For kids of a certain age — say, 35 and up — it’s the stuff dreams are made of: more than 900 vintage pinball and arcade games, with almost no duplicates among them.
Although many of these machines once sucked quarters out of pockets at a dizzying pace — Dragon’s Lair alone likely drained more piggy banks of allowance money than anything else in 1983 — they’ll all be available to play for a single price this weekend at the Museum of Pinball in Banning.
And they all belong to one man.
“A lot of people go ‘I don’t want you to touch my machine,’ but I want to share,” said museum founder John Weeks.
His collection of about 600 pinball and 300 arcade machines include games dating back to 1855, although most were built between 1961 and 2015. Weeks was an arcade owner in the 1980s before switching over to the mail-order business. He sold all the games he originally owned but started buying them again in the 1990s.
“People call me insane, because I could rent this building,” a former aircraft parts facility, “out for a year instead of having it open for two or three days.”
Although he doesn’t have the time or manpower to have the museum open more than once or twice a year, Weeks said these games are meant to be played.
“If I don’t pop them out now,” he said, “they’ll never get played with.”
One would be hard-pressed to think of a pinball game not on display at the museum. Some, like Big Bang Bar, had fewer than 200 ever built. There are novelties such as Hercules, an oversized pinball game played with cue balls instead of pinballs, and a head-to-head, two-person pinball game based on the arcade game Joust (also on display, in both the traditional cabinet and side-by-side table styles), of which only 402 were ever made.
“Some of the ones that weren’t big hits are the ones they want to play now.”
And it’s the same story with the arcade games: The big hits, such as Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, are represented, but so are relative obscurities, such as Pac-Land, Pac-Mania, Super Pac-Man and Baby Pac-Man, which includes both pinball and arcade game components.
“Only a few people know how to build these (machines),” Weeks said, “and they went on to change the world.”
He noted that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs’ first job was at classic video game maker Atari.
Last year’s Arcade Expo attracted 3,500 pinball fans from around the world, without much publicity. (The museum is a nonprofit and mostly relies on word of mouth among pinball fans.) This year, early registration shows even more people coming in from out of state and outside the country.
“They’re very hard to keep working,” Weeks said. “We don’t have the volunteers to fix all the games.”
In addition to the all-you-can-play vintage pinball and arcade games, Arcade Expo 2016 will feature a professional pinball tournament.
“These guys are serious pinball players,” Weeks said. “It’s almost like poker was when it started to get big.”
There will also be live “chiptune” music emulating classic video game soundtracks, food and craft beer vendors and more. For more information, visit ArcadeExpo.com.
Story by Beau Yarbrough, firstname.lastname@example.org