Date: 25th - 27th March, 2011
Additional pictures by Ken Kemp
Back for its fifth year at the Hilton hotel in Grapevine, the Texas Pinball Festival returned for its 10th anniversary with the promise of around 200 machines, numerous competitive events, plenty of vendors and an exciting selection of guest speakers in its seminars.
The Hilton is a huge, business-orientated hotel complex with 393 rooms, 26 functions rooms and 3 amphitheatres. The pinball show was held, as usual in the Texas Grande Ballroom on the lower level.
Set up began on Thursday and although the show didn't open until 5pm on Friday, three tournaments began their first rounds at 10am, so this area was made ready first with work finally concluding in the early hours of Friday morning.
There were two 'classic' games on the left hand end of the row - North Star and Genie - while next to them were three Iron Man machines - one of them a custom machine from Kimball's Pinball's with color-changing LEDs in the backbox, Pinball Life LEDs on the playfield, color-changing LEDs on the bottom of the cabinet, custom red and gold powder-coated trim, and a color-changing Iron Man mask topper. On the right side were four brand new The Rolling Stones machines.
The North Star was used for the Electro-Mechanical Pinball Tournament, the Genie was the game for the Classic Pinball Tournament, the three Iron Man games were for the Modern Pinball Tournament while the four The Rolling Stones were used for the Texas State Pinball Championship and the Kids Bump-N-Win Tournament.
More on the tournaments later, but when the show opened at 5pm on Friday there were 175 machines in the public play area, the 10 tournament machines, the Lethal Weapon 3 for the winner of the Kids Tournament and a Monopoly machine which was the main raffle prize.
The main bulk of machines were in the central area of the hall with vendors interspersed and located around the outer walls.
Here is a list of the machines on the main show floor:
Plus there were the nine tournament machines...
...and the two prize games to make a total of 188 pinball machines on the show floor on Friday evening.
But pinball wasn't the only type of game to play. If you like your video games too, there were two dozen of those to keep you busy.
Here's the list of video games:
In addition, a selection of early flipperless pinballs, amusement games and trade stimulators were available to play at the front desk.
And if those weren't enough, there were also several pitch & bat and bowlers sprinkled around the show:
Machines and tournaments are two of the elements of a modern pinball show. Another is the selection of vendors selling everything from individual LEDs to whole machines.
Marco Specialties were promoting their range of Pinscore displays and controller boards on their stand.
Their range of LED displays now includes red, green and blue versions of their 6-digit Bally/Stern modules.
LED lighting seemed to be appearing on more and more machines - some looked impressive and dramatic while others seemed out of place, poorly illuminated or overly flickery.
But if it's LEDs you were after, CoinTaker were just around the corner with their full range, starting at just 50c each.
They also had a couple of demonstration machines fully kitted-out with LEDs to show what was possible.
The Xenon from Doc's Pinball also had custom side art which was a great improvement over the original.
Opposite CoinTaker was the Illinois Pinball stand.
Gene Cunningham had his usual large selection of parts, plastics and playfields.
Over on the other side of the hall, Rob Anthony and Tony Clarke were side-by-side. Rob was selling assorted parts and performing board repairs, while Tony's Great Lakes Modular was selling its range of replacement boards and game enhancements.
There was no shortage of assorted parts at Chris Munroe's stand either, where boxes, bins and buckets contained any manner of coils, switches, springs, plastics or other miscellaneous pinball hardware.
Chris Munroe's stand also had a large selection of around 160 pinball manuals on display as well as assorted parts and machines.
LEDs were back at Wizard Enterprises where illuminated backglasses in scorched walnut frames were on sale for $300 and $400.
At the other end of their stand, plug-in pinball nightlights in the shape of bumper caps were a mere $20.
Adjacent to Wizard Enterprises, Pinballz Arcade were spreading the word about their new venture in Austin. Look out for a full report from Pinballz Arcade here soon on Pinball News.
The first of the show's competitive events took place on Friday evening - the Draw Your Partner Pinball Tournament. Participation cost $5 per player and the winners collected trophies. Those winners were Adam Lefkoff & Andy Choate.
In second place were Ken Kemp & Alex Updike while Don Brownback & Mark Gunter were in third place.
In the unlikely event you couldn't find the parts or machines you wanted inside the hall, Saturday morning brought the flea market to the parking area in front of the Hilton.
In contrast to last year when rain and snow reduced the number of vendors to a bare minimum, this year brought bright, sunny weather and the numbers of vendors and buyers increased accordingly.
Cars, vans and trucks were unloaded onto the tarmac, as project machines, pinball legs, assorted boards and random coin-op items were put up for sale.
The flea market started at 8am and continued until around midday, although the numbers thinned around 11am when the first of this year's five seminars began in one of the second floor banquet rooms.
Steve said he'd like to talk about his next game but it wasn't time yet. He said he's got a great licence which he's really excited about and has been working at his CAD station and really enjoying himself.
Steve then took a series of questions from the audience, before speaking about his working relationship with Gary Stern. Steve said they'd had their differences but had buried the hatchet because they both want to make pinball as successful as possible.
However, he said he's going to fight just as hard as he always has to keep good things in his games. He also said he thinks we'll see a change on what's gone on recently (i.e. simpler game designs).
Alan then showed the audience how to perform each of these steps with some examples of his work.
He said although the colours produced by an inkjet printer onto a decal won't always look the same as the silk screened original, any colour mismatches will be much less noticeable than missing artwork.
Note: Because Alan's seminar required visual demonstrations of his techniques, we have not included an audio recording of it here.
He continued by saying they had survived the downturn by downsizing (or 'rightsizing' as he called it at the time) and they are now in a position to start growing again, as shown by the return of Steve Ritchie and Lyman Sheats. He said the company was chiefly a manufacturer and they were going to be building more and better games.
Gary went on to talk about the different market segments and the three different types of games they will be making to sell to those segments.
He said they generally order parts for, and build, 250 machines at a time, building further batches of 250 machines as demand calls for them. Gary said they used to automatically make 1,000 of each model, but that's a lot of games in this market.
Moving on to cabinet artwork, Rick said the work done in Australia to produce printed decals which looked like silk-screened artwork had yielded good results.
This was part of the intellectual property PPS bought and was now using to produce their cabinet decals for games such as Twilight Zone, No Fear, Star Trek - The Next Generation, Cactus Canyon and Safecracker. Rick passed-round an example of a Bride of Pinbot decal he had recently produced using this 'next generation' printing technology.
The next product Rick spoke about was Williams/Bally bumper caps, which were now being produced using a hot-stamp method.
Responding to a question about making bumper caps for Classic Stern games, Rick said as long as he could get the rights to produce them, he'd be happy to make any parts for any games. Gary Stern, who was in the audience, said his ex-wife owned the rights to the classic Stern games but he would ask her about them.
Rick said 2011 was a big year for playfields. He said he'd just called Classic Playfield Reproductions and asked them to produce twice the amount of playfields, plastics and backglasses they had been making up to now. He explained PPS had five different playfield manufacturers lined-up to make playfields for them while yet another manufacturer was making High Speed - The Getaway. The wood was already cut and routed. They just had to be printed, so they should be available in the next month or two.
Rick then moved on to translites, pretty much any of which Rick said he could now print (licence permitting). He passed round a new Twilight Zone translite he had just produced so the audience could examine it for themselves while he explained the processes used to check the colours and then print them.
In addition, some glasses were also being produced by CPR and others, including real backglasses for some EM games such as Big Ben.
Rick also spoke about drop targets, playfield plastics, EPROMs, product quality, spinner/target/apron decals, molded parts and all the common metal parts.
Then Rick showed some videos of playfield and bumper cap production while John Greatwich narrated a video of CPR's laser cutter in action.
Jack began by explaining his role, not only as head of Jersey Jack Pinball, but also as head of Elaut USA which operates several thousand coin-op machines in locations across the country, including many major theme parks. He said he is not only heading up a pinball manufacturer but is also a pinball player and an operator of those same machines.
The day of his seminar was also the launch date for the new Jersey Jack Pinball (JJP) website, which Jack showed to the audience.
Jack revealed that nearly 400 people had pre-ordered The Wizard of Oz without even seeing a picture of the game. He said he wants to give his customer what he wants - a full-featured mechanical game with lots of toys, which is fun to play.
Jack then spoke about the team working at JJP and described how Dennis Norman told him he needed to hire Chris Granner to create the music and sounds in the game. Jack then played a clip of music Chris had created which will play at the start of the game while the ball is in the shooter lane.
While admitting that so far he hasn't built anything, with development of The Wizard of Oz underway, Jack spelled out some of the details of the game's creation so far.
He said approved cabinet artwork from Jerry Vanderstelt should be available in the summer. Jerry is being paid $42,000 to create seven different pieces of cabinet art for the two sides of the cabinet, the two backbox sides, the cabinet front, the backglass surrounding the 26-inch LCD monitor in the backbox and the main monitor artwork itself.
A 35,000 square feet building in New Jersey has been rented in which the games will be built. Before the summer, Jack said they'd be building prototype cabinets with Jerry's early artwork and testing whitewood games, with the hope of having a test game available at Pinball Expo in October.
Jack then spoke about his personal and professional relationship with Gary Stern, saying they remained friends and it isn't his intention to put Stern Pinball out of business.
Talking about the profitability of pinball, Jack said pinball - like video games - makes next to nothing these days. The public don't want to play these games and operators only have them as a necessary evil - to placate the location owners. His job, he said, is to make a game everyone wants to play - the best game he can make.
He saw the production of 1,000 games in the first year, 2,000 games in the second year and 3,000 games in the third year as a realistic schedule. He said he's quite happy to keep making The Wizard of Oz for as long as he can sell them before moving on to their second game. There is no release schedule for games two, three and beyond. He also revealed that all the games made would be RoHS compliant (lead-free), not just those destined for markets where it was a legal requirement.
Jack then answered questions from the audience including; Why choose The Wizard of Oz for the first game?; Why is the price point so high?; How much money he has invested in the company so far?; Whether the game will be suitable for operating?; Will the game have internet connectivity?; and what percentage of pre-orders are from home buyers? Answers to all these are in the audio recording available below.
Jack then announced the deal with Planetary Pinball Supply to use Williams/Bally parts and other PPS properties in JJP games. The deal also means PPS will sell parts for JJP games, including custom toys, mechanisms and artwork used on The Wizard of Oz and future titles.
Other details to be revealed included the fact that the game will use a standard Williams cabinet design, the playfield will feature ideas never seen in pinball before, and it won't have the standard flipper/slingshot/inlane/outlane design (a.k.a the Italian Bottom) seen on all modern Stern games (except Wheel of Fortune).
After the seminars, there was a screening of the movie Special When Lit which continued into the evening.
During the seminars, qualifying for the show's many remaining tournaments was underway in the main hall.
At 1pm the Parent-Child Pinball Tournament got underway with trophies and PAPA entries up for grabs for the $6 entry fee.
The winners were Andy and Andrew Rosa.
The Kids Bump & Win Tournament concluded at 4:30pm on Saturday when the highest scorer on The Rolling Stones was Andrew Rosa II, who took home the Lethal Weapon 3 game as the top prize. Second was Escher Lefkoff who won a $50 Game Stop gift card and third was Timothy Street who took home a $25 Game Stop gift card.
The Modern Pinball Tournament was next up with the qualifying round finishing at 5pm. The top 8 scorers on Iron Man formed the A Division while the next 8 formed the B Division for the play-offs.
The two divisions then played double-elimination matches until the winners of each were decided.
The A Division winner was Andy Rosa, while Donavan Stepp was second and Tony Macevicius was third.
In the B Division it was Marcus Trevino who took the honours, with Clyde Bellinger in second and Eric Fisher third.
In the Electro-mechanical Tournament, played on the North Star, the same top eight split as used in the Modern Tournament created A & B Divisions for the play-offs.
In the A Division it was a win for Dean Grover who beat Dan Gutchess into second place with Eric Fisher in third.
The B Division brought a win for Benjamin Liggett with Lynn Lyons in second place and Gary Boldt taking third place.
The next Tournament to be decided was the Classic Pinball Tournament. This was played on the Gottlieb Genie machine and once again the top sixteen qualifiers were split into an A and a B Division.
Triumphing in the A Division was Dan Gutchess who improved on place on his second place finish in the E-M Tournament to take first place in the Classic. Second was Adam Lefkoff and third was Bob Matthews.
Meanwhile, in the B Division it was another win for Benjamin Liggett who took the honours from Blake Stewart in second and Conner Briggs in third.
The only tournament not decided by the end of Saturday was the Texas State Pinball Championship. The qualifying players were decided on Saturday however, and when qualification closed at midnight, the top 32 players proceeded into Sunday's play-offs.
As before, the top half of the qualifiers formed the A Division while the bottom half made up the B Division. For this, as with all the other A/B Division splits, players ranked in the top 100 of the WPPR rankings were ineligible to play in the B Division. So if they ended up in the lower half of qualifier list, they were replaced by lower placed qualifiers.
The play-offs began at 8am on Sunday and any qualifiers not present when the first games started were disqualified and replaced by stand-by players.
The head-to-head best-of-three games could be played on any of the available machines - the four The Rolling Stones, the three Iron Man machines or the Genie - with the highest qualifier getting the first choice of machine.
In the A Division it came down to a battle between the winner for the past two years, Donavan Stepp, and Andy Rosa.
Denying him the third consecutive win, Andy beat Donavan in the A Division final to take the win. Martin Ayub was third, beating Dean Grover in a play-off.
In the B Division, Canadian John Greatwich took the top spot, beating tournaments organiser Ken Kemp in the final, with Dan Gutchess in third.
With all the tournaments decided, it only remained for the prize raffle draw and show awards to take place. But before we see who won the grand prize of the Monopoly machine and who brought the best machines of the show, there was a visit by a TV crew on Sunday.
They were from the History Channel's show American Pickers. The 'pickers' make a living by restoring forgotten relics to their former glory and in this instance, the focus of their attention was a Stanley Cup hockey game which they brought to the show.
And so we come to the final events of this year's Texas Pinball Festival - the awards for the best machines at the show and the prize raffle draw.
The award winners who all won $100 and a plaque were:
The Grand Champion of the show award, along with $200 and a plaque, went to:
Finally, various raffle prizes were drawn including a pachinko machine, a mini-jukebox, a mini-cooler and this Avatar translite.
The final prize ticket to be drawn was for the Monopoly machine which had stood at the entrance to the hall all weekend.
And the lucky winner is...
Nick was amazed and delighted with his win, and was immediately on the phone to tell everyone.
Then it was time to start packing away the games and the stands in the hall.
So it only remains for us to thank the organisers of the Texas Pinball Festival for another great year.
We leave you with our exclusive Five Minute Tour around the TPF show floor on Sunday morning.
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© Pinball News 2011