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Blackout: Simultaneous Multi-Player Pinball

Pinball has often been viewed as a single-player game. Although multiple players could use a single machine, one at a time, to try to beat the highest score there is no simultaneous play on multiple pinball machines. Recent research on developing an AI pinball player at the University of Alberta, the University of Southern California and the University of Denver has expanded the possibility of many different types of play on physical pinball hardware that was originally designed for a single type of play.

We used ScriptEase II, a game design tool created at the University of Alberta, to build and design a cooperative network pinball game called Blackout. This game allows two players to play simultaneously on two different pinball machines, connected over the internet, where play on each machine can influence play on the other machine. The goal of Blackout is to hit each of seven different switches, exactly once. When the game starts, a lamp near each of the seven switches are lit on both machines and a countdown timer is set to two minutes. When either player hits a switch, the corresponding lamp on both machines is toggled off.

If either player hits the same switch again, it is re-lit on both machines and the switch must be hit again on one of the machines to toggle the lamp off. The scoreboards on both machines display the number of lamps still lit out of 7, the time remaining and the number of lamps extinguished by each player. This number can be negative for one of the players if that player re-lit more lamps than he/she extinguished.

The two players in the video found here are graduate students from the University of Alberta and the University of Southern California. They are not pinball wizards and were not able to win this game. However, when they were playing they came close to winning many times. Expert players, who can control the ball much better than novices, could have coordinated their efforts in order to win the game.

© Nathan Sturtevant, All rights reserved.