Dates: September 23rd - 25th, 2011
Starting in 2006, the Pacific Pinball Exposition has been held by the Pacific Pinball Museum each September at the Marin Center in San Rafael, 20 miles north of San Francisco.
The Marin Center is the main home for the show but a number of seminars are held a short walk away in the adjacent Embassy Suites hotel, which is where most of the attendees from out of town were staying.
Entry to the show cost $25 per day for adults with a saving of $5 for a 2-day pass, or $15 for a 3-day pass. In all cases, children under 12 cost $10 per day less. Tickets were only available to purchase at the venue and as the doors opened each day, a sizeable queue built up to be one of the first into the show hall.
The Pacific Pinball Exposition is run by the board of the non-profit Pacific Pinball Museum in nearby Alameda and an army of additional volunteers who set up the machines and fix them during the event, distribute the wristbands, help with the seminars, run the tournaments, sell souvenirs, organise the raffle and answer the many questions asked by visitors at the main reception desk and throught the hall.
Probably the single differentiating feature about the Pacific Pinball Exposition as a show is the huge number of machines set up for the public to enjoy. This year we counted 372.
The newest dot-matrix games were on the left nearest the entrance, with the games getting progressively older the further back and to the right you went.
Behind the dot-matrix games on the left were the solid states with good displays of Bally and Stern games.
These culminated with a collection of super-widebody machines, leading up to the widest-body of them all, Hercules.
On the right side of the hall were the electro-mechanical machines for which the Pacific Pinball Exposition is famed.
Here's our list of the machines at the show, made on Saturday morning.
*machine not working at the time of the survey
The previous PPE shows had featured the Visible Pinball - a Surf Champ built with a perspex cabinet, backbox and playfield so visitors could see how the game worked. This year, two additional Freedom machines - one electro-mechanical, one solid-state - were added to show the differences between two versions of the same game.
At the rear of the hall, beneath the huge murals of classic backglasses by Dan Fontes and Ed Cassel, was a collection of 16 historical machines, made before the flipper became a key part of pinball's feature set.
This collection was put together by Dan Miller and Richard Conger using games from their personal collections.
During the show hours there were regular guided tours which highlighted the historically significant machines and gave visitors the opportunity to understand pinball's development and the key models which advanced the game towards the machines we know today.
At the front of the hall were three machines destined to become the grand prizes in the show's main raffle. One machine would be given away each day to the lucky owner of the winning raffle ticket.
In addition, there was a new Tron Limited Edition machine as the grand prize for a special raffle. Tickets for this cost $25 and only 300 would be sold across the three days.
Just down the corridor from the show hall was a side room which used to be the home of the seminars, but for 2011 was used to host the PPE's various tournaments. We'll have the results from those a little later in this report.
In addition, there were a few non-pinball amusement games towards the back of the solid-state section in the main hall.
But there is more to the Pacific Pinball Expo than machines and tournaments. Surrounding the pinballs in the main hall were the show's vendors, and we look at them starting at the main entrance and moving clockwise.
The first stand was selling tickets for the daily raffles which took place with the machines shown above as the grand prize.
Many donated prizes were available and ticket buyers could choose which of the prizes they wished to be in the running to win by placing one (or more) of their tickets in that prize's ticket container.
Adjacent to the raffle area, Rob Anthony spent much of the show behind his desk repairing boards and selling spares, circuit boards and displays.
Many more circuit boards to repair or enhance your games were available at Great Lakes Modular.
Next to Tony was a stand for artist Doug Watson to display his backglasses and sketches. Doug wasn't there during our tour of the hall so we move on to our next vendor, Stern Amusements.
To the right of Jeff's stand was a large display from Marco Specialites, complete with two Stern Pinball Tron machines - one regular 'Pro' model and one Limited Edition version - both fitted with overhead cameras and large monitors to show the action..
Our next vendor isn't actually selling anything yet but hopes to soon. Randy Perlow's company ColorDMD was using an Attack from Mars to demonstrate their replacement DMD which shows the animations in colour.
More about ColorDMD and how it works later in the seminars section.
Rick Bartlett had the next stand with his Bay Area Amusements company.
Rick was also hosting a seminar, so you can find out all about his latest products in the seminars section below.
Our next vendor is the Playland Not at the Beach - the 'Museum of Fun' located in El Cerrito, California and reviewed here.
Cliff 'Cliffy' Rinear had his stand selling pinball protectors of all shapes and sizes, as well as coloured post sleeves and other pinball mods.
Next we have Gene Cunningham with his Illinois Pinball Co. who were selling their usual range of pinball parts, playfields and - new for PPE - a range of brightly-coloured playfield rubber rings.
As we head back towards the entrance we come to Jim Dietrick's The Pinball Revival Company. Jim was showing some of his restored vintage pinballs and selling badges, T-shirts and other branded goods from his stand. Like Randy and Rick, Jim was also hosting a seminar.
The final vendor booth in the hall belonged to the show organisers themselves. Pacific Pinball Exposition and Pacific Pinball Museum branded t-shirts, caps mugs and posters were all available as souvenirs of the show and to help support the Museum.
You can take a look around the Pacific Pinball Exposition 2011 with our exclusive Pinball News Five Minute Tour.
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Another major part of every Pacific Pinball Exposition is the programme of seminars which are now held in the Santa Rosa Room in the Embassy Suites hotel shown at the top of this report.
Although not being in the main show building may have been a disincentive to visit the seminars in previous years, this year's selection of speakers and subjects saw several packed rooms with people straining to get into the talks and increased attendance throughout the three days.
As usual, Pinball News was there to record all the seminars and we even managed to play a small part in the proceedings too.
More on that later, but here are all the speakers and audio of their talks thanks to the Board of the Pacific Pinball Museum and seminars organiser Ron Chan.
Jack is head of the Jersey Jack Pinball company and was here to talk about his life in and around pinball, his company, the first game they will be producing, and to show some of the cabinet artwork. He also found time to give away some JJP T-shirts to the packed audience and reveal some extra information about the upcoming machine.
He said all 1,000 Emerald City Limited Edition versions of The Wizard of Oz had been sold and that production would begin on March 13th 2012, which just happens to be designer Joe Balcer's birthday. He also revealed that the bottom left area of the playfield around the State Fair balloon bumper has been redesigned to make the bumper action more enjoyable.
Additionally, Jack explained the meaning of the acronym on his T-shirt, but you'll have to listen to the audio to find out what it means.
Jack revealed that one of the recent new members of the JJP team mentioned in our earlier report has presented him with a complete playfield design which might end up as the company's second game, ahead of Dennis Nordman's game.
Randy was describing how he created a colour display for use in a Williams WPC game.
Randy began by showing the video he posted on YouTube showing the colour DMD in use in an Attack from Mars game.
He then went on to describe the different methods he considered to add colour to the four-level monochrome video data and how he eventually decided to intercept the video signal as it left the display board on the way to the DMD board.
There were many challenges once he decided how to proceed with the project and numerous changes made along the way. Initial designs of boards were finessed and improved displays were added to simplify and enhance the system which now runs on an LCD notebook display which is just the right size to show the animations while not interfering with the backglass lighting.
From here, Randy is in talks with Rick of Planetary Pinball Supply to produce an initial run of 100 kits for AFM at an estimated price of $399, and has begun work on a second game which he estimates will take about 100 hours of work to create the colour versions of the display frames.
This seminar looked at the history of a very special machine - a Flicker by Bally - which was the first pinball to be controlled by a microprocessor. Alexis explained how he came to be the owner of the machine, how he discovered its historical significance with the help of Pat Lawlor, and how it ended up back with Jeffrey who had designed the game's control system and programmed the Intel 4004 processor.
Since the game was found, John has been working with Randy to get it working again and together the team told the story of how it came to be returned to working condition and exhibited at the this year's PPE.
Rick recalled how he started up Bay Area Amusements ten years earlier and how Planetary Pinball Supply came into existence just twelve months ago. He showed the audience the new parts PPS has been able to produce since the company was set up and continued by talking about the set up costs and the new methods which have made several previously-obsolete parts available at an economic price.
He illustrated his talk with pictures of the in-game parts and passed around cabinet artwork, translites and coil wrappers so attendees could examine them for themselves. He concluded his seminar by giving away a variety of pinball parts, translites and cabinet decals.
Gary said he was at the Pacific Pinball Exposition to help promote pinball as a game of fun and began his seminar with a recap of his, and his father's history in the game.
He continued by saying that at the age of 66 he could retire but he doesn't want to as he is committed to pinball. However, he also said he won't be doing this forever and the investment of money and marketing skills from the firm which bought a stake in the company at the end of 2009 provided some assurance Stern Pinball would continue after he retires.
Gary explained the outsourcing the company does to ensure a constant supply of parts coming in to keep the line of 100 people making 25 games a day, before he introduced a video showing the people and the processes in the factory.
The main themes of Gary's talk were the several decades of experience he and his team have making pinball, working at Williams, Chicago Coin, Data East and Sega, and the changes taking place at the company with new people, a new electronics system and some new marketing ideas.
Gary also spoke about why he doesn't expect to see any more video modes, widebody games or Spider-Man machines from Stern in the immediate future.
Larry is the Chairman of the Pacific Pinball Museum and was hosting this seminar to introduce Will White's movie of his recent interview with legendary game designer Wayne Neyens, as the first part of the Museum's Pioneers of Pinball series.
Larry traveled to Wayne's home in Arkansas to interview him about his prolific career creating pinball machines which began in 1936 when he got a job as a draughtsman working under Lyn Durant at Western Equipment and Supply.
Wayne left his job at Western and was planning to visit Genco to find a new job, but called in at Gottlieb instead where he was offered a job testing playfields. That led to a position in the Engineering Department with Harry Mabs, and the start of his career designing more than 180 games from 1949 until 1978.
Randy introduced this screening of his film The Pinball Collector which we reviewed in December last year. The movie looks at 30 games from the San Diego Pinball Museum, describes the significant features and explores details on the playfield and in the artwork.
Because the movie is mostly visual (and also available to purchase), we don't have an audio recording of it here.
George is the newly appointed Vice-President of Game Development at Stern Pinball and also the designer of the company's new Transformers machine which was due out soon.
But George began with a summary of his career in game design in both the video and pinball industries, including some information on his earlier games for Stern such as Batman.
However, the audience were keen to hear details of Transformers and George revealed the game will have two different ways to play it, depending on whether you choose to be an Autobot or a Decepticon. As an Autobot, Optimus Prime is your helper and Megatron your ultimate enemy, with roles switching if you opt to be a Decepticon.
George showed his version of the game rules, which was swiftly rejected by the marketing people at Stern...
...and some of his early sketches of the game's elements.
To create the artwork for Transformers, Stern got the original 3D computer models from Industrial Light & Magic and George loaded one of them into his 3D modeling package to show the level of detail.
Loading up his SolidWorks software, George then showed the audience around the Transformers playfield, although he had taken out some of the Limited Edition model enhancements as he was keen for those to come as a surprise to players.
One of the innovations in Transformers is the use of QR codes (square barcodes) which appear in the game artwork and also in the dot matrix display when certain goals are achieved. George said these codes will change the gameplay in some way.
After his seminar, George signed translites, flyers and any other pinball or Transformers-related items brought along by the audience.
Michael is the founder and Executive Director of the Pacific Pinball Museum while Larry is the Museum's Chairman, and this seminar was to update visitors on their ideas and plans for the Museum and for the Pacific Pinball Exposition show itself.
Michael and Larry explained the ethos for the Museum's existence, the opportunities it offers to teach the art, science and history of how the game works, and the cultural references encapsulated in the artwork and the technology.
The Museum is in the town of Alameda because, Michael explained, while they'd like to be in San Francisco, Alameda is an affordable location. In addition, they have three warehouses in the former Alameda naval base.
Their current plans are to expand the Museum by relocating to a former Naval recreation centre in Alameda which would expand the space available and make it possible to include teaching and art facilities along with a catering area.
The building requires significant work to bring it up to standard, but the Museum's specific requirements would need much of that work to be done anyway. Even so, Michael said the estimate is between $600,000-$900,000 to complete all the work needed for the Museum to move in within a year or 18 months. That sum would be spent in lieu of rent for fifteen years.
So the Museum is now looking for funding and plans to do that by reaching out beyond just the pinball community. In order to achieve that, Larry said it might be necessary not to hold the Pacific Pinball Exposition next year and to re-purpose the year-round effort which goes into organising it towards fund-raising in other venues and development of the Museum's educational exhibits. Also, if the new home for the Museum is achieved in time, there would be no point moving all the machines from there to another venue to hold the PPE.
A decision is due in the next few weeks and will be reported here in Pinball News.
Doug said he was lucky enough to join the pinball industry at a time he described as the "Wild West" of creativity with designers and artists given free rein to produce their most creative works. The 1970s changed the style from family-friendly, wholesome designs to much more outlandish and futuristic art with the potential to offend but the ability to intrigue.
Doug's seminar recreated the conceptual brainstorming from that era by getting the audience to suggest themes, elements and characters in a fantasy pinball game, and then try to work out what fun can be derived from them.
As ideas were called out, Doug wrote them on a white board and linked together concepts such as 'spiders', Nazis', 'angry birds' and 'zombies' to create gameplay based on them.
Doug also talked about the issues working with licensed themes and his personal highlights and lowlights, while examining many of the thematic and entertainment problems facing game designers.
Bear is the author of the book Pinball Machines Care and Maintenance and was at the Pacific Pinball Exposition to give basic buying, cleaning and repair information to current or potential game owners.
He began by suggesting ways a first-time buyer might like to choose their first pinball purchase and the pitfalls of which they should be aware.
Bear took questions from the audience and answered points about using LEDs in games, tilt settings and glass removal.
This is Johnny's second year teaching novice players the basics of ball control, including nudges, passes, catches and traps, as well as ways to learn from the top players.
He was using an Attack from Mars machine to illustrate his talk, getting members of the audience to come up and replicate the techniques he had just explained and shown on the screen.
To help demonstrate he manoeuvres, he had set up an overhead camera so the flipper area was visible on the screen.
Although Jonny's seminar included quite a few video and live demonstrations, his talk is still very instructive even without being able to see the visuals, so we have included the audio recording here.
Each year, the Pacific Pinball Museum recognises those who have made a significant contribution to the pinball community.
For 2011, the award went to the Editor of Pinball News, Martin Ayub. Seminars organiser and PPM Board member, Ron Chan presented the award at midday on Sunday before the first of that day's seminars got underway.
Martin then said a few words to thank the Board for their generosity and hospitality, and congratulated them on another fantastic Pacific Pinball Exposition. After recalling how it all began nearly 12 years ago, he went on to thank all the contributors who have written articles and contributed to Pinball News's success.
Jim Dietrick & Tylor Hirsch:
Jim began by stressing the importance of organisation when stripping down a playfield for repair or restoration. Take lots of digital pictures and ensure you keep related parts together with their mounting bolts, nuts and screws in small bins or plastic bags.
Tylor then spoke about cleaning techniques, the products to use and the dangers of not knowing when to stop if you are removing paint instead of dirt.
Problems with inserts was the next topic the pair tackled, along with how to remove a 'dished' insert with a heat gun and a hammer.
Tylor then picked up again to talk about repainting the playfield and the products he uses to recreate the artwork and then protect it.
Dan is an artist working in the Bay Area and PPE Board member, and his talk on Sunday was a development and extension of his earlier seminar looking at the way pinball and coin-op has influenced other artists.
Linking these artists' work would be part of the art programme at the enlarged Pacific Pinball Museum if the plans above come to fruition.
Dan dipped in and out of collections by Robert Indiana, Jasper Johns, Wayne Thiebaud, William Wiley and George Segal amongst others to illustrate the different genres of machine art, sound art, kinetic art, box art and pop art.
After his presentation, Dan took questions and spoke about the current, previous and planned exhibitions of various types of art at the Museum, and the huge collection of games from 1930s America amassed by Richard Conger.
Although Dan's presentation was highly visual, there's still a lot to be enjoyed and learned by listening to his talk, so we have included the audio of it here.
Gordon's seminar began with ways to arrest the decline in the number of casual pinball players caused by the loss of locations, the lack of competition in the manufacturing side of the business, the reduction in leisure spending and the growth of in-home entertainment.
The change in emphasis from earning a replay as the ultimate aim to getting the highest score took away much of the appeal, said Gordon, along with a reduction in the number of balls per game.
Gordon also said he thought the depth of rules and graphical overload on modern games turns off the casual player.
But the main thrust of Gordon's talk was on the use of licensed themes which he claimed reduced the potential profit per game, alienated those who disliked the theme and resulted in derivative, unimaginative game designs. He explored the ways manufacturers in the past had come up with original themes for their games, where the inspirations had come from, and how they reflected the cultural references of their time.
Finally, we return to the tournaments room for the closing stages of the Open Division.
Earlier, Nick Fitzpatrick had taken first place in the Kids Division, while the team of Josh Lehan, Josh Warren & Jeannie Rodriguez had taken the top spot in the Pin-Tac-Toe tournament.
In the Classics Division, Andrei Massenkoff - having qualified in 11th place - triumphed in the final to take first place, ahead of Bob Matthews in second, Johnny Modica in third and Stephan Colleredo in fourth.
The Novice Division was won by Per Schwarzenberger who had also qualified in first place. In second place was Garrett Albright, while Stephan Colloredo was third ahead of Michael Spears in fourth.
Which left just the Open Division which finished last of all, and after three games it all came down to Airborne to break the deadlock between Keith Elwin, Cayle George and Kevin Martin.
Karl DeAngelo also made it to the final but an early flight meant he had to leave and take fourth place with him.
Kevin Martin, perhaps better known as the man behind the PAPA World Championship and Pinburgh rather than as a player, had been top scorer on Airborne in the qualifying round and his skills combined with his experience and knowledge of the game to give him the win. Keith was second and Cayle third.
With the tournaments all decided, players left the room and the main hall as the 5th annual Pacific Pinball Exposition came to an end.
The show provides so many opportunities for enjoyment, from the newest games (both regular and LE versions) to the very earliest forms of pinball, you will never run out of games to play and unusual features to discover.
While the number of machines in the hall was slightly down on last year, the quality and range is unrivalled. There is a gradual shift away from having quite so many EM machines towards more solid-state, but it is only gradual and doesn't undermine the PPE's reputation of representing pinball's origins and golden years, as well as its current incarnation.
But the games are only a part of what PPE offers. The seminars were as strong as ever with people listening outside in the corridor for several sessions, unable to get into the room.
The historical guided tour were well received and helped to identify and put in context the most significant games in the hall, while the raffle offered a machine-a-day and the opportunity to win a new Stern Tron LE machine.
It is natural, then, to look forward to PPE6, but as you can hear in Michael Schiess and Larry Zartarian's seminar above, the Museum's Board are looking at changes for both the PPM's home and for future Pacific Pinball Expos.
Will there be another PPE next year? If so, where will it be held?
The Board will make their decision shortly, and you'll be able to read all about it here at Pinball News.
In the meantime, we can look back on PPE5 and congratulate everyone concerned in its planning, preparation and execution on producing another great event.
© Pinball News 2011