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”

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