I visited Heighway Pinball with fellow HLD team members, Scott and Ben, to chat to the Managing Director, Andrew Highway, in their factory in Wales. With the release date of Full Throttle, their first machine, so close, everyone was busy working away to get the pinball machines out of production. Despite this, Andrew was kind enough to take time out of his day to show us around their factory, talk through the many great features of Full Throttle and give us some inside info. on the upcoming Alien pinball machine.
At first glance the factory, at 42,000 square feet, looked huge and sparse when we walked in. Andrew explained to us that half of this huge area was their main factory and half of it was empty and awaiting the arrival of hundreds of pinball fans for the UK Pinball Party in August. The change of venue has been controversial for many pinball fans as Daventry Court Hotel has been the previous venue for UK Pinball Party for years. With the difference of 140 miles, lots of pinball players are a little perturbed by the journey, but for pinball fans in this corner of the country – including all of us here at Home Leisure Direct – it’s good news that the event will be so near.
Next, Andrew showed us around his collection of vintage arcade machines and pinball machines. They were in various states or repair, some working, some in need of restoration. There were some real classics hidden away there, waiting to be fixed up, or even picked apart by the developers at Heighway to better understand the inner workings and secrets to success of some of the most classic games ever made.
Then Andrew lead us into the main factory to talk through how the Full Throttle machine is made step by step.
The Cabinet and Build
The cabinets are constructed with separate pieces that are easy to assemble and easy to replace if the cabinet is damaged during any time in its life.
LED strips are secured to the edges of the large indented areas in the sides of the cabinets where side graphics will easily insert, creating a bright backlit effect for the artwork.
The other parts of Full Throttle were in the process of being fitted together on the production line.
Interchangeable Pinball Games
One of Heighway Pinball’s unique selling points is that the games they produce will be interchangeable between cabinets, so you’ll only ever need to buy one machine. If you want to buy another of their games in the future, you only need to buy the new game instead of a whole new cabinet.
You can kit the rest of the machine out with the game’s graphics by lifting out the plastic graphic inserts in and out with a handle to make it simple. This will also be a function for the back board.
We asked Andrew Heighway how easy it would be to replace the games and if you’d need any specialist skills or an engineer to do it for you. He said that it would take him 10 minutes to do and that it has been designed with the home market in mind, so players with no technical knowledge can easily change between the two.
The cabinet is built with a specially designed component to make it easy for anyone to lift the playfield up and out of the machine.
I asked how easy it is to disconnect the playfield from the cabinet and how this would affect the LCD screen. This is when we were shown the underside of the playfield. All of the components and wiring are as minimal as they cab be, using only a fraction of the length of wire used in the average pinball machine. They showed us how it could be disconnected in a couple of seconds then all you need to do is lift the playfield out, pop the next one in and reconnect it. Andrew explained that the code for the LCD screen could be updated in a matter of minutes.
The quality control at the factory was exceptional. Andrew talked us through what parts had been rejected and why. For example these rejected cabinets had imperfections in the finishing or had been chipped. The great thing about their cabinet design is that the damaged part can be taken out and replaced as opposed to scrapping the whole cabinet.
There were also some rejected playfields that had minor printing errors. The playfield printing had been outsourced, the majority of which were perfect on return, but the few errors they did come across lead them to source machines to print the playfields in-house.
This was the case with much of Andrew’s factory; he aimed to complete as much work in-house as possible to reduce errors and gain as much control over the process as possible. If any process we came across was outsourced, he was looking to find a way to bring it back into the Heighway Pinball factory.
As we were walking around, I recognised some of the Heighway employees who were wiring up a playfield from the Pinball Madness League meet I’d played in a couple of weeks before. It was great to see that the people working in the factory were pinball players too and they really showed a passion and pride in the design details that make Full Throttle so different to other pinball machines.
Andrew Heighway had previously said to us that he has always been a pinball fan. Having played, serviced and owned machines, he aims to eliminate all the classic problems that pinballs have. I think he’s done a great job in addressing a lot of issues that pinball fans can often overlook, previously having had to put up with them as they have no power over the large pinball manufacturers – driven through the complications by their love for the game. Pinball has increasingly evolved from the commercial market to home buyers, so if it is going to continue to grow, pinball machines need to be more accessible to the average person, not just pinball fanatics. They need to be reliable, easy to ship, to set up, play and maintain.
I think if small pinball manufaturers like Heighway Pinball continue to solve these issues, the changes could prove to be radical enough to make them serious competitors with such big names as Stern Pinball through their innovative thinking and new features and could help to bring pinball to the masses once again.
There were a couple of Full Throttle prototypes set up in the factory that we had the chance to try out. It is quite a fast game, so I found the screen in the playfield useful to keep track of objectives and scores without taking my eye off the ball. The game flows well due to an open play field and the ramps are really smooth. I didn’t get to play it enough to get to grips with most of the rules, but overall I was impressed by the look and feel of the machine.
Alien Pinball Machine
Word of an Alien themed pinball machine is the most recent news from Heighway Pinball, which we also wanted to ask Andrew about on our visit.
We were reminded of this when we encountered an Alien gambling machine on one side of the factory. Ben tested it out in the name of brand research before we all chatted about what we can expect to see from the Alien pinball machine and when we can expect to see it.
Andrew confirmed that the designs were still being finalised but he is aiming to have a prototype made in time to be demoed at the UK Pinball Party. I think it will be a real achievement if he can manage to do this as the scope of Andrew’s imagination for the Alien pinball machine was huge. He’s obviously a big fan of the license which is bound to encourage some great features in the final pinball game. The kinds of ideas he is looking into include yellow flashing beacons, a smoke machine and a Xenomorph which projects the mouth within his mouth to pick up the ball (with the aid of a magnet).
These all sound like great ideas to me and I can’t wait to see the prototype. Of course this game’s playfield will be interchangeable with the Full Throttle playfield, including the interchangeable graphics I mentioned previously. If you are thinking about purchasing the Full Throttle machine, additional Heighway Pinball playfields are predicted to cost about 60% of the full price of a full machine, but exact prices won’t be confirmed until the Alien pinball design has been finalised.
Written By: Abi Ponton