Pat Lawlor is, quite simply, a pinball design legend. He’s Pavlov Pinball’s favourite designer, and he is many other pinheads’ favourite as well.
So everyone at Pavlov Pinball was jumping up and down with excitement like a wagon-load of monkeys when it was announced – back in January of this year – that Lawlor is to design Jersey Jack Pinball’s next machine after The Hobbit is released. But since then there’s been precious little further information.
Yesterday Pavlov Pinball caught up with Jersey Jack himself – Jack Guarnieri – and took the opportunity to get the latest on what Lawlor has been up to since the announcement.
First of all, what’s the new game going to be called, and what’s it about? Not surprisingly Guarnieri is not giving that away for the moment, and probably won’t till The Hobbit is out the door. No amount of monkey-like behaviour will persuade him to do so. He did reiterate that it’s an original theme rather than a licensed title, and that the idea for the theme came from Lawlor.
But it turns out that the idea for the theme is just one of many that were fomenting in the Lawlor’s brain.
“When I met with Pat a year ago, he didn’t have anything he had been working on. That was good because I didn’t want something that he had thought up three years previously,” says Guarnieri.
What happened, he says, is that Lawlor had three new game ideas that he wanted to pitch to Jersey Jack Pinball. But after Lawlor outlined his first one, Guarnieri was sold on it.
“We never got to the second or third idea. If you have the Sistine Chapel and it needs painting and Michelangelo wants to do the work, you’re not going to tell him what you want him to do, you just let him get on with it” he says.
How is the game getting along? Quite nicely, apparently. Just two weeks ago Guarnieri paid a visit to Lawlor’s studio, and got to play a flipping whitewood. “It’s just amazing,” he says. “There’s lots of action, lots of strategy, and some great shots. In a way it is a licensed game, but in this case the license is Pat Lawlor, along with (artist) John Youssi and (mechanical designer) John Krutsch.” EDIT on 2nd August 2014: Guarneri commented: “Don’t forget Original Art by John Youssi and Software from Ted Estes and Keith Johnson and Soundmaster David Thiel rounding out the Team!”
Everyone knows that sinking feeling when they see the sequel to a great movie and the sequel bears almost no resemblance to the original apart from the name. So what every fan of The Addams Family, Twilight Zone and Lawlor’s other masterpieces wants to know is this: will the new game be recognisably a Pat Lawlor game? Would a Lawlor fan who came across the new game without knowing anything about it know that it was his work? Will it be more of the Williamsy type of goodness that most Lawlor fans love?
The good news is that – according to the ebullient Guarnieri at least – the answer is yes, only more so. “It has his fingerprints all over it, but it will stand on the shoulders of what he has created in the past,” he says. “There’s a reason why this guy is the best – he is a craftsman.”
Anyone who knows Jersey Jack will vouch for the fact that he’s never less than totally upbeat about everything he’s involved in. Nevertheless, if you’re a Lawlor fan then this all sounds very promising. It’s well over twenty years since the Lawlor classics like Funhouse, TAF and TZ were released, and six years since his most recent Stern games saw the light of day. The end of the wait for the next one may soon be in sight.
That leaves just one final question to put to Jersey Jack: Will the new game have a second right flipper in the upper part of the playfield – a feature of the three Lawlor masterpieces (TAF, TZ and No Good Gofers) that are currently set up in Pavlov Towers?
Guarnieri pauses for a second, as if wondering what he can reveal. Then he smiles. “Yes,” he says, “it will.”