PINBALL EXPO 2012
Date: October 17th - 21st, 2012
This was the 28th annual Pinball Expo and the schedule promised the regular mix of factory tour, seminars, tournaments, machines to play and vendor stalls to peruse.
The event was held once again at the Westin hotel in Wheeling, about 20 minutes by car north of Chicago's O'Hare airport. A free shuttle bus was available with two pickups from the Bus Center at O'Hare at 4pm and 10pm on Wednesday, and three drop-offs for the journey home on the Sunday at 6am, 10am and 4pm.
A number of registration options were available either before Expo or on the day. Full registration for all the seminars, the factory tour, the banquet and full admission to the exhibit hall for all days cost $185 if ordered by 8th October, otherwise it increased by $10. Skipping the banquet saved $25, attending just the seminars cost $50 and just going into the exhibit hall would set you back $20 a day or $75 for 4 days. Badges and wristbands denoted which package had been purchased.
This year, rather than split up the Pinball Expo report into separate sections covering different aspects of the show which take months to complete, we're combining them all into one huge report - this one - and getting it all to you as soon as possible.
So here we go...
Throughout Wednesday, the main exhibit hall and the adjacent games room were being set up as machines and stands arrived.
In the games room next door, machines started to arrive. This room connects to the main exhibit hall through a small doorway and is open for most of Pinball Expo - including several overnight sessions.
As is now customary, proceedings began on Wednesday evening when the Bumper Blast welcome party opened its doors to Expo guests. This has evolved over the years, from a delivery of pizza with bottles of soda available, through cheese and potato snacks to what we have now, which is a full cooked dinner with desert, coffee and cans of soda.
Once Rob Berk had welcomed guests, music was provided by Derek Fugate.
The next Pinball Expo event began at 9am on Thursday, as the bright yellow school buses pulled up outside the Westin for the 25-minute journey to Stern Pinball and the start of the annual factory tour.
As the buses arrived outside the factory in Janice Avenue, Melrose Park and passengers disembarked, a lengthy queue built up in the Stern car park.
Fortunately it was a sunny day, so the waiting wasn't too uncomfortable. Normally Gary Stern would have been on hand to welcome the guests but this year he was in Italy for the Enada trade show and wouldn't return until Friday, in time for his seminar on Saturday afternoon.
Visitors were formed into groups of ten and each group had a Stern employee showing them around the factory floor.
For the first time, guests were told not to take photographs inside the factory. The reason given was that they "have competition now" which was an interesting acknowledgement that perhaps they won't be "the only maker of REAL pinball games on the planet" for much longer.
So, as we weren't allowed to take pictures, we don't have anything to show you from inside the factory.
OK, maybe not. We did manage to surreptitiously take a few snaps when nobody was looking, but for a full tour you can check back on last year's report where most things are the same except the game currently on the line.
On the peg boards where the cables are laid-out, several diagrams showed the game name as "Grinder". This is the code name for AC/DC which Stern used internally until the marketing department officially announced the name of the next title. So some diagrams use the Grinder name, while more recent ones use AC/DC.
The actual game on the production line was X-Men, but AC/DC cables were being made ahead of another run of that title.
There were no free gifts such as toys, plastics or even flyers this year. This, combined with the 'no photography' rule was said to be because Stern Pinball was now a professional manufacturer and no longer just a 'family company'.
While the tour was taking place, work continued back at the Westin on setting up the exhibit hall and adding more machines to the games room.
The hall opened at 6pm on Thursday and stayed open until midnight, reopening on Friday at 6pm again and then staying open until 5pm on Saturday.
The exhibit hall is mainly for vendors, although there are still many machines set on free play for visitors to enjoy. The majority of machines were in the games room though.
Here's our look at the two rooms, starting with the exhibit hall.
These were the machines set up in the exhibit hall:
In the games room were another 65 machines. The room could have held more and whenever we checked there appeared to be plenty of casualties turned off and several not even set up.
There were some lovely examples in there too, and some great topper, display and speaker mods as well.
In addition, there were two machines set up in the corridor outside the exhibit hall - Hercules and Challenger, and two more in Rob Anthony's side room - A P-ROC-based Cactus Canyon and a Star Trek - The Next Generation.
The Cactus Canyon was especially interesting, as it added several new or previously-incomplete modes to the game to give a much more complete package than the version released by Williams, without losing any of the original features. Amongst those new features were Drunk Multiball (swapped flippers), Bionic Bart and a match animation.
You can see our look around the Pinball Expo exhibit hall, games room and tournament area in our exclusive Eight Minute Tour video. You can watch it by clicking below but don't forget this is shot in full 1080p HD, so select the full screen option and then a higher quality setting for the best view, or head over to our YouTube channel PinballNewsVideos for more exclusive pinball content.
Once guests returned from the factory tour, the next event in the Pinball Expo schedule was the start of the seminars back at the Westin, in the Lake Michigan Ballroom at 1pm.
Note: Several of the seminar's contain adult language.
Marco Specialties - New Product Introductions and Scavenger Hunt Contest
Paul Mandeltort spoke about his role at Marco Specialties, the main part of which was to create the company's new website. He promoted their new flat shipping rate and highlighted their free shipping for orders at Pinball Expo.
He then turned to their new brand of Pincoil pinball coils, following their acquisition of a coil manufacturing company. The coil wrappers include much more information including diode directions and resistance measurements.
He said the PinScore brand was still going strong with new products coming out, and introduced their new PRW branded pinball rubbers which the company has started selling.
Paul said the industry was thriving at the moment and Marco had been around the country promoting both their own parts and Stern's latest pinball machines.
Paul also launched a photo scavenger hunt, where they passed out a sheet of paper with clues to things at the show, and the first people to post photos of them to Facebook would win prizes, including translites and T-shirts.
Antonio was at Pinball Expo to talk about the Captain Nemo machine he is building in Spain. He said he asked his wife whether he should buy or build a machine, and his wife said to do whatever was cheapest, so he decided to build one.
He showed the audience some sample artwork he commissioned from an arcade game artist, the version he selected and the final backglass image.
He also replayed some of the LCD animations and showed both the initial test game and the current version.
Captain Nemo has full internet connectivity for downloading new rules and uploading high scores. Antonio showed some of the code which defines the game, explaining how easy it was to modify it to have different movies or music tracks, and demonstrated the testing system which allowed switches to be triggered on the computer to simulate switch hits on the playfield.
Antonio say he expects to start production in one-and-a-half months and expects it will take 10 months to build all 30, of which 25 are pre-sold. He said he wanted to produce more games after Captain Nemo, of which he is building 30 at a price of €4400, and wants to create a pinball platform where people can create their own rules and game designs.
Jim was at Pinball Expo once again to bring assorted video clips featuring pinball references in one form or another. Clips were chosen by the audience and those shown included All In The Family, Robot Chicken, an advertisement for park assist from Ford, The Addams Family, The Simpsons and a brief pinball reference from The Late Show.
Jim concluded with a series of clips featuring George Carlin.
Because the seminar mainly consisted of video clips which are available to purchase, we do not have an audio recording.
Wally brought his Medieval Madness to Pinball Expo and in his seminar he would tell the audience the story behind it.
This Medieval Madness is most unusual because Wally built it from replacement, NOS and re-manufactured parts. To do this, he bought and restored an original Medieval Madness, but kept the replaced parts, bought assorted parts from vendors where they were available, and made those parts he couldn't find.
The cabinet and associated hardware came from a routed NBA Fastbreak, but Wally had to make a large number of the individual parts himself. He told the Expo audience how he made those custom parts, the materials and techniques he used, and how they all turned out. He had no metal working experience prior to undertaking this project, but said he learned how to do it by taking everything slowly.
Wally then had to make all the wiring harnesses. He kept some of the NBA cables but also ensured all the cable wire colours were true to the Medieval Madness original.
Wally estimates he spent more than 1,000 hours working on the project, and believes it's possible to make another replica Medieval Madness using available parts for less than $7,000 although the ball guides would still need to be made separately as they are not readily available to buy.
Clippard Instrument Laboratory is a manufacturer of miniature pneumatic valves and Rob works in business development for the company. He was at Expo to talk about his Air Command pneumatic pinball machine which was created to illustrate the many uses and areas in which pneumatic valves can be used.
Rob explained how pneumatic devices are far more power efficient than using an electrical coil to propel the ball. Using air, he said, is much simpler to diagnose and build, as well as being more rugged.
The Air Command machine uses a finite amount of air with which to play the game, making it similar to a time-based game but with certain air uses under control of the player.
Air Command has been at Pinball Expo before, but there have been many changes to add extra features to make the game more exciting. More details can be found at the Clippard website.
Mark and Don are Pinball Expo veterans and returned this year to talk about their planned book on top pinballs of the '90s for which they set up a website to allow pinball fans to vote for their favourite games.
They recounted the results from the survey taken in 2005 and the demographics of those who took part. Medieval Madness came top or very near the top in most categories such as best playing and best toys.
Having discovered the most popular games, they then went about interviewing those who created them such as Larry DeMar, Steve Kordek, Mark & Steve Ritchie, Brian Eddy and John Popadiuk.
But the book never happened. Mark and Don said life got in the way - job changes, moving houses and family issues - but they want to get the interviews they videoed out into the community, but also recover some of their costs.
They were looking for ways to achieve this, having been rejected by iTunes and not being enamoured by YouTube or similar sites. To illustrate the kind of content they had they showed some clips from their videos, and concluded their seminar with a pinball and music quiz with prizes of translites, pinball parts and other pinball merchandise.
Andrew began by introducing members of the Heighway Pinball team, one of who was with Andrew at Expo - Brian Dominy.
Andrew then explained the reason for creating Heighway Pinball to manufacture pinball machines in the UK. He then described the marketing model his company will introduce, with the cabinet and playfield/game sold separately, allowing operators to rotate game without having to removed the bulk of the game from the site.
Andrew then explained the two versions of his company's games which will be made - a standard model with an LCD in the playfield, and a deluxe version with a transparent LCD screen beneath the playfield glass, allowing displays and animations to be superimposed over the playfield view.
After that, Andrew showed pictures of the proprietary control system hardware the company will be using.
Brian then spoke about his history in pinball and his involvement in the FreeWPC platform on which he has worked since 2005 and which allows whole new rulesets, sounds and display effects to be created for existing WPC games.
With that background, Andrew approached Brian and asked him to develop a software framework for Heighway Pinball.
The first of two announcements of the seminar saw Andrew reveal that the name and theme of the company's first game had been changed from Circe's Animal House to a motorcycle racing theme called Full Throttle. You can read more about that in our special report about the change.
A final announcement by Andrew sees veteran game designer John Trudeau returning to pinball design and joining the Heighway Pinball team as a game designer. Andrew said John would bring his experience in the industry and know-how to the team, and mix with new designers to give a valuable blend of ideas.
David introduced this seminar on repairing and maintaining machines by introducing the team and then opening up the Williams Aztec they were using for demonstration. They started their work by looking for any obvious problems, while Phoebe set about cleaning up the flaking backglass.
Ron then talked about common parts used in both pinball and video games, especially sound boards including the squawk and talk board.
Meanwhile David set up a sonic cleaner so he could clean parts as he removed from the Aztec. Dr Scott started work cleaning solenoid contacts and Ron spoke about the multi-meter and capacitance meter tool he uses to repair machines.
As the team continued working on the machine, David detailed the steps he goes through before powering up an unknown game.
After working on the machine for about an hour, the team were confident enough to turn the machine on and see whether it worked.
The game powered up OK but exhibited a few persistent problems which were quickly resolved just before the seminar ended.
Because this seminar was a mostly visual presentation, we do not have audio of it here.
Fireside Chat: Jack Guarnieri & the Wizard of Oz team - A Visit to Oz
Joining the team were two The Wizard of Oz machines - one either side of the stage.
Jack began by introducing each member of the team before inviting questions from the audience. He described the changes which have been made in the game while Keith said the game's software is close to 80% complete, although that is not necessarily obvious when looking it, as much of that effort goes into the underlying system which makes the game work.
When asked if the game would ship by Christmas, Jack wouldn't be drawn saying he didn't know what they were building and it's far more game than he imagined. He did, however, say he expects to ship games this year.
Jack said right now they are hiring people to build the games, they are building a few games for the IAAPA show in November, but they are not building dozens of machines waiting for the software to be complete.
Asked about the second game, Jack replied that he has work going ahead on artwork for games 2 & 3 - one of which will be licensed, one of which will have an original theme.
Jack was questioned about the reliability of The Wizard of Oz during the recent Comicom show where it was played around 2,000 times. He replied that he had to open it up a couple of times to fix issues, but otherwise it remained solid.
A question from the WOZ Owners Group asked whether there were any ideas which had to be left out for any reason. Joe Balcer said there was nothing on their list of desired items which didn't go into the game. He said it's "loaded, heavy, a monster..." and everything they wanted it to be.
Another questioner asked if Keith has to write every line of code? Keith replied that he didn't need to write it all, but it makes things much easier and more consistent if he does. He said there was a certain amount of interaction between him and Joe over the playfield features and rules, and went on to explain how some of the playfield inserts functioned and indicated certain states.
He also said that while the ruleset mostly sticks to the movie, it doesn't follow that linear storyline, otherwise very few people would ever get to enjoy reaching the end. So while it's mostly based on the movie, there will be rules and features in there for pinball people.
Chris Granner was asked about how the sound system compares to previous systems he's used and replied that none of the previous systems had even 25% of the capabilities of the JJP system. He described it as "incredibly powerful" and said they're only scratching the surface if its capabilities.
Jack then spoke about operating the game - as he is going to - and the importance of getting The Wizard of Oz out there for the public to play. That may mean operators get their games before some private buyers but Jack was unequivocal about how vital it is to get the public playing it on location.
Keith hinted there could well be a hidden cow in the software somewhere, while Butch talked about how comprehensive the game's manual will be. He said the manual may not be fully complete by the time the game ships, but it will be available on the backbox LCD and can be updated over the internet.
Chris responded to a question about how much speech comes from the movie and how much is original speech from voice artists. Chris said all the music tracks in the movie are original composition based on the themes within the movie, and designed for pinball use. He said they had a lot of fun working on the speech calls, finding voice artists who were selected to give cues to the original actor.
But, he said, they weren't looking for identical voices because the original actors' voices were unique. He said in all cases they got as close as they could, but it was a really hard project.
A question from the audience asked about the crystal ball feature. Jack said it will have a light show but he's still not sure exactly what it will be as he hasn't seen it and it hasn't been fully developed yet.
The next question asked if the game would be going on test before it ships. Jack replied it will need to go on test before IAAPA which is in a month's time. He said it will be on test in New Jersey, but he wasn't prepared to reveal where just yet so it doesn't skew the initial earnings reports.
The team were asked if they keep referring to the movie for ideas. Keith said he watched it again when he started, Jean-Paul said he'd probably seen it the most of anyone, looking for clips and sections he can use, while Chris said he kept referring to it and watched it fully again just a few weeks ago.
Keith said the update process hadn't been fully settled yet, but it would initially be through USB, although ultimately over the internet. He said the software may not be 100% complete when shipped, but would be rock solid and not crash.
Jack talked about options for the backbox to give an image when the LCD is switched off. He showed a translite with the monitor image, and a mirrored backglass with the image instead of a clear window as options which will shortly be available.
The two machines Jack has at the seminar looked identical, but the mirrored backglasses on them were different. One had written below the monitor "There's no place like home" while the other had "We're off to see the Wizard". There is a third variant which says "Follow the Yellow Brick Road" and these will be randomly assigned to machines as they are built.
The gathering of those who are active on the internet in pursuit of their interest in pinball regularly addresses many of the problems with finding reliable information and promoting pinball to newcomers to the hobby.
Regrettably, having spent all day in the seminar room, we had a dinner appointment and had to miss this year's event, but will bring you details of the evening's topics for discussion as soon as we get them.
The seminars picked up again early Friday morning at 8:15am with a familiar pair of faces at Pinball Expo.
Scott began by saying how grateful he is to be be doing something he loves so much - working with pinballs.
He then worked through a list of tools he recommended as being important tools to have with you, starting with allen keys and alligator clips and working down the list to security Torx tips and wrenches.
The use of WD-40 was discussed, with the tip from the audience of using it with steel wool to clean pinball legs.
Scott and Ron then went through their list of electronics components as well as pinball-specific parts you should stock, such as diodes, fuses, lamps, coils, rubbers and switches.
Mark is a TV commercial writer, producer and director who, along with Howard Cook made the History of Pinball feature, which was shown on the AMC channel and released on VHS.
Part One is now available on DVD and Mark is currently shooting Part Two, and was keen to promote the message that pinball is back and exciting again.
Part Two will include more of the collector community as well as specific featured games. Mark has been filming at the Pacific Pinball Expo and also here at Pinball Expo. He said it costs about $20,000-30,000 to produce if done on the cheap, using downtime to edit and post-produce.
Mark was looking for suggestions on ways to distribute the original and the second edition, and possible bundling of a computer simulation or emulation with a DVD release. He also took suggestions on places to film across the US and around the world, and people he should interview.
Finally, Mark played one of the extras on the Part One DVD where he and Howard explained how their interests in pinball began and how they went about shooting the film. He also showed a clip of the interview they did with Slash where Axel Rose rang him in the middle of the shoot, a call which Mark said showed the band was about to break up.
Greg was here to relate the story behind the game Fathom. He was scheduled to speak with the game's designer Ward Pemberton, but Ward was not able to attend, so Greg held the seminar on his own with a Clint Eastwood-style empty chair to represent Ward.
He first of all asked the audience why Fathom is considered such an enjoyable and collectible game. Was it the 15 drop targets, the multiball, the theme, or what?
Greg showed a playfield drawing which showed the game was originally named Barracuda, just like the game Baracora was before that too was changed. Greg was pressing for one particular title for the game, which was constantly rejected for unknown reasons.
In his presentation, Greg also showed a couple of pictures of him posing for the characters in the backglass artwork. He said at the time the artist would have a clean slate and 5-6 months to create the full art package for the game.
He said the art department under the leadership of Paul Farris could largely choose the theme and the name of the game at that time. He listed a number of alternative names such as his rejected Deep Threat, Blue Menace, Black Coral and Deep Dive.
Greg then moved on to another of Ward's designs - the game BMX, which was originally intended to be E.T. - The Extra Terrestrial, but the licence deal fell through. He said he was one of four artists who worked on the art package for that game.
The BMX playfield design was re-used on Hardbody - a game which copied the Gottlieb photographic artwork style, much to Greg's opposition.
The next Ward Pemberton games Greg showed were Mousin' Around with art by Pat McMahon, followed by Riverboat Gambler and Gilligan's Island.
Gilligan's Island started out as a Dan Langlois design called The Brain, but that theme was squashed by management.
Finally, Greg showed a short video of the time Bob Denver of Gilligan's Island fame met Steve Kordek at the Williams offices.
Rick was joined on the stage by Mirco Stefan from High Class Pinballs in Germany but he began by recalling what Planetary Pinball is, what they make and some additional details about the business.
He showed the top ten rated games on IPDB and how they were all Williams/Bally, saying how important it was to keep these games running and how they have the rights to remake any of these games.
Rick explained how the company has been increasing the information available on the pinball.com site, such as digitising the Williams/Bally parts manuals on the website, making all the parts fully searchable right back to the mid-'60s.
He then went through the many different parts Planetary Pinball and their suppliers are making, such as coil wrappers, cabinet decals, translites, playfields, bumper caps, drop targets and spinners. New playfields, he said, are ramping up and being released at a rate of around one a month.
Rick said Planetary Pinball has recently acquired the licence to make parts for Universal-branded games such as Monster Bash and Creature from the Black Lagoon. He said they also have Indianapolis 500, Star Trek - The Next Generation, Twilight Zone, Elvira and other licences, and are working on getting more.
Looking to the future, Rick listed a number of products planned for 2013, such as more cabinet art, many more playfields and a number of direct print products such as backglasses, playfield plastics and speaker panels.
Mirco then spoke about his latest products and his new 500 sq.m facility in Germany, where new equipment is being installed to automate the clearcoat process and improve the quality of current processes.
He said they are currently making Attack from Mars, followed by Monster Bash and Star Trek - The Next Generation. He had Medieval Madness, Funhouse and Attack from Mars playfields available for the audience to inspect.
Finally, pinball collector and historian Sam Harvey joined Rick and Mirco.
Sam asked a number of tough questions of the audience, with playfield plastic sets and translites for the correct answers.
Gerry is an electrical engineer and heads up the Multimorphic company which makes the P3 machine and sells a range of driver boards designed to facilitate the creation of custom games.
Gerry started by stating his company's aim of broadening the pinball market by giving game designers, manufacturers and buyers choices and variety in they types of games available.
He explained how the P-ROC board works and the possibilities it creates, before moving on to the company's power driver board which, like their LED driver board or switch board, is small enough to sit under the playfield.
He then spoke about the P3 machine, why he wanted to create it and the features it incorporates, starting with the possibilities the large playfield LCD introduces.
Gerry said when people see the LCD in the P3 they think it makes it a video game, but he compared the number of traditional pinball features on four popular games he owns to the same features on the P3, which in most cases exceeded the traditional pinball designs.
Gerry then described the modular upper playfield units and how Multimorphic will make the upper playfield system open for third-party companies or individuals to create their own designs.
Continuing the theme of choice, Gerry described the customisable options available when ordering the P3, such as the cabinet finish - screened artwork, different wood finishes or a user-customisable option, whether to have a backbox or not, whether to include a coin door, and the style of legs.
Because P3 is based on P-ROC, it uses the same open-source framework, allowing anyone to write their own games or modify existing games to suit their personal preferences.
When P3 ships at the end of 2013, it is intended to include two complete games - one possibly licensed, one original. At the moment, Multimorphic is in the R&D and fundraising stage, with pre-orders for the first run of 250 now open.
David works at Australia's best known pinball dealership; Bumper Action. He said while Australia doesn't actually make any pinballs anymore, they are incredibly successful at marketing pinballs.
He ran though a brief history of pinball's highs and lows and what lessons can be learned from pinball's recent decline. He cited the errors as being a lack of competition leading to a lack of drive and marketing, with no new blood and no new ideas.
David listed some of the steps Bumper Action are taking to market pinball to a wider audience, such as their Pinball Faith monthly amateur pinball fun nights, visiting lifestyle shows and increasing media exposure.
He then showed a number of promotional clips the company had produced to market pinball to non-pinheads.
David then did a quick pinball quiz with pinball badges as prizes before revealing the top 11 selling pinball machines in Australia (excluding AC/DC and WOZ) over the past 3 years.
David also listed the top solid state or electro-mechanical, as well as the big improvers and those falling in popularity, followed by what he called the "glued to the floor" list of games which won't sell.
David ended with the his five dumbest things in pinball, which included the new Stern lock bar latch and plastic apron, as well as the fluorescent lamp in the backbox and the factory-fitted mylar on Gottlieb games ending before it reached the highest wear area.
Pat said he didn't want to let pass something which, while not a big deal to collectors, is significant to people in the industry - 20 years since they broke the production record and 20 years on the Play Meter poll.
He brought along the July 2012 edition of Play Meter where The Addams Family was the number two game on the list, ahead of AC/DC.
Along with Pat were John Youssi, John Krutsch, Larry DeMar, Chris Granner and Roger Sharpe. Each of them introduced themselves and explained their respective roles in the creation of the game.
Pat then ran through a series of pictures, starting with one taken when the record-breaking game came off the line and moving on to the playfield drawing which was made before computer-aided design took over and so was drawn full-size by hand.
These were followed by shots from the William's factory showing the games on the line and assembly stations.
He then showed a late whitewood picture of the game with some significant differences to the final production game which Pat pointed out.
Chris noted out that The Addams Family was different from games before in that it got people playing pinball who wouldn't normally play pinball, with innovations still seen in games today.
Pat replied that because they are in the industry, the team there look at games differently. Looking back 20 years, Pat says The Addams Family set up a lot of what happened in the industry since, sometimes to the detriment of the game, with nearly all games since following the same gameplay pattern.
Larry expanded on that, saying the same gameplay style was continued and expanded over and over until games became so complicated they were inaccessible to the regular player.
Pat called what they do "dissecting fun" and described it as the trust of the people in the team, taking both the good and the bad comments and accept the criticism if a feature or a shot isn't fun to play.
The title of this seminar full explains what it was all about.
Dozens of free multimeters were handed out to the audience and simple measurement of battery voltage was explained, before Chris showed how to measure a couple of voltages inside the demonstration machine - a Williams Dirty Harry.
He then measured the resistance of two pinball coils to see how the different strength coils have different resistance - the lower the resistance, the stronger the coil.
Then Chris used the diode test setting to check the diodes inside a bridge rectifier to see whether there were any shorts, open circuits or suspect diodes.
Finally, Chuck distributed free small LED torches to the audience to assist in fault finding inside machines.
Charlie started this Spooky Pinball seminar by introducing the panel who would be answering questions from the audience.
Then Ben Heck was presented with a cake to celebrate his birthday which was today.
The next feature was a re-enactment of Mystery Science Theater - where witty and/or sarcastic comments are made as Williams/Bally promotional videos are shown.
It was then time to ask questions of the panel.
To select questioners from the audience, ping pong balls were fired across the hall and those who collected them could ask a panel member a pre-selected question.
Kevin and Aaron are the designers behind the Predator Pinball project from Skit-B Pinball. They were joined on stage by the machine's artist, James, who brought along some of his previous work and showed some of his ideas for the Predator game.
Kevin said he did the initial design but Aaron then took over and developed the assemblies and parts needed. The team also included Craig who makes the cabinets and Steve who ensures the game is put together correctly, along with a playfield maker and a clearcoater.
They said they managed to get the licence from 20th Century Fox simply by making phone calls and settled on the number of machines to make of 250 based on the minimum number required by the licensor.
They said they have a second game lined up after Predator, but they won't reveal it until Predator is out. However they would say it has a lot of adult humour in it, but it's not as dark as Predator.
Kevin said they hope to get one or two games out by Christmas, but thinks that is probably optimistic and it will be early 2013. At the time of the show 233 machines have been pre-sold although there's been no financial commitment so far so some may drop out before payment is due. Since then, all 250 have been pre-ordered.
Aaron said he expected all production to be completed in 2013. They will be producing the games themselves and have a team of 8 or nine others who will join them to build them.
They said they would be using mostly standard parts and those, along with any unique parts, will be available from Marco Specialties.
There were two celebrity dinners scheduled for Friday night. The first took place at 5:30pm and was with Pat Lawlor in one of the restaurants in the hotel. The second was at 7pm with the Jersey Jack Pinball team at an Italian restaurant just over the road from the hotel.
While the JJP diners were tucking in to their antipasti, the second fireside chat took place back in the seminars hall. This one had a more traditional format with Gary Flower hosting and asking the questions of the two guests for the evening, Steve and Mark Ritchie.
The format of the fireside chat took both brothers on a chronological journey, allowing them to describe each of their machines and the stories behind them, starting with Steve's time at Atari, which was where Mark also got into the pinball business.
As each talked about their games, they naturally came to the point where they passes the microphone to allow their sibling to pick up the story.
The one hour allotted to the fireside chat was not enough time to cover all their games, so they vowed to return to a future Pinball Expo and pick up the remaining titles.
At the end of the fireside chat, those in the audience who had worked with either Steve or Mark were invited to take part in a group photo.
When Steve and Mark had concluded, the next event on the schedule was An Evening with Stern Pinball.
This followed the same approach as last year's Transformers launch party, except the game was X-Men and it had already been launched. That meant there were more of the machines to play - five in total - and the players in the high score tournament had more chance to practice on the game, before giving it their best shot on the two tournament machines on the right of the room.
Following the hour-long Stern Pinball session, the seminar room was handed over to someone with a similar number of years in the coin-op business as Gary Stern.
The regular Friday night gathering was a little different this year, as it included a screening of a short film. But before that, Lloyd got everyone who was active on the rec.games.pinball newsgroup and those who were on the Pinside forum to come to the front of the room to introduce themselves and shake hands with their counterparts.
Lloyd then began his regular question and answer session where audience members would ask Lloyd questions about his 40 years operating his SS Billiards location in Hopkins, Minnesota, and about his life in the coin-op business.
Interspersed with these were regular prize draws for items donated to the event from various vendors and individuals.
Then it was time for the screening of the 10-minute cut of Pinball Donut Girl, the feature from Anna Newman who provided the DVD for Lloyd's seminar.
Walter presented the history of the trading cards created by Twin Galaxies and introduced the first set of pinball cards featuring famous personalities and events. There is a well-established set of cards for video games champions, but these were the first pinball cards.
He presented certificates to commemorate their inclusion in the set to Roger, Josh and Zach Sharpe, as well as Jim Schelberg. Amongst those also included are Trent Augenstein, Keith Elwin, George Gomez, Mark and Steve Ritchie and John Popadiuk.
Walter also presented a certificate to Pinball Expo co-organiser Rob Berk and then to George Gomez as he came into the seminar.
Walter said the full list of those included in the card set will be available at videogametradingcards.com
He said the trading cards are just the beginning, because there are so many stories to be told and he's using the cards to record the history for this and future generations.
John has been experimenting with direct inkjet printing onto playfields for several years until he managed to resolve the problem of the ink reacting with the clearcoat. John now offers a $600 re-printing service for playfield restorations, and expects to start producing playfields for classic Stern's starting with Sea Witch and then Stargazer soon.
He was at Pinball Expo with a selection of Gottlieb and Stern backglasses which he is printing using a newer process where the ink jet printer can print both a white layer and a grey mask layer to allow words to light up in the artwork.
John said with the inkjet technology he can now print single backglasses on demand, and is negotiating with Rick at Planetary Pinball to be licensed to make Williams backglasses too.
He then explained the processes he uses when reprinting a playfield, including the sanding to removed all the original artwork, the printing and masking he performs, and the clear coat he applies. He said some of the newer printers can print a clearcoat layer as well.
He can't currently create mirrored printing because the print shop he uses doesn't offer that service. John said he has to submit his new Gottlieb backglasses to the Gottlieb licensor Steve Young at The Pinball Resource for approval before he can sell them.
He said there is a real quality problem with plywood available these days such as dimpling in the surface, and in most cases it's better to reuse 30-year-old playfields if possible rather than create new ones.
Michael started this seminar by talking about the conflict between David Gottlieb and his son (Michael's father) Alvin Gottlieb over Alvin's desire to expand the company against David's wishes.
Michael showed a picture of the new, enlarged Gottlieb factory at Northlake, Illinois.
Construction began in 1969 with the eventual size being over 250,000 sq .ft. Michael showed a pictorial tour of the factory, saying the layouts of the various sections were scaled-up versions of the equivalent areas at company's previous facility.
Michael said his father would regularly walk the floor so any employees could stop him and let him know about any problems. When it was running at full capacity, the two shifts were making 300 games a day at the facility.
In contrast to the set-up seen on the Stern tour, Michael said cold rolled steel would be brought into the Gottlieb factory and they would stamp and weld all their own parts and create their own assemblies, rather than bring them in from outside. John Trudeau said this allowed them to react much faster if any changes were needed, and ensured they had a constant supply of the parts they needed.
Michael says he has a lot of great memories but also some bad ones, including a phone call to his father at the height of the video boom in 1983 from the owners of the Gottlieb company asking if Alvin wanted to buy back the company, as they had run it into the ground. Instead, Alvin and Michael went to the factory to close the doors as the factory was shut down.
Ever the showman, Python arrived strapped to a gurney wearing a facial mask and straitjacket.
Python spoke about the troubles he had convincing the management at Williams to allow him to make Bad Cats when all the current themes were macho and aggressive.
He described the things which inspired him to make it, and the features in it, including the dogs on the backglass, a cat which got onto Python's barbeque and so got added to the artwork, a cat fight and the number of strays in the country which were also represented.
Python said one of his favourite games was Buckaroo. He wanted to added some backbox animation to Bad Cats and so used a similar system to Buckaroo for the spinning cat and housewife with the broom hitting it - something which prompted complaints from animal rights campaigners.
Python said the cat on the front of the cabinet side art was his cat Kilo which, he said, he got from a drug dealer.
Returning to the backglass, Python described how the scene shows a typical American backyard containing a cast of characters, with something cute and something risqué.
A question from the audience asked if it was true there was a couple making love hidden in the artwork on Comet. Python said it was completely untrue, and was a rumour he made up to add interest to the game and get people examining the artwork closely.
He admitted to having been suggestive in his artwork and pushing the envelope in Bride of Pinbot in particular, but said he never had any nudity in his games.
Michael Gottlieb thanked Python for being his inspiration and being the first to push the boundaries of pinball into new areas.
Python revealed that his work on the Pinball Circus game will soon be recognised with the game going into production, although he couldn't reveal any more details just yet.
Finally, Python explained many of the features in his artwork, including why Gorbachev is included in Taxi, and some of the characters he wanted to put in but wasn't allowed to, along with his personal design philosophy on what makes a great and a bad game.
Gary has just flown back from the Enada show in Italy to speak at Pinball Expo. He began by reiterating the various market segments for Stern Pinball's products. Gary said 50% of their games are exported of which the majority go to operators, while in the US it's nearer 30% to operators, with the majority going to home buyers or collectors
Then Gary spoke about how his father Sam Stern got into the coin-op business, operating pinball games in local bars. He became a distributor - what Gary called an 'operator-distributor', as opposed to 'distributor-operators' who Gary said were distributors who ended up operating their games too.
Gary then spoke about Harry Williams and his business relationship with Sam Stern at Williams Pinball.
Gary talked about conversion games - where the operator can send their game back and get it re-manufactured into another game - such as Gamatron which was a conversion kit based on Flight 2000. He said this happened at the time of High Speed's release which, Gary said, showed it was far better to sell a successful new game that try converting a less successful machine.
Gary also spoke about how, when they started Stern pinball and needed a board system, they reverse-engineered the Bally board set with, if not their consent, their knowledge. Gary said Stern Pinball didn't take away much business from Bally and it was helpful for the two companies to have compatible systems in their fight against the dominant Williams.
He stressed how Stern Pinball is a manufacturing company first and foremost. They design games so that they can manufacture them.
Gary was asked what his father and Harry Williams would think of today's games such as AC/DC. Gary said he thought they'd be wowed by the technology and say he was getting there by bringing the game back to the casual player, away from the overly complex models.
Asked whether Stern Pinball uses talent outside the company, Gary said they use a lot of external companies and individuals for sound design and electronics, but they currently have all their game designers inside the company, although that wasn't always the case when they first contracted George Gomez, Steve Ritchie and Pat Lawlor to design games.
He said the company was committed to developing new talent but those skills have to be learned inside the company from those with the knowledge and experience.
Many brought items in the hope they could get them signed.
Gary's talk took place after the autograph session and completed a record number of seminars at Pinball Expo, but there was one talk still to come, and that took place at the next event on the schedule; Saturday evening's banquet, where the special guest speaker was Joe Kaminkow.
The banquet is always preceded by the Make-A-Wish charity auction at which auctioneer Rob Berk takes bids on a range of pinball-related merchandise donated by vendors, exhibitors, speakers and other individuals, with all proceeds going to the charity.
One of the most exciting bidding sessions saw a signed The Wizard of Oz translite donated by Jack Guarnieri bid up to $700 by Joe and Gary.
They then offered to add a 2D Tron translite if the bidding reached $1,000 which it duly did.
Another item in the auction was the straitjacket worn and signed by Python Anghelo. Once again, Fred Young modeled it for the audience.
The auction raised nearly $10,000 for the Make-A-Wish charity - a record for the Pinball Expo banquet.
After the buffet dinner had been served, it was time for the evening's guest speaker, Joe Kaminkow.
In his talk, Joe looked back on his time at Williams and starting Data East Pinball with Gary. He spoke about some of the trade shows they visited, the games they made and some they never managed to bring to production, some of the celebrities they worked with such as ZZ Top, David Hasslehof and Slash from Guns 'N Roses.
Joe has been working with a number of other former pinball staff such as Larry DeMar and Brian Eddy for the past two years on a new Facebook game which is also based on The Wizard of Oz. It is about to be released and Joe offered a number of beta testing keys for those who wanted a preview before it goes live.
Joe said one of the first games he fell in love with as Steve Ritchie's Firepower game, which he described as having the first 'Like' button - the start button. He also spoke about the the long hours and the trials and tribulations of starting a pinball company which, he said, Jack Guarnieri - who was in the audience - would appreciate.
At the end of his talk, Joe was presented with an award from Rob and Mike as thanks for being this year's guest speaker.
Then it was time for some other awards to be given. The first of these can from Walter Day and went to Rob and Mike to commemorate both Joe's and Pinball Expo's inclusion in the Twin Galaxies trading cards set.
One of the stalwarts of Pinball Expo over the years was Steve Kordek who always made every effort to attend and was a mine of fascinating stories and historical information from pinball's early days right through to the end of the '90s.
Steve passed away at the start of this year, and so several members of his family were here to hear the tributes paid to him. His son, Father Frank, spoke in reply, thanking everyone for all the kind words, saying the love everyone had for pinball meant Steve was still very much here.
Then it was time for this year's inductions into the Pinball Expo Hall of Fame. The first of the two inductees this year was introduced by game designer Greg Kmiec as the late Steve Kirk.
Steve designed many games at Gottlieb, the original Stern and at Bally/Midway, but it is his Stern games for which he is probably best known, with titles such as Stars, Meteor and Nine Ball.
The second inductee sat impassively at the Stern table as Joe Kaminkow read his introduction.
When Joe had finished, John was awarded a plaque to commemorate his entry into the Hall of Fame.
Further awards were then handed out, including one to Scott Sheridan for the best dressed Pinball Expo guest, and the Pinball Expo Spirit Award was presented to Pinball News Editor, Martin Ayub for his work on the audio & video at the seminars.
The award for best stand went to Marco Specialties with their seven X-Men machines and overhead monitors and speakers. The runner-up was Coin Taker. The only entry in the 'Dress as your Favourite Pinball' was Phoebe Smith who took the award for her Spider-Man costume. David Fix was also recognised for his contribution to the seminars and in supplying the game posters.
Throughout the weekend, Pinball Expo's tournaments had been taking place in the front hallway next to the registration table. During the qualifying rounds, scores were shown on a monitor on the desk, but once the play-offs began, results were recorded on large sheets showing the progression in each division.
There were five divisions - Open A, Open B, Classic, Women's and Kids' - with qualifying for each running until Sunday when the play-offs took place.
Machines used were Avatar, Iron Man, two AC/DC Premiums, Transformers LE, Family Guy, two X-Men Pros and Tron, supplied by Trent Augenstein of Tilt Amusements who also headed up the team running the tournaments.
The first to conclude was the Women's Division where the top four players qualified for the play-offs. The final was between Penni Epstein and Alysa Parks.
In the final it was victory for Alysa, with Penni in second, Jennifer Peavler taking third, and Nicole Anne Reik fourth.
The top players in the Women's Division, as in the other divisions, won trophies, cash prizes and entries to the next PAPA World Championship.
The next division to conclude was the B Division where the top eight qualifiers played-off in Sunday's rounds.
In the final, Chris Lammi triumphed over Dan Dolney to take the winner's trophy. In the play-off for third, Jennifer Peavler was the winner, leaving top qualifier Escher Lefkoff in fourth place.
An hour after the B Division awards were presented, the Kids Division played on an AC/DC Pro was settled and their prizes handed out.
Escher Lefkoff was again involved and this time he was triumphant in his final against Andrew Rosa II. Abigail Gasson won the battle of the siblings for third place, meaning Payton Gasson ended up in fourth.
Each of the top four got a trophy, an X-Men translite and their choice of Avatar toys, courtesy of Stern Pinball.
Of the two remaining divisions, the Classics was next to reach a conclusion. The Flash Gordon machine had died earlier in the contest, so there were just four machines from which to choose - Stargazer, Faces, Quick Silver and Hokus Pokus.
Keith Elwin beat Fred Cochran in the final, with Derek Fugate taking third ahead of Brian Shepherd.
The final of the Open A Divisions took much longer to complete, finishing around 7pm - too late for us as we had to leave for our flight. When we left, Keith Elwin and Bowen Kerins were going head-to-head in the winners' bracket for a place in the final. Bowen won that battle to play against the winner of the loser bracket, which turned out to be Zach Sharpe who beat Keith to leave him in third place.
In the final of the A Division, it was Bowen who secured the win and the top prize of an X-Men Pro machine (or the cash equivalent). Keith was second, Zach third and Josh Sharpe fourth.
In addition to these tournaments, the regular ExpoBrawl team tournament too place on Friday in the games room. Unfortunately, we're always tied up in the seminars at that time and unable to cover Expobrawl, but you should be able to find out all the results and pictures from the event soon on the ExpoBrawl website.
With all remaining machines and stands long since packed away, and the tournaments all decided, that concludes our coverage of Pinball Expo 2012.
We hope you enjoyed reading (and listening to) the events from this 28th annual Pinball Expo. Congratulations to organisers Rob Berk and Mike Pacak, and their team who made it all run so smoothly.
Like them, we'll be back at the Westin next year for another of our detailed reports on the next Pinball Expo.
© Pinball News 2012