Date: 16th March, 2013

Our latest update brings you some exciting and exclusive news about the two themes chosen for the P3's initial release - including the original title from game designer Dennis Nordman. We talk to Dennis about his latest creation, introduce the two newest members of the Multimorphic team, and reveal how they have been developing many new features for the advanced pinball platform.

But we'll start with the game Dennis is designing for the P3, and he has chosen an original theme, starring an equally original central character.

Say hello to Lexy Lightspeed - Galaxy Girl.

Pinball News spoke to Dennis to find out more about Lexy Lightspeed and the adventures she will get up to in the game.

"Well, she started off as a man and then underwent a sex change. What I mean is, I started with a male main character. I went through a lot of names for him, like Flash Rogers, MT Void, Buzz Pulsar, Rocky Meteor, Flash Starlight, and dozens of others and I finally settled on Flash Lightspeed.

Later I realized that our space hero should be a female. What's pinball without an attractive female on the backglass? I liked the Lightspeed name so I had to come up with a good first name. I settled on Lola until my niece said that sounded more like a stripper. I then changed it to Lexy, Lexy Lightspeed.

She's a sexy space fighter who travels the galaxy fighting for Truth, Justice, and the American way…oh wait…that was Superman. Ok then…she’s hot, she’s sexy…and her name is Lexy. She travels the galaxy, searching for space monsters and hunting down the evil ones who fight for the Dim Side of the Dark Energy Force. She’s not fully qualified to go Full Dark, so for now she has to battle the Dim Side. For her, aspiring to fight the Dark Side is more exciting than always looking on the Bright Side.

She's brunette because that's what I like the most. She's intelligent, witty, and a bit sarcastic and risque. She's not based on anyone in particular; she's just a typical, everyday, hot space babe."

Lexy Lightspeed in 3D

Pinball News asked Dennis if he thought his theme will bring back something that's been missing from pinball in recent years, such as sexy women, humour, and risqué or suggestive speech.  He replied, "Absolutely!  I love doing an original theme.  This game will be full of those things.  Fun!"

In the past, pinball designers have had differing amounts of input into the creation of the final game. Some have been closely involved in all aspects from start to finish, while others have delivered a layout and left it to the rest of the team to implement it.

We asked Dennis what his role will be in producing Lexy Lightspeed - Galaxy Girl. "That's not clearly defined yet.  I would love to be involved in the entire project and see it through to production.  I have layout finished, but it now needs a lot of detail work.  Most playfield items are just outlines at this point.  The next step is a whitewood,  I also have the theme outline pretty well developed.  I've been heavily involved in directing the artwork, which at this point is Lexy and her spaceship."

Lexy's spaceship

The theme was created by Dennis, but it was realised by artist Rory Cernuda. Multimorphic head Gerry Stellenberg told us how Rory became part of the team.

"We met Rory at the Pacific Pinball Exposition in 2012. He came by the booth, played the P3 prototype, immediately saw our vision and the potential of the platform, and asked if he could get involved. At the time he had recently graduated from Ex'pression College for Digital Arts in Emeryville, CA, and he was looking for a fun and exciting way to start his career and build up his portfolio. Plus, he's a big fan of pinball!

Rory Cernuda
Rory Cernuda

"We got back in touch with Rory a few months later, and he was still very anxious to join the team. Fast forward a couple months, and it's clear we found a diamond in the rough. Rory is VERY good at what he does. Pretty much every time I open an e-mail with a new or updated drawing, the first word that pops into my head is 'WOW!'."

Dennis has also enjoyed working with Rory. He told us, "He's a talented 3D artist and I'm excited about having 3D art for this game, a first for pinball. Rory was very easy to work with. He never complained about all the minute details that Gerry and I would annoy him with."

More views of Lexy Lightspeed
More views of Lexy Lightspeed
(Click to enlarge)

Designing a game for the P3 platform is a new experience for Dennis. We asked him about his experiences working with the rest of the Multimorphic team. "Well, so far this is totally different since we are all spaced around the country. Gerry is very annoying and his opinions are always wrong.  ;-)  ...I'm kidding of course!  Gerry is just as detail oriented as I am, so I value his opinions and input.  Working with Gerry is fun because he gets excited about new ideas.  

The only other member of the team that I've had a lot of communication with is Rory, our artist.  Rory is a pure pleasure to work with.  He actually encourages direction and critique, and willingly tries all the crazy details that Gerry and I hit him with. I enjoy working at home but there are many times I wish we could have weekly face to face meetings.  It would have been great to look over Rory's shoulder as he developed the Lexy character.  I could have annoyed the hell out of him!"

This is the second of Dennis's games in recent year to have a longer, two-part title, as with his earlier game "Whoa Nellie! Big Juicy Melons". Is this, we asked Dennis, by design, and is Lexy really Melony in space? "(It's) certainly not intentional.  I just felt that Lexy Lightspeed needed further description.  And they do have a couple of things in common.  ;-)"

Lexy Lightspeed - Galaxy Girl is the first of two titles to be included with the P3 when it goes on sale. The second also has a space feel to it, but this one gives a galactic twist to a decidedly earth-bound motor sport.

Cosmic Cart Racing will portray a race between assorted competing cart-like spaceships on the LCD panel. Shots made on the playfield will help to advance your vessel and take you closer to winning the race and adding additional skills and capabilities. The game promises plenty of humour and many traditional cart-racing features to add to both short-term and longer-term strategic goals.

Gerry explained some of the finer points. "Whereas Lexy Lightspeed - Galaxy Girl will offer people a mostly traditional style of gameplay, Cosmic Cart Racing presents an opportunity to step a little bit outside of the box, which is something the P3 proves we're not afraid to do. As is customary with cart-style racing games, when you start a game, you'll get to select your 'driver' from a catalog of characters and your cart from a catalog of carts. Each character and cart will have different skills and characteristics. The catalogs of characters and carts will grow over time, via code updates, as will the number of available racetracks."

"The objective in any racing game is, of course, to win races. The physical shots (ramps, loops, scoops, targets, etc.) will determine how fast your cart moves, whether or not you take shortcuts or collide with obstacles, and how much your 'driver' improves throughout a race, among other things. The race will be presented on the LCD screen, and we'll enhance gameplay with virtual interactions for things like bumping other carts and collecting 'powerups', which are common features in cart-style racing games."

"As you can imagine, this style of game is perfect for accumulating player statistics and for tying accomplishments back into the game, such as by making the various 'drivers' more skilful and enhancing the characteristics of the carts. So while the goal of each individual race is just to win the race, players can pursue longer-term goals that could take months or years to accomplish."

Cosmic Cart Racing is also the first pinball game to provide networked multi-player capability, allowing multiple P3 players in locations around the world to connect over the internet and compete directly against each other.

The team at Multimorphic are keen to stress the value the P3 platform offers, not only with the original purchase of the hardware and the initial two games for $9,995 (currently discounted to $9495), but also for subsequent games which will utilise much of the existing framework and so cost far less than purchasing a whole new machine.

The current estimate is for a new upper playfield module and game package to cost around $1,000 - $1,500, which will reduce the average price per new game even more. The upper playfield modules will be supplied in compact, stackable storage boxes which will minimise the space needed to store them, while protecting them from damage and dust.

The challenge though is to convince potential buyers each game will have a unique look and feel when it is running on a common hardware platform.

Gerry acknowledges the problem but believes once players get their hands on the P3 the unique qualities and feel of each game will immediately become apparent. "I often discuss the fact that Medieval Madness, Attack From Mars, and Spider-Man have effectively the same layouts and feel like totally different games. In fact many pinball machines, even some of the newer ones coming out, have nearly identical shot layouts to one or more other games. They feel like totally different games because the themes, artwork, sound/music, and objectives are completely different."

"In the P3's case, the themes and such will of course be different from game to game, but more importantly, each playfield module will have a completely different shot layout. Also, the upper playfield ball channelling from the upkickers will be part of the upper playfield design, and therefore different for each game. Designers can choose to use either one or both of the upkickers, and they can deliver balls to the lower portion of the playfield however they want. Add to that the fact that we'll be creating graphics and artwork dynamically, in response to the movement of the ball. The gaming experience will therefore not only be completely different game to game, it will also change play to play."

"All that said, this is one of those times when words probably won't be convincing enough. People will have to play the games and judge for themselves."

We asked Gerry if having two space-themed titles for the first two releases risked people thinking the P3 is mainly suited to that type of game.

He told us, "While Lexy Lightspeed - Galaxy Girl is technically a space-themed game, the story is based on the characters being stuck on Earth and trying to get back into space.  So the objectives and scenery will be mostly terrestrial.  Cosmic Cart Racing, on the other hand, is cart-style racing... in space.  One is an adventure game, the other is a racing game.  One is based on Earth, the other is based in space.  One has traditional-style mode-based objectives, the other is all about winning races.  One has the same set of characters every time you play it.  The other allows you to choose characters and carts each time you play.  These are two completely different games."

Many of the technological advances the P3 has introduced - such as the large LCD panel and the ball-tracking capability - have been documented in earlier Pinball News articles, but the game also utilises an advanced interconnect system to minimise and simplify playfield wiring, making component removal far easier.

The platform uses a modular system with driver boards mounted directly on the game's major assemblies and sharing a common cabling system which is daisy-chained from board to board, carrying the power, the serial switch data and the serial control data to drive the device's solenoids and lighting.

Under the playfield
Under the playfield

The swappable upper playfield is another assembly and connects to the same simple control and power bus, just like the wall target bank and the row of scoops. In fact the prototype game controls 22 solenoids - 12 of which are dual-wound - for a total of 34 driven coils. Each one connects to its local driver board with a simple plug allowing it to be easily removed for servicing, as do the other assemblies.

The cabling for the flipper buttons
The simplified cabling for the flipper buttons

Inside the cabinet
Inside the cabinet

Not all the developments have been under the playfield, as there have been advances in the software environment too.

The P3 will be the first game to provide real-time 3D rendering, allowing an unlimited number of character movements and interactions. Until now, animations have all been pre-rendered sequences, but the P3 will control the models and their environment interactively, according to the game's rules and events happening on the playfield.

Helping to implement all these new features is our second new member of the Multimorphic team.

Jimmy Lipham may be new on the team as a Software Engineer, but he's no stranger to the control software behind the P-ROC system, and came to the team's attention for his work developing it further.

Jimmy Lipham
Jimmy Lipham

Gerry told us how they met. "I got to know Jimmy on the PinballControllers.com forums after he started using a P-ROC board. He's proven his skills over and over again, first by porting the entire Pyprocgame game framework from Python to .NET, next by enhancing both frameworks with switch recording and playback, and finally with his amazing DM2K project, where he's implementing a Pinball 2000 style projection system on his personal Demolition Man machine. Right now he's helping to enhance our software framework by implementing and optimizing some of the new features required by the P3."

Running a 3D graphics engine demands processing power far beyond that needed to run a pinball control system, so we asked Gerry about the changes made to both the software and hardware to facilitate this live rendering.

"We're architecting our software system to not be dependent on any one particular library. We're therefore enhancing Pyprocgame so it can work with any of a number of traditional video game engines. Pyprocgame handles the modes and game rules, and a game engine handles the graphical subsystem. Using a powerful game engine keeps us from having to reinvent the wheel. It will also prove beneficial when other people start developing games for our system, as they won't have to learn a fully proprietary system."

"It's still too early to define the final hardware specs for the system, but certainly the graphics processing will set the minimum requirements. Processing pinball game rules requires very little power, but dynamically creating 3D graphics, potentially at 1080p, is a different story. The non-coincidental good news is that Rory has experience developing 3D models for game engines, and Jimmy has experience using game engines for real-time graphic manipulations. So we're in good hands and can make intelligent decisions when defining the hardware specs. Keep in mind that we'll be developing new games for the P3 for years to come; so we'd like to ensure the hardware has enough power for various things we won't be implementing right away."

Rory and Jimmy might be firmly part of the Multimorphic team, but they are yet to cast anyone for the various voices used in the two games, or to create the numerous sound effects needed. However, they will soon be looking for likely candidates, so if you are interested in joining the team and becoming part of pinball history, they would love to hear from you. Dennis is clear how he would like Lexy Lightspeed to sound; "I like a slightly husky voice so it will be someone who can do that."

Finally we return to the game's hardware, and with the flippers being the main tool players have to control the game, making sure they are in good condition and have the right amount of power is vital. Weak flippers can make some shots impossible and the game unplayable.

Apart from being able to control of the power to the individual coils to vary their strength, the P3 has another party trick up its sleeve.

Using the ball tracking technology, the machine can auto-launch balls and auto-flip them. Then, by measuring the speed of the ball, it can adjust the power delivered to each of the floating flippers to ensure they have the optimal strength to easily make all the shots without being too powerful and creating air-balls.

With the P3 able to launch, flip and track the ball while adjusting the flipper strength, how long before the head-to-head opponent you're playing on the other side of the world turns out not to be human?

Those floating flipper assemblies have also been redesigned and are the first part of the whole P3 prototype to be professionally fabricated.

The new flipper assemblies alongside the floating slingshots
The new flipper assemblies alongside the floating slingshots

Gerry told us, "Because our flippers and slingshots are new designs, and because of the importance of having solid-feeling and reliable flippers, our floating flipper assembly is the first assembly to get drawn in CAD and professionally manufactured. They were assembled just in time for the Texas Pinball Festival, so this is our first opportunity to get some serious play-time on them."

The release of this article is timed to coincide with the Texas Pinball Festival where the Multimorphic team will have two linked P3 machines set-up to demonstrate all the new features you've read about here and create some (human) head-to-head competition.

Visitors will also be able to see the new optional backbox available for the P3 which will provide a housing for illuminated translites as well as the game's speakers, while creating the traditional pinball shape buyers have come to expect.

The new backbox
The new backbox

The team will also be holding a seminar on Saturday afternoon with Dennis there to talk about Lexy Lightspeed - Galaxy Girl, where one lucky attendee will win a complete P3 system.

You will be able to read all about the Multimorphic presentation in our comprehensive Texas Pinball festival report coming soon here at Pinball News, and we'll be back with much more exclusive news about the P3 pinball platform over the coming weeks and months.

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