ColorDMD took the pinball world by storm when they released their first multi-colour LCD replacement for the traditional orange dot matrix display back in 2012.
Their first ColorDMD display was for Bally's Attack from Mars machine, since which they have released new models and software updates for Medieval Madness, The Addams Family, , Monster Bash, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Whitewater, Scared Stiff, Creature from the Black Lagoon and Theatre of Magic.
Interview by John Greatwich
Name: Randy Perlow
Inventor of the ColorDMD pinball display and co-owner (with Chris Enright) of ColorDMD Displays LLC, in Orange County, California.
When did you first play pinball?
My earliest memory is playing a single-player EM at a relative’s home around age 5. Growing up I would play at the skating rink, and later at college.
Where are your favorite places to play pinball?
I’ll play on location when I can find it, but mostly I play at OC Pinball League events and at home.
What types of pinball machines do you own (EM, solid-state, DMD)?
DMD and solid-state games.
How many do you own now, and what are some of your favorites?
I own seven pinball machines right now, including a low-production Micropin bar top game. My favorites have been Lord of the Rings, Tron, Attack from Mars, and Whitewater.
Do you still have any local commercial locations to play pinball?
There are very few commercial locations left in my area. The number has dropped significantly in recent years as games have moved out of locations and into collectors' homes.
Are there any restrictions on operating or playing pinball in your area?
Which shows do you attend?
The last few years I have attended Pinball Expo, Pacific Pinball Exposition, California Extreme, and the Texas Pinball Festival.
We are seeing more pinball machines being developed by small companies other than Stern Pinball. What is your opinion on this new interest in the game?
It’s really exciting to see how empowering the internet has become. Besides the abundance of information, easy-to-use tools (like development kits, reference designs, and 3-D printers) are now readily available and allow laymen and hobbyists to develop complex products and systems that just weren’t possible ten years ago. The 2013 Pinball Expo hosted a number of unique and professional-looking projects that were a highlight of the show.
Despite the recent surge in interest, pinball remains a small market. Many of the 'boutique' pinball machines being developed now are still hobby-driven projects with small production runs that make it difficult to recoup costs and establish a sustainable business. Manufacturing remains the limiting barrier-to-entry but we’re starting to see the emergence of specialized contract manufacturing partners to support them.
In the future, I think it’s possible we’ll see the pinball industry trend toward a 'fabless' model, where small companies focus on the design, sale, and support their products, but all manufacturing is outsourced to one or two specialized fabrication houses.
Where would you like to see the pinball machine technology go in the future?
Pinball is a mature industry, and I think it’s unlikely that technology will provide revolutionary changes in gameplay. There are a number of people trying to figure out how to use technology to make pinball more 'social' and I think changes here would help support adaptation of the industry to our current culture.
But I think the best application of technology is the reduction of manufacturing cost and complexity. Games are far too expensive and out of reach to many, and a big part of this cost is tied up in custom manufacturing.
Do you like mods for pinball machines?
For someone who invented a mod for pinball machines, I incorporate surprisingly few mods on my games. In my view, the best mods are the ones that look like they belonged in the game from the beginning. This is what I strived to do with the ColorDMD, and I feel very fortunate to have received a lot of positive feedback from game designers.
How do you like new lighting technology?
I really like the use of LEDs on newer games.
What do you think the cost per play of new pins should be?
As an adult player with disposable income, I’m comfortable paying up to $1 per play, but I think that price is a little intimidating for kids who have other entertainment options (like free phone apps). In a bar setting $1 is probably appropriate, but to capture the interest of kids at the local pizza joint, the price may have to be as low as 25 cents.
What annoys you the most about pinball on location?
It’s frustrating when you find a game on location that’s dirty or not well-maintained.
How can we get more new people interested in playing pinball?
I think games have to become a lot less expensive to be more accessible and grow the base of enthusiasts. The high value of games has caused a lot of games to be moved off location and into collectors’ homes. This reduces the visibility of pinball and makes it difficult to attract new players.
Improving pinball’s visibility in social networks is also key. This probably means providing interactive hooks for tweets or Facebook messages like, “Joe is playing <game> at <location>”, or “Joe just got a high score on <game>”…the same techniques developers are using to improve visibility for other forms of entertainment.
Do you think we need to return to simpler and easier to understand pinballs?
Like video games and phone apps, I think there’s a need for games to start easy and become increasingly difficult the longer your play them. This allows the novice to have fun and still retain the interest of the expert player.
How do you think pinball manufacturers can make a more playable and friendly game?
I’m a big fan of deep rule sets with easy goals and assistance for the novice player. I also like games that have tasks to complete, rather than just trying to accumulate a high score.
When learning a new game, I like it when the game explains the objective or uses audio cues to tell you what to shoot for. This feature could be enabled/disabled by players based on a flipper selection at the start of a game by adding a 'Novice' mode.
How annoyed do you get with missing balls or hang-ups on games?
This hasn’t been a major problem on most of the games I play.
Do you think pinball manufacturers should get smart and kick out another ball quickly if there is a ball missing or not scoring?
It sounds like a good feature.
How do you rank yourself as a player, and do you play in tournaments?
I’m not a great player. I play in our local monthly league, but rarely play in outside tournaments.
The cost of new pinball ownership has increased greatly over the last few years. Does this stop you from buying new machines?
I’m not sure high prices have stopped me from buying a new pinball machine, but I definitely give it more consideration. Available space is usually a bigger issue.
With the introduction of new technology, do you think pinball machines have become easier to service and more reliable?
I think circuit boards have become more reliable through the use of fewer components and interfaces. The use of LEDs, improved GI circuits, and battery technology has also helped.
Pinballs machines are heavy objects to move around. Do you think they need to be lighter?
I don’t see this as a major issue for home buyers. It could be an issue for location operators.
How do you like the warranty offered for new pinball machines and parts?
I’ve only had limited issues with new purchases, and the manufacturer has been responsive.
Does traditional mechanical pinball need more radical changes?
If you change the game too much, it becomes a different game. The changes I would like to see are evolutionary rather than revolutionary, and aimed at making games easier to produce and more affordable.
Tell us a little about the company.
ColorDMD Displays is based in southern California and owned/operated by Randy Perlow and Chris Enright. ColorDMD produces multicolor and high-resolution displays for pinball machines. Our displays are easily installed, and perform real-time coloring and scaling to make games pop!
How long have you been operating?
The first ColorDMD prototype was completed in the fall of 2009. This was followed by several iterations to refine the design for production. ColorDMD Displays was formed at the beginning of 2012, and the first product (a display for Attack From Mars) was released in April of that year.
What about your current product?
The ColorDMD SIGMA display supports installation in both Stern and WPC platforms. Compared to other technologies, we use a low-voltage LCD display that allows perfect grid alignment and enables a number of unique display options and upgrades to customize your game. SIGMA provides customer selection of three different display effects (classic dots, HD upscaling, and scan lines) and 97 different color hues.
SIGMA is also the only display that performs context-based real-time coloring! Using a USB flash drive, a game-specific color ROM can be loaded onto the display for multicolor operation. We currently support nine different titles in multicolor operation. Videos demonstrating multicolor operation are available on YouTube and through our web site.
Any insights into new products coming soon?
During 2014, we expect to increase our support with more WPC/WPC95 titles, and begin extending multicolor support to selected SAM and Whitestar titles.
We will also continue to enhance our product offering through feature updates and new product releases.
How do you promote your products?
We promote our products through our web site and Facebook page. We also try to maintain a high level of visibility on forums like Pinside, and by encouraging customers to bring their displays to pinball shows.
We sell products direct from our site and also through distribution partners like Planetary Pinball, Ministry of Pinball in the Netherlands, and Pinball Palace in the UK.
If readers would like more information?
Our web address is www.colordmd.com and we can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for your time Randy.
© Pinball News 2014