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Interview with David R. Foley - Nanotech Entertainment


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#1 Noah Fentz

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Posted 30 January 2009 - 11:45 PM

I had an opportunity to ask David R. Foley some questions about what's going on at Nanotech Entertainment and Visual Pinball. Here's how it went...


Noah Fentz: First of all, I'd like to thank you for taking the time out of your busy day for this interview.

David R. Foley: No problem, it's the least that I can do. You have been putting a huge effort in building your forum for those that wish to help sustain the digital pinball community.

NF: Thank you.

NF: Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got into the digital pinball industry?

DRF: Attended Northeastern University in 1983. One of my projects was to build a CPU emulator. My senior project ended up building a 6502 emulator that ran on PC. That evolved into an Apple II emulator that ran on PC, and that evolved into a Sega Genesis development system and emulator that ran on a MAC. Which finally evolved into several Sega Genesis games that I worked on and sold through Sega, Ocean, and Electronic Arts.

I've always been a classic arcade fan. In 1992 we built a Joust emulator that ran on the Sega Genesis, and that was the genesis, pardon the pun, for the UltraCade1 concept which started in 1995.
  • In 1998, after having the first UltraCade prototypes running, I felt like we could do the same thing with Pinball.
  • In 1999, I started pitching the concept of UltraPin2
  • In 2003, we started heavily researching the right way to do digital pinball.
I then contacted Randy Davis3 and Chris Leathley4 and got permission to test their engines for the possibility of inclusion in UltraPin. While Future Pinball5 was far superior as an engine, I was convinced at the time by many people that we had to have classic recreations as the basis for the product in order for it to be successful, so that meant that we had to go the Visual Pinball route for UltraPin.

We signed an agreement with Randy to license VP for UltraPin. Because of previous issues that online communities had with me over my attempts to protect my business from the influx of unlicensed machines, I made a strong effort in my dealings with Randy to ensure that the online community would benefit from my work.

This resulted in two major things:
First, we licensed back to Randy, at no fee, all of the upgrades that we would be performing on the engine, allowing him to post these enhancements to the public, so the community would benefit from our work.

Secondly, we contacted all of the people involved in the recreations of classic tables, and licensed their work from them, paying a royalty for the inclusion of their work as the basis for our recreations.

In 2005 we launched UltraPin, becoming a full fledged digital Pinball Manufacturer.

NF: Where do you believe Nanotech Entertainment6 will be in the next couple years?

DRF: I believe that we will be the premier supplier of Digital Pinball technology in the world. With Stern shutting down production of new machines, there is a huge need for pinball machines, and our MultiPinTM7 product is going to fill that gap. On top of that, we plan to continue to offer our consumer pinball products like the Pinball Wizard controller8, including console versions of it.

We also have many other technology and game products that we are launching unrelated to pinball.

NF: Briefly, what other products are you developing?

Xtreme Rally Racing - arcade racing game that allows free roaming of the entire world.
Masher - Kids Redemption Machine.
Sonic Gun System - arcade technology for gun games.
MyTunes I/O Controller - arcade audio controller that allows players to use their iPod or similar devices to inject their own soundtrack into a game while playing.
MegaCade3 - multigame arcade / console system for the home.

That's the publicly available list along with the other products already offered on our website.

NF: That's interesting.

NF: Back to pinball, for a moment. Can we expect to see many more updates to Visual Pinball...will there be a Visual Pinball 10 and so on?

DRF: I seriously doubt there will be a VP 10. VP is a great engine, but is flawed in its basic design. Its not really 3D, it's a single scene. Randy has kind of given up on development and moved on. We've released all of our enhancements to the engine. What's really needed is a ROM emulation system for Future Pinball. Chris is actively developing and enhancing FP, and it's a far superior technology.

NF: So, we can count on having the best possible VP9 before you move on to Future Pinball?

DRF: Well, best possible can mean many things. We've taken the code that we got from Randy and the code that we got from Buen Diseno (UltraPin engine developer) and added in our support for the Pinball Wizard controller, along with Brian's [destruk] work on 16:9 tables and offered that to the community.

There were many things in UltraPin that Randy wanted to merge in and release but never did. He told us to go ahead and release it, as he just didn't have the time.

We invested in Future Pinball last year, and that is our primary focus. Our MultiPinTM product is based on FP, and we have no plans to go backwards.

I have two of my emulation programmers looking into developing our own emulation system for pinball that we can link into FP so that ROM based recreations can be offered in subsequent releases of MultiPinTM.

An effort was also started, and we will complete in the coming year to update the physics based on the experience in enhancing the FP physics to create the best possible simulation of an actual pinball.

We are looking at MultiPinTM and our FP project as a multi-year investment, not just a one off product release.
Our experience with UltraCade and Arcade Legends proved that building an 'evergreen' system was a great business model.

NF: Can you explain 'evergreen' system?

DRF: Most arcade machines are a one off game. You sell them, they are static. UltraCade / Arcade Legends was continually updated with new game packs and enhancements. In 1999, it had 8 games on it. In 2005, when I sold UltraCade Technologies, it had 252 games on it.

NF: Wow.

DRF: Like an evergreen tree, the system comes back year after year.


NF: A lot of members of our community would like to know...How is Randy?

DRF: He seems good, although our conversations are often only five to ten minutes.
He is very busy with work, and travels a lot with his job.


NF: In the past, there have been many rumors and allegations that you limited VP's ability for portrait mode and you were thought to be ruining the project. What would you say to those members who believed that?

DRF: I wish I held so much power. I'm pretty sure that Randy has publicly stated that we indeed sent him all of the changes year ago. I've gone on record, and have provided plenty of info that negates that statement.
Part of our original contract with Randy was that we provided him with the source to the updates, however, we could not release them to the public.
In our new contract with Randy, he has granted us the option to release stuff to the public, and in fact said we should since he didn't have the time to do an update. That is why the recent release of the V9. We took the UP changes, along with our update for Pinball Wizard and pushed them out to the public.
People have to also remember, that I was not involved for a couple of years due to contractual issues with the sale of UltraCade Technologies. Now those issues have expired and I am once again involved.

VP is great for what it started, a digital pinball revolution.

I know that many people love the engine, and thousands of hours have been put into developing tables for that.
I personally, truly feel that FP is the future of digital pinball, and that with emulation, it will be the only pinball engine. I've mentioned this to Chris before, and I know he has considered ways to do emulation.

You have to remember, that guys like Randy and Chris have poured a ton of sweat and love into their products. They offer them graciously to the public for free.

NF: And I know I can speak for everyone when I say, "We are grateful."

NF: One last thing, and it's been a topic of discussion lately...

NF: It is rumored that Nanotech Entertainment is somehow responsible for the demise of AJ's site (vpforums.com), and that you and vpforums.org were in "cahoots" with opening this site. What are your thoughts on that?

DRF: BWA HA HA HA HA
DRF: Boy, people really think I'm some sort of evil dictator with massive powers!

DRF: What would be my motivation for shutting down VP Forums?
Think about it logically for a moment.
I'm a businessman, in business to make money and sell products.
One of my products is specifically focused at digital pinball players.
I am looking to sell my Pinball Controller to users of FP and VP. I've released a new version of VP that has support built in for my controller.
There was a web forum that boasted 100,000 plus members on it.
My target audience 100% for Pinball Wizard.
Why the hell would I shut down the site where I would have direct contact with my target customers!?
What would be my motivation for having any pinball related forum not around?

NF: Why did you choose to release VP updates on vpforums.org, and not a site that has been around longer?

DRF: VPFORUMS.ORG was the only group that reached out to me.

Besides, VPFORUMS isn't the only site. We posted the updates on our website They are available for anyone to download and repost. I've been a member of every online pinball forum for years and always make all of my contact information available. I am easy to get in touch with.

NF: Thank you, Mr. Foley, for taking time out of your day, and I wish you the best in your endeavors.

DRF: Thank you, and good luck with the Forum.



1 - Ultracade - a computer and video game hardware company, founded in 2002 by David R. Foley.


2 - Ultrapin - UltraPin produced by Global VR, is the pinball version of UltraCade using an updated Visual Pinball engine with hardware DirectX 9 and Visual PinMAME. It is set up to look like a real pinball machine. It has two LCD screens, one for the back glass and DMD, and one for the playfield.


3 - Randy Davis - Original creator, father of Visual Pinball. Available right here, in our download section.


4 - Chris Leathley - Joined later in the development of Visual Pinball and is credited with VP's reel feature. Creator of Future Pinball.

5 - Future Pinball - Future Pinball is a real time Pinball Development System. It allows you to design and play your very own pinball simulation in True real time 3D.

6 - Nanotech Entertainment - A virtual manufacturer of innovative products that re-define the state of game play on the PC or gaming station.

7 - MultiPinTM - a new 3D digital pinball game that has 12 built-in, exciting tables, and is expandable to support hundreds of tables. The system supports original tables as well as licensed recreations of classic tables.

8 - Pinball Wizard controller - Lets you experience pinball the way it is meant to be played, using flipper buttons, a real plunger and the ability to shake the table and nudge the ball. It does all this with no drivers or software required. The best PC Pinball Engine and 12 amazing Pinball Tables are all included for free. Available from Nanotech at a discounted price for our members. Check the home page for details.



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#2 Joe

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Posted 31 January 2009 - 03:03 AM

Why make you own emulation when pinmame is open source and does a good job at it?

It would suck next to pinmame if it did not have home roms and / or full rom setting menu that they real games have.

FP also needs to be a little more open with custom table parts.

Edited by Joe, 31 January 2009 - 03:05 AM.


#3 faralos

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Posted 31 January 2009 - 04:18 AM

oh so that's what happened to randy, but he also doesn't know what happened to Aj' site.
and fp does not work with my computer, so I hope by the time vp is out, i have a newer computer or i can kiss this hobby goodbye! from what I remember when FP DID work (before my hard drive crash) it didn't like custom parts at all and the ball physics sucked, I'll try to d/load it and run it again, but i have my doubts, man to have to relearn another programming code would just suck, I'm barely started on this one, (do they share the same code?)
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#4 wtiger

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Posted 31 January 2009 - 04:22 AM

QUOTE (Joe @ Jan 30 2009, 07:03 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Why make you own emulation when pinmame is open source and does a good job at it?


Here's a quote from Black in the "PinMame Support?" thread on his forum - "I still think that serveral members of the VPM team are total cock suckers that shouldn't undo the work of Steve and Martin (wpcmame) who trully believed in what they where doing".

I think he doesn't want any part of it and would only be willing to incorporate some other "new" emulation program.

Edited by wtiger, 31 January 2009 - 04:24 AM.


#5 elton

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Posted 31 January 2009 - 08:43 AM

Thanks Noah for obtaining the interview ... good stuff. good.gif

It's always good to get the views from David and an explanation of VP9 arriving.

A lot of good stuff in the interview that goes quite a way in explaining where 'we' currently are. So the future is with FP. Hope the requirements to run it do not increase when it has ROM support too. Interesting for David to say it's the better engine .... sure it has lots of eye candy, but I've always felt that VP had the better ball physics. Time will tell.



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#6 Mr. Pacman

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Posted 31 January 2009 - 11:00 AM

Noah thanks a lot for the interview! Good questions! I didn't understand something though...Will FP be available after one year as a computer program or only with the purchase of a Pinball Wizard controller and a Multipin? It seems that time will tell..

#7 Gravy

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Posted 31 January 2009 - 12:32 PM

Its always good to hear things straight from the horses mouth so to speak, an interesting interview that answers quite a few questions at least from one person's perspective.
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#8 marv75

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Posted 31 January 2009 - 02:56 PM

Thanks Noah for the info and the interview quite interesting stuff. smile.gif
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#9 elton

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Posted 31 January 2009 - 04:23 PM

QUOTE (Mr. Pacman @ Jan 31 2009, 11:00 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Noah thanks a lot for the interview! Good questions! I didn't understand something though...Will FP be available after one year as a computer program or only with the purchase of a Pinball Wizard controller and a Multipin? It seems that time will tell..



Err .... have i misunderstood you. Future pinball is available now. http://www.futurepinball.com/

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#10 m4paws

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Posted 31 January 2009 - 04:37 PM

QUOTE (Noah Fentz @ Jan 30 2009, 06:45 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
DRF: I believe that we will be the premier supplier of Digital Pinball technology in the world. With Stern shutting down production of new machines, there is a huge need for pinball machines, and our MultiPinTM7 product is going to fill that gap. On top of that, we plan to continue to offer our consumer pinball products like the Pinball Wizard controller8, including console versions of it.

What!? When did Stern announce they were shutting down production!? I know they had some layoffs, but are they done?

QUOTE (Noah Fentz @ Jan 30 2009, 06:45 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
DRF: I seriously doubt there will be a VP 10. VP is a great engine, but is flawed in its basic design. Its not really 3D, it's a single scene. Randy has kind of given up on development and moved on. We've released all of our enhancements to the engine. What's really needed is a ROM emulation system for Future Pinball. Chris is actively developing and enhancing FP, and it's a far superior technology.

Future Pinball is far superior technology if you're more concerned with how it renders in 3-D than you are in how the tables actually play. More than 3 years after it's release, the physics in Future Pinball are still not on a par with VP's.

#11 Mr. Pacman

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Posted 31 January 2009 - 04:53 PM

QUOTE (elton @ Jan 31 2009, 04:23 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Err .... have i misunderstood you. Future pinball is available now. http://www.futurepinball.com/


...I referred to the Multipin version of FP after one year, not now...

QUOTE (m4paws @ Jan 31 2009, 04:37 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Future Pinball is far superior technology if you're more concerned with how it renders in 3-D than you are in how the tables actually play. More than 3 years after it's release, the physics in Future Pinball are still not on a par with VP's.



David Foley (from the interview):

QUOTE (Noah Fentz @ Jan 30 2009, 11:45 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
An effort was also started, and we will complete in the coming year to update the physics based on the experience in enhancing the FP physics to create the best possible simulation of an actual pinball.

Edited by Mr. Pacman, 31 January 2009 - 04:55 PM.


#12 Wiliamo

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Posted 31 January 2009 - 10:08 PM

I see a major conflict of interest here with Mr. David Foley having some control over both programs - VP & FP.

If VP development continued, it would actualy become a competitor of FP. I guess once the "team" starts focusing all of their time on FP, if it already hasn't happened, then VP will just be buried as VP9.X.

I was hoping that one last guesture would be to release VP as open source, but now I realize that cannot ever happen.

Just my thoughts.

Edited by Wiliamo, 31 January 2009 - 10:10 PM.


#13 Mr. Pacman

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Posted 31 January 2009 - 10:43 PM

QUOTE (Wiliamo @ Jan 31 2009, 10:08 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
I see a major conflict of interest here with Mr. David Foley having some control over both programs - VP & FP.

If VP development continued, it would actualy become a competitor of FP. I guess once the "team" starts focusing all of their time on FP, if it already hasn't happened, then VP will just be buried as VP9.X.


Yes, from what David said, seems that VP will just disappear one day..but then we might get an improved and much better version of FP that will be playable like VP. I don't worry so much, as far as i know that some developers are currently working on a pinball editor. Its far better from the situation we had before with Randy. Now some people are active and trying to help the community and they are developing their product too...this is great. Thanks to every Nanotech programmer and to Randy for telling them that they should upgrade VP and give it to the people.

#14 David R. Foley

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Posted 01 February 2009 - 04:16 AM

QUOTE (Wiliamo @ Jan 31 2009, 02:08 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
I see a major conflict of interest here with Mr. David Foley having some control over both programs - VP & FP.


You should understand that I have no control over either Program. Randy still owns all of the rights to Visual Pinball, and Chris still owns all of the rights to Future Pinball. We have simply licensed them for use with our products.



QUOTE (m4paws @ Jan 31 2009, 08:37 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
What!? When did Stern announce they were shutting down production!? I know they had some layoffs, but are they done?


They let go of everyone in development. The only things they will be doing moving forward is re-releasing old designs. No one is left to develop new tables.


QUOTE (m4paws @ Jan 31 2009, 08:37 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Future Pinball is far superior technology if you're more concerned with how it renders in 3-D than you are in how the tables actually play. More than 3 years after it's release, the physics in Future Pinball are still not on a par with VP's.


Actually Physics have improved in FP, and they are going to improve in the future. I'm sure FP physics will surpass VP physics in the future.


QUOTE (Mr. Pacman @ Jan 31 2009, 03:00 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
I didn't understand something though...Will FP be available after one year as a computer program or only with the purchase of a Pinball Wizard controller and a Multipin?


Our license does not preclude Chris from continuing to offer his product in any way he sees fit. I know of no plans to discontinue the release of the freeware version. We are including FP with our controller for the millions of people that aren't involved in the online community and haven't had the chance to experience it.

QUOTE (Joe @ Jan 30 2009, 07:03 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Why make you own emulation when pinmame is open source and does a good job at it?
It would suck next to pinmame if it did not have home roms and / or full rom setting menu that they real games have.


PinMAME requires MAME, and the MAME team has refused to grant a license to use the product commercially. Therefore, we can not consider PinMAME as a solution and will develop our own for MultiPin.


#15 m4paws

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Posted 01 February 2009 - 04:34 AM

QUOTE (David R. Foley @ Jan 31 2009, 11:16 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
They let go of everyone in development. The only things they will be doing moving forward is re-releasing old designs. No one is left to develop new tables.

That sucks if it's definite. I knew they'd let go of some people, but last I heard they were planning on using "out-of-house freelance or contract designers" for game development rather than having them on staff full-time. Hopefully if they go to re-productions only, it's a temporary condition.


QUOTE (David R. Foley @ Jan 31 2009, 11:16 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Actually Physics have improved in FP, and they are going to improve in the future. I'm sure FP physics will surpass VP physics in the future.

Are you talking about the MultiPin version or the freeware version (if there's a difference)? Because in the freeware version of FP the physics are just not as good as VP, even as of the version released late last year. Of course it's under development and that may change in the future, but my point was that in all that time that FP has been around the physics still aren't as good as VP's. So, while it may may have superior potential, I don't see how it's superior today.

#16 destruk

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Posted 01 February 2009 - 06:55 AM

I doubt Gary would not release their '24' pin they've been working on for >6 months. After that though, who knows?
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#17 vfpcoder

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Posted 01 February 2009 - 06:22 PM


I would really feel better about this whole situation if we had had a proper farewell message from either Randy or AJ; but we got neither! Instead, we got a mysterious instantaneous outage of the old "VPForums.com" followed less than a week later with this new ".ORG" site. The very next day an improved -- but not fully backward compatible -- version of VP is posted. Then we get this interview which informs us that "Randy seems good". That just does not provide enough closure to the situation for the many table authors and fans of VP. I do admit that posting this interview provides some needed credibility to the proceedings. The problem is, it seems more like a "VP to FP Roadmap" for table authors rather than a real interview. (Perhaps it would have been more prudent to have waited a month or so for the new VP9 to stabilize a little before announcing that it would be the last version of the program.)

In the end I just want to see the virtual Pinball recreations of beloved tables continue in some form -- and if that ultimately means FP then that's fine. But there just *had* to have been a better way for this whole thing to have gone down. The way things appear at the moment many longtime and talented VP authors may just get fed up and leave the community. And that would be a shame.




#18 destruk

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Posted 01 February 2009 - 06:33 PM

QUOTE (vfpcoder @ Feb 1 2009, 07:22 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
I would really feel better about this whole situation if we had had a proper farewell message from either Randy or AJ; but we got neither! Instead, we got a mysterious instantaneous outage of the old "VPForums.com" followed less than a week later with this new ".ORG" site. The very next day an improved -- but not fully backward compatible -- version of VP is posted. Then we get this interview which informs us that "Randy seems good". That just does not provide enough closure to the situation for the many table authors and fans of VP. I do admit that posting this interview provides some needed credibility to the proceedings. The problem is, it seems more like a "VP to FP Roadmap" for table authors rather than a real interview. (Perhaps it would have been more prudent to have waited a month or so for the new VP9 to stabilize a little before announcing that it would be the last version of the program.)

In the end I just want to see the virtual Pinball recreations of beloved tables continue in some form -- and if that ultimately means FP then that's fine. But there just *had* to have been a better way for this whole thing to have gone down. The way things appear at the moment many longtime and talented VP authors may just get fed up and leave the community. And that would be a shame.



I think that after all the crap that has gone down in the past, the 10 or so table authors from both camps can 'probably maybe, possibly' deal with the current happenings without throwing up their arms and jumping ship... Then again, to make sure can we see a show of hands of authors who have released a table in the last 7 years compared with those who have released more than a handful of tables in the last 7 years? Seems like a whole amazing lot of people released 1-5 tables and then ran away even when life was perfect. Weird huh? Wasn't that nanotech vp8.1 uploaded before vpforums.com went down? That was uploaded nearly a month and a half before the death date of vpforums.com...we should have seen that coming.
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#19 vfpcoder

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Posted 01 February 2009 - 07:39 PM

Destruk,

QUOTE
Then again, to make sure can we see a show of hands of authors who have released a table in the last 7 years compared with those who have released more than a handful of tables in the last 7 years? Seems like a whole amazing lot of people released 1-5 tables and then ran away even when life was perfect. Weird huh?


Some authors may have released a table or two early -- and then bowed to the superior talents of the authors that came later. It doesn't necessarily mean that just because they haven't released tables recently they aren't still members of the community.

Some of us just really enjoy playing the table recreations that talented authors like Scapino, PacDude, you, and JPsalas created. (And it's really good to see both Scapino and you on this site.) We may not be able to contribute to the community from a talent perspective, but that doesn't mean that we're not still part of the community. Most of us have donated to the various sites; and even evangelize VP and/or FP to other pinball enthusiasts.

But it should be remembered that the table authors that came later stood on the shoulders of the early developers that came before them. And everybody (authors and fans of both VP and FP) still stand on the shoulders of Randy.

You're right, of course: The community will go forward from here -- and probably in an ultimately healthier fashion. This posted interview really does clear up quite a few questions. (If anything it was perhaps a little *too* candid.) The lament here is just the way things (seemingly) went down. It would be *fantastic* if we could get an interview with Randy at some point to help clear the air a little.


#20 TedB

TedB

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Posted 01 February 2009 - 10:58 PM

Good interview that shines some light on stuff that is going on lately and the new VP release. I think it is great that there is a new release and there is progress after a long time of non-activity.
That David doesn't seem to consider VP to be future proof doesn't really worry me. If VP 9.1 will be the last release and gives the authors some more possibilities and even better physics, that will be good enough I guess to play it for some years to come.
The big problem with FP is the specs needed to play a good game. You need a good graphics card and a fast computer. Blindman's tables do look fantastic, but the physics doesn't feel right. I also need to adjust the specs to the bare minimum to make it playable. So no FP for me yet.

Would be great indeed to see an interview with Randy, I really like to know what his plans are with the VP-code. Will he open source it when there is no commercial value in it anymore?






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