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.
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