Made In Australia: Haggis Pinball

It takes a special kind of talent and a lot of guts to take on the challenge of creating a pinball machine and a fully-fledged pinball manufacturing company. With good old Aussie ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit, Damian Hartin has done just that!

Like all of us, Damian got bitten by the pinball bug a few years ago, but unlike most of us, he decided to change careers and create a pinball company, Haggis Pinball. We recently played Haggis Pinball’s debut title, CELTS, which was a pre-production model. We were so intrigued by how this feat was achieved in a relatively short amount of time, that we had to grab Damian and ask him all of our burning questions about his journey to becoming a pinball mover and shaker, and what the future holds for Haggis Pinball. Kick back, relax and read Damian’s journey in pinball….

Damian Hartin – Founder & CEO, Haggis Pinball

AUSRETROGAMER [ARG]: Tells a bit about your career background, as we understand you were in IT before all of this pinball stuff? What exactly did you specialise in IT?
Damian Hartin [DH]: Computers and computer-related jobs were becoming a “thing” when I was in year 11 at high school. Being a subject I could get relatively good marks at without a lot of effort (something that was very appealing to 16-year-old me), seemed like a good career choice. As life would have it, my first job was in admin at a small manufacturing company in the town where I grew up, that was followed by a course in computer programming and then work as a croupier at the newly opened Crown Casino here in Melbourne. While working at the Casino, a position came up in the MIS/IT department, and I thought I should see if the computer course and my interest in IT were well-founded. I proceeded to spend the next twenty or so years working in just about every aspect of IT from Help Desk and Support through to network and system administration, software development, management, and consulting. About six years ago, I started up a professional services/IT consulting company and dabbled in Home Automation and Security. After deciding to shut down the Automation business a little over twelve months ago, I found myself in the fortunate situation of having spare time and income that was still being derived from the professional services business. Looking for my next challenge and something that I could be more passionate about, pinball, in effect, found me when I saw a Pin*Bot come up for sale at a local auction house, and the rest is history.

ARG: What was the spark that made you decide to make a career change and make pinball your new vocation? 
DH: After buying my Pin*Bot and looking into pinball in much more detail than my teenager memory afforded me, I began to realise and appreciate the depth of the machinery and hobby. Seeing just how many disciplines and how much creativity goes into making a pinball machine enthralled me. When I realised that it was a real possibility for me to make one, that was all the spark I needed.

ARG: We are intrigued to find out, how does a mere mortal go from being in IT to then becoming a pinball designer, mechanical engineer, software and sound engineer, manufacturer and distributor in such a short amount of time? From the outside looking in, it just seems impossible!
DH: I love a challenge, and I love to create. I have always been a ‘generalist,’ a buzz IT term I heard once that probably describes me a little nicer than ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’. The thing I love about software development is being presented with a business requirement from a company that there is no existing solution. That process of evaluating the needs, imagining a solution, and then working through everything that is required to bring that to life is addictive. It can be a complete pain and unbelievably frustrating, but completing the challenge is hugely satisfying.
When you look at pinball and all the aspects that make it up, it couldn’t be more of a perfect fit. For me, I focus on compartmentalising each of the tasks so they can be addressed in isolation. As I needed to learn everything from scratch, this meant that I could tick off items one by one and build up a more holistic skill set in the process without being overwhelmed by an unassailable mountain. When you then add in a degree of stubbornness and perfectionism, with a tight deadline, excellent support group, and very little sleep, then the war of attrition swings in my favour 🙂

ARG: We are aware that this is a difficult industry to be in, so what sets Haggis Pinball apart from others that have come and gone?
DH: While my intent from the very start was to build a manufacturing company, it was both essential and gratifying for me to learn every aspect of what it takes to make a pinball machine, and then set about doing just that. One of the benefits of starting small and with no prior knowledge was that I needed to understand every process intimately, and that let me simplify/enhance wherever possible. Being in Australia also meant that I didn’t have easy access to other pinball manufacturing suppliers, so I needed to become self-sufficient as much as possible. With a reduced reliance on external suppliers, I can make decisions and affect manufacturing outcomes very quickly to implement efficiencies in both time and money. We are also proud of our ability to offer customisation to our pinball machines; this will allow customers to effectively build a limited edition one of one pinball machine for themselves. ARG: We like the sound of that differentiation!

ARG: Is it difficult switching hats between being all business (as the CEO) to then being a pinball designer/creator? How do you manage this and where do you find the time?
DH: Yes, and I have no idea! Setting such tight deadlines as we did for TPF (Texas Pinball Festival) and Pinball Expo (Chicago)/ Flipout 2019 (Melbourne), meant that you don’t have the luxury of procrastination. Often, making decisions is the easy part, convincing yourself or a large team that it is the right decision can often take time. So, by backing my intuition and the opinions of a very small group of people, I forged ahead and just refused to be waylaid. I have been working full-time on Haggis/Celts since January this year, and my background in corporate IT has helped with identifying, prioritising, and managing the workload.

ARG: What has been the most difficult aspect in your journey so far in creating Haggis Pinball? Also, what has been your biggest sacrifice?
DH: Everything! Seriously. I love a challenge, and I love creating. Still, I have a very firm understanding that any undertaking such as this will be the hardest thing I have ever done, and will always demand more than I initially anticipated. Every single step has started with a question, “How do I do that?” which I then set about figuring out. Some tasks took longer than others, such as getting the geometry right, but each one presented a unique and difficult challenge. Easily the most significant sacrifice has been time. My wife and four year old have been incredibly supportive, spending a lot of “family” time with me working on pinball while it has wholly monopolised my life over these last twelve months.

ARG: Wow, we have gone six questions and haven’t asked about your first game, CELTS! Tells us how this game came about and the timeframe it went from an idea to being played at Pinball Expo in the US and Flipout 2019 in Melbourne last month? 
DH: I started the company in September of 2018, and Celts, as a theme, came about just eight weeks prior to the whitewood being shown in Texas in March of 2019. Off the back of a successful showing and some great feedback from the community, we set about establishing our supply chain, setting up a premise ready for manufacturing, and working through all the nuances of the playfield and cabinet design. In the following five months, we finalised the development of the whitewood into the prototype that was unveiled at Pinball Expo and Flipout 2019. So, in thirteen months, I came from not knowing how to open the backbox on my newly purchased Pin*Bot to starting manufacturing of our first Pinball machine; Celts.

ARG: We played the CELTS prototype at Flipout 2019, and without blowing smoke up your you-know-what, it really surprised us (in a good way) in how brilliant and solid the total package felt. What has been the reaction to the pinball machine?
DH: The reaction and feedback have been extremely positive. People have enjoyed the gameplay and playfield layout, and have been somewhat surprised about how deep the ruleset is for this game. The art and sound package are excellent, and the quality of the finish, we feel, is as good as any other current manufacturer in the market right now. We’ve also innovated on our cabinet design and construction methods, and people have been impressed with the complete package on offer.

ARG: By the time this interview is published, Haggis Pinball would have opened up pre-orders for CELTS – what is your goal with this machine?
DH: There were and still are several goals for Celts. One was to announce to the world that we are a manufacturing company that deserves serious consideration from the community when considering their next pinball purchase. Celts, in effect, is our business card, mission statement, capability statement, value proposition, and portfolio all in one. I would love to sell two hundred and fifty units of Celts worldwide and establish relationships with distributors here and overseas. The next few months will help direct the future of Haggis, and as the case has been over the past twelve months, we will address each task and each challenge in turn as we push forward into 2020 and beyond.

ARG: What is next for Haggis Pinball? Do you have other machine ideas on the drawing board? Will Wraith ever see the light of day?
DH: Right now, our immediate focus is on promoting and producing Celts, along with generating as many orders and interest in the company as possible. We have several themes that are candidates for the next machine, both licensed and non-licensed, including Wraith. We’ll start looking at that in more detail early next year once we’ve had a chance to fulfil our initial orders and plan for the remainder of 2020.

ARG: Tells us where people can find you and interact with Haggis Pinball, and how they can order your CELTS pinball machine?
DH: They can find us on all the usual social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube) as well as on our website www.haggispinball.com. They can also send an email to me at [email protected] with any questions. Orders can be placed via our website store.

A huge thank you to Damian for taking time out of his very busy schedule for this interview, we really appreciate it. It’s been quite full on for Damian as he has travelled extensively over the last month showcasing CELTS in the US and Australia, and also setting up the pre-ordering system, which had its launch on November 1. We wish Damian and Haggis Pinball all the success!

 

Image source: Haggis Pinball

 

 

 

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