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Tech by VICE

Draw Pinball Tables in Real Time with 'Flippaper'

Turn your own Mona Lisa into the Bride of Pin*Bot.

by Zack Kotzer
Mar 26 2016, 3:00pm

Roman Miletitch and Jérémie Cortial with their magic box. Credit: Zack Kotzer

Flippaper looks like an artist easel stolen from an Epcot pavilion, or perhaps a Game Boy designed for giants. On the front you clip a sheet of paper that you can draw on, then push a scan button that absorbs all your doodles into a pinball game in a Lite-Brite flash. And like magic you can play it, a tiny ball drips onto your drawing to be batted around by the flippers. You can play, review, reimagine and re-scan at whatever pace you desire, swatting the scan button just to see the magic spell in action.

I was too conservative at first. With markers, I drew ramps, targets, and pop bumpers in tribute to those loud hulkish machines I love so dearly. But I was misguided. Hanging on the wall like drying shirts was a gallery of other people's pinball tables: rocket space adventures, goblin faces, and Rick & Morty fan art. I realized I was missing the point of this game. According to its creators, the most fun isn't found in a scientifically designed pinball table or a manic scribble, but something in-between.

"Sometimes somebody wants to make the pinball of their dreams," said one of its creators, Roman Miletitch. "It's not just a drawing, but it's something you'd want to play. The best papers are the one with very interesting drawings, and very interesting gameplay."

Each colour has a different effect. Blues are general surfaces, yellow for points and golden coins, reds are targets or barriers that can be broken down with each hit, and green is go, an accelerator that can be used to whip the ball to further reaches or simulate the momentum of ramps if you so desire. But of course, blue is also the colour of water, yellow the friendly warmth of the sun and busy bees, red can be molten fire and beating hearts, and green can be everything from nature's plants to toxic sludge. What you make within these assets is the point that alluded me, a pinball dweeb to the point of self-destruction.

Caption: Pinball hall of fame. Credit: Zack Kotzer.

Flippaper is the result of three years of work and a single misunderstanding from Miletitch and Jérémie Cortial, two French tech wizards with keen interests in art and screen printing. Miltitch saw a game made by Cortial from afar, Arcade Paper, a riff on Nintendo's Game & Watch series with backgrounds that could be swapped out. Miletitch thought that the drawings had a more intrinsic effect on the game, and approached Cortial to put together something where that would be the case. For a brief moment they considered creating a machine where you could draw racetracks, but didn't find it very inspiring. Pinball soon filled their heads. It's natural, it's familiar, and in its most basic form only requires you to recognize gravity as a factor.

"At the beginning we didn't know if it would be cool or what," said Cortial, "just that it would need a great resolution and perfect synchronization, and when we made the first test it was very simple, very pixelated. We decided we don't need a big projector, it's going to be magic anyway."

The first prototype was projected against a wall, enlarging their doodles like an old school overhead projector. They then toured a wooden box prototype, which Cortial calls "the crap version," at other French festivals, and many friends and strangers took an instant liking to it.

The final version is slick with a hard spaceship shell and powerfully glowing screen. There are two in circulation to tour various events. I have seen my fair share of pinball machines and it sure doesn't look like any pinball I've ever seen, not merely because it's vertical. It is it's own new game, a kind of flushed pinball dream where figments of your imagination manifest as objects to batter with metal balls.

"When you're playing Flippaper, you're both the game designer and the player," said Miletitch. "Sometimes you start making one pinball, then you play it, and you realize it was maybe too easy. You might think I won, this is the end. Let's do something else. But you're playing against yourself. It's not about getting the high score, but a matter of exploring, and creating. It's not just playing what you're drawing, the game is drawing."