I've been playing a lot of iPhone pinball games recently, and I've noticed that almost all pinball games have some sort of a "bump", or a "shake", or a "nudge" feature within them. I've also seen the same thing in the Windows XP game Pinball, and shaking the table often results in the game first giving you a "caution", then ending the game.

Why do pinball games have these? Is it supposed to simulate some feature within real pinball machines?

3 Answers 3


In real pinball machines, players would bump and tilt the table to tweak the trajectory of the ball to their liking. This is known as "nudging". While a little nudging can add skill and depth, too much breaks the game and needs to be guarded against. This is dealt with using sensors that kill the current ball if the table is tilted or smacked too much. Pinball video games seem to have a nudge feature just to emulate this aspect of real-life play.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinball#Nudging

  • 1
    Hard to believe that someone never played on a real machine. But it makes sense with all these video games available :-)
    – Luc M
    Commented Aug 31, 2013 at 20:49
  • How does the sensor kill the ball already in motion if you nudge it too much? Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 3:19
  • 1
    When the tilt sensor is triggered, the game disables everything and waits for the ball to drain.
    – Toomai
    Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 13:33

It's for if the ball gets stuck, i.e. perfectly balanced behind a bumper or wedged behind something. The real equivalent would be physically hitting the table.

  • 9
    As a loooong-time pinball fanatic, I have to take issue with this answer. The real reason is simply to make pinball emulations as close to the real thing as possible. Pin manufacturers put a tilt mech (and slam switches) to keep players from abusing the machines to death. A skilled player can do amazing things (e.g. bang-backs) without triggering the tilt mechs. Unsticking a ball is only necessary in those (solid-state) machines whose software lacks a "lost-ball recovery" algorithm. Commented Nov 12, 2013 at 16:15
  • @CarlWitthoft then add your comment as an answer.
    – tombull89
    Commented Nov 12, 2013 at 16:30
  • 5
    I don't think I have anything to add to Toomai's answer. Commented Nov 12, 2013 at 16:31

In real pinball, once you've played the game a significant number of times, you'll start to identify certain areas in the game that are trouble spots where you are likely to lose a ball. Usually these are oriented around the two outlanes on the side, particularly whether a given ball is going to end up going down the outlane and not the inlane. Each game has slightly different dividers between the lanes, different bumper angles and constructions in the vicinity of the lanes. But regardless of the specifics, applying a slight nudge at just the right time can help influence the ball into the inlane instead of the outlane. Some games also have certain ramp shots that will drain unless they're nudged on the way out of the ramp, especially for a shot that doesn't have enough force and doesn't clear a ramp.

In some games a little bit of nudge is useful for keeping the ball dancing between jet bumpers. But most players only take the risk of a tilt on heavy nudging when they're trying to save a ball.

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