UK PINBALL PARTY
Date: 21st August - 23rd August, 2015
After several years of being hosted at a hotel in Daventry in the English Midlands, this year's UK Pinball Party featured a radical change of location as it headed to South Wales.
The motivation behind the move was the formation of show organiser Andrew Heighway's pinball company, Heighway Pinball.
Running the company obviously takes up a lot of his time, so holding the UK Pinball Party in the same premises not only made arrangements easier, it also allowed visitors to tour the factory and gave machine donors much more time to set-up and tear-down. Indeed, we took our van-load of machines and tournament equipment down to Merthyr Tydfil ten days before the event began, and at the time of writing it is (hopefully) all still there.
Although it is common in many countries, this was one of the few UK pinball shows where it is possible to drive into the venue to unload cars and vans. Given the constant rain outside for almost the entire three days, that was a welcome feature.
The UK Pinball Party opened to guests at 6pm on Friday.
The building is split into two separate units. The one on the right is where pinball manufacturing is currently taking place. The one on the left is normally unused, but once production starts to really ramp up, it is expected to expand into this second unit.
Guests entering the building first arrived in the right-hand unit where they encountered the front desk team which issued wristbands and offered assorted merchandise for sale.
T-shirts were priced at £12 ($18.50/€16.50) each, while copies of Pinball Magazine #2 were also on sale for the same price.
Just across from the front desk were two Full Throttle machines. One had standard trim but an optional backbox LCD panel, while the other sported one of the two limited edition colour options.
Then it was into the show being held in the left-hand factory unit.
The large space allowed for plenty of seating for anyone wanting to take a break from the pinball, or to enjoy the food and drinks on sale.
Moving further into the hall, the first block of machines were reserved for the seven tournaments being run over the three days, although they were opened up for everyone to play once the tournaments were over for the day.
Further into the hall we find the bulk of the pinballs which form the free-play area.
Also at the back of the hall was a selection of video games.
Finally, there was another bank of pinballs leading up to the vendor stands.
PinSound had four demonstrator games fitted with headphones to help guests hear the difference one of their boards makes. Incidentally, the picture above features the show's special guest, but more on him later.
Next to PinSound was Dave Willcox's Pinball Daze stand selling a wide selection of both new and a few reclaimed pinball parts.
Taking up the corner position was Andy Netherwood's Pinball Mania. As usual they had a large number of electronic components in their tower, as well as their regular range of rubbers, cleaning materials, LEDs and more.
The final vendor at the show was Jon Melleny of 1 Stop Pinball who had masses of LEDs along with his displays, cabinet protectors and other assorted pinball goodness.
So here's our full list of all the pinballs, videos and vendors at the UK Pinball Party 2015.
The first of the tournaments got under way at 7:30pm on Friday, and that was the UK Pinball Team Tournament.
Eight teams of four took part, competing in one of two groups and playing a single four-ball match against each of the three other teams in their group.
In the four-ball games, each team member plays one of the balls.
When all three rounds of matches had been played, the two teams with the most wins from each group progressed to the final, which was played in the same way as the first round. The teams who made the final round were:
After the three matches, French Froggs, Exotic Aruba and The DNQs all had two wins, while Swedish Meat had not won a game. So there was a three-way sudden-death match to decide the top three places. The machine drawn at random was Full Throttle.
In a close game, The DNQs not only qualified but came first with 20.8M to Exotic Aruba's 18.7M, with the French Froggs not far behind on 12.9M.
Once the Team Tournament was over, play continued on all the machines - free-play and tournament - until the show closed at midnight.
The show opened again at 9am on Saturday. The first events of the day were the first qualifying group in the UK Pinball Open, the start of qualifying in the UK Pinball Classic and Saturday's UK Pinball Kids Tournament, all of which began at 10am.
In the UK Pinball Open, 88 players were registered with a number of reserves waiting to take the places of any who couldn't make it. The location of the show was always going to mean fewer visitors and so rather than the 100+ players who usually take part the original plan was for 80 players. However, the number of players who missed out called for an increase to 88.
Those 88 players were split into 8 groups of 11, where everybody played a single 3-ball game against all the other players in the same group. Players could record their wins and losses on their score cards which also showed who played first in each game. Machines were drawn at random. Here is the selection of machines:
When all the matches in a group had been played, the 4 players with the most wins in the group (32 players in total) progressed to the play-offs on Sunday. The current win/loss records were shown on a large LCD screen on the tournament desk so everyone could keep track of their progress.
Four of the groups (A-D) played in the morning session starting at 10am, the remaining four (E-H) played in the afternoon session starting at 2pm. Entry to the Open tournament cost £10 ($15.50/€13.70) in addition to show entry, and was purchased in advance through the show website.
The 32 qualifiers were:
Those not playing in the current Open groups could play in the Classic Tournament.
This was held on six machines opposite the tournament desk. They were:
This followed the same format as the Open from previous years, where players could choose any five of the six machines and play a single 3 or 5 ball game (depending on the machine) on each of them. Their scores were ranked against other players with the top score on a machine earning 100 points. The total of their five ranking scores gave them their overall total.
Scores were recorded on Android tablets and linked back to the main tournament system which showed the current standings on a monitor. Qualifying ran from 10am until 6pm, after which the 32 players with the highest rankings progressed to the play-offs on Sunday. Entry for this cost £6 and was bought on the day.
The UK Pinball Kids Tournament also returned, with separate tournaments on Saturday and Sunday.
The Kids Tournament was open to anyone under 16 years of age, but was split into two divisions - Juniors for those under 12-years-old, and Youth for players aged 12 to 15.
These were straight high score tournaments run on separate machines:
The Flintstones was for the Junior players and Batman was the Youth machine on Saturday.
They were then swapped over on Sunday. Play ran from 10am until 4pm each day, after which the winners were announced and trophies and medals awarded by Jayne Raison.
Here are Saturday's results:
At two pre-arranged times during the day - one at lunchtime and another late in the afternoon - Andrew led a free tour of the Heighway Pinball factory.
The group then went into the print room where Romain showed how they print their own translites, cabinet side art, and can also print playfields.
In mid-afternoon there was the first of several private viewings of Heighway Pinball's progress with their second game - Alien. These viewings were held in a private conference room where, in order to make sure no unapproved licensed assets were distributed, no cameras pictures were permitted. Well, none except for this one.
Among the devices shown were pop bumper toppers shaped like eggs but made of a textured translucent material lit from below by a number of RGB LEDs, allowing it to pulsate and simulate movement within. A cabinet with Alien artwork and translite was also shown, complete with bright yellow rotating beacons on the backbox.
Also taking place on Saturday were the finals of the UK Pinball League.
The League is spread right across the UK and split into six regions covering Scotland, the North, the Midlands, the South-West, London & the South East, and Northern Ireland & Ireland. Each region produces its own winner, but at the end of the season the top players qualify for the A and B Division League Finals held at the UK Pinball Party.
Those finals are run like a regular league meeting, with players playing a selection of machines, with the scores ranked and points awarded. The player with the most points wins the final.
The machines used were:
The winners' trophies would be awarded on Sunday afternoon, just before the Open and Classic finals.
The show continued until 7pm when the doors closed so preparations could be made in the factory for the special awards dinner.
Guests assembled at 8pm and found a position on the four tables set up in a square pattern. Entry to the awards dinner cost £32.50 per person, or could be bought at a discounted rate as part of a show package.
Once everyone had gathered and taken their positions, the dinner’s main course was served. The highlight of his was the hog roast, which is essentially a whole roasted pig, served with assorted side dishes of potatoes, bread rolls, sage and onion stuffing, apple sauce, sausages, chicken drumsticks, and various salad items.
Although the main meat was a little dry, the overall meal was of a good quality with plenty to go round. Guests were invited to help themselves to second (or third) servings, and this was followed by a choice of desserts such as cheesecake, gateau, and profiteroles.
Once the meal had been concluded, Andrew began the evening’s entertainment with an impromptu auction to raise funds for Barry Oursler - last year’s special guest - whose wife had just recently passed away. Heighway Pinball, Pinball News, Pinside and Matt Vince all donated items to be auctioned.
The highest bid of the evening was on a one-of-a-kind Full Throttle sample playfield, which raised £200 ($310/€275), but two Full Throttle side panels fetched £50 and £45 each, with a translite reaching £51.
In total, the auction raised £414.50 ($638.50/€567.65) for Barry.
Every year the UK Pinball Party inducts a number of new members into the UK Pinball Group Hall of Fame. The previous inductees are:
Gary Flower introduced the first new member of the Hall of Fame, Matt Vince, who organises the London Pinball Championship and the London Pinball League, loans machines to many events, operates pinball in the greater London area, and has raised a considerable sum for charity.
Pinball News Editor Martin Ayub then introduced the second inductee of the evening. For all his work promoting competitive pinball and creating a system to rank players, not only in the UK but across the world, Josh Sharpe of the IFPA joined the Hall of Fame. Josh had sent a video message which was played at the dinner.
Finally, Andrew inducted the show’s special guest, Joe Balcer, into the Hall of Fame.
One of last year's inductees was unable to be present to collect his commemorative award, but he was here this year, so Andrew presented a plaque and certificate to Dave Willcox.
Dave then presented the Dave Rolfe Memorial Shield to the winner of the Welsh Pinball Cup which took place the previous month. That went to Matt Vince.
Joe then took the microphone to give a presentation about his many years in the pinball and coin-op business.
Joe began by describing how he got into pinball in 1982 at the age of 23 at Midway Manufacturing, where they were making Pac-Man machines. His job there was making fixtures for the production line but he soon got involved with the company's pinball line where Granny and the Gators was their next machine.
Joe then went through all the machines with which he was involved, from making tooling or assemblies on games such as Spy Hunter, Black Pyramid, Kings of Steel and Eight Ball Champ at Bally through to full game design at Sega and Stern on Star Wars Trilogy, Starship Troopers, Apollo 13, and The Simpsons Pinball Party.
Most recently Joe designed The Wizard of Oz for Jersey Jack Pinball, followed by the main design work on The Hobbit.
After his presentation, Joe took questions from the audience which covered how he came to leave Jersey Jack Pinball and how various features in The Hobbit were originally designed to work.
You can hear Joe's presentation here:
After the dinner, guest could play any of the machines at the show into the early hours of the morning, with the doors finally closing at 3am.
Sunday's events began at 10am with the show's doors opening and qualifiers in the UK Pinball Open getting ready for their first play-off games.
The format was head-to-head best-of-three matches against pre-selected opponents. The winner of the match progressed to the next round while the loser dropped into the loser bracket. However, unlike regular double-elimination, there was no way back into the final once you were in the loser bracket. So the best you could then finish is third place.
Rounds of the Open play-offs were alternated with rounds of the Classic play-offs, so that both tournaments concluded around the same time.
Also running was Sunday's Kids Tournament, with the Junior and Youth Divisions played on the opposite machines from Saturday.
The Kids Tournament concluded at 4pm when trophies and medals were awarded to the top three in each division by UK Pinball League head, Greg Mott. They were:
The UK Pinball Classic was the next to conclude. In an exciting best-of-three final between Paul Jongma from the Netherlands and Will Dutton from the UK, the first game went to Paul after a close game where either player could have won going into the last ball.
Will pulled it back to 1-1 on the second game and went on to take the third and deciding game to win the final. In the loser bracket final on Firepower, Franck Bona beat Ivan Miles.
Here are the full results:
Which just left the UK Pinball Open final and 3rd/4th play-off.
Mark van der Gugten and Cayle George were the final two in the Loser Bracket, so they played their single game final on The Walking Dead to decide 3rd and 4th places.
In the end it was Cayle who triumphed to take third place.
And so to the final between Albert Nomden from the Netherlands and Franck Bona from France.
Their best-of-three match began with a random pick by Albert which was Corvette.
Franck began, but didn't have a very good first ball, scoring just over 8M. Albert did much better with his first ball, but Franck recovered well with his second and third balls and went on to win the game. 1-0 to Franck.
The next random pick was Jackbot. The loser of each game got to pick position on the next one, so Albert made Franck play first.
Going into the third and final ball, Franck was behind with 289M to Albert's 850M but unlike on Corvette there was no comeback, and Albert won to level the scores at 1-1.
The deciding game would be played on Spider-Man.
Franck made Albert play first and he had a good ball one, racking up over 60M.
Once again Franck was playing catch-up after scoring 38M on his first ball, a situation not made any easier by Albert's consistent scoring, earning another 60M+ on his second ball.
Franck needed a good second ball, but he didn't get it, only adding 10M to his total.
Once again, Albert was relentless, getting Battle Royale and adding another 60M+ on his third ball. Franck had quite a challenge, even for someone renowned for making a comeback on his last ball.
Sadly, this was not to be the comeback of all comebacks, and Franck ended on just 45M, making Albert the winner.
Trophies were then awarded by Peter Blakemore.
Here are the full results:
Awards were then presented to the top players in the UK Pinball League - both for the final and for the seasons in each individual region - by head of the League, Greg Mott. There were quite a lot of awards, but not all winners were present to collect their trophies.
The final League awards went to the winners of Saturday's UK Pinball League A and B Division finals. We're still awaiting the full results but in first place in the A Division - and also winner of the Midlands region - was Nick Marshall, who also gets to play host to the Pinball Wizard cup for the next twelve months. In second place was Andy Foster.
In the B Division final, the winner was Kate Morris, with Richard Rothwell-Jackson in second place and Paul Owen third.
The last presentations were the Best-in-Show awards, to the owners of the machines judged the best in a number of categories.
Andrew Heighway presented the individual categories, and Gary Flower awarded the best overall machine prize. Not all the award winners were present as some of their machines had been brought to the show by another person, but of those who were available to collect their plaques, Kevin Donovan won the Best Post-1999 Machine prize sponsored by The Pinball Heaven for his The Simpsons Pinball Party.
The Best Solid State award, sponsored by Heighway Pinball, went to Steve Padgett for his Diner.
The overall Best in Show award, sponsored by Pingame Journal, went to Mike Parkins for his Cactus Canyon Continued.
The Best Electromechanical plaque was picked up by Andy Netherwood of Pinball Mania who were also sponsors of the award.
The Best Pre-2000 DMD game, sponsored by Pinball News, was won by Mike Kindler for his Terminator 2.
The award for the Best Post-1999 game went to Kevin Donovan for his Family Guy.
Then it was time to tear-down the show, pack away the machines and load up for the journey home.
Just as with the setting-up, it was a valuable benefit to be able to drive the Pinballnewsmobile onto the show floor to fill it with tournament kit, and to be able to leave the machines for collection at a later date.
And that brings our report of events in Merthyr Tydfil to a close.
There's no doubt this was a very different UK Pinball Party. For those who had never been to the Heighway Pinball factory it was an fascinating look at Andrew's facility and gave a good insight into the production processes involved in making a pinball.
However it was clear that the number of visitors was markedly down from previous years. The location made for a difficult journey for many, and the town of Merthyr Tydfil has a less-than-stellar reputation. The advantages of holding the show in the same hotel where many guests are staying was also lost, although there was a free shuttle bus service from the show to local hotels which was greatly appreciated by many given the near-constant rain over the weekend.
People also complained about the number of machines taken up by the tournaments. This was certainly more than in previous years, but a significant number of those were only there because they were being used in the tournaments, and wouldn't have been put in the free-play area anyway. The complaints were perhaps more prompted by the mixed condition of machines in the free-play area, where some remained unplayable throughout the show, with no attempt to resolve their problems.
There is still a strong demand for a national UK show as a focal point for the main international tournament, the UK Pinball League finals and as a social gathering, but the increased number of alternative shows means the UK Pinball Party has to work even harder to keep that special status as the one show everyone needs to attend.
Finally, take a look around the show for yourself with our exclusive Eight Minute Tour of the UK Pinball Party 2015.
© Pinball News 2015