lane and auto-fired; this may be a feature but it looks very unnatural.
  • When starting multiball the view may get stuck at the bottom of the playfield; this can be cleared by showing the score and then re-hiding it. This is demonstrated during the second multiball in the run.
Game setup and configuration: The first time PINBALL.EXE is executed it runs through a series of several screens to set up the sound card IRQ, DMA, and fidelity settings. Luckily, this only takes a few frames to complete thanks to sub-frame keyboard entry. I opted to start the game without making any customizations to the angle (tilt level) controls meaning this run uses the default Normal angle setting. As soon as the game starts I removed the score display so more of the playfield was visible. Also of note is that about a third of the way into the run I adjusted the "tracking" setting to Slow; this has no impact on gameplay outside of altering the RNG but it does make it so the view doesn't jerk around as much which looks a little better when multiball starts.

Section by section notes

Completing AI: There are two major tasks to complete. The first is bringing up the Artificial Intelligence system and the second is bringing up the Physical System. The AI system is started by shooting the right ramp to link the computer to the android and then shooting the left ramp which prints text on the screen telling the player what action to perform to install the next AI. In some cases in this run the text is skipped to save time but the instructions usually boil down to "hit all ramps" or "hit all sinkholes". Installing the final AI scores the super jackpot and brings the android to life. This happens about halfway through the run and scores 100M points.
Completing Physical Systems: The Physical Systems sinkhole is on the far lower right side of the playfield and is enabled by dropping all three of the targets on the left side of the playfield. A two ball multiball is started when some of the physical systems are completed such as the right arm. Most of these multiballs are ended through creative displays of the various glitches in the game. A three ball multiball starts when the final Physical System, the Torso, is completed. (By the way, I can't possibly see how you could activate an arm before activating the torso unless you're dyslexic and watching the Black Knight from Monty Python but I digress... :)
Maxing all game counters:
  • Power Up value: This is the center sinkhole. 10M is awarded when the power is Maxed out.
  • Bumper value: This is accomplished by hitting the left lane which activates the center ramp which subsequently raises the value of the pop bumpers. I kept going until it stopped printing new bumper values on the screen.
  • Android millions: This is accomplished by lighting up the red and white circle placed above the left slingshot by rolling over it and then shooting the left ramp. This maxes out at 9 million per shot. This is the shot that usually has balls drop out of it although it isn't the only place it can happen.
  • Bonus multiplier: This is accomplished by completing the four rollovers above the pop bumpers and maxes out at 5x.
  • Physical Systems tests: This can be done for each physical system up to level 5. I tested each physical system to at least level 1 and I tested the Torso, the final Physical System, to level 5 which awards 249M, the highest single award in the game. I show the score counter right before the final shot so the awarded value can be seen more easily.
Bonus count and ending: Take note that this run ends very abruptly. After completing the final Physical Systems test which is the final award needed I allow all of the balls to drain (OK, I actually force one of them to drain faster :) which allows the bonus count to complete although it's only on the screen for one frame. As soon as the bonus count is added up I quit the game, enter my initials, and exit the game completely to roll the credits (and advertisements). The time it takes to exit the game properly is minimal given the game length and I feel it is a much more natural way to complete the game but the run could just as easily be considered complete the frame the bonus is counted.

Potential improvements

This run makes entertainment and speed tradeoffs as overly "optimal" play wouldn't have as much character, wouldn't show off as many glitches, and would require extensive luck manipulation which is non-trivial given the current state and speed of JPC-RR. Many segments in this run contain sub-optimal looking shots which are necessary to set up a subsequent shot based on the various physics restrictions (although some of these transitions could probably be improved in a future run). At some point in the distant future when a DOS emulator can run at full speed this run should probably be revisited as I'm positive being able to view the sequence of events in realtime would aid in reducing the number of transition shots without sacrificing entertainment. Also, despite the fact that it's not the highest scoring award in the game it may make sense in a future run to bring the android to life as the last task instead of halfway through the middle of the run.

Encodes

Ilari has created an encode using the proper screen resolution and hardcoded subtitles showing the final score. This superior encode is generously being hosted by Undie on his 100/100 Mbit connection at http://undie.no-ip.org/epicpinball-tas-dwangoac.mkv as well as a newer version with an updated logo screen posted by Grunt at http://www.mediafire.com/?3t6bsgdl2xuyrdc.
I did a first pass encode of the final WIP (equivalent to the final submission) which used the wrong resolution and did not contain any info screen or TAS disclaimer; this is not the preferred encode but is currently still available thanks to the generosity of Grunt at Mediafire:http://www.mediafire.com/?9g104w5k2axknwy. Note that I previously hosted the run on my own ISP but I have exceeded my 1G/month bandwidth limit so I've pulled that link for now.

Suggested screenshots

Any point where a ball is glitching off of the table would be a good choice. The final bonus screen in the game or the final high score screen would both make good screenshots and would help to show the final score which is only visible for a couple of frames (Ilari's encode does have a hardcoded subtitle to show the final score, however).

Thanks

More than anyone else Ilari made this run possible, both by creating JPC-RR as well as by supporting my initial efforts by fixing bugs I discovered in the development version of JPC-RR. I look forward to his future improvements in JPC-RR. Additional thanks go to Grunt and Undie who both stepped up post-submission to offer additional hosting for the encode.

sgrunt: Updated the game name, version, and branch. I've also uploaded dwangoAC's encode to Mediafire so that we don't abuse his bandwidth.
sgrunt: Ilari's done a new version of his encode with a different logo; grab it here: http://www.mediafire.com/?3t6bsgdl2xuyrdc

Nach: Since there aren't vocal opponents regarding how this movie ends, I'll accept it as is. Thanks everyone who provided feedback, and of course to dwangoAC for making this movie.
sgrunt: I am about to publish Ilari's encode. Stay tuned.

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Ok, here's a tip. Current games with endings stop at the final input that finishes the game, correct? It's not necessarily "reaching the credits" as some games don't even have those. So why doesn't it just end when the game ends? Aren't there other pinball TAS runs that you could just follow the examples of? or do those end in the middle of the game?
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Cheezwizz wrote:
Aren't there other pinball TAS runs that you could just follow the examples of? or do those end in the middle of the game?
I was able to take the easy way out on my High Speed pinball TAS because the credits like several other Rare games of the time were prerolled and the ending was on an off-playfield screen that said "You have beaten the system this time". As evidenced by my earlier posts I'm trying to set a precedent for the Epic Pinball series (shareware or registered) of saving the score to disk and allowing the credits to roll on game exit as I feel this gives a better viewer experience. Ideally, if I could have my cake and eat it too I'd go with what
henke37 wrote:
I say, end the file after entering the name, end the timing when the balls drain and end the encode when the credits have rolled.
If the TAS for counter purposes could be considered complete at the frame the bonus is counted it would make Nach happy. If the submission file used to create the encode went on to include the final bonus screen for a few seconds it would make Dwedit happy. If it also saved the high score and exited to roll credits it would make a number of other people happy. One key consideration with JPC-RR is that it's not feasible to view the original file as the emulator cannot play back in realtime with sound so all viewers will be watching the encode. What if the submitted movie was marked as complete at the bonus count frame and the encoded file inserted a pause immediately after, annotated via subtitles why and indicated the final frame of counted input, then resumed normal speed to allow the credits to roll? In this way the same file could be used for the submission and the encode. I recognize how controversial this suggestion is so note that this is only a suggestion. This debate has been going for quite a while and I apologize for continuing to spur it on with my long-winded posts. Thanks for everyone who has provided feedback thus far - I know Nach appreciates it (er.. OK, I assume he appreciates it - this is Nach we're talking about after all :). A.C. ******
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This utterly and totally gets my Yes vote for reasons of both nostalgia and execution of TAS. My only complaint is that, generally speaking, most people end their TASes on the last possible controller input. It could be argued that the last possible input here is the key sequence to quit back to MS-DOS, but most other games (console games, for example) don't have that option. Thus, I feel that the "last possible" input should be the Enter key after entering initials. This may not look as good to some people, but it enters the score into the High Score screen and ends where, logically speaking, any given console game might end. That's just my opinion, of course.
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creaothceann wrote:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQmYw5XqX1Q 960x720 @ 30 fps, with scanlines in the low-res scenes
Thanks for the YouTube encode! The scanlines are interesting although I still haven't decided how I feel about them - they feel foreign but that's probably because there isn't a lot of material out there like that. My only concern about the above encode is there's no disclaimer that this is a tool-assisted speedrun, although you did link back to the submission file. The encode on YouTube has already gotten quite a few views and feedback, too. Thanks again for doing this and my apologies for not watching it until now, A.C. ******
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I'm disappointed in Youtube regarding the scanlines. The encoded files show them as intended, but YT's encoder smeared them together - maybe it uses a smaller internal resolution. I'll update the description with a disclaimer. (EDIT: Done. Sorry about the delay :/)
Post subject: Movie published
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This movie has been published. The posts before this message apply to the submission, and posts after this message apply to the published movie. ---- [1634] DOS Epic Pinball "Super Android" by dwangoAC in 05:07.53
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Why does this TAS's description include a link to the (nonexistent) B article on the wiki? By the way, congrats on the publication, dwangoAC!
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Derakon wrote:
Why does this TAS's description include a link to the (nonexistent) B article on the wiki?
Where? (fixed)
Post subject: I'm glad this was published! Someone should obsolete it now.
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I am very glad that this run was published in its current form. I will be creating a Game Resources page for Epic Pinball in general, borrowing heavily from the submission text. I mostly want to do this because it always throws me off when I'm looking at the submission text for a game that's had previous obsoleted runs with substantial information on glitches but the most recent run doesn't reference how they work. To that end, someone needs to obsolete this run, in part because any run will be different than the current run but also because someone with more hardware might have a much easier time with luck manipulation than I did (I have some raw hardware at my disposal but it's all on headless workstations which doesn't generally work out well for TAS purposes). Thanks again to everyone who provided feedback on this run and the WIP's that led up to it and here's hoping JPC-RR continues to improve. Until the next time I submit a run take care, A.C. ******
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Post subject: Re: I'm glad this was published! Someone should obsolete it now.
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dwangoAC wrote:
I mostly want to do this because it always throws me off when I'm looking at the submission text for a game that's had previous obsoleted runs with substantial information on glitches but the most recent run doesn't reference how they work.
I don't like that either and that is an interesting solution. I am pretty sure that most users feel the same way about that.
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This will be my 2nd DOS encode in HD.
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Pinball Fantasies (DOS version) will probably be a very easy TAS. I say this because in my experience playing real time, you don't have to do transition shots with that game. I've NEVER felt that the game robs you of your shot because one pixel was too early and one was too late. The SPidersoft pinball games, on the other hand... Definitely need transition shots for those games. I have a lot of experience with PC pinball. The following games I consider good ones. Amiga version of pinball dreams ONLY! PC version has crappy spidersoft 2D engine, worse layouts. The amiga one plays like the real tables the games are based on. I can loop the center ramp on steel wheel till the cows come home just like i can on the real bad cats table it was based off of, and with the same flipper position (right in the middle of the left flipper). Pinball Fantasies (PC) Slamtilt pinball (original 2D version only, 3d version is transition shot city) These games have great feel, and i felt it was my fault whenever i missed a shot. EVERY OTHER 2d PC pinball game i've ever played has robbed me of shots. This includes all of spidersofts 2d output (pinball dreams, pinball dreams 2, pinball mania, pinball wold, etc.)
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zaphod77 wrote:
EVERY OTHER 2d PC pinball game i've ever played has robbed me of shots.
You're right about that. Let's phrase it this way - if I had this game to do over again I'd pick a different game that wasn't so unfair. Some day when I have time and I'm not working on NetHack I might take another crack at a pinball game (that could be a few more months, though - we expect to be at the two year mark on NetHack by the time we're done). Thanks for your input! A.C. ******
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How are the games unfair? In the sense that a shot is impossible because the game simulation is overly digital? I mean, that's going to happen at some level no matter what because your framerate is limited. Or is it that the physics aren't even a good quantized approximation of reality?
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Derakon wrote:
How are the games unfair? In the sense that a shot is impossible because the game simulation is overly digital? I mean, that's going to happen at some level no matter what because your framerate is limited. Or is it that the physics aren't even a good quantized approximation of reality?
From my Epic Pinball submission text: "when the ball is on or near the flipper and the flipper is triggered the ball's resulting velocity (literally speed and direction) is artificially limited to a small subset of possibilities." In other words, it's a horribly poorly implemented physics engine that in no way reflects reality - on a real pinball machine, a ball rolling down a flipper at a given speed with the flipper activated at a given time should have a nearly identical result every time which is how skilled players are able to consistently hit ramp shots in loops. In Epic Pinball, the result is effectively random as a slight change in speed causes a disproportionately incorrect adjustment to the angle the ball will take when the flipper is triggered. One of the best emulators out there for pinball machines is called Visual Pinball but I don't believe there is a TASable platform - yet. We'll see how far Hourglass gets... :) A.C. ******
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Ah ha. Thanks for the explanation.
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jlun2 wrote:
Dwedit wrote:
Could you let the final score remain on the screen for at least 5 seconds or so? Kind of anti-climax to see you get so many bonuses, then the high score goes away in several frames.
Wouldn't extending the movie for 5 seconds contradict with the site's goal of ending input ASAP?
Based on my questioning I would think so too http://tasvideos.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=12506
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franpa wrote:
jlun2 wrote:
Dwedit wrote:
Could you let the final score remain on the screen for at least 5 seconds or so? Kind of anti-climax to see you get so many bonuses, then the high score goes away in several frames.
Wouldn't extending the movie for 5 seconds contradict with the site's goal of ending input ASAP?
Based on my questioning I would think so too http://tasvideos.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=12506
The primary has extra subtitle giving the score: "Final score was 905 847 944". Edit: YT encode also has this (didn't check the 512).
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Derakon wrote:
How are the games unfair? In the sense that a shot is impossible because the game simulation is overly digital? I mean, that's going to happen at some level no matter what because your framerate is limited. Or is it that the physics aren't even a good quantized approximation of reality?
I'm talking about the former. Literally one pixel is too early and the next one is too late. Depending on the game setup, a shot can be totally impossible to make from a trap by any means, because of extreme quantization error. A few pinball games go through the extra effort to make sure this happens as little as possible, like pinball fantasies. Having higher resolution helps, as well as subpixel accuracy (game resolution higher than display resolution). Spidersoft games have no subpixel positioning at all as near as I can tell, while pinball fantasies absolutely nailed it. Other games cheat by applying a random factor to increase the number of possible trajectories off the flippers. This has the annoying result of making the shot possible to hit sometimes and completely impossible to hit other times.
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Now I understand why Pinball Dreams II was so bad while Pinball Fantasies was so good! Do you know what engine applies to Pinball Illusions? That one also seemed fair to me.
No.
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Pinball Illusions, like the originals of pinball dreams and pinball fantasies, used their own engine, coded by digital illusions. Illusions has it's own engine, totally different from pinball dreams and pinball fantasies. I feel the engine is a step back in feel compared to pinball fantasies, but it does allow for up to 6 ball multiball, where the earlier engines were single ball only. Frontline designs did the pc version of pinball fantasies, and they NAILED it. In fact it's better than the amiga version. Most of 21st century entertainments 2d output is on the spidersoft engine, which suxx0rs. But not all. 2d Slamtilt pinball is good. PS: if you liked pinball illusions, you will LOVE True Pinball for PSX. but only play on real hardware, on a big screen crt tv. It's pinball illusions... in 3d! and it feels BETTER.
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Fun fact: You can get the ball stuck in an infinite loop on the top-right score "bumpers" (I don't know what else to call them). My father's friend was showing this game to my father and their mutual friends one time. They let me play once, and I got the ball stuck (and they didn't know how to tilt the table), and they ended up giving me the shareware copy. :p I think you get it to bounce on the top-right bumper where it could "activate" the third blue light so it falls in and out repeatedly while bouncing on the two sides around the blue light. It's been so long. ...Not that that would make for an entertaining TAS, but, it's a thing.
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TheReflexWonder wrote:
...Not that that would make for an entertaining TAS, but, it's a thing.
It might be interesting during multiball for a bit - as with any pinball game, there are almost always speed / entertainment tradeoffs. TASing this game was so annoying that I don't think I'll try it again, though. The inability to make the simplest shot due to the "one frame is too soon, the next frame is too late" is incredibly obnoxious. You're welcome to take it on yourself, though - I'd suggest reordering things to get and keep the two-ball multiball earlier and work toward other goals earlier. Thanks for your interest, A.C. ******
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