Arcade Expo 5.0, Banning, CA

Well I’m back from my travels. I had a great week in California this year and was fortunate enough to take in lots of classic arcade sights and sounds along the way. I had a few plans in place to visit friends and a few tourist spots, but I timed my trip to coincide with the Museum of Pinball’s annual Arcade Expo event which takes place over three days mid-March.

I visited the Expo last year, and thoroughly enjoyed my time there, but only managed a few hours as our schedule was very tight. This time around I was determined to spend the full three days of the expo acquainting myself with as much of the inventory on show as I could.

I won’t repeat what I wrote last year – if you want some general context about the totality of this amazing facility hidden away in Banning, California, check out the link above. If you can’t be bothered to do that, let me tell you there are some 1,200 pinball and classic video arcade machines here, and pretty much every one of them are playable.

It’s really difficult to describe how overwhelming it is to walk into either side of the building. You can’t really “start” anywhere, it’s really a matter of picking a machine and start playing.

So let’s start with pinball:

Where to start. This place literally has pinball as far as the eye can see
The tables are broadly located in sections by style, manufacturer and year of release
I was surprised at how challenging some of the EM pins are to play, and for the first time developed a real appreciation of them during my visit this year
It’s not just the classic stuff on display, many new release pins are available to play also

There were many highlights in the pinball section, and I’ve tried to pick out a few here:

Whoa Nellie! is manufactured by Stern under license from Whizbang Pinball LLC. It’s very old school, and take the player on a journey back to when pinball was much simpler, with less toys and gadgets to a stripped down game of skill. The cabinet is a weathered fruit crate design. Instead of standard pinball legs, the game rests on a “fruit crate” base. It’s very cool to look at and play
This is Gottlieb’s Caveman. It was the first pinball released by the big 5 manufacturers of the time to feature a video game element within the gameplay. Note its very unconventional design. Cool to see, cool to play. More info here. Gameplay video here
Although not working, it was amazing to see an Alien pinball in the flesh. More than anything it represents the challenges involved in releasing a pinball machine in today’s market. Designed by industry legend Dennis Nordman for the now defunct Heighway Pinball, this table focuses on the first two movies, ‘Alien’ and ‘Aliens’. Sadly the company went under before the game could enjoy a full release. The background story of the demise of Heighway Pinball is a pretty sorry tale, but is well worth immersing yourself into and here’s a good place to start
Rancho is interesting, not so much for its gameplay, but for its uniqueness in being one of just a handful of machines released with a metal body. The thinking at the time was that Williams’ management was concerned that future solid state games would be light enough to steal if built using wood. The idea was dropped pretty quickly. Putting electrical parts inside a big metal box might cause a few problems I guess….

Moving over to the video game side of the building is no less impressive.

A sense of the scale of the collection at Banning
Plenty to play. Over 500 machines are on this side of the building
Organised in rows, there’s some method to the madness of this many machines. The cabinets are organised in a way that  tends to follow manufacturer or release date where it makes sense to do so

Again here’s a few highlights I thought worthy of attention:

Atari’s Subs. I’ve never seen one of these working in the flesh before. It’s a pretty complex game, and sadly was way too ahead of its time. Not many were released, largely following complaints from operators at the price (two monitors etc) and the amount of floorspace it required to be placed in an arcade. A great piece of history all the same
Another rare one. Cinematronics Solar Quest. Released in 1981 as a monochrome vector game, it uses gels on the screen to give the impression of colour. Really fun to play
Atari’s Monte Carlo. Again a first for me. Cool to see and play one of the first full colour arcade racing games. This of course pre-dates the seminal Pole Position, giving the player a top-down perspective. Great artwork and design on this cabinet
A GPi King & Balloon. Very cool, very rare
GDI’s Slither. I wrote about this game some time ago, so to be able to finally play it was a real treat. The cabinet is glorious in the flesh, and the game is as terrible as I expected! Neat bit of arcade history all the same
I can always find the time to stop and admire the artwork on a classic Universal cab. This Cosmic Avenger was no exception
Sega’s Subroc-3D is a first-person arcade game released in 1982. It was the first arcade game to serve up a stereoscopic image using a periscope style viewer. It delivers individual images to each eye using a spinning disc mechanism. The effect is profound and works well. Check it out if you can.
Great to see this at the Expo. Sega’s licensed version of Asteroids. Interestingly, it’s housed in a re-purposed Sundance cabinet, converted at the factory. My guess is Sega quickly found Sundance to be very unreliable while still building the cabinets
Strictly speaking Varkon is a pinball machine in a video game cabinet. It is believed that less than 100 of these were ever built by Williams in 1982. It is an amazing piece of history, that shows the lengths to which manufacturers were willing to innovate in an attempt to stay ahead of the competition
And check out this cool Maneater cabinet. Complete with sharks’ teeth around the control panel edge. Very cool. You control a diver that collects gold bars form the ocean floor while avoiding man-eating sharks
Released in 1992, Holosseum was Sega’s attempt to break the stranglehold of Street Fighter style games released around the same time. Gameplay-wise, it’s pretty unspectacular, but the hologram effect produced by the hardware remains very impressive to this day
A US-built Atari Steeplechase. I had a few games of this with some other Expo-goers and it was great fun. I acquired the European version of this game a couple of years back from the French Raid
This was a real highlight. Atari at its bronze age best. Avalanche is breakout in reverse. Rocks fall from the top of the screen and the player uses a spinner to control a multi-layered paddle to capture the rocks as they drop. Note the owl eye coin door!

I mentioned before that many of the video games are organised by manufacturer. Here’s a few examples that are worth pointing out:

A row of Stern cabinets
Rock-Ola cabinets here. Warp Warp, Nibbler, Jump Bug and Eyes
A cool row of classic arcade drivers
There was a large selection of Taito games at the Expo. Great to able to play some of these rarer titles

I’ll leave you with this great walk-through video posted by YouTuber “coasterlvr” which is well worth a watch.

So there you have it – Arcade Expo. There were rumblings that quite a few machines were down over the weekend. I can’t say that everything was working, but you have to be realistic. I own 12 machines and it’s a real challenge to keep those up and working 100%. Imagine dealing with a hundred times that amount! Any disappointment about machines not working should really be taken in the context of the whole experience. I had a great time and so did thousands of other attendees. Hats off to the team of volunteers who work tirelessly throughout the year to keep this stuff up and running for the public to enjoy.

If you’ve yet to make it out to Banning for this great Expo, do try to make the effort. As well as the machines, there are bands playing outside, great food, craft beer, plenty of parking and a good vibe about the place. It has to be the largest collection of pinball and video games under one roof. Three days really wasn’t enough to get through everything and I’m already making plans for 2020’s event and hope to see you there.

Until next week,


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5 Comments Add yours

  1. sejepps says:

    Arcades were when we had social lives. The globalists sucked us all into our little screens. Long live the buzz, whirl and ka chingling of the games arcade. Oh and Jeff Bridges.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sue says:

    There was never many arcades where I grew up (in the UK), so most people’s experience of arcade machines came from the beachfront amusements or a bowling alley. So they remind me of holidays, and getting money off my mum to leave her alone for half an hour or so. I would like to go to something like this expo at some point, looks really good.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Tony says:

    Sue if you’re UK based, check out Arcade Club in Bury.

    Liked by 1 person

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