Date: March 15th - 17th, 2013
Welcome to our coverage of this year's Texas Pinball Festival at its new home at the Hilton Anatole, on the outskirts of Dallas.
The hotel is huge. The tower you see above is just a part of the overall complex which stretches in all directions. The show was being held in the Trinity Ballroom which was a good five-minute walk from the hotel's entrance at the base of the tower.
The Trinity Ballroom is a 45,000 square feet single hall which was still being set up when we arrived.
One chap had the right idea to cover the long distances around the hotel.
If you had a Segway, it was probably worth bringing it along.
The first thing you encountered inside the hall was the registration desk, where pre-paid passes could be collected, and on-the-day tickets purchased.
Then you noticed the lines of chairs for the players taking part in the tournaments. When these pictures were taken on Friday afternoon these were empty, but they became far busier come Saturday.
Tournament play got underway early on Friday, even before the rest of the show opened.
There was an impressive line-up of tournament machines. At the far end are four The Avengers Pros.
Then come five The Avengers Limited Edition models - four Avengers variants and one Hulk.
Next to them are two AC/DC Premiums and then two The Wizard of Oz standard edition machines.
Several other machines were also in the tournaments, but at the other end of the line are four Grand Slam machines, used in a Friday night baseball-themed tournament.
The show was still under construction as this report began, and hadn't yet opened to the general public. So most of the games were not powered yet and many of the stands not fully built.
However, it was good to see the return of the classic Stern machine line-up.
Gerry Stellenberg, Brandon Nuss and Dennis Nordman were here to promote the P3 pinball platform, and unveil Dennis's game for the system; Lexy Lightspeed - Galaxy Girl.
We had the full exclusive on the game, the character of Lexy, and many more developments for the P3 in our companion report available here.
Elsewhere in the hall, this Pinball 2000-style HyperPin 2125 video pinball with two screens was an eye-catcher.
There's even a Zizzle version.
Talking of video, the larger floor area allow many more video games into the show, along with a few more video-focused vendors. Here's one row of classic games.
Here's a full list of the pinballs, video and other games available to play.
That makes a total of 304 pinballs and 53 video games. In addition three skill games were available to play in the hall; Climber, Ice Cold Beer, and Speed Shift.
On the vendor stands, Gene Cunningham had new Creature from the Black Lagoon holograms, although this looked like it used the simpler and cheaper lenticular process rather than being a true hologram.
Third Dimension Concepts had some interesting modes on display, in particular the leg covers and toppers on these pinballs.
Tony at Great Lakes Modular had a new Twilight Zone lamp board which includes the LED flasher for the lock and GUM-BALL inserts.
Next door to Tony, Rob Anthony was showing his replacement non-volatile (NV) RAM chips which eliminate the need for back-up batteries and the danger of damage from battery leakage. Rob is taking pre-orders for these now.
If you're after something a little flashier(!), then there was a great selection of neons available from John Vorwerk at Pinball Gameroom.
As part of their much larger collection, Elevation Games had put together a line-up of machines to showcase the ColorDMD displays. All the game versions were there, including their latest release, Whitewater.
Next to the Whitewater was a Twilight Zone used to showcase the new ColorDMD upscaling effect. This produces a monochrome image and removes the dot effect by interpolating the spaces between original dots to create a contiguous block with smooth diagonals. You can see the effect it produces here:
You can take a look around the Texas Pinball Festival 2013 with our exclusive Ten Minute Tour video.
Both the videos above are made in full 1920x1080 high definition, so make sure you select the full HD quality and click on the icon at the bottom right to view it full screen and enjoy the best quality.
Day two began at 8am with a small swap meet in parking lot 4 in front of the hotel.
There was a flurry of excitement as a large trailer turned up.
A crowd gathered in the expectation of some great deals to be had. However, the driver couldn't find the key to the padlock to open the trailer. Then, when he finally did open it, the only item inside was a solitary Lethal Weapon 3 game.
The next item on the agenda is the start of the show at 10am, which is followed by the first seminar of the day at 11pm.
The seminars began with Jersey Jack Pinball. Jack Guarnieri couldn't be there in person, so the company was represented by Butch Peel and Eric Meunier, with Jack using Skype to call in.
Butch and Eric spoke about their respective roles at the company and how they started in the games business, before showing a promotional video shot during the company's open house just before Christmas 2012 when buyers of The Wizard of Oz were invited to visit the factory.
Butch showed a slide-show of the factory and the various JJP employees in the back office and on the factory floor. Then he showed the many iterations of the playfield design and layout, highlighting how various features, inserts and names changed over the months of development.
Then Butch showed the audience some of the work he has been doing on the game manual for The Wizard of Oz. He said the manual will use US Legal-sized paper and be ring-bound, so it can open fully to provide drawings on one page and information on the facing page.
He showed the Autocad file of the playfield and the Excel spreadsheet of all its component parts which he then takes into InDesign for the page layout.
Jack then made an appearance on the big screen, talking about his time at the Enada show in Italy, from which he had just returned.
Jack reiterated how the company will be shipping their first games to private customers this month and they are committed to providing feature-complete machines. He said they had $4.5 million of parts in the factory.
He thought the biggest thing he had learned was that, when it comes to pinball, everything takes much longer and costs far more than everyone tells you it will. Jack said his efficiency expert said they were theoretically capable of making 60 games a day, but he thinks it's more more realistic to start with 10-15 a day.
Asked what the game's theme would have been if The Wizard of Oz hadn't been available, Jack replied he was seriously thinking about The Three Stooges, but right now he's thinking about future licences, one of which is a movie title, another is a music theme and he wouldn't talk any further about the third potential licensed title.
Jack was asked if the topper we have seen so far is the final version. Jack reached down to the side of his desk and picked up a new design for the Emerald City Limited Edition model. The topper we've seen before will be used on the regular model.
Then at 1pm it was George Gomez's seminar.
He began by talking about his childhood experiences getting acquainted with Marvel comics and how he liked the real-world references. Then, turning to The Avengers, he said his role at the company puts him in a different position where he is not supposed to be designing games, and maybe The Avengers is his last design.
He said he really wanted to get the model out in time for Christmas, but that proved to be very difficult and resulted in a number of issues with those games, which are being addressed through updates and service packs.
George spoke about some of the design changes which were made to The Avengers, such as an original underground Loki lock, the H-U-L-K targets were originally standups which were attached to, and lifted with, the Black Widow ramp. There was also a kickout below the Nick Fury target which fired the ball at the Tesseract spinner, but was taken out as it slowed the game down too much.
He said with The Avengers he wanted to break out of his 'signature' design elements, such as the 'fan' design for which he is known, something he thinks he achieved. He addressed criticisms about the inability to see the inlane inserts and apologised for it, saying he didn't personally find it a problem, but appreciates others do. He also talked about the ramp construction method he prefers, saying it isn't done because it is cheaper, but because it allows much more precise control over the thickness and the artwork on them.
George then turned to the game's speech, saying they didn't have the money to get the movie's actors record samples, but they also didn't want to be restricted by the movie's storyline so could make the characters talk about the game's plot rather than the movie's. He also showed a number of alternate backglass/translite designs which never made it to production, although he said the company might make them available as after-sales mods.
Talking about the game development, he said at Stern they use a high-speed camera to record the gameplay to see what the ball is doing if there are any problem areas. That was, he said, how they diagnosed the problem some people were having shooting the Black Widow ramp.
The Pin - the consumer version of their full-size games - was George's next topic. He described taking the games to the CES show and how the company's stand was mobbed eight hours a day, and the dozens of interviews he and Gary Stern had gave to the world's media.
Asked about technological developments in Stern games, George said soon we will see new board sets, new displays and new cabinet construction, with the new boardset will be the most powerful pinball control system by far. Even so, he said they are committed to mechanical action pinball with the focus on what happens under the glass.
At 2:30pm it was Steve Ritchie's seminar.
Steve's presentation began with a slideshow of images from his many years designing pinballs for Atari, Williams and Stern, and traveling the world meeting pinball enthusiasts.
He spoke about steps Stern Pinball are taking to try to improve the quality and reliability of their games and the component parts.
He then talked about working with Lyman Sheats, describing his skills in both playing and designing rules, along with his input and collaboration on the design of the games.
Steve then gave a photographic tour of the Stern Pinball factory and the people working there. He said they are expanding the offices (something seen in our Pinball Expo report), creating more space for Engineering and moving the back office staff into the new accommodation. He also introduced the recent additions to the team, including Tom Kopera and Greg Freres. He said Tom is working on mechanical devices for Steve's next game.
Steve said his next game is the most ambitious game he's ever designed for Stern, and he will be working flat out on it for the rest of the year. He said it will probably use Stern's new control system - he needs the system's capabilities and will be in trouble if the game doesn't use it.
In reply to a question about whether he would ever make another widebody, Steve said absolutely not. He said the geometry of a widebody doesn't suit his design style and the additional cost isn't reflected in the earnings.
Steve was also asked about the new code for AC/DC. He said the new Radio mode is awesome, and there will probably be two more updates, but Lyman is writing it in his spare time since he's working on a different game now. But the first update shouldn't be too far away.
Steve revealed his voice will appear in his next game, but only in a minor role and he wants to move away from the Devil voice he used in AC/DC and the focus of the vocal work should be elsewhere.
Asked if the new control system will lead to an increase in price, Steve replied he didn't see why. The price of all pinball parts increase constantly he said, but that shouldn't be related to the new system.
Talking about the new companies making pinball, Steve said he thought competition is good and has caused Stern Pinball to raise their game.
At 4pm it was time for Alan Lewis's seminar about fixing inserts and scanning playfields and backglasses without using a scanner.
But he began by talking about a method to restore yellowed pinball plastic pieces, using a homemade mix of hydrogen peroxide and OxyClean. Alan said the reason for the yellowing is a fire-retardent chemical used in the production breaking down and turning yellow or brown.
The method for removing the yellowing is detailed at: retrobright.wikispaces.com
Alan then moved on to scanning playfields or backglasses using a camera. His basic steps involve getting a measuring device such as a printed grid of known size, fixing and sizing the image in a photo editor, followed by cropping and printing.
Alan discusses the different type of decals papers and made a recommendation Papilio decal paper available from TexasCraft.com.
Then Alan moved on to the second subject of his seminar - repairing inserts. Alan said he has moved away from filling sunken inserts and now recommends removing them, sanding them flat, and then reinserting them, due to the danger of sanding the surrounding artwork and the way the repair can be done much faster.
Alan showed a video to show how easy it is to remove, sand down and re-glue an insert, before talking about the merits of inkjet printing versus laser printing of decals.
At 5:30pm, the seminar hosted by Gerry Stellenberg and Dennis Nordman began, where they spoke about the latest developments to the P3 pinball platform and the themes of the two games to be included with purchase of the system.
You can read all about them in our exclusive article, but for attendees at the seminars, Gerry began by looking at how the pinball landscape has changed since 2009. He suggested the P-ROC system has helped make pinball manufacturing more achieveable.to a large number of custom and small-scale makers.
Gerry warned that continuing to build machines the same way they were 20-30 years ago means pinball will not achieve the continued growth of the past few years.
He said the P3 platform addresses the issues of new technology advancing gameplay, the space requirements of owning multiple games, and the reliability of machines. To demonstrate this, Gerry showed the boards used in the game; the driver boards mounted next to the components; the RGB LED driver, and the switch matrix board - all daisy-chained together.
The software and individual game code is open-source, allowing owners to write their own games and modify existing games (unless they are licensed themes, where the licence owner may not allow that).
Gerry extolled the ease of cleaning with the top side major components unscrewing and lifting off, before moving on to look at the lower cost per game compared to other pinball manufacturers.
He said the company had taken the opposite approach of other pinball makers who come up with a theme and take pre-orders before anyone sees if the company can even make a machine. He said Multimorphic has made operational machines first to prove the technology before deciding on themes.
Then the options available to buyers were explained such as different cabinet finishes and backbox designs.
Dennis Nordman then took to the stage and spoke about his game and the theme he chose. Originally the hero was male and called Flash Lightspeed, but Dennis realised the game really needed a hot space chick, so Flash became Lexy Lightspeed - Galaxy Girl. He outlined the plot - the heroine crashes on Earth and has to collect the parts needed to re-build her ship.
Dennis talked about the look of the game, and how he wanted to incorporate the '50s/'60s style of UFO and spaceship markings, with red/yellow and chrome trim.
Gerry then returned and talked about the second game - Cosmic Cart Racing, a galactic version of video cart racing games. So far no art development work has taken place on the second game, with all the resources focusing on Lexy Lightspeed - Galaxy Girl.
In a question and answer session after the Multimorphic seminar. Dennis revealed that it was 99.9% certain Stern Pinball would be making a run of Whoa Nellie! Big Juicy Melons games.
The final seminar featured Randy Perlow of ColorDMD who was at the TPF to update the audience on the latest products and ideas in development.
He began though by outlining the company's history, with their first product released less than a year ago. He explained the benefits of the ColorDMD and how the ColorDMD system improves on the presentation while preserving gameplay without modifying the machine's hardware or software.
Randy said they sub-contract most of the component parts, but the final assembly and product support takes place in San Clemente, California.
Until now, there were four machines catered for - Attack from Mars, Medieval Madness, The Addams Family and Star Trek - The Next Generation. The latest version to be released is shown above in this report; Whitewater.
Randy recounted how he got involved in pinball and the people he met throught the Orange County Pinball League who inspired him to come up with a project which could enhance existing games with a mod which looks like it was always intended.
He explained how the ColorDMD system works in conjunction with the method used by the game to send the dot matrix data, and some of the challenges he faced in getting it to work.
After receiving lots of positive feedback and overcoming many of the obstacles, he showed the prototype at the Pacific Pinball Expo and Pinball Expo towards the end of 2011.
Then Randy described some of the challenges they had colouring non-predictable display frames and the sprite-tracking system he implemented to overcome the limitations of the original colouring system used on Attack from Mars.
Finally, Randy spoke about his new ColorDMD Sigma project which upscales the dot matrix data and interpolates it to smooth diagonal lines and remove the dot effect altogether. This can then be displayed in one of 48 colours, or white. You can see the effect earlier in this report.
That concludes Saturday's seminars.
We returned to the main hall for the rest of the evening to conclude our machine count and check on the progress of the tournaments.
The number of tournaments running was admirable, but it did lead to a lot of confusion about what they all were and which machines they involved.
In previous years the qualifying had continued late into the night with the qualifiers only declared at midnight, so it was somewhat disappointing to be told in the seminars room that qualifying had finished earlier and we'd missed out.
However, as it turned out, there had been a number of technical problems during the day which meant qualifying had been extended, only we didn't know. That extension resulted in an incredibly late finish. We finally exited the hall around 3:20am, and the tournaments were a long way from finished.
Play continued until nearly 7am, before picking up again at 10am, with little chance of more than a couple of hours of sleep for the competitors. Suddenly, missing out on qualifying didn't seem so bad.
When play did resume, it took another 7 hours before the main tournament - the Texas State Pinball Championship - was decided.
In the final it was victory for Trent Augenstein, with Kevin M in second place and Adam M in third. All three won plaques and cash prizes, with $750 for first place.
Trent made it a profitable weekend, winning the Classic Tournament's A Division, and the Texas Shootout A Division.
As the show drew to a close it was time for the presentation of awards for the best-in-show and draws for the main raffle prize of a The Avengers Pro and the free Multimorphic P3 machine.
The best-in-show award winners were:
Then it was time for the draw for the free P3 machine. Multimorphic's Gerry Stellenberg presided as the winning entry was drawn from all those collected during his seminar the previous day.
The P3 was won by Tim Eubanks from Arkansas who will receive his game when it goes into production, which is expected to be early next year.
Finally, the draw for the main prize in the Red Cross raffle was made. Prizes had been awarded every hour since the show officially opened, with the winners' names shown on a board at the front desk.
The main prize was a new-in-box The Avengers machine.
The grand prize award brought this year's Texas Pinball Festival to a close.
The new venue was a definite improvement with far more space, better cooling and less noise than the previous location. This allowed for a wider range of machines and vendors, with the number of machines making it easy to find a vacant machine to play. The distance from the hotel rooms might have been a problem for some, as could the lack of dining facilities in the area surrounding the hotel, for those times when you didn't want to pay $17 for a burger. But this is a business-class hotel and so prices are set accordingly, and if you had a car there were plenty of dining options just a few minutes away.
The return of the classic Stern line-up was greatly appreciated and the overall selection was impressive. It was especially nice to be able to play with plenty of space between the rows for people to pass easily.
The seminars also enjoyed more space, although the remote location of the seminar room from the main hall and the lack of signage could have meant they were overlooked by some visitors.
The tournaments suffered a number of unfortunate mishaps and perhaps some unwise choices of machines, resulting in the bizarre sight of competitors playing through the night in order to get their matches completed in time. Hopefully those problems will be addressed in time for next year and the mass of competitive events simplified to make then easier to understand and to manage.
Overall though, the Texas Pinball Festival just keeps getting bigger and better, with its new home providing space for even more expansion. 2014's show should be a real treat.
© Pinball News 2013