Andrew MacBain is not afraid of a challenge.
Besides running the successful Pigeon Patrol bird control business for the past twelve years just across the US border near Vancouver , Canada, and a prime-time appearance on Dragon’s Den (link viewable in Canada only) for his De-Fence rodent and burglar deterrent, he has also branched out into publishing, children’s clothing and now his latest venture – building pinball machines.
It was when Andrew chose pinball as a hobby that he first came to our attention. He launched the Pinball Adventures series of pinball books back in October 2018, with much promotion by TNT Amusements’ Todd Tuckey who was to be the star of the first volume, talking about the pinball business, his landmark games and stories from his lifetime in coin-op.
That first volume caused some controversy when misunderstandings with Todd led to a public falling-out, while the quality of paper used in the first run was significantly below expectations.
But Andrew was quick to put that behind him and move on, telling Pinball News how he came to a settlement with Todd (even buying more pinball machines from him) and sent buyers of the first volume a new, re-written and higher-quality copy.
Since then, completion of volumes two, three and four have followed, with work on the remaining six under way.
Running alongside the publishing of Pinball Adventures was the creation of a series of children’s books and an associated clothing range using The Punny Factory as their theme.
The The Punny Factory book uses visual word-play to form ‘punnys’ and crafts a story about an explosion at The Punny Factory with the need for factory worker Casey to track down and recover all the escaped punnys.
As with Pinball Adventures, the theme provided an opportunity for additional books in the series, so More!! Punny Factory and More & More Punny Factory soon followed. There was also the move into children’s clothing, using some of the punnys as T-shirt designs.
Not content with containing his pinball activities to the publishing operation, Andrew’s thoughts turned to building machines of his own, and what better theme for his first game than The Punny Factory?
We say ‘first game’ as you may have spotted a trend where Andrew doesn’t tend to make just one of anything, and that’s certainly the case here. There are plans in place for up to ten pinball models, with the first five already in development.
With three books and the T-shirts already using The Punny Factory brand, there was a ready supply of Punny artwork designs which could be used in the game – both on the cabinet and backbox art, and in the translite.
Here are a few of them.
Andrew has no direct experience with pinball manufacturing himself, so when it came to designing and building his first machine he researched the features players most enjoyed and then built up a group of team members to create various assets and elements, while also looking for an established pinball design company with which to partner.
He told Pinball News, ” We have a unique team of twenty specialists in their field including a lead designer, mechanical engineer, software engineer, graphic artist, and an animator (just to name a few) who work closely together for 6-12 months to bring each game together. The company would be nothing without the hardworking individuals that helped put these projects together.“
While he was launching Pinball Adventures at Pinball Expo in 2018, one of the seminars held there proved especially useful.
Andrew told us, “When I went to Pinball Expo 2018 in Chicago, I watched the seminars and met many interesting people. One person in particular was Romain Fontaine of Team Pinball – one of the few pinball design companies in the United Kingdom. I was amazed by what Team Pinball had done with the Raspberry Pi / pinball combination; I thought it was pure genius. After learning more about the machine The Mafia and listening to Team Pinball’s story in one seminar, I was hooked and found Romain the next day and said I would like to make a pinball machine with his team.“
A little more than a year later and Pinball News is at Team Pinball’s office in Cardiff, Wales to see the result of that collaboration.
The playfield layout is from Dave Sanders who created the Full Throttle and much of the Alien design for Heighway Pinball – where the Team Pinball members also worked. Punny Factory has a relatively-simple single-level layout with two flippers, a vari-target, three drop targets, three pop bumpers, a kickback, an upkicker and seventeen standup targets. It uses a playfield overlay for the artwork in the same way as Team Pinball’s first title, The Mafia, but the playfield wood will be stained with a suitable colour to ensure that in any cutouts where the wood might be visible it doesn’t look like bare, untreated wood.
There are two orbit lanes which feed to three G-A-G rollover lanes and into the pop bumpers. The orbit lanes can be lit for a hurry-up score by lighting J-O-K-E on the game’s two inlanes and two outlanes at the bottom of the playfield.
In an unusual rule twist, if J-O-K-E is completed by rolling through one of the right lanes then the left orbit lane is lit for the hurry-up, whereas completing it with one of the left lanes lights the right orbit.
Sitting in the centre is the Punny Press – the machine which produces all the Punnys. Underneath the molded Punny Press model is an upkicker saucer which is guarded by a drop target.
When the drop target is knocked down the ball can enter the Punny Press’s upkicker to collect the lit award or start a feature.
When the award (if any) has been given, the ball is kicked up into a clear plastic tube which feeds it to a curvy plastic ball return which drops the ball into the right inlane.
Because the Punny Press kickout returns the ball to the right inlane below the rollover switch, completing J-O-K-E is not as easy as it would otherwise be, and as a result the points awards for completing it are more valuable.
To the left of the Punny Press is the vari-target.
The vari-target has six possible positions and is used to collect super jackpots in multiball, with the jackpot value being multiplied according to how far the vari-target is pushed back by the ball.
The game uses a large number of standup targets. Four of these represent parts of the Punny Press – a spring, a nut, a bolt and a gear – which need to be gathered to light multiball at the Press.
Once all four have been collected multiball can be started, or they can be collected again to increase the jackpot value. The game is deliberately designed to make multiball an easily-achievable feature, but advanced players would want to build that jackpot value before starting it.
Most of the standup targets are dedicated to spelling out P-U-N-N-Y-F-A-C-T-O-R-Y. That’s a lot of targets to hit, but the game features a roving purple-lit insert which immediately completes P-U-N-N-Y-F-A-C-T-O-R-Y when the associated standup target is hit.
When P-U-N-N-Y-F-A-C-T-O-R-Y is spelled out various shots are lit to build one of the Punnys. Then the Press is lit to collect it. The overall target is to collect all fifty Punnys, with your progress shown by a circle of inserts above the flippers.
Above the Punnys counter is a set of inserts showing the end-of-ball bonus and the bonus multiplier. Completing the G-A-G top rollover lanes increases the bonus multiplier while all switch closures with the exception of the pop bumpers and the slingshots add to the bonus count which maxes out at 127 x 10,000 points.
As we said earlier, Team Pinball have worked in collaboration with Andrew to develop Punny Factory. Andrew provided assorted artwork, display animations, sounds & music for the game and suggested playfield elements he would like to be included, such as the numerous standup targets, drop targets and the vari-target.
The backbox artwork is not final. It will eventually include the game name, while the speakers have been moved to the backbox sides utilising Pinball Adventure’s custom Perfect Sound Channel guides bringing the sound round to the front, so cutouts don’t need to be accommodated in the backbox artwork’s design.
Although there is only one model of the playfield for each title, the cabinets and backboxes are available in different versions.
Andrew is proud of the high quality wood used to manufacture the cabinet and backbox, and one of the finish options showcases the wood with a stained finish and an engraving of the game’s logo.
A direct-to-wood printing of the cabinet and backbox artwork is also an option, using an initial white layer for added vibrancy. In addition, the cabinet features full-height interior direct-to-wood artwork, adding to the full immersion of the theme.
For their part, Team Pinball provided the game design, sourced the playfields and the playfield overlay with the artwork, added additional sounds and music, programmed the rules and operating system, designed the lighting effects, prototyped the 3D printed playfield models and built the playfields.
The game cabinets are being supplied and printed by Andrew, so Team Pinball is shipping two sample game systems to Canada so they can be dropped into the cabinets.
To do this they have built custom shipping/testing frames which hold the playfield but also contain a back panel with the control system, display, audio system and power supplies, along with flipper and start buttons and a plunger so the playfield can be played without having to be in a full cabinet.
Once Andrew receives the prototypes and is happy with the final design, the game can be put into production.
It is not yet confirmed who will build games for retail sales. It could be Team Pinball or another group depending on where the orders come from. Games destined for the UK and mainland Europe would probably be assembled by Team Pinball using cabinets sent over from Canada, while North American sales would probably receive games assembled in Canada with the playfields shipped over from Wales.
Team Pinball told us it currently takes about two days to build a new playfield from scratch once they have all the parts.
Punny Factory began as a Visual Pinball game, where the layout and playfield features could be tested, refined and approved by Andrew before anything physical was built.
Then the playfield and overlay could be cut using CAD files which could be extracted from the Visual Pinball design. Both these parts have been produced by companies local to Team Pinball in Swansea, although Team Pinball’s Romain cut the first playfield himself.
There have been several changes since the initial version.
The game originally didn’t feature a multiball mode, but Team Pinball persuaded Andrew to add one, even though it meant redesigning the bottom of the playfield to add a ball trough and moving the location of the flipper mechanisms.
The multiball is a two-ball mode where the first ball is locked in the Punny Press and the second manually launched from the shooter lane.
The playfield artwork’s colour scheme was also changed from yellow to a darker blue/purple graduation.
The game design is now mostly locked-down. The bottom apron artwork and some of the other plastic pieces may change or more pieces might be added, while there will be many more animations and sounds than are currently in the game.
In addition, Andrew is working on adding a smoke machine to the design. He initially wanted it blowing smoke under the playfield glass, but the condensation and soot particles made that unfeasible. Instead, he is recommending this Tiny FX smoke machine – a 70W, battery powered, handheld fog generator. The Tiny FX includes an external, wired 12V battery while a removable fluid syringe would be mounted in the backbox.
A tube from the smoke machine would expel the smoke through a 3D chimney on the top of the backbox whenever a Punny is being made in the press.
Customer demand for the Punny Factory game is unknown at this stage. Andrew is not expecting to be a major manufacturer in the first few years and is quite happy with that, but says he would “love to hit it out of the ball park for his customers on game three or four.”
The next five titles will probably get to the production stage regardless of sales numbers because, as with the Pinball Adventure books, the self-funded pinball manufacturing venture is more of a hobby than a dedicated business. It’s not a full-time business for Team Pinball either, so both parties are very relaxed about sales and time-scales.
Andrew told us, “I am trying to find ways to contribute to the world of pinball that provides me with a sense of satisfaction both in my own work and my overall work environment. Making an impact in the pinball industry and in customer’s lives is motivating. I take pleasure in seeing things that are enjoyable and well made. If I sell just one game and put a smile on someone’s face I feel I have done my job. It is not about the quantity but rather the quality.“
For the first game in the series, Punny Factory, Andrew is using the Kickstarter funding model to not only sell the game but to give purchasers direct involvement in the way this and future games are developed.
Andrew said, “We want all players to be involved whether it’s helping us design a pun, buying one of our Punny books, T-shirts or an entire game. All contributors no matter how large or small will get their name placed on the back head of all future Punny Factory pinball machines. We want all contributors to feel a sense of ownership and be a part of our development process.“
He continued, “As an added bonus, we will be helping others understand the fun we have gone through creating and designing our pinball machines. We will be allowing several people to help us design a section of a future playfield, music or artwork in one of our next machines. What other company would offer this?“
Unlike most Kickstarter projects where funding is raised for the development and build of the first few units, once the project reaches its goal investors will be able to receive their games soon after.
Andrew explained. “At the start of the campaign, we will have several complete pinball machines manufactured, tested and packaged ready for shipping. We will have enough material printed and stained to build another twenty pinball machines right away. The machines offered on Kickstarter will be manufactured as soon as the Kickstarter goal is met. Only the playfields will need to be made and that should take about a month or so to manufacture and test.“
And the price? Andrew told us he is looking at the $5,500-$6,000 range, however he says the cost of manufacturing several of the playfield parts themselves might cause that price to vary a little.
If all the Kickstarter machines are sold then orders will be taken on another fifty for staggered delivery at the wholesale price, after which additional machines will only be available from authorised distributors. Spare parts for games will be available direct from the company’s web shop as soon as the first machine is sold.
Pinball News will bring you details on when the Kickstarter campaign will be launched, and we will continue bringing you all the latest news and developments with the Punny Factory and all Andrew’s other upcoming titles.