Ok guys. Reading this is just bringing back more and more memories of my time there. What I say below is not elaborated. These are facts as I witnessed them.
Gene Gene The Dancing Machine (Tidbits About Gene Himself and BBB)
To understand Gene, you have to understand his philosophy and how he worked. People just didn't get it, and after trying to work with him, found themselves at a disadvantage. Lots of stories about this already. Understand that Gene ALWAYS tried to pay someone or reimburse someone for their time without paying cash out of pocket. It was always a barter system or a carat he would dangle in front of you. This way he would get what he wanted, not have to pay you much to keep your work going, and then have the outcome he wanted. I saw this first hand. However, on the flipside, he and Kim were super nice to me all the time I was there, and my compensation was clear and tracked. I made sure to deal with Kim on that aspect after hearing stories from others. Kim always held up their end and were super nice to me. They really did try and treat me like family and I appreciated it.
Someone in a previous post nailed it about the workers there. The people working at IPB were always family members with no interest in pinball, folks who were on the cusp of society and near homeless, or friends needing a paycheck. One of his standard things was to offer folks a place to live while working there. He would let them stay in one of his slum properties, and that counted as part of their compensation. I remember one time there was a guy who was seal coating the blacktop one day, then was working on the roof, and lastly was asked to come in a pick and count parts. Then there were others who had worked there so long, they knew exactly where everything was, and kept the place going. It was a real mix of characters.
I also remember one time I was invited to their Christmas party. It was a combination of IPB workers, and other workers who did stuff for Gene. These two guys were outside with me on the porch and were smashed drunk. Smoking with one hand and drinking with the other. The one guys says to the other, the only thing that would make this night better is if we had pistols. The other guy says, damn yeah, we could shoot them off in the air and no one would bother us cause it's Christmas. (Hand to god this happened.) I swear I couldn't stop laughing. These guys were dead serious.
BBB - It Almost Killed Gene and He Definitely Lost Money
I'm jumping ahead a bit but here are some tidbits about BBB. Gene always wanted to make a pinball machine. It didn't matter what game it was, he just wanted to be able to say he made games. He himself told me this one night at dinner. When he left from the table, Kim filled me in on the history. He had accomplished everything he wanted to do from a collecting standpoint, but always felt like he was somewhat of an outsider to the guys working at Williams. At the Expo dinner, these guys would go on about designing this game, being the head of this department at Williams, and other guys being recognized for lifetime achievements. You got to remember Gene was 100% ego. He always had to be the center of attention and the guy on top. Especially in front of Georgianna. His goal was to make a game no matter what. He tried this when he bought Capcom and tried making a game called Pool Player. Someone showed the flyer. This was right when Williams closed and he bought the parts rights. He bailed on that venture and focused on the parts business. Choosing BBB was just because he had all architecture diagrams, list of parts, etc. He thought it would be an easy thing. Money started flowing in from the parts business, Kim was handling the store, so he ventured out to make his game and his mark. This is fact right from Gene.
Note, jumping ahead again but here are some headaches during BBB, that added to his stress level and caused him to have a heart attack. Gene wanted church hill cabinets to run the playfields and cabinets. CHC did not want to do this for him and deal with 150 to 200 playfields. Small run for them and not worth their time. I know this from both parties caused I verified this fact later on with someone at CHC many years later. CHC wanted to make their own game and were designing Vacation pinball. Gene, while holdings Williams exclusivity, renewed one of their expiring patents for the ball trough assembly used on the later Williams 90s games. He now had exclusive rights on the ball trough. (Williams was pissed.) He made a deal with CHC where they could use his ball trough for Vacation, and in turn they would run the playfields. (I think he sourced out cabinets to a cheaper local company. More on that in a minute.) The following shit show occurred with this deal.
1. Gene shows up in Cicero IL, to pick up the playfields. He starts saying I want this one discounted cause of imperfections, I want this one for free, I want this one for discounted cause its lighter, blah blah blah. The head guy at CHC says basically take it all as discussed or F off. Gene then takes all playfields at original deal parameters.
2. Early in BBB game assembly, while ball geometry is being tested, the clear coat and artwork begins completely peeling off from the ball friction. Like one of those scratch off lottery tickets. They test other playfields, and then same is happening. Gene is pissed and starts blaming CHC that they did it on purpose to sabotaged his game. He tells Kim we have too much time and money invested in this. Words are exchanged with CHC, with no resolve. Gene says go with them as they are. Kim says I am the one who is going to get massive amounts of calls after game delivery and we are going to get sued. The solution is as follows. They take all 190 playfields to the local Ford dealership in Bloomington. They go to the collision department and make a deal to have all the playfields clear coated again with automotive clear. Luckily this takes care of this issue, but a lot of stress with this.
3. Prior to the above, the BBB cabinets arrive in Bloomington, and they look awful. The purple is off, the sidewall paint coverage does not go down far enough into the cabinet. The fading shows when the playfield is set at the target height. In addition the cabinets are rough as hell. The back box purple coverage does not extend to the edges, and inside the back box paint is missing. Gene says go with it as is. Kim and Gene fight for days, and finally someone is brought in to sand and repaint most of the cabinets.
4. The two aliens sitting at the bar in the game cannot be remade easily. The artwork is lost and engineering diagrams lost. The originals were made by an art studio, and the guy was no longer around who did it. They took the two off of Gene's game, and have them remolded from the originals. He has 400 or so produced and it was costly. When installed in a sample game, the ball runs off the track in their mouths. They spin, and the ball doesn't release from their mouths. Somehow the mouths are too deep. More issues to deal with and this is a showstopper. More arguing and stress on everyone. Solution is to add a blob of paint in the aliens mouths so the ball doesn't come to a complete rest. This works after a lot of tweaking.
More and more issues like this occur during production.
This entry is getting long so more to come covering the following:
1. Gene asks Gary to assemble BBB. Gary says 1Million to get him off his case. He doesn't want to help gene because it is competition.
2. They company who was going to assemble / populate the playfields screw Gene and asks for more money. Double original quote.
3. Gene wants me and my brother to create wiring harnesses for BBB. He shows us one giant spool of black wire he got at an auction. Says we can make color coated wires with sharpies and some paint. We pass on this. He has to outsource this.
4. The black light assembly is no longer available and company who made it is out of business. He has to buy some assemblies from China, take them apart and reassemble.
At one point Gene has to sell property, several parcels on his compound, to keep the project going. He has a massive heart attack and goes to the hospital. More on this to come. Quadruple bypass. Kim is real worried his not going to make it. I will post more tomorrow. The saga continues.