Monday, January 27, 2014

Fan's Fare: An Inside Look at the First Custom-Built Buffy Pinball Machine

Whedonites are renowned throughout pop culture circles for their diehard dedication. From mounting one of the most impressive TV campaigns of all time, to helping “The Avengers” set box office records, not to mention the countless original works and academic studies, Whedon supporters continue to find new and creative ways to highlight the genius of Joss.

Self-avowed super-fan David Nelson has taken his love for Joss' first creation, everyone’s favorite Sunnydale citizen, to entirely new levels— he’s constructing his own “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” pinball machine!

*sings* "He's a pinball wizard..."

As detailed on his website, Nelson maintains meticulous attention to detail in his machine design. Beginning with a refurbished playfield, the build features original artwork, a custom-built cabinet, a color-changing Buffy logo, a stake-themed shooter rod and more!

I dropped in on David to get a personal look at his ambitious passion project.

Hey Dave, thanks for taking the time to talk with me, I really appreciate it!

David: No problem, I’m always happy to discuss my work!

How did you first become interested in pinball? What inspired you to create a custom-built machine?

David: I’ve been into pinball for as long as I can remember. My father, who is also [a pinball fanatic], always had [machines] in the house as I was growing up, so it was only natural that I would end up [enjoying] them as well… I 'm also a devotee of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and it’s always been a dream of mine to combine [my two loves]!

What qualities do you think makes up an exceptional pinball machine?

David: This is a tough question as there are different defining qualities in all the machines I consider great. I would say [a good game] has an [interesting] theme, [smooth] flow and is designed in a way that players of all skill levels can enjoy!

Your handiwork is impressive… and highly intimidating to those of us who consider checking our car oil an accomplishment! Do you have a background in mechanics (electrical engineering, woodworking, etc.)?

David: Thanks! I’ve always been a pretty mechanically-inclined person; for the last 17 years I’ve worked in [the] electronics and design field… [Also,] because I grew up around pinball machines, I became very familiar with their [machinery and maintenance].

What first attracted you to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and why do you think the series has left such an indelible mark on pop culture?

David: I [fell in love with] the show from day one; I watched it when it first aired and I've been a huge fan ever since. For me it was the dynamic between the Scooby Gang and… Joss’ creativity in general that kept me coming back week after week. “Buffy” was way ahead if its time, which I think is why it [had] such a huge impact on our [cultural conscious] and is still loved by so many today.

How long have you been working on the machine and when do you anticipate being finished?

David: I’ve officially been working on this since January of 2013, [although just] in my spare time. I’m blessed with… a full time job, a wife and two young daughters which [keeps me on my toes], so this project is taking me longer than I would like. I’m sure the game will never be considered “finished,” as I’ll probably always be adding or changing things… on it, but my goal is to have it mostly completed by October or November of 2014.

As we all know, money is the truest sign of fandom. :) How much do you anticipate everything will cost?

David: Unfortunately, this project is going to cost me way more than I ever anticipated. Pinball machines in general… are not cheap, but when all is said and done I will probably have [sunk] around $4k-$5k into it.

I see that you’ve gotten help from other artistic people for certain parts of the build. How has it been working and interacting with other fans of the series?

David: I’ve worked with a few of others so far… and it’s been [a wonderful experience]. However, up until recently, none of them have... been fans of the show. Currently I have a gentleman by the name of Michael Ocean helping me write the software for this project. He’s not only... talented at… coding… but he also... happens to be a [Whedonite]! Michael’s been... invaluable... as he has a... better understanding of [my vision] and can even suggest [improvements] I wouldn’t [have considered]. This game is going to truly be awesome and... it will stand up next to any modern pinball machine that's being produced today.

Which Buffyverse character(s) do you think would most appreciate seeing your cabinet and how would they react?

David: Hmm, that’s [a tough one]! Buffy obviously doesn’t care much about pinball machines, considering how often [she’s thrown characters into them]. I could see Spike enjoying a game or two on it. Probably the Trio as well— I can picture it sitting in the basement amongst all their other gadgets.

What are your favorite seasons/episodes/characters of the show?

David: This is a [difficult] question for me to answer because I love so much about the [series]. I would say I prefer the earlier seasons; if I had to pick one favorite episode it would be “Hush” — it’s pure brilliance in every way. Also, my favorite character would have to be Buffy, as there’s so much about her to love!

Do you have any plans to make pinball machines based on other Whedon properties?

David: At this time, no; I’m still knee-deep in trying to finish this one and I haven’t really had [a chance] to think about starting another. However, if I did, it would probably be a Firefly-themed machine.

What are your plans once the machine is finished? (*subtle inquiry to see if I can come over and play*)

David: My main plan is to just… enjoy the fruits of my labor. Of course I would also [like] to share it with as many Buffy fans as possible. If anyone is in my area and wants to swing by… and play a few games, I would totally be fine with that. I also wouldn’t mind bringing it to Buffy-related events so that people who normally wouldn’t be able to see it… could get a chance to check it out. I’m all about spreading the Buffy love! :)

The Slayer herself, Sarah Michelle Gellar recently tweeted your project- describe your feelings in that moment.

David: I was in complete shock. To have Sarah, Buffy herself, actually dig what I am doing? It was absolutely amazing! The best thing that has happened to me in years! I’m still floored by it!

Are there any ways that Whedonites and general pinball fans can help support you?

David: Sure! The best way to support me would be to like my Facebook page and Twitter and become interactive with me about the project. I love to hear [feedback] and for fans to offer suggestions [of what] could be added to the game. Knowing that there are others out there that appreciate what I am making really means a lot!

To stay up-to-date on this wonderful work-in-progress, be sure to check out David’s website, subscribe to his Youtube channel and follow his pinball thread!


  1. Great interview! David seems like a very hard worker and dedicated fan, not to mention extremely talented! I can't wait to see the finished product, as it already looks down right amazing. I am happy that Sarah Michelle Gellar recognized the work! I had fun reading this. Very thoughtful questions!

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! Dave was an incredibly easy and fun subject to interview, and I'm glad I was able to bring more awareness to his amazing work!