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.


Anonymous said...

Star Trek: TNG is my favorite pinball of all time! It's so very well done, so steeped in the trivia of the show's universe, and the voice samples are great.

Q: "Bon Jour mon capitan!"
Picard: "Q! What are you doing here?!"
Q: "Let's play a little game."
Riker: "Q, we don't have time for your games!"

Anonymous said...

Terminator 2 pinball was the greatest pinball game ever! I used to waste whole days playing that :)
I wish I could buy one for my garage.

LetoAms said...

I played T2 in my days of university and it was a great way to relax. Recently I got the chance to buy one, and after some fixing of burned connectors on the board and general cleaning it is up and running like a charm.

You guys did an awesome job with the available technology at the time.

Though I am tempted now to re-implement it in python for P-ROC and see if I can fix some bugs in the firmware you left when various things happen at once :)

Thanks for a great game!


jay said...

i have [tng] game and like it a lot buy the through 7 led / photo boards fail a lot my game ths balls ust keep loading up 2 or 3 at a time amd wont stop shotting balls i triied adj. the two boards led ans photo but still the same thing any suggestions ;

great ob on the game nice to know someone who desined the game .. = jay

Anonymous said...

Tng pinball is my all time favorite. The levels, the voices, the whole feeling matches the series. I met the game during holidays and recently found it on the pinball simulation game :-) So much fun... many thanks!