The WMS Playboy Story:

Version 1.01

This is the Story behind Playboy, the 4th Pinball2000, never completed but at least a partially playable prototype exists at Illinois Pinball...
This story was recorded by Jim Schelberg from Pingame Journal who recorded it in 2004 after a Interviews with several people from WMS pinball engineering.
The story was originally published in the Pingame Journal, click to the link to get your own subscription and to order that Playboy issue at  Pingame Journal Pages.

There has been and will be plenty said and written about the Pinball 2000 project from Williams. Everyone knows there were two production games: Revenge From Mars and Star Wars: Episode One. Many people know that there was a third game in development called Wizard Blocks.(PGJ Issue #83/84). But not very many people know that there was a fourth game, Playboy, still in its infancy, when the doors closed on Williams pinball. Both Wizard Blocks and Playboy may still be a mystery today if it was not for Gene Cunningham. Gene purchased many of the assets of Williams and that included the working whitewood prototypes of these games. Although far from finished, along with discussion from the design team, they give us a fascinating glimpse at what might have been.
Larry DeMar is credited by Pete Piotrowski for getting himself and Scott Slomiany together to design what was to become Playboy. Scott, who earned the nickname 'Matrix' for his role as dot matrix designer for many games, is relatively known by most pinball fans. But Pete has been a little more in the shadows. He started at Williams as the prototype build-up manager until he was tapped by Steve Ritchie to work on No Fear with him. Junk Yard followed and then Pete worked with Scott on Phantom Hause, a token game for the German market that will figure in the story below. Pete was on the Champion Pub team and was working on Pin2000 cabinet components as well as Playboy when Williams shut down. (Note: The following story was pieced together from separate interviews with Scott and Pete along with some comments from programmer Keith Johnson. So as not to create a false impression, I will label each section with the speaker's name and not use quote marks. ed.)

SCOTT: Well, I guess I should start with some background history of p2k game #4. Somewhere in 1994/1995, Pete Piotrowski and I were given a chance to co-lead a pinball project. We had decided on a haunted house theme and proceeded accordingly. One of the neat devices that Pete developed with Armando Zuniga was an under-the-playfield planetary gear mech with three magnets that we were planning to use for multiball start. There was also a rather angry suit of armor that could block the entrance to two ramps with a swipe of his axe.
Pretty much at this time, however, the model-to-model sales were starting decline, and the German arcades were starting to be taken over by Fungames; English AWP slot machines with lots of gimmicks and game play modes that were supposedly played for fun. Seeing that our main source of pinball sales was slowly being chewed up by this new type of product, we were re-assigned to develop our own Fungame. We kept the haunted house theme and this game became 'Phantom Haus'.
Later on, we were asked to combine forces again as co-project leads for the 4th Pinball 2000 project. Once again we decided to do the haunted house theme, deciding that the hologram like look of the reflection technology would make a great platform to do all sorts of ghosty and ghoulie effects. Dwight Sullivan and Keith Johnson were assigned as programmers, Greg Freres was going to be doing the art package. I avoid using the term 'game designer', which historically (and internally) had meant the 'daddy of the project'. Game designers are the ones who are ultimately responsible for making sure the game is done on time and on budget. However, in reality the 'game design' aspect really falls on everyone who is on the team.
We experimented with various magnet effects on the playfield. Imagine the Shadow ball lock or the walking ball from Dracula with some cool image animation overlaid on it with ghosts or mist or something. That was the sort of thing we really wanted to do initially. Sadly, as we progressed, it turned out that the magnets warped the image from the monitor too much. So any kind of neat ball-play using magnets had to be avoided, unless we really wanted to mess up all the monitors!
PETE: Originally the theme was a haunted mansion. The team was absolutely excited about the haunted house theme and the creative freedom. We had a floor plan with 28-32 rooms and four levels that the player would travel through. Scott created the furnished rooms in 3D. The rooms had great detail and each room had a scary story attached to it. The creative meetings were absolutely fun. It was difficult to decide what ideas not to use
SCOTT: Anyway, at about this time, management from Midway was really pushing hard for a Playboy game. Midway had completely spun-off from WMS, and through an agreement between both companies, Midway was still able to sell WMS pinball machines. Midway had already secured the rights to Playboy for their Touchmaster games so about a month before pinball got shut down, we were called into a meeting. At this meeting management expressed its discontent with a haunted house theme and suggested we change the theme to Playboy. Arguments were presented on both sides of the table. Generally they came down to management's desire for an adult pinball despite the baggage that a Playboy license entails including limited locations that would accept the game and most likely the complete avoidance of the game by women.
To address those concerns, management summoned about five or six women who worked in the front offices and posed two questions to them. While these are not the exact words used, they fairly accurately capture the spirit of the questions: 'Would you play a haunted house pinball machine?' The general response was 'no'. Followed by this question: 'You are all out at a bachelorette party at a bar. You are all having a great time and you see a Playboy pinball machine. Would you play it?' The general response was a moderately enthusiastic 'yes'. And so, with this 'market research' completed, the theme was officially changed to Playboy.
PETE: o'Neil and Ken came into Scott's office for a progress presentation. Not even five minutes into the presentation Neil killed the theme. Needless to say the team was devastated. I understand what he wanted. His intensions were to target the adult bar market. 'Sex sells.' He wanted us to create something that the adult male would go out his way to play. We talked to the Playboy people who where very open to the idea but from day one we planned on having at least three settings to limit content.
SCOTT: We were not influenced much by Wizard Blocks, but much like the Wizard's team, everyone on our team expressed concern about the way the first two Pinball 2000 games were so 'mode heavy'. We were definitely going to work the rules away from 'you are now in this mode, now you are in this mode' kind of thought. However, in a lot of ways it made sense to develop those games like that since mode-based is something that we were good at doing. It became a way to get a game together quickly, and I think it helped show off the platform visually by having all these different scenes constantly changing.
KEITH: Most of the cool stuff would have been when it was a haunted house game. The playfield was cool in that it was more like a normal playfield - even if the monitor wasn't there - it was designed to be more a pinball game and not a specific pin 2000 game. But that beginning design was sort of forced on us which is why you can get through the whole game on Revenge From Mars by shooting up the middle. And the same on Star Wars.
SCOTT: A big part of the design was to try and keep the flow of the game flexible (at least from a mechanical viewpoint). The big thing we did was to design the game with three flippers, each with its own ramp shot. Each ramp shot however, could be diverted to any of the three flippers. So if we wanted to let players loop the upper flipper, we could do that just as easily as we could do a 1,2,3,1,2,3 - ramp combo. We could have all ramps shots divert the ball to the one flipper that might have the jackpot shot.
While a hobbyist player might catch on to this subtlety, a new player most likely would not. But having the ball always feed to the flipper for the shot that is most needed at any given time, would’ve been an interesting experiment.
PETE: As far as kinetics were concerned, I was obsessed in designing a smooth flowing game with few pauses. (Largely in part to the criticisms that Champion Pub received). The biggest dilemma was that the new pinball video format worked great if you wanted to blast evil villains or blow up objects, but no one wanted to hit playmates with the ball. It definitely was in its infancy and evolving. What we were planning on doing was very different then what was done in the first two models.
SCOTT: Obviously, we would use the bunny icons, lots of photos from the pretty extensive Playboy image library, etc. Think of producing a game as sort of an Iron Chef kind of thing and the theme is a given meal. The type of meal gives you all these clues as to what ingredients you need and then you start thinking about the recipe and how all these ingredients need to mix together. Then you start experimenting with the various ingredients to make it better. We had a pretty good start on the recipe for the haunted house game, but unfortunately that order was cancelled and we were just starting to put together the ingredients for Playboy.
PETE: We had numerous ideas that involved playmates. Some of which were: The Steam Room - Every time you hit the targets the steam would be turned down until eventually the playmates were revealed. The Balloon Go-Go Dancers - Every time you hit a target a balloon would pop and reveal more of the dancers. Wall Of Ice-Break down the wall to reveal the Playmates. We were also planning on using the female cartoon character of the Playboy Adviser or the Joke section as the helper to tell you what shots to take. SCOTT: If I remember, I think that we were collecting letters for the months throughout the game, and then each month you collect, you get the 'girl'. But the months weren't designed to be modes or anything.
KEITH: There were a bunch of ways to light up letters in the months and lighting up each month would have given you the girl for that month.
PETE: Ahhh -THE BIG SCREEN.- The player was to see a few seconds of excerpts from playboy videos during the celebration of spelling out the month. As far as p2k ramping up, I think at that point it was pretty much stable and had everything in it that we needed to make any kind of game we wanted to do. There was a lot of bonus stuff starting to be developed for it at the time of shutting down, like the card reader that was used at Expo 1999. It would've been fun to see what happened in the future. PGJ Scott's Note: Near the beginning of the Pinball2000 lifecycle, Pete and Dwight had started on a very early prototype Playboy game as a potential game concept after Champion Pub. Then Dwight went off to eventually work on the Playboy game recently produced at Stern. It all sort of comes back in one big circle of life in some strange way, I think. Editor's Note(Jim Shelberg): Scott is currently working with Larry DeMar's company Leading Edge Design. Pete started his own company and has worked on novelty games for Sega, Bromley and Skeeball. Keith, along with Dwight, is currently working at Stern Pinball.

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Martin Wiest - Started: 08.03.2000 - (German date format)