Shortly before the start of the 35th Pinball Expo, Pinball News made a journey to Cicero, west of Chicago to visit the Chicago Gaming facility.
The Chicago Gaming company is a relatively-recent offshoot of the older Churchill Cabinets company which made household and office furniture before branching out into arcade cabinets for pinball and video games as well as pinball playfields.
Although Churchill Cabinets subsequently expanded its Chicago Gaming business with a range of remakes of popular Williams/Bally pinball titles, the majority of the factory is still dedicated to woodworking.
One thing you can guarantee when working with wood is the creation of dust. Despite advanced suction and filtration systems, wood dust appears to coat most surfaces in the woodworking part of the factory.
Churchill Cabinets produces game cabinets for several customers in the coin-op business as well as for their own Chicago Gaming range of pinball remakes and multi-cade video games.
The cabinet building is relatively simple compared to the production of title-specific playfields. Not only do playfields have to be very accurately cut and routed, they then have to have inserts glued in, be sanded smooth, and then be printed and clearcoated.
Once a playfield had passed inspection, it goes to the screen-printing room to have the artwork applied. The process is still fully manual. Each colour layer has its own screen with the ink applied by hand, starting with a base white layer. Individual playfield designs can use a dozen or more different screens depending on the complexity of the artwork. The playfields are put into racks after each colour is screened, where a pedestal fan speeds up the drying process.
When all the screened layers have been applied and the inks fully dried, the playfield is clearcoated in a special spray room and left to cure before entering final inspection.
So, what happens to all these playfields and the cabinets we saw earlier? They are turned into complete pinball machines in the Chicago Gaming pinball production area.
This is a remarkably compact facility given the number of machines they build and the quantity of components used.
On the right side as you enter is the sub-assembly area, where mechanisms and basic game components are put together, ready for installation on the playfield.
Completed assemblies are put on shelves unless they are needed immediately for production, in which case they go onto the line.
The playfield we saw just now come into the production area and initially have posts and ball guides added.
With the posts installed, the playfield crosses the room and moves onto the production line where it sits in a custom-designed rotisserie with sliders on the base.
Nearby, the backboxes are equipped with the control boards, speaker panels and translite light box.
On another line, the games’ cabinets have their electrical components such as the power connector, transformer, switch box, bass speaker, tilt bob, ground straps, flipper buttons and start button, along with the coin door wiring and some pure mechanical parts like the playfield prop, leg bolt brackets, vent covers, lock bar bracket and playfield sliders.
When the playfield, backbox and cabinet are complete, they are brought together and tested.
Although Monster Bash was the game being manufactured during our visit, the company was just launching their new, upgraded Medieval Madness remakes.
The top-of-the-line Royal Edition features a special topper with its own controller board. We’ll look at that topper in a moment, but there were some of these new Medieval Madness games being in the factory alongside the Monster Bashes in preparation for the reveal at Pinball Expo a couple of days later.
The tested complete games are then wrapped, strapped, and packed.
Although demand for the remake games has exceeded all expectations, Chicago Gaming’s storeroom had scores and scores of boxed machines waiting to ship to customers.
Apart from the new version of the Medieval Madness remake, Chicago Gaming were also revealing their new topper which comes as standard with the Royal Edition of the game.
The King and the two trolls are moulded models which are bottom-lit with RGB LEDs, while the back panel has illuminated panels for the castle’s windows. The lighting is tied in to the game’s rules so it changes colour, flashes and dims in concert with the playfield’s lighting effects.
The three characters begin as 3D-printed models before being turned into moulds so they can be mass produced. Chicago Gaming’s Ryan White showed us how the models were made.
That look at the new topper for Medieval Madness concludes our tour of the Churchill Cabinets factory and the Chicago Gaming pinball production area.
Many thanks to Ryan White and Doug Duba for their hospitality at a very busy time for the company. You can read more about their products at the Chicago Gaming website and see their stand at Pinball Expo in our report from the Vendor Hall.