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This Week in Pinball had a unique opportunity to do a full tour of the deeproot facility in San Antonio last week! We spent about three hours checking out all things deeproot, and wanted to share some of our experience.
Arrival and Introductions
My “real job”, my day job, took me to San Antonio for a conference last week. I messaged Robert Mueller, the man behind deeproot pinball, to see if I could drop by and say hello after the conference was over.
I arrived at deeproot headquarters and walked around to the visitors entrance. There was a semi-truck at a loading dock not far from the entrance. I rang the buzzer at the entrance door and Robert invited me in.
Though I’ve spoken to Robert Mueller on the phone a few times, this was my first time meeting him in person. Robert is friendly, enthusiastic, and clearly very passionate about pinball. As you probably know from his previous interviews, Robert is also outspoken and extremely confident (I believe Dennis Nordman used the word “brash”). It was fun to see how excited he was that his vision for pinball is coming to life.
The first area had several larger offices, including Mueller’s office, which had mountains of paperwork. We started the tour.
The building itself has a very unique and unconventional layout, with many curved walls and interesting shaped rooms throughout. Many parts of the building are under construction and unfinished. As we walked down one of the curved hallways, we saw large machinery that was being moved in from the semi into one of the finished rooms. There was a relatively large room that housed large machinery and tools used to build necessary parts and items. At this point I got my first peek at a deeproot pinball cabinet.
Is it “Pinball”?
Taking a step back, there have been a lot of questions about what type of pinball machines deeproot is actually going to be building. Only a couple people knew that I was going to tour the deeproot facility, and their first question for me after the tour was “Is it pinball?”
Pinball is unique in that too much “forward thinking” can make pinball no longer feel like pinball. Part of the charm of this hobby is the physical, analog nature of it. To a degree, innovation could make a machine no longer feel “like pinball”.
The deeproot cabinet (not including the head) looks similar to a standard Bally/Williams cabinet. The deeproot machines have coils, inserts, flippers – things you expect in a pinball machine. It is most definitely pinball.
The Break Room
As we continued the tour, we walked into the break room and there was an item on the floor. This item is part of an experiment to make shipping and handling of pinball machines easier. There were four non-deeproot pinball machines in the large break room. Ghostbusters, Dialed In!, No Good Gofers, and America’s Most Haunted. They had recently had a party in the break room, celebrating landing a major license. (TEASER: The license is an 80s movie many people have been craving!)
deeproot Departments and Processes
After leaving the break room, we got to visit several different departments and met different members of the deeproot team. The team mirrored Robert’s enthusiasm, and – judging by what they had produced and created – are extremely talented in their respective areas of expertise.
At the first area we stopped, we saw the underside of a playfield for one of deeproot’s unlicensed titles. There were many notable differences as compared to what I am used to seeing under a playfield. Very little soldering. Unique boards, including individual LED boards. deeproot now has a full Surface-Mount Technology (SMT) line which will allow them to produce all the necessary boards in house. They were working on new ways to wire the machines, to make the necessary wiring as “aesthetically pleasing as possible”.
This room housed three or four team members. Resting against the wall were two playfields and what appeared to be a CAD drawing of a third playfield. Large high res computer displays were at a few stations. This group showed me some previews of the displays – they were stunning. A mixture of necessary static information regarding your progress in a game, along with incredible artwork, color, and animation. Beautiful.
The storyboarding and rule development was creative and very intriguing. They’re creating stories and rules that are attractive to both beginners and hardcore pinball enthusiasts. Above all, the games sounded FUN.
Though several of the designers work remotely, Robert showed me Barry Oursler and John Popadiuk’s office, although neither were in the office that Friday. I asked Robert how many Zidware customers had reached out to deeproot to file claims. He shared there weren’t as many as he would’ve liked, but he hoped more would be filing claims this month. (Note: The deadline to file claims is at the end of October – visit https://zidware.deeproottech.com to file a claim.)
Programming and Product Development
This room was dimly lit and housed three young programmers, who showed some of what they had been working on. These programmers are creating a process development execution system that is built around the idea of allowing deeproot to develop games significantly faster than other manufacturers.
Manufacturing seems to always be a big hurdle with new pinball companies. While deeproot has a defined plan in place for manufacturing and has over half of the machinery they need to go into full production, they do not have their manufacturing portion of the building fully set up yet. Robert informed me that the plan was still to officially launch deeproot at the Texas Pinball Festival in 2019. It would not surprise me at all, however, if manufacturing/shipping does not immediately start after launch and is pushed back a few months. Time will tell.
The Oval Room
In the middle of the building is an internal room that some referred to as The Oval, and some referred to as the War Room. This room, not surprisingly, is shaped like an oval with walls containing white boards and notes on current projects.
This room housed some of the current projects and flippable whitewoods, and it was surprising to see how many different prototypes they had created.
I went around the room with Robert and his team, and they showed me the different games and features. The machines were a mixture of licensed and unlicensed themes, and looked like a throw back to the Bally Williams era with interactive toys, physical ball locks, and never-before-seen unique mechs. The machines had very different designs, some looked flowy, some looked futuristic, some looked retro.
Robert has a “nothing is impossible” attitude with his team, and at one point mentioned that they were trying to figure out a safe way to add sparks or smoke as a feature to one of the licensed themes. Smiling, his team said they are working on it.
Robert and his team at deeproot have been re-examing nearly every part of the pinball experience for the end user, and looking at ways to improve that experience. The tour of deeproot reminded me a bit of the first time I saw the Wizard of Oz Pinball machine. It is different, innovative, very exciting, and something that still looked and felt like classic pinball.
As a pinball hobbyist, I am incredibly excited about deeproot and cannot wait for their launch. This is not to take anything away from other manufacturers at all. Other manufacturers are producing machines and getting them into arcades and people’s homes. deeproot has not done that as of yet.
When deeproot launches, things may get very interesting in the pinball industry.