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

Saturday, 31 January 2009

Pinball Heroes: George Gomez

I can appreciate there are guys with their place in the decades of pinball history, like last week's Pinball Heroes interview with Roger Sharpe, but what about something for us new kids on the block, maybe somebody who helped influence the DMD era. An era that enticed a whole new generation of players into this seedy addiction!

George Gomez seemed to fit the bill.The Pinball Blog. So you're George Gomez, designer of Corvette, Batman (Stern) and several in between. What did your parents say when you said you wanted to be a pinball designer?

George Gomez.
"What's a pinball?"

TPB. Lord of the Rings! It must be pleasing for you to see such a recent title so highly regarded among the ever-critical collector community.

GG. Uhm...Balrog Shmalrog.

TPB. Did you design NBA Fastbreak as a parts machine?

GG. You guys have no appreciation for true innovation.

TPB. It must have been exciting working on the new concept of Pinball2000, and then have it all taken away from you so quickly. Did you think you were experiencing the end of pinball right there and then? It must have then been a relief to be able to carry on your trade with Stern.

GG. "End of pinball"...not really, but I was kinda bummed, no doubt.

TPB. Playboy. Get to the mansion? Stay the night?

GG. Yep, got to the mansion...

Out of all the machines you've designed which is your favourite (and why)?

GG. I like Fastbreak, probably because you guys don’t.

TPB. They filmed some of the Batman movie near me in the UK. The lorry flipping over really happened - it wasn't CGI (no idea why I needed to share that)! How much time do you have to design a pinball for a movie tie-in when release dates must be strict? Do you get scripts, artist roughs or unedited scenes to work from?

GG. Yes, we get scripts, style guides and sometimes audio. The dev cycle is no different, license or not, there is never enough time.

TPB. Is there a machine you wish you'd had more time to work on?

GG. Pretty much all of them.

If machines from the 1960s (and before) can still be in people's games-rooms today, then you've got to think that even when we're old and grey, there'll be your machines in collections around the planet. Trouble is do you think your grand-kids or great grand kids will even know what pinball is?

GG. My 4 year old niece in Switzerland plays my pinball games, I think we'll be ok.

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

GG. Good times, great people, lots of work!

Many thanks to George Gomez, a man of few words, for taking the time to answer our questions. More pinball heroes coming soon, and remember you can drop us a line with who you'd like interviewed and I'll see if my mum has them in her phone book!


The Pinball Blog

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Pinball Heroes: Roger Sharpe

After some light relief provided by the very funny Bryan Kelly, we're back google-stalking industry legends to feature as our Pinball Heroes.

The existence of this blog might even be down to one man (so you can blame him). Had pinball remained illegal in some American states then you've got to think the whole thing would be very different! Thankfully, this one man stepped up to the plate, and the rest - as they say - is history!

Roger Sharpe.

The Pinball Blog. Player, collector, historian, author, professional? Where do you sit most comfortably?

Roger Sharpe. I've never been asked this question before and really don't know if I'm able to differentiate between the various roles I have been able to take during my 'pinball career'. So let me try to answer it this way...

I came into pinball as a player and, at one time far too many years (dare I say decades) ago, was actually a pretty good one at that. So that has definitely been a constant for over 40 years. I don't believe I have ever viewed myself
as a collector having encountered so many serious ones when I began doing research for my pinball book.

My collection
, if one wants to call it that, numbers only about two dozen machines with many that I had a hand in designing or making happen. Where I might be seen as a collector (although my son Joshua would probably call me a 'hoarder') is my collection of pinball brochures and other literature and this, again, is more an outgrowth of the pinball book and then my subsequent role at Williams Bally/Midway when we were still in the business of designing and producing pinball machines.

As for being a historian and author, those labels have remained and probably rightfully so. I have been an author and not just for the p
inball book but I have also written or contributed to thirteen other books so that label is accurate. In regard to being a historian, I take my hat off to the late Dick Bueschel and what he meant to the hobby of pinball in writing his detailed literary contributions to the history of the industry. If anything, I have viewed myself as being more of a 'popular historian' as evidenced by the approach I took with my book and subsequent writings for various publications.

And, lastly, with my apologies for being so long winded, I don't know about the moniker of 'professional'. I'm not a professiona
l player by any stretch of the imagination especially at this stage of my life. My collecting is now limited to the occasional Stern brochure or other collateral materials created for coin-operated amusement games in general as well as the various trade and enthusiast magazines. History continues to happen right before our very eyes and although I might not be documenting it per se, I am still an observer of what is and has been taking place. And, lastly, I suppose I will always be an author although I don't see myself writing any new books in the near future.

TPB. In a varied and interesting career, do you have a particular highlight?

RS. This is a very difficult question to answer since I think of myself as really being blessed when it comes to the role that pinball has had in my life. First off was just the discovery of the games and the mag
ical hold that they had on me almost at first sight. If anything, that experience helped shape and define the life I have had. Writing the pinball book has to rank at or near the top and the doors that the process opened as well as the relationships I formed were, again, life altering.

Testifying before the City Council in New York City (as well as playing to demonstrate that pinball was a game of skill and doing so on a Gottlieb Bank Shot) to over turn the ban on pinball is most assurdedly a highlight not just for myself but the entire industry and its ultimate destiny as a result of my role.

I was given the gift of being able to design pinball machines and take considerable pride in what I was able to achieve with games such as Sharpshooter, Barracora and Cyclopes to name only three. For someone who ventured into the entire world of pinball as just a player, the subsequent road I traveled was never expected or anticipated and as such is a multi-faceted highlight as I look back at my life.

But maybe the greatest highlight is the fact that my sons, Joshua and Zachary, have embraced my love affair with pinball to such an amazing extent. If there is a legacy to be had, they have and continue to carry it on with a depth of passion and commitment that makes be incredibly proud.

TPB. Your boys Zach and Josh are doing some great things with the WPPR & IFPA. Do you still get to tell them off every now and then?

RS. Finally a question that can be answered in a much more succinct fashion. As a father I guess I still have some influence and might I be so bold as to assume some 'power'. When it comes to pinball, our disagreements are few and far between and if there ever is an opportunity to 'tell them off', I honestly can't remember it. But the better question might be, do they still even listen to me--and to that I have to admit: sometimes.

What was the first machine you owned and what's been the latest addition?

RS. The first machine I ever owned was Gottlieb's Buckaroo, the replay version of Cowpoke (which was the game that I actually wanted but it wasn't available at the time). The latest addition to the collection was Star Wars Episode 1 which I got a few years ago as a birthday present.

Peter Max? Tell us more?

RS. This was a strange twist of fate brought about by my dear friend Steve Epstein the former owner of the world famous Broadway Arcade in New York City. Forgive the temporary memory loss and I am sure that someone can provide the more accurate details but for the PAPA tournament events we staged in New York, we always tied in with a charity. Whether it was PAPA2 or PAPA3, through a mutual friend, Steve was able to approach Peter Max with the sole purpose of asking him to redo artwork on a reconditioned Pin-Bot courtesy of Frank Seninsky of Alpha-Omega Amusements.

Knowing that this was happening, Neil Nicastro the president of Williams made a lone bid of $11,000 to purchase the game. It was only when I made my way to New York for the tournament that I had the chance to go to Peter Max's studio and see the game as well as meet him. Suffice it to say that the end result of what was done with the cabinet art was less than inspiring. And when I met Peter I made mention that I was the brother of Geraldine Sharpe-Newton who had been a long time friend--we actually have some one-of-a kind art pieces dedicated to her by Peter.

Anyway, his comment upon hearing that Geraldine was my sister was an apology and that if he had known, he would have done much more with the project. When the machine was finally shipped back to Chicago and Neil saw it, he was flabbergasted and wanted to just throw the game away. I stepped in and said I would take it and it resides still in my living room today.

29Jan2009 Added: Photos for this question.

TPB. When you're looking for a pinball license do you ever get approached by the license holder or do you have to go looking?

It can actually work both ways. There have been times over the years where I have been the aggressive pursuer of a particular property--whether a movie or celebrity theme. And there have been many other occasions where the license holder--a studio or agent--has approached me with the opportunity. So it is, and can be, a two way street.

TPB. Is there an existing pinball machine that you wish you'd secured the license for or been involved with the design?

RS. This question made me pause for a moment but there really isn't anything that I wasn't able to get over the years for Williams Bally or, more recently, on a couple of occasions for Stern. I will say that there were any number of licenses that for whatever reason management didn't have an interest in getting or I couldn't find a designer willing to make the commitment.

If there was a simple playing tip that you could pass on to a wannabe world champion, what would it be?

I don't know if I still have the credibility or skills as a player to offer any such guidance other than to say that you have to make the commitment to being a world class player and be able to master the broadest variety of games from any and all eras. Having said that, the best of the best do have their individual techniques and approaches to game play that, strategically, are totally different to what I did decades ago.

The methodology and science of skillful playing is now an art form of control and precision. But one piece of advice to the upcoming or new player is to not get discouraged and to hone your skills and, lastly, enjoy playing not matter what the outcome.

Are you making any appearances at events in 2009? Competing, speaking or socialising?

RS. I guess your timing is pretty good with this question since I have tended to not attend too many events or tournaments over the years. And that has definitely been the case when it comes to international events. But this year I will be attending GPO in April in Germany--or at least I am planning to be there.

In addition, the IFPA world championships are going to be staged in England in late July/early August and I will be hoping to make it since it will give me a chance to see my sister, who lives in the UK along with my niece, nephew and their families.

And, last but not least, would be Pinball Expo in the fall. Those are the ones that come instantly to mind although there could be others that I am totally forgetting.

Finally can you sum up your involvement with pinball in one word or sentence.

I guess my involvement with pinball can best be described as an enduring love affair between myself and an amazingly unique and unparalleled device that has given me so much joy and, maybe in some ways, has helped to keep me young (or at least younger at heart).

- - - - - -

Many thanks to Roger Sharpe, a man who certainly has his place in pinball folklore!

More Pinball Heroes coming soon...

The Pinball Blog

'The Sharpes'. Photo Courtesy The PinGame Journal

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Pinball Heroes: Mystery Guest

When we started this Pinball Heroes thing, it was a smoke-screen to snare a particular industry legend. One man, whose contribution to the pinballing community stands head and shoulders above any other person alive. A product so unique, so innovative, so essential, that whatever the cost, whatever the lengths, whatever the stress, we'd find our man and drag him kicking and screaming to be one of our Pinball Heroes. Nervous moments passed while we waited for a reply from his people and finally, seconds later, the deal was done and we'd got him!

The Product? Pin Footies.
The Man? Bryan Kelly.

The Pinball Blog. So you're Bryan Kelly, CEO of Pin Footie Enterprises. When did you realise you could turn lumps of old wood into something so incredible?

Bryan Kelly. My second love, after pinball, is woodworking. I came up with the idea for Pin Footies for use in my own gameroom. I simply liked the wood look under the legs. I never thought about mass producing them until I started receiving numerous requests for them from guys who saw them on my gameroom picture site. Roughly 2000 Footies later, the rest is history.

TPB. I noticed when playing a machine fitted with pin footies (cherry) that the machine was slightly higher than I was used to. Could you make some "shoe footies" of equal height to get things back on the level?

BK. Funny you mention shoe Footies. Because of the popularity of Pin Footies, Pin Footie Enterprises has faced some competition over the years. A good example is from Rick Swanson and his now defunct Swanson Industries. Here are two examples of his prototypes.

Not to say I haven’t tried new things myself.. Here’s a little something I came up with to try and corner the female market.Needless to say, that idea’s been put on the shelf.

TPB. I've heard the US government are considering a multi-billion dollar bail-out of Pin Footie Enterprises. Couldn't you just cut down some more trees?

BK. I’m not sure who you get your inside information from, Nick, but there’s no bail out necessary. In fact, Pin Footie Enterprises has expansion plans in the works and may even go public.

TPB. I bought a job-lot over of Pin Footies over to the UK and they're not exactly selling like hot-cakes (although the dog is quite partial to them as a chewy toy). This might partly be down to the fact I don't remember where I put the box. Do you think the UK guys just aren't stylish enough to 'get' the whole thing?

BK. Sorry, Nick, it’s not my fault you UK guys have no taste for the finer things in life. You also forget, there are a multitude of uses for Pin Footies. Here are just a few from my good friend Jesse.

TPB. Away from pin footies, I hear you tinker with the odd pinball machine or 2. Tell us more.

BK. My true pinball passion is the restoration side of things. I do enjoy playing them, but I spend about 90% of my pinball time in the shop. For me, there’s nothing like taking a routed machine and making it look like new.

TPB. And the Bryan Kelly restoration video? Coming to "all good video stores near me" anytime soon?

BK. I should give you a little history of the videos. I have a good friend, Chris, who owns his own landscaping business. Living in Minnesota, he has nothing to do in the wintertime. Besides pinball, another passion of his is video work. He came up with the idea of doing a series of restoration videos, so last winter, he videoed me doing a ground up restoration of a Medieval Madness. It took us about 4 months and he ended up with about 18 hours of footage.

The problem now is, all the editing has to take place, and anyone who’s done any of this will tell you, it’s the most time consuming part of the process and takes the longest. As it turns out, Chris has had other commitments this winter, and hasn’t been able to work on it. As much as I’d like to get them done, it looks like it won’t be until next year.

TPB. A ship lost it's load of 1500 tons of timber along the UK coast on the way to your Russian rivals Pin Footski Enterprises. Police are investigating after Oak flavoured round holes were found in the ships hull. Anything you'd like to share?

BK. The FBI’s investigation is still ongoing, so I’m not at liberty to say anything at this time.

TPB. I've heard the delay in the remakes of Medieval Madness is due to a technicality with the size of the levellers not fitting the existing pin footie template. To the people that paid their deposits, and are waiting for these issues to be ironed out, what do you have to say?

BK. Again, the FBI’s investigation is still ongoing, so I’m not at liberty to say anything at this time.

TPB. Although I voted in your favour, Steve Ritchie just pipped you to the post as guest speaker for the UK Pinball Show in 2009. Organisers thought his bar-tab would have less of an impact on show funds. Why should we consider you in the future?

BK. I don’t quite see what the problem is. I would think the attendees would be more than happy to kick in an extra buck or two to cover my bar tab. I mean really….do you honestly think they want to hear from some over the hill, older than dirt pinball designer like Steve Ritchie or hear about the inner workings of Pin Footies Enterprises?

TPB. I've asked everyone else, so you might as well have the same. Can you sum up pinball in one word or sentence.

BK. There’s nothing else in the world like it.

- - - - - -

Many thanks to Bryan for being such a great sport. Get yourself over to Rec.Games.Pinball to meet other equally strange people!

Normal Pinball Heroes service will be resumed shortly....


The Pinball Blog

Pictures used without asking from

Monday, 19 January 2009

Pinball Heroes: Steve Ritchie

Steve Ritchie made some classic pinball machines in a career spanning 4 decades, and we're really looking forward to welcoming him to the UK as the special guest of the UK Pinball Show in July. In the meantime, he gets the Pinball Heroes treatment.

The Pinball Blog. Let's jump right in. Had you ever played poker before designing World Poker Tour?

Steve Ritchie. I had played poker when I was growing up, but I was never an
enthusiast. I was forced to design WPT, but I am not at all ashamed of it. The playfield turned out nice, and with the weak license, I decided to compensate with lots of innovative toys. Keith, of course, is a big fan of poker, and his rules are very innovative.

TPB. Hyperball. WTF?

SR. Hyperball was the result of my frustration designing a mechanical game when the world around me was far more interested in video
games. At that time, I wanted to produce a video game with a team at Williams but management refused, and said "more pinball please", even though pins weren't selling half as well as the popular video games of the era. I was determined to do something different, and came up with Hyperball. Look closely at the Hyperball playfield: Hyperball is a mechanical "firebase" game like Space Invaders. I wanted it to test the player's skill and accuracy at high speed, and wanted to make a shooting game with very fast machine-gun-like action. We sold 5,000 units, and they earned a lot of money. No regrets.

TPB. You're coming to the UK in the summer for the UK Pinball Show and European Pinball Championship. Any chance you'll be taking home the title?

SR. There is no chance at all. I am only a slightly better than average player, and got my ass trounced as recently as last night when Mike Hafner (phishrace) and other friends and I got together at Pizza Depot in Sunnyvale, CA. I love to play pins, but I am just not
that skilled. I consider my average abilities an important asset when designing games. It's too easy for guys like Keith Johnson and Lyman Sheats to play a game for an hour or more. Newer or less-skilled players want to enjoy a game too, and I temper the "front end" of the game to make sure that we achieve the broadest audience possible. Good programmer-players can then add the depth with features that we agree on to make sure there is plenty of challenge for better players.

TPB. I interviewed John Trudeau for Pinball Heroes and he had some kind words to say about you. Can you dish the dirt on John for us please?

SR. John Trudeau is a great guy and a talented game designer. He has been dedicated to pinball his whole working life. I enjoy playing CFTBL, and he designed one of my favorite games of all time, Hollywood Heat. He is very innovative and fun to be around. I haven't seen him in a long time, but hope to see him at EXPO if we both can make it.

(Editor: I guess not!)

TPB. So many enthusiasts with top-end 'A-list' machines also have The Getaway: High S
peed II which is, comparatively, a budget title. Any idea why it's so popular among collectors?

SR. I think that The Getaway appeals to better players, and it is an exciting game with flashy and violent toys like the accelerator and the shifter. I think there is some appeal in the visible locks and the ramp that feeds them. It has a good selection of some of the best features from the day. Loud ZZ Top music doesn't hurt either. "La Grange" is the best driving tune I ever heard. I used to play the cassette in my Porsche and turn up the volume as I ripped through the country lanes of Loomis, CA. I think HSII was a 'more modern' take on High Speed. We sold a lot of them, and that's maybe why you say it's a 'budget title'.

Collectors view games differently than I do. I must consider earnings above all else. If the fun to be had on a game is sufficient to generate a high earnings level, then I have done my job. Collectors do not base their pinball choices on any such thing. They buy games that they enjoy. Often, games that earned well end up in collections, as well as games that did not earn well.

TPB. Is there a machine you're immensely proud to have designed and sit back and think "I did that!"?

SR. I haven't made any games that I am not proud of. I spent many hours trying to d
o my best work on each machine, and tried to top my previous games with each successive game. I feel best when watching someone who is clearly enjoying the play of my machines. I don't say to myself "I did that!", I say to myself "What am I going to do next that will be successful?". In the game business, a developer is only as good as his last game. There is no 'laurel-resting' in my life. I am always ready to begin the next game adventure.

TPB. I'm a fan of the recent Spider-Man, and maybe wish I'd held out for a Spider-Man Black. Was there always a plan to produce a limited edition follow-up, did you have any say, or was it just a marketing strategy?

SR. The marketing plan was in place at the 6-month milestone. It was completely my idea, and I saw the opportunity in the script to produce a special version. Gary Stern of course approved it. He also suggested a mirrored backglass, which I never dreamed he would allow. I was most interested in the webby side armor and made 3 passes at the design for the cutouts. They had to be designed to look great, and not intrude on the player's ha
nds or comfort in any way. Others at Stern wanted a grey colored (!?) armor and legs, etc on SM, but only chrome would do it for me.

TPB. What have you been up to since parting with Stern and what does the future hold for Steve Ritchie?

SR. I have been actively seeking employment! Times are tough. I spend my days writing resumes, interviewing and networking. I have a few other irons in different fires, but none that I can discuss here.

I would love to be producing Xbox 360 or PC video games. I have produced several video games and the sky's the limit with platform games. In November of 2008, $2.3 Billion dollars worth of platform games were sold worldwide. It is obvious that people are realizing the extreme value in buying a game for their home systems instead of going to mo
vies, dining out etc.

There is a huge market for my work, and I can't wait to get started for some company out there.

TPB. I guess you didn't plan on being a pinball designer when you were at school, so what did you want to be?

SR. There was a time that I was very interested in electronics. I have had extensive training in this area and found it fascinating at one time. After my service in the US Coast Guard, I walked into Atari Games in 1974. I knew that I would be making games from that time on.

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

SR. Pinball is great fun, but no longer a viable commercial product of the 21st century.

A huge thank you to Steve Ritchie for finding the time to answer our questions. The only trouble is I now have a whole load more I want to know! Guess, I'll have to wait until I see the man in July!

More Pinball Heroes soon..

The Pinball Blog

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Pinball Heroes: Tim Arnold

When we speak to some of our Pinball Heroes there's one place that keeps coming up as a 'must see'. You probably don't need to be a rocket surgeon (or brain scientist for that matter) to work out where that is.

The Las Vegas Pinball Hall of Fame.The Pinball Blog jumped on a plane and popped over to Vegas to catch up with the man behind the madness (actually, we sent him an email).

The Pinball Blog. So you're Tim Arnold from the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas. Do you still get the same kick out of pinball that you did when you first opened the doors to the PHOF?

Tim Arnold.
I don't really play pinball anymore. I spend all day every day around the machines. If I get time away, the last thing I want is more bells buzzers and brats. I go play with my dogs.
TPB. If you had to do something else, what would it be?

Don't know anything else, this is all I have done my whole life. Perhaps I could open a soft drink stand on the Merrick road.....

TPB. You're a keen supporter of the Salvation Army, do you ever see how the money is being used and what difference it's making?

TA. Our charitable acts are the most important thing we do. We support the Army because they are a lot like us, low rent, very efficient, and totally dedicated to one thing. The hippy and I just went to the latest graduation ceremony and saw first hand crack heads, dopers, and low lifes that had finished the program, and were placed in a job after training and were ready to rejoin normal life. It was done with our money. I am very proud.
TPB. What happens one day if you're too old to run the Pinball Hall of Fame?

I figure I have 10 more years at least. After that, I will close the museum, take all the machines out in the parking lot and burn them so nobody will ever play pinball again. Or I could find somebody to take over.

You must have had some interesting visitors to the Pinball Hall of Fame. Are there any that stand out? Maybe one from pinball-circles and one from the 'real' world!

Only non pinball famous guy we ever had was Lenord Maltin, Teevee critic. He came in a limo, stayed about an hour, then left. Nice guy.
Steve Ritchie refused to autograph his brothers games, so he is no longer famous.
Eugene Jarvis really liked the picture on our Asteroids.

So you let people play pinball and give the money to charity. You sound pretty-darn perfect. There must be a dark side to Tim Arnold. Drink? Drugs? Ladies? All of the ab
ove? Come on, you can tell us.

We have had several e-mails from people who came to the museum and expected a personal tour and a lot of time with the Hippy or me, and we spent very little time with them. Every second we are there, we are fixing games. Many people take this as rudeness, when it is just attention to detail. If we have offended anyone, we are sorry.

TPB. If the PHOF had to be somewhere else on the planet, where would it be?

Las Vegas is the only place on earth this can work. You need tourists AND locals to make the numbers work 52 weeks out of the year. Many other places have shows once or twice a year, which is SUPER WAY COOL, but keeping it open year round is a whole nother Magilla.....

All those change machines and pinballs. How many quarters are in circulation at any one time at the PHOF?

Games are scooped all the time, and we leave very little change in the place over night. No use tempting people. Under 500 dollars.

TPB. Although everyone should try and get to the PHOF, it clearly won't be possible. Is there anything we can do from afar other than marvel at your collection?

In the coming months, we will be moving to 1610 E. Tropicana, a building we will OWN, out of the cramped and dingy rental we are now in. We paid 1.2 million for the new place. We had 700K. in the building fund. We are now 500 thousand in debt. As soon as we get the move over with and up and running, we will be passing the hat among the pinball world in a GIVE ONCE fundraiser. We will have basic memberships, gold, Silver (Not Herb), platinum and diamond memberships, along with sponsorship of a machine, restroom, vending machine, etc. Sorry, toilets are already named for Shaggy and Normm.
When the time comes, PLEASE SEND MONEY!. The sooner we are out of debt, the sooner we can get back to giving to charity.

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

TA. Needs more salt!

Many thanks to Tim Arnold who I'm sure has much better things to do than answer questions from us! Thankfully, he found the time.

If you'd like to send a paypal donation to the PHOF then you can use this address ( to send payment. Or check out the PHOF Support Page to find out other ways you can help the guys.

Hopefully, you're starting to see how Pinball Heroes works! 10 questions, some for fun, some out of curiosity and some to try and start a bun-fight. These guys will have answered thousands of questions over the years, so we're trying to make it a little different!

More Pinball Heroes coming soon!


The Pinball Blog

Pictures used with permission from The Pinball Hall of Fame.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Pinball Heroes: John Trudeau

John Trudeau was the first ever guest speaker at the UK Pinball Show in 2008, becoming the inaugural inductee into the UK Pinball Hall of Fame and certainly made an impact on the UK pin-heads.

A few months have now passed and The Pinball Blog catches up with John to see what he's been up to and to find out what he really thought about the guys over here!

The Pinball Blog. You were the first ever guest speaker at the UK Pinball Show, and certainly helped us secure the evening function as an essential part of the show for visitors. What or who was the influential factor in your agreement to come over for the event, and are you glad you did?

John Trudeau. The real deciding factor was your decision to ask me if I was interested. Gary Flower was our go-between, I believe. He may have even suggested my name. As you can tell, I was very happy to get and accept your invitation. There was never any hesitation in my decision to go. I enjoyed my stay (way too short) and the show and just everything!

TPB. What have you been doing since the show?

JT. I returned to a new engineering design employment opportunity. I am still engaged there. Not as much fun as pinball design, but it pays the bills.

TPB. A little birdie tells me you're working with some of the UK guys on a secret project? Is there anything you can share with us at this time?

JT. Your little birdie is correct. I am laying out a playfield (and designing some new toys) for a group of pinball enthusiasts I met while at the UK Pinball Show. I really don't know how much of this is supposed to be public knowledge, I
wasn't told anything either way. I am patterning the theme after the <<<< Editor Snip >>>>>. All of the actual devices (toys) aren't finished, so I am not going to promise anything I can't make good on :o)

TPB. You were certainly a captivating speaker for the UK pinball enthusiasts, do you have any other speaking engagements planned?

JT. Yes. I am talking to the Midwest Gaming Classic (MGC) convention in March in Milwaukee, WI.
That's only 90 miles from here. Nice short trip. I haven't been there before (for the convention) but I have heard that it is a really great show. It crosses over to videos and other genres. Should be fun.

Also scheduled to speak at the Pacific Pinball Expo (PPE) in the fall, in San Rafel, CA. Th
at is the biggest west coast convention for the silver balls. I have some family out there, so I am staying a little longer to spend some time with them. Again looks like a fun time! :o)

TPB. Steve Ritchie has agreed to come over as our guest in 2009, did your paths cross during your time designing machines, and do you think he'll have much to say?

JT. Steve and I were friendly competitors for many years, while I was with the competition (Gottlieb/Premier). We became good work friends when I got to WMS. We always have a good word for each other and I have always loved his design work. He will have PLENTY to say at your next get-together! He's an excellent choice for your next guest. I am sure you will not be disappointed! He's a great guy!

TPB. The recent job lay-offs at Stern were a concern for many. Do you think in 5 years ther
e'll be anybody earning their living from designing or building pinball machines?

JT. Only if they are allowed the freedom to design and manufacture the product without outside interference. This, I believe, is what is stopping anyone from starting up something new right now.

If you had to own a single pinball machine (regardless of designer), what would it be?

JT. This is always the toughest question.... How can I pick from so many? If only I could choose a machine from each designer, but only one machine? To be diplomatic about this I am going to pick my own Creature from the Black Lagoon. But there are an awful lot of great games out there to choose from....

TPB. Are you sure you don't have a secret stash of Judge Dredd toppers?

JT. I wish! I did have a couple in the beginning, but they were given away to friends and family (of course).

TPB. We welcomed you as the inaugural inductee to the new UK Pinball Hall of Fame. Over time we hope the list will build into an industry who's who. Is there anybody you think we simply must have over to be inducted in the future, and why?

JT. I believe any of the pinball designers that have demonstrated their ability to repeatedly bring a fun product to the masses should be in there. If you want a real practical answer I guess you should go by age. We are not a lot of spring chickens, for the most part :o) Let me suggest that there may be a need to bring in some designers (into the Hall of Fame) that can't attend for one reason or another (either health or no longer among the living). I did notice that there weren't any "wood rails" at the show. Perhaps you could put some enticement there for the collectors to bring them too. Just a few would be a nice addition!

TPB. If you had to sum up your time in the industry in one word or sentence, what would it be?

JT. Fantastic! I never dreamt that I would be fortunate enough to have a 'job' that I could love so much. For almost 20 years I went to 'play' not to 'work'. If I could, I would wish this experience for everyone!

Many thanks to John Trudeau for being an exceptional special guest and for taking the time to answer our questions. More Pinball Heroes coming soon, and don't forget to send in your suggestions so we can send out the stalkers.


Pinballers Anonymous

Pinball Heroes: LTG :)

If you've ever searched a technical question about pinball machines on the internet, then it's quite likely you would have come across an answer/solution posted by LTG :) on Rec.Games.Pinball (RGP).

So who is this LTG :) fella, and what makes him tick?

The Pinball Blog attempts to find out more about the man from SS Billiards who can.The Pinball Blog. On RGP you are possibly the leading authority on pinball repairs and tips. Where did you learn it all?

LTG :) I sincerely doubt I'm the leading authority on RGP for pinball repairs. There are a lot of people there who contribute a lot, and sadly a lot of them don't get the recognition they deserve. Whether it's complicated tech help, parts, a favor, etc. RGP is loaded with a wealth of good help dedicated to pinball and this has always made me feel honored to be a part of this newsgroup.

I do think a lot of people identify with me. Especially people new to the hobby. If I
can help with their problem, I try to figure where their repair skill level is at, and work through to a solution for them so they can make the repair and gain in confidence and repair skills. My thinking has always been that if a new person comes for help and gets it, the hobby grows and gets stronger, and that helps everybody. On other newsgroups new people ask a question and get flamed, and that hurts the group and particular hobby. Check out one of the barren newsgroups and what stuff sells for in that hobby, and it doesn't take a genius to figure out that they destroyed it themselves.

RGP generally is more humane towards new people. A few are gun shy and will email me rather than take a chance on the
newsgroup. They usually start off with an apology for contacting me directly, but they need help. I don't ignore them or blast them out of the water. I always respond and start off with " Hi my friend, good to hear from you".

As far as learning, I've spent near half a century in coin op. I remember being about 4 years old and standing on a stool and scrubbing a baseball machine playfield with comet cleanser. Most of my years were pre-internet and instant help. You needed to get something fixed, it didn't matter if you knew how or had parts or not, you figured it out. The process of needing to learn probably helped me.

TPB. Are you still learning today?

LTG :) I think as long as a person is alive they are learning. Technology changes, parts quality changes, we are always learning better ways to care for our games. The manufacturers weren't building them for collectors many years later. The sheer number of years collectors are getting out of their games and the quality of the game's condition, is testament to a lot of learning.

And I'm still forgetting too. As things change and we leave things behind, you don't remember everything. I used to be pretty sharp with EM games and pinball machines, it's probably been over 25 years since I've been in one. I'm sure I'd be lost for a while and have forgotten the basic problems and what to do for them.

TPB. Although currently a tough-time for coin-op you must have some incredible highlights from your time in the business. Is there a moment that particularly stands out?

LTG :) From a business standpoint it would be October 23rd, 1987. A Friday, I had just put in the new rug, gotten Sega's sit down afterburner. MEA week, kids had off from school on Thursday and Friday. That Friday I set a record for one day income in my business, just 5 years after the video game fad flopped, a time when I didn't know how much longer I'd be able to remain open. And I managed to bring my business back huge. A feat I'm trying to replicate again.

From a humanitarian standpoint. It would be an incident at my 30th Aninversary party. Lyman Sheats was there and brought souvenirs to hand out. There was a father brought his little girl in to play pinball. She was cute, the perfect kid. About 8 years old, missing a tooth, freckles. I asked Lyman if he'd do me a favor. Autograph a Medieval Madness
poster for the child. Lyman did. I gave it to the girl. She was thrilled. The next day the father called and thanked me for the poster and that he hung it on his daughter's wall. She loved it. I suggested he should get it framed. When he asked why I told him to look at the autograph and then the design credits on the playfield. He was all excited, he said he'd get it framed for his daughter. Nothing in the world like putting a smile on a child's face.

TPB. We've all made some great friends through pinball. Is there an individual you have met this way who you're glad you did and what influence have they had on your life and/or business?

LTG :) . Steve Tsubota. Only person I've ever met who I wished I was more like.

TPB. In 5 years do you think there will be anybody designing or making pinball machines?

LTG :) Stern pinball. I don't know if Gary Stern will still own it, or be as active in running it. But they are surviving in the worst of times, and I think will continue for some time to come. If the economy turns around and the hobby stays strong, I believe we may see a custom manufacturer or two pop up. But it would be very limited runs and extremely costly. Namely for the rich and famous.

TPB. If you had a time machine and had a chance to go back to where you started in the business, would you take a different path?

LTG :) When I got out of high school, if I had the money to start the schooling, I'd be in radio broadcasting now. I would have never continued working for my father. As far as my business, the average life of a game room is a year and a half. So I never dreamt of being there over 36 years. Had I known that then, I would have stood in the center of the room and taken pictures front and back to see the changes in games and technology. I would have kept a diary too. Why I got a game, why I didn't, and if I did, pictures and notes about it. I was a test operator for 19 years, so I had a lot of odd ball stuff come through here.

TPB. Is there a pinball place or event, anywhere in the world (other than SS Billiard of course) that is worth a visit for every enthusiast?

LTG :) Of places I'd like to see and haven't: the woodrail pinball museum in France, Pinball Hall Of Fame in Las Vegas, and any pinball show anywhere on the planet, big or small.

Of things I have seen: Pinball Expo
in Chicago. Especially with their Silver Anniversary this year. I've always loved Expo. So much to see and do. Mike and Rob put on a heck of a show. Stern tour, seminars, tournaments, increasing time pins can be played, banquet, which is a tradition in itself, fireside chat. And the people. You never know who you'll run into. Old friend, new friend, somebody famous from the industry, somebody famous from supporting and promoting pinball. I like to land there, grab some souvenir mugs to hand out, and then mingle. I like to go with the flow. A bunch of people go to lunch, tag along, get back, another group are leaving and go with. I've had three lunches in a row. You just never know who you'll all run into. I am sad I can't see everybody and spend time with them or even get in a game of pinball with them. I love Expo and all the people there.

TPB. As an enthusiast, what in your opinion was the best pinball machine ever made?

LTG :) While I'm not much of a player and rarely get to play, I've always loved Capcom's Kingpin.

TPB. Now, as a businessman, what has been the most successful pinball machine for you, and if you know, why?

LTG :) Funhouse. Wore out two playfields on one here. I believe it was the game that kicked off the modern era of pinball as we know it. It really launched the 1990's for pinball.

TPB. If you had to sum up pinball in one word or sentence, what would it be?

LTG :) One of the few things built by man that is almost alive.

Many thanks to LTG :) from SS Billiards who despite his modesty, really is a leading authority on RGP. Many people join in and ask for help, countless thousands of others will just be finding his answers on a search engine from the other side of the world. If you ever find yourself in Hopkins, Minnesota, then be sure to pop along to play the games and meet the great man himself.

And of course we welcome suggestions for future Pinball Heroes victims.


Pinballers Anonymous

SS Billiards Pictures used with permission from SS Billiards

Friday, 16 January 2009

Pinball Heroes: Gary Flower

There's a nice selection of reading fodder out there in pinball-land and The Lure of the Silver Ball certainly makes our list of essentials.

The Pinball Blog catches up with the author to find out who, where and why.

The Pinball Blog. So you're Gary Flower, author of The Lure of the Silver Ball. How on earth did you go about getting a book about pinball published?

Gary Flower. The publisher approached me, which made it easy to get the publishing deal. Putting it together was a little harder.

TPB. What have you been doing (pinball-wise) since?

GF. Frequent trips to Chicago, the pinball capital of the world to keep my knowledge up to date. Have also acted as a consultant for the Royal Shakespeare Company and TV as well as writing a sequel to the book published as a CD-rom, complete with pinball sims.

TPB. Will there be anybody designing and manufacturing pinball machines in 5 years?

GF. I hope so, but I won't be betting on it.

TPB. You must have met some incredible people through your pinball connections. Is there one you feel particularly lucky to have met?

GF. I'm honoured to count several of my pinball heroes as personal friends as well as many regular pinball people who do a lot for little reward and recognition such as yourself (UK Pinball Show), Martin Ayub (Pinball News & Tournament Director) and Jim Schelberg (PinGame Journal). Generally speaking I'm blown away by the pinball community around the world - what a great bunch of people.

TPB. Are we going to see another pinball book anytime soon?

GF. Unlikely, but open to offers - I have lots of ideas!

TPB. Is there a place or event that you would recommend every enthusiast should see before they die?

GF. Go to a major pinball show: In the UK there's only one: The UK Pinball Show, this year in July. Also, Pinball Expo (Chicago, October), Pacific Pinball Expo (San Francisco, October) and the North West Pinball Show (Seattle, June) and of course the Pinball Hall of Fame, Las Vegas (Say Hi to Tim from me)

TPB. What is your favourite machine and why?

GF. Counterforce (Gottlieb). Simple yet challenging.
Getaway: High Speed II. I just can't leave it alone, great sounds, lighting, rules - always exciting to play. This is my desert island pin - rules have enough to hold my interest without being too difficult to understand.

TPB. Could anything have been done to prevent the decline of pinball?

GF. Lower prices and reliability - a paradox when there's more stuff than ever on the playfield.

TPB. What else makes you tick away from pinball?

GF. Poker, travel, fine dining and good company.

TPB. Finally, can you sum up pinball in a single word or sentence?

GF. The ultimate boys toy for the ultimate boy.

Many thanks to Gary Flower for being the first of our Pinball Heroes. Watch out as we hunt down and pester more people on the inside of our great hobby. If you would like to suggest somebody to feature on Pinball Heroes then drop us a line!


Pinballers Anonymous