Date: 14th October, 2013

Our latest exclusive update on the P3 pinball platform brings you more details of the first two games: Lexy Lightspeed - Galaxy Girl and Cosmic Cart Racing, new cabinet and backbox designs, and an innovative new playfield mounting system. We also find out who is working at Multimorphic and take a look at the cabinet and translite artwork.

With the latest P3 prototype about to be exhibited at Pinball Expo in Chicago, we can bring you a preview of the games visitors will see and play. So let's start with the first sight people will get of the game - those new cabinet and backbox designs.

These have been completely re-engineered to give a more traditional look and feel, while incorporating a number of unique features.

The new cabinet design featuring Cosmic Cart Racing artwork
The new cabinet design featuring Cosmic Cart Racing artwork

For a start, both the cabinet and backbox are made from metal frames into which the side panels are slotted. This not only provides better protection for the artwork, but it also visually frames it to make it more tightly integrated into the game.

The flipper buttons are also part of the modular system. They come in a swappable box which can be changed to provide additional controls for specific titles. If a game needs a miniature track ball, or multiple buttons to operate playfield features, these can be provided in a custom button box which is supplied with that title.

The flipper button box
The flipper button box

Although it appears as if it is a permanent fixture, the cabinet and backbox artwork is still easily removable whenever the game or playfield module is changed for a different title. But if the game is intended for public locations, additional trim is available to prevent unauthorised removal.

The new backbox is laced with LED strips to provide bright and even illumination of the title's translite. The hinged backbox's more conventional design is to be offered as an alternative to the lower-profile speaker box which doesn't include a translite.

The backbox with the translite installed...
The backbox with the translite installed

According to Multimorphic head, Gerry Stellenberg, the inclusion of a more familiar backbox design is a result of feedback received from previous showings. He told Pinball News, "Certainly a lot of potential customers want a traditional looking game, and it's always been our plan to offer both traditional backboxes and low profile speaker boxes. The backbox aesthetic is tried and true, whereas we're still thinking through the best way to present an aesthetically pleasing speaker box only solution. A full backbox has the added benefit of storage space."

That space will be put to good use, housing the system's PC motherboard and associated devices such as solid-state drive and audio amplifier.  The redesigned low-profile speaker box will also contain these same components.

Inside the backbox
Inside the backbox

Gerry explained the philosophy behind putting these key components in the backbox as opposed to installing everything in the cabinet.  He told us, "Our control system is distributed throughout the machine, but we're using a fairly powerful computing engine to run our software, and the backbox is the perfect place for it.  In fact it's really the only reasonable place for it.  In my opinion, the computing engine should not be in the main cab, under the playfield.  The ergonomics involved with servicing features on the cabinet floor are awful.  I'm sure anybody with back issues will agree."

The basic design and mounting of pinball machines' legs hasn't changed significantly since the move from wood to metal.  The leg system on the P3 is new and expands the cohesive look of the design. The prototype legs shown in the picture above are slightly recessed, but the production version will move them out to the cabinet corners to maximise under-game storage and allow a table lift to slide under the game.

Explaining why they have introduced a new design, Gerry said the familiar bolt-on legs would look out of place on the P3's cabinet.  He said, "I'm not a fan of the industrial look of traditional pinball legs; so we designed new legs that are stronger than traditional legs and a better fit with our cabinet style.  The first iteration of our leg design has the legs inset from the edges of the cabinet, resulting in a poor aesthetic.  Our next design will have them flush with the cabinet edges, making it look like the legs are an extension of the frame.  Our legs have mounting plates at the top of them that bolt into the frame.  So instead of screwing bolts in horizontally, you screw them in vertically.  It's pretty much the same thing."

While there have been significant changes to the cabinet design, the innovations are more than just skin deep, with a whole new modular playfield system.

In an earlier article about the P3-ROC controller - the same board used in the P3 - we described how the electronic architecture is based around a number of modules such as driver and switch boards which link together and can be easily expanded, swapped or removed.

Now that same philosophy has been applied to the playfield's construction.

Whereas a traditional game has the main mechanisms screwed into the wooden playfield, making their removal or replacement complex and time-consuming, the P3's playfield is held in a frame with a series of horizontal slots along the edges into which the mechanisms, fixtures and even the playfield itself mount.

The playfield frame
The playfield frame

To work on the flipper mechanisms, slingshots or wireforms, you simply slide them out of the frame. The same for the target banks and the LCD monitor. Should you want to clean or replace the playfield, that slides out too.

The video below shows how it works.

Gerry told us why they have opted for this method of construction.  He explained, "Lots of reasons, the biggest being manufacturability, modularity, and serviceability.  I believe pinball companies can and should be designing machines with customer needs at the forefront of their thoughts rather than as afterthoughts.  If somebody wants to clean the playfield on their game, it shouldn't take hours or days to carefully disassemble everything, document the process, and carefully lay out things out in a specific order such that reassembly won't be a nightmare.  They should just be able to remove what's dirty, clean it, and re-install it.  That's a big part of our design philosophy - how can we accomplish each design goal in a way the makes our customers lives easier."

Side mounting of playfield devices could cause concerns about their solidity when compared to playfield-mounted mechanisms, but Gerry is confident their new system provides just the same kind of rigidity.  "The slide rails were engineered so that mechanisms can be locked into place in all 3 dimensions.  If a feature doesn't need to slide or move during gameplay, it can be locked in place."

Making the major playfield components easily swappable also paves the way for future game titles to incorporate more significant changes to the playfield design beyond exchanging the upper playfield module.  The number of flippers, the slingshot positions and inlane/outlane design could all be varied by sliding in a new module. 

This would help address concerns that using the same set of lower playfield features could lead to different games feeling very similar to play, and provide far more flexibility for third party game designers to realise their vision using the P3 as the platform. The Multimorphic team see the P3 as being akin to a computer games system like the X-Box/Playstation or a smartphone, where game developers don't need to worry about building the hardware or the underlying operating system, allowing them to concentrate on perfecting their game.

So let's move on to the games themselves and the first two titles included with the P3 system: Lexy Lightspeed - Galaxy Girl and Cosmic Cart Racing.

Dennis Nordman has delivered the Lexy Lightspeed - Galaxy Girl (LL-GG) game concept and playfield design which are now being realised by the Multimorphic team.

Cosmic Cart Racing (CCR) is an in-house design and is probably the more developed of the two so far, with all of Scott Gullicks hand-drawn artwork now complete.

Gerry described each title's features and the differences between their styles of gameplay.  He said, "LL-GG will present a mostly traditional pinball playing experience.  The playfield was designed to provide some flow, some stop and go (pop bumpers and scoops), and a number of randomizing elements.  It also has a bunch of targets that we're using to create interesting risk/reward situations.  The software is mode-based, and there are stackable multiballs, hurry-ups, and other popular game-play features."

A scene from Lexy Lightspeed - Galaxy Girl
A scene from Lexy Lightspeed - Galaxy Girl

"Regarding, the playfield LCD, we're mixing traditional visual elements with new concepts.  Part of the game is played with generally static playfield artwork, complete with 'insert lamps' that blink to indicate mode activity and active shots.  At other times, we're making heavy use of dynamic graphics with the LCD. 

LL-GG sample artwork in the game
LL-GG sample artwork in the game

Regarding interactions with the LCD, LL-GG doesn't have any purely virtual modes.  Some modes are purely physical, requiring only physical shots to make progress, and other modes combine physical shots with virtual targets."

One of the LL-GG modes on the game's LCD monitor
One of the LL-GG modes on the game's LCD monitor

CCR artwork on the LCD panle in the game
CCR artwork on the LCD panle in the game

"The CCR playfield was designed with a racetrack in mind.  There are inner loops, outer loops, and ramps that all return the ball to the flipper (via the playfield, not via raised wireforms).  It's intended to be fast-paced and require ball control skills to get deep into the game.  Beginners should be able to enjoy winning a race every now and then, while experts should be able to get through a couple of races before they'll have to be 'in the zone' to keep winning.  The use of the playfield LCD in CCR is completely different than in LL-GG.  The CCR playfield will present the race.  As such, the playfield will be fully dynamic, following your cart around the racetrack.  We aren't using too many virtual interactions, but there are some."

Here's a sample of the LCD playfield animations from both games.

There is currently a total of 14 members of the Multimorphic team working on the two games and the P3's hardware.  Apart from Gerry, there are two 3D modelers - Rory Cernuda and Russel Rega, two artists - Scott Gullicks (creator of the Wrath of Olympus game) and Matt Wessel, three mechanical engineers - Les Pitt, TJ Weaver and Trey Jones, as well as four software engineers, one sound engineer and a circuit board designer.

According the Gerry, "All of these folks love the P3 concept, technology, and potential, and are eager to see where we can take it.  Most of them are volunteering on a part-time basis while working normal day jobs.  Hence, progress isn't as fast as we'd like even though we have a bunch of people helping.  If/when we raise more funding, we'll be able to bring more of the staff on full-time."

When asked about a likely release date for the P3 system with the first two games, Gerry was noncommittal.  He said, "If funding continues as is, I won't make any promises.  Because most of our staff is part-time and volunteering when their lives permit, we can't define a schedule that I'd be confident we could keep.  At the current pace of development, we'll probably be production-ready near the end 2014 (no promises on software development).  If we meet our funding goals and transition people to full-time in the near future, shipping machines in mid-2014 is possible."

2013 will see the second appearance at Pinball Expo for the Multimorphic team with their P3. They have also attended other shows such as the Texas Pinball Festival, so Pinball News asked Gerry what he and the team had learned from exhibiting at these events, and how that had fed back into improvements to the P3 system.

He told us, "The biggest thing I learned is the importance of aesthetics, even in an early prototype.  Game aesthetics were never very important to me.  I always preferred machines that had interesting gameplay over machines that had good art packages.  Clearly the prototypes we'd been taking to shows were built for function rather than form.  It was essential that we got feedback on the gameplay innovations before we could justify building a company around the machine."

"Unsurprisingly, a lot of developers and engineers loved the innovations and future plans for the machine.  In fact, most of our development team volunteered after seeing one of the prototypes at a show.  What surprised me, though, was how many people had no interest in the machine simply because of how raw it looked.  In retrospect, it makes perfect sense, but I wasn't expecting it at the time.  I just assumed everybody would see what it could be become rather than what it was.  The good news is that hearing the negative feedback about the look of the machine motivated us to spend a lot of time working out the aesthetics, and our current prototype is a very close representation of our final plans."

The P3 will be available to play on the Multimorphic stand in the main exhibit hall at Pinball Expo, alongside the display of custom P-ROC games.  The exhibit hall opens at 6pm on Thursday 17th October.

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