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The Northwest Pinball and Gameroom Show June 3 – 5 2011

photo by Paul

The Annual Northwest Pinball and Gameroom Show (PAGS) was held at Seattle Center again this year and it was bigger and better than ever! With over 400 pinball and arcade games, an exciting roster of guest speakers and seminars, and The Northwest Pinball Championships, it was a sensory overload of fun. Plus it was Seattle’s first warm and sunny weekend of the summer!

Unlike last year that had the pinball machines and arcade games in separate rooms, this year’s show had the two mixed together. It seemed a little unsettling for some pinball fans at first (no doubt because  many remember that arcade games displaced pinball in the arcades back in the 80’s), but in the long run it was a welcome change and helped cement Seattle’s role as a city that embraces both communities of players and collectors.  As far as we know, PAGS is unique as the only national expo that showcases both pinball and arcade games. We even played more arcade games this year because they were both in the same aisle and it was easy to play one while waiting for the other.

One of the cool pinball features this year was the complete collection of Williams System 11 pinball machines that took up two rows in the main room. There were 30 pins in this collection, beginning with High Speed (1986) and ending with Bugs Bunny Birthday Ball (1991). There were a lot of fun games in this collection including classics such as Pin-Bot, Cyclone, and Black Knight 2000, as well as pins we don’t get to play often like Swords of Fury and Earthshaker. Some of the games that we had never seen before (and fell in love with) included Grand Lizard, Big Guns, and Transporter the Rescue, all of which have cool artwork and playfields. The pins in this collection are owned by different area collectors and Seattle Pinball League President Rod Olson actually bought a Millionaire machine so that the collection would be complete!

Another section of PAGS had a chronological collection of older (mostly) Gottlieb pins from the 1960’s and 70’s that showcased both the evolution of flippers, which became larger, and back glass art, which became rather surreal and psychedelic at times. A few of the standout pins in this section include Big Casino (1961) with its unique bottom bumpers (similar to Stern’s Wheel of Fortune) and games like Domino (1968) and Atlantis (1975) which show hip young people in unusual settings.  Other older pins were also scattered around the hall, including the first flipperless pin to make an appearance at PAGS, an Exhibit Bounty (1938).

Friday was a fun day to go to PAGS, as it was the day with the least amount of people so there was less waiting to play our favorite machines. Not everyone could take the day off from work, so there was no wait to play popular games like Theatre of Magic, Banzai Run or Black Hole, compared to the other two days. One game that did have a bit of a wait was the Seattle debut of the new Stern TRON pinball machine that was set up next to the Raffle Table. Not only did you have the chance to play the latest Stern pin, you also had a chance to win it if you were able to purchase one of the $20 tickets (limited to 250), which sold out rather early on Friday afternoon.

Saturday had a larger crowd and was a good day for attending some of the seminars. Jack Guarnieri of Jersey Jack Pinball did a presentation on his company which is making The Wizard of Oz pin, due to be released later this year. Another seminar featured John Youssi  (Jokerz, White Water, TRON) giving us the rundown on how he began his career as album cover artist and made his way into becoming one of  the most prolific pinball artists of the modern era. There were many other seminars during the weekend featuring  talks by local champ Todd MacCulloch, pinball designer John Popadiuk (Circus Voltaire), artist Greg Freres (Scared Stiff and this years PAGS poster), designer John Borg (Guns N’ Roses), and many more, including “The Making of TRON Pinball”.

Gary Stern of Stern Pinball did a presentation about his company and family’s history in pinball. It was a fascinating rundown on how his father began as a coin-op distributor and eventually created a family-run business that became the only pinball manufacturer in the USA. Gary explained how the sales of Stern pinball machines break down into three main groups (operators, enthusiasts, home owners) and how 60% of the new Stern games are distributed outside of the USA (which explains Stern’s commitment to licensed themes). He also presented his theory on how games were becoming too complex for the casual player.  Stern believes that making games easier to figure out and by adding more random features, pinball will become more appealing. He ended his talk lauding the social aspects of pinball by having fun events like tournaments and new pinball release parties.  (And with pinball zines we might add.)

Saturday afternoon was the second annual Guerilla BBQ outside on the plaza, hosted by Claire and Headley. With the Space Needle as a backdrop, wieners and burgers were grilled to order and several side dishes were shared during this delicious break from all the pinball festivities. You didn’t have to be a local gamer to partake in the food, as a few homeless men soon found out, as well as Jeff Brownsberger from Georgia, who won tickets and airfare to the show from the PAGS website! Eventually a representative of the Center showed up and asked for the grill to be shut down, but mostly everyone was already fed. Did we mention that it was a gorgeous day?

photo by Keith Nelson

Saturday evening had the biggest crowds of the weekend and it was sometimes a bit of a wait to play a popular pin. This was the best time to play the games that might otherwise be ignored, like the kid-size Punchy The Clown, the unwieldy Algar, and the unusual (but fun to look at) Orbitor 1. Meanwhile, a lot of contestants were trying to get good scores to place in The Northwest Pinball Championships, up until the midnight closing time. Graham and Cayle worked together to get the results on the Skill Shot website so the finalists would know to be back at the tournament before the noon start time. We are not sure that all of the contestants knew that we were going to do this, but we want to make this a regular thing, so watch for it to happen again next year.

Sunday was the last day of PAGS and also Skill Shot’s Biggest Loser Tournament! The two hour Biggest Loser event was held on Headley’s Future Spa, which fortunately had extra space around it due to Space Invaders being commandeered for the main tournament. Hosted by Bernard Boulevard, contestants were invited to try to get the lowest score possible without tilting! There was a lot of interest from people who had seen our posters as well as people passing by who were attracted by all the excitement. Biggest Loser is harder than it sounds when playing on a game like Future Spa. You never knew who was going to get the lowest score: a seasoned player, a shirtless Aaron McAbee, or perhaps the young kid hanging out with his dad. Ultimately Lee Hopson of Tacoma walked away with the lowest score and a Skill Shot T-shirt!

photo by Cheeseboat

As PAGS wound down for its 3PM closing time on Sunday, and people scurried around for some last minute pinball playing, The Northwest Pinball Championship Finals was entering its exciting conclusion. This is the largest pinball tournament in the region, with a big cash prize, so players from all over the area (and beyond) come to compete. Earlier in the day the tournament had the final playoffs for the Women’s Championship (won by Seattle’s Linda “Cheeseboat” Nasfell), the Classics Division (won by New York’s Francesco LaRocca), and the Novice Competition (won by Mercer Island’s Eric Dubofsky). Some of the players for the main tournament included Keith Elwin from Carlsbad CA, Zach and Josh Sharpe from Chicago IL, various members of Portland’s CFF crew and local favorites like Robert Gagno, Maka Honig and Cayle George. When all other locals had been defeated, Raymond Davidson from Mukilteo WA was the lone Seattle Pinball League member left in the contest. Raymond showed that he was a pinball force to be reckoned with when he tied number one ranked Elwin for first place and the $2,400 grand prize! Ultimately Elwin was able to wrest the first place win from the young upstart during a nail-biting tie breaker on Supersonic. Dang!

What a great way to end the weekend.

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