Play games to save puppies at North Austin's Pinballz arcade this weekend
You might not have realized North Austin has one of the coolest arcades in the country. Pinballz houses over three hundred pinball machines, ticket redemption and video games and they have over three hundred more machines in storage they rotate in and out. If that wasn’t enough, they’re BYOB (until they get their liquor license). If you haven’t gone to this amazing palace of geekdom, here’s your chance. Sunday is their special one-year anniversary party, and the party starts at 2 p.m.
Sunday isn’t just an anniversary celebration. It will be a “Transform an Animal’s Life” benefit for the Austin Humane Society. The new Transformers pinball game will be unveiled and they’re will be a tournament (just $5 to enter) to benefit the Austin Human Society. There will also be adorable pets to adopt on site! Feel free to bring pet food, blankets or clothes to donate as well.
I sat down with Pinballz owner Darren Spohn recently to talk about his arcade, his favorite games and the future or arcade culture.
What inspired you to open Pinballz?
I started a pinball collection and thought it would be nice to start a route, to get them out on locations and get my sons in the business; they are 13 and 15 years old and it would teach them how to work hard for their money. That turned into, “Hey let’s start an arcade at 5,000 square feet.” Then my wife Mikki said, “Hey let’s have a café.” That turned into what’s downstairs, a 13,000-square foot arcade with a café.
What are the most popular games at Pinballz?
For the pinball machines, it’s the mid-90s type games. That’s the prime age of pinball: Medieval Madness, Creature From the Black Lagoon, games like that. You’ll see those at the entrance when you come in. And then the other games people like are the shooter games. People play a lot of air hockey. The kids like the ticket redemption.
What are your personal favorite games?
I like the pins, I like the older style like Star Trek and Mata Hari. But I like a lot of the new ones like Tron. I’ve gotten into the speed on that game. I think it is more challenging the faster it is. Some of the newer pins, they don’t trap the ball. If you look at the mid-90s games, some have ball locks and you’ll have pauses in the game. Now some of the newer machines don’t have pauses in the game and it keeps the ball in play. That’s much more challenging to someone today.
Has any game ended up being or more or less popular than you thought it would?
Yeah, some of the higher-end shooters like Target Terror we thought would do better and doesn’t. Some of the older pinball machines, like Pinbot, do really well. I think it maybe has to do with our grouping because we try to group by theme or by class and once we do that some of the older pins that wouldn’t get as much play get play. But I am surprised. There’s one machine Bride of Pinbot, an early nineties one, that gets almost as much play as the top machines. It has lady and she transforms and she talks to you during the pinball game. It’s really cool game, but it’s an older game. People just like it.
I’ve seen double, triple, quadruple balls going at once. What are the most you have seen going in a game?
You can get multiple balls anywhere from two to thirteen. Apollo 13 has a thirteen-ball mode. It’s actually broken most of the time. You wonder why? There are thirteen metal balls running around a playing field of wood and plastic.
What do you think the future is for arcades across the country?
It’s really hard to have a small arcade and make money because it costs too much to maintain them. You have to have a good enough mix of games for people to enjoy themselves. I think there will always be a call for Dave and Busters and Main Event because they’re corporate, they’re large scale. But I think there is also a market for what we are doing, which is more a community based, eclectic, cool place to come. We are just trying to give a different experience. If people give that different experience with enough critical mass games, they’ll do okay. Even malls are doomed. It’s at the point you cannot just set up something in a mall and be successful because we’re going to the European model of everything in one superstore. Arcades will struggle, but I hope they don’t.
Pinballz has a lot to offer. There are leagues that meet once a week you can join, or you can become a member and get special deals including double token days. They also have a party room you can rent out and bring alcohol to (for a corking fee). Check out everything this Sunday—is there really anything better than petting some pups and playing skee ball?