In an era before home video games zombified a generation, the arcade was the place to be.
John Kremmer was about 14 when he started frequenting the one near his home in Surrey in the late 1970s. He tested a variety of games, but the one to which he was most drawn – and for which he had a natural ability – was the pinball machine.
He liked the challenge and unpredictability of the game; the fact that it was based on skill, rather than pattern and memorization.
Kremmer became so adept at maneuvering the metal balls where he wanted them to go that he would rack up one free game after another. People would gather to watch.
He made pocket money by selling his bonus rounds at, say, $1 for 10 – a steal, considering games were otherwise 25 cents a play.
A new arcade opened in the area in 1980, and the owner hosted a contest to find the top player, over a one-month period, on a new machine known as the Black Knight.
Kremmer, then 16, topped the machine’s maximum points – known as “rolling the score” – on the first morning. Nobody even came close to beating him all month, and he recorded his first tournament win.
In his 20s, Kremmer became busy with other things, including marriage and the birth of his three daughters. There was no time for pinball, and about two decades passed with him rarely playing a game.
That changed five years ago, when Kremmer, who had moved to Abbotsford many years ago, read online that the World Pinball Championships would be taking place in Pittsburgh on the same weekend he was due to fly back from there following a business trip.
His family was joining him on the trip, and they agreed to extend their journey so that Kremmer could join the tournament.
Despite no preparation, he qualified for the finals and finished eighth overall in his division. He’s never stopped.
Kremmer, 49, a graphic designer with Mennonite Central Committee in Abbotsford, is now ranked among the top 50 players in the world and third in Canada.
He competes regularly at championships across the U.S. and Canada, often bringing home trophies and prizes.
Much to the frustration of his fellow competitors, he spends only about two hours a week practising his skills year-round, and about one hour daily in the two or three days leading up to tournament.
“I have a life,” he laughs. “I enjoy playing, but I don’t take it as seriously as some of the other players.”
His garage is filled with about a dozen machines, some borrowed and some owned by him. Among the collection is his favourite – the Black Knight, in tribute to the one on which he earned his first tournament win.
Kremmer is a member of the Flipper Freaks Fraser Valley Pinball Club, which hosts its second annual Fraser Valley FlipOut, an open tournament, from Sept. 27-29 at Castle Fun Park at 36165 North Parallel Rd.
Each player will be required to play 10 different machines at least once, with points given based on their best score on each machine compared to the other competitors.
The top 16 advance to the semi-finals, ending in a four-player showdown on Sunday.
Registration and more information is available online at FVFlipOut.com. More than $15,000 in prizes and cash, including a new pinball machine, will be awarded.