Sunday, January 31, 2010

10 "Followers" - A New Milestone!

We now have 10 official WhizBang blog "followers"! So what if half of them are family members, we've hit a new milestone!

Thanks to everyone that's been following from the start, even if you haven't signed-up officially. It's been fun sharing our progress with eveyone in the Blog-O-Zone and we have plenty more where that came from, so stay tuned.

Now if we only had a Blog-O-Meter to count how many people are actually reading this thing. I keep telling Dennis there's at least 10 readers, and this post proves it!

More fun to come...we're gellin'!


Side-Effect Warning: For hard-core collectors,pinball enthusiasts,art critics, or supporters of all that is politically-correct in the world, reading this blog may cause consternation and lead to the formation of opinions. If opinions persist, please share them as comments to relieve the pressure. If you have an opinion that takes more than four hours to type, seek medical attention immediately, as this may be a sign of a more serious condition.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Back to Backglass

Welcome back to the Whizbang design studio, or as Dennis calls it..."my shop." After spending more time in the "studio" (since I'll be talking more about art on this post than woodworking), I started to notice some interesting decor items just hangin'. Like this thing above the entry door...

I think it will be interesting to elicit some comments on this one, eh? So what is it? Go ahead...take a guess...and leave it in the comment section below. And be creative. There are several people that know exactly what it is, so please don't give it up. We'll reveal the answer in the next post.

We also thought it would be fun to put one of the latest acquisitions next to the semi-finished Whoa Nellie cabinet just to get a preview of the major before and after customizing. Dennis chose "Pinky Continental" to further illustrate the difference.

Progress! Every few weeks we get another jolt of it and it definitely motivates us to keep pushing on.

After reviewing some playfield layout revisions with Ken Walker and Steve Charland from Team EM, Dennis had some strong possibilities for what he wanted to try and decided that eliminating one "player" from the two-player configuration of Continental Cafe might allow for more potential tweaks in the scoring department. And since the Whoa Nellie version of the game would never be on location again as a coin-operated device, we felt that a change to a one-player game wouldn't be a bad thing, in fact, it would be great for the art on the backglass.

Here's a view of the original "insert panel" that I mentioned on the last post. Two sets of scoring reels for the two-player set up.

We were amazed at the lack of what's called "general illumination" on this backglass. Only several lights were dedicated to lighting the main portion of the art, and, only a small portion of the art was "open" on the opaque screen layer. Years later, at least twenty to thirty lights were allowed in the matrix to light the backglass.

For the "newbies to pinball" reading this blog, the lights surrounded by small wood frames, or what we called "egg crates", illuminate what's called "hidden copy" or words or numbers that light up only at certain times in the game. For an example, words like "Tilt" or "Game Over" only get lit up at certain points in the game. The "egg crate" allowed for the light to focus only on what the artist allowed for by use of an "opaque" layer printed on the back surface of the backglass.

So looking at the back of the CC backglass above, the numbers across the top on the upper left were printed only on the opaque screen, or should I say left open on the opaque screen, allowing the light to pass through the art layers only when it was lit up, otherwise it was hidden from view. The egg crates also prevented ambient light from lighting any of the hidden copy until it's specific light was lit. Apologies if my explanation is as clear as mud.

Also note that there is absolutely nothing printed (clear glass) where the numbers on the score reels will show through. As opposed to our vintage glass below that lost most of it's art throughout the years but may just come in handy now to help illustrate my seminar on Backglass Art 101.

Before getting to this stage, I had started the backglass layout as a two-player layout, just like the original CC. My first rough sketch from a few months ago allowed two roughed-in areas for the score reels.

I included areas for the "hidden copy" as well and worked to a drawing that Dennis made from copying the dimensions from the original layout. Dennis asked if I wanted to move things around a bit for better composition, I could give him a copy of my next iteration and see how much he could move items, like the scoring reels, the credit window, or perhaps some of the hidden copy.

So while I started to add ideas and elements to my design, I kept these kind of changes in mind and worked closely with Dennis over the phone to make sure I wasn't designing something that couldn't be supported by the new insert panel.

After thinking about what kind of Roy Parker-esque people I wanted to add as background elements, I also made the decision to turn our hero around,(who I'll now refer to as Melanie, or Melony, due to results from an ongoing straw poll that started at Pinball Expo), so that the guy in the truck would now be reacting to her melons rather than her backside (not that there's anything wrong with her me...I'm an artist.) Once I roughed-in the other farm hands gawking at cantaloupes, I felt good about the decision to "turn her all about."

Which reminds me of a sign I saw last summer that I really need to get for my studio just to remind myself of the important things in life...the sign read...

"What if the Hokey Pokey IS what it's all about?"

Something to think about. I think about it often.

So on my next pass, Melony did an about-face,I added the farm hands, and got the all important horse and rider into the background, and appropriately, just below the title.

I worked with Dennis to move the scoring reels to the left to accomodate the layout and I started feeling pretty good about the general composition. This sketch was still before we made the switch from Sweet to Big.

A few weeks later Dennis suggested that we bring this layout to Pinball Expo to help support the direction of our project but I was reluctant to show such a preliminary sketch. There was a lack of detail and Melony's face was not anywhere near the quality that I wanted it to be. I was afraid people wouldn't see it as a sketch, that it didn't represent all that I could do as an artist. But, after talking me down off the roof, Dennis finally convinced me that having this sketch as part of our initial presentation was important in the big picture. I conditionally agreed. First, the sketch would be clearly marked as a "Work In Progress", and second, I would take some time and revise Melony's face just slightly to get her closer to how she could end up looking. Deal! And Dennis was right, the combination of the partially finished cabinet along with the rough sketch for the backglass seemed to help get our idea across to most of the audience. You can also see this in the latest Pingame Journal.

Jumping ahead a couple months, we made the decision to change the final game to a one-player game and I eventually returned to the backglass for more revisions. Dennis made some final adjustments to the insert panel drawing and built it to get it into the game. After getting this pass of the layout to best match his drawing it was time to get it printed at full size to see how well it matched the real insert layout.


Happy Artiste!

Progress! It's what we eat for dinner!

One more time leap, if you can handle it, and now I updated the sketch one more time this month, yes, January 2010, and triple-checked the insert layout from Dennis with my full-size sketch and overlayed the two files together for one final check before lift-off.

I wanted to make sure we were good to go since my next step would be to start designing a color sketch. Our goal is to get backglasses printed first and offer them for sale as soon as we can. But we have plenty of business to get situated before that happens, so stay tuned for more details!

Next time we'll start digging into the nuts and bolts, switches and relays, and bring in our friendly experts to do it right. And a paint job for the ages.

Until then, don't forget to comment on..."What is it?" and try not to get hung-up on that Hokey Pokey's just a humorous sign...or is it?


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.

All photos on this post by G.Freres and D. Nordman

Monday, January 18, 2010

Taking the Plunge

The part of the cabinet redesign that was keeping Dennis up at night (writer embellishment) was the ball-serve mechanism and the related trough that had been originally factory-routed into the side of the cabinet. For those less familiar with earlier woodrail pinball games like Continental Cafe, once you sent your coin into the slot to play the game, you, the player, were responsible for getting the ball up to the plunger. Modern games take care of that for you by automatically feeding the ball via a push from a solenoid. But back in 1957, there was a small push-rod below the plunger that, when pushed forward, smoothly delivered the ball to its resting point in front of the plunger tip.

Once Dennis had made the decision to cut the main cabinet across the top to be parallel with the bottom (to look more like a real crate and not so much like a pinball cabinet), this created the need for an adjustment to the ball-serve routed trough and the placement of the related mechanical parts, because the original trough was truncated in the process of cutting off the top of the cabinet.

If you're still following this amazing non-truncated tale, the next step was to call Jimmy John's. After lunch, Dr. Dennis formulated a plan of action and started to rectify the situation. The first step in this surgical procedure was to painstakingly fill the original trough with a perfectly formed piece of wood, shaped somewhat like a banana...or a Kielbasa. (I can't wait to get back to talking about Melons).

Before creating the new groove, Dennis had to order a new bit for his plunge router. It set him back about $54 but there was no other way to get 'er done. The day arrived...and he took the plunge. As Dennis recounted the episode, he started with..."Everything was going really well, the new bit was doing exactly what it was designed to do."

Unfortunately, the depth adjustment wasn't locked on the router and...

...the bit changed the groove to a hole in a nanosecond. Doh!

Knowing Dennis, I'm sure he kept his cool and knew exactly what he would do next. Within a few minutes (writer's embellishment #2), Dennis had the hole plugged with wood, made sure the router depth was locked, and created the perfect finished trough.

Dennis double-checked the mechanism and the trough location and put all the parts back together to test the lift.

It all worked as planned and another angst-ridden phase of the project was completed. Dennis followed up with the Lock-down mechanism to make sure the new hand rail would seat properly.

The old metal parts were wire-brushed and clear coated to aesthetic perfection.

Somebody fetch my shades...

Did I mention the new hand-rail is made from maple and provides the needed comfort for the long hours of play this game will endure someday? (Writer embellishment #3 or just a stab at some positive PR.)

Dennis also spent some time on the front of the cabinet filling holes left by coin-mechs, coin returns, start buttons, etc. Since the game will never be used on location again, the coin mechs won't be needed. Eventually the recessed area of the front will get covered with a decal as well, including the old coin door. And also note the original serial number for the Continental Cafe game has been left intact in the center of the cabinet front...M50874CC. But soon to be known as WNBJM #1. Below is a quick study of the revised cabinet front compared to the original. (Note: The cabinet front used in this "before" picture is actually CC Game 2,thus the difference in serial numbers.)

Our next step was to spend some time thinking about the backglass layout as it relates to the backbox insert panel (the piece of wood that holds the scoring reels and all the lights to illuminate the backglass.) At this point we were thinking about changing the game to a one player game because of some playfield design changes Dennis wanted to try.

Until then, always remember...a banana shaped trough is never as easy as it looks.

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.

All photos on this post by G.Freres and D. Nordman

Friday, January 8, 2010

Executive Decisions by the Truckload

Hopefully we're about the last to wish you a Happy New Year and here's to the future known as 2010. Really, 2010? We believe it to be the year of the melon. Mark it on your's official.

Before we started looking into the feasibility of doing the Whoa Nellie project as a limited series we had basically jumped-the-gun and already begun to look into acquiring more "base" games for our 150 or so ideas for future projects - sometimes creativity and confidence walk together on "What-If Beach" at sunrise.

Within a very short period of time Dennis had a few winning bids on ebay (with his money), we had already picked up another game at Expo (with our combined money), and he was getting ready to pull the trigger on some more games when the term "Whoa Nellie" became a useful tool for a WhizBang reality check.

In an earlier post I mentioned that we bypassed some of the logistics involved in getting a custom pinball machine off the ground because all we wanted to do was create. So in making the jump from a one-off project to a potential limited series, one of the first problems that came to light was the ability to reproduce.

To finish that sentence properly, we had reached a design crossroad, a point of departure whereby we would need to make one of our first executive decisions without an executive in the room (one of the perks of designing custom games). In one direction, IF we were to offer more than one Whoa Nellie, with all the same attributes as the first Whoa Nellie, THEN we would need to build them on more Continental Cafe games. Since CC was not produced in huge numbers compared to other games from the EM era, we started noticing that Continental Cafe games are not readily available on the used game market. The other directional sign pointed us towards abandoning Continental Cafe as a base game and moving towards a game that is more readily available because of larger production numbers from day one, making it both easier to acquire and reproduce parts for the limited series. Both of us envisioned leaving the old Continental Cafe on the side of this crossroad, playfield up, no legs...cue the tumbleweed...and vultures.

We pondered these ideas for a couple days and executively decided to stick with Continental Cafe and start cranking up the search for more of these lonely games. It was about this time Dennis started talking with Team EM about the ability to revise electro-mechanical games - also known as "hacks" or "mods". After spewing a bunch of "what-ifs" on an email thread with the EM gurus, it seemed that a new approach began to enter into the design equation. By November 2nd, we made yet another executive decision (we now travel in the Whizbang corporate jet), and Dennis was confident that we could "hack" away (with guru guidance and direction) and create a new level of "custom" by adding a feature to the playfield and changing the basic game play of the original Continental Cafe. We no longer were simply providing an aesthetic facelift to an old classic, but we could now enter into the world of... augmentation.

The purchasing department (Dennis) started to get the word out about our search for more Continental Cafe's. Since Pinball Expo was only a couple weeks behind us Dennis contacted Mike Pacak to see if he had any CC's in his collection. Mike had none but suggested that we call Rob Berk (the PT Barnum of Pinball Expo) because of his extensive collection of random games.

Bingo! Jackpot! Hootie-Hoo! Dennis spoke with Rob and he had not ONE but TWO Continental Cafes! We now had three-of-a-kind, the rule of thirds, 1-2-3, Three's Company, the Golden Triangle, a complete Triptych, and quite possibly, The Trilogy of the Melons!

Dennis negotiated with Rob for the two games and worked out the delivery of the games with Mike to the upcoming Chicagoland Antique Advertising, Slot Machine, and Juke Box Show in St. Charles, Illinois. On a typically gray November Friday (the 13th), Dennis and I headed out to the show pick up our "inventory".

I had never been to the parking lot portion of the show before and saw a lot of fun this antique accident scene. I wanted to draw a chalk line around this banjo buddy.

I'm not sure what this guy was used for...I'm hoping he was once part of some barbershop quartet. Nevertheless, severed heads are creepy, even with woodgrain showing.

Besides the Continental Cafe games, Dennis also arranged for a pick-up of his winning bids on Solar City.

We were warned that one of the CC backglasses was not in very good shape. We didn't realize it was practically a window. Dennis negotiated a price adjustment and was evidently happy with the result.

We wrangled all of our games onto Dennis' pick-up...

...including yet another winning bid...Flying Carpet...

...and got the hell out of there before we spent more money that we didn't have.

With a hefty stash of games for the future (the future beyond the future known as 2010) now safely stored in the "warehouse", and a plan of action for the modified design of the playfield, it was now time to get back to the reality of Game 1 and also start planning for an eventual business future by capturing the costs involved for the first game.

Another pass on the backglass design was needed as the new design direction would affect the layout of the art. And Dennis was still looking forward to figuring out the ball delivery mechanism and using his new special router bit to get the cabinet redesign wrapped up for the upcoming holidays. We'll share all this next time inside the WhizBang studio.

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.

Beach at sunrise photo courtesy stock.xchng

All other photos on this post by G.Freres