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The real pinball wizard

Created date

January 26th, 2010

There s something about the bells, beeps, and flashing lights of pinball that brings a room to life. The clicking flippers, a crowd of people around the machine rooting for the player such are the characteristics that have made the game a staple in arcades, barrooms, and bowling alleys for decades. [caption id="attachment_7546" align="alignright" width="259" caption="Pinball machines like Twilight Zone are designed around a theme and meant to pack a lot of punch in a short amount of game time. (Photo by Michael G. Williams)"]From enthusiast to designer By the mid 1980s, he was creating his own games, starting with Banzai Run, the first pinball machine to incorporate a vertical playfield in the scoreboard. Immediately, manufacturer Williams Arcade purchased the design, and it wasn t long before he hit his stride as a much sought-after developer in a highly competitive industry. As Lawlor describes it, creating a pinball machine entails months, sometimes years, of hard work and the well-choreographed collaboration of specialists from a host of different fields including game layout and design, mechanical and electrical engineering, computer programming, and graphic art. [caption id="attachment_7528" align="alignright" width="259" caption="The Addams Family has sold more than any other pinball machine. (Photo by Michael G. Williams)"][/caption] When you create a pinball machine, you start with a clean slate, says Lawlor. Every machine is unique both mechanically and thematically, which is one of the reasons that they re so expensive to manufacture.

Three-minute come on

Each game created through his Illinois-based studio, Pat Lawlor Design, Inc., starts out as an unadorned prototype without artwork or color. As Lawlor and his team work, they re constantly mindful of what they call the three-minute come on. When you re designing a game, you have to remember that the machine s owner is seeing a return on his investment in 50-cent increments, he explains. You don t want the game to last a whole lot longer than three minutes, and the experience needs to be intense. The player should walk away feeling as though he s gotten his money s worth, but also thinking that if he had played a little more, he could get better. At game s end, there is an explosion of light and sound that sends the player into a state of sensory overload. Seconds after dropping a few quarters into Lawlor s bestseller, The Addams Family, the voice of Gomez greets the player with a friendly, Look, Honey, we have guests! With that, the player releases the plunger, sends the ball rocking around the arch, and watches it descend through a maze of bumpers and mechanical gadgets. Just when it appears that it s finished its journey, the player catches the ball with a half extended flipper and sends it shooting upward for another go the score climbing into the millions. After a few more rounds, the game is over. Lawlor would be happy to know that it lasted less than three minutes.