CREDIT DOT

Mapping pinball trends for the casual enthusiast…


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PEOPLE: Matt from TITAN PINBALL

There are a lot of familiar sites online from which to order your pinball parts. Pinball Life. Marco Specialties. Bay Area Amusements. These are the big players. The established names. But today we are featuring a newcomer to the pinball supply scene, Titan Pinball. This Georgia-based company, run by the husband and wife duo of Matt and Eve, has just begun providing collectors with all the parts and supplies needed to “shop out” their games. As of press time, the breadth of items in their webstore is rather limited, but it is a supply that is growing daily. They do have a hook–they offer a full line of coloured rubber rings, allowing almost endless combinations of customization for the machines in your collection. I got the chance to ask Matt from Titan Pinball a few questions about throwing himself completely at the business of pinball supply and his plans for growth in the future.

Credit Dot: The Titan Pinball story begins after the company you worked for closed up shop and you became jobless. You decided to follow the course of action pinball enthusiasts only dream of: opening your own online pinball store. Was it nerve-racking making the initial decision?

Matt from Titan: The initial decision was more whimsical than anything. It just came up in conversation over dinner one evening. I didn’t really want to pursue a living in the same industry I had worked for the past fourteen years. What else could we do? How about pinball? The actual process of starting the business was beyond nerve-racking.

CD: Who are the members of the Titan “team”?

MT: I am the owner. My wife, Eve, is my supervisor.

CD: How did your relationship with pinball begin? What are some of the earliest games you remember playing?

MT: My first pinball experience was with my father in the early 80s. The local arcade had four or five machines. He would play pinball while I defended the earth from Space Invaders. Eventually, he persuaded me to give it a whirl. Eight Ball Deluxe is the first game I ever really remember playing. I recall being very frustrated by the difficulty of pinball and didn’t give it much of a chance. In the 90s, I was reintroduced to pinball through a popular college game room. They had (although I was unaware of it at the time) a great lineup of machines that constantly rotated in and out. The Addams Family, White Water, Junk Yard, Funhouse, Scared Stiff, and so on. I loved playing them, but lacked any real skill. The only way a replay was coming my way was through a match. It wasn’t soon after that pinball machines began to disappear on location. After a year or so, other interests had my attention and it would be fifteen years before I would enjoy playing pinball again.

CD: As for your business, how difficult is it to maintain competitive pricing? Do you always have your eye on other retailers’ websites?

MT: We try to stay up to date on competitor pricing. It’s very difficult to compete due to the volume in which larger stores purchase. We buy in volume whenever possible and, at least for now, have a low overhead which lets us sell at comparable prices.

CD: I’ll bet you’ve done your fair share of counting out quantities of hex screws and lock nuts!

MT: You have no idea…

CD: Do you have a facility you work out of? Or is your basement filled with pinball supplies?

MT: We work in an area that was formerly known as the living room. There is pinball machine in the kitchen, one in my office, and another under the stairs.

CD: How have you used social media and community-oriented websites such as Pinside to promote your store and connect with your customers?

MT: It’s a must when you are a small company in a smaller hobby. Other than “supervisor”, one of my wife’s other titles is “Social Media Manager”. So far, the response has been very positive and we have met a lot of friendly individuals in the pinball community.

CD: I hear international orders can be a bit of a headache. How are you handling shipping across borders?

MT: Shipping is a nightmare in general. We are still small enough to where each order can be given individual attention. Most overseas customers contact me through email first to discuss the shipping price before hand. We don’t like making money on shipping, so we always refund any overage.

CD: Can you shed some light on how the “Tilt-o-meter” came about and the manufacturing process?

MT: Out of the blue. We were working on the Flintstones with the playfield up when I happened to look down at the tilt. I wondered how hard it would be to have all of my machines set to the same sensitivity. The first Tilt-o-Meter was a piece of paper taped to the tilt mechanism. Then came the idea for a small device. After struggling with 3D printer software for a few days, I sent the model to be fabricated. We realized 3D printing was great for a prototype, but not really conducive for volume production. This gave us a great excuse to play with silicone molds. After much trial and error, we finally made a mold that works relatively well. We cast in resin, pop them out, sand them, and apply the label. Voila, you have a Tilt-o-Meter.

CD: You have complicated the age-old argument of white rubber versus black rubber buy selling six different colours of rubber rings plus the standard black and white. Are you the only company currently offering coloured rubber?

MT: As far as we know. Although I doubt it will be too much longer before someone else manufactures them.

CD: These rubber rings are made exclusively for Titan Pinball. How involved are you in the manufacturing process?

MT: Very. It’s been a year since we sent the first e-mail to a rubber manufacturer. There are always samples being sent back and forth–tweaking the color or the hardness, and trying out new companies. While we are happy with our current lineup of rings, there is always room for improvement.

CD: Do you assure the same feel and bounce as standard white rubber?

MT: No, primarily because of the different number of manufacturers being used in the industry. Some parts suppliers have their own formulas, while others rely more on NOS rings made several years ago. We looked more toward consistency throughout our product line. We order in Shore A 45, which is a relative equivalent to red flipper rubber.

CD: This innovation was a long time coming for a community ravenous to make their machines unique. Why has it taken so long for coloured rubber to hit the market?

MT: I think it was primarily due to the logistics of creating kits, and the possibility of offering too many choices and overwhelming the customer.

CD: Super-bands and Saturn Rings, two prominent flipper “rubber” innovations made with synthetic rubber, have been met with mixed reviews. Some claim they modify ball movement in undesirable ways, thus negatively changing the way a game plays. Others like the control the rubbers give. What is your opinion on these synthetic flipper bands?

MT: I think the new rings types are a much needed innovation for pinball. Whether or not you are a fan, it’s a new feel and it can change your experience with a machine. I believe that’s a positive thing. Coincidentally, we were toying around with a new rubber type a month or two before the urethane rings were announced. We only had the funds to bring in one type, so we stuck with the regular rubber. Currently, we are working with a new manufacturer to bring in a full line of silicone rings. We’ve given prototypes to a handful of players, and so far the response has been very positive.

CD: Will you eventually sell ring kits or will you leave it to the customer to compile their own?

MT: That has been the question from day one. We struggled for months trying to figure out how to make it easy for the community to get a kit with so many permutations of colors. Hopefully, we have found the solution. We are a week or two away from introducing a public, crowd-sourced database of rubber ring and led kits. Users will be able to easily make their own kits, upload photos, and tweak other users ideas. Eventually, these kits will be tied into product SKUs of any pinball supplier that wishes to participate. It’s hard to say whether or not it will work, but we are very excited about it.

CD: Looking at your sales figures, what is the most popular rubber size thus far? And the most popular colour?

MT: 2 and 2 1/2 inch. The most common slingshot sizes. I’d say red and blue have been the most popular, with purple a close second.

CD: Are there any new colours on the horizon?

MT: We hope so. If we continue to do well we’d like bring in some silver/grey, different shades of our more popular colors and, of course, hot pink!

CD: What items are you looking at adding to your stable of products in the future?

MT: Certainly more plastics, such as lane guides and pop bumper caps. We are already negotiating standoffs and mini-posts, as well as flipper rebuild kits. It’s still a little while off, but they are high up on the list.

CD: What games are currently in the Titan Pinball collection?

MT: We currently enjoy a Flintstones (our first restore), Star Trek: The Next Generation, Tee’d Off, and a Virtual Pin the wife and I built.

CD: To close, what advice you can give to others that are thinking of giving up their day job and turning their pinball passion into a business venture?

MT: The same advice I was given: Don’t! If you get into a pinball related business, you had better be doing it for the love of your hobby. It’s long hours for little/no pay. Having said that, I can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s a passion, and we love it! It’s also mandatory to have a wonderful and understanding significant other. I am fortunate enough to have a fantastic wife, without whom none of this would be possible.

Please visit Matt and Eve at http://www.titanpinball.com. They can also be found at this weekend’s Southern Fried Gameroom Expo in Atlanta, GA.

Further Reading:
Pinside – Announcing Titan Pinball “Shop Out” Supplies & Colored Rubber Rings

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PEOPLE: An E-Mail from Doug Watson

I had contacted pinball artist Doug Watson earlier in the week to see if he would be interested in participating in an email interview about his time working in the pinball industry. Mr. Watson’s pinball artwork spans three decades and four distinct pinball manufacturers. Some of the games he worked on include 80s cult favourites like Devil’s Dare and Big Game, as well as some of the most popular titles of the DMD era like The Shadow, Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Attack From Mars. My personal favourite piece of his is the backglass from the 1981 Williams game Barracora. It is absolutely breathtaking–the eyes of the fish-woman seem to peer directly into your soul. Mr. Watson is currently an instructor at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and has recently signed on with the upstart British pingame manufacturer Heighway Pinball. I received a response to my email from Mr. Watson yesterday afternoon, and in a strange bit of foreshadowing, a game on which he did the artwork showed up in my gameroom exactly twenty-four hours later:

Mr. Watson was extremely welcoming to an interview request, and went on to give me some rather nice feedback about this site. He also went on to comment on an article I wrote up a few days ago about Jersey Jack Pinball’s The Hobbit playfield artwork. In that article, I bemoan the cut-and-paste style of JJP’s release, and go on to generally lament the death of hand drawn playfield artwork. Turns out Mr. Watson agreed. So much so, his email briefly, but passionately, layed out his opinion on how times have changed along with the economics and aesthetics of pingame art. I was so taken by Mr. Watson’s email, that I found it a shame that I would be the only one to read it. I asked to post an excerpt on the site, and he graciously agreed:

“Rob,

I took a look at your Credit Dot site. Very well written in my opinion. I could not tell who the author of each essay was though. I assume you wrote a number of them but you don’t credit yourself. Who wrote the Hobbit playfield art essay? [Ed. note: It was me, I write them all] My opinion echoes the author’s. What he talks about is the absence of the imprint of an individual artist’s style. When you play a Gordon Morrison game, or a Greg Freres game, or a Kevin O’Connor game, or a John Youssi game, or one of mine you know it immediately. The artists from that era left an indelible imprint of their own unique artistic aesthetic on their games. In our modern era that has largely been lost.

The economics of pinball art are very different now. Game makers hire artists, often good ones, with no pingame experience whatsoever to do their art packages. No matter how gifted an illustrator may be, only long term ongoing close association with the development of the game fosters the wisdom and insight into how to make pin art, particularly playfield art, not just attractive and pleasing…but effective. In the 17 years I did it, I strove constantly to improve the effectiveness of my work. I experimented, I studied other artist’s work, I had failures and successes, and most of all I was a player. I knew what I wanted the artwork to do from a player’s standpoint and an operator’s standpoint, in addition to my designer’s standpoint and of course to a license holder’s standpoint.

The economics and technology of Photoshop-created art has played a huge role in 21st century pin art, combined with modern sophisticated process printing. Collaging together found images or those supplied by a license holder requires significantly less time and effort than the old days. Original art in an artist’s original style requires a great deal more effort. We old Bally and Williams artists used to pour our hearts and souls into our work. Greg, Pat, Tony and I did countless “all-nighters” to make printing deadlines. I remember we all would go two and three straight days without ever leaving the building to get a painting done. We would paint up until the last possible second until it had to be ripped off our desks and sent out for color separations. Then we would go home and crash in bed for a few days before coming back to work.

As an example, to get just the right look I wanted for the Martians in Attack from Mars I built an armature and sculpted a maquette about 9 inches tall, inventing it as I went. Then I set up lighting arrangements and posed it in different positions and took lots of photos. I recruited a lovely young lady from the front office to model and took her to a costume shop in Chicago to rent a Marilyn dress. Then I set up another photo session with her and eventually hand glued her into the arms of one of my Martians. The sculpting, the costuming, the lighting, the photography, and all the drawing that came afterward took weeks. Today an illustrator would simply go online, find a bunch of images and Photoshop them together. Might take them a couple days. And often these days the artist might not ever even play the whitewood of the game they are packaging. Ultimately the creative process and effort put into pinball art now is very different. It has a generic quality to it that struggles to satisfy the soul of anyone with a true passion for the genre.

Best regards,

Doug”

Consider that teaser to the upcoming interview I will conduct with Mr. Watson sometime in the coming month, or when time permits. Until then, check out Pinball Magazine #2 for a brief interview with Mr. Watson about the saga of the Demolition Man backglass artwork–it is a good look into the artwork revision process and the troubles associated with working with a licence. As a side note, Mr, Watson also mentioned that he would “walk through fire to work with Brian Eddy again”. Fitting, as I, and many other pinball aficionados, would walk through fire just to PLAY one of Brian Eddy’s machines. Anyhow, I look forward to talking to Mr. Watson further–he has a flair for the written word that certainly matches his flair in pinball artistry.

Further Reading:
Doug Watson Digital – Homepage
Academy of Art University – Homepage
Internet Pinball Database – Doug Watson Pinball History
Credit Dot Pinball – NEWS: JJP’s Hobbit Playfield (a lament for hand drawn artwork)


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PEOPLE: “Pinsanity” Organizer Ken Rossi

Every May, there is an annual 32-player pinball tournament held in Somers Point, New Jersey, just a stone’s throw away from the home of wrestler King Kong Bundy: Atlantic City.  The tournament was dreamt up by one man, Ken Rossi, and he has been hosting the tournament in his well-stocked gameroom for the past three years.  The tournament attracts some of the best players in the Northeast, but more popular than the tournament itself are the posters that Mr. Rossi has created that promotes not only the tournament, but the pinball hobby as well.  Mr. Rossi has sold his posters across the US, and internationally for that matter, for his small basement tournament.  Never has a tournament, from Pinburgh on down to local league tournaments, had such a unified vision and integrated theme.  Because of demand, Mr. Rossi has had to up the limited production run of this year’s posters, and also consider re-running past posters that sold out quickly.  I had the chance to ask Ken Rossi about the challenges of running a tournament out of his home and pick his brain about the artistry associated with the Pinsanity project.

Credit Dot: This past May, you hosted the third yearly incarnation of the Pinsanity tournament. Can you give us some info about the tournament and its history?

Ken Rossi: After buying my first pinball machine in around 2009, I became quickly addicted as many of us do. I started to look for tournaments and shows locally or within a few hours drive to dive deeper into the hobby. I was told to go to a tournament at a guys home in Broomall, PA–his name was Rick Prince. After seeing Rick’s collection and having a ton of fun, I knew I had to eventually host my own tournament and invite him and the rest of those folks to my house. It took me a few years to build my collection to where I felt it was tournament worthy. While building, I would attend other tournaments and get ideas of how to run things: formats, game settings, etc. My collection quickly grew from 1 game to 3 games to 16 games. I had to finish off the garage, build the gameroom, restore the games, and learn to do board work–that’s how Pinsanity v1.0 was born. The Tournament is an all day event. The first half of the tournament is generally match play format similar to Pinburgh. I use Brian Smith’s software for that which is called Monthly Masters Tournament–you can buy it on iTunes for the iPad. This seeds the players for the second half of the day, which is some sort of elimination style format. Next year will be a new format I’m working on: survivor style with a double elimination twist. We also do a side tournament usually with 2 or 3 classic games which is played like a PAPA style Bank, and it has its own payout and is usually $3 or $5 per entry.

CD: Can you highlight some of the games that appeared at this year’s tournament?

KR: This year we had World Cup Soccer, Theatre of Magic, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Judge Dredd, Demolition Man, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, AC/DC, Jurassic Park, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Lord of the Rings, The Machine: Bride of Pinbot, High Speed, King Pin, Airborne Avenger, Conquest 200, Centaur…that’s most of them, but I might be missing some!

CD: The tournament is limited to 32 players…why the cap?

KR: Really, the cap is limited for two reasons. First, I just don’t have the space for more people to be comfortable, especially if the weather is bad. Luckily every year the weather has cooperated–we like to move games outside under tents for the side tournament, and put ping pong and foosball outside so people can unwind between rounds, I like to make it feel a little like a mini-festival. The other reason is the amount of games to people ratio. I like to have plenty of games in case something breaks, which something always does. And for the finals, the one thing you don’t want is people waiting around for games to end late into the night.

CD: How stressful is it running AND playing in your own tournament?

KR: It can be extremely stressful, especially if you are the one fixing the games, designing the posters and shirts, ordering the food and preparing your home for 30-40+ people to invade, all while doing your normal day to day stuff, like running a company. The stressful part for me is probably doing all the artwork for the posters and T-shirts, getting everything printed and coordinated, and building the trophy each year… but it is also the part I most love to do. As far as playing in the tournament, I’ve played terrible at Pinsanity every year so far. You’re always getting pulled in different directions, so I really do it for the folks that come…I can play well at THEIR tournaments when I’m not feeling so pressured.

CD: What are some of the highlights from the first three years of Pinsanity?

KR: Well, there are always some incredible players that come from the Northeast…lots of guys in the Top 100 play at this tournament so some unbelievable scores get put up and matches get played. How fast the registration fills up is also amazing. I’m glad people enjoy the tournament that much! A non-pinball related highlight for me was during Pinsanity v1.0–my friend Ewan Dobson played guitar during the dinner break. He’s pretty unbelievable on guitar. Do yourself a favor and check out some of his YouTube videos here.

CD: The main reason this tournament is so widely known across North America is because of the fantastic posters you make to promote the event. Why did you decide to make posters for an event with such a limited number of attendees?

KR: I started making the artwork and posters because I wanted Pinsanity to feel more like an special event or festival about pinball then just a tournament on a Saturday at some guys house in Jersey. I live five minutes from the beach so some of the artwork, like the roller coaster and Ferris Wheel in Pinsanity v2.0, are sort of attributed to the location I’m from. There is a theme throughout, and each year I try and decorate the gameroom or trophy with bits of those elements. Last year when you registered, the day of the tournament, everyone was given a small toy alien, some of them are marked with prizes like a free t-shirt or free poster, this year everyone got small astronauts. Next year everyone will get dinosaurs…I hope I’m not giving to much away! The theme of the tournament is just something I really like to play off of creatively, and it helps me procrastinate from doing my real job!

(L) The trophy doubles as a drink shaker (R) Pinsanity moonmen

CD: Can you describe the printing process? Each poster is hand-printed and signed by you?

KR: The printing process is basically two color silk screen printed on a nice heavy paper. I get my posters printed at Enemy Ink in Florida, these guys do really great work. I sign and number each one and ship them to pinball enthusiasts all over the world…it is really an honor to see pictures of the posters I designed hanging in other peoples gamerooms. The pinball community is a tight knit group of amazing, kind and friendly people…it is a special hobby that deserves a little artwork.

CD: Are you a graphic artist by trade?

KR: Yes, I went to school for fine art and graphic design near Philadelphia.  I now own a small design company called Evolve Studios, and we mostly focus on print and web design and development.

CD: How did you arrive at the original “Mortal Man vs. Machine” theme?

KR: I’m not really sure how that came about, but pinball is really a physical battle between you and the machine. For Pinsanity v1.0, I came up with that when I was designing the robot made of pinball parts–I wanted something that felt like the winner was not only battling all the other players at the tournament but in the end had to defeat the machines to take home the trophy. I’ve always been into mechanical things and robots and space aliens and time travel…so I just kind of ran with it.

Courtesy of Pinsider SilverUnicorn.

CD: Each poster seems to add to an overall story. Can you elaborate on that? At what point did you decide to approach the posters in that way?

KR: Yes there is a story or theme…sort of.  Pinsanity v1.0 was about man fighting an evil robot constructed of pinball parts. He got defeated by Chris Newsome (winner of Pinsanity v1.0.) People wanted the robot to be integrated into the following year’s theme, but that wouldn’t totally make sense, so I decided from that point forward I would put parts of every past poster into the current one. So I turned the robot into scraps and made him a pinball machine as you can see in v2.0.

In Pinsanity v2.0, the aliens steal that pinball machine in hopes to resurrect their original evil robot. The aliens succeed in stealing the machine but not before Koi Morris (winner of Pinsanity v2.0) battles them into outerspace.

In Pinsanity v3.0 is about retrieving the Machine from the aliens and bringing it back to Earth to keep Humanity safe from the most evil pinball machine ever made.

For Pinsanity v4.0, well …. lets just say they make it back to earth, but they’re a few million years in the past!


CD: Even though they are limited to fifty per run, are you thinking of reprinting prior posters collectors may have missed?

KR: The first two years were limited to fifty.  This year’s was limited to 90 because of demand. I have thought about re-running the older posters, if I did I would probably make them a limited version–maybe different colors or just something different so the original short run keeps its integrity and collectability.  Not that they will be worth anything…but you never know…

CD: How humbling is it to know that your art is hanging in game rooms across North America?

KR: Its extremely humbling to know not only is my artwork in some incredible game rooms in America, but I have sent posters all over the world: Canada, New Zealand, Australia, France, The Netherlands and more! I love that people around the globe like the work and enjoy playing pinball as much as the rest of us do.

CD:With the word spreading about Pinsanity through the popularity of the posters, is there any chance that you will expand the tournament next year to include more players?

KR: I would like to expand the tournament, but right now its just not possible, unless I move or decide to get a bigger location it will probably just stay the size it is. I’m good friends with another collector about fifteen minutes away, so this year we had a tournament the night before at his house from 9pm to 2am called Pinsomnia – these two tournaments may piggy back again or could turn into a full weekend event with Saturday and Sunday tournaments! [Ed. note: Pinsanity?  Pinsomnia?  C’mon! Ken comes up with the coolest tournament names, doesn’t he!  Please make Pinsomnia posters!]

CD: This project seems like a labour of love. At $25 per poster, shipping included. There doesn’t seem to be much money to be made here. Am I correct?

KR: Yep totally a labor of love, I make a few bucks on each poster but in reality the time invested and spent doing everything actually costs me money, its about making something people can enjoy and helping the pinball community and pinball in general grow and survive.

CD: T-shirts with the same design as the poster are also available. Is this the first year for them?

KR: Nope I’ve done T-shirts for all three years. They are just very limited because of the sizes and cost. I dont want to have 20 xxl shirts sitting here that I can’t get rid of, so I do a small run mainly for the guys that show up at the tournament.

CD: A question unrelated to the Pinsanity project. What are your absolute keeper games in your collection that you never get tired of playing? Any games currently on your radar you’d like to add?

KR: I like games that are good tournament playing games, so games like Bram Stokers Dracula will probably never leave, and others like Centaur, High Speed, Lord of the Rings, too. I would like to get another Funhouse, and maybe add a game like White Water or an older Solid State game like Harlem Globetrotters On Tour to the collection.

CD: I’d like to close with a philosophical question…who IS winning in the battle in the recent resurgence of pinball? Man OR machine?

KR: I would have to say the Machines are still winning, men come and go but I have machines that are 40 years old and play like the day they came out of the box, not to many men can say that!

Ken Rossi’s Pinsanity posters are available directly by contacting Mr. Rossi at ken@evolvestudios.com.  As of writing, only the 2014 edition, V3.0, are available, but are extremely limited.  Best to buy them ASAP if you want one.  Pricing is set at $25USD including shipping within the USA, $30USD including shipping to Canada, and $35USD including shipping to Australia.  T-shirts from the 2014 tournament are also available for $25USD, but sizing is limited.  Check the below Pinside link for sizes.  Look for V4.0 of the poster (and the tournament) in May of 2015.

Further Reading:
Pinsanity – Official Site
Ken Rossi’s Evolve Studios – Official Site
Pinside – Pinsanity V3.0 Posters
Pinside – Pinsanity V3.0 T-Shirts Very Limited Quantity


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PEOPLE: Python’s Sausage Party

While sitting around in a hotel room full of fifteen pinball collectors, drinking beer and watching a pin-tech fix an old EM, I was privy to a story about the late, great Python Anghelo. The story sounds more like folklore than fact, with details added and details taken away in its retelling. I’m not sure if this was a commonly told tale at Pinball Expo over the years, but I had never heard it before. As Jimmy Stewart says, in the film The Man Who Shot the Liberty Valance, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” Fitting, since Python is a true legend in the industry.

So the story goes, Python Anghelo had a favourite Polish delicatessen in Chicago that he frequented on a regular basis. Ever the lover of smoked and encased meats, this deli was his local source for some of the best Polish kielbasa and sausage in the entire city. This was not Python’s little secret, the deli was known as the go-to meat spot in the Chicagoland area. One day in late 1987, Python stopped in to load up on some of his favourite meaty treats. It was only after the butcher filled the order, that Python noticed the enormously long line to pay the cashier. He was late as it was. Waiting in that cash line would make him much, much later. So, he decided to do what any reasonable artist and pinball designer would: stuff the sausage into his coat and walk out the front door without paying for it. But the owner of the store caught him red handed. He called the cops and imposed a lifetime ban on Python, barring him from ever stepping foot inside his deli again. Python may have lost a little bit of pride that day, but more devastating was the fact that he had lost the privilege of shopping in his favourite Chicago delicatessen.

Was Python ashamed? Probably not. He seemed like a guy that wasn’t ashamed of much. In fact, to celebrate this indiscretion, he created a promotional plastic piece for the game Cyclone that depicted a clown with a trench coat full of sausages, forever venerating the time he got caught stuffing sausages into his own coat. I’m sure you thought those hanging sausages in the clown’s coat were a reference to something phallic!


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PEOPLE: Patrick Wall of the Southern Fried Gameroom Expo

You may know him as one half of the hosting duo from the Gameroom Junkies podcast. But by the end of June, Patrick Wall will also be a certified pinball and arcade expo organizer. That’s going to look great on his resume. Mr. Wall and his organizing committee will present the first ever Southern Fried Gameroom Expo on June 20-22 at the Marriott Century Centre in Atlanta, Georgia. Normally, these type of events have humble beginnings with a handful of people getting together to celebrate a shared interest. However, this event looks to be packed to the gills with special guests and exclusive events. The Southern Fried Gameroom Expo is reaching for the brass ring right out of the gate. I was able to conduct an email interview with Mr. Wall about the preparing for the show, his responsibilities and what attendees can expect from the SFGE.

Credit Dot: It is a tall order cutting the ribbon on your first gameroom show. What has the experience been like leading up to the big day?

Patrick Wall: It has been a lot of work! But, for the most part it has been fun work. The hardest part was trying to stay motivated in the early days of planning when the show was so far away on the calendar. Luckily, the other members of the planning group are truly big thinkers and they never wavered on their vision for how epic the show should be. As things got closer, the excitement ramped up quite a bit with support from around the country, confirmed guests, and committed games. That stuff makes the work fun.

CD: How did you decide on the name Southern-Fried Gameroom Expo?

PW: We really wanted a name that would be memorable, but also give the show the regional identification of being in the heart of the South. We toyed with the idea of integrating “Atlanta” into the name, but eventually just used it as a tagline: “Atlanta’s Own Southern-Fried Gameroom Expo”. We chose the term “gameroom” specifically because it would give the show’s scope room to grow beyond pinball and coin-op video games. I am thankful for that foresight because the show now features a retro-console gaming area as well as modern console gaming with exhibits by Microsoft and Sony.

CD: Is there a lot of local buzz about the show from those not in the gaming community?

PW: It is really hard to tell – we have not been picked up as of yet by any local media. By cosmic coincidence, our show falls on the 75th anniversary of the City of Atlanta outlawing pinball. That sounds like an interesting media hook to me!

CD: Did you follow the framework adopted by other successful arcade/pinball shows or attack it with a clean slate?

PW: We reached out to organizers of similar shows and they were all extremely generous with their time and they gave some valuable advice. All of that input was considered and we adopted the features and processes that we like the best from the other shows.

CD: From what I have taken in from other media, you are just one member of a much larger committee for the Expo. Who are the other members? Does each member have a specific duty or role?

PW: There are five of us who make up the planning group, called Player One, LLC. It is a great mix of talent and I really cannot imagine doing this without this group of individuals. Shannon Dewitt handles all of web related work, registration, and financial details. Preston Burt [Mr. Wall’s co-host on Gameroon Junkies] provides us with the graphics/art needed and he spearheads social media outreach. Dana Reeves is an expert in event planning logistics and she also handles all of the media outreach. Her husband, Joel Reeves, creates any show related videos needed and he is the coordinator of games. Lastly, my primary role has been to direct the special sessions/speakers and to develop the master schedule.

CD: Some folks got a sneak peek at the games of the Southern Fried Gameroom Expo a few weeks ago at Momo-Con. Can you touch on what the Momo-Con event entails, what pinball machines made an appearance and the reaction of attendees?

PW: Momo-con is an Atlanta based anime and gaming convention that draws about 13,000 attendees. Since Momo-con takes place a month before SFGE, we thought it would be a great chance get out and promote our upcoming show. We coordinated with the planners of Momo-con and agreed to bring a collection of pins and vids for a freeplay area at one of their host hotels. After renting a BIG truck, we were able to exhibit 21 video games and 3 pinball machines (Metallica, AC/DC, and Indy 500) from our combined personal collections. The Momo-con audience trends fairly young, but the reception was amazing. The games were constantly played for the entire weekend and the pins usually had a line 2 deep waiting to play them. It was a perfect time to talk with folks about the show and everyone seemed really excited about SFGE.

CD: The key to any good Expo is the special guests! You’ve covered every base imaginable, from pinball designers like John Trudeau and Barry Oursler to video game celebs like Billy Mitchell (of King of Kong fame) and Walter Day (founder of Twin Galaxies) just to name a few. Being in such a niche hobby, were all of these guests accessible and relatively open to appearing at the show?

PW: Yes, we are really proud and excited about the guests we have coming to be a part of SFGE. The key to that success was planning and contacting potential guests way before the event. Once we made that initial contact so early in the process, guests like John, Barry, and Billy were very open to our ideas and had a comfort level that things were being thoroughly planned out. Billy has been especially helpful in presenting ideas to make the show a success and reaching out to secure other great guests.

CD: Given Barry Oursler’s recent health problems, will he still be attending the show?

PW: As of this writing, Barry will still be attending.

CD: I guess you could call the podcasters that are appearing EXTRA special guests? Which podcasts will be represented at the expo and do you have a Gameroom Podcast Symposium planned?

PW: As the co-host of the Gameroom Junkies Podcast, one of the really cool things I’ve experienced with other podcasters in this hobby is that we all support each other in a variety of ways. When the hosts from the Brokentoken, Arcade Repair Tips, and Coast To Coast Pinball podcasts let us know they were coming to the show, we just had to get everyone together for a panel. We call it “Radio Free SFGE: Podcasting After Dark” and it is a late night session where do a wrap-up discussion of the show’s events and games. Also, Whitney Roberts and Brent Griffith (both from Brokentoken podcast) will join Jonathan Leung (from Arcade Repair Tips podcast) for a panel session about their experiences in arcade game repair.

CD: Lets not forget about the games…how many pinball machines do you have confirmed for the show so far?

PW: Our goal from the beginning was to have at 100 total games. We have 75 pins and 49 vids committed for the show and that does not include games that vendors may bring.

CD: I see you didn’t beef up security, so you don’t anticipate pinball fans and video game fans to clash in a violent rumble in the parking lot. How are you going to maintain the peace? Joking aside, how hard was it to maintain a balance between the pinball and video representation at the show? Or was it even a consideration?

PW: Actually, it was a consideration because the surge in the popularity of pinball has led to lots of folks wanting to bring pins! But, we really want more of a balance so we have had to look for ways to promote people to bring more vids to the show. There should be enough to please all tastes and our focus is really about creating a great show experience for everyone who attends.

CD: You started a Kickstarter campaign late last year to help fund the event and offered advance passes, rewards and tokens of appreciation for backers at every level. How much did you end up raising? What was your reaction to this outpouring of support by the community?

PW: The response to the Kickstarter campaign was really amazing! The concept that a stranger would pledge money to a gaming event that they may not even be able to attend still kinds of blows my mind. Dana and Preston we familiar with how good Kickstarter campaigns should be executed and they really led the way to making it a huge success. We raised almost $6,000 (not including the cut that Kickstarter takes) and I really can’t wait to thank our backers who are coming to the show.

CD: How do you get over the initial fear of organizing an event and not knowing if anyone will show up?

PW: It was certainly a leap of faith and I honestly had my doubts. There were times when I feared I would have to sell my entire game collection just to pay for my part of the show bills. But as I mentioned before, the other folks in the planning group were big thinkers who had a grand vision. We also had great sponsors like Atlanta’s Joystick Game Bar and Marco Specialties who believed in us and supported us early on in the planning process.

CD: If you had to give a few key pieces of advice to someone who wanted to start a show like this in their area with respect to planning and organizing, what would that advice be?

PW: Starting the planning early is the most important thing…and also include the local gaming community to help you. Unless you own a warehouse full of games, there is no show without them!

CD: Leaving the expo behind for one moment, what pinball machines do you have in your collection currently? What are some of your favourite eras of pinball games?

PW: I really don’t have a favorite era of pinball games, but I do really love anything sci-fi and space themed. My current lineup includes Bride of Pinbot, Johnny Mnemonic, Doctor Who, Star Wars (Data East), Congo, Space Mission, and Super-Flite. [Ed. Note: Preston and Patrick announced, on the most recent Gameroom Junkies podcast, that they will be holding a cross-platform Star Wars tournament, which includes Mr. Wall’s DE Star Wars pinball machine and the Star Wars arcade game by Atari.]

CD: You are going to be a busy man on June 20-22. Do you think you’ll be able to find time to relax during the weekend and play a few games of pinball?

PW: Oh yes…I definitely plan on playing some of the games. We have some volunteers lined up to help relieve some of our duties periodically, to allow us some downtime and for that I am truly grateful.

The  pre-order period for tickets for the Southern Fried Gameroom Expo has expired, however weekend passes and single day admission tickets will be available at the door.  John Trudeau and Barry Oursler will appear together on Friday evening at 7:00pm for “The Silverball Sitdown”.  Trudeau returns on Saturday afternoon for a session at 2:30pm entitled “Replay: John Trudeau and his Return to Pinball”, while Oursler re-takes the stage on Saturday evening at 6:00pm for “The Man Who Saved Pinball: 30 Years of Space Shuttle”.  There will be a pinball giveaway shortly after this session with Oursler.

Further Reading:
Southern Fried Gameroom Expo – Official Site
Southern Fried Gameroom Expo – Agenda
Southern Fried Gameroom Expo – Special Guests
Gameroom Junkies Podcast – Official Site


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PEOPLE: Randy Perlow of ColorDMD

When Ted Turner decided to colourize some of Hollywood’s classic black and white films, cinephiles were outraged. Film reviewer Roger Ebert labelled the move towards colourization “vandalism”, and further stated, “What was so wrong about black and white movies in the first place? By filming in black and white, movies can sometimes be more dreamlike and elegant and stylized and mysterious.” Nobody was this upset when Randy Perlow and Chris Enright waged an all out war on monochrome pinball displays. By installing one of their ground-breaking ColorDMDs, you too can eradicate the drab orange dots from your gameroom. ColorDMD has full colour support for eleven different Williams/Bally/Midway titles, while the Sigma option allows you to add nearly 100 different colour hues and various effects to spice up the dots in any WPC/WPC95 or Stern Whitestar/SAM system. I had a chance to ask ColorDMD founder Gary Perlow a few questions about the business, the hobby and the Canadian spelling of colour.

Credit Dot: How long has ColorDMD been in business?

Randy Perlow: ColorDMD Displays LLC was formed in January 2012, and our first product (a multicolor display for Attack From Mars) was released in April of the same year. The only members are Chris Enright and myself. I invented the the hardware/software that drives the ColorDMD and also manage the business. Chris designed the mounting hardware, has colored most of the games we support, and was responsible for test and assembly of our earlier runs.

The work for ColorDMD started much earlier in the summer of 2009. An early prototype was flipping by the Fall of 2009 but it took longer to integrate it inside the backbox, and longer still to reduce it to a form factor that could be shared with other enthusiasts. By September 2011, we had a pre-production display that was similar to our current display and this was the unit that we demonstrated at the Pacific Pinball Expo and Chicago Expo.

CD: How did you first identify this need for not only replacement displays, but replacement displays with colour support?

RP: To be honest, I was never really sure a need existed. I was inspired by some other projects I had seen and was looking for a fun project where I could contribute something back to the pinball community. A color display was the only idea I could come up with and I was curious why current games were still being built with monochromatic dot matrix displays.

The project really started as a challenge to see what could be done with current technology and what the impact might be. I hoped it would be cool and something people would be excited about, but didn’t really think about it from a business perspective until much later.

CD: Where are you located and what are your facilities like? Just a couple of guys in their basement or something more elaborate?

RP: We’re based in San Clemente, California and design from our homes. For over a year, we used Chris’ garage for final assembly and test but have since contracted that work to a local manufacturer.

CD: Fish Tales is the most recent game to get the full colour treatment, and it joins a list of ten other titles with full colour support. What is considered when selecting a game?

RP: We have joked that we pick them out of a hat. The truth is that about half the games were chosen based on the games we had in our collections. Others have focused on “A-list” titles that seemed to be highly requested titles and good candidates from a business perspective.

This year we have started to add additional developers to help build our library of multicolor ROM titles. Many of these titles are being chosen based on developer selection, complexity, and suitability to our hardware coloring engine.

CD: What is the process of getting dots coloured for a specific game? Lots of testing?

RP: The first step is to try to capture all the possible animation frames a game can generate.

We need to see the final frames produced by the game which often include layered animation, text, and scoring data. There’s no easy way to do this without playing the game and exercising the right switch sequences to show all the animation. It takes a deep knowledge of the game rules, and time, lots and lots of time.

The next step is bringing the sequences into the computer where we try to develop strategies to uniquely identify each frame, and generating complementary color data. We don’t store any of the actual game images… only the complementary color data. When the game is played, the hardware engine attempts to recognize each input frame and call up the color data that corresponds to the current frame. This step is a combination of artistry and problem-solving.

Then we export the data to a display and test in the game where we’re looking for sequences we may have missed or are not being recognized and colored properly. We’ll then continue to iterate until we stop finding issues to correct.

CD: I suppose it would be fair to revisit this question given some of the recent trends in the hobby: how do you avoid copyright issues given the images use are adding colour to?

RP: We don’t store or distribute any copyrighted artwork in our color ROMs or display hardware. If you paged through them, they look contain rectangles or amorphous blobs of color that bear little to no resemblance to the original artwork.

All the original game images are generated by the game, and coloring is done on the fly. The end result is similar to holding a multi-colored gel film over a black and white display.

CD: How connected are you with the pinball community at large?

I’ve been collecting pins for about 7 years, and have been active on RGP and Pinside during that time. Besides ColorDMD, I helped complete the emulation of the Micropin for PinMAME and recreated the lost “brain board” for the original Flicker solid-state prototype game, which was Bally’s pioneering entry into solid-state games. I compete (poorly) in the Orange County Pinball League and have attended many pinball shows over the past four years, and given multiple seminars on ColorDMD.

Chris is the founder of the Orange County Pinball League, nearing its tenth year. He has been active on RGP, Pinside, and the prewar pinball forums. Chris is highly regarded by pinball parts distributors and has been responsible for reproducing rare plastic and metal replacement parts that have been otherwise impossible to find.

CD: There was a time when you had trouble keeping these things in stock! Are you still having issues keeping up with the incredible demand? It seems like a good problem to have!

RP: We build in runs that are often aligned to the introduction of new products. We typically have displays in stock through most of the year but there may be an occasional month where we run out of inventory before a production run is complete.

CD: Buying one of your ColorDMDs is cost comparable to buying a more traditional uni-colour DMD. How do you keep the cost so low?

RP: Given the extended multicolor capability of the ColorDMD as well as it’s versatility (custom color selection and display effect), we think it’s a good value. Our pricing is primarily based on our manufacturing BOM, and we have tried to provide these at the lowest cost we can and still meet business needs and return on our time.

CD: Your online store lists twelve “unique” products to buy. Am I right in assuming this is all the same hardware just loaded with different software?

RP: That’s correct. All the ColorDMDs on our site today utilize the same hardware platform with different firmware. The firmware is easily installed with a USB flash drive and can be changed at any time. The only other difference is that the SIGMA display for SAM/Whitestar platforms ships with different installation cables suited for those platforms.

CD: When the product was first released, the displays were locked to a specific game. Why the change?

RP: As our library of supported titles grew, it became too difficult for us and our distributors to stock individual titles. Customers were also asking for capability to move their display to a new game if/when they sold their original game. We decided the best solution was to open the platform.

CD: You offer installation support in the form of videos, and the installation itself looks pretty straight forward. How close is the ColorDMD to being “plug and play” right out of the box?

RP: It’s pretty close. We tried to make it virtually “plug and play” but it’s not exactly so because our display is a different height than the original DMD display and draws low voltage from the power driver board instead of the high voltage video board. Most customers tell us it’s about a ten minute install.

CD: How close are we to seeing full colour dot programming for Stern games?

RP: We’re targeting release of a Stern multicolor title before the end of 2014.

CD: Do you see your product being compatible with the “new old games” being released by Planetary Pinball Supply?

RP: We’ve had some high level discussions with Planetary about supporting their new releases. They have a few options they are exploring, but we’d love to see this happen.

CD: Would there be a market for multi-colour or colour-changing text in earlier alphanumeric games?

RP: Possibly, but that’s not a focus at this time. The technical requirements are quite different than our current platform.

CD: Is there any indication that there would be a market for producing those extra-large Sega DMDs used on Baywatch, Batman Forever, Maverick and Frankenstein or the extra-small ones used on earlier games like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?

RP: We receive a few requests per year to support the large Sega DMDs. Most of the requests have been from people who have a line out on their current display and are looking for a cheaper alternative than a new plasma. The small screens we use aren’t wide enough to fill the larger speaker panel window on these games. We would need to shift to a larger 17” panel and manufacture a new mounting bracket.

With the added cost, our display would likely be at least as expensive as the plasmas that are still out there. As long as original continue to be available for these games, we’re treating it as a lower priority than other projects but it could be something we offer in the future.

CD: Will you eventually add colour to every Williams DMD game? Even Popeye Saves the Earth?

RP: That’s a great goal but we’re taking it one project at a time, and listening to what the market tells us. We’re also hoping that by broadening our developer program, we will be able to provide support for a much larger library of games than the high-priority titles that people are asking for.

CD: I’m not an owner myself, but its something I have to ask…when will support for Twilight Zone be released?

RP: I can’t provide a date for any specific title, but I can say that Twilight Zone is one of the hardest games for our engine to handle. We’ve been taking on easier titles and building up the feature set of the engine to handle some of the more difficult animation sequences. If/when we think we can do it justice, we do plan to release a multicolor ROM for Twilight Zone.

CD: We may be approaching a point when DMD screens will be eradicated from pinball machines altogether. How has the DMD held on for so long and what are you thoughts on the backbox LCD/LED display?

RP: This is a great question and one that I asked before starting the project… why are games still being built with DMDs? Trying to fit another display technology into a legacy platform isn’t easy. The added information needed to display three colors instead of one requires significant improvements in processor power, data storage, and throughput. If image resolution and color depth is to be increased at the same time, this places an even higher burden on the processing and storage requirements.

With the ColorDMD we insert powerful processing in a place it was never meant to reside… between the DMD controller and the display. While we have achieved very good results, it’s a difficult process and not one that’s well suited to the design of a new game. The better approach is to modify the processor and video display system of the game to handle the added requirements. This is costly and risky and a large reason it has taken so long for color displays to be integrated in new games. It is also more expensive and time consuming to generate high resolution content for these games.

Incorporating a high-resolution screen in the backbox is overdue and opens up new possibilities, but it will take some time (and a few games) for manufacturers and designers to figure out the best way to make use of the extra screen resolution and area.

CD: What is on the horizon for ColorDMD? New technology? New directions? New releases?

RP: We have a lot of active projects now but I’m not ready to reveal any of it! A lot of it is related to things that people have been asking for, but we still have some tricks up our sleeve and hope to unveil a few surprises before the end of the year!

CD: What games currently reside at the ColorDMD HQ or in your private collection?

RP: I currently own a LOTR, TRON, MM, WH2O, IJ, and a bartop Micropin. Chris has an AFM, MM, SS, TZ, Metallica, and SC. This gives us plenty of material to work with, but when needed, members of OCPL often step up and provide access to their collections.

CD: And finally, does it bother you that I’m using the Canadian, or British, spelling of “colour”?

RP: No, I love it! It’s funny but when I sought a name for the company I was looking for something clever that was immediately recognizable and identifiable with our product. It wasn’t until after the release of our first title, that I realized I had picked a name with an alternate spelling in many parts of the world! Thankfully Google is more clever than I, and people have been able to find us!

You can visit ColorDMD displays are available through their website or from purveyors of fine pinball supplies, like Bay Area Amusements in the United States and the Pinball Palace in the UK. Eleven titles are currently have full colour support: The Addams Family, White Water, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Tales of the Arabian Nights, Attack from Mars, Medieval Madness, Cactus Canyon, Monster Bash, Scared Stiff, Theatre of Magic and Fish Tales.