Pinball Expo Diaries 2004, part one (of two)


How to survive the Expo Banquet (but that's in part two... :) )

Written by TheKorn

Man, ohh man. Where do I START? Oh yeah, start with the disclaimer; anything worth reading has to have a disclaimer these days. (And you know I'm not going to punk out by saying there was a "keyboard malfunction" when a bad word or two slips out!)

DISCLAIMER: This recount of my (wait, I married SheKorn this last year, so I guess I have to say "our" now) experiences at Pinball Expo 2004 is going to attempt to be fairly faithful to the actual events. Because of this, colorful language is going to be used throughout, as colorful language was used throughout! So if you don't want to read it, BAIL OUT NOW.

No, seriously, I mean it! No bitching later about it. I'm SERIOUS, people!!

OK, are all the PC squares gone, now?

Good, now I can fucking say what I want to. :)

You may want to take this moment to grab a six pack and a 14 oz. bag of chips. They'll both probably be gone by the time you're done reading this. (I've broken it into chapters for easy reading during bathroom trips, as well. :) )

Chapter Zero: Invites to the Party on the mothership!
(skip this chapter if you don't want to hear about party management)

Well I guess it's no secret now that for the past two years since Rick Scheive stopped having his annual pre-expo party that I've had one at my place. This year's party was bigger than last year's, although not necessarily by design. Now I know that sounds bad, but keep reading!

Simply put, the prices of real estate in Chicago are absolutely nuts. We live fairly close to the city (hence the 20 minute drive from the hotel to our place), so the land value alone is astronomical. What I'm trying to say here is that although we're both full time engineers, my house isn't a mansion by any stretch of the imagination. It's a _nice_ house, but definitely not one of those square footage monsters that you see in Kane and Lake counties. That kind of puts me in a semi-akward position with regards to inviting people to my party, and I'm probably screwing myself by saying it here but fuck it, I'll say it anyway because it will make me feel better. :)

As a responsible host, you have to stop inviting people at some point. There, I said it. Whew, feels better!

Now, WHY did I need to say that? Because there were a few people who asked (either privately or publically) whom I would have liked to have attended that I simply couldn't invite in good faith. I.E. as a "responsible" (hah!) host, you have to at least _attempt_ to manage the party size and keep it reasonable to the amount of space available for partying.

This year I was much more organized and even had a spreadsheet tallying who rsvp'd and when, so I would have at least a ballpark idea of how many people to expect. The _idea_ was that once the first set of invitations were sent out and people RSVP'd (or didn't), that if we were under the target number of attendees (45), that a second round of invitations would go out for people I didn't know. (veedub, I'm talkin' to YOU! :) )

Well, things didn't exactly work out that way. :)

EVERYBODY rsvp'd! Well, OK, that's a complete lie; not everybody RSVP'd, but within twelve hours of sending out the invites, _already_ 25 of them had come back and approximately 38 people were expected.

I quickly wrote Wolffy and Yancy an email, saying "It's going to be a good party this year. Oh and by the way, we're totally FUCKED!" :)

So the upshot of this whole boring story (I can't believe you're still reading this) is that if you didn't get invited (or asked and were told "we're full!"), it's absolutely NOT because I was trying to slight anyone in the least. I really _wanted_ to invite everyone. But it's just that the house only has so many square feet, and as a responsible host, you have to at least TRY and manage your party size.

Chapter One: Party on the Mothership!

"News flash! A house in Skokie Illinois spontaneously combusted late Wednesday night..."

The first person to arrive this year was, surprisingly, NOT Rick Swanson. It was Dan Blaylock. (

) If that name sounds familiar, it's because he's the man responsible for that walking fashion disaster that we all know and love, Yancy Blaylock. (OK, Yancy walked right in after him, so I guess YBX was the _second_ guest at the party. :) )

And I can only think of the bizarre sight that greeted him as he walked in the door. For starters, NONE of the games were playable; they were all opened with the glass off with wax almost dried. Because there were so many of them getting waxed at the same time, the house smelled like a beach. I have no idea why waxing a game strongly reminds me of the smell of the beach, but waxing ALL of my games at the same time, whoooo man, pass the suntan lotion! But then he also saw me sitting in the middle of the living room floor with a pyramid of pinballs, cleaning and polishing them by hand. And dammit if he didn't say the best line in the world, "If you're just going to be rubbing your balls in public, we'll just have to come back later!"

So it's approximately 6:30 PM, and we're finishing up buffing off all the excess wax, checking the level and pitch of everything, and reballing all of the games. Everything is looking good, so we decide to kill the audits for all of the games. (It's always kind of interesting to keep audits during a party, just to see what gets played the most.) Except The Getaway (which Wolffy worked his ass off restoring) has a problem; the coin door switches have gone NUTS! It's approximately 6:50 PM at this point! 10 minutes before the party! A little quick diagnosis reveals that it's most likely a problem with the LM339 comparators on the CPU board; i.e. a problem that there's no way in hell we're going to be able to fix _before_ the party. But we also figure out that the worst thing that's going to happen is the display is going to constantly show "OPEN COIN DOOR TO USE BUTTONS", and since it's ten minutes before the party, we figure it's better to have one more (almost completely working) machine than not, so we close the game up and hope it survives the party.

So 7 o'clock comes and goes, and the first guests start to arrive. (

) Now I'm not sure if it was because Rick Swanson was one of the first people to play it (

), but Shadow went and LOST ITS MIND within probably the first ten minutes of the party. I still haven't dug into it, but for unknown reasons, the game simply couldn't figure out what the hell to do with the wall target. It could raise the target, it could drop the target, it even knew when the target was raised and/or not. But for some unknown reason, the game just is insistent on being the first game to fail EVERY SINGLE PARTY that I have at my place. (For last year's expo pre-party, it failed terminally less than an hour into the party!) But at least it was mostly playable, so we kept it up and running. No cool lock effect, but it was 92% there, anyway.

Yancy brought over his [Dad's] sweet Breakshot, which saw quite a lot of play. (

) And yes, as you can see in the background, the bk2k was in attendance. Martin from pinball news swung by (

), along with his friend Richard and some other guy I don't know (


A few more pictures... (


) Then I noticed a large crowd gathering in the dining room, and I knew that Lyman must have jumped on my BK2K. Believe it or not, even in my own house this is the closest I could have gotten to take a picture! (


A few more pictures, we have from left to right Rick Swanson, Rich Huff, Laura (Rich's girlfriend), Paul [Macman, all the way from Australia!], and Mark, of Marco specialities. (

) Boag showed up and was magnetized to BK2K (


Outside, there was also a party going on, mainly from Boag experiencing a hot flash (

). That's Marcel Gonzales in the Old Navy shirt and Pete Hoerber (WHOREber!!) in the Seattle Losers t-shirt. :) Next picture (

) we have little James (from pinball inc), Metallik, and Eric Johansen. And finally (

) we have James Loflin, Dan Blaylock, little James (were you running laps outside or something?? :) ), and Al Warner.

It was at this point that Eric Johansen grabbed my camera and started snapping pictures for me, since I was pretty beat and taking a breather from my hosting duties. He came back outside and said, "man, there's this guy completely comatosed on your couch." (

) I found this picture REALLY funny; I know the guy on the left, but I had ABSOLUTELY NO FUCKING CLUE who the guy on the right was! Nothing strikes me as more funny than having someone I don't know comatosed at what was a BYOB party. Maybe next year I should call it a BYOC (bring your own couch) party! :))



But like all good things, the party eventually had to come to an end. At 2 AM sharp, we kicked Pinlicious out, collected the audits from the machines, and started breaking down/loading the first two machines to go to Expo, Mike's HS2 and my Vector. (


Final stats for this year's party are a bit hazy, but here are some numbers... For sure, there were at _least_ 56 people at the party, since that's how many name tags were used. My guess is that there were actually around 70 people in attendance this year, since there were quite a few who skipped the name tags. Approximately 140 gallons of trash were generated _just_ during the party, and at least 64 1/2 liter bottles of water were drunk, along with who knows how many chips, pop, beer, chili, wings, pizza, and other stuff.

Oh yeah, and the audits from the games? :)

Breakshot 78
BK2K 83
High Speed 2 232, but that's because we weren't able to clear the 121 "test" games on it from before the party, so really it was 111.
Shadow 84
High Speed 88
FunHouse 75
RollerGames 80
Doctor Who-who 103

And the most played game of the evening, STTNG, with a whopping 709 plays!

Well, I guess we forgot to reset the audits on STTNG. :)

Chapter Two: Thursday (moving into the hall)

Wow, I'm going to pick up the pace a bit, since that party recap took WAY longer than I thought.

First, a funny story. I've been trying to get a high speed playfield from Eric Avesdian (

) for a while now. Like, since Zoo '04. Long story short, we finally said screw it, we'll catch up at expo and I'll grab it then.

Yancy and I are wheeling in his Breakshot on my dolly, when Avesdian is walking out of the hall. He asks me where my truck is. I hit the button on the remote to unlock the doors, and I say that I'm the Blue Durango parked right outside the door. Cool, cool and all that, he's going to throw the playfield in the back while he's out there and I'm setting up YBX's Breakshot.

So about ten minutes go by, Eric swings by with his High Speed on a dolly (

) and lets me know the field is in my truck. YBX and I finish setting up his Breakshot, and wheel the dolly back out to my truck so we can pick up another game from my house...

...and my truck is EMPTY, just like I left it! I'm a little confused at this point, since I could have SWORN that Eric said he threw the playfield in the back of my Durango not five minutes earlier. So I walk back into the hall and ask Eric where he put the playfield...

(Eric) "I put the playfield in the back of your Durango." (Korn) "....WHICH blue Durango??"

What had happened was that in the meantime, someone else had pulled up to the hall in another blue Durango, and Eric had thrown the field in the back of THEIR truck.

Except now, we had to go steal the playfield back! Can you imagine the funny look someone must have had when they realized they were visited by the playfield fairy? :)

Anyway, if you were at the show you couldn't miss it, but if you weren't at the show I need to show you the incredible art relief (i.e. carving) done by RGP's own Joel Cohen, a.k.a. JoelOmatik. Pictures don't do the thing justice, but here are a few to hopefully give you an idea of how striking this piece was in person. (

) And then some more pictures with the man himself (


A great fireside chat was on Thursday night, which was Brian Eddy, Greg Freres, Lyman Sheats, John Youssi, and Dan Forden talking as a team about building Medevel Madness. It was quite nice seeing the whole team together, as nobody really wanted to "take credit" for being the driving force behind the game. In other words, they were acting exactly how a good team acts, in that it was a team effort, and the team succeeded, not just any one singular person. Quite refreshing, and I was very glad I attended.

I missed all the other seminars on Thursday due to moving a lot of games into the hall and what-not. For those of you who wonder why the hall is closed on Thursday, it's because it really takes two days (Wednesday and Thursday) to get all the games into the hall and set up! I know that between the five games YBX, Wolffy, and I brought, it took most of the day to get them there since we only had two vehicles. Yeah, we could have probably done it faster, but you get really tired of going over that hump at the back end of the expo hall.

Chapter Three Point One: Friday

I was pretty cashed out from having the party on Wednesday night (up until 4 AM!), getting back to expo by 8 am Thursday, then staying until 2 AM Thursday night being the ramp man moving games for PinBrawl. But I wanted to catch Gene's annual make an ass out of himself speech, so I managed to drag myself out of bed by 10:00, shower, and get back to the Ramada by about 11.

Gene didn't disappoint. Or, should I say, he didn't fail to make a complete ass out of himself. He started out by going over his new attitude this year, which was to pursue licensing. But rather than be oh, I don't know, gracious that other people were taking on work that he was incapable of doing himself, he decided to be a fucking COCK KNOCK and rip down everyone else who was trying to do anything. In under five minutes, he essentially and systematically called the pieces put out by Victor Ireland, Darrin Jacobs, and Greg (halifax pinball) garbage. Don't get me wrong, he also had a point here, in that he called Ryan's Indy Jones cabinet art crap, and he was right on that one. But the others simply were a pretty clear case of sour grapes; I've seen Darrin's stuff up close and personal, and it looks DAMN good. The tearing down of other people's product (and ESPECIALLY since he agreed to license it!) simply because Gene didn't think of it first was a truly ASSHOLIAN move.

Then came the major laugh fest, the thing we were all there to see, which was the absolutely comical announcement of the release of BBB. They rolled the BBB into the hall, and stood the head up. They passed out the price sheet ($15K for a gold one, $4550 for a regular black one, $7500 for a brass accent one) and gave everyone NEW "illinois pin ball mfg." fliers for BBB.

And it was HILARIOUSLY bad! Rather than use the existing Capcom promo shots on the flier, he had new photos taken of the BBB he recently bought. Only problem is that the BBB he bought is not in, shall we say, the best of shape. I'll leave it as an easter egg for all the attendees to find all the problems with the BBB; they're all right there in glorious color on the (sic) flyer. Oh, wait, I just told you one of them. :)

But it got even better when the question and answer section came up. According to Gene, after he gets 50 people signed up on the magic list (you know, just like the list TWO YEARS AGO for BBB and last year's list for FH playfields and the list for fathom playfields and the list for...), he's going to take a $2.5K deposit from each, then start building games. (And he has some beach front property for sale in Bloomington for sale in case anyone is interested.)

The funny thing about listening to Gene speak was the idea that Gene has absolutely no idea how much work he's in for. His biggest problem, _according_ _to_ _him_, is reproducing the wiring harness. You know, the same process that starts the Stern factory tour is the biggest problem for him in assembling these games.

Anyone who's been on that factory tour knows that while the wiring harness is a large physical task, building a wiring harness isn't rocket science. It's pretty freakin' far from rocket science, it's about as easy as it gets; ALL of its pieces can be easily seen and copied without much trouble. But there's a _hell_ of a lot more that goes into the game than simply the wiring harness; even the most daft person going through the Stern factory can pick up _that_ much information.

But what Gene doesn't _get_ is that his real problem are all of the game specific parts for BBB that he _doesn't_ have. What's worse is that Gene doesn't even know that he doesn't have them! If you go up to IPB and ask them if they have, (_just_ for example) the eight light controller board that goes in front of the Ball Buster, they weren't even aware that there WAS an eight light controller board there. (Thanks SDTM! :)) )


Sorry, I'm editorialising here. Back to Gene's speech, the funniest part was the Q&A section. I'll summarize below (TRUE questions, TRUE answers):

(audience) What do you expect the delivery time to be?
(Gene) Once we have the deposits in and start building games, four to six.
(audience) YEARS!!???
(Gene) Oh! Oh no, months.

(audience) What boards are going to be used?
(Gene) Capcom original boards

(Pinlicious, standing up, asking proper question) Do you REALLY think you're going to be able to pull this off?

(audience) Is there going to be an adult mode?

I'm beat down dog tired at this point, so I'm going to break up this expo diaries into two parts. Stay tuned for part two, where the origins of the Flexi-Snack are revealed, cup'o'noodles, and a new sport, Screamball!

Click here to go on to part two...