America has had a very mature show schedule for some time, with successful new shows being added every year. So when the Vancouver FlipOut Pinball Expo was announced, modeling itself after the large US shows, it was too good to pass up and I booked a trip immediately to attend.
Putting on a large-scale pinball show in Canada would have many of the same challenges as doing them overseas, or anywhere else out of the US: access to machines for free play, vendors, speakers, and even attendees. The numbers available for all of these would be smaller, so the challenges of putting on a show that aimed to model an American show can’t be understated.
The show promised to have a large free play area, a large tournament with modern and classic divisions, as well as an afternoon of guest speakers.
My own home city of Toronto has not had a large pinball show in many years, so I was very envious of Vancouver having this show. There really was only one option – book my ticket!
Vancouver is the third largest city in Canada, on the west coast of Canada in the province of British Columbia. It hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics (along with the Whistler/Blackcomb mountain), and is regularly ranked as one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
Finally the day arrived and I began my adventure with a 5-hour flight from Toronto to Vancouver. Packing light, I took their public transit, a Sky Train link from the airport that left me a 5-minute walk to the hotel.
The Sky Train
Ocean – check.
Mountains – check.
Tall modern buildings – check.
Cloudy sky – check.
You know you’re in Vancouver.
The show was being held in a Holiday Inn right smack in the middle of downtown Vancouver. You can’t do much better for a central location, with amenities available by foot in every direction.
The location of the show hotel
Being a downtown hotel meant the room rates were going to be higher, but the location was tops and the rooms were modern and updated.
Let’s get to the actual show.
As you approached the hotel, it had clear signage outside so you knew you had the right place, and hopefully it would attract some walk-in traffic as well.
Outside the Holiday Inn
Inside, there was a lot more signage, which gave the entire operation a professional and well-polished feel.
The whole hotel was taken over
Our roving reporter Chris Frolic knew he was in the right place
Show organizers Suzanne and Tommy Floyd were ready to greet the public at the front desk.
Suzanne and Tommy
The show was comprised of a dedicated tournament area, two free play areas, and a seminar room. There were also some pinballs in the common area, a The Wizard of Oz and The Hobbit, as well as a Hercules which was located in the main lobby as an eye catcher. The Hercules was brought up from the Seattle Pinball Museum by Cindy and Charlie Martin.
Hercules - the World's largest pinball game
Ticket Prices in Canadian dollars were
Weekend Pass: $50
Friday: $20, Saturday $25, Sunday $20
- Youth Passes (ages 13-18):
Friday: $15, Saturday: $20, Sunday: $15
- Children under 12 with paying adult: Free
There was an early bird discount if you bought 30 days in advance, which also included a free ticket to the Friday night VIP party (normally $25).
The Canadian dollar trades below most major currencies. As an example, the $50 weekend pass would translate to approximately $36 US / 32 EUR / 28 UKP. Combined with the discount on the hotel, food, shopping, etc, Canada becomes a real bargain.
Show T-shirts were also available at the front desk for $20.
Hot and cold food was available all day at the hotel. In the morning there was a breakfast buffet available and throughout the day you could order things like hamburgers.
The show special show food menu
Hot and cold food was available all day
There were also countless restaurants and takeout places a few minutes away outside the hotel.
On the second floor were most of the games for free play. The two Jersey Jack Pinball titles were placed prominently in the hall.
The Wizard of Oz and The Hobbit
Through the doors of the main banquet room was the largest of the free play rooms.
Free play games
Many technicians were on site keeping the games going. Very few games were down for long. Overall the show had next to no dark games at all the entire weekend.
Fixing a Buckaroo
There were multiple rows of EMs, in addition to all the more modern games
All the latest titles were available to play including Ghostbusters, Medieval Madness Remake, The Big Lebowski and Full Throttle.
Full Throttle and Ghostbusters
Medieval Madness Remake and The Big Lebowski
In the centre of the room was the main vending stall. This was where Dirty Donny, a well-known pinball artist, would later be available for merchandise and signings. In front of his booth was a Metallica LE.
Metallica Master of Puppets LE in front of the vendor stall
Dirty Donny (in the white T-shirt) with merchandise and artwork for sale
The free play games were varied and plentiful
Tommy explained to me that almost all the games came from a small number of collectors. This meant all the games stayed and weren’t for sale or taken away before the show ended.
More of the free play games
Down the hall was an entrance to a second free play area.
This way to more games
South Park, Black Knight, Black Knight 2000, T3 and many more
Safecracker alongside World Cup Soccer
The second free play room also got quite busy over the weekend. There were many games here I had never seen before, including a restored Q-Bert’s Quest.
In total there were over 130 machines available for free play in the building. (A complete list of games is available at the end of this article.) That’s small perhaps when held against the largest American shows, but it’s a huge accomplishment for a Canadian show. It definitely had something for everyone.
At 9pm a Party Bus arrived to take guests to the VIP Party. I just got on, not knowing where the Hell I was going, but hey, it’s a pinball adventure!
The bus to the VIP party
The bus dropped us off outside a warehouse building. For a second this was very reminiscent of 1990s raves; having a bus drop you off in the middle of an industrial area for a party.
It turned out the venue was LandYachtz, a skateboard factory and retailer that operates an arcade inside their building.
The LandYachtz factory
Inside it was packed with people and a DJ, with beer and snacks available
The arcade had many pinballs and vids, all set to free play for the VIP Party
VIP Party guests enjoying the free play pinballs
The VIP Party ran till 2am. The shuttle bus operated continuously all night, so visitors came and went as they wanted.
On Saturday a series of seminars were held with guest speakers both local and international.
Robert Gagno, the current PAPA World Champion and home town hero, gave a talk about what it’s like to be a pinball champion.
Within his talk, Robert gave an impressive demonstration of his photographic memory.
He asked an attendee to bring a photo of a roulette wheel up on their phone, and without showing it to Robert, he had that attendee pick a number on the wheel. Robert then recounted the order of all the numbers going clockwise around the roulette wheel starting from that number.
He applies that same photographic memory to every pinball playfield, memorizing every shot and rule for each game. I found this a highly creative way to demonstrate his ability.
I had noticed while he was at show, he was constantly asked to pose for pictures, so I asked him what it’s like to be a celebrity within the pinball world. “I think it’s awesome”, he answered without missing a beat.
Adam Kiesler and Charlotte Fillmore-Nandlon, the proprietors of a retro barcade in Montreal, gave a presentation of the history of pinball laws in Quebec and the challenges they faced trying to get a license to open their North Star location.
Charlotte and Adam from North Star
It was a fascinating lesser-told story about how pinball was outlawed in Quebec for many years, with many parallels to the well-known American pinball story. Their presentation was well-researched and presented, with many historical newspaper clippings dating back to the 1950s, as well as TV news reports shown.
In the end, they succeeded in having the laws updated, allowing them to open their North Star barcade. The North Star name is a tribute to a Montreal pinball manufacturer that closed in 1951. A surviving brother of the original company founders gave his blessing for the new bar.
They have also made many retro choices with the theming of their bar, from the selection of pinballs (nothing newer than early 1980s), to having a jukebox that only plays 45s, to having one of the few remaining chemical photo booths operating at their bar.
In addition, they have opted for a copper token instead of the usual brass; it gets worn and weathered with use, and also makes for great keepsakes that patrons bring home with them.
Jaap Nupta from Dutch Pinball had originally planned to attend the show in person, but could not make it at the last minute and opted to do a Q&A via Skype from Holland, where it was 1am local time. Tommy moderated the questions from the room.
Jaap in the Dutch Pinball seminar
Most of the questions had to do with production of The Big Lebowski, how they were doing and how many were left to go. Jaap wished they had more out the door than they do, but he play-tests every machine himself to make sure they are shipping out a quality product without issues. They are opting for quality over quantity. He apologized to those waiting, but hoped it would be worth the wait.
Jaap finished the call with some heart-felt words about how pinball brings us all together and is a force for good.
Jack Guarnieri flew in specially for the show and spoke to a standing-room-only audience. With the unveiling of his third title only a few weeks away at Chicago Pinball Expo there was no new news to be shared about it, but he was very optimistic.
Jersey Jack Guarnieri
Jack spoke about the challenges he’s had and conquered with his business, and with the new investors the company is stronger than ever and poised for great things going forward.
When asked about his current ownership situation, Jack responded “What would Jersey Jack Pinball be without Jersey Jack?” and said he isn’t going anywhere, but some very good and capable people are handling a lot of the tough work now.
Jack also ended his talk with a discussion about how pinball unites us, which is a common feeling amongst most pinheads. Overall Jack brought his passion and got to share that with the Canadian audience.
Starting on the Thursday evening before the show, the Vancouver FlipOut tournament ran throughout the weekend. It was operated by tournament director Dave Stewart.
The tournament was in its own room on the main floor of the hotel, which housed a bank of 'Jurassic' classic machines as well as a bank of modern machines.
Enter through this door for the tournament
The 'Jurassic' classic bank of games, with score boards
The Classic bank of games consisted of:
The projection screen scoreboard for the modern bank
Modern games lined two of the walls of the tournament room
The modern bank of games consisted of:
It was a PAPA-style tournament with scorekeepers on tablets recording scores. There were unlimited entries allowed for the Jurassic Tournament, but the modern tournament was limited to a maximum of 3 entries.
A separate novice division was offered for those below a 4000 WPPR rank.
Tournament results were:
|VFO Classics Novice|
|VFO Classics Open|
|VFO Modern Novice|
|VFO Modern Open|
The tournament was professionally run and well-staffed with volunteers. It also opened early on the Thursday night before the show to let early birds beat the crowds expected over the weekend.
As a hardcore pinhead who hasn’t had the opportunity yet to travel to the large American shows, it was a real treat to get to participate in this one. The show seemed well-attended and the atmosphere was great, super-friendly and positive. Many Americans had travelled up from the US and all I spoke with had positive comments about the show and everything Tommy had put together. It was even more impressive with it being a first year show.
Having event promotion experience myself, I admired the delegation of duties on display. It was no question Tommy’s show, but there were very qualified teams operating the various parts of the show completely independently and professionally. I really have no quibbles about how anything was run.
Tommy has told me he has an even bigger space booked for next year, so the plans are to take things up from here. This will be a great annual show and I hope its success will continue to broaden and expand pinball in Canada and beyond.
Congratulations to everyone involved in putting it in on and attending.
A 5-minute walk through of the entire show can be seen here:
The complete list of games at the show (list from Vancouver FlipOut):