The Pinball Arcade is the most realistic pinball simulator available. It features faithful recreations of classic pinball machines and has millions of users across PC, Mac, Playstation, Xbox and various other platforms. A lot of time and money is spent getting each pinball table as accurate and realistic as possible. However, the user experience and menu design has not received the same attention. The game’s users have been complaining about the interface for years; the topic comes up in countless forum threads and someone even made a 20 minute video explaining all the ways the interface is poorly designed. As a fan of The Pinball Arcade, I created a design mockup of how I would like the interface (aka GUI, UI, UX) to function. The video above demonstrates my design concept for the PC version (full screen at 1080p).
Instead of simply focusing on their top score, The Pinball Arcade platform sets certain goals for players to achieve for each table. In the current interface, the progress of these goals is hidden until you go to each table’s detail page. I thought it would be better to not only prominently display these achievements in the detail section for each individual table, but also on each table icon itself.
A small bar at the bottom of each table icon displays the player’s progression through these goals. A white line represents the standard goals and a red line represents the wizard goals (which are only unlockable once the standard goals are met). Now, the tables menu serves as a showcase for the user’s acheivements, as well as a reminder for which goals remain incomplete. The line displays this information without distracting or cluttering the menu. However these progress line/bars can be disabled in the preferences if the user chooses.
Currently in The Pinball Arcade, there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to compare scores with friends. This is surprising for an arcade platform centered around high scores and competition. My friend an I actually have a shared dropbox folder where we screenshot our scores for the different tables and compare scores by comparing images; it’s a workaround for something that should be a focal point of the platform.
In my design, each table has an easily accessible friend ranking as well as online and you can access it without having to leave the table menu to a separate screen. I imagine a more in depth page could be made that specifically highlights different stats between you and your friends, but I did not design that page.
In the bottom left of the screen, your currently online friends (and recently active friends) are displayed, along with what game they are currently playing. I would like to be able to click on an online friend and challenge them to their current table or one of my choosing. They could accept this challenge and we would take turns and see each other play, just like 2-player mode on a real pinball machine.
I also created custom music for the interface, to be used as the default Pinball Arcade music before the user has chosen a table. The music in the current Pinball Arcade software is the song “Pinball Wizard” by The Who. While the song lyrics are clearly relevant, the bright strumming of an acoustic guitar always felt out of place with the 80s/90s arcade games seen on screen. I met them halfway by creating an 80s retro synthesizer version of the song which I feel makes a better fit in the arcade atmosphere. You can hear my music as the default theme at the start of the video.
Updating the Design
My main goal with this project was to create a more engaging and intuitive interface. I wanted everything important laid out and easy to see, without the need to click onto different pages. I wanted to provide the user with a lot of information, but still keep the layout simple. I made some simple changes such as using an “unlocked” icon, on the free-to-play table of the month, instead of the actual words “table of the month” as they currently use. The table icons are now legible, but still convey the theme of the table by using an image from the backglass. There are still things I would change and add to, but overall I think this would be a big improvement for the software.