Deeproot Pinball’s CEO, Robert Mueller, promised to revolutionise pinball, and it’s true that this week’s launch of their new product line was in many ways unlike anything we’d seen before.
This was the company’s third attempt to reveal their Retro Atomic Zombie Adventureland (RAZA) game alongside multiple other launch or future titles, as well as showcase the many innovations in how pinball is built and played they have been working on for the past four years.
The first aborted launch was at the 2018 Texas Pinball Festival, where the Five Days of Deeproot was slated to steal the show and put the new kids front and centre of the pinball stage. Then, about three months before the show opened, the Five Days were cancelled. There would be no reveal, nor even any official company presence at the show.
The second launch was scheduled for twenty-four months later, just before the 2020 Texas Pinball Festival. This time the plan was to have journalists, bloggers and podcasters from around the world descending on Deeproot Pinball’s San Antonio headquarters for a guided tour of the facility, reveals of their numerous upcoming games, a look at the many innovations incorporated in them, and a chance to question the designers, engineers, artists and management about the company and its products.
Once the impact of Coronavirus on the impending launch became clear, with many of the intended guests either unable or choosing not to attend, the physical presentation was first converted to a virtual launch on the Internet, and then cancelled completely.
Finally, Deeproot Pinball set a new launch date of 29th September, 2020. With an additional six months to really make their reveal something special, what would they show to wow home buyers, operators and players? They ran a tease campaign on their website counting down to the day of the reveal.
The weekend before the appointed date, six US-based internet bloggers, podcasters and vloggers were invited to the Deeproot Pinball facility to spearhead this launch alongside Deeproot Pinball’s own social media team. Unfortunately, what this revealed was that the RAZA game and the platform on which it is built were a long way from being ready to be reveal, suffering reliability and design issues along with a number of unfinished or incomplete elements which would badly scupper RAZA’s first public showing.
With just hours to go before the grand presentation, the whole thing was called off for a third time. They posted the following notice on their website:
The expected torrent of derision duly arrived on social media, with incredulity from those following the countdown that the event could be pulled at this late stage. Deeproot Pinball’s team expected as much, of course, but obviously decided it was preferable to cancel than to go ahead with what they had presented to their weekend guests.
This latest cancellation was revealing in several other ways too.
Firstly, Deeproot Pinball has decided to rely on these six to be their ‘launch team’, not just for RAZA but for the company’s new pinball platform and the many promised innovations it contains. No advance media material was sent out to other outlets and the Deeproot Pinball website – which was never exactly forthcoming about what the company was doing – actually contains less information about their upcoming RAZA game now than it did before the planned launch.
Also, the company clearly thought their launch game was in a far better position for a public reveal than their guests did. None have elaborated publicly on exactly what they thought was wrong with either the RAZA game itself or the design of the platform. That’s likely due to the Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) most of them were required to sign before being admitted, but it’s clear that even after all the extra time they have had since the planned March reveal, there were still several fundamental issues the company needed to overcome. Some of these, it seems, they are were unaware of until last weekend.
However, despite the desire to keep everything shown at the presentation under wraps, some leaked images from that showing did surface on the day of the third cancelled launch, and they reveal much about the direction the company is going with their new pinball platform.
While there are several ‘love-it-or-hate-it’ new design elements, there are also some genuinely interesting and, dare we say, innovative features to explore.
Now, as with the previous showing of this game, it’s important to stress that this is not a production-ready sample. Several things will almost certainly change before it is made available to purchase, but we can see the direction the design team have taken and some of the new ideas they plan to introduce.
The most immediate change to standard pinball design is found in the backbox. The multi-tier design features a speaker/display box raised above the cabinet on two mounting poles, with an illuminated wrap-around translite box similarly mounted above. It subsequently turned out that this is only found on the upper two of the three planned variants of RAZA. The base ‘Arcade’ version will feature a more conventional hinged backbox instead, although it will have the same ultra-wide display.
This ultra-wide display panel is the same as the one we had previously seen at the Houston Arcade Expo show in 2019, but is now flanked by two small speaker ports on this higher-end model. How much sound can be pumped through these small grilles we will have to wait to find out, but on this display model they are joined by two further speaker grilles mounted at thigh-height on the front of the cabinet. These extra speakers are also upper-level additions which are not found on the ‘Arcade’ model.
The innovation Deeproot Pinball is most proud of is found in place of the regular lock bar between the flipper buttons. This PinBar is another ultra-wide display incorporating a multi-touch sensor, allowing high-quality animations and information screens to be shown while letting players interact with the game’s features in numerous ways and operators navigate the extensive set-up, diagnostic and audit menus.
As exciting as this new control surface could be, there are some fundamental issues with the PinBar.
First, with no rounded corners it looks destined to cause hand injury while playing for any length of time. Anyone who has played Stellar Wars or Pokerino knows how uncomfortable box-shaped lock bars can be. That’s something which can be corrected, albeit at some manufacturing cost overhead when compared to a regular box shape.
Second, it forms a tray which looks like an idea place to rest drinks and snacks which could spill, while also collecting dust and dirt (not to mention viruses), making the touch surface far from attractive to use. It’s also not the most aesthetically-pleasing or integrated housing, looking more like an add-on than an integral part of the glass frame.
The leaked images left far more questions than answers, and also left the six guests in the untenable position of being unable to share any of the information they learned over the weekend.
What happened next looked like a panic move by the company to counter the negative reaction and speculation, as they used their favoured website, This Week In Pinball, to reveal some of those missing details which were presented the previous weekend. We advise reading it to learn more about the current state of the Deeproot Pinball platform and details of their planned upcoming titles.
Deeproot Pinball also allowed the other five guests to discuss what is revealed in this article in their podcasts or vlogs, although they still couldn’t discuss anything not covered or anything previously advised as not for publication.
The This Week In Pinball article includes many more pictures and much information about the platform Deeproot Pinball have been developing, but doesn’t discuss most of the problems which caused the launch event to be pulled at the last minute. Nor does it examine how the RAZA game itself had moved on from the version shown in Houston.
Another of those present at the preview, vlogger Cary Hardy, showed some video of the game and the PinBar in particular in his most recent edition.
Even with the information which has been published, this cannot be considered a proper launch for Deeproot Pinball, their pinball platform or their first game release.
Two images leaked out, partial details and some rough images have been made available though ‘friendly’ outlets which are still muzzled as to what they can say, while the company’s own website merely shows an apology caption.
Contrast this to Stern Pinball’s recent Avengers: Infinity Quest launch, where dozens of professionally-shot high-resolution images were made available, members of the design team talked about developing the game, there were gameplay streams scheduled, with complete feature details and prices for all three models and promotional videos all available on the company’s website.
We really do wish Deeproot Pinball all the best with their new platform, their launch games and future titles. There’s a lot of goodwill available for a company who can produce innovative and attractive pinball machines to move the industry forward.
But, for a company putting so much trust in social media to promote themselves and their products, they need to become far more professional in their public and online presence if they want to be taken seriously and become the credible and much-needed alternative to the established players they aspire to be.