Sunday, February 20, 2011

Out of Hibernation 2011

The term hibernation in the title of this post is more about this blog and its lack of recent updates than about any progress we've made on the "Whoa Nellie! Big Juicy Melons" project. On the contrary, we've been moving steadily forward with a blizzard of progress (too much winter keeps things focused indoors... to come up with bad metaphors) and we plan to bring said progress to the Midwest Gaming Classic in Milwaukee in March. More about that later.

Since our last blog update so much has happened that we were having some trouble trying to figure out how best to pull it all together in this format and still have time to continue working on not only the project but also our other responsibilities in life. So hang on because this post could get lengthy, or maybe it will just get split into sections...let's see what happens.

Jersey Jack Pinball

One of the bigger announcements in recent pinball history was the formation of a new pinball manufacturer called Jersey Jack Pinball. This news has been covered on Pinball News and other sites like The Pingame Journal so we won't go into lengthy details here but the first project will involve two parties of Team Whizbang (Dennis and Greg)who will be working on the first project, Wizard of Oz, along with former co-workers and partners in design, programmer Keith Johnson, sound designer Chris Granner, and game designer Joe Balcer.

Juggling these new responsibilities will get interesting as time marches on but we intend to keep our Whizbang progress cooking in the background, as we have all along, and will continue to make appearances at various shows around the country, along with the game (whenever logistically possible), as we get closer to having the first of the 4 WNBJM games completed. So hang in there with us - we are more than excited to be part of a new chapter in pinball history!

Whoa Nellie Rewind
The last real blog update only hinted at the preparation of the game for its second debut at Pinball Expo last fall. Our goal was to make sure the playfield was not only playable but also all of the scoring working properly with the newly configured single player set-up (compared to the original Continental Cafe's 2-Player set-up). Again, we thank both Mark Weyna and Ken Walker for their expertise and help in getting this accomplished.

On September 19, 2010, (about one month before Pinball Expo) the game lit up for the first time as WNBJM. This picture shows the insert panel with the original 2-Player layout from the host game. This was a first step in getting the game playable. Rewiring to the single player mode would happen a bit later with the help and guidance of the folks from Team EM.

While the electro-mechanical business was happening through Mark and Ken, we decided to take a closer look at how to dress up the front of the cabinet. Ken recommended that we continue the slat look that we used on the base cabinet onto the front of the playfield cabinet. Dennis grabbed a couple pieces of slat wood and stuck it on the front to see if it would work out ok with the door panel.

We quickly learned that this was the best solution - along with the decal art to mimic a crate full of cantaloupes, this would be an excellent way to finish not only the front but also the back of the main cabinet.

Here's a look at the game with the first mock-up decals. At some point before Expo we invited Roger Sharpe out to the studio to give the playable/scorable version of the game his first flip since March in Milwaukee. He was more than happy with the results.

Here's another view of the game with the original insert panel,both scoring reels still intact, and some extreme close-ups from the balls-eye view.

Greg and the Pacific Pinball Exposition

At the beginning of October I flew out to San Francisco with my wife Andi to attend the Pacific Pinball Expo and speak about pinball art and the WNBJM project. This was the first time we've been to this event and what a show they put on! Michael Schiess and Larry Zartarian (and the rest of the PPE crew) do a wonderful job in the presentation of the games - it's really a celebration of the art and technology that has driven pinball throughout the years.

Steve Ritchie was kind enough to share some of his booth space so we could sell some T-Shirts and take orders for the soon-to-be-printed backglass art. We met a lot a freindly pinball folks and had a great time. We even got to see our former colleague and fellow pinball artist, Doug Watson. Doug has done some amazing art packages including Attack from Mars, T2, Indiana Jones, among countless other games.

The back wall of the show is an amazing display of huge mural-size canvas paintings of backglass art from years gone by created by two local artists, Dan Fontes and Ed Cassel. Their attention to detail is fantastic and we learned that Dan works from a houseboat studio in Sausalito and has to work in small horizontal sections at a time to complete the painting. Incredible!

I found it interesting on the Sky Raider mural to see the bubble-headed future-girls flying around in jet packs similar to the bubble-heads I had flying around in a game called Party Zone that Dennis and I worked on in 1991. The biggest difference - our bubble-heads weren't was just a party.

We also got to see Michael Schiess' Visible Pinball project that he did a few years ago. This is an incredible piece that shows the inner workings of a game while it's getting played. It is an actual game - Surf Champs - that he customized with all clear parts to show off the technology of the day. He even had the art screened transparently to be able to see through to the underside of the playfield and backglass. Very cool!

I also got to meet Wade Krause, a silk-screen artist from Fresno, who's worked on several custom pinball projects over the past several years. If he wasn't so far from Chicago we would have liked to work with him to get the WNBJM playfield screened with an artisan's touch. I've talked with Wade on the phone several times and he's been a wealth of information. Someday we will work with Wade on a future project. I'm sure of it.

The Final Countdown to Expo aka "Game Hell"
Back home in Chicago, Mark made a few more trips out to Dennis' to continue to get the game ready for a full weekend of play at Expo. Dennis also mentioned that Gary Flower was going to be in town and wanted to come out to see the progress we've made on the game.

Gary is a British pinball author, historian, and all-around great player who's never missed a trip to Chicago for the 26 years that Pinball Expo has been in existence.

After a nice BBQ dinner, Dennis served up some of his neighbor's famous home-made lemoncello. After a glass Gary mentioned that he best take it easy as he was getting a bit "squiffy". I really enjoy learning more of the English language from folks that speak "real" English.

Don Caldwell and Tom Lucht, fellow pinball enthusiasts, drove down from Milwaukee later in the evening since Gary would be staying with Don for a few days before Expo. They got a chance to test drive the game before heading back to Wisconsin.

Later in the week the final press proof for the backglass art was scheduled for Friday,October 15th. A second pass was required to get the colors dialed-in on Saturday morning. Everything went well and I was able to pick up the printed backglasses on Tuesday the 19th - just one day before Expo. Whew!

On Sunday the 17th, I went out to the shop to put the most recent mock-up decals on the cabinet. This was the same day we invited Roger out to play the game before Expo.(Note: We are currently having the final decals printed through Planetary Pinball, another great pinball resource that made its official start-up announcement at Expo.)

After picking up the printed backglasses on Tuesday, I took one out to the Whizbang shop on the Eve of Expo while Mark and Dennis were busy making the last minute adjustments to the game. This was already a full day for both of them and then I showed up to tack on a few more hours.

It was now time to experiment with the LED lighting for the backglass and see what might work best. We learned that we needed to adjust the distance of the insert panel further from the backglass for the best lighting but at this point we had to go with what we had and make that adjustment later.

After playing with lighting for a couple hours, we finally had a chance to sit back and just play the game for a while.

Dennis went into the house and poured some of that home-made lemoncello and the three of us toasted to all of the work we had done so far.

It was a great moment near the end of this leg of "Game Hell". We were finally ready for Pinball Expo 2010, exactly one year after we debuted a partial cabinet concept with a rough concept sketch for a backglass, we finally had a playable game.

Next post we'll bring you up to date with some much delayed photos from Expo and let you know what to expect in the near future. Meanwhile, the playfield art continues to shape up and more cabinets get the first phase makeovers from pinball to fruit crates.

And very soon we may begin a series of sneak peeks into the thematic storyline behind the "Whoa Nellie! Big Juicy Melons" playfield art...the backglass is only half the story. The big thaw approaches and it will soon be planting season on the "farm".

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 LLC, Greg Freres, and Dennis Nordman.

Photos on this post courtesy G. Freres, D. Nordman, M. Weyna, J. Guarnieri

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