With all the excitement surrounding Pat Lawlor's new games for Stern, there remains some questions about the games and the differences between the NASCAR and the Grand Prix versions.

So we went to the best person to answer those questions and in this exclusive interview, Pat Lawlor talks to Pinball News about NASCAR, Grand Prix and a look back at four years of Pat Lawlor Design's games for Stern.

Pinball News: First of all, why Nascar? Was it your idea or did Gary Stern propose it?

Pat Lawlor: Gary and I agree to agree about licences. All Stern games are licensed.
That being said Nascar is a natural for the Pinball community. The street recognition of the branding is just huge in the U.S. And Nascar fans are some of the most rabid about their sport. This license was an easy decision for everyone involved.

Pinball News:
When you thought about Nascar for the first time, what were your
immediate thoughts and what were the "must haves" for the game?

Pat Lawlor: Immediate thoughts were "Wow, what a great license and theme both for
the street and home!"  The biggest must have was the racetrack. What is a race game without a racetrack?

Pinball News: What did Steve Ritchie say when he saw what you'd done to his

Pat Lawlor: He told me he thought it was very cool.

Pinball News: This is quite a radical change in playfield design for you, even ignoring the racetrack. Have you been itching to try a fan layout or did it evolve naturally from the inclusion of the racetrack and the other game components?

Pat Lawlor: The racetrack itself is a very extensive, non trivial pinball engineering achievement. That means not just the idea of accelerating the balls around an
entire playfield reliably.

The whole trough return mechanism had to be re-engineered so that no collisions would occur from racetrack balls and draining balls. It means that there is an entire, fun playfield inside of the racetrack. (That's 2-1/2 inches LESS of playfield width available for normal design)

But that much less space has some good things attached. First it means that there are no "far outside" shots. All the shots are on fairly sweet spots on the flippers. Second, it means that the shots are fast, because they ARE coming from the sweet spots. A racing theme should be fast, right? "Fan layout" is just an oversimplified name for
an open playfield, 2 flipper game. There are 3 major toys in this game, so I guess I fit quite a bit in that "Fan" layout.

Pinball News: With Ripley's you introduced the "Believe It Or Not" feature to help bridge the divide between novice and skilled players or arcade and home owners. What elements in Nascar are you especially proud of?

Pat Lawlor: The racetrack is very cool. All the non-pinhead ( regular folks ) we tested the game with are in amazement of that. The "Test Car/Garage" is neat because it's a center shot and very easy for a newbie to see action/reaction with.
There is a spinning target in a semi truck hauler, a lot like mini-golf target.

Plus there is a great little hook called "Mode Bonus" which lights after a mode is complete. This feature is collected by knocking down all the drop targets. When collected, the player receives the score he got in the mode one more time and possibly a spellout letter to get him to wizard mode. This is a way for a good player to double his score as he goes, but, the mode bonus goes away if the ball drains.

Great competitive feature. Great risk/reward feature.

Pinball News: This is the first Stern game to be sold with two different themes in different geographical areas. Were there always going to be Nascar and Grand Prix versions or was the division decided upon later in the design process?

Pat Lawlor: That was Gary Stern's marketing decision from day one and a very good one in light of our need to sell Europe and the rest of the world games. It was also a very expensive decision from an engineering point of view.

Pinball News: Is this the first time you've worked with Kevin O'Connor and what changes are you making for the Grand Prix version (sound calls, dots,rules, track direction etc)?

Pat Lawlor: I've worked with Kevin before. But there will be more artists than Kevin
working on Grand Prix in order to meet line deadlines. The entire art package is re-done ( cabinet,playfield, backglass). The dots will have some smaller impact. Some of the names of the modes will change to better fit European racing. The actual game play will be almost identical to Nascar.

Pinball News: Finally Pat, this is your fourth game for Stern and presumably your last using the present hardware/software system. You say each game is a snapshot in time, so how do you think your games have changed over the past four years and how has the market for them changed?

Pat Lawlor: A lot has changed. When we did Monopoly , new pinball machine
manufacture was in extreme danger of going totally away.

The market is a little more stable now.

Notice I said "A Little". The economics of this business are still extremely tight.
We can't rest where we are. We (our distributors) now sell many more games direct to homeowners than before. This number is still a reasonably small percentage of total production but it continues to grow slowly. The amazing thing is that many/most of these games don't go to collectors or hard core enthusiasts, but to average people just looking for something cool for their rec room. (That's what our dists tell us anyway!).

In 1990 at Williams we thought up our own themes. Today, licensing is everything. World consumers have been trained to look for easily recognizable commodities to validate their buying experience. A Harley owner buys a Harley pinball, this shows his
friends his lifestyle. Same with other titles. That's why any unlicenced game like "FunHouse" won't occur in the near future.

I personally find that sad in some respects. First, people have a tendency to pre-judge a game based on its title. Second, the creative process dwells on the license, not
something new and unusual, but our job is to sell people what they will buy.

It will be nice having a new hardware system next time out! Hopefully it will enable us to bring a deeper multi-media experience to our players.


Thanks to Pat for his honest and heartfelt assessment not only of the state of pinball today but his new games Nascar and Grand Prix.

As always, Pinball News will bring you the latest news and pictures of the games as and when they become available.


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