When I first heard about the Australian Pinball Expo, I was first in line to buy tickets. $55.00 for 2 days of pinball was a dream, until I went to PAX Aus 2014 in Melbourne. All of a sudden I didn’t care about this pinball shindig. I had my classic gaming fill and I’m pretty sure I could better spend my time at home doing the laundry (I whack my clothes against big rocks, so it takes me a while). Alas, those sneaky organisers make it impossible to get a refund so I was stuck (*sigh*).
It’s now Saturday 15th November 2014 and the overcast sky perfectly reflects my feelings towards what’s to come. Getting up at the crack of dawn is not my idea of fun, but I paid my $55 darnit and I was going to be there from opening to closing. I hop into the car, blast some Color Me Badd (as one does when going to a pinball expo) and off I go on a long drive to Penrith Panthers. I arrive at 9:10am and immediately regret staying behind that family van for so long. YOU MADE ME 10 MINUTES LATE AND THAT MEANS $0.57 WASTED!
As I step out of the car, I immediately wish I’d stayed home. Who the heck is going to show up to this thing? 4 people total? It’s all about those Sony Playtendo whozits now. Nobody wants to play pinball anymore. I ask the reception lady about the pinball expo and am told it’s “outside, to the left in a big tent”. Pffft, tent? I’ve come this far so I’ll begin my perilous journey to that tent. As it comes into view, my regret quickly turns to not-so-regret. “That’s a pretty big tent” I think to myself, immediately followed by “Hey! Is that Aqua Golf?! Holy crap. I should go do that!”. I approach the tent, take obligatory photos (my sincerest apologies for the quality – my phone is as old as the bands that I listen to), and make my way in. I slam my order confirmation down on the counter and demand my Ultimate Warrior neon bracelets. If I’m going to play some pinball, I have to look the part, and what better way than with neon colours adorning my wrists. I step inside and am frankly, amazed. That’s a lot of pinball and look, there’s already dozens of people here. Colour me impressed (or badd, that works too).
My first order of business was to locate the Terminator 2 machine. Oh, it’s right there. That was easy. I should take some photos and video. Clickity click, walkety walk. That was fun. Let’s play some T2. Wait, what’s that next to T2? Is that… it is… a Street Fighter II machine! My all time favourite pinball machine mere feet away from my all time favourite video game. Hold on, that’s not a Street Fighter II machine. That’s a cabinet running an emulator that just happens to be running Street Fighter II. Screw it, don’t care, I’m playing. Guile Guile Guile Guile. awww. I lost. I’ll come back and play later. That, in a nutshell, was my day. I would attempt to play Terminator 2 whenever it was available, follow it up with some Street Fighter, and fill in the gaps with the plethora of other machines available (Indiana Jones got a good playin’ too). 6 hours of standing was all that I could stand (pun obviously intended) so at 3:00pm, 2 hours before closing, I made my journey home. Even the cheapskate in me was too tired to play any longer. There’s always tomorrow.
Is the cost of admission worth the time? Absolutely! With close to 200 machines ranging from 1940 all the way to the current digital machines, there really is something here for everyone. Everything is, as far as I can tell, arranged by period with the earlier machines at the far end of the tent and the latest and greatest closer to the entrance. The old simple machines had a charm to them that the newer machines cannot replicate. The pinging and minimalistic gameplay transported me back to the good old days when I’d go down to the local speakeasy, have a few, ogle some women and come home to my wife. Good times. With that said, it was the machines of the 70s, 80s and 90s that felt right to me while the entirely digital machines were just… wrong. No steel balls, no flippers, no pinging, no ponging. If I wanted to play a digital version of pinball, I’d head to Steam and buy Pinball FX2 or better yet, go retro and play some Pinball Dreams, Pinball Fantasies or Slam Tilt on the Amiga. Part of the appeal of pinball is the ding ding, bzzzzz, pooookh, bing, boof. You need that boof (Ed: tactile pleasure!).
As one would expect, the machines from the 40s, 50s and 60s were seldom used while the newer machines had a constant queue of people waiting to get their chance to outdo one another. What I personally found most interesting is the range of people that had turned up. Male and female, old and young. Everyone was covered. The older folk (50+) stuck to the older machines while everyone else generally played with anything that wasn’t an older machine, with the exception of the kids that would play on anything that was free. The hipsters that showed up also primarily hung around the older machines, presumably because the pinging of old hardware isn’t mainstream, so it soothes them. I did what I could to play from every period, with the exception of the purely digital machines, because they’re the poo-poo faces of the pinball world and don’t deserve my time.
If you have the opportunity to attend an expo like this, I suggest you do it. If you have to, drag your family along. Everyone will have fun and if they don’t, divorce/break-up/disown/post drunk photos of them online! The Australian Pinball Expo was a thoroughly enjoyable event – make sure you go in 2015!
Not a baby but a phantom editor and an arcade & pinball wizard.
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