Date: 12th - 14th July, 2019
Location: Renaissance Atlanta Waverly Hotel & Convention Center, 2450 Galleria Pkwy., Atlanta, GA 30339, USA

The sixth annual Southern Fried Gaming Expo (SFGE) was held at the Marriott Renaissance Waverly Hotel and Convention Center, Atlanta, near the Cobb Galleria Shopping Center.

The Southern Fried Gaming Expo show banner in the Waverley Hotel & Convention Center
The Southern Fried Gaming Expo show banner in the Waverley Hotel & Convention Center

Atlanta, GA is certainly to be ranked among the most interesting and diverse cities in North America. It is the headquarters of the Coca-Cola beverage company and the World of Coca-Cola experience, as well as Turner Broadcasting (now part of Warner Media) and the Inside CNN Studio Tour. Atlanta was the host to the 1996 Summer Olympic Games as commemorated by Centennial Olympic Park constructed in the city center. Other ‘must see’ tourist destinations include the spacious Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta Botanical Gardens, and the College Football Hall of Fame.

As with similar shows, the SFGE was a 3-day event, opening to the public on Friday July 12th and concluding on Sunday July 14th. There was a full slate of seminars, tournaments, a film festival, cosplay, vendor presentations, auctions, stand-up comedy, live wrestling, an ’80s prom (with live music), and much more.

Upon receiving an advance copy of the SFGE daily schedule, I realized not only that I would be very busy, but also that it would require some planning to get to all of the pinball-related events.

The crowd waiting for the doors to open
The crowd waiting for the doors to open

The SFGE organizers went to considerable effort to ensure that attendees could easily find show events that they wished to attend. Daily schedules were posted outside of each breakout room and the full schedules were available in the well-produced event program as well as on the event website and an event app available for iOS and Android. Key event staff were equipped with two-way radios which allowed quick response to the few show technical difficulties.

The Film Festival schedule
The Film Festival schedule

SFGE had an interesting Indie Developer area set up in the Grand Ballroom Salon 4 for console game developers to show off their latest creations.

Will this 'bee' the next big thing in board games?
Will this ‘bee’ the next big thing in board games?

I feel it should be noted before I get into the report proper that SFGE covered a broad spectrum of gaming – board games, role playing games, video games (console as well as arcade) and of course pinball in its many and diverse forms.

Console gaming at the SFGE 2019
Console gaming at the SFGE 2019
Getting ready for some DDR
Getting ready for some DDR
You could even play Cornhole
You could even play Cornhole

There were tournaments for all of the above mentioned gaming types as well as opportunities for ‘free play’ among the participants. I will focus in this report on the pinball related events. There are other reports covering board gaming, etc. available on places such as YouTube.

For 2019, SFGE expanded “Georgia’s Largest Arcade” area into the Cobb Galleria Centre Hall D. There were an estimated 200 pinball games in the Arcade area as well as pin-games provided by the major distributors and game manufacturers.

Some of the estimated 200 pinballs at the show
Some of the estimated 200 pinballs at the show
More of the numerous pinballs from all eras
More of the numerous pinballs from all eras
Quite a mix of titles
Quite a mix of titles
There were homebrew games such as this Spaceballs pinball
There were homebrew games such as this Spaceballs pinball
Not all custom games were as complete yet
Not all custom games were as complete yet

The Arcade area in Galleria Hall D was surrounded with vendors offering game replacement parts or enhancements, including a company that was demonstrating a 3-D laser projection pinball topper. Apparel, jewelry and other novelties were available for gamers of all persuasions.

Mezel Mods had their big stand with all kinds of mods for your games
Mezel Mods had their big stand with all kinds of mods for your games
Super Skill Shot had many designs of custom shooter rods
Super Skill Shot had many designs of custom shooter rods
Pinball Inc had unique pinball prints, parts and their upcoming Kingpin game
Pinball Inc had unique pinball prints, parts and their upcoming Kingpin game
Portal Pinball Arcade brought games to help promote their location in Kennesaw, Georgia
Portal Pinball Arcade brought games to help promote their location in Kennesaw, Georgia
If it's gaming-related you could probably find it here
If it’s gaming-related you could probably find it here

Marco Specialties was on hand occupying about a quarter of the Hall D floorspace with several of the most recent Stern releases available to play including Black Knight: Sword of Rage, Deadpool, The Beatles, The Munsters, Iron Maiden: Legacy of the Beast and so on. Marco also had technicians on hand to lend assistance to games that might need attention or to answer questions.

Marco had all the latest Stern Pinball titles on their stand
Marco had all the latest Stern Pinball titles on their stand
The Primus game by Stern
The Primus game by Stern

Spooky Pinball was on-hand with examples of America’s Most Haunted and Alice Cooper’s Nightmare Castle games available to enjoy.

Alice Cooper's Nightmare Castle and America's Most Haunted by Spooky Pinball
Alice Cooper’s Nightmare Castle and America’s Most Haunted by Spooky Pinball

Grand Ballroom II was host to the PinGolf and other Pinball tournaments – this area was restricted to tournament participants only and I tried as best as I could to respect that. I hope that the organizers will publish the tournament winners on their Facebook page.

Houdini from American Pinball was at the show as was the remade Monster Bash from Chicago Gaming
Houdini from American Pinball was at the show as was the remade Monster Bash from Chicago Gaming

I was intrigued by the example of Cosmic Carnival set up to play in the Suncoast Pinball area. Having seen the playfield and backglass with its spectacular artwork by ‘Dirty’ Donny Gillies, I wondered to myself if this first pinball from Suncoast would live up to the hype that it has been given?

Cosmic Carnival from Suncoast Pinball
Cosmic Carnival from Suncoast Pinball

I played Cosmic Carnival a few times during the show and found it to be an enjoyable game other than the strange sensation of the black flippers with black rubbers in a mostly dark area of the playfield. This would be the first thing that I would change about the game if I had one in my personal game room. I feel that just changing the flipper rubbers to a contrasting color would make a huge difference in playability.

Just a couple of machines away, Jersey Jack Pinball's Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory was drawing crowds
Just a couple of machines away, Jersey Jack Pinball’s Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory was drawing crowds
It wasn't just the very latest titles available - this one is 86-years-old
It wasn’t just the very latest titles available – this one is 86-years-old

Saturday evening, Brent Ponder, Jon Weaver, Oltion Tase and Aaron Galentine of Suncoast had a moderated panel discussion about the creation of Cosmic Carnival and the future direction for Suncoast Pinball.

The Suncoast Pinball team
The Suncoast Pinball team

It was obvious to me that these men were very dedicated and enthusiastic about producing high quality and fun pinball games for both the home and commercial markets. It is very likely that Suncoast will be a major player in the design and production of pinball in the not-too-distant future.

In another breakout session, Josh Kugler of American Pinball gave attendees to their presentation a preview of proposed new sound call-outs for their Oktoberfest game. Josh indicated that the latest release of the code for Oktoberfest will also have a ‘one handed mode’ presumably so you can play the game without having to set down your favorite beverage.

Josh Kugler with Zach Meny
Josh Kugler with Zach Meny

Mutimorphic had a seminar where they discussed the latest enhancements to their P3 platform including such things as Digital Leveling and Player Profiling. They indicated that multi-machine gaming and internet connectivity are in the works and should be available shortly.

Gerry Stellenberg of Multimorphic
Gerry Stellenberg of Multimorphic

Waison Cheng of Stern Pinball gave an intriguing presentation where he discussed the process of pinball game design and how he “helps make games fun”.

Waison Cheng from Stern Pinball
Waison Cheng from Stern Pinball

Waison also showed 3-D playfield models of a Stern children’s “game that never happened”. Waison did not say specifically but it could be inferred that licensing was the barrier.

Waison with Mike Vinikour from Stern
Waison with Mike Vinikour from Stern

As mentioned previously, the Galleria room was the location of the Southern Fried Film Fest. In addition to a number of short subject and indie films on various gaming subjects, there were showings of the John Hughes written and directed 1985 cult-geek movie Weird Science as well as ‘meet and greet’ autograph sessions with Ilan Mitchell-Smith who played the part of Wyatt Donnelly in the movie.

To misquote French Emperor and General Napoleon Bonaparte, “Pinballers play on their stomachs”, and the SFGE offered an array of vendors to fill the empty spot in your belly or to quench your thirst.

Monster Energy had a display set up in a corner of the Garden Court where they handed out complimentary samples of their beverage products. There was a handful of food vendors in the area to the right of Hall D, as well as a beverage, sandwich and snack shop in the table gaming area. Of course, the Renaissance Waverly Hotel and the Cobb Galleria had bar, fine dining and casual dining choices available just off of the hotel lobby. The Renaissance Waverly Hotel’s Tosca Blu bar has an event beginning at 6pm during the week called the ‘Beverage Ritual’ which we were unable to participate in, but it sounded intriguing.

Perhaps at the other end of the spectrum, SFGE hosted the first annual HOTlanta Extreme Eating Challenge. The winner would be the person who could consume the most progressively hotter and spicier peppers, chicken wings and hot sauce until a single contestant is left standing. The winner received $100 in cash, a SFGE 2020 all-access pass and a package of SFGE swag and merchandise.

We visited Murph’s Sports Bar in the Galleria for dinner on Saturday which is owned and operated by Dale Murphy. Murphy is a former all-star MVP, won the golden glove award 5 consecutive times, and won many other awards during his Major League Baseball career. Murphy spent much of his career with the Atlanta Braves baseball organization, playing outfield and catcher positions. Murphy’s uniform number “3” was retired by the Atlanta Braves in 1994 in honor of his stellar career.

Overall the SFGE was a very pleasurable show to attend. It boasted a diverse array of new as well as classic pinball games spanning decades available to play in the Arcade area.

I was impressed by the good condition of the games, and that what I would consider some hard-to-find, if not rare games were available for attendees to play.

The SFGE organizers have 2020 SFGE ‘all access’ passes available at a discounted price. Check on the event website for purchase details.

Sincere thanks to co-organizers Preston Burt, Shannon DeWitt and Patrick Wall, as well as their army of volunteers for their hard work and labor-of-love putting on the SFGE for the past six years. Personal thanks to Preston Burt for his assistance in covering the SFGE which was invaluable.

Southern Fried Gaming Expo offers much for a small daily admission price. I would suggest that you put it on your calendar to attend July 10-12, 2020.

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