Strategy Informer talks with Adrian Barritt & Pat Lawlor from Silverball Studios about bringing Pro Pinball back with a Kickstarter campaign.
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Strategy Informer: How did it come about that you decided to re-make the game right now, at this moment in time? Was there something specific that happened to make you all get together and give it a go?
Adrian Barritt: We’ve wanted to do this for a long time, partly because of all the emails we have received asking either for the original games to be remastered or for a brand new game in the series, and partly because Pro Pinball will look absolutely awesome on today’s high definition displays. However, we didn’t own the rights to Pro Pinball so were unable to proceed. A few months ago that finally changed and we put together a plan to remaster the old games and produce a brand new one. We’ve always tried to push things to the limit with Pro Pinball, so when it came to the new game trying to get Pat Lawlor on board was the perfect target to aim for. So with a little help from Larry DeMar (co-creator of Defender and programmer for many of Pat’s games, and more) we managed to get together with the common aim to take pinball to a whole new level.
Strategy Informer: Please tell me everything you can about the new ultimate table you're planning on creating.
Adrian Barritt: A key point to make is that the new ultimate table will be designed in such a way that it could be made for real one day. We are also giving the backers the opportunity to choose the theme of the new game from a short list and once the theme is set make suggestions on features they would like to see included.
Strategy Informer: you say you're 'looking forward to being unhindered by the financial constraints of designing for the real world'. What kind of constraints did you have in the original games? What things did you end up not being able to do/include that you'd have liked to?
Pat Lawlor: Real Pinball Machine manufacturing is a business. The companies that make them are in business to make money. In order to make more than 1 pinball machine for your company you need to be successful. The constraints are those that exist in almost any business. Cost of the machine, direct and indirect, vs what you can sell it for. So the constraints are a fairly defined bill of material, defined manufacturing and tooling costs, and engineering overhead.
Simply put, I had about 1 year to get a game ready for an assembly line and it had to cost X. In that environment, every day you are designing, you are making trade-offs. "Can I afford the cost of this device?". "How about the tooling cost?" "How long will it take to do this new thing?" "Can we even manufacture it when we are done?" That all being said... At Williams if a game team badly wanted to do something crazy, management was usually come around to help make it happen. At Williams, they realised that they were also in the entertainment business, not just the manufacturing business. It was a great education in getting things done.
Strategy Informer: There is now a virtual explosion of awesome Kickstarter projects out there wanting investment. Do you have a message for people as to why they should support yours specifically?
Adrian Barritt: Back in the nineties Pro Pinball pushed PC hardware to the limit and from what we’ve read many think those games still haven’t been surpassed. If we could do that then, imagine what we can do now with the advances in technology over the last 15 years coupled with the design genius of Pat Lawlor. If we get funded I can guarantee a game that will exceed all expectations.
Strategy Informer: Can you tell me a little about the goodies people can expect for donating and what different levels there will be? Is there going to be a 'star prize' at all?
Adrian Barritt: One of the coolest things on offer is to have your portrait included in the backglass artwork or the new table. The backglass is going to be drawn by Pat Lawlor’s long time collaborator who did the artwork for games such as The Addams Family, Twilight Zone and Medieval Madness; John Youssi. We think this is a great rewards and if I were pledging it would be the one I’d have my sights set on!
Strategy Informer: I think it's sad that you very rarely see pinball machines 'in the wild' any more. Why do you think that is?
Pat Lawlor: The answer is actually very simple. A pinball machine is supposed to be a money earning proposition for its owner/operator. Since they no longer have any reasonable ROI (return on investment), they have almost no chance of being on location.
Strategy Informer: Bearing in mind the sad decline in popularity of the pinball machine (and just looking at some of the amazing designs on Pat's web page, I wish it weren't so) why do you think this game will be a success? Do you have hopes that it might revive interest in the physical arcade games in some way?
Adrian Barritt: Although real pinball games are much harder to find in the wild these days, the core gameplay is as compelling as ever. Of course a simulation can never be quite as good as the real thing, but the Pro Pinball games have been regarded by many as the closest thing to a real game. This revival and remastering will take things even closer, with visuals and gameplay almost indistinguishable from the real thing, but without any of the reliability issues that you get will real games. We are hopeful that more physical games will get made as a result, in fact we are already in discussions with a number of parties about making either a real Timeshock! or a real version of the new table.
Strategy Informer: Of all the Pinball machines you've designed in your illustrious career, which has been your personal favourite and why?
Pat Lawlor: That's like asking a parent which of his children he likes best. Each one of my games is a year of my life on display. That being said, I like them all for really different reasons. On each game I tried very hard to put in something that had not been done before. Banzai Run... vertical playfield, Earthshaker... invented the shaker motor for pinball, Whirlwind... the fan that blows your hair as you play. ETC! I’m sure that we can keep the same philosophy in the new Pro Pinball game!
Strategy Informer: What do you guys think of Kickstarter? Does it have the potential to revolutionise the gaming industry or is it just a fad that people will get bored with?
Adrian Barritt: I’m sure it is more than just a fad. Yes, there will be some projects that fail by those who overpromise and lack experience, but the majority of games that get funded are from those with a serious track record who know what they’re doing. It would be scary to add up the number of years both Pat and myself have been making pinball games! The bottom line with Kickstarter is that it enables projects that would otherwise be impossible to see the light of day and something as wonderful as that isn’t going away any time soon!
Strategy Informer: I see from your Facebook page that you're considering versions for Android and 3DS. One of the great things about the original games was how absolutely amazing they looked. Surely it won't be possible to reproduce that level of gorgeousness on a mobile phone screen, for instance? How are you planning to make the game work on such a tiny, tiny screen?
Adrian Barritt: One of the great things about the pre-rendered approach we use for our graphics is that every pixel can be made perfect. If you’re rendering real time, especially on relatively simple hardware such as the 3DS the results are going to be relatively crude. The final renders we do take days to complete and top end PCs, so they will be, lit, textured and anti-aliased to perfection. Our previous games such as Mario Pinball Land, Metroid Prime Pinball, Pinball Pulse: The Ancients and Frogger Pinball were all pre-rendered and were on small screens such as the GBA, DS and iPhone but have all looked and played great.
Strategy Informer: If all goes well, and you reach your target, when can we expect to see the finished game? If you drastically surpass it and make MILLIONS, do you have any plans for what you will do with the extra cash?
Adrian Barritt: The first of the remastered tables, Timeshock!, is due in February 2013 with the other three classics following every two months. The new ultimate table will take a year of fine crafting and refining before it can be released, so that will appear in October 2013. Millions you say? Firstly, we’d love to make even more great tables and bring them to as many different platforms as we possibly can, including XBLA, PSN and Android. But on top of that, we’ve already been approached by four different parties interested in manufacturing real mechanical versions of either Timeshock! or Pat’s new ultimate table. So if this Kickstarter succeeds in a big way I honestly think we'll come full circle and actually see a virtual pinball game turned into a real one! Now, wouldn't that be a fantastic journey! :-)