I'm looking at designing tables for Future Pinball but I'm not sure where to start as I've little background in game design per se. I've played scores of pinball tables over the years so I've a fairly good idea of what is "fun" in those terms. However, I'd like to know if there is a definitive "bible" of pinball design as far as layout and scoring/mode design goes. I've looked but there doesn't seem to be anything really coherent that I could find. Is it simply a lost art or am I missing some buried gem?
This seems akin to asking if there is a definitive “bible" of first-person-shooter design. Pinball is just a genre/type of arcade game which became popular and was copied in the same why fps games were among video games. The design of pinball games was likely more stable than that of video games due to the complexity and inherently higher cost of developing new mechanical game elements vs. digital game elements. Each player has their preferences as to what would qualify as definitive elements of pinball machine design. Some would swear by the early machines with no computerized components, others are going to think the almost seizure-inducing 1992 The Addams Family /// machine was the culmination of pinball design, and I’m sure someone out there at some point swore that adding paddles was heresy and they shouldn’t mess with the design of Bagatelle.
The only other element of design is profit. This is likely a stronger influence to pinball design than anything else. It’s easier and much more cost effective to use the same mechanical elements in many machines just in different configurations and with different themes/graphics. So once they hit on something that worked it was copied many times over. These common elements are what define “pinball”. As for scoring it is mostly just a way to compare relative skill and the particular mechanics of scoring is generally irrelevant as long as a better player scores higher. Scoring systems also has economic implications as well as discussed here: http://cheaptalk.org/2009/11/17/the-economics-of-pinball/
You’ve played lots of machines, you know what you like, and you know what you find fun, I’d suspect you might also have an idea of what you haven’t seen but think might be fun. You know how you define “pinball.” Game design, be it classic arcade or modern computer games, is about what is fun, and is always a matter of taste and opinion. Just use your own experience and try to make something you would find fun.
There was a program called Pinball Builder where you could build your own pinball games based on different layouts. This would be good for planning and designing ideas. The program is old so it may be hard to find.
I'm not sure if there is a definitive set of rules for designing a pinball game. Flippers, bumpers and ramps are the main things that signify the genre, I guess if you have them you have a pinball game?