Date: 17th - 20th October, 2018
Location: Westin Chicago North Shore, 601 North Milwaukee Avenue, Wheeling, IL 60090, USA

Thursday at Pinball Expo began as it always does with the Stern Pinball factory tour.

At 9am the bright yellow school buses arrived and show guests who had purchased the tour as part of their package or as a standalone purchase boarded the buses for the ride to the Stern factory around 25 minutes away.

The school buses arrive
The school buses arrive
Stern Pinball factory tour guests board the bus for the trip to Elk Grove Village
Stern Pinball factory tour guests board the bus for the trip to Elk Grove Village

When they arrived, guests entered the Stern building to congregate in the area usually reserved for staff dining.  Here they were welcomed to the factory by Jody Dankberg, Stern’s Senior Director of Licensing and New Business.

Jody greets tour guests in the lobby area
Jody greets tour guests in the lobby area

Jody then passed the microphone to George Gomez who introduced several members of the Stern Pinball team.

George also welcomes guests alongside a cardboard Gary Stern
George also welcomes guests alongside a cardboard Gary Stern
George and 'Gary'
George and ‘Gary’

Then the tour began, with guests being shown around the factory in groups of ten.

The tour begins
The tour begins

While we returned to the hotel to prepare for the seminars, M.G. Brown. took these pictures of the tour.

The first guests on the tour
The first guests on the tour
Lead programmer Dwight Sullivan leads this tour group
Lead programmer Dwight Sullivan leads this tour group
Dwight explains how the wiring looms are made
Dwight explains how the wiring looms are made
The bare black cabinets come in and have their game-specific decals applied
The bare black cabinets come in and have their game-specific decals applied
Machine assemblies are built ready for addition to the playfield
Machine assemblies are built ready for addition to the playfield
Completed machines are tested
Completed machines are tested
Finished games are boxed, ready to ship
Finished games are boxed, ready to ship
Boxed games awaiting shipping
Boxed games awaiting shipping
Naomi & Tim - partners in pinball taking the tour
Naomi & Tim – partners in pinball taking the tour

At 1:30pm, the seminar schedule began.

The first seminar featured Romain Fontaine from Team Pinball talking about the making of the company’s first title, The Mafia.

Romain Fontaine
Romain Fontaine

He explained how the conceived the idea of building their own machine and how they went about it, designing their own hardware, getting the playfield design from a designer in Hungary, Balint, the control system they created using a Raspberry Pi, the wiring under the playfield and the testing procedure they use once the playfield is complete.  He stressed how they tried to keep things simple and clean inside the game.

Romain explained how they got the sound and music and then built ten sample machines before going public, inviting Pinball News to help launch the project.

Next up was Jim Schelberg from the Pingame Journal who played assorted pinball-related clips from popular media, which he collects and publishes in a DVD set.

Jim Schelberg
Jim Schelberg

Clips included Drunk History, CSI, Jeopardy, Back to the Future, NFL promotional clips and assorted TV commercials.

Nick Parks from The Pinball Company then took to the stage with his wife Brooke to talk about how the business began and has grown.

Nick and Brooke Parks
Nick and Brooke Parks

He said the business was very dependent on the website which he launched in 2006.  He told stories of how he bought and sold various machines, often without even touching them, and knew at that point that the business would work.  Then he bought a large inventory of pinball machines so he could open a showroom.

Nick described how the company has grown since then, the people the company has employed and the impact they have had on the business.  He also listed their top selling machines, with The Wizard of Oz in first place, The Addams Family in second, followed by Star Wars (DE), AC/DC, Pirates of the Caribbean (Stern) and Star Trek (Stern).

Nick concluded by detailing his plans for a Chicago Pinball Hall of Fame in Schaumberg, Illinois with 150+ modern-era pinballs, a selection of EM pinballs, new arcade games, a full bar and a corporate/party area.  He said if all goes to plan the business should be open by this time next year.

Next, at 4pm, Todd Tuckey and Frank Lindenmuth passed on their tips for selling pinball and video games, and starting a business.

Todd Tuckey
Todd Tuckey

Todd is the owner of TNT Amusements which buys and sells many coin-op games, and he is a popular internet video maker, describing particular games or covering more general coin-op topics.

Todd and Frank
Todd and Frank

They covered how to choose a company name, get a website, how to advertise and promote your business on social media, but also not to forget about traditional advertising channels such as newspapers and classified ads.  Todd advised not putting the prices of games on brochures as game prices change rapidly and soon become outdated.

After a short break, Ed Fries was the next seminar speaker, talking about the creation of the X-Box.

Ed Fries
Ed Fries

Ed talked about how he got into video games, writing them at home and eventually getting hired by Microsoft in Redmond to work on the first version of Excel for Windows.

After being tracked to work on Word next, he persuaded the Microsoft management to take over the flight simulator team and work on developing video games for the company.  This largely involved taking over game development companies and creating many of the title which would become known worldwide.

Then a team from DirectX came into his office and said they wanted to make a DirectX box, which would be a PC running Windows underneath but with the appearance of a console. Another group were also planning to make a console, so after a turf war Ed’s team won and the X-Box was given approval to go ahead.

After coming up with plans, a stormy crisis meeting on 14th February 2000 almost cancelled the project, the prospect of Sony beating them to market turned the minds of Bill Gates and Steve Balmer, and they got the go ahead.  He then had just over 18 months to get a bunch of game developers on-board and creating games for this new console, including the team who were to make Halo.

The 7pm seminar was all about the development of the video game Q*Bert, featuring Warren Davis, David Thiel and Jeff Lee.

Warren Davis, David Thiel and Jeff Lee
Warren Davis, David Thiel and Jeff Lee

The trio spoke about how Q*Bert came into existence.  Warren and Jeff both loved M.C. Escher art and when Jeff came up with an idea for using a cubic platform, Jeff programmed how items falling onto the cube world could behave.  Jeff had a range of characters which could appear in the game, one of which was the Q*Bert character.

The character didn’t have a name at this point, but the team decided that the name of the character should be the name of the game.  After lots of suggestions, the eventual name was derived from the name Hubert, which became Cubert (based on the cubes), which then became Q-Bert and then, thanks to Jeff, Q*Bert.

David Thiel then told his story of getting employed at Gottlieb working on video games and the games he worked on there, the technological challenges, and the hardware limitations.

At 8:30pm, the team from American Pinball held their seminar to present their second title, Oktoberfest: Pinball on Tap.

Nirmal Vasani welcomes guests to the American Pinball seminar
Nirmal Vasani welcomes guests to the American Pinball seminar

Nirmal Vasani welcomed everyone to the American Pinball presentation before introducing the Mayor of Palatine who spoke about having Aimtron as such a successful member of the Palatine business community and looked forward to American Pinball joining them at the end of the year.

The mayor of Palentine
The mayor of Palentine

Then Mukesh Vasani spoke about his journey from a small village in India to founding API, and thanked the team who created this new game.

Then Josh Kugler spoke about the team who worked on Oktoberfest: Pinball on Tap, from the artists, sound designer and programmers to the game designer, Joe Balcer.

Joe Schober joined Josh to talk about the game’s rules.

Joe and Josh talk rules
Joe and Josh talk rules

The two Oktoberfest machines were then unveiled.

Members of the American Pinball team unveil the game
Members of the American Pinball team unveil the game
Nirmal is covered by the sheet
Nirmal is covered by the sheet
One of two Oktoberfest games at the seminar
One of two Oktoberfest games at the seminar
Roger Sharpe is first to play the game
Roger Sharpe is first to play the game
The cabinet artwork
The cabinet artwork
The lower part of the playfield
The lower part of the playfield
The Otto model and the beer barrel lock
The Otto model and the beer barrel lock
The wobbling bumper caps
The bumper caps

That concludes our coverage of the first day of seminars.  We’ll be back with the opening of the Games and Vendor halls and be adding more recordings of the seminars, including videos for all of today’s, and also audio recordings.  So check back here at Pinball News for all the latest news from Pinball Expo 2018.

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2 Comments

  1. Ben Logan

    20th October, 2018 at 6:23am

    Such great coverage as usual. Excellent photos. Super thankful to you guys.

    Reply

  2. Ben Logan

    20th October, 2018 at 11:30am

    Such great coverage as usual. Excellent photos. Thanks!

    Reply

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