Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Dutch Pinball Magazine Interview Part 1

The following are questions sent to me from the Dutch pinball Magazine Spinner. I believe they were published recently there so it is now safe to publish them in English here.
First I want to apologize. Months ago Jonathan sent me this list of questions that I, before seeing the list, agreed to answer.

Since there were so many I have broken it up into several blog posts that I will publish over a few days.

When I got the list of questions I was surprised by how “complete” it was. Right away after I got the email I started answering the long list of questions. At first it seemed that every time I answered 3 questions 4 more would appear at the end. So I would take a break from it now and then. Soon my breaks from it grew longer and longer. Then I stopped altogether; I got a new job and that started consuming all my spare time. Recently the new editor of this magazine, Bas, emailed me asking me to finish. I thought this was an opportunity to partially redeem myself.

I tried my best to answer each question as well as I could; giving as much interesting information as I could. This is part of why it has taken so long to complete. There are I believe 33 questions and many have inspired essay answers. Often as I go back to proof read and edit my answers I think up more I wanted to say about many of the topics. So I write more which then requires more proof reading and editing and SOMEBODY PLEASE MAKE IT STOP!

So I am sorry to Jonathan and all the people that sent in questions expecting a timely interview.

Finally, here it is:

For the people who don’t know you: Who is Dwight Sullivan?
The heck if I know! How is a man defined? I am family man; a father and husband. I don’t have very many close friends. I like my job and I find my biggest challenge is to balance my time between my family and my job. Lately, I have been a pretty happy man. I am a gamblin’ man. Today someone said I always listen to my mother and my response was I always play the odds.

For the first 19 years of my career I helped to design and write the software for pinball machines. I started just out of college working for Williams. I worked there for 10 years. Then in 1999 when Williams shut pinball down Lonnie Ropp at Stern Pinball hired me. I worked at Stern for 9 years until just a few months ago Gary Stern laid off over 50% of his staff including me.

How did you get involved in Pinball?
I stumbled into it pretty haphazardly. I went to a job fair near the end of my college career and someone there pointed me to a man at Williams whom was often hiring. I called him up and he brought me in for an interview. I failed to bring my resume to the interview but somehow they were impressed enough to give me a chance. I had always loved playing pinball. A high school buddy and I would spend hours each week at our local arcade.

(Based on the information I have so far) you started around 1990 with your first game being Riverboat Gambler. The list of games you were involved in according to the Internet Pinball Database:
o Riverboat Gambler (software)
o Terminator 2: Judgment Day (software)
o The Getaway: High Speed II (software)
o Star Trek: The Next Generation (design, software)
o Red & Ted's Road Show (design, software)
o WHO dunnit (concept, design, software)
o Junk Yard (concept, design, software)
o The Champion Pub (software)
o Revenge From Mars (software)
o Sharkey’s Shootout (concept, software)
o Playboy® (concept, design, software)
o Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (software)
o Elvis® (software)
o The Sopranos® (software)
o Pirates of the Caribbean (software)
o 24
Is this list complete, or did you also work on other (non pinball) games?
I started in November 1989.

I did very little on these games:
o Bugs Bunny's Birthday Ball (software)
o No Fear: Dangerous Sports (design)
o High Roller Casino (software)
o The Simpsons Pinball Party (software)
o The Lord of the Rings (software)

On Elvis, Family Guy, and Revenge from Mars I was only one of 3 programmers. BUT! On Revenge I wrote allot of code. I worked harder on that game than on Terminator 2; a game where I wrote all the code.

On Sopranos I didn’t do much design. George and Lyman had the game pretty well along when I joined the project. Also, as it turns out, I did very little on 24 too.

The non-pinball games I worked on were Simpsons Kookie Karnival and Spider-Man redemption.

Did you work on any games that in the end never saw the light of day?
I spent two years on again off again working on Spider-Man Redemption and I am not sure if it made it to production.

In your career you were involved in a few milestone games. Terminator 2 was the first WMS game with a dotmatrix display, which may have been technically very challenging. The Pinball 2000 platform had also to be created from scratch. What can you tell about such technical innovations and working on them?
They were lots of fun! T2 was in the beginning when I was very green. Mark Penacho got the original hardware up and running and then I took over because I took over for Mark on T2. T2 was going to be the first project with a Dot Matrix display. Gilligan’s Island beat us to the line though. So they were first. It is interesting today to see a T2 because its graphics are so simple.

Working on Pinball 2000 was an amazing time. We were a group of people on a mission. The mission was to save pinball. Larry DeMar was on fire. He saw the potential and worked extremely hard to not fail. I guess he figured we only had one shot at making a first impression so we needed to get it right. He, working hard with George Gomez and others, had a bullet list of new features they wanted P2K to incorporate. One of the coolest bullets on that list was how they designed the playfields to quickly change out with another playfield.

What changed in your work when you worked on Pinball 2000? Did you have to invent a lot of stuff to get the results you were looking for? Did you change things drastically when you had the chance, compared to the previous way of programming?
What changed the most was how large the teams became. We went from a core team of about 4.5 people to about 9; doubling in size. Also, despite the increase in personal the development time was much longer.

There are some really nice things about having small teams. You have way more control and small teams can turn on a dime. Meaning if you don’t like the direction the game is heading you can more easily throw it out and start over. This gives you the luxury of iterations.

With the larger P2K teams you could not do that. Much more had to be designed ahead of time. You had to get more right from the hip.

How was it to work during the development of Revenge from Mars, where the OS and game code were developed almost simultaneously? Did you program stuff for the P2K OS as well?
I didn’t do any programming for the OS. Working on Revenge was a lot of fun and a lot of work.

It was a bit challenging to work as the OS was being developed. But I had a head start at learning the system. Before I started on RFM, before we knew exactly what we were doing theme-wise or whom would be working on which projects, I wrote the very first mode for the knew P2K platform. I was trying to get a Playboy game up and working. I believe it was Peter Piotrowski’s playfield. There were a couple months in the beginning when we thought Playboy would be one of the first two games. So I got a mode up and flipping to see how fun it would be. During this timed mode the music “Centerfold” by the J Geils band played and each time you shot a shot overlapping stills of naked and half naked playmates would be displayed. It was pretty distracting as you can imagine.

No comments: