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Friday, 4 September 2020

The DOCTOR WHO Pinball

The following is an article commissioned for and published in the third of the Update Volumes of HOWE'S TRANSCENDENTAL TOYBOX, which is long out of print ...

Pinball Wizard

In 1992 Bally Williams released, to date, the only Doctor Who arcade pinball machine. William Pfutzenreuter worked on the game for Bally Williams and here he shares his memories of developing something which has become unique in the field of Doctor Who merchandise and collectibles.

The Start

I was a games programmer for Bally Williams, and after about ten years working at this, I was given the opportunity to be the ‘Game Designer’ of a pinball game. All I had to do is come up with a game idea and ‘sell’ it to management. Many sleepless nights and several unsold ideas later, one of my colleagues, Ken Fedesna, knowing that I was a Doctor Who fan (and I suspect he was too!), suggested that I design a game using that as the subject. So, I went back to the drawing board and designed using sketches the main features and the game story. 

For the story, I did not want to adapt something which had already been seen on television, so I tried to come up with something from scratch. I have always liked time paradoxes, and I wanted to get all the Doctors back together again (like the stories ‘The Three Doctors’ and ‘The Five Doctors’ on television). I also wanted there to be a companion for each Doctor, and I wanted to include speech samples from each Doctor and companion. Every story needs an enemy and so I added the Daleks and (my favourite) the latest incarnation of the Master (played on television by Anthony Ainley). The story I came up with was that the Daleks and the Master had compressed time on Earth, hence the slow continental drift back to the one large continent Pangaea, but the Doctors (who visit Earth a lot at different times), escape, only to be flung into different situations represented by different areas of the playfield. 

This was the initial concept of including a 3-level ‘mini-playfield’ known as the Time Expander. Management approved the game and the BBC (for the Doctor Who show) and Terry Nation (for the Daleks) were approached for licensing. After the licenses were preliminarily agreed, the project became official and a team was assembled to make Doctor Who the pinball. Since it was a licensed game it would be released by Bally as they did all the licensed products, and it would be put into production following the development and release of games for The Addams Family and Black Rose

The Team

Once the project had been approved by management, the team members could be assembled. The core team comprised a Mechanical Engineer (Zofia Bil), a Graphic Artist (Linda Deal), a Sound Engineer (Jon Hey), and a Dot Matrix Display Artist (Scott ‘Matrix’ Slomiany), all of whom were assigned to work for me. There were some others, like Roger Sharpe from marketing and my contact for Licenses, plus a lot of other people helping. Next came the task of explaining what I wanted each of the team members to do, and educating them on 26 years of Doctor Who

The Mini-Playfield

Zofia started on the ‘mini-playfield’ from my sketches. Her task was to design it with the smallest footprint possible, but to make it ‘indestructible’ and still not cost a fortune. Several motor designs were suggested, and a few were simulated, but Zofia liked the offset cam. The motor was chosen to last a long time. It was strong enough to break pencils (fingers would be an easier target) and I even demonstrated it (please do not do this at home!) for management. This concerned a lot of people and we had to find a way to make it safe. Just opening the coin door (doing so cut the power to the solenoids and mini-playfield motor) was not good enough. So a switch was added to detect the presence of the playfield glass, and I programmed the machine to only move the mini-playfield if the glass was present. We even added an obnoxious alarm sound, a dot matrix display warning ‘sticker’, and speech in two languages (English & German) warning the operator. 

The Artwork (Part One)

I gathered up all my Doctor Who collection (magazines, books, video tapes) and brought it to work. Linda look through all of it. We also had access to the BBC Archives, but this took several weeks to get hold of images, and despite being given descriptions of the poses Linda desired, she was never too happy with what we were sent. The backglass is perhaps the most important part of the machine – it advertises it and needs to draw people to it in the arcade. For the Doctor Who backglass I gave Linda the requirement that all seven Doctors, the TARDIS and the Master had to be featured. She also added in the Daleks and the Doctor Who  logo had to be in there as well. The BBC presented the requirement that the faces had to be all the same size (so that no one was more important that the other). This somewhat restricted the design, so she looked at my collection and came up with a design of the seven Doctors around the Doctor Who logo. On the bottom left was a silhouette of the TARDIS, and on the bottom right was a silhouette of the Master flanked by the Daleks. Once approved by myself and the management, she made a full sized colour magic marker drawing. This was then sent out for the approval of Bally and the BBC. 

While this was happening, the playfield and cabinet was being designed. After that was done and sent out for approval. The real painted backglass was started and completed, then twelve translates (temporary backglasses made by a quick process to see the colours and art) were make for the twelve test machines. During all of this, Linda designed the cabinet artwork, the magic motion artwork, the playfield artwork, the playfield plastics art, the playfield stickers, and an assortment of free handouts (bumper stickers, coasters, and so on). 

The magic motion piece was added to the Bally cabinet at the last minute and we didn’t know exactly when they would arrive to be fitted to the machines. So, a back-up piece in standard plastic was made. As it turned out, this was not needed, and so it became another free handout.

The Playfield Design

While all this was going on, it was up to me to start laying out the playfield. I found a discarded drafting table in the hallway. AutoCAD was still not really popular at Williams back in ’92, it and the computers with all the extra memory needed to run it were very expensive. So I dragged the drafting table into my office and picked up a pencil. I rapidly found that I was a better programmer than a draftsman, but I did have a lot of help from other game designers (who always drafted their playfields themselves! I had been missing out!). So the first playfield was designed and built, but the play action was somewhat stunted. Shots did not work, you could not hit a thing, it was no fun at all. Williams (rightly so) rejected it and I was gloomily beginning to think that the game was going to be cancelled.

Well, I dragged my ego down to Roger Sharp’s office and dumped my ‘problems’ onto his lap. He gave me a pep speech about his game design days, but we still had to get the game sorted out. So he suggested that I ask Barry Oursler, one of the more experienced designers, if he would co-design the game with me. So I left Roger and made a bee-line directly to Barry’s office (I had programmed many of his games) and asked him. He accepted, and now it was time to convince Williams’ management that the game was still viable. It took them a little while, but they accepted and Barry took my ideas and gadgets, added a few of his own, and made a real game. 

Once we had the basic design, then a ‘white wood’ version of the playfield was made. This is the playfield without artwork, just wood. It’s used so that the designer can check the shots to see if there is good action. If something needs to be moved, then he will fill the holes and drill new ones to move ramps and/or posts. Sometimes a white wood gets so full of holes that another white wood is made, and so on until you have it right. Once the game play is working, then the design is ‘locked down’ and the playfield artwork can be started. Of course, even the best of playfields can change later in the design … Much to the horror of the playfield artist!

Barry’s play action worked great! Perhaps too good … the ‘sonic boom’ ramp shot (left flipper to right ramp) was so popular and so easy (for the Williams game designers at least) to loop the ball forever. I had to modify the rule and on the tenth loop, divert the ball, give the player a bonus, and force the player to use the right flipper with the diverted ball. Of course, a skilled player would use the right flipper to shoot under the left ramp. This would trade flippers back to the left one as a setup for the right ramp. But this did slow them down a bit … 

The Dotwork

Scott ‘Matrix’, the designer of the ‘dotwork’ images, also had access to my collection of Doctor Who photos and tapes. I originally wanted each ball in play to represent one part of a Doctor Who episode, so that starting a game would start at Part 1. But I also wanted all the different video effects and themes for all the Doctors. This would be selectable depending upon the selected Doctor at the start of playing a ball. However, just creating one theme (and there was more to a game than the start and end of a ball in play) in a low resolution dot matrix display was time consuming. So I abandoned the multiple themes idea (the sound system had limits too) and stuck to just one theme. 

While Scott was working on the display effect he discovered that faces were staring back at him from the Doctor Who titles for the early Tom Baker stories. He had been staring at the Doctor Who titles for quite some time, trying to imitate the effect in a low resolution dot matrix display. Quite to his surprise, a face was staring back at him! These can be seen on the right side, half way from the top on the end credits, and on the starting credits, it’s upside down on the left side on both the top and bottom half. Scott came and found me and asked about the faces. ‘What faces?’ I asked! 

There were many other visual effects in the pinball game. Multiball was the most complicated, both visually and with integrated speech, because it involved telling a story during the play of game controlled by the player and not by the actors. If you think the actors have it tough trying to talk while running down a corridor, try getting hit by flippers, rolling on the ground, bouncing off posts, and talking, all in the middle of all those sounds and changing rules! The game also interacted with the player – as you removed Daleks or Davros from the mini-playfield, they all started to panic.

As mentioned, there was a lot more to the dot matrix display than just titles, and one of the more fun elements was the ‘video mode’. The concept was simple: a Doctor was running away from a Dalek that was chasing him. But there are obstacles in his path that the Doctor must jump over. The narrow obstacles only need one flipper to be pressed, the wider obstacles require two flippers to be pressed at the same time. If the Doctor does not jump over an obstacle, or he jumps into an obstacle, he trips and falls and loses (the Dalek catches him, and this obstacle pattern repeats on the next video mode). If the Doctor does not trip, and reaches his TARDIS, he is safe and he leaves. There are some extra points if you jump into the TARDIS, rather than run into it. And points accumulated on each successful video mode until the ‘end of the wave’ (multiple video modes). Remember that the playfield multiplier could also multiply this score, and the timer for the playfield multiplier was temporarily stopped during video mode.

All seven Doctors (depending upon who you are at the time you start video mode) could run in the video mode, however, I only had speech from Sylvester McCoy, so … every other time (I think) the Doctor made it into the TARDIS, there was funny line that McCoy would say. I loved the line that went, ‘(Exhausted Breathing) I do not mind the guns or running or a Dalek or two, it’s the obstacles that I hate!’

Of course a Dalek would not dream of jumping over an obstacle. He merely blasts it to tiny bits. But … at the end of a video mode wave, too many Doctors have escaped. And the Dalek must report his failure. This is something that Daleks do not accept. We had a lot of fun here and there are several of these scenes, each getting worse. I do not remember them all, just the final one because I could not decide what to do. So I gave in to the ‘big gun’ theory and blasted the Dalek to atoms.

My favourite video effect is the entering of the player’s ‘High Score to Date’ initials. It came from a silly idea: that all Time Lords already have your initials and score in their record book. All you do is flip the pages until you find your score and initials. Remember that they know the future. But then, has the future really been recorded in this book accurately? You’d better double check …

Another element of the dot matrix display was the cow. Yes, there is a cow. In case you did not know, Williams has been putting cows in the dot matrix displays for a long time. The trick is to find what makes it appear. I did not want to do it (I am serious about my Doctor Who!). But Scott made me … He was fascinated with the Transmat, and knew my pinball rules about charging the Transmat when the jet bumpers were hit, and if the charge is big enough, then there was a rule to Transmat in a Doctor’s helper. Of course you can activate the Transmat without there being enough power, and every so often (actually rarely) a cow’s head would appear wearing a Tom Baker hat on its head. Sorry about that Tom … 

Sounds and Music 

John Hey had the job of reproducing the sound effects and theme music from Doctor Who. My video tapes of the TV show helped him a lot here and the sound effects were easy for John to reproduce by ear, or at least get close. Some of it was digitised from my video tapes. However, the theme music was a problem. I originally wanted all the different themes to play depending upon which Doctor was selected in the game. But just doing the Tom Baker theme took weeks, and a lot of space was going to be taken up by speech. So we ended up just using the one theme. With uninterrupted music from ball to ball (which was a first for Williams), each ball is supposed to represent one part of this Doctor Who story … and you do not have to wait until next week to play the next ball!

Somewhere along the way I asked the BBC for a copy of the sheet music to the Tom Baker theme. It was then that I found out that there apparently is no sheet music for the score.

As mentioned, the speech was to take up a lot of space on the chip. My original art concept was have as many companions and Doctors as possible but unfortunately we found that there were not enough rules and playfield available for everybody. But for everyone who made it onto the playfield, I planned to include at least one line of speech. I actually wrote up about three lines on average for all the companions, and more for each of the Doctors, the Daleks, and the Master. Williams management started with an open mind, but it always comes back to the money. Williams would have to locate all the actors, get them to/from a recording studio, and pay everyone something. At the time this payment was not very much for a given pinball, and usually there was only one actor involved. I was dividing the pot by about 20. Well, it was a nice idea while it lasted.

So a decision had to be made and at the end of the day, we would provide speech for just three characters: the seventh Doctor played by Sylvester McCoy, some Dalek speech, and the Master as played by Anthony Ainley. We tracked the actors down, they were both available and both agreed … without seeing a script, which was handy as it wasn’t written yet.

Let me explain that I did not talk to the actors directly. I first talked to Williams marketing (i.e. Roger Sharpe), who talked to an international licensing company located in California, who talked to the BBC in England, who talked to the actors agents, who talked to the actor. This was six layers of communication and it took a while to arrange. The actors probably never knew my name.

Now it was my turn to go back to the drawing board. Remember, that not only is there a certain amount of recording time that can fit on an EPROM, (and I was not going to waste a millisecond!) but it uses lossy compression that trashes the quality of speech. (S’s and T’s are not heard, C’s turn into H’s … I always remember the arcade game Sinistar (released by Williams in 1982) and hearing the phrase ‘Run, Howard!’, it was really ‘Run, Coward!’) This is another reason why we always ask for more than we can put in a game, because some of it ends up as not understandable. I quickly re-wrote all the multi-ball speech so that all three would interact in the game, and added more funny lines for video mode, and a few variations. I only had one chance to get the speech and get it correct. And I am a better programmer than a writer.

The script for Sylvester turned out to be about one and a half pages, mostly instructional with some of the funny lines. The script for the Daleks was less than one page, and I had their usual ‘kill’, ‘destroy’ and so on with a little dialogue and some funny lines for the video mode. The Master ended up with about three pages of script, because I found it easy to write for him. Armed with the scripts, John Hey quickly packed his bags and went from Chicago to England to record the actors. All this happened very, very quickly. Schedules for each of the actors was tight and on short notice, and I am sorry to say that all did not go well. Even today, I am not sure what happened, but Anthony did not record the Master speech. Panic gripped Williams …

The Dalek speech was the last to be recorded. Many ideas were discussed, including using a sound-alike Master (after all there was another actor playing the Master before Ainley). John Hey was still in England and a suggestion came (I think from England) that the person recording the Dalek voice could also do, and was willing to do, a Davros voice. Well, back to the scripts I went and super-quickly re-wrote the Master speech into a Davros speech. Then we faxed the new text to John. Both voices were recorded! We had our speech!

But the Master issue was not over yet. Rumours were flying at super sonic speeds, and there was talk of removing all traces (playfield and backglass artwork, dot matrix, etc) of the Master from the game. After a couple of weeks this died down to giving the Master a face lift on the playfield, making him look like the first Master, as played by Roger Delgado on television. And now instead of the Doctors battling the Daleks with a surprise appearance of the Master as the real villain. Davros was now the surprise villain. At the time, with the Bally backglass, he truly was a surprise … Davros was not on the Bally backglass at all and the Master was only on it as a silhouette. More weeks later, sanity returned at Williams. John knew that I missed the Master character and so he recorded a sound alike voice for Master’s laugh. That I put on the outlanes and a few other places in the game. More weeks went by, and I was talking to Roger Sharpe and told him of the sound alike laugh in the game. He showed me a letter from Anthony written in his own hand, which explained that, basically, he didn’t feel that the £1000 being offered for the recording was enough, and that there wasn’t enough time between his seeing the script and the recording date to effectively negotiate for more. 

When John Hey returned with the speech tapes. Both Sylvester and the Dalek/Davros speaker had added a few more of their phrases on top of my scripted ones. This added a nice personality touch that I missed, so we used them in the game as well. All the scripts were recorded onto a digital audio tape (DAT) machine by John and then the good ‘takes’ grabbed using Sound Designer II on a Mac before being converted through a Williams custom built CVSD (Continuously Variable Slope Delta) encoder. We experimented with the Daleks’ voices. They sounded bad enough to start with, much less after trying to get them correct following CVSD sampling. We ended up using the ones recorded in England. The music was recreated on the Williams Yamaha FM chip sound system by John as well. He reported that it was a real challenge making FM synthesisers sound like older analogue synthesers. The TARDIS sound was sampled and played directly from the DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter). All the rest of the effects (except the drum hits which were also DAC) were created on a Yamaha FM. 

The New BackBox Feature 

The Dalek Head on top the backbox was an after-thought. The game had a great white wood playfield, it was playable with a lot of rules and interest, the artwork sketches were approved. and management asked me if I could decorate the top of the backbox. I was shocked! Usually they took off features! I had spent a lot of dollars on the mini-playfield for the machine, rather than decoration. But, in that era, most Williams games had a backbox feature. And the continuing success of The Addams Family looked like that machine was going to run and run! So, I decided on a Dalek moving head, with an eye ball that would flash in time with the speech. I even devised an simple electronic circuit and software program that would give me the flash rates for any speech phrase that I could play back. But this was a last minute decision that had to be designed quickly. Several motors were tested, and broke. Meanwhile, four Styrofoam models of the head were made. All had a ‘snub nose’ which was made short because it had to fit under a protective plastic dome, there to avoid mischievous players or dedicated fans from pulling the Dalek eye out … and the width of the top of the backbox is very narrow! Then I made and sent a video tape of the prototypes for Terry Nation’s approval (he was the creator/owner of the Daleks). Finally, a reliable motor was found and a mock-up was created since the real parts would arrive just before our scheduled test date … and I still needed to develop the software to make it all work.

The Test 

The issue of where to test a game has always be been a hot one. Here is the logic used to determine the location:

Criteria #1: Marketing and Sales want to sell as many as they can of the next game. But they do not want to impact the sales of the current game. Williams sells to distributors who stock the game, and the distributors sell the game to operators (operators being arcades and/or a ‘route’). So typically, they like to test a game as close to production as possible. But … The Addams Family was a bigger hit than expected, and no one knew when interest would die down. Doctor Who was the second game after The Addams Family, so, the ‘hurry up and wait’ syndrome happened. 

Criteria #2: Test it in a low profile (so noone knows about it) but a high number of plays (for example in a popular arcade). 

Now, how do you get a lot of people to play a game, but nobody knows about it? Marketing and Sales had the answer: They tested it at an average arcade called ‘Dennis’s Place’. They had about two walls of pinball machines, mostly videos, and a couple of sit down video games. At the time there were more high profile (for example Gala North Arcade) and low profile (for example a Bar) locations. All locations were well known test sites for manufacturers, and usually when we went to observe our own game on test we met employees from other manufacturers, and sometimes they even beat us to our own test locations! 

The Artwork (Part Two) 

It was after twelve prototypes had been built and tested that Williams decided that they wanted the Bally pinball cabinets to be more like Williams cabinets. This would allow Williams to order the same parts in a higher volume, thus qualifying for discounts on part prices. I knew that this was coming, but I just never knew when. 

With regards to the Doctor Who pinball, it was ready to be produced, and was just waiting in line, mainly for The Addams Family machine to start to dip in popularity. Then the decision was made by Williams to change from the Bally style backbox to the Williams style backbox. The William backbox was a lot shorter, and Williams management suggested that we just cut off the bottom of the backbox art on the Doctor Who  machine. But a mock up was created, and it looked terrible. It was then that the artist and I went back to the drawing board, and tried to come up with a replacement as fast as we could. I had suggested that we create a scene with the time expander, all seven Doctors, Davros and the Daleks. Then Linda took over the composition, and the final backglass was created. It then had to be rushed to the BBC for approval, and thankfully it was all approved without issue. The twelve Doctor Who pinball test games were made and tested (in public) with the Bally style backbox and then the twelve games were converted to the Williams style backbox. Doctor Who was the first Bally game to be produced with the Williams style backbox, and I do not know what happened to the original backglasses. 

Cost cutting 

Well, it had to happen to Doctor Who. While it was being produced, the money men came, and calculated the cost of producing the game, and decided it cost too much. After many hours of negotiation, the moving Dalek head on the backbox had to go. The head itself was cheap and could stay as part of the shipped game – it was just some plastic and a flasher, but it was integrated into the effects of the game, and so the head stayed! However the motion had to go, and this alteration was scheduled to happen after about 100 had been produced. I changed the software to try and detect the presence of the head, and then to activate the code to move it. There is even a game adjustment (adjustment 49) to manually enable the head software. Years later, some people have even added a motor to their Doctor Who game (take a look at http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Quark/1825/).

Premiering the Game

I had been to previous Visions conventions in the USA, and they feature Doctor Who and other TV shows. I proposed to Williams that we bring a couple of games to the convention in 1992 and have free handouts and a contest. We had plenty of free plastic handouts, and we decided the contest would award a backglass (or, in reality, back plastic) to the overall winner. But there was a condition, Doctor Who could only go to the convention if the game was actually in production. Remember the marketing rules from before: Williams did not show games before production, since it might have an adverse effect on the current game in production. Since production of Doctor Who was being delayed by the success of The Addams Family pinball, it was impossible to predict if the game could go to the convention or not. So, with these restrictions in mind, I contacted the convention people. They were happy that I wanted to show the pinball at their convention, but of course I could not guarantee if I could bring it at all! Hence, there could be no announcement or advertisement about the pinball in advance. However, I was lucky. About one month before the convention, Doctor Who finally went into production. It was too later to tell the convention organisers, but time enough for us to organize to have two games shipped to the convention. It turned out to be well received, and people loved the free handouts. Although I missed any of the actors visiting the game, I heard that they liked it.

Success Story

If there is one impossible obstacle that any pinball machine must face, it is when it comes after a mega-production hit. I am of course, talking about The Addams Family pinball. That game shipped about 20,000 units! It was a huge success that broke all records and raised all expectations for a popular pinball machine. The next one in line, Black Rose had a very short production life, and sold about 3,700 units. Although it was an average game (in my opinion) it was not as good as The Addams Family, and it did not meet the high expectations of the market. It took a while for the last Black Rose we produced to sell. Next in line was Doctor Who which started production in September of 1992. To my relief, that sold around 7,700 units. At around that time, an average production number was 4,000 to 5,000. 

Summing Up

It was a lot of fun designing, programming, & even promoting this game. I am also glad that Doctor Who is now back on the air. I hope this inspires future game designers to continue their efforts despite the many obstacles & issues that can occur.

Statistics and Information

The following information is from the Internet Pinball Database at: http://www.ipdb.org/machine.cgi?id=738

Doctor Who / IPD No. 738 / September, 1992 / 4 Players

Average Fun Rating:      8.1/10  (34 ratings/29 comments)         

Manufacturer: Midway Manufacturing Company, a subsidiary of WMS Industries, Incorporated,

of Chicago, Illinois, USA (1988-1999) [Trade Name: Bally]

Model Number: 20006

Common Abbreviations: DW

MPU: Williams WPC (Fliptronics 2)

Type: Solid State Electronic (SS)  

Production: 7,752 units   (confirmed)

Theme: Celebrities - Fictional - Licensed Theme

Notable Features: Flippers (3; the two main flippers – ‘Lightning’ Flippers - are shorter than the standard size flippers), Ramps (2), Multiball

Toys: Three Level Mini-Playfield

Design by: Barry Oursler, Bill Pfutzenreuter

Art by: Linda Deal (aka Doane)

Dots/Animation by: Scott Slomiany

Mechanics by: Zofia Bil

Music by: Jon Hey

Sound by: Jon Hey

Software by: Bill Pfutzenreuter

Marketing Slogans: ‘It’s About Time’

’The Doctor Is In …’

Rule Sheets: Doctor Who! Rulesheet Version 1.02 (Mar/31/1993), by Bowen Kerins  

Richard Poser’s Tip Sheet  (External Site)

Additional Info: View at PinLinks.org  (External site)

ROMs: 355 KB ZIP Game ROM L-2 [Midway Mfg. Co.]

  1 MB ZIP Game ROM P5 (Prototype) With L2 Sound [Midway Mfg. Co.]

  1 MB ZIP PinMame ROMs Set (L-2)

  260 KB ZIP PinMame Romsets (L-1)

  995 KB ZIP Sound ROM L-1 [U14,U15,U18] [Midway Mfg. Co.]

Documentation: 8 MB PDF English Manual [Midway Mfg. Co., a subsidiary of WMS Industries, Inc.]

  207 KB TXT Parts List