Southern California has a new ‘retro’ pinball and video game spot that focuses on the way arcades existed in a now-bygone era, without the domination of prize and/or ticket redemption games that are now the norm.
And that’s exactly how owner Bob Elson envisioned his place from the very beginning, with special emphasis on a family-friendly environment that preserves that same fun and magic that people fondly remember.
The appropriately-named Retrovolt Arcade is located in Calimesa, California, about 75 miles east of downtown Los Angeles (less than a 90-minute drive depending on the time of day). The arcade first opened in April 2017 in the neighboring town of Mentone but was forced into a 3-month-long relocation to its present site because of zoning issues at the original location.
As of this writing, the arcade is open for business four days a week (Thursday thru Sunday); doors open at 4pm Thu & Fri, 12 noon Sat & Sun, and close nightly at 11pm (9pm Sunday).
Retrovolt at present has approximately twenty-three pinballs and forty video games, all set on free play. Admission into the arcade is $10 (€8.47/£7.57) per hour per person, for unlimited play. Currently this is the only rate offered (no half-hours, child rates, etc.), but Bob says this may change in the future as the business gets more established.
Upon pre-paying your time at the front door, you are given a large white sticker (like the kind used for address labels) that has your “end” time written on it with a Sharpie, and you apply this sticker to the front of your shirt. Customers’ time is overseen using a large LED digital clock that hangs high over the front counter, and the Retrovolt employees walk the floor at regular intervals, letting people know their time is up as is necessary. Additional time can be purchased anytime at the front counter (up until one hour before closing, obviously).
The pinball lineup focuses on late-’70s to mid-’90s solid state pins, with some variation either way. The newest games presently on site are Star Trek and Ghostbusters (both Pro models).
The pins have all had considerable cleanup and restoration work done on them, resulting in very good overall playability. (One small example that caught my eye was the presence of a brand-new ‘Dunk the Dummy’ drop target on the 1985 Williams Comet pinball.) Several of the older pins have had their bulbs changed out to LEDs and are, for the most part, kept true-to-form in terms of lamp color and appearance. (Attack from Mars looks especially nice in this regard.)
The current Retrovolt pinball lineup:
Attack from Mars
Genie (w/PI-1 CPU board)
Indiana Jones (Williams)
Lost World, The: Jurassic Park
Monday Night Football
Mr. & Mrs. Pac-Man
Ripley’s Believe It or Not!
Simpsons, The (Data East)
Star Trek (Stern, Pro)
Star Wars (Data East)
Tales from the Crypt
World Cup Soccer
The video games are likewise from the ‘golden era’ of arcades, and all the biggies are here (Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Mario Bros. and Zaxxon, just to name a few). A small handful are modern-day recreations and/or outfitted with LCD screens, but many are vintage originals. There was even one multi-game cabinet that had 600+ games to select from (I believe it was called Pandora’s Box 4.)
No food or alcohol is available on site, but sodas and bottled water can be purchased from a cooler kept behind the front counter. There is also a New York-style pizzeria next door to Retrovolt that specializes in pizza, pasta and subs for dine-in or take out.
Retrovolt Arcade offers a well-thought-out and well-done look back at arcade gaming the way it used to be, and this, along with the friendly and knowledgeable staff, is already earning tremendous player appeal based on reviews on the site’s Facebook page and elsewhere online.
For those in the Inland Empire (or anywhere else, for that matter) that were part of those days – as well as those that simply can’t wait a full year for the next Arcade Expo show in nearby Banning – Retrovolt Arcade is definitely worth a look.
The Tivoli Bowling Lanes are located in the lower level of the historic Tivoli building which was constructed in 1928. The building is located across from the Metra (commuter rail) station in the heart of the Downers Grove business district. It takes a sharp eye to find the entrance and a relatively long climb down stairs into the bowling alley area proper.
The bowling alley has been in the present location for nearly a decade, but has been steadily updated with modern equipment, a bar, a dining area and a game room that in recent years has included two pinball games.
I re-visited Tivoli Bowl in the early part of November 2016; I had some time on my hands before the doors opened for a screening at the Tivoli Theater of Eight Days A Week- The Touring Years which is a film directed by Ron Howard documenting the Beatles during the period 1965-1969.
Currently the Tivoli Bowl has Batman: The Dark Knight (Stern, 2008) and Pirates of the Caribbean (Stern, 2006) in the game room.
They are set to fifty cents per game or five games for two dollars. Both games accept quarters or dollar bills and both are set up for ‘tournament mode’ if the player so desires.
The pinball games had been relocated slightly from when I had last visited. This apparently was to accommodate some new games that were not there before. Unfortunately the pinballs are now directly under a very harsh florescent light fixture which casts a terrible glare right in the glass covering the lower third of the playfields. It takes quite a bit of concentration to “look beyond” the glare and see where the ball is at when in play. I felt that the glare makes accurate shooting quite difficult.
Batman was in fair to good condition and I felt that the free game threshold was set so that an average player with some luck could win a game. Everything seemed to be working on the game with the possible exception that the right overhead ramp would randomly drop the ball in the playfield instead of the scoring gate for no apparent reason. The bumpers and rubber cushions seemed to be quite lively and allowed ‘saves’ that might otherwise had not been possible.
Pirates of the Caribbean was in only fair condition, having a quite dirty playfield and some features that seemed to be malfunctioning. I suffered stuck pinball syndrome a couple of times and discovered that the tilt mechanism was set quite generously; fortunate for me! Overall this game was more frustration than joy to play correctly because of the need for some basic maintenance.
In summary, I feel that the Tivoli Bowl game room is a decent place to pass some time waiting for a train or a movie to start.
Perhaps next visit I will have time for a pint to help me improve my game play?
We have paid several visits to the Silverball Museum in Asbury Park, New Jersey, dating back to the time before it moved to its current home on the boardwalk. So when we heard a second branch had opened in southern Florida on May 28th, we started planning our visit.
It took until October before we could jump on the Florida’s Turnpike and drive around two hours south from Orlando to Delray Beach on the east coast.
While the Asbury Park museum is highly visible with its seafront position, the Delray Beach location is in the city in an area with less footfall. Pinball fans will need to search out the Museum rather than simply stumbling across it.
Walk through the entrance and the first thing you will encounter is the reception desk. It is here that entry to the Museum can be purchased, merchandise bought, and any questions you might have answered.
Entry to the museum is bought on a timed basis. At the time of writing, a 30-minute pass costs $7.50 (€6.73 / £6.00), while extending that to a full hour takes the price up to $10. $15 buys a half-day pass and $25 gets you all-day access. Kids aged four and under get in for free with a paying adult.
For locals there are several monthly payment pass options for $30, $50 or $100 which are also valid at the Asbury Park location.
If you need time to consider the options or just want to enjoy some refreshments then opposite the reception desk is a bar area.
The bar features stools reclaimed from the Howard Johnson cafe chain when they closed their locations. Behind the bar, the history of the chain is related on an illuminated sign.
The bar itself has a wider range of drinks, both on tap and in bottles in the two refrigerated display cases. They also have quite a wide range of food available in their menu.
But back to the Museum, and assuming you have purchased entry, you enter the collection to be met immediately by the older machines in the building – four woodrail games from Gottlieb and Williams.
As with most of the pinballs at the Museum, the woodrail games have information cards atop the backboxes as well as high score records in a number of categories.
The games on the main floor are then divided into six long rows. There is a strong leaning towards electromechanicals and early solid-state machines amongst the collection.
Many of the games have LEDs fitted which makes them appear much brighter than originally intended, but the warm white effect is more sympathetic to the original look than we have seen at some other locations. It also greatly helps the Museum’s techs since they don’t need to keep replacing burned-out lamps.
There are around a dozen dot-matrix games at the museum. At the time of our visit there was nothing there from the current decade, although since then two Jersey Jack Pinball titles – The Wizard of Oz and The Hobbit – have been added.
It’s not all pinball though. On the far side of the hall from the modern pinballs is a row on mostly non-pinball arcade games, including bowlers, shooters, pitch-and-bats and video games.
Meanwhile, at the back of the hall is a row of skee ball games.
Behind the skee ball lanes is another small room with a couple more electronic pinballs and the bottom of a staircase which leads to the mezzanine level.
At the back of the hall on the mezzanine level are four more pinballs and a bunch of video games.
From the mezzanine you also get a great view of the main floor.
On the mezzanine level at the front of the building is a second bar and yet more games.
At the front, a large shuffleboard greets visitors to the bar area along with some exhibition games from pinball’s earliest days.
To the left of the bar is another row of pinballs with some interesting examples, such as both Bally Kiss backglasses and a New York pinball which is a version of Spirit of 76 designed just for the New York market.
Here’s a complete list of the pinball machines set up to play at the Silverball Museum:
Abra ca Dabra
Addams Family, The
Big Bang Bar
Getaway, The: High Speed 2
Guns N’ Roses
Hearts and Spades
Hit the Deck
Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure
Monday Night Football
Roadshow: Red & Ted’s
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Theatre of Magic
Tommy: The Who’s
World Cup Soccer
World Poker Tour
There’s no doubt the collection is skewed heavily towards what could be called the golden age of pinball – the ’60s and ’70s when Gottlieb alone were producing a new machine every month and selling around 40,000 pinballs a year.
That’s quite understandable. Those machines still represent how pinball is remembered by a large majority of the population, and provide an easy introduction into the game for new players.
The challenge is easily understood but difficult to achieve, and in an environment where your stay is timed and restricted, playing a 30-minute game of The Lord of the Rings is liable not to give great value-for-money. In addition, these classic games continue to inspire features and mechanisms in games designed today.
The Silverball Museum in Delray Beach is a must-visit location for any pinball fan either visiting or living in Florida, and it’s well worth the trip for out-of-state and international visitors too.
The next time we’re in Florida we’ll be back, and making plans to stay locally so we can enjoy everything the Silverball Museum has to offer over several days.
You can find out more about the Silverball Museum at Delray Beach, opening hours, and upcoming events and promotions on their website at silverballmuseum.com.
Prior to the start of Pinball Expo in October this year, Pinball News was fortunate enough to visit the Churchill Cabinet Company factory in the Chicago suburb of Cicero to see how they make many of the playfields, cabinets and backboxes used in modern pinball machines.
Our guide was Doug Skor who is Vice President of Business Development at the company, and he began by relating how the Churchill Cabinet Company began, as the name suggests, by being a furniture maker. The business changed as cheaper, mass-produced furniture became the norm and the video game business took off, requiring the manufacturing of thousands of arcade cabinets for companies such as Namco and Midway.
The video bubble burst, of course, but pinball has remained a steady business for the company, and they bought playfield maker Lenc-Smith from Williams in 1996. In fact the building we were visiting at 4616 W. 19th Street in Cicero was the former Lenc-Smith facility.
Churchill not only makes pinball and video game cabinets and playfields, they also sell a range of complete games under the Chicago Gaming Company brand. This includes the remake of the Medieval Madness pinball and the Arcade Legends video multi-game console.
The company’s core business of building cabinets and playfields hasn’t changed greatly over the years, and upon entering the building it is apparent not much has changed in the reception area either. The wallpaper, carpet and sofa could all bear witness to the rollercoaster fortunes of the coin-op business since the ’60s.
Walking into the factory we were immediately faced with numerous boxes of completed games awaiting shipment. Medieval Madness remakes made up the majority but there were Arcade Legends games as well, with everything – and this is a theme we shall return to throughout the factory – coated in a fine layer of wood dust.
Walk inside a little further and the view changes from complete games to assembled components and finally to the constituent parts.
Of course building the cabinets and backboxes for the Chicago Gaming machines are only a part of the company’s business. Making cabinets, backboxes or playfields for other game manufacturers such as Stern Pinball, Jersey Jack Pinball and Raw Thrills is the bulk of their work.
As we walk further through the factory – it’s quite deep – we pass the playfield and cabinet panel routing areas.
One thing you quickly marvel at is the sheer quantity of plywood sheets around the factory – some plain, some cut and some routed.
Previously the interior of pinball cabinets would have been sprayed black – usually quite roughly – but they now have a black laminate which is etched away by the routing machine to improve adhesion when other wooden parts need to be glued to the panel. The outer face is treated and spray-painted wood as printed decals adhere better to that than to a laminate.
Pinball cabinet side panels are first cut from a larger sheet and then routed to produce the interlocking grooves, the flipper button holes, the screw holes and etched where mounting blocks will be glued and screwed to the side.
The actual method of building a cabinet looks a little ramshackle but it’s a tried-and-tested technique which has produced countless tens of thousands of pinball games.
The front, back, bottom and side panels are glued and interlocked before going into a giant hydraulic cabinet press which applies pressure to form a complete and very solid base cabinet.
There are actually two cabinet presses here back-to-back, allowing two cabinets to be made at once.
The playfields, meanwhile, continue on a separate line.
Once they have been routed they are examined for any flaws in the wood or in the routing. This produces a surprising number of rejects, all of which are stored in the Churchill Cabinet Company factory, although Doug said they would one day get around to clearing them out.
If you are wondering where all this wood comes from, the factory stores large stocks of Russian Birch – a name given to the type of wood whether or not it comes from Russia.
Those playfields which pass muster move on to the inserts room where every insert is hand glued and knocked into position. Boxes and boxes of inserts from Northern Plastics form the walls of the insert room.
If there are any imperfections, the playfield is sanded to level everything before it move on to have artwork screen printed on it.
Once a playfield is checked and passed it moves on to the screen printing room where the individual inks are applied by hand, one-by-one.
The artwork is traditionally printed using a CMYK process which has additional layers added to print white or other specific colours not adequately reproduced by CYMK inks.
Each ink requires a separate screen to be made. A screen is a semi-porous sheet which allows the ink to pass through in varying amounts in specific areas. Churchill don’t make the screens themselves, so before a screen is used it is verified in the screens room.
Once the screens are approved, they are used to print playfields.
Once all the ink layers have been screen-printed and the inks have cured, the playfields head off to be clearcoated.
Due to the noxious fumes we weren’t allowed in the clearcoating area, but we could see the results which looked very impressive.
Once the playfield is checked an approved, it is labelled and put in a shipping rack for the journey to the pinball factory.
While we were visiting, some tests were taking place on different mixes of clearcoat. A Ghostbusters playfield had been cut in four (yes, we know) and different levels of clear were tried on each part.
There’s no question that before the clear layer is added, the finish of the playfield is very dull and lifeless. The clearcoat brings it alive, making the colours far more saturated and vibrant as well as providing protection to the artwork.
As we headed back to the front of the building and the end of our tour, we grabbed a few more pictures of cabinets being built at the factory.
Finally, we were expecting Chicago Gaming Company to announce their second ‘remake’ title at Pinball Expo, but for various reasons that announcement didn’t take place.
Huge thanks to Doug for taking time out from his Pinball Expo preparations to show us around the factory and explain its inner workings.
To an outsider it might all seem slightly chaotic, but the company has been building cabinets, backboxes and playfields for decades and know their stuff. As we have seen with other companies, not having that kind of experience can lead to problems with the quality of the product.
Meanwhile Churchill Cabinet / Chicago Gaming seem very relaxed and confident about the future. After all, while new pinball entrants bring technological advances and novel game designs to the pinball-buying masses, every game needs a cabinet, a backbox and a playfield.
The Lake County IL ‘Meetup’ group hosted an informal pinball league during the Summer months of 2016.
The reason for forming this league was to elevate awareness of the locations that have pinball in the northern Chicago area, and also to enjoy an evening of fun with people who were interested in playing pinball.
There were a number of people who said “it has been years” since they had played pinball, and a few said that they were unaware that pinball games were still being manufactured.
There were in excess of 15 players who participated in this league, each participant receiving a ticket good for the drawing of a grand prize at the last event. The more events that they attended, the more tickets a player received.
The games and locations in the league were:
#1 March – The Addams Family at Lake Villa Public House (game now removed)
#2 April – Iron Man at R.J.’s Eatery, Lindenhurst
#3 May – Ghostbusters LE at Kristoff’s Entertainment Center, Round Lake
#4 August – NASCAR at Lighthouse Miniature Golf, Waukegan
#5 September – The Simpsons Pinball Party at Bill’s Pizza Pub North, Grayslake
#6 October – Metallica at Kristoff’s Entertainment Center, Round Lake
At the end of each event, a small ‘fun’ prize was given for high score of the night. At the October game there was also swag from the 2016 Pinball Expo in Chicago.
The grand prize was awarded following the October game. The prize was a translite from the Stern Pinball game Star Trek autographed by Gary Stern. Many thanks to Stern Pinball for providing this prize!
Thanks to everyone who came out to participate and hopefully raise awareness of places to play pinball in the northern Chicago suburbs.
This year’s Pinball Expo is looking as though it will be one of the most interesting ever, with a number of new game announcements or reveals, a packed schedule of seminars, and several on- & off-site events to keep attendees busy across the five days of the show.
We arrived at the Westin Chicago North Shore at lunchtime on Wednesday. The Windy City was certainly living up to its name, as clouds and rain blew through the city of Wheeling.
Setting-up for the show had begun in the Vendor Hall, the Game Hall, and in the tournament area.
Show co-organiser Mike Pacak’s stand was the first to be populated, but other stands and boxes of products were arriving. There’s plenty of time yet though, as the 14,815.5 square feet hall doesn’t open to the public until 6pm on Thursday.
Each vendor’s area is marked out with tape, along with a name place for them to use.
Outside the Vendor Hall, a familiar pair of oversized pinballs was being put together.
In the adjacent Game Hall, the free play pinballs were arriving and being assembled.
Just outside the Game Hall is an interesting exhibit which will form the subject of one of the seminars later this week.
Rob Anthony had established his little part of Pinball Expo with his Pinball Classics side room.
In the tournament area at the front of the building, the machines for the tournaments run by Trent Augenstein were set up and being prepared for the long days of competitive play ahead of them.
The Registration Desk for the show began at around 5pm on Wednesday, at which point guests who had pre-registered could collect their packs containing the show guide, tickets for the Stern Pinball factory tour, banquet tickets and their pre-printed name badges. Those who hadn’t pre-registered could sign up and pay for their show entry.
At 8pm on Wednesday the Bumper Blast party began in one of the many Westin halls. As co-organisers Rob Berk and Mike Pacak welcomed guests to Pinball Expo, a buffet meal was served
The meal was free for Expo attendees and consisted of salad, pasta with meatballs and sauce, roast chicken, roast potatoes, bread sticks and rolls, and apple cobbler to finish. Soft drinks were also provided.
Meanwhile, in a preparation room at the hotel, the Heighway Pinball team were setting up their Alien pinballs in preparation for the following day’s launch party at Twin Peaks.
Thursday morning’s events began at 9am when the yellow school buses arrived outside the Westin to transport guests to the Stern Pinball factory and the annual tour of the facility.
Unfortunately, because we had the temerity to question the $15,000 price tag for the new Batman 66 game, Pinball News was banned from the Stern factory. Since no photography or video recording is allowed at the factory any longer it is no real loss, but we decided not to try to sneak in after seeing what happened to another interloper.
Those who were allowed in got to see the new Batman 66 games.
Meanwhile, back at the hotel, we got on with setting up the seminars hall for the first seminar at 1pm. David Fix had produced a dozen large posters for the seminar hall and another six for the corridors outside.
We also built up the audio/video system for the hall.
We were not alone in setting things up, as the Jersey Jack Pinball crew arrived with seven machines for their seminar later today. We can’t show you anything more until their seminar begins at 8pm.
The seminars began at 1pm with Bruce Westfall and Scott Moehring.
1:00pm So… Can You Make Me a New Backglass? – Bruce Westfall & Scott Moehring
Bruce is a professional screen printer who was brought into pinball by Scott and investigated who was making reproduction backglasses and plastics, and whether it was something he could get into.
Now he has worked on more than a hundred artwork pieces through their company Outside Edge
The first questions they ask when asked to reproduce a backglass are “Do you have the rights?” and then “Is it worth what it will cost?”.
After that they need to assess the original art and then build the new art file. Bruce described how important it is for there to be a custodian of the artwork who ensures the quality and integrity of any reproductions.
Scott then spoke about the problems they face trying to recreate something when you don’t have the original assets such as films or screens or the same type of ink or when the item they are trying to copy has shrunk over the years.
Finally, the type of printing process has to be decided. Sometimes spot colours are needed to faithfully recreate the hues and saturations of the original, while at other times CYMK is used to give the graduations and subtleties required.
2:00pm Pinball, Politics & Pornography – Jim Schelberg
Jim was back to show a series of pinball-related clips, starting with short sequence from the original Batman series where Batman talks about The Joker acquiring a pinball company.
After that, a Victoria’s Secret fashion show, a Playboy documentary and a Demolition Man promotional video followed.
Jim then handed out packs of Maoam Pinballs to everyone in the audience before continuing with more pinball clips which included the Drunk History episode about Roger Sharpe, who was in the audience.
Because Jim’s seminar is largely video-based, we only have audio from the introduction of his talk.
3:00pm Really Funny Pinball Stories – Martin Wiest
Martin related how he has been a coin-op and pinball fan ever since he was a child. He formed the German Pinball Association and has been addicted to pinball ever since.
Martin has 70 games, but says he can only remember from where he got around 60 of them. He told the stories about how he came to buy several of them.
After that, Martin told the full story of the organisation of the 2006 European Pinball Championship in Munich, describing the problems they faced from construction in the area to emergency building work inside the facility to meet fire regulations.
He also spoke about the five Star Wars Episode 1 and four Revenge from Mars machines which were connected together with a modified version of the software Williams used for their Pinball 2000 tournament at Pinball Expo 1999.
5:00pm Up Close With Gary Stern – Gary Stern
Gary was joined on stage by Joe Kaminkow who spoke about how they set up the Batman 66 deal with Adam West and the promotional events they have set up to celebrate the launch.
Gary then described the VIP meet & greet they have lined up for Friday where guests will get to meet Adam West.
Gary then talked about the resurgence in pinball and the growth in barcades bringing pinball to a wider audience. He moved on to the move of Stern Pinball to their new Elk Grove Village facility and how that has helped their business.
Gary then introduced several of the staff the company has added in various roles over the past few years.
He continued by describing the different types of games the company makes – Cornerstone releases are the Ghostbusters and Game of Thrones types of games, Vault Editions are the Spider-Man and Iron Man types, while the Studio Editions are the Whoa Nellie and Batman 66 games. He also added the Consumer Level Spider-Man game, the Private Label Pabst Can Crusher, and the Contract Management game Medieval Madness remake.
Gary included the accessories the company sells to enhance their games – toppers, side rails, shooter rods, etc. – and the Stern-branded clothing, saying they try to cover everything pinball.
George Gomez then came up to talk about the development of the Batman 66 and the unique features included in the game.
Gary then addressed the problem of playfield insert ‘ghosting’ saying they would replace the playfields of the affected games.
6:00pm Who You Gonna Call? Ghostbusters – John Trudeau, Dwight Sullivan, Jerry Thompson & Zombie Yeti
John spoke first, describing how he had wanted to do a Ghostbusters pinball for a long time. He spoke about some of the game features and why certain features work the way they do.
Dwight Sullivan then took over to tell the audience about his history in pinball and the number of assets included in this game.
Jerry then spoke about how Ghostbusters was his first full game sound project and how he had to convince George Gomez and John he was capable of handling the entire game.
Jeremy Packer (Zombie Yeti) then talked about how he started working with Dennis Nordman on another project. Dennis introduced him to Greg Freres at Stern who proposed Jeremy draw a picture of Bill Murray to see if he might be suitable for Ghostbusters. He then spoke about his approach to the art package and the choice of themes and colours, as well as his techniques for creating digital art.
Dwight then introduced a feature called Quid Pro Quo where audience members could ask questions of the team after which they would ask a prize question involving identifying a small portion of game artwork.
John explained how the team works together when they are often in physically different locations thousands of miles away. He also described how he creates the three different versions of the game, saying he starts with the Limited Edition version and cuts it down to produce the Premium and Pro models.
8:00pm Designing the Future of Pinball – Jersey Jack Pinball
Jack began this big reveal of the company’s third game by thanking the many people who have worked hard to make the company what it is today.
Jack said they have gone from announcing a game and then customers having to wait two years to see it finished, to having one three feet away tonight.
The company is still making The Wizard of Oz and Jack said he doesn’t see that title ending any time soon.
He also said the final code for The Hobbit is going on the website tonight, and also announced a new Black Arrow Special Edition variant of The Hobbit with many custom details. The game will ship in November.
Jack then turned to Pat Lawlor, recounting how his games always made operators money and showing pictures of Pat through the ages. He said he never thought he would end up working with him.
He said last week he sold 500 units of a title nobody knew the name of or any of the other details, simply because it was designed by Pat and built with the team at JJP.
Pat then stepped onto the stage and thanked the approximately 25 people who had worked on his JJP game, before recounting a brief history of his time in the pinball industry. He told the packed audience how he got back into the business when Jack called him up and asked if he would design an unlicensed themed game.
He said designing an original theme is the most dangerous thing in the business as, if the player didn’t get what they were trying to convey, they had wasted several years of their lives.
But Jack was insistent that he wanted a fully-featured, packed game built without compromises.
He then introduced the new cabinet design for JJP game #3. The new cabinet has no boards in the base, it is automatically set to 6.5 degrees slope with the leg levellers all wound fully in. He has also moved the volume control down to the bottom left of the front which can be used as a master control or, for operators, only control the headphones level. The sound system has also been redesigned, retuned to make it more balanced.
Pat then unveiled his game – Dialed In!
The game has a slew of unique features, key amongst them is the ability to place a phone on the game’s glass and when multiball starts you get a special mode which can be played by using the phone to flip. There is also a player camera built into the game as well as a playfield packed with hardware mechanisms.
Meanwhile, over the other side of the Westin’s parking lot, the Heighway Pinball team were revealing their Alien game in a special launch party at the Twin Peaks restaurant, complete with free food and drinks. Naturally, that combination drew a large crowd.
8:00am Pinball 101- David Fix
David took attendees through the basics of pinball repair, detailing the tools he includes in his toolkit and the products he recommends as well as those he tends to avoid.
David showed videos of the typical problems he finds on certain types of circuit boards when he makes service calls or does off-site repairs.
Sadly, due to a mix-up over seminar start times we only have a partial audio recording of David’s seminar.
8:30am A News Perspective on Mods – Dan Kuschill
Dan said he first got into pinball mods when he bought a Creature from the Black Lagoon and was looking for the lighted speaker panel mod but couldn’t find one anywhere.
He described how he created recent mods for Star Trek, Ghostbusters, Terminator 3, The Walking Dead and Indiana Jones as well as speaker panels for 29 different game titles..
Dan said they now have around a hundred different mods available including LED lighting kits and EL wire add-ons. He showed EL wire ramp kits he makes for The Addams Family and Terminator 2 as well as lighted instruction cards in eight different colours and plasma-effect pop bumper toppers.
8:30am American Pinball – Scott Goldberg & Dhaval Vasani
Scott began by introducing the team of himself and Dhaval along with newly-joined team members Joe Balcer and Harry M.
He then stated that the company is not Zidware, but is building Magic Girl for Zidware. American Pinball intends to deliver them all to Zidware by the end of 2016, with Zidware then responsible for delivery to buyers and on-going support.
Scott said they are not ignoring the issues with Retro Atomic Zombie Adventureland or Alice in Wonderland, but how buyers of those games will be fulfilled will be addressed soon.
Scott said right now wasn’t the time for John Popadiuk to be at Pinball Expo. John is a consultant, “nothing more, nothing less”, he said. Any issues relating to delivery of Magic Girl and other Zidware titles will be addressed by Zidware.
Turning to Houdini, Scott said the intention is to have the game ready to deliver by the end of Q2 2017. He said there’s no connection between Houdini and Magic Girl, and Houdini will have its own cabinet design, separate from the Zidware cabinet.
Joe then talked about the hardware American Pinball will be using, saying it’s a PC-based system using their own custom boards.
Scott said he got into pinball from working with John Popadiuk at a toy company. Dhaval talked about his history in gaming electronics and experience in international markets.
Joe said their strategy is definitely for their games to be operated, and that’s how they are designing it, although they are very conscious of the home collector market. There will only be one version of Houdini, although they might have a limited edition collector version of future titles.
Joe continued, saying he came to the company last week and took over a 75% complete playfield design for Houdini to which he needs to add more features and adjust some of the shots. His role is not currently as a designer but to use his experience in the industry bring the Houdini game to production. The next time we see the game he said it will be a finished product and show the direction the company is going in.
He said the game is likely to change from what they have shown so far as certain features are changed or added, and the game is modified to work in the American Pinball cabinet design.
10:20am Let’s Make A Pinball Deal – David Fix & Phoebe Smith
In this seminar David and Phoebe played a live version of the quiz game Let’s Make A Deal where audience members have to guess the price of certain pinball products, with the closest to the actual price winning. The winner can then take the item or gamble on an additional mystery prize. The first item was a bottle of Novus which was upgraded to a signed Game of Thrones translite.
Subsequent items included a security Torx bit set which was changed for a bottle of used light bulbs and Krylon Triple Thick clear glaze which was swapped for a signed Rescue 911 translite.
Further prizes included a speaker light kit, a zombie head shooter rod, a heavily-worn Xenon playfield, a bottle of Wildcat rubber cleaner and a large bottle on Novus #1 plastic cleaner.
The final round gave away valuable prizes including a ColorDMD LED display, a Stern shaker motor, a full registration for Pinball Expo 2017, new pinballs and various T-shirts.
11:10am Keeping 300 Games Running at the Ann Arbor Pinball Museum – Clay Harrell
Clay owns and runs the Ann Arbor Pinball Museum where he had more than 300 machines set up and just added another wing to bring that total up to nearly 350.
He said the eternal problem with pinball collecting is lack of space and he never wanted to own games he couldn’t set up, but that brings its own problems and challenges.
Clay turned to the benefits and negatives of using LEDs in games, and especially their use in older titles. He said they never use LEDs in slingshots because of the strobing effect which can be noticed on some machines. He continued by talking about the types of rubber they use – white rubber rings and red flipper rubbers on 3-inch bats – because it plays better and gives a good indication of when the game needs cleaning.
He then looked at EM-specific issues, starting with the way playfield inserts shrink and then sink into the wood. He said they also add power switches to all their games which don’t have them so they can be turned off quickly in an emergency.
Moving on to solid state machines, Clay spoke about his likes and dislikes of each manufacturer’s hardware, how some are more liable to failure than others and where are the most likely points of failure.
1:00pm Pinball Magazine No. 4 and Upcoming Issues – Jonathan Joosten
Jonathan is the editor and publisher of Pinball Magazine and in his seminar he showed the audience a preview of the upcoming fourth issue.
Issue four’s feature article is on Mark Ritchie’s career in pinball, covering the games he worked on and the people with who he worked and Williams and Capcom.
Jonathan said he delayed publication of the fourth issue so could cover the many announcements made at Pinball Expo. The size of the next issue is likely to be similar to the third one as would be the price, and it should be ready to ship at the end of November.
Jonathan also revealed that Wayne Neyens will be the main subject of the fifth issue which he hopes to publish in Spring 2017.
He also spoke about the issue he was doing about the late Python Anghelo. Jonathan showed the transcription of his multiple interviews with Python which is already around the size of a regular Pinball Magazine issue without any pictures. Jonathan said the second half of the interviews is incredibly negative and makes a difficult read. He said he will publish it in due course, but he’s in no rush.
1:30pm PinSound – Nicolas Manaud & Timothee Manaud
Timothee explained why he and Nicolas created the PinSound board which is a replacement sound system for Williams WPC 89/DCS/95 and system 11C as well as Data East, Sega and Stern Whitestar games.
It includes equalisation and amplification on the board and uses all the original game wiring.
Timothee showed how the sound creation and editing software for the PinSound system worked before covering the advances the brothers had made in 2016 which included Stern/Sega compatibility, the licensing of new sound packages for Bally/Williams games through Planetary Pinball, and a new set of drop-in high-quality replacement speakers to accompany the board.
2:00pm Underrated EM Machines Seen Through the Eye of a Classics Master – Derek Fugate
Derek has been collecting games for many years but started with video games rather than pinballs. It took until 1988 before he got his first pinball and has been collecting ever since.
He recalled his visit to previous Pinball Expos where they used to have a machine auction. It was at one of these in 1994 that he brought two video games and three pinballs to sell.
Derek recalled the game prices and how cheap they seem compared to the prices games sell for these days.
But the main subject of his talk was about good games which remain under-appreciated. He named Baywatch and Goldeneye as two good examples, along with Gottlieb titles by Jon Norris such as Cue Ball Wizard and Surf ‘N Safari.
Derek then turned to the different ways he has acquired games, many of which he said had been by accident. He recounted how he was following up a Pyramid game for sale on Craig’s List and asked the seller if they have anything else for sale. That led to the purchase of the original Pyramid and another two games the seller had but hadn’t listed. Derek said this is a good way to find games, even if you don’t want the actual game advertised.
He said that despite the recent price increases there are still a lot of great deals out there if you dig a little deeper, along with some unusual or significant machines hidden away.
3:00pm From The Lost Playfield Drawings of Harry Williams: A Pinball Machine 40 Years in the Making – Duncan Brown
Duncan recalled how he was called into John Popadiuk’s office to see some late designs by Harry Williams which John hoped would inspire the team at Williams.
The designs were forgotten for several years and we trapped in Steve Kordek’s possessions when Williams closed the doors on their pinball division and, when Steve died at the age of 100, it looked like they would be forever lost.
But Duncan was tasked with working through Steve’s pinball possessions and found a couple of blue prints amongst the paperwork, but nothing significant.
Tim Seckel was in charge of engineering at the company Williams had become and agreed to visit the deserted Waukegan facility to see if anything could be found. Some paperwork was found and an agreement was made for Duncan to scan it all. These documents contained Harry Williams’ lost playfield drawings.
Duncan described them as ‘genius’, and said he knew these games needed to be built. He then had to decide where to start. He ruled out the more mechanically challenging and those which didn’t look like they would be fun to play. He ended up with Typhoon, the game featured outside the Game Hall.
4:00pm Alien Pinball: The Official North American Launch – Heighway Pinball
Andrew Heighway from Heighway Pinball was hosting this seminar with five members of the Alien design team – David Thiel, Aurich Lawson, Kelly Mazurowski, Joe Schober & Brian Dominy.
Andrew began by showing a series of Alien-related images showing how the theme continues to be popular.
He then played the promotion video for the game and some additional videos showing outtakes and the clips they submitted to Fox in order to get the game approved.
Andrew then answered questions from the audience relating to the cost of the game, the quotes used, the licensing process, the differences between the standard and LE models, the types of coin door used in Europe and the US, and the new cabinet design with recessed interior side art (illuminated on the LE).
Each member of the design team then introduced themselves and described how they came to be working on the Alien Pinball project.
5:15pm Making Pinball, Making Friends – Brian Madden, Aaron Davis, Dave Beecher, Jan Kantert, Quinn Capen, Mark Incitti & Gabe Knuth
Brian was the host for this series of three conversations about how making pinball games brings people together and makes new friends.
The first two guests were Aaron Davis and Dave Beecher from Fast Pinball who design and built their pinball control system which allows home or commercial pinball makes turn their game into reality.
Aaron and Dave spoke about how and why their company was created and how their board system is modular and makes the process of game creation much simpler.
Aaron said creating your own game is much easier if you start with an existing game and re-theme it, as all the geometry has been designed and tested for you, so you can concentrate on telling your game’s story through the artwork, rules, sounds and lighting.
Next onto the stage were Jan Kantert and Quinn Capen from Mission Pinball.
The Mission Pinball Framework is the software which works with a pinball hardware system such as Fast Pinball to allow rules to be written and lighting/sound/display effects to be created.
Quinn said the Mission system is very suited to programming beginners, providing a lot of tutorials to guide you through getting a game flipping. You can then modify the provided rules to customise it to your own design.
Mark Incitti was next on stage and he was talking about how he has created his own game based on the Tim Burton movie, The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Mark told the audience how he was a big fan of the movie and found making a pinball version of the story to be a lot of fun. He said it’s quite easy to go through a number of different playfield iterations to try things out using paper and Duck Tape to make your own ramps and ball guides during the playfield design testing phase.
The final guest was Gabe Knuth who has created a Brooks & Dunn game.
Brooks & Dunn was the game being developed at Gottlieb when the company was closed in 1996. A playfield design exists but it was unpopulated and only had hand-written notes about the intended mechanisms.
Gabe has taken the playfield and, through a lot of trial and error over the course of four months, attempted to build up the playfield to create the Brooks & Dunn game.
6:10pm LTG 🙂 Show & Get-Together – Lloyd Olson
Lloyd not only owns and operates SS Billiards in Hopkins, Minnesota but also provides technical support for Jersey Jack Pinball, Planetary Pinball and Chicago Gaming.
Tonight, instead of offering online and telephone support, Lloyd answered questions from the audience about these products and the wider pinball world.
Those questions included finding out what the next changes will be at SS Billiards, what some of the funniest technical support calls have been, why Jersey Jack Pinball have moved their circuit boards to the backbox rather than in the base of the cabinet, and the craziest test games and craziest customers Lloyd has had at his location.
8:00pm Deep Dive into Dialed In! – Jersey Jack Pinball
Tonight was the opportunity to really go in-depth with the Jersey Jack Pinball team and their new Dialed In! pinball.
But before that, Jack had ordered numerous boxes of Chicago-style deep pan pizza for guests so there was a break while everyone enjoyed a slice or two.
After pizza it was time for questions from the audience, starting with one about the female voice in the game which David Thiel revealed was actually his wife who also appeared in Tron.
When asked about the game reporting back its location so players will know where to find one, Ted Estes said they are taking baby steps with the game’s functionality but they have lots of ideas for new features to add.
When asked about the challenges of creating an unlicensed theme, Pat said with a licensed theme you start out with a $100M or $200M movie production with all the associated promotion.
With an unlicensed theme Pat said he needs to come up with an instantly understandable concept which people will latch onto. He said it is ten times harder to create an original theme without any assets, especially to create the city’s graphics. Pat said they are a pinball company but are having to become a part video game company too.
Ted said that the theme gives them the flexibility to put whatever they want into the game, and also don’t have to get approval from the licence holder. Jack said they wouldn’t have been allowed to make T-shirts with The Hobbit on, or even an image of their pinball machine on it, but can do whatever they want with Dialed In!.
J-P DeWin then spoke about the process of creating the graphics using a combination of Cinema 4D and After Effects. A modeller created the buildings and J-P made the textures mapped onto the buildings and then animated everything in Cinema 4D and After Effects.
Pat said he never considered making Dialed In! a widebody, calling the notion ‘heresy’.
In relation to the game’s built-in camera, Pat said there would be both software and hardware ways to block the camera, or it could always be unplugged if you had concerns.
Asked about the playfield artwork, John Youssi said this was the first time he had created a computer-generated 300dpi playfield, and he had to buy a new computer to cope with it.
Talking about the phone connection, Ted said the connection was currently through bluetooth and using a NFC sensor under the glass. You need to download an app to use it, but there will be a QR code to download the app. Ted said the app works fine on Android but there might be problems with iOS. The phone connection is purely optional and isn’t required to play the game.
Pat was asked if the phone is now the red button with is Pat’s ‘trademark’? He said, no, it’s not. There is a button in the game’s artwork and in the comic book which was handed out yesterday at the launch.
Here are some more pictures of the game.
While the JJP Deep Dive event was taking place, Stern Pinball were holding their 30th Anniversary Party at the Viper Alley concert venue in Lincolnshire. Sadly, despite purchasing a $30 ticket, Pinball News was banned from the party by Stern Pinball for suggesting their $15,000 Batman 66 Super Limited Edition machine might be a little overpriced.
However, thanks to Gary Flower we are able to bring you some pictures from the event.
The Pinball Expo seminars continued on Saturday morning.
9:00am Bringing Pinball to the People: Modern Marketing and Promotion Concepts by Pinball Universe – Daniel Schwarz
Daniel began by showing a series of pictures illustrating how Pinball Universe promote the release of each new game with lavish launch parties.
He then talked about Pinball Universe and how they began in April 2015 as a division of J Schwarz, a company founded in 1978 which produces and distributes technical films, moulds and prints.
Daniel says the company began with a passion for pinball. Their collection began by buying games from private collections, game room sellers and online, but they found they didn’t have a good chance to try new games before they bought them. So they decided to set up a pinball showroom similar to a car showroom.
He said their main goal was to have satisfied customers through being experts on their products and to carry that passion for pinball throughout their team of fifteen.
Daniel then showed pictures of their large showrooms where customers can try and compare the different versions of all the latest machines. Their largest of their four showrooms has 120 machines which also includes many classic reconditioned titles in top condition.
He said they also have a large warehouse with around 150 new-in-box machines as part of their Pinball-To-Go sales operation. He said they check all new-in-box machines to make sure they are fully working and to add any additional mods the customers might have purchased such as shaker motors, anti-reflective glass or an upgraded sound system.
Pinball Universe bought a large branded truck and trailer which they use to take games to various events across Europe where they promote pinball at music festivals, trade fairs and concerts.
10:00am From the Archive Vaults of Williams: and Who Was GTH? – James Loflin & Duncan Brown
James began by detailing the background to today’s talk and how he and Duncan share a love of pinball history and, in particular, the history of Williams.
Duncan then spoke about the history of Williams Pinball, from its foundation by Harry Williams through its first ten games, showing playfield drawings and pictures of each of them.
The initials GTH appeared on multiple game drawings and on notes about game designs. It turned out GTH was Gordon T Horlick who was a game designer brought in by Harry Williams from United in 1947.
James then showed paperwork from the start of the company, including wiring diagrams, work schedules, memos, production schedules and purchase orders. There were also play test reports showing the overall scores, how many of the lit features were collected, and how much the game would have earned.
James has a mass of documentation and it reveals fascinating details about how the games were designed, built and themed, along with the changes made before and during production.
11:20am KISS Artwork: Then and Now – Kevin O’Connor
Kevin’s seminar looked at how he created the artwork for the Bally Kiss game and contrasted it with how he did the same for the recent Stern game.
Gary Flower interviewed Kevin, who said the artwork for the Bally game was based on the Kiss Alive album and was all drawn by hand.
Kevin said this was before style guides were created for licensed products, but the approval process for Kiss artwork was still down to getting the thumbs-up from Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons.
Asked if he still has the original artwork from the Bally game, Kevin replied that he did and that it has been the subject of several offers to buy it.
Kevin then showed a series of pictures from the development of both versions, saying Stern Pinball wanted him to recreate his original look for their version.
Kevin also contrasted the painting techniques he used for the Bally game with the digital drawing he made on his computer with a pen and tablet for the Stern title.
12:00pm Spooky Pinball Speaks About New Cool Stuff – Charlie Emery
Charlie was joined on stage by KT, Bug and Ben Heck.
Charlie said they were not going to announce their next game at this show due to the number of other announcements, but he could say that Ben would be designing another game for Spooky Pinball and it would be the one after next.
Charlie then talked about how their future games will feature a taller LCD display than was possible in the past with their current hardware. They said it will be approximately twice the height of the display used on Rob Zombie’s Spookshow International.
The team then showed a walkthrough video from their new factory in Benton, Wisconsin. Charlie said they are now able to produce 3-4 complete machines a day and will begin production of the Domino’s Pizza game on Monday. They have made around half the total number of Rob Zombie games and are about to start building a new contract manufacturing game, meaning they will be making three titles simultaneously.
Charlie then talked about their choice of licenses and how they only pick themes about which they are passionate. He said they would like to have a standard hardware design they could retheme whenever a company approaches them for a custom game.
The team then recounted stories of how the licence fees sometimes have to be split multiple ways depending on who contributed which sometimes results in small payments being sent to individuals in recognition of their small role.
1:15pm Multimorphic Presents: The P3. The Future is Here Today – Gerry Stellenberg
Gerry began by asking which games people like and why the like them. The variety of game features and the different style of play show how different people like different things.
He said it would make no sense to spend a long time developing a single title which might only appeal to a small section of pinball buyers and players.
He said that range of likes and dislikes happens in the home too, with family members all liking different elements. It was something which contributed to the success of the P-ROC board where game owners could rewrite the rules or re-theme the game, or build a game to their own liking.
Gerry then turned to the P3 multi-game platform which he said had to be a very capable machine which can cater for all the features they will want to add in the future. So it doesn’t make sense to rush out a platform before it is fully-developed and future-proof.
In the room were two ‘Production Sample’ machines which Gerry said form the basis for their order of parts to build the final production models. One of the two had clear cabinet and backbox decal covers which prevent removal of the magnetic artwork.
Les from Multimorphic then showed the modular nature of the hardware by removing the flipper and slingshot assembly which slides in and out on rails, as do most of the playfield assemblies and the playfield surface.
The team then lifted up the playfield to show how the game is constructed.
Gerry said that although the game’s PC system is pretty powerful, if there was the need at some point in the future that more power was needed, the motherboard could be easily upgraded.
Gerry said the price for the P3 system is $9,875 which comes with the Lexy Lightspeed upper playfield and software. He said it is important to get a critical mass of machines out there to bring down per-unit prices for future games.
The Multimorphic presentation was the last seminar at Pinball Expo 2016, but there were more events in the hall later on Saturday when the autograph session and banquet were held.
The autograph session was the chance for Expo attendees to meet people from the pinball industry and get their signature on translites, backglasses, flyers, posters and just about anything else they could bring into the hall.
After the autograph session was over, the hall was cleared and set up for the banquet. Meanwhile we headed over to a secret room to check out American Pinball’s display of their Houdini playfield.
This was a representation of how the final game will look rather than being the definitive production version. As Joe Balcer said in the American Pinball seminar, a number of changes are expected before the final version is complete, and this playfield also had a few unfinished elements which required some additional plastics to be added or cuts to be made in existing plastics before they would be functional.
However, the playfield looked very impressive, with good use of colour, attractive artwork and some interesting mechanisms. Incidentally, the title – Houdini: Master Mystery – references the 1919 movie The Master Mystery starring Harry Houdini.
Here are some more pictures of the playfield.
After visiting American Pinball’s display, we ventured into the Vendor Hall to see who else was at Pinball Expo and what they had to offer visitors to the show.
As usual, right next to the entrance was Mike Pacak’s stand, selling his wide range of books, manuals, schematics, translites and flyers.
Mike also had three machines on his stand – two SpinBall games from Spain, Verne’s World and Jolly Park, along with a Gottlieb Flying Carpet.
The stars of the Stern display were to be found at the right-hand end where three Batman 55 games were set up.
Vendor Hall Exhibitors
Back Alley Creations
Flipin’ Out Pinball
High Class Pinball
Jersey Jack Pinball
Jim’s Pinball Shop
Pinball Wizards Sales & Service
That concludes our pictorial look around the Vendor Hall, but you can see just what it was like for yourself with our exclusive Twenty-Three Minute Tour video, taking a leisurely walk around all the exhibits.
Next door to the Vendor Hall was the Games Hall, and we took our video camera in there too to bring you all the 120 machines set up for guests to enjoy.
Here’s a full list of the machines in the Games Hall:
Attack from Mars
Black Sheep Squadron
Bow and Arrow*
Bow and Arrow*
Champion Pub, The
Creature from the Black Lagoon*
Cue Ball Wizard
Dracula, Bram Stoker’s
Dracula, Bram Stoker’s
Dracula, Bram Stoker’s
Flip Out ’91
Hearts and Spades
High Roller Casino
Last Action Hero
Lethal Weapon 3
Lost in Space
No Good Gofers
Pirates of the Caribbean
Rack ‘Em Up
Ready Aim Fire
Simpsons Pinball Party, The
Six Million Dollar Man
Six Million Dollar Man
Star Trek Pro
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Tag Team Pinball
World Poker Tour
World Poker Tour
* machine was not working when the list was made
The final event on Saturday’s schedule was the banquet which began at 7pm with cocktail hour which included the Make-A-Wish charity auction. As banquet guests entered the hall they were invited to take and don a Batman 66 T-shirt. Ka-Pow Pinball had also put branded drinks jackets and selections of sweet items on each table and, as we shall see, dominated the evening’s entertainment.
As usual, donors had been very generous in giving prizes for the auction while the audience played their part in bidding them up to raise a good total for the charity.
Each seat at the banquet was allocated a ticket, and as the main events began, twenty numbers were drawn and the ticket holders invited to the front of the hall.
Each of the tickets holders was allocated a number from one to twenty, and numbers were drawn again to win prizes of increasing value.
The main speakers at the banquet were Gary Stern, Joe Kaminkow and Orin Day who each talked about the early days of the company when they were Data East Pinball, through the change to Sega Pinball and the change to Stern Pinball.
You can hear Gary’s, Joe’s and Orin’s talks at the banquet below.
Then the fist of the evening’s two new inductions into the Pinball Expo Hall of Fame were announced. To introduce the first new inductee, Eugene Jarvis took the the stage.
Renowned for his great artwork on pinball and other arcade games, the first new inductee was Constantine (Connie) Mitchell.
Connie had a pinball career lasting eighteen year, ranging from his early games such as Pokerino, Flash and Time Warp through to his work for Premier on titles including Cue Ball Wizard, Stargate and Barb Wire.
The second inductee was another Premier artist who created the photographic translites used on the games Genesis, Gold Wings, Hollywood Heat, Monte Carlo, Raven, Rock Encore and Spring Break. He is Don Marshall.
Don then gave an acceptance speech in which he recalled stories from the creation of these translites and the incidents which occurred while they were setting up the shoots.
Awards were then given in the Support and Service category. The first of these went to Jay Stafford of the Internet Pinball Database.
The second was presented to former operator, now pinball author and event organiser, Dave Marston.
Rob then presented Gary Stern with an award for his help with Pinball Expo 2016.
After a series of thanks to various people who helped with the show, Rob drew proceedings to a close.
As usual, Pinball Expo had a range of pinball tournaments for competitive players to enjoy.
The one we always miss is the ExpoBrawl pairs tournament which takes place in the Game Hall on Friday morning. We are always in the seminar room early Friday and so cannot join in the fun.
However thirty-seven teams did pay the $30 registration fee and braved the 7:30am start time and play in the PinGolf event. Details of the teams and the format can be found on the OPL League website.
The main tournaments were held next to the registration desk in the corridor between the Vendor Hall and the Seminars Hall, and consisted on the main A Division, the B Division, A Classics Tournament and a Kids Tournament.
Qualifying for the A and B Divisions took place on Thursday and entry cost $60.
In qualifying, everyone could play each machine twice and the scores are ranked. The top 40% of players went into the A Division along with any players ranked higher than 250th or above by WPPR points. The remaining players went into the B Division.
Competitors’ names were then put into a ladder starting at the far left.
The higher their qualifying position, the more byes they earned through the early play-off rounds. Up to fourteen byes were possible for the top qualifiers.
Play-off matches were best-of-three on machines chosen by the players. The winner continued, while the loser dropped into the loser bracket at the bottom of the ladder.
To the left of the main tournament, the Classics Division was taking place.
The top sixteen players qualified for the Classics Division play-offs which followed a conventional double-elimination format.
The Kids (or Junior) Division was played on a Ghostbusters positioned at the end of the main tournament machines.
The B Division concluded on Saturday while our attention was drawn to some of the many other Pinball Expo events. However, the winner was Mike Wiley who beat Tom Knorst in the final.
Meanwhile, the A Division was heading towards an early finish. Some previous years had run much longer with games continuing into the late evening, but this year things were flowing nicely.
The Kids/Youth Division also wrapped up fairly quickly with a win for Zachary Parks. John Palzer was second, with Henry third and Eric O. fourth.
The A Division eventually came down to a battle between Zach Sharpe who remained undefeated to enter the final from the Winners’ Bracket, and Keith Elwin who had won the previous five rounds in the Loser Bracket to reach the final.
Zach had to win the best-of-three match to keep his flawless record and win the tournament. Keith, by contrast, has to win the first best-of-three match to even things up and then win a second best-of-three to become the overall winner.
Keith began well with a 4 billion score on his second ball on Game of Thrones. Zach fought back well but could only manage 2 billion in total.
The second game was Star Trek.
After ball one, Keith had a good lead on 101M to 14M. Neither player added much more on their second ball, but Zach hit the mark on ball three and racked up 572M to Keith’s ball two score of 117M.
Despite getting a ball stuck, Zach put up a big 572M third ball total.
With ‘only’ 117M to build from, Keith decided to save his energy for the third game and walked away from Star Trek on his third ball, evening the score at one game each.
It proved to be a winning formula as Keith took charge of game three back on Game of Thrones with a 7.1bn total. Zach gave up this one after a 1.47B score from his first two balls.
The final would then be decided by the next best-of-three match.
It was back to Star Trek for Zach choice, but it didn’t work so well for him this time. His 111M third ball total was behind Keith’s 202M second ball score, putting Keith one game up.
Metallica came next but Zach’s 3M ball one score wasn’t a great start. Keith did only slightly better with his 14M score from his first ball.
Ball two wasn’t much better for Zach with a 12M total going into the third ball.
After Keith had a good second ball to record a score of just under 120M, Zach needed a good final ball to take the match to a third game.
It wasn’t to be however as the third ball tricked away with 21M on the board.
So Keith Elwin was the winner of the main A Division. Zach Sharpe took second place, Escher Lefkoff was third and John Jundt was in fourth place.
Meanwhile, in the Classics Division it was a contest between Chris Frame and Fred Richardson.
Fred led as the pair played Bobby Orr Power Play.
Chris needed to win this game to keep his hopes alive, but Fred’s second ball score of 170K proved too much. Chris’s third ball only got him up to 50K, making Fred the Classics Division winner.
So Fred Richardson was the Classics Division winner, with Chris Frame in second. Third was Fred Cochran and fourth was Todd Seaver.
While the tournaments were being decided, tear down was under way in the Vendor and Game Halls. Although the show is advertised as running on Sunday, in truth it is the time for most vendors to pack up their displays and head home.
It wasn’t long before the only reminder there had been a pinball event here at all was the pile of flyers, cards and notices on a table close to the main hotel lobby.
As the show ends, so does our report for another year. We hope you have enjoyed the 300+ pictures, 27 audio recordings, 35 minutes of video and all the excitement of the big announcements from Pinball Expo 2016.
The dates for next year’s show have already been announced. We’ll be there, and we look forward to seeing you there too.
The once dismal pinball on location scene in the Chicago area is a distant memory. There is now an immense variety of quality pins available to play in Chicagoland.
Visiting some of the sites I was able to enjoy playing old favorites, such as Taxi, Big Guns and Banzai Run, and the latest pins Game of Thrones and Ghostbusters. The Pinball Rebel website and PinballMap.com both have additional locations with pins in the Chicago area.
Logan Arcade – Chicago See report Update: Ghostbusters Premium, Metallica Premium and the incredible Hercules pin have been rotated in. The Batman 66 is going to be added soon.
Emporium Arcade Bar (Wicker Park) – Chicago See previous report
Update: Williams’ Big Guns and Diner were rotated into their line-up this year.
Lemming’s Tavern – Chicago See previous report
Update: Game of Thrones Premium on tournament and Attack From Mars are now featured here.
Brixie’s – Brookfield See previous report
Update: The always well-kept pin count has increased to five. Ghostbusters Pro, Metallica LE, Medieval Madness, Game of Thrones Premium and Batman, The Dark Knight are the current pins. The Big Lebowski is going to be rotated in soon.
Here is the list of pin locations that I have not yet reported on. I have listed their websites and some additional information about them.
Bottom Lounge – Chicago
Pinball list courtesy of Gavin Miller: Bobby Orr Power Play x 2, Seawitch, The Addams Family, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Funhouse, Gilligan’s Island, The Champion Pub, Metallica and Bugs Bunny’s Birthday Ball.
Blind Robin – Chicago
Website: theblindrobin.com Ghostbusters Pro on tournament, Metallica Pro and Scared Stiff are the current pins.
Headquarters Beercade (River North) – Chicago
Headquarters’ second location features over twenty top pins which are listed on their website. Ghostbusters Pro and Game of Thrones Premium have been into their collection.
Brauer House – Lombard
Pin collector, Gavin Miller, loaded up the Brauer House with six of his pins: Bally Kiss, Metallica, The Walking Dead, Monster Bash (with a ColorDMD), Stern Rolling Stones and Dracula.
Las Vegas was built on magic. How else can one explain this lush paradise smack dab in the middle of the desert? And there are magicians everywhere you turn in Vegas; either performing tricks to a captive audience on stage, or all the magical ways this town can separate you from your money.
So what better place than Las Vegas to see the reveal of American Pinball’s Houdini: Master Mystery pinball?
It’s been one heck of a week for this pinball upstart out of Streamwood, Illinois. They went from “Who is American Pinball?” to being the hottest gossip in the pinball industry, all due to their post on Facebook on September 23rd, proclaiming the end of the Magic Girl fiasco, with the machines being promised to the rightful owners by the end of the year.
Not only that, but also the announcement of a brand new Houdini pinball machine!
It all sounded like slight-of-hand. So in an effort to present the pinball community with the best, most up-to-date information, I contacted American Pinball to see if I could check out this brand-spanking-new pin in person.
And much to my delight, they welcomed me with open arms!
The entire drive throughout the desert had me worried that this was all going to be a trick. But I had to know the truth! Was this going to be all smoke and mirrors, or the real thing?
And then, I was summoned to the Venetian. They were ready to let me peek behind the curtain!
After getting very, very lost in the Venetian / Palazzo (who knew they were connected?), I finally met with Dhaval Vasani and Scott Goldberg of American Pinball. They welcomed me warmly, then led me through the maze of hallways leading up to their suite.
My heart raced as we walked. Was I about to see magic? Or was I going to leave disappointed… a nonbeliever?
The door to the suite opened, and… there it was, at the other end of the room.
The real thing! The glowing lights of the unknown made my palms sweaty. I walked closer and closer, tentatively, like if I got to close, it would disappear. I almost expected it to shimmer like an oasis as I reached out to touch it. But it was real! And it is gorgeous. Full-on gorgeous.
Now, I have good news and bad news for you, gentle readers.
Let’s get the bad news out of the way: I didn’t get to play the machine. Now, that’s not to say that it wasn’t playable. It’s just not to the point that American Pinball can truthfully let anyone play it and say that they’ve seen the finished product.
While the gentlemen of American Pinball insisted on holding their cards close to their vest, keep in mind that what the pin standing right in front of me was the product of only three months work. So far, even though I wasn’t able to play Houdini, what is available to be seen is an incredible effort. This is not the “box of blinking lights” that the Magic Girl reveal was. This is right around the bend from being ready to go.
What’s the good news, you ask?
Here it is: the game is gorgeous. It’s got that John Popadiuk magical vibe throughout it. The artwork is by a brand new, soon-to-be-named artist who hasn’t worked in the industry before. To me, it had a real Matt Wagner-esque feel to it. Very eye-catching, indeed!
I was also told that they are using a new variety of RGB LEDs in these units, and you could see that they were warmer to the eye than some of the RGB LEDs you see in other titles.
Another fascinating thing about the Houdini pin is the display. It’s a full-color LED, not full sized like a Jersey Jack display, but bigger than your traditional DMD display – and it’s on the back of the playfield, like Cirqus Voltaire updated for 2016. I asked if this means there will be a video mode? Again, they didn’t want to say too much, but I could tell by their sly grins that they might have something spectacular up their sleeves.
In addition, the playfield had some really interesting toys on it! There is a catapult – yes, a catapult – that launches the ball towards a bullseye target. There is this wild loop-de-loop shot unlike anything I’ve ever seen in pinball before. There is a bumper that lifts out of the playfield. And there are ramps, both plastic and steel, flying to and fro. There is a steel ramp with lightning bolts on it, similar to the crossover ramp on AC/DC, that looks like more than meets the eye. And magnets? Well, what would a pinball game about Houdini be without magnets?
And now we come to the (Jeannie) elephant in the room. What does all this have to do with Jpop? What happened to Zidware? When are the people that ordered their games going to get them?
More than anything at all – even more than their excitement to share their new pin with me – American Pinball wanted me to share with all of you that they want to be a straightforward, honest, transparent company with integrity. To that end, they have announced that they will be fulfilling the Magic Girl orders, with their first units ready to go by the Chicago Pinball Expo in October, and the remaining orders shipped by the end of 2016.
“People have been waiting for the Magic Girl situation to be resolved”, Scott told me. “These people had given up hope on ever receiving their product. Our plan is to make them whole, then move towards the future.”
And what does the future hold for American Pinball? If they actually can make the Magic Girl fiasco right, they will be super – no, super-duper – heroes to the pinball community. If Houdini plays as good as it looks, at a retail price of $6995? Then the pinball industry has a new, serious challenger on their hands. Perhaps this might stifle the incredible inflation going on in the pinball industry right now?
They’re also very keen in bringing new blood into the pinball industry.
As I mentioned earlier, the person doing the art for Houdini has never worked within the pinball industry before. If there are any home-brew creators out there, you might want to send American Pinball your resume!
Finally, I asked Scott the tough question. The one I had been dreading asking all night. Why on Earth would this company want to work with John Popadiuk? Scott went on to tell me that they had worked together at Zizzle, and he was amazed at how many different ideas John had with. That John didn’t focus on just one aspect of creating pinball; he was able to work on all the different parts.
But most of all, Scott told me with a grin: “We’re a brand new company. Who would care about American Pinball if we didn’t have a big name behind us?”
Or more than one big name, nudge nudge, say no more…
From the press kit:
The Greatest Magician of all time HARRY HOUDINI returns to the stage!
HOUDINI: MASTER MYSTERY PINBALL
Special game features include:
Houdini Orpheum Themed Playfield Design
Hand Painted Houdini Fantasy Back Glass
Hand Drawn “Pinball Style” Detailed Playfield Artwork
Xtreme “oversize” Cabinet Graphic Package
Floating Gargoyle Plastic Snetinels
Real Gryphon Playfield Figure
Real Jeannie Elephant Feature
Brilliant LED Light System with Color Changing Pixels
Classic Pinball Flippers, Bumpers and Kicking Rubbers
15.6” Color LCD Display Screen
Stainless Steel Trim Package
Classic Quality Pinball Construction and Details
Full Color Playfield with “Q-Plate” Clear Coat
Magic Floating Card Shot
Bullet Catch Air Ball Magnet
Illuminated Kickout Saucers
Spirit Save Magnet Ball Device
Electric Up/Down Jet Bumper Device
Magnotron Spinning Thaumatrope
Reverse Standup Target Banks
Rotating Extra Ball & Special Lanes
Elevated Mystic Séance Ball
Laser Etched Theater Cross Ramp
Secret Passage Subway
Elevated Stage Catwalk
Multi-Way Jackpot Scoring
Magic Ring ABC Targets
Houdini Banner Art Package
Magic Beast Etched Playfield Shooter Guide
Milk Can Escape Bumpers
Straight Jacket Loop
Magic Beast Exit Lanes
Heavy Chained Detail and Artwork
Water Torture Cell Device
Chinese Serpent Mini Playfield
Magic Hand Magnetic Diverter
Buried Alive Magic Scoop
Hypnotic Eye Shot
King of Kards Magic Skill Lane
Believe Invisible Skill Shot
Jennie Illuminated Rollover Button
Hindu Rope Trick Device
Indian Needle Trick Targets
Hidden Bess Houdini Shot
Vertical Cobra Magnetic Ramp
Floating Bess Portrait
Ball Vanish Illusion
Magic Circle Ring Wizard Feature
Every American-Pinball Machine features hand-drawn graphics and artwork, full-size backglass, LED illumination, multi-level ball stages, real solenoid quicksteps and flippers, secret escapes, custom stainless steel trim package, and more!
A new pinball design and manufacturing company has announced its presence.
American Pinball is based in Streamwood, Illinois to the west of Chicago. The company began work on their 15,000 square feet design and assembly facility at the end of last year and Pinball News has been following their progress since early this year.
The end of 2015 was not a happy time for many in the boutique pinball business, and especially everyone involved in Zidware’s Magic Girl, Retro Atomic Zombie Adventureland and Alice in Wonderland projects.
The attempt to salvage the Magic Girl game – the most developed of the three – earlier in the year had collapsed amid claims of misrepresentation about how much work still remained, and the pre-prototype game had been shipped back to Zidware’s facility.
A legal action against Zidware, John Popadiuk and his wife on behalf of a group of buyers to recover their payments was working its way through the courts, with the very real prospect John would have to file for bankruptcy if the action was successful.
John himself said publicly that the only way any of the games could be saved would be if a millionaire investor came along.
Many said, however, that someone who was just an investor wouldn’t help the situation, and what was really needed was for someone to take charge of the projects and have enough control to see them through to production. Even then it was hard to see how this person would be able to get the games to their buyers without losing a large sum of money in the process.
Enter American Pinball.
American Pinball was set up by Dhaval Vasani to design and manufacture high-end pinball machines as well as other amusement games. Vasani comes from the contract manufacturing business, so American Pinball is expected to offer manufacturing of games for other companies in addition to their own designs.
To, literally, get the ball rolling they needed some initial designs to build, and that’s where their collaboration with John Popadiuk began.
The Zidware studio was in an estate of office and light-industrial units in Sangra Ct in Streamwood, Illinois. American Pinball’s facility is in the same estate, albeit in a much larger unit.
That unit is still not large enough to support full machine manufacturing, so assemblies, cabinets and playfields are expected to be made off-site, with their design, assembly and testing taking place at Streamwood.
If American Pinball is looking for places to make key components for their games, it shouldn’t have to look too far.
The Vasani family runs the Aimtron contract manufacturing company which has a PCB making plant in China and an expanding surface-mount plant in India. It’s headquarters, though, are at it’s US manufacturing facility which is in… Streamwood, IL.
Which brings us back to Magic Girl and the other Zidware titles, and the opprobrium associated with Popadiuk from his failure to deliver the purchased games. How could those buyers be appeased so that John, his future designs and American Pinball be free from the failure and the fallout from those previous projects?
We have known for a couple of months how 25 near-complete Magic Girl games had been built and were sitting in the American Pinball warehouse. These, it was suggested to us, were to go to the litigants in the legal action, although on what terms they would be offered was not clear.
Not all those who signed up to the action paid the same amount (some may have only part paid, while others had purchased two or three games in full), and not all had even purchased the Magic Girl title.
We did not report this at the time in case it scuppered any potential deal to get machines to the buyers.
It was initially thought production of these 25 games could only make financial sense if they were followed by a bigger run of Magic Girl machines for sale to the general public. In order to keep the exclusivity and the accompanying high price, the original 25 machines would need to be a Limited Edition or other exclusive variant, but profits from the standard edition could then pay for the LEs to be made and delivered to the original purchasers at no further cost to them.
On Friday American Pinball made the joint announcement firstly of their existence, and also details of their first title, Houdini: Master Mystery, which will be unveiled ahead of the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas on Monday 26th September, 2016. The game is expected to retail at around $6,995.
American-Pinball™ to Launch its First Pinball Machine at the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas on September 26th
Chicago, IL – September 26, 2016 – American-Pinball, manufacturer of arcade games and amusements, is excited to announce the world-wide release of Houdini – Master Mystery™ pinball machine for the home, arcades, gaming centers and magic collectors. The unveiling will take place September 26th at the Venetian Las Vegas hotel on the eve of G2E, The Global Gaming Expo.
Based in the mecca of the pinball universe just outside Chicago, Illinois, American Pinball features a team with decades of industry experience and is launching its first pinball machine under the name Houdini for several reasons. Known as a masterful magician and Harry Houdini is considered the greatest magician, conjurer and escape artist that there ever was. Captivating audiences worldwide with his legendary escapes and shows was his specialty, the Houdini™ pinball will carry on that magical tradition as a beautiful crafted pinball machine featuring a one-of-a-kind pinball theater experience with an LCD color screen and patented cabinet.
“Houdini’s escapes, illusions and handcuff challenges are world renowned even today, and formulate the basis of our inventive new pinball machine,” said president of American-Pinball, Dhaval Vasani. “Our Houdini – Master Mystery pinball machine will bring the man back to life with supremely detailed hand-drawn game artwork, inventive ball tricks, brilliantly illuminated play surfaces and spirit devices while featuring all the classic pinball features like: action jet bumpers, multi level ball stages, sculpted magic toys, secret escapes and much more.”
American-Pinball has also added a performance of new Houdini™ features to amaze players including: The Floating Ball, Water Torture Cell, Levitating Bumper, The Bullet Catch, Hindu Needle Trick, Spirit Box, Buried Alive Sarcophagus, Lock Chambers, Magic Beasts, The Séance, Milk Can Escape and Jennie the Vanishing Elephant!
“Houdini – Master Mystery pinball transforms under the hood as well with the newest game motherboards created by award winning Gigabyte Technology to drive all of Houdini’s pinball effects, full color graphics, sounds, gameplay and music,” explained Vasani.
Although no mention is made of John Popadiuk’s name, there is enough corroborating evidence to suggest this is a re-themed (and possibly cost-reduced) version of his Magic Girl game.
Not unsurprisingly, the announcement of a new John Popadiuk game did not go down well with buyers of Magic Girl, Retro Atomic Zombie Adventureland or Alice in Wonderland, or those who sympathise with their plight.
To their credit, American Pinball has not deleted the less-than-flattering comments on their Facebook page ahead of the unveiling in Las Vegas.
Is JPOP going? Is he returning the $1M he stole from the pinball community?
This is going to end badly.
The greatest pinball magician: John Popadiuk! He makes people’s money disappear!!!!
This is a joke, right?
“And for the next magic trick, we are going to make the worst decision possible and use JPop as a designer.” Learn everything you need here: http://www.johnpopadiuk.com/
DO NOT FALL FOR THIS SCAM!! See http://www.johnpopadiuk.com/ for details on how he scammed over $1,000,000 from other pinball collectors. I also suspect this ‘Houdini’ machine will bear striking resemblance to the failed ‘Magic Girl’. RUN AWAY!!
If you want to become a serious Pinball Company, you should distance yourselves from JPOOP. Say you were scammed by him because he had a great line of BS. Fire him and give everyone he stole from a discount on the Houdini machine. Build some good will.
John Popadiuk needs to immediately refund the 1 million dollars he took from a lot of honest hard working people. John left a trail of lies and broken promises he should be ashamed of himself and if American pinball is connected to John they should also be ashamed of themselves!
…and so on.
Then American Pinball revealed the existence of the 25 Magic Girl machines through another Facebook posting.
They also posted how “by the end of 2016, Magic Girl machines will be delivered to their rightful owners“.
Here’s the American Pinball announcement in full.
There is a great deal of speculation in the industry as it relates to our relationship with John Popadiuk. To be clear, American-Pinball is a NEW pinball company and our mission is to create limited edition high-end American-made pinball machines, with our first one being “Houdini-Master Mystery”.
With decades of experience in the industry, we can all agree that “JPop” is an extremely skilled pinball professional. He is also a loving father & husband. We believe everyone deserves a 2nd chance and therefore we are supporting John to fulfill his prior commitments related to Magic Girl.
That said, we have some GREAT NEWS! These pictures are meant to show you what we’ve been up to, the progress that has gone on and the efforts that are underway. We American-Pinball empathize with the Zidware customers and therefore we are excited to share the following news with all of you.
By the end of 2016, Magic Girl machines will be delivered to their rightful owners.
We know you all have many questions about other efforts and will continue to update you as additional details are confirmed.
The announced intention to get the Magic Girl games to the remaining buyers may have placated some of the more vociferous critics, but big questions still remain concerning the fate of the Retro Atomic Zombie Adventureland and Alice in Wonderland buyers.
Will game two from American Pinball be a zombie-themed game, with special full-featured versions delivered to Retro Atomic Zombie Adventureland buyers? Will game three have an Alice in Wonderland theme?
For now we can only say that American Pinball has made a dramatic entrance onto the pinball scene. How the company handles the buyers of Zidware’s three undelivered titles and the suppliers who are still owed money will define the welcome they receive from the wider pinball community.
The initial signs are promising, but there’s a steep uphill climb ahead before the stigma from the presumed failure of those three titles can be quashed.
A new pinball exhibition, Skillshot, The Collaborative Art of Pinball opened in downtown Chicago on September 6th and runs through November 5th.
The exhibition is at the Glass Curtain Gallery inside the Columbia College building at 1104 S. Wabash. It is open daily and admission is free. Check their website for hours of operation.
The exhibition’s main focus is on the artwork created for pinball machines. Various playfield and backglass artworks are on display at the gallery.
The development of the artwork for some recent Stern Pinball titles is featured. Quite a bit of the artwork on display is by the venerable artists and designers Stern Pinball employs, such as Greg Freres, Kevin O’Connor, Dirty Donny, Jeremy Packer and George Gomez.
The exhibit curator Mark Porter and his wife Kate are both big pinball fans. Mark told me that the idea for a pinball-themed exhibition came from his personal enthusiasm for pinball machines.
Since this an interactive art exhibition, there are nine pinball machine exhibits available on free play. Six are recent Stern titles and three are Bally/Williams classics.
Spider-Man Vault Edition (Stern) The Walking Dead (Stern) Ghostbusters (Stern) Game of Thrones LE (Stern) Metallica (Stern)
Kiss (Stern) Kiss (Bally) Sorcerer (Williams) Dolly Parton (Bally)
I have seen interviews with Gary Stern in which he states that the pinball industry will eventually die unless the machines are out where people can play them. It is very clever of Stern Pinball to support a pinball exhibition in a college building. There’s a large number of young people that will be exposed to the exhibits and hopefully they will see how much fun they are, and then will play pins in the future.
The highlight of the exhibition for me was seeing the playfield development drawings of Medieval Madness by Greg Freres. It was fascinating to see the details progress in the multiple drawings.
I was very happy to see that the home of pinball machines has such a nice exhibition showcasing the art of pinball.
Five & Dime in the west downtown Evanston area is a brand-spanking new combination restaurant, bar and entertainment center on Davis Street, just steps from both the Metra Rail and the CTA Purple Line.
Five & Dime’s rooftop dining and game room is one of the newest places in the northern Chicagoland suburbs that has pinball machines.
Outside seating has picnic tables and round wire mesh tables that are cozy for four.
All the pinballs at Five & Dime are in very good condition, fully functioning with CLEAN playfields.
Radical! (Bally) is set to 50 cents for one play, 75 cents for two plays, and I felt that the free game threshold was quite achievable by someone with average playing skills.
The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends (Data East) is also in excellent shape and plays well. $1/1 play or $2/3 plays; bills only.
Kiss Premium (Stern) is also set to $1/1 and $2/3 plays. It is a bit more challenging than the other two, but very playable.
If you want a break from pinball (say what??), Five & Dime has other games for you to enjoy on the rooftop area: Jumbo Connect 4, Ping Pong, Foosball, Baggo/Bags/Cornhole and Jumbo Jenga.
The menu at Five & Dime appears to be somewhat of a work-in-progress with a relatively small number of items. In spite of that we both were able to find food items that we wanted to try. I got the impression that when the affiliate businesses Lulu’s Dim Sum and Then Sum and Diablo Taco are relaunched (in the same building, on the first floor) that the menu for Five & Dime will change. We feel that the biggest value on the menu is the chips and guacamole.
The service is somewhat of a work-in-progress too – not horrible by any means, but not yet as polished and effortless as places that have been in business for many years. I have faith that given a few more weeks they will be up-to-speed. The key thing is that the servers and hostesses seemed to have a friendly and outgoing attitude which is certainly pleasant to see.
Since this is primarily a drinking establishment, I feel a few words about the drinks menu are in order. The OG Margarita is delicious (it’s hard to drink only one), the Negroni Frozen Slushy is well regarded but usually not available until a couple hours after opening time; apparently the slushy machine needs to be primed or something. The Five & Dime beer list includes Evanston’s Sketchbook Brewery’s Et Tu Yuzu citrus spiked sasion, in addition to the usual suspects in bottles and cans.
One interesting thing that I was glad to see is pre-teen young people playing the pinballs. One boy I talked to had no idea that there was a way for more than one person to play the same machine. Aside from that, it was nice to see kids clutching a Ziploc bag of change waiting to play.
Some of the ‘kids’ at Five & Dime had unusual playing styles as shown by this photo.
I would say that Five & Dime is a great new addition to the pinball scene in the Northern Chicago ‘burbs. It most likely will only get better as time goes on.
Pinball is the main focus of this arcade with thirteen machines, most of them newer Stern titles. The day I visited, the list was; Dale Jr., Kiss, High Roller Casino, The Walking Dead, The Sopranos, Hook, Barbwire, Game of Thrones, Star Trek, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Avatar and Metallica.
Some are Premium editions and they all were in excellent condition. They also have a small collection of videos games, air hockey and pool tables.
From what I’ve heard they were having an on-going pinball league. The owner has other machines but needs to expand before he can put them out to be played.
Moonwalker Arcade is located at 253 Vestal Pkwy East in Vestal, NY. Check their Facebook page for opening hours and details of their promotions.
Meanwhile, nearby Robot City Games has expanded their pinball offerings, going from 17 to 24, including Medieval Madness Remake and Ghost Busters.
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
Addams Family, The
Addams Family, The
America’s Most Haunted
America’s Most Haunted
Big Buck Hunter Pro
Elvira & the Party Monsters
Elvira & the Party Monsters
Game of Thrones Premium
Game of Thrones Pro
Guns N’ Roses
High Roller Casino*
High Speed 2: The Getaway
High Speed 2: The Getaway
Jacks to Open
Lexy Lightspeed: Escape from Earth
Lord of the Rings, The
Medieval Madness Remake
Pirates of the Caribbean
Rob Zombie’s Spookshow International
Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends*
Spider-Man Vault Edition
Spider-Man, The Amazing*
Star Trek Premium
Star Trek Pro
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Star Wars Episode 1
Street Fighter II
Street Fighter II
Tales of the Arabian Nights
Tommy, The Who’s
Walking Dead Pro, The
Wheel of Fortune
Wheel of Fortune
Wizard of Oz 75th, The
Wizard of Oz ECLE, The
Wizard of Oz, The
World Cup Soccer
World Poker Tour
World Poker Tour
WWE Wrestlemania LE
WWE Wrestlemania LE
WWE Wrestlemania Pro
WWE Wrestlemania Pro
*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
Creature from the Black Lagoon
Game of Thrones Pro
World Poker Tour
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.
Black Knight (#30)
Black Knight (#36)
Black Knight (#30)
Best 1980s Pinball
Black Knight (#30)
Elvira & the Party Monsters
Best Modern Pinball
Rob Zombie’s Spookshow Intl
Guns N’ Roses
Best of Show – Arcade
Donkey Kong (#100)
Best of Show – Pinball
Black Knight (#30)
Guns N’ Roses
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.