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Frank Bird

Mecca Supporters 2021
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Everything posted by Frank Bird

  1. https://www.fruitemu.co.uk/ib/messenger/42443/?tab=comments#


    Hi People I had a contact from a guy in the Netherlands asking me for help with a product.

    Do you think you could help fill the gaps please?

    Hope you are all well?

  2. I think I mentioned at one point that we (JPM) were very close to Starpoint both socially and professionally. The development of the modular SRU reel unit was a huge step for both of us and the months of development and prototyping were accompanied by lunch time restaurant meetings and quite often, evening boozy get togethers as well as Golf weekends, although not the golf for me, I would rather eat my spleen. During the lunchtime meeting we would often sit around a the table in a local French restaurant where they would put together a very long table for us all to sit together. After most of these boozy lunchtime meetings we would sit there exchanging views and finally end playing a game between us all, this game was called Spoof. For those of you that don't know the game it's very straight forward, everyone starts with three items in hand. These items such as pound coins are held by everyone that wishes to join in, consequently there was always a dash for pound coins. Being in the gaming industry obviously demanded that we'd play for money so each round was a pound in the kitty each. Considering there was at least ten of us that was £10 in the Kitty for each round. Play starts at the head of the table with the initial player presenting his hand with either all three coins hidden in his fist, or alternatively two, or one coin or perhaps none! The idea is to guess how many items, jointly, are revealed when all players have taken their turn at guessing. With ten people playing the guess would be from 0 to 30 obviously although zero would be an extraordinary call, as would 30 although you never know! There would a record keeper and the banter would go along the lines of “ooh good guess” or “really?” and “you must be joking” and they added to the fun. Quite often the total number wasn't successfully guessed, and the Kitty carried on. Anyway, I digress as usual. On one such occasion, before the game started Ken Smith the owner of Starpoint made a speech about how much they enjoyed the game with us and went on to present us all with our own set of solid silver, engraved, spoof sticks in a leather holder in order that we would never again have to scrabble for coins I still have mine as you can see and they are a treasured possession, I have taken this picture on a debit card for a size reference. If you look carefully you can see STARPOINT on one and a set of hall marks on the other! To carry on with this departure, it was deemed that we should always carry this token of friendship and indeed if you met one of the troop and could not display your wallet, you would forfeit a Pound! Years later one of the guys at JPM, one Colin Crossman, he who oversaw the Cabinet and fit out design area, was rushed to hospital with a kidney disorder which demanded immediate attention. Ron Watts made a point of contacting his wife to arrange a visit to his bedside to wish him well. As he approached the bed, Ron being the eternal joker, pulled out his spoof stick wallet to take advantage of the situation. Colin smiled and pulled back the bed sheet only to display his own set laying on his chest next to the heart monitor! Happy days!
  3. Nearly done with JPM now, not much left but the tears.. 1985-6 - Give us a Break and it’s successors JPM finally got the approval from the Gaming board of Great Britain to create a true SWP machine or to give it its full name, Skill with Prizes. The main criteria for this success was that at the onset of any game the maximum prize displayed must always be accessible given maximum skill being applied by the player! (Gaming Board) Questions answered correctly in turn therefore provided progress through an award structure towards the goal of the prize that was offered at the onset. On the earlier machines like Treasure Trail this maximum prize was altered randomly according to the machine’s current pay-out percentage. The higher the pay-out percentage the more often a lower prize would be offered and the time allowed to answer the question would also diminish. It became obvious that this was a distraction as the occurrence of lower prizes more frequently displayed indicated the machines “mean streak” so we turned to another route. In the case of Give us a Break we played with the idea of keeping a tally on the players performance within any given credit period, i.e. the same player or players. For the life of me I can’t remember if we instituted this (honestly 😉 ). What we did do was where the player was proving to be continuously successful at Sport, we would reduce the chance of a sport question being chosen later in the game. Similarly where the percentage was high we made sure that we used questions that had not been offered as frequently as others. We even tried grading questions for difficulty but this proved to be so totally subjective and ineffective that we gave up on the idea. The changing of question topic however worked really well and of course we could change question sets regularly, and simply thanks to the disc. We often tested the product locally and as product manager and part of Marketing, I was asked to go and observe the new breed of players as they approached the machine and see what difficulties that they encountered and perhaps interview them afterwards to see how they found the experience. To our huge satisfaction we found that without exception those people that played it were on the whole, not the usual gaming machine players and that they were loving the experience. The GUAB product was at prototype stage and we had to take the machine off to London to the BBC studios of Radio 1 to get their final approval, this was of course after all the discussion and the legal heads of agreement had been completed prior to the final preparation of this prototype. And so one afternoon I arrived somewhat excitedly outside the Radio 1 studios in Great Portland Street and parked the rather overheated, white Cavalier Estate on the pavement while I unloaded the machine. This was all under the watchful eye of an unusually forgiving Traffic Warden who was extremely lenient after he saw the machine and we had a quick chat. He kindly gave me enough time to drop the machine just inside the building before I had to move the car elsewhere. Alan Parker was there in reception and took charge of the machine so I just found a car park and rushed back in time to see Alan and Peter Cox (Project Marketing consultant) disappear into a lift, but not without me I thought as I rammed my already battered, black, leather pilot case into the closing doors. Emerging from the lift to the offices of the controller of Radio 1 at the time, one Dereck Chinnery as I remember, we walked slap bang into Steve Wright who looked at the machine with some distaste. At the time I only had an inkling of the ‘feeling’ between the other DJ’s and Dave Lee Travis but we were soon to learn more of it The idea behind the trip was to install the machine within the hallowed halls of the BBC canteen (yes that very infamous place) and set it on free play so we could get some idea of the response to it from the company that was going to be associated with it. Now it is important that you read and appreciate the words ‘company’ at this point as a turn of events that we thought might happen made it fortuitous that we had already exchanged proposed agreements on the deal with the BBC’s legal department. In any case we all waited within Dereck’s office for the arrival of Dave Lee Travis. The machine was powered up and working and after a suitable period of time (obviously DLT was fashionably late) he walked in trailing a cloud of evil smelling pipe tobacco fumes behind him and propelling his huge Ego quite a way ahead of him. I am never one to bow, chastened, at a celebrity or the rich and famous, so looking for an entertaining way to meet him I said:- “Hello, I know the face but I can’t put a name to it”. The silent noise that followed was Alan Parker’s hopes being dashed and Peter Cox’s wishes crashing to the floor. “You can call me Sir” he said “and I will call you pratt.” Not a good start, to the meeting I will admit. He went up to the machine and pressed the button and played it and such was the simplicity of the prepared questions, the game and the excellent GUI, even he managed to play quite a way through before he answered a question incorrectly. “Where’s the Quack Quack Oops?” he said. Now for those of you that have never heard the show there was a pre recorded duck ‘quacking’ that followed every wrong answer and that was allied to a deep “Ooops” and together they were an identifiable audible part of the show. “Sorry but we don’t have the capability to do that at this stage” I said although I never truly realised the significance of his question until later. After a few minutes of play and satisfied with the representation he asked about the release schedule and we explained that given the test results our belief was that we would be taking the machine to the ATE in London. DLT asked for our cards and left soon after, leaving us to arrange the move to the BBC Canteen and, yes, I have had a cup of tea in the BBC Canteen and it wasn't that bad! We set up the machine and left that afternoon. The test results proved really promising so the machine was subjected to the final production engineering process. We began developing the marketing materials and, due to the agreement with the BBC, the machine and the brochures carried the description “DLT’s Radio 1 quiz Give us a Break” Prior to the exhibition I was working quietly in the office with the usual day to day project management stuff when my phone rang and the receptionist said “Frank I have someone on the phone, says he is an agent associated with the BBC and he wishes to speak to you, a Mr (can’t remember) from London, will you take it?” From memory .. “Yes of course” I replied and with that a larger than life voice projected from the handset and this is what I recall was the gist of the conversation although perhaps not verbatim . “Fraaaank how are you my dear boy, I trust you are keeping well?” Did I know this guy I thought? “I have been to the BBC canteen this morning at Dave’s request (DLT?) and saw the machine, have to say at the outset, what a great job you made of it, you are the Project Manager? Top class” he went on to say. “DLT’s name is not significant enough and it is called Radio 1’s quiz? Flustered I thought that’s strange I know I had been back up to change the glass to the latest release and make sure the Beeb’s licensing department were happy with it. “I beg to differ” I said “I fitted that artwork myself after checking the design of the logo with the BBC as they were very specific on colour and size etc, you know what these corporates are like?” “Oh dear boy yes” he said “but never mind about the BBC at this point in time, in fact sod the BBC Ha ha. My client, Mr Dave Lee Travis’ name is not that well displayed……” “Oh but it is” I interrupted, “in the help screens, it is displayed quite clearly that ‘this machine is based on the BBC’s popular game show, introduced by DLT’ and of course we have licensed it, and we fully intend to pay our royalties………….. to the BBC.” In a much slower and lower tone he went on "Are you actually trying to be funny?” “Because dear boy, if you are not you are certainly looking for an altercation and believe me you don’t want to tangle with me.” I replied “I apologise but I don’t have time for this conversation which in fact is pointless, I suggest you speak to the licensing department of the BBC, do you need the number….” And of course I couldn’t resist the retort “Dear boy?” Click… And that was my first experience with a London agent although in later life I have met Simon Cowell, but that as they say is another story! A few weeks later and the receptionist introduced a call with “Frank I have one of your crazy friends on the phone reckons he’s DLT” “Hmm” I said, “it could be him!” “Your joking” she squealed. I heard “putting you through Mr Travis” and again, forgive me but this is the gist of the conversation that transpired. “Frank” the recognisable voice of the hairy cornflake (DLT’s nickname) “how are you?” “Fine thank you… (meaningful pause)….. Sir” “Please, it’s Dave" he had obviously forgotten. “I have been speaking to (Agent) and he tells me that the BBC really think they have the deal sewn up with you, but I will leave that to him. For now, I know you have an exhibition coming up in London and I want to ask you about it, do you think the press will be there?” “Well, Sir” I continued “the BBC are making a big thing about it and I am being interviewed for ‘The Arts show’ for some reason, they are interested in the crossover from Radio show to Entertainment in gaming!” “Exactly my point” he went on, excited by now at the prospect. “If we can arrange for me to be there it will be to both our benefits.” “Well” I said “you will obviously be welcome on our stand and I think I have a time and a date when the TV crew are turning up if you want?” Silence. “Ok, now I know you are trying to be a (insert an expletive) ” he said “my appearance fee will be £ x,000 (can’t remember but it was at least 3 zeros). “Sorry I haven’t been clearer” I said “but we don’t need you to be there, your radio show every Saturday is doing a great job advertising our product already?” I can’t remember now how the conversation actually ended, but I do remember it was he that put the phone down and he completely avoided me when he turned up for a camera shoot, well he had to didn’t he? And so back to the testing. To convey a humorous episode we came across during testing I need to describe the screen on which the player was presented the questions and answers. The question was printed and beneath it were four answers, a pair of answers in a column to the left and pair in a column to the right i.e... Question is printed here? [A] first answer second answer [C] third answer fourth answer [D] The [ ] denotes the position of the button to be pressed. The question is printed out and the answers are then displayed, and then the timer is started. One early evening during one of the product appreciation sessions in a local pub called the Malster’s arms in Llandaff village, a rowdy bunch of Rugby shirted Scotsmen, some of which kilted for gods sake, were playing the machine. Perhaps they were not best prepared for the mental agility, due to the amount of Alcohol they had consumed and I guess Wales had beaten them so no doubt they were drowning their sorrows as well, due to their countries performance at the rugby earlier that day. 😉 🤣 Nevertheless, loud, humorous and I have to say somewhat surprising progress was being made due as much to luck, as the number of combined brains that were being put to the task. With one person acting as the player or single handed button pusher (the other wrapped around a dripping pint of Brains Dark) the others became the loud but smiling Celtic font of all knowledge. The ear splitting consequence of every question conquered by those beer swilling Celts (careful) was a deafening cheer and a great raising of glasses. More and more people in the overcrowded bar were becoming interested in the game, as much as those larger than life players, much to my pleasure and great relief. The £10 goal was eventually in sight and was but a single button press away when, much to every one’s amazement, the following simple question was displayed to a hushed and expectant audience. Which of these is a vowel? [A] X M [C] F A [C] Obviously a great cheer of “A” went up and gleefully watching the seconds ticking away on the timer, the elected button presser, as directed, slowly and deliberately pressed button [A], which of course is the wrong answer as the correct answer was aligned with the button [C]. Without exception everyone broke into huge fits of laughter. From that singular moment I knew we had a winning product on our hands and recognised the huge difference between the player, the mode of play of this equipment and the traditional gaming machine.
  4. Hey Molefink, small world. I worked with Mike Furmage in Holland when I was training Dutch engineers, he drove me around most of Holland and Germany as he was working with JacVan Ham in Tilsburg. Funnily enough it was him that gave me my first insight into real HiFi speaker as he had a huge set of Tanoy corner mounted speakers, I mean up to my chest high! I bet you know Speedy? Regards Frank
  5. That's the one, those were the first decals we ever put on and they were a bitch until we learned of the drop of fairy liquid in a bowl of water trick! I have just recalled the ZCA music, my gosh memories.
  6. Hey there Sulzerned, The very first machine was called Criss Cross and was simply the Noughts and crosses game that you must have played as a kid. You tried to make a line, horizontal or vertical or diagonal and the time you took to complete the task was entered into a hall of fame so not SWP but simple entertainment. Obviously if you got a question wrong the square was populated with a 'O' rather than the X you wanted. To my dismay I cannot find the professional video we had made of the evening that I spoke about.
  7. Hi, there, forgive me but given my position I had a multitude of things to think about rather than disk access time 🙂 , but what I can say is that I was instrumental in the software 'specification' later on when we stared getting hit by teams of players but that will come in the next post so watch this space! Thanks for your interest by the way!!! Oh by the way, at one exhibition we had a reel unit that played "the entertainer" on the four stepper units much in the same way that those disks are playing the tune. The guy that did that was one John Trevelyan and he was one of the first software 'gurus' I ever knew and a very clever guy he was too.
  8. Okay hello again. Getting near the end now.. Hope you enjoy these last few posts. SWP (eventually) but for now Criss Cross 1984 -5 As a response to a projected squeezing of the Gaming Market Place a survey was conducted by Whitbread and was made privy to the Marketing Team at JPM of which I was a member. This survey predicted that due to the recognised change in the appeal of ‘the pub’ and the drive towards FEC’ (Family entertainment centres) with their concentration on food as a more profitable product, the smoky, flat cap Pub was going to change massively over the oncoming 20 years. With hindsight, looking back today, how right they were, but I think even they would have been surprised at the scale of the change and the wholesale closing down of pubs across the country and of course the impact that on-line gambling and the lottery have had. The survey showed that the demographic of the pub was changing and the average Socio Economic Group frequenting FEC’s was actually going up market. Alongside those results a survey that we had conducted independently of “the player”, had tried to uncover what created the appeal of a particular machine or game play and what it was that players got out of playing machines in general. Although obfuscated in the language of Market research, a commonality of attitude in the responses came over loud and clear with phrases like “get to know it,” “find the winning streak” and “beat it” used by the typical player. Again thanks to the findings of the research this player was (typically) 18-30, working class, more likely to be a smoker, often a loner and a heavy drinker. Now don’t shoot me (if I’m still here) if you like playing machines, I did say typical and there were certainly those that were also 80 years old and never smoked but you get the picture! The Survey didn’t end there as I remember. I found out most of this first hand as I was one of those tasked with asking people in pubs and arcades but we specifically targeted as well, those that vowed they would never ever play a machine and quizzed them (sic), why they had made that particular decision. A few of the reasons given, amongst many others, were that playing a machine was boring, was not a challenge and was seen as antisocial. So the mold was set and we had to come up with a product that addressed those criteria. The SWP or skill with prizes machine eventually emerged from the joint efforts of several team brainstorming events and on one particular coincidence. At one of many lunch time meetings, all we were talking about was how to put intellectual competition into a machine, while we were playing Trivial Pursuit (DOH) how obvious it seems now. We seriously sat back, stopped playing and sat there discussing how it could be done and with the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end ran to get the Software department manager to come and join Alan and Ron and myself to discuss whether and how it could be done! Days later I was asked to become Product manager and Project leader for the new venture which I jumped at with my usual blissful ignorance and willing attitude. Suddenly I was subjected to GANNT charts, CPA and other Project management tools, this was certainly an eye opener and another career path which has stood me in good stead even until today. (2022) The new product obviously had no spinning reels, instead it sported a video screen which displayed a game that allowed players to answer, hopefully correctly, questions that were displayed with a suitable GUI. The product demanded a particular or peculiar consumable and that was questions, and lots of them, but more of that later. Of course we also needed the physical media to store them on and very early on someone had ventured the idea of a floppy disk as being ideal but the 1.4meg floppy was still in its relative infancy and getting a disk drive into a gaming machine for the first time was seen as fraught with danger. I fiercely defended the idea that the storage aspect of the product was developed in a two pronged attack, one utilising EPROM which was a mature, well known and easy path. The second was to be a floppy disk which meant writing a secure and unique Disk Operating System in order that the question sets could not just get ripped off by other manufacturers or canny punters. I recall we called it Wingcode as the creator was Ian Wingfield! So determined was I to make sure that we implemented this storage medium that I managed to get in touch with one of the buyers at a well known computer manufacturers and obtained both a sample, and the supplier of, the suspension mounts that Compaq had fitted in their Luggable PC’s at that time. We fitted them to a floppy drive and started bashing a machine around while the drive was spinning. We were astounded to find that it would really take quite an extreme amount of punishment without exhibiting any problems at all. We decided to go along with the overhead of duplicated effort and continue with the development of both branches of the project just in case a gremlin jumped out of the box. Coincidentally during the ongoing supplier acquisition stages we learnt that a competitor that you must have heard of, was quite near to us and was having difficulty obtaining an ‘unusual amount’ of Eprom for his production. JPM concluded several things, 1) that he had got wind of our development. (remember the new locks on the doors that I spoke of earlier?) More of that later. 2) that he was embarking on a product like ours. 3) that we would suffer even worse supply problems if we continued with the Eprom route. 4) that we should immediately put an order in for thousands of Eproms just to make the supply even worse for the competition, after all they could always be used in gaming machines. So JPM took the, what was momentous decision to dump the Eprom development and re allocate resource to the disk. We happily prepared for the launch in London at the London Hippodrome. For the moment I need to go back to answer the question of questions. For the production of every machine we figured that we would need 6,000 questions, each with 1 correct and 3 perhaps plausible but incorrect answers. We played around with selecting answers at random but too often we came across totally stupid answers that denied plausibility, or equally as unnerving and totally by chance, alternative but correct answers. We toyed around for a while with several ideas and we developed the final specification for questions and answers and where else would we go for help but to the accepted seat of intelligence MENSA. With the question ‘recipe’ in hand and a description and demonstration of the product, we anticipated that our prayers would be answered, but how wrong would that prove to be. After our meeting with them, and after a very thorough and complete presentation of the product and the philosophy behind it we felt confident that having accepted the brief they understood exactly our requirements. We received the first few thousand questions on disk in sets of 100 questions within a week and I was given the task of assessing them before they were passed on for compression and encryption. These had obviously been developed by a computer programme. It was immediately obvious that answer lines were being used as responses in far too many questions as they were the same and on further analysis I found that the 3 incorrect answers in questions 1, 10, 20, 30, 40 for example were the same but just presented in a different order. "Furthermore this grammar on many cases were wrong, indicating again a computerised production." Do you see what I mean? We also found that answers used in this haphazard way presented by coincidence, more than one answer which just could have been construed as correct! So we decided to set u our own Q+A department which I staffed and by purchasing the Encyclopedia Britannica, which was the font of knowledge in those days (no Google, no Internet), we were able to verify and prepare suitable alternative answers to some of those questions. It wasn’t long before a member of our team and my father in law at that time, Ken Friis, pointed out that with a little help he was sure they could we could prepare many of the factual questions for ourselves and add value to our department so this we started doing. To inject a mix of the more down to earth questions on Pop music, TV and Sport I enlisted teams of students from Cardiff University using one Tutor as a question ‘gleaner’. He would collect and send us the questions in groups of 100 for which we would pay £50 or 50p per question. So lucrative was this that he subsequently left university and set up a company, using me to get another copy of Encyclopedia Britannica which I managed to get at a reduced price. A fact is that after buying several sets for other people I was presented with a copy of the ‘First edition’ by the publishers which is leather bound and presented in a glass fronted, teak cabinet with my name initials engraved in a brass plaque on the lid. The system we employed with the universities worked so well that I extended it to other Countries when we eventually realised the product’s international appeal. We soon became aware of exactly how correct the choice of the floppy disk was when it became clear to the site owners and machine operators that certain individuals were playing the machine constantly and getting to know a lot of the answers, so much so that the machine was no longer making as much as it should. This was not simply because the overall payout percentage had rocketed but also due to a lack of overall plays which confirmed that the appeal of the machine was as a challenge. To combat this effectively we set up a 6 weekly, direct debit linked supply of a new disk with 6,000 fresh questions which proved to increase the revenue of the machine due to the incentive to those players who really wanted to be challenged. A news set of questions was accompanied by a new ZCA flash screen indicating, the revision number of questions, a recent event such as a football match or news headline, and the date of compilation( I think) We released the initial product in the London Hippodrome at a huge and well advertised event that most of the industry were invited to. The product was to be an answer to the demise of the industry and it was creating massive amounts of attention. The machine was centre stage with all the pazzaz reserved for a new car launch. Music was blasting from the PA system. Laser lights were dancing. Hundreds of people listened to the presenter from TV’s “Tomorrow’s World” introduce the product with an explanation of the need for the change and a huge screen displaying graphs of machine ‘take’ and the concept of the question replacement service which I was about to launch. With a final flourish timed to perfection … The house lights went out and, Unseen. A centre stage trapdoor descended. Sprach Zarathustra began to play, extremely loudly. A machine was pushed on to the lowered trapdoor by a colleague. A lead was plugged in to the socket actually on the trap door. The machine was switched on. The trapdoor ascended as the machine booted up. A single spotlight picked out the machine as it rose through a trap door in the floor playing it’s initial boot up melody exactly 1 minute and 40 (?) seconds after the lights went out. I think that was the longest 1 minute and 40 seconds of my life, we couldn’t plug the machine in before we moved it as the connection was sunk into the face of the trap door, so we had to suffer the possibility of a non start. The “Next Generation” product literally rose from the ground. JPM literally lived on the product and its successors for the next year! As addendum #1 to this tale. Many years later when I joined that very competitor that I spoke of earlier that got their product out before ours. I met the people in their R+D and it became obvious that the biggest problem they faced at that time was not only the purchasing of, but also the cleaning, erasing, programming and relabeling Eproms. These devices returned from the customer had been so badly damaged in many cases by ham fisted operators that they could not be used again and a charge for the damaged chips had to be made and of course they had to be replaced. They were losing money on their updates and so had to extend the frequency, whereas our update service was straight forward and with the 8 gang disk copying facilities we made we could copy 4 batches of 8 disks in 10 minutes and of course the old returned disks went straight in the bin. Addendum #2 and further to the new locks on the doors Jack Jones, now armed with the fact that apparently our security had been compromised, guessed that it was either someone inside selling ideas or an outsider getting info from us. He paid a discrete security agency to infiltrate us and obtain whatever information they could. No one questioned the window cleaner that came around with a bucket and cloth to clean the office dividers, or the rodent inspector with new traps in the factory or even the the new guy collecting waste bins from development! We should have, they were all from the same company and when we were all called to a meeting, there on Jack’s desk were old revision specification sheets, programme printouts, out of date Bills of materials the whole dam thing! Days later there were security locks everywhere and no paper ever went out without being shredded!
  9. Thanks for that, It has been fun dragging all these memories from the past to be honest. Also brought out some bad feeling again but hey-ho.
  10. It was insane, we never thought we would fill it. If I remember correctly we had MS Dos and, Lotus 123 was it? ( Memory is not what it was! ) I know we used Ashton Tate's Framework a little later and that was way before it's time. Quite where that product went I don't know as it had Word processing, data base, spreadsheet and a programming language, Fred I think it was and as a user you could switch between them and leave them suspended in 'tabs' - I cant say windows can I, (he he).
  11. Yes Ron was there and we had a great relationship both in work and socially and of course it continued, eventually, into Astra games! I take your point about him not putting up with it, and believe me he was as frustrated as the rest of us but there moves afoot company wise, as well as just machine production. Eyes were on the future and the preparation for the sale I am sure. It was about this time that we had a visit from Margaret Thatcher by the way. Forgive me but I never said I took over R+D, only 'machine' development, the 'hard stuff' not game dev or testing. Things like cabinet proving and fitting, wiring loom development, prototype build, Bills of material, change control, testing suppliers new devices etc. Ron as you may know was the main guy behind most of JPM's 'games', him and Alan Parker. He was a consummate prankster, I am sure it was him that arranged for the strip-a-gram company rep on my 30th birthday! My move to Dev meant I worked more closely with both of them again as I did when I first went into Dev all those years earlier. As an aside we more often than not played Backgammon or Trivial Pursuits lunch time, but more of that later! 🙂 😉
  12. JPM, in the earlier Electro mechanical days. Several colleagues used to play test through dev, then a play test department took over before a limited site trial locally for a couple of weeks. During that time a limited production run would be made to send a couple to each of the distributors and 'Majors' as we called them Music hire, Associated Leisure etc. Quite often last minute changes to the programming of timers etc before despatch. Usually on site for two week before the decision to run a bigger output. We did have a modem operated data collection system running just prior to the takeover by Whitbread hence their huge interest in POS data collection for pubs at that time. Hope that helps!
  13. Merry Xmas to you guys and thanks for the continued supporting comments. Still got GUAB and Astra games to go, oh and Coinmaster and Gamesoft.
  14. From Customer Services, back to Development 1982 (ish) The 'Machine’ Development Department was falling apart at the seams. It wasn’t producing prototype product on time, BOM’s were badly prepared and priced, wiring diagrams were erroneously designed and Prototypes were poorly prepared. This was thanks in no small part to the Toss pots that any of you that have read my previous posts will have recognised. I was asked to leave Customer Services and take it on. It took some thinking about because I had never been trained to be honest, it all came naturally, but leading a new crew in disciplines I wasn’t too sure of? I thought long and hard and decided to give it a go. Just to add here that I left the Customer Service Team in the capable hands of Martyn Stork who worked with me for many years and of course ably assisted by the other colleagues, Huw, Russel, Steve, David, Adrian and of course Julia. First day I brought everyone in and we had a long chat about what was going wrong and what they thought about the problems. Basically they were being treated like idiots by the morons that were now gone. They were not respected, they were being told exactly what to do without any chance of input and they felt like they had no respect in the company like for instance they pointed out, the Customer Service guys (sic). They were constantly told to sweep any problems they had under the carpet. So in a bid to try to raise moral I bought everyone (and me) white coats, we all had ID badges, installed push button access pads with "Authorised personnel only" above the doors. There was a secondary and far more important reason for the latter but I will come back to that later. I started two systems of appraisal, I appraised them and (and this is unusual) they were asked to appraise me, and they were commanded to attend exhibitions. It wasn’t a magic transformation, it took time, but heads were held high(er) and more pride was taken in the work. Things changed. One thing didn’t, my hatred of the huge IBM main frame machine, well not exactly the machine but all that it meant in terms of waiting for the Data guys to prepare reports and input data and Jaisus H christ. (apologies) We would prepare the BOM’s from an available (previous machine) parts list (IBM output, wait). We would then have to ask for that parts list to be copied and have new part numbers input and costed (wait) and of course some parts deleted in the new machine listing, then after they were put back in we would have to wait for a costed BOM to be created or printed (wait) so we could let Jack know how much the new machine was going to cost. So sod that, I persuaded my new boss, Alan Parker (yes the P in JPM) to buy an actual IBM PC, which were by now coming on stream and so we had this new machine delivered with a hard disk! My god 10MB hard disk, we were never going to fill that. Anyway. We bought the new Lotus 123 package and as I had some (limited) experience with spreadsheets we started to make our own BOMs from the system by copying the numbers from the screen on the System 38 terminal that we had into the system. Oh explanation, the IBM PC had the ability to interface with and display, not record, information data from the IBM main frame. This is when I realised that a guy that had been working with us, John Lockwood yes Julia’s brother no less, was taking to this new machine technology like a duck to water. Trouble is he was a little, lets say, wild. All he wanted to do as I remember was go off to Teneriffe and get drunk and shag anything that stood still long enough No one had any time for him but I gave him some brotherly words of advice and tried to point him in the right direction. We enlisted the aid of another guy who described to us some (illicit?) software from the states called SideKick, that allowed us to grab the screen ram contents while were in the IBM’s ‘terminal’ mode and dump them into the PC’s hard disk as a comma delimited file. Like I knew what any of that meant! We bought and installed it and by doing so we could load the data into a spreadsheet, select the parts we needed and prepare ‘live’ BOM’s that were costed at that days buying cost, something we would have to wait days for. It’s hard to comprehend these days, given the distance we have come, but back then the systems guys were hugely protective and, it must be said overly busy, or was it the other way around? The machines were comprehensively labour intensive and of course the GUI was yet to be introduced and many things were command line driven and of course no mouse! I remember the first mouse manual. Honest! Around 10 pages. Anyway, I got called into a meeting in Jack’s office to explain how I was once again bucking the system, and of course the hugely expensive IBM monolith. I seem to remember his wry smile and the shaking of the head as he stood and defended me in front of the Irate Data Team manager. The days of the IBM were numbered thanks in no small way to me, Johnny Lockwood and the other nerd who’s name I cannot for the life of me remember! John went on to become a leading Computer Specialist with a national multi branch company. Good man. One other humorous departure. I asked a colleague to bring me some striped wire as I was helping with a wiring task due to an urgent preparation, cant remember what for! I said bring me some brown-red cable and some brown-orange (colours may be wrong by the way) He brought me some Red yellow and Red-green. I obviously said "don’t be a dick" and with that he looked at me strangely and asked what was wrong? He had been taken on as a junior in the department and was colour blind! You couldn’t make it up! The reason I know it was 1982 is that it was my 30th birthday while I was in Development and I walked in to a clean desk (not my way at all), a bottle of Jameson's Whiskey and a glass. The day went down from there but that's a whole different type of story and doesn't belong here!
  15. Honestly can't remember, sorry! I know this is going to sound strange but I was never interested in the games themselves, just the figures they produced, the mechanisms within them and the design process.
  16. At JPM we once had a lorry turn up from Ireland that had delivered frozen goods to a local establishment and had been paid to pick up machines for the return journey. The lorries compressor unit was stuck on, so the the thing was like a huge fridge and the guys loading the lorry with sack trucks soon had coats on, although as the machine were in those huge plastic bags no one was unduly worried. Unfortunately the contraction coefficient of solder is much different to the relay base metal tags so the vast majority of them fell off and even those that didn't were suspect. The relay base has 11 soldered connections as I remember and the club machine had 20+ relays and there were 40 machines delivered. That's somewhere near 9,000 questionable connections! It took us days to solder the bloody things back on, but at least the Guinness and craic were good. Ha just remembered another funny incident. Martin Stork and I were in Ireland and we were working on a couple of machines, don't forget this is in the 80's. We were modifying product and terminating cables using 'bomb ends'. https://www.rivval.com/Product.aspx?p=RP00454/1 The look on peoples faces when I shouted to Martin to chuck me a couple of bombs!
  17. This one had got little to do with machines, sorry but it's part of the history! 😉 As well as running the Customer Service team I was eventually asked to run the Spares Sales department which was recovering after an unsuccessful attempt at trying to stock other manufacturers spares for the industry, a sort of “Radio Spares” for the industry. This meant I had to get to grips with stock holdings, more budgets, stock takes and bin cards but while I was there though I became more aware of the Ferranti computer which was a dirty great Main Frame computer that ran the rest of the company and which we in Customer Service knew very little about. We had to put our figures in via data entry clerks specialists. Looking back now it seems farcical, but let’s not forget that at the time Fax hadn’t made its way to the office yet, we were still using telex and TNT had only just started delivering parcels! Jack wanted to bring the place up to date and install a much smaller but much more powerful machine from IBM but was concerned that the change over would be a bit of a nightmare. The decision was taken by the board that the trial would be made by installing a system 36 as a test bed, more for the company than for IBM obviously, and he decided that the trial would be under my wing. Bird ha ha! Spares Sales was chosen as it was the smaller of the stores and so I was banged off on a course in Bracknell where I was exposed to the programming language and the various process’s involved. When the trial was over I could start helping others understand when the larger system was installed. I think it was system 38? The installation went ahead and within a week we had our stock levels in and were running the two systems in tandem, the same numbers being entered into both machines by ourselves and the data entry clerks, these were then tallied against the stock at the end of each month. Problem was the figures never tallied. Try as we might we could not get our stock figures to match up with those that were in the main frame and this was a complete mystery. We had a consignment of stock delivered from the main stores, we stocked it, sold it, dispatched it and logged every single transaction. The ensuing figures were often way out for too many items to be comfortable, so exhibiting less trust than perhaps I should have, I worked for a month with the team watching as many transactions as I could and cross checking data entries. After a long period of head scratching and considering all the variables we eventually came to the simple conclusion that the only figure over which we had no control was the item count of the incoming goods. So when the next delivery came from the main stores I took the film wrapped cases, opened them and counted them in rather than taking the quantity on face value. Many of them were wrong! The clouds cleared. Light Bulb moment! For my incoming stock to be wrong the main stores levels should in reality also be similarly incorrect? As some quantities were actually greater than they should have been that would mean that the corresponding items in the main stores should have been short? Yet their figures and stock levels were constantly correct so throwing bad light on our efforts and therefore reinforcing the effort to keep the Ferranti and the status quo. It was obvious to me that they were passing stock errors, shortages, and who knows what else, on to us and then casting aspersions our way, but who to tell? I decided that the only person to tell was Jack Jones as I didn’t know who to trust, that sounds a little conspiratorial but in truth there was a managerial clique, as there often is in business, and as the Customer’s representative I found I quite often didn’t fit, but then you knew that already? My goals were a little different to theirs although they should have been the same. I called Jack over and prayed that the items we were about to open would give credence to my claims. A pack of expensive TMS 9980 Micro Processors straight from the stores were first opened, we checked the quantity against the stock sheet we had been given, it was short. Eproms, worth a few quid each, 40 too many, transistors at pennies each, hundreds too many and so it went on. The only thing to do now was to wait for the next stock check in the main stores which came in and was apparently correct. Even with the irregularities in our transfers, really? After a few weeks the obvious and very visible shortages in the stores were several of the stores staff and a data entry clerk who also failed to make an appearance. Quite what was happening I never found out, but the Ferranti was changed and the System 38 was put in. On another point, having had experience of the IBM and the Ferranti and being exposed to personal computers, I began to consider the common ground between them. But this was not my ‘job’ it was just an interest, and currently my ‘job’ was Customer Service and Spares Sales. But not for much longer……..
  18. 1980-82? After Sales was a great place to work and was somewhere that I found I really had a penchant for, and really enjoyed. I mean people had problems. You fixed them cause you could. They were happy, your employer was happy, what was there not to like. Well for a start several of the 'old school’ team. Although they were in their positions they did not do the job properly, as I saw it, and I worked hard at doing the job right. As I have said I was eventually given the job of After Sales Manager so I guess I was right? I mean as a lowly engineer rep I was given 3 patches, North of Hadrian’s Wall, South of the M4 and anything to the right of Cambridge. This meant that all the large city centres with their easily available night life attractions were retained by my superiors! Let’s not go there! My main team consisted of Anne Marie O Sullivan, Julia Lockwood, Martyn Stork, Hugh Thomas, Russell Grimble, David Mead, then later Steve Bryant, Simon McCarthy and Adrian Davies. Although others joined us it was us that kicked off my new “Customer Service” department. I didn’t like the handle ‘After Sales’, it smacked more of the ‘companies toilet paper’ rather than an aide to the customer which is how I saw it As I figured it we were there to represent the customer during and After Sales, and in fact if we could get to them Pre sales we might persuade them to be a customer by explaining the finer points of the product!’ At that time we were still preparing service manuals the old fashioned way and when I use the term ‘cut and paste’, I literally mean it. Cutting sections from an old printed manual and pasting them onto a new sheet that had the new bits already typed in but with spaces for the old text. This was then set off to be reproduced by some witchcraft of which I knew very little but I think it involved photography of some description! Plus of course the Technical Service Bulletins or TSB’s had to be produced when we had an issue or wanted Customers to know about information like conversion kits and law changes or other important information. Addressing envelopes individually from address books was daunting and although we did look at memory golf ball typewriters, I got to hear of the new personal computers that were becoming available so I approached Jack and he agreed to at least listen to my suggestions and so off I went. I spoke to Dave Young who had his own Marketing company and spent a great deal of time with us and who I had a hell of a lot of time for and in fact became a friend and another mentor. Dave was the ‘T shirt’ guru by the way, it was he that suggested we should include them in the cash box for that period! He put me in touch with a fledgling company in Swansea where I went to see the machinery that I had only heard of, bearing in mind this was pre 1980. The machine was an 8080, CPM based, twin 8.5” 128k floppy disk system with a golf ball printer and monitor. The metal box itself, yes the huge blue powder coated steel box was about 600mm x 600mm by 350mm high or about as big as a small kitchen wall unit. It ran Wordstar and Supercalc (like we knew what the hell a spread sheet was!) but Anne Marie and Julia and I stuck to it and we were soon getting things done so much quicker. Anyway given today’s knowledge you will know that cut and paste is a completely different issue Ctrl C - Ctrl V, no mouse! Mail shots were now the push of a button (well several combinations of buttons actually). Friday afternoon’s were taken up creating backups from the master disk to back up discs. PIP A:=B:*.* (god where did that come from) Then on the screen TRWV. TRWV TRWV (Track Read Write Verify) And so on for ages….and ages. Customers address’s were stored and easily reproduced on adhesive backed labels to be stuck on envelopes which became superseded eventually by fan fold envelopes no less. These were shot out and were stuffed with ‘personalised’ mails by the team in periods of fraternal and frantic office origami, not just the secretarial staff. Engineers were expected to join in but then the girls helped with unpacking returns and occasional de-soldering and checking test routines prepared by the engineers. One big happy team multi functional team. So successful was the introduction of the machine that other departments became interested, especially as we had soon invested in an MPM or multi user system. This allowed the guys to have terminals and access manuals and low level, Technical tip ‘batch files’ that I created for them to look at. The JPM Sales administration team and the R+D specification team soon had their own MPM machines and I was seconded to Sales for a few months to learn relational Data base structures to create Invoices etc for the Sales department. This was no doubt as Anne Marie had left Customer Service for Sales and taken our forward thinking ethos with her, but thank God I still had Julia. To be continued......
  19. I have to agree with BF74 and point out that we often had to change pay-out structures during mid production run as it were. Glasses and perhaps bands were ordered and heads were banged on tables trying to figure out how was the easiest way to accommodate the new pay-out not only artwork etc but for the engineer on site. In this instance the little grey cells of BF74 were spot on and the 5 pulse cam was used to drop 2x10 coins, which was never truly optimal as if the switch dwell was slightly too small ( the dwell was what we called the width of the cut out in the cam ) if it were too small the slide would snap back, return too quickly and then clobber a token making it stick in the jaws. By the way Riche100 was kind enough to supply me with a WINNER schematic which I had been after for years and there on the bottom and due to a law change was a new pay-out relay and associated circuit on the schematic, with my handwriting! Now prized possession and framed on the wall !
  20. So here's a question coming back at y'all. How many of you were actually in the industry, just a thought that struck me. Oh by the way I am not a prolific writer even though I am trying to write a book, it's just I documented my life as I knew absolutely SFA about my dad and I felt it was sad so I jotted things down over the years which I am pulling on to make the gist of my ramblings. What am i going to do when JPM, Astra, Coin master and Gamesoft are over with! Good to banter with you guys!
  21. I can understand your view and the 'callous' statement, but we were all looking forward to a better future and we all though that the new guys were going to help us do that. They weren't exactly upstarts but professional managers with proven track records from very large companies in for instance, the Cosmetic industry, a Car component manufacturer and British Steel to name the few that I can remember. Obviously we would all have benefitted from a bigger and better company! It didn't take long for some of us to see through the bullshit, problem was the directors were being lied to and protected, no shielded, from the truth.
  22. Again, in 1982 aged 30 I was running game development (hard and BOM's) not software or electronics or Game dev just arranging prototype development, cabinet population, wiring harness specification, change control and phased introduction and of course latterly SWP. Hands off the actual gubbins and much more of a back room boy until the SWP pushed me back into the forefront again. By the way the job I was given was to replace Toss pot#2, nice raise as well as the nice chair.
  23. It's very difficult to say without any actual diary as such but they were not there that long, I don't think it was years TBH. It was very tedious and at one point I was looking for another job but I didn't really want to leave. These periods were very busy for me as I moved house 4 times while at JPM and my eldest was born in 1980 and the next in 1982 so I was busy at home too. That doesn't sound the way I meant it BTW, you see quite obviously as an ex carpenter and tiler the last thing I wanted was to pay anyone to work on my house, still don't in fact.
  24. Exhibitions, and one in particular! The first exhibition I ever attended was in Alexander Palace and it was an eye opener for me to be there and to be put up in a swank hotel in London alongside the directors! After Alexandra Palace the exhibition or the Amusement Trades Exhibition went to Earls Court and to Olympia and has since developed to be ICE or the International Casino Exhibition now that the Amusement Machine industry in the UK is a dim shadow of its former self. However around 1982 I believe, the organisers decided it would be a good idea to move the venue to the centre of the country and away from the admittedly archaic building which I guess looking back was not suitable at all because of the fire, and so it moved to the NEC in Birmingham. Unfortunately the organisers overlooked one of the main reasons why so many overseas visitors came to the exhibition and that was simply because it was in London. Fuelled with expenses, they could get from the exhibition hall in minutes, back to their hotel rooms and on the piss within the hour, if indeed they had not cleared out the mini bar before hand. The one thing about the exhibition and the trip from Wales was that we were all housed in the same hotel. Nothing had changed in the basic philosophy of the company and there was still very little us and them, that was to come but not from the original directors. I have to explain. Despite using one of the nicest hotel in London at that time, we were all housed there, the directors the managers the lorry drivers and the production workers that came up to assist with the moving of machine etc, everyone! The NEC was another thing altogether and Birmingham in those days was not the International Metropolis that it is (?) these days and it didn’t fit the industry and so it was that the exhibition was held there just the once. Again we were all in the one hotel, the whole team! Unfortunately and just some time before this historic move to the Midlands and this stage of the companies history, the original directors were trying to put “Names” in managerial positions. I believe this was to ensure that managers in top positions were seen to have pedigree and to prepare for the impending sell off which eventually happened although many years later and to Whitbread. And so along came four guys that we were introduced to over a short period, and who were taking or creating positions that had not really been recognised before and in some cases over individuals that had been with us a long while and that should have had the job. I will not name them here although their names still make me think of bull shit! The guys were all without question, from different ‘Blue chip’ companies and were all time wasting, egotistical toss pots. They were professional, disciplined, experienced ass licker's dropped into a highly flexible yet hugely successful company and they were actually like fish out of water, and their response was? Try and drown everyone else with their ill fitting methodology. I won’t go into the arguments, the show downs and the crap we had to go through or the number of stupid Memos that we started to sink under (no emails yet). I remember getting one that was on pretty, pre printed, letter headed paper and came from “The Desk of Toss Pot #1” (That’s my substitution to maintain anonymity by the way!) Suffice to say that on the morning of this particular exhibition, thanks to their cumulative cock ups and as the ‘Stand Manager’ of the exhibition set up I faced the following scenario. The first lorry arrived and having prepared our stand and that of our distributors I had all my guys bright eyed and bushy tailed ready and waiting as they started trucking in the machines on a procession of sack trucks. A long faced member of the production staff trucked in the first one and I glared at the sheet of A4 paper stuck to the front which went something like:- “The Print supplier had a problem - no reel bands - to follow” “Oh well put it in place we can deal with that later” or words to that affect I guess I must have said as the second machine came towards me again bearing another A4 sheet of bad news. “No Eproms - Programme to follow” Um…. Third one came in “No power supply - to follow” And so it went on. By the time we had unloaded the lorries and taken the machines and furniture etc to our own and the various distributors stands we had 46 machines that had parts missing from the 95 machines we were exhibiting. Just under 50% and the worst of it was that we couldn’t even begin to test some of them. I made it to a phone (no mobiles) and of course being Saturday it was difficult to raise anyone, however I did manage to get hold of Toss Pot#2 and gave him a discrete but fair assessment of the situation and politely requested, with due reverence that he please put every effort into assisting me! Did I buggery; I called him all the snivelling little s**t bags under the sun and told him to get his sorry arse on a train and get up to Birmingham with the missing bits for the poxy machines and as fast as his fat f*c**in legs would carry him. But of course, there was no way he could. The parts that had been delivered, in some cases incorrectly designed, had to be re-made which meant that suppliers would be working the weekend and the parts would be up Monday morning, just before the start of the exhibition and, this was a big AND, hopefully functional. There was nothing for it but to try and swap parts around from machine to machine and by mixing and matching, robbing our own machines for parts and making sure that all the distributors stands were as complete as they could be, we stabilised the situation by isolating and concentrating the problems as far as was possible, rightly or wrongly, to our own stand. Finishing at around 10:00 pm on Sunday night we tried to get a beer but there was not a lot around so we got back to the hotel all ordered room service and robbed the room bars We had already arranged to get back on the stand by 08:00 the next morning as we still had a of of work to do and just over 3 hours before the exhibition started. To say I was stressed is a slight understatement. When Toss Pots numbers #1 #2 #3 turned up they walked in and were all smiles as they felt their job was done. They were obviously happy in the knowledge that they had the answers to the current problems, accompanied as they were with all the parts necessary. They further made their accomplishments known, with knowing smiles and winks to the directors who had also turned up early having gained wind of the problems, from me. Eventually after brown nosing everyone of importance they came over to me and in suitably loud and condescending voices, and looking to the directors, said! “Right Frank, now what can we do to help you and your team put YOUR problems right” like it was my teams fault! MY PROBLEMS! WTF! Without a moments hesitation and I suppose quite improperly in front of all my staff, my colleagues, the directors, staff on other stands and whoever was passing, I practically touched noses with Toss Pot #1, lets not forget, ex of a large Blue Chip Company and shouted in to his ugly podgy face. “F**K OFF - Get off my stand and leave me the f**k alone” Numbers #2 and #3 turned to Ernie Beaver, Sales Director, who simply said… “I really think you should do what he says.” With that I emptied the boxes of parts on to the carpet tiles and issued instructions quickly to my team who took those new parts and fitted and fully tested each machine before moving on to another one. With only a few minutes to spare Adrian and I pushed the one machine that we just could not persuade to work into the back room. As we shut the door the speakers announced ‘the show is open’ and crowds started to pour in. I left for the Cafe after quite loudly giving my notice to Ernie and Jack and, I am ashamed to admit, broke down in tears. Sitting, shaking and weeping over a Coffee is not a good place to be at the start of an exhibition but I had honestly reached the end of my tether. I couldn't continue to fight against these odds, don’t forget this wasn’t the first altercation where they just would not listen to common sense. Whatever happened I could not work under that sort of pressure especially as it was brought about by such a bunch of w**k*rs and that is exactly how I put it to Jack, Alan and Ernie when they eventually came to find me. They pleaded with me to forget what I had just said as they had apparently already done so. They suggested that I should go back to my hotel room and chill reassuring me that things would change and soon. I finished my coffee, went for a walk, had a Marlboro or two and then went back to do my job, running the stand, meeting customers, answering their questions and leading my team. A week or maybe two later, many people went including Toss pots #1, 2#,#3, and #4. As an addendum to this tail. Toss pot#1 had once taken me aside after I had confronted him in an emergency meeting called as it was about product safety which needed immediate answers. I had both questioned, and then proved his judgement to be wrong, in this meeting that was with many of the senior managers and directors. He had said to me, while looking over his shoulder to make sure he was not overheard, that I was a nothing. The words he used were ‘nothing but a jumped up untrained nobody who was actually very clever at twisting the truth’. He told me over his pointed podgy finger and in no uncertain terms that he would see me out of the company if it was the last thing he did. Most mornings thereafter, as I lowered my arse into his comfortable leather and teak chair, possibly the most expensive chair in the building, I couldn't help feeling just a little sorry for him. No honestly. No seriously! 😉
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