Friday, April 2, 2010

Springtime for Whizbang and Melony

On a cold day in March, the first day of Spring to be exact, Whizbang hit a new milestone on the road to our first custom project. Actually there's been a flurry of recent milestones as our pace has picked up in preparation for our second ever public viewing of the Whoa Nellie Big Juicy Melons work-in-progress at the Midwest Gaming Show in Milwaukee.

But as usual we have to back up the truck to explain how we got to this point.

On a colder day in January, Mark Weyna invited us out to his place to play some EM pinball games in his collection. Dennis was still contemplating how to go about revising the original playfield to create a more player-friendly version of the original Continental Cafe game with its three "gobble-hole" feature. During this era of pinball design, gobble holes were a way to keep game times short so the operator could see more money in the cashbox on collection day.

We spent several hours getting more familiar with the style of play from EM playfields and started to learn which games had gobble-hole features that were less "f-you" oriented.

When shooting a ball into a gobble-hole, or more likely when a ball inadvertantly falls into a gobble-hole the player is rewarded with a score BUT the ball is gone. And, if you're playing your last over. But if the gobble-hole feature is lit when the ball falls in then the score reward is greater. The skilled player waits for that moment.

Apparently players were used to this mistreatment back in the 1950's probably because there wasn't much competition for a player's spare change back then...Pinball was King! By the time the '90's came around we were doing everything possible to keep players from straying away from pinball. But I digress.

Dennis also connected with another member of Team EM, Steve Charland, and they discussed the possibilities of adding more to the game than came with the original equipment (augmentation). Steve has hacked EM games and was quite confident that he could do most of what Dennis had in mind, however, Steve is on the west coast and we're not. Working through these hacks cross-continent was just too much to think about at this point and would also add too much time to the process. We made the next executive decision to keep this playfield simple, friendly, and with just enough of a Dennis-style layout to update the shots and use the entire length of the playfield from top to bottom.

Dennis drew his first layout and showed it to both Mark and Ken. This first pass kept a lot of similarities to the original CC layout. After a good deal of discussion, both of them were confident that if Dennis wanted to rearrange the geometry of the playfield more than this initial drawing, it should be no problem as long as the scoring scheme remained similar.

Dennis took another pass at the drawing and wanted to create more flow from the flippers back up to the top of the game. He also wanted the jet bumpers to provide good action and add the random factor, and he wanted the now solo gobble-hole to be shoot-able but also random at times.

After a couple more weeks of contemplation and discussion with Mark and Ken, it was time to push this layout to the "whitewood" stage of development. At the same time Ken was available to come out to the studio with Chris and deconstruct the original wire harness from the Continental Cafe game.

They spent a few hours painstakingly removing and labeling the wires so that there'd be a roadmap to follow when getting the new playfield rewired.

Dennis hand-cut the first whitewood and de-populated the parts from the original playfield once the wire harness was removed from the bottom.

He then populated the same parts on top of the new whitewood and set up a time for Ken and Mark to come back out to reconstruct the wiring and layout the new switch configuration as needed.

This was the first day of Spring as you can plainly see from this shot outside the shop. At this point we were one week away from the Midwest Gaming Show in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where we were scheduled to speak about the project. Dennis set a goal to have the game at least flipping (not scoring) by the time we got to the show. He had the studio "stocked" with nutritious snacks perfect for getting wired.

Mark and Ken spent several hours on the game that day and made great progress but just a few hours shy of working flippers.

The process of finding the right home for the right wire is tedious. There is a back and forth process checking one of the other Continental Cafe games against the wiring harness for the new layout.

Terry from Pinball Life asked Dennis if he could stop by and see the game since Ken had ordered some parts from him that we needed for the game. He paid us a nice compliment about the handling of the somewhat risque theme by keeping it within a PG-13 audience range.

Ken showed me the finer points of wire crimping since I felt left out of this tool party (that just doesn't sound right when I say it out loud.) I fortunately didn't
hurt myself or anyone else and I'm glad I don't get paid by the part.

Mark was able to return during the week for the final push to get the game wired, working, and flipping. Within a few more hours and with the flippers wired, the game was turned on for the first time as Whoa Nellie Big Juicy Melons! Only a few minor adjustments were needed to get the game flipping for the first time.

We "shot" the playfield for a while getting the feel of the new layout. All in all we felt pretty good about the layout, happy to see that the flippers could get the ball back to the top of the table without a problem. The bumpers weren't kicking perfectly but good enough for now. Mark left word with Ken regarding a couple issues that Ken could handle at the show before we let the public shoot for the first time.

With the timely delivery of our first order of t-shirts, we packed up the Whizbang sideshow tent and headed north to Milwaukee. After our presentation on Sunday, we plugged the game in, Ken made a few minor adjustments and stuffed a wad of paper in the outhole, and the first public flipping took place (better than a public flogging but I haven't checked RGP yet.) Keep in mind that the scoring features are not yet wired and since this first whitewood has no inserts, there is nothing to light-up, no bells dinging...just flipping the ball and shooting the shots.

After Dennis played the first flips just to get things checked out, he handed the game over to the interested show attendees. Besides, he's not a great tester or player of his own games.


"Melony" gets some attention from the crowd.

After several players gave it a try, Roger Sharpe showed up and skillfully batted the ball around for a while, giving us his valued opinions and making the shots look like "buttah."

Cameron Silver (in the background, far right), one of the software engineers from our 1996 Scared Stiff game, was also on hand to provide support and throw in his two cents.

Roger suggested adding a star-rollover switch on the left side "lane" up to the bumper area just to provide player feedback and a nominal score for making the shot. It's a keeper suggestion and Dennis has already added it to his drawing.

Overall, we were very pleased with the response from this show and, just like our experience in Seattle last June, there is still a lot of buzz about custom games from various sources. Ben Heck had his "Bill Paxton Pinball" game at this show and it's an amazingly creative piece from an avid, skilled, and talented fan of the sport of pinball.

On the next post we'll include some video links from that first public flip. But for now, this blog is officially caught up to real-time. We'll continue to fill you in on the latest news, direction, and updates as we head closer to the finish line sometime in the near future. And we'll hopefully avoid real-time posts like: "I'm going to Dunkin' Donuts for coffee because my back hurts." No tweets from us.

In the meantime have a great spring holiday season. I think we'll plant our official Whizbang Watermelon seeds as soon as the warm weather settles in and harvest them around the same time the game is complete!

Thanks for your support, as always, and we'll see you in Colorado on April 23rd!
More to come...
G & D

All art, sketches, or photos related directly to "Whizbang Pinball" or "Whoa Nellie (Brand) Big Juicy Melons" or "Whoa Nellie (Brand) Sweet Juicy Melons" are TM and Copyright 2009 WhizBang Pinball, Greg Freres, and Dennis Nordman.

Flipper Cowboy,Slick Chick, and Dancing Dolls from the collection of Mark Weyna(Photo by G. Freres)

All other photos courtesy of G. Freres and D. Nordman

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