PINBALL EXPO 2006
Probably the biggest difference between Pinball Expo and other shows is the number of pinball personalities you can spot wandering the halls of the Wyndham hotel.
There are designers, artists, programmers, sound guys, dot artists, authors, owners restorers and collectors, and some of them spoke at this year's seminars and fireside chats.
First to take to the stage was Brian Matthews who is one of the people responsible for the UltraPin video pinball game.
Pinball For The 21st Century - Brian Matthews
Brian began in the games industry working as a tech as Sega Gamesworks. He moved on to become part of the original design team for the Ultracade project - a multiple-title arcade video game - before working on his current project, GlobalVR's UltraPin. He was here to talk about that game, its features and how it can help promote pinball play of all kinds.
When designing the UltraPin, Brian said they looked at what makes a good platform for the home market. He cited expandable titles, an upgradeable platform, low maintenance and long durability plus, of course, great value for money. The UltraPin retails for $6500 with six games included.
He said it is his hope that operators will replace mechanical pinball on location with his video pinball version.
One of the key elements to the UltraPin is the motion chip which allows the player to bump and nudge the machine and see the ball react on the playfield. He listed this and several other features as the key benefits of video pinball over traditional mechanical pinball, such as no moving parts to repair, no burned out coils, multiple games on one device and quicker and a more cost effective way to deliver new games.
When he first mooted the idea of UltraPin, he said the reaction he got was that it signaled the end of real pinball tables. He said he really didn't believe that to be true. He thought UltraPin could be used by operators who had become tired of the maintenance issues with mechanical games and had discontinued pinball. UltraPin could bring pinball back to those locations he said.
He said research had show how players of UltraPin were encouraged by their experiences to go and play traditional mechanical pinball and likened the effect to that of golf and Golden Tee where the electronic version had not harmed the physical version but may even have helped promote it.
Brian said he did not expect UltraPin to ever fully replace the demand for mechanical pinball and indeed he didn't want that, but said it would be a great counterpart to the traditional game, encouraging people to play more pinball.
Pinball he said, had reached the same point ice cream or vacuum cleaner sales had several years ago, when the introduction of a new innovation or the development of a premium product had kick-started a revival of interest in the consumers.
So the challenge he said was to find how UltraPin could help boost pinball and bring a new generation to the game.
Many people have said that video pinball will never be able to replace mechanical pinball, Brian said. He claimed UltraPin had raised the bar with new features such as the motion chip, the ability to digitally "adjust" the playfield slope to suit the location and player input sensitivity to scale the effects of nudging the table, and he hoped it would be the first video pinball game to be widely accepted by pinball players.
Brian said it was important to incorporate fresh ideas into mechanical pinball too, and to replace the old DMD technology with newer LCD panels. This in turn would lead to the possibility of true video clips to enhance the gameplay, training instructions for new players to help them get the most out of the game and new, more detailed video modes. By way of a demonstration, he played some of the instructional video clips from UltraPin. They are shown on the upper LCD panel in attract mode.
The other thing mechanical pinball has to learn from its video equivalent is the lower maintenance. Even new games need repairing after a few months of operation he said.
He said Stern should adopt the technique used by Churchill with their Vacation American game, and use large PCBs under the playfield instead of the complex wiring looms to make faults easier to diagnose and ultimately cheaper to produce.
One of the questions he is often asked, Brian said, is why do video pinball now? What can it offer in the 21st century?
The availability of the U-Shock motion chip meant they could incorporate player nudging and tilting into the game in a comprehensive and intuitive way. The hardware needed to produce the correct physics was also available at a reasonable price now and the recent price drops on large widescreen LCD monitors which are a good match for the playfield aspect, made the whole concept possible at a reasonably attractive price.
Looking at the physics, he said the current model was 90% perfect and illustrated it with video clips showing the ball behaviour on the UltraPin side-by-side with real games such as Xenon and Funhouse.
But he said they plan to introduce a new true 3D physical model before long which should be able to run on the current hardware and should improve the realism of the system even further.
Further plans include adding another 10 tables during 2007, create new games using features not possible on a mechanical table and there is the possibility of head-to-head games against either another human player or against the computer itself.
Looking further ahead, Brian postulated on the possibilities of improving pinball's fortunes generally by word-of-mouth advertising about how fun pinball is. He suggested pinball redemption games could be a way forward along with pinball gambling games.
In response to questions from the audience, Brian said that because the game's system is built around PinMAME, it has not been possible so far to use the new hardware to upgrade the sound on older games.
The market for UltraPin is both home buyers and operators, Brian said. He knew the home market would be the biggest opportunity where the variety of different games available meant there would always be something new to play without having to sell it or buy a new model.
One of the key elements missing when compared to a real game is any sensual feedback to the player. It is intended to produce a kit which produces a thump or shake when a virtual flipper flips, a slingshot fires or when the ball hits something. There is expected to be a deluxe version of UltraPin available before too long with the feedback kit already installed.
Regarding future games, Brian said the company currently has the rights to make video versions of all Williams and Bally games with the exception of licensed themes where individual agreements will have to be made with the rights holders. He suggested the possibility of including Stern titles - something that has been discussed with Gary Stern - but said that it is not currently on the cards. UltraPin tables are built by scanning in a bare playfield but that requirement is something that my restrict the list of games that can be included in the future.
He continued by explaining what the UltraPin hardware is - a PC-based system running embedded Windows XP in an arcade cabinet with a 32-inch LCD screen for the playfield and a 19-inch LCD screen in the backbox to display the game details and promotional media. The processor is a dual core 3GHz Intel device running on an Intel 945 motherboard with 1GB of RAM which he said should give them enough extra power for their future plans. He said because it is running on embedded Windows XP, it is not dependent on the specific hardware combination inside UltraPin, so it should be easy to replace any of the components should they ever fail or become unavailable.
Talking about other ideas, Brian said they company hopes to include tournament capability - initially for local (machine-based) tournaments - but perhaps for global tournaments at a later stage.
Finally, he announced a mini-tournament on the UltraPin games set up in the main hall. The highest score by Saturday 5pm would win a Pinball Expo T-shirt, to be awarded at the banquet on Saturday night.
Next onto the podium was Jim Schelberg.
Pinball In The Media - Jim Schelberg
Jim showed some clips from the first two DVDs starting with a promotional sequence for the Detroit Pistons and a scene from a sitcom called Love and War in which a Line Drive baseball game - mistakenly referred to as a pinball machine - featured.
Subsequent clips included coverage of an '80s pinball tournament where the winner received a new Datsun 280Z car as their prize with runners-up getting other Datsun cars, part of a programme called On-Q which featured Gary Stern talking about the change to electronic games and a news report about a player setting a new pinball playing endurance record.
There were examples of pinball appearing in the original Star Trek series as well as in Star Trek Voyager, a Chips Ahoy! commercial, a Tales From the Crypt promotion with the Crypt Keeper playing a Tales From The Crypt pinball machine, a Popular Mechanics segment featuring Steve Kordek and Michael Gottlieb, followed by a news clip with Steve Epstein at the Broadway Arcade.
Perhaps the strangest use of pinball in mainstream entertainment was a game show featuring a huge pinball machine where players had to shoot targets to collect different prizes. Sadly, the idea never caught the public imagination.
There then followed clips from shows such as Happy Days, Inside Entertainment, The Simpsons, Danger Man, Entertainment Tonight and another news clip with Tim Arnold and Lyman Sheats. They were followed by a promotional video from Gottlieb to promote their new games Rock and Raven, including a tournament to win a new Rock game.
The next clip shown will be familiar to anyone who's played Revenge From Mars, it's the Drive-In Demolition movie - the one called It Came From Uranus which plays on the movie screen while (in best Move Your Car tradition) various attempts are made to destroy the saucer blocking the screen.
Larry DeMar, who was in the audience, said Jack Liddon had wanted to produce a movie and jumped at the chance to shoot this one which was filmed in one day in the Williams building with members of the design team starring.
After that were plenty more clips including an anti-gambling advert comparing the addictive quality of gaming and pinball, National Lampoon's Gamers feature, a report on the Pinball Hall Of Fame by ABC13, a Family Guy clip, one of The Who's recent Hyde Park concert in London featuring the Pinball Wizard song,another track, this time Amarillo by Emmylou Harris about losing a guy to a pinball machine and finally a music video of Cold Hard Bitch by Jet with the band set inside a pinball backglass.
Because the presentation largely consisted on video clips available to purchase on DVD, there is no audio available for this seminar. But you can buy the DVDs from the Pingame Journal website.
The Future Of Pinball - Greg Maletic
Greg is the man behind the upcoming documentary about the Pinball 2000 project - The Future Of Pinball.
He thought this might be a good idea for a documentary and the project began.
Another reason for the film's subject was Greg's interest in starting a business taking old pinball games and adding new, more contemporary themes to them. His software developer skills led him to the Pinball 2000 system and he contacted Williams to ask if they were interested in working with him to develop it further. They weren't but Greg persisted and enquired about designing games for the system instead which led to him visiting the Williams factory and talking with George Gomez about perhaps joining Williams. This was about a month before they closed the pinball division and even the George was telling Greg it wasn't a good time to be thinking of joining the company.
So instead he turned to the documentary idea.
Greg then played a seven-and-a-half minute clip telling the story of why Pinball 2000 was needed, who was involved in its conception and how it became the platform with which we are all familiar. The excerpt featured interviews with all the key personnel involved and the difficulties they faced in getting the concept through to production.
One of the things Greg wanted to concentrate on was the design process for Revenge From Mars, how a pinball machine is made, why things are layed out the way they are and what are the design decisions that have to be made?
With that in mind Greg played a second clip from his production featuring George Gomez explaining how Revenge From Mars was designed.
The documentary then goes on the look at the launch of Pinball 2000 at the Science Museum in London and then at the ATEI show the following day, the design of the second Pinball 2000 game - Star Wars Episode 1 - followed by the subsequent decisions that led to the closure of the pinball division.
The whole documentary is about an hour long and will finally be released in January 2007 on DVD and hopefully for broadcast although no deals for that have been agreed yet. The DVD will also contain at least 3 hours of extra material such as extended interviews and footage of Wizard Blocks and Playboy - the two unreleased Pinball 2000 games.
Greg said that with the industry shrinking over the last 15 years it was important to make sure as much of the history of pinball is preserved and documented.
He wrote, shot, directed, narrated and did all the graphics and animations for the film. His task now is to put the final music in and produce the international versions ready for the DVD pressings at the end of the year followed by promotion of the product which is something Greg said he has been avoiding until the DVD is ready for people to buy. His marketing will be both to pinball fans at show and tournaments but also to the business market as a case study.
In response to a question from the audience Greg said he didn't think Pinball 2000 makes any more sense as a business proposition now than it did back in 1999 mainly because of the size of development team required, not only the regular game design team but also the video production team. Larry DeMar commented how looking back now his immediate reaction was "what were we thinking?". With the increased design costs associated with the Pinball 2000 system he says now it was a "recipe for disaster" from a business point of view.
Greg then showed a final clip showing the launch of Pinball 2000 in London.
He said that the price he quotes in the documentary for Revenge From Mars is $3200 but he found that the figure varied wildly across different distributors. Steve Kordek spoke from the audience to say how it cost Williams $1.5million in development costs before they got their first prototype Pinball 2000 game.
Greg's website is www.futureofpinball.com and you can sign up for an e-mail notification when the DVD becomes available and also see a preview trailer.
The Voice Behind The Machine - Fred Young
Pinball shows often celebrate the work of a specific designer and while we all may have a favourite artists, musicians or game software programmers, what about the sound in a game. You may possibly know who did the sound effects in your top game but what about the voices?
He began this seminar by saying he last spoke at Pinball Expo in 1990 and it was so good he was invited back a mere 16 years later.
Fred first got involved in pinball when he was doing some recordings for Allstate Insurance in Chicago and was due to go to a friend's funeral when he got a call from a recording studio saying a company wanted him to voice a pinball machine after hearing his demo tape. Not knowing anything about pinball, he tried to get out of it but they called back saying the pinball company wanted him to do Star Trek. He thought that sounded like fun and he'd met Gene Roddenberry in 1981 so he went along and met Joe Kaminkow and Brian Schmidt from Data East who said they were listening to tapes for two hours and couldn't find the voice to do Star Trek but they heard him do the Star Trek voices on his demo tape and knew he was the man for the job.
During that recording session Fred did the voices for 4 or 5 games. These days it's just one game at a time. Besides Star Trek, he did voices for the game King Kong, Batman and possibly Checkpoint (he recalled it as Quick Start). He re-voiced the game Phantom Of The Opera after the previous effort by a DJ was not acceptable. After that, Joe asked him to do Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and subsequently suggested he speak at Pinball Expo that year, which he did.
He got a late night call about the game Back To The Future when Data East couldn't get Michael J Fox to do a couple of the lines correctly. Fred didn't want to get into trouble with Amblin (the film's production company), but was assured it would all be OK. Of course, later he got the message to call Amblin but fortunately they were impressed with his work and wanted him to understudy the guy doing Roger Rabbit for their next movie.
After Expo in 1990, Fred was asked if he could do Arnold Schwarzenegger's voice. He said he could and spoke to Chris Granner at Williams about voicing their upcoming Terminator 2 game, did a quick demonstration and got the job. He turned up at the Williams factory to make the recording and the first thing he sees there is the Data East game Back To The Future. Apparently they kept a close eye and ear on what the competition were doing.
He went on to do game after game including Star Wars, Lethal Weapon (it's not Joe Pesci's voice, it's actually Fred), Maverick, Frankenstein, Sharkey's Shootout, Harley Davidson and to date, Pirates Of The Caribbean is his 30th game. He did all the voices on all the Alvin G games too.
He demonstrated a bunch of Warner Bros cartoon voices and Joe asked him if he'd do them for their Space Jam game. He declined, not wanting to get in trouble with Warner, but Joe said they'd record them and then get approval from Warner, otherwise they wouldn't be used. Well, Warner didn't approve them, so they weren't used. On other games, Fred did the voices but they managed to get the original artists to record the phrases so he was not needed.
In another instance, Joe Kaminkow called Fred and asked him if he could do Jeff Goldblum's voice. Fred said he couldn't, to which Joe replied that he'd better learn because they needed him to do Jurassic Park in a week's time. Well, he got that working and also went on to do Starship Troopers by which time Joe was confident enough to leave the recording sessions to Fred and Brian Schmidt.
For Pirates Of The Caribbean, Fred did four voices - the English captain, the cockney pirate, the French captain and the mean pirate, which he says is really Robert Newton - Long John Silver from Treasure Island. He received 21 pages of script and everything had to be approved by Disney. He said they worked very hard on that recording and had to work an extra session to add more material.
He said he really wanted to be on The Simpsons Pinball Party but sadly wasn't. Fred worked with Dan Castellaneta years back but once again they got the original actors to record the voices.
In response to a question fro the audience about what he's doing for the next Stern game, Fred said he could comment, but said he had been practicing a couple of voices but didn't know whether he'd be using them yet. Then he went on to reel off Peter Griffin, Brian the dog and Stewie from Family Guy.
Fred started doing different voices at age 7 when, following a tonsillectomy operation, he began mimicking the Huckleberry Hound voice while watching the show. In High School he used to copy the teachers and answer questions using their voice. That led to Sesame Street characters and then Start Wars.
In 1970 he took a job at an insurance company after impressing them with his telephone voice. That led to him being spotted and invited to join a radio show from which more offers flowed in.
He said recording pinball voices were different to other jobs as he may have to read a line three of four times and stay in character until all the lines were done, including the improvised material and out takes.
Fred explained how he has to record his various voices and listen to them back to make sure he gets them right, as everyone hears their own voice differently when they're speaking.
Other work he has done included the spook voice for Six Flags - basically Boris Karloff and for six months he was the Pillsbury Dough Boy.
So is he the man of a thousand voices? Well, not quite. He says he can do 787 voices at the moment. He is a big fan of Mel Blanc who had an amazing 1200 voices he could perform and also of Charles Dawson "Daws" Butler and Don Messick of Scooby-Doo fame.
Looking more widely, Fred said he is amazed at how his voice can be heard on so many games all around the world.
When asked how age changes his voice, Fred explained how smoking causes the growth of nodules on the vocal chords, so he doesn't smoke and doesn't drink. Neither did Mel Blanc, Daws Butler or Don Messick. But he doesn't think age alone causes the voice to change but did cite how the voices of some of the people and characters he does do change - such as how Homer Simpson sounded at first compared to the more recent series - and he has to react to that.
Fred explained the differences between voice diffusion and voice refraction. Voice diffusion is more commonly known as ventriloquism, but what Fred does he terms voice refraction, saying he can put pressure on his vocal chords to bend and shape it at will. It's a skill that takes many years to fully master but even after that, it can still take some time to get some voices just right. He gave as an example how it took six weeks of practice before he could get Barry Manilow spot on. But even then, Fred says he has to constantly practice the voices to keep them fresh and accurate.
Returning to Pirate Of The Caribbean, Fred explained how, when they started work on the game they had no idea which characters would be in the movie, so he studied old pirate films to get some ideas. Then they were told by Disney that they couldn't use any of the voices from the movie, although they still didn't know who would be in it. So they figured out a number of characters and sent samples for approval, which they got and so went ahead and recorded them, returning to the studio a little later to add another batch.
Fred recorded Arnold Schwarzenegger's voice for Terminator 2 and Williams sent the tapes to him for approval. He thought Fred sounded more like him than he did, and after initially declining to record for the game, thought he'd better do the voice himself. So it really is Arnie on that game.
The Adventures Of Pingeek - Josh Kaplan
Josh, who goes under the pseudonym of Pingeek, has made it his business to tour the US visiting pinball shows, collectors, museums, stores, in fact anything interesting and pinball related.
It is from a video released by Herb which Josh got permission to re-release on DVD after it was no longer available. Josh was at this year's 10th anniversary Pinball Fantasy show and will be offering a DVD of that once he's got around to editing it.
He said Tim got him into the whole pinball scene after he saw his Pingame Gerbil and Bingorilla tapes. He burned them onto DVD for his own use, never imagining Tim would allow him to release them but he did, with $2.50 from each tape going to the Pinball Hall Of Fame.
He said he really wants to go through each game in the Pinball Hall Of Fame with Tim so he can talk about each one and explain the history and the reason for inclusion. He had hoped to do that at Pinball Fantasy this year but Tim was just too busy running the museum and also his booth in the show hall.
He then played the clips from the 1996 show featuring a look at the early Bally solid-state game Bow and Arrow of which there are around 17 in existence.
The viewing was cut short when Josh ejected the DVD and sold it to someone in the audience.
He continued with about 30 minutes from Bingorilla which he said was harder to edit because the original tape contained several minutes of dead air where the camera was mistakenly left running, and also quite a few bloopers which needed to be tidied up to make a clean production. The original master tapes were worn out from making copies so this is probably the best quality copy around.
After that he showed part of Saving Space Shuttle, a DVD showing how the famous game was brought back to life by Ed Cheung using his custom made test rig. This is a more technical DVD where Ed explains the workings of the Williams system and how to troubleshoot faults which are likely to occur.
Josh said he wants to do more technical step-by-step technical videos, not just of pinball but how to repair and restore classic TVs and other electronic items.
He said the DVD he is most proud of is The York Show (White Rose Gameroom Show) 2005 which he has just spent 20 hours re-editing to make it a complete show from start to finish. He showed a clip from the DVD
Josh was also covering Pinball Expo this year to make a DVD including the seminars (even his own), so look out for that on his website soon.
And that concludes the first day's seminars. We'll be back shortly with day two's events and much more from Pinball Expo 2006.
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