Working in a Pinball World

By NightMutilator

April 03, 2022

This story got featured & frontpaged on April 11, 2022


44 days ago

It's an interesting and unique journey we all have. Making decisions of what hobbies we'd like to dive deeper into. Wondering how things we love get made. Deciding if it's worth the possible frustration of jumping into an industry that may or may not be as glorious as imagined. Or maybe even better than you could have ever expected.


I (Ryan Policky) have this crazy passion for always diving in. Always finding out what it takes to make an artform I love turn into something which could become a true life career. My history is littered with the ups and downs of many such episodes, as I'm sure it has for many of you. Going all the way back to my dreams of fame, fortune and all the rest, my main goal as a wee one was to get into making cartoons or video games. They both were always top of mind, and I would say for about 80% of my growing up years, my best friend was my gaming system... whichever one I had at the time (which was nearly every one of them built from 1977 until I graduated from high school in weird ole Littleton, CO). I was obsessed. Anything interactive with art attached to it made me drop everything of importance to give it a whirl.

I was probably around 7 years old when the immersion took hold, as I strolled on in to a 7-11 near a ski resort my parents took me to, where low and behold tucked into a corner by all the soda machines the golden gift from the gaming gods first revealed itself... Haunted House! I didn't care about anything else around me as I gazed at the green glistening horror in front of my very eyes. I knew what a pinball machine was, but I had really never played one yet. However, that didn't really matter, as the machine before me had 2 important check marks to instantly hook me for life. At the time, if I wasn't playing a video game, or going to school, I was drawing maps of haunted house layouts. So as I continued to drool, I realized at that moment that this machine represented everything about who I thought I was. A horror gamer who loved the experience of true immersion in a real world setting.

Fast forward a bit, and the fusion of horror and gaming started to really gel. I had worked in the haunted house industry as an actor at every chance I could, even taking those required community service hours Arapahoe High School demanded, and spending them all scaring people at a local haunt at my favorite mall in town. During the weekends I was modding my fave game at the time... Doom, which eventually steered me right into a degree in Multimedia, building choose your own adventure games, and some early 3D isometric CDROM's. I was primed! I was ready! Heck I even got a job at my favorite haunted house in town called "Brutal Planet", which many of you now know of due to the fact Alice Cooper wrote a song about the place, and was even a regular visitor while us actors were learning the ropes. It was all weirdly coming together.

As I gained skills and proved them in the rave flyer business, I soon found myself working in advertising. The trek to game building was on the right path. The company I worked far put me in charge of making promotional games for Adam Sandler films, so the dream was taking shape. However, since timelines were nuts, and expectations were high, I had to learn all the aspects of game building. From illustration to animation, sound design, coding... all of it. I was molding into this multimedia robot that was expected to know or learn every aspect of interactive.

Then the pinball madness began. I had landed a job as a Director for some product shoots for Weber grills, and decided that since I finally was making some decent money, that I should buy a game. A game that not only would satisfy my craving for owning a game, but also one which was super scary and had enough modes to last a lifetime (yeah, right!). So Scared Stiff, by my all time fave game designer, Dennis Nordman, which also contained my favorite horror icon, Elvira was the winner! Well, suffice to say, as many of you pinball freakos know, this started a very crazy obsession, and the games started popping up faster than I could even play them. But what made it all so "necessary" in my mind was that I had developed a concept of building a pop-up style haunted house with a pinball tournament in it. So yeah, I needed games, and I needed them now! Haha! Horrorhouse Fest had begun, and now I was buying games to go along with props and set pieces to make that dream a reality!





Like minds seem to start strange creative ventures at the same time, and almost simultaneously a little company called Spooky Pinball had begun it's journey. How could I not get in touch with these guys?!? We were practically related in what we were doing. We needed to talk! I needed to get involved with whatever they were doing, and was hoping they would be interested in my passions as well. Well, after buying a few of their games, I decided it was time to reach out and get them involved in Horrorhouse Fest. I needed them to be a sponsor so I could truly highlight their titles and bring their game ideas to life in an immersive way. So after a few discussions it happened. We were partners in this horror pinball madness, and since I was so crazy about pinball, I had to step it up even more. Developing a character called the Night Mutilator, which was created for a short film about a guy killing someone who beats his high score. The short, which is seriously the stupidest thing you'll ever see then evolved quickly into the Rocky Mountain Pinball Showdown host who would review the show, make videos for promo, and eventually become the main character of Horrorhouse Fest. Things appeared to be really coming together. But how could I possibly take it even one more step and build my own game, or at least work on one?


Timing. Everything in life is about timing. Doing things at just the right moment. And here was the timing I needed to dial... After a stint I had with Heighway Pinball after meeting Andrew at RMPS, I was asked to help develop some video content for them. Even though after a year of discussions it didn't fully come to light due to many issues, it elevated my thoughts about what I could do to pitch my friends at Spooky to help with video content. Timing was bad... they were slammed, but I never gave up. I always made sure to chime in and remind Charlie of my skillset every 6 months or so, and since they were a sponsor of my show it was super easy to stay in contact. Once Covid hit, I found myself diving into a very low time in my life due to the fact I was all about doing live events... so what could I do to not go down the drain emotionally?? Make a game I told myself! Just do it! It won't generate immediate income, but hey, it will fill the isolation void. So I made a video game called "The Pinball Mountain". A king of the hill, real world mixed with pinball elements that I had always dreamed of since playing Marble Madness. It was a long process, but totally worth it. After building 2 levels and promoting it via social the Denver Theatre District chimed in about an event they were doing called Artcade. Real world games re-skinned by local artists. So since my head was already in this game I built I thought, what the heck, let's take The Pinball Mountain to the next level and make a pinball machine based on it! My first actual pinball machine!

After some press with This Week in Pinball giving the project some love, starting a new company called Immersive Pinball to promote these 1/1 art fueled titles, and beginning two new titles under that name, the timing was now back on my side. Almost exactly at that very same moment Charlie hit me up. He needed help with a "project", and after sharing with him the video of my game, he invited me to come visit. Had I finally impressed enough to land the dream job of building a real, manufactured pinball machine?!? The short answer is yes! As I arrived at this dream place in the middle of nowhere I was instantly shown the game in question... John Carpenters Halloween!!! What?!?! You are asking me to help on making a game for the best horror flick of our generation?! I was instantly in shock, and may still be that way to this day.

Now I can't give a ton of details out on the overall process, and what it takes to build a game like this one, but I can say that very process has been a huge blur. 500 hours of work. Tons of passion. Gallons of tears. High fives galore. I had finally hit this huge goal. Not only hitting my basic goal of working on "any" machine, but an elevated goal of working on a machine that represents who I am as a horror freak. A movie that came out the same time I was born. It was destiny! Designing the UI, animating tons of elements and modes, integrating SFX and concepts, Illustrating. Working with an amazing team day and night. It was like I had won a marathon. It's been crazy, and also made me beyond thankful that I stuck with it. So many times I almost gave up along the way. Some fans really dug into me and managing the expectations of such a huge intellectual property can wreck your brain at times. But in my mind I did what I tried so hard to do, and impressed some people I thought I'd never talk to, let alone work alongside. I'm still reeling it all in. After Texas Pinball Festival (which I missed because, yes, I was working on animation for another mode in the game), I am now in a perpetual state of haze. Did that really happen? Was it all a dream? Am I at the top of my rope? Can I keep climbing or will I fall back down to the bottom? These things will haunt anyone working on such influential pieces of art. With it now being the last few days of my contracted production duties I know I'm going to have constant flashbacks of the time I did the one thing I will cherish till death itself. Pursue those dreams. Try things you never thought possible. With persistence and motivation you can make anything happen!



Story photos

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Comments

36 days ago

Awesome story. Thanks for sharing. And, yes, Halloween is an incredible game. Well done!

36 days ago

So very much appreciated!! Glad you took the time to read about my crazy little voyage!

35 days ago

Great story and always fun to read how people get started in pinball. Congrats on working on Halloween.

35 days ago

Fun read and interesting. You have the passion needed. Good luck on the next endeavor, whatever it is or where it takes you.

35 days ago

Glad ya gave it a gander! The last few years have been a nightmare other than this crazy fun pinball stuff, which I am hoping continues strong!

35 days ago

this is a great story. never know what opportunities open up when you can give your passions a good push. cheers!

35 days ago

Without a doubt! And sometimes those opportunities take many tries and lots of patience before they are even close to becoming a reality.

34 days ago

Great Story and good luck on upcoming work.

33 days ago

Your honesty and willingness to provide the perspective of someone on the 'front lines' is appreciated. I wish you the best going forward!

33 days ago

It was a process I always wondered about and for sure happy to spread the knowledge after making my way through the pinball maze.

33 days ago

Right on. Love the story and persistence. Benton now has 974. I grew up in areas not far from that trek through the corn fields and large fields of mowed grass and mosquitoes.

32 days ago

Well I think it is now 973 1/2... I'm just living in spirit form in Benton as I work like crazy in the world of Denver. Thanks for reading! Truly appreciate it!

21 days ago

Love your story Ryan! It has been my great pleasure to get to know you over some years and I wish you all the happiness in life that you deserve and more. You are truly on your own unique path to joy and we are fortunate that you choose to share it with so many others. Cheers my friend!

16 days ago

I knew from your horrorfest posts that you were a fun, motivated and creative dude, but sharing how things came together for Halloween is a testament to your
passion and perseverance.
Congratulations on being part of that team! I haven't played it yet, but I'll think of you when I get the chance.
Great story........"killer" job Ryan!!

7 days ago

Thanks again so much! Pinball is the best and to have any sort of mark in the world of the game is simply a dream come true. Above all else having the support of such awesome pinheads such as all of you is what keeps the passion going! For sure hope to see you out at a show or over at Mutiny asap!!

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