Date: 27th-30th October, 2021
Location: Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center Hotel 1551 N. Thoreau Drive, Schaumburg, IL 60173, USA

Welcome to our coverage of this year’s Pinball Expo at its new home in the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center.

Pinball Expo moved to the Westin Chicago North Shore in 2008 and following twelve shows and one virtual show last year, move to its new home in 2021 in the city of Schaumburg which is around 15 miles west of Chicago’s O’Hare airport.

Unfortunately, due to restrictions on traveller from outside the US we are not able to be at the show ourselves, but we have some great help in Schaumburg to bring you the fun of this 37th annual show.

We’ll be regularly updating this report with details, pictures and videos as we get them, so check back for the latest information.

WEDNESDAY

Show registration
Show registration
(picture: Ross Simpson)

At the usual Bumper Blast welcome party on Wednesday night there was the regular combination of free food, soft drinks and musical entertainment provided by DJ Ron Coons Jr. In addition there was a big selection of games including many from Expo organiser Rob Berk’s personal collection.

Ross Simpson was there and shot a video of the games available to play.

Games at the Bumper Blast welcome party on Wednesday evening

THURSDAY

Thursday’s events traditionally kick off with the school buses arriving outside the hotel to take Expo guest on a tour of the Stern Pinball factory.

This year, due to concerns over Covid, the physical factory tour was replaced by a virtual tour, hosted in the Seminars Hall by George Gomez and at the Stern factory by Jack Danger. George was joined by Stern Pinball CEO and Chairman, Gary Stern, and the company’s new President, Seth Davis.

The presentation wasn’t streamed live, but Ross Simpson was in the hall to report for us.

The virtual Stern Pinball factory tour
The virtual Stern Pinball factory tour
(picture: Ross Simpson)

Although it is a regular part of the Expo experience, by a show of hands less than half the audience had been on a Stern Pinball factory tour before.

Stern are now producing more games than they were before the pandemic thanks to several efficiencies they have introduced. They now make their own playfields, so shots of their CNC machine were shown, along with the playfields inserts and the special glue they use. Once the glue has dried, the playfields are initially hand-sanded before going into a proper sanding machine. They are then decontaminated and go into the digital printer.

The artwork decals were then shown being applied to the bare cabinet. Stern are working on a new cleaner, simpler cabinet design now there is no longer the need for a transformer, in the same way they redesigned the backbox when they introduced the Spike boardset.

Jack then moved on to the subassembly area in the factory where they are mounting Godzilla models for the company’s latest title alongside Jurassic Park ramp assemblies and parts for the Iron Maiden and Star Wars games which are both still being produced. In addition, playfields were show for Jurassic Park, Deadpool, The Avengers: Infinity Quest and The Mandalorian with those titles also being produced in 2021.

There are two production lines at Stern and they can quickly switch between producing different titles. Jack said next week they would have different titles on the two lines. They estimated that between twelve and fifteen thousand people are employed at the businesses which supply Stern Pinball.

After showing the game completion and packing areas, Jack took the audience into the model shop where they produce the initial versions of the models seen on the playfield, and then into the locked design area where the designers work on their next games.

Jack is now a designer at Stern Pinball and he showed his office which is just outside George’s. There are backlit playfields at the top of the walls in the design area along with game posters and banners. Gary office was also shown, which features many historical artefacts from his time in the business along with more posters and two historically-significant games; Pinball – the first game by Stern Electronics, and Laser War – the first Data East title.

After a look around other areas in the factory, the action returned to the Seminars Hall as a special commemorative poster designed by artist Christopher Franchi was handed out to attendees.

The Pinball Expo commemorative poster
The Pinball Expo commemorative poster
(picture: Ross Simpson)

George spoke a little about Insider Connected, Stern new online system, before introducing Seth as the new President of the company.

Seth said he was only four days into the job having previously worked at Disney on their streaming platforms. He said he’s be at Disney working on digital and physical products for ten years. His goal now, he said, was to spend the next ninety days leaning every aspect of Stern Pinball and their customers.

In the following Q&A session, the Stern team said that there was a chip supply problem. They had chosen a chip for the Spike-2 system which had a long guaranteed production life, but it was a chip which Ford also used in their F-150 truck. So, Stern are building games for which they have the parts, although that makes production difficult to track.

They are working on a Spike-3 system capable of driving 4K displays, as they believe they will be standard in a few years. Spike 3 is due to be introduced in 2-3 years’ time.

They also said that they plan to host their own discussion forum, but said it will be moderated. Although George said they would answer difficult questions the discussion would need to be kept polite.

The first of the numerous seminars began at 1:15pm on Thursday. We’ll add details of each presentation as we receive them.

1:15pm – Tilt Pinball: The Series – Marc Greene

2:00pm – Pin Spotting LIVE! – Jim Schelberg

3:00pm – Pinball Applications for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Math (STEAM) Education – Zach Fuchs

Zach Fuchs is a professor at the University of Cincinnati where, amongst other courses which include pinball, he teaches Pinball Design alongside guest speakers from Stern Pinball and Jersey Jack Pinball. After giving his personal history in teaching he related his pinball buying experience, including a Stern Iron Maiden and a Williams Indiana Jones. He soon realised how his pinball knowledge could be applied to his teaching, and included building a pinball machines as one of his course projects. That lead to a new course for this year, Pinball Design and Programming: the Art and Engineering of Mechatronics Storytelling. He spoke about the use of AI to get a computer to play a real game, moving on to getting the AI system to play a pinball machine it hadn’t seen before using experience of previous games.

4:00pm – How to Build a Pinball Machine in 4,761 Simple Steps – Ryan McQuaid, Mark Seiden & Mike Becker

Mark Seiden, Ryan McQuaid & Mike Becker
Mark Seiden, Ryan McQuaid & Mike Becker
(picture: Jim Schelberg)

5:15pm – Pinball Restoration & Clear Coating – Tim Crowley

Tim Crowley
Tim Crowley
(picture: Jim Schelberg)

6:00pm – Buying Coin Operated Machines While Avoiding a Lemon – Todd Tuckey & Frank Lindenmuth

Todd and Frank from TNT Amusements talked about the options buyers of pinball machines have when getting a game for their home along with the common pitfalls to avoid. Is a new machine better than a good quality used game? Buyers may think a brand new pinball will be perfect but new games frequently have minor issues out of the box.

Todd Tuckey & Frank Lindenmuth
Todd Tuckey & Frank Lindenmuth

7:00pm – American Pinball Update & Special Announcement – David Fix

Nirmal Vasani introduced the team from American Pinball who would present this seminar. David Fix then took over, with Michael Grant, Josh Kugler and the Riot Pinball team of Scott Gullicks and Frank Gigliotti. They were soon joined on stage by Steven Bowden who recently joined the company, having previously been working at Deeproot Pinball.

David Fix, Steve Bowden, Michael Grant, Josh Kugler, Scott Gullicks & Frank Gigliotti
David Fix, Steven Bowden, Michael Grant, Josh Kugler, Scott Gullicks & Frank Gigliotti

Scott talked about how he and Frank met and how, after making his first homebrew game, Wrath of Olympus, he had the confidence to move on to his second, Legends of Valhalla, which had five prototypes sold before being picked up and manufactured by American Pinball.

Scott Gullicks & Frank Gigliotti
Scott Gullicks & Frank Gigliotti

Frank described the game rules before they took questions from the audience about the electronics system used in the American Pinball version (P-ROC based with some AP-specific driver boards) and some of the changes made for the AP compared to the prototypes (code changes to drive the AP boards and the addition of the Thor’s hammer feature).

David ended by announcing the American Pinball American Dream competition, where any homebrew pinball makers can bring their game to Pinball Expo 2022 and be part of the competition. The winner will have their game put into production by American Pinball.

8:00pm – Fireside Chat with Pat Lawlor – Pat Lawlor

Pat began by recalling his first visit to Pinball Expo which was the third show when hardly anyone owned a game at home and the industry was solely focussed on distributors and operators.

Pat Lawlor
Pat Lawlor

Pat explained the time and resources it takes to create a new pinball design, saying it typically takes 12-18 months per title. He said there is a big difference in how a game is designed for home buyers compared to location play. Games designed for home use have to provide entertainment for an extended period of time, whereas a game put on location has to give the player a great experience within the typical three minutes of game time.

Pat also related how he got into pinball, the history of Dave Nutting Associates, how they got the patent on a microprocessor-controlled pinball machine, how Bally collaborated with Dave Nutting Associates to incorporate microprocessors into their machines, and how in 1983 Williams challenged that patent in court and won. Pat said if Williams hadn’t won they would have exited the pinball business.


FRIDAY

The seminars schedule resumed at 8:15am and continued late into the night.

8:15am – Ron Coon Jr. – Pinball Troubleshooting Made Easy

Ron Coon Jr.
Ron Coon Jr.

Ron showed some of the attempted repairs he’s had to deal with when making home visits to fix games or when working in his workshop. He continued by listing the essential tools and components needed to perform the majority of pinball repairs in the field. He also showed some of the more challenging faults he had to diagnose on boards and on playfields.

9:00am – Jay Adelson & Brian O’Neill – Scorbit: Behind the Scenes of Connected Pinball

Jay Adelson & Brian O'Neill
Jay Adelson & Brian O’Neill
(picture: Jim Schelberg)

Jay and Brian explained what the Scorbit system is and how it collects the required gameplay information from various different manufacturers’ games. Some, such as Jersey Jack Pinball, integrate Scorbit data into their operating system while others need additional hardware connected to either the display or the system RAM.

Their latest addition is ‘achievements’ which adds various different kinds of awards for completing features, reaching milestones or even just playing at certain locations.

Their next feature is to incorporate a cashless payment system, allowing players to pay for games using their Scorbit app, with expansion into video game tracking to follow.

10:00am – Mike Mahood – What Else Can You Do with This Amazing Hobby?

Mike Mahood
Mike Mahood
(picture: Jim Schelberg)

Mike started the Greater Chicagoland Pinball Club and he explained why he started the club and the associated league. He listed things to consider if you wanted to start a similar club, including what kind of club or league do you want – mainly social or competitive – how much time can you devote to running and maintaining a club, and what size do you want it to be?

He also discussed league scoring systems to keep lesser-skilled players interested and retaining a chance of making the end-of-season play-offs.

11:00am – Keith Holbrook – Total Pinball Restorations

Keith Holbrook
Keith Holbrook
(picture: Jim Schelberg)

Keith runs his Total Pinball Restorations business out of Grapevine, Texas and in his seminar he talked through his methods of restoring a game along with the tools and materials he uses, and where they can be obtained. He described the techniques he uses when touching up a playfield, from mylar removal to repainting missing artwork to replacing insert decals.

He said, when trying to match some new paint to an existing colour, you often have to add yellow to replicate the colour fades and changes which have occurred to the paint and lacquer over the years. He said you should always remember that the paint tends to dry to a darker shade.

12:00pm – Emily Brooks, Zombie Yeti, Randy Martinez, Ryan Cravens & Bill Brooks – Emily Brooks’ Pinball Luminaries Showcase

Emily Brooks, Zombie Yeti, Randy Martinez, Ryan Cravens & Bill Brooks
Emily Brooks, Zombie Yeti, Randy Martinez, Ryan Cravens & Bill Brooks
(picture: Jim Schelberg)

Jeremy and Randy both create art for Stern Pinball while Ryan Cravens is the company’s General Manager of Parts, Accessories, and Merchandise. Bill Brooks is co-founder of Fargo Pinball along with his wife Emily Brooks.

Emily began by asking each of the four panellists how they first got into pinball and how pinball has impacted on their lives and careers.

Jeremy Packer (a.k.a. Zombie Yeti)
Jeremy Packer (a.k.a. Zombie Yeti)
Randy Martinez
Randy Martinez

The next question was to find out everyone’s dream theme and any significant features. Randy said his #1 theme would be Jaws, followed by The Big Lebowski, Foo Fighters and Seinfeld.

Ryan Cravens
Ryan Cravens

Ryan’s themes were Fletch and Prince, although he agreed with Randy on Seinfeld.

Bill Brooks
Bill Brooks

Bill’s dream theme would be the original Tron movie from 1980, while Halo, Fortnite and Lego would be great themes to appeal to the next generation of pinball players and future owners.

Speaking of younger players, the next question asked about the best way to introduce new players to pinball. Internet resources were the most popular, but also visiting local leagues and clubs which provide a friendly introduction to the game in a social atmosphere.

1:00pm – Mike Hale – Intro to Reading EM Schematics including Recommended Tool List

Mike Hale
Mike Hale
(picture: Jim Schelberg)

Mike recalled how he got into EM pinball when he bought a Gottlieb North Star for his father who liked the game. He then acquired a non-working Gottlieb Bronco which he fixed thanks to help from an EM pinball group. He now has a large collection, but said he didn’t spend more than $2,000 because non-working games can be bought cheaply.

He then explained how the schematics for a game are laid-out. He has this YouTube video covering this:

He said contacts in an EM pinball should only be cleaned with rubbing alcohol. Never use WD-40! He advised using mineral spirits on stepper motors and not to put any grease on any sleeves.

Games need to be played to keep them running smoothly. A musty-smelling game usually smells bad because it hasn’t been played enough.

2:00pm – Mark Gibson & Rob Anthony – The Best & Worst Advice Seen on the Internet

Mark Gibson & Rob Anthony
Mark Gibson, Dave Alverson & Rob Anthony
(picture: Ross Simpson)

Mark and Rob were introduced by Dave Alverson who is the owner of Chattanooga Pinball Museum.

They started their advice by suggesting people are careful and know the risk of powered games which can include high voltage throughout the cabinet, especially on older titles. Check the fuses on an unknown game to make sure they are correctly rated.

Should plastic posts be cleaned? Some suggest replacing with new ones, but some older games have a specific design which might not be available any longer. Make the decision on what you want to replace and what is doable before buying.

In general, they advised not replacing parts or components unless necessary. Newer parts have unknown reliability and could easily be less reliable than the part they are replacing. When dealing with resets, don’t just assume it’s the bridge rectifier and replace it. Bridges can be tested and if they are not faulty they should be replaced.

Other topics address include removing batteries from circuit boards – either in remote holders, use lithium batteries, or use NVRAM chips to remove the need for batteries, cleaning up battery leakage, putting circuit boards in a dishwasher, addressing burned connectors or pins, and how to test switches and coils in an EM pinball.

3:00pm – Ryan White – What’s Happening at Chicago Gaming

Ryan White of Chicago Gaming
Ryan White of Chicago Gaming

Before Ryan’s seminar began, a Chicago Gaming Cactus Canyon Remake was wheeled into the seminar hall.

Chicago Gaming's Cactus Canyon Remake
Chicago Gaming’s Cactus Canyon Remake
(picture: Jim Schelberg)
Chicago Gaming's Cactus Canyon Remake
Chicago Gaming’s Cactus Canyon Remake
The playfield from Chicago Gaming's Cactus Canyon Remake
The playfield from Chicago Gaming’s Cactus Canyon Remake
(picture: Jim Schelberg)
The topper on Chicago Gaming's Cactus Canyon Remake
The topper on Chicago Gaming’s Cactus Canyon Remake
(picture: Jim Schelberg)
The topper on Chicago Gaming's Cactus Canyon Remake
The topper on Chicago Gaming’s Cactus Canyon Remake

Ryan said there will be two versions available at launch – Standard Edition (SE) which will be priced at $8,000 and a Limited Edition (LE) priced at $9,250 and limited to 1,250 units.

The topper on the LE is a shooting gallery which has its own mode where you have to shoot the bad guys but not shoot the good guys. The LE also includes a burned wood bottom arch.

There will be an alternate code set available produced by Lyman Sheats and Josh Sharpe, but that won’t be released until it is finished which won’t be for some time and will be a chargeable add-on. The game does include the new menu system combining the Williams settings with the Chicago Gaming ones, and it also has the Bionic Bart mode which was missing in the original version. It will also be possible to revert back to the original rules. There’s no internet connectivity at present, but the company is talking to Scorbit about incorporating their system.

Here’s the promo video from Chicago Gaming:

Here’s a short gameplay video from Ross Simpson:

4:00pm – Andy Sokol – Playfield & Cabinet Customization Using 3-D Printing

Andy Sokol
Andy Sokol
(picture: Jim Schelberg)

Andy began by explaining how he got into pinball and how his collection steadily grew from one machine up to as many as eleven at one point. He currently has seven machines.

Throughout his collecting he’s been repairing and restoring machines – not just for himself but for customers – but wasn’t always able to get parts which matched the existing ones, such as new bright white posts put into a game with some yellowing. He started 3D printing some posts with a suitable colour filament which were a perfect match.

He explained how he perfected the 3D model of the posts so that they printed smoothly without any lines. Andy said he uses PLA rather than ABS for the posts as PLA is better at being compressed when it’s screwed into the playfield or hit by a ball. He now produces various playfield posts in a wide range of different material finishes such as metal or wood.

Since then, Andy has produced numerous different 3D printed pinball parts including more than fifty themed coin reject buttons which can be purchased through his Rocket City Pinball website.


Details and pictures from the following sessions will be added soon:

5:00pm – Zach Weddington & Bruce Zamost – Arcade Dreams: 100 Years of Arcade History

Zach Weddington & Bruce Zamost
Zach Weddington & Bruce Zamost
(picture: Jim Schelberg)

Zach is an independent documentary filmmaker who has been making the Arcade Dreams mini-series. Production is still underway following the successful Kickstarter project which exceeded the target of $95,000.

Zach started by investigating the founding of Sega and soon realised how extensive their range of arcade titles was. This led to a wider look at the evolution of the arcade and the collector community. He said we’re in an arcade renaissance with new locations opening up all the time.

Bruce has an extensive collection of pinballs and deep knowledge of the game. He worked with Zach as the pinball consultant and also to help define exactly what a ‘game’ is for the scope of the documentary. He said Pinball Dreams is the first documentary to explore the human psyche and see what about a game drives so many human emotions.

6:00pm – Pinball Expo Trading Card Award Ceremony – Walter Day

6:45pm – Jerry Byrum & Lonnie McDonald – International Video Game Hall of Fame

8:00pm – Walter Day & Lonnie McDonald – Gary Stern’s Induction into the International Video Game Hall of Fame

Walter Day & Lonnie McDonald
Walter Day & Lonnie McDonald
(picture: Jim Schelberg)
Gary Stern is inducted into the International Video Game Hall of Fame
Gary Stern is inducted into the International Video Game Hall of Fame
(picture: Jim Schelberg)

8:30pm – Pinball Expo Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony – Rob Berk

Pinball Expo Hall of Fame inductee, Keith Johnson
Pinball Expo Hall of Fame inductee, Keith Johnson
(picture: Jim Schelberg)
Mark Pollock accepts the Hall of Fame induction award on behalf of his father Gil Pollock
Mark Pollock accepts the Hall of Fame induction award on behalf of his father Gil Pollock
(picture: Jim Schelberg)
Gary Stern accepts the induction award for Eddie Adlum
Gary Stern accepts the induction award for Eddie Adlum
(picture: Jim Schelberg)

The full inductions were:

Service & Support – Planetary Pinball

Service & Support – Eddie Adlum, Founder and Editor of Replay Magazine

Hall of Fame – Keith Johnson, Director of Software, Jersey Jack Pinball

Hall of Fame – Gil Pollock, Vice-President, D. Gottlieb & Founder, Premier Technologies

8:45pm – Jack Guarnieri & Staff – An Evening with Jersey Jack

The Jersey Jack Pinball team
The Jersey Jack Pinball team
(picture: Jim Schelberg)

Jack hosted this seminar and started by congratulating Keith Johnson on his induction into the Pinball Expo Hall of Fame before introducing the team on stage, starting with Mark Seiden who is the latest addition to the company’s game design team.

Jack Guarnieri
Jack Guarnieri

The microphone then passed to recent recruit Steve Ritchie who said he wasn’t allowed to say just how happy he was to be at Jersey Jack Pinball, suggesting there wouldn’t be any discussion on the reasons he left Stern Pinball to join JJP or any questions about his time there.

Questions to the team included:
– What titles are upcoming and where do the themes for games come from?
– What did Jack do before his career in pinball?
– What was the creative process for a game such as Guns ‘N Roses?
– How did Dialed In! come to be made?
– How does programming games using Linux OS compare to having the limitations of using ROMs for code?
– How does designing a widebody game compare to a standard body one?
– Any mechanisms which were dropped from the final version of a game?
– How have supply chain issues affected JJP?
– Can you build more Collectors Edition games so they are easier to buy?
– Original titles vs licensed titles
– How has the pinball design team evolved now compared to the Williams days?
– The TV series Ted Lasso features a Jersey Jack Pinball The Wizard of Oz game, was JJP involved with that?
– How does the software team resolve differences of opinions?


SATURDAY

The final day of Pinball Expo means another full day of seminars. The evening is entirely devoted to Stern Pinball but earlier in the day we have the usual eclectic mix of topics.

9:00am – Damon Granger – Collecting Advertising Memorabilia

Damon Granger
Damon Granger
(picture: Jim Schelberg)

10:00am – Rolando Martin – A Homebrew Black Knight Pinball Built Completely From Scratch

Rolando Martin
Rolando Martin
(picture: Jim Schelberg)

Rolando explained how he built his own Black Knight game from scratch, using a control system running on a Raspberry Pi and using dedicated switch, LED and solenoid boards. He stressed that it was a reasonably simple task to control everything using open source routines and off-the-shelf parts.

He described how the code worked. By writing his own game controls, he said, he was able to add new rules, sounds and lighting effects and basically do anything he wanted with the game.

11:00am – Tanner Petch – Custom Pinball Cabinets

Tanner Petch
Tanner Petch
(picture: Jim Schelberg)

Tanner spoke about some custom pinball cabinets he built for his homebrew games, starting with Prometheus which was a standard width but shorter and taller than normal. His next cabinet had a reverse slope with the ball rolling away from the player and the cabinet taller at the front than at the back.

He showed two more cabinets before concluding with a tall curved upright cabinet which he made for a pinball/skeeball crossover game which never quite worked, not least due to the power needed move the ball to the upper part of the playfield.

11:40am – Dino Gaspari – ShipMyPinball.com is Easier Than You Think

Dino Gaspari
Dino Gaspari
(picture: Jim Schelberg)

Dino runs the ShipMyPinball.com website which leverages the reduced freight rates available to major shipping companies to allow individual pinball buyers to cut the price of shipping a game. Dino says his website includes all the information on how to ship a game and the options available such as local pickup, item insurance or customs clearances.

12:00pm – John Weeks – The Banning Museum of Pinball

John Weeks
John Weeks
(picture: Jim Schelberg)

John began by explaining how he got into pinball, from owning his first machine, to learning pinball repair, to working in an arcade, to starting his own arcade.

The ongoing rent $70,000 a month and six months it would take to remove the existing printing press made the former newspaper building in Palm Springs location unaffordable.

Keeping the collection in Banning meant foregoing $600,000 a year in rent for the Museum’s building which he could get by renting it out instead. While he said he has no attachment to California (saying he didn’t even like the state) John discounted moving the collection to another location such as an abandoned shop or mall due to the high cost of moving the machines ($400,000-$500,000), the cost of refitting it to look as he wants, and the cost of the electricity for the games and the air-conditioning.

John said the sale of his machines will lead to several other mass-machine locations, as some buyers bought 30-50 machines which they are going to add to their existing collection for public play.

He said he currently has 300-400 games still in warehouses and in containers which he is going to sell. His main business now is real estate, property rental and building a hotel, along with children’s charity work.

1:00pm – Todd Friedman, ZapCristal, Mr Wright Way, Adam Koralik & Ray Price – Talking Retro Games

The Talking Retro Games panel
Todd Friedman with the Talking Retro Games panel

1:30pm – Autograph Session

Another regular event at Pinball Expo is the autograph session where pinball personalities sit at tables and pinball fans can bring items to be signed. The mix of personalities changes every year, but these were the ones at Pinball Expo in 2021.

The Autograph Session
The Autograph Session
(picture: Jennifer Thompson)

Jim Schelberg shot us a video of the Autograph Session. See who you can spot.

3:00pm – Tim Sexton – The Making of Led Zeppelin

The Led Zeppelin team
The Led Zeppelin team: Tim Sexton, Raymond Davidson, Mike Vinikour, Elliot Eismin & Corey Stup
(picture: Jim Schelberg)

Tim talked about how they developed the Expression lighting system, using a special high-power node board to drive 400 LEDs and an open-source lighting effects design tool, which Mike Vinikour used to create all the Expression lighting effects in the game.

Elliot Eismin then spoke about the development of the Electric Magic mechanism, how it was invented and the extensive testing they did to prove it’s effectiveness and reliability.

Tim then explained the team’s desire to have the music not only drive the lighting, but also change the rules as it plays. Raymond Davidson talked through the thought processes behind the game rules and Corey Stupp described how he worked with the games Sound Engineer to implement the concept and also to match the pitch of the sound effects to the musical pitch of the current track playing.

4:00pm – Jack Danger & Waison Chung – Jack Danger & Waison’s New Project

Jack Danger & Waison Chung
Jack Danger & Waison Chung
(picture: Jim Schelberg)

Jack explained how he developed some homebrew pinball projects on his YouTube channel, and with the help of many others completed one. George Gomez at Stern Pinball decided that showed Jack was able to take a game from concept to creation and would be a good fit at Stern, with his first project designing a home version of Jurassic Park which is where he worked with Waison.

Jack previously worked in Visual Pinball, but to create a game at Stern he had to use AutoCAD and SolidWorks. He showed some of the AutoCAD layouts.

Jacks AutoCAD for the Jurassic Park Pin game
Jacks AutoCAD for the Jurassic Park Pin game

Jack said he had to reuse some of the assets and models from the Stern cornerstone game which was designed by Keith Elwin but had quite a free hand over the layout and mechanisms, subject to The Pin’s bill of materials budget. Although it shares a theme and some assets with the cornerstone model, Jack said The Pin version needed to stand alone and has a completely different set of rules with two wizard modes and three multiballs.

They were then joined by Rob Blakeman who was the mechanical designer.

Jack, Waison & Rob
Jack, Waison & Rob
(picture: Jim Schelberg)

Rob spoke about the devices used in the game, the limitations on the number of solenoids they have in The Pin and how they used some existing mechanisms in different ways for this game.

5:00pm – Brian Eddy & Dwight Sullivan – The Making of The Mandelorian

Brian Eddy, Dwight Sullivan, Randy Martinez, Jerry Thompson, Paul Chamnankit & Tom Kopera
Brian Eddy, Dwight Sullivan, Randy Martinez, Jerry Thompson, Paul Chamnankit & Tom Kopera

Brian started by introducing the key members of the team but acknowledged the help of a huge cast from Stern. He then looked at the key experiences from The Mandalorian TV series which he wanted the player to experience when playing the pinball, such a big battles, supporting characters, escapes from danger, Grogu (the child) and the Beskar currency.

Randy said his inspiration for the artwork was spaghetti westerns, which is the underlying theme for The Mandalorian with a Clint Eastwood-like lead righting wrongs and with a higher purpose which runs through the first two seasons.

Dwight then explained how the rules were created, while Brian covered some of the changes to the playfield with a moving Razer Crest toy which was removed due to lack of time to ensure it was reliable. Brian said the game was just as fun without it.

Paul showed some of the video assets they had to work with and their chosen method of running clips to a freeze frame and doing a slot zoom while they overlay the text, while Jerry spoke about the audio assets he had to work with including the main theme and custom speech from Carl Weathers.

The Team behind The Mandalorian
The Team behind The Mandalorian
(picture: Jim Schelberg)

6:00pm – George Gomez – George Gomez’s New Project

George Gomez
George Gomez
(picture: Jim Schelberg)

George is going to be releasing a game of his in 2022 (rumoured to be the James Bond game Steve Ritchie had been working on before he left the company) but said he wasn’t going to talk about that upcoming title here at Expo, but instead about the new Stern Insider Connected system.

He said the full power of the Insider Connected system will be rolling out through 2022. There are three levels – Insider Connected (free), Insider Connected All Access (paid) and Insider Connected Pro (operators) – which are an extension of the All Access loyalty programme.

Right now, when someone registers they receive a personal QR code in their browser which they need to save or print. George said there is an app coming which will save and present that code. There are achievements to collect now, but soon there will be collections of game-specific cards, treasure chest rewards and challenge quests to complete.

George spoke about his experience using online accounts on his consoles, downloading games and then buying additional content. He suggested this was something which he might be introducing to Stern games, although he stressed the essence of what makes pinball wouldn’t be changing.

He also said the company has rented a building to store game parts to work around any supply chain issues and ensure they can continue building games at the factory. He said they are now producing more machines with fewer people than they were before the pandemic.

7:00pm – Keith Elwin & The Team – Keith Elwin & The Team’s New Game

The team behind Godzilla
The team behind Godzilla – Keith Elwin, Harrison Drake, Rick Neagle, Jerry Thompson & Jeremy Packer
(picture: Jim Schelberg)

Originally George Gomez was slated to design Godzilla, but he became too busy and asked Keith if he wanted to do it. He jumped at the chance. He said initially he didn’t know what assets he would be able to use, but it soon became clear that he could use almost anything.

Keith showed some early CAD design they typically produce to get kickstart the process. Harrison said around the time of the pandemic they didn’t know how the upcoming production schedule would work out, so they started working on Godzilla around the same time as The Avengers: Infinity Quest.

Keith said the ‘floating’ upper flipper comes from his love of the game Doodle-Bug where the two main flippers are not connected to anything, meaning you can’t trap the ball. There were originally two pop bumpers on the lower right side, but the upper one didn’t do much so Keith replaced it with a scoop. The team also discussed how the magnetic Newton ball, the breakaway bridge and the moving building were imagined and developed.

8:00pm – Dwight Sullivan & Corey Stup – Family Feud Without the Family

Dwight Sullivan playing Family Feud without the Family
Dwight Sullivan playing Family Feud Without the Family
(picture: Jim Schelberg)

Dwight and Corey have run this Family Feud-based prize quiz a few times at Expo, and this time it was the very last seminar of 2021’s schedule. Contestants team up in groups of five and try to pick the most popular answers to general knowledge questions, with the winners getting assorted Stern Pinball swag.


One of the key aspects of the new Pinball Expo venue is the much larger space available for the Vendor and Games Halls. This is especially relevant given the desire for social distancing, but also allows more games and more vendors to exhibit at the show.

Here are some pictures from the Games and Vendor Halls courtesy of Don & Liz Caldwell.

The entrance to the halls
The entrance to the halls
Houdini machines on the American Pinball stand
Houdini machines on the American Pinball stand
The new Legends of Valhalla game from Riot Pinball and American Pinball
The new Legends of Valhalla game from Riot Pinball and American Pinball
The Legends of Valhalla topper
The Legends of Valhalla topper
The Legends of Valhalla playfield
The Legends of Valhalla playfield
The Jersey Jack Pinball stand
The Jersey Jack Pinball stand
More vendor stands
More vendor stands
The new Cactus Canyon Remake on the Chicago Gaming Company stand
The new Cactus Canyon Remake on the Chicago Gaming Company stand
The Stern Pinball stand
The Stern Pinball stand
The new Godzilla game on the Stern Pinball stand
The new Godzilla game on the Stern Pinball stand
The new 40th Anniversary Edition of Elvira's House of Horrors
The new 40th Anniversary Edition of Elvira’s House of Horrors
Lots of Stern Pinball swag available
Lots of Stern Pinball swag available
The Stern Pinball lounge
The Stern Pinball lounge
The Stern Pinball lounge
The Stern Pinball lounge

Dan Marquardt also visited Pinball Expo and sent us some pictures from the Vendor Hall on Saturday.

The Stern Pinball exhibit
The Stern Pinball exhibit
Two Godzilla Premium machines
Two of the Godzilla Premium machines
A large banner of the Godzilla Pro translite on the Stern Pinball stand
A large banner of the Godzilla Pro translite on the Stern Pinball stand
Another large poster, this time for Deadpool on the Flip N Out Pinball stand
Another large poster, this time for Deadpool on the Flip N Out Pinball stand
Jack Danger's prototype Jurassic Park Pin game
Jack Danger’s prototype Jurassic Park Pin game
The American Pinball stand
The American Pinball stand
Two of the Legends of Valhalla machines on the American Pinball stand
Two of the Legends of Valhalla machines on the American Pinball stand
A display of Cactus Canyon remakes on the Chicago Gaming stand
A display of Cactus Canyon remakes on the Chicago Gaming stand
The interactive topper on Cactus Canyon remake
The interactive topper on Cactus Canyon remake
The Cactus Canyon remake playfield
The Cactus Canyon remake playfield
The Jersey Jack Pinball stand
The Jersey Jack Pinball stand
Guns 'N Roses Limited Edition
Guns ‘N Roses Limited Edition
The Games Hall
The Games Hall
The Games Hall
The Games Hall
Mark Gibson's Fun With Pinball exhibit
Mark Gibson’s Fun With Pinball exhibit
One of the exhibits
Some of the exhibits

We haven’t covered the tournaments thus far, but Trent Augenstein from Tilt Amusements and his team ran the Flip Out tournaments once again but in the new location of the Renaissance hotel and Conference Center.

The tournaments were streamed by Fox Cities Pinball on their Twitch channel and it’s well worth taking a look at their stream to see some excellent play from top players along with some insightful commentary.

In the Classics Tournament, David Riel beat Raymond Davidson in the final on Black Jack.

In the B-Division it was a win for Stephanie Weintraub, with Alex Lecky second, Mark Blehm third and Phil Harmon fourth.

The B-Division top four
The B-Division top four: Stephanie Weintraub (1st), Alex Lecky (2nd), Mark Blehm (3rd) and Phil Harmon (4th)
(picture: Jim Schelberg)

The A-Division final came down to a battle between two younger players – Zach McCarthy and Escher Lefkoff.

After a very close game on Iron Maiden for game 1 which Escher won, Escher completed his come back from the losers bracket to win on Stranger Things and win the best-of-three final. Aleksander Kaczmarczyk was third and Jared August was fourth.

A-Division top two: Escher Lefkoff (1st) and Zach McCarthy (2nd)
A-Division top two: Escher Lefkoff (1st) and Zach McCarthy (2nd)
(picture: Jim Schelberg)

That concludes our coverage of the 37th Pinball Expo at its new home in Schaumburg. We hope to be there in person next year to bring you more live coverage of the world’s oldest continuous pinball show.

Finally, we send huge thanks to Jim Schelberg, Ross Simpson, Dan Marquardt and Don & Liz Caldwell for their amazing contributions to this report and making this year’s coverage possible. We hope you enjoyed reading and watching it.

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2 Comments

  1. R. Elwin

    15th November, 2021 at 9:53pm

    Hello Pinball News team!
    Do you know where the Pinball Expo 2021 Twitch channel videos (or archives) are located?
    The links in this article no longer point to videos.

    Thanks,
    Randy

    Reply

    • Pinball News

      17th November, 2021 at 4:06am

      Hi Randy.

      I spoke with Pinball Expo organisers Rob Berk and David Fix about this today and they said they will investigate. Hopefully the single long Twitch stream for each day is being broken up into individual segments and put on YouTube or similar. If that happens I’ll update all the links in the report.

      Martin.

      Reply

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