Date: 11th October - 15th October, 2017
Location: Westin Chicago North Shore, 601 N Milwaukee Ave, Wheeling, IL 60090, USA

After yesterday’s opening night party, Thursday at Pinball Expo began in an equally traditional manner at 9am with the Stern Pinball factory tour.

The tour is included in full show packages but it can also be purchased as an add-on item for those only taking in some of the show’s attractions.

The buses left from outside the Westin hotel for the 25 minute journey from Wheeling to Elk Grove Village.

Four school buses took the Pinball Expo guests to Stern Pinball
Four school buses took the Pinball Expo guests to Stern Pinball
The Stern Pinball factory
The Stern Pinball factory

As the buses unloaded, guests entered the factory and presented their factory tour tickets.

Presenting factory tour tickets
Presenting factory tour tickets
Inside the factory tour reception area
Inside the factory tour reception area

After an introduction by Gary Stern, guests were put into groups of ten or so and a Stern Pinball staff member took them on a tour of the factory.

Gary Stern welcomes factory tour guests
Gary Stern welcomes factory tour guests
The tour crowd
The tour crowd
The queue for the tour
The queue for the tour

As they entered the factory tour, guests were given a guide sheet showing the layout of the factory.  Although photography was not permitted on the tour, Pinball News had special permission and can bring you everything the factory’s guests got to see.

Factory layout sheets were given to tour guests
Factory layout sheets were given to tour guests
The factory layout
The factory layout

We followed the tour group led by Stern Pinball’s Chief Revenue Generating Officer, John Buscaglia.

John Buscaglia leads a tour group around the Stern Pinball factory
John Buscaglia leads a tour group around the Stern Pinball factory

The tour started at the playfields area where incoming playfields are inspected for any flaws.

Checking playfields
Checking playfields

Then it was into the parts section.

Parts coming into the factory
Parts coming into the factory
Boxes of pinball parts
Boxes of pinball parts
The incoming parts inspection area
The incoming parts inspection area
Pinball backbox side panels
Pinball backbox side panels

Moving on we come to the Cabling Department.  There was little suggestion that the introduction of a new wiring system would lead to fewer cables.

Cable making
Cable making
Wire spools
Wire spools
Prepared cables
Prepared cables
Cable testing
Cable testing
Cable testing
Cable testing

Let’s follow the playfield construction line starting with the printed playfields.

Checked playfields
Checked playfields
John with the playfield 'pants' press
John with the playfield ‘pants’ press
Playfield drilling and T-nut insertion
Playfield drilling and T-nut insertion
The playfields move down the line having more added at each workstation
The playfields move down the line having more added at each workstation
Plastic ramps
Plastic ramps
Death Star models
Death Star models
Wireforms and other game assemblies
Wireforms and other game assemblies
More parts are added
More parts are added
...and more
…and more
Ray Tanzer explains the testing process
Ray Tanzer explains the testing process
Playfield testing
Playfield testing
Playfield testing
Playfield testing

Elsewhere in the factory, cabinet decals are applied to the plain black cabinets.

Applying decals
Applying decals
Applying decals
Applying decals
Complete game testing
Complete game testing
Boxing complete, tested games
Boxing complete, tested games
Boxed games under flags of countries where Stern sells their products
Boxed games under flags of countries where Stern sells their products

The factory tour ended at the Stern Shop where assorted branded products could be purchased along with copies of Pinball Magazine from its Editor, Jonathan Joosten.

Buying Stern swag
Buying Stern swag

After the tour, the school buses took everyone back to the show hotel for the start of the seminars.

The seminar schedule is a major part of Pinball Expo and they run from Thursday through to Saturday.  Here are Thursday’s seminars.

1pm: The Hardtop – A New Solution for Out-of-Print Roached Playfields
Bruce Westfall & Scott Moehring

Bruce Westfall
Bruce Westfall
Scott Moehring
Scott Moehring

Bruce is from Outside Edge – a commercial printing company with good experience of making pinball reproduction and replacement parts.  The product they were showing today is a permanent, rigid, printed playfield overlay with a proprietary hardcoat which is designed to give a new life to a worn-out playfield.

The Hardtop with a protective sheet
The Hardtop with a protective sheet

They described how to prepare a playfield for the application of the Hardtop overlay, how little sanding and removal of existing artwork is necessary, mainly just making sure there are no protruding areas.  The Hardtop includes all the inserts and cutouts from the original playfield and sticks to the wood with a very aggressive adhesive.  Bruce said he thought the Hardtop would last at least ten years but the exact lifetime is not yet known.

Download the audio of this seminar here

2pm: This is your Brain on Pinball
Jim Schelberg

Jim Schelberg
Jim Schelberg

Jim began by showing a video of the Star Wars game with lead programmer Dwight Sullivan demonstrating the playfield features.

He continued by showing assorted media clips from his archives featuring pinball’s appearances in numerous ways, including Drunk History, a Ford car advertisement and Bare Naked Ladies’ Ed Robertson’s appearance on morning TV talking about his love of pinball.

Because Jim’s seminar is mostly video clips, we do not have audio of his presentation.

3pm: The Evolution of the Pinball Dinosaur
Don Caldwell & Mark Bakula

Don Caldwell & Mark Bakula

Don and Mark started by explaining how they used to do seminars at Pinball Expo but haven’t been back for some years.  Until now.

The title of the seminar is Pinball Dinosaur, and that’s what Don and Mark claimed to be.  So they showed a slideshow of famous people playing electromechanical pinball machines and invited the audience to identify the stars. As pinball evolved and became digital, the next series of pictures showed famous ’70s and ’80s celebrities enjoying the game.  This continued until the end of the ’90s when a darkness descended and extinction loomed.

But salvation appeared in the form of the Pinlenials – young, different and talented players of the game – who have made pinball cool again.

They concluded with a pinball or rock ‘n roll quiz to win one of a selection of pinball-related prizes.

Download the audio of this seminar here

4pm: Chat with the American Pinball Team
Joe Balcer, Dhaval Vasani & Staff

Joe Balcer
Joe Balcer
Dhaval Vasani
Dhaval Vasani
Josh Kugler
Josh Kugler

Joe spoke about the team behind the upcoming American Pinball game – most of who were in the audience – and about their planned timescales for delivering a finished product.

He then described the changes which have been made to the Houdini game since it was last shown, including improved lighting, a metal wireform on the ramp return rather than a plastic guide, an improved mini-display marquee on the playfield and stylised lamp holders.

The ‘one model, one price’ policy continues, with the $6,995 price buying more than was originally planned such as decorative locks, chains and the milk can, resulting in a higher bill-of-materials.

Joe said there were three features he would like to have added but couldn’t due to budget restrictions.  They were; Magic Glass anti-reflective glass, interior cabinet art blades and a shaker motor.  These will probably be made available as add-ons at extra cost.

Josh then took the mic and described the game’s rules and objectives, most notably spelling ‘HOUDINI’ by completing tricks to make it to Master Magician level.  There are 10 modes, a video mode, three-ball Straitjacket Multiball, a two-ball multiball, a Seance three-ball multiball and several other multiball modes.  There are five silent movie modes which make the display black-and-white, and five hurry-up features.  There are also five secret mission combo features.  Finally, there are special modes which are available when you drain to the left or right outlanes – Return from Beyond and Escape Death.

Download the audio of this seminar here

6pm: Up Close with Gary Stern
Gary Stern and Team

Gary Stern
Gary Stern

Gary was joined by Greg Freres, Dave Peterson, Steve Ritchie, George Gomez, Zach Sharpe, Lonnie Ropp and John Buscaglia.

Gary with the Stern Pinball team
Gary with the Stern Pinball team

First, each member of the Stern team introduced themselves. before Gary spoke about the state of pinball in popular culture, from becoming more retail product to the expansion of barcades. He explained their business, the different types of games such as their three-version  ‘cornerstone’ home-grown models, vault editions, private label for other companies and home models, as well as accessories and swag.

He continued to talk about the expansion of pinball shows, the Stern Army initiative to get more machines on location and the new game launch parties, and the tie-ups with the IFPA for competitive events and series.

George addressed the issue of updates to Batman 66, saying there is a new release shown on machines in the Vendor Hall, and there is a roadmap for future updates up to version 1.0.  He also said they are working on completing Kiss and Ghostbusters code too, but with the Pro, Premium and LE variants, they are working on twelve different models a year already just with the new releases.

The Stern Pinball team
The Stern Pinball team

Asked about the size and direction of growth, Dave Peterson said the growth of pinball is limited only by capacity.  The growth of pinball amongst millennials is happening around the world which will grow it further both in established and new markets.  He said he was very optimistic about the future demand for the game.

Download the audio of this seminar here

8:30pm: An Evening with Jersey Jack Pinball
Jack Guarnieri & Team

Tonight saw the reveal of Jersey Jack Pinball’s latest game and the event attracted a large crowd.

The audience for the JJP seminar
The audience for the JJP seminar

Jack began by saying the game they were revealing tonight is the work of a multitude of people, including his business partner, Leonard Abess.

Jack Guarnieri
Jack Guarnieri

Leonard talked about the company’s values and how they are committed to excellence and making each game better than the last – something he said the audience would see tonight.

Leonard Abess
Leonard Abess

He then introduced Joe Harber  who talked about the team they have put together, including their new game designer for their fourth game, Eric Meunier.  Eric then revealed his first game design, Pirates of the Caribbean, based on all five Disney movies.

Jack and Eric with their new game - Pirates of the Caribbean
Jack and Eric with their new game – Pirates of the Caribbean
The Pirates of the Caribbean backbox
The Pirates of the Caribbean backbox
The Pirates of the Caribbean playfield
The Pirates of the Caribbean playfield
The left cabinet side
The left cabinet side
The right cabinet side
The right cabinet side

The prices for each model are:

  • Standard Edition – $8,500
  • Limited Edition – $9,500
  • Collector’s Edition – $12,500
Features matrix for Pirates of the Caribbean
Features matrix for Pirates of the Caribbean
The Jersey Jack Pinball team
The Jersey Jack Pinball team

Download the audio of this seminar here

10pm: LTG:) Show & Get-Together
Lloyd Olson

Lloyd Olson
Lloyd Olson

Lloyd owns and operates SS Billiards in Hopkins, Minnesota.  He also provides technical support for Jersey Jack Pinball, Planetary Pinball and Chicago Gaming.

Having run his own arcade business for more than thirty years and being a test location for new releases, Lloyd took questions on his years in coin-op, looking at the most popular and most unexpected games he has tried.

Asked if he was seeing the suggested upswing in pinball’s fortunes, Lloyd said the hobby side is definitely growing with an unprecedented availability of pinball parts and mods.  He wasn’t so convinced about the coin-op side of the business, saying in some areas pinball became the latest fad in new bars but that has ended and the locations either closed or removed their pinballs to survive.

Other questions included the dumbest question he has been asked at his business, what ingredient makes a pinball game earn, and what happened to the sign outside his business which was recently replaced.  Those who asked questions received commemorative LTG 🙂 mugs and bottles of Spotted Cow beer.

Download the audio of this seminar here

Lloyd’s seminar concludes our coverage of Thursday at Pinball Expo 2017.

Back to the Pinball Expo 2017 index

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