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Metallica Pinball: The Tale of a Custom-Built Table

| 28 Oct 2009 01:09

Building a one-of-a-kind pinball machine is no small feat: Just ask the guys who designed and built a custom table for none other than Metallica.

"James Hetfield saw the Hellacopters game that [Dirty Donny] and I made a few years ago and he wanted us to build him a custom game," Wade Krause, one of the machine's creators, told Ars Technica. It was a daunting task, beginning with the selection of a pinball machine that would serve as a suitable base for the job. After some brainstorming, the team settled on the Williams machine Earthshaker. "The shaker motor was a big plus on Earthshaker," Krause said. "The crowd roars when it is activated. Earthshaker is a fun game as well; playability is a big factor."

The machine was "sanded, stripped and refurbished" to specifications that were "tighter than factory," while the playing field and back box were hand-painted by Dirty Donny, an artist who has done work for Metallica in the past. "Donny's art is perfect for pinball," Krause said.

But that was just the beginning. A Metallica pinball table needs a healthy dose of Metallica, so team member Tanio Klyce created a complex Linux-based system to play a large number of CD-quality tracks and other audio clips. Making things even cooler, Hetfield, the band's vocalist, recorded new voice-overs to be used in the game.

The complete overhaul of the lighting, sounds and other effects was equally demanding. Krause doubled the number of lights in the machine, added a "CNC-cut light baffle board like on old EM games," modified the lighting circuit board and added 12 additional relays for the backbox lighting. Klyce, meanwhile, had to find audio hardware that could stand the vibrations and do some serious reprogramming of the Williams System 11 architecture to get the sounds up to par. "My first pass at triggering sounds, voice, and music directly from the sound commands resulted in an unpleasant cacophony," he said.

In the end, however, the machine came together about as you'd expect: "Blisteringly fast," according to Bitmob's Brett Bates, who gave it a try at the Pacific Pinball Expo, where the machine was displayed before making its way to its permanent home at Metallica Headquarters. "I'm not sure if it fully comes across in the video, but this table is blisteringly fast - by far the fastest table at the expo," he said. "Fancy bump and catch tricks won't work well here. Hell, you're in trouble if you blink."

And how much does something like this cost? Krause wouldn't say, but you can bet it wasn't cheap. "Tanio Klyce, Dirty Donny, Dan Kramer, Rolph Brittain and myself put in many extra hours to take this to the next level," he said. "I have to say that this is the coolest project I've ever been involved with and thanks to those guys and James for making it happen." Ah well - maybe someday, when I'm rich and famous.

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