If you’re lucky in life you might land your dream job. And if you are way blessed you may score two good gigs. But pulling a dream double? That’s off-the-charts, go-play-the-lottery good luck.
That’s how pinball designer Jack Danger felt when he learned that his second-ever assignment for Stern Pinball was to create a Foo Fighters machine, complete with input from one of his favorite bands. “I was like ‘holy s–t!’,” Danger tells Billboard about his reaction when Stern asked him to get to work on one of their “cornerstone” titles — the handful of big-name games the company releases each year.
Danger says the band has “followed” him around his whole life, with many of the songs in the game holding deep meaning. “There’s me working at Subway making sandwiches [while listening to the Foo Fighters],” he says of the inclusion of 15 memory-sparking tracks including “All My Life,” “Best Of You,” “Breakout,” “Everlong,” “I’ll Stick Around,” “Learn to Fly,” “Monkey Wrench,” “My Hero and “This Is a Call,” among others. “And whenever a music game comes out it really speaks to fans of their music,” he says.
While he might have had an initial moment’s pause about working on “another music pinball machine,” the thought of having a hand in adding a new bone-rattling title to the roster of excellent ones out there already honoring bands including Rush, Iron Maiden, Led Zeppelin and Metallica, sealed the deal.
“We wanted to approach this music game differently,” he says as his black cat strolls lazily across his lap during a recent Zoom call, shooing it away with the tatted-up knuckles on his left hand. “Early on, the band was so gung-ho, like ‘let’s f–king make this as cool as can be!'”
In fact, the only upfront feedback the Dave Grohl-led Rock and Roll Hall of Famers gave was that they wanted the design to be about the Foos touring in a van. That made sense, since Danger began his work around the time the group released their 2021 documentary about the topic: What Drives Us. It also helped that he was working with an all-star team, including Deadpool game programmer Tanio Klyce and artist Zombie Yeti, known for his colorful, killer illustrations on Stern’s Godzilla and Avengers Infinity Quest machines, as well as some classic Foos concert posters.
“‘I get those two to work on this machine? That’s a double-whammy! Holy s–t! I get to work with these people who made machines I love?,'” Danger recalls thinking about his all-star crew. Taking a cue from some of Yeti’s previous posters, they landed on a story about aliens — the Foos’ name was inspired by a WWII term for UFOs — pretending to be humans by wearing terrible disguises. That morphed into the final story of a fictional cartoon series, Foo Fighters Saturday Morning Action Time!, in which the Foos fight aliens and go on a quest to save rock ‘n’ roll from from a mysterious alien overlord and his robot army.
The end result includes a backglass (the upright portion that faces the player) in which a giant alien holds the band’s members in his outstretched hand as Grohl leaps out of a space ship and illustrations on the sides of the cabinet of the Foos in their tricked-out van, with late drummer Taylor Hawkins rocking out in the front seat next to keyboard player Rami Jaffee; those three, as well as guitarists Pat Smear, Chris Shiflett and bassist Nate Mendel, offered creative input on the two-years-in-the-making game and are featured all over the cabinet.
Erik Wurtenberger, co-founder of Cincinnati’s annual Pincinnati pinball tournament and show — where pinheads can play everything from vintage machines to the latest models — says he hasn’t had a chance to play the Foos game yet, but he’s very eager to get his hands on it. “It looks very promising,” he says. He also says that the current crop of rock games from Stern are all “very good. From Rush to AC/DC, Metallica, KISS, Aerosmith, etc., Stern has done a fantastic job making these games.”
Wurtenberger says the rock games have all done very well at Pincinnati and titles like the Foos one are definitely bringing more people to pinball.
Danger, 42, began to turn heads in the pinball world nearly a decade ago when he helped pioneer the notion of streaming pinball play on Twitch under his nom-de-play, Dead Flip, including making suggestions to manufacturers about what would make their gameplay even better. Those videos caught the attention of Stern after Danger posted about his first home-brewed pinball design, which led to a job offer from Stern EVP/Chief Creative Officer George Gomez.
“I had built the resume that every designer needs to get a job, so they asked me to do this Jurassic Park home model and that sold pretty well,” says Danger of his first design. So, 14 months ago he began working on the Foos machine and, he says proudly, “we spoke with them and they were all in on any weird-ass thing we came up with.”
As for the songs that made the cut, Danger says they needed to have the energy to match the action of a fast-moving machine, with each track carefully curated to keep up with the streaking silver ball and upper-deck playfields. “We wanted this game to feel like a Saturday morning cartoon… and everything had to be cohesive with what you’re seeing an hearing,” he says. That included bringing in Brendon Small, the voice actor and musician who co-created the Adult Swim hard rock cartoon series Metalocalypse to voice the game’s ominous bad guy overlord alien.
There were originally plans to work more closely with the band on specific aspects of the game, but when Hawkins died unexpectedly in March 2022 Danger forged ahead with their blessing and alien marching orders.
“There was a moment where we were like, ‘do we keep moving forward with this?’ But we decided to give them time to grieve and not bother them, but from a manufacturing standpoint we had to keep on the timeline,” Danger says. Even so, as the team forged ahead, Danger crows that it was, “nothing but ‘f–k yeahs left and right,'” from the band and their team, which might explain why the game has more four-letter words than your average title.
A Stern rep says the limited-edition version of the game (1,000 units at $12,999) has already sold out, but the premium ($9,699) and pro editions ($6,999) are still available. If those are too pricey, you can look for the the game at bars and arcades around the country soon.
Check out pics of the Foo Fighters game below.