Around the Playfield with Lyman Sheats

Around the Playfield with Lyman Sheats
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Around the Playfield with Lyman Sheats
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Around the Playfield with Lyman Sheats
Published on
March 1, 2018
Updated on
March 1, 2018
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Lyman Sheats is a software engineer for Stern Pinball. Lyman worked on games like The Walking Dead, Batman 66, and Metallica, among many others.

Around the Playfield with Lyman Sheats

The Start Button: How did you first get into pinball?

I didn’t start playing pinball until 1986 when I was 20 years old. I had no interest in pinball when I was in high school because video games were much more fun and interesting to me. In 1986 when I was working two jobs and going to school at night trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, I stopped by Fun & Games in Framingham, MA and there was a big crowd around this new pinball machine (High Speed). I watched for a while and then played and eventually was hooked. I loved it.

The Plunge: What was the first pinball machine you bought?

In June of 1992 I bought an Addams Family.

I was getting pretty serious about competitive play (in between the long days at MITRE and graduate classes at Northeastern). I wanted to practice more, but it was hard to find any decent/clean/working games on location. And going out to play took time. So I decided to buy a game.

Back then it was very difficult to figure out how to buy a new pinball machine. Dallas Overturf (who won the first U.S. National Championship) helped me out by introducing me to some people at New England Coin Op. in Norwood; they eventually finally after some time sold me a game.

I still own my Addams Family and it would be the second to last game I would ever get rid of. I have played it so much, the playfield is dimpled to hell, the mansion inserts have lifted and the paint is peeling off, but the unprotected electric chair scoop area is perfect because I am a professional and I do not miss that shot very often.

I just wish I could have one more game on it with my buddy Dallas. He was my best friend and I miss him every day.

The Skill Shot: What is your best pinball achievement or favorite pinball moment?

I have dozens of favorite pinball moments (and am looking to add new ones all of the time), so it’s hard to nail down any particular one. Except for this one right now —

In 1997 after finishing up the 1.0 code for Medieval Madness, Jim Patla came busting into my office. The environment at WMS at the time was such that when guys like Jim Patla or Larry DeMar or Ted Estes came busting into your office, there was usually a problem (like >90% of the time). Except this time Jim was all happy and excited. He had a big smile on his face, and he handed me a traveler’s mug filled with “Seattle’s Best” coffee.

Do you know how much I like coffee? 🙂

Normally I drink Dunkin’ (all morning long), but coffee is like pinball and pizza — it’s hard not to like all of it.

Jim told me that WMS received the earnings reports for Medieval Madness from Wizard’s of the Coast in Seattle and the game made $1400 in its first full two weeks there.

$1400? Big deal.

The guy who made Centaur, Playboy, and Mata Hari took time out of his day to get me a coffee. And he was smiling.

I will never forget it.

Good Shots, Bad Bounces: What is your favorite and least favorite pinball machine?

My favorite pinball machine hands down is Eight Ball Deluxe. If I could own only one game, this would be it. It was made at the end of an era where people played for score and replays/specials instead of entertainment value and goals/achievements. In that context, it does absolutely everything perfectly. Some people will complain that it has too many “cheap drains”, but that is part of the design and part of what makes the game great.

As for my least favorite pinball machine, there are several on my list (including possibly maybe perhaps one or two that maybe possibly I might have maybe perhaps worked on (not as a lead)), but I would prefer to look ahead knowing that I am capable of learning from my mistakes.

However, working in the pinball industry for so long, I’ve come to know that the “value” of any game is inversely proportional to the number of derogatory “nicknames” the industry people can make up for it.

Never more did this truth become evident than the time I went to take my Safecracker home from the WMS factory. The poor game was hit with at least three different “nicknames” from three different people before I was able to get the game out of the building and spare it any further torture.

You would think that two years of passing under a “Toilet Zone” sign every time I needed to use the bathroom at WMS would have conditioned me better. I guess not.


The Wizard Mode: What is your dream theme you’d like to see made into a pinball machine?

(Digs up relevant NDA w/ attorney comments —
Read read read —
Think think think —)

Unfortunately I’m not allowed to discuss the projects that may or may not be under development at Stern Pinball, Inc.

Here’s hoping I can turn my dream themes into more pinball machines.

The Tilt: What is the dumbest mistake you’ve made in pinball (mishap moving a machine, messing up trying to fix a machine, etc.)?

a) Buying a Judge Dredd

b) Putting my fist through a prototype Pinball 2000 glass that hadn’t been tempered. (I probably had too much coffee.)

c) Censored. This would get me fired.

d) Censored. This wouldn’t get me fired, but there’s no use to say this now.

e) Loving it too much.

The High Score: Describe the pinball hobby in one word.


// I was going to say “the_linux_community”, but some people would argue that “the_linux_community” isn’t a single word.
// Not to mention that pinball has been around much longer than Linux.
// So I settled for pinball == unix.
// Both have been around for a long time.
// Both have bold, opinionated, and passionate communities and users.
// Both go in all kinds of different directions, each claiming to have “the answer”.
// The reality is that pinball, like unix, hasn’t captured much of the casual user market share.

Match – Next Game: Where do you see the pinball hobby in 5-10 years?

I love these “predict the future” questions. They are challenging and stimulating.

I am usually pretty good at predicting the outcome, but particularly bad at predicting the timeframe.

Human beings don’t change much, but I always underestimate the capacity for human beings to persevere.

The hobby will be fine, because the hobby is based on the passions of human beings and their desire to share their passions with others.

Manufacturing, well, that’s business, so there will always be ups and downs.

I’ve worked in the pinball industry for a long time, and it’s great to see the hobby healthy and thriving again.

It’s just about everything I always hoped it would be.

What a great time to retire! 🙂