I recently came across photos of some pinball machines that looked like playable pieces of art and I was so impressed by their strangeness and beauty that I contacted the creator, Tanner Petch, to tell me more.
Tanners lives in Battle Creek, Michigan, and I recently completed a graduate program in art in Buffalo. "The primary thesis work I did involve building an arcade," he says, "which included five pinball machines as well as some misc. ephemera like tokens, blacklight carpet, that sort of thing. I took some time after I graduated to get the games more ready for the Chicago Expo, and now I'm in the job market (most likely for a packaging design job)."
Sinkhole is a backwards game that borrows from the aesthetic of early pinball, particularly "wood rail" games from pre-1960s. The fact that it tilts away from you changes your experience a lot more than you'd expect and came from trying to question what were some of the very core aspects of pinball that could be tinkered with. In addition to the wooden components, the art style, playfield design, and overall theme were inspired by the esoteric nature of early games (at least compared to what we expect today).
Prometheus was the first game I made and is based on the part of the myth where an eagle eats Prometheus' liver every day after it regenerates. In the game, the player is the eagle, and the only objective is to hit four drop targets which represent four bites of the liver. You do this as many times as you want to, or until you lose. Rather than an individual score, the display shows the cumulative number of livers eaten as long as the machine has existed.
Trashland is the most complex game I've made so far, and the one still in active development. It's much wider than standard games, but also much shorter, leading to a strange, fast, and stubby game. The theme is about a group of four mutants and friends who live in an endless dump. Modes revolve around performing tasks to help your friends, eventually leading to an "Ataraxia" wizard mode once your friends are safe and happy. It's the most like a contemporary game in terms of the number of features and gameplay, and one I've specifically designed to potentially be available commercially (if a company were to want to manufacture it, that is). I'm currently in the process of making the next revision, which includes both an updated playfield and redesigned cabinet.
As for how I learned to make things, it's always been part of who I am since I was little. I would actually credit early Make: Magazine with being the thing that really ignited the spark, my first one was issue 8, and I would have been 12 or 13 (that issue additionally introduced me to Chris Ware, also incredibly influential). Once I went to undergrad I sort of fell into art as being a way to both collect all kinds of different skills as I needed them, and to be able to make all sorts of strange and complex objects in a structured way.
[Images by Tanner Petch]