Saturday, July 11, 2009

Dutch Pinball Magazine Interview Part 2

After 2 games the Pinball2000 platform stopped as WMS quit making pinball machines. Still P2K made quite an impact. How do you think pinball would be today if the P2K concept was continued?
Well that is a pretty big IF. The premise you are proposing is that we succeeded at making a platform that was manufacture-able at a reasonable enough price, and large amounts of players returned to playing at a probably increased price per play, and someone bought the pinball division from Williams because Williams was focused on slots and no matter what, was getting out of the pinball business. So assuming that all this transpired, I think pinball today would ROCK!

We were so immersed in the platform at the time we all saw huge potential for the platform beyond what was happening in the first couple models. Games 3 and 4 were going to be quantum leaps ahead and games 5 and 6 would have been quantum leaps ahead again.

Think about the card swiping ability from that last EXPO. Add 5 more cool things like that that would have been added over time. Now couple with that the success that IT (Incredible Technologies) had with Golden Tee Golf. Couple with that we have been improving the look and feel of the platform all this time.

You walk up and see that the current wide area tournament has a top prize of $22,389. You put in $5 for the first 3 minutes and swipe your card. The game comes to life; “Good afternoon Mr. Bond” it thinks that your name is Bond because that’s how you filled out your tournament player card. The game continues: “When you were last here you just finished level 7, would you like to continue?” meanwhile the game is downloading up to the minute playing tips from the internet to show you and it is twittering on your behalf - MR BOND HAS JUST BEGUN LEVEL EIGHT - . When you are done it summarizes your entire experience into a short video and uploads it to YouTube.

Game designers often put their mark on a game as they have certain recognizable layouts or features. E.G. Steve Ritchie games are usually fast with a lot of flow. Do you have certain ‘trademarks’ that could be defined as typically Dwight Sullivan?
Lonnie Ropp, my previous boss at STERN, often claimed that a feature he called “a second economy” was my trade mark. Basically a second economy is a feature whereby throughout the game you collect something in addition to points. For example in Playboy you would collect bunnies. Ideally at thresholds, of this second economy, you would redeem them for something cool. In some games it worked better than in others. I, of course, didn’t invent this; I just liked it.
I do believe that I have “added to the fabric of pinball” though. In WHO?dunnit the Mystery Target gives you what you need at that moment, or at least that’s the idea. It's not random it's deterministic. It looks around at what the player is doing at that moment and tries to give something that makes sense. Over the years this feature caught on and appears in many more games. Most of the time it is a single target, but not always. In “24” it is the CHLOE bank. Which I thought was appropriate since, in the show, she was always great at getting Jack what he needed.

Are there any images, or similarities, of you to be found on the games you worked on?
I have made a couple appearances in the dot matrix as well as one in the Champion Pub back glass. I think that Pat McMahon did an excellent job of capturing several Williams engineers in that glass. Off the top of my head there is: Me, Pete Piotrowski, Pat himself, Paul Barker, Linda Deal, Steve Kordek, and of course Jim Patla as the bar fly.

In Creature from the Black Lagoon they filmed me as the peeping Tom that gets beat up. It was very painful recording that. They insisted that it had to look real! Amazingly when that game was available for testing, by the others at Williams, people were lined up to play that mode. I am not sure why. : - )

I have always been proud to tell people that it was my hand that reaches for the handle in T2 during the idle time when a player has not launched his ball.

Do you collect pinball machines? Or do you have any (or your own) games at home?
I would not say that I collect them but I do have a few. Today, I have a Revenge from Mars, High Speed, Road Show, Terminator 2, WHO ? dunnit, and a Star Trek the Next Generation. I have sold several games over the years. Sometimes I have regretted selling them but I never wanted an arcade just a handful.

What game was most fun for you to work on and why?
Star Trek the Next Generation was great fun to work on. The design team was an amazing group of talent which only helps exponentially. Plus I have been a member of the church of Star Trek since I was five. Plus I got to go to Paramount Studios and actually walk on the Enterprise.

Which of the games you were involved in are you most proud of? Or do you think is the best?
I am proud of WHO ? dunnit. Barry Oursler and I co-designed that game. So it was the first game where I had even more control than before.

Looking at the games you worked on, there seems to be some variation in your involvement. So what is your role usually? Does someone come up with an idea and you translate that into pinball code? Do you bring in your own ideas as well?
Well, yes. Over the years I have played many roles; designer, programmer, grunt. Normally my role was a mix of lead programmer and game designer. That’s the role I prefer; a role where the game designer / playfield designer and I work together from the start.

At first the Designer “picks” a theme. There are many factors that go into that. Soon after the theme is chosen we start talking about all the things we want to do in the game. Then he starts to draw a playfield and think about toys. Once we have a beginning, a rough foundation, we then include other people from the team to help us brainstorm and flesh it out. From there, typically, I would oversee anything that was not physical; dot matrix art, music, speech, choreography, insert / lamp placement. Also I would start designing the software for the core rules. The designer would oversee the rest; playfield layout, kinetics, toys, production concerns, bill of materials, and ball traps. All the while the two of us would meet to discuss how we could best dovetail the different parts together. We would both help direct the static art; back glass, cabinet, playfield, and so on.

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