ID@Xbox Profile: Pinball FX2 from Zen Studios

As pinball games go, Zen Studios’ Pinball FX series is a tough one to beat. Since getting its start in 2005, tight controls and a staggering attention to detail have defined the brand, and the game has been constantly evolving, with new tables and content being ushered in on a regular basis. Today, Pinball FX2 arrives as a free download on Xbox One, with players able to transfer their Xbox 360 purchases to Xbox One at no additional cost (please see the Pinball FX2 Xbox One FAQ on the Zen Studios forums for more details on the transfer process).

“This is absolutely the definitive version of Pinball FX2,” says Mel Kirk, Vice President of Publishing at Zen Studios. “This version looks the best, has an updated and intuitive menu, and has the most polished production quality of any pinball platform. We’re really happy that Pinball FX is finally making its way to Xbox One.”

Kirk believes that the Pinball FX series is very different from all other digital pinball titles on the market. “There are actually two games at work here – the pinball table itself, and the rest of the game that makes it fun socially, and turns a single-player experience into a thriving community,” he says. “Advancing both of these aspects is really important as we try to maintain our leadership position in this category.”

Kirk points out that Zen Studios is the only pinball developer focused on creating new experiences based on contemporary trends in pop culture. A pinball table was released alongside the launch of Guardians of the Galaxy from Marvel Entertainment, for instance – as well as a Walking Dead table slated for release later this summer. Indeed, nearly all of the Pinball FX2’s existing Xbox 360 tables will be available on Xbox One from the start, with the Star Wars Pinball table packs, a majority of Marvel Pinball tables, and many of Zen’s original tables available for purchase.

The entire game has been given a facelift for its debut on Xbox One, with a new user interface that helps players sort through their collections. The upgraded tables look better than ever: Improved lighting and ball effects, new Achievements, and a new menu interface help tie the experience together. Worldwide tournaments will be featured more prominently, and Zen plans to host frequent competitive events.

It’s the constantly evolving nature of the content that keeps Pinball FX2 both fun to play and fun to make. “Being able to work with different licenses is a blast, and each one brings its own intrinsic challenges and sensibilities,” says Kirk. “We never copy elements from other tables, reuse assets, or borrow from somewhere else. Every table starts as a blank canvas, and a few pages of a written concept.”

Once this is nailed down, the team starts creating the proper assets: 3D models, playfield toys and artwork, rule sets, dialogue scripts, and the overall table layout. “As things are coming together, our partners have a lot of involvement, making sure the game represents the brand and characters correctly – all the way down to the color of a belt – and they really work with us to ensure that we’re capturing the essence of what we are building. This is a very collaborative process, and it’s a lot of fun!”

Kirk says that bringing the game to Xbox One via the ID@Xbox program has made for some pleasantly smooth sailing. “The ID@Xbox team is fantastic,” he says. “
Pinball FX was a first-party franchise for almost eight years, and then we made the switch to this new program – but it feels like we have the same level of support. Zen Studios owes a lot to the team at Microsoft for their aid in developing the platform over the years, so it is exciting to see that they still want to be so close to the game. There have been a few hurdles, a few broken rules, and a lot of learning… but we are in a fantastic workflow now, and the road is paved for an exciting Xbox One experience.”

Unsurprisingly, the developers at Zen are self-avowed pinball fanatics, as evidenced by the fact that the studio recently moved into a new office just to accommodate all the machines it’s collected over the years (recent highlights include a brand new AC/DC Luci table from Stern). “At one point in time, playing real pinball gave us some ideas and inspiration into the creation of our tables,” says Kirk. “These days, I think it might be the other way around – real machines see what we’re doing, and follow our lead. It’s been amazing to have a role in presenting pinball to a new generation of players who might not have the means to experience it otherwise.”

Pinball FX2 is now available on Xbox One. The Sorcerer’s Lair table is included for free; additional tables start at $2.49 for single tables, and $9.99 for table packs – all of which can be purchased in-game from the Xbox Marketplace.