California Extreme 2014

California Extreme: The 18th Annual Arcade & Pinball Show was held from July 12-13, 2014 at the Hyatt Regency in Santa Clara, CA. This is a show where collectors who own classic arcade cabinets and pinball machines bring out their wares for the public to play firsthand, giving a new generation of gamers the opportunity to experience very old titles like Space War or Computer Space. It’s an excellent value with all of the machines set to free play, and the cost of entry only $30-40 a day for one adult. The Saturday show ran from 11am until 2am the next morning, so any gamer with the stamina could play for 15 hours (more if s/he paid for early entry.)


The last time I attended California Extreme was about a decade ago, and what I remember most vividly about that experience (aside from the fact that someone had to sleep on the hotel room radiator) was that I played a lot of Slick Shot, and that it wasn’t nearly as crowded as I was expecting. There was space to roam around, and a lot of the machines I wanted to play were open.

This year was completely different – the crowd had grown exponentially, there were a lot more kids, and jumping on a machine you wanted was a matter of luck and timing. Playing Slick Shot was much more awkward because you had to swing around a full-sized cue stick in a packed space. There were also a lot of kids running around holding stools so they could reach high enough to operate the controls on the upright arcade cabinets. That was adorable. What was not so adorable was that some of them were also hogging the machines. Some of us want to play Tapper, too, kid!

My memories of how to play some of these games was quite rusty. One of the few that I remembered playing as a kid was BurgerTime. For some reason, now I was under the impression I had to kill and trap the roaming enemies inside the hamburgers, instead of just building the hamburgers with the already laid out ingredients like a normal person. I also played a bit of Paperboy, and had to reeducate myself that in the arcade universe, riding a bicycle over a sewer grate means instant death.

One of the newest games on the floor (and possibly one of the most valuable) was a Fix-It Felix, Jr. cabinet that was modeled after the fictional game featured in the Disney movie Wreck-It Ralph. Disney created a few of these arcade cabinets as promotional items, and gave them a scuffed-up look so they’d seem like authentic machines from the 1980s.

The first time I waited in line for a chance to play it, there was one person in front of me so I figured I wouldn’t have to wait that long for my turn. Instead, she proceeded to destroy the game, level after level, like she’d been playing it for years. 

When I came back and tried it out myself, it was much harder than it looked. Anyone who wants a chance to play the game can check out the online version, which has a much easier default setting. If you want to own the arcade cabinet, it will cost you about 20K (although the one at the show was quite clearly labeled as “NOT FOR SALE.”)


While wandering the floor in search of open games, I saw a sign for something called the Digital Game Museum. They had Puppy Pong set up behind them, a game I had only seen previously during GDC as part of a Videogame History Museum display. Intrigued, I stopped by to introduce myself. The DGM is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of digital games, and they are local to the Bay Area (Santa Clara). I told them about Stanford’s recent work with UCSC on GAMECIP, an IMLS-funded project to create videogame metadata standards and controlled vocabularies for libraries, archives, and museums. This is something they were interested in as well – so far the available standards at places like the Library of Congress or the Getty are woefully inadequate to deal with videogames.

Now that I am an old person I like to sit down at least once every 10 hours, so we headed to the Console Games room. This room was located in a tiny room that seemed like it was several miles away from the main floor.

It featured cushioned chairs, Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis games, and a small sales area. I played Sonic the Hedgehog for the first time in years, and only passed the first three levels before dying (sad considering how many times I beat this game during my wasted youth.) There was an Atari E.T. cartridge for sale that was prominently labeled as “Not from the landfill” as well as a container filled with Genesis controllers for $5.00. Those poor Genesis controllers…I almost bought one just because I felt sorry for it. Damn you, Toy Story, for making me anthropomorphize inanimate objects!


The rest of the show was a bit of a blur, and we all tapped out at dinner time. I only took a few other pictures (which are shown below) of diminishing quality. I apologize profusely to pinball enthusiasts everywhere for my clear arcade machine bias in this post.