Monday, November 24, 2008

Bill Budge and his Pinball Construction Set

I've never played with it myself, but Pinball Construction Set, by Bill Budge. was big with my Apple-owning friends back in 1983. The concept was revolutionary - a software package that not only allowed you to play pinball on your computer screen (something Budge pioneered with Raster Blaster in 1981) but actually let you create your own virtual pinball tables and share them with others - even those who didn't own the construction set! An entire genre of construction sets followed, and Budge became one of the computer industry's early "rock stars." This application precedes - if not necessarily inspires - games like SimCity, first developed in 1985 on the Commodore 64 and finally released in 1989 for all platforms of the day.

PCS used the joystick and keyboard to allow the user to drag and drop playfield elements and even tweak graphics items pixel by pixel. It was inspired by the ultra-influencial work of the Xerox PARC, according to Budge in various interviews. He also revealed that he's a "terrible pinball player" - but is still proud of PCS, because he feels it's a solid piece of programming. Certainly he took the Apple II far beyond what anyone at the time ever believed it could do.

A brief chronology of home computer pinball simulations:

Raster Blaster, Bill Budge, 1981 (based on the pinball table Firepower) The first pinball simulation for computers.
Midnight Magic, David Snider, 1982 (based on Black Knight)
Night Mission, subLOGIC, 1982

PCS in the GameSpy Hall of Fame (many screenshots)
Episode of The Computer Chronicles featuring Budge (13 minutes in)
More info at

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