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Pinburgh/ReplayFX 2015

August 5, 2015

So, went to Pinburgh again this year. It was my third time going and a way different experience from previous years as it’s now married to the ReplayFX Game Show.  Pinball, video games, console games, board games, cosplay and seminars all converged at the massive Carnegie Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh.  It’s a decidedly upscale evolution, and while I’d rather be drinking in the parking lot at the PAPA headquarters in Carnegie instead of sipping micro-brews at swanky rooftop beer garderns, the loss of a little down-home charm was forgettable in the wake of an overall vastly superior gaming experience.  It was just better in every single way with 650 players in the Pinburgh tournament, video game tournaments and double the number of pins and vids at the show.

I wasn’t planning on going but ran into a few friends at the Ditka Charity tourney at Phoenix Games in Concord on the day registration opened, and enough people asked me “Have you registered for Pinburgh?!” that I decided “eh, why not?”  Initially it sold out fast, within 24 hours, but a lot of people backed out, despite the huge 700 player cap (400 in previous years).  I figured if I decided not to go I could always back out.

Over time, it seemed like a better and better idea. I turned 40 a couple weeks before and figured this would be a nice birthday present to myself.  I took a week off work, got their early and really made a trip of it.

Below are my random pics of the trip in mostly random order.


The view outside my room. Pittsburgh has some great architecture.


George Bush statue exhibit at Houston airport.  I can’t even.


Guess I’ll bring my own t.p. if I go to N. Dakota.


Billy Mitchell!!!  Complete with giant ’80s mic.


They say that given enough mass in the universe, there’s an exact duplicate of you somewhere.  This might be Tim Hansen’s…


Koi Morris on Gorgar was definitely in the spirit of the event and relaxing after competition on Sunday.  I played that same Gorgar in my last round on Thursday and beat it up pretty good for 600k+.  It was playing great!


Billy Mitchell!!!!  I was surprised how tall he is in person.  He has a formidable presence you don’t really see in pinball. I liked it!



Lexi Lightspeed, by Multimorphic P3.  Fun game and had great flow.  I talked to Gerry Stellenberg for a bit and he remembered me from PPE 2012 where he used my camera rig to show off his prototype.  Things have come a long way since and the game is now in a proper cabinet with amazing graphics, sound and rules.  I asked when he plans to sell them and he said, “When it’s ready.”


The Medieval Madness Remake was on display and available for play, but I got to the show a little too early to play it on Sunday and when I came back it was gone. Sad face.


‘Hercules’, the largest mass production game ever made was out in the lobby. I first saw this game at the Nugget Casino on a Reno trip when I was around 11 years old.  It was so big I could barely reach the flipper buttons.


A blurry photo (sorry) of the game floor from the sky-way above.  As you can see, it wasn’t very crowded.  And as you can also see, there were a lot of games.  I ran into Bob Matthews, an old school tournament legend going back to the late-70s tourneys and he told me Pinburgh would break the record for the biggest pinball tournament, which he attended in the early ’80s!


This was the view outside the convention overlook on the 3rd floor, where you could take a break from the action.  It was relaxing and serene.  I even took a nap between rounds at one point.

With this massive show that included pinball, video games and console games, there’s no doubt that aficionados will compare Pinburgh/ReplaxFX with California Extreme. To west coast friends who missed it, I can say it was sort of a like a dream event. There were few or no waits for games and so many great games to play, you had your pick.  I played ten in a row on Full Throttle.  I played America’s Most Haunted for four games before I even had to play a 2-player.

It’s the first year of this show, and obviously it needs to build local traction, as all shows do.  I ran into Bowen Kerins and asked him about it, and he told me that PAPA definitely has a plan.  They have billboards, contacted the local news media and so on. I have no doubt that if they keep at it this show will get big and extremely popular.  But as my friend Darren said, “I was there first.”


Outside the show was a picture-perfect homage to 80’s gaming, complete with 8-bit Nintendo, a tube-TV, embarrassing family photos, and a DOS6 book on the coffee table.




ReplayFX also featured a DonkeyKong World Champion Tournament with tourney cams.


Pinburgh Competition aisle before play got under way.


Played some Tattoo Assassin, a ridiculous ripoff of Mortal Kombat.  As an old-school Street Fighter player, I lasted two games before I had to let this one go.


The very first game that got me into arcade gaming was Spy Hunter when I was 10 years-old at a Round Table Pizza in Oakland near my house.  It started my obsession with games and I’ve been hooked ever since.  I can still play it like a champ, and put up a few high scores at CAX.  George Gomez was a principle designer of the game and I got to meet him at PPE 2012.

That was awesome.  But Spy Hunter 2 absolutely sucks.  It’s some sort of weird 2-player side-by-side game that is nearly unplayable.


Played lots of Full Throttle and this game is HOT.  Fast, flowy, great call-outs and music, great shots.  Tight, but not too tight to make things a post-fest.  My first game I almost got to Wizard and then the left flipper button shot out of the machine onto the floor!  I laughed as my game ended and then handed the ejected flipper button to a Heighway guy.  I chatted with Andrew, the founder of the company and he was great.

How can I describe the game?  It’s surely unique, given it’s a very fast wide-body.  The looks and lights are amazing and the call-outs are solid.  It can get very fast, very quick!  It’s got a Steve/Mark Ritchie flair with flow but also allows some control.  I guess I’d say Getaway is the closest to it, but with a lot more shots and deeper rules.

There’s a few bugs.  Ran into Brian Domini, the programmer, and he was straight up about them.  During a multi, at one point my flips went dead momentarily.  He knows about it.  Brian is an experienced tournament player and no doubt the code will get the work it needs.

Overall, I was super-impressed with the game and wish I had a few extra kilobucks to get one.  It’s super fast undeniably British.


Billy goddamn Mitchell.


America’s Most Haunted.  Let’s face it: the main toy looks cheep.  But play it and the whole thing changes.  It’s a fun, challenging game.  Decent, not great flow.  The light show is fantastic, as are the sounds.  It made me want to play more to get deeper into the game.  It’s also got a fantastic light show that goes with the theme, not just an “Oh look, color-changing lamps, let’s change them just to show we can change them.”


The Pre-Pinburgh Tourney.   At the Pre-Pinburg tourney I played a dismal first round of 34 (of 36 possible points) in the 9-hole pingolf, so I had a second go (that’s the advantage of showing up early).  In my second try I got 24. Practice makes perfect, I guess.  That qualified me for the Expert Finals.  The Finals didn’t start till 12 AM!  And I had to play in Pinburgh the next morning!

As my luck would have it, I got Jorian Engelbrektsson in my first quarter-final round.

I played with Jorian, Andrew Rosa and some other no-name-like-me, in a 3-game match, and top two would advance.  I had a horrible game on TX-Sector and then rallied back on No Good Gofers with a hole-in-one to tie with Jorian.  Andrew was already ahead of us both, and no-name-like-me had put himself out of contention unless we all tanked the final game.  We went to game 3 on Twilight Zone.

Jorian was up first, and didn’t get the goal on ball 1.  He left the door open, but alas, I didn’t close it.  We both tied with 2 balls.  That forced a tie-breaker on Blackout.  The goal was 200k, I was up first, and tilted out.  It was the right move and I had to try, but that’s pinball.  Jorian, on ball 1, casually put up 200k+.  I was out.

I collected my $20, grabbed an uber and called it a night.  Met some super cool European players as well as other guys from around the States.

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After the Carenegie Natural History Museum I decided to walk back, which was around three miles. Walked through the hood.


Beautiful old brick building.


The museum had an amazing precious stones collection.


…and one of the most violent dioramas I’ve ever seen.  A lion attacking a guy on a camel, and not pictured, a dead lion on the ground.


There’s other art besides pinball art. :-)


For just $15 I got to see both the Carnegie History and Art museums.  Definitely recommended if you go next year.


Probably the diviest dive bar I’ve ever seen.


Hoodwalk 2015.  In the bay area this place would have already sold over asking.


I think I would have lasted around 8 seconds in prehistoric times.


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One block from where I was staying was Ace’s Break Away and Play, a small arcade where I got some practice in before the tournament.  They had 7 machines, mostly new STERNs, including KISS, and about half a dozen vids.  There was an old school change counter, too.  It was like time traveling back to 1986.

They also had gambling games.  I had to laugh because of course, that’s illegal.  They had a display cabinet of redemption prizes at the change counter, mainly for show, and it was the most pathetic assemblage of prizes I’ve ever seen.  Around noon as I was practicing up on Metallica, the business crowd strolled in, and the bank of “redemption” games was packed.  Sure enough, when someone “hit it big” the cashier was there to pay out “under the table”.


If Andy Kuntz live in Pittsburgh, this sign tells me he would own this cafe and there would be pinball.


And that was my trip to Pittsburgh.  What a fantastic time!

Oh.  How did I do in the tournament?  For those who have never been, the first day consists of five rounds of match play.  Four games per bank and usually four opponents (sometimes 3).  The best score is 12 (12 wins – 0 losses) so it’s a bit different than the usual 4-2-1-0 scoring.  How you do on the first day determines which Division you play in on day 2: A, B, C or D.  I was restricted to C division and above.

My first day went great.  I was relaxed and I wasn’t jet-lagged.  I was playing solidly.  I took breaks, relaxed and cleared my mind after each grueling round.  I finished the first day near the top of B division, which was exactly my goal.  It was very tight, however, with only three wins separating the top of B from the bottom.

On day 2, the goal is to finish high enough in your division to make the Finals on Sunday, which in my case was top 40.  In my first round things didn’t go great.  I got a 5 (5 wins-7 losses).  But in my second round I rallied and destroyed everyone.  I squeaked a win on the EM by 10k points on Monte Carlo to start the action, then went on to obliterate Taxi with nearly 6 Million, my best game of taxi by far.  That win was especially enjoyable because I played the same Taxi at my last Pinburgh and kept trying to shoot the lock shot that already had a ball locked (ugh!).  I went to Revenge from Mars and learned the tough lock shot to get multi, then put up a solid score no one could catch, around 45M.  Despite a slip on Addams Family, I finished with 11 wins and 1 loss.  I was back in the running, in fact, ranked 9th overall.

I went to my next match facing the top qualifier and put up a solid 7.  A few mistakes cost me the 9.  The 7 didn’t move me up or down.  I was still 9th seed.  I had to hold on for two more rounds.  Two 5s would have got me a trip to the Finals.  But if I could keep my 9th seed, I was in double-bye territory (read: likely a $1000 payout or better).

In the 9th round it All.  Went.  Bad.  I got a wonky bank of house-tacular awful.  I got a 2 on the opening EM, but then Road Kings proceeded to destroy me for a zero.  Game 3 went likewise.  The last game, on World Poker Tour, I figured I could still finish with a 5.  Or a 4.  Or even a 3.

The game said NO.  On ball 3, just 1 Million from picking up a point I got housed yet again.  Out of the pops and straight down the middle.  I made a huge, tilting effort to save and got nothing.  The other players in my group just shook their heads.  I got 8 house balls across four games to finish with a 2.  I went from 9th to 59th in one fell swoop.

In the 10th round, Josh Lehan was in my group.  The bank was custom-made for him, including Doctor Who, Mystic and Attack from Mars.

Josh spoke ominous words which I’d heard before, and I knew I was in trouble. See, I played Josh in an EBPL finals a few years ago, and for those who don’t know, Josh is a pinball rules encyclopedia.  He knows what to shoot for on pretty much everything.  Josh has forgotten twice as many more rules of pinball games than you or I will ever know.  In that EBPL final, I had choice of game so I tried to think of the most obscure game available in the hopes he didn’t know it.  I chose Frankenstein.  Josh immediately quipped, “Frankenstein?  I love that game!”  At Pinburgh, when Josh saw Mystic, he said exactly the same thing: “I love that game!”

I took a zero on our opening EM.  Somehow, I took 2nd on Doctor Who (Josh destroyed it).  I then managed a 2nd on Mystic.  With a 3 on AFM, maybe I was in tie-breaker territory.  It was not to be.  I was out, I was done.

I met up with a few other bay area also-rans and proceeded to get very drunk that night, not even caring about the consolation tournament the next day.  One guy missed going to the Finals by just one win.  We drank, talked pinball, talked girlfriends, talked whatever to the wee hours of the morning, really blowing out the pipes.  I woke up at 3 the next day, took a nap at 6 and went back to the show around 10 PM.  I was over it, and now it was time to enjoy the show.  And on the upside, we still had a whole other day to play.

With so much great pinball in the bay area these days, you might wonder if the trip is worth it.  Believe me, it is!  There’s something about traveling 2500 miles to play pinball, meet people from all around the world and playing your heart out that is unforgettable.  I didn’t make it this time, but I’ll definitely be back!  And next time…

One Comment
  1. GTO permalink
    August 12, 2015 1:46 pm

    Great post! Glad you enjoyed your time in our fair city of Pittsburgh.

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