By Russ Jensen
Last time, during my outline of the events that occurred during the fabulous Pinball Expo '85 show in Chicago last November, I promised to provide details of the questions and answers presented during the "Designers' Seminar" which was part of that event. I shall now present the questions asked by the audience, along with the answers given by the three guest designers, Wayne Neyens, Norm Clark, and Steve Kordek. You will note that in a few cases the answers given did not always exactly answer the questions posed, but since what the designers had to say was always interesting and informative I chose to include all of the dialog that occurred.
Before we get to the questions I shall again explain the format of the seminar in case you may not remember from my previous article. The three designers: Wayne Neyens (major designer for Gottlieb during the fifties and sixties), Norm Clark (Bally and Williams designer), and Steve Kordek (designer for Genco and later Williams) were seated at a table on the stage. Members of the audience were asked to ask questions of the designers, which they would then answer. In some cases the question would be directed to a particular designer, and in other cases to anybody who cared to respond, or to all of the designers.
In my presentation of the questions and answers I have indicated, where I had it noted, to which designer the questions were asked (for example: Q (Wayne):). If the answer was provided by that same person no further indication was given. If an answer was given by a different person, or in the case of questions not directed to a specific designer, the person providing the answer would be indicated (example: A (Steve):). There are a few cases, however, where I failed to include this type of information in my notes. Now, without further ado, here are the questions and answers presented during this extremely interesting event of Pinball Expo '85
Q (Wayne): Were you a part of Gottlieb, or was Gottlieb's success due to you? A: Probably a little of both. Q (Norm): Tell about the time that you almost killed Steve. A: I let go with an air horn and steve collapsed. Q (Steve): Describe the impact of flippers on the industry. A: Of all inventions, flippers had the greatest effect. Early games were mostly 'chance'. Flippers changed that. there were many kits built to convert old games to "flipper skill" games. Q (Steve): Why did Williams use 'impulse' (one quick flip per push of buttons) flippers on their early flipper games? A: Flippers staying energized used too much current. Q (all): What was the first and last game each of you designed? A: FIRST GAME LAST GAME ---------- --------- Wayne COLLEGE DAZE (1949) SHIPMATES (1963)? - not sure Norm KING PINS (1962) DEALER'S CHOICE (1974) Steve TRIPLE ACTION (1948) CONTACT (1978) - still involved with design.
Steve, as a sidelight, talked a little about Harry Williams in the mid fifties. He said Harry was not at the Williams very frequently around 1954. Harry Mabs did much of the designing. He said Harry would occasionally make changes to a design and write on it "redesigned by Harry Williams."
Q (anyone): In the early 50's Williams made some games with symmetrical playfields and others with asymmetrical ones. Why? A (Steve): I was not at Williams then, still at Genco. Harry Williams didn't do much design. A (Norm): Harry Mabs did most of the design, but Harry Williams did some. Mabs was at Williams between approximately 1950 and 1960. Mabs said he should have never left Gottlieb. Q (anyone): In 1963, when Bally started making flipper games again, their designs were radically different from those of Williams and Gottlieb. Why? A (Steve): Ted Zale was designing for Bally and had these new ideas. Q (all): What is each of your favorite games, and why? A (Wayne): QUEEN OF HEARTS - Unique, with good artwork and good features. Drop-through holes were new and provided "last ball suspense". A (Norm): EIGHT BALL (Williams) - had a good theme (pool) and was a good 'competitive' 2 player game. A (Steve): SPACE MISSION - NASA photos were used; also artwork was finished before the actual space mission was completed. Q (Norm): Tell the story of SPEAKEASY and how the number of players was changed. A: For three or four years the intention was to bring out an Add- A-Ball. The game was made a single player, but Germany wanted a multiple player. It was changed to 2 player. The game was shown at the European show and they wanted a four player. Q (Wayne): Who had the idea for backboard animation as was used in COWPOKE? A: Dave Gottlieb and his chief engineer. Q (for each of them): Why did each of you get involved in the coin machine business? A (Wayne): It was by accident. It was early in 1936, the depression was on and any job was welcome. I was still in High School. There was a notice at school for part-time draftsmen. It turned out to be Western Equipment. I got the job the next day after being interviewed. I was first on the drawing board. The boss was Lyn Durant and the pay 30 cents/hour. A (Norm): Also by accident. I was from Canada and into electronics. I came to the U.S. and got a job at Hallicrafters the communications equipment manufacturer. In 1954 Harry Williams became interested in the possibility of using electronics in pinball. Harry hired me. I liked pinball and decided to stay with him as a circuit designer. A (Steve): I had a good job in Idaho as a Forest Ranger Dispatcher. I had family in Chicago. I was walking down Ashland Ave. and had to get out of the rain. The door I stepped into was Genco and I was offered a job. This was in 1937. Q (to all): What are your ages? A: Wayne 57, Norm 63, and Steve 74 Q (to all): What is your advice to young people who want to get into pinball design? A (Steve): A 9 year old boy once offered a design to me. He even had a lawyers name at the bottom of the paper. My advice is to get a good education and an engineering degree first. Then approach the head design engineer at a company. Q (Steve): How often are you approached with a working prototype from a young aspiring designer? A: Very seldom. A (Norm): I have had many designs submitted to me over the years. I even got one from a patient in a mental hospital. My advice is to build a working model if you are serious. A (Wayne): My advice for young aspiring designers is to come into the industry at a 'lower level' first, then advance to design. Q (anyone): Why were Bally's MOONSHOT and Gottlieb's TROPIC ISLE so similar in playfield design? Was one a copy of the other? A (Wayne): TROPIC-ISLE was not copied from MOONSHOT. Q: What about using theme ideas from outsiders? A: Theme ideas alone are not enough, much more is needed. SIDE COMMENT (Harvey Heiss): All designers are a "bunch of thiefs (laughing). I went to conventions where many machines were "stolen." Reply (Steve): That was true in the early days. It is more difficult now to "steal" games because games have become much more complex. Q (each): What do you consider to be the most collectable pinball machines? A (Steve): HUMPTY DUMPTY and Williams' FLASH A. (Norm): EIGHT BALL DELUXE A (Wayne): First "flipper", first "2 player", etc; ie. firsts of a type. Q (all): What do each of you think of the current games? What about the direction of games in the future? A (Norm): "Kit" form copies of old games are no good. New designs are much better. A (Steve): The programmers really do wonderful things which were not possible before, such a allowing one player to "carry over" earned advantages from one ball to the next. Q (anyone): Were there any multi-level" playfields in the 1950's? A (Steve): Norm and I worked on a plexiglass "insert" which gave a playfield two levels; we even built models. Harry Williams once said he built a five level playfield. COMMENT (Wayne): I really like the action of today's games with their multi-level playfields and sound. Q (all): Have you ever put your initials on any games you designed? A (Steve): I never did. A (Wayne): No. A (Norm): No, but I know of an artist who put his initials on the backglass. It was on ZODIAC. Q (anyone): Do you know of any instances where competing companies banded together to help each other? A: Yes, in associations for common protections. Q (anyone): Are game designs legally protected? Are there ever lawsuits? A (Steve): There used to be lawsuits, but not anymore. A (Norm): Copyrights are sometimes used. Patents take to long to obtain. GRAND PRIX was copied in Spain and called FACES. A lot of that went on in europe. Q (anyone): Do you ever "design around" patented features? A: Usually "deals" are made so one company can use a patented feature of another. Q (anyone): Do you think pinball art could be used in museums to establish a form of "folk art"? A: It was done in Chicago a few years ago. Q (anyone): In the late 50's or early 60's a "disappearing pop bumper" was used on a few games. Who's idea was it and why was it not used on more games? A (Steve): It was too expensive to implement. A (Norm): Harry Williams had the idea and Gordon Horlock (Williams designer) worked it out. It didn't enhance any of the game's features and was too expensive for what it did for the game. Q (Norm): Why was it decided to use D.C. power for the Pop Bumpers on SPANISH EYES and later games? A: D.C. worked well and gave the bumpers more power. Q (anyone): Why did GRANADA, the "Add-A-Ball" version of SPANISH EYES, have a different playfield? A (Norm): The Italians wanted it to be different. Q (all): Did you also design other types of games such as guns, etc? A (Steve): All types. Genco made good gun games. A (Wayne): I designed WESTERN BASEBALL, a great game! Other than that, just pins. A. (Norm): I did circuit designs for other types of games, but no complete designs other than pinballs. Q (Wayne): What dont you like in the features of new games? A: They only have straight "high score", no "sequences", "carry- over features", etc. Q (Steve): From the standpoint of "cost vs earnings", have you considered bringing back proven designs of the past? A: Maybe when we run out of ideas we will look back at older games for new inspirations. Q (anyone): Does anyone know what happened to the giant machine called "TIME OF YOUR LIFE", which was made in the late 40's as part of a cancer fund raising project of the coin machine industry? A: No one seemed to have heard of it except for Alvin Gottlieb. He did not know what happened to it. Q (anyone): Did you have an idea for a game that you liked but others didn't? A (Wayne): CHALLENGER. It looked like it was "designed by a committee." A (Norm): SPEAKEASY. I thought it would be a great "Add-A- Ball". Also, SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN. A (Steve): BO BO. Junk it! Q (anyone): Do you have any games at home? A (Wayne): SPIRIT OF 76, serial # 10,000.
That was the end of the fantastic "Designer's Seminar". After it was over there was a brief period where members of the audience could 'mingle' with the designers and ask a few more questions. It was at this time, while talking to Steve Kordek, that I learned a very interesting fact. This was that the famous pinball artist, Roy Parker, designed many of the backglasses for pre-war Genco pinballs, including, I was told, my own METRO from 1941.
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