Recap – Louisville Arcade Expo 2012
Now that the lights, sounds and crowds of the 2012 Louisville Arcade Expo are behind us, this presents the perfect time to revisit for those who didn’t get to attend. There was so much going on this year, that it was kind of hard to take everything in and make sure that all aspects of the show were captured. Hopefully this summary will give a good recap of the overall experience and show just how much has changed from last year’s show.
To the unfamiliar, one might think “How much can it be? It’s just a bunch of games, right?” Well, technically that it right; but to be there, well, it’s so much more. The 2012 edition of the Louisville Arcade Expo did us all proud, and everyone – from the organizers (ArcadeRX), the vendors, the collectors who bring the games, to the people who attend – should be really happy with how this city represents the retro scene.
To be there and just walk around and take everything in gives one a sense of community and connectedness to others, as everyone is there for one reason: to have fun.
The venue for this year’s Expo was fantastic – over 22,000 sq. ft. of dedicated floor space meant that there was tons of room for rows and rows of arcades and pins. Everything just “felt better” this year, and it was easy to tell that the hard work on the organizer’s part paid off. The vendor and console areas were equally massive and the entire place had an open and airy feel to it that helped to dramatically increase the enjoyment of being there…. not being cramped is HUGE. Even the pinball tournament area looked to be better-sized compared to last year.
The Expo actually begins long before the doors are opened to the public. The organizers do a lot of work all year-long to make this event happen and it culminates on the night before the Expo opens. This is usually the Thursday night before known as “drop night” where everyone who is bringing games to the Expo meets up beforehand to deliver and set up everything they bring, and then to socialize for a bit at the same time. Honestly – it’s about as much fun as the Expo itself.
This is my 2nd year attending the Expo and my first year bringing a game. I had just acquired a really nice Super Pac-man and figured it would be a good opportunity to see if it would survive being turned on for 12 hours a day for three days in a row, so I volunteered it as my contribution for this year. I loaded it up in the back of my truck and headed to the Ramada that evening.
What you see below is a few pictures that I took of the Expo floor on drop night. There’s a lot of commotion and games moving all around as everyone is making sure that the games and pins actually fire up after being moved and re-assembled.
The Drop Night activities are a lot of fun. It gives the Expo contributors a chance to see all the content ahead of time and to play a lot of games before the onslaught of the general public. Most all the arcade/pinball community in the (semi) local area shows up on this night and it presents a good time to catch up with the locals and meet other collectors that are otherwise only known by their forum handles.
How do you get access to this super-secret “Expo before the Expo”? It’s easy: bring a game!
I wasn’t able to make it to the Expo on Friday night, so everything that I’m showing was taken on either Saturday afternoon/evening or Sunday afternoon. What you see below are a few ‘run-through’ shots that depict the layout of the Expo floor so you can get an idea for how everything was laid out.
The arcade section consisted of a long row of games, twirled around in a couple of loops that eventually migrated into the pinball lines. The pinball line swung around the bulk of the game floor (yeah, there were that many pins this year) and flowed into a really nice ‘swooping’ line that made it easy to walk around and play each title as they opened up. It was neat because with the layout, it felt like the games ‘never ended’ and you just moved from one-to-another in succession. The pinball line ended back at the main entrance which is also where the pinball tournament and official score keeping was taking place
There was a dedicated console area (that was HUGE) with console gaming of all vintage on display and available for free-play. There was also a ‘retro-computing’ section that had everything from early Apple and Commodore computers up to semi-modern Windows machines out for show.
The vendor area actually spanned two rooms (the main exhibit hall and a side-room) where tons of wares were on sale – from comic books to DVD’s to iPhone jailbreaking services to arcade parts and everything in-between.
New to the Expo this year were industry-related seminars. There were two pinball-related seminars (collecting 101 and repair/restoration with Mike Mills) and one arcade-related seminar (with Mark Alpiger from King of Kong fame) that discussed movie-related items.
Another new facet of the show was the concessions. Wick’s Pizza was on-site in the concession area (which also doubled as the concert room and the cocktail table room) and that allowed everyone an avenue to go get food and drinks and then hop right back into the action without having to leave the premise – this alone was a HUGE improvement over last year, as well.
There was also scoring contests, costume contests, vendor booths and giveaways, chiptunes concerts… truly everything that a retro-fan could appreciate and expect to see at such an event.
So – with all that – let’s break down each part of the Expo and see what it was all about…
It is probably best to start each of these sections out with pictures so that you can jump right in and see all of the titles at hand and get a good overall feel for what was going on with the arcade side of the house:
The number of arcade titles grew significantly this year – up to 53 (from 24 in 2011). This is an increase of 121% over last year!
If you are into the lists, then here is a breakdown of manufacturer and titles present at this year’s show:
As you can see from the listing above, the game selection grew by leaps-and-bounds compared to last year. It was more than the numbers alone though – the quality of the games increased significantly. There was a much wider variety of games this year, and a lot of ‘staple’ games that weren’t on the roster last year were represented this year, and to a die-hard classic gamer such as myself, I was glad to see it.
There were also some EM (electro-mechanical) games this year, as well as some rarer titles like Varkon, Star Castle and Domino Man. There was a good selection of Vector games as well: Star Castle, Black Widow, Asteroids and Tempest were all represented and looking/playing really well. It’s a struggle with vectors sometimes to get them moved and continuing to play well, but these were all in good working condition and played fantastic.
I regret that I didn’t get to play everything – the games were almost always busy (which is a good thing) and I was moving about so some titles seemed to always have someone there. A few of the standouts though were the Q*Bert (which is now at Zanzabar), the Crystal Castles (which found a new home), the SAMI (which was an absolute treat to play) and the Star Castle – the playfield was so clean and the on-screen movement so fluid that it really brought back what is special about that title. The sound was booming and the game just had presence. Needless to say, it is an amazingly cool vector that should never be overlooked.
This was also the first year that I brought a game, and I was really pleased with the overall experience, and will be looking to bring more in 2013.
Consoles & Classic Computing (3C)
The ‘3C’ section this year was HUGE. To me, it probably represented the single biggest ‘advance’ at the Expo in regards to last year. Yes, there were easily 2x the number of arcades and pinballs present this year in relation to last year, but it was in the 3C section that you really got the feel for just how ‘big’ the Expo is becoming.
Last year, this section was relegated to a few rooms that were pretty-tightly cramped. The guys obviously did the best they could with the space they had to work with, but there was just too much content to squeeze into tight quarters.
This year, it was total opposite: there were rows and rows of LONG tables with the consoles very-well organized (and labeled!) with dedicated TV’s and lots of seating room to go back to the 80’s and enjoy some nostalgia.
Since there was so much room, I saw several people busting out the DDR mats (not my thing, but hey – to each their own) and pulling up couches for impromptu NES tournaments. I was pleased because when you see the action taking on a life of its own, then it becomes clear that the structure of the show is working and people are enjoying themselves.
This section also housed the expanded vendor area and was home to several of the competitions, costume contests and seminars.
Regrettably, I didn’t get nearly the amount of pictures in this section as I did in the other two… Admittedly I’m just not that big of a console guy anymore… I did a few walk-throughs to make sure I was capturing the action and I’d then start going through pinball withdrawals would make my way back to the other side to get back in line to play AC/DC.
Pinball, Pinball, Pinball…
What is there to say about pinball other than it just flat-out rocks? I spent just as much time – if not more – playing pinball than arcades this year. The sheer number of pins to choose from made me want to play them all. Seeing as how there were 66 titles – and the lines were sometimes long – this became an effort and not something that could be done in a couple of hours.
Speaking of which – the amount of pins at this year’s show represented an increase of over 113% (up from 32 in 2011).
Here’s some pictures to give you an idea of what the pinball section was laid out like and what kind of action was going on. These pictures were taken at various times over the weekend (some on Sat. night) and should represent the bulk of the pinball action quite well.
If you are into the lists, then here is a breakdown of manufacturer and titles present at this year’s show:
One neat thing about this year’s show is that on top of the two (2)! IFPA pinball tournaments (which are on the PAPA circuit), there were Pinball distributors (most-notably Trent from Tilt Amusements) with brand-spanking new Stern pinballs for everyone to try out. This was new, and I really felt like it raised the bar on the legitimacy of the Expo – it’s impressive to see manufacturers represented like that. I don’t have a cue to the Jefferson’s theme song, but you get the idea.
Being an admitted pinball n00b, I was really appreciative of being able to sample early EM pins and run the gamut all the way up to the newer solid-state and DMD titles. It’s great to see the progression of technology and how the pinball industry incorporates such into the newest titles.
As you walked the curvy isle of machines, you really got a sense of pinball history. One one end of the floor you could play the brand new AC/DC Pro & Transformers from Stern and on the other end of the floor you could find an Atari Time 2000 (which is pretty rare) and EM titles like Nugent and Captain Fantastic. Amazing really when you think about the decades that Pinball has spanned, thrived and survived. Nothing sounds like an EM and nothing plays like Pinball!
For Those About to Rock…
Oh – speaking of AC/DC…. if you didn’t get to play this newest Stern title, then you certainly missed out. It was AMAZING. Yes, I use all caps because I am that excited about it. I don’t think I’ve ever played a pinball title that grabbed me and hooked me like it did. I don’t know what I can put my finger on – specifically – about this title. Yes, I’m a big (big) fan of the band, yes the sounds (and lights) had me fixated as soon as it was within earshot, yes the thump of the sub during the game drew me in, yes the game play was fast & frantic – yet controllable. Yes to everything. The game made quite the impression on me, actually. I can honestly say it is the first pinball that I’ve ever wanted….truly wanted. Now I just have to figure out how to get it.
Here’s a few pictures of the game that show it from several different angles. It’s so pretty.
Mark it here, folks. This is the beginning of “Stage 2” of the arcade hobby disease. I’ve often been told it starts at vids and then progresses to pins. Color me infected.
With all being said, there was still a lot of Expo content that didn’t fit into any of the above categories:
- Costume contests
- Console contests
- Chiptunes concerts
- Vendor booths
There’s probably quite a bit that I’ve forgotten or simply missed, but hey – that’s where a walk-through video comes in, so if you are interested in seeing some live action of the game floor, then look no further!
Disclaimer: This video is pretty raw. I’m a total editing n00b and this is a true freshman effort. I also have some AC/DC footage that I’ll clean up and update this post with at a later time.
I feel that this years’ Expo definitely raised the bar and returned as a worthy successor to the 2011 inaugural Expo. I want to give props to the show originators: Jeremy Fleitz, Matt Fleitz & Joe Stith for bringing the Expo back bigger and better and to all the countless people behind the scenes – either working the Expo or contributing games/content (or both) that made this happen and be so fun. I was fortunate enough to be in attendance most of two out of three days and was able to take quite a bit of it in, so I feel like I can accurately gauge it in comparison to last year.
I think that constructive criticism is always helpful, but when I look back on everything, I find it hard to really say that anything needs to tighten up. If anything, it needs to continue to grow. Probably the only thing that I was bummed about was the fact that so many games had started walking out the door so early on Sunday. I think it would be good to ask participants to keep them there for the duration of the show’s advertised hours. Saying such, I know that is hard to do. Many people have scheduling needs that take precedence, but seeing the floor empty out early created a kind of “oh man… it’s over” feeling hours before it was truly over.
All that being said, if you want to experience the “full on” Expo, make sure you go either Friday or Saturday night, as the aisles of games were a lot smaller on Sunday afternoon and really didn’t represent the true amount of content that was there during the more active parts of the weekend.
Taking everything into consideration, I would call this Expo a 110% success. I hope it set the stage for better things to come in 2013.
Please leave a comment or feel free to contact me if you have anything you might want to discuss!
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