Yes. All the games. I can honestly say that Arcade Expo 3.0 is unlike any other convention I’ve ever been to. Yes, I’ve been to E3 Expo and a few other shows like it over the past decade, but Arcade Expo 3.0 was something else entirely, held especially for longtime fans of arcade gaming for more than 30 years. Held in a non-descript building in the desert somewhere between Los Angeles and Palm Springs (Banning, CA, to be exact), you’ll find the Museum of Pinball. But don’t let the name fool you. It’s not just about pinball (though what it has is SO good!). Normally not open to the public except for special events like this and private party rentals, the Arcade Expo opens its doors to gamers of every type, young and old. But if your gaming heart is firmly entrenched the 70s and 80s Golden Age of arcade gaming, there is no better place in the world for you to be.
One room is just hundreds of wall-to-wall vintage to modern pinball machines. Some, like the massive Hercules table, with giant flippers and a ball the size of a softball, are only one of a few dozen still in existence. And while the room is always busy with people, there’s always a machine ready to play with the press of a button. (Yes, Arcade Expo charges a flat entrance fee for the day or the weekend to enjoy all of its pinball and video games without limitations – just don’t hog one game for yourself all day.) Mixed in with brand new machines and classics you probably haven’t seen outside of a pizza place in 1982, you’ll find an array of pinball-like games that have to be seen to be believed. There were even pinball games inside of what looked like a video game (Google “Varkon”).
Of course, over in the other room, hundreds of video games are lined up row after row, some from the earliest days of arcades, like Pong and Space Invaders, to 90s era racers and shooters. For the first time in my life, I was able to finish Jurassic Park III because the need to pump in another dollar’s worth of quarters every time I got devoured by raptors was no longer an issue. (And for the record, I killed it on Lock ‘N Chase and Super Pac-Man on what would have been one quarter each. I dare anyone to challenge my high scores!)
Over the course of the weekend, I moved between the rooms, hunched over pinball machines from more than 5 decades and wearing callouses into my joystick hand from playing video arcade games for hours on end nonstop. Of course, when it was time to take a break from the gaming and give my feet a rest, there were plenty of food and drink vendors ready to fill my belly between the Back to the Future style Delorean on display, the live band stage, and the merchandise tents scattered outside the building. Of course, before I left, I had to grab a souvenir t-shirt to commemorate my time there, so that I didn’t leave with just exhausted feet, sore arms, and the memory of playing games that I loved to play in my local arcades as a kid more than 30 years ago.
Here’s just a glimpse of what Banning, California’s Museum of Pinball offered up to gaming fans from March 17th to the 19th. Here’s hoping they already have Arcade Expo 4.0 or even 3.5 in the works in the near future.