So, I had an impromptu trip to Chicago this week for business.
I immediately seized the opportunity and contacted John Popadiuk to see if I could sneak a peak into the studios of Zidware Inc to get a behind the scenes look at the development of Magic Girl and Retro Atomic Zombie Adventureland (yes, Ben Heck's name is no longer part of the title).
As a buyer on RAZA I have had access to plenty of online updates on that project via a private blog, but John's willingness to let owners come down and visit in person is something that I'd hoped to take advantage of.
If you haven't heard of these projects or their details, John has asked all buyers to sign an NDA so, sorry, no pictures and I can't discuss actual game details. Heres a link to John's site. theres a bit of stuff on RAZA link, but be prepared to he dissapointed for lack of content. He's keeping the whole process pretty secret.
Now, here's a quick overview of my impressions from this visit.
-The studio. It's a fair size but this is not a "manufacturing facility" in the grand sense. It's a mixed use office/commercial space that was outfitted from floor to ceiling with materials, prototyping tools, design sketches, models, proof of concept mechanisms being put through their paces and, of course, games in various stages of completion. Its a great space to build a boutique run of games... not an assembly line. i would love to work in a studio like this! I suggested that John post a large wide angle shot of the space because it really made me feel a lot more at ease as a buyer.
-Magic Girl! since I'm not a buyer on MG, I'm sure John had tucked away a few things I did not see any playfield materials, but I did see plenty of cabinets, mechanisms in progress and lots of drawings. John loosely described it as a prequel to Theater of Magic. A theme that goes back to an older time "A blend of magic and alchemy" were his exact words. The prototype cabinets I saw were fantastically built and you can tell that John and company are not sparing any expense.
-Artwork is phenomenal! No joke. Both games have THE best artwork I have ever seen on any pinball machine bar none. John's got a great team of artists and illustrators that are going to breath new life into this industry... I have no doubt. It's all hand drawn/coloured and its fantastic! The MG cabinet was gorgeous and John snuck in a lot of references to his BW heritage with many characters and objects from TOM, CV and TOTAN appearing in minor cameo roles in the art.
-John knows what he's doing (duh!) I saw racks and racks of parts all neatly categorized and labeled. All of his newly designed and fabricated proprietary parts were undergoing their own coding system and, after handling some of them, I have no fear about damage or longevity. This stuff is made to last... and every Zidware part carries their signature thunderbolt. Very nice, and very sharp... literally. His favourite line was "careful, you will bleed"
I also got a close look at the professionally made wiring harnesses being installed in MG. these are all being locally outsourced and it sounds like there is a great network of suppliers and professionals supporting John's efforts.
I saw tons of great exploration in materials and processes being employed into the all the games in general. It was cool to learn how they are engineering all of this and even trying to get UL approvals for everything... even the cleanliness and efficiency of the under-playfield wiring is important to them.
-Time. I think there was a massive learning curve here for the team. MG took months of development just to get the cabinet designed and realized.... now John says that process is a matter of weeks for RAZA and all future pins. John described the scope and size of the teams they had at BW back in the day and how quickly stuff could be prototyped and engineered. Obviously this is a totally different animal and the R&D time required is huge.
-And finally, Design! I did get to see a foamcore mockup of RAZA in progress. The game has a unique layout, new and never before seen features, re-imagined mechanisms from the past and its just chock full of fun. In fact, that's the one word I would use to define John's space and projects, FUN! A friend jokingly suggested I was going to meet Willy Wonka and I think it was a fitting description. I did feel like a kid in a candy factory
I know some customers are getting impatient, but I'm enjoying the process and only wish more could be revealed so that everyone could get as excited as the owner groups on both pins.
Some guys live close enough to pop by, others may get the occasional visit like me, but for most owners this will be a remote process. For them I can only say that the wait will definitely be worth it.
It may still be a few months before we see the first 3 prototype Magic Girl games... and who knows how long RAZA will stretch.... but I know everyone will be floored when these games hit the scene.
From what I can gauge at this early stage, they will be in a league of their own.
John had some other cool mini-projects in the studio which he will only reveal once completed, but there is a heap of creativity and drive in that space and John seems super driven. The man works 7 days a week!
So, I'll close by wishing John and his team good luck, and thanks again for your hospitality.
I look forward to the rest of the ride and hopefully I'll get to stop in again during expo in October!