Widely regarded as one of the best, if not the best, pinball simulators around even some seventeen years after it was first released, Timeshock! was the most grounded and realistic of the four Pro Pinball games.
The Web was the first, Big Race USA and Fantastic Journey completed the series, but if any of them was to be made into a real, physical machine, Timeshock! would be the most likely candidate.
A little over two weeks ago, Silver Castle Pinball, a new pinball maker based in The Netherlands, published a promotional video to reveal that they have plans to bring Timeshock! to life.
But who are Silver Castle Pinball, and how do they plan to bring the Timeshock! computer pinball into the real world?
Pinball News can now bring you answers to those questions, and a whole lot more.
Silver Castle Pinball is Jurgen van Dulst, Pieter van Leijen, Ruben Meibergen, Jonathan Meibergen and Marina Veereschild, who have their headquarters in Utrecht in the central part of The Netherlands.
They chose the Silver Castle Pinball name after one of their friends kept referring to their development workshop as 'the silver castle', and the name stuck.
Jurgen van Dulst was the one who initiated the whole project and has been the driving force behind it. A long-time fan of the Pro Pinball series, he told us it has been his dream to play the Pro Pinball series for real one day. As an experienced businessman and programming expert it seemed like a natural project for him to tackle. And that doesn't take into account his personal collection of more than 20 collector-quality pinballs, of which his favourite is Whitewater.
Pieter van Leijen is Silver Castle Pinball's technical manager with a degree in electronics who has been living and breathing pinball ever since he bought his first pinball - a Williams Stardust - twenty-five years ago. He stayed with Williams solid-states when he collaborated on the conversion of a Road Kings to a P-ROC-based dot matrix game, as featured in our Dutch Pinball Open report. Continuing in the same vein, his favourite game is Whirlwind.
Ruben Meibergen is the team's designer and mechanical engineer. His background is in industrial design with deep knowledge of materials, production methods and 3D-modelling. So his job is to make all the parts and models ready for production, with special attention being paid to realising the crystal and time machine mechanisms. Another pinball fan, his favourite game is Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Jonathan Meibergen is the team's graphic artist. With many years of experience of drawing, graphic design and branding, Jonathan is using his expert knowledgeable of colouring and typography to ensure the Pro Pinball artwork shines in real life. Like Ruben, his number one pinball is Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Marina Veereschild is in charge of customer relations at Silver Castle Pinball. Marina has earned her stripes working at the biggest national radio station in The Netherlands, and along with her professionalism and knowledge she never fails to bring a dose of positive energy to the team. If you send them an e-mail, ask a question on Facebook, or send them a tweet, Marina will be the one you will reach.
That is the team, but we had a whole load of questions to ask them about their Timeshock! project, not the least of which was why they chose to build the real version of a computer pinball simulation.
As Jurgen told us, it was a natural fit for them, and for Adrian Barritt who created the Pro Pinball series. He said, "We love Pro Pinball, and we’re not the only ones. There are many who share our passion for the series and want to see these titles built for real."
"The Pro Pinball simulations are well known for their depth and realism. Being a pinhead himself, it’s always been a personal goal of Adrian’s to keep his simulations as close to the real thing as he can. This allowed us to design the game as a real pin, while at the same time maintaining the cherished feel and gameplay of the simulation."
Of the four Pro Pinball games, we wondered why they choose Timeshock! over any of the others. The decision, as Jurgen explained, was guided by Adrian's launch of a Kickstarter project to remake the first of the four games. He told us, "We knew we wanted to build a Pro Pinball game, but since they’re all great titles, which one would we license to be our first? The answer became clear when we started talks with Adrian back at the end of 2012. Adrian and his team were planning to do a remake of the series, known as ‘The ULTRA Editions’, and this would give us the opportunity to use their newest digital assets. Since Timeshock! was to be updated first and is a favourite for many Pro Pinball fans, the decision was easy."
The team is determined to make their Timeshock! game as faithful a recreation of the original computer game it can possibly be. While it would be easy to cut corners to make the game simpler to design or easier to manufacture, they are resolute that their representation will stand up to the closest scrutiny, not just in the hardware, but also in the software, sounds, music and artwork.
They are using all the original 3D models to build their playfield mechanisms, they have the original artwork, sound effects and voice calls. The ruleset will be identical, and if they decide to add any extra features which significantly influence the gameplay, they promise to add an option in the software to disable them.
And to further guarantee authenticity, Adrian and his team will take the lead in programming all software for the machine.
But what about the game's music by The Jam's Jake Burns and Bruce Foxton? Are they able to use that too? Jurgen puts any doubts to rest. "Yes we are. The original agreement made with Jake & Bruce enables us to use all of the music. Frankly, Timeshock! would not be the same without the original soundtrack!"
So the agreements were in place, the team was assembled, and the assets were acquired.
Then it was time to start creating something tangible, something physical. But, as they soon found out, having an attractive-looking 3D model of a game doesn't mean you have anything you can actually build yet.
Ruben explained some of the issues. "Before we could start making our first whitewood, we had to turn all the parts and assemblies into producible 3D models. We received a graphical 3D model of the game from the simulation, but this is something different to a model from which you can manufacture parts. It took us over six months to meticulously recreate all parts so we could build a new producible model."
"Based on that new model we were able to manufacture the specific parts for the game. The first whitewood was almost an exact copy of the playfield as it exists in the simulation."
Pieter added, "The last few months have been spent endlessly testing the flow of all shots and continuously making slight layout changes wherever they were needed to get the ball flow just right."
To achieve this, they made a second copy of the first whitewood without the insert cutouts, allowing them to concentrate purely on the shots.
What changes have been made to improve the flow and gameplay have been designed to create minimal visual impact, as Jurgen explains. "One of the biggest changes we made was slightly altering the width of some of the shots so they would reflect the level of difficulty and flow of those in the simulation. By updating the playfield art to match those changes the pin still visually appears the same."
Pieter continued, "Other things we have changed are mostly mechanism-related. The upper-right diverter for instance (the one that diverts the ball into the mode start), can’t exist in real life as it does in the simulation. There simply isn’t any room for it. Our solution is to mount a diverter mechanism on to the backplate, and use that to twist a wireform up and down to either guide the ball back to the flippers or into the mode start."
From playing the computer version, it seemed likely the crystal mechanism would be the hardest part of the game to manufacture and ensure it worked reliably. It's a complicated device, either kicking the ball back out to the flippers or locking it inside. There are multiple release points too, meaning the ball has to be ingested and then diverted, so it can be locked at any of the crystal's exits.
We asked the team if it was the most troublesome of all the devices in the game, or if others were equally problematic.
Jurgen told us, "There are many challenges to overcome. One challenge in general is that the computer game has nothing designed under the playfield. It’s just bare wood from the underside. "
Ruben continued, "Every part in the machine, from the crystal to a single washer, had to be redesigned. When you're developing a simulation, no matter how lifelike, you don’t have to worry about the ‘producability’ of parts. We do."
As Pieter confirmed, "It's been a puzzle to make all assemblies fit, especially since we wanted to stick as much as possible to using standard pinball parts as we want our customers to be able to buy most replacement parts from their trusted sources."
Returning to the largest single mechanism, Ruben told us about the special challenges it presented. "With the crystal there are many variables we had to consider. The first challenge is to have a rotating scoop at the entrance that would allow the VUK to return the ball to the game or to shoot it into the crystal. This mechanism had many different design iterations just by itself."
"The next challenge was to catch the ball in a really small 90 degree curved wireform. A VUK isn't always accurate when launching a ball, so we had to get this just right and at the same time allowing a margin of error."
"We are currently in the process of solving other aspects of the crystal. For instance, what do we do with a misfire of the VUK and the ball doesn't reach the end of a time zone wireform? And how would airballs impact the workings of the crystal? These are questions we have to answer."
The team now have a working prototype of the crystal which is driven by a stepper motor, allowing accurate control of position, speed and direction. Here's a video of the latest version.
Jurgen described some of the other challenges which might not be immediately apparent, but which they had to overcome to make a great-looking computer game into a great-playing real one.
Right now the second whitewood is being built by their playfield manufacturing partner, and we can bring you the first pictures.
This features all the improvements they have developed since the first whitewood, plus all inserts. According to Jurgen, "Whereas the first whitewood focused mainly on testing ball flow, the second one will be used to add all the remaining mechanisms and electronics, such as the DMD, sound and lighting."
Not all the playfield mechanisms are yet in place in these renderings. The cage where locked balls are stacked, for instance, is still to be added.
So far we have only seen whitewood playfields, which means without any artwork applied. But the team have been experimenting with various printing techniques to give the game the same kind of vibrancy achieved on the computer screen.
One of their earlier tests used CYMK silk screen printing, but the results were disappointing and were quickly rejected.
Instead, the team have decided to use screen printing, using halftone dot patterns to achieve the colour graduations. This method is very common in commercial printing and will provide the desired colour saturation, but will require up to seventeen different screens to be made.
As part of the printing tests, there have also been tests of the protective clearcoat which will be applied once the paint has been laid-down and fully dried.
With all this work going into designing and manufacturing the multiple parts, does the team have the facilities to complete the final stage, which has caused problem for several other startups, and actually build the game?
The answer is 'no', but they have teamed up with people who have.
Jurgen told us, "Production is something which should not be underestimated. It’s a great challenge to develop the prototype, but the challenge to produce the machine in greater numbers in a cost-effective manner while ensuring high quality is at least as big a challenge. We can’t share all the details yet, but production and assembly will be done by a competent partner who has all the facilities, resources and experience needed to undertake such a complex operation."
Having put all this work into creating the game, Silver Castle Pinball are not about to restrict the number of machines the can sell. Their plans are to manufacture Timeshock! in multiple runs depending on the number of orders at the time, and to produce more batches of games as necessary to meet the continuing demand.
As they told us, "It is our goal however for anyone who wants this timeless classic, to get the chance to own one."
It hasn't been decided whether there will be a limited edition model. The team don't want to offer a limited edition unless they can add enough value to the game and enhance it sufficiently to justify the price premium.
Likewise, they haven't made a decision on whether to sell the game themselves directly to buyers, or to use local distributors to handle the sales and support. They will announce that nearer the time production begins.
And the - almost literally given the price of some boutique games - $64,000 question; how much will Timeshock! cost?
Silver Castle Pinball has a unique problem in that regard, because while all the game's features are publicly known, the cost to build them all is not known, even to the team.
They told us, "Contrary to common pinball development, we don’t have the option to set a price and then remove features from the prototype until we meet the price point that we set. In our case everyone rightfully expects all features of the simulation to be in the real version as well. Because of this, we can only set a price when the full bill of materials is known to us."
"Timeshock! is a complex and feature-packed game. We do however aim to keep the price of the game around the level of LE versions of other pinball games on the market today."
And are they developing all these parts, techniques, systems and relationships just to make the one title?
Fortunately they have plans beyond Timeshock!
Jurgen told us, "Yes, we do intend for this game not to be our last. And yes we also intend for our next game to be another Pro Pinball title. It is too soon, however, to say which title it would be."
To find out more information, you can check out their Facebook page and follow them on Twitter. In addition, the Silver Castle Pinball website will be providing even more details when it goes live in the next few weeks.
In closing, the team wanted to thank their licensor, Barnstorm Games. They said "Their team in general and Adrian in particular have been an absolute joy to work with. They want to see this game built as much as we do, and are going out of their way to supply us with everything needed to develop the best and most authentic real life Timeshock! possible."
Naturally, Pinball News will be bringing you all the very latest news from Utrecht as Silver Castle Pinball continues to develop their first game and bring it to production.
© Pinball News 2014