I finally got a chance to get back to the Houston Arcade Expo, one of my favorite pinball events. I’ve got a bunch of videos I’ve shot of things and here’s the first few.
A friend and a true legend in the pinball community passed away this week. Dan Ferguson, owner of the “Lone Star Pinball Museum” and one of the iconic enthusiasts in the region. Dan was a fixture at all the Texas pinball shows and had one of the most amazing collections of games and memorabilia anywhere. Eight years ago was one of the first times I got a chance to take a peek inside his infamous private museum, that was typically only open by invitation (and was an inspiration for our own PinChurch facility).
Here’s is a video I shot of a quick walk-thru of his amazing place. We miss you Dan!
Just back from the 2019 Texas pinball festival. Found some time to walk through early Friday evening to give you all a quick glimpse of the show. Pardon the crappy camera work but I wanted to post something quickly and as usual, no editing, but it should give you a nice feeling of what it was like to be there and the large selection of games and booths. Very big turn out. Over 400 games with a lot of new ones. I share some of my hilights after the video here.
- Tons and tons of games from every age. There were pre-electricity games, as well as vintage woodrails, and lots of modern games.
- It looks like there were more than a dozen Munsters Premium/LEs ordered/sold for the show. It was actually hard to find the “pro” version at the show, but I managed to find one and play both games. In the end I favored the “pro” version over the premium. The main difference (play-wise) being the mini-lower playfield, which I found to be more like a child’s toy than legitimate pinball. The fact that it had little ramps and can do multi-ball really didn’t do much for me, and looking at the price differential, it just seemed crazy to spend so much more for what really amounts to some extra gimmicky gameplay. If you want the game, IMO, get the pro.
- Stern’s video animation on the latest game, Munsters is getting better and better. Framerate and animation quality is great. There’s all kinds of interesting indicators and stylized graphics that are very cool… although the details are so tiny on-screen for some of the minor displays (like little VU meters indicating jackpot and combo levels) that they’re not terribly useful. I wonder if most players will even notice? But still, looking good. Not so sure they’re as functional as I’d like them to be but Stern’s display tech is improving.
- I found American Pinball’s “Houdini” game to be very gorgeous, but not all that fun to play. The flow was clunky; the game was very much stop and go, and floaty. It looks like they took Theater of Magic and tried to add a bunch of extra shots to it, that are too tight to be regularly hit. I like the idea of the theme, but the way things were presented, it didn’t get to me the way I would have liked. Creative use of playfield inserts and colors.. This company has great aesthetic design sensibilities, and a good bit of their technology is definitely solid and on the right track, but Houdini IMO isn’t it. The game had constant opto problems and was not properly working a good bit of the time. Techs were always tending to it and when I played it, the balls were being recognized in the game when they’d drain, so I got stuck in an endless loop of the same ball when the ball search kicked a new ball into play. This gave me enough time to “get over” the game. Too much stop and go. However…. the other game from American Pinball….
- “Octoberfest” was a hit! It’s hard to believe such a fun, crazy playfield layout comes from such a newbie in the pinball manufacturing community, but I really enjoyed this game. It’s got a deep ruleset with a lot of fun things to hit, and the integration between the video screen and the gameplay works well. I do worry about these huuuuge ramps being un-hittable if the flippers become weak, but I had no trouble making most of the game’s shots, and it’s really rewarding unlocking the game’s main mulit-ball and watching a little roller-coaster of balls fly across the habitrails. If you get a chance to play Octoberfest, don’t miss it. Great game! But be prepared to shell out, as we say, “JJP/Stern LE money” for the American Pinball games. I think for this reason, money wise, there’s more bang for the buck, but if American Pinball could get their game prices down to the $5000-$5500 mark, they’d make a serious dent in the pinball market. The problem is, paying $7000+ for a pinball game means choosing between the two established leaders, one of which (JJP) really does give you a lot for that extra money. That’s a tough market to compete with. I’d like to see American Pinball put out a cheaper game of the same quality as Octoberfest.
- Special custom game “This is Spinal Tap” was featured at the show. I got a chance to chat with the owners/creators of the game and will be posting a video soon. Really interesting game design that is different from possibly anything else ever done – stay tuned for a post about that.
- John Papadiuk’s failed venture “Magic Girl Pinball” appeared at the show, as an object d’art more than an actual pinball machine. It was oogle-worthy in terms of the sheer amount of stacked luminescent plastic was screwed to the playfield. From the very beginning of this project, I took a lot of shit from people on Pinside for having the audacity to ask whether JPop had the resources to actually deliver what he was promising? I was called a bunch of names and basically run off the site for my insolence. It remains one of the reasons I don’t have much presence there today, so I’m appropriately snarky when it comes to the remnants of this project being glorified in any way. It remains IMO, what it is: Not a pinball machine, but a monument to greed and gullibility. And it served it’s purpose at TPF, where it spent it’s time being catered to by multiple techs just trying to get it to “light up”.. never mind the fact that it was unplayable. It was as it always was: a stage prop. It was interesting to see it. There were some creative bits that I found worth noting, including these washer-like LED bezels that allowed wide down-lighting from above (although this was more likely a necessity than it was a creative creation, due to how stacked the playfield was – the ability to see what was actually happening or where the ball was going, seemed more challenging than the game’s other goals.
- Spooky Pinball’s “Alice Cooper”-themed pinball machine was surprisingly fun to play! I have played some of their other titles and felt their games to have a bit of a hobbyist/amateur feel when it came to design, build quality and flow. But their latest offering I think is a very high quality game that looks as well as plays very nice. I’d say of all the new pinball machines I got a chance to sample at the show, this game was one of my favorites, second to Octoberfest.
- Another new manufacturer I hadn’t heard of showed up with a pre-production game featuring artwork by Dirty Donny, called, “Cosmic Carnival.” Like many other boutique games, they have the design nailed down, but I’m not so sure about the gameplay or overall game/playfield design. The artwork is killer. But the playfield looks very simple, but in fairness I should not judge a came that is not yet in playable stage. What I found notable about this game is that rather than use the industry-standard P-Roc technology, they’ve chosen to create their own proprietary eletronic technology. When I asked why theirs was better than what everybody else was using, the reply I got was, “Well, this is what our engineering guy wanted to do.” ooooh kay. We’ll have to see if this game actually does see the light of day? I think it may have one of those upper echelon price points too, which I think may be risky for unproven manufacturers.
- Speaking of unique engineering… a hidden gem at the show was Nick Baldridge’s “Multi-Bingo” emulation machine. After you stop asking yourself why would anybody want to emulate all 150+ American 25-hole, bingo-style games, and inquire about the actual process of doing so, it becomes a pretty amazing story. I wished I would have had a video camera running when I spoke with him about this game – i got a bunch of pictures but can’t really share with you the fascinating dialogue we had over how this game was built. Nick, basically wrote a set of Python classes, not to emulate bingo machine operation per se, but instead to emulate all the different types of relays and steppers that these machines have. He then re-created each bingo game by intimately analyzing the SCHEMATICS of each game and creating classes as modes tying all the code-based behavior of the individual relays. It’s a really amazing technical feat that most people can’t appreciate.
- … more soon!
Just north of Houston, there’s a very cool guy named Dan who has been collecting pinball machines for many, many years. We came out to visit him this year while in town for the Houston Arcade Expo and I took a moment to grab the video camera and make quick walk-through of his museum, which houses hundreds of games from the earlier pinball eras.
I know it would look better if all the machines were fired up, but we weren’t staying long and I didn’t want to trouble him to flip everything on. But you can get a feel for how many old games are in the museum, covering the earliest of eras in the 1800s and early 1900s to pre-flipper woodrails, bingo machines, EM woodrails and lots of classic 60s and 70s electro-mechanical games. Distinctions in the collection include all four versions of Bally’s classic “Fireball” game, Atari’s gargantuan game “Hercules”, rarities like “Spectrum”, “Asteroid Annie” and “Solar Fire”, and many very early games for which there’s very little information on how many were made. There are also lots of vintage EM baseball, shooting and aviation games. I plan to post more details in the future including some high-quality pictures. Once again, a huge thanks to Dan for his hospitality!