Family games night has taken an unusual turn for one family – with three generations of the Earls coming together during lockdown to build a virtual gaming machine.
After months perfecting their prototype, pinball wizards Ash Earl (41), daughter Lottie (11), stepdaughter Chloe (21), and grandad Steve (68) are turning their venture into a business and selling custom-built machines, featuring themed games including Stranger Things and Harry Potter.
Ash, a technical architect for an educational IT provider, says the idea started a couple of years ago, when he and wife Therasa were looking for ways to make Lottie’s love of gaming more educational.
“Any parent worries that it’s not healthy spending too much time on games, and we were asking how can we combine playing games with actually learning?
“We bought a Raspberry Pi, a kids’ computer which comes blank for them to code and other things, but it was a failure. Then we wondered if we could do something with gaming, we spent ages researching, and came up with building our own arcade machine for games like Pac Man and Space Invaders,” recalls Ash, of Long Sutton.
He and Lottie used old computer parts and speakers, plus a few extra bits ordered new, to build the machine, with Lottie getting involved in wiring it up, while Steve’s practical skills were called on to build a case.
When lockdown hit last year, they decided to go one step further and make a virtual pinball machine after seeing others online.
“They’re really popular in Australia and America and as soon as I showed Lottie, her eyes lit up. We used an old TV screen and laptop and followed guides on You Tube, both of us learning all the time,” Ash adds.
“There were lots of discussion over the phone and meeting up, talking over the fence with my dad, as we were still in lockdown. But it’s been great. Chloe’s become involved too. I’ve bought an old-fashioned pinball machine to see how it works and she’s helped repair and clean that.”
The family’s love of crafting, creating and gaming has really come together with the girls taking the lead in launching a business – Early Gamers – to sell their machines, onto which multiple games can be downloaded.
Lottie has built a website and they’ve teamed up with Long Sutton business VR Zone, where their first table is available for people to try and see if they can make it onto the scoreboard.
Ash added: “The feedback has been great so far. We’ve invested in a 3D printer, to try and make some of the parts more cost effectively ourselves and are learning different things all the time – Lottie is teaching me lots of things too! She’s got a great entrepreneurial spirit which we want to encourage. My dad used to be a draughtsman and is teaching himself new skills, having bought a CAM machine so he can manufacture the cases.
“It’s great that something good has come out of lockdown – we’re closer now than we ever have been as a family as this is something we all do together.”
lTo find out more about the family’s virtual pinball machines – and order your own custom-built cabinet – visit www.earlygamers.co.uk