Date: 19th - 23rd October, 2011
Friday was the third day of Pinball Expo and it included another full schedule of seminars in the Lake Michigan Ballroom.
At 8:15am, Rob Berk welcomed all the early attendees and introduced the first of the day's presentations; the regular Friday morning pairing of 'Dr Scott' and Ron.
Scott began by explaining how he got into pinball in the first place, and how collectors exchanged information and made deals back in the '70s, before the internet. Scott was wearing his Pinball Expo T-shirt from the very first Expo in 1985.
He then updated the audience on his efforts to de-clutter, including joining Clutterers Anonymous and hosting meeting in his home town, before moving on to turning your hobby into a business and the problems involved in that. Scott recommended the book "Getting Things Done" by David Allen and the concept of making lists of projects and reviewing them weekly before deciding on the next action to take.
Ron then took over and looked at the ways to make troubleshooting easier or even fun. He listed a few of the essential tools and spares to obtain, adding the importance of having the relevant manuals and schematics to hand.
Ron went on to talk about some of the most common repair issues he encounters with games coming through the workshop involving coils, switches, lamps and fuses.
Scott then returned to the work to de-clutter his pinball store, the dumpster he keeps out the back and how he has it emptied every two weeks, ensuring it is full each time they come to empty it.
Finally Ron and Scott recalled some of the incidents they've experienced when machine faults create some serious damage, and how they managed to repair some of them to bring the games back to life.
Derek's presentation showed many of the techniques and products he uses when restoring pinball machines. He had with him the Gottlieb Solar Ride in the picture above and used a video camera to show how he cleans and touches up artwork on the playfield which may have worn away or become discoloured through years of exposure to sunlight and nicotine smoke.
He recommended the use of a 6-in-1 screwdriver to reduce the number of separate tools you need to keep available. He also like using Novus on this game, despite Novus being a plastic polish, and Millwax to help protect the playing surface.
He started by cleaning the playfield with a combination of Novus #2, rubbing alcohol and magic eraser pads, taking care not to remove any of the original paint.
Derek then demonstrated using an acrylic model paint to fill in cracks in the playfield's artwork by painting it over the surface and then wiping it off with a paper towel. The paint fills in the cracks but wipes off the surface to produce a much smoother and more attractive finish.
Questions from the audience addressed alternative places to buy Novus, alternative plastic polish products, what to do about mylar on the playfield and alternative uses for the magic eraser within the game.
Rob is the voice of the Silverball podcast and star of the Life After Death series of pinball DVDs. He started by giving a brief history of his employment leading to the Computer Information Specialist position he currently holds at Southern Illinois University.
He described his findings when researching pinballs on location in his locale, which he described as his 30-40-30 theory. 30% of the machines he want to play, or take others to play, are unplayable. 40% are unattractive or have significant issues, while the remaining 30% are the playable, fun machines.
Rob spoke about the steps he has been taking to develop the appreciation of pinball as a form of entertainment, explore the art in the games and promote pinball ownership at the University through groups such as the Southern Illinois Pinball Players Association (SIPPA). He said pinball shows didn't reach players aged 18-25, and those in that age bracket who did try pinball ran into the 30-40-30 problem and couldn't find a fun, working machine.
Another of Rob's claims to fame is running the Heartland Supershow for several years, and to help, he talked about his work recruiting and enthusing volunteers from the student body by running tournaments, making field trips to premium pinball locations, establishing a pinball internship and building a Campus Life computer pinball game.
He showed videos of some of the students talking about how they developed their pinball interests through Rob's encouragement and enthusiasm. He also played another video of the Campus Life game in action and he included a short stop-frame video of the disassembly and re-assembly of a Punchy the Clown machine which was subsequently shown at the banquet on Saturday.
Rick is the man behind Bay Area Amusements and - with Matt Christiano - runs Planetary Pinball Supply, the Williams licensee with the rights to make parts and game under the Bally and Williams name.
He said the rate at which new parts are coming out has been accelerating and that 2011 had been a great year for pinball. He tempered that though, by explaining the equation for reproduction parts which sometimes makes the demands from collectors unrealistic.
Rick talked about the new techniques he is using to reproduce relatively small numbers of individual parts at an affordable price, and these have been coming out over the past 12 months.
After explaining how the various different licences for pinball parts - such as movie companies - all want their cut and may not be interested in small runs with their minimal licensing returns, Rick listed the licences PPS has been able to renegotiate, including Star Trek - The Next Generation, Twilight Zone, Elvira and Evel Knievel. He brought along a new Twilight Zone playfield which was made possible by one of these licences.
Rick showed many pictures of recent products from PPS including cabinet artwork, pop bumper caps, drop targets, playfields, backglasses, manuals and EPROMS.
After a question and answer session, Rick finished his seminar by giving away a number of pinball parts to audience members who could come up with the correct answers to questions posed by Sam Harvey.
Prizes included a Medieval Madness translite, various bumper caps and assorted decals.
REFLECTIONS ON 30 YEARS OF COLLECTING
Tom has been coming to Pinball Expo all 27 years and thinks he has brought over 400 games to the show over the years.
After relating how he first became involved with pinball and the first game of his own in January 1982, he worked out he's owned over 1,000 machines, with a current inventory of 250 which includes all 85 Gottlieb wedgehead models and the 16 Williams reverse wedgeheads.
Tom then presented a photo tour around his gameroom warehouse, which includes the Space Mission backglass which used to hang in Steve Kordek's office at Williams. Naturally, it is also signed by Steve. Tom pointed out some of the historically significant or rare games in his collection, and some of the replay and add-a-ball versions of the same game. He said the add-a-ball versions were made for three states in the US - New York, Wisconsin and Connecticut which didn't allow free games to be awarded as that was considered gambling.
He then told some of his stories from buying game from private sellers, the various things he's found inside the games, and instances where the game turned out not to be what he was expecting.
Following a game of "guess the machine" where the audience had to name the pinball from a small section of the cabinet artwork, Tom urged the audience to support pinball publications and pinball shows.
This was only John's second talk at a pinball show and he began by talking about his previous and current work - both in the pinball industry and more recently in the software business - and how he became interested in pinball in the first place.
He described how he wrote to Norm Clark at Bally and got an interview there when they were making Eight Ball Deluxe. He illustrated his talk with pictures he took of the factory during his visit. John spoke about how he refused to go home after the interview until Norm hired him, and eventually Norm did just that, putting him to work in the Engineering Department working with the likes of Tony Ramunni, Kevin O'Connor and Margaret Hudson.
John spoke about his time designing pinball games at Bally and some games which were never produced, leading to the takeover of Bally by Williams when John briefly joined the new company before leaving. Williams, he said were "the kings... the best".
Later, Jim Patla at Williams rang John and offered him a multi-game deal to come back to the company as a Game Designer. His first game was World Cup Soccer which, John said, was able to go from design to prototype in just six months thanks to his skills using 2D CAD software to design the game.
John also told the audience how Theatre of Magic began life as The Magic of David Copperfield, but they had trouble with the licence so they had to change it.
Another change to the game was the removal of a magic wand like the one in Pinball Magic, but they couldn't get it to work reliably and it sometime wouldn't let go of the ball, so it was taken out.
John then talked about the development on Cirqus Voltaire and again describes some of the features which never made it into the production version of the game.
Originally, the main ramp was made out of wood with inserts along its length, but John said the ball would just fly off the end, so it became a curved plastic ramp instead.
After relating tales of his time at ICE working with John Trudeau, John moved on to his work creating home games for Zizzle, and said at one time the factory in China had 500 injection molding machines, creating 9,000 Zizzle pinball games a week. Unusually, they would build the whole game and then apply the cabinet decals, rather than the other way round.
Today John does a lot of interactive games software as well as iPhone and iPad games, including computer pinball games such as Pinball Wizard. John described many of his ideas about integrating the pinball apps with real physical pinball games, both mechanical and video versions.
He said pinball needs a new groove, so he worked with new people to create his Magic Girl prototype.John recalled how initial news of his Magic Girl plans leaked out and how he "sold" 40 games in 2 days, although he will not be making that many initially. With a new system for building them from scratch, John said there had been a lot of issues so far, but he had a crew lined up and he was convinced everyone is clamouring for something new.
Mark's seminar related the story of a special game which he owned until recently but had to sell when he moved home. The game was made by Coffee-Mat in 1976 and his father's company created the electronics system for the machine.
He described how the software company he worked for was looking to diversify from their military business and move into commercial applications. One of those was for a pinball machine called Wipe-Out which Mike said he thought was the first solid-state machine. The company wasn't into making hardware, so his father's company created the boardset and received one of the original Wipe-Out games.
Mark spoke to one of the original team members who thought at least 200 machines were produced - possibly many more, but he couldn't be sure.
Mark said the biggest challenge back in the mid-'70s was interfacing the high voltage side of the game - coils and displays - with the low voltage Intel 8080 microprocessor which drove the control system. He described how the original development system used paper tape to load the code until Intel added 250K floppy discs for code storage. With memory being expensive, the total code to run Wipe-Out was just 3-4KB of assembly language.
It was Mark's job to debug the code, by playing it for days and days to try to get the game to crash and diagnose why with the help of overhead cameras recording the playfield to spot the point at which the game froze and what caused it.
When Mark's father got his Wipe-Out, he was also sent Coffee-Mat's second game, Star Battle. Mark said he had no knowledge about this game because, although the system he helped develop had space for additional lamps and switches, Star Battle used a different hardware and software package sourced from a different company.
GODZILLA GETS LOST IN THE BIG JUICY MELONS
This was a most unusual and high-energy seminar which was a live extension of Charlie's Spooky Pinball podcast, featuring Ben Heck, Dennis Nordman, Greg Freres and a bunch of regulars from the show, including their very own Elvira.
The theme of this show was custom (or low run) games. Charlie began with his Godzilla conversion of a Firepower II. Ben then showed his custom Lost game, based on the TV series.
Finally it was the turn of Dennis and Greg to talk about Whoa Nellie! Big Juicy Melons, but before that, it was time for Dennis to explain how to determine when a melon is at its juiciest best.
Steve said he's now working at Stern and working on a game he loves, and couldn't be happier. For a fireside chat, Steve wondered where the fire was, but thankfully had brought some of his own.
Before starting on his slide show presentation, Steve bemoaned the levels of negativity on the rec.games.pinball newsgroup and appealed for everyone there to remember how to enjoy pinball and be more positive.
Steve then showed a series of pictures - some new and some old - of the many people he has worked with over the years at Williams and Stern, the ranch house in California he had been living in before moving to Chicago, and from his recent trip to Norway. he also showed some development pictures of his earlier games including this whitewood of 24.
There then followed a question and answer session, with Gary Flower moderating and relaying the questions.
Steve didn't talk much about his next game, but did say he was "changing the cabinet" for it, and with the title, it was pretty obvious what he needed to do on the game. He also said they are making a lot of changes to many different parts of the game, including some which haven't been touched for a long time.
Speaking about his return to Stern Pinball following the comments he made when he left before, Steve said he and Gary had worked out old business and there was a new level of respect on both sides. Steve also said there was a new and better atmosphere at Stern Pinball now.
Steve said he'd like to work on an un-licensed game and has an idea for one, but the market has to be strong enough to support an original theme.
For the first time, Pinball Expo was host to a Stern Pinball launch party for their latest game.
Marco Specialties has three Transformer Pro machines set up at the back left corner of the seminar hall with a cash bar close on hand.
Meanwhile, in the back right corner were two more Transformers games used for a tournament. They were both fitted with overhead camera and monitors mounted above the backbox so the audience could watch the action.
Next to the tournament machines was a table where members of the design team were available to sign Transformers flyers and postcards.
The tournament cost $5 to enter and that bought you a single game on either of the machines. Competitors could only enter once and the top four took part in the Masters Division final. The next four played in the Novice Divisions final.
The winner of the final in the Masters Division was Cayle George who took the trophy and the $72 top prize. In second place was Brian Dominy who won $54 in prize money, third was Dave Hegge who collected $36 and in fourth place with $18 in cash was Dan Garrett.
In the Novice Division, the play-off was between Will McKinney, Dane Johnson, Larry Smith and Roger Sharpe. Will was the eventual winner and collected $10 in cash for his troubles.
Lloyd has been in the Coin-op business all his life and had recently been celebrating running SS Billiards in Hopkins, MN for 39 years. He began this seminar by recalling how he became involved in the industry through his father's rifle sport arcade and route and by working at the state fair.
Lloyd said he thought the reason for his longevity in the business when so many others have given up on coin-op is because he's always done the opposite of whatever everyone else does.
He continued by telling several stories about some of the strange things which happened to him and the oddest things he found in arcade machines.
A part of Lloyd's seminar was a meeting of those who had pre-ordered the The Wizard of Oz game from Jersey Jack Pinball. Lloyd is one of those and said he thought The Wizard of Oz would be an 'attraction piece', which people would come to see and even if they didn't play it, they'd play other games while they were there.
Jack was there and provided pizza for everyone while assorted cold beverages were also available from the ice buckets.
Lloyd continued answering question from the audience about his experiences operating pinball and video games, and how the industry changed over that time, until it was time for the prize raffle to begin. Everyone was issued with a ticket and numbers were drawn at random to win a prize from the pile of goodies.
Prizes included boxes of pinball lamps, a Fish Tales manual, pinball helpers, a Special When Lit pinball DVD, a 'lock when lit' pinball hat, a glare guard, branded house keys, pinball price guides, Transformers toy models, a poster for the game '24', a Cirqus Voltaire flyer, a Theatre of Magic shot map poster, Revenge from Mars plastics, and a Rescue 911 translite.
Between the prize giveaways, Lloyd continued to recount tales of his experiences with test games, poorly designed games which only lasted a few days, games which caught fire, and the way people's consumption of entertainment has changed over the past few years with the shift to many more in-home products and fewer trips to arcades, pool halls and bowling alleys.
Lloyd then spoke about his experiences buying games and getting support from Jack Guarnieri and his thoughts about The Wizard of Oz game Jack is making. He also announced his points ranking system for his tournaments held at SS Billiards, the Universal Player Yearly Organized United Ranking System, or U.P.Y.O.U.R.S.
That concludes our coverage of day three of Pinball Expo 2011
We'll be back soon with more from Saturday's seminars, the show floor, the games room, the banquet speeches and the tournament results.
© Pinball News 2011