NEW UK PINBALL
Date: 7th July, 2012
Home pinball buyers have never had a wider choice of games to buy, from a mix of new and established companies. Whether you want an X-Men, a Wizard of Oz, a Predator, a Magic Girl or a Captain Nemo, if you have a sizeable chunk of cash to put down on a pre-order, the game can be yours in due course.
While companies catering to home buyers are all well and good, they do little to make pinball affordable for operators and put more machines out on location for the public to enjoy.
Now one man has decided to tackle this problem head on, by forming his own pinball company and establishing a team to manufacture pinball machines in the UK.
Andrew Heighway is well known to pinball players and collectors in the UK and Ireland as the organiser of the UK Pinball Party, owner of Heighway Pinball - which buys and sells machines in both countries and across Europe - a pinball collector, repairer and enthusiast, and is a pretty good player to boot.
Andrew Heighway's Heighway Pinball is already well into development of their first game but have kept their plans secret up until this point. But they have now chosen to share details of it exclusively with Pinball News.
Andrew's history in pinball began in the UK in the early '90s as a player, but before long he bought his first game - a Williams Rollergames, which he acquired in 1993 and still owns - and soon learned how to perform his own repairs.
As is usually the case, it didn't take long before that single machine was joined by others, but it was a move to Ireland ten years ago which got Andrew more into the commercial side of pinball. He began operating machines in County Limerick, Cork and Dublin, and selling pinballs to other operators, discovering the problems operators faced and which aspects of the game appealed most to players.
In recent years, however, Andrew saw an increasing share of machine sales going to the home market, as operators abandoned pinball in favour of cheaper, more reliable, higher earning alternatives. Even those who stuck with operating pinball retreated to familiar twenty-year-old games which incurred a lower initial outlay, but earned similar amounts to brand new machines, albeit with higher maintenance costs due to their age.
Yet this decline in pinball on location has taken place against a backdrop of hugely-increased enthusiasm for the game from collectors and players. Demand for machines has pushed prices higher and brought more makers into the market - both large-scale and boutique.
With his move back to the UK planned for the start of this year, last summer Andrew re-ignited an idea he had investigated around seven years ago. Back then, he did a feasibility study to re-design the pinball machine, bringing in mechanical, electronic and software engineers to see whether it was practical to create a new product. The timing didn't feel right then for both personal and economic reasons, but now Andrew feels the time has come to bring pinball back into the mainstream, by making it affordable, reliable, easy-to-service and fun again.
He plans to do this starting with his company's first game, Circe's Animal House.
For those not familiar with the mythology, Circe was a Greek goddess of magic, who used her powers and knowledge of drugs and herbs to concoct mystical potions which transformed those who drank them into various animals.
Circe herself is described in Homer's Odyssey as "The loveliest of all immortals", and is the central character in the game. The smart, sassy, seductive Circe mixes her potions to transform unsuspecting patrons of her 'Odyssey Bar' hostelry into their animal forms.
Andrew has put together a design team with members both in the UK and overseas, and although the other members are yet to be revealed, they all have both experience and huge enthusiasm for the game. Together they have created this playfield design.
Like any good bar, there's a pinball machine, a jukebox and a pool table, but the game also features molded porcine pop bumper toppers, an animated cocktail shaker and an embedded 10.4" LCD monitor. Playfield artwork has not yet been finalised, so the pictures in this article show a bare playfield and placeholder plastics.
Scattered around the playfield are three three-bank drop targets which are used spell out the names of the animal, and as the names are completed, a spell is cast and a mortal becomes transformed into that animal. Casting the spells activates scoring features and modes and your progress is displayed on the LCD screen.
Andy and the team have been working on the game since last summer and are now about a week away from having a playable whitewood. The majority of the parts have been designed and prototypes made, including the playfields, ramps, ball guides and wireforms.
You may have spotted how not all the ramps are above the playfield. That's right, the game features three subway entrances which feed to the jukebox ball popper.
This in turn sends the ball into the miniature pinball machine which drops in back on the playfield. The clear tube shown in the first two pictures has been re-designed and is now a more conventional wireform to make cleaning easier and to increase separation of the jukebox and pinball.
Probably the most unusual animated feature on the game is the Greek urn-shaped cocktail shaker at the back of the playfield. This will rotate internally, creating a number of fascinating lighting effects as different internal layers interact with each other, while the entrie unit will jump up and down as the cocktails are shaken.
Here are some preliminary drawings of the shaker's intended design.
There are more physical models to be found on the playfield in the form of three little pigs, squatting on the pop bumpers and a miniature pool table.
The pigs are shown here as flat plastics, but the intention is to have molded figures with each pig wearing a different colour of Hawaiian shirts and shorts, while carefully nursing their drink to make sure the pop bumper doesn't cause it to spill.
All these devices are useless without a control system to drive them, and Circe's Animal House will have its own, custom-designed driver board and controller taking care of the lamps, switches, solenoids, sounds and graphics.
The official announcement of the launch of the company and the Circe's Animal House game took place on Saturday 7th July at 8pm (BST) at the Pinball at the Pipeline event in central London. The timing was coordinated so that this article also went live at the same time as Andrew announced the game and took part in a Q&A session.
At the event, the first teaser flyer for the game was distributed and we have it for you here.
The game will be manufactured at Andrew's new facility in South Wales, with the first machines anticipated to roll off the line at the around the end of January or the start of February 2013.
Before that though, a working prototype of the game will be appearing at the UK Pinball Party on the 17th - 19th of next month where visitors will be able to flip the game and see the progress for themselves. That will also be the point at which pre-orders will start to be taken.
Although the game has been designed and will be manufactured in the UK, Andrew told Pinball News there will be no special British flavour, and it should appeal to the international market just as much as it does to the home market.
With that in mind, Andrew is looking for pro-active like-minded distributors who want to help push pinball back into those public locations where it used to be available, and have an matching enthusiasm for the game itself. And to help operators get pinball back in those street locations, Heighway Pinball will soon reveal a pricing model which will make it affordable to operators and allow them to make a good return on their investment.
We'll have much more exclusive news about development of Circe's Animal House from Heighway Pinball right here at Pinball News.
© Pinball News 2012