Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wake Up Call - The Playfield Begins

Sometime after Pinball Expo last October it was time to get real about designing the playfield art for "Whoa Nellie! Big Juicy Melons" - the design department was finished with their part and it was all in my lap - nothing stood between us and a finished playfield except time and some good ideas. Thankfully the Dream Sequins paid off and I was able to get things started on paper. Literally.

My computer crashed hard sometime before Thanksgiving and I was dead in the water for about a two week period while the hard drive was getting repaired, replaced, reconfigured and rebooted. Without a back-up computer I had to put some jobs aside for a few days which afforded me time to reconnect with my pencil (I'm not speaking in code here, I really did get the pencils out, and the electric sharpener, and the paper. In fact, my #2 pencils were so old, the erasers were all dried up...and I'm still not speaking in code.)

Dennis and I had talked a few times leading up to this point about playfield art. He basically drove it through my thick skull by reiterating over and over that he wanted to make sure the playfield art was clean and clearly showed off the shots to the player, including the score features, in a clear and concise way. With the retro theme and the retro feel of the geometry and simplistic rule set that we inherited but tweaked from the original 1957 game underneath, Dennis made it more than clear on several occasions (ad nauseum) that the best playfield art consisted of a series of "emblems" that showed off the game play and rule set with bold lettering and beautiful geometry to enhance the layout. He may have even spoke words to this effect..."You have a whole backglass to tell the story, so just make the playfield pretty to look at and very easy to see the important shots." And I think my answer may have been (paraphrasing)..."You do know I've done some playfields before this project, right?"

This was an interesting juncture in the design process because I was certain that my direction would be a much simpler approach than some of the games I've done in the past. Dennis is taller than me so I do listen to him now and again. I studied (crammed - I'm an artist not a historian) a lot of the playfield art from the 30's through the '60's (thanks to Shaloub's "Pinball Compendium" books)and made up my own mind that a "less is more" approach would be the best solution for our game.

But when I woke up that morning, turned the shower on, and started thinking about the playfield, the ideas started to flow faster than the water from the shower head.

I'm never sure how this happens, why it happens, never sure when it will happen, or worse, if it ever will happen, but when it does, it's an amazing experience. The real "AHA!" moment was when I realized there was more story to tell...the backglass art was only part of a larger story.

I couldn't get down to my studio fast enough to start writing some ideas down on a sheet of fact, I found something to write on even before leaving the bedroom. (I wonder if that's why Visa never got that payment?)

As I wrote, I fought against the original "plan" that was in my head from the beginning...and I began to realize...this is not less, this is more than less, this might even be more than more. But I kept writing. I could always edit later.

Once I had the basic ideas down on paper I started to transfer them to an email to Dennis. As I typed I kept adding ideas and visual gags to the story. I finally got the basic direction of my playfield "storyline" to a point where it was ready to share.

I included both Dennis and Mark on the email - after all, as I learned from my days in music, a trio can provide richer harmonies than a duo. I was looking for more input and honest opinions to validate the direction and make sure that it was a good approach for the game and the project. I checked email a little while later and got one sentence from Dennis (which is normal but this time the lack of capital letters and exclamation points made me nervous)..."I'll have to think about this."

What!? What does this mean? What's there to think about? My high-flying idea machine suddenly crashed...just like my hard drive.

Next time...
See the results of the list of ideas for the playfield art and how they relate to the (Dream Sequence) 3-part series.

G & D

(No photos or art were used in this post to save time.)

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