Report: Amusement Expo and Texas Pinball Festival 2016
Posted on March 24, 2016
IAAPA’s annual spring show took place in the Convention Center in Las Vegas, NV, March 15-17 2016. This is an industry trade show for the coin-op industry, where the latest amusement games are being displayed by manufacturers and distributors. For pinball enthusiast it was an interesting show as Stern Pinball was present with seven games, which included two Ghost Busters Pros, the first public appearance of the game.
Stern Pinball was represented by four managers: Gary Stern, John Buscaglia, Pat Powers and Jim Belt. Surprisingly, and definitely worth to note, Stern already had flyer brochures for Ghost Busters available. For the past years it seemed that such brochures were not available at the first show(s) where new games were presented, but for Ghost Busters the Pro flyers were done in time. However, while these flyers were available at the Amusement Expo, they were not at the Texas Pinball Festival. More on that later.
UK-based Heighway Pinball was also present in Las Vegas, a bit further in the back of the show. At their stand there were two Full Throttle games on display, both with a large LCD in the backbox. The company was represented by owner Andrew Heighway and two Norwegian investors.
Although this was an industry show there were quite a few pinball enthusiasts present who may not be active in the world of operating pinball, or other amusement games. As it turned out the IFPA were organizing a few tournaments in the Las Vegas-based Pinball Hall Of Fame. Quite a few tournament players had come to Las Vegas a few days earlier to play the new Ghost Busters game. Other games present in Stern Pinball’s stand were Spider-Man Vault Edition, The Walking Dead Pro, KISS Pro, Wrestlemania Pro and Game of Thrones Pro.
Besides the already named manufacturers there were no other pinball companies present to promote their games. There were several former pinball industry people attending the show, like Roger Sharpe, Eugene Jarvis and former pinball designer Jon Norris. Pinball Magazine only attended the Wednesday of the show, but it didn’t seem there were any surprises in store for Thursday – aside from KISS singer Gene Simmons visiting the show and Stern Pinball stand.
This concludes our coverage of this show as we flew to Dallas, TX Thursday morning for the Texas Pinball Festival.
We arrived around lunch time at the Texas Pinball Festival hotel in Frisco, TX, where the first games were already being setup in the show area. Although the Thursday is officially not part of the event, there were already quite a few pinball enthusiast present. This made it feel a bit like the show had already started.
As Martin Ayub of Pinball News and yours truly would be doing the So You Think You Know Pinball? Pop quiz on Friday I spent most of the afternoon finishing the presentation with questions for the quiz.
On Friday I brought in all the magazines and posters for the Pinball Magazine stand. This year the stand is quite a bit in the back in an area that turned out to be less crowded than other areas of the show floor. Before the show opened more and more games were being setup and more and more familiar faces showed up. Martin and I picked up the prizes for the pop quiz that were donated by: Jersey Jack Pinball, Spooky Pinball, Multimorphic, Pinside, Heighway Pinball, ColorDMD, Printimus Pinball, Gary Flower, Pinball Magazine, Pinball News and the Texas Pinball Festival. As it turned out there were more prizes than contestants.
The So you Think You Know Pinball pop quiz started at 6:00 PM, just one hour after the show officially opened. At that time most people probably preferred to play pinball, or enjoy the happy hour in the hotel bar, so the number of people attending for the quiz was not as high as hoped for. Regardless the quiz started anyway. Martin Ayub was in charge of putting prize packets together, while I was sitting on the speaker stage with a laptop, clicking through the questions.
The concept of the quiz was pretty simple. For each question asked two possible answers were also presented. Whoever thought answer A was correct would have to move to the left side of the room, whoever thought it was answer B would have to move to the right side of the room. Those who got the correct answer kept on playing, while the contestants who went with the incorrect answer were eliminated from that round. Once there were only 2 or 3 people playing shoot out questions were used to pick a winner. While Martin was taking care of handing the winner all prizes won, I started with the next round. As there were still prizes left after an hour, and the next seminar speaker had not shown up yet, the quiz continued for another 15 minutes.
Following the quiz I had to go back to the Pinball Magazine stand. As I could not attend the other seminars I will refer to Pinball News’ report of the show. As it turned out there were no plans to stream or record any of the seminars. Luckily I had brought an audio recorder and Martin volunteered to record all seminars with that. As it turned out when checking Friday night’s recordings that didn’t go perfectly, but it’s better than nothing.
On the show floor the various new games were spread out a bit, resulting in various cues in various areas to play all the different new games. Dutch Pinball’s The Big Lebowski was present in the back with two games. The same goes for Heighway Pinball’s Full Throttle. Marco Specialties had two Ghost Busters Pros, a Game of Thrones and Spider-Man Premium Vault Edition at their stand in the center of the show floor, while Spooky Pinball was more at the front of the hall with America’s Most Haunted, a playable regular version of Rob Zombie Spookshow International. Spooky also had a Limited edition of Rob Zombie on display, as well as a Domino’s pinball cabinet with cabinet and backbox artwork. The playfield was covered, so could not be seen and would also not be revealed at the show.
In terms of games this year’s edition had games from pretty much every era in pinball. The ‘30s were represented with about ten non-electrical flipperless games like, Air Way, Bally Hoo, World Series and others. Bob Herbison had brought some Gottlieb woodrails from the ‘50s, while the ‘60s and ‘70s were represented by other electromechanical games on the floor. The ’80, ‘90s, ‘00s and ‘10s were represented with even more games. It was fun to see some very rare titles like Wico’s Af-Tor, or custom games like Spinal Tap and Reverse Flush. There’s quite a few Stern LE and Premium games present, most of them fitted with a ColorDMD. Some games were really modded in a very nice way. The most eye-catching one is probably the Creature from the Black Lagoon with pink powdercoated wireform ramps, which was displayed by Pinball Side Mirrors.
When it comes to food a variety of food trucks was available in the parking lot of the convention center. In the direct neighborhood of the show were also several bars and restaurants. Last year Wild Pitch, by some called “the bras and panties bar across the street”, turned out to be a popular place and this year was no different. However, after eating there on Thursday and Friday I had seen the gimmick and went to other restaurants on Saturday and Sunday. Also because of the company I was in.
On Saturday morning there was a swap meet in the parking lot where, compared to last year, a lot of project pinball machines were being offered. Aside from games there were a few vendors offering various parts for pinball and video games. Compared to last year the temperature was also very cold. That didn’t stop people from taking a look as it was pretty crowded.
While there was a world record attempt scheduled for Saturday morning, the organization had to cancel that as they came 25 games short in order to beat the previous record of most people playing pinball simultaneously. To compensate for that the show floor was opened an hour earlier than scheduled.
Saturday afternoon Multimorphic presented four new games for their P3 Roc pinball console. After that the games could be played in their stand for the rest of the weekend. Cannon Lagoon is a timed pirates-themed ticket awarding game where the player shoots the ball at objects, like bombs or ships, displayed on the LCD at the back of the playfield. The game has a 5-fan layout and is intended for children. Regardless of that it’s fun to play for adults as well, but maybe not as deep as some players like their games to be. One of the other games presented was Barnyard, where farm animals are walking from left to right of the playfield monitor and can be hit by the ball, which is awarding points. The third new game is called Rocs, where the player is aiming to shoot floating rocks displayed on the playfield monitor. For those unfamiliar with the P3 Roc pinball console: it basically is a generic pinball cabinet where the lower two third of the playfield is occupied by an LCD display. A physical pinball rolls over the display and the software can detect it anywhere on the playfield. In order for this to work the game has newly developed flipper and slingshot mechanisms that don’t require holes for mounting to be drilled through the playfield (monitor). The upper third of the playfield is an interchangeable playfield unit that is designed for specific games. Both Barnyard and Rocs can be played with any playfield module at the top of the game. Multimorphic also presented a Lexi Lightspeed side game, but I had no chance to play that at the show.
Saturday evening I decided to close the Pinball Magazine stand at the show and take photos of some games instead. I also attended the seminar by pinball designer Mark Ritchie and game music composer Chris Granner. As this was the only seminar I attended I can’t compare it with any other seminars, but this was a fun seminar. Mark and Chris dished up stories from the development of various games, which included a few anecdotes I hadn’t heard before.
After the seminar there was an autograph session with most pinball industry people that were present at the show: Steve Ritchie, George Gomez, Chris Granner, mark Ritchie, John Trudeau, George Gomez, Paul Faris and even Jaap nauta from Dutch Pinball (to Jaap’s surprise). Earlier that evening I had bought some pinball flyers at Marco Specialties, which allowed me to get these autographed.
Following the autograph session I joined Chris Granner and the Ritchie’s for a meal at a nearby restaurant. Such events are always fun and I was happy to attend.
Saturday night at midnight the show floor officially closed, but remained open for another two hours for vendors and those who had brought games to the show. Even with the reduced number of people on the floor there were cues for The Big Lebowski, Full Throttle, Rob Zombie Spookshow International, Ghost Busters and Safe Cracker. The last named game was dispensing Texas Pinball Festival tokens that were made especially for this show. The fact that there was a cue for the game all weekend shows the interest that people have in winning one (or more) of these.
On Sunday morning the show resumed and filled up with participants quickly. Probably because the show ended at 2:30 PM people prefered to show up early in order to play as much as they can. As mentioned earlier there were no Ghost Busters flyers available at the show. However, I was able to have John Trudeau sign a Ghost Busters flyer and magazine ad which I had picked up at the show in Las Vegas earlier this week. As that was the first Ghost Busters flyer that John signed I had him write that on it and took photos of him signing it. Who know it may be worth something some day.
Starting Friday morning at 11 and continuing the entire weekend there was a tournament being held in a separate area of the show floor. As I didn’t participate in that tournament, I have no idea how it went, who won and so on, but I figure I just mention it anyway. The tournament area was busy all the time and interestingly featured electromechanical, solid-state and dotmatrix games. For further details I will refer to Pinball News as Martin usually does an excellent job in covering such tournaments.
Over the weekend I heard from many people how impressed they are with this year’s edition of the show. Aside from the earlier mentioned new games, there is an A-list of pinball industry veterans attending, doing seminars and available for a chat: pinball designers George Gomez, Steve Ritchie, Mark Ritchie, John Trudeau, artist Paul Faris, composer Chris Granner and all the main players from the new boutique companies. A line-up with people like these and 300+ games from all eras in a luxury hotel / convention center makes this a great show and it’s setting the bar pretty high for other shows as well. Are there no critical notes? Well, a few. While each registrated visitor had a name badge with a seminar program printed on the back, it was hardly indicated where the seminar were. That can be easily solved with a few banners and some announcements. Having seminars held during the hotl’s Happy Hour may also be something to rethink as it seemed to reduce the number of people attending the seminars held during Happy Hour. Plus that’s around dinner time anyway, so maybe a two hour break in the seminar program is something to consider.
The only other point for improvement would be the location of some vendors on the show floor. Certain areas turned out to be less crowded due to various reasons. Other than that this was another great edition of the Texas Pinball Festival. A huge thank you goes out to Ed and Kim Vanderveen and their fellow organizers, all vendors, volunteers and those who brought one or more games. Without them, shows like this don’t happen. Texas Pinball Festival proved once again to be one of the top shows to attend and I sure hope to be back next year for another edition.