King of Excellent (according to Scaryduck)

Thursday, November 18

They say the average man has 3 career changes in his lifetime...

... so here's a chapter of my life that was a career I hated. Not because of the work, but because of the plebs that worked in the industry.

I left college wanting to get into embedded programming and designing of electronics. I got a proper job, designing a vending machine for hot food. The machine was a huge success, but to be honest it's success was it's downfall. Even to this day it is a rare beast to behold, but I still consider it one of the greatest innovations of modern times; a machine that gives you burger and chips in ninety seconds.

Anyway, I got the chance to go and work in a large fruit machine manufacturer called Barcrest in the outskirts of Manchester. They paid for me and the family to relocate, and it seemed like a good idea at the time. I started off there as a lowly programmer, mostly with delightful tasks like writing what is termed the "Zero Credit Attract." That hypnotic flashing of lights that slowly but surely does your head in when you are sat in a pub.

I got my first proper task after about 3 months of this. I was asked to work on a machine called "Viva Las Vegas" and the machine was very successful. My appraisal time was shortly after this was done, and I made a point that I would like to do a complete machine. I started to work on a huge Spanish seller called "Escalera Tobogan" (Ladders and slides, like snakes and ladders) and then got to convert Viva Las Vegas into a Spanish market.

All very boring.

I lightened up my time by getting involved with the sound of the machines. There was a nice guy in Barcrest called Paul Williams, and his studio was right smack bang in the middle of the development area so you could not fail to hear the machine sounds he was working on. He showed me how the sounds were made, using lots of very expensive keyboards etc and then burned onto sound chips ready to go into machines. I left the company a few months later. Not because of the workload, or stress, but because whoever says northerners are friendly people never met any of the staff in this place. Racism is alive and well, and working for a fruit machine developer's in Manchester. It makes me sound so ignorant saying that, but even long term staff from the south got grief and it wasn't just friendly banter. It was sometimes downright offensive. Still it was their loss.

I ended up heading south to a new operation of an old company, that had moved to Telford (that concrete council estate on the edge of the Midlands) called Ace Coin Equipment. Ace had just been taken over by JPM who in turn now bowed to the Gods of Japan called Sega. This meant many trips were taken to JPM's head office just outside Birmingham International Airport to see what they have been doing. At the time Ace had no sound studio at all, and they were getting JPM's sound guy to make all the sampled sounds for them. A lesser known fact about Ace was that they had the license for TV Soap Emmerdale. In one of the sound chips can be heard the Brummie accent of JPM sound guy saying "Where's me fookin' sausage?" but this can only be found by putting the sound chips into another Ace machine of the same era. I enjoyed working with the sounds, so I took the newly acquired equipment, and in my spare time set up the sound studio. The sound technology wasn't very advanced, and only really allowed 30 seconds of sounds to be stored. I undertook the task of extending this. I managed to squeeze 160 seconds of sound into the same technology. This meant that now nudges for example had different music for each number of nudges. This was infinitessimily better then the same sounds that people were hearing day in day out.

I left Ace just before they were closed down, and moved to my present location in the back of beyond. A few former Ace bosses had set up a company making fruits from old machines, refurbishing them, giving them new software and looks, and selling them at a reduced price. Once again, I set about with the sound of the machines. The problem was I was finding the industry really had become an old boy network. When I started in the industry it was very common to develop a machine that sold 1000 units or so. This wasn't classed as a success, it was normal. Escalera Tobogan seems to still hold the record worldwide today. 20,000 units were sold. The problem is a success and all the bosses stand around patting themselves on the back, and a failure is all your fault. So as the market became saturated about 1996, numbers dropped. Nowadays to sell 500 machines is classed as extremely successful. I don't want to be in that industry anymore.

I quote my old boss at Ace... "You will never go too far in the industry. You are too nice."