Date: 19th - 21st June, 2015
The Southern Fried Gameroom Expo was born out of a tournament in Atlanta, Georgia and it is now in its second year as a full-on show. So it was high time we jumped on a plane to Hartsfield-Jackson airport, booked into the Marriott Century Center on Atlanta's north side, and paid them a visit.
We arrived on Thursday afternoon in time for the start of setting-up at 6pm. As you can see in the picture above, the thunderstorms we 'enjoyed' the previous weekend in Denver have followed us south and east to Atlanta, and with temperatures nudging 100°F, anything could happen.
Before the rain arrived though, the first machines were unloaded and brought into the Marriott's ballrooms and conference rooms.
The SFGE occupies two large ballrooms along with several adjoining conference rooms and lecture theatres. In effect, it pretty much takes over the hotel.
In a second ballroom, more machines were being set up.
One side room will host the tournament machines, while two lecture theatres will be home to the show's many seminars.
Eventually the inevitable happened and the rain started falling. Since Atlanta is also pretty hot the droplets soon evaporated and the set-up continued uninterrupted.
Fortunately by the morning of the first day - Friday - the rain had gone as set-up continued.
Several vendors were setting up their stands. Marco Specialties, Project Pinball, Multimorphic and Flip N Out Pinball were all putting together their displays.
The Southern Fried Gameroom Expo opened to the public at 4pm on Friday.
Entry to the show cost $20 for Friday, $25 for Saturday and $15 for the shorter Sunday session. A pass for all three days was available for $50, saving $10 over the price of individual day tickets.
For their entry fee, visitors got to play on all the free-play machines and attend the seminars.
In total we counted 103 free play pinballs, 13 more in the tournament area, and a Kiss Pro used for a ToPS and Launch Party tournaments.
There were multiple vendors set up across both ballrooms and in the connecting corridors.
A couple of the side rooms had single and multi-player video games set up for visitors to play.
Another side room played host to the pinball tournaments. The room was busy throughout Friday and became a little overcrowded at times.
Across from the pinball tournaments were the two seminar rooms. The SFGE seminars cover a wide range of topics with an emphasis on video gaming, so we'll pick out the pinball-related ones and bring them to you here.
The first of these featured Paul Kiefert and Al Warner talking about their Pins and Vids video series and their upcoming fifth edition, with Patrick Wall asking the questions.
Paul and Al spoke about how they met and came to produce the very first podcasts about pinballs and video games. In 2005 they made the first Pins & Vids followed soon after by the second, but then took a break of a couple of years before returning for the third which focused on the making of Big Bang Bar from Gene Cunningham.
It was a further five years before Pins and Vids 4 was released. Paul and Al then showed some clips from those first four videos, followed by some snippets from their soon-to-be-released fifth edition.
Friday 8:30pm - Seeing Ghosts - Ben Heck & America's Most Haunted Pinball
Ben was interviewed by Nate Shivers
Ben began by explaining how, from being a video game guy, he became interested in pinball after seeing how it told a story in such an abstract way. From there he decided to make a game of his own. His first was the Bill Paxton game, a theme he chose, he said, so people would think he was insane.
That was followed by his Lost game which has since been parted out.
Ben said he has learned a lot from game designers John Popaduik and Dennis Norman, along with the advice he received from Steve Ritchie on how to make his games better.
He then spoke about how he teamed up with Charlie at Spooky Pinball, and how his Ghost Squad game developed into America's Most Haunted and became Spooky Pinball's first title. Ben said they had a hard time selling the game initially, but the best marketing tool was to start shipping games and let people see and play them.
Ben also brough along his miniature Space Shuttle pinball game which he built in one episode of The Ben Heck Show.
Due to a technical malfunction (OK we forgot to press the record button twice to actually start recording), we join Ben's seminar a little way in where he is talking about his design for America's Most Haunted.
Saturday 1:30pm - Whoa Nellie! Spanning Retro to Modern - Dennis Nordman & Greg Freres
Both Greg and Dennis spoke about their first involvements with pinball. Greg said he grew up in Chicago where pinball was outlawed, so he only got to play pitch & bat games until he went to college.
They then talked about the processes of creating pinball art and designing a pinball game when they first started in the business.
Greg described how an initial pencil sketch of the backglass was turned into a much larger sketch and then into the final drawing which was then coloured, while the cabinet artwork followed along with the playfield.
Dennis explained the process for a playfield, saying he used to design first using pencils and paper, with set squares and rulers. He said it was much harder to make changes back then, although the introduction of the electric eraser made life easier.
They then showed a slide-show of how they came to join up and create the Whoa Nellie! Big Juicy Melons game.
Saturday 3:00pm - The P3: Pinball Reinvented for Today's Consumers
Nate Shivers from the Coast to Coast podcast interviewed Multimorphic's Gerry Stellenberg in this seminar about the P3 pinball platform.
Gerry explained how he got into pinball at college when a friend left him a bunch of credits to play a Theatre of Magic game at a time when he was only into playing video games. When, after college, he moved to Austin he bought two pinballs - one of them a Theatre of Magic.
He talked about how he quit his job five or six years ago to start his own business and soon expanded his collection to twelve machines, but even then he became tired of always playing the same rules, and looked for a way to give the games more variety.
This was the start of the P-ROC pinball controller which allowed game owners to create their own rules or completely re-theme a machine.
The P3 pinball platform was, he said, began as a way to demonstrate the possibilities which came when applying modern technology to the traditionally Luddite pinball business.
Gerry talked about the team who either have worked or are currently working on the P3 and Multimorphic's first game, Lexy Lightspeed: Escape from Earth.
After the Multimorphic seminar, Gerry stayed on to be part of a panel discussing the creation of custom games.
Saturday 4:00pm - Coding & Creating: The Challenge of Custom Games
On the panel were Scott Hale, Gerry Stellenberg, Paul Kiefert and Jimmy Lipham. The discussion was moderated by Shannon Dewitt.
Each member of the panel introduced themselves before Scott spoke about his early days working on the various computer platforms. Gerry did the same before moving on to how he got into gaming and his desire to make custom games.
Paul said he used to run bulletin boards (BBS) but wanted to modify the system he used to add more custom features, so got into programming that way. Jimmy related how he got into pinballs in arcades and wanted to make his own machine, getting a P-ROC board for his Demolition Man and thus meeting Gerry.
Everyone then spoke about their current projects before moving on to the disciplines and skillsets needed to design and build a custom game.
The final seminar of the show featured James Loflin and Jimmy Lipham from the Circus Maximus team who are working to build the Python Anghelo-designed Python's Pinball Circus.
James described the history of the game, from Python's original plans in 1991, through Python's departure from Williams and the shelving of the project, the building of the first prototype which was available to play on the show floor, to their plans to make a second, manufacturing prototype machine.
After that, they intend to make twelve sample games, seven of which will go to team members, with the remaining five being sold. James said they had far more buyers than machines, so would need to work out a way to decide who gets to buy them.
If the demand is shown to exist, the game could then go into production.
The prototype game includes a snake ball-saver mechanism between the flippers which Williams took out for the two sample games they built, but which Python was insistent should be reinstated. In the sample games the snake will be activated by a 'pelvic switch', although a more conventional second flipper button is also expected to be available.
James and Jimmy were joined on the stage by Animal, who belonged to Python and now travels around the shows with James and the prototype Python's Pinball Circus game.
We'll be back soon with the tournament results and our wrap-up of the show, so check back for the latest updates.
In the meantime, here's our exclusive Fifteen Minute Tour walk around the show.
© Pinball News 2015