Date: July 9th & 10th, 2011
Report by: Jonny O
California Extreme is the Disneyland of West Coast shows. It’s a twisting, churning, writhing of sounds, electronics and mechanical joys.
Hundreds of examples of classic, cutting-edge, and can’t-be-seen-anywhere-else ultra-rare specimens snake their way through a dimly lit giant arcade, reminiscent of the Golden Age, but somehow the experience surpasses any nostalgic memory. It’s arcade nirvana in the purest form and it maxes out the senses. The short July weekend during which it’s held simply doesn’t permit the possibility of experiencing all it offers in one go.
In short, it makes the grade.
It really doesn’t matter if your fix is video games or pinball because there are both, and in overwhelming quantities, eras, styles and configurations. It’s a truly awesome spectacle. Whether you’re a local or from out of state, this is an event you will regret missing.
Tron, the latest from STERN pinball, was showcased with an overhead screen, posters and a monster speaker set-up pumping out the high-tech Daft Punk audio and sound effects.
Tron proved a fan favorite. Even during Friday’s set-up when I should have been getting games ready, there was always a line to play and I couldn’t help but give it try or three. Marco held daily high score tournaments and had lots of cool, geeky things to hand out, including telescoping flashlights, laser pointers and other goodies.
In a generous move, Marco Specialties offered the Tron to the Pacific Pinball Museum.
California Extreme is a players’ show. There are vendors and parts, just like any other show, but it wants to be played so badly. It seemed as soon as I started a conversation with an enthusiast, my eye would start to wander to the latest amazing game or distraction, and we’d be off playing a new game neither of us had ever seen.
Playland-not-at-the-Beach and others brought a fair number of pre-flipper games.
Try not to get too overwhelmed, though. You might walk right past this one, and that would be a mistake.
Only nine of them were ever made: this one is from TJ Beyer’s collection. TJ is a one of the show organizers and also an operator in the Bay Area, maintaining some of the best location games. If you need a game, TJ can make it happen and keep the players happy with solid maintenance.
Kingpin shows a level of raw-ness in its design but is an addictive player. The score display is sparse, yet it has excellent flow and art, and all the mode animations are fully fleshed with some humor mixed in.
It’s vaguely reminiscent of Whodunit in theme but not at all in play. The sudden death mode at the end of the game, where the flippers gradually weaken, is truly unique and makes for some great showdowns and surprises in multiplayer games.
Only 14 of these exist. With a fun 'alien bar' theme it’s a solid player and the unique Capcom feel sets it apart.
Why put these two ultra-rare games out on a show floor for the general public’s use and abuse? Because the owners of these pinball holy grails would rather see them played and enjoyed as opposed to sitting quietly under a tarp.
Hundreds of video games adorned the floor, from the very firsts such as Computer Space, to the exotics, rare, Japanese Imports, one-offs, and the latest games.
With California Extreme running long hours, these sit-down opportunities provided a nice rest during all the pinball action.
Chris and his brother Andy also lend their skills to Pin-a-Go-Go and the Pacific Pinball Exposition. If Chris can’t fix it, it probably can’t be fixed.
Here he is going toe-to-toe in the Panic Park Tournament where he defeated several contenders. As seen above, the organizers decided to add even more 'panic to the park' by shaking boxes full of tokens and other random distractions to try to shake the players off their game.
The crowd loved it and went wild! The play was so physical that entrants had to sign a waiver to participate. Several challengers I spoke with showed me their extensive bruises and battle scars, though all agreed it was a blast.
Adam authored the software that was used in the tournament and was a key contributor to making sure the tournament ran smoothly.
Randy (Hank) Elwin brought his Tourney Cam set-up so spectators could see all the action.
Corey battled his way through dozens of other competitors with solid and controlled play to earn the win. It was Corey’s first win in a big forum and he was truly ecstatic. I know that feeling all too well, since I won Novice the year before. It’s electric. Your first big win is surely the best.
Given Keith’s remarkably consistent track record of multiple wins at PAPA and Pinburgh, as well as his latest California Extreme finish, it is fair to say Keith Elwin is the Michael Jordon of pinball, and whether such a talent or track record will ever be equaled seems unlikely.
California Extreme was a fantastic show and a true tribute to arcade culture all across the board. It was an overwhelming achievement due to the organizers and volunteers. TJ, Mark, Bowen, Michelle, Mark, the dozens of volunteers, and all the others bringing games. The hat is off.
Though there are some die-hard pinball evangelists and likewise video-gamers, California Extreme is a show where they all seem to come together under one amazing roof and it just works. For me, it’s not about one or the other.
It’s the once-a-year, don’t miss it, ultimate tribute to the arcade.
© Pinball News 2011