Pinball Wizard Jessica Durbala '21 Launches Her First Game

Columbia College Chicago Computer Animation alum plays pivotal role in developing new pinball game that uses animation, storytelling, and a creative design to engage players and collectors.

When Computer Animation Alum Jessica Durbala ’21 first considered coming to Columbia College Chicago, a career producing pinball games was not on her radar. Yet this week, the company she works for — American Pinball— releases an innovative game Durbala spent more than a year helping to create.  

And now when it comes to pinball, she’s in. She’s all in.  

“Pinball is not really like anything else. It's a very physical game and there's toys and ramps and everything, and you're telling a story with what's happening with these toys, what's happening with this little ball,” she says. “And you're trying to communicate a story with the sounds and the animations and the text and the voiceovers and all of that.” 

The new game, Galactic Tank Force, features video clips and animations Durbala developed.  When folded down (see photo), it looks like a space-age tank that Scooby Doo and his mystery team might drive. 

Galactic Tank Force is sure to be a hit with the collectors and bar and arcade patrons who remain devoted to pinball games in the era of PlayStations. And for Durbala, it’s the culmination of years of hard work that started long before she came to work at American Pinball. 

Durbala’s love of video-making and design surfaced early. Her high school in Iowa offered an innovative program that allowed her to concentrate in video and design and participate in off-campus internships making videos. Introduced to Columbia College Chicago via high school classmates, Durbala became intrigued with the school’s film program and, perhaps even more so, its location. She was ready to venture beyond Iowa. 

But when she got to Columbia, she felt the allure of Computer Animation, which played to her interests and strengths in the more technical aspects of the creative process.  

“I took a big risk and decided to do animation when I hadn't done any kind of animation beforehand.” she recalls. “I'm not really a great artist, but I'm really good at the computer kind of 3-D animation.” 

Durbala soon found that computer animation came easily to her. 

“And I just kind of rolled with that,” she says. “And I really got into motion design and 3-D animation.” 

Having interned in high school, she continued to get hands-on experiences with internships during college, and she also freelanced. On track to graduate in just three years, Durbala would spend what free time she had during college exploring Chicago and enjoying Chicago landmarks like the Music Box Theater and Wrigley Field.   

And thanks to a little help from her friends at Columbia, she quickly found a job at American Pinball after graduation. The Career Center helped her fine tune her resume and demo reel, and Associate Professor James Rohn connected her with the art director at American Pinball. 

Looking forward to seeing people outside her company playing the game she helped produce, Durbala hopes to continue working in the pinball industry and at American Pinball in particular. 

“I have a lot of creative freedom and I really like it, and so I want to stick with this and see how long it lasts,” she says. “I've really gotten to love pinball. It's very niche, but I really like it because it’s not as big as those other video game studios, but it's still insanely creative.”