Quoted from 27dnast:
If you listen to the old Topcast pods, you'll hear some of those designers talk about how much fun they had creating games at WMS. Lawlor's interview was especially telling... his story about hooking a fan up to the top of whirlwind...or the design of Rudy... it just sounded as if they were being daring. Nordman, too. He sounds pretty upbeat when discussing his WMS days... but when the discussion turns to Pirates (I believe) he sounds more discouraged.
I have no idea what it's like in the halls of Stern (and there are lots of sterns I really love playing), but I don't always get the sense that Stern is run as a company that fosters the same inventive enthusiasm when it comes to pushing the mechanics of a game. Maybe that's just a reaction to that "Stern feel" some of their stripped down games have... but I think you're right when you say we aren't seeing many interesting mechs at the moment. There's a little bit of magic missing, that's for sure.
They could do anything at WMS because they were selling 10,000-20,000 units per game. Stern's always been more of a penny pinching company, especially post 2000 as the arcades were dying. At the end of the day, for Stern, the license sells the game to the distributor, the license brings in the player....and the average player doesn't know if a game would be cooler with more divertors, subways, mechanical features, etc. Look at something like South Park - players go "Oh, South Park!" and "Cool I can kill Kenny" and it makes a ton on location. It's actually smart business to not waste money on crazy mechs and designs....but it leaves hardcores like us hanging.
Oh, I disagree. Hobbit is a great game. Looks are deceiving. There are a lot of divertors, magnets, upkickers, etc that aren't blatantly obvious just by looking at it....but when you play it, there's a lot of magic and diversity while you play. Not to mention the most incredible light choreography, amazing modes and beautiful music ever composed for a pinball machine. That being said - yes, it doesn't have that one big "magic" toy like a Medieval Madness castle....but when non-hobbyists come over to play it, they're blown away by how it looks and they light up when something new and interesting happens like the beasts popping up or Smaug talking to them.