Date: April 3rd - 6th, 2014
We're in Rochester, Michigan at Oakland University for the annual Michigan Pinball Expo (MPE), and before the show began we popped in to Banquet Rooms A & B to check out how John Kosmal and the MPE crew were getting on.
Oakland University's campus is vast, and before any signs directing visitors to the show had been put out, it was by pure blind luck that the first building we checked was the correct one.
To get to the banquet rooms you climb a short staircase and soon realise you have found the right area.
We arrived around 8pm with two hours of set-up time remaining.
There are ten machines in the main tournament, with player's six top-ranking scores counting towards their overall position.
Apart from Marco Specialties, two other vendors were set up on Wednesday evening.
The show opened at 8am on Thursday morning. A number of machines were still being set up and this continued for a few hours more.
By the time everything was ready there were 83 pinballs in the free play area and another 17 in the tournament area, to make a nice round total of 100 pinballs.
The centrepiece of the show as a large stand from Marco Specialties, featuring five of the newest Stern machines on one side and a selection of parts for sale on the other.
On Thursday, the right side end of the hall was dominated by video gamers.
The video arcade machines were: 2 x Multicade, Net City, Defender and Dance Dance Revolution Extreme.
On Friday, the video gaming area was replaced by the arrival of Pinball Refinery who were selling a number of cosmetic enhancements such as internal cabinet and speaker panel artwork, and LED lighting kits. They also brought two additional machines to the show.
A Metallica Pro was joined by The Matrix, with both receiving extensive LED lighting enhancements, including a new 3D topper for The Matrix.
The tournament machines were set up along the back wall, with the Main Tournament on the left and the daily Classic Tournament on the right.
There was a separate Classics Tournament on each of the first three days. On Thursday the top 16 qualifiers entered the single-elimination play-offs.
On Friday, the selection of Classic machines had changed to Jack in the Box, Aztec, Pinball Pool, Playboy (Bally), Baseball and King Pin.
The winner on Friday was Zach Sharpe who collected a trophy and a nice cash prize from show organiser John Kosmal.
On Saturday the selection changed again and this time it was Derek Fugate who won the trophy and cash prize.
You can take a look around the Michigan Pinball Expo with our exclusive Pinball News Five Minute Tour video walk around the show.
Earlier on Saturday, the first of the show's seminars took place in the Fireside Lounge in the Oakland Center.
Kevin Kulek from Skit-B spoke about progress on the team's first game, Predator, including their projected timescale for manufacturing the 250 machines.
He also announced that details of their second game would be revealed at the California Extreme show in July. He refused to be drawn on the theme, but did say they were on the third iteration of their whitewood and hoped to have a flipable game at the show.
The second seminar was presented by pinball tech Bobby Butara who repairs the games at The Arcade in Brighton and was one of the techs at the show. He showed a number of techniques for cleaning playfields and methods for mylar removal.
To demonstrate his methods, Bobby took a Creature from the Black Lagoon playfield and cleaned and polished it to a bright shine.
Next came Jersey Jack Pinball's seminar, which began with Jack Gaurnieri talking about starting the company from scratch, their progress manufacturing The Wizard of Oz, and the ongoing work designing their next game, The Hobbit.
Jack also described his recent visit to Chicago to play The Hobbit and to meet Pat Lawlor who is designing their third title.
After Jack, Butch Peel gave a presentation to introduce the service menu system built into Jersey Jack Pinball machines, showing how to test switches, coils, LEDs and how the generic and game-specific settings can be adjusted.
Butch also described how to make adjustments to the leaf switches and microswitches used in the game, and which are the most important switches which need to function correctly to enable the game's key features.
After the Jersey Jack Pinball seminar, a draw was made to select the lucky winner of a cash prize of $2,800.
Entry to the draw could be earned by bringing a game to the show, volunteering to help run it, or by entering the PinBrawl doubles tournament which was held early on Saturday morning.
Pinball News editor, Martin Ayub, drew the winning ticket which bore the name Zach Sharpe. Zach was playing in the tournament at the time of the draw, so MPE director John Kosmal presented the prize to Zach a little later.
The final presentation of the day came from Jim Schelberg of the Pingame Journal who showed a number of pinball-related video clips from his archives.
Jim collects all video references to pinballs - however oblique - and releases DVD compilations of them.
Saturday was definitely the busiest day of the four with sizeable queues forming to play the most popular machines.
Sunday was the show's final day and was also the culmination of the three days of qualifying for the main tournament.
The top 12 players from the A division and the top 16 from the B division qualified for Sunday's play-offs.
Both divisions continued as separate competitions until the very end, when the top two from both took part in the Michigan State Championship final.
The final was a best-of-three series with PAPA style scoring of 4-2-1-0 points for the four places in each.
The first game was played on Tron and Zach had the best start with a 17M score from his first ball against the nearest challenger, John on 2M.
Zach managed to maintain his lead over Pat and John throughout the game to win with 27M to their 10M scores. Pat took second by 170K from John, with Alex fourth.
Star Trek was the second machine and it was Alex's turn to play first.
No big scores were put up on the first ball, but Zach took charge on ball two with a 47M total compared to Pat's 8M and 4.3M from both John and Alex.
John managed to pull back a little on his third ball to take second with 25.5M, but Zach boosted his lead further to end on 67.8M. Pat took third with 15.8M and Alex was fourth with 9.9M.
Going into the third game, Zach had already won with 8 points, but second place was currently a tie between John and Pat on 3 points, with Alex yet to score but still in contention for second.
The last machine was Scuba which was played as four 1-player games . Zach played first and scored 3,437. Pat was next and could only manage 1,026. Alex took the next turn and managed a score of 2,174. John needed to not come last to take second place overall, and he managed that easily with a score of 3,158.
So Zach Sharpe won with a clean sweep of 12 points. John Flitton was second on 5 points, Pat Norton was third on 3 points and Alex Harman was fourth with 1 point.
Payouts were generous with all entry fees returned to players as prizes. Zach won $1,000, John got $900, Pat earned $800 and Alex received $700. Payouts of $250 went to players in 5th-8th and $50 to 9th-12th. Third and fourth in each individual division also won $500, all paid in cash.
Trophies and promotion material was paid for by a one-off $20 registration fee paid by all players in the main or classics tournaments.
The main tournament finished at 6pm - one hour after the show officially closed to the public but with plenty of activity still in the hall as games and stands were taken down and packed away.
And so we come to the end of our coverage of the Michigan Pinball Expo 2014.
Many thanks to John and the whole MPE team who put the show together and gave up their time and machines to make it happen.
Some shows can be classified as player shows, others are for collectors to get together and swap stories, parts and games, while others are mainly for die-hard fans who want to meet game designers and tour factories.
The MPE is split between the hardcore tournament players who are happy to pump money into the competitions in the expectation of winning most of it back in prizes, and the opposite - pinball novices, including many families, who can simply play pinball and either discover or rediscover the game for as long as they like.
The mix of machines was good, but the bias was certainly further towards EMs and solid-state machines than most shows. Personally that was a refreshing change with the opportunity to become reacquainted with some electromechanical classics, while holding the show over four days led to a more relaxed atmosphere and gave the opportunity to visit some of Michigan's other attractions without the danger of missing key parts of the show.
The venue was excellent, with good facilities, ample nearby accommodation and masses of free parking. If you haven't visited yet, make plans for the MPE in 2015. We'll have the dates in our Diary page as soon as they are announced.
© Pinball News 2014