When writing the report on the UK Pinball Show and European Pinball Championship, I quickly found there just wasn’t the space to detail all the work that went into making the EPC happen.
What was needed was a separate article where anyone who cared could find out how the event was conceived, planned and executed.
So that’s what we have here. It’s only my personal recollection, so it doesn't include all the hard work done by the other team members. It’s also quite long, but it should give you an insight into the problems faced, the decisions made and how they turned out.
First of all, let me introduce you to the EPC Team.
Our computer systems team of Phillip Eaton and David Raison developed the software which held the players’ details, collected the scores on the handheld computers, ranked them and displayed the results on screens and projectors. They did this for all four tournaments we ran at the show. They set up the wireless network, the PCs, the monitors, the projectors, the cabling and made sure the handheld computers were all working correctly. David also brought and set up the tournament PA system which he hooked into the venue’s PA so we could direct the announcements at different parts of the room, plus he organised the trophies and medals.
Richard Wade was in charge of the EPC floor area. He set up the machines, leveled them, cleaned them, fixed them when they went wrong, took scores all weekend, answered players’ questions, adjudicated on disputes and generally kept everyone happy.
The desk team of Adeline Prevost, Anne Raison, Emily Raison and Jayne Raison not only registered all the players and sold them entries to various tournaments, they spent many hours taking scores in the EPC, Team and Classic areas and looking after the Kids Tournament. They answered questions from players and show guests in several languages, sold EPC badges and undertook no end of other jobs which kept the tournaments together.
Nick Marshall was in charge of the EPC Country Competition, just as he had been with the Team Tournament in 2008. He drew up the rules, chose the machines, handled the teams' registration details and any changes to the make up of the teams, ranked the teams, briefed the other Country Competition team members and helped out with the scoring during the show.
Mike Parkins ran the EPC Classic Tournament following his experience doing the same the previous year. He was in charge both during the set-up on Saturday and for the tournament itself. He dealt with any machine failures, scoring issues and arranged the qualification and semi-final rounds.
I'm Martin Ayub and my job was overall Tournament Director, which meant most of my work took place before I got in the car for the drive to Northampton. But once there, I made sure everyone knew what they were doing and had the materials they needed, ensured all the machines arrived and ended up in the correct place, helped to set them up, configure them and test them, hung banners from the ceiling, put signs up all around the hall, stocked the fridge with cans of Coke, supplied the handheld computers, five monitors, two projectors, two desktop PCs, two notebooks, one netbook, two screens, one router, one switch, three tables and three crates with hundreds of VGA, CAT5 and mains cables. I also set up the finals machines on Sunday, awarded the prizes and looked after the tournaments' accounts.
Several of us had been to EPCs across Europe since 2005, but my first EPC experience stretches back to 1997 and the Pinball Owners Association convention in Birmingham. I was runner up in the main tournament there which qualified me for a place in the UK team which would travel to Vlissingen in The Netherlands for the 1997 EPC. We didn’t do very well, but it was a real eye-opener to see how large tournaments like that were run.
That was the last EPC for several years and it wasn’t until 2005 that the EPC returned after being revived by the Dutch Pinball Association. After making the journey to Silverstone to take part, I hoped that one day we’d have the organisation and facilities to hold an EPC in the UK.
2005 was also the year of the first UK Pinball Show. Coming out of discussions on the UK Pinball Group, organiser Nick Bennett pulled off what had seemed impossible and created a show with 143 pinball machines.
Any show worth its salt needs a tournament and with nobody else volunteering to run it, I offered my services and the Pinball News High Score Competition was born with myself and Mike Parkins running it. There hadn’t been any real competitive pinball events for several years, so rather than dive straight in with a hardcore tournament, the aim was to create a simpler and more accessible competition which didn’t appear too intimidating for UK pinball players, many of who were new to competing.
The format continued for the second show in 2006 but we also added a team competition for groups of 4 players. That tournament used a computer system created by Phil, which would go on to be the basis of the tournament system we used for the EPC.
The major difference for the 2006 show, though, was the number of overseas visitors. Word had clearly spread about the success of the previous year’s inaugural show and the competitive element had become just a little more serious. It was time to think about something different for the 2007 show, something more like the tournaments seen in the rest of Europe. The UK Pinball Open was born.
I’d visited many pinball shows around the world and the EPCs in The Netherlands, Germany and Sweden and wanted something which combined the best elements from all of them. Tournaments in the US generally allow competitors to purchase as many attempts at qualifying as they wanted. In Europe, that is often seen as unfair and players are usually only allowed a fixed number of qualification tries – frequently just the one game on a number of machines.
The Pinball News High Score Competition had adopted the American model in the interests of simplicity, but the UK Pinball Open was strictly of the European variety. Each entrant could play one game on each of six different machines and their scores were ranked, with the top ranked players going into the quarter-finals. The top 8 from the quarter-finals went into 2 semi-finals and the top 2 from each of those into a 4-player final. If you read the UK Pinball Show 2009 report, you may recognise this as essentially the same format we used for the EPC.
But let’s go back to that 2007 show. The number of competitors had steadily grown over the first three years of the UK Pinball Show so that in the 2007 UK Pinball Open we had 51 players and in the UK Pinball team Tournament, 16 teams of 4 were registered. I felt we were getting to the point of having both a decent format and some experience of running competitive events. But were we ready to take the next big step?
In early 2007, Nick Bennett openly proposed that the UK host the 2008 EPC as part of the UK Pinball Show that year. As Tournament Director, I knew the guys at Pinball World had plans for 2008’s EPC and we would ideally have liked an extra year to build up to any EPC held in the UK. We had a format and found it worked in 2007 but there were still issues with timing and integrating it with the other tournaments we ran, such as the UK Pinball League final and the Team Tournament. An extra show to work things out would really help, although if nobody was willing to run the 2008 EPC we could probably just about manage it.
As it transpired, Henrik at Pinball World did organise the 2008 EPC and we agreed we’d host the 2009 event. I went to Denmark with several members of the team and announced at the end of the tournament that it would be in the UK next year. That was it. There was no going back now. 2009 would be our year and we had 16 months to get ready for it.
The EPC would be part of the UK Pinball Show which was due to move to a new home at Northampton Saints Rugby Club, in Northampton which is about 20 miles southwest of the previous shows’ home in Wicksteed Park. Wicksteed had been a nice venue but they clearly didn't want a bunch of pinball people taking over for a weekend when they could hire the hall for just one day to hold a wedding reception and make as much - if not more - money. So they bumped up the price if we wanted to book it for 2009, making it uneconomic. Plus, we didn't want to be at a venue which clearly didn't care for our business.
Northampton Saints rugby ground was both cheaper and more welcoming. Show organiser Nick Bennett and I made a trip to inspect the building and see if it would be suitable for a combined UK Pinball Show and EPC.
The new venue was more modern and easier to reach than Wicksteed Park, but it lacked the stage and dance floor we'd used in our previous home which made a natural arena for tournaments and presentations. We effectively had a blank canvas on which to paint our event. That meant we had to come up with a new layout if the whole show was to appeal to our visitors.
There was also another factor which could really boost the UK’s international reputation beyond being host to one of the world’s major tournaments – and that was being host to two of them on successive weekends.
The newly revived IFPA World Pinball Championship was held at the Pinball Hall Of Fame in Las Vegas in 2008, but the organisers wanted it to be a truly international event and move outside the US every other year. If we could secure that tournament as well, it would make an amazing combo of events.
Well, as you probably know by now, it all came together and on 24th July - the first day of EPC qualifying.
But events like this don’t happen without huge amounts of planning, so let’s take a look and see what went into the making of the 2009 EPC.
Although we knew the basic format of the tournament, we had to scale it up for the expected number of players. The 2008 EPC in Kolding attracted 87 competitors, but the previous one in Stockholm had 156, so we had to plan for something between those two numbers. Our discussions about how to manage that many players started on the train from Copenhagen to Kolding in March 2008 and would continue through the rest of the year and into 2009.
The UK Pinball Open in August 2008 yielded valuable information for our planning. We used 6 machines and recorded 75 players on each game during the Saturday qualifying period from 11am to 5pm. We had a problem because not all the players had enough time to play their games – either because they were busy elsewhere or because they just left it too late – so we had to improve that and maximise the time available for qualifying for 2009.
If we assumed each EPC competitor would be a better player and play for 50% longer than their UK Pinball Open equivalent, that gave us 50 games per machine in the same time. In order to get the maximum number of players through, we could do three things.
First, we could increase the number of machines. We did this by tripling the 6 from the Open to 18 for the EPC, while keeping the number of machines each competitor plays at 6. That would introduce flexibility in how the machines were used, provide some tolerance to any faults which might occur and would (in theory) allow 150 players to compete.
But the Open machines were used pretty solidly all day and more competitive players might want to leave their games until later, when they know the target scores they have to beat.
So our second option was to increase the qualifying time available. There were a few limitations on what we could do there. On Saturday, the show had to be closed by 6pm to allow guests to attend the awards dinner. That meant we had to have the qualifying results done by 5:30. We could start qualifying earlier than 11am, so we moved that back to 10am. But even that wasn’t enough.
The third method we could use was to set up the machines so they were hard to play. The software settings could only make small changes to the average ball time, so playfield angle, playfield cleanliness and outlane adjustments were our main tools. I knew toughening up the games might lead to more frustration from the players, but nobody could deny it was the same for all players and therefore fair.
On some games I made sure the outlane posts were removed completely. On others, the rubber rings would be removed from the outlane dividers or the adjusters moved to their most open position. Not all games could do this. Getaway, for example, has no adjustment on the left side and the right side is quite limited in what can be done. So we would end up with a mix of games with outlane posts and without them. That would give players the option to choose the machines they thought they could handle best.
All games were also to be cleaned thoroughly and set up to angles between 7 and 7.5 degrees. We had digital levels to make sure the games were spot on.
The Joker Card
One additional feature I thought up for 2009 was the Joker Card.
We knew players would be traveling long distances to come to the EPC and wanted to give them the maximum number of games we could in the time available. We could have just increased the number of machines they played from 6 to 7 but I thought a more imaginative and fun idea would be to allow players to “undo” a bad score by replaying that game. That would ensure a single poor game wouldn’t badly affect a player’s progress into the next round, while making sure someone with a string of bad scores wouldn’t be able to jump ahead of better players. It also introduced a little strategy into the scoring, as the game you replay may not necessarily be the one you think you did worst on, but the one where any improvement in score would yield the most ranking points.
The Joker card could be implemented in one of three ways – either the Joker game score replaces the previous “bad” score regardless of whether it’s higher or lower, the scores from the two games are added together, or only the higher score from the two games counts. We decided on the third choice, since the first option might discourage use of the Joker Card and the second option doesn’t fully remove the effect of the “bad” game. With the third choice, if your Joker game is just as bad you haven’t lost anything, you just haven’t improved.
The Joker theme in part came from the Batman game where the Joker is such a central character, and in part from a number of card games where the joker can be used to modify the game’s rules. I also though it would be nice to have a physical card you could “play” by handing it over before your joker game. At the same time, though, there was the danger of players colluding or trading their Joker cards, so they all had to be personalised.
While the Joker Card was a nice idea, it did increase overall game time by 1/6th which put more pressure on the time for qualifying. And what if the EPC players were more than 50% better than last year’s players?
The third consideration – and one as important as any of them – was to make sure everyone working on the EPC wasn’t rushed off their feet all the time and constantly having to deal with angry players who couldn’t play their games in the allotted time. The whole teams are volunteers and I wanted to make sure they had time to enjoy the show too.
The only way these demands could be reconciled was to add a qualifying session the day before the show was due to begin.
The UK Pinball Show 2009 would be running on Saturday 25th and Sunday 26th July. It was intended to have a set-up period on Friday evening so everything would be ready to go in time for the opening on Saturday. If we could get the EPC machines and computers set up earlier, we could possibly open EPC qualifying on Friday evening.
I checked with everyone in the team to see if they were happy with the idea and once I found everyone was, I went to Nick, the show organiser to see if the proposal was possible. To my surprise, he was quite happy with the plan. The main show would open on Saturday as before, but there would be a Friday evening qualifying period just for the EPC players.
That should give us enough qualifying time, but there was still one potential fly in the ointment and that was the Country Competition.
The problems in previous shows resulted in part from the Team Tournament players finishing late and then descending on the Open machines with only a couple of hours before qualifying ended.
With time already tight this year, having a Friday evening session provided the perfect opportunity to hold the Country Competition (as the Team Tournament has become), leaving competitors all day Saturday to play their EPC matches. In the meantime, some EPC players could enjoy the quieter Friday evening to play their qualification games.
Although I suspected some players hadn’t planned to get to Northampton until Saturday morning, I hoped by announcing it early enough we could let players know before they booked flights or trains.
Nick Marshall was heading up the Country Competition and the move to Friday meant that while he would do all the planning and organisation, he couldn’t actually be at the show for the tournament itself. While that wasn’t ideal, he was confident he could brief Ivan Durneen, Aid Cooper and Stan Simpson so they could run the tournament in his absence.
We were now at the start of 2009 and our Friday evening session was taking shape.
Now we had to find some players.
When the UK Pinball Open began, it had its own website, away from the UK Pinball Show site. In 2008 I merged it into the main show site which was run by Nick Bennett. Both of us could update it at any time but in practice, he maintained the show side of it while I looked after the tournament details.
For the EPC, we continued that single website plan and by early 2009 Nick had the basic details of the show and I had the same for the tournaments online.
This was the first outing for our new EPC logo. Nick Hill sent it in as a suggestion to Nick and while we don’t usually agree on our preferred style of logos, we both agreed this one worked really well.
The selected logo has to work on the web, on projection screens, on t-shirts, on banners, posters and signs and even on badges and medals. So it has to be clean, clear, unfussy and still tie-in to pinball. Nick Hill’s design ticked all those boxes, so after I did a minor bit of tweaking to the text layout, by the end of November 2008 it was a done deal.
The previous EPCs had all required pre-registration and pre-payment. That seemed like a good way to make registration fair for all (i.e. not favouring UK players who might be “in the know” about registration before it becomes widely available), to control the number of players, get some commitment from them and to get some money up front to pay for essentials.
We could do the same thing with the Country Competition and make sure everyone knew it was on Friday before they signed up.
I found out – with some help from David Raison – how to set up PayPal to take payments and during February I created a series of web pages with information and registration forms for both tournaments, tested them with payments sent in by friends and ironed out any bugs.
We set the “Go Live” date for registration as 1st March 2009 and thought we’d close it on 1st June. However many players we had by then would be the number we’d allow in, and I thought 3 months should be plenty of time for players to discover the site and get their registrations made. I posted messages to rec.games.pinball, the UK Pinball Group and included the dates in the most recent Pinball News Update e-mail. If take up was too slow, we could post to individual national forums but hoped word would spread by itself.
So just before midnight on Saturday 28th February I uploaded the new main tournaments page with the links to the registration pages, posted more messages letting people know registration was now open and turned off the computer for the night.
Here’s the message I posted:
By 8 O’clock that evening the number of registrations had reached 50 which included players from 10 different countries. 20 hours into the 3 month window and 1/3rd of the places had already gone.
While the level of interest was superb, it was also slightly disconcerting. I had been secretly concerned we wouldn't attract enough players but now the concern was we'd have too many.
It took a little over 3 days for the 150 mark to be reached, which I have to admit caught me by surprise. By the time I could take down all the links and stop anyone new registering, then number of registrations had risen to 162. Whoops.
We'd really only wanted 150 in line with our calculations, but since players had registered in good faith I thought it only fair to do our best to accommodate them. I discussed it with the team and we decided to let the 162 stand.
But once registration was closed, I received lots of e-mail messages from players who missed out but wanted to play. So a waiting list was set up and if anyone dropped out, their place would be offered to those on the list in the order they asked to join.
It would have been nice to not replace those who dropped out so we could get back to the intended 150 mark, but once we’d agreed we could handle 162, it seemed sensible to make as many people happy as we could.
In the end we found places for 5 players from the waiting list. A further 2 declined places, 1 couldn’t be contacted and there were a few who dropped out too late to be replaced. When those are taken into account, the total number of players who took part in the EPC was… 151.
Meanwhile, the Country Competition registrations were also coming in rapidly. Nick Marshall had set the limit on the number of teams at 20 – considerably more than had taken part in previous years – with a maximum of 3 from any one country.
The maximum was reached fairly quickly and then headed up to 22 teams. All teams were ranked according to their WPPR points total and the lowest ranked “third” teams from any country were put on a waiting list in case any of the top 20 should cancel. Because a new team could register and their WPPR total might put them above some registered teams, or some team members might change which would affect their ranking, the registration was kept open for the full three months.
So by March we had our venue and we had our players and teams. The next thing to do was visit the venue and work out a floor plan.
As mentioned earlier, Nick Bennett had already been to check out the Northampton Saints Rugby Club when he chose it for the show, but he and I went up there to work out a rough layout for the machines, the vendors and the tournaments.
There are numerous pitfalls to watch out for when visiting a new venue for the show. Nick would sort out the power with Andrew Harris but I needed to check for lighting glare and lighting controls, projector positions, ensure the wooden floor wasn’t springy or dipped at any point, where we could hang banners, where the fire exits were, what facilities they had (food/drink/toilets), what the loading access was like, where the paths in/out of the tournament areas would be and where we could hold the awards ceremonies.
When I got back home I worked up a number of alternative layouts for tournament machines in the EPC and Country Competition areas.
In allocating space for each machine I took into account what had become known as the “Dutch Stance” – where the play stands far back from the front of the machine and crouches down to near playfield level. Some players - most prominently from The Netherlands - adopt that position so I took that as the maximum length needed and worked out the width so a repair person could get down the side of a machine without inhibiting anyone on the adjacent machine. That produced a 2.4m x 1.2m space allocated to each machine.
Recreational machines could be closer together - those are the ones marked "R" in the diagram above - but tournament machines needed more space.
At the beginning of the year Phillip Eaton had suggested he, David, Richard, head of the UK Pinball League Greg Mott and I have regular fortnightly conference calls so we could discuss the tournaments, rather than using e-mail. Phil and Adeline are in Zurich with the rest of us spread out across England, so having our 7pm Tuesday chats helped us all keep track of the progress so far.
The calls usually lasted around an hour and as we got closer to the EPC start date, the calls became weekly. The e-mails didn't stop of course - in fact they increased further - but each conference call sorted out a lot in that hour and quickly resolved matters which could have dragged on for weeks through e-mail alone.
The team discussed the various room options and came up with a layout we though would work best. We got it agreed with Nick and another box on the list of things to do was ticked.
Nick and I actually made a second visit together about 2 weeks before the show to double check our plans and to make sure nothing material had changed. I also found out about the PA arrangements, checked with David that he was happy with them, and made sure we could have internet access if we needed it to download machine updates and schematics, or upload the qualifying results on Saturday night. For backup, I bought a pay-as-you-go mobile broadband dongle which could plug into a PC and give us internet access through the mobile phone network.
The regular team meetings also discussed the machine requirements, the player registrations, the computer systems and the displays.
The layout for the displays was based on last year’s UK Pinball Open but it was tweaked to give more and clearer information and to incorporate our EPC logo. I spent a day playing around with various colour schemes, bouncing them back-and-forth with Phil in Zurich who had set up a web server to show example results pages.
The logo has a version on a black background and version on white. We’d used the black background for the website but when using projectors to show results, any black would become washed out due to ambient light and projector light leakage to turn into a dullish grey. A white background, by contrast, would stay white. So the decision was made to use the white version and I played around with various backgrounds and bar shades to make it both attractive and legible.
From that design, variants for the Kids, Country and Classic tournament were produced.
In order to run the tournaments we need a certain amount of equipment. It’s largely computer parts and we did already have quite a lot from previous shows, but this year we would need more to cope with the increased number of machines and players.
Our computer system uses handheld computers to record the scores and we had five of those. It seems like a lot but when you consider there will probably be about 3 people on the EPC floor at any one time, plus 2 or more in the Country Competition area, they are all used up with no spares. If someone puts one down to fix a game or the battery runs down, we need to be able to pull another one out to take up the slack.
So I needed to buy some more and it made sense to stick with the same model, so that the charging base stations and spare batteries we had were interchangeable.
The handheld computers (personal digital assistants or PDAs) we used when we first went purely computer-based were Dell Axim X3i models. The reason for that was largely because they were cheap. At about £70 a piece, they were considerably less expensive than more modern equivalents, but there was a reason for that. They’re fairly old in technological terms. They run an old version of Windows Mobile and few of the latest software applications run on them. Processing power has moved on since the X3i was on the market and Dell got out of the PDA business several years ago. The upshot of all that is, they’re still cheap and still quite readily available on Ebay, but the choice of browser we could use is limited.
The X3i was never very popular in the UK, but there are plenty for sale on Ebay in the US, so that’s where I sourced another 3 for the EPC during the spring. They usually arrive with dead backup batteries which aren’t user replaceable, but a bit of disassembly of the main circuit board allows access and a bit of manual recharging with a couple of AA batteries, a short pair of fly leads and some needles to get inside the connectors usually does the trick. After that, they just need to be re-charged regularly.
We also needed some additional monitors to display scores and rankings. Again, cost is important but so is ensuring everything is interchangeable. We had 3 19” LCD monitors but needed another 2. The monitors we had were non-widescreen format and they were chosen so they matched the aspect ratio of the projectors which run at 800x600. That meant if a projector died we could swap it with a monitor and be up and running again in a few seconds. I bought 2 more monitors to make a total of 5 which was the bare minimum we needed.
The layout of the tournament area called for a standalone projector and screen positioned along the main walkway. This needed to be kept as minimal as possible because the screen covered an emergency exit from the EPC area in case of an incident near the registration desk. The screen could be pushed aside and players could leave the area through the gap. There was a small table for the projector which could also be easily removed but we didn’t want a desktop PC in the way or any of the associated cabling. I purchased a small Dell Mini 9 notebook PC which had a video output and could talk wirelessly to the main server. It sat on the small table next to the projector (which was the larger of the two items) and showed the scores the whole weekend.
For the Country Competition area we would need two monitors from the pool and something to feed them. I had a desktop PC to use but it only had one video output. Another trip to Ebay and a 2 output video card arrived, was installed, soak tested and ready for action.
Phil had purchased a couple of graphics cards with 4 video outputs for the show in 2007. I had kept one in a desktop PC of mine which was solely used for the tournaments while Phil had the other. That one would eventually go into one of David's PCs so it could be brought to the show as well. We also had a trio of notebooks at our disposal.
When the show began, we actually had one notebook spare which was available as backup in case one of the other PCs died.
With spare lamps for the projectors and the crates of power, monitor, video and Ethernet cables, we had enough computer equipment. Next, we needed to test it all.
One week before the show, Phil and Adeline drove over from Switzerland and stayed at the Raison family home for a couple of nights. I joined them and we spent Sunday and Monday connecting all the systems, testing them, making changes, testing those changes and running dummy tournaments to see if we could break them.
A lot of tea was drunk those two days but while any system is never totally bulletproof, we were confident it would work, could take scores quickly and easily, and could give players the information they needed.
Jumping back in time to a few weeks earlier, one of the major components of the tournaments was still to be arranged – the pinball machines themselves.
We needed a total of 46 machines across the three days. That sounds like a huge number, but in reality we didn’t require that number at once.
Friday was the worst day when there would be the 19 EPC machines and 14 Country Competition machines, plus 1 for the Kids Tournament.
Saturday only had the EPC and Kids tournament for a total of 19 machines.
On Sunday we needed 8 for the EPC, 8 for the Classic, 1 for the Kids, 1 for the Classic final, 2 for the EPC semi-finals and 1 for the EPC final – 21 in all.
All 46 machines had to be arranged however, so I got in contact with those collectors who had contributed machines to previous shows and quickly built up a core of around two dozen machines. After that, though, the offers slowed to a dribble. In an effort to improve the variety of machines at the show, several collectors were bringing less common solid state machines. While that was great for the show, it meant they weren’t really suitable for the EPC or the Classic Tournament.
Within a couple of weeks of the show we had just about reached the required number from 23 different collectors, but whereas in previous years we could choose the most suitable and best maintained machines from a large pool, this year we pretty much took what we were offered. I e-mailed all contributors to make sure they were aware of the need for utterly reliable and well maintained machines, and to make sure they let me know of any known problems so we could decide whether it was something which rendered the game unsuitable. Fortunately, there were only a couple of issues reported and we could sort those out in Northampton.
Things were well on the way towards us having a set of tournament ready for the 24th July but there was still a lot to do in the last couple of months.
I had to update the website with full rules for all the tournaments, a timetable of events and details of the prizes on offer.
There’s a careful balance to be struck between offering prize money which is consistent with a major tournament, making sure it’s not seen as excessive, and making sure we don’t end up losing money. It was decided to pay for a few of the items we needed for the EPC out of the entry fees and use all the rest for prize money and trophies.
We’d kept both the EPC and Country Competition registration fees low at just £10 each which didn’t leave us a huge amount to play with, but with the £17 UK Pinball Show entry to be paid on top I think it was the most we could reasonably ask from the players.
EPC Entry fees had been higher in Sweden and Denmark, but there the EPC tournaments were the only events. There was no "show" with over 100 recreational play machines, numerous vendors and a special guest which warranted its own entry fee. The £10 EPC and Country Competition registration fees were helpful in paying for up-front costs but also acted as an incentive to ensure those who registered were serious about coming.
Those £10s allowed us to award £750 in EPC prize money, spend another £500 on trophies and medals and make one special purchase all the players could get to enjoy.
The EPC winners were to receive metal cup-style trophies, but the Country Competition and Classic Tournament would award crystal laser-etched trophies. David liaised with the trophy company while I specified the text and logos we would use.
We'd decided on the design of the trophies earlier in the year but more artwork was needed so the EPC logo and correct wording could be send off to the trophy people and etched onto the crystal.
During our two visits to Northampton Saints, we had taken a look at an additional room at the far end of the building, called the Heroes Bar. At the time of the first trip it didn’t seem especially useful for the show. It didn’t have any connecting corridor to the main show hall, had a bar which would be shut, needed visitors to leave the hall and walk along the front of the building to reach it and would require more manpower to set up an entry desk inside.
Despite that, I though it could be a good venue for the final of the EPC. It had the benefit of being apart from the main show, so machines could be dismantled and booths torn down in the main hall without disturbing the players. It also had a raised area which would be good for spectators and we could control the sound and lighting to make it more of a spectacle.
On the second visit, I took pictures of the Heroes Bar and distributed them around the tournament team who all agreed it would be a suitable venue for the final. There was just one problem (isn’t there always?). It would cost us money if we wanted to use it. There was a wedding reception in there on Saturday but we could have it all day Sunday for £285. It was almost a deal breaker, but in the end we decided to go for it.
If we were spending money on the room and getting it all day, using it only for the EPC final seemed a waste. So the EPC semi-finals were moved in there as was the final of the Classic Tournament.
We would have to set up those machines along with the seating on Sunday morning, but we could still do better with the room. In April, I asked the UK Pinball Group what they would like to see held in the room on Sunday morning with the possibility of talks, repair seminars, Guitar Hero tournaments or anything else. The replies overwhelmingly favoured repair seminars but who could present them?
Fortunately that problem was solved when David Blake and Dave Emery both quickly offered the benefit of their many years of pinball experience to host three seminars. David Blake would hold two – one for real beginners on how to set up a machine properly and a second for more experienced owners on WPC repairs – and Dave Emery would tackle electromechanical repair and restoration techniques. Dave Rolfe also offered his services helping present the seminars and his offer was gratefully accepted too.
The show was coming together nicely.
The next part was to get the signs and banners made up. The number of signs needed is unbelievable. They seem to disappear into the background when the show is going on but are really needed for visitors unfamiliar with the show’s layout. With a new venue this year, that meant almost everyone.
Without knowing exactly where the signs would go and which ones would be needed, I printed arrowed signs pointing to the EPC, the Country Competition, the Classic Tournament, the tournament desk and the seminars. 16 of each pointing left and right. That’s 160 direction signs.
I made the Country Competition signs using the white version of the logo and EPC signs with the black version. Both tournaments would be taking place simultaneously at the very start of the show - before visitors were familiar with the room's layout - so these needed to be sufficiently different so players could immediately differentiate between them from a distance.
As with all the printed material, keeping the EPC brand styling was important to give a unified feel to the whole event. I mentioned earlier how the EPC logo had to work in a variety of different media, but it also needed to lend itself to adaptation so the brand could be extended, such as the use of the green wedge insert to form the direction arrow.
Then there were the machine number signs. 18 for the EPC, 14 for the Country Competition, 8 for the Classic, 2 for the Kids Tournament and 4 for the EPC and Classic semi-finals machines. Then, in case any were lost or damaged during moving of machines, I printed backups of them too. So that was another 92 signs.
There were also additional signs showing the prices for the Kids and Classic Tournament tickets.
Next were the machine key tags. With so many machines in use we needed a way to keep track of the keys. Separate baskets were established for the EPC, Country, Classic and Kids machines and colour-coded key tags with the machine name, machine number, owner name and mobile phone number printed. A few backup ones were also printed in case we had to swap machines out.
My poor little Canon inkjet printer was working its socks off and even with the extra capacity versions, it was getting through quite a few ink cartridges.
Then, when the ink had dried, everything you see printed above was hot laminated and divided up into individual tournament envelopes. There were two envelopes for each tournament – one for the main signs, key tags and machine numbers and one for the backup ones in case of damage or loss.
The next printing job was the large banners. These are too big for me to print at home, so I contract that job to a printing company. I create the high resolution artwork and upload it to their server. They print it out, fold over the edges, add eyelets and ship the finished banners back to me. While it would be nice to get larger ones, 6tf x 2ft is a fair compromise between cost and visibility. I made artwork for the EPC, the Country Competition, the Classic Tournament and the tournament desk.
This last one would be hung over the main thoroughfare so people could see where to exit to reach the desk, while the others would hang over the machines so people could see what the respective area was for.
In order to get everything done I had taken the week before the show off work, so at the start of that week I designed and printed out the player badges for all the tournaments. These were colour-coded and had the appropriate tournament logo on, to make sure there was no confusion. The EPC and Country Competition players were pre-registered so I could add their names and numbers to their badges. For everyone else there was a blank space for the name but they were all individually numbered.
There were 161 registered EPC players so I printed those plus another two dozen or so backup badges, in case players lost or damaged their badges or we had their name wrong.
There were 20 sets of 4 Country Competition badges, plus the two standby teams and more backups in case of problems.
We didn’t know how many Kids or Classic players there would be so I did 80 numbered Kids Tournament badges and 20 or so blanks. For the Classic I catered for 100 players plus blanks. In addition I did several generic show badges which people could pick up if they just wanted a name badge but weren’t playing in any tournaments. As a final backup, I took the printer, some extra ink cartridges, a ream of paper and a pack of blank badges along to the show along with the printer driver on a USB key.
Next were the Joker Cards. I’d envisioned the card being like a large playing card and had bought four packs of 6” x 4” Kodak photo paper when I saw them on special offer earlier in the year. I took a joker playing card from one of our weekly pinball poker nights and scanned it in to use as a base.
It was OK but needed quite a lot of work to customise it for EPC use. After about half-a-day’s playing, I had some finished artwork. I sent it to the team for their thoughts - which were positive - so then it was back to my trusty Canon printer and another printing session. 180 cards later, the job was done.
When a player used their Joker Card in the tournament, it would be destroyed by tearing it in half. To make that process easier, I perforated each card across the centre using a perforating machine I’d bought for the job earlier in the year. These were then bound together with elastic bands and secured in a sealed envelope. These were potentially quite valuable commodities and we had to make sure each player received just one, so there was a space for their player number to be written in before it was handed over.
The printing was coming to a conclusion. Just the emergency scoring sheets, player cards and a few other signs remained. These would be printed on my black and white laser printer. The Canon had performed well but would it soon need to be packed away, ready for its journey to the show.
If the computer system failed for any reason, we needed a way to continue collecting scores while the problem was rectified. With over a thousand games in the EPC alone, there was no way I could print that many score sheets so I was relying on the fact that any outage wouldn’t take more than a couple of hours to fix.
I designed and printed about 300 emergency score sheets for the EPC and a few hundred for the County Competition and Classic Tournament. The Kids Tournament could be maintained on a single sheet if it came to that, since only new high scores need to be recorded.
When the games are set up, there are many things which need to be checked, adjusted and configured. Some are obvious, some less so. All of them went onto check lists which were printed out and placed on the playfield glass. Each item could then be ticked as it was completed until everything had been done and the game was tournament-ready. There was one sheet for each machine, plus backups.
To go with those were some signs to go on the finished machines telling people not to play them as they are only for use in the tournaments. Again, one per machine plus spares.
When tournament machines turn up at the venue, where do they go? To help answer that I designed some arrival sheets. When a game arrived, anyone could look it up on the sheet and see which tournament it was to be used in, and hence which area it needed to go to. These were on the loading doors, at the desk and I carried one with me so anyone could grab me and check where their machine needed to go.
I also made up and printed floor cards which marked the intended position of each machine with the owner’s name and the machine name, so the owner could wheel them in and put them in the correct place.
Although I would have liked them to be done earlier, I wrote, printed off and e-mailed summary sheets about each of the four tournaments for the desk team to read and have as a reference. These were bullet-point style facts about each event, when it started, when it ended, how many people qualified, that kind of thing. While those things were permanently imprinted in my mind, I knew not everyone would know all the important details, so these sheets were to help everyone understand and answer questions from players.
Last to be designed and printed were the EPC players’ score cards. These were really just for them to record their own scores but could also be used in case of a computer system failure. The player score cards additionally contained some brief information about the EPC and reminders not to leave their games too late.
There were about 180 of these cards printed and I used some thicker paper for these, since they could be put in pockets and taken out several times during the two days of qualifying.
I haven’t included one other printing job which was not directly for the players but more for the tournament team.
Each year I give each team member a t-shirt printed with the tournament logo on the front and back. This is so players can identify tournament team members and attract their attention to take down scores or ask them questions. Last year they were orange which (apparently) didn't suit everyone's design aspirations. It was yellow the year before which was better but showed up any dirty marks really easily. So this year it was classic black.
Once again, I had bought the black t-shirts when they were on sale in January and bought some dark t-shirt transfers when they were on clearance a couple of months later. I do like to snag a bargain, and all the money saved meant more money for the tournament prizes and trophies, so everyone wins.
The Wednesday before the tournament (t-minus 2 days) I designed the t-shirt transfers, printed them out and spent the evening ironing them onto the shirts. Yes, I certainly know how to have a fun evening. They hung up over night to reduce the creases (they’d been stuffed in a carrier bag for the best part of 6 months, don’t forget) before being folded up the next day and put in a box to take to the show.
The day before the tournaments began I had some different work to do for the show. I was taking six machines and none of them had been touched since the UK Pinball League meeting I'd hosted in January. I needed to do some serious maintenance, especially since some of them would be in the EPC and there was a van turning up after lunch to take all six away. By that time they had to be fully working, dismantled and covered in protective bubble wrap for the journey.
All the games were in my garage, so on a bright, sunny morning I cleared everything out of the garage, dumped it in the garden and got to work on the pins. Five minutes later the heavens opened and it was chucking it down with rain. Ten minutes later it was bright sunshine again. An hour later the rain returned and so it continued all day.
David arrived with the van mid afternoon and we loaded the pins in. Then, in went loads of other boxes with assorted show equipment, three tables, the t-shirts and a mini-fridge for the cold drinks. The rest – all the printed materials, additional computers, tool kits, spares and the printer would go in my car the next day. I still had quite a few of the final printing jobs listed above to complete that evening.
It actually turned out that I was still printing stuff out at 1:30am Friday morning and Richard was arriving in 6 hours so we could leave for the show at 8am. I hadn’t packed any clothes or toiletries yet. Sleep would be minimal that night, it seemed. But what the heck, we're only going to do this once.
And so it was, that after more than a year of planning for the EPC, I was still hunched over my PC into the early hours on the night before, printing out the last few signs and answering my final e-mails before the show.
When Richard arrived a few hours later, the car was loaded and by 7:30am were were on the road, heading towards Northampton. If anything had been forgotten, it was too late now.
Did I forget anything? Yes, of course. Some signs to put up during the day telling show visitors the machines were only for tournament players would have come in useful. I also forgot to bring my video camera tripod but could fortunately borrow one for the finals on Sunday.
Apart from that, everything went mostly to plan. You can read about what happened in the UK Pinball Show 2009 report, but that’s my story of how the EPC came to happen.