Geekout inspired by TZ

The following is a just the geeking out of someone relatively new to pinball as a competitive sport and a hobby. It may be obvious stuff to some… but this feels like the right place to geek out about this.

So I’ve had the amazing luck of discovering competitive pinball and also a local pinball place that was just starting out. I went to their soft opening tournament and loved everything I saw. After the tournament, I went home and wrote them an email about how I wanted to work for them and make the place a success. (I didn’t hear anything back on that.) Fast forward a few months- I was a regular there, since it was so easy to get to from where I lived. After getting to know the very awesome trio behind Superelectric, there was eventually talk of me helping them out with the games. They were acquiring more and more and the backlog of ones to restore and repair was piling up. Eventually, I started helping them with restoring machines.

It’s been a real learning experience, going headfirst into this with basically a blank mind for everything involved in the process. Taking apart playfields, cleaning and replacing mechanisms… I’ve learned a lot about what makes games work, what manufacturers concluded would help with longevity of the game… I’ve seen bad and needless wiring, innovative ways to implement features, and so. Much. Dirt. I’m not sure where people keep games that they become filmed in a fine layer of dirt, but almost all of the ones I’ve worked with have been filthy. (Thank you all operators that clean regularly.)

Eventually, I’d like to take all this knowledge I’m absorbing and put it to use. I’ve still got much to learn, skills to obtain and so on, but one day I hope I can be a designer. This brings me to the main source of my geeking out- Pat Lawlor and his game design. I admire him and his games, there’s something that makes me want to play them over and over. He develops this whole world for the games, makes a matching ruleset, and adds signature elements here and there. Most of all, though- every single part of the playfield has a purpose. Rubber placement that maximizes air time, pop bumpers in areas that maximize the time it can spend in there (and often pairing it with an orbit shot that was difficult to hit as a result but always rewarding when successful), great use of plastics to cover up wiring, and his fantastic toys.

This week, I cleaned up a Twilight Zone and was constantly impressed. Everything has a home and a purpose, and all possible space was used to create fun shots. The dead end/hitchiker shot surprised me when I found out how large it was! It feels like so much longer for the ball to get to the pops than the length the ball travels. The gumball was always a mystery to me, and for good reason, it was designed that way! A clever diverter that opens up after it passes the right spiral opto and guides it into a scoop. Even the wire rails were made to use the least amount of material and support!

I’m grateful for Pat Lawlor, Python Anghelo, Steve Ritchie and so many more talented people that have worked in this industry. I’m grateful that Cleveland is blessed with a budding pinball scene and a wide array of strong competitors in the area. It’s been my mission lately to observe every technique, every use of objects, every satisfying shot. I want to steal them all and make them my own. :wink:

Are there any games that blew you away when you first played them? It happens pretty much constantly to me- there’s so many games I haven’t played and I’m excited to try them all!


Funhouse for me. I was about 12 years old and thought the whole experience of FH was so engaging. I knew I was advancing a clock right away, but for what purpose? What happened once the clock got to a certain time? This dummy keeps mocking me but he’s getting progressively more salty the closer I get to midnight. Now that we’re at midnight he falls asleep and all the lights in the place goes out. Wonder what happens when I shoot the ball right into his mouth?

Long story short, I don’t think it’s coincidence that Lawlor is the designer of this game too.


What really sets Lawlor at his best apart is that great sense of theatricality (he actually went to school for theatrical design and lighting), all these little tricks adding up to this sense of a living game. The game itself has a personality, which elevates it from being merely a pinball machine into this rewarding exploratory experience, especially for how you’re forced to shoot all around the playfield with both flippers.

Funhouse fascinated me since I was a kid and there was one in the smoky bar my mom used to take me to after she got off work. I don’t know if I ever really played it then, but it’s crazy how magnetic that game still is. It still draws people - you see the big head, you see the big clock, you can’t not want to find out what happens next. And it’s great, because it’s emotionally rewarding. The game itself turns on you, there’s an arc and a payoff and a clear threat that’s right between whimsy and menace.

I love his modes, too - Road Show is, as far as I’m concerned, the pinnacle of mode-based gameplay. They’re all great. They’re corny, they focus on different parts of the playfield, the animations are funny, and they have a logical tie to the action of the game, which is where a lot of games sort of drop the ball. That’s why I’ve always been sort of disappointed with Stern games, the modes feel kind of perfunctory and they struggle with showmanship.

My most recent “Wow!” moment was getting to play Dr Who for the first time. It was turned up nice and loud, and the arcade was mostly empty so it was just me and the game. I sucked at it but I got a really good multiball going and all the Daleks screaming was a total rush. I kinda love it when pins scream. Rudy screaming when you hit the trapdoor jackpot, the people on the street screaming in Town Square Madness, the screaming laughter in Party Zone’s “laugh attack” mode (that game is so underrated…). Exhilaration, the machine exploding at your fingers, that total rush you get when everything’s happening at once is what brings me back to all my favorite games.


Very well described!

Lawlor is my favorite designer for pretty much all the reasons stated. Addams Family is the best selling pinball machine for a reason, as a kid that table truly felt alive. From Thing popping out of the box and grabbing the ball to the auto-flipper, it made it feel like Thing was actually inside the table, running around and making everything work. I liked to imagine he was pulling all these levers and stuff, making the bookcase turn and tossing the ball back from the scoops.

There’s two main ways a machine can immerse you into the experience; the layout itself having fantastic flow or some really great feeling shots like a Steve Ritchie table, or the “theme park” approach that Pat Lawlor uses where you try to fill every corner of that table with character and charm through unique mechanisms and rule sets that help tell the story.

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This kind of discussion is my favorite aspect of pinball chat - what works about a game, what doesn’t, why and why not? It’s the sort of stuff that keeps me dorkily sketching out my own dream pins on paper. I can’t think of another medium that provides the same kind of rush that pinball does, that perfect conflation of physical activity and high-energy thematic concept, it’s like playable art.

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Same, @trunchbull, same! Sometimes reasoning behind placement on a playfield is obvious, other times it’s very subtle. Since I was young I always wanted to know why something was the way it was. Pinball is just a larger toy to tinker with and figure out!

Like, for instance, Fire! The game has a really solid concept and the center shot is oh-so-satisfying. If you look closely at the playfield, you’ll see on the right, and the left there are spots for a pinball to drop through between the plastics if it goes flying, which, it seems to quite often. While it’s smart design to help with its shortcomings, I have been finding myself wondering if there wasn’t something they could have done to make that less of a problem. Perhaps slightly less steep ladder ramps, or weaker flippers… I feel like Ghosbusters (pro, haven’t played any other versions) has a similar problem with air balls and you can see the same sort of compensating for it on the left near the outlane. I wonder sometimes if this is the product they intended for, or if, given extra time (and funding) they could have mitigated these issues further or removed them entirely.

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I had a game on Batman 66 the other day where the ball flew up onto the plastic over the GADGET targets and rolled straight into the left outlane. What’s funny is I felt my body anticipating that it would get bumped over into the inlane, like when the LOTR path of the dead plops the ball onto the plastic and it falls into the VUK, but instead it just dumped it into the drain. That plastic sucks anyways, though, someone needs to make a little Gotham City model to put there.

Maybe a little too much credit is given to Pat Lawlor and not to the entire rest of the teams who worked on these games to provide the great art/sound/rules. Keep in mind we’re talking about a guy who hates controlled pinball play so much that he forcibly gimped the rules on some of his later games just to make sure that good players wouldn’t be as interested in them. Personally I find this kind of amusing as all of his game designs lend themselves incredibly well to careful “stop and go” controlled play, but whatever.

I think you’re right, I should be giving more credit to John Krutsch, who has worked on so many of the ones I love with Pat. However, Pat is still credited with concept and design along with others. If this was movies instead of pinball, wouldn’t he be the director who gets the bulk of the credit? It’s not that there isn’t a whole team that goes into making each and every pinball machine- I think we’re all well aware of the effort.

Are you referring to his explanation to the Super Jackpots on Dialed In!, or perhaps Twilight Zone, No Good Gophers!, or the Addams Family, all of which can require you to put two balls into play if you want to aim after the jackpot/super jackpot. I get the idea behind it- his multiball is supposed to be chaotic and fun. I don’t agree with you in that these were to make “good players” like them less. Remember that pinball is still supposed to attract as wide an audience as possible. If that means there are gimmicks that take away from high scoring play or make it more difficult so be it.

John is a genius for sure, but if I was to give more credit to anyone it would probably be Larry DeMar who was the lead programmer on all his games from Funhouse through TZ. He is a rules master, there is a sharp contrast in the style of rules in his games after Larry wasn’t working with him anymore.


Turns out being a badass player isn’t really a job requirement to be a game designer. We have great players who are software guys, but no designers. Now KME is breaking that mold in a huge way. I know Keith is a fan of Ripley’s and if you’ve played Archer, you see the Lawlor influence. Could be an interesting next few years.

I wonder if any of the designers in the 40’s thru 60’s were badass players. Seems like there’s been more talk of Lyman helping with design in the background lately, but would he take a designer position if offered?


I think he is referring to an interview Pat gave saying that he made certain rule choices on games to make it them less interesting to “pro” players. If anyone has a link or better memory please share. I think it may have been about Roller Coast Tycoon and the gist was: I made this easier to beat so that pro players wouldn’t be so interested in playing for hours on end.

Can anyone confirm this?

You’re totally right, programming is something I need to give more proper credit. I just spent some time reading up on Larry DeMar, and wow do I owe him way more credit than I realize towards games I love to play! Programming in general is something I’m just starting to notice the depth and gravity of, so thank you for pointing that out!

Demar - the Godfather of modern pinball rules


Larry Demar is freakin’ brilliant and one of the nicest people you could ever meet. Not just pins, either… classic vids like Defender and Robotron. Great guy.


That, but also Land Grab in Monopoly was nerfed from its original design after Lawlor saw a good player hmm hmm go to town on it. A real shame as the mode has some pretty cool facets to it, but you’ll never notice them because it’s pretty much impossible to do anything interesting in the mode with its short time limit. There are more examples as well but I’ll leave that discussion to other people who know more about it.