Date: September 20th - 23rd, 2012
Last year's Pacific Pinball Exposition was mooted as possibly the last such show, yet here we were back again at the Marin Civic Center north of San Francisco for PPE 6.
However, there was a definite aire of finality around this sixth Exposition as the drive to raise funds for a new permanent base for the Pacific Pinball Museum - which would obviate the need for a show in a location such as this - was well under way, and optimism was high the Museum would soon have its new home.
As usual, the PPE's machines and exhibits were set up in the main Civic Center hall.
The delivery and setting up of machines in the hall took place in the days before the official opening, which took the form of a VIP party on the evening of Thursday 20th September.
This was our first chance to explore the show floor before the large crowds showed up over the next three days.
When the show did open to the public on Friday morning, a queue soon built up before the doors opened and the first visitors could enter the exhibition hall.
Even before guests reached the entrance to the hall, their pinball education began with a series of informational posters along the entry corridor highlighting the scientific landmarks featured in pinball artwork.
The layout of the exhibition hall was largely unchanged from the previous year. As visitors entered, the organisers' desk was on the right, dot matrix and solid-state games were in front and to the left, electro-mechanical games were on the right, while vendor stands were set up around the outer walls of the room.
Apart from being the place where wristbands could be obtained, the organisers' desk also sold T-shirts for the show and the Pacific Pinball Museum, show posters, postcards, DVDs, mugs, magazines and other assorted souvenirs.
A raffle stand was set up on the far left as you entered, selling tickets and displaying the prizes on offer, including three pinball machines - Slick Chick, 2001 and X-Men Pro.
So let's take a look at a small selection of the machines available to play in the hall.
For those with deep enough pockets, the murals were available to purchase.
Each year the PPE celebrates either the science, art or history of pinball. This year it was the turn of science to be in the spotlight, as a number of exhibits on the show floor demonstrated how magnetism, electricity and kinetic energy play such major roles in the way pinball operates.
A table was set up in the hall so visitors could make donations towards the Museum's new home, and in thanks to those who had already contributed
Here's the full list of all 358 pinballs on the show floor:
As ever, there was a substantial historical section exhibiting machines which demonstrated pinball's origins and significant developments during the game's early years.
Regular free tours of the historic machines gave an overview of pinball's development and a look at some of the early machines which broke new ground with their innovative features and technological advancements.
Alongside the historical exhibit were the two Visible Pinball machines.
These two Bally Freedom machines 'clearly' show the differences between the electro-mechanical and solid-state forms of the same Freedom design. All the relays, switches and the score motor in the base of the cabinet has gone, while the backbox houses circuit boards instead of score reels.
Also on the floor for visitors to enjoy was The Wizard of Oz, which attracted a large queue to both play the machine and talk to Jersey Jack Pinball's Jack Guarnieri.
You can read much more about the arrival of The Wizard of Oz in our exclusive report, and there's more below in the seminars section.
Just along from Jack, Marco Specialties were flying the flag for Stern Pinball, presenting two of their X-Men Pro machines for guests to play.
Finally, there were another 14 machines in the tournament room bringing the total number of machines at the 2012 Pacific Pinball Expo to 394.
There were also six non-pinball games, including four bingos, a pitch and bat game and a spinning wheel skill game.
But a pinball show wouldn't be a pinball show without parts vendors selling all manner of pinball essentials and needless frivolities.
Vendors in attendance this year were:
Here's our look around out Pacific Pinball Exposition 2012 exhibition hall. We would normally call it a Three Minute Tour or even a Four Minute Tour, but there's so much to see it rapidly became our Eight Minute Tour.
Just a short walk over the bridge to the hotel and a turn to the right brought you to the Sausalito Room where the nine seminars and four film screenings were held.
The first seminar featured a screening of a short film about artist Wade Krause, made by Pinball Donut Girl producer, Anna Newman.
Film - Wade Krause: Pinball Artist
Before the screening, the film's producer Anna talked about how she met Wade and why she was inspired to make a film about him. Then, after it was shown, Anna was joined by Wade, the film's director Don, and Charlie who shot the visible pinball footage. Wade described how his artistic talents turned to pinball after buying games in the 1980s and creating his own backglasses.
P-ROC/P3: New Innovations in Pinball
The team behind the P3 pinball platform were at the Pacific Pinball Exposition, led by Gerry Stellenberg who spoke about the creation of the P-ROC system and how it has developed, before turning to the P3 itself.
Then the P3 prototype was introduced to the audience.
Gerry used the LCD screen inside the P3 to run his presentation on the screen behind him, which explained how the system was created and its capabilities.
Pinball News readers will already be familiar with the P3, but in summary the game's most prominent feature is the LCD monitor embedded in the playfield with 'floating' flippers and slingshots sitting above it. The machine also features unique ball-tracking technology, a row of scoops across the playfield with a corresponding row of pop-up wall targets in front. Further up the game sits a swappable upper playfield which allows multiple designs to be used in the same machine.
The P3 is totally different under the playfield too. There is no switch or lamp matrix - all switches, lamps and solenoids connect to controller boards located on the underside, removing the need for a backbox.
Having explained and demonstrated how the P3 works, Gerry then invited a member of the audience to play the machine while a camera overhead displayed the playfield image on the projector screen.
After the seminar, the P3 was taken to the main show hall where the Multimorphic team showed visitors its many features.
How to Play Pinball Like the Pros
Jon Olkowski and Dylan Eichenbaum held their seminar to teach basic pinball playing and ball control skills to the audience. They explained the principles of trapping the ball, passing it and setting up the next shot, as well as the effects different types and colours of rubber have on the ball's behaviour.
They illustrated this with a combination of pre-recorded videos and live demonstrations using a Tron machine in the seminar hall with an overhead camera.
Although much of Jon and Dylan's presentation was visual, we have included an audio recording of it here as it contains many useful tips which don't necessarily need the accompanying slideshow.
Gary's talk at the Pacific Pinball Expo was somewhat different from his many previous talks, taking a much more personal walk through his years in the business, starting with how his father Sam Stern first got into pinball by operating games in Philadelphia.
Soon Sam became a distributor for the machines made by Harry Williams in Chicago, and ended up buying half the company from Harry. Gary said even though his father now owned half the company, they didn't trust him enough to let him into the factory for almost a year, while he took care of machine sales. Gary also had his own space at the factory from the age of 16, from where he studied and learned the business from Sam and Harry. In 1959 Sam bought Harry out, although Harry continued to work at the factory, designing games.
Gary stressed that the most important function of the engineering department is to produce the bill of materials for material control to ensure the factory has constant supply of the parts necessary to keep making games. Gary talked about the rise and fall of the original Stern Pinball, the formation of Data East Pinball, the transfer to Sega Pinball, and its evolution into the current Stern Pinball.
Like the seminar which preceded it, Clay's talk was a highly personal account of his life in pinball. He focused on a number of events where, for reason he attempted to explain, not everything had a successful ending.
These included his editorship of the Pingame Journal, the creation of the pinball repair guides, the establishment and closure of the Tilt Town arcade in Detroit, and the new private collection which subsequently replaced it.
Clay gave his own personal views on why things turned out the way they did and some of the background to those events which might help explain them.
At the request of the speaker, the precise details and the audio from this seminar is not available.
At last year's Pacific Pinball Exposition, the first in the Pioneers of Pinball series of films featured an interview with Wayne Neyens. That interview led to this follow-up second interview, shot and edited by Will White, where Wayne spoke in-depth about some of his designs and the many mechanisms he created for use in them.
Both parts of the Pioneers of Pinball series is available to purchase from the Pacific Pinball Museum by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to this, and the highly visual nature of the film, the audio from this screening is not available here.
We first reported on Anna's IndieGoGo campaign to raise funding for the Pinball Donut Girl featurette a year ago. That funding drive reached its goal, and since then work on the film has been under way. Anna was here to show a 10-minute cut of the film and introduce the cast and crew who could then answer any questions about it.
The film happened after Matt Walsh recalled a similar story of his visits to a donut store where the young waitress was a wizard on the Pinbot game they had. Matt told the story to Anna and she decided to turn it into Pinball Donut Girl.
You can listen to Anna and the crew discuss Pinball Donut Girl in the audio recording below. Although the 10 minute version of the film was shown, we have not included the soundtrack here.
Jersey Jack Guarnieri - The Wizard of Oz
Last year Jack was at the PPE to reveal the cabinet artwork (which he subsequently left in the car he took to the airport), but this year he had a nearly-complete machine to unveil.
The machine was covered in white cloths which were soon removed to reveal the machine to the audience.
Those who had read our update had already seen the game from the unboxing and setting up from the previous night, but for many it was their first look at the machine.
Jack spoke about the new features in The Wizard of Oz, including the use of multi-colour LEDs across the playfield and the use of clear inserts on the playfield which take their colour from the multi-colour LEDs beneath. He wouldn't be drawn on what would happen with the crystal ball, simply saying "it will do something".
Jack said he knew what JJP game number two would be, and game number three, but right now his focus is on delivering game number one.
He said the game was the result of leaving the most talented and dedicated pinball designers to get on with it, though he did want then to come up with a product eventually.
At the end of the seminar, Jack distributed JJP-branded T-shirts to members of the audience before they crowded round The Wizard of Oz to see it. It was then moved into the main exhibition hall where visitors could play it for most of the rest of the show.
George started by saying he knew everyone wanted to hear him talk all about his next game, but he wasn't going to. However, he did promise that there was a very exciting period coming up at Stern over the next few months.
George's seminar looked at how a pinball machine is designed, from the initial search for ideas through to the development and clarification of those ideas and how they could apply to pinball.
He used the company's recent X-Men game as an example, showing how the X-Men concept was reduced to a number of bullet points; the prologue of gathering together the X-Men to fight Magneto, the exploitation of each character's individual talents, and the battling of other villains. This was followed by ideas for toys which could go into the game to tie together the theme, the storyline and the characters.
He also revealed how the initial concept was to work with the X-Men movies, but that soon changed to using the original Marvel comics to give them more freedom and a wider range of possibilities.
After that, George showed some early cabinet and backglass ideas.
George said one of the biggest changes he has made at Stern Pinball is to allow each design team to create their own games with their own look and feel, so each new machine doesn't resemble the previous model.
The development pictures show the game with steel ramps instead of the plastic ones used in the production game which, George said, made the game lightning fast.
George then showed some sketches from some of his earlier games, including The Lord of the Rings and The Sopranos.
George said he sketches a lot, as it allows him to develop his ideas quickly. Sketching also formed the second half of his seminar where he invited ideas for a new game from the audience and sketched a possible playfield design based upon them.
The theme chosen was a haunted mansion, and as George asked the audience to brainstorm possible playfield features, characters and settings, he sketched them in his Batman Rising-branded notebook which was projected on the screen from an overhead camera.
At the end of the seminar, George donated his sketches to the Pacific Pinball Museum to be auctioned as part of their fundraising campaign for a new home.
Time began by explaining the origins of the Las Vegas Pinball Collectors Club and the Pinball Hall of Fame, and how they grew out of the Fun Nights he used to hold at his home, where he had over 1,000 pinballs with 350 set up to play. This soon grew out of control and, according to Tim, stopped being fun, and so came to an end.
Out of those fun nights came the Pinball Hall of Fame, turning the hobby into a not-for-profit business, with professional facilities and regular hours. Tim talked through the economics of renting property in Las Vegas, the price they were able to negotiate for the first home for the Hall of Fame, how things changed over the duration of the agreement and how they eventually ended up in their present, larger home.
Tim said this year has been phenomenal for business, peaking at over $17,000 a week through the coin slots, although that has since dropped back to $8,000-$10,000 once the summer's tourism business died down.
Tim then looked at some of the other large pinball collections open to the public across the US. Some are museums with an educational programme, others are large arcades. Some are pay-per-play, while others charge for entry and then have their machines on free play. Clay Harrell joined Tim to talk about his experiences setting up one such place in his home city of Detroit.
Finally, Tim offered his top tips for setting up a large collection for the public to play, from the initial proposal to building rental agreements and prices.
At the end of his Seminar, Tim was honoured by the Pacific Pinball Museum with their Lifetime Achievement Award for 2012. Founder and Executive Director Michael Schiess presented Tim with his trophy.
In return, Tim said the Museum appeared to always be in one catastrophe or another and so presented Michael with the Pinball Hall of Fame's Cat Ass Trophy.
Michael Schiess & Larry Zartarian
Michael and Larry's seminar updated PPE guests on their search for a new home closer to the centre of San Francisco, and the fundraising drive which was underway through IndieGoGo.
They explained the Museum's mission, what coming to the Museum gives visitors, the links they have forged with the artistic communit,y and described the landmark achievements they have made so far.
They also spoke about the Museum's previous attempts to find new premises. Last year the hope was to secure a facility at the historic Naval Base, but the building there ultimately proved to be unaffordable without co-operation from the City of Alameda which was not forthcoming, and so the search for a new home continued.
The hope is to move to the Palace of Fine Art in the Golden Gate Park, but they are up against stiff competition from other bidders and it will ultimately be up to the city to decide who wins. There are alternative plans should their bid not succeed, but the focus is very much on building solid funding to demonstrate to the city that they have the financial backing and community support necessary to succeed if their bid for the Palace of Fine Art is accepted. They should find out whether their proposal has won within 6-12 months.
Mark and Howard were the team behind the 1997 History of Pinball documentary which looked at pinball's original and the multiple rises and falls in popularity it has experienced.
Mark spoke about why they created the hour-long documentary, who they interviewed - both inside the industry and outside, such as Guns N Roses' Slash - the stories they told, and how he and Howard got the film broadcast on a major US TV channel.
The History of Pinball is now available in a re-mastered form on DVD, and a follow-up documentary - The History of Pinball Part Two - is now being shot, as you can see from the picture of the film crew near the top of this report.
Mark and Howard were looking for suggestions of people they should interview for the new film and potential ways they could distribute their original documentary.
The seminar was followed by a screening of The History of Pinball.
That concludes the seminar schedule.
While the seminars were under way, across the bridge in the Marin Civic Centre the qualifying rounds of the tournaments were being held in a side room off the corridor leading to the main hall.
Qualifying ran all day Friday and Saturday, with the finals being held on Sunday. This year the tournaments were organised by Tournament Director, Jeannie Rodriguez.
There was tournament for kids, a match play event, a tournament for 'shorties' and the main open division.
In the Open division it was a win for Jeff Gagnon who beat Andrei Massenkoff in the final, with Karl DeAngelo and Alex Samonte in joint third place.
Here are the other placings in the Open division:
Jeff nearly made it a double in the Matchplay Tournament, but it was Tim Hansen who won that one with Jeff in second, Julie Gray in third, Johnny Modica in fourth and Josh Warren fifth.
In the Kids Tournament, the first place trophy was claimed by Nick Fitzpatrick, ahead of Zack Orozco in second, Jack Slovacek in third and Natlie Jeng in fourth.
Finally, the 'Shorties' tournament (a twist on Shorty's pinball bar in Seattle which hosts regular pinball events) was one of the few tournaments - if not the only - with a maximum height restriction.
The winner of this one was Julie Gray who rose above the competition to take first place. Nina G was in second, with Nicole Anne Reik third.
As the Open final rounds and awards were taking place, further awards were made in the main hall to recognise those who make a special effort with their machines and their organisational skills to help make the show such a success.
The Best Original Condition: Solid-state or DMD - award went to Steven Borel with his High Speed 2 - The Getaway.
The award for Best Original Condition: Electro-mechanical, went to Larry Zartarian for his Roto-pool game.
The Best Restored DMD or Solid-State award was given to Shon Dolcini for his World Cup Soccer machine.
The equivalent award for electro-mechanical machines went to Dan Kramer for his Rally West Club game.
The winner in the Best Custom Game was Tim Jenison with the Cosmic Venus machine as used in the movie Tilt!
The final award went to the Best of Show machine and this was won by Jack Guarnieri for The Wizard of Oz.
Additional awards were then presented, first to Jon Olkowski for his work running the tournaments at PPE in previous years, and for all his work promoting pinball in the Bay Area.
Awards of pinball books were then given to Jeannie Rodriguez and Eric Kos for running this year's tournaments.
And that brings us to the end of this Pacific Pinball Exposition 2012. Will there be another one? Will there be something to draw us back to the West Coast next September?
Whatever happens, these have been six extraordinary pinball shows which have raised the bar in terms of expectations and what a pinball show can achieve, both within the pinball community, and by reaching out to the wider public.
© Pinball News 2012