Thursday, 28 January 2016

Pinball: Three Theme Concepts

Quick version:
Concept A
Never! replaces the Supersonic’s collecting numbers 1-2-3-4-5 mode with symbols and imagery based around warnings, expressions, sayings, as well as film and songs titles. (Jump to full)

Concept B
Physical Evidence (working title) replaces the Supersonic’s collecting numbers 1-2-3-4-5 mode with 2D geometric shapes. (Jump to full)

Concept C
Wrecking Ball is a breakable pinball machine. As you play, the targets must be chipped, smashed, broken or destroyed in order to score points. (Jump to full)

Full version:

Concept A

Never! replaces the Supersonic’s collecting numbers 1-2-3-4-5 mode with symbols and imagery based around warnings, expressions, sayings, as well as film and songs titles.

Original test lino prints
The concept has a bit of an unplanned history, it stems from the hashtag #never being a trending topic on twitter (from a previous project to use trending topics as originators for creating artwork). From this I made a set of linocuts based around the word never. The linocuts were originally made with the intention of creating an artists book with the same title, but ironically never came to fruition.

Never put your hand in the toaster
Later when revisiting the project and expanding on ideas around the word never, I came to the realisation of the potential as a theme for pinball.

An underlying meaning in using the theme of never, which only I seem to find humorous, is due to the complexity of building a pinball machine, it may never actually happen!

Concept B

Physical Evidence (working title) replaces the Supersonic’s collecting numbers 1-2-3-4-5 mode with 2D geometric shapes.

Each collected shape represents a face of a digital object which turns the 2D shape into a 3D object.
Transform 2D->3D
I've have an interest in exploring different possibilities for how a digital 3D objects can exist in the physical world

The 2D shapes would be printed on the playfield and the 3D shapes exist on screen and are displayed once you complete them.

Once you complete a 3D object you could be awarded with a physical representation of the 3D shape (maybe a plaster mould or 3D print), dispensed from the machine. This is just an idea - it’s likely to be too complicated.

Inspiration: Ben Jones

Concept C

Wrecking Ball is a breakable pinball machine. As you play, the targets must be chipped, smashed, broken or destroyed in order to score points.

The parts are cast from existing pinball parts using a silicone mould, from plaster of paris. Smashed parts could be displayed for a short time, before being ground down and remoulded.

Casting includes an element of relief printmaking, using lino blocks which are inked up to imprint the scoring or other imagery on top of the moulds.

The idea originates from a conversation about the steel ball which is designed to hit targets on a pinball machine at speed, it posed a question; what if the parts were breakable?

It's taken a while to piece together the different ideas, I feel the three concepts each have scope to be developed successfully for the final theme, however at this point one concept in particular 'Never', seems to be showing most promise for moving forward.

The concepts clearly have a strong artistic grounding, which is generally an unconventional approach for a pinball machine. This was always the plan for my project, partly it's a reaction to the types of themes which tend to be thought of when discussing pinball machines. Opening out to new ideas and storytelling.

It's been interesting when discussing my ideas with people who play pinball, the expectation is to theme based around some kind of popular culture like tv, movies, music, rather than a more abstract idea. It's hard to explain in a way for people to relate to, I hope that will will become easier when the project progresses.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Pinball: Parts

I’m in the process of designing and building a pinball machine. To give myself a head start and to work within a limited budget, I have chosen to retheme an existing pinball playfield in order to utilise its parts and layout.

This is Supersonic (built in 1979 by Bally) and is my pinball “donor” game. Supersonic is based on a theme of Concorde, it’s a relatively simple game but has a good selection of features which makes it have great potential for reworking.

The main aim in Supersonic it to collect numbers 1-2-3-4-5 at the top section to gain higher bonus point on the other number (on the star in the center and on the left side)

There should be a few expected issues to problem solve along the way, as well an Amazon basket full of items yet to complete the full parts list.

The timeframe is to get a prototype flippable playfield within the next month, with aim to fully develop artwork and have a rough and ready version by end of April, allowing a final tweaking time of around one month.

The hardware controlling how my game will run has been kindly sponsored by MyPinballs. The new Custom Pinball Controller sets (based on the Arduino programming platform) offers a framework to modify and create new games from existing playfields from the 70s and 80s. Basically it’s perfect for my project.

>Cabinet plans>

The cabinet is built and ready to go, it acts as the chassis for the pinball machine, to hold the playfield and all the hardware. Artwork will be applied to the cabinet either directly or by ‘wrapping’ in another shell of printed plywood.

This method of building sections of the project over a longer period of time is really the only way I can afford (financially and time dependently) to manage this project to ensure it gets completed. This means that certain decisions need to be made in advance of some building, design and printing. I need to retain scope of the project within a certain budget and time

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Pinball Digital Print Series

I've been thinking that there is a big chance that the pinball machine (which is my main MA project incase you hadn't guessed or just dropped on by) won't be finished/won't work/will break down etc. So I'd like to supplement my work in the final show with some more printmaking work, to showcase what I do fully if something does go wrong.

So in how pleased I am with how the work for the student exchange exhibition is going I have a concept to make a larger series of pinball prints the same but using different pinball machines.


  • A set of prints, exhibition ready, depicting pinball machines from the 70s and 80s.
  • The prints are screenprinted, however the playfield section is removed revealing a concealed digital screen looping gameplay videos of real pinball machines.
  • The machines would be picked by me, I may have played the machine or have some sort of connection to the machine.
  • The gameplay videos are taken from YouTube and Twitch, where there is a current phenomenon of people recording themselves playing all types of games.
  • The set of prints could work on their own regardless if the pinball machine is ready, it's something I just about have a 'template' for how it works so should be a case of mass production.

    Ideas for machines?
    With hundreds of possibilities how do I choose which machine? I have a list of all the ones I have played which would be a good place to start but other ideas are possible.

    I start to notice machines on TV shows and films, and always have a look in a pub window when I walk past incase they happen to have one. It's like a game to spot the pinball machine now.

    My initial four shortlist of machines to focus on are as follows
    • Wizard (1975)
      • Played at Pinball Madness league and love it - also people know the Who song
    • Centaur (1981)
      • Want to cover a range of eras and Centaur marks a time when pinball was fighting against the video game
    • Nip-It (1971)
      • It features in Happy Days it's in Al's Diner. Also has interesting flippers which nip/snap like a crocodile! Never played it but looks fun!
    • Supersonic (1979)
      • It's the donor game for my custom machine, it would be nice to pay homage to it
    Nip-It features in Happy Days which was a memory of pinball for lots of people
    I love the idea of using references like this "the machine that was in the diner in happy days", the machine based on pinball wizard by The Who etc. I'm trying to evoke nostalgia.

    I'l continue working on ideas for machines, it would be nice to have quite a large set of print, but it can be an ongoing project.

    Many pinball prints lined up on a wall would be like a mini arcade.

    Monday, 11 January 2016

    FAQ: Why pinball?

    A pinball machine is a great example of printmaking, from the screenprinted playfield wood to the backlit glass and now thanks to developments in technology the likes of 3D printed parts as well as digital control to cut down on complex circuit boards.

    So you noticed I'm obsessed with the idea of building my own pinball machine. Here's why:

    My aim as a visual artist and printmaker is to explore new technologies which enable a participatory experience for the viewer through interactivity and gameplay.

    I'm interested in exploring the relationship between digital and physical objects - translating digital objects to physical as part of my play and making process.

    Pinball and printmaking
    The pinball machine is a great example of printmaking - the screenprinted playfield wood, plastic and the backlit glass. There are great possibilities for 3D printed and laser cut playfield parts such as targets.

    You could also make connections between the repetition of printmaking and pinball. In printmaking the process to create a multiple edition is by the repetitive task of printing the same artwork where in pinball you are awarded by make repetitive targets.

    Part of what brought me to pinball was the nostalgia of retro arcade machines, the physical presence mixed with digital technology. There are people of a certain age who have fond memories of arcades - but especially in the UK the idea of an arcade is a stale environment. Arcade games are proving to be striking back and a resurgence with a younger generation, particularly in the USA with a growth of Barcades - the UK is starting to follow.

    Recently I've noticed nostalgia is a huge theme in my work, especially my printmaking - where I have focused on memories and visualised them. Kinda like processing a roll of film from my memory, but I process via drawing and printmaking.

    The Pinball Machine
    Simple really, it's a cool game. But more... I felt drawn towards doing a pinball project after The Art of Ping Pong, but as I researched and played more and more I have really been sucked into the dazzling and addictive allure of the games. I have traveled some long distances to play and made some new friends through playing at leagues, that it has become more than just a project to me.