In a world where everything old becomes new again, a resurgence of pinball was bound to happen.
About 2010, after the economy took a beating, Dan Nikolich noticed the rise of his favorite games. Nikolich grew up in Las Vegas, where he spent his high school years fixing pinball and arcade games at the MGM Grand. He’s a longtime lover of flipping pedals and aiming pinballs at little holes on a board.
After getting married, he decided to buy a pinball machine for his bedroom so friends could play when they visited. The game was called “Fire!” and themed after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Six months later, he decided to start a pinball show.
The 16th annual Rocky Mountain Pinball Showdown and Gameroom Expo is Saturday through Monday at Denver Marriott Tech Center.
“We live in a digital world. Pinball is analog, hands-on. It’s got a whole new following: older folks and younger people who never experienced it in the first place,” Nikolich said. “Now the rise is arcades. They’re popping up all over. Pinball is super social. There’s leagues, tournaments and places to play all over the country.”
Between 3,200 and 3,500 game-playing junkies hit up the event every year. No quarters needed. Attendees pay one admission to play unlimited games on about 300 pinball, arcade and retro console games, including machines from the 1930s, when commercial pinball got its start, and brand-new prototypes, such as a Willy Wonka pinball game that hasn’t been released.
The weekend also features tournaments for women, kids and split flippers, a haunted pinball tournament, virtual reality, workshops, seminars and industry insiders and celebrity guests, including designers, programmers and artists.
Arcade games haven’t experienced boom times like pinball, mostly because they can be replicated on a console, TV or through home gaming. They also don’t have the physicality that pinball can provide, with players hunched over the table, fingers glued to the buttons that kick the flippers. About 10 to 12 games are created every year compared with 10 years ago, when about two were built annually.
“Some of it is the nostalgia. We see people from all walks of life coming to the festival,” Nikolich said. “It’s the real world. You can touch and feel it. It’s mechanical, and it’s the lights and sound, and it’s a world under glass that you’re watching and manipulating versus a virtual world.”
JENNIFER MULSON, THE GAZETTE, 636-0270, JEN.MULSON@GAZETTE.COM