Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Heighway Pinball Factory Visit

Tuesday 9th December 2014

For the professional practice module I am aiming to spend some time working with people who manufacture, repair or customise pinball machines in order to get a better understanding how they work and also make contacts.

Heighway Pinball came from a suggestion via the Pinball Info forums - I got in contact with them via email and they agreed for me to visit their factory in Merthyr Tydfill, Wales to speak about the possibility of working together in some way.

Merthry Tydfil is around 2 hours from Bristol - Train via Cardiff, Pontypridd to Merthyr Tydfi.

About a 15 minute walk from the train station to the industrial site the factory is on I was welcomed by Ami who is PA to Managing Director. I'm shown to the meeting room with a cup to tea until Andrew Heighway arrives Andrew is the Managing Director / CEO.


In the meeting room was lots of the promotional materials for the Full Throttle game, some samples of playfield print and other interesting bits and pieces including Heighway Pinball's technically first pinball machine, in fact a commission by Bacardi.  


I show Andrew and Ami my portfolio of work including The Art of Ping Pong and graphic design projects. I also introduce them to my MA project and interests in Pinball + Heighway as a company and why I want to work with them.


We briefly discussed some of the technology surrounding pinball and other companies out there such as the P3 Pinball Platform and Stern who are probably the biggest pinball manufacturer today.

Andrew spoke about Heighway and plans for future their overall mission:
"Our goal is to make pinball mainstream again, by producing fun, innovative, reliable and affordable pinball machines, packed with the latest technology."
A few of the other things he spoke about really made me happy that I had this type of opportunity quite close to where I now live - although I had not planned this path, I am now in a really good position to be part of the UK's first pinball manufacturer in some way or another.

"Not trying to run before they walk" 
In regards to keeping things simple yet being innovative.
"Steel ball bashing around a playfield" 
Just shows a pure love and understanding for pinball and they know how making changes to how classic pinball in made should be thought about - there is a reason it is like that.


Talked about parts and printing of play board.

Andrew spoke about innovation and technology at Heighway and some ideas for how Heighway could potentially support my project on a few levels from helping source parts to using the Heighway system within a game to build a flippable machine which I could work with further to explore an experimental and interactive kinetic art object.

There may be possibilities for partnership, collaboration and support to some level.

There could be possibilities for community projects based around this in Merthyr Tydfil - which could involve the locals with what Heighway are doing.

The other strand is to shadow workers at Heighway to learn more about the different types of work that goes into manufacturing pinball machines. The aim for me is to learn more and set me up for possible future employment and for Heighway I would be available to work to relieve pressure on different areas one or two days a week for a set amount of time during the first half of 2015

Heighway are also soon to get a 3D printer for rapid prototyping - because I have some experience and can offer more help as have links via the Tech Lab through UWE.

It's clear there are so many possibilities but making the most of the time we have available is key. I'm interested in taking as much on board as possible so making myself available to that.

Later I get a quick tour of their current premises which they have recently moved into, everything is in place to start producing pinball machines - with a few cabinets in line waiting to go in time for their launch party in January.

I'm shown what will be the showroom, there are lots of pinball and arcade machines that belong to Andrew and some of the other employees. This will be a place where people can come and play all these machines and also showcase their own machines.

Next was the prototyping room lots of playfields in progress of being populated and lots of electronic and playfield parts in some form of being built or sorted by Sandor Orosz – Prototype technician.



And of course a chance to have a shot of their first game Full Throttle.

I was taken through the rest of the offices and introduced to some of the workers:
John Matthews – Marketing/Graphic Designer
Russell Speak – Media & Game Producer
Janos Kiss – Software Developer
Also shown the technical area where Romain Fontaine – Technical Director works.



Before I left Ami spoke about part of her role sourcing parts from USA and how most games are being sold to a USA market so that's why parts are sourced from there. Pinball specific parts tend to be American so it makes sense on a few levels.

My plans now are to send a proposal for how the project could work - so, more news coming soon!

What's this all about?
This post is from my journal on MA Multi-Disciplinary Printmaking.
I am currently proposing a project based around arcade games, specifically Pinball (see list of posts about Pinball).