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Playmeter December 2014 : Page-86

PINBALL CURIOUS Jim Schelberg 30 Anniversary Pinball Expo th th Pinball, pinball, everywhere, and not a game to play! ell, that’s not exactly true. In fact, the 30th Annual Pinball Expo was popping at its seams. Exhibits Chair-man Mike Pacak had to scramble to find room for everything. More hotel nights were booked for the show than ever before in Pinball Expo history and that means more people, a lot more! The expo was held Oct. 15-19 at the Westin Chicago North Shore Hotel in Wheeling, Ill. Exhibit space expanded to fill the usual game room and the main game room occupied the area usually reserved for speakers and seminars. All this growth required the use of exhibit halls not used by the expo at this venue before. The seminars, it seemed, lasted from dawn to dusk and beyond and at one point there were four programs in progress at the same time. What about playing a game? There was SO much going on I didn’t have time. PLAY METER The traditional start of expo is the Bumper Blast. Held on the night before the first full day of activities, it is the expo’s gift to its patrons and fea-tures a full dinner and live music but mostly time to greet old friends and meet new ones in an informal setting. Chairman Rob Berk borrowed the idea for this event from the world of fireworks, which are collected, traded, and exploded much like this pinball event except, hopefully, for the explod-ing part. Rob enjoyed that atmosphere and sought to create something similar at the expo. He succeeded. The place was packed. It’s difficult to resist free food (which was pretty darn good!) but another draw was the music. Pinball designer John Trudeau (most recently of Stern’s Mustang) brought his band, The Stone Daddies, to entertain. The band was great and played tunes ranging from Pinball Wizard 86 (duh?) to the theme song from the vampire TV series “True Blood.” One theme they didn’t play was from the hit show “Big Bang Theory” and it might have been just as well. While John’s group was quite entertaining, it can be a daunting task to cover a song with the originator “in the house.” In this case it was Ed Robertson, lead singer and song writer for Bare-naked Ladies. Ed has been showing up at pinball shows in recent months. He has a collection of his own and has become a major pinball supporter. Top: At the autograph session, top, (l-r): Fred Young, Kevin O’íConnor, Joe Kaminkow, Dennis Nordman, Brian Eddy, Greg Freres, Steve Ritchie, and John Trudeau; middle, (l-r): Gary Flower, Mark Ritchie, Barry Oursler, Stan Fukuoka, David Thiel, Roger Sharpe, and Dave Christensen; bottom, (l-r): Paul Faris, John Youssi, Larry DeMar, John Buras, and Steve Epstein. DECEMBER 2014

30th Anniversary Pinball Expo

Jim Schelberg


Pinball, pinball, everywhere, and not a game to play!

Well, that’s not exactly true. In fact, the 30th Annual Pinball Expo was popping at its seams. Exhibits Chairman Mike Pacak had to scramble to find room for everything.

More hotel nights were booked for the show than ever before in Pinball Expo history and that means more people, a lot more! The expo was held Oct. 15-19 at the Westin Chicago North Shore Hotel in Wheeling, Ill.

Exhibit space expanded to fill the usual game room and the main game room occupied the area usually reserved for speakers and seminars. All this growth required the use of exhibit halls not used by the expo at this venue before.

The seminars, it seemed, lasted from dawn to dusk and beyond and at one point there were four programs in progress at the same time. What about playing a game? There was SO much going on I didn’t have time.

The traditional start of expo is the Bumper Blast. Held on the night before the first full day of activities, it is the expo’s gift to its patrons and features a full dinner and live music but mostly time to greet old friends and meet new ones in an informal setting.

Chairman Rob Berk borrowed the idea for this event from the world of fireworks, which are collected, traded, and exploded much like this pinball event except, hopefully, for the exploding part. Rob enjoyed that atmosphere and sought to create something similar at the expo. He succeeded.

The place was packed. It’s difficult to resist free food (which was pretty darn good!) but another draw was the music. Pinball designer John Trudeau (most recently of Stern’s Mustang) brought his band, The Stone Daddies, to entertain.

The band was great and played tunes ranging from Pinball Wizard (duh?) to the theme song from the vampire TV series “True Blood.” One theme they didn’t play was from the hit show “Big Bang Theory” and it might have been just as well. While John’s group was quite entertaining, it can be a daunting task to cover a song with the originator “in the house.”

In this case it was Ed Robertson, lead singer and song writer for Barenaked Ladies. Ed has been showing up at pinball shows in recent months. He has a collection of his own and has become a major pinball supporter.

Most importantly, if James Brown was the hardest working man in show business, Ed is the nicest. Sure, his fame opens a lot of doors, but his personality keeps them open and his willingness to share just a bit of his fame with “us” is a refreshing pleasure. Thanks, Ed.

PACKED AGENDA
The show started in earnest the next morning with the tour of the Stern Pinball facility. As usual, employees all the way from the front office to the design team led small groups through the various stages of Stern’s pinball production.

After a stop to get a T-shirt or other Stern goodies, it was back to the hotel for the start of the ambitious seminar schedule. Being the 30th show, Rob pulled out all the stops and told me, “If someone asked to do a talk, being it’s the 30th show, I just said, ‘yes.’”... and it showed!

Thursday afternoon and evening featured a number of events ranging from designer Tim Seckel and his The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle game and ending with “An Evening with Jersey Jack.” In between were talks from designer John Popadiuk to DMD head Randy Perlow, friends Roger Sharpe and Steve Epstein, and Flash Gordon’s Claude Fernandez and Kevin O’Connor. There was even a “Pinball in The Media” presentation by yours truly.

We also learned about the Dutch Pinball’s Big Lebowski, pinball sound from Chris Granner, and combined seminars on the late Python Anghelo and the rebirth of his Pinball Circus from Dave Fix, Phoebe Smith, James Loflin, and Paul Kiefert.

Stern Pinball presented its newest game, John Borg’s The Walking Dead, along with Mustang at a massive multimedia display created by Marco Specialties. In addition, Stern’s CEO Gary Stern discussed the company’s past, present, and future at a seminar, which was followed by “An Evening with Stern Pinball” complete with nightclub atmosphere, an autograph table, DJ supplied music, pinball tournament, and refreshments.

Podcasts have become more and more popular and those involved with four of the podcasts focused on pinball shared the stage. Moderated by David Fix, it was a time for listeners to see and meet the people behind the voices. David told me, “It was great to have four major pinball podcast groups all in one place. They have a combined following of close to 10,000 listeners each month!”

Jersey Jack Pinball (JJP) was ready to unveil its second game, The Hobbit. There was a “Fireside Chat” that included many of the JJP team. JJP also hosted a booth with overhead video images of the playfields of both its Wizard of Oz and The Hobbit while the games were being played. The Hobbit is a wide body model with a playfield so full of toys and mechanisms that just lifting it for service is no easy task.

An expo highlight for me is the “Dinner with ...” series. Held in a small meeting room, it’s limited to 20 or so people who gather to break bread with a pinball luminary and get the inside story of their particular slice of pinball history.

This year, Rob coaxed artist Dave “Mad Dog” Christensen down from his Milwaukee home to share some of his pearls of wisdom. The event was moderated by pinball historian Gary Flower and together they discussed Mad Dog art for games such as Wizard, Captain Fantastic!, Old Chicago, and Fireball.

My only complaint is that I could not stay the entire time due to covering other events. Dinner in that room began just as Pinside.com-Past, Present, and Future was in full swing. Mad Dog had barely started talking when the Heighway Pinball presentation started AND a panel discussion on “Operating a Pinball Museum” got under way.

It felt like that for the whole show. People playing games, competing in tournaments, attending lectures, visiting exhibitors and vendors, and all at the same time!

The nerve center for all this activity was the registration desk under the capable guidance of Brigitt Berk. Rob’s wife Brigitt has been handling this pivotal job for years and the show would surely grind to a screeching halt without her. In fact, Walter Day and Mark Hoff created a trading card in her honor. A card was also presented to Jaden Berk, 13, who was honored as representing the future of pinball.

Walter and Mark had been working for months before the show to gather photos and information on all the Pinball Expo Hall of Fame inductees. I was happy to open my photo archive to them for the project but what a job they had.

Posters were made and displayed for each inductee and a trading card was produced as well. Walter and Mark began this to help increase interest in pinball. We seem to have an innate urge to collect stuff, and judging from the frenzy of people crowding around the table where Mark would periodically dump a mixed pile of cards, it seems they achieved their goal.

AUTOGRAPH SESSION
The autograph session is an exciting time. No other show can come even CLOSE to hosting the number of pinball industry folk who are at Pinball Expo. Many of them converge on this event and enjoy it as a way to meet the fans who appreciate their efforts. The line of people wound its way out the door and down the hall.

As was the case last year, a number of custom and low run games were on display. Andrew Heighway presented his very long promised Full Throttle prototype and announced a second game, designed by Dennis Nordman, featuring the licensed theme from the movie “Alien.” Dutch Pinball presented three of its Big Lebowski games and hosted a series of parties in the hotel’s Presidential Suite.

Gerry Stellenberg and his company Multimorphic had Lexy Lightspeed— Galaxy Girl available for play on the multigame P3 platform. This game features real flippers, real balls, and ramps and targets in the modular upper third of the playfield, but the rest of the space is filled with an LCD screen that displays dynamic and interactive artwork and real-time instructions during game play. During Gerry’s seminar he talked about introducing industry-changing innovations without losing the physicality of traditional pinball.

The Saturday night banquet is full of mixed emotions for me. While I love it, as “official” expo photographer I’m not in my seat for more than five minutes at a time while taking photos of the speakers and presenters.

This is yet another unique event among pinball shows as it’s a time for recognition, fun and learning, but most of all it is a chance for attendees to enjoy a shared experience with a wide range of people in the pinball industry. The fun comes in part with the charity auction.

Last year there was an item titled, “A Private Tour of Stern and Lunch with Gary Stern.” The bidding ended with former Data East/Sega/Stern design head Joe Kaminkow on top. He stated that he was inviting a select group for the event (me included) and that took place this year on Friday afternoon. The ride there and back with Masaya “Harry” Horiguchi, current Japanese operator but former employee of Data East-Japan, was great. I’ve known him for over 20 years but it’s been a long time since we had an opportunity to chat.

HALL OF FAME
The keynote speaker, and 2014 Hall of Fame inductee along with Brian Eddy (designer for Midway Games), was Nolan Bushnell. Nolan, Founder of Atari, told us that making pinball and video games was great but he realized that the real money was in operating so he started Chuck E. Cheese’s.

It’s not every day you hear from a person with those accomplishments to his credit, not to mention his most famous employee by the name of Steve Jobs (who had friend Steve Wosniak helping him at night). Nolan was fantastic. The discussion of his history and his view of the future were spellbinding.

Aside from the induction of Bushnell and Eddy into the Hall of Fame, a new category was established, announced by classic designer Greg Kmiec. The inaugural inductees are Foremost Plastics, Churchhill Cabinets, and a personal favorite, Shelley Sax. Sax is to Stern what Brigitt is to Pinball Expo.

The next day is typically reserved for the Flip Out tournament. Qualifying is conducted throughout the show but Sunday is when things get interesting. This event has grown quite a bit. For the second year it was broadcast live on the Internet with three views of the game and commentary from a staff of pinball experts.

The unusual aspect this year was that the champion was not crowned until close to midnight. It came down to a close battle between Trent Augustine (the event organizer) and Jorian Engelbrektsson, who was ultimately victorious in the A Division.

The Kids Division winner was Nick Weyna. Nick has pinball in his blood with father Mark employed at Stern and mom Barbara a past Woman’s Division champ. Taking the third spot in the Kids Division was Zach Parks; mom Alysa won the Woman’s Division championship. Pinball is a family affair.

In many ways pinball is on an upswing. For nearly 30 years Pinball Expo, like the industry it celebrates, has seen its share of ups and downs. It’s good to see them both enjoying a boom but like most really cool things, reading, looking at photos, or even hearing about it just doesn’t fly. You have to SEE IT FOR YOURSELF. The next Pinball Expo kicks off on Oct. 14, 2015. Don’t you dare miss it!

Jim Schelberg, always curious about pinball, has been publishing the PinGame Journal for more than 20 years. Jim has about 40 games of his own but spends most of his pinball time attending events, snapping photos, and talking to people about pinball. He can be reached at (jims@pingamejournal.com); Web (www.pingamejournal.com).

Read the full article at http://www.ourdigitalmags.com/article/30th+Anniversary+Pinball+Expo/1877764/236821/article.html.

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