Speech Given by Mark Richie at the PINBALL EXPO '98
By Russ Jensen
Mark began by saying "good evening" to his audience. He then told us that he was there to tell some things he did for the industry over the past sixteen years, adding, that he was no longer associated with the coin machine industry. In 1976, Mark then told us, after graduating from high school he went to work for Atari on their playfield assembly line.
Mark next commented that he wanted to get into pinball design at Atari, but since his older bother Steve was in that department a company rule would not allow family members to work in the same department. In 1978, Mark went on, his brother went to work for Williams, and he himself went to the department at Atari that operated the "burn-in ovens".
A few weeks after he transferred to the new department Mark said his brother Steve called him from Chicago to tell him that the people at Williams would like to interview him for possible employment, in particular the company head at the time Mike Stroll. Mark then told about Steve and Mr. Stroll coming to California, and how Mr. Stroll interviewed him. When the interview was concluded, Mark went on, Mr. Stroll said to him "it seems that you have the same stuff as your brother", inviting him to come to Chicago and work for Williams.
Mark next told of his moving to Chicago and going to work at the Williams Pinball Lab. He then told of his first meeting with Steve Kordek, and how they have remained good friends ever since. Two years later, Mark continued, he began designing his first pingame THUNDERBALL. After describing some of that game's features, Mark told us that it ended up being "a complete disaster". At that point Mark began naming the other games that he designed while at Williams.
His second game Mark said was FIREPOWER 2 which he designed in 1983, commenting that that game was "more conventional" than his previous game and did achieve some success in the market. His other Williams games from the 1980's were then described which included: PENANT FEVER (Williams first solid-state "pitch and bat" baseball game) in 1984; SORCERER (1985); ROAD KINGS (1986); BIG GUNS (1987); TAXI (1988); and POLICE FORCE (1989).
Mark then described his Williams games from the current decade which included: DINER (1990); SLUGFEST (another solid-state baseball game) (1991); FISHTALES (1992); and his last game INDIANA JONES (1993). Mark was then given a round of applause for his great Williams designs.
At that point Mark made a few general comments regarding his design philosophy which he said included trying to keep his designs simple, and striving to produce games that "everyone could play". He then concluded his discussion of his years at Williams telling us he was "grateful for his experiences at the company, and with its people".
Mark then began telling of his experiences with the pinball company Capcom which he said he had the opportunity to join up with its predecessor in 1993. He told us that when he joined that organization he was made "Chief of Game Design", then assembling the components to form the Pinball Design Department. Mark then told us that for the first year he was barred from doing actual designing due to a "non-compete agreement" he signed when he left Williams, so he had to do only management work for awhile, commenting that It "seemed forever" before he was allowed to design a game.
We were then told that at first the company produced "Redemption Games", their first such game Mark said "flopped" when exhibited at the 1993 AMOA show, then producing two more such games which he said did a little better, remarking that this "kept him busy". Mark then began telling of the Capcom pinballs which were produced.
In 1995, Mark then told us, the company produced its first pingame, PINBALL MAGIC, which he said was "a very impressive game" with neat features and overall a good design. After naming the game's design team, Mark remarked that most of the team members had never designed a pingame before. We were then told that there were some "start-up problems" with the game - legal, supply, etc..
The next game they produced, Mark told us, was AIRBORNE which he said was somewhat of a "disaster". He then named its design team. Next, Mark went on, came one of his "personal favorites", BREAKSHOT, which he told us used a new computer operating system. He then commented that there were problems at the time with the marketing situation.
Mark then said that next came BIG BANG BAR, which he said was another favorite of his, which took much "creative effort" to design. When he then asked the audience if anyone had seen the game it drew a round of applause. After then commenting that it was "an incredible piece", Mark said the problem with it was they just sort of "ran out of steam" on the project, only ten sample games ever being produced.
The next game Capcom produced Mark said was FLIPPER FOOTBALL which he told us they tried to design for the European market, adding that it was not totally a pingame, but more of a "simulation". After that, he went on, they tried another redemption game called THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM which they thought might be halfway successful. Mark said they build five for test and they tested pretty well, but he said at that time "the end was near" for the company.
After that, Mark told us, they started laying out their last pinball KING PIN, commenting that he was happy to be designing again. He then said to him at the time "life seemed good" because he was doing something creative. Mark then told us that its design had essentially two iterations.
At first, Mark went on, it was supposed to have a "casino game" theme, but when Williams came out with JACKBOT at about that time they had to "rethink" it. Mark said that they decided to change it to a "1930's gangster" theme, he then describing its configuration in some detail. He ended his discussion of the game by saying it had a "neat design team" who worked really hard on it.
But, Mark then commented, it was a "desperate time", and if the pinball market had been better then maybe Capcom could have succeeded, but "the timing was way off". He then remarked that he thought their products were "very competitive" and "highly entertaining". Mark then told us that he was very proud to have been associated with the Capcom people, and that it was a valuable learning experience for him.
Finally Mark commented that he believed Capcom had "set the stage" and "raised the bar slightly" for higher standards in pinball development. And in the process, he added, they made some "really fun games". When Mark then thanked us for listening to him, also remarking "you've been great", he received a good round of applause ending his talk.
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