To wrap up our coverage of World Poker Tour, here's an interview with game designer Steve Ritchie. Jim Jansen of the Dutch Pinball Association posed the questions.

You just finished the machine. Can you tell in a few lines something about the game?

It turned out very nice. 16 drop targets, a smooth shooting playfield with a huge open area, an upper playfield with 2 flippers, a captured-ball-locking/releasing device called Ace In The Hole, lot of things to shoot at on the upper playfield and back panel, 2 steel ramps, and lots more.

In the beginning you didn’t like the license. Why was that and why did you change your mind?

I thought it might be hard for players to understand a second layer of rules (Poker) on top of the Pinball rules, but as it turns out, it works well.

How long did you work on the machine and can you tell something about the creative process with the other artists (for example the cooperation with Keith Johnson)?
How involved are you in creating the rules for the game?

This game was worked on for 14 months. Keith was involved for about 10 months. He is excellent to work with. I wrote very few rules, and Keith wrote nearly all of them, some were collaborative, and some were not. I was not very involved with the artist Brian Rood because he didn’t come to Stern much.

Did the new hardware give you extra freedom in the design process?

Yes. The new hardware is very cool. We can run better, faster code, and there can be much more of everything. The new sound system is MUCH better than the old system also. Lyman Sheats has done an excellent job writing the operating system with many new innovations that techs and players are going to love.

WPT is a typical American licence (like Ripley’s and Sopranos), is that a ‘problem’ for the European market?

I don’t think so, when it comes to Poker. For many years, poker themed pinball machines sold well in Europe. Anyone can catch on to the rules in just a few plays, AND it’s fun learning…..

What are your - and Gary Stern's - expectations?

To grow fantastically wealthy!!! Just kidding!! (not) We think that the game will do well, there is a lot of good buzz about it among players….We are selling them briskly…

Can you describe what happens in the period between when the machine is finished and the start of the production?

The first finished games with real artwork are called Pre-Production Samples (or prototypes. They are played and checked, and more work always has to be done at this point, because many discoveries and errors are found and fixed. This stage usually takes a week or 2, but we also had a new hardware system to debug. The whole deal probably lasted 20 days or so and games were rolling smoothly down the line thereafter.

When is a machine successful for you? Is it when it's sold well or maybe when the players like it?

BOTH!! A game MUST SELL WELL first to be a success, having players like it generally means the game will sell well.

You’ve been working in the business for nearly thirty years. What are the big differences between the when you started and the last five years?

We have a smaller crew to get all the things done that make a pinball machine happen at Stern. It is a great bunch of people, but it takes more hours of work from fewer people to get the job done.

Can you tell us something about the difference in cultures between Bally/Williams and Stern?

Williams was a huge pinball production machine, with many people to feed. It was the largest gathering of the best people from the pinball industry for many years. We were powerful and full of youthful energy.

Stern is the last pinball company. The best people that worked in pinball in the old days are there now. It is a small group of very efficient people doing their best to make a good quality pinball machine at a profit so that we can stay in business.

Looking back the 19 machines you've designed, do you have a favourite and of which machine are you most proud?

Firepower with Eugene Jarvis as coder was a landmark game. IT is the first modern, real multiball, with goals. Locks were born. Lane-Change was born. All transparent colored inserts were used for the first time. FP is still fun for me to play. It was originally designed for drop targets, but our drop targets were trash and we knew it would shorten the sales drastically. Lots of real speech It was a smart move, we sold 17,500 FPs.

Black Knight with Larry DeMar as coder was a landmark game, being the first game with faceted inserts and multi-level play. Some of its thunder was stolen when Flash Gordon was presented to the public for the first time, by a designer who quit working at Williams to work for Bally. He took the idea and everything I had designed on the game up until the point that he left. We sold 12,000 machines, FG sold 8,000. I was disappointed that legal action wasn’t taken by Williams…it wasn’t right. Black Knight had a personality. People liked battling an adversary that would speak to them.

High Speed with Larry DeMar code was a magnificent game with so many firsts and innovations, and a lot of fun to play. It was the first game where all facets of play were integrated, almost giving the game a persona. I loved playing it.

I liked making BK2K, w/Ed Boon (The Mortal Kombat Man) coding It was a fun game with complex flow, and a MIGHTY personality that was in your face, challenging, laughing. BK2K was deadly fast and definitely a man’s game. The music was the best ever, and we had the most fun making that machine. The upper p/f tilts up for cleaning. Joe Joos was the mech engineer, and he passed away not long after. He was, simply, the BEST of all time.

Of Course I like T2, ST:TNG, T-3.

Machines such as T-2, ST-TNG and of course your new machines are still in the pubs and arcades. What’s the strangest place you've seen your own machine? Are you still watching when people play on your machine?

In movies. I always watch the player when he is playing one of my games. Can’t help it.

Do you have contact with other designers like Pat Lawlor or George Gomez?

Yes, I see them now and then at Stern, we call each other sometimes.

Pinball is still alive after it nearly went wrong in 1999. What were your expectations then and how do you look to the pinball world now?

Pinball died (as in DEAD) at Williams, that’s where I worked, and it was over shortly after I went to Atari and back home to California. For me, pinball died. In the end 1 company lived through the pinball plague and that was Stern. The future looks bright for Stern. We have some great titles coming up….old friend Dennis Nordman is making pins again, and it looks good. We are going to ROCK in ’06!!

There is room for Stern, a small flexible efficient pinball company, to sell enough machines to stay in business. We can do well. We have the best designers and programmers still working on pinball with a passion. Gary Stern loves pinball, and he knows what it takes to keep the company on it’s feet.

What is your favourite machine that you didn’t design yourself?

I have a few. I like Indiana Jones, Hollywood Heat, Captain Fantastic, Space Mission, Adams Family……Monster Bash, Attack From Mars and too many others to list.

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