A Dust Bowl Themed Machine?

It’s been quite a while since my last post, but the custom pinball business keeps me busy (on nights and weekends anyway). My current project is quite interesting- although at first it might not seem so. I affectionately call this project my “Dirt Machine”, since it is a custom design for a museum exhibit dedicated to the “Dust Bowl” of the 1930s. The Smoky Hill Museum is located in Salina, Kansas.

The museum’s website is at https://smokyhillmuseumorg.presencehost.net/.

dustbowl5

Farming Fun in Kansas, 1930s. No, Thank You.

With the Great Depression as the backdrop, many families fell victim to circumstances that included over farming, extreme debt, economic collapse of the wheat markets, drought, illness, and death brought on by monstrous dirt and dust storms. Suffice it to say that the people of this region experienced some miserable conditions at the time.

So how is that for a challenge to design a custom pinball machine? Sound like fun?

Fortunately, I have the guidance and enthusiasm of Josh Morris, Curator of Exhibits at the museum, to feed me information and ideas. The first thing to note is that the machine will be a centerpiece of a new area of the museum called “The Curiosity Shop”, a hands-on area for children to explore.

My goal is to have the parents of these kids- in a fit of nostalgia- flock towards my pinball machine. The kids won’t have a chance.

So what’s the plan?

The theme of the machine will be to take on the challenge of an impending dust storm, and to take (symbolic) actions that can “save the farm” and otherwise weather the storm. Progress/success takes the form of accumulated points on the vintage machine that is the basis of my new design (a 1964 Williams “Wing Ding” EM unit). There is a feature in this machine that lets the player hit targets to “rack” little wooden balls in the back glass of the unit, and after accumulating 9 such balls, the machine rewards the player with an extra ball. At this point, any dust storm in progress will end.

dustbowl3

Wing Ding Back Glass: That Doesn’t Look Like a Dust Storm to Me….

I’ve adapted this game play such that the targets and “racking” represent the proactive things that farmers needed to do to improve their chances of saving their farms and surviving the dust storms.

For example, one target will activate mechanical “wind breaks” (gates) that will close off the sides of the game making it easier by eliminating the side drains. These “wind breaks” in reality would be the planting of lines of trees to lessen the impact of heavy wind.

The key feature of the game, however, will be the presence of a mechanical mechanism that simulates a dust storm- that slowly covers the lower playfield, obscuring the player’s view and making it difficult to play. This dust cloud effect will cover more of the play field as time progresses.

FullSizeRender

The “Dust Storm” Mechanism Design

So the game includes both positive and negative impacts to game play that the player needs to deal with in order to score more points, get an extra ball, or play on through the dust storm so that peace is restored to the game play.

Add to this a custom sound track that simulates an old-timey news cast, with music, news, and weather alerts from that era. All of this will be played through a sound system that incorporates a vintage RCA speaker on the top of the machine (Thanks eBay!)

Looks Authentic To Me: RCA 100A Speaker

Concept artwork designs are in process, and I’ve solicited the talents of my friend and comic book artist Chad Cicconi to finalize the look and feel of the playfield. We are considering a scarecrow as the central figure to the design.

Check out some of Chad’s work at http://ccicconi.deviantart.com/

Stay tuned for more details as work progresses.

signCapture

The Basic Layout of the Playfield: Missing? Scarecrow.

 

Pinventions- Catching Up in the New Year

Happy New Year to all!

I blinked. Before I had a chance to open both eyes, the holidays were over, I was back at work, and I didn’t spend nearly as much time as I wanted to on my favorite hobby-business. In my last update, I introduced the Pinventions Senior Design Team working on a fog system for my “Night of the Living Dead” custom pinball project. That was in late November.

Here’s a quick update on what has happened since then:

1. The Roger Williams University Engineering School Senior Design Team delivered a summary of their work in a semester-ending presentation to faculty, students, and others.
2. I can only assume they all got A’s as a result of their awesome progress (and because they all looked sharp in their suits). Photo below.20140116-212216.jpg

3. Linda, Amanda, Jon and I had a nice long drive to PA to visit and celebrate a total of 3 Christmas’ with our families. Eve made alternate arrangements.
4. Amanda graduated from college a semester early. This was good.
5. Other stuff…
6. In pinball related news, I recently partnered with a talented comic book artist, Chad Cicconi, to help design a playfield for my Night of the Living Dead pinball machine project. Chad happens to be from my hometown- Brownsville, PA, and does some lawyering on the side (much like I do some engineering on the side- meaning that those are our real jobs).

About Chad Cicconi.
Link to Chad’s website.

I’d like to dedicate the rest of this blog to highlighting some of the comic book work Chad has done, and sharing some of the concept art he has created for my pinball project.

20140116-213300.jpg
Chad draws (among other things) the FRACTURE series of comics for Action Lab Entertainment, and a recent issue has been receiving some favorable press. Review.Traditional (nostalgic) pinball art has many similarities to comic book style art, and I am not especially talented in that genre. I saw some of Chad’s work online, liked his style, and realized that he could help me with certain parts of my overall design. He has some great ideas, and I am excited to see how his work, my work, and the Senior Design Team’s work will all come together in the next few months.

There are a few surprises in store, but here is a sampling of what Chad is working on for me. Stay tuned, this should be fun.

20140116-211251.jpg

P.S. I am overstocked with “donor” pinball machines (and running out of room since both Jon and Amanda are back living at home temporarily). I have 12 or 13 machines now (I honestly lost count), and would be willing to sell a few “as-is” (non-customized) for $500 to $800 just to clear up some space. If you are interested, let me know- I’ll get a machine cleaned up and working for you.

Meet the Pinventions Team!

This past week I paid a visit to Roger Williams University and met with the Engineering Senior Design Project Team working on a self-contained fog generation system for my “Night of the Living Dead” custom pinball machine.20131117-215752.jpgBackglass Design

This is my third meeting with Alexander Gilman, Anthony Melkonian, Richard Mendoza, and Brian Stuckman- the “Pinventions Team” as they are known- and I am very impressed with their progress to date. We first met in late September when they visited my workshop, got a sense of what my business endeavor is all about, and learned about my vision for my zombie pinball machine design.

20131117-214803.jpgMeet the Team

The engineering challenges that I gave them were somewhat unique. I had done a lot of research into solving the series of engineering problems associated with this project, and there were no clear-cut answers for some of them. I also was pushing the limit in my requirements and expectations of this design team. For example, my design vision includes:

1. Development of a self-contained fog generation unit that could simulate fog (in a foggy cemetery scene in the back glass of the machine).
2. The fog generation needs to be almost instantaneous.
3. The fog should be controllable to a certain extent- with different modes that can be triggered by different game play actions- for example, fog could be swirling, low-lying, exhausted at the feet of the player, or be capable of being piped to an area beneath the playfield for use in other special effects.
4. The glass areas should be easy to clean, ideally with an automatic or self-contained cleaning system.

These design requirements would necessitate some pretty complex automation, including air handling, temperature control, and integration with older electronics from the base game design. I was a bit worried that this would all be a bit too much for these four students, expecting perhaps a “fun” and easy project (after all- zombies!).

But after our meeting this week I was pleasantly surprised. They had researched and solved the problem of instantly generating fog by hacking some of the electronics from a special kind of electronic cigarette, and they have been working with anti-fogging liquids (ironically) to minimize the need for cleaning the glass. They had completed some basic work on the computerized automation and airflow, constructed an acrylic back glass and constructed a working test/demo unit.

20131117-214355.jpgTrust me-There’s fog in the cemetery.

To their credit, they also printed out one part of my back glass design artwork and attached that to the test unit to give it a more realistic look. Even in the brightly lit classroom, the effect was impressive. Considering that they have 2/3 of the school year left to pull it all together, I am confident we will have an impressive prototype to show.

The students tell me that Dr. Linda Riley (program director for RWU Engineering) suggested that their fog generation concept may be worthy of a patent. I tend to agree.

Before I left the meeting, I offered them (and myself!) an even greater challenge- I suggested that they plan for completing their work a month or so early, and I would work to have the rest of the machine design completed and working by then as well- including original artwork for the playfield design as well as some other special effects to make additional use of the fog. Our hope is to put it all together and have the entire working machine there for the final presentation in May 2014.

Thanks to Alex, Anthony, Richard, and Brian for some impressive work to date. I’m looking forward to your presentation at the end of the semester, and to mentoring you all towards the completion of our project.

And finally, a bit of trivia about the theme of the design- “Night of the Living Dead”. Although this classic movie from 1968 is generally regarded as the first of a long line of zombie movies, the word “zombie” was never used in the movie. The flesh-eaters were called “ghouls”.

And now you know…

20131117-214557.jpg“Well, hello there! Please don’t call me a zombie.”

A Triumphant Return….and there are no losers.

20131002-194426.jpg
It’s been a while.

I enjoy writing these blog entries, and I want to keep my website fresh. I really do. I promise.
But I have been extremely busy doing a few fun things, a few charitable things, and a few other things designed to build my business and network. I have also heard rumblings from the underworld concerning my promise to pay $50 for any pinball design ideas I use.

And as I keep reminding myself and others- I still have a day job that I am committed to (FM Global needs to know that!)

But “Digress, I do .” says the little Yoda on my shoulder. So let’s tackle a few topics in order:

1. Pinball Design Contest

I received about 30 design ideas through various means (including Facebook, emails, and notes in bottles) -although an objective in creating the contest was that I was kinda hoping to drive up the traffic to my website. But never mind- a few of the ideas have real promise, and if I ever pursue any of them- I sincerely promise to pay off the idea man or woman. To be honest, I am not working on any of them currently- so there are no winners yet- and there are no losers! I wish things could be different. It’s not me, it’s you. You deserve prizes from someone better than me. Can’t we just be friends?

Moving on.

2. Roger Willliams University Engineering Senior Design Project

I am very excited that my endeavor “Pinventions” is sponsoring a senior design project at RWU. Some of you know that I serve on the professional advisory board for the university’s engineering school, and working with the faculty there we came up with the very cool idea of packaging a senior design project around one of my machine’s designs.

The challenge? Create a fog-filled cemetery scene in the back glass of my “Night of the Living Dead” custom machine design. To do this the team needs to develop a self-contained, self-cleaning fog management system that can respond to various actions taking place in a pinball machine.

Dr. Linda Riley at RWU tells me this was one of the most popular and most requested projects. I’ve already met with this very impressive team of young engineers who visited me at home for a tour of my shop and an overview of the project objectives. I can’t wait to see what they come up with. They are:

-Alexander Gilman
-Anthony Melkonian
-Brian Stuckman
-Richard Mendoza

3. NYC World Maker Faire

I got my first taste of the Maker Faire in Providence a few weeks ago, and realized I am indeed a “Maker”- which is a difficult term to define. In general, a “Maker” makes, creates, hacks, mashes, etc. for his own enjoyment, or to challenge themselves to solve a problem that they may in fact create for the sole purpose of solving it. I create custom pinball machines (among other things).

Anyway, I am hooked on this “Maker” movement, and knew I had to attend the New York City version to saturate my senses and curiosity. I was not disappointed. The photo above is of me by the icon of the movement- the Maker Robot.

I also had a meeting with some “Make” representatives there who were more than a little interested in my pinball creations. Nothing for sure yet, but we continue to talk.

4. The Pittsburgh Pirates

I am a life-long baseball fan, and grew up in the 1970’s with the Pirates- Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell- these were my heroes. As a professional working in downtown Pittsburgh in 1992, I attended every home game of their last playoff series. As a “Maker” even then, I created a banner mocking the Brave’s “tomahawk chop” and hung it in the stadium. It even made the ESPN broadcast back in the day. Just prior to that playoff series in 1992 our daughter Amanda was born, and I recall watching the Pirates on TV in the hospital while Linda was in labor. At that time they were gunning for the playoffs (the Pirates, not Linda and infant Amanda), which they made, and cruised through until…

…my beloved Pirates were minutes away from the World Series. It was the seventh game of the NL final. They were ahead in the bottom of the ninth with two outs. Then with a single swing of the bat it all changed. A weak single. A weak throw from Barry Bonds to the plate. A lumbering Sid Bream- who for years prior had been a fan favorite in Pittsburgh but then the traitor bolted to the hated Braves-scored the winning run in slow motion, and sent the shell-shocked Pirates home to a cold exile for 21 years.

Pittsburgh baseball fans like myself have been in shock ever since, afraid to commit as fans, reluctant to ever come close to experiencing that heartbreak again.

Amanda just turned 21 a few weeks ago, and the Pittsburgh Pirates have had a total of zero winning seasons since that terrible day.

Until now.

Let’s go Bucs!

Seriously? I Guess $50 wasn’t Enough.

So a week or so ago, I asked blog readers, potential customers, and Facebook friends to contribute their ideas for creating a new pinball game- as long as it was nostalgic and met a few other criteria- and I would offer $50 if I chose to used your idea in a future design.

20130908-210415.jpg
So far, my favorite idea is one of my own that I am building now- “Alien Abduction”- a prototype flying saucer can be seen in the photo. Picture this saucer with a blue “tracker beam” hovering low over cornfields looking to levitate cows- with all of this fitting into the back glass of a pinball machine. More details as to how this will work for scoring to be forthcoming…

But I digress. This is not about me, this is about the collective “you”. You are letting me down.

I received a handful of ideas- including several sent through email (rather than in the blog comments), but all in all I am underwhelmed by the lack of interest. The ideas that I did get do have promise- so “thank you Bob”- and if any of them become a reality, I will be forwarding a royalty check to the idea man or woman. But “Alien Abduction” is what I’m going with for now.

The offer still stands- $50 for any ideas that I end up using in a design- or 50% of one of my “donor machines” if you want one for a commissioned project.

Also, a few loose ends to tie back to some previous themes:

1. My “Night of the Living Dead” back glass design– the one with a backlit fog effect- has been accepted as a Senior Design Project for the Roger Williams University Engineering Department. This is very exciting since I like mentoring the engineering students, and since hopefully they can help me come up with a good way to manage fog production in an enclosed glass case.

2. Jacquizz Rodgers is not panning out as the Fantasy Football League stud that I thought he would. He had one catch for -1 yards, and no yards rushing. This resulted in a grand total of 1 fantasy point.

3. There no longer seems to be a market for the Cumberland Farms/David Hasselhoff iced coffee ad cardboard cutouts. I have one in my possession. Don’t ask how or why.

4. I refuse to believe that summer is over. Do not try to convince me otherwise.

5. My baby girl Amanda is turning 21 next week. I refuse to believe this either. Do not try to convince me otherwise.

And finally, spend 30 seconds thinking of a good ( or even a bad) idea for a game theme and list them in the comments. $50 is real money. Believe it!

Contest: Your Pinball Design Ideas for $$$$!!

20130827-212544.jpg
This is not a trick. I am looking for great ideas for a new customized pinball machine design.

If I decide to build one based on your design- and you will know since I will post it here- I will pay you $50. Not enough for college tuition, I know- but certainly worth a few minutes to brainstorm some ideas, and type them out in the comments below.

For reference, and to get you thinking, here are links to my prototype 3 designs thus far- (sorry, I have a few other secret commissioned designs in the works that I can’t share yet):

The Racer
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Night of the Living Dead

Here are the rules:
1. Ideas must be submitted with your name and email address in the comments below. Additional explanation/concepts will be helpful to envision the idea (this could definitely influence my decision!)
2. Ideally, the theme or concept should be nostalgic- from the 60’s, 70’s, or early 80’s
3. Ideally, the theme should be one that has not already been used in a pinball design.
4. Be wary of ideas that directly relate to copyrighted works.
5. In a future blog posting, I will outline the entries as well as my thoughts in determining any “winners” for designs I choose.
6. In lieu of a $50 prize, winner(s) may choose to take a 50% discount on one of my donor machines to use for making your idea a reality.
7. If there are insufficient and/or inadequate entries, I reserve the right not to declare a winner.
8. Limit of 3 ideas per person.

This is not a joke, nor a trick. I am looking for inspiration and the next big idea for an art project. It costs nothing to provide your ideas! Good luck!

Dave
P.S. my new email address for the business is:
davegaskill@pinventions.com

Foo Fest: Success!

20130812-204135.jpg
So my first experience “manning a booth” is over- it was exciting, rewarding, and exhausting. I came home from Providence’s Foo Fest/Makers Faire late on Saturday night, and Sunday was a day of foggy memories, sore muscles, and slow, zombie-like movements. Standing all day, talking to potential clients continuously, and lifting and moving my machine and all my display materials had taken a toll on my mind, body, and soul.

Thank you so much to everyone who stopped by to see my work and to reminisce about the old arcades and the early days of the E-street Band. I could have sold several “Bruce” machines if I had them or was willing to sell my prototype. Several guys lingered and studied my price sheets to see how they could afford to have me make them a new/old machine. If any of you are reading this- please give me a call- we can make that a reality! Several small groups of guys and gals huddled near the booth just to hear the endless string of songs from the machine in its “jukebox” mode.

If nothing else, I proved to myself that there is an audience for my work- and the positive feedback and words of encouragement and praise made it all worthwhile.

I had no expectations of getting any strong leads from my booth at this festival- after all, the demographics for Foo Fest tend towards the younger, “fringier” crowd. I considered this a practice show- I am really aiming to show more at arts festivals where I am more likely to find more clients from my era that would appreciate my work- but I was very pleased with the feedback here- the younger attendees especially were very complimentary- and interested in what these old machines were like- many having never seen or played anything but video games.

For example- I got sincere compliments from a 20-something DJ, who appreciated the art work and attention to the artist in the design. I heard words of appreciation from a young local female radio personality. I was asked if I would be interested in displaying a machine in the Providence Museum of Art and Science (if the curator’s dream ever becomes a reality). Finally, a writer for a prominent Rhode Island monthly publication indicated that she wanted to write a story about my work.

Even if nothing comes from any of this, I believe these are signs that I may be onto something. Thank you to anyone and everyone who offered kind and encouraging words.

Chapter 1 is complete.