California Extreme 2017 Arcade Expo

The best thing about this crazy hobby, are the huge numbers of collectors who simply want to share their games with a wider audience. And there’s no better demonstration of this community spirit than the large numbers of arcade events that take place across America each year. I’ve written before about my own experiences at the Free Play Florida event that takes place annually in Orlando – take a look here.

But there’s one event that I’ve eyed for a few years now that is the daddy of them all – California Extreme (or CAX for short). Here, a large group of collectors get together, load up their cabinets and haul them to Santa Clara, unload and set them all up. For a small fee, members of the public can play everything on display, for free across a whole weekend.

AsteroidsFINAL1

The show is now in its 21st year. It started off with a handful of guys deciding to hook up with other collectors, after they all started running into each other at some of the early arcade auctions that took place across California during the late 90s. It was immediately obvious to everyone that a scene of dedicated enthusiasts was growing quickly, but that storing these arcade machines was going to be a problem. In fact, the very early CAX events were created to raise funds to pay for storage for these pioneer arcade collectors.

The first 2 or 3 events took place in an old closed down bookstore; it then moved to an amusement center called Playland, which was sadly bulldozed to make way for a retail and residential development, so another new home had to be found.

Parkside Hall in downtown San Jose was selected as the event’s home for the next 10 years or so, until it became obvious that an even larger event space was needed as the popularity of CAX grew. Parkside had trouble managing the number of people turning up and providing enough power to the exhibit as the number of cabinets grew each year.

Sensing that an even bigger venue was now required, the team researched hard and eventually decided upon The Hyatt Regency Hotel in Santa Clara. The Hyatt had everything the event organisers needed – lots of power, and a huge ballroom – plenty big enough to house literally hundreds of classic arcade cabinets:

CAX 2017 Set Up
Getting things set up at California Extreme 2017

This year saw the first expansion into a new room to ease the flow of people – I’m told there’s further areas that could be opened up, which would almost double capacity. Maybe future shows will use up this additional space.

The expo has also developed into a great place to buy an arcade cabinet. Many of the cabs you see will be for sale, with sellers’ contact details on any cabs available to buy.

As well as tons of stuff to get your hands on and play, there are a variety of talks from industry veterans from the pinball and arcade world. This year’s speakers included legendary pinball designer Steve Ritchie, and Atari veteran Al Alcorn.

No doubt California being the old stomping grounds of Atari, Sega, Capcom, Exidy and Cinematronics helps things along massively – the state is undoubtedly a hotbed of arcade collectors. A demonstration of this would be the huge numbers of incredibly rare titles that adorn the halls of the event, alongside the usual arcade suspects that everyone will be familiar with. Over the years, very rare arcade finds have been revealed at the show, including Atari’s Bradley Trainer, Missile Command 2, Hard Drivin’ Airborne and a plethora of prototype and never-before-seen classic arcade titles. And 2017 was no exception.

I should probably drop a huge disclaimer here at this point and say up front that I’ve never been to a California Extreme event. Which is shameful really – and I will put that right soon.

But thanks to the huge number of my esteemed colleagues in the hobby who share a ton of info and pictures, I feel brave (or stupid) enough to be able to give you a brief report of what was on show this year, and hopefully highlight some of the more interesting cabinets on display.

I guess the first thing to comment on is the sheer volume of cabinets at the event. this year well over 600 video and pinball machines were available to play. That’s a phenomenal number of cabs! Logistically to get everything under one roof, working and set up to play is an incredible effort.

So how about some pictures? Let’s start off with some shots to give you an idea of the scale of the place:

CAX2017 1
The large screen Space Invaders game is the latest release from Raw Thrills
CAX 2017 pinballs
Lit up pinball cabinets. Nothing like it
Pinball Area
The extensive pinball lineup at California Extreme 2017

You get an idea of the range of things of offer to play from those. The great thing about such a vast number of cabinets under one roof, is the ability to showcase cabs of a similar style, manufacturer or type:

Donkey Kong Row
No arcade expo would be complete without a row of Donkey Kong cabinets
Centuri Track n Field
Centuri’s Track & Field and Hypersports. Classic 80s titles
Atari Colour Vectors
Atari 3rd gen vectors: Major Havoc, Black Widow, Space Duel, Quantum and Gravitar
Old Vectors
A cluster of obscure vector titles here
Williams Cabinets
A complete set (almost!) of Williams arcade cabinets
3rd Gen Atari Cabs
Here’s a cool lineup of later ‘Golden Age’ Atari cabinets. Note the similar design of each

I’ve drilled down a few rarities here:

Where Arcades Started
A Pong and Nutting Space Ball. Very early arcade cabinets
Pong Signed
A close up of that Pong. Notice it’s been autographed by Al Alcorn and Nolan Bushnell!
Hard Drivin Airborne Proto
Believed to be the only Prototype in existence, a never released Atari Hard Drivin’ Airborne
Hard Drivin Marquee
Hard Drivin’ Airborne attract panel
Atari Subs
An Atari Subs. Notice the odd angle of this two player cabinet
Fire Truck
Atari’s Fire Truck and Le Man. Lovely stuff
Oldies
There was an extensive range of Black & White games at the show too

One particular cab got everyone excited, and I’ll write more about this in a future post. The never released Williams Predators. The only PCB known to exist was reverse-engineered by collector Andy Welburn, who also built this custom four-player cab for attendees to play on. I’ll share more details on this soon:

Williams Predators
Williams Predator. Never seen before until this years CAX 2017 Expo!

Another highlight for the pinball aficionados this year were a clutch of Star Wars pinball cabinets – this is the latest release from Stern:

Star Wars Stern Pinballs

This Ms Pac-Man is worthy of note. That unusual side art is based on early pictures of the cabinet. Someone decided to reproduce it:

Ms Pacman
Ms Pac-Man

Here’s a not often seen two player Joust pinball machine:

Joust Pinball
Where else would you get a chance to play one of these?

And it’s not just about the classics. Plenty of more recent cabinets were on show:

Candy Cabs
Astro City and Net City Candy cabs. A rare sight in the USA

There is so much more stuff I could highlight from the show, but I’d be here all day! Hopefully this gives you a taster of what you could expect at these events.

Finally, I’m sharing here a walk-through video shot by Bill Dermody from Flynn’s Arcade. This probably describes the event far better than any words I could write here:

Fantastic stuff. A few more walk-through vids have popped up since – another cool one is here.

I must thank Bill from Flynn’s Arcade for some of these pictures, and for allowing me to take his videos and dump them on YouTube; KLOV member Kickman for graciously providing additional pics (thanks Harry!); and Bill Esquivel for additional historical info.

Here’s to CAX 2018. Fingers crossed, you’ll see me wondering around the show in awe next year too.

See you next week.

Tony

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Attending CAX is a goal of mine too!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ringadingding says:

    somehow i never knew there was a Joust PINBALL machine. great stuff! i would love to go to this — and it’s only several hours away from me, too… i don’t know why i’ve never tried to go!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. zyx74 says:

    Reblogged this on and commented:
    This is really extreme 😉 In a very positive way!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve been going since it was at that playland all those years ago. At one point I thought I’d stop, until one year, I accidentally missed it and I was genuinely pissed at myself. Haven’t missed one since.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. neil1637 says:

    Wow. What a gig. What a trip that would be. What kind of numbers does it attract, Tony? So many rare cabs (rare here at least) and great that some are for sale too. I’ve only ever seen a handful of cabs for sale at UK expos, although a lot are from RGP I guess.

    Like

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