Pinball and Spectacle

In Brief

  • In the classic games, when running down a hill, rolling into a ball causes Sonic to go even faster.
    • This often produced spectacular results and created a terrifyingly exciting adrenaline ‘rush’
    • As the ball rolling was an optional act, the player could decide is s/he wanted the experience of spectacle.
  • classic_good.png Unlike in the modern games, rolling into a ball is usually optional.
    • This allows the player to retain control over the speed, which creates a sense of freedom and so makes the spectacle more meaningful

Pinball and Spectacle

As noted in the skateboarding section, skateboarders use their speed to defy gravity and soar through the air in a spectacular fashion.

While the goal in pinball is to defy gravity to reach the top of the table, unlike a skateboarder, defying gravity does not produce spectacle, as the glass cover prevents the ball from rising into the air.

In a Sonic game, this limitation does not exist.

Pinball spectacle in the classic games

The levels of the classic games often contain skateboarding-like slopes. Curling into a ball when running down a slope intensifies the speed.

As such slopes usually end with a launcher curve, the additional speed causes the curled-up Sonic to become airborne and hurtle across the sky at a frightening pace.

▲ Rolling into a ball when crossing a slope makes Sonic go faster
and can often have spectacular results.

Pinball spectacle and suspense

These airborne scenes are some of the most memorable moments in the classic games. They are also filled with suspense, as the player is never entirely sure where Sonic will land. As Sonic often collects a generous helping of rings while airborne, there is a continuous worry that he might land on a dangerous obstacle and be stripped of his treasures.


▲ This curve flings Sonic a dizzying high into the air.
As he starts to fall, suspense is created, as the player is worried that Sonic may land on a danger.

Whilst falling, the player can manoeuvre Sonic in an effort to land away from danger. This does not guarantee a safe landing, as the dangers are not visible until Sonic has landed. However, it provides the player with a sense of control over the experience and this intensifies the rush as the player knows that s/he is actively taking part as opposed to passively watching.

Similar to the wall walking sections, the suspense, is unfounded, as the level design ensures that Sonic will always land safely (although the player is rarely aware of this).
The pleasure principle of Fair Challenge This is important to prevent frustration, which would negate the pleasures of the speed.

Player control

The pleasure principle of Player Choice The player usually is in full control of these sections. The spectacle only occurs if the player pressed the down button to roll into a ball1. This sense of control created freedom, as the player can experience Sonic's speed in the manner that s/he choose. The player is never forced to experience the speed in the exact fashion that the game designer has decided. The freedom made the spectacle more meaningful.

Comparisons with the modern games

While spectacle sections are key aspect of modern games, they no longer incorporate the ball rolling mechanics.

The spectacle sections are often automatic and so the The pleasure principle of Player Choice created in the classic games is missing.

The suspense is also missing, as the automatic nature of the sections makes the player more aware that s/he will safely land.



  • Modern games need to:
  • Allow the player to choose whether or not to experience a spectacle.
    • This is achieved through including spectacular moments that only occur if the player rolls into a ball
  • This will:
    • Increase player The pleasure principle of Player Choice, which will allow for freedom that will make the spectacle more meaningful
    • Allow for suspense, which will enhance the adrenaline rush.

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Invulnerability Rush and Spectacle Mechanics Contrasts (Section Index)


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