Free Play Florida: 2018 Review

Sharp-eyed visitors to Arcade Blogger will know that Free Play Florida is a regular haunt of mine each year. I’m fortunate enough to get some time away on an annual basis, and like to make a stop at Orlando during my November trip, to take part in this great event.

Free Play hosts well in excess of 200 video and pinball cabinets (all on Free Play of course) as well as a plethora of talks from a variety of world-class players, artists and developers.

This year, I was more involved in the organisation of the event. I was asked to host a number of talks, including interviewing a special guest, a classic arcade quiz (more on that in a future post) and a talk about Missile Command.

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There was no shortage of things to play at Free Play Florida 2018. Photo: Robb Alvey

This year, Free Play Florida was hosted at a new location, The Caribe Royale Resort in Orlando. This gave the event a much greater footprint than before and allowed for more inventory to be displayed. It was a huge upgrade on the previous location!

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I got there a day early and able to watch the guys set up and lend a hand where required. One of the advantages of the new location was a purpose-built loading dock at the back. made getting things in and out much easier than previous years!

Let’s start with the pinball setup this year. A PAPA tournament was in full swing throughout the weekend. I met a bunch of pin heads this year – all cool folk. Their dedication to pinball was impressive, and I got to find out about new cool locations for future US trips that I hope to check out next time round. Having the ability to pop into the tournament room to watch these guys do their thing was great.

Aside from the tournament, there was an impressive lineup of pins, new and old on the show floor itself. Here’s some highlights of note:

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This picture gives you a sense of the space available at the event. There was a good mix of early and later pins available to play
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No real trouble getting on any of the tables
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Three Monster Bash remake tables were on display to play. Great pin this
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Particularly enjoyed playing these two – Star Wars Ep 1 and Revenge From Mars
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Several classics here. X Files, Ripley’s, Judge Dredd, Getaway
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A definite highlight. Houdini. This is a great table to play. Seek it out if you can
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Stern tables were well represented at the show, including the new Deadpool table
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The Jetsons pinball machine is an action packed, easy to learn, full featured pinball machine. Only 100 machines were produced by Spooky Pinball, making it one of the most rare machines on display. Awesome to be able to have a chance to play one

With the show in full swing, the floor was busy, but as I mentioned there were plenty to chances to take a break to meet and listen to some of the guests. This year’s schedule was rammed with talks, side events and meet and greets. There’s too many guests to mention, but a few of the attendees this year included:

Brian Colin
Legendary designer Brian Colin was on hand with some artwork. His talk this year was excellent, covering his involvement with the Rampage film, based on his original video game from back in the day. Super nice guy too! Brief interview from the show here. Photo: Warren Davis!
Nathan Barnatt
Nathan Barnett is a regular at Free Play, and this year was no exception. Here, Nathan is taking part in the “Chill Screen” competition. Ever tried playing a video game while sitting in a bucket of ice? Find out what it was like here
Warren
I was able to catch up with my friend Warren Davis this year at Free Play. Warren’s fantastic talk on the developement of Q*Bert was packed. Should you ever bump into him, ask Warren to show you a magic trick – mind-blowing skills! Photo: Robb Alvey

I would urge you to watch Warren Davis’ talk about the development of Q*Bert. It really was excellent and for me was the highlight of the weekend. Catch both parts here and here.

Cindy Morgan
Cindy Morgan of Tron fame was able to join us at very short notice (her co-star Bruce Boxleitner was caught up in the California fires and had to cancel sadly) and gave us a great insight into her time and experiences on-set making this classic movie
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I hosted the talk with Cindy in the panel room, which was a new experience for me. She was very gracious and kind about the way the interview was handled. Thankfully Cindy is great speaker and make the job a breeze and a real honour!
Walter Billy
Billy Mitchell and Walter Day were on hand for autographs and selfies – again, regulars of the event
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Billy streamed a few games of Donkey Kong live from the event. Great to have an opportunity to see Bill play first hand, something I’ve not been able to do previously

But of course it wouldn’t be Free Play Florida without classic arcade games, and the lineup this year was amazing. Again, there’s too much to detail, but I’ve picked out some highlights below:

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Nice row of Nintendo cabinets here. Mario Bros, Donkey Kong 3, Popeye and Super Mario Bros
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Great to catch up with collectors Jenn and Jeff May at the event. They brought with them a curated selection of games from their collection, including a nearly complete Radarscope restoration in the middle there
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Not seen one of these before. A four player Demolition Derby
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This wide-body Mario Bros cabinet was used by Steven Kleisath and Stephen Boyer to achieve not one, but two new World Records on this title, live at the event: 957,420 using ultimate NO POW / Hardest difficulty settings, and 1,167,910 on hardest difficulty with POW. Steve and Stephen also gave a great talk on the intricacies of the game. Great stuff!
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Can’t say I’m a fan of the game, but the cab was pretty cool looking. This is four-player Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by the guys at Raw Thrills. Got lots of play!
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Now this is more like it: Omega Race and MACH 3 cockpits. Both classic and rare titles
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Tim Stryker’s Aztarac machine was back for everyone to play. The game gets better and better the more I play it. You can familiarise yourself with this cabinet here.
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This was a nice surprise. A suite of Japanese Candy cabinets. Of note were the Windy and Madonna model cabs in the middle there.
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Description from Engadget: For those that grew up with even a vague interest in video games, the movie to watch was The Last Starfighter. Ironically enough, the game to go with the film was never published or put into arcade cabinet form, although it turns out Atari did produce a polished and final version. Now the game has been made complete thanks to the work of an extremely talented cabinet designer who refurbished the cabinet shown in a documentary of the film. It looks almost indistinguishable from the film version
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This was amazing. I’ll be writing in full about this game in a future post, but for now here is a fresh build Marble Madness II cabinet. The game was complete but unreleased. This cabinet houses an original board set that was recently found. Fully working and playable at the show!
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This deserves a future post of its own also. Cosmotrons. Google is your friend for now, but in short, this is a modern take on vector classic arcade games Gravitar and Asteroids. Can’t receommend it highly enough

Overall the event was a huge success – everyone I spoke to was very positive about the event, the games and the venue. I can’t wait until next year!

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Free Play Florida in full swing on the Saturday. Photo: Robb Alvey

I pulled together a walk-through video of the show floor which you can watch below. It’s not the greatest video I’ve ever shot, but should give you an idea of the atmosphere at the event.

So a huge thanks as always to the dedicated team in Florida – they pulled off the best show yet, with lots of variety giving incredible value for money for everyone in attendance. To everyone at the event – great to see you all again, and thanks for having me. We created something very special this time around!

The future of Free Play looks very positive indeed. If you’ve yet to attend, keep an eye out for next year’s dates. See you next year!

Thanks for reading this week.

Tony

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Andrew says:

    Oh, how I would like to try an Omega Race cockpit version. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Looks like fun. I saw a few oldies I remember playing!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Omaha Arcade Lover says:

    Wow too much amazing stuff to comprehend in there. I want to learn more about the Jetsons and the Last Starfighter. I want to own that Omega Race cab.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What’s the story on the tall Tron cabinet?

    Like

  5. _Spr_Drnk says:

    Would absolutely love to play Marble Man II. I know the person that owns the first 2 (?) cabs has said they’ll never release the ROMs.. I wonder if this latest cab has an owner who is not such a Captain Buzzkill… It would be really sad to think all three of these in existence were owned by the Grinch. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Tony says:

    I played it. Odd using a joystick, but it worked really nicely. Shame it was due for release just as fighting games became ‘de rigueur’. It failed spectacularly on field testing up against the likes of Street Fighter 2.

    Like

  7. I used to play that 4 player Demolition Derby game. Also my favourite MACH 3 laser disc game – put a fair bit of cash in that game. Great to see some still survive!

    Liked by 1 person

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