UK PINBALL PARTY 2014
Date: 29th - 31st August, 2014
It's August in the UK, so that must mean it's time for the UK Pinball Party. Once again pinball fans from across the UK, mainland Europe and the US travelled to the Daventry Court Hotel near the town of Northampton.
This has been the home of the UK's premier pinball show since it transformed from the UK Pinball Show into the UK Pinball Party in 2010. During those five years it has been organised by Andrew Heighway, and Andrew was again at the helm for 2014's event.
The hotel is arranged in a square, with a central courtyard where guests can relax and enjoy the weekend's (mostly) sunny weather.
The show is held in the Danetree Suite at the back of the hotel. On the way there, visitors pass through the lobby and Fuel Bar. Hot and cold food was served in the lobby at lunchtime on Saturday and Sunday, while both food and drinks were available from the Fuel Bar throughout the day. Drinks continued to be served until 2am on Friday and Saturday nights.
A regular feature of both the UK Pinball Party and its predecessor is a special guest from the world of pinball. Previous visitors have been John Trudeau, Steve Ritchie, Dennis Nordman, Jack Guarnieri, George Gomez and Mark Ritchie. This year the star of the show was the designer of such classic titles as Dracula, Pinbot, Dirty Harry, Space Shuttle and Comet, Barry Oursler.
This was Barry's first visit outside the United States, and given his recent health concerns, everyone was honoured he had chosen the UK Pinball Party as his first overseas trip. Barry walked through the hall and the hotel, chatting with show visitors, signing translites, backglasses and flyers, and presenting awards. He also, as we shall see, spoke at the awards dinner on Saturday night.
Before all that though, there was a show to build. Pinball machines arrived on Thursday and during the day on Friday.
The majority of the electrics were installed on Friday by show electrician Peter, who then PAT tested all machines as they were set up to ensure they were electrically safe for the public to play.
Several people who were bringing machines were caught in traffic jams on the M25 around London, the M1 and the M40 motorways. Delays on Friday night are not unusual, but these proved worse than expected and resulted in the late arrival of many players in the first competitive event of the weekend, the UK Pinball Team Tournament.
Eventually though, all the machines had arrived and players could enjoy a relaxed Friday evening session of pinball playing before retiring to their rooms or hitting the Fuel Bar into the early hours.
Saturday at the UK Pinball Party began just after 9am when the door opened and the first guests could enter.
Inside they found 91 pinballs - down from last year's 104 - split between the free play area and the tournaments, with a maximum of 15 being used for competitive play and the remainder set on free play and arranged in two long back-to-back rows.
The latest Stern pinballs were available to play. Mustang Pro came from Pinball Heaven while Star Trek LE came from Keith Fransham. Many of the more popular DMD titles were missing, however a number of interesting and unusual older games were present. Games such as Space Shuttle by Zaccaria, Nautilus, Combat and Aerobatics.
Along with the machines, a number of vendors were at the show. Heighway Pinball were selling a selection of branded merchandise at the front desk.
Pinball Mania had a large spare parts stand right by the entrance. When not selling parts and game add-ons, Andy Netherwood was often found fixing games on the show floor.
On the front wall of the hall, Jon Melleny had his 1 Stop Pinball stand with parts and game mods.
Gary Flower had his regular stand selling translites, manuals, spares, and a diverse range of promotional material.
David was later demonstrating an electronic tilt sensor and level detector which could be easily built into pinballs to provide an electronic tilt, and make it easier to correctly level the game and set the optimum angle.
The stand on the right of Gary was occupied by both Northern Lights Pinball and Steve Padgett selling pinball posters, while on the opposite side, Sean Mills has his Pinball Palace stand with a selection of replacement boards and displays from Rottendog and ColorDMD, along with copies of Pinball Wizard magazine.
Outside the hall were two stands from Dutch exhibitors. Adriaan van Roeden was demonstrating his TinyPin miniature pinballs, now with added sounds and extra lighting effects.
Next to Adriaan was Jonathan Joosten's Pinball Magazine stand. As well as his magazine and the newly-released book Pinball by Santiago Ciuffo, Jonathan had large poster of selected pictures from the book available.
You can take our exclusive Nine Minute Tour of the UK Pinball Party by clicking on the video below.
At 1:30pm on Saturday, a special presentation by Heighway Pinball was held in the Fuel Bar. The event drew a large crowd, and began with a promotional video for the company's Full Throttle title.
The latest iteration of the game was unveiled. Pinball News Editor, Martin Ayub, then asked Andrew and the team about how the game had changed since it was last presented a year ago, how close they are to having a production version, how the rules have developed, and then took questions from the audience.
The audience were then invited to come up, take a look at the game, and play it for themselves.
After the presentation, the game was taken into the main hall to be played by everyone.
The UK Pinball Party is also home to a number of pinball tournaments run over the three days.
The tournaments are held at the back of the hall, with the tournament team up on the stage alongside projector screens showing the current standings. Meanwhile, monitors on the floor level showed individual machine scores.
The first of these was the UK Pinball Team Tournament which is always held on the Friday evening. The scheduled start time of 7pm was put back an hour due to long delays on the motorways which resulted in a number of players - including the tournament organiser Matt Vince - not arriving in time for the original start.
Once everyone had gathered, the tournament could begin.
Sixteen teams of four had pre-registered for the Team Tournament through the tournaments website the at a cost of £10 ($16.33, €12.61) per team. Teams were ranked according to their total WPPR points and split into four groups of four teams.
Each team played a single 4-ball (one ball per team member) match against each of the other three teams in their group. The winning team in each match scored 5 points and the losing team zero.
In addition to the three group matches, all teams played a single 4-ball game on a bonus machine. The highest scoring team in the group earned 9 points, the second highest 5 points and the last-but-one team 2 points.
The total points from the three matches and the bonus machine gave the team their overall points score, and the team with the most points in each group went through to the final.
The results were:
So Surrey Pinball, Frozen Hearts, Young and Old, and Yorkshire Puddings went into the final which was played on Fish Tales.
None of the teams had a great game, but Surrey Pinball did well enough to win without needing to play their last ball. Yorkshire Puddings were second, with Young and Old very close behind and Frozen Hearts not far off the pace in fourth.
This gave Surrey Pinball their third consecutive win in the Team Tournament. Trophies and medals were then presented by Barry Oursler.
After the presentation of the awards, Andrew Heighway and Chris Williams took to the stage to make an announcement. If enough money was pledged for their chosen charities by Sunday lunchtime, they would both undertake the Ice Bucket Challenge and be drenched by buckets of ice-cold water.
The clock was ticking. Would they raise enough money? Find out later in this report.
The second tournament was the UK Pinball Open which began at 10am on Saturday.
Fourteen machines were set up and players could choose any six of them on which to play a single game. All the scores on each machine were ranked, and the sum of the player's ranking points gave them their total score. The top 24 players would go through to the first round of A Division play-offs. The next 16 who were not in the top 500 IFPA rankings or who hadn't won a major tournament went into the B-Division play-offs.
To give a helping hand, players were given a 'joker' which allowed them to replay one of their six choices to try to improve their score. If the joker game's score was better it replaced the original score, otherwise it was discarded. Only one joker could be played per competitor.
To help manage the waiting times, the 137 entrants were split into three two-hour qualifying times; 10am-12pm, 12pm-2pm & 2pm-4pm. They could choose their preferred time slot when they registered through the website. The 12pm-2pm slot proved to be the most popular with all 50 places quickly selling out.
The machines used this year were:
With Barry Oursler as the show's special guest, all three versions of his Pinbot game featured in the UK Pinball Open.
The UK pioneered the use of handheld computers to record scores, and this year the trusty Dell Axim PDAs were retired in favour of eight 9-inch Android tablets.
When all the games had been played, the qualifying positions were declared. Those in the B-Division with their names struck-through were ineligible to play in the B-Division.
The A-Division qualifiers entered their first round of play-offs where they played four pre-selected machines in pairs. Before each match, both players were given a 30-second warm-up to familiarise themselves with the machine, while the pairings changed with each match.
The scores on all the machines would be ranked, and the eight players with the most ranking points would move on to the semi-finals. The results from this round were:
Meanwhile, Phillip Eaton assembled the B-Division qualifiers outside and explained the format of their play-off.
The sixteen B-Division qualifiers were split into four groups of four, and each group played a single 3-ball game on their allocated machine. The top two from each group would progress to the semi-final stage. Because some players were excluded from the B-Division due to their IFPA ranking, the B-Division results would not count towards the overall UK Pinball Open result and hence the WPPR points awarded.
Back in the A-Division, the eight qualifiers were split into two groups and they played a single 3-ball game on separate machines, Monster Bash or Star Trek - The Next Generation. The top two from each went into the final, while the bottom two played a 5th-8th place play-off.
While the first semi-final was a very tight affair, Craig was unstoppable on Star Trek, reaching Final Frontier with all four artefacts and ending on more than 5 billion.
In the B-Division, the eight who made it through the first round of play-offs were Ken Neil, Garry Speight, Leon Verrall, Stefan Hjalmarsson, Timothy Raison, Paul Owen, Andreas Hedström & Dirk Klaver.
They went into two semi-finals played on Iron Man and Pinbot. The results from these were:
So the final four in the A-Division were Franck Bona, Paul Jongma, Craig Pullen and Lukasz Romanowski.
They played a single 3-ball game on a machine drawn at random. This proved to be World Cup Soccer, with Lukasz playing first.
Lukasz had a moderate start, ending ball one on 28M. Franck played next and did better to end his first ball on 75M.
Paul played third and had the best start so far with nearly 300M on his first ball.
Craig did moderately well on ball one, pushing his score up to just shy of 100M.
By the end of the second ball, things were much tighter at the top. Paul still led with 337M, but Craig was right behind him on 330M. Lukasz had improved to 156M while Franck was struggling on 85M.
On the last ball, Lukasz only marginally improved his score and ended his turn on 181M. Franck finally put a run together and more than doubled his score to narrowly pip Lukasz to third place, ending on 185M.
The battle for first was thus between Paul and Craig.
Paul used his last ball to push his score up to 481M, but would it be enough?
Craig began on 330M, but an early drain put paid to his hopes as he brought the final to a close with his score of 378M
Meanwhile, the 5th-8th play-off was taking place a little further along the row on Iron Man, and it was a clear victory for Kevin Birrell as his 86M score was more than double his closest challenger. Andrew Foster was second on 26M, with John van der Wulp third on 12M and Nicolas Linqué less than a million behind in fourth.
In the B-Division final it was victory for Leon Verrall who beat Dirk Klaver into second place, with Paul Owen in third and Stefan Hjalmarsson fourth.
Cash prizes, trophies and medals were then presented by the head of the UK Pinball Open, Peter Blakemore.
Each day there was also a high score competition for the younger players - the UK Pinball Kids Tournament. A single machine was set up in the tournament area and players could enter as many times as they wanted for just £0.50 ($0.80, €0.60) per attempt.
The machine used on Saturday was Transformers and competition was fierce amongst the 19 players taking part, with a constant line of hopeful youngsters trying to record the highest score of the day.
This year brought a new Junior Division to the tournament. Anyone below the age of 16 could enter the Kids Tournament, but those aged 11 and under also qualified for the new division, which awarded separate trophies to the top players.
When all the entries purchased had been used, play ended around 4pm and the results were announced. The highest Junior Division players are highlighted below.
Trophies were then awarded by Andrew to the top three in each division. Thanks to Peter Blakemore for these pictures.
The UK Pinball Kids Tournament concluded competitive events for Saturday, but the show was far from over.
As usual, there was an awards dinner held at the hotel featuring the show's special guest. Andrew began proceedings with a number of announcements and thanks to people who had helped make the show happen.
Following complaints in previous years about the tardiness of the food service at the awards dinner, a buffet system was employed this year so guests could go and get their food at their leisure. Unfortunately, what was gained in speed of service was lost in quality of food, while some dishes run out completely before everyone was served.
Once again, a number of new inductees were added to the UK Pinball Group Hall of Fame - an award given to those who have made a significant contribution to pinball in the UK.
The first of these awards went to Pinball Expo organisers Rob Berk and Mike Pacak, who are celebrating their 30th show later this year. Gary Flower (who has attended all 29 previous Expos) read the citation and introduced an acceptance video from Rob Berk.
The second new inductee was also introduced by Gary. It was the editor of the Pingame Journal, Jim Schelberg who was recovering from heart surgery but still recorded an acceptance speech video for guests at the Party.
The third new member of the UK Pinball Group Hall of Fame was introduced by Andrew, and was Pinball Daze's Dave Willcox. Apart from running his parts supply business, Dave also hosted the new Welsh Pinball Cup at his home earlier in the year, and was a major help to the family when fellow Welshman Dave Rolfe passed away last year. Indeed, the Welsh Pinball Cup awards the Dave Rolfe Memorial Shield to the winner.
Dave was unable to be at the Party, so Chris Williams accepted the certificate and trophy on Dave's behalf.
The final new member of the Hall of Fame was the show's special guest, Barry Oursler.
Before Barry spoke about his many years in the pinball industry, there was a charity auction of items donated to the dinner to raise money for Barry's ongoing fight against cancer. Items up for grabs included posters from Jonathan Joosten, a refurbished laptop from SJ Computing, and a number of Heighway Pinball promotional items.
Then Barry took a seat alongside Gary Flower as Gary asked him about his many game designs, and the people he had worked with during his 30 years at Williams.
Barry spoke about the special challenge of working with Python Anghelo, where the inspiration for many of his most popular titles came from, how he redesigned various games from other designers, and his involvement with the new pinball start-up Vonnie D Pinball.
You can listen to Gary's interview with Barry by clicking the play button below, or you can download it to your favourite MP3 player.
After the awards dinner there was a new feature for the UK Pinball Party. All those who brought machines or helped run the show were invited to a late night pinball session in the main hall from midnight until 3am. Anyone not in that category could purchase a pass for £15, with proceeds going to Barry's fundraiser.
Sunday at the Party began at 10am, which was also the start of the UK Pinball Classic tournament also run by Peter Blakemore. The fourteen machines from Saturday had been replaced by eight 'classic' machines, which in this context meant anything before the introduction of the dot matrix display.
The rules for the UK Pinball Classic were simple - get a high score on any of the eight machines and you qualified for the semi-finals. Attempts cost £1 each and there was a maximum of 15 attempts per person.
Pretty soon all the machines had lines forming in front of them, as players vied to take the top score and hold it until qualifying ended at 3pm.
The format is quite brutal. Only eight players would proceed, and if someone achieved the top score on more than one machine, the score which was furthest ahead of the second-placed player counted.
By 3pm there were still many players with tickets wanting to compete, so qualifying was expended for another 30 minutes to give them the opportunity to play.
When the last games had been played, the eight qualifiers were:
These eight then played in two semi-finals on machines on which none of them had qualified - either Space Shuttle or Black Jack.
The results of these were:
So Matt, Andy, Will and Franck went into the final which was held on Class of 1812.
After many, many repeat shots to the left ramp and the familiar cry of "Million!", Will had racked up a score of 76M by the end of his last ball - a good score but less than half his qualifying score of 171 million. Franck was in third with a total of 29M to Matt's 3M, but on the very last ball of the final, Andy passed Will's score with his 77M, and stopped playing at that point.
So Andy won, Will was second, Franck third, and Matt fourth.
Barry presented the awards to the top four players.
The UK also has a national league - the UK Pinball League - which is divided into five regions covering the London & the South East, the South West, the Midlands, the North, and Scotland. Each region has it's own rankings, and at the end of the season trophies are awarded to the top players. In addition, those who end in the top few positions qualify for a special national final which is held on Sunday at the UK Pinball Party.
This year's national League final was played on five machines - Theatre of Magic, Monster Bash, Fish Tales, High Speed 2 - The Getaway and Hurricane.
Players' scores were ranked on each machine and the players with the overall highest ranking would win trophies. In addition, 2014 saw the introduction of a B Division into the League final, so those players were ranked individually and a second set of trophies awarded.
18 Players took part in the A-Division and the clear winner of this was Martin Ayub, who claimed his fourth victory since the League was established.
Meanwhile, in the B-Division it was a comfortable win for Paul Owen.
Trophies were then awarded by Barry.
The B-Division awards were then presented by Barry.
There was a break in the middle of the League final while an event took place on the lawn outside the hall.
As we reported earlier, Chris Williams and Andrew Heighway had pledged to undertake the Ice Bucket Challenge if enough money was raised for their chosen good causes. In Chris's case it was the British Heart Foundation, while Andrew donated his share to Barry's fundraising campaign.
By lunchtime on Sunday, £400 ($660, €500) had been collected, which meant they both prepared themselves for an icy drenching. See what happened in our video below.
Trophies were also awarded to the top players in each of the five UK Pinball League regions, and to the top female and young players. League Coordinator Greg Mott made the announcements, while Barry presented the awards.
London & South East Region
Second place in the London & South East B Division went to Stan Simpson who was not at the show to collect his award.
First place in the South-West region's B-Division went to Neil Fellender who was not able to collect his award at the show.
Third place went to Graham Rowley who was also unable to collect his award at the show.
Third place in the Northern region's A-Division went to Dan Hardy who was not present to collect his award at the show.
The awards for the best female players and the top young players were then presented by Barry.
As on Saturday, there was a separate UK Pinball Kids Tournament held on Sunday. This time the machine was Jackbot, but there was no change in the constant queue to play it throughout the qualifying period which ended just after 4pm.
There were two divisions once again, and the final standings were (Junior Division winners highlighted):
The final awards went to the owners of the best machines at the show. There were four individual categories and one overall award.
The Best EM award was sponsored by Pinball Mania and went to Terry Sullivan for his Combat game. Terry wasn't present at the awards presentation, so it was accepted on his behalf by Andrew.
The award for the Best Solid-State machine - sponsored by Heighway Pinball - went to a lovely restoration of a Flash Gordon, undertaken by Chris Edis.
The next award went to the best 1999 and earlier DMD machine. This was sponsored by Pinball News and went to Jim Askey for his Safecracker.
The Best Post-1999 Machine award was won by Keith Fransham for his Star Trek Limited Edition, which had a blue ColorDMD fitted during the show and was updated to the latest version of the code as soon as it was released on Friday evening.
The Best in Show award was sponsored by the Pingame Journal and presented during the awards dinner on Saturday evening. It went to Darren Ball for his The Flintstones.
The awards presentation brought 2014's UK Pinball Party to a close. The hall shut to the public at 5pm, the power was switched off, and the break down of machines could begin. Within two hours, the sound of stretch wrap being torn off the roll had subsided, and most of the machines were safely on their way back home.
This year's UK Pinball Party largely followed the familiar format of previous year, with the show hall layout, awards dinner and number of tournaments largely unchanged. The extra pinball-playing session on Saturday night was welcome, and a nice gesture to those who made the extra effort to bring machines or help run aspects of the show. The flip side was that the usual social gathering in the bar - no doubt along with the bar takings - was much reduced.
The lower number of machines was perhaps an indication of complacency amongst both the pinball community and the organisers that the show would just happen without too much extra effort or promotion. At the awards dinner, Andrew acknowledged this, and - given how much of his time is committed to running his pinball company - suggested if others wished take up the reins of running the show he would be receptive to the idea. Certainly others have come forward with ideas for new features and changes to the format to freshen it up and widen the appeal.
If machine and visitor numbers were slightly down on last year, the number of tournament players was up on 2013, no doubt boosted by the UK Pinball Open being part of the IFPA's European Championship Series and UK Championship Series. The increased size and spread of prize money, improved scoring system, and the introduction of second divisions into both Kids Tournaments also proved popular amongst players.
For some, the lack of some of the A-list titles amongst the mix of machines was disappointing, but for others the opportunity to play some rarer and unfamiliar games was a real bonus.
It was a genuine pleasure to have Barry Oursler as the show's special guest. He was always happy to talk openly and honestly about any aspect of his pinball career, and his life after pinball. Everyone wished him and his wife well in their ongoing battles against illness, and a good sum was raised to help them both.
So congratulations to everyone involved in making the UK Pinball Party happen, and we look forward to next year's edition of the premier UK pinball show.
Summer just wouldn't be the same without it.
© Pinball News 2014