Barenaked Ladies' Ed Robertson knew exactly what a Rush game needed to be when the group and Stern Pinball enlisted him as creative director for the company's new line of machines dedicated to the Canadian trio.

"I wanted the game to appeal to the hardcore Rush nerd as well as the hardcore pinball nerd," Robertson, an enthusiast and avid machine collector himself, tells UCR. "It needed to be fast, fun, challenging. And then the software and the coding need to do justice to the intensity of the band. The machine has to embrace the complexity and intensity and authenticity — and the humor – that's all part of Rush."

Stern announced the three Rush machines — Pro, Premium and Limited Edition models, priced $6,899-$11,099 — during early January and premiered them at the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas. The games feature 16 Rush songs spanning two hours, including hits such as "Tom Sawyer," "Freewill," "Subdivisions" and "The Spirit of Radio" and deep cuts like "Headlong Flight" and the sidelong epics "3112" and "Cygnus X-1." The state-of-the-art games also include Stern's Insider Connected interactive system, which allows players around the world to engage with each other. (Photos of the game can be viewed down below.)

Robertson was initially approached by Rush's Geddy Lee, a friend who'd inducted BNL into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2018. "He said, 'Hey, we're being approached by people to do a pinball machine, and we don't really know anything about them. Can you tell us what we should be looking for?'" Robertson recalls. His detailed response to Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson led to the duo's insistence to Stern that Robertson be on board.

"So I was kind of involved from before the beginning of the machine, really, and I've been involved every step of the way," Robertson says. "I was able to choose the game designer [John Borg] and the software coders [Tim Sexton and Raymond Davidson], and I've really kind of been the go-to guy between Stern and the band, explaining pinball stuff to the band and explaining rock 'n' roll stuff to the Stern team." Robertson notes, however, that Borg, who's done Metallica and The Walking Dead machines, among others, for Stern, is "an old school rock 'n' roller and a huge Rush fan, on top of that," while the younger coders were turned into Rush fans during the process.

Music selection was integral to the game, and Robertson says that process was as intense as the playing. "It was a back and forth between Geddy and Alex and myself," he explains. "I said to the guys, 'Well, pick 20 Rush songs that are just absolutely bangers. This is not a list to show the depth and breadth of the career of Rush. When you push start on a pinball machine, you want to go, 'Oh fuck yes, this is gonna be awesome!' So pick songs with that in mind.'

We each went and picked 20 songs, and 15 of the songs we had in common. I said, 'Well, that's the core list,' and we did a shoot-out between our remaining tracks and ended up at the final 16-track list." The last choice, according to Robertson, was "La Villa Strangiato" from 1978's Hemispheres album, which eked out ahead of "YYZ."

"I think a lot of fans would have loved to see 'YYZ' in the machine, myself included, but I had to ultimately agree with Geddy and Alex that 'La Villa Strangiato' is the better instrumental," Robertson says. "The list of songs that should've been included is endless, but we have to be happy with the fact that of the 16 songs we chose, none of them shouldn't be in the game. There are lots of songs, like, 'Ah, I wish 'Trees' was in it, I wish 'YYZ' was in it, I wish 'Cinderella Man' was in it – that's a personal favorite of mine. But we had to choose 16 songs that were out-and-out bangers and that's certainly this list."

In addition to the songs, Lee and Lifeson recorded more than 800 lines of dialogue that are included in the game, some scripted and others improvised during a five-hour session in Toronto. "It was a ton of fun in the studio, just five hours of us busting each other’s balls and having a good time," Robertson recalls. "Any Rush fan knows that Rush takes their music and their records and their recording and their performance deadly serious. The music is as serious as a heart attack. But the band has never taken themselves very seriously, and if you go to a Rush show there's always been a lot of humor. So that's part of [the game], too."

As the Rush machine rolls out, Robertson acknowledges that his appetite is whetted to do more games — maybe even one for BNL "if I keep twisting [Stern's] arms, if I keep pressuring and threatening them, maybe." But, Robertson adds, he'd be up for most anything in the future.

"I loved the process and I've been tight with the guys at Stern for many years, so I wouldn't be shocked if you saw me involved in another project down the road," he says. "This has been a dream project for me, the fusing of my two passions. And to work closely with Geddy and Alex through the whole process has been such a great time."

See Rush's New Pinball Game

The Canadian trio become the latest rock stars to get their own pinball machine.