Zen Studios and Pinball FX3 decide zen is not enough

Since the dawn of time, pinball machines have been all about the high scores. When you play, you’re trying to get a higher score than you’ve ever gotten. Otherwise, your time is wasted. Too bad. Hope you enjoyed the laid back zen of that ball doing it’s thing. Because now you have nothing to show for your efforts but a pocket a few quarters lighter. Or, in the case of virtual pinball, less time to spend leveling up a Diablo III character.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://www.quartertothree.com/fp/2017/10/17/zen-studios-pinball-fx3-decide-zen-not-enough/

So apart from meta-progression and permadeath, what makes for a good pinball table? Why was Rocky & Bullwinkle a horrible table? I don’t think I understand the criteria. Or I don’t have supple enough wrists.

This needs to be ported to Switch ASAP.

I really liked the zen football table, which is gone too. It was one of the FX2 tables with progression also. You were playing pinball, but you were playing a game of soccer at the same time, and between sessions you were playing a season.

Great review – I’m definitely conflicted about the progression stuff. It’s fun to have smaller individual goals to shoot for, but some of the original purity is lost. And is everyone playing the progression mode? I thought we were going to focus on classic?

Good call on using the bumper bonus on Starfighter Assault. You really do wind up there in the turbolasers all the time. Think I got close to my FX2 high score on the table on my first ball in FX3.


  • laid back zen of that ball doing it’s thing
  • Or are you so confident in you abilities that you’ll take the bonus for skill shots?
  • horrid leveling fodlerol,
  • I need to prove to them that I’m not going to let this leveling nonsene

I concurr that this progression stuff is just making the game very busy. Guild Wars 2 busy. If I want to do bits and stuff, and look for shiny stuff everywhere, I have that game. Pinball to me is all about learning the rules and concentrating on a table. My concentration is lost amongst all the meta-noise going on in the game now. And since the default scoring is only a side-option, not many people play it anymore.
Which doesn’t matter that much, since tracking your friends’ scores is also a nightmare in this version. Sometimes, you stumble upon them if you quit a table and are slow enough to not press a button. That’s about it.
I don’t like it right now, but there is huge room for improvement.

Is your picture Donald Rumsfeld because you sorta sound like Donald Rumsfeld? I just realized this after watching one of your YouTube videos the other day. Completely off topic. :P

Now there’s a question for the ages. For me, the things that make a good table are many of the same things that make any game good: theming, interface, design, mechanics, yadda, yadda, yadda. Plus a little bit of Stockholm Syndrome. Play any table long enough and you’ll probably come to like it.

Whoa, that’s kinda cool. I had no idea. That’s one of their really early tables, too, isn’t it? That means they’ve been doing progression since way back when!

Haven’t you heard? Classic is old and busted. Progression mode is the new hotness.

Does it really bother you? How hard can it be to ignore that stuff? Just turn off the is-she-Asian-or-ain’t-she chick and power easily through the endgame screens. And it hadn’t occurred to me that it’s hard to track your friends’ scores. Maybe I’m not looking at the right time, but I see the friends leaderboard for a table right there on the table’s main screen. Also, I find those recommendations panels on the overall main screen are kind of cool for pushing me around to try different things and beat various scores.


I think I’m in the minority, but I am very heavily single-goal oriented. As soon as there is distraction on multiple levels, I am just confused where I should put my attention, and everything becomes a blur.
I’ll try to clarify what I mean: for instance, I bounced off both Borderlands games very heavily, because the games asked me to shoot things while dealing with an inventory and its numbers and listening or paying attention to lore bits. My head is spiraling (this isn’t a figure of style, it really feels like I’ve had too many drinks) in such gaming instances.
Pinball FX 3 doesn’t go to that extreme, but those extra bits hurt my experience. The pop-ups can be turned off, as you said, but I can’t turn off what lingers in my mind all the time: trying futily to grasp what influence on scoring such or such bonus could have during the play, and thinking about which bonus I should pick next. The reason I enjoy pinball games is - I’ll borrow Thraeg’s word - their “purity”: I play them with the only goal of getting a better score than last time, and beating eventually that guy’s score above me.
I also am scared it may not feel as rewarding to me if the time invested in a table is awarded more points mechanically, but in honesty I didn’t play the game enough to know if that may be true.
I can see how the leveling mechanics is probably there for the people really dedicated to the game, enticing them to play into that leveling up mechanic you described, and that once all such super dedicated players reach eventually the level cap of each pinball “class”, the end-game may make them equals while offering a new layer of strategy with varying scoring builds. But that is way above my level of play.
Anyway, I am complaining because I love to whine: the classic scoring and leaderboards are still there, after all! I just wished they were still the first item on the menu ;)

As a sidenote, I am always amazed when I watch people play games, because of their ability to grasp multiple aspects, which in turn, in the context of passively watching, makes me notice those things I couldn’t grasp when playing.

The football tables (there were several, most themed based on a real franchise, but otherwise identical to the baseline generic table) post date Epic Quest by a fair bit. But they do predate the Bethesda tables.

In other words, Zen Studios has tampered in god’s domain. They have altered the calculus of scoring. What should be between you and any given set of three balls is now affected by all the other balls you have ever played.

So true it hurts. Yet there I am continuing to play by their new rules. I could just click on Classic mode, but I always opt for the new pinball paradigm.

Just to clarify, on each table there’s some grayed out properties at the top, and then 6 properties at the bottom. Those 6 properties, I can select all 6 if I want. The two at the top always stay grayed out. Those will presumably eventually unlock and those are the ones where you can only pick two bonuses? So those 6 bonuses at the bottom can all stay active at the same time as the two above?

Gosh, that’s so hard to describe.

Yeah, classic rules for life.

No, the six at the bottom are the ones where you can only select two. If you try to select all of them, the older ones silently deactivate. The ones up top are the active powers.

The top row are special powers you can fire off during a table session once, but you have to unlock them first by playing some challenges.

The bottom set of unlocks gain XP and get better just by normally playing, but you can only ever enable two during a table session.

I’ll just stick with The Pinball Arcade, thanks.

PBFX3 gets my vote for 2017 Game of the Year! Zen Studios can do no wrong when it comes to pinball. Love it.

This was a great read. Thank you @tomchick

Rocky and Bullwinkle never even made it to the Xbox One version of FX2. It was an awful table. Super hard, which doesn’t fit the property and a bug fix resulted in high scores being wiped by Zen.

Now that they’ve patched the Xbone version, I am enjoying FX3 a lot. I really miss the South Park tables, though.

Sorcerer’s Lair doesn’t seem to have come across. Bummer!