Date: 21st January, 2022

Famed programmer and world-class pinball player Lyman Sheats Jr. has died at the age of 55.

Lyman Sheats Jr.
Lyman Sheats Jr.

Born in 1966, after playing pinball in college Lyman got into the pinball business in 1993 at Data East where he worked on the game design and dot matrix display programming for titles such as Last Action Hero, The Who’s Tommy and Guns ‘N Roses.

In 1994, after Data East Pinball became Sega Pinball, Lyman moved over to Williams/Bally to work on pinball programming. His first title was Attack from Mars where he worked alongside game designer Brian Eddy.

Speaking about that collaboration, Lyman said both he and Brian were bored with the long-established trend for mode-based games and wanted to create something simpler with lots of humour. Lyman hadn’t coded a game before whereas Brian had a background in programming, but between them and the rest of the design team they moved from a first whitewood to the start of production of Attack in just seven months.

The pair worked together again on Brian’s next game, the hugely popular Medieval Madness.

The Medieval Madness design team: Dan Forden, John Youssi, Brian Eddy, Lyman Sheats & Greg Freres
The Medieval Madness design team: Dan Forden, John Youssi, Brian Eddy, Lyman Sheats & Greg Freres

You can read and hear the team above describing the creation of Medieval Madness in our fireside chat report from Pinball Expo 2004.

After those two successes, he next programmed George Gomez’s Monster Bash, with his role in the game’s creation celebrated in the rules with the Lyman’s Lament feature. He also coded the innovative Phantom Flip award where the game would attempt to shoot the most lucrative shots for the player.

It is a mark of the popularity of these Williams titles that they were the first three selected by Chicago Gaming when they picked the best Williams/Bally machines to remake. While Lyman didn’t have an involvement in those remakes, he was recently employed by Chicago Gaming to work on an alternative ruleset for the company’s fourth remake, Cactus Canyon.

Lyman was working on the Pinball 2000 project at Williams when the company closed their pinball division at the end of 1999, but he wasn’t out of pinball for too long.

After three years working on video games as, what he described as “just a programmer” and trying to get back into the pinball business, at the start of 2003 he re-joined Gary Stern at the now-named Stern Pinball. Gary said at the time, “Lyman’s work in pinball speaks for itself. He has an outstanding track record of programming pinball games that are both entertaining for novices and challenging for experts. The games he has programmed are some of the most entertaining and collectible pinball games of the 1990s. We are extremely happy to have him back working on pinball again.

He soon teamed up with fellow ex-Williams employee Steve Ritchie to create what became some of Stern’s biggest selling titles, such as Spider-Man and AC/DC. He was also reunited with George Gomez to work on the Batman: The Dark Knight game before George went on to head up the game design studio.

Between programming games, Lyman designed the low-level operating systems for the next generation of Stern’s boardsets, but in recent years he also weaved his magic to reinvigorate the rules for existing titles such as The Walking Dead and Batman 66, delighting game owners who felt the original rules were rather lacking. Getting the Lyman touch was a sure sign of a game finally reaching its full potential.

Lyman was also a highly-skilled tournament player, winning the PAPA World Championship three times (PAPA 3, 7, & 9) as well as the European Pinball Championship in 2007 and numerous open tournaments and leagues in the Chicagoland area.

Lyman winning the EPC in 2007 in Sweden
Lyman winning the EPC in 2007 in Sweden
The author of this article was knocked out of the EPC tournament by Lyman on Attack From Mars, and didn’t mind a bit

Outside of pinball, Lyman loved his coffee and was an active financial investor to the point where he was no longer reliant on continued employment and was able to leave Stern Pinball last year so that he could choose the projects on which he wished to work.

Lyman was found unconscious at his Hoffman Estates home on Thursday when his partner, Penni, raised the alarm after being unable to contact him.

His unassuming brilliance in game creation and masterly pinball playing will be sorely missed by everyone in the pinball community who hugely benefitted from his programming talents and his lasting influence on ruleset design.

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  1. M.G Brown

    4th February, 2022 at 12:39am

    Thank you for mentioning Lyman in the January 2022 PINCast.


  2. Petar

    10th April, 2022 at 3:44pm

    What did he die of?


    • Petar

      10th April, 2022 at 3:45pm

      I know he died 3 months ago, but I’m still curious what did he die of.


    • M.G. Brown

      15th April, 2022 at 2:58pm

      The official cause of death was listed as suicide. I have not seen anything published that answers specifically what method he used to commit the act.


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