PA Pinball Presents -
An Interview with Jon Norris
March 2007, the talented pinball
game designer, Jon Norris, granted me an interview. Jon's
career was spent primarily with Premier
Technology (Gottlieb) during the mid 1980's until mid 1996, when the
He also worked for Sega Pinball / Stern Pinball, Inc. from 1996 until
2000. Jon has solely designed over a dozen
machines, and developed the rule set for nearly as many games.
How were you initially exposed to pinball?
The first time that I remember playing pinball was at an arcade in
downtown Santa Barbara in about 1972. The arcade was upstairs at
an indoor art gallery / flea market. The game was a manual lift,
and it served up two balls. The game was red. It may have been Kings
How did you get your start in the pinball industry?
When I was in college, I worked for a street operator as a
general helper. I learned game repair, and also did a lot of the
manual labor by moving games. My boss would go down to CA
Robinson's warehouse, buy all of the trade-in pinball games
as-is, and have me shop them out for sales around the holidays. I
really loved pinball, and wanted to get into the industry as a game
designer. So, I made a couple of custom games including Tour De
France. I made a crude flyer, (edition of 15), of Tour De France,
and distributed the flyer around at the first Pinball Expo. Six
later, I got a phone call from Gil Pollock, offering me a junior
designer position at Premier Technology (Gottlieb). I accepted
his offer, and moved to Chicago.
Exactly what years did you work for Premier?
June 6, 1986 through July 9, 1996. Exactly ten years, one month,
three days. They were the best ten years of my life!
Besides being a designer, what other
responsibilities did you have at Premier?
Company photographer. I took pictures of the games for
game rules for other designer's playfields.
What exactly did you do when you
started your position as a junior designer?
I would help build and wire whitewood playfields, play test games, and
work on my own playfield layouts. At the time, John Trudeau, Joe
Kaminkow, and Ray Tanzer were the game designers. I helped Joe
with his Porsche 911 playfield. The first step was to take the
playfield drawing, which
was drawn on clear Mylar, and align it with the blank
playfield. Then, I used a center punch to mark all of the insert
centers, post centers, and hole centers. Then, I went to the
and made all of the holes. There were many wood shavings to
clean-up. After drilling the holes, we had to glue in the hats
(inserts), sand the board, build the board, and make a cable from
spools of color coded wire.
Play testing the next game slated for production was another
responsibility. We had to play many "columns" of games. A
column of games consisted of playing 25 consecutive games, and writing
down all important information. The purpose of this step was to
find software bugs, percentage the game, and tweak the game's fun
factor. I also worked on my early layouts when time
allowed. My first three games were never made. The fourth
layout became Diamond Lady. The first three layouts were Tour de
France (bicycle racing), Eliminator (drag racing), and a horrible pool
game. I really did have a lot of fun learning how to create a
game from an initial drawing through to play testing.
What inspired your playfield designs?
Just about everything, including old games, new games, television
shows, carnival games, etc. I spent a lot of time studying
pinball games from the 50's and 60's. I also collected games from
this era. At one point in time, I owned around 80 wood rail
games. I went from having a house and a collection of over 100
pinball games, while being a designer, to having nothing today - no
house, no pinball games.
Did you have what you consider a
Yes, Golden Cue. I always prided myself on creating a game with
cutting edge game rule concepts. Golden Cue took that to the
ultimate game rule concept. The entire idea was to have a game
rule set that would try to equalize the final scores between novice and
expert players. On the typical game, the expert player would
average over double or triple the average final score of a novice
player. This game had a rule set that resulted in a 10%
difference between the average scores of novice players and expert
players. The game also had a goal that ended the game. It
was a tournament game where the players played for cash prizes.
So, I wanted this to be more like a pool game, where better players
would complete their game more quickly. Like pool, beginner
players received more game time than good players.
Did you have a favorite playfield gadget / mechanism that
used in your playfield designs?
The cue ball on Cueball Wizard. The reason why I like this
device the best is because it only cost a couple of dollars per game,
while most other playfield devices cost a lot more money. This
does not mean a lot to players who do not care about how much a gadget
costs. It really matters to the manufacturer and game designer,
who operate under a maximum budget per game. If I can save a few
dollars here, then I can spend a little more to make a better
game. In this case, I was able to put in the elevated motorized
turret as a second gimmick on the playfield.
Which game design of yours took the longest to develop from
start to finish?
At Gottlieb, I spent probably 6 months
on Diamond Lady. Most games I spent 10 to 12 weeks, with some
follow-up time required on each game after it was in production.
The main reason why Williams / Bally (WMS/BLY)
always had better games than us
was more of our lack of development time than any other factor. WMS/BLY
design teams had typically 1 year to complete a
game. This allowed them to use a serial type project
development system. This means that you design the playfield,
tweak the playfield, then begin on the rule set, then the art,
etc. Due to our short time constraints, we had to implement
a parallel project development. This meant that the rules were
being programmed, at the same time as the artwork being created, at the
same time that the playfield was being tweaked, etc. There were
times when the first time that we ever played a complete game was the
day before the first sample was put out on test. I realize that
the player does not care about how much time the team got to develop a
game. They only want to play the best game in the arcade. I
quite proud of how good our games were considering the circumstances.
Which of your game designs took the least amount of time?
The least amount of time from initial meeting to the
production line was 5 weeks. That is right, 5 WEEKS!
Well, we kind of cheated to complete this task. We took a
previous playfield design, and put new art and game rules on it.
When our company found out that WMS/BLY had the World Cup license, we
decided to come out with a soccer theme game prior to their
release. We knew that we were going to bring Rescue 911 to the
Spring show, when they were going to bring their World Cup soccer
game. We took a previous design, Car Hop, and put a couple of
ramps on it. The original playfield was a "flat" layout.
game, World Challenge Soccer, did sell out, even though it was done so
quickly. It is a good thing that it did sell out prior to
WMS/BLY's release of World Cup Soccer '94, since it was one of the best
games of the year. Time duration from the meeting that began the
project to the first game coming off of the assembly line was a scant 5
Was it common for rival pinball manufacturers to compete for the same
license, or was World Cup Soccer only an isolated incident?
We also tried for Jurassic Park, but Joe Kaminkow at Data East had
already acquired that outstanding license.
Did you have any of your games or concepts never make it to
Tour de France was my first game when I started at Premier. The
game was based on a custom game that I had made in the early 80's.
The company decided not to
make the game because of the narrow audience for
the theme. The game would not have sold very well in the USA.
The best game to never make it to production was Red Alert, from around
1988. This game had floodlights that illuminated the playfield
during timed rounds. This game preceded Lights...Camera...Action!
which I later used the floodlights and a timed mode concept on.
playfield was my first
flow design, and was a lot of fun to
play. The game was killed for political reasons. It also
featured magnets in the center of the playfield that were a magnetic
version of Fireball's center spinner. The magnets were activated
during certain timed rounds. Keep in mind the year of this
creation before mentioning The Addams Family.
I had several games themes changed in the middle of development,
Hot Shots - originally an aircraft carrier / jet fighter
Car Hop - originally had a wood rail cabinet, that was costed
out when it was going to cost $20 per game extra.
- originally a card game
Gladiators - originally Zelda (Nintendo license)
Other than reasons of cost or licensing conflicts, why
would a game design change during the course of development?
Do you mean theme? In one case,
a theme changed, because another company came out with a similar
theme. When Data East came out with Torpedo Alley, it changed a
similar naval action theme to another theme with Hot Shots. Most
theme changes occurred because of licenses. One good example of
the theme staying the same, but a title change was when the Monster
Mash title was changed to Class of 1812 to save $2,000 in licensing
Did you prefer working on license themed designs or original designs?
Original designs. Licensed themes eliminated some of the creation
aspects of game development. Also, they introduced hassles and
tape resulting from approvals needed to be made by the owner of the
How did you come up with the concept
of modes and timed modes? Also, please describe what a mode is.
The idea came from a TV game show concept - Final
Jeopardy. A mode or round is a timed event, where the player must
either complete a given task, or collect high scores before time
expires. The player may have the opportunity to add to their
elapsed time, or slow down the clock during the round.
Regarding the history of this feature, there are several
electro-mechanical games and early solid state games that had "one
shot" or "hurry-up"
features. These features would qualify a target, shot, or bank
completion for an increased value or award for either a short timed
period or next shot. One good example of a one shot was used on
Gottlieb's 300 / Top Score (1975). A SPECIAL would light, but
hitting anything, any switch closure, other
than the lit target, immediately eliminated
the feature. A good example of a hurry-up was seen on Bally's
Viking (1979). On this game, the upper left target would begin
flashing for an award of 50,000. This would continue for three or
four seconds, then go away. This feature caused the player to
suddenly change priorities. A replay
equaled 600,000, so making / hitting this target was worth 8% of the
replay score. During the hurry-up, a
unique sound is heard, alerting the player to the feature.
I wanted to offer the player a bonus round for completing an
objective. With John Trudeau's layout
and my rule set,
Excalibur was the first game to incorporate
this feature. The concept was a lot of fun, and had the potential
to be used again. The next logical step was to design a mode
based game around this concept, where the
main game play would be built around these "rounds". Red Alert
was going to be a mode based game, but I had to wait for Lights Camera
Action (1989) to unleash a full blown mode based game. I put the
large timer on the playfield to help players learn the timed mode
concept. The highly visible timer counts down, and the music
changes during these timed events. Most regular players take
modes for granted today, but that was a lot different back in
1989. We also had to turn off all playfield features except for
the active features to clearly define the currently active feature to
the player. Later on Shaq Attaq, I added a feature where if the
player was successful in completing the task at hand during the mode,
then a completion light was turned-on, and the ultimate goal was to be
successful in completing all modes. This solved the catch the
ball and wait for the mode to expire before continuing game play
problem. A low risk way to receive an award/feature for
completing all modes.
You previously mentioned "flow
design". What do you consider qualifies as a flow design?
A "flow design" is a playfield layout that is dominated by smooth
shots, as opposed to a catch and shoot layout. Good examples of
flow games are: High Speed, Getaway, and T2 by Steve Ritchie, and ID4,
X-Files, and Viper Night Drivin' by Rob Hurtado. My only flow
games were Gladiators and Mario Andretti, not counting Red Alert
which never made it to production.
With the exception of using flood
lamps in LCA, did portions of Red Alert
crop up in any of your future designs?
No. The magnets, Williams
Magna-Save coils, just sat in a drawer, and I never tried to re-vamp
that layout into a new playfield layout until the very end of
Premier. I had a whitewood in my office that took the same
and added new features. This was 1996 and the original Red Alert
was done in the late 80's. The new design had a gun mounted to a
holster on the front of the cabinet. The gun was similar to the
type on a video game, (Mad Dog McCree), where the player shoots
characters on the monitor (opto type). On the pinball game, the
player had to shoot targets on the playfield to activate the
flippers. Large targets were placed near the left flipper
and right flipper. There were also shooting gallery type
targets that would flash an LED to allow the player to score additional
points. If the player opted to play the cabinet mounted flipper
switches, then the gun could be deactivated. This prevented one
player from playing the flippers, while another player concentrated on
shooting the "bad guys". This game never made it past the concept
stage as Premier closed. Picture a traditional gun game with an
array of small targets. These small targets are scattered around
the playfield on ramps, plastics, etc., with two large targets for the
What was your favorite game designed by you? Designed by others?
Golden Cue and Eight Ball Deluxe
It appears that Bad Girls has several
similarities to Eight Ball Deluxe (EBD) in layout. Did you design
Bad Girls with EBD in mind?
Yes. We took Eight Ball Deluxe, (I had a blank EBD playfield to
as reference at the time), and reversed the layout, added a ramp, and
the animated pool table located in the center of playfield.
Basically an updated version of the Bally classic at the time.
Most of Bad Girl's features were either the same or similar to
EBD. The backglass created a controversy. The
photo backglass was a bit too risqué for the time, especially in
the Bible Belt. I requested that we send an alternate translite,
like Zaccaria had done on their Farfalla game.
What was your favorite Premier game
designed by you?
That game would have to be Diamond Lady. There were many
things that I did not have control over due to my "junior"
One of those things was the kick save. I wanted the device to
remain active until it was used, like all of the other companies did,
but the powers that be did not want this feature to do this. So
it was timed-out. The other was having targets spotted by other
shots. At this point in time, I did not want this to happen in
the game, but it was in the interest of the average player. (Note: I may have opted for this feature
in later years.) The last thing was the drop target
flippers. I wanted the game to have a play-more post, but this
device would have required a new mold, so I used an existing device, a
single drop target, to give the player one save. I had to wait
for Mario Andretti to finally get a play-more post in a Gottlieb
game. Sega's Golden Cue had player activated play-more posts and
a post-save located between the flippers and in each drain.
In developing rule sets for other
designers, how did that process work exactly?
Parallel development required the playfield designer to focus
on many facets of game development simultaneously, including game
rules. When I designed game rules for another playfield designer,
this allowed that designer to focus in on their layout and project
management. I could put all of my attention on the rule
set. I think that some of my best rule sets were for other
designer's games. One example of this is on the game Stargate.
Ray Tanzer's best playfield coupled with one of my best rule sets.
Why were so many designers, yourself included, involved with the
development of Street Fighter II?
This was a Ray Tanzer playfield and my rule set. Who are the other
The other credited
designers included Mike Vrettos and Bill Parker. Did either have
any involvement with the development of Street Fighter II?
The best person to answer this question is Ray Tanzer. This was
playfield. As far as I can recall, this was 100% his layout, not
collaboration like Freddy, (Ray Tanzer & Bill Parker playfield with
my rule set).
What was it like to work with Ray
Tanzer on the titles that you both
had a hand in?
Ray was great to work with at Gottlieb, when we were both
“equals”. However at Sega, Ray was promoted to head of Mechanical
and the game designers were under him. That was a different case,
his “management” style clashed with my temperament. This
our professional relationship, and at the end, he also did not stand up
for me. (Note: It was me who
recommended Ray being hired in the first
place.) I believe that if Stern Pinball, Inc. (SPI) had
opted to retain me as
an outside consultant, Ray and I would have been equals again,
and would have produced many great games together.
What kind of experience was it to have Steve Kirk involved with Surf 'N
Steve was brought in as head of game design over Ray Tanzer and
me. The layout to Surf 'N Safari had been completed with game
programming already started using our parallel development
approach. At the beginning, Steve would stay at work late after I
had left for the day, and make small changes
to the layout by moving
a post a bit, etc. I
would always change the playfield back to how it was the next
day. Steve did manage to keep one additional post in the pop
bumper area. It is the post that diverts the ball to randomize
the exit from this area. (Note: It is
okay for people who own the game to remove this post.)
Steve was good at getting people excited about the theme. At
his expense, he took all of the staff to a
water park in Rockford one day. Steve's greatest contribution to
the game was the miniature palm trees. Yes, it was Steve who
brought them into work one day. They really dressed the game
up. Steve and I were on good terms, until I found out that he was
taking full credit, behind my back,
at Pinball Expo
for creating the game. Steve's
involvement with the project produced a better game than if he had not
been there, especially in getting the staff excited about the project,
but the playfield and rule set were completed prior to his involvement.
You worked fairly close with John
Trudeau for a few years. What was that like?
Prior to 1986, John had been Premier's only designer. In
early 1986, Ray Tanzer was brought up from another position as a junior
designer, and Joe Kaminkow was hired. Then, I
was hired in June of 1986. Now, John
had three junior designers to deal with. I had only been employed
for a couple of months, when John and Joe had a major disagreement over
Joe's Porsche 911 playfield, which was later
released as Class of
1812. The next thing that I knew, Joe
longer worked for the company. I immediately learned not to tread
into John's territory, and tried to stay as low keyed as
possible. John was great at creating playfields layouts very
quickly. He had a whole notebook full of playfield
sketches. Looking back, both Ray and I had many playfields
suddenly "sh#% canned" for no good reason. I would never say a
until one of my game rule concepts suddenly appeared on a John Trudeau
game. If he would have asked me for permission to use the
feature, the countdown bonus, I would have gladly said, "Yes".
the idea was presented to everybody like it was John's idea. I
finally made a stand with the risk of immediately being fired.
The settlement was that they could use the feature on John's game,
Victory, but from this point on, rule concepts that I created would
first appear on my games. (Note:
I had not gotten a game to production yet.) I finally felt
like a contributing member of the company.
Why was Joe’s Porsche 911 playfield used so many years after it was
When the company began to make single level games in 1990, the
design staff, John Trudeau, Ray Tanzer, and myself, were told to only
design single level playfields. Ray had suggested that we
his current project “Hellfighters”, a full featured game with ramps,
etc., so that the company would have a completed game, if we suddenly
to release a full featured game. The company said, "No", and Ray
work on Title Fight instead. A year later, when the market was
totally saturated with single level games, management asked Ray and I
to pick existing playfields from the rack. (Note: A rack contained
several completed, but never made playfields, so that we could very
quickly complete the projects.) I chose Cactus Jacks and
Kaminkow’s Porsche playfield. Meanwhile, we also began work on
full featured games - Surf N’ Safari for me and Operation Thunder for
You designed games for both the System
80B and System 3 platforms. Did the System 3 offer that much more
flexibility in your designs?
System 3 did offer some features, (more
controlled lamps, etc.), to the game
designers, but the main improvement was game
reliability. I can really appreciate this since I was once a game
tech. I really hated the off-board transistors and floating
ground problems that a lot of System 80 games had. This floating
ground problem would create a leak through both the off-board and PC
board power transistors. (Note:
If you have a System 80 game that
experiences burnt coils / transistors, then you may be experiencing
this problem. The main culprit in most of these cases is the
Molex ground connector with white wires that plugs into the transformer
Did you prefer the older Gottlieb flipper system or the
newer style? Did either style change your playfield layouts?
Good question. I really never liked either design. Given a
choice, I really prefer the older "Black Hole" design. The newer
design was rushed into production. This design was tested, along
with System 3, on 10 Bad Girls test games. These test games were
sent out around the country, with most going to New Orleans. (Note: If
you run across a Bad Girls with System 3 and the new flipper design,
you have found a rare game.) The flipper stroke on these
too much, with regards to the flipper being held in the up position
compared to its resting down position. This design places most of
the flipper's power near the end of its stroke. So, reducing the
stroke to that of most other flippers resulted in a very weak
flipper. I thought that the company should have reversed
engineered another company's design.
The older design would stick when the unit got dirty. It did have
a very solid feel. If I had been the person to make the
decisions, I would have opted to keep the old unit, and address the
sticking problem. The customer wanted a "pointy" flipper
bat. That change would be only a slight modification of the old
unit and a new mold for the plastic part of the bat.
Do you know of any full production
titles other than Victory and Diamond Lady to use the Vitrigraph
No. There were sample playfields
for TX Sector with the Vitrigraph playfield, but not any production
Starting with Hot Shots (1989), you introduced a different
inlane design than the traditional norm. Can you explain why you
changed this design?
I was trying to create a trademark attribute for my designs. We
were not allowed to put our names on the playfield, although the artist
would sneak our names at times. (Note:
Look at the rocks on the side of the Lights Camera Action cabinet, now
try to form those rocks into letters. What do they say?)
This inlane design did not change play of the game, but it did have a
unique look. This design also made it easier to shoot the inlane
rollover from the opposite flipper, instead of having the sharp bend
snub the ball.
Although only one was used for Hot Shots, there were four
kickers (VUK) used on LCA. Especially with regards to LCA, did
the use of VUKs typically "expand” the spacial constraints of a
You can give John Borg credit for coming up with this VUK design.
The intention was not to have a ball fly through the air, but to
deposit the ball onto a ramp as in Hot Shots. One day, I took
VUK deflector, and placed it on another playfield without a ramp
installed. I immediately noticed that this deflector would
the ball across the playfield. I knew that I wanted to use
design, if I could convince management that placing a Mylar at the
point of impact would minimize playfield wear. Later this design
a double function of snubbing the ball into a hole as well as
deflecting the ball toward a specific point back into play.
VUKs were a great device for performing their function while taking
up very little space. You could also place the device on a second
and sink it well below the surface of the playfield. This made it
easy to shoot a hole, like the one used on Vegas.
You mentioned Golden Cue was designed to “equalize the final scores
between novice and expert players”. Is that what you were trying
achieve with the “catch-up” feature included in such games as LCA
Just imagine the look on an expert’s face after his girlfriend, who
hardly ever plays pinball, gets the "catch-up"
feature, then a
or nothing” on Vegas. I guess that he would hope for the
catch-up feature himself. The catch-up feature was also a feature
promoted a single player to play doubles against himself / herself,
where one of the games could rescue the other.
Many people consider you to be a pinball "player's"
designer. Do you consider this statement to hold true?
This may be a true statement on my
early games. I designed my early games to challenge myself.
Most of these games never made it to production, but Diamond Lady, Bad
Girls, and Hot Shots did. I spent a lot of time babysitting my
games when they were out on test. By the time that I had been a
designer for three or four years, I had learned, from watching people
play my games, that most people are casual, unskilled players.
My design emphasis was then directed toward the average player. I
would always place certain features to challenge the better player, but
it was the casual player who put the most money into the cashbox.
I even began to place "Robin Hood" features into my later
Examples of Robin Hood features were:
Automatic Skill - This feature
sped up timers for good players, and
slowed down timers for novice players. The game would monitor the
player's manner of play, and the software would determine the player's
Open Gate - Some games, Mario
Andretti for example, would have a save
the ball gate placed in the outlanes that toggled between open and
close on the slingshots. This appears to be a random
feature. It is not random. The opposite slingshot typically
places the ball into the side drain area, (the left sling shoots the
toward the right outlane). For novice players, we toggled the
gate open to save the ball from the opposite slingshot hit. But
for the good player, we toggled the gate closed to lose the ball from
that opposite slingshot hit. This feature was based on score
total or elapsed ball time.
Better players would be extra critical with me. One of our
company's policies was to never change game rules, after the first day
of production. NO TWEAKS ALLOWED, unless it was a software bug
that caused the game to crash. Well, I never got to tweak any of
my games to adjust the game rules. There were a couple of games
that were found to be "rape able". A good player could cash-in on
playing a certain feature or strategy. These should have been
corrected with a simple software fix, but the company did not allow me
to do this. I took a lot of heat on r.g.p. (rec.games.pinball
newsgroup). The other companies could make tweaks to improve
What direction do you see pinball
going in within the next couple of
As long as only one company remains, I do not see pinball going
anywhere. The game’s evolution ceased when SPI became the only
Games made today look just like games made 15 years ago. If you
into pinball’s past, you will always see a drastic difference between
games made ten years apart. Imagine these games sitting beside
Queen of Hearts (1952) and Rack-A-Ball (1962)
Rack-A-Ball (1962) and Fireball (1972)
Fireball (1972) and Mr. & Mrs. Pac-Man (1982)
Mr. & Mrs. Pac-Man (1982) and T2 (1992)
Now, compare T2 (1992) and T3 (2003)
What is your opinion of the Pinball
2000 platform? Do you believe
its design would have taken the pinball industry in a better direction,
than what is currently being produced?
No, I saw Pinball 2000 as a novelty platform, that could support a
only an occasional release of a new model. I was really concerned
the return on investment (ROI) on these games. I would like to
John Trudeau had a Pinball 2000 type concept game that used a
second pinball playfield and light-up (reflected) targets, rather
than a video screen back at Premier during the 1980’s.
Do you keep in touch with any of the
people that you had worked with at
I would chat with Mike Vrettos from time-to-time, but he passed
away a couple of years ago.
Are you currently involved in the
pinball industry? If so, how?
I got into the Herb Silvers' retro game under a verbal agreement
that if the game were ever to come to fruition, the three active
persons, Herb, Reiny, and myself, would be equal partners in
the company. This was back in the year 2001. I did the
work, provided mechanical drawings, and gave general advice for a
start-up company. I did most of my work between 2001 and
built the game with help from Pete, (a mutual
friend), and me on the playfield. In
year, I was excluded as a “partner” on the project when Herb found a
financial partner on the east coast. I immediately withdrew from
project, and I will never trust anybody again for as long as I shall
live. When it comes to business, you must get it in writing!
Can we expect to see Jon Norris
Let me start off by discussing my
departure from the pinball
industry. It was back in June of 2000. Gary Stern and his
just recently acquired SPI from Sega. Gary is very good at
company under a tight budget. One of his most important budgetary
decisions was to consolidate the company into one building from two
separate buildings. The building where Engineering was located
was a non-smoking facility, and the main office where everybody
located was a “smoke friendly” office. The decision was to move
Engineering over to the main building. All members of Engineering
forced to go from a smoke-free environment to a smoke friendly
environment. I have breathing problems and an allergy to
smoke, so I left the company on the day of the move.
I was expecting that SPI and I could come to an agreement, and I would
continue working from home, or work as an outside consultant. One
of the sound engineers worked most days from home, since he lived so
far from the company. Now, 7 years later, I can see my departure
from SPI as being favorable from their point of view. I feel that
the programmers, except for Keith, probably favored my departure,
because of my strong opinions regarding rule set designs. At
Sega/SPI, the programmers followed the Williams tradition of having the
programmer design the rule set. Neil Falconer was open to outside
ideas and concepts regarding rule sets, but when Joe Kaminkow went to
IGT, Neil also went with him. This left Keith, Lonnie, and Dwight as
SPI game programmers.
At the same time, there was a lot of friction between Ray and I, as
mentioned above. Also, Wes Chang, who is
a first class Mechanical Designer working elsewhere, was looking for a
new job. Keep in mind that most departments operate under a
strict budget. Hiring an engineer is a quite expensive process.
My greatest mistake really came when I sent back signed departure
papers, asking for a Golden Cue in lieu of the severance pay. I
never received either. I must have infuriated Gary Stern to no
end, as I never heard back from him. I tried to communicate with
company personnel via e-mail or written letters at various times since
then, and have never heard back from anybody. I now realize that
I was promised the game, Golden Cue, while Joe Kaminkow was running
things. He had been long gone by the time that Gary and his
partners acquired SPI.
When push came to shove, I really had no company support for the
reasons mentioned above. Ray could
hire Wes if there was a vacancy in Engineering, (he did), and the
programmers would eliminate a threat to
their territory. Then I threw gasoline on the fire when I asked
Gary for a Golden Cue in lieu of my
I should not have assumed that everything would work-out with
SPI. I should have played the game according to their rules, and
I may still be there. I should have
abandoned creating game rules to gain alliances with the
programmers. I should have never asked for the Golden Cue from
Gary. And, I should have subjected myself to the cigarette
smoke. I have never been quite the same since, and I still suffer
for this sequence of events to this day.
If things had turned out differently, I truly believe that my presence
at SPI working as a consultant would
have greatly benefited both SPI and myself. To answer your
question, as long as SPI is the only kid on the
block who owns a basketball, I will not get to play basketball.
If a new pinball company other than the Herb Silvers' retro game
ever comes into existence, maybe I can do some game design work in the
Jon, it was a great pleasure to conduct this interview with you.
I truly appreciate the time you have taken to do this. Is there
anything at all that you would like to add?
Just that I hope to be designing games again someday.
Pinball” can become a reality. I may have to win the Lotto for
happen. On the other hand, maybe an investor who loves pinball
bank roll the venture. I have the knowledge, but not the
There is no need to manufacture the game in Asia. We can make a
low cost game right here in the “Good 'Ole USA”.