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Pacific Pinball Expo

Steve Ritchie

Pinball Schematics

Humpty Dumpty

High scores

Cultural timelines

Speciality machines

Amy Wolfrum


This weekend, what is in all probability the world's largest pinball show takes place at the Bay Area's Marin County Civic Center. Now in it's third year, the Pacific Pinball Expo is an annual fundraising event to help the organization toward its eventual goal of one day opening a permanent museum to house its 650 pinball machines. A little bit arcade, and a little bit educational endeavour, the Pacific Pinball Museum has a vision of a loud, flashy place where the history of pinball in all its forms is preserved and appreciated.
Caption by / Photo by James Martin/CNET
The Pacific Pinball Expo is attended by casual gamers, seasoned pros competing for bragging rights, and long-time industry producers, as well as historians and artists.

Pinball designer Steve Ritchie has been dreaming up the concepts and mechanics behind pinball machines for more than 35 years. At the Pacific Pinball Expo I caught him playing one of his very own, the Black Night.

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The roughly one year it takes to grow a game from concept to game-room floor starts with a schematic design like this one from Ritchie. The designer develops the technical specifications and game play, and then works with artists to develop the visualizations.
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In 1947, artist Roy Parker and designer Harry Mabs teamed up while working for the Gottlieb pinball company and created Humpty Dumpty, which was the first pinball game to feature flippers.
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In the competitive world of pinball, the advantage of having a simple, three-letter name like AMY means heaps of expo cred as names and high scores flash across the marquee. On Friday afternoon, 7 billion-plus points might have been enough, but by Saturday afternoon, you'll need billions and possibly trillions more to keep up with the real gamers. Watch out, Amy.
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Organized chronologically at the Expo, the themes and artwork depicted on machines offer a window into the thinking and culture of their eras. On Strong Op, which is set in the year 2001, our pants are spandex and commuters zip through space riding on stars and triangles.
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While many of the more than 650 machines in the Pacific Pinball Museum's collection are well-known and widely celebrated, some of the games are one-of-a-kind items that were produced on commission or that marked particular events.

Metallica guitarist James Hetfield commissioned this machine based on the legendary heavy metal band.

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Amy Wolfrum of San Francisco spent hours Friday on the game Attack From Mars, one of her favorites. She defended international cities, but never achieved the coveted title Ruler of the Universe.
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With nearly 400 playable machines ranging from 1930 to 2008, and hundreds more stored away, the Pacific Pinball Expo is likely the world's largest pinball show, and certainly one of the most beautiful displays of games in the world.

The Pacific Pinball Expo is not just about playing pinball; it's about learning the art and engineering surrounding each machine's historical and cultural significance. This weekend, the Expo continues featuring exhibits and seminars on the history, physics, and art of pinball, including seminars on how to build the machines and how to become a pinball wizard yourself.

And if you can't make it this weekend, check out the Lucky Juju pinball gallery in Alameda, Calif., anytime for the latest in retro gaming.

Caption by / Photo by James Martin/CNET
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