Free Play Florida: 2019 Review

November 2019 saw the Free Play Florida arcade event in Orlando come around once more. The fact that I fly across the Atlantic each year to make it part of my arcade calendar each year should tell you that I really enjoy this event – it doesn’t take itself too seriously and genuinely aims to educate the public about old arcade games. Not to mention there are literally hundreds of great classic arcade games and pinballs all on free play of course! Check out my two previous reviews here and here.

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This year I was in attendance with two friends of mine, Paul and Rich – we spent a week travelling around Florida and sandwiched the event between other activities on both the West and East side of the state. Paul and I offered up our services to run most of the panels, which went very well. This added a sense of purpose and structure for us, which broke our time up nicely across the three days.

I thought I’d create a picture book style review to give you an idea of how things went down:

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Free Play Florida takes place at the excellent Caribe Royale Resort in Orlando. 2019 is the second year at this venue. The huge ballroom means there’s plenty of space to pack in a plethora of arcade cabinets, pinballs, merchandise and installations for everyone to enjoy. Rarely is there a queue to play anything!
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Plenty of things to do and something for everyone, as old and newer cabinets are on display and ready to play
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There were lots of new cabs this year on the show floor – Atari’s APB was a particular favourite, and check out the 10ft Star Wars machine in the back corner there. The cab had seen an upgrade since it’s appearance in 2018, by the addition of a genuine Atari yoke!
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Pinball has always been popular at Free Play Florida, and this year was no exception
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There were multiples of newer titles to play across the weekend
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There were a nice spread of older pins too – including an exhibition of pre-war tables
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This is what I was looking forward to – an opportunity to play the new release from Jersey Jack. Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory didn’t disappoint. Not one, but five were on display and available to play, along with other Jersey Jack pins, including Wizard of Oz and Dialed In. If you needed to find me during the weekend, I was usually here!
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Talking of pinball, it was an honour to meet Roger Sharpe at the event – widely recognised as the man who saved the pinball industry in the 70s, he has worked for both Stern and Williams, and continues as a consultant and advocate for pinball to this day. Super-nice guy!
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This was the central exhibit this year – a showcase of Tron games and memorabilia, all behind this huge reproduction of a Tron Recognizer!
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Walk in and this the sight that greeted you
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Totally mint condition Tron upright
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Discs of Tron Environmental cab. This was a great opportunity for the public to experience this very rare game. Getting hands-on with this cab is always fun
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This cute looking Tron in cabaret form was available to play also. Incredibly, the arcade game out-grossed the cinematic release of Tron!
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Just some of the memorabilia on display – this is an original Bally promotional poster for the Tron Video Game Tournament that took place during the launch of the original arcade game

I mentioned the panels that Paul and I hosted. The great thing about this event, is the number of special guests that are invited to the show. This year was the best yet in terms of the variety of industry legends and YouTube stars in attendance:

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Paul hosted an excellent panel with Warren Davis and Jeff Lee about the development of Q*Bert
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I had the good fortune to host a very informative Mortal Kombat Panel with Warren Davis and Daniel Pesina – Mr Johnny Cage himself!
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The panels kept Paul & I busy. Here we are with the guys from Activision, who gave an excellent account of how they took on Atari back in the day.

The Activision panel was very well attended, and could easily have gone on for several hours – so many cool stories! Hopefully they’ll be back again in the future to share more. Here’s a video of the panel itself. Do take some time to watch it, Paul did a cracking job of getting some great detail from the guys on what it was like to develop games as one of the first third-party developers for console games:

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Pictured here with Warren Davis – we had the best time with Warren, both in and out of the show. He brings such great value to the event. This year, as well as speaking on three panels, he brought copies of his video game development memoirs, which were available to buy on the day. Having read this book, I highly recommend it. Make sure you grab your own copy here!

As for video games, there were plenty to get your teeth into. Here’s a few highlights:

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Ghosts & Goblins dedicated upright. Awesome art package on this one
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Stern’s Cliff Hanger. Never seen one in the flesh before
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Gottlieb’s Krull. Another very rare cabinet
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A later Atari game here. Dragon Spirit was released in limited numbers in 1987, as a licenced port of a Namco game. It has similar gameplay to Xevious. A very interesting piece, and rare as hen’s teeth!
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Built at Atari’s Tipperary factory in Ireland, this EU Food Fight has somehow found its way to American shores!
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Possibly the cab of the show for me, this Marble Man cabinet was built to accommodate one of just a couple of PCBs found that host the code of this unreleased game. Such a shame Marble Madness II never saw a full release. Note the joystick controls rather than the trakballs used in the original Marble Madness game
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I keep meaning to write in more detail about this excellent game (I will get round to it at some point!) Cosmotrons is a new release arcade video game, that combines gameplay from Asteroids and Gravitar. Well worth a play if you ever come across one.
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Check out this teeny tiny Astro Fighter. Not very comfortable to play if you’re an adult!
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I kept coming back to this throughout the show, but sadly the tech team never managed to get it working after it failed on the first day. Atari’s Firefox. Maybe next year!
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This amazing looking cab is the result of many hours of painstaking reproduction. Starfighter!
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Another highlight for me was seeing this Stern Mazer Blazer. Only a handful of these exist today
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A Bally Blasted. Super rare, but available to play at Free Play Florida!
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Plenty of nice cabaret machines were on the show floor. L-R: Neo-Geo, Klax, Gorf, Klax, Tempest & Monaco GP

The show has so much to do and see, it’s hard to fit everything in. But again, the Free Play team and volunteers delivered in spades, and in my view, this years event was easily the best yet:

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The show floor
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Taking some time out with fellow collector Jenn May and none other than Walter Day himself! Jenn and I hosted a well-attended panel, where we discussed the merits of arcade raids both in the USA and in Europe

There’s plenty of walk through videos of the event on YouTube, this is one of the better ones, that hopefully captures everything else that I didn’t picture here:

So there you go. Huge thanks to the Free Play team for having me over yet again – it was a pleasure to work with such dedicated people. Once again, this is a great show that you really should attend if you are an arcade hobbyist! See you there in November 2020!

Thanks for reading this week.

Tony

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. Andrew Hunn says:

    Just some notes on some of the games… Has anyone played Firefox recently? I haven’t played it since it was new and I wonder how it holds up. I remember playing both the stand-up and cockpit versions. My friend always played Cliff Hanger but I couldn’t get into it because (like Dragon’s Lair) it wasn’t obvious to me what the heck I was supposed to do with the controls! Krull was great because it had that Gottlieb aesthetic with the incredible sounds and unique gameplay. I think I saw Mazer Blazer briefly before all the arcades in my area started closing in the mid 80s.

    Like

  2. Patrick Norton says:

    I was able to play Firefox at an event here in Atlanta last summer, although it also broke down before the second day(considering the crossover with FPF it may have even been the same machine). It suffered a bit from being next to an upright AfterBurner in great condition and still a blast to play, especially with unlimited credits.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. neil1637 says:

    As I’m unlikely to ever get to this event, for some years anyway, Iblove these write ups. Thanks TT.

    Liked by 1 person

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