Chicago Pinball Expo, 2016

Woke up super early on Friday morning, to get out to the 2016 Pinball Expo. This year, I wasn’t just going for the Game Hall – I was going super early to compete in the Expo Brawl tournament – where teams of 2 were competing in the “Pin Golf format.”

I got up with decent time, and left the hosue around 6AM. After taking longer than I should have to get breakfast/coffee, I found myself looking at the clock while trudging through downtown traffic.

As it got closer to 7AM, I began sweating a bit more. The registration window was from 7 – 7:25, with the tournament starting at 7:30. There was a 10 minute grace period, but after that… you’re cut off.

I got a text from Ben (who was my teammate), saying he slept through his alarm and was running late. But looking at where I was in comparison, I was running pretty late as well.

About a mile or two away, I took a wrong turn and missed an exit. I had to pull over, re-calibrate my directions, and slowly crawl the remaining distance – the clock ticking all the while.

I have to say that the drive out was incredibly stressful and unpleasant. If we didn’t make the registration cutoff, Ben and I would have been out $30, and had nothing to do for 2.5 hours.

Luckily – we showed up just in time. On arriving, the folks manning the registration booth told me that our team IDs had already been picked up. I went around the room a few times looking for Ben, and then got a text from him saying he was 3 minutes away.

Back at the registration booth, I let them know that someone may have taken our IDs. Someone did another sweep of the room to see if anyone else was using our name tags (our team name was “The Pin Pals“).

Ben ended up arriving about 5 minutes after me, and luckily for us… we had no problems at all with registration. Aside from our name tags being missing. All that rushing made for a really stressful start to the day.

Teams milling about, waiting for the start of the tournament.

Getting the printouts ready (we did eventually get name tags).

The Pin Golf tournament is scored much like golf. Teams of 2 play against one another on a total of three courses. Each course contains about 7-8 machines. On every machine in the course, there is a “score” posted that the players have to try to beat.

If you beat the score on your first ball, you get a 1. If you beat the score on your sceond you get a 2, on your third you get a 3. If you don’t beat the score after 3 balls, you get a 4.

Like golf, the lowest score wins.

L to R it’s Chris’ friend/team mate Eric, and Ben. I think this was during a lull between the courses.

After the teams finish a course, the score sheets are turned in. Then the tournament organizers process the scores and then match up teams for the next round.

Ben, playing a bit of Medieval Madness – which my coworker Maureen had told me about. Funny enough, I found out that she was also taking the day off to attend the Expo!

I think the term here is “topper?” Ben and Chris both own and repair their own machines, whereas I’m just someone that likes to play. I catch some of their jargon from time to time.

Playing all three courses took a decent amount of time. At first, I was still hyped up on adrenaline from trying to rush to the event. Slowly, I began calming down a bit, and started getting into enjoying the games.

I do have to say though – as the tournament progressed, I found it actually a bit more stressful than I had anticipated. Ben and I played with three different teams, and as the tournament progressed… the teams seemed to get a bit more competitive.

I did also find my own competitive nature kicking in, and that added to my general feeling of anxiousness.

After the first round, they tallied the scores and the top half of the teams proceeded into the finals. Unfortunately, we did not make the cut (but Chris and Eric did). I found out later from Ben that we were about 3 points shy of making the cut, and were very close.

With the finals taking place, Ben and I went to wander the Vendor Hall for a bit. And played the Hobbit game (which I just realized now that I never played last year).

The game was fun and super new and slick, but I felt totally overloaded with information. There was so much crap happening that I had no idea what was going on.

Even the display felt overly loaded with info. I’m sure if I played enough, over time I’d figure things out. But after just one game, I had no real idea what was going on.

Browsing the vendor booths.

Some old school… backers? See, I don’t know what the term is for these guys.

More vendor booths, but mostly I took this to get the awesome Batman jacket in the photo.

We found a whole row of Medieval Madness machines, which were really fun to play. The one in the Game Hall was a little more run down, but these machines were very new and felt wonderful.

By the Big Lebowski game, which was one of the big draws at last year’s event.

These two gents were attempting to repair the right flipper.

I liked the fact that I could see Jeff Bridges through the board here.

Next to the Lebowski game was The Machine: Bride of Pinbot. Though this particular machine had a newer version of software with animation in the display. The lighting setup also made the whole thing feel like a completely different game (though all the same ramps and mechanics were still there).

I have such a strong wave of nostalgia every time I play this game. It was the one pinball machine at the dorm quad where I lived as a Freshman, at Indiana University. I put in a lot of time and quarters into this thing.

A note on the Lebowski machine. Super sad to see.

A new Batman game! Though it was roped off, and mostly just for display and not for playing. I’m not sure why some vendors bring over a game, only to let them serve as displays. I bet most of the other attendees were itching to play this thing. Seemed a bit cruel to just have them sitting there.

Oh Burgess Meredith, we still miss you.

Star Trek everywhere.

We got a text from Chris once the tournament was over – and decided to head to a nearby place for lunch. And some drinks. Chris was kind enough to buy a round of whiskey for everyone.

I found it funny that I work for Sears, and today… took the day off of work and went to a placed called Spears, instead.

Back in the Vendor Hall, we got in line to play the latest Jersey Jack game – Dialed In. I’m honestly not sure what the overall theme was of the game, beyond there being a cellphone and a TV news-type display. I think a big part of the game tied into the cellphone (which had its own mini display).

Every year, there’s one particular game that seems to always have a crowd around it. Last year it was The Hobbit, and this year it was Dialed In.

A view of the play area.

Ben, activating “Extreme Selfie Mode.”

Chris, also activating “Extreme Selfie Mode.”

I am saddened to say that I never got to acticate this mode, during my games. But it did make me think about the software running the game, and how they handled garbage collection. Because I’m sure all those images add up over time, and you can’t just keep those around forever.

We hung out at this game for a bit, figuring that it would only get more crowded once people came in after the end of the work day. So while the lines were still somewhat reasonable, we stayed for a few.

Over at the Ghost Busters machine. Not sure if this was a new machine or not. I mean, it’s the old version of the movie, but the machine seemed fairly new.

A brief peek at the play field. Oddly, I didn’t feel as overwhelemed here, as I did when looking at the Hobbit game.

Chris and I were playing a three person game (there was another guy hanging out nearby). After our first ball, a tech came over with a new update. We encouraged him to go ahead and install it, and we opted to start over.

I’m getting more used to seeing all the bits and wires of a machine, after looking at a lot of the photos Ben posts of his own machines. But this whole software business is a totally extra level.

While I think I would love to own several pinball machines, I don’t know that I would want to invest in the time to maintain them. I know it’s a labor of love, but man oh man… does it sure ever look like a lot of labor.

Chris, exploring a VR headset that… you guessed it… lets you play pinball, virtually.

I got to try out the goggles a well, though I couldn’t figure out how to get my glasses in there. Eventually, I just tried playing with my glasses off. It was pretty fuzzy and blurry, but still an incredibly realistic and immersive experience.

The pinball game inside the VR environment was “Star Trek.”

Back in the Game Hall – a set of Sinbad machines, back to back.

A view down one row – players and repairs.

Another row.

By the back wall.

A Star Trek game, next to a Dr. Who game. I immediately thought of Liz and Meg and Michelle, who are all three Star Trek and Dr. Who fans.

Star Trek field.

The ship bopped around during some explosions, which was neat. But IMO it shook way too much – almost like a bobble head. Every time I saw it shake, I kept thinking “the Enterprise would never shake that much…”

Dalek topper.

Dr. Who was actually a fun game, and challenging to get the right sequence of ball locks.

Raven. I don’t remember much of this game, beyond this fantastic display.

No Expo visit is complete without a few rounds of Whirlwind.

Another strong wave of nostalgia, every time I play this. It used to be one of the games at a local Village Pantry, at 86th and Ditch in Indianapolis. While I was in high school, I dropped a small fortune into this machine.

Had a good run on the Godzilla game with Chris. One of the few times where I got to enter in my initials/name.

Joust – working this year! I learned that the auto-firing was actually part of the game’s setup. Took some getting used to.

Back in the Vendor Hall, we saw the Lebowski game was working again. Midway through, Chris discovered that the right flipper would occasionally get stuck.

No ideal, but we worked around it. Closeup shot just for the White Russian.

Of note: the game also sat on its own rug.

One last game of The Machine, before hitting the road.

Today went by super fast. The tournament itself was a bit of a blur, and next thing I knew it was time for lunch. And then next thing I knew it was 3PM. And then suddenly it was dark, and I needed to get home.

I felt myself getting pretty worn out by mid-afternoon, which I’m assuming was due in part to how much I played earlier in the morning. It was really fun, but also really exhausting.

Though the traffic was really terrible on the drive back home, I was happy to be immersed in a bit of darkness. As all the lights and sounds of the Expo faded slowly in the background. Crazy day.

Chicago Pinball Expo, 2015
Pinball Expo 2010
Pinball Expo 2009
Pinball Expo 2007: Free Play Heaven
Visiting Ben and Allison for Lunch (and Pinball)
Helping Chris Move Two Newly Acquired Pinball Machines
Growing Up in Arcades
Saturday At The Galloping Ghost Arcade
Visiting Nickel City Arcade, Family Entertainment Center

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