I’ve wanted to make a machine with lots of coins sloshing about inside for a while - I’m fond of traditional arcade penny pusher machines. A pound’s worth of 2p pieces last a surprisingly long time and the excitement and wins along the way make the experience satisfying – even though you eventually lose the lot.


Then I was shocked by the reports in Private Eye (UK’s satirical magazine) about ‘Shell Companies ‘ with no disclosure of company ownership. After the 2008 financial crash there was some momentum to crack down on financial regulation, but it appears that instead the UK itself is now one huge tax haven attracting dubious funds from all over the world.


The city of London is an amazing sight with its fancy new buildings and frantic building work everywhere. I love looking inside the huge foyees which dwarf all the people inside – so bonkers. Its hard not to suspect these ridiculously wealthy city companies are somehow defrauding everyone else. All the extra cash from quantative easing (the polite description for printing money) seems somehow to have ended up in the city of London and its property. 


So the idea started as a tower crane standing between an anonymous city company and the financial regulators. Our regulators are spineless compared to those in the US so it would obviously be an easy game. But people like winning so I think the machine could be popular. I described my initial idea to an audience of computer game designers and afterwards one of them told me his day job was working for the Financial Conduct Authority. He thought my idea was tame compared to the reality. I wish I had pushed him for more details, but even so I was delighted he thought I was onto a good thing.   

  As usual there were all sorts of problems making the idea work, but there’s nothing I enjoy more than trying to solve these problems. I had decided to pick up the coins with a magnet. In 2011 our silver coins were given steel cores (solid copper or nickel coins were close to becoming worth more as metal than as coins). Although an electromagnet was the obvious way to attract them, I’ve had trouble with cables breaking internally when they are flexed all the time and without a big current, they aren’t nearly as powerful as a rare earth magnet.


My rare earth magnet picked up the new coins in a very satisfying way and I found I could drop them by retracting the magnet using a pneumatic ram. However, I had to make four prototypes before I got it to work well. The biggest problem was that after being picked up a few times the coins themselves become magnetic and more reluctant to let go. I never completely solved it but a thin layer of foam between the magnet casing and the coins greatly reduces it. When the magnet retracts the foam bounces back a bit and this usually shakes off the remaining coins.


I spent ages changing the shapes of the buildings, there were so many different factors involved. I thought I’d got everything sorted, only to find that the weighing scales were directly behind the crane so they couldn’t be seen. Later I tried a ‘simpler’ mechanism for making the regulators pop out of their building. To get this to work their building had to change shape.  It took a week, but didn’t look as good as my original mechanism that had only taken an hour or two.  


As always there are some good discoveries as well as bad ones. I realised the regulators could become more suspicious by making them pause, peering out of their windows for longer, to give the game an advanced level. The best discovery though was the glass case – it was so tall and imposing it transformed the machine and made it look as if it really was part of the city of London.


I tried out the machine on the pier for the autumn half term. At first I was disappointed that it wasn’t a people magnet like the pirate machine I had made a couple of years ago, but for some reason most of my new machines are ignored at first. However, I was relieved to find it was relatively reliable. I also gradually I realised playing it was sociable. Often one person would be operating the controls with others shouting encouragement to stop or go, because everone can see what's going on – it draws a crowd.