It was in May last year that we revealed how Heighway Pinball, in addition to developing their first pinball title, Full Throttle, had also managed to prove their production facilities by building 251 promotional games for 'a major multinational business'.
Now, for the first time, we can bring you the full story.
Heighway Pinball had previously been asked to provide a quote to develop a promotional game for the Bacardi Martini company's Product Development division. The games would be brought into clubs and bars all around the world and set up for clients to play as part of an event to promote the Bacardi Gold rum brand.
After providing their original quote in mid-2013, Bacardi Martini chose to partner with a different company to develop and build the game.
However, just before Christmas 2013, they came back to Heighway Pinball, voicing their concerns about the other supplier's abilities to deliver a quality product within the time frame available. The game needed to be designed, built and shipped by mid-May 2014 for the start of a new global marketing campaign, and Heighway Pinball was the only company willing to take on such a task in such a tight time frame.
After a short period of negotiations, an agreement was put in place for Heighway Pinball to design and manufacture 250 units of a game based on a 1930s baffle-ball style of play, where players would plunge a ball with just the right strength to make it fall into the winning hole.
Baffle Ball is a rather sedate single-player game, so the challenge was to make it more dynamic and fast-paced, and turn it into a head-to-head game where prizes can be awarded to the winning player. It also had to be portable, rugged enough to withstand repeated setting up and dismantling as it was moved from location to location, not require any external power connections, be easily-understood and fun to play, look attractive, and promote the Bacardi brand in a positive way.
With just four-and-a-half months to design the game, source all the parts for it, build all 250 units and ship them all around the world, the pressure was on.
The design selected was for a cabinet around 1m long (39 inches) with a player standing at each end. They would both have a pinball-style plunger and a supply of pinball balls which they would manually drop through a hole in the top of the unit into a short shooter lane.
They could then plunge the ball so that it travelled around the playfield's figure-of-eight design and dropped into the winning circle in the centre of their opponent's side, ringing a brass bell in the middle and scoring them a point.
Plunge too strongly or too weakly and the ball might return to their own side, scoring against them, while a number of gobble holes around the saucer could swallow the ball and give it to their opponent to use against them.
Each player started with eight pinballs with which to play, and as soon as someone ended up with five balls in their opponent's winning circle, they shouted "Cuba Libre!" and were declared the winner.
When the game was over, levers mounted on the side of the game could release the balls trapped in the centre of the saucer so a new game could begin.
The game needed to look classy and in keeping with the Bacardi brand, so a medium-dark solid oak and polished brass finish was chosen. To provide some height, extra visibility, and help promote the product, a marquee topper was added bearing an illuminated Bacardi Cuba Libre sign.
Here are the prototype solid oak cabinets with the frame for the marquees inside.
The cabinet has cutouts on each side so it can be carried by two people, two recesses for the levers to release the balls, and another cutout on each side - one to return the balls to the players and another for the game's power source. The final design had separate ball return chutes for each player.
Without any external power, the game had to run on batteries. An internal, removable battery pack was included which would power the game for up to eight hours and could then be removed and recharged overnight.
There are no electrically-powered playfield parts, so the battery only has to provide power for the game's many LEDs. If the battery pack becomes exhausted it can be replaced with another in a matter of seconds, although the game would still continue to function without any power.
In order to make the game easier to assemble and then disassemble for transportation, there were no power cables for the illuminated marquee. Instead, the two conductive support poles provided the electrical connection. With the voltage required for the LEDs kept very low, there was no chance of anyone getting an electric shock.
Making the playfield proved to be the most difficult part. First, getting the cross-over between the two sides of the playfield right so that balls would easily flow between them took some perfecting.
The two sharp protrusions at the cross-over point are the most exposed part of the playfield and therefore the most liable to damage if hit by a ball. With multiple pinballs flying around and the likelihood of collisions, the material had to be thicker here.
Then a mould had to be made, on which the PETG playfields would be formed.
The playfield then had to be trimmed and the various holes made in the centre of both saucers, for the gobble holes around the saucer, for the plunger, and for the mounting screws.
But the hardest part was wrapping the Barcadi-branded artwork onto the 3-D surface so that the end result didn't appear distorted.
So the imagery had to be distorted the opposite way to compensate for distortion the wrapping process would create.
Apart from the artwork, the other major challenge was to illuminate the playfield so that the game looked bright and attractive in the Bacardi red colour, while letting players and spectators see all the action.
Various different methods were tried, including custom horseshoe-shaped plastic diffusers wrapped around the circular playfield. These couldn't be stuck in place on the outside of the saucers without damaging the printed artwork, so LED strips inside the cabinet provided the interior illumination for both the playfield and the ball collection holes on the side.
The playfield was then mounted in the cabinet with a sheet of wood bearing the Bacardi branding laid over the top to provide an attractive finish, while a clear sheet of acrylic covered the cabinet.
Two brass-finish pinball holder cups were inset into the top surface and there were two holes for the marquee support poles, while the whole top surface was secured with brass screws.
The game stands on four legs which slot into the bottom of the cabinet and are easily removed when it is time to dismantle it and move it to a new location.
When the marquee is attached, the two support poles act as mounts for foam board Bacardi Gold promotional images.
With the game designed and the parts sourced, it was time for production to begin.
When the game had been built and tested, it was packed along with the marquee, supports, legs, foam board pieces, pinballs, battery pack, power supply and instructions in a shipping box which would also be used to transport it between promotional locations.
Production lasted six weeks, ending in mid-May 2014 by which time 251 games had been built, packed and shipped.
Shortly after production ended Andrew told Pinball News, "We knew this would be a massive challenge but we were confident we could design and build a quality product in such a short time frame. We have received feedback in the last few weeks that our client is very happy with their games and they are performing well on location."
Just recently Richard Barnes, Bacardi's Global Marketing Manager told us, "Heighway Pinball worked with Bacardi and our promotional agency to produce over 250 bespoke pinball game units for a global on-trade mechanic in 2014. The games have proven to be highly disruptive in the trade and great fun for consumers all around the world."
He continued, "I found Heighway to be incredibly flexible, very fast to respond to any request and wanted to achieve an excellent result just as much as we did. Andrew in particular is extremely passionate about what he does which meant there was no need to have to micro-manage them or the process, and made the process run smoothly from start to finish."
The Bacardi games were the first games made by Heighway Pinball, and in fact the only games made in that factory. One of the discoveries made during the manufacturing stage was that the factory wouldn't have sufficient space to build large quantities of full-size pinball machines, prompting them to move to a new, larger building just across the road in late 2014.
So that's the story of Heighway Pinball's run of Bacardi games.
We'll have much more from Heighway Pinball very shortly, including their first appearance at the EAG International trade show and their launch party for the Full Throttle game.
© Pinball News 2015