Story dated 21st November, 2002.

We've heard numerous tales of new companies producing pinball games, but this time it looks like they're serious. But why would a company which produces cabinets for Stern Pinball go head-to-head with one of their customers, or are there some important differences to their game?

Editor of the PinGame Journal, Jim Schelberg brings us this special report:

Vacation America … A new pinball … A new pinball company! Wow. The game is the “child” of Churchill Cabinet’s Doug Duba. Churchill has supplied cabinets for a number of pinball manufacturers though out its history and currently makes all the cabinets and finished playfields for Stern Pinball. But, how can this be? The answer is that this game is aimed in a different direction. This pinball is meant for the home market only. There
is no coin slot in the door. It’s not meant for commercial use … in fact, if you somehow add a coin slot to the door it will void the warrantee!

Doug Duba was kind enough to speak to us to get the scoop on this very interesting product.

“Churchill Cabinet Company has been in business since 1904,” Doug explained. “My father, Roger Duba, acquired it close to 30 years ago and started building cabinetry for the coin-op industry. Over a period of time we integrated and started doing cabinet assembly and then construction and game assembly. Close to 30 years later we’re still doing the same thing. We’ve grown a bit and now have a quarter million square feet of space between two factories one of which is called Churchill Cabinet Company and the other is called Chicago Gaming."

“We currently are contract manufacturers for the coin-op industry which accounts for about 50% of our business. The other half is proprietary consumer products like foosball, air hockey and bumper pool. The home pinball machine is really a marriage of the two sides of the business. We took the expertise we developed in contract manufacturing and coupled that with our presence in the consumer industry."

“We saw a strong demand for used pinball machines. A number of our consumer
customers have tried selling used reconditioned pinball machines and have had poor luck in that most pinball machines, by the time they hit the consumer market, are spent. So our customer base was really asking for an affordable, coin-op calibre, pinball machine.”

The project began, Doug told me, with their consumer customers talking about the feasibility of making a new pingame to sell instead of trying to fix older games. They knew Churchill made cabinets for Stern and wanted to explore the possibility of them going all the way to create a less expensive new game for the home market. The challenge was to make a game to sell for substantially less than a commercial machine, but to make it able to hold its own against those same coin-op games when it came to quality and player appeal.

“For years we have been building playfields and cabinets so we had a lot of experience in that area. We then took a close look at what has historically done in pinball and discovered that the components could be sourced more affordably in higher volume off shore. But that was not enough to take a significant amount of money out of the product. So we looked further and discovered that a huge percentage of the total cost of a pinball machine is labour. We eliminated a lot of labour by eliminating a good percentage of the wire harness used in the game.

We replaced it by utilising printed circuit boards. There is quite a lot of wire in modern pinball machines but in our game we have it down to where it’s almost purely ribbon cable plugs into printed circuit boards."

“The earlier prototypes we built with full wire harnesses were taking us close to 40-50 hours to put together. We’ve cut that down to about 10 hours with our patient pending printed circuit board assembly.

When you look at the underside of our playfield you’ll find three large printed circuit boards. On those boards the rollover switches are mounted, lights are mounted, and there are a series of connectors that connect other components like jet bumpers and sling shots.

These components which are made overseas, each have a cable that plugs into the circuit board.”

Doug explained that the company has spent much of its time and energy creating a system to enable the average homeowner to fix their game, including the replacement of a faulty component with a new one. Extensive diagnostic software was created to identify the location of a problem. Once that component is identified (with the help of tech support by telephone if needed) it, or any other component in the game, can be replaced by removing not more than four screws and one plug. This process was tested by Doug’s wife. When she successfully read the manual, opened the machine and replaced a faulty pop bumper, he knew the system worked.

“This type of circuit board construction is only unusual in the pinball industry. If you open up your TV you won’t find very much wire … everyone has gone to the printed circuit board but pinball has stayed away from that. This product is an example of a common electronic construction method applied to pinball.”

For the design areas of the game the company went to known and experienced pinball people to create the actual game and the visual package that surrounds it. The design process was begun about 18 months ago by game designer, John Trudeau. John is credited with designing over 30 games at Gottlieb and then Williams from 1982 through 1996. As the playfield developed, John was offered a job in Iowa and decided to relocate. This left Chicago Gaming without a designer until the ever-present pinball legend, Steve Kordek agreed to help out. Steve actually finished the design process
John had started. Steve fleshed out the rules, refined shots and followed the game through the tweaking process right into the pre-production stage it is in now. Doug remembers how amazed he was at the knowledge and design skill Steve showed.

“Steve is amazing. He made a number of little adjustments to the game that made major differences. It really made me appreciate the design process. He would come in, play the whitewood and say, ‘This is off 0.15 inches.’ We’d build up another playfield that incorporated his changes and find that he was right on! The guy would just know. It was incredible.”

As the name implies, the game takes the player on a cross-country trip presenting obstacles to overcome before arriving at each city. When you reach the West Coast, it’s time to come back. Although completing the entire trip is difficult, the game was aimed at the average, casual player. Art work is a very important part of making a game attractive to consumers as well as players. CG chose the classic Bally/Data East/Sega pinball artist Paul Faris to create the visual personality of Vacation America.

Credits for the creation of this game are rounded out by a mixture of pinball and
non-pinball people. Former Alvin G. pinball’s Harold Washington designed the processor and PC boards, Capcom pinball’s Jeff Powell supplied the sounds and music and Motorola’s Ken Krone contributed his programming talents to the project.

The game is slated to be sold through commercial, public outlets. Chicago Gaming plans to allow their standing customers to sell the “first batch” along with their foosball and air hockey tables. It was shown at the Billiards Congress of America (BCA) which is a recreation room product show and it was very well received. Many of Chicago Gaming’s customers attend that show and company wanted to give them the first view and chance to buy the new game. However, talks are in progress as we speak with well known retail outlets. The game is estimated to retail in stores for approximately
one half the price of a current commercial pin.

In addition, Doug says the company is about six months away from starting on another model. This could get interesting!.


Article and pictures courtesy Jim Schelberg at the PinGame Journal.


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