Balls of Steel, Speed of molasses.
My wait for Apogee's Balls of Steel has seemed like an eternity. Since
Epic has stopped releasing pinball games (or anything else for that
matter) I had a lot of hope for this program. The wait is over. I
downloaded the shareware edition the other night. Just to put things
in perspective, I am a major computer pinball fan. I own ever table
produced by Epic, 21st Century, and yes Sierra (available for the PC).
For those not wanting to read a long commentary, let me just say that
Balls of Steel is easily the worst computer pinball game since
Sierra's disastious Take a Break pinball.
First, let me state the specks of my computer. I have a Pentium 166mmx
with 32 megs of edo ram, Intergraph Intense 3D card, and Sound Blaster
32. The system averages over 48 fps on DN3D. Oh I have a 3DFX card too
but I figure that isn't related. The Installation was straight forward
and painless. The game starts up with a very strongly worded message
about how I can only run it 30 times without penalty. Since Shadow
Warrior Apogee seems to like this, why I don't know. Well that doesn't
matter, a single good game would be enough to convince me to buy a
computer pinball game. 
I start playing the game with the defaults. After a load bar moved
across the screen, the pinball play board scrolled by, at a slow pace.
I started the game. No lie, it took OVER TWO MINUTES from the pull of
the plunger until the ball came in contact with a flipper. Ok, so I
quit and look at the options. I turn it to single screen mode with max
speed. When into the game and it locked up my computer. After
rebooting I restarted the game and the settings worked. Turns out I
can't play this game two times in a row. Ok, this made debug really
freakin hard. So I open up the help and started reading. AHHH.. They
had a section under trouble shooting titled if the game is running
slow. So I followed the suggestions. After several lockups and reboots
I finally decided that none of those suggestions were going to work so
I started playing with the other options. After 50 some tries I
finally got it to run (IMHO) just under bare able speed by turning off
the sound and all video modes except 8 bit. I'm talking Epic pinball
on a 386 sx16 speed. After all this I thought to myself, well maybe my
Intergraph board is just not compatible. Never mind that it runs every
game except those in modeX screaming fast. So I tried my wife'scomputer...
Her computer is a Pentium 150 with 64 megs of edo, #9 771 motion, and
soundblaster 16. To make a long story short, her's ran Balls of Steel
even slower than my system. Next I tried my Mom's computer which is a
Packard Bell but is a Pentium 200mmx (I'm not sure of the sound card
or video card) Oddly enough I couldn't even get it to run on her
system. I looked at the help docs again. Balls of Steel requires
Pentium 100 and recommends a 133. So I go to my Best friend's house
and try it on his Pentium 100 (oced to a 133) with a Hercules card.
Needless to say, it was a slide show under the best conditions. So I
contacted one of my Quake buddies and got him to run it on his Pentium
II 266. It ran "ok". Not as fast as say Extreme Pinball but playable. 
Ok, so now I go back home and try it again on my 166 mmx. There are
good points. First off having the left and right mouse buttons control
the left and right flippers is a big boon for me. The table looked
nice but computer pinball has evolved beyond emulating late 80's
table. Except for the nifty second level pinball arm there is nothing
we haven't seen done better in Extreme pinball or Pro Tilt. Because of
the slow speed I easily scored over 650,000,000 on the first ball. I'm
not sure of the sounds since I had to keep them turned off in order to
play without dozing off but when they were on, they seemed flat and
there was no music. The score table animation scream the fact that the
person who made the animations didn't spend much time playing Pinball
games. The shots were all too easy. The ball motion didn't give the
feeling that it was on a tilted table. With almost no speed, when
entering the bug carousel the ball would always wrap around when it
should have drifted back down. Lastly the bumpers seem to be from a
worn out table without any power at all. Had the speed been good, I
could have ignored a lot of the little problems. It is an attractive
program and it seems a lot of work went into Balls of Steels. I maybe
could of thought there was something wrong with my computer but after
trying five computers and none of them ran Balls of Steel
successfully, I think this game has to be a dud from the starting
gate. Heck, of the four computer that could run the game, I had to
reboot after each game or the computer would lock up. Don't even was
your time downloading the demo.

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