Our latest travels take us to the south side of Denver, Colorado, for the annual Rocky Mountain Pinball Showdown & Gameroom Expo which is being held, as last year, at the Marriott Denver South.
The show opened to the public on Friday morning at 11am, so the set-up of the show had been taking place all day Thursday. When we arrived around 6pm on Thursday everything was looking good, with the first indication of a pinball show found in the hotel’s lobby.
The show is accessed via a corridor adjacent to the main lifts. This corridor takes visitors to the registration desk and then to the main show hall, as well as a number of smaller side rooms where the tournaments, the seminars and the console gaming areas can be found.
Outside the main hall is an area for VIP guests to sign some of their work or have their picture taken.
Inside the main hall, the set up of the games was almost complete.
In the background of the picture above you can see two of the newest games at the show – The Hobbit and Rob Zombie’s Spookshow International. But there are other new titles here too, including the Premium edition of Ghostbusters.
There is a side room to the main hall where more pinballs and videos were being set up.
In another of the other side rooms, pinballs for the tournaments were being prepared.
In yet another room we will find the seminars (or Pin Chats). These run across all three days of the show.
At 11am the first paying guests were welcomed to the show by organisers Dan and Holly.
It didn’t take long before all those previously-vacant pinball machines had someone standing in front of them, or in some case, a queue of people.
The largest collection of games came from Game Exchange in Denver who brought dozens of pinballs and video games.
Universal Pinball were set up at the back of the hall and also had an attractive selection of pinball, both new and classics.
There were quite a few other vendors in the main hall, selling machines, parts, clothing and game-related accessories.
Here’s the full list of the 131 machines at the Rocky Mountain Pinball Showdown & Gameroom Expo 2016 which were set on free play.
|Free Play Machines|
|*denotes machine was not working at the time of the survey|
If playing all these games left you in need of refreshment, snacks and drinks were available in the corner of the hall.
In the tournament area things got off to a slow start with just a few players choosing to put up their scores on Friday morning.
There were eight Open Tournament machines and a $50 entry buys 20 plays across any of them. Only the 5 highest-ranking scores counted towards a qualifying position. The machines used are:
|Open Tournament Machines|
At the end of the row were the six machines used for the Solid State Tournament and the Electromechanical Tournament.
|Solid-State Tournament Machines|
|Electromechanical Tournament Machines|
We’ll come back to the tournaments a little later.
There was a full schedule of seminars across all three days of the show, and these began at 2pm on Friday. Not all were about pinball, so we’ll only cover those which were. In addition we have audio recordings of these seminars available here to stream or download.
2pm: Ryan Wanger – How to Play Pinball
Ryan explained how he used to prefer playing video games to pinball, because video games were not random and if you lost a life it was because you had made a mistake. It was only later that he discovered the same is generally true for pinball.
He said he improved his play by watching better players at tournaments or on internet streams and learning their skills, with the biggest improvement coming when he mastered the bounce-pass technique where a ball is allowed to bounce from one flipper to another.
To demonstrate some of these skills he used a Stern Star Trek game with a camera mounted above it so the audience could watch on the projector screen.
3pm: Andrew Heighway – Heighway Pinball
Andrew started by showing a sequence of videos about Heighway Pinball and some of the recent events there.
He continued by speaking about the origins of the company at his home and the development of the first game design – Circe’s Animal House, which was later to be redesigned as Full Throttle – on the table at his house.
He showed pictures of the first factory they moved into in Merthyr Tydfil, their second larger factory a short distance away, and revealed how they had recently completed a move to a newer, more efficient building in Ebbw Vale, also in South Wales.
The pictures continued, with a slideshow from around the factory showing how the Full Throttle games are built before turning to the company’s second title, Alien.
After showing a video of an early whitewood, he concluded by played their most recent promotional video of gameplay on a prototype Alien playfield and giving away some Alien and Full Throttle posters.
6pm: Mark Gibson – Fun with Pinball
Mark explained how he first got into reusing pinball and arcade game parts by converting a Cue-T pinball backbox into an atomic clock which used the score reels to show the time.
From there he joined the growing Maker Faire community which is all about finding ingenious ways to make new products. He said he gained inspiration from old mechanical models used to teach students how various mechanisms work.
So Mark made a pop bumper explainer model to show how the ball’s interaction with the bumper skirt activates a solenoid to deflect the ball. A flipper demonstrator was followed by others showing how relays and then solenoids work.
Mark had brought a number of these explainer pieces along with him, together with others showing how mechanical horse racing and baseball games work.
At the end of the seminar members of the audience were invited to come up and try them.
8pm: John Trudeau – Fireside Chat
John told the audience how he first got into pinball when he got a job at Game Plan to do art for their game Global Warfare. It was there that he started learning how to design under the tutelage of Ed Cebula.
His move to Gottlieb led to his first game design – Rocky. John described how Gottlieb was eventually sold to Coca-Cola and rebranded as Mylstar in an attempt to integrate video game themes and characters into their games. However this wasn’t a success, so they ultimately decided to close down the pinball division. The company was saved when it was bought by the owners of Gottlieb/Mylstar’s large French distributor, Mondial.
Mylstar became Premier and John stayed with the company until it closed, before moving over to Bally/Williams until their demise in 1999.
After designing redemption games and even mortuary tables, he returned to pinball with a playfield design used in a Fox Sports baseball promo.
It was several years later that Stern were looking to expand their design teams and George Gomez offered John a job there, which is where he has been for the past three years creating Mustang, WWE Wrestlemania and now Ghostbusters.
The Rocky Mountain Pinball Showdown & Gameroom Expo officially opened to visitors at 10am, but before that there was an hour of access to the games for VIPs and those working at the show.
The seminars continued, starting at 11am with Ryan Wanger reprising his opening seminar from Friday.
11am: Ryan Wanger – How to Play Pinball
Then at midday, John Trudeau returned.
12pm: John Trudeau
He was joined on-stage by Pinball News Editor, Martin Ayub, as John talked about every one of his game designs – both production games and prototype concepts which were never manufactured.
They began with the playfield artwork he created for Game Plan’s cocktail game Kings of the Road and the backglass art for Global Warfare before coming to John’s first production games, Rocky and Spirit.
After covering the scores of production games and concepts he created for Gottlieb/Mylstar/Premier, they came to his Williams/Bally days, before looking at the three games he has created for Stern so far – Mustang, WWE Wrestlemania and Ghostbusters.
At 1pm, video game legends Billy Mitchell, Walter Day and Joel West held their seminar, but not before they made a special presentation of trading cards and posters to Holly and Dan Nikolich and John Trudeau. They were joined at the stage by Ben Heck – who would present the subsequent seminar – and two Stormtroopers from Star Wars.
2pm: Benjamin Heckendorn – The Ben Heck Show
Ben spoke about how he first decided to make a pinball machine and wanted the goofiest theme possible, choosing Bill Paxton as the subject. To make it he built almost all the individual components by hand, from the cabinet to the playfield, the display and the control boards, using his best guess at how it was meant to work.
He started working on it in 2006 but really made a concerted effort to complete in in 2009, finally finishing in 2010.
He teamed up with others to make his second game – Lost – which he said played horribly and was dismantled for parts. However, it was the game on which he began using 3D printed parts, something which continued with his next game.
Ben designed America’s Most Haunted, and built the pinHeck control system for it which is also used in Spooky Pinball’s Rob Zombie’s Spookshow International game.
He described the lessons he learned along the way, including not wasting time on game concepts you can’t sell, make multiple whitewoods before printing in colour, how the way a game shoots is all-important, testing all in-game toys extensively, and how it’s good to get a ‘bad’ game out of your system.
3pm: Gerry Stellenberg – Multimorphic
Gerry described how the creation of a multi-game platform stemmed from his ownership of numerous individual pinballs and the resulting space issues. Gerry has a background in hardware development, and he said in order to make a system capable of supporting multiple games, he needed to design and build a pinball controller.
When doing this, he said, it made sense to make it capable of driving all kinds of established game systems such as WPC and Whitestar so that it could be tested with a wide range of different hardware. This is how the P-ROC pinball controller was born.
This was further developed with the P3-ROC which is the system used in the P3 pinball platform.
He said, for their first full game – Lexy Lightspeed: Escape from Earth – he wanted a fairly traditional style of gameplay which wouldn’t alienate traditional pinball players.
Looking at the products from the current pinball manufacturers, he said none of them were significantly different from game made in the 1990s as far as gameplay or interactivity are concerned. He claimed the P3 system moved pinball forward, with its dynamic artwork, virtual targets, ball tracking, and its modular system.
4pm: The Pinball Podcast Live! – Don and Jeff
This special edition of The Pinball Podcast took the form of a pinball quiz, as Don and Jeff asked member of the audience questions about various aspects of pinball and the Rocky Mountain Pinball Showdown.
Four categories of five questions made up the quiz, and these were followed by several ‘name the game’ audio clues with instant prizes for those who recognised the music or sound samples.
Then the results of the quiz were then announced, although modesty prevents us revealing exactly who won the top prize.
You can play along with their Pinball Quiz in our recording below.
6pm: A Hobbit’s Tale – Butch Peel
Butch described how pinball has been so therapeutic to him and how he can’t wait to retire from his full-time job to spend more time working at Jersey Jack Pinball.
He says the company is financially stable with new investors and The Hobbits rolling off the production line to be shipped to customers. Butch showed pictures of happy buyers receiving their games from Jack.
Butch then talked more about the game, playing a selection of audio samples recovered from the movie by sound designer David Thiel and use in the game, before launching into a detailed description of the rules, from the multiple skill shots available at the start of each ball through how to qualify the main multiball mode and a look at all 31 of the in-game modes.
7pm: Hiding Your Gun while Drunk and Barenaked – Jim Schelberg
This latest edition of Jim’s ‘Pinball in the Media’ series featured the Pingame Journal editor showing a series of video clips, all of which include pinball or references to pinball in various guises.
The title references an episode of X-Men, the Drunk History series, and Barenaked Ladies Silverball album and single, all of which were included in Jim’s presentation.
Because this seminar was a video presentation, our audio recording only consists of Jim’s introduction.
Saturday evening was the time for the finals of the main Open tournament at the show. Unfortunately, after a full day of seminars, it was also our only chance to get something to eat. So while we were admiring the scene (if not the food) at the ViewHouse sports bar, the qualifiers in the Open tournament were hard at it back at the Marriott.
The Open this year used a new format where, for a $50 entry fee, competitors could play 20 games on any or all of the 8 qualifying machines. Their scores on each machine were ranked, with the top 16 players qualifying for the play-offs. Qualifying ran from 11am until 10pm on Friday, and from 10am until 6pm on Saturday.
With each player only allowed a limited number of games queues were not bad, and when coupled with the Drains Tournament Manager system, it appeared to be a much more relaxed qualifying session. Sadly, lack of time meant we were not able to compete in the Open ourselves.
So the top 16 who qualified for the play-offs were:
|Open Tournament Qualifiers|
The 16 qualifiers played on four groups of four, with each group playing three games on three different machines using a 4-2-1-0 scoring system. The top two from each group then moved on to the semi-finals.
The same system was used in the semi-finals, to produce the final four who were, Donovan Stepp, Brian Pedersen, Escher Lefkoff and Kevin McCarthy.
The final was played on Kiss, Indianapolis 500 and AC/DC. Escher won on Kiss, Kevin won on Indy 500 and Donovan won on AC/DC. But it was Donovan with 7 points who won overall, ahead of Escher on 6 points, Kevin on 5 points and Brian on 4 points.
There were four more seminars on Sunday. Three of these related to video game development and play techniques, while the fourth was a reprise of Andrew Heighway’s seminar from Friday.
More tournaments concluded on Sunday as well. There were competition held on the three solid-state machines and the three electromechanical games.
Qualifying for these took place all day Friday and Saturday, with an extra qualifying session on the solid-state machines from 10am until noon on Sunday. Entry for either cost $20 and provided 8 games which could be played on any of the three machines used in each tournament. The best two ranking scores counted towards a player’s qualifying position.
The top 8 players in each tournament qualified to play in PAPA-style groups of four, and they were:
|Solid State Tournament Qualifiers|
|Electromechanical Tournament Qualifiers|
In the Solid-State Tournament the final four were, Escher Lefkoff, Kevin Ryan, Adam Lefkoff and Martin Ayub. Next door on the electromechanicals the finalists were, Adam Lefkoff, Mike Brogan, Escher Lefkoff and Donovan Stepp.
After playing all three machines, the Solid-State Tournament final resulted in a 3-way tie at the top between Adam Lefkoff, Kevin Ryan and Martin Ayub. They played a deciding game on the randomly-drawn Pinbot. Martin won that to take first place, ahead of Kevin in second and Adam in third.
The Electromechanical Tournament also ended in a tie, although in this case it was for second place since Escher Lefkoff already had an emphatic win. The tie resulted in Donovan Stepp taking second, with Mike Brogan in third and Adam Lefkoff fourth.
In addition to the more formal tournaments held in the separate tournaments room, several casual tournaments for kids, parents/kids, pairs or rookies took place in the main hall. These all cost $5 to enter, except for the Kids Tournament which was free.
The show closed around 5pm, but not before a number of awards were presented for the best games in a number of categories.
The awards were presented by show organiser Dan Nikolich.
|Best 1980s Pinball|
|Best Modern Pinball|
|Best of Show – Arcade|
|Best of Show – Pinball|
And that concludes out coverage of the Rocky Mountain Pinball Showdown & Gameroom Expo for 2016. We hope you enjoyed it and it has made you eager to attend next year’s show in person.
Many than Dan, Holly and the show team for their hospitality, and we leave you with our exclusive Fifteen Minute Tour video walk around the show, taking in all the games, the vendors, the side rooms and the tournaments area.