Pinball Madness 2019 at the Museum of Pinball

By TJGilbert21

October 25, 2019

26 days ago

Banning, California. Most lifelong California residents would probably scratch their heads upon hearing the name of the place, and those that do know where it is would probably balk at the thought of traveling there.

But last Saturday, October 19, I was thrilled to be driving out by myself to this scarcely known desert community in my little Chevy Spark. It was the second and longest day of the Museum of Pinball's Pinball Madness event. Over 500 pinball machines, both old and new, popular and rare alike, all on free play from 11:00 in the morning, until 1:00am at night. A veritable dream come true for any pinball fan.

Despite suggestions that I should invite cousins, siblings, or friends to join me, I obstinately decided this would be a me day. I didn't want the burden of making sure a friend was enjoying him or herself, and I cringed at the thought that they would want to leave before I was ready. I was prepared to tuck in to a full, unbridled, unadulterated day at this pinball smorgasbord, and that's exactly what I did. Nearly 12 full hours from 11:00am to 11:00pm, I literally played until my tired brain could no longer keep up with my eager heart, and I couldn't score a single point more! And I loved every minute of it.

Needless to say though it may be, Pinball Madness ended up being just as good as it sounds. Literally hundreds of pinball machines, many of which I was seeing with my own eyes for the first time in my life. Favorites, which I have played digitally on FarSight's Pinball Arcade for years—Swords of Fury, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Funhouse, Dr. Dude, Centaur, to name a few—and some more uncommon tables—Orbitor 1, Big Bang Bar, Spirit, City Slicker, Voltan Escapes Cosmic Doom—all available in perfect working order for everyone to try. It was truly a feast for the senses: magnificent artwork gleaming from backboxes and playfields wherever you looked, brilliant lights in every color illuminating from even the darkest corners of the room, bells and chimes and music all chorusing into one great pinball cacophony.

Before visiting the Museum of Pinball, I'd been to the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas, and even worked at Pinballz in Austin, Texas. But nothing in my experience could ever compare to the Museum of Pinball's stunning collection. If I had the means, and it wasn't a four-hour drive from where I live, I would probably visit the Museum every week, but, sadly, they only open their doors 2-3 times a year. On one hand, it's regrettable that this mega collection can't be enjoyed more often, but on the other, it's probably a good thing so the tables can be preserved in their virtually immaculate condition.

Based on my experience, I highly recommend all pinball fans to visit this incredible collection. It was absolutely worth the $60 ticket, although the place was not without its flaws. For starters, while the square-footage of the building is just tremendous, I was sorry that half the space is dedicated to classic arcade games. While this was undeniably just as impressive as the pinball collection, I feel like the Museum could've made better use of the space by spreading the pins out more. (I am not much of a classic video game guy.) Because there was so very little room between each of the pinball tables, the sound from neighboring machines (often with higher volume settings) made it impossible to hear the games I was trying to play. This is also simply an organizational problem, whereby the most popular games (i.e. Medieval Madness, Attack from Mars, Indian Jones, all of the modern Stern tables, etc.) were placed in a huge clique at the end of each of the rows. By doing this, those machines with the most impressive production quality sound-wise were drowning each other out, rendering it impossible to enjoy their entertaining audio work and excellent soundtracks. This could have been remedied by simply reorganizing the floor so the more popular games were farther apart from one another. I do realize the tables may have been arranged in some kind of chronological order, but perhaps they could've been set up somehow differently.

The last two aspects of the Museum I was sorry about were the facts that it seemed as though the Museum hadn't reset the high scores before the event so that event-goers could enjoy setting the scores themselves (because previous scores were simply too high), and that some of the tables—including some I really wanted to play—were reserved for tournament participants only all day long. I understand that it's almost a sacrilege to reset high scores, especially some that I'm sure were set by past legends, but the result of being unable to achieve a high score or two of one's own was that even though all of the tables were on free play, there wasn't really a sense of accomplishment to any of the playing I did, and because of this lack of motivation, I certainly wasn't playing to the best of my abilities at any one table. In this sense, the place really did feel like a "museum"—a cool, interactive one nonetheless, but still just an opportunity to study the tables and experience them in action. You may be rolling your eyes and blaming my inability to achieve a high score on the fact that I'm maybe not a great pinball player, but I am confident that I am perfectly skilled enough to set a high score from time to time. And with 12 whole hours of dedicated pinball play, and some pretty impressive runs, I think I should have done really well on at least a couple of the tables I played. I wonder, if anyone else was there, how did you do? Did you manage to leave any high scores behind last weekend.

These few petty gripes I had are not enough, however, to keep me away from the Museum of Pinball in the future. I assure you I will be back to participate in the next big event, whenever it may be, and I will be looking forward to enjoying the tables I didn't even get to try out last weekend. If you went, or have gone in the past, please let me know your thoughts in comments below. I'm really interested to hear what other people thought of the place!

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22 days ago
Went there myself for the first time. Needless to say, I won’t be missing any future events there. I never even walked into the coin op hall. And so many machines I didn’t play because I was stuck in about 15-20 of them that I kept playing over and over.
20 days ago
I went on Sunday with a friend/enthusiast and still reeling over all the machines they had there. I can't wait to go back. Thankfully it's only a two-hour drive from me, so a little better than yours. I thought about either getting a hotel room or just driving back and forth every day so I could take advantage of the three-day $125 special, but decided one day would be enough. I was wrong. I plan on posting my experience here too.
18 days ago
I’ve been there a half dozen times or so and it never gets old. I go back every chance I get. The supply of machines to play seems endless, and it’s a great place to go to get time on all the machines you might like to add to your collection, or find new ones.

Like you I pretty much ignored the video room for most of my visits, but I’ll have to admit I spent some time in there on my last visit and it was kind of fun to revisit a lot of those old classics. But the pinball is the best, simply an amazing place.
17 days ago
Had heard of it but didn't realise the extent of "The Madness". Will have to plan a vaycay around one of their events, especially when my kid gets a year or 2 older (he's just 5 now). Great story!
14 days ago
Did anyone get to play the Alien pinball? I heard it was there last year. Not sure if it is still there. I am planning on going Jan 10 and 11th. Thank you.
14 days ago
This is awesome. I am one of lead techs at the MOP, and love hearing stories about the place. I myself started as an attendee 5 years ago. It's so much fun seeing the direction its taking. One of the biggest hurdles is space. We are out of it. The owner John actually has plans for the future, but they are a tight kept secret. And John is it, its one mans collection and building. I can almost tell you with 100% positivity he is losing money with the place. But that is where the beauty lies, he does it because he loves it. We have 30+ dedicated tech volunteers that also give 20+ days a year repairing machines. The manpower is impressive, and its all volunteer based. We all love it. I personally have formed countless friendships around the MOP.

The high score reset idea is brilliant. It would be a ton of work, which might detract from repairing before and event. I suggest grabing a "red shirt" tech at na event and asking them to reset the game for you.

The Alien pinball was down for part of the weekend, its part of the collection so its staying.

Sundays are the best days to go as far as getting as much time on machines as possible. The attendance is the lowest, but the chances of you favorite game being "down" are higher.

Our next event is INDISC in January, the crowd is smaller but way more competitive. And the Arcade side is converted into the tournament area. Its now my favorite of all 3 events the MOP holds. INDISC in jan, Expo in March and Madness in Oct.

Any one that wants a behind the scenes tour let me know, I would love to share my experience and knowledge with ya.
12 days ago
Thanks for the article! This is a great event in an amazing place... like a mirage in the dessert, an unbelievable place that you would never think existed. I had a great time fixing a few games and hanging out with friends. Even the food was great! A-plus...
8 days ago
I love the place. Sadly, I've had to miss the last two events due to other commitments (and it's a three hour drive each way for me, so I usually just attend the Sundays of each event) but am pretty sure I'll be there for INDiSC too-- it's also my favorite of the three events since it's a little less crazy there (plus the weather is nicer... first time I did Arcade Expo it was getting downright toasty in there with so many people, all the machines on, and even with as many doors as possible propped open for fresh air).
The collection is great, and I spent probably half of the first two days I was there exclusively playing games I'd never encountered or hadn't seen in 20+ years. And I appreciate the work put into keeping the games going (glares at Blackwater 100...) and tuning them up in-between events as well-- honestly wish I lived closer as I'd love to volunteer there.
6 days ago
Great story. I'm glad u made it

The museum is the happiest place on earth. It truly is
6 days ago
Thank you for the honest review of the Museum of Pinball. We are OUT OF ROOM, honestly, we have a difficult time giving all 565 pinball machines their equal space, etc. The additional 545 video games also deserve respectful space in the remaining portion of the 40,000 sqft facility. We, the volunteers of MOP, are constantly upgrading and changing things as we get suggestions and more machines. Needless to say we have another 400 machines in storage we working on restroing and adding to the collection.

We're open THREE times a year to the public. January (INDISC Pinball Festival and major tournament), March for Arcade Expo and October for Pinball Madness. We too wish to someday be often more often but please understand the demand charge for just turning the machines on would more then 3 or 4 times year can not feasibly make sense.

Thanks again and hope to see you in the future.

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