Monday, September 15, 2008

Pinball design - Part 4 - Grace periods

Grace periods are a large part of the pinball rule-set development time. I know it doesn’t seem that way but it’s true. I would put them 3rd in the list of time consuming pinball development areas. The top 5 would be: choreography, choreography conflicts, grace periods, device drivers, and finally the rules themselves.

In short a grace period is this. Some pinball feature / rule is available, and if the player does what the rule is asking for he will be rewarded, but you only have a limited amount of time to do it. If you succeed great you get the award. If the time runs out the game will seem to take away your opportunity. The light will go out and maybe even the music will change. Both indicate that your feature is no longer available.

BUT WAIT! What if the ball was flipped while the feature was available and the ball is now en route when the feature ends? Well when the ball arrives the software should remember that you had the feature available and give it to you anyway. This is a grace period; a period of time when you still can be awarded the feature even though the feature has gone away for whatever reason.

The first problem is when deciding when to show the total page. Often when a player finishes a timed event we like to show them how well they did for that event. We call this a total page. At first you would think that the total page would immediately show up when the event ends. Also the total page is important to add clousure to the feature that was running. The choreography could go like this: EVENT IS RUNNING 3 2 1 0 TOTAL PAGE and at the same time the music, background display, and lamps all change to reflect the feature has ended.

Now what about the grace period? The event ends and instantly you see the total page and then you score one more award during the grace. Now the total you saw is wrong. So should the Total page not come up until the grace period is over? But then you have akward presentation like this: EVENT IS RUNNING 3 2 1 0 music changes, display changes, lamps change A FEW MORE SECONDS then the total page. Lately this is how we have been doing it but I don’t like it that much.

Now there is the case where a grace period can restart the event. Imagine if you will you are playing a multiball like Battle Royal in Spider-Man. In Battle Royal you Super jackpot is lit by shooting each of the villain areas of the game. Then when you shoot the super jackpot shot you get an additional ball in play! Let’s say you have the super jackpot lit and you drain down to one ball ending the multiball. The super jackpot light goes out, but you shoot the shot during your grace peroid! The game will award you an additional ball into play and start your multiball up again! Cool huh?

In my current game, 24, there is a time in the game where you are trying to get someone to the hospital before they die. You have to make some number of shots or else they die. Let’s say you have one shot left and the time runs out and FLAT LINE! She dies. BUT then you make the shot during the grace period and it’s a miracle!

Anyway you can see that sometimes a lot of thought goes in to something as simple as grace periods.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Pinball design - part 3: Let the game birth the rules

There are always some chunks of rules that have to come from flipping the game.

After flipping a game for the first few times you begin to realize that certain sequences of shots are fun, just kinetically. Therefore it’s really clear to me that you have to build at least some rules around the player performing that sequence.

In Star Trek: The Next Generation it was clear from flipping the game that there needed to be a special rule for shooting the left orbit followed by the left ramp. Thus the Picard Maneuver was born.

Terminator 2 is an example of a game that was largely birthed from flipping. When Steve Ritchie, Doug Watson, and I first started flipping the whitewood, it was plain that shooting the left and right ramps back and forth should be a big part of the game. Shooting that whitewood for the first time was lots of fun because it has really good flow.

Clearly when you shoot either ramp the goal should be to then shoot its counterpart. Each alternating ramp shot would build a ladder of lights until you reached the top. Also it was more fun if you did it quickly. So I added incentive for shooting the counterpart within a few seconds with the million plus rule.

But what should happen then? PAYBACK TIME! At first payback time was only awarded on the ramps. The thinking was you got here from being in a groove and shooting the ramps over and over. The rub came when people would miss their first 5 MILLION ramp shot and then flail and not get control of the ball for a length of time. Then the time would run out. So again the rules were changed / created from flipping the game; we made it so you could collect Payback Time from more than just the ramps.

Today games are more complicated. A great deal of the design work is done in team meetings and on paper. We often don’t have enough time to let the game tell you what the main rules will be. Once we get a whitewood a large percentage of the core rules have to be somewhat thought out.

Although, it’s not a good idea to completely design a game without flipping it. If you start flipping certain shots or sequence of shots and it is not easy or fun? Then you are stuck you cannot put in the rules you have mapped out there.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Pinball design - part 2: The distance from the start button

While designing features for a pinball machine you have to think of the big picture at all times. Two things you have to consider are: How hard is the feature you are creating while you are playing it? And: How hard is the feature to get to?

This is what I mean by “distance from the start button”. How long it takes someone to get to the feature after they push the start button and start the game.

This is all about the pacing of the game. You want the game to be deep but you do not want there to be long stretches of “work” to artificially deepen the game. You want the game to be action packed but you can’t let all the action get too bunched up. You have to design the game so that the pace of the game is good. You have to place the different features at good distances from the start button.

The pacing of the game is very important. Where it is most noticeable is in how hard the various multiballs in the game are to achieve, or how far they are from the start button. The closest one is for the Novices, another one further away as a challenge for the beginning players and a stepping stone for the intermediate players, another to give the intermediate players a challenge, and lastly one really far from the start button for the experts.

A great example of this is in the recent Spider-Man pinball machine. Spider-Man has Doc Ock which is only two shots to start. Further out is Black Suit, then Battle Royal, and finally Super Hero is really far from the start button. Well done Lyman.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Pinball design - part 1: The Silhouette of a Pinball Machine

Who plays our games? What I mean is what range of skill sets do the people that play our games have? Are they mostly novices or do they have some amount of skill? We have no means to do real research. So we mostly just guess.

Knowing who our players are is one of the first steps in knowing what game to design. How much of the game should be engineered for the novice, beginner, intermediate, expert, or Lyman?

My guess is people play our games first and foremost because they have the shape of a pinball machine. From a distance they have the silhouette of the game they know how to play on some level. I believe Pinball is like billiards, or darts, or bowling you have some idea what it’s about and you want to play it or you don’t. They are a form of entertainment but we are not a movie or bar band that people can passively participate in.

When I design a game I try and place emphasis on the beginning to intermediate player. I think it’s really important for the novice as well as the expert to have fun playing the game too. But I believe we should not bow down to the novice. We should instead make a game that intrigues the novice and pulls him in. Then after a few games the novice is no longer. In his place is a player on his way to being average. Yay!

The fear is that since a novice's skill is so low they will play once not achieve anything, decide that their original assessment was correct, pinball was not their “thing”, and not play anymore. So it is often argued that we should design to allow the novice to accomplish something every game.

I argue that an initial experience of a particular game is not one 2 minute game but a series of games. The goal then is after that series of games the player has learned enough about the game to want to play it again someday. I think it’s a mistake to design a game so that everyone every game sees every major feature.

There is one wrinkle in this line of thought. More and more games are being sold to be in basements. Most of which are people putting a Pin-table next to their bar and 60” flat screen for when they entertain guests. Guests will play pinball because it’s there even if they normally would not. They are novices that for the most part will not become a player but still need to be entertained.

Friday, February 1, 2008

..... A new begining

I wrote this article in 2003. I wrote it for Michael Schalhoub whom asked me to write a few articles for his book "The Pinball Compendium: 1982 to Present"

This is the story of The last few months at Williams and how I got my job working for Stern Pinnball Inc 1999.

To talk about my start at Stern is to talk about the end of Williams. It was the worst day of my life, October 25, 1999.

Let’s go back to the beginning of the end. For years, every three months there was another potential layoff of engineering peoples. Being a publicly held company, every three months is another quarterly report and the stockholders expect profits or action. Pinball, and the whole coin-op industry in general, was declining from mid-1994 on. Why it was declining is a whole ‘nother story. Layoffs were like vomiting. It is so gut wrenchingly painful as it is happening, but afterwards you feel better. You think, “That sucked, but maybe it’s over now, maybe things will get better from here.” You force yourself to have faith in the leadership of the company.

The beginning of the end to me was sometime in 1998. It had been made clear to us that we had to do something or we would be out of business. Even then I didn’t believe it. We would have meetings to discuss different ideas people had. We thought what we had to do was change the face of pinball. Make it look so different that it would draw new interest.

Looking for the answer was very difficult. In my own way of thinking it was like there was this really big field. We knew the answer was buried somewhere in the field. Some of us were walking around with a spade shovel digging holes at random. Some were walking around waving a metal detector back and forth in front of them and listening to little beeps. John Popadiuk was the most visible. His team was digging a really big hole with one of those large yellow diggers. George Gomez was often seen walking in straight lines, taking evenly spaced steps and often nervously glancing at a parchment. Sometimes George would take sharp right turns and continue pacing out of sight. In saner terms, we didn’t know what we were doing but John’s team had the most viable idea.

Basically, John wanted us to change pinball to have a new style of cabinet with a monitor instead of a dot-matrix display. He had many more ideas and some of them still persisted into what became Pinball 2000.

In a meeting with Neil Nicastro (the president), we were asked if everyone was behind John’s idea. I knew that we needed to sell it to Neil. I knew that it was important for us to stand behind the best idea and see it through. George Gomez thought differently. I followed George back to his office and asked him “What the hell are you doing?” He told me that he thought what John was doing was not the answer.

Time went by and we were pushing forward with John’s ideas. Later it was learned that George and Pat Lawlor worked at Pats garage building a demo to show the rest of us. When they brought in their demo it was clear to all that that was it, that we were done searching. This demo became Pinball 2000 and we were saved. Someone that saw the demo later said we had just “bought pinball 5 more years”.

What followed over the next many weeks was amazing. We became a group on a mission. We were reinventing pinball from the ground up. Everything was scrutinized to find a way to improve on the way it was done. The most visible part of Pinball 2000 was the interactive video, but this was just the tip of the iceberg. Very few people outside our group appreciate this today.

Lyman Sheats led Keith Johnson and I to write the software for Revenge from Mars, the first Pinball 2000 pinball machine. We were writing a game on a new platform while the Operating System itself was being developed. This was no easy task. Revenge from Mars, the second game (Star Wars Episode I), and the OS were almost all developed at the same time. We learned tons of things while we developed them. The next couple models were going to make great strides towards improving the platform.

We premiered Pinball 2000/Revenge from Mars at the ATEI show in London in January, 1999. The show was a huge success. While I had very little to do with the Pinball 2000 design or its OS, I worked harder on Revenge from Mars than any other game previous. Revenge from Mars sold well, 2 to 3 times more than any recent game.

Pinball Expo ‘99 was October 21st through the 24th. For two weeks prior to Expo, Tom Uban, Lyman Sheets, and others worked their butts off to get one of the newest additions to Pinball 2000 ready. While we developed Pinball 2000, we created and maintained a wish list of stuff to enhance it. We planned to develop these ideas when we got the time. One item was a card reader. The machine could know who was playing if the player had a card and scanned it before they started. This would have enabled lots of other cool features to follow. It did help facilitate the tournament at the Expo.

When I arrived to work on October 25th, the Monday following Expo, I learned that Williams laid-off the entire pinball department. This was over 400 people, including 45 engineers. I was devastated.

Meanwhile, Gary Stern had recently made a deal with Sega to take possession of the pinball division he was already in charge of.

In the next few days after the lay-off, we were allowed to clear out our offices. I had ten years of miscellaneous pinball junk in my office, most of which I didn’t want anymore given my disposition at the time.

Jim Patla was in charge of overseeing the archiving of the department. When I ran into him, he told me that when he last saw Ken Fedesna, our General Manager, Ken told him he was surprised Dwight didn’t take his door. My door is unique. It is covered in Star Trek: The Next Generation back-box decals. Jim and I took Kens comment as permission that I could have my door. Jim wrote me a property pass for it and I took my door home. I plan to use it someday when I finish my basement.

We were also given interviews at Midway, our sister company. I was half sure I didn’t want anything to do with making games anymore, ever.

Headhunters called me every couple days. I went on a couple of interviews.

Several of us made a date to drive down to see Gene Cunningham. The plan was to start a new pinball company. For a short while this seemed very interesting yet scary.

I heard from my good friend Cameron Silver that Lonnie Ropp was looking for software people at Stern.

I was offered a job at Midway.

I called Lonnie and he interviewed me over the phone. He had a lot to say and talk about. He seemed to already know a lot about me. He asked me to come in for an interview early next week.

On Sunday we drove down to meet with Gene. On the way back I was torn about how I felt. It seemed too good with lots of unanswered questions.

On Monday I put on my one suit (a different one from my interview at Williams, honest!) and gathered my letters of recommendations from Larry Demar and Ted Estes along with resumes into my leather notebook. I went in for an interview with Lonnie and Gary Stern. It went really well. I was confident that they would make me an offer.

The Gene Cunningham plan turned south. I think I dodged a bullet there. In the end, my only real choice was to work for Midway and learn to do video games or work for Stern doing what I had been doing for ten years. I started work for Stern Pinball Inc at the end of November 1999.

Gary Stern is a good man. He is passionate, hard working, and cares about pinball. While today pinball is still on very shaky grounds I believe it is in good hands.

Dwight Sullivan
July 10, 2003

Friday, January 25, 2008

Junk Yard Story

This is the story I wrote to help explain some of the sillyness in the game.
JUNK YARD.... The Story

"Nice Doggie!", I exclaimed. Where did this ugly dog come from? I was only looking at a beat up old toaster and the next thing I knew a mouth full of ivory spikes was chomping on my heels as I fled for my life.


"Maybe I have a Milkbone," it was lie. I rounded the corner and dashed through a large sliding gate. Spike was still coming, attitude and all. Dropping the toaster, I hurried to slide the gate shut as Spike's shadow grew all around me. CLANG! The gate closed and Spike was unable to stop in time.

Then I got a bad feeling as I heard laughter all around me echoing. "You're trapped in my junkyard. HA HA HA HA HA!!!" That must be CRAZY BOB, I thought. I'm going to have to build some kind of flying jalopy to get out of here.

The growls and snarls of Spike grew faint as I wandered deeper into the canyons of junk. I stumbled across a functional television set. Now, if I only had a weather vane I could create a radar device. I looked up and there was a weather vane sticking out of a telephone pole. Climbing on top of a stack of cars, I retrieved the weather vane. Using some extra wiring, I integrated the weather vane to the TV creating a radar device. It was time to test the device. I flipped through the channels on the TV. My choices were Christmas trees, time machines, fireworks, hot babes, junk, and Mean Dogs. I chose fireworks. Then I adjusted the tuner and bingo: the display showed me where and how close the fireworks were.

Just then I saw a hair dryer buried under some bicycle tires. I combined the hair dryer and the toaster creating a kind of toaster gun. Holding the gun I felt the urge to say 'feeling lucky PUNK!', but I resisted.

With new found confidence I made my way deeper into the labyrinth. I had a growing sensation. The sensation of being watched. Turning the corner I saw them. Down the alley, under a street lamp, hundreds, no thousands of rats were bubbling out of crates of fireworks. A sudden urge of stupidity swelled within me. I charged down the alley screaming at the top of my lungs and toaster gun blazing. As I reached the crates, I wasn't sure if it was toast or dead rats crunching under my shoes. I had a feeling that I would need these fireworks sooner or later.

I heard the distinct sound of water running. Climbing over stacks of tires I hid in the shadows and watched. A bare outstretched foot and a wet leg glistened in the moon light. She was taking a bath! I started to forget my surroundings when I heard a familiar yet loathing sound.

"GRRRRFFFFF GRFF GRFFFFFF!" Spike had a limited vocabulary. The bathing beauty leapt from the water naked and suds flying. I took a firm grip of the toaster gun, and a smile took control of my face.

"Somebody get this dog away from me!" She blurted. Leaping to my feet, I chased after them. FLANK FLANK FLANK, three pieces of toast whizzed past his head. I missed. I followed them to a small alcove. Locked in a figure eight, she was running for her life. I knew how she felt.

Crouching down I took aim. FLANK. Nervous, I shot too soon. The toast narrowly went between them. FLANK. This time I was successful! Spike, knocked down and away, the girl had time to escape. "Eat hot toast you scruffy old mutt!" I exclaimed victoriously.

That's when I had an idea. I tuned my radar device to the junk channel and calibrated it to search for a fan. I was lucky. There was a fan nearby. I tested the fan. I plugged the fan in and turned it on and the force blew me back against a wall of cars. The next thing I remembered was toast, dead rats, and small pieces of junk flying down the alley.

The bath tub still had her sweet smell. Digging the bike tires out I added them to the bath tub. I attached the fan to the rear. Using the fan as a means of locomotion and a rudder, I was soon tooling around the junk yard in my new jalopy.

I knew then that I would be able to collect all the junk I needed to finish this flying jalopy and go on many more adventures.

- J. W. O'Mally

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


While we were developing WHO ? dunnit it was important to me to have a back story that we could all draw from mainly to minimize the the continuity errors. It was also important to me for all the characters in the game to have real reasons to want to kill all the other characters in the game.

So I made most of the team sit in Barry's office for hours till we came up with the following background story for the game:


TONY’S PALACE – Casino, The place it all happens.

Nick Spade Private eye.

Tony 38 Owner of the casino and very content.
Trixie 23 Works as a dealer, for Tony
Bruno 42 Tony’s bouncer/ body guard.
Victoria 34 Spider Lady from Europe.
Butler 53 Victoria’s Manservant.

Walter, a young wealthy playboy, and Mia, wife of the English Ambassador have a fling. They conceive VICTORIA, a secret VICTORIA’S mother keeps. She doesn’t tell him before he leaves never to see him again.

TRIXIE’S mom dies giving birth to her. Tex is forced to be a single parent.

Walter comes to town, meets TONY, and they become partners. They start the W&T PALACE, a struggling casino. TONY then cheats Walter out of his half of the casino and Walter disappears.

Walter returns to Europe to learn that VICTORIA’S mother has died and that VICTORIA has grown up in a boarding school. VICTORIA looks amazingly like her mother. Walter can only think of how much he loved Mia when he sees VICTORIA. Walter changes his name to BUTLER. He tells VICTORIA that he used to work for her mom and she hires him as her manservant. BUTLER, trapped by the memory of Mia, does whatever VICTORIA says. VICTORIA treats BUTLER like dirt… as she does most everyone.

Tex forms a partnership with TONY and they create the T&T PALACE. This casino thrives and they become rich. TONY and Tex each get a tattoo on their arm that reads T&T PALACE. TRIXIE is 8 and has a crush on TONY. TONY and Tex are like brothers.

1922 MAY
BUTLER suspects the fate of all his daughter’s past husbands and encourages VICTORIA to go after TONY. VICTORIA shows up with BUTLER. VICTORIA and TONY have been lovers off and on for a couple of years. TONY still avoids her grasp. VICTORIA marries Tex, her third husband. She becomes TRIXIE’S stepmother. TONY doesn’t recognize Walter because BUTLER is the shadow of the man Walter was and looks 10 years older.

VICTORIA and TONY conspire to kill Tex. The plan was: VICTORIA gets the money and TONY gets the CASINO. Tex overhears VICTORIA’S half of the conspiracy. When she hangs up the phone he roughs her up and threatens that if anything happened to him she would be sorry. BUTLER witnessed Tex roughing her up. Unknowing to VICTORIA or TONY, BUTLER sabotages the brakes of Texs’ car. Tex drives off a cliff. Car explodes. Body was never found.

Tex, injured and disfigured, makes it to an underground doctor/plastic surgeon. Tex is reborn as BRUNO. BRUNO has one agenda, to get VICTORIA for attempting to kill him. No one will get in his way.

TRIXIE, now 11, moves in with TONY. VICTORIA cannot be tied down with a child. TONY is the closest family that TRIXIE has. She resents VICTORIA for this and still has a crush on TONY.

TONY and VICTORIA each believe that the other did the brake job on Tex. VICTORIA and BUTLER leave for Europe in search of another husband for VICTORIA.


TRIXIE and TONY are lovers but TONY will not commit. TONY gives her a job at his casino. He keeps her on a string, never letting her get enough money to be free.

BRUNO goes on a fact-finding mission about VICTORIA. He learns all about her and her dead husbands. He learns about her real father. He also learns about her relationship with TONY. He now suspects TONY and VICTORIA of “fixing” his brakes.

TONY, unknowingly, hires BRUNO to work for him. BRUNO wants to be close because he knows that sooner or later VICTORIA will show up, and he wants to keep an eye on TRIXIE, his daughter. TRIXIE has been his only reason to live on some dark lonely nights. BRUNO keeps a locker full of TRIXIE pictures and news clippings.

1934 (Yesterday)
BRUNO waits for the day he can extract his revenge on VICTORIA and TONY.

TONY thinks all is well and is ready to enjoy the good life that he deserves.

TRIXIE has finally learned that TONY is not to be trusted and she must do what it takes to protect her-self.

VICTORIA and BUTLER show up to try and snag TONY once more!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

WHO ? dunnit

This is an article I wrote in 2003.

WHO dunnit is the story of how I met Barry Oursler.

By 1995, with the help of many talented people, I had helped design some very successful games. While up to this point I had a great deal of input into those games, I wanted more control over the design of a game.

Through attrition of one sort or another, Barry Oursler, a game designer of almost 3 decades was left with a short design team. He often worked, in later years, with Mark Ritche, Bill Pfutzenreuter, or Python Angelo. I approached my bosses and Barry and suggested that I start co-designing games with him. They all agreed that that made sense.

I told Barry about an idea that I had been cooking. It was an idea to do a game about a murder mystery. He liked it and showed me a playfield that he had drawn. We started talking about how we could merry his playfield idea to my murder mystery game. Since it was my idea to do the theme we agreed that the buck would stop with me on theme related stuff and Barry would handle everything else.

My main goal in the design was to have the player solve the murder. To do this someone would have to die and there would have to be suspects. This means there would have to be a handful of characters. It also had to be different from game-to-game or murder-to-murder. If there is a different person killed each time and any of the remaining characters could have done it, then all the characters had to be related to each other in some way and all had to have a reason for wanting to kill any of the others. This lead to team meetings where we hashed out the background stories for all the characters. Paul Heitch (sound engineer), Linda Deal (artist), Adam Rhine (dot Artist), Barry, and I worked hard at making sure there would be no loopholes in the back-stories of the characters. It was a lot of fun.

At this point in pinball history, gamming machines in Europe called AWPs and just gambling in general were being blamed for the decline of coin-op/pinball. It was decided that our pinball machines needed to have more gambling themes. This changed the theme of our game a bit. We wrote into the story that it all took place in a casino, Tony’s Palace. We also then added the slot machine toy in the game.

Once we had the story and we mapped the theme to the playfield the rest of the game fell into place. We needed lights to show the players what was going on. We needed speech, lots of speech, to tell the player the background story. I think it was Barry that came up with the phone ‘toy’. I thought of how to use it. It is one of my favorite features in all of pinball. When a phone rings its clear what is going on. You have to answer it.

After WHO dunnit, Barry and I started to do another game that takes place in a junkyard. Since I was the lead of WHO dunnit Barry was going to take the lead of this game. Near the beginning of Junk Yard Barry was laid off from Williams.

Early in the development of WHO dunnit Barry and I started a group of people playing poker at his house every month. I still play poker at Barry’s house almost every month to this day.

Dwight Sullivan

“Somebody answer the phone”

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Famous Star Trek door

Star trek Door

The story goes like this:
Bill Grupp put two TWO Congo backbox decals nicely centered on his door. Well, I knew I had bunches of ST:TNG decals and decided to one (or several) up him. That’s how the door was created.

Years later we were all laid off. While many of us were still gathering and boxing up our stuff. Ken Fedesna in passing and I am sure half joking said "Dwight I am surprised that you didn't take your door with you". Well I took that to mean I had permission. I told the story to Jim Patla who agreed it must mean I had permission and Jim gave me a property pass so I could get the door out of building.

When I finish my basement someday I plan on using it, maybe.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Hidden brick game in ST:TNG

I wrote the following in January 2004:

There is a hidden brick-video-game mode for the dot matrix display in the “Star Trek The Next Generation” pinball machine. It is similar to many of the brick video games that came out in the ‘80s. At one point, after the start of production of STTNG, to avoid any possible legal problems, it was decided that we should keep the mode a secret.

Since we decided to keep the game a secret only a handful of people knew how to get to it. This created a mystery. For a long time the mystery around this mode was the most asked question of enthusiast when I was at pinball events. Even today the topic comes up from time to time. It has been long enough now and finally I have the time to tell about this mode.

How do codes work on my games:
All the games I have programmed from “Riverboat Gambler” to today have all had a system of monitoring for Easter eggs. An Easter egg is something that is hidden in the game that most people don’t know about and mostly are simple and/or silly text messages on the display. All codes are four digits and are entered using the buttons on the game. Most of them just use the flipper buttons.

The most common system uses the right button to enter the current number and clear. The left button is to bump the current number by one.

To enter a code you only have to know the series of four numbers for that code.
Tap the right flipper button once. (Clear)
Tap the left flipper the number of times of the first number.
Tap the right flipper button once. (Enter and clear)
Tap the left flipper the number of times of the second number.
Tap the right flipper button once. (Enter and clear)
Tap the left flipper the number of times of the third number.
Tap the right flipper button once. (Enter and clear)
Tap the left flipper the number of times of the fourth number.
Tap the right flipper button once. (Enter and clear)
The code is now entered and the game will probably do something.

Try the code 3333 where R = right flipper and L = left flipper.
This will give a message from me to you on almost any of my newer games.
For older games like Star Trek you need to start the sequence by holding both flippers and release to clear, and you have to hit the right flipper one more time at the end.

The code 3333 on Star Trek:

What is the code for the brick game?
0248 is the code for the brick game in STTNG.

The only feedback you will get is the display will sort of flicker. (It is doing a wipe of itself on top of itself).

Then you have to play Riker’s Poker Night. If you did the above code you will get the brick game instead of getting Riker’s Poker Night.

You have to do this code while in a game. I normally do it at the beginning of the first ball. Then you try and light video mode. Then you try and shoot video mode. Then you select what would normally give you Riker’s Poker Night.

Riker’s Poker Night is in itself a hidden video mode. To get Riker’s Poker Night you have to light and shoot for video mode. Then at the opening screen, where you are given a choice of video mode or points, hold the ball launch trigger while you select the point’s option. This will start a poker game.

What is the brick game?
It is a video game played on the dot matrix where a square ball propelled by a paddle that you control tries to knock out all the layers bricks looming above.

When the ball comes down you have to use the flipper buttons to move the paddle left or right to keep the paddle under the ball.

When the ball hits the paddle it will then head back up. If the ball hits a brick the brick is destroyed and the ball heads back down. Every time the ball hits something it will bounce.

If the ball breaks through the top layer it will bounce off the ceiling and continue to destroy bricks from the top. When the last brick is gone a new set of bricks will appear and the game continues.

It is possible to destroy the last brick from the top and have the ball stuck between the top of the new set of bricks and the ceiling. It will then have to destroy much of the new set before you have to hit it with the paddle again. This is a personal high for me.

If you miss the ball with the paddle it will go off the screen through the bottom. When you miss your fifth ball the game ends and it will kick you back out to your normal pinball life.

This video mode gives no score to the pinball game.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

T2, Getaway, and Star Trek: TNG

This is a quick pass at the history of my time working on my 2nd, 3rd, and fourth games. There are couple areas here I want to revisit and talk about in more depth some day. None the least of which is my now 17 year history with Steve Ritchie.

First some background. The most recent hay day of the coin-op industry / Pinball was in the early 1990s. When I arrived at Williams the average sale of a particular title for us was about 3k. 5000 of a unit was a good day. For many reasons pinball popularity went through the roof for a few years. I happened to work on three of the highest earning and best selling pinball machines of that era.

In 1990, at Williams, game designer Steve Ritchie started designing / drawing a playfield that later became “The Getaway: High Speed II”. At an early stage of development he shelved what he had designed so far because he got an opportunity to do “Terminator 2” and took it.

To be in line with the release of the movie Steve would have to start right away designing a new game. Steve, some video game designers including George Petro, and others went to California to meet with James Cameron (the movie director) and others to learn what they could about the movie. By all accounts they had an amazing time. The plan was Williams would do a pinball machine and Midway would do a video game. At the time Midway was just the video game division downstairs.

I didn’t go because I was not on the Getaway team and therefore not on the T2 team. At this point in my pinball history I was a green pinball programmer with one game freshly tucked into my belt, “Riverboat Gambler”. I was having the time of my life and they were paying me. Money. I finished “Riverboat Gambler” and went on vacation with my girlfriend. When I got back from vacation I was told that I was going to be working with Steve on T2 and not to “mess it up”. Somewhere in here Steve had a falling out with the current programmer on his team, Mark Penacho. I knew very little of Steve at the time. Little did I know that I was about to grab the tail of a comet.

Terminator 2 was to be the first game with a dot matrix display. This new innovation did what we hoped it would do, it gave pinball a shot in the arm in sales. New games with dot matrixes made all old games look old when they sat next to them. In the end, Terminator 2 was the third game to reach production with a dot matrix display. “Gillian’s Island” beat us to production, but Checkpoint by Data East was the first pinball machine with a dot-matrix. Although it was not as tall, it was only 16x128. Compared to our ‘huge’ 32 tall by 128 pixels long display. :- >

The dot-matrix also enabled us to do video modes. This was something more we could do that was different from recent games. For a while most pins had video modes. Some had more than one.

One day near the very beginning of T2 development George Petro stopped me in the hall and told me he was concerned that T2 Pinball could make his game, T2 Video, look bad. I don’t think he was being funny and at the time I thought this was very rude but I didn’t say anything. In the end T2 Pinball outsold the video game and it out earned T2 video at most test locations. In fact Terminator 2 pinball sold over 15K games and is one of the all time top-selling pinball machines.

When T2 was done Steve and I quickly went into the next game, which was “The Getaway: High Speed II”. It went really fast because Steve already had a good start. Early in the development of “Getaway” we went to Steve’s house. He owned a “High Speed” and we wanted to review what that game was like. The funny thing is we spent only a few minutes playing and talking about “High Speed” and the rest of the evening checking out Steve’s new Big screen home theater equipment.

Soon after this Steve sold me his copy of High Speed. I was thrilled because High Speed was the game that got me into pinball and to this day is a jewel in my small collection.

Steve and I went to back-to-back trade shows with T2 and then with Getaway. Both were in Las Vegas. While we were at the second show, selling “The Getaway”, Larry DeMar noticed one of the large Las Vegas strip signs that face the road say the following: “… ENJOY OUR NEW ARCADE; FEATURING; T2 PINBALL”. “T2 PINBALL” filled their entire display. I think it was the Silver Dollar casino. Larry drove me to see it and I have a picture of it. We sold over 13K copies of Getaway at that trade show almost sight unseen.

After Getaway I had some spare time. In this spare time, one of the things I did was write a brick video game for the dot matrix display. It was fun.

For a while the game we were doing after “The Getaway” was going to be Under Siege based on the upcoming movie. Steve had ideas of putting two cannons on the right side of the playfield and dress that side up to look like half of a ship. The two cannons would look like cannons of the destroyer, the ship that is used as the setting of the movie. There was room for this because we were now in the land of wider games. I believe “Twilight Zone” started this trend.

I modified the brick game so the bricks looked like a ship that you were destroying. It was then to be a main video mode for the game. Not really sure how that fits the story of Under Siege but it would have been fun.

Then the opportunity came to do Star Trek: The Next Generation. Steve and I were both huge fans of the show. We switched tracks from Under Siege fast.

Steve Ritchie, Roger Sharpe, Greg Ferris, and I went to Hollywood. We went to Paramount Studios to talk to their licensing department. They took us on a tour of the Enterprise. I walked on the Enterprise! We saw the one large crew quarters that they filmed all crew quarter scenes. I saw the holodeck and Ten Forward. I was on the bridge (they had the chairs covered in plastic). You could walk right through the view screen. We saw them set up the lighting for a scene and on our way from there Gates Mcfadden (Doctor Crusher) walked right past us on her way to that scene. She was very tall.

After our tour of the Enterprise we had lunch in the Paramount commissary. This commissary was huge. Many other celebrity sightings were to be had. The coolest was Patrick Stewart (Captain Picard). He sat at the table directly behind Steve. The really interesting part was that just before he arrived we, the ladies of Paramount licensing department and us, had a very tense discussion about what we were allowed to do in the game. They wanted to make it clear that the Enterprise would never fire first and never before some negotiating. This was a great trip.

Even to this day Star Trek is my favorite game of all the games I have worked on.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

In the begining....

I wrote this article I beleive in 2003 (not sure). I wrote it for Michael Schalhoub whom asked me to write a few articles for his book "The Pinball Compendium: 1982 to Present"

This is the story of how I got my job in the coin-op industry working for Williams Electronic Games in 1989.

It was mid-September, 1989. I was 24 years old. I was due to graduate from DeVry Institute of Technology next month. My counselor at DeVry was hard at work getting me interviews and telling me about job fairs. She told me about an entry-level job opening with Johnson Controls. She gave me the time and address of the hotel for the interview. I shaved, gathered some cool looking resumes into my leather-bound notebook, put on my one suit, and left. I had been on three previous interviews and had a good handle of the process. I was familiar with Johnson Controls and I wanted this job.

When I arrived at the hotel, to my dismay, there were no Johnson Controls interviews. My counselor had given me the wrong date. There was a job fair at the hotel that night instead. Many companies had hotel rooms that opened to a common area in the center of the hotel. You could go from room to room and talk with people that needed people. I was all dressed up so what could it hurt? I went to some of the rooms and started talking to people. After about three brief talks (“Sorry we are not looking for entry-level people”) I got the idea that this fair was not for entry-level people. The fourth interviewer was nicer. I wish I remembered her name. She told me that the fair was not for entry-level jobs but knew a man named Ed Suchocki who often called her looking for people. She asked if I would like to program games. My eyes lit up. It was hard to maintain some composure. She told me that Ed had graduated from DeVry too and that I should call him.

I called him the next day. I mentioned his female friend and that I was about to graduate. I told him I was in the EET (Electronics Engineering Technology) program at DeVry. I told him that I could put together a portfolio and come for an interview. When I hung up the phone I thought what the hell is a portfolio? It turned out not to be hard to gather some stuff I had done: Logic diagrams and schematics from school; art work I had drawn on a program I had written on my Mac; a spider-man picture I had had scanned with my black and white Mac and then did the color-separation to it and printed it back out; art work I had drawn for the playing pieces for a Monopoly game I was writing for the Mac; and some source code of a real-time game I wrote for the Commodore 64. My classmates had told me that I should try for a software job. Believe it or not I was the best at software in my class. Thinking of this and looking at my portfolio I was confident. My girlfriend kissed me, wished me luck, and I left for my interview with Ed.

At this point I was vague about what Williams/Bally/Midway was. My best friend Glenn Wilcox and I had spent many hours playing pinball and video games back in the suburbs of Detroit where I grew up. While High Speed and Defender were my favorite games, I barley knew they were made by the same company. I had no concept of design teams or designers for that matter.

When I arrived at 3401 N. California Avenue, I told the receptionist I was there to see Ed Suchocki. While I waited I couldn’t help but notice all the plaques and awards that filled one wall of the reception room. Mark Penacho and Bill Pfutzenreuter came down to greet me. They told me Ed was busy and that they would interview me. They took me to a small room off the reception area and we sat at a round table. I opened my briefcase and to my horror my leather-bound folder with my cool looking resumes was not there. I apologized to them and we started to go through all the other stuff I brought. It was hard to get a read on them. I wasn’t sure if Pfutz (Bill had told me to call him that) was impressed, but I thought Mark was somewhat interested. Mark then stood and left. He went to get Larry DeMar. Larry came in the room and I briefly went through all the stuff I brought again. At the time I didn’t understand why they were not that impressed with the source code I had brought. I now understand how small the software was.

When I was done talking about all the eclectic things I had brought, Larry didn’t really say anything. Instead Pfutz leaned forward, squinted at me with a very serious look and asked, “Would you rather work on pinball machines or on video games?” I was taken aback. I sat back and thought about it. Was this an offer or a test? These were all pinball people. “Pinball”, I said with a slight hesitation. I did prefer to play pinball to video but at the time would have taken a job in either.

After a small amount of questions about my portfolio, “Do you ever have bugs in your code?”, another test. After a slight pause I said “Yes, doesn’t everyone?”

“What are your favorite games?” I told them Defender and High Speed, not knowing at the time who Larry was.

On my way home I was convinced that I did not get the job. What kind of idiot leaves his resume at home? When I got home I told my girlfriend (later to be my wife) what an idiot I was. I put some resumes in a big envelope and mailed them off to Ed Suchocki. Less than a week later I called Ed to see if he had received them. He said he was glad I called and that he was about to call me. He told me that apparently I made quite an impression and that he wanted to hire me. He asked me what salary I was looking for. I had been told not to give a number to make them give the first number. "$25,000" I said. He said ok. I am not sure if he ever looked at the resumes.

I worked at Williams helping to design pinball machines from Nov 6th, 1989 to Oct 25th, 1999.