The secret life of 3D Pinball

Woody leonhard By Woody Leonhard

Of all the features in Windows XP that have gone missing in Vista, many of you most lament the passing of 3D Pinball. Really.

Well, strap on your pearl-handled phasers, Space Cadet: here’s a holiday treat that can help you cheat and hack 3D Pinball to your heart’s content in both XP and Vista.

How 3D Pinball became so popular

Windows 3D Pinball Space Cadet started out as a state-of-the-art 3D game called Full Tilt! Pinball, from Cinematronics LLC, way back in 1995. Maxis swallowed Cinematronics in 1996, and Electronic Arts bought Maxis in 1997. If you look closely at the lower left corner of the Windows 3D Pinball window, you can still see the name “Cinematronics,” and “Maxis” appears in the lower right corner. (See Figure 1.)

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3D pinball
Figure 1: 3D Pinball is a classic Microsoft PC game, but it isn’t included in Windows Vista — unless you know the secret.

Microsoft bundled a scaled-back version of Space Cadet, one of the Full Tilt! playing fields, in the Windows 95 Plus! Pack, thus contributing to a worldwide glut! of! exclamation! points! in the mid! 1990s.

Windows 3D Pinball Space Cadet proved quite popular at the time: some folks (present company included) felt that Pinball was the major selling point for the Plus! Pack.

Microsoft shipped 3D Pinball Space Cadet in Windows 98, Me, and XP, but somehow neglected to include it in Windows Vista. Many of you tell me that it’s just another example of the “downgrading” of Windows, a lump of coal in the Vista stocking. You can grouse about the Grinch, if you like, but — at least in this case — you can get your Pinball back.

How you can port Pinball to Vista

Microsoft won’t tell you this, but it’s easy to get 3D Pinball to work with Vista. On every Vista computer I’ve seen, you just have to copy the program from a Windows XP (or 2000, 98, or Me) computer to Vista. While the legalities may vary, depending on where you live, if you own a copy of Windows XP, and you own a copy of Vista, it’s highly unlikely that the Software Police will come knocking at your door.

Step 1. On any Windows XP computer, click Start, My Computer, and navigate to C:Program FilesWindows NT.

Step 2. Copy the folder called Pinball to any convenient location — a USB drive, or if you’re on a network, into the Vista computer’s Public folder. You can even zip up the contents of the folder and e-mail it to yourself.

Step 3. On the Vista computer, log on with an administrator account, then copy the Pinball folder to some appropriate place. I put mine in C:Program FilesMicrosoft Games. You have to suffer through several User Account Control hiccups.

Step 4. When the folder’s in its new location, double-click the Pinball folder and locate the file called pinball.exe. (You do have Windows showing filename extensions, right?) In Vista, click Start, Games. Then click and drag pinball.exe into the Games folder.

From that point on, any time you want to play 3D Pinball Space Cadet on your Vista computer, click Start, Games, and double-click Pinball. Easy.

Knowing the 3D Pinball rules helps to break ‘em

If you’ve never played 3D Pinball Space Cadet, it’s easy to get started. Hold down the space bar to launch the ball. Press z for the left flipper, / (slash) for the right. Press x to nudge the bottom of the table to the right, . (period) to nudge to the left, and the up arrow to nudge the whole table up. If you nudge too much, you’ll tilt. Just desserts and all that.

While you can flip the flippers and bump the bumpers to your heart’s content, you may be surprised to know that 3D Space Cadet Pinball includes a sophisticated scoring strategy. Shooting targets in specific sequences dramatically increases your score, and the most advanced players try to progress within the ranks, from Cadet to Fleet Admiral.

You can see many of the rules for playing 3D Space Cadet Pinball by hitting F1… unless you’re using Vista, in which case the F1 help doesn’t, uh, help. Vista doesn’t include the old compiled Help reader — another bugaboo of the “downgrade” contingent.

Fortunately, you can still download from the University of Bristol Web site the original rule book in Word format. It goes way beyond the F1 help.

The real fun lies in cheats and hacks

Windows 3D Pinball has so many documented cheats it’ll make your head spin. The most extensive compilation I’ve found is on the GameWinners Web site.

There’s one cheat that outclasses them all: when you start a new game, as soon as the screen comes up, type

hidden test

and press the Enter key. You can then click and drag the ball all around the table: your mouse can help you hit targets, roll over the rollovers, dive down the chutes. It’s a great way to learn how the table works.

While you’re in “hidden test” mode, you can use the mouse, play normally, or:

• Type R to raise your rank one level — Cadet to Ensign to Lieutenant, Captain, Lt. Commander, Commander, Commodore, Admiral, or Fleet Admiral;

• Type H to set anyone’s high score to 1,000,000,000 points;

• Type B to get a new ball, even if you’ve used ‘em all up.

How to go way beyond 3D

As you might imagine, there are plenty of free pinball programs out and about. I particularly like Chris Leathley’s free Future Pinball, which lets you build your own tables and adorn them in multitudinous ways. WildSnake Pinball has free demo versions and several interesting settings.

But I’m still partial to 3D Space Cadet. With the holidays coming up, you might sneak a copy onto that USB drive you take when you visit the family. Never know when you might find a dull Vista machine that could use a little sprrroooing!

Woody Leonhard‘s latest books — Windows Vista All-In-One Desk Reference For Dummies and Windows Vista Timesaving Techniques For Dummies — explore what you need to know about Vista in a way that won’t put you to sleep. He and Ed Bott also wrote the encyclopedic Special Edition Using Office 2007.
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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2007-12-06:

Woody Leonhard

About Woody Leonhard

Woody Leonhard is a Windows Secrets senior editor and a senior contributing editor at InfoWorld. His latest book, the comprehensive 1,080-page Windows 8 All-In-One For Dummies, delves into all the Win8 nooks and crannies. His many writings tell it like it is — whether Microsoft likes it or not.