Travel

Seven Days in Sin City

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For the last couple of years, I’ve made the trip out to Las Vegas after Thanksgiving to take part in Amazon AWS re:Invent. Last year’s trip chronicle can be found here: http://arcadeshenanigans.com/blog/2017/12/2/vegas-arcade-y-goodness-at-amazon-aws-reinvent?rq=vegas

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AWS is Amazon’s technology and web-services division. Before Microsoft pushed the branding of “Cloud” into the collective conscience with Microsoft Azure, AWS was already there and already disrupting the industry in creative ways. The over-simplified Genesis story of AWS was that Amazon built highly scalable and resilient web-services platforms to serve Amazon’s growing needs. Someone on Andy Jassy’s team emoted: “Hey, I’ll bet we could see this stuff.” and presto-change-o, Amazon Web Services was formed.

In 2018, Amazon Web Services had around $26 billion in revenue and have a profit margin 5x larger than Amazon Retail in North America. AWS averaged 28% operating profit margin while AWS North American Retail averaged 5.1%.

All this to say, AWS is kind of a big deal and this annual conference is pretty massive. It takes up the majority of the Las Vegas strip.

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This means lots of walking :)

This means lots of walking :)

But what does this have to do with Arcades and Gaming? Re-Invent, knowing their nerd audience tends to work gamer references into the curriculum.
Last year, the certification materials were based on the theme of an 8-bit adventure. This year, a Pac-Man reference during a keynote discussion about Machine Learning advances.

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re:Play Party

The end of the work-week feature the re:Play party. Three football-field sized venues, this year erected on the Festival Grounds.

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Building One is the Club Tent, featuring DJ acts, a respectable collection of classic arcades. Skrillex was the headline act.

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New York, New York

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Exploring Vegas after the conference, I always try to drop in the Arcade at New York, New York. Here you find most of the recent Stern releases. The machines are well maintained and there is never a line to play.

Pinball Hall of Fame

The Pinball Hall of Fame is a $12 Uber trip from hotels on the strip. Rumor has it that it is moving closer to the strip in 2019.

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Each time I’ve been to Pinball Hall of Fame on a weeknight it is almost always empty of patrons. There were a few folks running around servicing games, this time.

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The parking lot of Pinball Hall of Fame. It was a ghost-town.

The parking lot of Pinball Hall of Fame. It was a ghost-town.

A Gamer’s Paradise

Next door to Pinball Hall of Fame (in an adjoining parking lot) is a non-chain classic gaming store.

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The store has arcades and pinballs in the back (for sale at typical retail markup) and a vast collection of classic console gaming items at a fair price. I picked up an Atari 2600 and had it shipped home.

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Home Sweet Home

I’m not much of gambler and 7 days is really too long, especially around The Holidays. I was very-glad for the flight home and the quiet sanity of Alabama. :)

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Vegas Arcade-y Goodness and Amazon (AWS) Re:Invent

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In late-fall / early winter every year, Amazon hosts 50,000 plus developers, systems, dev-ops professionals and technology decision makers for AWS: Reinvent.  AWS (Amazon Web Services) is the arm of Amazon that sells platform and technology services to businesses looking to use Amazon's cloud infrastructure for app, web app and online service delivery.   Each year, Amazon adds over a hundred pr....  vertical markets ... technical debt reduction .... scalable solutio......[snore]  ZZzzzzzzZzzzz   Zzzzz ZzzZzz.  

Still Awake?

Still Awake?


I've been to this conference a few times.   Vegas is an expensive town and I'm not much of a gambler but each time I've been I've tried to build in some arcade and pinball discovery in the afternoons and evenings, when off the clock, so to speak.  Although this year, the arcade and classic gaming motif was felt more in the AWS Event itself than previous years. 

Re-Invent

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AWS: Reinvent is massive, in terms of scale.  The conference lasts all week and more-or-less subsumes the Vegas strip.   There are two keynotes in the week, the primary keynote venue houses probably around 10,000 people and there are overflow viewing areas at each participating major resort that will hold about half that, each.

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As an engineer that has worked for numerous start-up sized companies, I can say that I'm largely pretty cynical about the exhibitor floors of these shows.    I worked for a company years ago that had a fully stocked kitchen of snacks and goodies (soda, energy drinks, sugary pastries and other goodies) and an even more stocked room full of conference swag (pedometers, shirts, hats, mouse pads, gadget-du jour, which these days would take the forms of drones, Nintendo Switches or iPads. That same company, couldn't always make payroll in regards to the engineering staff and contractors...   

But, I digress.  Hopefully these guys have their houses in order. :)

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Bo-bo Pac-man

One vendor went so far as to build demos of their product into arcade cabinets and port a version of Pacman over on a few of the cabinets.  "Cloud Crunch" - to exhibit all of the security goodness they could bring to your cloud infrastructure.

(I guess, I really still don't fully know what they actually *do* over at CTP.)

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Notice they even went with Arcadey - Family Fun Center styled carpet. (above)

The controls on the arcade cabinet themselves were pretty crappy (below) - I think they were loose mounted in the cabinet.

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Their leaderboard was used to control the output of swag.  I only played once but held first place for the better part of the day with my freshman effort.  For my efforts, a pretty decent Patagonia pull-over.

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PHOF 

Those hoping this acronym is a reference to the venerable David Hasselhoff will be disappointed but maybe otherwise delighted to learn it is the Pinball Hall of Fame, aka The Las Vegas Pinball Museum.

I walked through the PHOF with my phone on a facebook live broadcast.   Unfortunately the iOS version of the facebook app ignored my preference to save the 4k version to my camera roll, so I'm stuck with this version, which was downloaded from Facebook after the fact.

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Sadly, these classic EMs and early Solid States were not getting much play, as is the case every time I've been to the PHOF.   I wish I had time to come and just work my way down these rows and learn to appreciate the bits of character that each of these machines have.

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Mostly pins (of all eras) but some arcades on the backwall, too.  

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PHOF has an excellent range of eras represented in their lineup from modern LCD games, through B/W DMD games and back to EM Classics.   They were all reasonably well maintained and along the back of the building, an employee worked on an STTNG while listening to an audiobook.    There were very few people in the place and there almost never is when I go in the Winter months.   There was one etiquette-challenged older gent that was playing more than one game at a time and draping his jacket over 1-2 nearby games not in play and challenged me over recording the video walkthrough.   I offered to play him a round and he chose the new Star Wars.  I won and we had a fun conversation about pinball during the game.

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For some strange reason, the most interesting machine at PHOF to me is this awesome popcorn vending machine. I want one!    

Have Quarters, Will Uber

Fremont Arcade

Last year, when I was on my way out from Vegas - waiting on my flight, I remember reading about Fremont Arcade on Pinside.  I was bummed because the OP of that post had posted all sorts of promising pictures of the line up at these neat arcade down in Old Vegas / Fremont.  

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This year I made it a point to go check it out.   

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Unfortunately, instead of a promising line up of pins, I found the pretty typical modern card-based almost-redemption arcade with the exception of the 5 Stern games pictured here.

The pins were all well-maintained but the volume was down and even in the empty arcade you couldn't hear them.

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The Big Apple Arcade @ New York, New York

I ventured over to Big Apple Arcade located inside of the New York, New York Casino.

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Here, I was impressed and spent more of my arcade dollars than probably at an other location in Vegas.  A nice layout of modern pins, each properly set up and well-maintained..    

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Speaking of Star Wars, it was nice to get the opportunity to spend more time with an updated Star Wars Battle Pod.    Even though I built a redneck equivalent, I sure do enjoy this game.

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On my way out of New York, New York, the Bally logo of a slot machine caught my eye and sort of develops a lump in my throat as to what might have been had Bally stayed in it, making Pinball after 2000.

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Zero Latency VR at MGM 

In MGM, they've set up a pretty sweet full-suite VR experience called Zero Latency VR.  It is similar, though probably not quite as good as The Void.  While we were there, the options were a Halo-styled space combat sim and a Zombie battle style sim.

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We opted for the space-sim, since the zombie genre is well covered in the PS4 and Vive VR offerings.  The gameplay last about 1/2 hour (for about $50/person).   The resolution of the experience wasn't 4k but the effect was quite good.   On more than one occasion I found myself reaching for a virtual-only cover (a crate) in the environment, to hoist over and shoot at the alien boss.   Therein lay the hack.  You can clip in the environment by nestling yourself inside parts of the environment. :) 

I could see a version of this with practical trip-hazards that are represented in 3D space, virtually - as being pretty awesome.   Me, I'm glad I got to play it and I'm definitely looking forward to trying out other full-suit VR experiences. 

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Closing Night, the AWS: Reinvent, Re:Play Party

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The last night of AWS: ReInvent, Amazon sets up three football-field-length structures in the parking lot of The Linq and throws one hell of a nerd party.  The middle structure had a bad with EDM, House type coding music blaring to an impressive laser light show.  The right-most structure included physical activities, like nerf bow-and-arrow in paintball gear - type battles, adult bouncy castles, etc.  The left-most structure was packed full of classic arcades, a dome VR experience, foosball, airhockey and all sorts of gaming awesomeness.   

Quick, shaky cam walk through to show the retro gaming goodness going on in one of the structures.

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Of the classic arcades, some impressive collector titles were on the floor

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The center structure of the three structure layout included a stage, lightshow, food, booze and tunes..

I thought the lighting assembly was impressive, especially considering this was a temporary structure!

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By the end of the week, it was time to relax atop the balcony at Twin Peaks and bid Las Vegas farewell.   I attended 3 to 5 sessions each day and filled the evenings as best I could think to with arcadey and pinball fun, not the most risqué activities available in Vegas but these are the ones that interested my inner arcade nerd. :)

Southern Fried Shenanigans

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Southern Fried Gameroom Expo (SFGE) 2017 was last weekend in Atlanta.   SFGE is a special show, made large by a tremendous group of people who are organizing it.   When I look at SFGE in comparison to other arcade & pinball events that I've been to, I see SFGE as a 'self-made' sort of success.   For instance, Pinball Expo takes place in essentially the cradle of coin op amusements & Free Play Florida happens in conjunction with IAAPA, an industry trade show. 

Not to diminish those shows one bit, they are awesome as well.  However, it is a treat to see an Oasis of gaming culture thriving in the Southeast, in a region without the rich amusement history & vendor presence.

I like that this show represents a variety of gaming: arcade, pinball, console gaming, indie games & more.

I did a quick Facebook live walkthrough of the show floor, looks like it got downsampled for streaming but probably good enough to put you in the Saturday peek action.

The Setup

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Thursday night, through Friday morning - volunteer bring games through a service elevator and they get set up in the space.   In a span of hours, a-mostly empty ball-room is converted into an impressive and thriving functional free-play arcade.

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I took possession of my new Tales of the Arabian Nights early Saturday morning and got the opportunity to install a ColorDMD and get it set up on the gaming floor for Saturday's festivities.

I took possession of my new Tales of the Arabian Nights early Saturday morning and got the opportunity to install a ColorDMD and get it set up on the gaming floor for Saturday's festivities.

Attendance Impressions

Saturday is definitely the busiest day of the weekend with a steady stream of folks coming in all day long.  

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The Games

I was excited to get to play Scott Danesi's Total (Nuclear) Annihilation pin that Spooky Pinball will be producing.  

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So, how much fun can it be playing pinball on a prototype whitewood game?   Lots, actually!  The game has clever rules, a bad ass sound track and nicely thematic animations on the ColorDMD.    It features a nice multiplayer dynamic that was conducive to 4-Up playing. Here,  Charlie & I had to find some way to pass the time while Eric mercilessly stole our locked balls.

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All weekend, I never saw the glass off of TNA.  It performed like a champ, chewing up and spitting out player after player.   One time, I saw Scott showing the internals and had to snap the picture out of appreciation for a job well done and innovation. 

 

Dialed In

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It was great to get to spend some time on Dialed In.  Despite the luke-warm reception concerning the game's theme - this is a special game, for sure.  Tons of magnets, excellent flow and plenty to shoot at.   With headphones in, I got a chance to hear the games audio and it was impressive indeed!  JJP & Pat Lawlor have a hit on their hands with this game.

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Houdini

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American Pinball's Houdini was on the floor and available to play.  It was an impressive shooting game with excellent theming and a very "Williams" feel to it. 

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Ice Cold Beer

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I was pretty stoked to get to spend some time on Ice Cold Beer, which is a game I wouldn't mind owning eventually, unique & fun!

Quick N Crash

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Speaking of unique games, Quick & Crash was a super fun shooting-alley game with practical effects.   The game dynamic is centered around a quick-draw motion and the game uses a Pepper's Ghost illusion to approximate a realistic effect of breaking glass.   Super. Freaking. Cool.

Metallica

One of the Metallica's in the show won a show-award, though the specific Metallica pictured here, while Nathan stomped my butt - was the nicest Metallica I've ever seen.   Excellent lighting and custom plating from PinballPlating.com

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The Vendors

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Marco Specialities had a strong showing with many of the latest Stern machines on the floor to play.

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Personalities

This year's show had John from John's Arcade, Ben Heck, Billy Mitchell, Walter Day, Dirty Donny, the guys from Broken Token & many more.

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Sky Skipper!

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The Sky Skipper world reveal!    Arcade history in the making..

Morning, Noon & Night

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My morning ritual developed around expresso, plus a latte and a few games on a Tapper Cocktail table near the show floor entrance.

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In case you were wondering, The CheeseCake Factory does indeed make a proper Old Fashioned, including the flamed orange twist.

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The show seemed to strike a solid balance between being a family event during the day and early evening but having grown-up time in the later evening as well.  Everyone was well behaved & respectful, though it appears that Pac-man might have gone a little too far one night. 

The Tear Down

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Here our pile of games sat as we prepared to stage at the freight elevator.  Cody's Paragon; Charlie's Street Fighter II, Genesis & NBA Fast Break; Nathan's Strikres and Spares & Blackout, my Tales of the Arabian Nights. 

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It is incredible (and a little sad) to see the convention area go from a thriving arcade to a mostly-empty room in just over 2 hours but it is a testament to the well-oiled machine that is this show's volunteer team.

While I've been to these shows in the past, I've always held a pretty stand-offish opinion regarding bringing my games to shows.  I guess, mostly it was the lazy devil on my shoulder, convincing the hyper-angel on my other shoulder that the games might get damaged by careless strangers and the trouble of traveling with a game isn't worth the effort.  

The mental calculus of that proposition that I didn't take into account was the family of enthusiasts that put on this show, the overwhelmingly positive experience & support of the show organizers and the desire to contribute to help the show be all that it can be, for the sake of spreading love for this hobby.    After this trip, my mind was changed. I considered SFGE, even though it is 5 miles away, to be my "home" show and I look forward to bringing more blinky-light furniture again next year for visitors to enjoy.

Southern Fried Gameroom Expo 2016

This summer I was happy to get to attend Southern Fried Gameroom Expo in Atlanta with my family and along with fellow arcade and pin collecting friends.  These events are always better if you can share them! 

The SFGE folks put on another great show.  It is impressive considering this is only their (3rd?) year of doing this show  - just how well it all comes together.  In fact, this year the show moved to a new venue to accommodate the growth / popularity of the event.  

In 2016, the event was hosted at the Renaissance Waverly Hotel in Atlanta.

In 2016, the event was hosted at the Renaissance Waverly Hotel in Atlanta.

My family appreciated the new venue.   Spacious rooms and clean rooms, friendly staff and roomy venue area, all walking distance to a nearby mall via a sky-bridge with good eats and shopping.

Miles staging his Mario toys out, getting ready of a day of gaming fun.

Miles staging his Mario toys out, getting ready of a day of gaming fun.

Who doesn't like a glass elevator, except for maybe Wreck-It Ralph? Jena approved, though.

Who doesn't like a glass elevator, except for maybe Wreck-It Ralph? Jena approved, though.

Opening day, a respectable line waiting for the doors to open.

Opening day, a respectable line waiting for the doors to open.

The event coordinators handled the morning /day one rush and constant comings-and-goings with professionalism and efficiency.  An organized, well-oiled machine.    Speaking of machines, the repair volunteers did a great job of keeping games going throughout the weekend.

Tournament Play

There were some real proud-dad moments watching Jena play in her first ranked tournament match.  In fact, maybe I should have spent less time being proud and more time playing better; she qualified ahead of me in standings :)

JJP

Being a JJP loyalist / I would start off with JJP, right? JJP and Flip-n-Out pinball brought two Hobbits, a WOZ and a MMR.

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Whenever I look at Hobbit, I'm struck with just how awesome the game looks.  It is gorgeous and it exudes quality in person.   I have complex opinions regarding this pin.  On one hand, I think it looks great / sounds great and it was quite fun to play.    On the other hand, I'm not really into Tolkien stuff, I'm not a LOTR or Hobbit fan.   I guess maybe a symptom of my rampant ADD, I've never been able to sit through the books or the movies enough to really care what's going on.

In fairness, my complex opinions towards this pin might be colored by a largely disappointing pre-order experience with a particular JJP Distributor.

In the end, I think The Hobbit, is much like LOTR, at least to me.  Whenever I'd play LOTR in a setting full of noise and distraction, I really didn't get the love that people have for the game.   As I got to play a few good examples of the pin and go through the modes, learn the shots LOTR opened up for me. "AHA! I get it now, this is a really fun pin."   

Same goes for Hobbit.  I don't think a show is the best environment to really experience what Hobbit has going for it.   You really need to hear it, see it and feel the shots as you go through mode progression to fully appreciate the game.   Hobbit is a great second game from JJP.    WOZ was a hard act to follow.   Is The Hobbit better than WOZ?   As a matter of opinion, I don't think it is.  But WOZ might also be among the best games ever made..  

Jack's presentation covered his storied history in the industry, a Q&A format with a follow-on slide deck of some of the awesome things going on at JJP.   They continue to build Hobbits, will be building more WOZ 75th games and are staging for their next title.  From the sounds of it, the next title will scuttle the preorder-payment model and follow a more concise announce / reveal, sell and ship schedule similar to Stern.     

If you've never met Jack in person, you should endeavor to make it to a show and get some face time with him.   He's a super-sharp guy and his influence has raised the bar for pinball in quality, innovation (and price..)  Jack is good people.

Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters, the hype is real.     In my short time in this hobby, I haven't seen anything in the pin community like the response to this pin.    This show was the first change for many folks to get their first plays in one of several Ghostbusters games brought to the show by Marco Specialities.

Want to check out Ghostbusters LE? That's it in the center of the frame and this is the line to get to it.

Want to check out Ghostbusters LE? That's it in the center of the frame and this is the line to get to it.

The Ghostbusters pins at the show had a line behind them, constantly.    I would love to have gotten their play counts, though the SM VE next to it got around 500 plays for the weekend.   (Not as much as I would have expected)

My impressions?   Ghostbusters if fun, fast and challenging.  Ball times are generally short, less than 1/3 of folks appeared to start Storage Facility Multiball.  I noticed two people get Mass Hysteria, in the full weekend.   The artwork is.., well art.  Gorgeous.   Nearly TOTAN-level of gorgeous in my humble opinion.   

I couldn't hear the sound very well during the show but I recently found a GB in the wild at a Movie theater and got to enjoy the full sound experience - it sounded great.   I can see, though that some of the callouts and sounds might end up being repetitive after a lot of play.   

The pro and the LE played differently.  I think the pro was a little harder, though the LE was plenty difficult.  I *really* liked the magnetic slings in the LE.  They often worked like regular slings but when they didn't - it was cool. Something fresh, something different.   Apparently Marco set them to "Very Active" in game settings.

The LE/ Slimer Mech did experience some problems a few times during the show.  At some point they had to disable him entirely.  As far as I could tell, the pros experienced no problems.   Negative Reinforcement was spelled wrong on the pro. :)

I did get to put my initials on one of the games, though I'm sure I didn't hold GC for the weekend.

I did get to put my initials on one of the games, though I'm sure I didn't hold GC for the weekend.

At one point, there was a Ghostbusters 1-Ball tournament.  I was proud of Jena for stepping up for some tournament action, this trip.   The the video below, the GB Pro I was playing was super-tilty, or maybe the sun was in my eyes?  Playing up-hill in the snow.... :)

I spent much of my pinball time at this show running back and fourth between Hobbit and Ghostbusters.   I liked them both but for different reasons.  

Which one comes home with me? For now, Ghostbusters.  I love the theme, the art is cool and it fills a play / gameplay style hole in my pin lineup.    

All in all, Stern has a smash-hit in Ghostbusters.  Now they just have to catch up with demand.  I expect they will be making this game for years.    Looking forward to my Premium in a few weeks.

WNBJM

What can I say about Whoa Nelly Big Juicy Melons?  I was surprised how much fun I had playing this title.  I don't think I'll ever buy one but I did really enjoy it.

...and at the end of the day, who doesn't like Big Juicy Melons?  It is summer after all..

Marco had an excellent showing at this event. Really appreciate the new titles they brought out for us to play!

Marco had an excellent showing at this event. Really appreciate the new titles they brought out for us to play!

Getting Our Game On

I tried to balance my time between pins an arcades because I really love both.   While most of the pinball tables constantly had lines, the arcades were quite accessible.

I would like to have one of these! Love these setups

I would like to have one of these! Love these setups

I had to double check which finger was up when he waved at me.. Very movie accurate. :)

I had to double check which finger was up when he waved at me.. Very movie accurate. :)

As always, a pleasure to meet a member of the 501st!

As always, a pleasure to meet a member of the 501st!

SFGE this year was a blast.  The weekend went by really too quickly.  As, I came home and flipped the lights on in the game room it was a bitter-sweet moment; a mixture appreciation for the fun games I have but sorry the fun weekend of arcade festivities was over.  

All the more reason to go back next year!