The Pinball Blog. The Machines. The People. The Events. The Addiction! Pinball Heroes: Industry Interviews.

Saturday 28 February 2009

Pinball Heroes: Mike Pacak

We interviewed Rob Berk, the man behind Pinball Expo for Pinball Heroes a few weeks ago, but Rob doesn't work alone. His partner in crime is Mike Pacak and The Pinball Blog tracked him down and pestered him with our questions.

Some of the questions were the same as we asked Rob, partly because we didn't know that both of them would reply and partly because it saves any serious effort on our part!

The Pinball Blog. So you're Mike Pacak, co-founder and organiser of the fantastic Pinball Expo. What do you do when you're not sorting out the event?

Mike Pacak.
Well for 21 years from 1975 until 1996 I ran a chain of 76 game rooms here in USA. Since then I buy, sell, and operate games and parts. I visit many amusement parks each year as well.

TPB. I hear you've got a few flyers stashed away, anything else you collect?

Well I have more flyers and schematics and manuals than anyone on earth. I also have over 700 pinball machines, 200 arcade games and over 100 jukes as well as thousands of translites, hundreds of backglasses and playfields. I have 18,000 sq feet of crap here!

TPB. I organise the UK Pinball Show and normally by the end of the weekend I'm sick of the sight of the damn machines. Do you normally have a pinball sabbatical after each Expo?

No, Expo runs smooth has for 24 years. I also put on a show here in Ohio now for 5 years and attend several other shows too.

Expo is 25 years young this year, did you ever imagine when it started you'd reach such a milestone? Anything you're particularly proud of?

MP. No, never did think it would go this long. I am proud of the many good friends I have made over the years. I look to Expo as a large family reunion.

Anything in 2009, you're particularly looking forward to?

MP. Well at this point we are concerned if Stern will still be around come Expo time. Without them Expo will be very different! TPB. I've heard through the grapevine that some of the industry legends have extreme 'rider' requests. Crates of beer, hookers, winnebagos and even a dwarf dancing crew. How far will you go to get the guests that the people want to see and hear?

MP. Well, that is generally true about operators and trade shows, but not a collectors show like ours. We just try to treat people right and they usually help us.

Surely it's about time Gary Flower was replaced as host for the fireside chats?

No, he does a good job.

TPB. Are you much of a player? (I'm talking about PINBALL!)

MP. Yes not too bad. I belong to a league here in Ohio

TPB. Other than Expo are there any must see events or places around the globe?

MP. If you mean pinball-related the Allentown Show & Chicagoland Shows are a must

TPB. Finally, can you sum up Expo in one word or sentence.

A place to hang out and meet anyone that's ever had anything to do with pinball and play over 200 machines.

Thanks to Mike Pacak for taking the time to answer my questions - even if I wasn't quite able to drag him down to my level!


The Pinball Blog

Saturday 21 February 2009

Pinball Heroes: Dwight Sullivan

This week we've nailed pinball designer and fellow blogger Dwight Sullivan to be one of our Pinball Heroes.

The Pinball Blog. So you're Dwight Sullivan. You've designed some great pinball machines over the years and written the software for others (I guess you knew that). Can you tell us which machine you are most proud of and why.

Dwight Sullivan. It has been no secret that I am most proud of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It was an excellent project from start to finish. Real quick here are the reasons it was great for me: Great team; you cant make a great game without a great team, I am huge sci-fi fan and a fan of Star Trek since I was 5, We got to go out to Paramount and see the Enterprise up close, I got Married during the project, Steve and I got fired during the project, I think the final game is lots of fun and we captured the theme extremely well.

TPB. You've written some fascinating stuff with a nice turn of phrase about pinball on your blog. Have you always had a passion for the written word, or was it your accumulating life experiences that you thought perhaps needed to be shared?

DS. I have and both. As I got older I realized that two things were happening. My brain was filling up and my capacity was shrinking. So I found a need to write things down just to help me remember them. Not really to share but I don’t mind if others read it. Also since I was little I have enjoyed making up stories but like MANY of my hobbies I have never really given writing the proper amount of time to become good at it.

TPB. On a licensed pinball machine, how much influence does the license holder have over the design? Are they able to insist on certain elements or do you share the progress as you go and hope they like it?

DS. Early in the discussions with the licensor, after its clear that both parties are interested, we show them a playfield drawing and explain to them what we want to do. This is when they will typically make suggestion about design aspects. After the licensor only sees our art and speech progress as we develop the game. We show them our dot-matrix animations, playfield art, speech scripts, then the recorded speech, backglass art, plastics art, and cabinet art. All as soon as we can. They always get to see the final package before production but I don’t remember them stopping the production. That would be devastating to us so we make sure that isn’t going to happen.

TPB. Meeting which person would you say has been the highlight of your time in pinball?

DS. I have met quite a few people; celebrities both inside the industry and out. But the question is easy to answer; Steve Kordek is the man I am most glad to have met.

TPB. In 5 years time some say there'll be no pinball, others say it'll still be here, just different (we hope so!). But what about in 30 years when all the current collectors are old and grey, and there's not a huge generation of new players to collect the things?

DS. Wow thirty years?!? Who could answer that?

TPB. Do you have any machines at home and do your family play?

DS. I have several machines at home: Revenge from Mars, High Speed, Road Show, Terminator 2, WHO dunnit, Star Trek: The next Generation. My kids and their friends play them often.

TPB. If you hadn't been involved in pinball, any idea what you'd be doing today?

DS. No idea. I was pretty lucky to land in game development and many times I have thought “They are paying me to do this?”

TPB. Do you look forward to expo and all those questions (a bit like these!), and how often do you have to plead the 5th to something posed from visitors?

DS. My favorite part of Expo is giving the tour at the factory. Sadly I will not get to do that anymore. I never minded all the fans and their questions. I actually like talking to outsiders because it really helps ground the design process in reality. Adds perspective and helps prioritize the real issues.

TPB. Other than Pinball & writing, what makes Dwight Sullivan tick?

DS. I am a family man first; I love my wife and Kids and to do things with them. Beyond that I love games next. All types of games. One of my many hobbies is designing board games.

TPB. Finally, can you sum up pinball (or your time involved with it) in one word or sentence.

DS. Pinball has been a large part of my life, I often measured time by what game I was working on when this happened or that.

Many thanks to Dwight Sullivan for taking the time to answer our questions. More Pinball Heroes coming soon.


The Pinball Blog

Pictures Courtesy: Dwight Sullivan, Pinball News & random other places :o)

Saturday 7 February 2009

Pinball Heroes: Rob Berk

Whenever we're talking to random pinball guys around the world there are two words that keep popping up. These same two words also appear several times in our Pinball Hero interviews, so we thought we'd hunt down the man behind


Expo 2009 is the 25th Anniversary event and continues to grow each year. I had a fantastic international long distance chat with Rob Berk (reversed the call-charges of course ;o), and he certainly is a man with a passion for the Silver Ball. During our chat I managed to squeeze in some questions for Pinball Heroes...

The Pinball Blog. So you're Rob Berk, founder and organiser of Pinball Expo. What do you do when you're not sorting out the event?

Rob Berk. We run a restaurant supply company and also service the carnival and amusement industry.

TPB. I organise the UK Pinball Show and am a complete gob-shite, you seem to keep yourself to yourself. Every event around the planet gets some criticism, do you ever want to shake the people and say "have you any idea how much effort these things take!"

RB. I guess it's a small frustration but the criticism is only from a tiny minority.

TPB. I hear your own collection of machines is impressive. How much of a task is keeping them all working?

RB. At one time I had a running competition with Tim Arnold. If I had 300 machines, he'd have 350, when I went to 400, he'd have 500! I think my highest number of machines would be around 500 but many are in storage.

I have around 80 machines set up in my basement at home. I'm happy to work on many of them myself, especially the EM machines, but for anything I can't handle, I'll ask a friend over to help!

TPB. Expo is 25 years young this year, did you ever imagine when it started you'd reach such a milestone? Anything you're particularly proud of?

RB. When I first had the dream it was to honor my heroes - the pinball designers. After 1985 I had no plans to do another show and within a few months I was getting calls asking when the next event was. Well, there was no next event, but we did another, then another and it's gone from strength to strength.

I've met some fantastic guys through Expo, many have since passed away. Harvey Heiss from Genco was a highlight. He was so full of life, so full of jokes and had a rich history to share and, bearing in mind he was in his 80s when he came to expo, his enthusiasm was incredible. Also hearing
Steve Kordek share the pride on the production line at Genco gave a feel for the era with machines like Victory. Dave Christensen and Python Angelo: people were lining up to shake their hands, buy them a drink and ask questions. It was a great opportunity for visitors and fantastic to watch.

TPB. Anything in 2009, you're particularly looking forward to?

RB. Mike Stroll president of Williams in the 80s when it was rocking is our guest, and there's more seminars, more exhibitors and maybe an extra day of activities with Expo starting on Wednesday!

TPB. I've heard through the grapevine that some of the industry legends have extreme 'rider' requests. Crates of beer, hookers, winnebagos and even a dwarf dancing crew. How far will you go to get the guest that your visitors want to see?

RB. Thankfully that's never really been an issue, never had anything like that list! I suppose being in Chicago has helped us secure the great guests, and most are very cooperative.

TPB. Surely it's about time Gary Flower was replaced as host for the fireside chats?

RB. I did it myself for many years, but it's nice to now have someone else handle that and give me a breather. Gary has a special connection with us having attended every Expo since the beginning, and for anyone to accomplish that - especially from the UK - is quite remarkable. For him to make such an effort I wanted to honor him in a small way (if he would accept the role). Plus as an author of a pinball book, he has a great knowledge and knows how to interact with the guests.

TPB. Are you much of a player? (I'm talking about PINBALL!)

RB. No. I'm an average player, never ranked in any major tournament, but I still enjoy playing pinball, especially with my family.

TPB. Other than Expo are there any must see events or places around the globe?

RB. ALL the shows have their own charm and something distinctive. I visit other shows and enjoy them as I have more time to myself than at Expo.

TPB. Finally, can you sum up Expo in one word or sentence.

RB. Pinball author Dick Bueschel (now sadly deceased) said the Expo was a "love-in". It's a gathering point to meet your pinball heroes, from designers and artists to the players.

There was so much Rob had to share and, typing one-handed while we chatted, I hope I didn't miss too much! Where else can you buy from so many vendors, get autographs from 15-25 artists and designers, shake their hands and play so much pinball? Expo really is something special.

Many thanks to Rob for his time, best of luck for Expo 25 and although my penny jar won't allow me a visit this time round, everyone should make the pilgrimage at least once.


The Pinball Blog

Pinball Heroes Lite.

I interviewed Bryan Kelly as a bit of fun for Pinball Heroes and it proved to be a very popular item on The Pinball Blog. Pinball attracts a great diversity of characters into the hobby and I wanted to share some of these with the readers!

So I introduce....

Pinball Heroes LITE.

Consider it the low-alcohol, lo-carb, sugar-free alternative to Pinball Heroes.

I plan to continue with the 'proper' Pinball Heroes features, and my interview with Rob Berk of Pinball Expo is going up right now
, but I wanted to find if there were other guys out there that I could poke fun at, and see how far I could push my luck before receiving a slap across the chops (by email of course).

This week... Mr. 68 AKA Kim Mitchell of PinZero DMD Glare Guard fame.

(!) This interview includes some adultish language & humour.

The Pinball Blog. So you're Mr. 68 from Wrong Crowd Productions. Your name sounds just one short of a decent night in.

Mr.68. Mr. 68 is based on an old joke. I asked my lady if she'd like to 68. She said "you mean 69" I said "no, 68". Puzzled she asked what that was. I told her 68 is where she goes down on me and I owe her one. =)

My first name is Kim and people on the internet often mistake that as female. Hence the "mister" in Mr. 68.

I'd like to also mention that a favorite game to play with my lady is "Pearl Harbor". Free Glare Guard to the first person on RGP to decipher that joke. =)

What inspired you to make the Horse-Flaps?

Mr. 68. Horse Flaps, Pooper Scoopers, Snack Trays, DMD Shields; my Glare Guards have been called many things. The humor on RGP is the best.

It was the DMD reflecting on the top of the playfield glass that got me started. I just couldn't see the top one fifth of the playfield clearly. It bugged me as I had to look through or around the glare into the game. There's a lot of action and great artwork at the top of a playfield and it was all obscured. I hated that distraction.

I tried the polarized film which is a fine alternative for some games and some people. But I chose to go another direction and opted for economy, simplicity, and ease. My game play enjoyment was immediately enhanced by blocking the glare and I knew I couldn't be the only one. I'm pleased so many people enjoy them.

TPB. I've seen some generous things said about you on RGP, it must be good to know that people think of you as the "Glare Guard Hairless Chihuahua"?

Mr. 68.
Ah yes, a classic insult from one of the veteran stooges on RGP. Is it no wonder that I've named my company Wrong Crowd Productions with friends like this.

I've been shaving my head since May of 1990 and it's become fodder for the jealous. Ironically, the comment was made by a gentleman whose top of the head looks like he shaves it with a cheese grader.
That being said I must say that the humor and good natured jabs on the newsgroup is a big part of what makes RGP special. Sometimes I think we take ourselves way too seriously and we need to be able to laugh at ourselves. Besides, if I'm going to dish it out, I need to be able to take it. =)

If I ever get my back-side over to America and get the chance to meet some of the guys from RGP, who should I avoid and why?

Mr. 68.
The question really becomes; Who in America should be avoiding you? Sorry Nick, but I don't want to develop Carpal Tunnel typing up that list.

I hear at Expo last year, you wore a badge with somebody else's name on and it almost went spectacularly wrong - tell us more.

Mr. 68. Lloyd and I were hanging around Expo together and I wanted to goof on him a bit along with some of the other RGPer's. So I made up a badge with the name Lloyd Olson and wore it. Most people that know of Lloyd, knows what he looks like. And with him standing next to me we got some fun reactions. Korn and Phoebe, whom I'd never met before, were two of my favorites.

That evening Lloyd disappeared and I was standing amongst a sizeable gathering of RGP friends, new and old. Famed pinball designer Pat Lawlor was walking by and saw the name tag. All of us recognized who he was as he came near and our conversation kind of went quiet.
I could tell that Pat was targeting me as he approached and suddenly remembered the name tag I was wearing. "Oh shit" I thought.

As Pat is shaking my hand he is telling me how he has always wanted to meet me, meaning Lloyd. I immediately identified myself and began explaining I was only having a joke. Pat looked a little flustered and confused. Suddenly everybody burst out laughing at me and I think he felt a little bit embarrassed. He may have mistakenly thought the laughing was directed at him. It wasn't, but it did make for an awkward situation.

Earlier in the evening, prior to Pat Lawlor, I saw Gary Stern wandering around all by himself in the game room. So I walked up and introduced myself using my real name and forgetting I was wearing the Lloyd Olson name tag. We chatted for a bit and shook hands goodbye. Gary was gracious to speak with, but did look a bit puzzled at times.

I didn't put that one together until long after the Pat Lawlor incident.

But I've learned my lesson and won't make that mistake again. Next year I'm going as Cliffy.

I guess Glare Guards are up there with 'Ball Sacks', pin footies, cup holders and other essential after-market parts. Any plans for more 'must have' pinball accessories?

Mr. 68. I don't care for the way you wrote that question Nick. I've re-phrased it more to my liking here "I guess Glare Guards are up there with 'Ball Sacks', XXX XXXXXXX, cup holders and other essential after-market parts. Any plans for more 'must have' pinball accessories?"

Thank you Nick, those are impressive company's you've placed me with in the "must have" category. Yes, I now manufacture game specific back board mirrors.

A little birdie tells me you've been shortlisted for the Pinball Expo Hall of Fame. It must make you hugely proud to think your name could be there with Harry Williams and Sam Stern, although I wonder why it's taken them so long?

Mr. 68. Sadly you have been misinformed. I have been inducted into the lesser known, PESL. The Pinball Expo Shit List. It's a quiet ceremony at Expo each year where I'm personally escorted passed the entrance crowd and taken directly to the back door exit.

Alumni's such as myself then gather in the parking lot. So far I make a crowd of one. Every hour or so, Mike Pacak will stop by and get my attention by banging on the glass door. He will then turn, drop his pants and display a pressed ham against the glass. It's a unique bond Mike and I have and I'm honored by the recognition.

TPB. Mystery Painting. Any progress?

Mr. 68. No progress on the painting. However because of it, I did reconnect with a former juvenile delinquent friend of mine from 30 plus years ago. I don't want to embarrass him here so I will only refer to him by his initials, S.t.e.v.e. K.u.l.p.a.

TPB. There's a guy in Germany who's made some anti-glare glass, does this spell the end for the Glare Guard?

Mr. 68. No, the anti-glare glass does not eliminate the DMD glare. It eliminates reflection from every other light source to the glass, but not the DMD. I'm please to say that the glass and Glare Guards compliment one another.

The guy in Germany is a new friend and I'm very excited about his innovations. His name is Roman and he contacted me after finding a link on RGP. Roman had seen my Glare Guards over in Europe and was curious about its design and evolution. We have spoken several times on the phone since then and have been exchanging ideas and brainstorming pinball. Roman is quite brilliant and one of the good guys in this hobby.

TPB. Finally, I always ask everybody to sum up their involvement in pinball in one word or sentence, so for Mr. 68..... What's your favorite dinner?

Mr. 68. Theses aren't exactly Steve Ritchie type questions are they… My favorite dinner is crow. I've developed a taste for it over the years and have consumed more than my share. Disturbed blog interviewers have me entertaining the thought of cannibalism.

- - - - - -

Many thanks to Kim/Mr. 68. for taking the time to be interviewed for Pinball Heroes LITE.

If you know anyone else in pinball that can have a laugh at their own expense, then why not see if they'd be up for an interview and have their answers forever archived on the interweb (or until I get sued at take the blog down).


The Pinball Blog