Think about your favourite game. Before it got anywhere near the production line hundreds if not thousands of man-hours were spent designing the different elements - from the playfield layout to the mechanical devices, the music, the art, the animations, the rules and so on.
Along the way, the realities of making an economic and profitable product kick in and some cool ideas have to be jettisoned to ensure the game comes in within the allocated budget. Sometimes the changes made are relatively minor such as drop targets changing into standups. Sometimes though, they are more significant.
Subsequently, the details of these changes leak out and owners consider whether they could convert their game to make it the way it was intended to be. And sometimes people go further and make the game the way they think it should have been.
Welcome to the world of the modder.
George Billig from Euskirchen near Bonn, Germany is a 47-year-old pinball player and collector. He is also a modder and is moving towards becoming a game designer by creating his own game.
George first go into pinball in the '70s at the age of 15 when he bought four EM games from a local dealer. They included a Williams Fan-tas-tic and Bally Four Million BC and although the noise they made got him into trouble with his parents, secretly, they enjoyed playing the games when George was out of the house.
Those machines were given away a few years later and it wasn't until the '90s that he got back into pinball when he built up his second collection which included games such as Xenon, Safecracker, Whirlwind, Taxi as well as two Addams Family games - one regular and one Gold Edition which he picked up for a bargain 300DM (about $100 at the time).
Changes in his personal life led to this collection being sold but now he has built up a smaller number of unique pieces by restoring and modding some of his favourite machines using the skills and techniques he acquired running his own printing company.
He began in May 2007 with a Williams Indiana Jones. George recalls "Originally I wanted to make a complete new playfield for it but then I became nervous about going down this route because I feared I didn't know enough about the technology such as which wood to use, what to do with the inserts, what happens if I screen print onto wood and many, many questions. So I decided to start in a smaller and slower way."
Instead, he decided to convert the existing game by giving it prototype playfield artwork - just as he had seen on Mike Saunders Indy website. From this one source of information, George was able to recreate the design and print directly onto the playfield of his machine.
Apart from the printing on the playfield, the game has new cabinet artwork printed on full size decals.
After three months the game was completed. "In the end, it was not as difficult as I thought in the beginning" he said. George contacted Indiana Jones designer Mark Ritchie to tell him about his work. George recalls "I got the information from Mark that there never was a real prototype but he made 15 overlay foils and he gave these to some friends... Mark told me that around 1992-93 he wanted to built a prototype like my Indy, but in the end there was no money from Williams to do it."
Even as he was finishing his Indy prototype George was planning his next project - a restoration of a RoadShow. But as with Indy, this was more than any normal restoration. He totally immersed himself in the theme and identified where cost cutting had diminished the overall experience. Then he went to work.
George explained why he picked RoadShow. "I choose this game because it is a perfect game for this theme. It does not generate much interest in Germany and this is for one reason; the country music in this machine. But for me it´s a perfect pin. I see it first with the Indy because once I start my work I can get the feeling from the designers who made these pinballs. I feel and see the areas where they have not had enough money to realize it all."
So RoadShow's cheap-looking radio gets a makeover courtesy of George's airbrush and two hours of work, and the yellow/black stripes are extended onto the flippers and across the bulldozer while Red gets a facial makeover of her own.
The work doesn't stop on the playfield as the cabinet inner sides extend the theme to give a wrap-around environment that creates the feel of looking down on a secret miniature world.
After two months, Roadshow was complete and the next (and current) project beckoned.
The first two machines George worked on were both widebodies but now he was about to embark on modding an Addams Family, not a widebody game.
Or at least not until now, because in his quest for the perfect execution of the theme George decided Pat Lawlor's Addams Family needed super-sizing. "Because I like this pin so much, for me the best of all games you can find. I first saw my Addams Family in November and it was clear that it must not merely be a restored machine like a Addams Family Gold. No, it must be more! So what can I do? First of all, it must be a widebody and then my head just keeps thinking."
"The biggest problem" George explained "was the cabinet, because my original idea was to saw it down the middle and then only replace the wood plate at the front and the back but this was not possible because the cabinet has very strong joints with glue and long nails. I tried to do my best but the wood broke and there was no repair which made sense and so I made a new cabinet which was ready after three days."
"Today", George says, "I´m happy to built a new cabinet."
George thinks the game will be much harder to play than the original and he has used the extra width to add a "Mamushka Lane" at the top of the playfield where the right flipper can shoot into the top of the pop bumpers.
The wider playfield will also provide an increased distance for The Power to throw the ball and a larger area for the magnets to take effect.
As with RoadShow, George took the opportunity to add artwork to the inner walls to make the game brighter and to match the lighter exterior artwork he created for his new wider cabinet.
The modded game also includes a new topper designed around the Addams's mansion.
Asked if he thought the original theme looked too gloomy, George is in no doubt. "Yes the original was to dark and, for my taste, the cabinet artwork was too simple. I know that the Addams Family is a theme of black humour, but for my taste it now has the real feeling. Look outside at the sky and it´s not always so dark ....and also the inside of the pin has too many dark colours for my taste - it begins with the sidewalls - they are always black - and also the colours of the playfield are sometimes too dark. But not everyone's taste is the same."
The intention was to complete the Addams Family within six month, but as George explains, the new completion date is in sight. "I think it will be ready for Christmas 2008. And I´m very nervous to play it."
As you might expect, though, George is not finished with these games and already has his sights set on a bigger project yet, his own Indiana Jones design mixing elements from the Williams and Stern games along with some concepts not included in the production machines and ideas from different games.
But with the new Stern machine just arriving on the scene, why did George want to create a third Indiana Jones design? "This is a difficult question now because I have great respect for the work of Gary Stern and Steve Ritchie and all other people there in this company and I can´t speak about this new Indy because I have never seen it or played it. But I can say this much - and hope that nobody takes my words the wrong way; what I´m missing are the wonderful graphics you´ll find on the old pinball machines. For me, this is only like a photo collage, and with modern software it is no big problem to create. I think with this theme it was possible to realize so much, and this I will do in my next pinball project. For example, Mark Ritchie give me the information that he was thinking for the ´93 Williams machine to built a DC2 plane inside with propellers - I think with electric propellers. This is only one idea of many which are possible. It will be a widebody but with many changes to the dimensions - perhaps not so deep but more wide and in the back, a bigger backbox - because I think it will be a game with some levels - a little like the ideas in Pinball Circus or Banzai Run."
Beyond that, who knows? "My head is full with ideas for my hobby for the next few years but I see it in a realistic way. I think that pinball never will have a renaissance - the new young generation think and play in other ways and this is the reality. It is like the old Wurlitzer jukeboxes with vinyl records, they never will come back and in the US you have so many fantastic designers for this wonderful work. I´m only normal man with some crazy ideas I will realize, and perhaps little crazy in my head. :-)"
Don't expect to see George's creations for sale or ending up on eBay. He creates his games purely for his private collection and has no interest making games for anyone else. There is a hope that some may make an appearance at a future German pinball show though. "The response here in Germany is very big and in the future I think it would be interesting to show them at pinball meetings. I must see what happens and if there is time to do this."
In the meantime though, you can see more about George's creations at his website www.specialpinball.com