Interview with Ben Heck: Leaving Spooky, Alice Cooper’s Nightmare Castle Preview, What is Next for Ben Heck

Interview with Ben Heck: Leaving Spooky, Alice Cooper’s Nightmare Castle Preview, What is Next for Ben Heck
Photos by
Interview with Ben Heck: Leaving Spooky, Alice Cooper’s Nightmare Castle Preview, What is Next for Ben Heck
Graphics by
Interview with Ben Heck: Leaving Spooky, Alice Cooper’s Nightmare Castle Preview, What is Next for Ben Heck
Published on
February 17, 2018
Updated on
February 17, 2018
Read time:
No items found.

Image Gallery

This Week in Pinball: I was sad to see you were parting ways with Spooky since you’ve been with them since the beginning.  In reading your tweet and your post on Pinside it sounded like the main reason that you and Spooky parted ways was due to a delay on your second game after America’s Most Haunted?

Ben Heck: Yes, that’s correct.  Originally, it kind tied back to the show – The Ben Heck Show – I was kind of to the point where I wanted to stop doing that as well just because it was a ton of deadlines and creatively exhausting.  The show company had been acquired by another company and they’re like “…do you want to do one more season after the buyout?”  And I said sure, but it ended up being like 1.5 years.  So I was like “I could do a game in that time, like another pinball machine”.  It had been a couple years since I did America’s Most Haunted and I was super burned out after doing AMH.  For a while I was like “I hate pinball, I hate it”.  If you’re not absolutely furious and sick of the project you’re working on then you didn’t work on it hard enough.  I was definitely tired.  And then after a couple years I came around.  I had been helping Chuck with other things as well, like Rob Zombie.  We were writing new code and updating the boards and stuff like that.  I actually did a lot of the story boards for Rob Zombie as well.  And then I was like I should do another game and Chuck wanted me to do another game.  And I was ok with that because I could line it up with my show being over.  And then what happened was the license we were looking at – basically there were additional costs that – we were trying to figure the best way to make it work and it kind of got put in the back burner.  The Alice Cooper game has been delayed a couple times, I think that is pretty obvious because I think they announced it last summer or a year ago – TPF 2017 I think?  Yeah they did.  So they had that and then the Total Nuclear Annihilation kind of came out – well it didn’t come out the blue, but they were like hey, we’re going to build this too.  And that’s done really well for them.  But it basically – you have TNA and then you have Alice Cooper and then after that is Ben’s game.  My game just kept getting pushed back and then it was to the point where there was no way it would be done at the same time I leave the show and I didn’t want to have something still going.  I wanted – when the show was done, I wanted to be done.  Then I could move, I could change up everything.  And if I’m still trying to finish a game, that wouldn’t happen.  Basically when it got past the point of no return, when my game wouldn’t be done when the show was done, that was basically where I was like I think it is time.  There is a white wood, I guess they could turn it into something else, or who knows, maybe that license will come back around.

TWIP: And was the main reason for the delay due to licensing issues or was there more to it than that?

BH: I would say the delay was – I think if Alice Cooper could’ve been done sooner – I think initially Chuck wanted it to come out last fall.  And if that could’ve been done sooner, my game would’ve had a shot of coming out next summer which is what I wanted.  Everything just kind of pushed it back.  Basically just delayed.  I mean its tough when you’re a small company trying to get stuff done.

TWIP: I know you had mentioned in an interview on YouTube you’d be leaving the Ben Heck Show in June, and you mentioned on Pinside that was originally the time your second game was going to be released and that it wasn’t a coincidence, that was to have both done at the same time?

BH: Yeah, my plan going back to like October or November of 2016, was to do the one and a half year contract, and that should be enough time [to finish the game].  I should mention that during my final season of the show, I changed it up so I was only there three days a week – the show was full time for quite a while – I changed it up so every Thursday and Friday I was off and using that time to do the pinball.  In my estimation I think a year and a half would’ve been enough.  My idea was to have a white wood after about 6-8 months and spend like a year programming it so it would be pretty well programmed when it was released in 2018.  And my plan was the show is done, the game is done and being manufactured.  That would be a breaking point to move or do something different with my life, and get royalties as well.  And that’s not happening now.  Since that clean break point didn’t happen that’s why – here’s the thing, I live in Wisconsin and I’ve been thinking about moving south – we always joke and call Spooky “south”…But if the games not done, I’m stuck here.  I’d have to stay in this area and finish it.  My shows done and I’m stuck doing this game on the side.  I basically wanted everything to be a clean break.  I don’t really want to do pinball full time and I think I would’ve ended up doing it full time had that been the case.  Chuck probably would’ve been like “Nice, make the game full time!”

TWIP: And does Spooky have the rights to the whitewood that you designed?

BH: Yeah, they paid me a retainer so the whitewood is theirs.

TWIP: I know you had mentioned on your tweet that the design might be turned into something by them down the road.  Is the design something that can be turned into a different theme easily or was it very specific to the license?

BH: Yeah, why couldn’t it be?  There have been a lot of games that have been changed – Gladiators was Zelda, WWE was Hunger Games, it happens a lot.

TWIP: Can you share what the license was at this point?

BH: I’ll never tell (laughs).

TWIP: I know we’ve heard some rumors on Futurama…

BH: Futurama would make a good pinball.

TWIP: Could you see yourself ever going back and working with Spooky at all in the future?

BH: Oh yeah, sure.  Just not right now.  They’ve at least made one of my games!  I mean, I’m disappointed I couldn’t get something going.  My game – we kind of paused it last year, and I started working on Alice Cooper in July.  I basically switched over to doing that.  I did quite a bit of work on that, most of the story boards and a lot of the rules.  So there is some Ben DNA in that game.  But ultimately I’m not interested in monsters and things like that as much as Chuck is.  And all I know about Alice Cooper is that he was in Wayne’s World (laughs).  It wasn’t a license I could get into very much because I wasn’t familiar with it.  But hopefully the stuff we came up with makes for a cool game.

TWIP: You were working on the rules and the story board and the dialog for Alice Cooper.  How far along are the rules and the dialog for that?

BH: The rules are pretty much all the way – I mean the framework.  I think when you’re making a game, you have the rules in your mind but when you’re playing you’re like “oh we should add this rule or we could do this or this would be really cool”.  I guess we’ll see if they stick with it – I thought of it like Dragon’s Lair.  It is Alice Cooper’s Nightmare Castle, so I’m like “its a castle, so the castle should be part of it”.  My big thing was I wanted people going through rooms – like there is a kitchen or there is a parlor.  Each room acts like a different mini mode and there is a map to it.  The orbit shot navigates you through the rooms.  You’re basically always going forward.  The way you go through the mansion – basically once you do four moves you get to the monster and then you fight it. Then you work to the next monster.  It is pretty in depth – there are nine monsters and you collect objects that have effects on them.  So the way you go through the castle will actually effect the mode when you get to the monster.  The order you do it matters.  It is pretty in depth – I didn’t think the rules in Rob Zombie were super interesting, so I was like “you have to have better rules in this game Chuck”.  I was thinking if you give the player more ways to play the game it will make it more interesting and give it longevity.  So you can just shoot the orbits, get to the monster, and break the legs off the bug or whatever and have fun.  But if you actually want to get the big points you need to traverse the castle a certain way and do things along the way to get the best advantage based on what monster you’re going after.

TWIP: On the teaser, on the bottom middle of the LCD it looked like nine rooms with arrows – does that correspond to the room that you’re in?

BH: Yeah, it is basically a mini-map.  There is an X that is like “you are here”, and I believe – well I haven’t done this part – if you hold for flipper info, you get a big map.  So you start at the bottom and you’re going up.  It’s like a grid, you can go left or right and every time you go left or right you’re going up in the grid.  You can’t go backwards.  You start out in the foyer and there is a big painting of what monster you’re going to go after.  I’m so sick of games where you hit the flipper buttons to select sh*t – in this you hit a simple target, and that is what changes the painting.  I am just so sick of games where you stop dead and you’re sitting there like “select your city, select your song, select your house”.  So you select a monster and you can spend as much as you want in the foyer.  Then you make a right shot and you end up in the library.  And from the library you can go left or right – if you go right from the library you end up in the conservatory.  That is on the right hand edge so you can only go left, and then you’re in the torture room or the dungeon or whatever they call it.  Then one more orbit shot and you’re to the monster.  So you choose how you move through the castle and the castle is a big part of it.  The art is really cool and there are all these animated things in the background like bats and spiderwebs and bones.  The guy who did the cabinet art – I don’t know how much of that they’ve shown – the guy that did the cabinet though is also doing the elements for the screen animations and the rooms.

TWIP: I think the animations look really cool – kind of that comic book style look…

BH: Yeah, it is a very good looking game – it kind of reminds me of Big Bang Bar in a way, the aesthetic feel of the cabinet.  A lot of deep blacks with splashes of color.

TWIP: So as you go through the castle – lets say your in the foyer and you shoot the left orbit – that is like a door?

BH: Yeah – left orbit goes left and right orbit goes right.  Or you can shoot other stuff to stay in that room and do other stuff.  As you mentioned you saw in the clip where there is nine rooms.  You always start at the bottom which is the foyer, and you’re always working your way to the top which is the monster room.  So all the rooms in between – that is where you’re collecting items and doing other stuff.  But you’re always moving up.  And once you move up through a section of rooms you can’t go back.  Basically four orbit shots or four navigation shots will always get you to the monster.  But if you do it too quickly you’re not going to get as many points.   It is better to take your time and explore and collect things, like shotguns and axes and whatever.

TWIP: I love the idea of working your way through a castle.

BH: I am a big fan of video games, so I wanted it to have a bunch of videogameification.  The video game market is like astronomically, infinitesimally, I can’t even think of words to describe how much bigger it is that than the pinball industry.  It is like an elephant stepping on an ant.  So if you can get in some of those elements, that is good to cater to that market.

TWIP: Can you share if there is an upper or lower playfield in Alice Cooper?

BH: Ummm…I think you should wait for that surprise yourself.

TWIP: Ok, moving on to other topics…

BH: That was a good preview of Alice Cooper.  I don’t know if they’re going to have it in there because Alice Cooper hates it, but if you do really well he’ll say “You are worthy.”  I guess he hates the fact that everyone comes up and says that to him.

TWIP:  (laughing) Yeah I probably would too, that’s gotta get old at some point.

BH: (laughing) Yeah I think Chuck went to one of their – he does pinball tournaments for charity – and I think Chuck went to one and the first thing Alice Cooper said was “If y’all promise not to say I’m Not Worthy then I promise not to call you Pinball Wizards.”

TWIP: (laughing) That is good.

BH: That said – it would be fun if he did say that if you did really really well, so hopefully they put it in.  I think the script is supposed to be recorded pretty soon, I think they are trying to do it for Texas.

TWIP: I heard there were 47 pages.

BH: That’s not too bad.  I know Rob Zombie got pissed at how much we wrote for him and he only recorded like 2/3s of it but it worked out ok.  Americas Most Haunted had like 150 pages I want to say.

TWIP: I’d like to own an AMH someday.

BH: Well you’ll have to buy it used because there will NEVER be a Vault Edition (laughs).  I wish we were slimy and did a vault edition, that would put a really nice car in my driveway (laughs).

TWIP: Are you excited about Alice Cooper being revealed?

BH: No but I never get excited about anything.

TWIP: (laughs)

BH: I tell people that and they think its funny or awful but what can I say?  I just don’t have any emotion.  Actually, I was a little excited earlier today because I figured out how to do a subdomain on my Apache server.  That made me happy.

TWIP: Are you burned out on pinball right now?  I know you mentioned you got burned out on America’s Most Haunted…

BH: I was totally burned out on AMH.  If I like back divided what I made on that game after taxes, I probably should’ve just got a second job at a restaurant or something.

TWIP: But you made something great.

BH: It is the finest ghost related pinball machine ever made.

TWIP: Do you have plans to still do the Bible Adventures theme even though deeproot mentioned they are doing a similar theme?

BH: Ok, so that idea dates back a long long time.  We first started talking about that in like 2011, when we were doing our Lost game which we tore apart because it sucked @ss.  We were at lunch one day – this was before I did AMH…

TWIP: When you say “we”, who are you talking about?

BH: It was myself – Jason Jones who is sometimes on Pinside, Andrew who was a former employee at Spooky – anyway, we were joking about what would be the stupidest theme for a pinball.  Pretty quickly we came up with the Bible.  But it was one of those things – a lot of times if you’re in a creative environment you spend a lot of time talking things that aren’t what you’re working on, because you don’t want to talk about what you’re working on.  Like yesterday when we were filming the show – we were talking about the TV show Charmed for like two hours.  So ridiculous…anyway, in 2011, we were first prototyping what would become the PinHeck system we were joking about this Bible game.  And the more we joked about it and talked about it, we started to realize it would really make sense from a rules perspective.  Most people are familiar with it, they’ve heard it or they went to church as a kid.  And here’s the trick – everything is numbered.  There are 10 plagues, 40 years in the desert, 40 days on Noah’s Ark, 2 people in the Garden of Eden, 7 trips around Jericho, 7 dreams of Joseph.  Everything is numbered and it was like – this is perfect!  You don’t have to explain the rules – how many shots to start Exodus? 10 plagues,10 shots, Exodus multi-ball.  The more we talked about it, we were like – this is actually amazing.  So we talked about it in interviews and stuff and I guess people thought it was a joke.  People still think it is a joke but I’m dead serious.  So we discovered – around 2013 – John Popadiuk, you know how he was registering all those domains?  Like Pussycat Bowling and whatever.  There was  And I don’t know who found it but we realized it was Zidware and we were like son of a b*tch.  Because of course he had heard about it because I’d been talking about it to anyone and everyone.  And we’re like oh man is he going to try to do this?  And then as Robert from deeproot has mentioned, three years ago in 2015 he was in talks with Spooky to work on some things.  And that came up because we were spitballing ideas.  And he really liked it – but Chuck hates it – but Robert really liked that idea.  And I think even back then he wanted to call it Fire and Brimstone.  So I certainly knew he liked the idea, but I was a little surprised to hear he was going to design it himself.

TWIP: So were you bothered when you learned they were working on that theme?

BH: Of course I was.  It is like my dream theme, I know that sounds weird, but I really think it would make a great pinball machine.  I’ve been thinking about it for like 7 years now.  I guess this is kind of egotistical but I feel like I could do a pretty good job with it.  But we’ll see.  I used to be a graphic artist, then I became an engineer, so it isn’t my place to say a lawyer can’t design a game.  But I don’t know, I’ve just had it in my mind for quite a long time.  Actually one thing Chuck said or offered was – hey, why you don’t just make the game you’re working on an original theme?  Because at that point TNA was starting to sell really well.  But I was like Chuck you need to realize, we have some empirical data about original themes – they can work in pinball but they need about a year to gestate.  So you have to take them out there, take them to a bunch of shows, and then they’ll sell.  Even Dialed In!, it took quite a while for people to latch on to that even though it is a really cool game.  License is a short cut, I was like “I don’t think we have a year to grow this title”.  But yeah, you mentioned earlier that Futurama would be a really cool title.  I think people don’t necessarily think if a title lends itself to pinball or not.  Like Archer would be really good except that the license is out of date and Stern will never make it.  But again, that would be a perfect theme for pinball.

TWIP: What is your favorite part of pinball manufacturing?  Coding?  Designing the playfield?

BH: My favorite part is when it’s done.  Wait, that is a snarky answer.  Probably designing the playfield because that is kind of the fun part.  You kind of saw that with John Popadiuk – he loved designing plafields but then the really hard stuff, which is everything that comes after – he kind of skipped that part and therefore nothing got done.  It is kind of like you’re hanging out with your buddies and drinking beer and you come up with an idea for a movie or Bible Adventures, it is much more fun to talk about it or think about what could be in it than to actually do it.  Actually doing it is the really hard part.  I have a cool rotisserie at my shop and it is fun to get hot glue or pencils or screws or sticks – I have a shooting foam core rotisserie so I can actually play the game as I design it physically.  That part is pretty fun.  Then putting it in the computer, lining up everything, measuring everything and figuring out the angles, that sucks.  I wouldn’t say coding is the worst part.  The joke I told Chuck was I would program the machine for free but you have to pay me to troubleshoot it, that is the real b*tch.

TWIP: Have you been approached by any other manufacturers?

BH: I have not.  I honestly don’t think they would hire me.  Which is ok because most are located in Illinois and I’d never – to anyone reading this, I would never under any circumstances move to Illinois, so don’t even ask me.  I live in Wisconsin and Illinois is an awful and terrible place.  But it’s not as bad as Indiana.

TWIP: Hey now, come on, I’m in Indianapolis!

BH: Oh no, is that where you live?  Sorry about that.  Illinois is terrible.  It is like this flat boring state with nothing in it and ridiculous taxes.  At least New York and California are cool places to live with ridiculous taxes.  That’s why everyone in Illinois comes up to Wisconsin every weekend, because our state doesn’t suck.

TWIP: So am I right that you’re a filmmaker?

BH: Not really, but I’m trying to get back into it.  I used to do indie films for fun.

TWIP: Do you have plans for an upcoming film?

BH: Yes – myself and the guy that does the animations for Spooky, we’re putting something together.  It is supposed to shoot not too far in the future.  And it has nothing to do with pinball.  I don’t even think there is a pinball machine in the movie.

TWIP: What else is on the horizon for you after the Ben Heck Show and after Spooky Pinball?

BH: Honestly, right now that is kind of up in the air.  I mentioned the film thing.  We were talking about starting a production company where we could do all sorts of stuff including film.  I kind of want to get back into doing what I was doing before the show, which is to do more prototyping work for companies and people.  And there is a lot of stuff I’ve had to turn down because I haven’t had time to do it because of the show schedule.  So kind of that, reverting to pre-show stuff.  I’ve also been trying to cut back on conventions, I’m so burned out on conventions.  I could write a book about conventions.

TWIP: Ok – last question.  You are tremendously talented and a huge asset to the pinball community –

BH: – sometimes a huge ass!

TWIP: – Ok, I will add that in there – do you think we will see Ben Heck in the pinball industry in the future?

BH: Yeah, I mean, I just want to be free to do stuff and not worry so much about Spooky.  But there are definitely things I still want to do.  Parker – the guy who made the board set with me originally – we’re trying to make an even better board set that is even cheaper.  Like really cheap.  But for right now, my timeline just doesn’t really line up with what Spooky is doing.  And I guess we’ll see if – maybe if deeproot doesn’t make their Bible game, maybe I’ll need to make it.  I promise you, it will be awesome.  I was even designing the Red Sea mech last month.