BY CRAIG D. REBER TH STAFF WRITER CREBER@WCINET.COM
BENTON, Wis. -- Few adults play games at work. Not only does Charlie Emery, 45, of Benton, play them, he builds them.
The owner of Spooky Pinball, Emery crafts the games in a busy, bright and colorful workshop -- sort of like a young Santa Claus.
"There's no logical reason these should exist," he said. "People spend thousands of dollars to smack a steel ball around. I come here, build games, go home and play them (more than 20). My wife always knows where I'm at."
In February, Emery left a good position at Signcraft Screenprint, in Galena, Ill., after 21 years and "after much thought and debate," to pursue his dream full time.
Through contacts and friends at Signcraft, Emery built a new, custom game from parts of an old game.
"We basically gutted a game like a fish, stripped it down to nothing, into a custom game, just for fun," he said.
Emery and his son, then 9 years old, took the game to the 2010 Midwest Gaming Classic in Chicago.
Industry people started coming by, looking at it and asking Emery about it.
"'Why did our game look so good?' 'How did we do this?' 'How does your home-brewed look as good, if not better, as our production game?'" he said.
That's what spurred Emery on his new journey. It's a collaborative effort. Emery credits Andrew Edgerton, of Benton, who serves as a game programmer; Ben Heck, of Madison, a game designer; and Dennis Nordman, of Lake Villa, Ill., who serves as a consultant.
"Andrew is an invaluable resource and incredibly talented," he said. "We don't exist without him."
Heck designed America's Most Haunted, the company's first production game. Pinball Zombies From Beyond the Grave is due for release in April.
Emery calls pinball machines "giant Rubik's cubes of wire with infinite possibilities and only one correct way to get it."
He said it takes a special skill set to physically manufacture the game.
Emery has energy-drink confidence in Spooky Pinball, in existence for less than a year.
"The sky is absolutely the limit," he sad. "We can survive on low numbers of games, where big companies can't, because we're so self-contained. We do everything here. We do all of our own printing, our own play fields, cabinets, circuit boards."
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