Notes on the untimely demise of 3D Pinball for Windows

Sure, there was a collision detection bug. Turns out somebody then quietly fixed it

Veteran Microsoft developer Raymond Chen has revealed a bit more about what went wrong with the 64-bit version of Space Cadet Pinball.

Space Cadet Pinball was a port of an old Maxis Software game that turned up in the Windows 95 Plus! pack. The Space Cadet table was ported by Dave Plummer (as part of a team working on bringing the Windows 95 shell to Window NT) and the game was known as 3D Pinball for Windows – Space Cadet.

The port was a bit of a challenge – in a recent YouTube video Plummer expanded on some of the headaches involved in, for example, getting the original sound working – but the game turned up on Windows NT 4, 2000, ME, and XP.

However, as Windows moved into a 64-bit world, Pinball did not immediately follow. The explanation given in 2012 by Chen was that the collision detection code proved a challenge, and with deadlines pressing (and millions of lines of Windows code needing porting), simply dropping the game was the path of least resistance.

Fans have continued to investigate and found that, interestingly, the game did work. One suggestion made was that it was axed "because it didn't look very good on Vista."

Youtube Video

Not so. Chen repeated his assertion of collision detection issues this week but added some new nuggets of information. The first was that the port was done using the Alpha AXP since no Itanium hardware was available at the time. "I could test my 64-bit port on a physical Alpha AXP system to validate that it was successful," said Chen. "And that's the system that had the broken collision detector."

The story does not end there. While Pinball had been dropped as far as Chen was concerned, working versions did turn up in 64-bit versions of XP and previews of Windows Vista.

Plummer has demonstrated it working under Windows 11 and an effort to decompile the game has not turned up the bug. Chen's theory? "The C runtime team realized that they had a compatibility bug in the way they set the default rounding mode, and they fixed it.

"Or maybe there was a compiler bug, and the compiler team fixed that. Whatever the problem was, somebody fixed it, and then they went back and re-tested Pinball with this fix, and everything worked great, so they put Pinball back."

I don't know that younger Windows user are really clamoring for it...

He went on: "I'm just guessing about what happened afterward because nobody informed me that they had gotten Pinball working and added it back. I just assumed that it was gone forever."

As for whether Pinball might make a comeback, Plummer thought it unlikely: "First, the game is ancient and while for many people it's a nostalgic thing, I don't know that younger Windows user are really clamoring for it.

"More important, though, is the fact that it's highly visually dated. When you see it next to Windows 11 it's pretty jarring."

For sure. With not even Notepad immune to the whims of the Windows 11 design team, shoving something into the OS that is not resizable and has a skin that dates back to the last century is unlikely to fly.

Even if the Windows code fairies did come in the night all those years ago to fix the collision bug that killed off the poor thing in the first place. ®

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