The Slayer Lives: A Look Inside a Fan’s Custom-Built ‘Buffy’ Pinball Machine

IMG03Fans of popular culture usually show off their fandom in many ways: tattoos, art, pets’ names, original songs, cakes, etc. And since this is the Internet, land of the weird and home of the macabre, I’m sure there are far scarier examples of that floating around. But Dave Nelson is doing something completely different…something that has rarely ever (never?) been done before. He’s creating his very own, custom-built Buffy the Vampire Slayer pinball machine.

As outlined on his website,, Nelson carefully selected all the pieces to his creation, as if constructing his very own 314 project: the cabinet, the translite, the display, the art-filled panels, and more. The Buffy logo on the display even changes colors and the show’s entire opening credits rolls right in front of your eyes. There’s a whole lot of intricate programming involved, too, but I’ll leave the complicated stuff for him to explain on his site.

Nelson took the time to chat about this ambitious project that even caught the attention of Buffy, herself – Sarah Michelle Gellar. And like every true Buffy fan, he struggles in choosing a favorite episode!

The Littlest Winslow: Where did the idea for the Buffy pinball machine first come from? What inspired you?

Dave Nelson: I have been into pinball nearly my entire life. I credit this to my father who is also an avid pinballer. Growing up we always had pinball machines in our house to play, so it was only natural that I ended up loving them too. When I was old enough to afford one I purchased my very first machine and never turned back. I am a very mechanically inclined person, so I not only enjoy playing pinball, I also enjoy working on and fixing up pinball machines. For years I have dreamt of making my own pinball theme, but up until recently, making a custom pinball machine was extremely difficult to do. However, thanks to new technology, it is now fairly easy for anyone to attempt this. One of my other obsessions in life is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I love all things Whedon, but Buffy is my all time favorite, so it was only natural that my pinball obsession and Buffy obsession would eventually come together. Enter the Buffy Pinball concept.

TLW: What has been the most challenging aspect of the project so far?
Nelson: The most challenging thing so far has been what I am currently up against…the coding of the new software. I am mechanically inclined, but when it comes to writing new code for rules, sounds, and display functions, I am as green as they come. It is not something that is impossible to learn, but it is something that requires time and devotion to pick up on. Unfortunately, it has been very difficult for me to find the time to devote to this part of the project, so I decided it would be best to seek out help for this. If I hadn’t, it would be years before I would have had the time to learn the ins and outs of what needs to be done, and I didn’t want this project to die because of that. I was lucky enough to find a guy who is not only extremely knowledgeable in the coding that is required, but is also a big fan of Buffy as well. This is a HUGE plus as he can take my vision of how I want the game to play and utilize his knowledge of the show to make suggestions or improvements.

TLW: When it’s completed, what do you intend to do with it? Sell it, keep it, display it somewhere?
Nelson: This will be my baby and I doubt it will ever leave my house! Although, it would be cool to bring it to some of the local shows and show it off – maybe some of the local Cons, or the Slay-a-thon event that happens here every year. I, for sure, will be bringing it to the Pinball Expo in Chicago if I can complete it by then.

TLW: Sarah Michelle Gellar retweeted a link to your site. Any plans to try to get it in front of Joss or other cast members?
Nelson: I would LOVE for others that were involved with Buffy to see it (especially Joss), which is why I wouldn’IMG08t mind bringing it to certain events. If I could get pictures of some of them playing it, my life would be complete!

TLW: How much do you anticipate this project will end up costing ?
Nelson: It’s a lot! Pinball machines these days are not cheap. They can range anywhere from $500 for an old mid-70’s machine to $10K+ for some of the more modern sought after games. I am only about half way completed and have over $3k into it. Could I have built it for less? Yes. Would it end up being as nice as this one will? No way! I decided if I was going to build my dream pinball machine, I wasn’t going to cut any corners.

TLW: Have you done any other big Pop-Culture/TV related projects like this?
Nelson: Nothing of this magnitude. However, I did have some downtime during this project and decided to make a full sized replica of the BRONZE bar sign that hung above the front door of the iconic bar. That was a lot of fun. Since revealing that to the world, I have had requests from others to make more and have made 4 extras to date.

TLW: What are your favorite Buffy seasons or episodes?
Nelson: I have been a fan of Buffy ever since it first debuted. I was hooked after watching the first episode. I am not sure I have a favorite season, as they all are very different and brilliant in their own ways, but I would say that I prefer the earlier seasons to the later ones. Only by a little though, as I do love them all. My favorite episode…this is tough, there are SO MANY good ones. If I had to pick one it would be Hush. Everything about it is just plain brilliant. I love this episode so much that I even came up with a special Hush mode for the game.

TLW: How long have you been working on it and how long do you anticipate it will take to complete?
Nelson I started planning this project in October of 2012. A lot of thought went into how to go about doing this and many different concepts were considered. However, I officially started this build after I acquired the donor machine in January of this year (2013). So I have been at it for about 10 months so far. This is all just in my spare time though. I have a full time job, a wife, and two young daughters that take up a huge amount of my time, so this is why it has taken me this long to get where I am now. I would say that I am only about 40-50% through the project, and I hope to have it close to completion by October of next year, but only time will tell if that will be possible or not.

TLW: Lastly, when can I come and play it? 
Nelson: You are welcome any time…after it is completed, of course!

For more information, photos and videos of the Buffy Pinball game, visit Nelson’s website or Facebook page! And drop him a Tweet to tell him how rad he is, too!



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