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.
Dan’s products will be available from lightedpinballspeakerpanels.com.
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|
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:
|* 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.
|Flip Out B Division|
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.
|Flip Out A Division|
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.
|Flip Out Classics Division|
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.