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George Gomez, Chief Creative Officer at STERN Pinball – Interview Series

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George Gomez, is the Chief Creative Officer at STERN Pinball. He has worked on some of the most iconic pinball games in the world including The Lord of the Rings, Batman the Dark Knight, Playboy, and The Sopranos.

George has worked on the team that created the Tron video game and headed the team that created Spy Hunter., George has made a name by designing some of the most popular pinball games in the world including The Lord of the Rings, Batman the Dark Knight, Playboy, and The Sopranos.

You’ve had an extensive career having worked at Bally, Williams, Stern Pinball, and numerous other companies. What are some of your career highlights?

I feel very fortunate that I’ve been able to spend my career creating video games, toys and pinball machines. Each of those opportunities taught me a lot and helped me refine my design skills. It brings me great joy that my work from the 80’s, games like TRON and Spy Hunter, are still revered and considered significant. After those first 7 years at Midway, I went on to invent toys at Marvin Glass & Associates, to this day the most successful independent toy invention studio in the world and I feel honored that I was allowed to work and learn amongst such elite designers.

In many ways, that was my graduate school in design. I invented toys like Tonka’s Splash Darts, Galoob’s Crash-N-Bash, vehicles for Voltron and a bunch of other stuff. After MG&A, I designed novelty games and from that time I’m most proud of Hawk Avenger by Bromely; mostly because I had to do so much of it all by myself. From my time designing at Williams Electronics, I would say that Monster Bash and Pinball 2000 are definitely highlights; although I also see that Johnny Mnemonic and NBA Fastbreak, especially the linked version, have an avid cult following today.

After Williams I returned to Midway Games and managed the NBA Ballers Xbox and PlayStation franchise for many years; it was that experience, that taught me about managing large software engineering projects and dealing with retail driven licensing, product deadlines and big budgets.

My relationship with STERN pinball began as a consultant designer working on games from the outside. During that time I’m most proud of games like Lord of The Rings, The Sopranos and Batman The Dark Knight. In my current roll as Chief Creative Officer for Stern Pinball, I’m really most proud of having created the premier pinball design studio in the world. I love the energy and diverse personalities in the studio. We have a great combination of talent, experience and energy, they are truly the best in the world at what they do.

When did you first fall in love with pinball?

Most designers are drawn to pinball by a love of the game. In my case, the initial appeal was the challenge of designing such a large and complex toy, and the love affair happened later as a function of the work. So while I can say that I liked pinball before I designed it, I didn’t come to it with a great passion for the game. Once in it, I can tell you that it wasn’t long before it got in my blood; it has forever transformed so much of me.

You’ve worked on some iconic pinball machines such as Batman, Transformers, The Beatles, & Deadpool. Are there any specific pinball games that you helped create which you feel have stood the test of time?

As I mentioned above, I think games like Johnny Mnemonic, NBA Fastbreak, Monster Bash, Lord of the Rings, The Sopranos are still loved and played. In more recent times I think games like Batman 66 and Deadpool will still be played and preserved with passion in 20 years’ time.

Pinball is one of those game types which is difficult to pinpoint what makes a specific game fun, exciting and has replay value. What do you personally feel sets a game apart from the pack?

I think it begins with creating a cohesive experience, where all of the diverse elements that make up a modern pinball machine are seamlessly integrated. First you need interesting ball dynamics that give the player the satisfaction of control while at the same time challenging him to maintain that same control. It’s a pretty strange control interface; buttons and flippers. The reality is that it’s just a “ball and bat” game, like baseball or tennis, where you need to train your mind’s eye to deal with the speed and movement of the ball.

Like all games, the feedback elements to the player, such as the physical state changes and playfield device transformations, presentation events in the video display, light events on the playfield and sound events are all key. An inherent part of any game is communicating game states and player success thru progression goals and scoring; this begins with game rules that a player can grasp. A pinball machine has to first entertain within the context of the first and most crucial rule in the game, which is keep the ball in play. If you don’t keep the ball in play; you’re out of the game. Every other rule and game progression goal is built on that. I think humor plays a great role in the feedback loop of a game, if a player is laughing, he’s enjoying your game. To that end, I’m very proud of what we did with Deadpool, because I think it nails all of these elements.

It seems that over the past decade pinball games are experiencing a resurgence. What do you believe is behind this boom?

It’s a unique and very physical game experience that can be very social. Our company rose out of the ashes of the recession of ’08 with a pretty clear focus on: “What do we look like in 10 years?” “What do we want to be?” Quickly followed by: “How do we get there?” I don’t think the resurgence is all something that just happened; I think we played a pivotal role.

What is it about the mechanical functions of pinball that makes it appealing compared to the ever-expanding options of modern gaming such as esports and VR?

I think that trying to control the essence of the game within the context of the natural physics of our world makes it a unique experience. The games’ randomness is a function of gravity, not a random number generator and your progression is not based on a scripted set of outcomes.

What is the Stern Insider all-access membership and what does it offer gamers?

Today the program gives players access to unique behind the scenes content; things like first looks, designer interviews, “making of” content and lots of perspective on the company’s thinking and strategy. The evolution of the program is designed to bring even more interesting stuff in the future.

How popular are the Stern Pro Circuit tournaments and what should players expect from them?

Pro Circuit is a tournament series carefully curated to enhance and extend the interaction with the games in the best possible environment. It will continue to grow and evolve; in some ways it is an “E” sport. It has all of the makings of blockbuster entertainment because it brings together many of the hobby’s celebrities, enthusiasts and the best players in the world.

Is there anything else that you would like to share about Stern Pinball?

I hope that the audience realizes that we are also consumers of our own product. Every year we buy these games with our own money and to that end we are very much making the games we want to play. Within the company we have some of the top ranked players in the world, including the current number 1 and a couple of guys that “on any given Sunday” could be number 1. We bring that love of the game and focused passion to the company and the product. We are thrilled and thankful for every owner, player, operator, dealer and distributor of the games. Stay in, stay safe, play pinball!

Thank for the great interview, I played many of these games while growing so this was a great nostalgia moment. Readers who wish to learn more should visit STERN Pinball

Antoine Tardif is the CEO of Gaming.net, and has always had a love affair for games, and has a special fondness for anything Nintendo related.

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