(Topic ID: 271561)

Artifacts of Gene Cunningham/Illinois Pinball


By dudah

7 months ago



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23
#301 6 months ago

This was pick up day for owners able to personally take delivery of their machines. The Cunninghams made it a party atmosphere with balloons, cake and drink. Some of the machines traded hands in the loading area and I recall the price tag bieng $10,000. Pretty good short term ROI but a lost opportunity to own a historic game and even more value down the road.

The gold (brass) BBB on the left was Gene's, Prototype #001 as I recall and the green one was Kim's. Both one of a kind machines from Illinois Pinball. I don't recall Kim's game number but the underside of her playfield was autographed by anyone wanting to express good wishes.
Last game pictured was a production machine.

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#302 6 months ago
Quoted from DennisK:

Fascinating thread.
I don't have any direct Gene Cunningham stories to tell. However, I will pass on a couple that Keith Johnson shared during the charity stream Special When Lit ran a few months ago as they were pretty entertaining and I've not seen them mentioned in this thread.
The first is that Gene originally was looking at buying Williams pinball and keeping it going. Initially this had a lot of interest with the engineers who had been working at Williams. Over time as the discussions continued the group shrunk down (as folks found other jobs and such) to Gene plus four others (one of which was Keith) that were committed to making it happen. It all was looking good until the equity split. The four non-Gene individuals all went in assuming equal equity stakes (so 20% each). At a subsequent meeting Gene stated he was getting 50%, the four other partners would have 49%, and Gene's daughter would get 1%. The potential partners insisted it needed to be equal and Gene said no. Keith stayed at Stern, the other three formed Pat Lawlor Design, and Gene did what Gene did.
The second involves Cactus Canyon. Years after the first story another company was looking to remake Medieval Madness and Cactus Canyon. Gene owned the rights to the patent on the Cactus Canyon drop targets (which were a single-coil design unique to that game). Gene wasn't paying the upkeep on it but still would have been able to keep it. But Keith had interest in the coil design for a possible game in the future, and wasn't pleased with Gene's prior behavior, and never told him and the patent expired.
Here's a link to my source. Keith tells the story far better than my summary. There's a brief gap between story one and story two. Link should take you to the very start of story one and story two ends about ten minutes after that.

The time marks disnt seem to survive the post... can you mention the time points you are referring to? Thx

#303 6 months ago
Quoted from flynnibus:

The time marks disnt seem to survive the post... can you mention the time points you are referring to? Thx

Sure, start video at 5 hours, 39 minutes, 8 seconds. Gene section runs 10 minutes from there.

#304 6 months ago

Maybe its not to late to order. Got cold feet and never ordered. Anyone want to purchase an original order form to go with your machine?

$500.00

BBB 1.pdfBBB 2.pdfBBB 3.pdf
#305 6 months ago
Quoted from Mr68:

This was pick up day for owners able to personally take delivery of their machines. The Cunninghams made it a party atmosphere with balloons, food and drink. Some of the machines traded hands in the loading area and I recall the price tag bieng $10,000.
[quoted image][quoted image]

Here's a link to more pictures of that day.

http://pfutz.us/Capcom/BigBangBar/BBB.htm

#306 6 months ago
Quoted from Mr68:

Here's a link to more pictures of that day.
http://pfutz.us/Capcom/BigBangBar/BBB.htm

Who are on the (team) pic?

#307 6 months ago

I recall going to several shows where Gene had a booth and asking him prices. He always quoted top dollar. Had the wife ask price for same part and was alway much cheaper. He loved the ladies.

#308 6 months ago
Quoted from colonel_caverne:

Who are on the (team) pic?

From right to left, Kim, Gene, Fred and Georgie standing in front of Fred. Fred was also instrumental in getting BBB made mostly towards the end. Most of the others in the picture I remember fondly but not their names. Maybe someone else knows?

IM000849 (resized).jpg

#309 6 months ago
Quoted from Mank:

I'll give you a pinball consumer point of view. I bought my first pin, a TZ, in 2001. I jumped right in not knowing anything about pinball other than I liked playing at the arcades as a kid. I paid $1800. A really nice one mind you, not a beater project. I didn't even know that Williams had closed it's pinball division like 2 years before that TZ purchase. There was no manufacturer or distributor to got to for help. You had to learn for yourself. At the time, there was no Pinside. There were no leagues. There were no pins on location. No local experts I knew about. Really, to me, there was
rec.games.pinball and Clay's guides. I read that forum every day and read through Clay's guides, and these were incredibly helpful for me the noob. I had TZ for about 2 years before getting the itch to buy another. I ended up getting IJ and MM. The IJ was just over $3000 and the MM was just over $4000. Both were in immaculate shape. True "collector quality." In the early 2000's, MM was like a holy grail and I got one. Having multiple games at that time made me come to the realization that parts were almost impossible to find. There was a whole black market of parts that came and went over time. It was weird because no one was "officially" making parts, under license. The black market manufacturer would eventually get shut down for making parts without a license. No parts from the person with the license, and if you decided to make your own and sell them, even out of sheer need, you'd get shut down. So in this environment of being able to get really good Bally/Williams games for a few thousand dollars and knowing that parts would be hard to get, BBB gets announced. I must have read about it on rec.games.pinball. I do remember that you had to email Illinois Pinball and they sent you a return email that you faxed back as a commitment. I'm just about positive the game was going to be $5000 and limited to 180 games total. At the time, I thought that was a huge amount of money. It was the highest amount I had ever heard of for a pin. There were no $8000, $10,000, or $15,000 NIB pins at that time. $5000 was a huge amount of money to ask, especially because they were going to be build, not built and ready to ship. I passed. Everyone who forked over the $5000 took a huge risk and my hats off to them that it paid off, but the machines took well over a year to get from time of payment. A lot of uncertainty, especially for the buyers. Now I see them going for $20,000 and I think good for the person who took the risk. Sometimes I regret not buying a BBB when I had the chance, but that could have easily ended up a $5000 loss. I do remember sometime after BBB got made, Illinois Pinball had an "open house" and they were selling parts for either one day only or a weekend. I saw pictures of parts that were socked away and you could actually buy and I couldn't believe it. It may have been a bankruptcy sale. Now THAT I regret not going to. There was a time not long ago, that pinball was dead from a pinball consumer point of view. I'm very appreciative of those who somehow kept it going and even getting it back into the mainstream. Amazing.

The games were $4,500 each, half down up front.

#310 6 months ago
Quoted from jchristian11:

The games were $4,500 each, half down up front.

I remember the start of that. Half now to be held in escrow. Balance when games were finished.

I don't recall any actual escrow, and within a year balance was requested.

LTG : )

#311 6 months ago

Seems to me that Gene was the first in pinball to do pre-order and was an early adopter of crowdfunding. And his success greased the wheels for others following him. In looking back, that was pretty creative and bold.

#312 6 months ago

Went back in time to dig these out of my files, these are the communications from Georgianna when I ordered my BBB starting in 2004 through delivery, everything was by mail, fax and telephone only.

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#313 6 months ago
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#314 6 months ago
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#315 6 months ago

Here is what was going to be his last swan song but he never seemed to get it off the ground. The preorders of kingpin were being done but I dont believe he took any money for them. The price was almost double that of BBB. Does anyone know how close he got or was the preorder list the end of it?

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#316 6 months ago
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#317 6 months ago

BBB spare parts...

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#318 6 months ago
Quoted from joshvandam:

Here is what was going to be his last swan song but he never seemed to get it off the ground. The preorders of kingpin were being done but I dont believe he took any money for them. The price was almost double that of BBB. Does anyone know how close he got or was the preorder list the end of it?
[quoted image]

Here’s a previous flyer Gene sent out with the price at $7,000 per Kingpin, I believe BBB buyers were going to get a $500 discount. One hang-up in making Kingpin had to do with software for a custom chip that Gene has used up making the BBBs, I don’t remember all the details but it can be found in rec.games.pinball.

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#319 6 months ago
Quoted from jchristian11:

Here’s a previous flyer Gene sent out with the price at $7,000 per Kingpin, I believe BBB buyers were going to get a $500 discount. One hang-up in making Kingpin had to do with software for a custom chip that Gene has used up making the BBBs, I don’t remember all the details but it can be found in rec.games.pinball.
[quoted image]

For what seemed like years had gone by and countless times the same thing "We're trying to crack the code" I was on the sign up for King Pin.

#320 6 months ago
Quoted from LTG:

I remember the start of that. Half now to be held in escrow. Balance when games were finished.
I don't recall any actual escrow, and within a year balance was requested.
LTG : )

You’re right LTG, it was a little less than a year and what I remember is that Gene needed the money to pay for parts to complete the games.

#321 6 months ago

For the insiders, as I know nothing on the subject:

Presently, when it is active, Pinball Vault is selling the Bally and Williams production/design drawings, licensed from Rick at Planetary. What was the life cycle of the drawings when B/W got out? Did Gene C have possession of them? Just wondering as I have obtained some of those drawings, and the skid was as I understand, not inventoried. Side fact: IJ TPA drawings are all hand drawn!

Mick

19
#322 6 months ago

When I received my BBB after a 2 1/2 year wait we decided to leave it in the box for another month and while I was at the MGC show that year Gene overheard me telling someone how I had not opened the box yet and he came running over offering to buy it back. I politely declined and told him we were going to open it but was planning the box opening in a few more weeks. It was just a small group of close friends but we made the theme all based around BBB including Martians in the fruit salad..... . I had made a "free play" card for it ahead of time and had Gene autograph it at the show. I remember Eric A. saying we were all a bunch of Nerds...LOL.

John

P6050015 (resized).JPGBBB barefooting (resized).jpgDayhuff BBB 007[1] (resized).jpgP7010099 (resized).JPG
#323 6 months ago

Four balls- yikes!

#324 6 months ago
Quoted from KozMckPinball:

For the insiders, as I know nothing on the subject:
Presently, when it is active, Pinball Vault is selling the Bally and Williams production/design drawings, licensed from Rick at Planetary. What was the life cycle of the drawings when B/W got out? Did Gene C have possession of them? Just wondering as I have obtained some of those drawings, and the skid was as I understand, not inventoried. Side fact: IJ TPA drawings are all hand drawn!
Mick

I think I have the IJ playfield drawings, I’ll check when I get back home. If I have them and anybody wants to see pics I can post them.

It’s crazy how anybody that’s been in this hobby for a minute has a connection to this whole thing or owns a piece of the history!

#325 6 months ago
Quoted from Bud:

I think I have the IJ playfield drawings, I’ll check when I get back home. If I have them and anybody wants to see pics I can post them.
It’s crazy how anybody that’s been in this hobby for a minute has a connection to this whole thing or owns a piece of the history!

I was asking Pinball Vault if they had the IJ TPA playfield drawings and he never found them, although I don't think he has gone through the whole skid yet. Maybe that's why he could not locate it.

#326 6 months ago
Quoted from Mr68:

Seems to me that Gene was the first in pinball to do pre-order and was an early adopter of crowdfunding. And his success greased the wheels for others following him. In looking back, that was pretty creative and bold.

That's true - before that 'pinball was hard' and a lot of people didn't believe it could be done.
Gene proved them wrong - making pinball machines without having a huge factory seemed possible and whatever happend, the machines would show up..

This made it so much easier for JPop when he announced the Magic Girl pre-order.
A lot of the doubt was gone. Gene had proved it could be done.

About the BBB delivery - something not mentioned here yet - the European rohs legislation became active in 2011.
All new electronics sold had to have lead free solder, which was a problem for Gene as the Capcom boards used traditional lead solder.

I wasn't involved (only heard what was public known on rgp and other sources) - there was a secret forum for the owners, on rgp not many details were shared anymore.

As I remember it the games for Europe were produced first and shipped to their buyers in secret.
Games for USA buyers would be produced and delivered later, this would take another 6 months or so ?
The plan was that European buyers could not reveal their games until USA machines were ready ?
An know collector in Germany spilled the beans and revealed he had his BBB, and other European buyers would show their reveal pictures too..

#327 6 months ago

Those games were shipped as used games to Europe to avoid ROHS

#328 6 months ago
Quoted from aeneas:

As I remember it the games for Europe were produced first and shipped to their buyers in secret.
Games for USA buyers would be produced and delivered later, this would take another 6 months or so ?
The plan was that European buyers could not reveal their games until USA machines were ready ?
An know collector in Germany spilled the beans and revealed he had his BBB, and other European buyers would show their reveal pictures too..

It wasn't that it was a secret... just that it wasn't something that was 'expected' in the general public in how the games would be delivered. As the project slide further and further behind the original timelines... the import ban became another barrier.. and they rushed those games to ship first to try to avoid the cutoff.

It became a 'wave 1', 'wave 2' kind of thing.. and something that seemed to be worked out on the fly vs something that was communicated before. But that was pretty common for the program.. and part of why there was so much angst in the general RGP population over the probability of the games actually getting finished. The lack of visibility into progress, runway left, obstacles left, etc. The ROHS rush was just yet another 'unexpected reveal'

#329 6 months ago
Quoted from Mr68:

From right to left, Kim, Gene, Fred and Georgie standing in front of Fred. Most of the others in the picture I remember fondly but not their names. Maybe someone else knows?
[quoted image]

The girl in the green is Kati (Kim's daughter). About a month after that picture was taken she was diagnosed with lymphoma. I can remember that a bunch of us was trying to come up with a plan since Kati (who worked at IPB) did not have insurance. I can remember calling Gene about it and asking him on what he could do for Kati and if he could not take care of her medical expenses that maybe some of us (pinball collectors) could help out. Kati was the person that help us out most of the time when we were at IPB picking up parts. She is a very nice girl and very pleasant to deal with.

#330 6 months ago

I don't think it's been mentioned - but Al Warner was involved with the BBB project about the time games started to ship and made a video on it. Not positive, but he may have had a falling out with Gene at the end of that project (no surprise there).

http://www.pinsandvids.com/

#331 6 months ago
Quoted from aztarac:

I don't think it's been mentioned - but Al Warner was involved with the BBB project about the time games started to ship and made a video on it. Not positive, but he may have had a falling out with Gene at the end of that project (no surprise there).
http://www.pinsandvids.com/

I reached out to Al and invited him to join this thread and sent him a link. Never heard back from him so I'll assume he is read only on this thread and happy with his decision to leave Pinside. He kept his BBB for most of these years and sold it I'll guess 3 or 4 years ago??

That's Al inside the garage with his camera and tripod filming.

IM000854 (resized).jpg
#332 6 months ago

Was $4500 for a BBB priced correctly for the times? Seems awfully low in comparison to what the machines are being sold for today. Is that why he went bankrupt?

#333 6 months ago
Quoted from KozMckPinball:

Was $4500 for a BBB priced correctly for the times? Seems awfully low in comparison to what the machines are being sold for today. Is that why he went bankrupt?

High against Stern NIB at $3300 $3400.

Gene got the job done, but overall took a major hit...

#334 6 months ago
Quoted from KozMckPinball:

Was $4500 for a BBB priced correctly for the times? Seems awfully low in comparison to what the machines are being sold for today. Is that why he went bankrupt?

BBB was about 40% more in cost than the street price of a new Stern and that is before Stern started with the pro/premium model pricing. So all Stern games at the time where considered full featured games.

10
#335 6 months ago

$4500 was really high at that time. Originally there were to only be something like 111 built but once Gene found more parts the number quickly grew to 183. NOBODY thought they would ever get built and the skepticism was huge for over two years but I'll hand it to Gene that he never once raised the price and he stuck to his word and the quality of the build was over the top. I'm sure happy I got into it when I did. In fact as soon as I got my notice in the mail to send the down payment I turned right around went to the Post Office and sent him a overnight money order so that he would get it in his hands the next morning early am. which cost me like $40....LOL.

John

#336 6 months ago

This may very well be my favourite Pinside topic! Keep those stories coming dougram69 and others!
Just love to read this!!!
(The good AND the bad )

Few friends of mine ordered BBB, I only got just into the hobby (around 2005) when this started and would LOVE to have been in on the adventure as I feel BBB is an amazing pinball too!
Always regret that I didn't have the chance to order one even though I wouldn't have the funds back than either

#337 6 months ago
Quoted from Dayhuff:

NOBODY thought they would ever get built and the skepticism was huge for over two years but I'll hand it to Gene that he never once raised the price and he stuck to his word and the quality of the build was over the top.

I wanted to buy one, but I never thought they would get finished, and I recall expressing that sentiment on RGP, I was proven wrong.

I also remember a video that Korn and crew put out mocking the BBB build, that was amusing. I think they had to eat some crow on that one after the games were actually finished.

#338 6 months ago
Quoted from Dayhuff:

$4500 was really high at that time. Originally there were to only be something like 111 built but once Gene found more parts the number quickly grew to 183. NOBODY thought they would ever get built and the skepticism was huge for over two years but I'll hand it to Gene that he never once raised the price and he stuck to his word and the quality of the build was over the top. I'm sure happy I got into it when I did. In fact as soon as I got my notice in the mail to send the down payment I turned right around went to the Post Office and sent him a overnight money order so that he would get it in his hands the next morning early am. which cost me like $40....LOL.
John

I imagine if they were made today, they would be 12-15K Yikes, I'd still be out...

#339 6 months ago

I always knew that Gene would come through but when he announced at Expo it would be done in six months I said to myself " there is NO WAY he gets it done that fast". A lot of people thought Gene was out to rip people off and was going to run off with there money. I never doubted his intentions and knew that trying to run off with money from 183 angry pinball people was not Gene's style. Gene already had his millions long before he got into pinball so I always felt safe about the money and never really thought about how long it was taking. I did at one point hang this BBB translight on the wall which was the holding spot for the game if it were to finally show up one day. And how many people remember that little plastic flying pig he used to have running around in circles in his booth with a sign on it that said "pigs really can fly". Classic!!

John

BBB translight ( I got screwed, LOL) (resized).jpg
#340 6 months ago

John what's the story with that topper on PM? , never seen one like that

#341 6 months ago
Quoted from Skeets:

I wanted to buy one, but I never thought they would get finished, and I recall expressing that sentiment on RGP, I was proven wrong.
I also remember a video that Korn and crew put out mocking the BBB build, that was amusing. I think they had to eat some crow on that one after the games were actually finished.

Ha Ha, The Pigs will fly, and they did.

#342 6 months ago
Quoted from TecumsehPlissken:

John what's the story with that topper on PM? , never seen one like that

Dr. Who wobble Daleks topper.

drwhowobble (resized).PNG
#343 6 months ago

So Dayhuff - how did you come by the BBB Translight ?

#344 6 months ago
Quoted from TenaciousT:

So Dayhuff - how did you come by the BBB Translight ?

They used to come up on Ebay regularly and he may have bought it from Mike Pacak or Gene Cunningham.

Capcom had made 3,000 of them. So they were around for a long time. Might still pop up on Ebay, etc.

Capcom had a goof when they had them made. The screen for "BAR" didn't go with the other screens, hence the Big Bang translites.

LTG : )

#345 6 months ago
Quoted from Dayhuff:

$4500 was really high at that time.

It *was* a high price at the time and one of the reasons some of us believe Gene didn't lose the million dollars that he always claimed. He certainly had cost overruns and unexpected expenses as businesses often do.

But he also had a profit margin built into each game price. And knowing Gene, that profit was on the fat side. So, for him to have lost that profit margin, plus an additional million dollars is hard to believe. Keep in mind this was 2005-2007 and not today's environment.

Plus, around the same time the new game owners were about to receive their games, Gene announced he had an additional 20 prototypes for sale at $12,000 each. An unheard of sum of money back then and he sold them out fairly quickly.

There was also a later run of "EXP" numbered games that he made from extra parts that were discovered. My memory is really foggy on those and how much they sold for but I wanna guess either $8 or $10,000 each?? ...I'd really feel way more comfortable if someone could confirm that price.

Quote from the Pinball database:
"At the 2010 Northwest Pinball and Gameroom Show, Gene Cunningham reported to us that additional units of this game were made using extra parts and playfields. These new machines carried serial numbers with the letters "EXP" for Extra Parts. He guessed the additional quantity was approximately 10 or 11 games"

I hate to diminish a romantic pinball tale, but whether Gene made or lost money, I think is worthy of being discussed.

Quoted from vdojaq:

Since this was Gene, which I have several of my own encounters with, I would suspect he expected to make about $1 million on the BBB remake and only made about $10K , therefore lost about a million in his terms.

Pretty much what Vdojaq posted is how I feel.

#346 6 months ago

Would be cool if Genes family chimed in. Maybe pinball news could run a full update to this.

#347 6 months ago
Quoted from KozMckPinball:

Is that why he went bankrupt?

No, his other general business practices caught up to him... Look at the list of creditors in the bankruptcy case listed earlier.

BBB was expensive at the time (remember.. most people weren't even buying NIB games at the time) but wasn't priced like a JPop Magic Girl fantasy....

#348 6 months ago

If Gene already had the boards for the game from Capcom, I would think that wouldn't be included in his BOM cost. So there would be even more padding in that $4500 price.

#349 6 months ago
Quoted from JodyG:

If Gene already had the boards for the game from Capcom, I would think that wouldn't be included in his BOM cost. So there would be even more padding in that $4500 price.

yeah but its not like he got those parts for free... his sales price would try to recoup some of his capcom expenses plus the new stuff needed.

#350 6 months ago
Quoted from LTG:

They used to come up on Ebay regularly and he may have bought it from Mike Pacak or Gene Cunningham.

I bought mine at expo 03 from one of those two, not sure who. But I bought it as a lot of 5 different translites for $100. I picked BBB, Pinball Magic, Apollo 13, Big Guns and Barb Wire.

I should have grabbed all BBB there was a huge stack of them.

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