Pacific Pinball Expo

Spanning more than 80 years of pinball machine history, the Pacific Pinball Exposition 2010 in San Rafael, Calif., which took place this past weekend, had fans of the art and science of pinball in heaven.

Nearly 450 machines were on display--and set on free play--for this fourth annual convention of all things pinball.

To raise funds for the Pacific Pinball Museum in Alameda, Calif., pinball wizard Michael Scheiss brought together the artists, engineers, and designers of these lovable machines for three days of seminars, tournaments, and plenty of game playing.

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Unique elements of pinball culture

One of the unique elements of pinball culture is the art designed for each machine. Through the years, thousands of original artworks have been created for use in pinball.

The design for this kitschy outer space themed machine, Count-Down, built by Gottlieb in 1979, was painted by Gordon Morrison. Morrison was the primary artist for Gottlieb in the 1970s and produced copious amounts of comic book-like art.

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Classic Stern machines

One of the highlights of this year's Pacific Pinball Expo, said curator Michael Scheiss, is a rare, never-before-assembled complete collection of classic Stern machines.

Beginning with the 1977 machine Stampede and ending with Orbitor 1, this complete collection chronologically showcases each and every production pinball machine built by the Stern Company from 1977 to 1982.

The Stern machines are notable for their artwork and artists, including the prolific Harry Williams, who designed 10 of these machines, as well for their challenging play fields, from some of the top designers in pinball history.

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Visible Pinball

Visible Pinball is part pinball machine, part conceptual-art piece. It's a see-through machine created by curator Michael Scheiss to expose the mechanical boards inside.

Scheiss originally built Visible Pinball in 2006 and has recently added new to it.

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Shopping pinball

The Pacific Pinball Expo is not only a place to play, but also a networking mecca for pinball fans.

As pinball has been overshadowed by computer games, pinball engineering experts have become harder to find. Also, repairs can be tricky, and finding parts for older machines has become increasingly difficult.

Conventions like this make for great connections in the underground world of pinball resurrection.

In search of old parts, home hackers restoring machines that are sometimes decades old can hunt down a precise part, and learn new tricks to keep their machines alive.

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Real gravity

With nearly 450 machines on display, visitors had a lot of flippers to flip.

Organizer Michael Scheiss said one of his favorite things about the game is that "it's real. It's real gravity. Video games use fake gravity. This is real--it's built right into the machine."

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Arabian Knights

Arabian Knights is a wood-rail Gottlieb machine built in 1953, with only 700 units produced.

The artwork is by Roy Parker, who designed play fields for almost 300 different pinball machines during his career, which lasted from 1930 to 1966.

Parker is known for his intricate detail and his distinctive curvy blonde women, which appear as motifs in nearly all his game designs.

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Solid State Electronic

In a row of Solid State Electronic machines from Bally Midway produced in the early 1980s, we see Black Pyramid, Spy Hunter, and Future Spa, which was the first machine from Bally to use continuous background sound.
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Modern machines

The Pacific Pinball Expo offers something from just about every era of pinball history.

One of the most interesting things about the expo is the glimpse it gives of the changes that took place in art and design as machines moved from wood and mechanics to solid state digital.

As visitors walk through the expo, the simple dings and bells of the wooden-railed machines of the 1930s gives way to the walls of sound spewing from later machines.

In a crowded row featuring some of the most recent pinball games, Stern's just-released Iron Man game is lined up alongside fan favorites CSI, Golden Eye 007, Medieval Madness, Family Guy, Flintstones, Apollo 13, and Lord of the Rings.

Fans lined up two or three deep to play some of these more recent popular titles.

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Looking down the line

More than 80 years of pinball history was represented inside the hall at the Marin Civic Center, where nearly 450 machines were set for free play and awaited the thousands of attendees who came to test their skill.

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More to come

The Pacific Pinball Exposition is a rare chance to see some of the great works of pinball art and engineering.
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