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Chatty Q&A: Zen Studios discusses Guardians of the Galaxy, Deadpool, and Pinball FX 2

by Ozzie Mejia, shacknews.com, Jul 30, 2014 11:00AM PDT

When it comes to crossing the worlds of video games and pinball, none do it better than Zen Studios. The creators of Pinball FX 2 have been releasing virtual pinball tables for many years, becoming most recognized for their tables based on beloved properties, like Star Wars and Marvel Comics. And with the amount of love and detail put into each offering, the studio has grown to be beloved by pinball enthusiasts everywhere.

Zen Studios isn't about to slow down. They recently announced that their pinball series would come to Xbox One, only delaying the July 31 release to make sure Xbox 360 owners could bring their tables with them. In terms of new tables, the Guardians of the Galaxy table has brought its cosmic brand of adventure to Pinball FX 2 this week.

Though it's been a busy period for the development team, Zen Studios Vice President of Publishing Mel Kirk still took a moment to speak to Shacknews about the work they've done and what's coming up in the future. He also took some time to answer questions from Shacknews' Chatty community.

Shacknews: You're releasing the Guardians of the Galaxy table this week. What are some of the features that players should expect to find on this table?

Mel Kirk: We put in some serious effort to release Guardians of the Galaxy alongside the movie. I was finally able to see the film, and it totally validates what we did with the table – we really align with the story and the characters personalities with the film, I think people will really love it.

As for features, the table starts off with a frantic four-multiball mode, going into some background story on the group. The execution here is great, as it gets you into the action quickly and then gives you some idea of what is going on with the Guardians of the Galaxy story. Rocket Raccoon brings a ton of personality to the table, and Star-Lord is his goofy self, cracking all sorts of jokes.

Shacknews: This isn't the first time you've worked with lesser-known Marvel properties. How do you go about approaching franchises like Guardians of the Galaxy or Doctor Strange, where the larger audience may not be familiar with their characters?

Kirk: Our designers have a lot of say when it comes to picking out what we are going to work on. Doctor Strange and Moon Knight happened because our guys are big fans of those comics. With Guardians of the Galaxy, we knew that Marvel was going to really blow it out of the water with the film, and we wanted to be there when it happened. Working with these lesser known characters and helping give them exposure is something we now have a small hand in, and it is exciting for us to be there at the very beginning.

Shacknews: Since audiences will get familiar with Guardians of the Galaxy for the first time this week, either through the table or through the movie, what did the team at Zen Studios learn about this series that they didn't know before? How familiar has Zen become with GotG and will there be a future table in the works based on some of their stories in the comics?

Kirk: Some of our designers were already familiar with the comic material, and we were actually planning to do a table based solely on the comic. When Marvel told us about the film, we changed gears a bit, but still had a huge head start. Of course, we're very familiar with all the characters at this point and know the story very intimately. As for future Guardians of the Galaxy tables, we'll have to wait and see!

Shacknews: Another Marvel character you recently got to work with was Deadpool, where you got to play around with some new ideas. In what ways do characters and tables like this create the opportunity for experimentation with the traditional pinball formula?

Kirk: Deadpool was not going to let us do a table based on his persona without letting him break the fourth wall. We had to listen to every little idea he had, and ensure his table was distinct and true to his personality on every level. There is no doubt that he gave us all sorts of new ideas and opportunities for experimentation. Deadpool knows he is trapped in a pinball table, and that alone is really exciting – not to mention frightening – for Deadpool. Who knows if he will ever escape?

Shacknews: You also recently released Star Wars Pinball: Heroes Within, covering just about every corner of the Star Wars universe to date. Will Zen Studios be sticking with the franchise for the foreseeable future, long enough to create tables for upcoming additions to the series like Episode VII or Star Wars: Rebels?

Kirk: Star Wars Pinball has been a blast to work on. We have created an amazing set of 10 tables to date, and each set has expanded the audience further and further. There are some amazing Star Wars moments coming very soon, and we would very much like to be a part of it. I cannot confirm anything at this time, but we are really interested in being a part of this!

Shacknews: What are some other franchises (Marvel, Star Wars, or otherwise) that you'd love an opportunity to work with?

Kirk: There are many that we would really like to work with, but I cannot mention them since we are either working with them now to bring new tables in 2015, or we are about to sign the deal that puts these new tables into production. It is a really exciting time for us, with so many opportunities and it is simply thrilling to see how many people want to make pinbabies with Zen Studios.


After bouncing off some questions from the Shacknews staff, Kirk went for a bonus score by answering some questions from the Chatty community.

Mecha Tofu Pirate asks: I really enjoyed some of your tables that aren't based off of established IPs, like Paranormal. Are there any plans to do more tables like that?

Kirk: We are actively working on fresh new tables based on our concepts. We will likely ship a new pack of original tables sometime in early 2015. We're planning some really great ideas and all original content, so stay tuned for more information!

ThomW asks: People are building virtual pinball machines like VirtuaPin -- Do you have any plans to make your stuff work better, like a custom view or anything like that, for people considering building or buying one of those things?

Kirk: Virtual pinball cabinets are a really exciting idea right now. We actually had The Walking Dead table on display at E3 and Comic-Con on a virtual pinball cab, built by the guys at VP Cabs. People really seem to enjoy playing tables on these machines. While the aim is not to create a real pinball machine, this new pinball experience is much more aligned with a new breed of pinball players. It will be exciting to see where this goes.

Mecha Tofu Pirate asks: A lot of the early tables felt like attempts to feel like real pinball tables and, gradually, tables started having more elements added to them that would be impossible to replicate in real life, like the gameplay changes seen in the Infinity Gauntlet table. What was it that made them change how they designed tables?

Kirk: We are embracing the fact that we are a video game and do not have the same physical limitations that a real-world machine would. Over time, we have slowly tested new elements such as mini-games and flying objects. We were nervous about this initially, but fans have responded in a very positive way, urging us to take it even further. The Infinity Gauntlet table gave us the perfect opportunity to do something really crazy! Turning the whole table upside down was pretty wild, but it fit perfectly with the TIG storyline. I think we are comfortable doing non-traditional things as long as it fits the theme of the table.

It is true that some of our early work was modeled after real pinball tables. There was a huge learning curve to the process and we were heavily inspired by the great designers. Today things have changed, and I see the new machines following our off-the-beaten-path approach.

threeup asks: How do you approach competitive play with respect to traditional leaderboards, the modern use of divisions/leagues (like Starcraft 2, DOTA), and daily challenges like Spelunky or a pinball expo?

Kirk: When we released Pinball FX2 and Zen Pinball 2 a few years ago, we were at the cutting edge of social interaction and really had a great new platform. Now, here we are a few years later and these other games have far surpassed our system of leaderboards, in-game notifications and score taunting. We are iterating on these systems in earnest and will take them to the next level with things like daily challenges and more meaningful leaderboard rankings and tournaments.

There is a lot happening with eSports right now, and I think pinball has a place at the table, no pun intended. It is hard to bring all of these elements together at the same time, but this is definitely on our radar.

Mecha Tofu Pirate asks: Are there any plans to have persistent elements in a table again, like in the Epic Quest table?

Kirk: Yes, we have plans for these types of systems. Epic Quest was just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, and we will have more of this in the future.

threeup asks: Do you have plans for more scoring and objective variants?

Kirk: We do! Have you guys been reading our emails to each other?

threeup asks: Pinball is can have some odd physics due to the forces and angles involved, do you simulate any bizarre bounces or hits, or do you clamp physics values to a safe user experience?

Kirk: We have always opted for the most realistic simulation possible, so – in theory, at least – the same "odd" physics can result due to the forces and angles involved in our tables.


The Guardians of the Galaxy table is available now PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Vita, and Xbox 360 and will release on iOS and Android tomorrow. The Xbox One version will be available alongside Pinball FX 2.