Sunday, December 2, 2012

Time to Crawl Out of the Cave (Is that Bigfoot?)

I laughed uncomfortably when I opened the blog to find out that our last post was just before we rang in the New Year known as 2012.  What the....? Obviously things have been a bit crazy at the Whizbang headquarters in 2012. But pinball in general seems to be on the uptick with many people entering the design/manufacturing end of the pool this year and more newbies showing up at many of the collector shows. And there are even more places to find and play pinball in the wild so maybe the renaissance truly is in full bloom.

When we first set out to build a few custom games and made the announcement at Pinball Expo 2009, we NEVER thought that it would be close to three years to get all four games completed. With that said, we have also been doing this part-time so the passage of time expanded while we were busy taking care of all of our other business. But enough of that - we are very close to wrapping this project and we'll see what happens next.

We think we have a pretty good idea of what we may do next but can't quite disclose that information just yet. Please be patient (if you've read this blog then you must be) and we will have some type of announcement "all in good time."

So much has happened since the last blog update that we're not sure where to begin.We attended several shows this year and traveled great distance to get a new audience in front of the melon project. We again got to meet so many great pinball people and make some new friends in the process. Starting with the Michigan Pinball Expo, then on to Mike Pacak's Ohio Pinball Show, then to the Midwest Gaming Classic near Milwaukee, and finally the big road trip to the Rocky Mountain Pinball Showdown.

Thousands of miles got us seeing new places and meeting great folks - and we continue to get an amazing response with every new show. We only wish we could get the game in front of every collector show that exists.

We were thrilled to win three ribbons in three categories from the voting audience at the Rocky Mountain show. Stern's ACDC only got one ribbon. So we got that going for us! (Hi Steve)

But instead of typing more now and showing a bunch of pics, we wanted to share with you a short video. This video was shot at one of the more infamous build weekends a few weeks before our big "2-games finished" debut at Pinball Expo 2011.

Jean-Paul "JP" deWin shot and edited the video, and we can't thank him enough for surprising us with just a few moments of one day all stitched together. Since we spent most of our time chronicling the project with still photography, it's great to have this video.

JP was in the Chicago area last October (from the Netherlands) to kick-start his work on the Wizard of OZ pinball project for Jersey Jack Pinball. JP is responsible for the LCD motion graphics on the "WOZ" project but before that he worked with us at Williams for a very brief internship just as the end of pinball for WMS was happening in 1999. 2011 was his new chance to finally get some work done in pinball. He took some time from his busy visit to head up to Whizbang HQ to be a part of the build weekend.

It was probably our biggest "crew" to-date helping to bring the Solid State game to the finish line for Expo - see the picture on our last blog post. The regulars were there, Ken Walker and Mark Weyna, along with a few more hands and brains. Greg Golminas tagged along with Ken, and Kerry Imming (our PinKit designer/engineer) came south from Minnesota along with Bryan Kelly, well known in the pinball community for his meticulous pinball restoration work. For two days all of these guys put forth a great effort in getting Kerry's electronics package up and running for the first time on WNBJM. It was quite a turning point for the project and we're glad to have a piece of it recorded.

Enjoy the video and realize when you watch it that the details you see people working on are just a small piece of the big picture - all from just one day! Every screw, every soldered wire, every dremel carve, all the sanding, clipping, hammer hits, every switch all adds up to a lot of time, effort, diligence, patience, skill, knowledge, and perseverance  We are lucky to have the help we received and will always treasure this time in our own little corner of pinball history.

Whizbang October 2011

Stay with us. We'll try to post more post-design moments regularly and much sooner than the end of next year!

Greg & Dennis

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 2009-2011 WhizBang Pinball LLC, Greg Freres, and Dennis Nordman.

Photos on this post courtesy G. Freres and Video by Jean-Paul DeWin

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Sweet Happy New Year!

We wanted to squeeze in a quick blog update before this year ends in a few hours. And even though we may not reach the wide audience through this blog we wanted to give y'all a heads up announcement as we start a new year at Whizbang Pinball.

2011 was the milestone year for our young company as we finally got it all together and finished the first two games of the four Whoa Nellie! Big Juicy Melons that we are building. Pinball Expo in October was the debut of the the near-finished EM and Solid State versions of the game allowing us to take orders and deposits for 3 of the 4 games at the show! We couldn't have been happier with the response to the games and the printed playfields.

Wayne Neyens, the original designer of the Continental Cafe that we used as a host game, got to play the game again this year.

Going forward we will provide a more in-depth behind-the-scenes picture of the lead-up to Expo when time allows and also give thanks to the whole crew that made this project happen. But for now we want to wish everyone a happy and healthy New Year and we are more than excited about the possibilities for pinball in 2012!

2011 at Whizbang Pinball gave us more opportunities to travel to new places and meet new friends of the silverball. We can't wait to complete the build of the final two WNBJM games within the next few months and start thinking about the future of not only Whizbang custom games but also the commercial games we will create for Jersey Jack Pinball.

This shot was taken in early October, in the late hours of a long day at the Whizbang studio after successfully getting the first solid-state game up and running. Thanks again to this crew for taking the time and putting in the hours towards meeting the goal we set for Pinball Expo. Without the expertise, knowledge, and group passion for the art of pinball this project would never have been completed in the 2-year gestation period. Pictured above(l-r)Greg Freres, Dennis Nordman, Kerry Imming, Greg Golminas, Bryan Kelly, Ken Walker, and Mark Weyna (and behind the lens, Jean-Paul DeWin). Like Kerry said, "I didn't know the water was going to be this deep on this project." Neither did we. We'll plan on having an entire blog post thank-you note to everyone that contributed to WNBJM.

Back to the great response to the printed playfield art, we are announcing today that we are putting together a list of interested people that would like to own a "Second Edition" silk-screened WNBJM playfield. The first batch of playfields sold out very quickly and we've had a good number of people asking about a rerun. So if you or anybody you know would like to get on the list, please let us know by emailing us at

We already have a list of people that have been contacting us since October so let us know as soon as possible so we can get this in the works. The price is $600 (plus shipping) and once we have the final list compiled we will email back with how to place the final order and how much the down payment will be to secure your order. We will also announce this on Facebook and RGP as well. We hope to get the order placed by the end of January.

We also have a couple interested parties in the 4th of the four games we've created and will eventually make another announcement to update the status on that game.

All the best for a Whizbang New Year!

Greg & Dennis

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 2009-2011 WhizBang Pinball LLC, Greg Freres, and Dennis Nordman.

Photos on this post courtesy G. Freres and JP DeWin

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Step by Step, Inch by Inch

This will be a very quick update since we are now within the one month window of Pinball Expo 2011.

The playfields have been routed and progress has been made in the silk-screen department at CPR! We should be seeing printed playfields before the end of the month and then lots more to do getting said playfields into the cabinets, plugged-in, dialed-in, flashing, dingin' and dongin', and shined up real purty-like ready for the big Whizbang event.

Coincidentally, I just got this link from a show called "My Generation" that was filmed at last year's Pinball Expo and includes a nice segment on Whoa Nellie! Big Juicy Melons.

Hope to see you at this year's Pinball Expo in Wheeling Illinois!


(Photo courtesy of Classic Playfield Reproductions)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Another Summer Growing Season

Looks like we need some dustin' on the old blogger desk. It's been a while.

Four months have gone by without a proper update and we apologize for this gap in communication BUT we can safely say that we haven't been wasting that time and we are still progressing with all of our plans - Whizbang Pinball is cranking on all cylinders and will have some beauties to show at the upcoming Pinball Expo in Chicago later in October. Please keep all fingers and toes crossed and then, just for good measure, knock on wood with said phalanges.

We did get to spend some time in Seattle at the Northwest Pinball and Gameroom Show in June which was a great start to our summer. We are always treated well when we travel to Seattle and really appreciate the enthusiasm that crew and those fans have for the game.

Dennis stayed home for this show so the Whizbang booth was a family affair. Andi helped with the booth while I was yabbing away with old and new Northwest friends and after the show we were able to spend a couple extra days seeing the sights.
We got to visit the famous Shortys - a very cool place for Pinball, hot dogs, and beer...and just a few scary clowns. All people interested in Pinball have to make the trip to Shorty's while in Seattle! We want to thank Ewoud (pronounced Ay-vout...I think...or maybe A-Bomb?), the Dutch proprietor of Shorty's for inviting us out and sharing his passion for pinball with us. Not to mention his shuttle bussing us around town as well. For some reason I never got a picture of Ewoud for the blog. I'll have to work on that next time. Speaking of Scary Clowns, we did see a few familiar faces at Shorty's - JPOP, Rick from Planetary Pinball, Jim Shelberg, Steve Ritchie, and John Youssi.

What's a trip to Seattle without a visit to Pike's Market where the fresh fish fly (try saying that 5 times...sober) every day. But when I heard about the Gum Wall from Michael and Mellisa from the Pacific Pinball Museum, I had to see this living work of public art for myself. And add a swatch of color to the canvas.

We re-visited the Mecca Cafe while in town as this is where Whizbang Pinball all began with a few ideas back in 2009.

The NWPGS crew also asked me to create their poster art for this year's show. It was a real kick to see my work hanging on telephone poles all over Seattle!

Andi also sat down with one of the Na'vi while they were in town for an exhibit at the EMP Museum.

And on the rainiest Seattle day (actually the ONLY rainy day during our visit), we visited the Seattle Pinball Museum that opened last year and seems to be a great place for pinball. Charlie and Cindy Martin had this idea and brought it to reality - a bit of pinball history, old-school storefront arcade, all the while helping the community with charitable events. Keeping the silverball rolling! Thanks to both Charlie and Cindy for their time, hospitality and support of the Big Juicy Melons!

And to cap off the show we got invited out to Todd MacCulloch's house for an after-party and got a chance to see his amazing collection of vintage coin-op games. Thanks to Todd for the invite - we had a great time. Any time Andi gets a chance to win against Steve in a competitive venue is a good day. Here the two Aquarians battle it out on Cool Gunman with Gary Flower spectating or giving Andi some suggestions to catch up.

Transitioning from the last post, where we talked about the design of the playfield art, this summer was the time to get the design into production mode and turn the pretty picture into something that a silk-screen printer can use to create the screens that will transfer the ink to the wood. There are other methods of decorating playfields these days compared to when we first started working in the pinball biz, but we felt to create the quality custom product that we've put all this energy into over the past two years, then it was important to provide the customer with an amazing finished product, thus the choice to go with silk-screen other than newer digital methods.

I'll spare you the overly technical aspects of the process but we now have the art in CPR's (Classic Playfield Reproductions)hands and will hopefully have the first printed playfields within the next few weeks. I've been in this business for quite a while, and the anticipation of seeing the first printed "Whoa Nellie! Big Juicy Melons" playfield is as exciting as seeing my first ever playfield (Harlem Globetrotters)come in from the printer. It's amazing. My level of interest hasn't changed since 1979 - I guess that's a good thing.

CPR also have the plastics art and will follow-up the playfield printing with the plastics (for the non-pinball readers, the plastics are small islands of printed plastic, cut to various shapes to fill in areas above the playfield where the ball doesn't travel...easier to see rather than explain.) Since the playfield art has to align to the playfield engineering drawing, we sent Dennis' drawing to CPR to make sure his drawing was routing the layout exactly where we want all of the elements of the game mounted (Flippers, Bumpers, Gobble Hole, colored inserts, etc.)

We received the routed playfield for proofing purposes last month from CPR and aligned the drawing to the wood. CPR triple checks alignment and positioning to make sure we are all on the same page and checks-off each position on the mylar overlay as they go.

Once we approved this piece of routed wood, we then gave CPR the greenlight to proceed with routing the run of playfields and prep the artwork for films. Once the films are made, screens can be burned and the magic begins to happen. If CPR wasn't located in Halifax we'd really like to document some of the behind the scenes progress to share here to help complete the full-circle. Maybe we'll get some help with that.

In the meantime Dennis is building the next cabinet, just like the first cabinet (well, we do plan on some unique touches for each cabinet so all 4 aren't exactly alike), and by the end of this month we'll begin to have all the pieces of the puzzle to assemble WNBJM 2 and present the first 2 of 4 finished games at Expo in October.

The first game, the one we've shown at all the previous shows, is considered our "Artist's Proof" and will remain EM for now (or forever depending on the buyer's preference.) WNBJM 2,3, and 4 will be the EM to Solid State Hybrid conversion that we've mentioned before. A lot of behind the scenes effort has been happening in that realm and we will also have all the pieces to that puzzle in the next few weeks.

By the time we get to Expo we will have invested 2 years to date from the time we showed a tiny rough sketch and a half a cabinet, without legs. It's been a great journey, and it's not over yet. We have met a lot of new friends along the way and learned a lot about pinball in the process. Since that time, pinball is in a new place in it's evolutionary history and we are more than excited to be part of any and all aspects of what we can some day refer to as the "Renaissance of Pinball". Lofty words eh?

Let's bring it back down then...We'll try to squeeze in one more juicy update before Expo.

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 and A. Freres

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Playfield Sketch Phase

It all worked out...Dennis did clarify later that my email had so much content about the direction of the playfield art he just needed some time to absorb the ideas, and start kicking in some ideas of his own.

Both Dennis and Mark were as excited about the direction as I was and I think the selling point was possibly this initial direction I started with:

"Ok, so Melony isn't alone in this story...Melony comes from a family of melon growers...generations with the innate ability to grow the biggest juiciest melons...and she lives on a large farm...and her family's last name is (coincidentally/appropriately/conveniently)...Mellon! But wait, it gets better. Melony has twin sisters."

The last four words sold the pitch - we bantered these ideas around (and expanded them) via email whilst I started getting the back of my hand dirty with graphite. Once I tore myself away from the initial idea of keeping the playfield simple, geometric, and less illustrative (in keeping with vintage playfields from the 30's through the 60's) I was able to open up the design direction to more possibilities. And since the playfield isn't loaded with a rule-set like the games I was used to working on once the Solid State era kicked-in, I knew I could still meet the less-is-more approach but still be able to engage the viewer/player with interesting details and characters.

So just like the usual steps in the art process it all starts with an aggressive list of crazy ideas, pencil roughs to see what might work best, and then a constant editing and tweaking process while filling in the appropraite spaces with appropriate (or inappropriate) art.

Since this direction was now about creating a scene (so to speak) I was able to look at the empty engineering drawing in terms of a foreground, middle-ground and background.

The top of the playfield where the ball enters the lanes became the sky and the bottom of the playfield became the ground level.

And by keeping the simple scoring features "emblematic" in nature, I was able to focus on the 3 sisters as the anchor point in the wide-open center of the playfield.

So welcome to the Mellon Family Melon Farm (color sketch), growers of "Whoa Nellie! Big Juicy Melons", a farmstand with an abundancy of fresh produce and strange characters. Most of the crazy road-side "signs" from the previous (Dream Sequence) blog posts relate in some way to elements of the playfield art.

Please note: The story and characters depicted on this game are fictional. Any similarity to actual people, fruit, animals or plants may or may not be intentional. No animals were harmed in the creation of this art. There was a snowblower incident but that was way before we started on this project.

This is just the starting point. In the weeks ahead I will create the finished version of the art for the printer. Currently we are planning on 11 spot color silk-screen printing. More about that later. Our goal as pinball industry guys is to create the best looking art and design package we can with authentic silk-screened parts.

Still havin' fun! We'll fill in more blanks next time.
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.

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.)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

(Dream Sequins) - Part III

The truck begins to pick-up more speed as we barrel down the gravel path, now feeling every bump and pothole in the road. A barking Collie runs from the field and chases the truck, eventually running ahead.

And then, one last sign…

You made it! Welcome to the home of…

Whoa Nellie! Big Juicy Melons – The Sweetest Treat That Can’t Be Beat!

As the truck continues with a mind of its own, my mind races to take in the crazy scene…

An old beard, sitting on a crate cradling his shotgun like a prized trophy…
A cow with a Honeydew Melon stuck on her horns…
A guy on a parachute floating down from the crop duster…

Suddenly, an old fighter plane nose dives into a pond about 200 yards away. The horse that had been racing the truck steps on a watermelon and rears; I can hear the rider yell “Whoa Nellie!” I hear a cowbell clang and the Collie bark. The horn on the truck is honking on its own as well as a flock of geese overhead.

The truck hits a bump that sends us into glasses leave my face, my passenger’s pipe floats weightlessly from his mouth, no longer lodged between his tooth gap, and the farm-hand and the crates he loaded get launched from the flatbed.

And now, straining to see without my glasses, I open my eyes as wide as possible to see what’s ahead. I see what looks to be the biggest mountain of melons I had ever seen (not that I had actually ever seen a mountain of melons for comparison.)

And standing in the middle of the road, three of the prettiest women I had ever seen.

And all three women holding…


My passenger’s voice startles me out of the slow-motion sequence and I react by hitting the brakes!

(End Dream Sequence)

Next time we'll show the visual results from this crazy dream. Until then we'll reveal the playfield sketch at the Midwest Gaming Classic this weekend in Brookfield, Wisconsin. Hope to see you there.

And yesterday, Dennis and I tore off the temporary plotter-printed decals that have been on the game since last October and installed the new cabinet decals that were printed at Planetary Pinball - even though this cell phone photo show doesn't reveal the true colors of these printed decals we can easily say that the colors are Big and Juicy! Kudos to Rick and his team at

More exciting announcements 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 LLC, Greg Freres, and Dennis Nordman.

Photos on this post courtesy G. Freres