Recap – Louisville Arcade Expo (2011)
It came, we saw, it kicked some tail and now it’s gone (but hopefully to return next year).
In short – the expo rocked.
I attended with some friends and family members on Saturday and arrived on the scene around 11:00 AM. The crowd was brisk and there was a lot of action in each of the dedicated game rooms as well as the pinball/arcade exhibition area. I spent a good amount of time just taking everything in and trying to figure out what I was going to play.
I had to leave early-afternoon to meet up with some fellow collectors but we then returned to the expo later in the evening as they hadn’t attended as of yet, and I was really interested to see if the crowd had continued to build up or if it had thinned out. I was expecting it to go either way, as you never now what the weather (it rained ALL day) would do to attendance. Needless to say, I was blown away when I walked back through the door… the registration table had a line almost going out the door and the pinball/coin-op exhibition area was PACKED to the gills…. I almost wondered if the fire marshal was going to show up.
The organizers at arcaderx.com (Jeremy, Joe and Matt) are surely happy with the turn-out. I think that they hit a solid home run on attendance and coverage of the retro hobby. Despite not knowing what the attendance (or break-even) projection was, I can’t see how the guys could be disappointed with the turn-out… it was pretty massive.
Based on what I saw, the expo was broken down as follows:
- Pinball/arcade exhibition area with dedicated Pinball tournament section
- Dedicated console rooms
- 8-bit games like the NES and vintage computers
- 16-bit consoles
- 32-bit consoles
- Kiosks where different consoles (like the N64, Sega Master system, etc.)
- Vendor exhibition area
All in all, I was super impressed with everything that I saw. There was a tremendous amount (and some of it really rare) of classic coin-op/console hardware assembled for the public to put through the paces, and all games were set on free play and (most) everything worked and worked well! In reality, there was only a handful of arcade games that seemed to be having some issues (or weren’t powered on), but that is to be completely expected when we’re dealing with almost 30 year old equipment that has just been moved.
Check out the photos below to get a sense of the crowd (which I was trying not to shoot as I was more focused on the games). You’ll see a really good mix of classic (and neo-current) arcade titles and pins. There were a lot of arcade titles there that I didn’t expect to see (more rare titles like Missile Command and Bubble Bobble), and there were several arcade titles that I fully expected to see (like Ms. Pacman, Asteroids, Tempest, etc.) that wasn’t there. Initially, I was a bit disappointed that some of the ‘staple’ titles weren’t there, but the more I walked around and surveyed the crowd, the more I think that I was probably one of few there that thought the same. I tend to overthink most everything and this was likely another example, LOL.
As you can imagine, it was pretty dark in the exhibition area, so some of the photos show a bit of blur due to the long shutter speed and high ISO it took to get some light without using a flash. I really need to get more camera (and better flash) hardware…
Speaking of Rare…
But I digress. One of the neat things about attending such an event is getting exposed to games that would be unattainable under normal circumstances. One great example of this was the nearly-mint Williams Varkon that was at the show.
At this point, you might be asking yourself “Varkon? WTH is that?” I know I did. LOL. I freely admit that I had never heard of this title before, but was immediately won over once I saw it in action. It’s a fully functional pinball machine (with dual vertical playfields) that is housed in an upright cabinet.
Based on what is documented on this game over at the Internet Pinball Machine Database (IPMD), Varkon is extremely rare (with only 90 units produced) and far fewer than that likely in existence today. I had the opportunity to talk to the owner for a few minutes (he was doing a board swap at the time) and he indicated that it had taken two sacrificial Varkons to make the one at the show operational. As you can likely imagine, replacement parts probably command a significant premium as I bet Williams didn’t make a large number of extra parts for something that only had a run of 90 units.
Fortunately this cabinet was working fine at the time (and was in excellent cosmetic shape, to boot) and I got the privilege to play it. All I can say about is that if you ever get the chance to play one, take it. I don’t think that the gameplay is incredibly deep, but it sure is unique and entertaining and unlike anything you’ve likely seen before. The ball seems to defy gravity and the normal arcade controls translate to the pinball realm pretty well. Add to that the playfield mirror and you’ve got a pretty unique experience.
I did a quick search on KLOV and it seems that several Varkons have changed hands over the years, but they have always commanded a price premium of several thousand dollars, with one example getting into the 3K range easily.
Check out the pictures below. Fellow local collector Jason Bradley and myself (half-head shot; in the cap) were able to take it for a spin. I doubt I’ll ever be able to add one of these to my collection, but that’s A-OK by me. The backstory, rarity and passion of other collectors makes some games better enjoyed and marveled over than owned, and this one would fall into that category.
BTW – did you happen to see the picture of the Harlem Globetrotters pin? Yep, that one was there and it was neat to see it playing and in such good shape. I’m not sure if it found a new home over the weekend (it was under negotiations for purchase), but I’ll see what I can find out there.
One for the collection? Maybe one day…
Of all the games at the expo, I would have to say that (outside of Varkon) Atari’s Gravitar was one of the most fun (and interesting) games on the floor. I vaguely remember playing this back in the day (BITD) but haven’t seen hide/hair of this title in over 20 years. Lo-and-behold a perfectly working upright was at the expo - and I loved it.
Gravitar is one of the few color vectors out there, and although KLOV classifies it as “Very Common” I would have to argue that a bit. With only 95 dedicated (and original) uprights known of in registered collectors hands, I would think that although obtainable, it is hard to come by… especially for a newish collector such as myself. I just don’t see this title coming up for sale that often and most every collector that I know wants it as well.
Hope springs eternal. One day, Gravitar, you will be mine.
Lists, lists, lists….
If you weren’t able to make it to the expo and are curious as to all of the titles that were there, then the following data is for you. I based this on what I saw while walking around the floor. Although I generally take pretty good notes, I could have missed a few in the bustle of the crowd, but I feel that I got everything (at least as of Saturday).
I’m not sure who won the Pinball tournament (and was awarded the Williams Space Shuttle pin). If anyone knows, please post up in the comments. I’m interested to see how the tournaments finished out.
- Mortal Kombat 2
- Metal Slug 2
- Virtua Fighter 2
- Missile Command
- Bubble Bobble
- Heavy Barrel
- Street Fighter 2
- Donkey Kong (in a orange DKjr cabinet)
- Spy Hunter
- Pole Position 2 (cockpit)
- Dr. Mario
- Black Widow (no op)
- Pac man (x2)
- Joust 2
- Double Dragon
- Donkey Kong cocktail
- Asteroids cocktail
- Defender cocktail
- Sammy sports shooter USA
- Bally Power Play
- Bally The Game Show
- Bally Flicker
- Bally Flash Gordon
- Williams Dracula
- Bally Harlem Globetrotters
- Segasa Monaco
- Calvin Flipper Pinball
- Bally World Cup Soccer (This one was getting a huge amount of play)
- Gotleib Card Wizard
- Bally Capt. Fantastic (Elton John)
- Gameplan Lizard
- Gameplan Cyclopes
- Gottleib Cue Ball Wizard
- Gameplan Agents 777
- Gameplan Andromeda
- Gameplan Capt. Hook
- Williams Slugfest
- Bally Old Chicago
- Bally Dr. Who (this one made a lot of show-authentic sounds. It would be kinda creepy to have it in the house)
- Gottlieb Jacks To Open
- Capcom Breakshot
- Williams Demolition Man
- Chicago Coin Riviera
- Williams Pinbot
- Williams F-14 tomcat
- Williams space shuttle (prize)
- Williams go first
- Williams jack-bot
- Williams high speed
- Williams Apollo
I can only hope that the Arcaderx guys were happy with the turnout and that it was enough to justify doing the expo again next year – hopefully in an even bigger location. I think that if the exposition area could be expanded, then more games would hopefully be showcased, and even more people could show up. No matter how things actually turn out, the sheer fact that a repeat performance could be a possibility is exactly what the hobby needs – the more publicity the better.
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