Mapping pinball trends for the casual enthusiast…

NEWS: Planetary Pinball and WPC 2.0

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It has been a few weeks since Planetary Pinball Supply (PPS) announced, on the heels of the Texas Pinball Festival (TPS), that a new platform, WPC 2.0, is in the works. It’s boils down to a new hardware controller that can run new software with updated code/rules on some games and add missing elements and new features on others. If successful, this project could prove to make blah games superb, and superb games even better. As with any high-profile announcement in the pinball world, excitement was high on Pinside, and so was the usual penchant for griping, arguing and posturing.

I was especially high on this announcement. Funhouse stands as one of my favourite games of all-time, and it solidified its place there during the impressionable days of my childhood. I currently have one in my collection and it gets a lot of play. When Rick Bartlett of PPS shared three slides announcing the platform and his partnership with FAST Pinball for the hardware end of things, it was there in black and white: FUNHOUSE 2.0, DMD support, new DMD animations, game rule extensions. Being one of last games to roll out of the Williams factory with an alpha-numeric display, pinball fans always wondered aloud what the game experience would be like with a DMD. It seems we are not that far off from finding out. One can assume it would follow the Bride of Pinbot 2.0 (BoP2.0) approach by Dutch Pinball—new speaker panel and speakers to accommodate a colour DMD and some new hardware in the backbox to run it all.

Speaking of Dutch Pinball, it was probably their BoP2.0 that got the ball rolling on this whole project. They took the often-criticized one-dimensional/one-shot game and rejigged the software to create a totally new gameplay experience. They posted their results and interest mounted…people wanted this mother-of-all-mods, and there looked to be lots of money to be made, even with its relatively steep price tag. However, legally selling this kit without WMS’ permission/blessing was fuzzy. The new animations on the DMD used copyright WMS artwork, specifically, but not limited to the image of the Bride herself. That is a clear infringement on intellectual property. Seeing dollar signs, Bartlett, who has positioned himself as a representative of WMS and their pinball properties, teamed up with FAST Pinball to allow creative programmers and upstart modders to create something new out of these old relics. The BoP2.0 project was the first to be welcomed under the umbrella of licenced modifications in early April, yet they are just one set of people opening up the machines and tinkering with what is inside. Smaller scale “one-off” projects–single machines that were re-configured using the PROC or Raspberry Pi platforms to reside in the owner’s basement—have been given a new lease on life as there is now an avenue for them to distribute their code on the right side of the (copyright) law.

If the story ended there, we would have a somewhat happy ending. But like most copyright issues in any field, there are always perceived grey areas. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce Cactus Canyon Continued.

Written by a true fan of pinball, Eric Priepke took it upon himself to reconfigure the incomplete rules of Willaims/Bally/Midway’s 1998 release Cactus Canyon using a PROC controller, and in doing so made an already desirable game (due to rarity) even more desirable. Countless features that did not exist were added; problematic features that did exist were honed and polished. Williams originally released the game as a throwaway placeholder title, only producing it only to keep the production lines moving while they made the unfortunate move to the Pinball 2000 platform. Priepke fished the abandoned baby out of the dumpster and cared for it like his own. He wasn’t a money monger about it either. Anyone who wanted to buy the PROC controller and a Cactus Canyon machine was welcome to the code at no charge. This was a true labour of love. It was not, however, a labour that was completely above copyright law. Seeing as Priepke used Williams/Bally/Midway characters, names and actual animations from the original game to create his “…Continued” package, Rick/Planetary/WMS took exception. I believe it causes even more of an issue now that Planetary is in the business of re-releasing classic games with an $8000USD price tag–Cactus Canyon is surely on their radar as a future candidate. Folks that have seen what NAME did with the extended rule-set would probably not want an “incomplete” Planetary remake. With the move towards WPC2.0 (and simultaneously away from the PROC platform used to run “…Continued”), it allows Planetary & Co. to reimagine CC however they wish and charge however much they want for it. It appears as if Priepke doesn’t want his code to be a part of it. The unlicensed damage may have already been done: any rule-set update by Planetary will have to exceed the bar set by the “…Continued” code. Expectations have been set. It will be an uphill battle: Priepke is seen as cult hero to the pinball masses for taking on this project and not asking anything in return, while Bartlett, legally protecting what is owned by WMS, is perceived as the Black Bart our story. As of November 2013, the code for “…Continued” is officially available online, but the sounds and animations are not, which renders the code nearly useless. Cactus Canyon Discontinued. I can’t be the first to have made that joke.

“Black Bart” Bartlett responded to critics on Pinside about the copyright concerns, and made it pretty clear, in layman’s terms, for everyone to read:

“So, as all the posts have said, if you are not using (or contributing to people using) ANY wms [intellectual property], then do whatever you want however you want to, if you are using wms [intellectual property], then best to contact me to see if this falls into the ‘we care’ realm and then best to have an idea of what you would like done with it. And of course giving away or making available wms [intellectual property] is just not going to fly now that we have opened up a door with wms to do it legitimately. I’m not sure when people are given a way to utilize wms ip, then the posts take a larger percentage of trying to figure a way around it, that was not the goal, but a way to create upgrades to games for people to enjoy.”

Despite the sour grapes of CCC, there is plenty to be excited about. The above posted slides also mention revisiting the code of Cirqus Voltare and Tales of the Arabian Nights in collaboration with designer John Popadiuk. As if JPop doesn’t have enough to do already! Bartlett also mentioned that the WPC2.0 controller would be compatible with the Planetary Pinball “remakes”, thus if Planetary gives someone the blessing to revamp the code of Medieval Madness, or future remade game, both the original WPC machine and the Planetary reissue would be able to run it.

However, in all the excitement, a concern exists, as I see it–the pace at which Planetary Pinball conducts business. The remake of the Medieval Madness appears to be full steam ahead, but other smaller scale Planetary projects have been slow to be completed, or have stalled completely. The WMS branded shirts and other knickknacks promised at Expo have not surfaced in any mass quantity. My own experiences buying parts from PPS have been mostly positive, however, one decal set I had purchased was missing text on the decals themselves. It took three website “Contact Us” messages to get any sort of acknowledgement back about the misprint. This was during the frenzy of the MMR ordering, so perhaps my $40 order got lost in the shuffle with all the $8,000 pin orders rolling in.

Bartlett has a passion for this hobby, just like many of us, and he wears his passion on his sleeve. It kicks projects into gear, but it can also drive a person to bite off more than they can chew. Sometimes this passion gets the better of Bartlett, and his Pinside posts read as brash and impulsive. Never would you see Gary Stern on Pinside threatening to pull the plug on game production in a response to nay-sayers piling on with criticism like Bartlett did earlier in the year regarding MM (even if it was posted in a flippant manner). But then again, never would you see Gary Stern posting on Pinside. The accessibility and dedication Bartlett has displayed by being a member of the Pinside community is impressive, and his presence adds more than it takes away.

It has been said already that the sky is the limit with the introduction of this new platform, especially paired with the blessing of WMS to mess with their intellectual property. It’s not nice to see Priepke get left out in the cold, but that’s the nature of the copyright business. That code is SO GOOD, one can only hope there will be some sort of settlement where both sides can be appeased. As for my own plans, I’m not an early adopter, nor do I buy unplayed NIB machines…but the prospect of a Funhouse 2.0 has me genuinely excited for the future of my collection, and I’ll be the first one on the pre-order list when the time comes to pay to “Black Bart”.

Further Reading:
Pinside  – WPC 2.0(tm) – Extensions to WPC 2.0 games (from TPF PPS seminar) – …Continued – For Bally’s Cactus Canyon
Planetary Pinball Supply – Official Website

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