Arcade Expo 4.0, Banning, CA

The Museum of Pinball is a place you may not have heard of, for the simple reason that it is rarely open to the public. Located east of Los Angeles on an 18 acre plot, the facility plays host to over 1,100 pinball and video arcade games from the classic and modern eras.

The amassed cabinets represent the complete collection of founder John Weeks, and together with a slew of tech volunteers, he operates a non-profit organisation that aims to show young people that games don’t just appear on a screen, but can have a physical presence too. And of course, for those people who remember growing up with arcades, the facility is a great way to reignite their passion for pinball and video games.

Pinball Museum Banning CA
The spectacular surroundings of The Museum of Pinball in Banning, CA. Photo: Museum of Pinball

Now having heard about this place, I made a promise to myself that should an opportunity arise, I’d make the trip over to California to check it out. Only a handful of events take place each year at the Museum of Pinball, one being Arcade Expo. Now in its fourth year, the expo runs across three days, with all ticket sales going towards the upkeep and maintenance of the museum itself. What better opportunity to not only contribute to this great charitable organisation, but to also to get hands-on with a large chunk of arcade releases dating right back through the last few decades?

This years event took place between 16-18 March, and the dates coincided with a trip I was planning to California, so I had no excuse not to stop by! Arriving in the town of Banning, I was immediately taken by the incredible views – the town is surrounded by hills – you really feel a million miles from the bustle of LA, which is just an hour’s drive away.

The museum is split into two distinct areas – pinball and video games. Enter the facility and turn left, and you are greeted with this breathtaking sight:

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As far as the eye can see – Pinball!
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You name the pin, it’s probably in this room
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Every modern release from Stern was on the floor, including several versions of the same table
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Plenty of older pins too
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More classics here

The volunteers I mentioned earlier were on hand doing a great job at keeping everything working. When something broke down, they were quick to get on the case:

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A tech working on a Six Million Dollar man pinball

There were plenty of interesting pinballs scattered around – here’s some highlights:

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Not one, but two Joust pinball tables. Only 402 of these were made. Players play competitively, head to head on the same playfield
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Great to see this Houdini pinball at the show. Only released last year, it is a great sign that pinball is alive and well today
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This was quite a sight – a long row of Stern’s latest Star Wars pinball release
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Jersey Jack pinball was well-represented over the weekend. Here, Dialed In!, The Hobbit and Wizard of Oz were all playable
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Although not playable, this table, Magic Girl, designed by Zidware, was one of only 16 produced before the company went under, leaving many purchasers out-of-pocket. An amazing looking machine, it represents the challenges involved in releasing new pinball product

I made a walk-through video of the pinball area which you can watch here:

If over 600 pinball machines under one roof wasn’t enough to keep visitors occupied, there was plenty more to see and play in the video game area. More than 500 cabinets were on display, and barring a few that were down while I was there (to be expected under the circumstances!), all were playable:

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In the time I had, it was impossible to play everything
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These rare cockpit machines were all playable

The best thing about the layout was that machines were largely grouped by manufacturer:

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Centuri arcade cabinets
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Not often you get to see a gaggle of Cinematronic arcade cabinets in one place
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Almost every Williams release was here, including a Blaster duramold pictured on the left
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There was a selection of stunning Universal cabinets at this end row. Zero Hour caught my attention – what a great game with popping artwork
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Gottlieb’s mad Planets, Q*Bert and Q*Bert’s Qubes
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I don’t recall ever seeing so many Stern releases in one place. I got in a few games of Berzerk during my brief visit

A few more highlights:

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Seeing Computer Space cabinets will always put a smile on your face, and both of these were fully working! Interesting paint job on the right there
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Thought this was interesting. A licensed version of Battlezone by Sega Sonic next to the original Atari release. Notice how much shorter the Sega machine is.
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Couple of Atari cabs here. Food Fight and Arabian. Glorious side art on both
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You’re unlikely to ever see one of these anywhere. Williams Bubbles cocktail!
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Another rare one – Sega’s Holosseum
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An Environmental Discs of Tron. Absolutely stunning cabinet to look at

On the far right hand corner of the video game section was this year’s Kong Off competition. Hosted by Richie Knucklez, the event draws some of the best top-flight DK players from around the world such as Robbie Lakeman, Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe:

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23 Donkey Kong uprights. An impressive sight
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Competition was intense, but the spoils of Kong Off 6.0 went to favourite Robbie Lakeman

Here’s my walk-through video of the video game area:

There was much more to do at the expo – dealers were out in the lot, as well as live music and good food. There were more surprises to be found too. Located on the property was this shed area, filled with Electro-mechanical shooting games!

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The electro-mechanical shooting gallery at Arcade Expo 4.0

Sadly, I literally had just four hours to take a look around and capture what was there, before I had to hit the road, but I can say that in terms of the sheer numbers of cabinets there, this is the most impressive arcade event I’ve been to – can’t wait to see what new stuff Arcade Expo bring up next year. For now, I was able to pick up a t-shirt to support the Museum of Pinball, and said my goodbyes. If you get the chance to go to this 40,000 square ft arcade treasure trove, don’t hesitate!

Many thanks to John Weeks for opening up his doors to the marauding public (I was able to talk with John for a couple of minutes – nice guy), and to the myriad of volunteers who made it all happen – the logistics involved in getting these machines ready for the event must be mind-boggling. I really enjoyed my afternoon in Banning.

Keep an eye on the Museum of Pinball website for updates on upcoming events.

Thanks for reading this week.

Tony

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. hurraybanana says:

    great pictures Tony, amazing place

    Liked by 2 people

  2. ringadingding says:

    wow, what an amazing place! i’m going to have to check out the museum next time i’m in LA.

    Liked by 2 people

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