Date: 13th-15th November, 2021
Location: Houston Marriott Westchase, 2900 Briarpark Dr. Houston, TX 77042, USA

With international visitors now allowed to travel to the US, we wasted no time and got on the next available flight to get to Houston and make our first visit to the Houston Arcade Expo.

The Houston Marriott Westchase hotel
The Houston Marriott Westchase hotel

The show is held at the Houston Marriott Westchase, which is a large business-orientated hotel on the west side of the city.

The entrance to the hotel
The entrance to the hotel

The complex includes several conference rooms, but it is the Grand Pavilion and the Grand Foyer which are hosting the Houston Arcade Expo this year.

The Grand Foyer is at the front on the ground floor, while the Grand Pavilion is behind it
The Grand Foyer is at the front on the ground floor, while the Grand Pavilion is behind it

Thursday

We got to the show on Thursday afternoon to check out the set-up ahead of the public opening of the show at midday on Friday and will be updating this report across the whole weekend with all the latest news.

The Grand Foyer will host multiple stands from vendors and individuals. Amongst those with tables allocated are Dirty Donny Gillies and Sam J. Jones (a.k.a. Flash Gordon).

The Grand Foyer where many vendors and special guests will have their stands
The Grand Foyer where many vendors and special guests will have their stands

For the games you have to move next door to the Grand Pavilion.

Some of the pinballs at the Houston Arcade Expo 2021
Some of the pinballs at the Houston Arcade Expo 2021

The Game Preserve had a large structure to build and put in place.

Getting The Game Preserve's stand set up
Getting The Game Preserve’s stand set up
It seems to be finished now
It’s mostly built but still needs more work

The adjacent Marco Specialties stand was suitable impressive with multiple new Stern Pinball titles, including many new Godzilla machines.

Plenty of new Godzilla machines to play
Plenty of new Godzilla machines to play

Incidentally, Pinball News Editor, Martin Ayub, will be interviewed for MarcoTV on Saturday afternoon and you should be able to watch it soon afterwards.

There are plenty of other pinballs already set up, with more constantly arriving.

Some of the pinballs already set up at the show
Some of the pinballs already set up at the show
Some of the pinballs already set up at the show
Some of the pinballs already set up at the show

Further into the hall there are lots of customised machines. Here are a few which caught our eye.

This beautiful Spider-Man had sparkle powdercoat and clearcoat throughout
This beautiful Spider-Man had custom graphics and sparkle powdercoat and clearcoat throughout
This Philina conversion of a Gorgar has all-new graphics and rules
This Philina conversion of a Gorgar has all-new graphics and rules
This attractive Black Knight 2000 is also for sale, and at a good price
This attractive Black Knight 2000 is also for sale, and at a good price

It’s the Houston Arcade Expo show, so it’s not all about pinball. There are plenty of classic video games too and multiple console and PC/Mac games too.

Some of the arcade video games at the show
Some of the arcade video games at the show
More arcade video games being set up
More arcade video games being set up

The Space City Open pinball tournament is being held at the show. Run by the Space City Pinball League, it is hosted in the Richmond Room which is just off the main hotel lobby.

This way to the Space City Open
This way to the Space City Open

The tournament starts at 5pm on Friday, but machine set-up and configuration was under way on Thursday afternoon.

Some of the Space City Open tournament machines
Some of the Space City Open tournament machines

Friday

The Houston Arcade Expo opened to the public at midday on Friday, although there was still some set-up work taking place in both the Grand Foyer and the Grand Pavilion.

Some of the first guests at the show's registration desk
Some of the first guests at the show’s registration desk

At the desk, guests could buy single or multi day passes, as well as T-shirts and posters.

T-shirts from this and previous shows were available
T-shirts from this and previous shows were available

There were also banners detailing the musical and seminar performances across the three days. With a stage and a DJ desk, there would be plenty of music to accompany the games.

Music and seminar schedules
Music and seminar schedules

With vendors selling replica weaponry (and this being Texas), there was another banner detailing the rules to keep everyone at the show safe.

Rules of engagement
Rules of engagement

The registration desk is located at the entrance to the Grand Foyer which is where many of the vendor stands are located, away from the noise of the arcade machines in the Grand Pavilion.

One of the two rows of stands in the Grand Foyer
One of the two rows of stands in the Grand Foyer
Some of the writer and game creator stands in the Grand Foyer
Some of the writer and game creator stands in the Grand Foyer

‘Dirty’ Donny Gillies had set up his stand near to the entrance.

Dirty Donny's was selling prints of his art
Dirty Donny was selling prints of his very colourful and vivid artworks

It’s a diverse selection of vendor stands at the show – especially in the Grand Foyer – and we’ll take a closer look at what they were selling or promoting a bit later, but let’s go into the main show hall – the Grand Pavilion – to see how that looked at midday on Friday.

The Game Preserve had almost completed their setting up
The Game Preserve had almost completed their setting up

Most of the pinballs are located in a block in front of the stage and loading doors, although there are plenty more scattered throughout the hall.

The largest block of pinballs at the show
The largest block of pinballs at the show
One of the rows of games
One of the rows of games
Another row of games
Another row of games
Another row of games
Another row of games
Another row of games
Another row of games
Another row of games
Another row of games
Another row of games
More games in another part of the hall
Another row of games
Another row of games
Another row of games
Another row of games
Another row of games
Another row of games
Another row of games
Another row of games
Another row of games
Another row of games
Another row of games
Another row of games
Another row of games
Another row of games

Marco Specialties had their collection of new Stern Pinball titles set up.

Five Godzilla Pro machines
Five Godzilla Pro machines
Four Godzilla Premiums
Four Godzilla Premiums
Along with these Turtles and Avengers games, there were also two The Mandalorian games
Along with these Turtles and Avengers games, there were also two The Mandalorian games
The boxes for the games on the show floor
The boxes for the games on the show floor

There is also a raffle to win a The Mandalorian pinball with tickets costing $25 each or five for $100. The draw will take place at the close of the show on Sunday afternoon.

Details of the prize raffle for a The Mandalorian pinball
Details of the prize raffle for a The Mandalorian pinball

Texan hardware manufacturer and game developer, Multimorphic, were also here to showcase some of their latest products on two of their P3 pinball platforms.

Multimorphic had two of their P3 platforms, this one featuring the Heist! game
Multimorphic had two of their P3 platforms, this one featuring the Heist! game

Their second P3 was running the Sorcerer’s Apprentice game, but also included their new alternate generic cabinet/backbox artwork.

The new, shiny, generic P3 cabinet artwork
The new, shiny, generic P3 cabinet artwork
The new backbox side art
The new backbox side art

This Ghostbusters game had a bunch of mods as well as coloured balls installed.

A great-looking Ghostbusters
A great-looking Ghostbusters

This Stern Star Trek also had a load of mods, but in this case each one had a corresponding QR code so you could get more details and potentially buy them yourself.

A highly-modded Stern Star Trek game
A highly-modded Stern Star Trek game
Do you want to know more?
Do you want to know more?

Later in the afternoon more games had arrived, including a selection of pinballs from Joystix.

Joystix brought this Star Wars Comic Pin home pinball
Among others, Joystix brought this Star Wars Comic Pin home pinball
They also brought this JJP Guns 'N Roses Limited Edition
They also brought this JJP Guns ‘N Roses Limited Edition
A selection of newer Stern Pinball titles
A selection of newer Stern Pinball titles
Who remembers this from the movie 'Big'?
Who remembers this from the movie ‘Big’?

The Space City Open 2021 began at 5pm on Friday with players split into two qualifying groups – Red and Blue. The Red group played six 4-player matches first, with the Blue group following at 8pm. Qualifying continued on Saturday at 9am when the Red group played another six rounds of 4-player matches, with the Blue group doing the same at midday.

The Space City Open was well-attended
The Space City Open was well-attended

The machines in use for the tournament were:

  • Avengers: Infinity Quest (LE)
  • Diner
  • Elvira’s House of Horrors (LE)
  • Gold Wings
  • Hot Wheels
  • Johnny Mnemonic
  • Jurassic Park (LE)
  • Pool Sharks
  • Red & Ted’s Roadshow
  • Stargate
  • Total Nuclear Annihilation
  • Wheel of Fortune
  • Whirlwind
  • Whitewater
  • World Cup Soccer
Bob Matthews playing on World Cup Soccer in the foreground
Bob Matthews playing on World Cup Soccer in the foreground

The top twelve players from both groups qualify for the play-offs which start at 4pm on Saturday with players ranked 9th-24th playing three 4-player games.

Qualifying matches
Qualifying matches

The top two from each group advance to round two where they are joined by the top eight ranked qualifiers to play the same format. This continues to the semi-finals in round three (eight players), and the final four play their final around 10pm.

The trophy showing previous tournament winners
The trophy showing previous tournament winners
Individual trophies for the top four
Individual trophies for the top four

The tournament is being streamed live by Top Rope Pinball and you can follow the qualifying results on the Matchplay website for the Red group and the Blue group.

The live stream commentary team
The live stream commentary team

One aspect which helps make the Houston Arcade Expo stand out is the schedule of live music across the three days. On Saturday evening there were several musical performances, starting at 6pm with The Harp Twins who, true to their name, are twins Camille and Kennerly Kitt who play a selection of popular tracks and their own compositions on their electric harps.

The Harp Twins
The Harp Twins

Their performance took place in The Rose Room, which is where the show’s seminars and movie screenings are held. The Harp Twins are appearing each of the three days of the show, and this first appearance drew a large highly-appreciative crowd.

A small section of The Harp Twin's audience
A small section of The Harp Twin’s audience

Later on in the evening, the music shifted to the main stage in the Grand Pavilion where we especially enjoyed Atari Matt’s crazy 8-bit music and video displays and 8-Bit Zero’s jamming to an electronic backbeat.

Pinball game designer, musician and DJ, Scott Danesi, was also performing a set on the main stage and will be holding a seminar about his game designs in The Rose Room on Saturday at 6pm.

Some crazy module madness here
Some module madness here
8-Bit Zero performing on the main stage
8-Bit Zero with his guitar, sax and GameBoy playing on the main stage
Friday night in the Grand Pavilion
Friday night in the Grand Pavilion

Saturday

Action at the Houston Arcade Expo 2021 began with the swap meet in the hotel’s car park.

The swap meet on Saturday morning
The swap meet on Saturday morning

Following the nature of the show, the swap meet offered items from all kinds of gaming.

Items for sale at the swap meet
Items for sale at the swap meet
Lots of console games and accessories
Lots of console games and accessories
All kinds of game and gameroom items for sale
All kinds of game and gameroom items for sale
A Wico Big Top home game
A Wico Big Top home game
A Williams Darling game for sale
A Williams Darling game for sale, if you can get past the guards
A Williams Comet was available too
A Williams Comet was available too
Pinball parts, manuals and displays could be picked up
Pinball parts, manuals and displays could be picked up

Today’s seminars started with a workshop on live streaming games from Fliptronic. This was follwed by Gerry Stellenberg from Multimorphic explaining how their P3 pinball platform works and its advantages over a traditional single game model.

Gerry describes the advantages of the P3 platform
Gerry describes the advantages and innovations of the P3 platform
Gerry Stellenberg of Multimorphic
Gerry Stellenberg of Multimorphic

The seminar schedule ran all afternoon with talks about video game development and the history of games, followed by a gaming trivia quiz and a cosplay contest.

At 6pm Scott Danesi held a talk about creating your own homebrew pinball. With many of the newest industry game designers coming through that route, homebrew game design is now recognised as the best way into the business.

Scott Danesi's seminar
Scott Danesi’s seminar

Scott also talked about the different operating systems and their relative advantages/disadvantages when it comes to creating a pinball game, before taking questions from the audience about how they can create their own game.

Scott Danesi
Scott Danesi

Saturday was also finals day for the Space City Open tournament.

The twelve qualifiers from the Red and Blue groups who would take part in the play-offs were:

Red GroupBlue Group
Jim Mueller
Wesley Johnson
Lee Moscaritolo
Collier Whitefield
Bob Matthews
Robert Byers
Jack Revnew
John Speights
Ken Kemp
Trey Keng
Jon Stewart
Preston Moncla
Colin MacAlpine
Steven Bowden
Mark Meserve
Randy Abel
Jokton Strealy
Chris Doyle
Phil Grimaldi
Chris Palis
Carey Fishman
Scott Davids
Brad Holliday
Brian Foytik
The qualifiers for the Space City Open 2021

After three elimination rounds, the final four were Colin MacAlpine, Robert Byers, Lee Moscaritolo and Jim Mueller.

The final was played on three machines – Stargate, Red & Ted’s Roadshow and Jurassic Park.

Colin achieved first place in the first two games, giving him an unassailable lead going into the third, but with everyone else tied for second it was all to play for.

Colin starts the last game of the final, having already won the tournament
Colin starts the last game of the final, having already won the tournament

Robert had a commanding lead after the first ball, which he held throughout to win the last game and claim second place overall. Colin took second place on the third game, followed by Jim and Lee who ended up third and fourth respectively overall.

Trophies were presented by Tournament Director, Phil Grimaldi.

Winner of the Space City Open 2021, Colin MacAlpine
Winner of the Space City Open 2021, Colin MacAlpine
Second place, Robert Byers
Second place, Robert Byers
Third place, Jim Mueller
Third place, Jim Mueller
Fourth place, Lee Moscaritolo
Fourth place, Lee Moscaritolo
The top four in the Space City Open 2021
The top four in the Space City Open 2021

Sunday

The show opened to the public at 10am and initially it wasn’t too busy on the show floor, with plenty of popular titles available to play. Here’s our aerial view around the Grand Pavilion thirty minutes after opening.

Plenty of games available to play on Sunday morning
Plenty of games available to play on Sunday morning
More pinballs to play
More pinballs to play
If you wanted to get your hands on Godzilla, now was the time
If you wanted to get your hands on Godzilla, now was the time
Further back in the Grand Pavilion
Further back in the Grand Pavilion
Most video games were free too
Most video games were free too

Meanwhile, in the tournament room where the Space City Open played to a conclusion last night, it was time for the final rounds of the Interstellar Showdown Women’s Pinball Tournament.

The final rounds of the Interstellar Showdown Women’s Pinball Tournament
The final rounds of the Interstellar Showdown Women’s Pinball Tournament

Qualifying had taken place on Saturday at the Belles of Space City stand at the back of the Grand Pavilion. The top eight players qualified for these finals which began at 9am on Sunday morning.

The tournament was very well supported with 44 players taking part. The eight who played on Sunday morning were:

  • Alana Johnson
  • Dawn Hayes
  • Kelli Raisler
  • Lisa Shore
  • Maritza Chirichigno
  • Rowela Fiore
  • Tiffany Simmons
  • Tracy Abrahams

The final was between Alana Johnson, Lisa Shore, Maritza Chirichigno and Kelli Raisler and it was played on three machines – Hot Wheels, The Avengers: Infinity Quest and Jurassic Park.

In the final, Kelli took first place after a win on Hot Wheels and second place on the other two games. Maritza came back from two third place finishes to win the last game of the final on Jurassic Park and take second place overall. Lisa won on The Avengers, but two fourth places on the other games put her in third overall. Alana’s second, fourth and third could only get her fourth place overall.

The Houston Arcade Expo wrapped up around 2pm with a closing ceremony presented by show organiser Keith Christensen.

Houston Arcade Expo organiser, Keith Christensen
Houston Arcade Expo organiser, Keith Christensen

A series of best-in-show awards were then presented for the top arcade, pinball, console, overall best in show and a special award honouring Dan Ferguson, the eclectic collector and curator of the Lone Star Pinball Museum who we were fortunate enough to meet in 2016. Sadly Dan passed away in December of 2019 soon after an organised tour from the Houston Arcade Expo, so this award honours his memory by recognising the selfless work in the coin-op scene by someone in the greater-Houston community.

The trophies for the best-in-show awards
The trophies for the best-in-show awards

Next came a draw to find the winner of a multicade cocktail video game. The winner wasn’t present at the show but he will be able to collect his prize at his convenience.

Throughout the show, guests could purchase tickets from the front desk to enter the grand prize draw to win a The Mandalorian pinball machine. Tickets cot $25 each or 5 tickets for $100, and entries were placed in a metal drum.

Tickets for the pinball machine prize draw could be bought at the front desk
Tickets for the pinball machine prize draw could be bought at the front desk

Now was the time to draw the winner.

Keith spins the drum to mix up the entries
Keith spins the drum to mix up the entries

The honour of picking the winning ticket went to this reporter who curiously enough had just played the prize game and set a new Grand Champion score, so could verify it’s a great game to win. After rummaging through the entries one ticket was selected and the owner congratulated on his win.

The lucky winner of a The Mandalorian pinball
The lucky winner of a The Mandalorian pinball

Once the closing presentations and draws were over, the organising team distributed assorted toys and gifts to the audience.

The audience gets ready for the gifts
The audience gets ready for the gifts
Keith distributes gifts as other organisers throw out more to the audience
Keith distributes gifts as other organisers throw out more to the audience
Everyone got something, while some did better than others
Everyone got something, while some did better than others

Will all the gifts given out, the show was over and it was time to start the tear-down.

Time to pack away the games and take them home
Time to pack away the games and take them home
Wrap up the games to keep then safe for the return journey
Wrap up the games to keep then safe for the return journey

The Houston Arcade Expo has a unique vibe which sets it apart from the myriad of other pinball shows in the US. This is mainly due to the comprehensive schedule of musical performances, but also due to its roots as a more general gaming show and not a pinball-specific one.

Over the years the pinball element has grown, but overall it probably occupies a minority of the space on the show floor. But then pinball doesn’t exist in a vacuum and influences from alternative genres of amusement, be they coin-op or home-based, tend to converge and provide inspiration for new directions. Having a wide spectrum of game platforms not only appeals to more visitors, they are given the opportunity to step outside their own genre and try others. Guests who attend to play home consoles games, for instance, may well try some of the pinballs or arcade videos and get into those scenes too.

So, that brings our coverage of the Houston Arcade Expo 2021 show to a close.

We end this report with our exclusive Pinball News Thirteen Minute Tour video walkthrough of the Grand Foyer and Grand Pavilion rooms with all the special guests, vendors and games.

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One Comment

  1. Christopher Sockrider

    17th November, 2021 at 12:42am

    Thank you for attending and documenting this great show. It is on my must attend list every year!

    Reply

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