Interview of Vpin’s legend : JP Salas

He is one of a rare breed of table designers who can afford the luxury of putting his name on an original table.

And for good reason, if the world of physical pinball machines has talented designers whose reputation extends beyond the borders of their country, the world of virtual pinball can also boast of it.

If you want to know more about JP Salas, this is the place to be!

Hello ! First of all, thank you for accepting this interview… But what should we call you, JP ? JP Salas ? or Papa Smurf ? 😊

JP, that’s perfect 😊

Ok JP 😉, first of all, can you introduce yourself?

I am 63 years old, and I am happily married for 42 years now. I am originally from Spain but now I live in Oslo, Norway. I am retired since last year, but for the last 20 years, I worked as a system administrator for the civil government in Oslo.

Let’s come to this common passion that drives us. Since when did you fall into it?

As far as I can remember, I discovered Visual Pinball in 2003. It seems to me that the software was at version 6. I had a great time with the tables back then. Unfortunately, the authors were disappearing one after the other. There was a lot of infighting on the forum (editor’s note: vpforums.org).

I don’t remember what they were fighting about, but in 2004/2005, it was almost no new tables. So, I thought “can it be so difficul to make these tables”. I started by looking at how tables were made. In 2005 I published my very first table: Williams’ Taxi, which had a script ready.

I made also a few originals, just to learn the editor. At that time I decided to make mostly ROM based tables because they were easier to make, since I didn’t have to deal with sounds, music, rules, etc.

Let’s get back to your gaming side… How do you play virtual pinball? Do you own a vpin cabinet?

No! I play in desktop mode. I have a pretty good PC with a 27″ screen and it’s enough for me to run all the tables pretty well.

And do you have a real pinball machine at home?

JP Salas in front of Star Wars Pinball (Stern)
JP Salas in front of Star Wars Pinball (Stern) during his last vacations in Spain.

Unfortunately no. I wanted to buy one several years ago, but I didn’t have enough space in my apartment and I guess my wife wouldn’t have liked this noisy machine in the middle of the living room 😊

Also, I had read that it required quite a bit of maintenance, so I preferred to abandon that idea and devoted myself entirely to Visual Pinball. The advantage is that there is 0 maintenance… but then, it’s true that there have been quite a few updates and quite a few additions to get to today’s VPX.

Despite the fact that you don’t have a pinball machine at home, do you ever play on real machines?

I mainly play when I’m on vacation. There is a kind of arcade in Oslo that has several machines but I haven’t been back there for 3 years, mainly because of COVID. Now that I’m retired, I think I’ll go back more often. But at the moment we travel a lot, one of the advantages of retirement 🙂

If you allow me, I have a question that is bothering me… Why did you choose Papa Smurf as your avatar?

I had a white beard for several years, and a forum member told me that I looked like Papa Smurf and he created an avatar for me based on this well known character.

The first avatar image used glasses, but I removed them in 2010 when I got an eye surgery and I didn’t need to use glasses anymore. I kept that avatar during all these years. My memory is not so good as it use to be so I don’t remember the nick of that person who made the Papa Smurf avatar for me.

You have been involved in bringing many table reproductions up to date. How do you choose the tables you will reproduce?

At first, I made the tables that looked more interesting to me, but it has been many years since I only make requests. Sometimes, I may want to play a table, and if I’m not happy how the current table play then I remake it my way, sometimes with my own graphics, if the old table has really good graphics, as I make the table just to play it. Many of my “JP’s…” tables go in this category.

Do you systematically start from an existing base or do you prefer to start from scratch and redo everything your way?

I always start from scratch. During many years I tried to make a few templates, but when I needed to start a new table, I found out that the templates had old code or graphics, and I dropped the idea of having a template. So just now I simply use an empty table, and I copy/paste what I need from my older tables..

Speaking of scripts, yours are known to be some of the best (JPJ, from the PP team, says it in my ear 😉 ). What do you think is the right recipe for a perfect script?

Oh really? I think my scripts are the best spaghetti code I have ever seen 🤣

More seriously, for a script to be perfect, one should be able to clearly identify each part of it and easily understand the logic behind it. I’m not really a programmer, but I happened to write programs in the 80s using languages as varied as C, Pascal and Basic.

But what is your favorite part of creating a table?

I would have to say that creating the framework of a table in Visual Pinball is my favorite part, fine-tuning the design so that it is as close to the original table as possible.

In second place, I would say: creating the graphics. But this part is a lot of work. I really like to use graphics that other members send me, especially when it’s just a matter of integrating them into the table.

On the contrary, I like less the sound and music part because I am not a musician.

You have created several original tables including the famous Ghostbuster’s slimer, Diablo and more recently It Pinball Madness. Do you find creating original tables more satisfying than reproducing physical pinball machines?

I really like making original tables,… but I also like making a recreation of a real machine, mostly pinball tables from the 90’s and up, as they may be quite a challenge sometimes. But I must say that originals keep me busy for a much longer time than recreations.

Pat Lawlor, John Borg, Keith Elwin… so many names of famous designers who made and still make the history of pinball. Do you have a favorite designer who serves as a model in your approach to gameplay?

I really like what Keith Elwin does, but my two favorite designers are Steve Richie and Pat Lawlor. I also really like George Gomez.

Generally, the tables you share with the community are among the most compact in megabytes and the least greedy in resources, which allows the most modest configurations to take advantage of them. Can you come back on this very personal choice at a time when lighting effects and 4K renders tend to make VPX files bigger?

All my tables have now 4k (or similar) playfield and plastics. But I don’t use huge textures on objects that they don’t need it. I try to keep the size of my tables as small as possible without loosing resolution or quality.

At the end of October, the IT Pinball Madness table was put online and is a great success if I believe the number of downloads. Can you come back on the genesis of this project and on your collaboration with Joe Picasso?

Joe Picasso sent me a message asking if I was interested in reproducing the Oktoberfest table. I told him I wasn’t a fan of the theme at all, but that the playfield design was pretty interesting. Then he suggested I use the IT theme instead, which I liked much more. So we got down to work. I started building the table and he moved on with the graphics.

Let’s get to the point that IT Pinball Madness is a retheme of Oktoberfest, you did the same with the Friday 13th table which is a retheme of Stern’s Godzilla (PRO version). What do you think about the gameplay of this table ?

The Friday the 13th theme was a request that was submitted to me. So I started looking for a cool design that I could add a cabin, a lake, some teenagers. Then I started planning the rules of the game. It turned out that the Godzilla board was perfect for what I wanted to do. I watched several videos of its gameplay and it was love at first sight :). I like to take well-known board designs and make them my own. It’s hard to compete with professional designers like the ones mentioned above 🙂

Is this the first time you collaborated with another table designer?

I collaborate with many people actually, they send me pictures ready to use, and I build the tables. People like akiles, pedator, halen, Carlos Guizzo and others. Those are mostly rare and old pinball which they redraw all the graphics themselves.

Of all the projects you have participated in, which table are you most proud of?

I guess it should be the making of all the Taito tables. Carlos Guizzo supplied hundreds of images and info about the tables.

To date, you have uploaded more than 400 tables (source vpforums)! I guess that’s a lot of hours of work. What is your secret to keep the flame burning and the desire to launch new projects?

I really like pinball, and this is a nice hobby to me. At least I get to play some machines than I could have never been able to play in real life. And yes, it is a lot of work, but it is great fun. After finishing my VPX updates, I’ll be doing some tables which I received the images, but mostly I do requests. So, it is not easy to say what will be my big next project.

Can you tell us about your future projects ?

When I finish updating my tables (Editor’s note: at the time of this writing, JP is still upgrading his tables to 4.0 or 5.0), I will continue to create tables for which I have been sent graphics and for which members have made requests.

What do you think are the most notable advances that have pushed our hobby to the top and how do you see its future?

I think what has pushed our hobby to the top is the constant update of Visual Pinball and the talent of all the table creators who try to make each new table better by pushing their limits. Of course, I am not forgetting other pinball simulation programs such as BAM for Future Pinball, or Pinball FX3 and Pinball Arcade. I think the future is great for virtual pinball, it makes a nice hobby for all, authors and players.

Speaking of novelty and the future of virtual pinball, what do you think about Scorbit?

I think Scorbit might interest some people, but personally I’m not that into competition…. But I guess that comes from not being a very good player myself 🤣🤣🤣.

I don’t think you are the only one in this case… including me 😅 #lowscorepinballwizard. For all that, is this a feature you’re thinking of adding to your tables in the short term and especially to the originals?

I don’t think so. At least not at this time. I’d rather wait until there are clear and precise instructions that will allow everyone to add this functionality to the tables.

So wait and see 😉. To conclude this interview, would you have a little word in particular for your fans all over the world?

Hum, I don’t know, just keep enjoying playing my tables and those of the other talented authors in our great and beautiful community.
By the way, I would like to give a big thank you to all VPX developers and table authors who keep pushing the limits of VPX and table standards!

Thank you JP for taking the time to do the interview. 🙏

Thanks to you 😉

Aetios
Aetios
Passionate Vpinball maker since 2016 and DIY enthusiast

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