On the attempts to resurrect Space Cadet Pinball

Since the unfortunate demise of Space Cadet Pinball, there have been occasional efforts to resurrect the popular game.

Space Cadet Pinball was not originally written by Microsoft, but was rather obtained via licensing from a company then-known as Cinematronics. This means that there are restrictions on what can be done with the program, as spelled out by the license agreement.

That license agreement turns 24 years old tomorrow, and the paper on which it was written is probably in need of some museum-quality archiving. I haven't personally seen the original license agreement, but then again, I'm not a museum-quality archivist.

Anyway, there was a Garage project to resurrect Space Cadet Pinball, basically by repackaging the working x86 version. They didn't try to fix the bugs in the x64 version.

When they were done, they wanted to know whether they could release it to the public. This entailed contacting the legal department and performing a close reading of the original contract.

Sadly, the license agreement does not permit releasing the game as an independent entity. The agreement was for including Space Cadet Pinball in Windows 95, with options to include it in the Microsoft Plus! pack for Windows 95, as well as extending the distribution rights to successor products of Windows and the Plus! pack. History tells us that Microsoft chose to exercise all the options clauses, which earned the original licensor some extra pocket change.

Unfortunately, release as an independent product was not included in the terms of the deal.

Sorry, Space Cadet Pinball fans. I miss that game as much as you do.

Bonus chatter: The license also does not permit releasing the source code to the public.

Comments (43)
  1. Brian_EE says:

    So does WMS Industries own the rights to the game? Seems like Microsoft could cut a new deal to be able to re-release the game. Perhaps there’s not enough interest (or business case) in that from MS management though…

    1. According to Wikipedia, WMS was aquired by the Scientic Games Corporation and fully merged into it in 2016. So I think they would have to contact them about the rights.

    2. poizan42 says:

      Cinematronics, LLC was bought by Maxis which in turn was bought by EA Games, so unless they specifically sold that IP off to someone else it should be with EA Games today. Good luck getting them to do anything.

  2. Snarky Proposal: Release “Microsoft Plus! for Windows 10” that includes only Space Cadet Pinball.

    1. Ray Koopa says:

      And old school wallpaper stretching!

  3. Complete non-cheating proposal:

    Microsoft Plus! Retro Edition

    Spider Solitare
    Hearts (assuming it doesn’t explode on trying to port it)
    Microsoft Picture-It! (seems to be a staple of Microsoft Plus! throughout the years)
    Cadet Pinball (the fixed version you already have)
    File Manager (the source code and a modern release is on github–use it)
    Windows Paint (I recall the usability peaked around windows 8 or so)
    Bonus: add the PCX file reader back to Windows Paint
    The best of desktop backgrounds from old Windows. Possible selection:
    marble.bmp from 3.1
    leaves.bmp from 3.1
    Swimming Pool (not sure if this is NT4 or 2000)
    RedMoonDesert from Windows XP
    Moon Closeup from Windows XP
    Dock from Windows Vista
    Forest from Windows Vista
    Forest Flowers from Windows Vista
    Oryx Antelope from Windows Vista (yeah vista had a quality control problem but it had the best images)
    Natural Arch from Windows 7

    1. mrphlip says:

      Is File Manager truly the file management tool the world needs to see, in this, the year of our Lord 19;8?

      1. Justification: Picture-It seems to be a staple of Plus! in most of its versions so it’s included to justify this is a continuation of plus.

        All the rest are things dropped from Windows or Plus that 1) have a fan base that would care (sales) and 2) would be easy to restore.

    2. cheong00 says:

      It’d be nice to include “Chess Titan” in Win7 (possibly starting from Vista? I can’t remember) too.

  4. sukru-t says:

    Yes, please release the Windows 10 Plus! pack

  5. Harold H20 says:

    I don’t understand — Pinball was included with Windows and was only removed, according to Raymond’s 2012 blog post, because they couldn’t figure out how to fix the bugs in the x64 version.

    But, 64 bit Windows can run 32 bit programs just fine. And, obviously, 32 bit programs will run just fine on 32 bit Windows. So I don’t understand the problem. Just include the 32 bit version of Pinball as part of Windows Vista/7/8/10, just like you did for Windows XP and earlier. This seems obvious — what am I missing?

    1. “Notice that if you disable 32-bit support, a bunch of stuff stops working. Windows is not a true 64-bit operating system! WAKE UP SHEEPLE.”

      1. Jan Ringoš says:

        Will it be someday supported to uninstall WOW64 from Windows 10 or Windows Server witt Desktop Experience role?

        1. Marc K 4096 says:

          I believe you already can uninstall WOW64 from Windows Server.

    2. Entegy says:

      If you read the comments on Raymond’s last post about this, Windows Setup did not have 32-bit compatibility. I guess that compatibily layer only runs under normal Windows. I’m also guessing that part of the goal of Windows 64-bit is that the components that ship with Windows inbox were all 64-bit.

  6. Serious guys! Just go to Microsoft Store or Steam and get yourself a copy of another pinball game. I used to play a pinball game from Sierra called 3-D Ultra Pinball.

  7. Why miss the game? You can still run it in a VM just fine.

    1. Have access to a Windows XP box? Just copy the %ProgramFiles%\Windows NT\Pinball folder into a newer OS and run PINBALL.EXE. Tested in Windows 7 x64 SP1 and Windows 10 x86, should work in other versions.

    2. If you have access to a Windows XP machine, you can just copy the Program Files\Windows NT\Pinball folder to a newer OS and run it directly. I tested it in Windows 7 x64 SP1 and Windows 10 x86, but should work in other versions.

  8. Brian600 says:

    “The agreement was for including Space Cadet Pinball in Windows 95, with options to include it in the Microsoft Plus! pack for Windows 95, as well as extending the distribution rights to successor products of Windows and the Plus! pack.”

    I think it’s a bit silly to release a new Plus! pack just for Pinball. However, I would’ve thought that Windows 10 would constitute a successor to Windows 95.

    Is Windows 10 bundling unavailable for for legal/licensing reasons, or because including Pinball in the OS (rather than independently) would introduce a burden on Microsoft in terms of OS testing/documentation and the like.

    Note: Personally, I don’t actually care whether Windows 10 includes Pinball. I just find these sorts of licensing/release issues fascinating. Thank you for sharing them.

    1. Yes, my interpretation is that it would be permissible to put Space Cadet Pinball in the base Windows 10 product. But the practical problem is that we would have to find and fix the 64-bit bug!

      1. Alex Cohn says:

        Or, rewrite the whole game from scratch. I wonder, how many hours this would take with modern dev. tools. At least, here we know exactly what the result should be, and we have a proof that it can be done. Maybe, this could be used as an exercise for AI: have a neural network trained on the original Space Cadet, and let it produce a win10 version.

      2. cheong00 says:

        One question: I remember that you can install “Windows DVD player” App for free if you upgrade from selected version of Win7/8/8.1.

        Does that qualify as “bundled version”? If so, can the Pinball be released with similar terms?

      3. Is it just a matter of finding and fixing the bug, then, since Microsoft still seems to have access to the source code? Surely the positive publicity of including Space Cadet in W10 would be well worth the time of a developer working on that for a few days or weeks! It could even be repackaged as a Desktop Bridge app at the same time.

        1. Finding and fixing the bug is only the first obstacle.

      4. ender9 says:

        What is the 64-bit bug? I remember trying Space Cadet in XP x64, and there didn’t seem to be any problems.

  9. Gee Law says:

    In the 2012 post, you said you couldn’t name the company because of the blog policy. Is it loosened now, or is it because the name’s already there in the comments?

    1. The information is not disparaging and the company openly acknowledges it.

  10. pek99 says:

    Why can’t Microsoft publish simply an XP virtual machine for retro fans, including Pinball & co? Just disable network drivers to protect the VM from the internet.

    1. Sure, and the license for that virtual machine would cost the same as a license for Windows XP. Hey, we already have that! It’s called a Windows XP license!

      1. We had XP Mode on Windows 7 for awhile. The primary problem with the idea is trying to run internet-enabled software on it without ridiculous security holes.

      2. pek99 says:

        I know Raymond, but WXP is AFAIK not available from MS as a normally sold product and the licensing conditions for Windows XP are in the hands of Microsoft, not Cinematronics. WXP currently also needs an internet activation and I would prefer not to connect the VM to internet for security reasons.

        However, there still can be some (legal, or technical) traps why a second (cheaper and still available from MS) license for “Retro gaming engine XP” won’t work and therefore I have asked the original question.

        1. I don’t think the revenue from the “Windows XP for Retro Gaming” product would even come close to covering the cost to create and maintain it. (Especially since everybody would use it for stuff other than retro gaming.)

          1. pek99 says:

            Thank you. This is probably the real answer why.

  11. Azarien says:

    Why can’t Microsoft simply… fix the bug! Yes! Instead of wasting time on [insert some discontinued product name here] they could’ve fixed the Space Cadet Pinball! Just imagine… ;-)

    1. Ivanski K says:

      Haha. I like how you carried the “simply” from the linked blog article :-)
      》”we simply couldn’t figure out why…”

  12. Juanjose says:

    I still don’t get it. What it prevents to re release space pinball as a Windows Spring or Fall update? This way it wouldn’t be a standalone product and thus Microsoft would be cover by the initial agreement? Right?

    1. First reason: Because the x64 version doesn’t work.

  13. It’s funny to listen to this debate.

    On most other topics dev pros like ourselves would be all about retiring long-accumulating technical debt, discarding ancient undocumented spaghetti code designed for a different platform in a different era, re-architecting then re-writing from scratch, etc.

    But somehow when it’s functionality we want, we’re all about demanding that other dev team (i.e. one not including ourselves) spend whatever it takes to breathe another life into this moldy old code. It’ll be a quick easy patch, honest! Just try it and see!!

    If we’re prone to this fallacy when we truly understand the downsides, think what that implies about our users & business leaders who are generally clueless about the downside of ancient code. And 3rd party code to boot.

  14. DavidMCandy says:

    Pinball works fine here on Windows 10 (from Win 98), and I play it every few months for a minute or two. And MS Arcade (as does MSBob and WinWord 1 and 2) still works on WfW3.11/DosBox. I suspect Raymond is wary of plus packs as people will start demanding a new tweakui.

    1. People seem to be ignoring Raymond’s point that “it works fine here” doesn’t matter: the directive from management is that x64 Windows ships with x64 code, so if it bundles Pinball, it has to be an x64 build, which is nontrivial to do.

      Never mind the fact that Windows 10 doesn’t even come with classic Minesweeper or Solitaire anymore, so including a pinball game that is decidedly not keeping with the Metro theme (or have any sense of modernity to its UI at all) would be less than likely.

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