Thursday, August 14, 2014

Stern Factory Visit!

On August 8th I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Stern Pinball and tour the factory. I was headed to Illinois to see family and had the opportunity to stop for a bit in Chicago and thought "Why Not?". 

Me at Stern

So I messaged the great Jody Dankberg (Stern's head of Marketing, really awesome guy btw) and got everything set up.

What an experience! As soon as I got out of the car and walked up to the building I see this group coming toward me:

(L to R): Greg Freres, Steve Ritchie, Mark Weyna, Chuck Bleich, and Steven Martin

I went nuts!!! I ran up to them, shook their hand, chatted them up and took their photo LOL. Greg is responsible for some of the most recognizable pinball art of the last 30 years. Steve R is known as "The King of Flow" for his distinctive pinball designs, Mark is a program manager and is known by fans to have helped create the great game "Scared Stiff" during his time at Williams Pinball. Chuck is the senior electronics project engineer, who used to be the electronic engineering manager at Williams for decades. Finally, Steven M is production art manager at the company, and worked on Star Trek with Steve Ritchie, Greg, and others.

After meeting that group, I went inside (some of my family was with me) and got ready for the tour. 

We were herded into the company showroom/arcade where we saw the latest games they had produced. 

ACDC Luci Premium with Metallica Pro

My nephew (and Pinball Aficionado in training) on the new ACDC LED Pro!

A Stern Rawhide (the first game old school Stern produced) with Melony beside it...a hint of the future???

The Room also had Mustang BOSS Prem, Mustang Pro, and ST Pro

ACDC LED Pro was real flashy, speaker panel is cool looking in person.

Here's the new Swinging Bell toy for this version of ACDC Pro

It's a simple pendulum that attaches at the base and uses the target (no optos or code revisions needed)

Shot from the top (I want one for my game now heh!)...

Metallica Pro, looking nice and BRIGHT....

Gary's Stand-In watching us play...hehe
After we played for a few mins, our tour guide came in....

The amazingly knowledgeable and friendly Jack Benson!

Heeeeere's Jack!
Jack was awesome! He is one of Stern's newer programmers (his first project was coding Mustang...wait what?!) and now he's busy working on the ST Code update, holy cow! He knows a TON about pinball and was the best tour guide as we proceeded to go through the factory.

Star Trek cab waiting for its playfield...
I only got a few pics in during the actual tour, as Jack was telling us everything and I kept asking him questions and we were moving fast. The two principal games that I saw being made was a ton of ST Pros and several Iron Man Vault Editions, (there were a few ACDC Pro's and a Mustang Pro getting completed, but ST and IM just dominated the line it seems).

Iron Man getting ready to kick ass...

Miles and Miles of wire....................... ;)

A Mustang Pro nearly ready...
ST Pro playfields getting ready for insertion...
ST Pro being worked on...

A ST Pro Playfield...
After the tour, I thanked Jack and gave him a Pinball Aficionado T-Shirt...

He's DEFINITELY an Aficionado! Are you? ;)
After the tour Jack took us back to the arcade room and then told us to wait a minute, and next thing I knew, my jaw hit the floor! George Gomez, John Trudeau, John Borg, Mark Weyna, all legends of modern pinball design stopped in and we chatted, it was surreal, like a dream!

George Gomez!!! (Vice President of Game Design)

John Trudeau!!! (Senior Game Designer)

John Borg!!! (Senior Game Designer)

We started talking to all of em, and it was great, talked about game routes, operating, collecting, arcades, bars, design philosophy, their time in the industry, it was great, really really great!

These guys, and their teams, and everyone they work with are responsible for some of the greatest and most respected pinball machines of the last 30 years, and it was so gratifying to meet them, the minds behind these great games!

After that, they all had to get back to work (bummer.......) and we were escorted out to get back to the rest of our trip.

Stern Pinball

It was a great time at Stern, and I want to publicly thank everyone that I met and made this visit possible: Jody Dankberg for making it happen, Steve Ritchie, Greg Freres, Steven Martin, Mark Weyna, Chuck Bleich, Jack Benson, George Gomez, John Borg, John Trudeau, and though I didn't get a chance to talk to him as he was busy, I'd like to thank Gary Stern. Finally, I'd like to thank all of Stern's very hard working employees on the shop floor for keeping pinball manufacturing alive and well in Chicago, to all of you, from the bottom of my heart: THANK YOU!


Anonymous said...

Looks like you had a great time, man! Wish I'd been with ya!

Anonymous said...

Eric, Amazing tour !!!!

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