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Interview: Eala Dubh Sidhe

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#1 Noah Fentz

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Posted 26 November 2009 - 02:17 AM

As some of you already know, I had the privilege of attending this year's Chicago Pinball Expo with our very own Eala Dubh Sidhe. That was a weekend of nothing but pinball and discussion about pinball. This was a tough interview for that reason. There isn't much Eala and I haven't discussed about pinball at this point, so this is pretty much a continuance of one of those discussions, with some questions geared to help you all get to know Eala better.

Noah Fentz: So, Eala, where are you from, and how did you get into pinball emulation?

Eala Dubh Sidhe: I'm from Northern Ireland (the crap bit that nobody wants any more), and I got into pinball emulation purely by being directed to Randy's original site back in early 2001 and going on from there. I think the first games I played on it were the VP versions of Balls A Poppin' and Fathom, before VPM had really taken off.

Noah Fentz: Have you always been a fan of pinball, or did emulated pinball develop your interest?

Eala Dubh Sidhe: Well, there were particular machines that I played on and off during the 70's and 80's while growing up. The first game I played regularly would have been Pin*Bot, which was everywhere around 1987/88, and college a couple of years later always had a System 11 someplace around. It tapered off a bit during the 90's as things became more scarce, but more than the actual playing, the idea of designing was always in the back of my mind. So Visual Pinball was a godsend and I never looked back from that.

Noah Fentz: So designing tables is your primary interest?

Eala Dubh Sidhe: Yes, but the level of interest is an internet side effect. The IPDB and various flyer sites and European pinball galleries suddenly offered a vast level of visual information and reference that was never available before, and VP was the perfect tool with which to understand how a game was put together. Owning a real machine had also been a dream of mine for several years before the internet, which eBay eventually made possible.

Noah Fentz: You have many amazing originals that reflect your interest in designing. How far do you think you can go with table design?

Eala Dubh Sidhe: Well, I learn a bit more with each new design I do. I strive for as much authenticity as I can, so I guess the answer is as far as real table designs can be pushed. Every game I do is always more realistic than the last in terms of parts, proportions, and spacing that real-world mechanics would require. I guess I have Stern to thank for still being around, whether it be for the inspiration and good ideas provided by their best games, or the thought-provoking 'what would I do differently' with others that don't quite come off. A lot of this really is learning from the masters, so I like to put myself in the same designing position with the same arbitrary limitations, and making the best use of what that leaves you with. Of course I have an advantage in that I can choose any theme for a game that happens to spark off a design idea. So yes, while VP can theoretically do 'anything' with a playfield, that doesn't always mean that it should. I personally get better results with the design philosophy of "if a machine can't do it, screw it".

Noah Fentz: Recently, you and I went to the Pinball Expo. What was that experience like for you?

Eala Dubh Sidhe: I can honestly say that was the most fun and excitement I've had in a long time. More than that, it did a lot at the time to help bring me out of my shell a bit. Social phobia and low self-esteem have been major issues with me for some time, so actually being in a comfortable environment around industry figures and the like around whom I actually had something to contribute was a real perk. Not to mention the adrenaline rush from three solids nights of pinball coupled with not enough sleep. I could never have got the attendance all organized and accomplished on my own though.

Noah Fentz: I hope to see you again next year for it.

Eala Dubh Sidhe: Me too, I have a definite reason to work towards going back next year and getting plenty more things under my belt in preparation.

Noah Fentz: During our time there, you talked a lot about creating more originals. What's next for you?

Eala Dubh Sidhe: Finishing Card Sharks II is one priority. Not just because it's been in Development Limbo for so long, but because I want to get on the game design floor of Nanotech's Multipin project, and a port of CS2 would be the ideal new toy to flaunt. It would be partly for the prestige, partly to have something else to show for all these years of design work, but also to finally get to play with Future Pinball with a decent physics engine. Most of us want that.

Noah Fentz: Indeed.

Noah Fentz: Has the level of interest in originals been at all disappointing, considering that's your main interest?

Eala Dubh Sidhe: Well, forum regulars know what they like, and can recognize potential when they see it. Without wishing to demean anyone's work, there's probably more interest in originals now that the glut of quickly build knock-offs doesn't have to be sifted through any more to get to the good stuff. Ask them to name a favourite creator of theirs and it'll usually be someone left who's still putting things together. Projects have also become more personal this way, plus it's the best crowd from which newcomers - which VP is still attracting - can learn. Besides, how can you be discouraged when Roger Sharpe is telling us that what we're doing is the ultimate future of pinball?

Noah Fentz: Heh....very true.

Noah Fentz: Acknowledging that Stern could very well be the last hope for pinball, what would you say, are they doing right? Wrong? What would you do differently?

Eala Dubh Sidhe: That's getting into the management side of things. I could offer my input as a designer, but really, it's a fine balancing act of trying to please as many - or more likely, displease as few - potential customers as possible when they all have different priorities. There was a big late-night discussion at the Expo chaired by Roger Sharpe and many rec.games.pinball members devoted to this, and nobody came up with any consensus. The group never expected to, the nearest the discussion came was that the ideal game should be simple enough for the casual player to pick up, yet complex and intricate enough to offer long term play for the home gameroom owner; it should be cost-effective but with as broad an appeal as the licensed theme can manage; it must attract new players rather than the same old pros, and have a quick average gameplay time to make money for the operator with turning those new players off after a single go; and it must be low-maintenance and cost-effective but able to withstand its daily playing punishment. That's the ideal, so imagine what the reality of taking all that into account is like.

Eala Dubh Sidhe: It's been nine years and Stern are still here, so they can't be doing *everything* wrong.

Noah Fentz: That sounds like an impossible balance to acheive. What ever happened to pinball just being fun?

Eala Dubh Sidhe: I gather that what they do is plan any new game around the overall feedback they get from the number of releases before it. So if operators tell them they're not making enough money because games last too long, they produce a difficult beast like Pirates Of The Carribean; if they see sales dipping because new players aren't being drawn in, then along comes a Family Guy, where almost every play gives out a multiball on ball three, and the machine comes in two different flavours.

Eala Dubh Sidhe: Simpsons Pinball Party was a great game with a lot to do and see and plenty of replay value, even if it was a little easy; Spider-Man is less complicated with easy-to-follow objectives, but more challenging. And both machines have killer themes that would take sheer force to will to mess up.

Noah Fentz: So you feel they are coming close?

Eala Dubh Sidhe: I think they've got a better handle from experience about what combinations work and what don't. But there's always going to be a lot of luck involved. There was no real reason for Indiana Jones to turn out as bland and repetitive as it was, but I don't have the sales figures in front of me that would back that opinion up.

Noah Fentz: If it was your decision to make, and the sky's the limit, what would the next license be for a Stern table?

Eala Dubh Sidhe: I'd plump for the current version of Doctor Who, but Roger Sharpe's opinion was 'that would work for the fans just like it did for us last time' (when he was the licensing director at Williams). Meaning, just catering for a fandom isn't going to cut it sales-wise any more.

Noah Fentz: Well, I certainly hope they can endure the economic storm.

Eala Dubh Sidhe: Even if they ultimately don't, something will arise to fill the void, even if pinball becomes a niche pastime. It'll survive in some long-term form, whether it be real or simulated.

Noah Fentz: Your screenname, Eala Dubh Sidhe, really threw many people we met at the Expo. What's its origin?

Eala Dubh Sidhe: I've been the board's token furry ever since its inception. 'Eala Dubh' has always been my regular internet handle, it's Gaelic for 'black swan'.

Noah Fentz: Very cool

Noah Fentz: Well, Eala, it was a pleasure meeting you and "Expo'ing" with you. Thank you for the fun, the interview, and all you've contributed to the VP scene.

Eala Dubh Sidhe: I don't plan on leaving for a long while.

Noah Fentz: It's good to have you. smile.gif

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#2 Bob5453


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Posted 26 November 2009 - 04:12 AM

Eala has always been one of my favorite authors. I can't begin to tell you how many games I've played on his 2002 version of the 1979 Game Plan Sharpshooter table, an update of it would be great. smile.gif

Thanks Eala.

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#3 The Loafer

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Posted 26 November 2009 - 04:29 AM

Great author both for some of his recreations and yeah, his originals are top notch. His Superman VP was an interesting superior interpretation of the Atari original and his VPM version raised it a notch with not only having emulated sounds and the proper ruleset (thanks VPM!), but it also seemed to play incredibly close to the original. Maybe nostalgia is to blame, but I swear every bounce was accurate! Anyway, it was no fluke, every one of his releases seemed to always contain a great balance between "fun to play", looks great and has that special "play one more game" feel to it.

Many thanks Eala, glad to see you're still kicking around smile.gif.

#4 kristian



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Posted 26 November 2009 - 08:14 AM

Eala is simply a legend... many great conversions... I have no idea how many hours I've played Eala's tables but they always had amazing playability and challenge.

#5 kruge99


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Posted 26 November 2009 - 01:26 PM

A true legend in the Visual Pinball scene and a fantastic contributor.

Best Regards,

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#6 LaughingOtter


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Posted 26 November 2009 - 01:33 PM

Eala Dubh is an awesome designer who really has the knack for table creation. I had no idea how many he'd done until I reconstructed the Pinball Originals database.
Not to mention he's a really cool dude! cool.gif

Glad you have no intention of leaving us! (Noah, too!)
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#7 Popotte


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Posted 26 November 2009 - 01:58 PM

As Bob, Eala has always been one of my favorite authors. Good new: Card Sharks II is back again and it will be a FP table too. I really hope Ealah enjoy to work with FP (and continue to work with VP...).

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#8 Practicedummy


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Posted 27 November 2009 - 03:44 AM

I play his rendition of PinBot on a regular basis. biggrin.gif

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#9 marv75


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Posted 27 November 2009 - 04:07 AM

Great author, great interview...what more can I say? smile.gif
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#10 computerfrk1


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Posted 27 November 2009 - 04:09 AM

Eala was gracious enough to put his tables in for tournament play at the old PU.net website

#11 TAB


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Posted 27 November 2009 - 08:38 AM

Thanks for all your wonderful tables smile.gif

#12 RipleYYY


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Posted 27 November 2009 - 09:42 AM

yes, a single "tanx "say it all


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#13 yogiholzer


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Posted 27 November 2009 - 09:03 PM

Thank you very very much for all the fun you brought to people by your great table releases.
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#14 luvthatapex


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Posted 28 November 2009 - 02:27 AM

Eala is aces in my book. Our first table together - Pink Panther in early 2002 taught me alot about visual basic and scripting and gave me the fuel to try solo projects over the past 7 years.
The amount of innovation and feel that you inject into everyone of your releases is unparalleled.

Thank you for all your wonderful work, and for being a good friend.

#15 EalaDubhSidhe


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Posted 30 November 2009 - 08:30 PM

D'awwwwwwwww, fanks everyone. *embarrassed* smile.gif

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#16 yogiholzer


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Posted 30 November 2009 - 10:05 PM

QUOTE (EalaDubhSidhe @ Nov 30 2009, 09:30 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
D'awwwwwwwww, fanks everyone. *embarrassed* smile.gif

Embarrassed? No, it's all true!
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#17 marrydavidson101



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Posted 19 June 2010 - 05:50 AM

Very interesting. I'm checking it out now.
The upgrade descriptions in the pdf look like this will boost some life back into VP!

#18 RipleYYY


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Posted 30 May 2016 - 04:06 PM

well, back on this topic, and noticing that nobody has talked about ALIEN pinball... !?

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#19 freneticamnesic


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Posted 30 May 2016 - 06:48 PM

well, back on this topic, and noticing that nobody has talked about ALIEN pinball... !?

There's nothing nice to say about it

#20 lodger


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Posted 31 May 2016 - 12:28 PM

Really? The playfield design I've seen so far seems par excellence to me (unless there's something with licensing or something I don't know...or my browser has the sarcasm filter turned on w popup blocker).  


At any rate, one thing I wanted comment re: Eala is that he has been amazingly accessible to support new designers. When I was first learning to design tables, I didn't have much of a clue. Eala kindly tolerated many questions on my part, providing thoughtful answers and suggestions. Not only did this help me become a better designer, but also appreciate pinball in a new way.


I have *nothing* but respect for him.





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