PA Pinball Presents -
An Interview with John Trudeau
the course of late January to early February 2005, I was granted the
opportunity to interview the talented pinball game designer, John
Trudeau. Having worked for several companies in the pinball
industry, John has nearly forty titles accredited to his name.
I have read in another interview that
you started out as a game tester for Game Plan. What interested /
inspired you to pursue a career in pinball? How were you
initially exposed to pinball?
Aside from a casual interest I've always had for the game while growing
up, getting the job at Game Plan pushed me in the fateful direction to
design. I ended up being in the right place at the right time.
As a game designer, I presume that your core duties were playfield
layout, game rule sets, and scoring features. Were there any
other aspects of the design process that you were responsible for, but
not limited to, such as selection of game sounds, music, or software
programming while working for Gottlieb / Premier?
As the "game designer" you are responsible for the entire
package. Surrounding yourself with talented people was the best
thing one could do. I personally tried NOT to dictate limitations
to any of the team, unless it was necessary. Getting creative
juices flowing in talented people is best done by giving them their
heads, to let them get into the project, to get them to go wild!
I usually started distributing the pieces to be created to the
different members of the team with a good outline, and tried to give a
What inspired your playfield layout designs?
Basically my love of the geometry of the game. The way the ball
flowed through the curved lanes and up the ramps.
Did you have a particular formula for the amount of items to be placed
on the playfield?
Not really. If the budget allowed it, and the playfield had the
room, AND, the flow of the layout allowed it, there were no real item
specifications for a game. The layout (real estate) is the real
Since Gottlieb had a vast repository of patented playfield gadgets, how
did you choose what items to place on one of your designs?
The biggest determining factor was cost. You'll notice that the
Roto-Unit wasn't used at all through the 80s and beyond. It was
also a real estate hog under the playfield and very cumbersome to
assemble and adjust.
For Alien Star, Ice Fever, and Genesis, you used a thicker than normal
wireform for the inlanes. In using this wireform, the velocity of
the ball increases as it approaches the flippers. Was this an
intentional design change?
Yes. It was an effort to make the game a little quicker and also
help prevent the ball from hopping the rail.
What is the average amount of time from early concept to production for
a pinball machine to be created?
Usually at least six months and up to a year or so.
Was a project typically given to you with a predetermined deadline?
There was ALWAYS a deadline! It was a LOT easier at Williams than
at Premier. When we started Premier, I was the only
game/mechanical designer for quite a while. That's basically why
there wasn't too much going on with the early designs there. I
had to meet the deadline with new layouts and keep production
running. It was still fun, though. I was given the chance
(time) to get more creative once I went to Williams/Bally/Midway.
Was there a quota of machines which you were responsible to produce
The goal was to keep the factory running at a profit. When we
were able to up the daily rate the company made more money, employed
more people and everybody was happy. Games like Hollywood Heat
and Monte Carlo made things easy at the plant.
In hindsight, have you ever wished that you were allotted more time for
a project? Is there a specific title that comes to mind?
I think every game designer and all the design people involved with a
project would have liked more time. We could have taken a lot
longer if we were allowed. Schedules and deadlines were a
necessary evil to keep everything flowing and profitable. If I
had to finger a particular game or period it probably would be one of
the Premier designs. We were always so rushed in the design
process. The layouts were fine but the game rules could have been
a lot deeper, if we had the time.
Conversely, have you ever had a particular game where your creativity
flowed so easily and effortlessly that you finished the project in
Some of the Premier games came pretty easily. I didn't have to
get involved with making the game rules as deep as they could have
been. And good themes like Hollywood Heat were easy pickin's. But
having a good theme to work with keep the creativity process
flowing. CFTBL was almost giving us fits trying to finish it up
and cut it off. Jeff Johnson and I were having so much fun
creating all the crazy "play modes" that it was hard to stop!
Did you design from a specific license given to you, or did you create
the design, and then have Gottlieb pursue a license similar to your
The game themes were usually there before the layout, though not
always. As the games got more complex the theme had to be
developed earlier and that helped the whole game package.
Do you prefer to design games from a licensed theme, or create games
from the ground up?
Either way was good. I enjoyed working with a licensed theme as
much as creating the original ones. Actually, the licenses made
the job somewhat easier. It gave the design team a lot of
material to work with from the very beginning. This was always a
thought when picking out a license. How deep was the package?
When working with an artist, did you design games based on the artwork,
did the artist base his / her work on your design, or did the two of
you brainstorm as a team?
The artist usually worked from the game design theme. The game
package was then always done with the artist being involved. We
all worked as a team.
I am curious about a particular theme. What was the concept of Genesis
Genesis was inspired by the classic sci-fi move "Metropolis" (Fritz
Lang, 1926). I wanted it to be as monochromatic as possible, like
the B&W movie. Larry Day did a fantastic job using the bare
minimum of color throughout the game. If you haven't seen the
movie, do watch it. The special effects for 1926 are just
fantastic. In my opinion, that movie could hold its own with some
of the movies today, if it weren't for the lack of a soundtrack.
Some of your innovative designs that I have observed are under
animation, flippers placed around the outlanes, or flippers facing
opposite of the "modern" norm. Are there any playfield layout
designs that you would consider to be your signature design?
I don't think so. Different flipper placement was really an
effort to change the look of some of the models. It gets to be a
necessity to change the playfield in this manner when you are the only
one designing. They were experiments. Some of them never saw
production. Some did (Q*bert's Quest, Gold Wings).
Even with these unique layouts, the Premier games tended to have a
"sameness - feel" to them, because of the quick "turn-around"
needed. I couldn't afford to stumble too much, or sometimes, at
all. But I loved every minute of it.
Why was Krull never placed into production? Was it due to
production cost, bad commercial license, or other reasons?
Krull was supposed to be a co-release with the "hit" movie coming from
Columbia Pictures (they owned Gottlieb at this point). We were
given the task to make a game for the movie. Ed Krynski and I
each put together a prototype for management to choose from. As
the release day for the movie approached, I guess the "powers-that-be"
figured out that the movie was going to be a turkey. We no longer
needed the game (or the cost of it to produce). The "no frills"
era was about to begin.
Since you had just mentioned Ed Krynski, were any of your designs
inspired by him? Did he help contribute to your work at
Or did you contribute to his work at all?
The designers were always very protective of their ideas and the
direction the layout and design of the game was going. We did
help each other if we were asked. Ed Krynski was a great designer
for pinball to have to its credit. I was disappointed that he
wasn't given the opportunity to continue to make new designs when the
company was renamed. All they wanted from him was remakes of his
The structural design of cabinets while you were employed at Gottlieb /
Mylstar / Premier went through an evolution. The cabinets were
originally constructed of plywood, then particle board, and then back
to plywood. Did the different cabinet structures limit or enhance
your designing capabilities?
No. The change to particleboard was to reduce cost, but they were
not sturdy enough. That was why they changed back to plywood.
In some instances smaller coin doors on titles such as Jacks to Open,
Alien Star, and Touchdown were used during the Mylstar era. Do
you know why these doors were used? Were they strictly used for
domestic games, or possibly a surplus of video game coin doors were
Cutting the cost was probably the determining factor.
Were there considerable monetary constraints at any time when you
worked for Gottlieb which led to restrictions to your intended designs?
When the video craze came to be, the Mylstar management wanted to kill
the pinball product totally. That's why the name of the company
was changed when Coca-Cola bought Columbia Pictures. They wanted
to be known as a video game company. If they could have put more
hits on the street from the video end, it would have happened. As
it came to be, only Q*bert and Mach3 were hits. And we had to
make a Q*bert pinball too.
Was the evolution of Gottlieb from a corporate to an employee owned
company beneficial to your creativeness and design?
Gottlieb/Mylstar was never an employee owned company. The
reformation of Gottlieb into Premier was due to the efforts of Mondial
Distributing and Gil Pollock (a former Gottlieb VP). They made
the deal to get the pinball assets away from Coca-Cola and made into
So, would you consider Gil Pollock solely responsible for keeping the
Gottlieb name alive for a least another decade?
He, along with the Fesjian family (Mondial) were the principal reasons
that the pinball production was given another chance to succeed.
Also, without the core of people that came over to Premier from
Gottlieb engineering and manufacturing, there would have not been any
success either. We all worked as a team to get Premier
running. Long hours and a love of the game kept it going.
Do you have any insight why Premier decided to change its translite
format from the traditionally hand drawn artwork to photographic
artwork? Furthermore, it has been rumored that some of the models
for the translites were actually Premier employees. Is this
indeed a fact?
The change to translites was done to try to give the games a "new"
look. I think it succeeded greatly. This also allowed
greater freedom to the artists (and now photographers!) to let their
imaginations run wild! The only actual Premier personnel that was
photographed (to my knowledge) was Gil Pollock, the President of the
company. He posed for the Monte Carlo backglass along with two
models (in the foreground), a girl from the Gaslight Club (holding the
tray), Jim Roberts (James Industries), and in the rearmost spot, Alvin
Was Alvin Gottlieb an integral part of Premier, and why did he leave to
start his own company (Alvin G. & Co.)?
As I understand the Coca-Cola/Mylstar pinball asset buy-out situation,
Alvin Gottlieb declined to be involved at that time. He was never
part of the Premier partnership.
A few years later, his son Michael convinced him to try it again with
You are accredited to two cocktail tables with International
Concepts. Were you chosen to do the designs because of your
familiarity with these types of layouts while employed with Game Plan?
You pretty much hit the nail on the head. I was the only one at
Premier with any cocktail pinball experience. I really enjoyed
doing them as a "break" from the normal. They went together very
nicely and I can't recall that we had any difficulties producing them.
What was it like to work with Steve Kordek for the Chicago Gaming
Company release entitled Vacation America?
Steve and I have never had the pleasure of actually working together on
a project. Chicago Gaming Company (Churchill Cabinet Company)
brought me in as a consultant to develop a pingame for them. As
the project progressed, I asked if they wanted to put me on as a
full-time employee. They declined. I received an offer for
a job out of the state of Illinois, and needing the full-time
employment, I took the job. This didn't sit well with Chicago
Gaming, working long distance. We parted ways and Steve was
brought in to finish up the project.
In 2002, it was rumored that you were selected to be the designer for
an Innovative Concepts in Entertainment (ICE) pinball project.
What happened to the project?
That still hurts. I relocated here to start making pinballs
again. What a wonderful opportunity. With the company's
understanding that this would probably be a project that would take six
months to a year to get under way, I started to put it together.
I had a cabinet and playfield designed (to a great licensed
theme). When I didn't see the personnel starting to fill the
needed spots I should have suspected something. After an
unsuccessful trip to Chicago, to consult with WMS about purchasing
their pinball electronic system, ICE management decided not to pursue
pinball any longer. Just like that. I was given the bad
news only three months into the project.
Well, I was stuck here for a while, after just having moved and found a
place to live. So I stayed on with them trying to learn how to
make redemption pieces and kiddie rides. Not really my cup of
tea, but I gave it a shot. It didn't work out very well. I
found out that their normal way of doing business was unlike anything I
had previously experienced. I prefer a little more genuine
commitment than what I received. Too bad. Their loss for
Oh yeah, the theme of the game was "Caddyshack".
What is your favorite pinball machine designed by you? Designed
by someone else?
That's a tough one. CFTBL was probably my favorite for the
WMS side and Hollywood Heat from Premier. I couldn't choose from
all the fantastic games out there from other designers. Too many
Do you collect / play pinball machines on a regular basis?
I still play them when I see them. I don't collect them. I
really enjoy the design and all the processes to get the game to
completion. After I play it a while, I'm ready to move on to the
next one. I love to design.
How did you acquire the "Dr. Flash" moniker?
"Doctor Flash" was given to me by Python Anghelo when we were doing two
games at the same time, Bugs Bunny's Birthday Ball and The Machine,
BOP. We really went crazy there for a while. We were doing
so much so fast that one day he called me "Doctor Flash". I guess
It is common knowledge that several Williams and Bally titles, some of
which you were the designer, have "Easter Eggs" embedded in the
software code. Are there any such hidden features in the software
of any Gottlieb / Premier titles that you had designed? If so, do
you have any specific details that you can share?
Not to my knowledge. Again, it was the schedule that didn't allow
this to happen.
Do you keep in touch with any of the artists or other designers that
you had worked with at Gottlieb / Premier?
I have talked recently with some of the people I worked with, but I
have lost contact with most of them.
What do you foresee in pinball?
A resurgence, of course. There is far too much interest in it to
let it just die. I believe Stern pinball is doing better.
Right now, he's the only one with the doors open, and games going out
the docks. I believe there will finally be some more interest in
competing in what should be a growing market. Only time will
Can one expect to see a design from the mind of John Trudeau in the
Perhaps. I have some friends that are really wanting to make a
prototype game to offer to collectors, with a VERY limited production
run. I do hope this comes to pass. I really enjoy designing
pins and this seems like a very good opportunity to help keep the game
alive. I believe the time is right for a major infusion of
pinball. There are a lot of things that can be done to make the
product more operator friendly and reliable. If our little
prototype does come to pass, I hope it will make some good noise in the
industry. Thanks for the opportunity to talk to everyone!
has been a real pleasure conducting this interview with Mr.
Trudeau. I have owned several of his designed titles, and I am
looking forward to acquiring many more. John, I personally want
thank you for your time by answering my questions, and thanks for all
that you give to pinball - past and future!