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"THE CHRONICLES OF REPRO"
AN OVERALL COMMENT ON THE FANTASIES & REALITIES OF MAKING PINBALL PARTS
 


INTRODUCTION
 

Reproducing Pinball Parts for all the games we know and love is no easy task. There are a myriad of issues to deal with. Many more than most people ever could or would expect. The process of reproducing a single item is complicated enough at best when every single one of the surviving examples are the same. BUT - what if every surviving example was different?  That would mean that everyone is thinking that their own unique part (in their very own machine) is what CPR should be reproducing. This adds a whole new issue we have to deal with.  Perception.

What we'll try to demonstrate here is that there really are no absolutes when reproducing parts for pinball. Yes, people have used the terms right or wrong many times, but often it's really just a matter of perception. Normally we gather several examples of a certain part that we want to reproduce. From those, we then choose what we think is the MOST original one. We often try to use NOS for colors, figuring that these colors have had the least exposure and handling. But, contrary to popular belief, we try NOT to use an NOS piece for sole measurements and CAD work.  After all, there must be some reason, large or small, that a "holy" NOS part sitting idle today was pulled from the production line and set aside.  We try to pick the best surviving part that actually spent time in a game (non-NOS) hoping that one will have the least amount of fitment issues - since it proved itself in real-life usage. We compare all the parts we have, and try to determine what each difference is, and the probable reason for the difference.  Pinball parts were made by several suppliers.  Sometimes one of the suppliers did things slightly different, and sometimes those differences were big enough that you have to wonder what was going on.

We know - yapping on endlessly about how difficult reproducing pinball parts can be is boring and useless.  Someone will always come back and say, "Come on, stop whining, grab a PinBot playfield and reproduce it" . . . BUT, what if we show you that's it's not that easy. What if the the item we are trying to reproduce has so many variations and differences between surviving examples of itself, that no matter what we reproduce, some people will look at it and state that what we just made is wrong.  Again, this may seem absolute to them, but we want to show you that it's really a perception...and that perception and the lack of a real definitive target makes comments like "That is wrong" well, a wrong statement :-)

Even trying to nail down exactly what were are trying to reproduce is a task in itself.  Take for example two PinBot playfields we recently received from Roger Hord (a donor in Ohio) to help us reverse-engineer a CAD file for our CNC programming. By the way, Thanks Roger. We have NEVER seen two more different playfields that are actually supposed to be for the same pinball  :)  A perfect example for this analysis...



FIRST, SOME COMMON MYTHS

MYTH:  Original parts found on a machine can automatically be deemed "correct" in shape and design.  Why wouldn't they be, considering they are original parts?  ie: "The repro part is designed slightly different than mine.  It therefore contains a mistake."

REALITY:  Individual original parts are only one example of one piece of one run (of dozens of runs). They will never necessarily be
the same in appearance or design, as the same part found on another machine.  One can't consider their original part the absolute paradigm,
nor expect that what their part looks like is what was ultimately decided for the entire reproduction run.
 

MYTH:  Original colors found on a machine can automatically be deemed "correct".  Why wouldn't they be, considering they are
original parts?  ie: "The repro part has different colors than mine.  Therefore an error was made in the reproduction color choices."

REALITY:  Colors you see on original parts may be 20-30 years old, and to varying degree have faded or muted with time and exposure. Light exposure can cause color variances so great that you can't even recognize a certain color after a long enough period. Even when they were all brand new there could be major variations in color because there were often many suppliers making the same parts. Many guys hand-mixing ink in small batches, and sometimes even many companies. There were always many production lines, and many guys mixing ink, making the same part, all for the same game.  Parallel production was key to getting 5000-10000 games out in 3 months!



THE DILEMMA OF CHOICES

So when it comes time to make a reproduction part, what do we do?  We have to make decisions. Decisions about what variations in
artwork will appear on the repro.  Decisions about what final colors will be used on the repro to provide the closest approximation to the colors on original source (and we mean original source - as in 1980, not 2011)  This is not an easy task because in almost all cases we don't have the original source and even if we did it will likely have 30 years of exposure, handling, and fading etc. So, often we have to attempt to turn back time and decide what tonal restorations will be made when mixing the new inks (going back in time to what the color looked like 20-30 years ago) and not automatically mixing to what current colors look like on the parts today. 

 There are also decisions on final measurements, shape, appearance, etc... as compared to the variations on the original source. The people involved in providing/donating the original sources, or the artist who spends hundreds of hours doing the artwork preparation, become the most intimate experts on each and every part. For example we have had several hours of exciting conversation with one of our artists who will remain anonymous (not Jim Heck) about how the colors on his nameless playfield, (not Flash Gordon) interacted with each other to give some rather fascinating effects when observed at varying light angles. Without a doubt this nameless artist (not Jim Heck) knows more about the colors on this playfield (not Flash Gordon) than probably ANYONE alive today.  Certainly more than anyone ought need to know!  Of course we'd be willing to bet that he's spent maybe even hundreds of hours with his nose close to or even up against this playfield ( not Flash Gordon). So if you ever see this nameless artist up close, shake his hand, and thank him for his fanatical level of commitment which will ensure you get the best (not Flash Gordon) reproduction playfield that can be made, period.

Since the Art Team and CPR are making the parts, there has to be a way to choose how they will end up looking. Even though it seems like everyone is an expert, there is truly only one in our books - our artist themselves. We all try together to come up with colors that have a high likelihood of being the original colors. Sometimes it's easy, but usually it's not, and sometimes it's nearly impossible. Blacks and whites were standard colors, but often the other choices are much less obvious. In the past we have looked at a known color, like white, measured it's actual yellowed color shift from base white, and then subtract that same amount of yellow from a less obvious color. This method helps but it's not foolproof. Of course, nothing is. Sometimes if we are internally unsure, or deadlocked on a choice either way, we'll reach out to the hobby at large and ask for personal opinions. If people wonder about our color, artwork, or design decisions, there is no bible for this stuff.  We must bite the bullet and make a decision. In the end, the final reproduction product will be based on a concert of several decisions - which may not be agreeable with every single customer, but of course nothing ever is. 



THE AUDIENCE IS LISTENING

If you stepped behind the curtain as a source provider, an artist, or worked in CPR's production stages themselves, you'd end up quickly becoming aware of your audience.  When your resulting repro product goes available to the hobby at large, all of the previous decisions you and others internally made (and are now final and the product is made) - are put out there on the chopping block for judgment.  As confident as you were in your decisions before the product was made, you'll sometimes end up surprised by your audience.

The vast majority of the time, and with the majority of your audience, you'll discover they're pleased to install the parts you created. Sometimes there will be folk who compare the parts directly to old originals (usually ones they personally own) and wonder about certain appearance differences.  Most will understand them.  Most will adopt them.  But a few will hate them.  Some will consider the product as treading on holy ground, and regardless of being 99.9% right across all those square inches of work, you will be crucified.  However, most will put their originals away, install your reproduction and be happy.  Very happy.

 After all, as we'll look at below, the concept of a single example of what is correct as set by the factories of 2-3 decades ago is a myth.  There isn't a single right or wrong...as we are about to discover below.  Bally, Williams, and Stern didn't even hold themselves to a single standard...and in reproduction you learn you can decide on only one final look, and go with it.  With that final look, you hope that the audience gives you the same leeway we so easily gave Bally, Williams, and Stern in their yesteryear.



THE UNEXPECTED MISTAKE

On rare occasions a genuine mistake will pass all the way by everybody's eyes - including our own.  It will likely be tiny in comparison
to the scope of the entire reproduction project (one 10 second miss out of 200 hours of prep). It may be the result of a bad scan used,
a layering flub, a dropout missed, 1% too much tint in an ink, a missed hole, or something unique.

If the product remains useable in its originally intended form, then it is up to the customers to choose whether to buy it or not.
We always try to make it right, but that seldom means tossing them all out and starting over. It can mean returning the part and refunding your money, which by the way, CPR will always do if you're unhappy. On occasion, we have even refunded money and let the customer keep the parts!  It can mean living with it if it's not too bad. We have remade missed or incorrect pieces and shipped them out to individuals. We have sent out replacements parts for scratched, broken or missing parts. All you have to do is ask us directly and we'll do whatever we can. We're not going to make your next mortgage payment for you in compensation, or pay for you to rent a car to drive to the post office to pick up that free sling you asked for, but we're pretty open to making it right.

If the product is somehow unusable, then a decision must be made to its fate.  Luckily we have never faced a "throw everything out and start over" scenario.  But some people in our audience will always think that's what should be done - either based on some principle of the holiness of pinball parts, or a 100%-or-not-at-all mentality.  To each their own.

The scope of the importance or irrelevance of any mistake will be weighed against the reality of the current state of the pinball machine
itself.  Is the repro product significantly nicer/better than what everybody's got?  It that one small mistake crucial?  Can we spend thousands of dollars to fix said mistake, if only 15-20 of the parts will sell whether the change is made or not?  Important factors.  So absolutely, there will be at times logic, economics and common sense factors that reflect if a small part of a run will be remade or not.  For example we once made a set of plastics that had one part that was the wrong size in a set of 19 pieces. The remaining pieces were fine and quite nice, but that one part was unusable. We had public calls to remake the set by nearly 50 people, however we had only sold 6 sets in the months since they were made. Rather than wasting thousands of dollars on remaking a set of plastics that no one wanted, we offered refunds and slashed the price of remaining sets. After all, they were mostly good parts!




JOIN US ON A CASE STUDY
The Decision-Making Process on Just One Playfield


For this example, we're going to use a Pin*Bot playfield.  Much like any playfields we face, variations board to board are staggering.
Jump into our shoes right now and let's go.  The determination of what is "correct" will be a burden of final decisions placed on YOUR head.
You will find the choices you make will be based on seeing two paradigms - both factory original, thus both technically "correct".

You are doing a run of identical repro playfields, so it can only be one choice per difference!

Keep in mind, some of your audience who owns the OTHER style will deem whatever they see on your repro as a mistake!
So what do you do?  You make decisions. Sometimes you split the difference.  Sometimes you go all-in on one style.  Regardless, this is on your head.  You throw potential critics to the wind, and you forge forward doing what you think is best.

What would you do?  Our decisions may differ from yours at one point or another.  That is OK.
Just remember, the alternative choice is not blasphemy!  :)   To some, however, it is!  No matter what choices we make, some will not agree with us even a little bit.  We'll eventually post our decisions at the bottom of this page.  So take note of your personal choices (if it was you) and see how you match up to our "CPR decisions" in all of these cases...



CASE #1
CNC Tooling of Arrow Inserts

You are making the CAD cutfile for Pin*Bot.  You are faced with two different types of openings (for the same type of insert).
Do you go with the wider more rounded-style cut, or the narrower pointy-style cut?  Keep in mind, there will be those who own the other style, and will consider your CNC programming to be incorrect.


Which is "correct"?  Make your decision:









CASE #2
Choice of Wood

Do you use 5-layer or 7-layer wood?  Both were used by Williams.  So which is "correct"?  We'll give you a hint on how we'll choose this one. One is made on a custom made 17/32 maple plywood, the other is crap which you can buy at Home Depot.
 

Which is "correct"?  Make your decision:









CASE #3
White Under Plastics

Williams had different areas under certain plastics where they had white fill, or left it bare woodgrain.
Which do you choose for your reproduction run?  Keep in mind, there will be those who own the other style and will consider your choice blasphemy - changing historical art!


Which is "correct"?  Make your decision:










CASE #4
The Backsides

Williams had PinBot playfields with both bare woodgrain (urethane sealed) backsides and grey painted backsides.
Some see bare as a little more "modern" and prefer it.  Others like the classic greyed look of yesteryear.
What do you do with your reproduction run?  To grey or not to grey!  Keep in mind, if you choose bare, some will claim you FORGOT to grey the backs or are just cheaping out and cutting costs by not painting them.


Which is "correct"?  Make your decision:







CASE #5
Choice of Colors

PinBot was originally printed (as with every playfield) in different waves of runs, even by different suppliers.
The subtle and dramatic differences in ink mixes are obvious IF you own two machines with the two (or more) looks.
The biggest difference in this case is PinBot's blues.  Do you go Skyy Vodka blue, or denim blue?  Light warm grey, or dark cool grey?
For the light blue, do you go strong or more pale?  See the significant differences below.  Keep in mind, color choices beckon a wide variety of responses from your audience.  If they own the other style, some will consider your color to be dead wrong.


Which is "correct"?  Make your decision:









Again, two more looks at the dark blue in context on the playfield:








CASE #6
Clearout Areas / Positions

Aside from the small artwork difference shown here in how it interacts with the cut of the board, the major decision here is how deep
do you clear out this area?  Keep in mind you have micrometered both samples, and have a shallower and deeper version.
Which depth do you program for the entire reproduction run to be made with?  Also, do you position it to clear or cut into the edge of the art?


Which is "correct"?  Make your decision:









CPR's DECISIONS & DETAILS:

CASE #1:  Ours will look like something between the two. Not as large as the first because a slightly too large bit was used for those, but by using a smaller bit and enlarging the holes a little we should be able to allow more light in from the bulbs below the inserts and make a brighter playfield, while still allowing the sides of the arrows to secure properly in correctly sizes holes.  

CASE #2:  This is an easy one.  Regardless of the historical existence of crappy cheap 5-ply wood, more plys are always the better choice.
Plus, all of our current custom gameboard stock is 7-ply anyway!

CASE #3:  We would go with using white.  We would feel the majority would think it is more pleasing in appearance.

CASE #4:  We would likely go with the sealed bare backsides, which give a brighter swap workspace and more "modern" appearance.

CASE #5:  We would choose the darker blues.  The are more appealing in our opinion.  Much more dramatic in contrast.  Also the deeper grey, more vivid yellow, etc.  More vivid (more color) is better.

CASE #6:  We would make positioning land within the artwork (so there is no cut into the edge of the border) and for depth we'll ascertain why the hole is there, measure the part that goes in the hole and allow for a reasonable thickness for our clear coat. If that depth falls between the two we see on these playfields, we'll probably use this new depth.  But obviously the depth wasn't critical as both worked in the machine.


HOW DID YOU DO?

Were we 6 for 6 with your choices?  If you were in the drivers seat, these are just a few of the hundreds of little decisions & tweaks
you face when putting together a reproduction playfield.  Similar decisions are made with plastics & backglasses as well.
Especially with colors - which are a great debate out there in the hobby, and always will be.  Just like on PinBot shown here,
the final color choice you make may actually pain some people who were used to something else for so long.

Examples of our past decisions such as Captain Fantastic playfield blue, F-14 Tomcat plastics blue, or even all the way back
to the 2004 Fathom playfield (considered totally wrong by some at the time) involved disappointment for some, after the fact.
Until folks were educated with why their current original playfield was greened or turned to a totally different tone, CPR was considered
to have made color choice mistakes by a few people.  There will always be the few - and that's OK.  The hobby is vast and wide.



IT'S NOT JUST A WILD-ASSED GUESS

Hopefully this editorial and gallery will illustrate a little bit of the behind-the-scenes analysis that is constant at CPR.
No project is ever treated lightly and neither are any of the choices we make when reproducing parts for our games. While we know that pinball parts aren't necessarily "holy", we still strive to make the very best reproduction parts, via educated final decisions and lots of discussion, so there is something to keep all of our games looking nice and worth keeping alive.  We know that an audience of extreme purists is out there, and we even hope to make them pleased as well.  But as you can see by all of the choices illustrated here today, you're not going to make everybody happy all of the time. Yes, other times you may even make an unintentional mistake that had nothing to do
with an educated decision.  As we remain regular pinheads just like everybody else, you can feel comfortable that our aim is
to do better than the original factories did themselves.  That, we can truly say we accomplish!






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