The myth of who is making the game rules

We had a very unique situation at Gottlieb. We only had about 3 months to go from beginning to end, so the game development was “Just-In-Time” parallel development, which meant that the game was being programmed while the art was being created, while the unique parts were being made. A lot of times, we only had a week or two to tweak the game rules before production and I had the ability to work on the game rules while the playfield designer was busy with other playfield related tasks. Basically, everybody worked on every game.

I’d love to hear the story behind how Class of 1812 came together. That is an old favorite of mine (and most people seem to really enjoy it when they play it) and it really seems the guys making that game must have been having a lot of fun. Probably the strangest-in-a-fun-way game I’ve seen. :slight_smile:



I appreciate your comments- I am also a “pinball lifer”!


Both Cactus Jacks and Class of 1812 were the games that immediately followed the street level series. At the time, I was working on a game called “Tic-Tac-Lotto” which was a street level game. It had the “Chicago Coin-
Criss Cross Pop Up” ball pop unit inside the cabinet and you could see the unit through a window in the playfield.

Suddenly, management decided to scrap all in-progress street level games and go back to regular games. Both Ray and I didn’t have enough time to start a game from scratch, so we had to choose an already completed playfield from the “Mothballs” rack. I chose Cactus Jacks, designed by Reiny Bangerter and Ray chose a playfield designed by Joe Kaminkow (Joe was over at Data East Pinball at the time).

I designed the rules for Cactus Jacks and finished the playfield. Ray did the same with Class of 1812. The rule set for Class of 1812 was mostly designed by committee, with both titles rushed out. Mike Vrettos had a big influence on both titles (Director of Engineering), with regard to the entertainment embellishments and animatronics.

Both games turned out great considering the circumstances that we were up against! We were able to complete the games on-time and go back to making regular games fairly seamlessly.


So here’s a different take, from someone with a much shorter resume than Keefer or Jon. I’ve got exactly one game under my belt: Alien. When I joined the team as a software guy, I was provided a bundle of files that contained assets (movie clips) that had been requested for use from the licensor, and some high level concepts for modes/features based on these assets. (Generally, these assets represented some of the most action-packed scenes from the movies.) Some of these concepts were pretty solid and made their way into the final game more-or-less as originally outlined. Other concepts were… not so good, and I made the decision to scrap them completely and do something else. Some things that were initially pencilled as modes morphed into multiballs, and vice versa, or into secondary features instead of primary ones. For most of the concepts, the high-level outline was a decent start but insufficient, needing to be fleshed out to be fun. None of the concepts handed to me had specifics on silly details like point values. There was also little to nothing provided on “secondary” features like combos, bonus, etc.

So I wound up watching the clips over (and over, and over), reviewing the concept outlines, pondering, talking with the team, and wrote a proposed rules document, eventually 20-ish pages long, that describes every nitpicky little rule detail, and sent this out for the entire team to critique. (I’m condensing the story a bit; the document was actually written in sections over a span of a few months.) It was a pretty iterative process with everyone contributing ideas. One mode (Combat Drop) was almost completely driven by audio guru David Thiel because he really wanted to showcase Hudson’s awesome “badass monologue”, which ended up working great. However, the process didn’t become an evil “design by committee” because I kept the role of gatekeeper of the rules. So while the playfield designer (Dave Sanders) would chime in from time to time, he didn’t have the final word on the rules, I did.

One unusual thing about this whole process was that this team was very geographically scattered, across something like 8 time zones. Slack, Skype, and Google Docs worked wonderfully.

TL,DR: if you’ve played Alien and enjoy the rules, it was the collaboration of several very talented people. If you’ve played it and didn’t like the rules, it’s my fault.


So to summarize… the OP and the position he is countering are both wrong. It’s not one or the other. It’s a “depends” situation largely driven by the staff involved and the circumstance.

I think the only thing I’ve seen consistent is what you hear about what some designers are more interested in or not.

My perception is that Ritchie is more about the geometry and less interested in the software and rules… Pat seems to be a wholistic guy who is really into the total package delivery… etc.

Maybe that is more of an interesting topic to capture the interests and strengths of the different contributors.

I did all the rules for my game. So if you don’t like them you can blame Joe as well :wink:


It bothers me that I can’t find a flaw in that logic.


I will blame Betty White


Exactly. The merits of Keefer and Sheats is likely the main root. And Greg, sorry for the oversight of you as one of the insiders here.

Boy, that is tough. And a pity with the potential of the games in mind. Had there been just a little more time around the loop. My point of reminding people to consider this. Thanks for sharing.

Thanks for sharing. I hope the game will reach a stabillity and wide release for us to experience it in full.

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Effin’ Joe, man.

The only time I really notice rules being “bad” is when they conflict with the design of the machine or they force you to play the game in a manner that starts to feel more like a chore than a game. I’m also starting to get multiball fatigue big time with many modern games. Shallow or deep, it doesn’t matter, just as long as something is cohesive and logical, I can get behind it.

I think I’ve been falling back on classics a lot lately because the majority of their code is fairly simple, but it demands you make a key shot either repeatedly or at an exact moment. Too many games these days are just “accumulate X number of shots on target Y and Z will happen. Then accumulate 2X number of shots again on target Y and Zb will happen.” Usually Z is a multiball. Oh, and there’s another multiball for doing it on target Q and another on target G and another on target W.


Is this mostly due to the “Z being Multiball” clause or just a general trend? What if Z starts modes (a la how some Segas like Baywatch play) or does something else that’s cool?

I’m actually ok with modes being qualified on the same shot, but I prefer it when each mode has their own unique way of qualifying it. But hitting a single shot 3, 4, or 5 times always being multiball, especially if repeating multiball is the optimal way to play, will turn me off from a game fairly quickly. I get that it’s good for casual and location play, so I don’t blame anybody for doing it.

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I haven’t played Total Nuclear Annihilation yet (really want to!), but I think a big part of the appeal is the approachability of the playfield and the rules. It just seems like very good timing for a game like that with the trend of modern games going toward deeper rule sets. Clearly there is a small group of die-hards who like to learn everything about the complex modern games, but most people just want to have fun with some lower level goals and not have to read a wall of text to have a chance. While I fall into the die-hard group, I’d love to see some new games follow the “simple but challenging” philosophy since TNA has been such a hit.


This game shines with the communication to the player. Razor shape.

Game scores, all players - always clear.
Lock progress - always clear.
Bonus tally - always clear.
Playfield x - always clear.
Extra ball - always clear.
Ball saver - always clear.
Progress remaining on main objectives - always clear.

Contrary. Some of the recent games released, the player up at start-of-ball is not all that clear (in some cases even not shown).
Kickouts not signaled with a proper warning salute.
Ball saver lights that run with light shows at critical stages.
Mode objectives with no audio guidance (including timeout).
Mode completion progress shots not signaled with priority to “just points” mode shots.
Hugh points rewareded out of the blue.
Stacks starting out of the blue.

You may argue that a simple game with a modern screen added, and communication is a lot easier. True. But still happy to see someone putting an emphasis on this. And having it a success.


This is the worst


Agreed. There are also rollovers that will go solid with light shows and you can’t tell which ones you need to collect.

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+1 more. This should be coded out of existence for all future pins, or pins that still have the ability to be updated. And ball saver lights that lie.


ball saver lights that lie



It’s interesting you didn’t cite this as a negative for Total Nuclear Annihilation – and yet to me it isn’t. The fact that kickout just says SLAM and ships it, keeps the player at a constant state of attention.

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