Old School Gamer Magazine chats with fan-favorite video game designer Brian Eddy, who discusses his newest game, The Mandalorian pinball machine from Stern. Detailing the creation process and his goals for the machine, Eddy, who hardcore gamers know for his work on games the likes of Psi-Ops and FunHouse, lets us know how he wants the game to be remembered. With an equally as legendary resume when it comes to pinball games as well, Eddy is a multi-faceted creator with tons of passion and vision.
Old School Gamer Magazine: How was this game born?
Brian Eddy: I had just finished up Stranger Things and George Gomez came to me and asked what I thought about the Mandalorian as a theme. He started to tell me about it and I interrupted and just said YES that would be awesome! Stern has a great relationship with Disney and this was a dream license to work on. I was a big fan of the show already and the action and themes fit perfectly with pinball. The whole team was very passionate and fans of the show. The schedule was a bit shorter than normal, but it was such a great opportunity we all jumped on doing it.
Old School Gamer Magazine: Were you a fan of The Mandalorian before getting involved?
Eddy: Yes big fan! I watched it soon after it came out. I think it’s the best addition to the Star Wars universe since the original trilogy. It has something for everyone, a fresh space western theme, plenty of great action and mystique, The Child, who is adorable and familiar, lots of throwback nostalgia to the Star Wars universe and past movies, great effects and amazing music, etc…. Did I mention I was a fan?!
Old School Gamer Magazine: What is your role in the game?
Eddy: I am the senior game designer on the project. My role is to lead a team of developers to create the game. I come up with the vision and direction for the game and the playfield design. But it’s really an extremely talented group of people who make the product come alive. We all work together and cross over in all disciplines in many ways to make the game the best it can be. Dwight Sullivan, a HUGE Star Wars fan, leads a team of amazing programmers that create the software/rules/design and integration of sound, video and lightshows. Tom Kopera did all the mechanical design to make sure the game works and does what we want reliably. Jerry Thompson leads the music, speech and sound effects in the game and did an amazing job. And Randy Martinez did the incredible artwork on the playfield, backglass and cabinets. Plus a large group of support people! So along with leading the team it’s bringing together talented people to create a fun game.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What has development been like?
Eddy: Very intense and dynamic. Since the schedule was a little short we had to really focus in on the features we wanted quickly and work out any issues. We went through design iterations and changes quickly. Disney is also very particular with how the license is portrayed so we worked very close with them to make sure we could blend what they needed and a stunning pinball machine that was fun to play, especially for the fans of the show. In the end the collaboration definitely improved the game.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What makes this game special?
Eddy: I think it’s really the whole package. It has an amazing theme with the Mandalorian, incredible music, characters, video clips and speech from the show, Carl Weathers doing custom speech, an accessible but deep ruleset, and some unique playfield toys never before seen on a game while still having great flow. Pulling all that together in a fun way is what really makes it special.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What other pinball games influenced this one the most?
Eddy: I can’t really say any other games influenced this game though I have always been a big fan of Steve Richie’s games and the flow he designs into them. I start each game from a blank sheet of paper as I want them to be different and unique while still retaining some of my signature design traits.
Old School Gamer Magazine: Any fun stories or wild moments during development?
Eddy: We were excited to be able to use season 1 and season 2 in the development of the game. The only problem was we were told almost nothing about season 2 and had to wait until they aired to actually see what had happened just like everyone else. So given we were launching only a few months after season 2 aired we had to really plan ahead on how to be flexible and be able to react quickly as each episode aired. We basically left some open areas in the art, rules, video, audio etc…knowing that we would be filling them in with content from season 2. While Disney couldn’t give us specifics about season 2 they worked with us and gave us a heads up that we should save a spot for 3 characters on this backglass as you’ll want to use them. Of course we didn’t know who they were until the episodes aired. So it was a scramble at the end to get all of it with the long lead times for production, but I’m happy we were able to use both seasons. So much good content and new characters! Dwight Sullivan, the lead developer on programing, really took the project seriously and everyday dressed up in a robust Mandalorian costume to really become the character. He even wore the helmet and while he claimed it was for Covid protection I knew he just really enjoyed it. It did make Zoom meetings a bit odd since he would never take the helmet off. By the end of the project I really think he had become the Mandalorian so don’t mess with him!
Old School Gamer Magazine: What were the major lessons learned?
Eddy: Our licensor rep understood pinball and what we were trying to achieve so we brought him in on the design process with weekly meetings. This ended up working very well as he had some great ideas from knowing the brand so well that we would not have thought about doing and it really added to the game. Also, I would say is to make sure your game is reliable and easy to manufacture. We tested devices along the way to make sure they held up and even put aside some ideas just because we know they wouldn’t have survived. So sometimes it’s better to move on from an idea if you believe something isn’t bulletproof to something different. Also we sometimes are able to get 3D models from the licensor. We were able to do that on Mandalorian but the models were really made for film and not for doing sculptures. We wanted to be true to the actual form so we started with the actual 3D models used to make the show. We spent a lot of time trying to convert those original models into solids to be able to make molds out of them. They are made up of millions of polygons that are not necessarily stitched together like we need to make a mold. Time would have been better spent modeling them from scratch vs trying to convert them to a moldable form and just using the 3D model as a reference. The sculptures on Mandalorian turned out amazing so it was worth it even if it did take multiple people, including George Gomez, to make it happen, but next time we will be more efficient.
Old School Gamer Magazine: Do you think preserving older gameplay mechanics in new pinball games is important?
Eddy: This is a tough one because I come from an older era, but not too old! We’ve had this very discussion many times around features like ‘Special’ that was in most older games and has lost its luster over time. New players are probably not even familiar with it, but it was a feature we included in most games and players would try to achieve. This goes along with the fact that the landscape of pinball has been changing over the last decade or so. There are way more games going straight to homes where getting a special (usually a free game) doesn’t mean much so that’s one reason why it’s dropped off. I think it’s all a balance, it’s great for pinball to progress and evolve and we need to do that so we don’t become stale. Modes were added in the early ‘90s and really changed the depth of the game. I’m actually fine with something like special fading away or maybe we should be rebranding it as a new feature? Other staple features in the ‘50s/’60s/’70s have faded away also. If it’s replaced with something fun or more focused on how people are playing games now I’m good with it. In the end it’s really just about what makes the game fun. I love the inclusion of different ways to play the games like co-op, challenge modes and now impossible/hero play on Mandalorian. These are a great evolution in games and add more variety of how to play a game. There are of course staples like target, drop targets, flippers, shooter, pop bumpers etc…which collectively help define what a pinball is and I think are more sacred and we will continue to see them used in pinball machines because they are always fun and well known by players.
Old School Gamer Magazine: How have your previous experiences in industry helped this game?
Eddy: I think all designers draw upon their past experiences and since I’ve done a wide variety of other type of games from pinball, arcade video, consoles, Facebook, and mobile it gives me a really wide depth of experience to pull from and there are many crossover concepts that can be applied to pinball from other genres of games to bring new ideas. Mechanically pinball is a pretty unique form of entertainment so I mainly draw from my pinball design experience and things I enjoy when playing other pinball machines. Rules, especially when games become connected, relate very well to other types of games I’ve done so I will draw a lot from my other experience when designing them. I believe in creating a vision for the whole product, playfield design, rules, music, video, SFX, speech, etc… It’s how it all comes together that really makes a game, not just one element and that comes down to the team who is creating all of this magic, not just the lead.
Old School Gamer Magazine: How do you want this game to ultimately be remembered?
Eddy: Simply that it’s a really fun game to play that’s true to the license for the fans. Hopefully we have brought some new and interesting features and play to the world of pinball!
Old School Gamer Magazine: What’s next?
Eddy: The Topper for Mandalorian is coming soon and I think people will really like it! More updates to the Mandalorian code. It’s really fun now, but we are continuing to balance it and add more polish! I am starting on my next project soon also but of course I can’t talk about that yet!
Old School Gamer Magazine: Anything else you’d like to add?
Eddy: Just a big thanks to all the players out there! Their passion and enjoyment of Pinball is really what fuels me to always strive to do better! The best part of my job is seeing someone have fun playing one of the games I designed!