TEXAS PINBALL FESTIVAL 2016
Date: 18th - 20th March, 2016
It's March, and that means it's time for the annual Texas Pinball Festival which returns to its home since 2014, the Embassy Suites hotel in Frisco, around 30 minutes by car from DFW airport.
The show is in the conference centre which is right at the back of the hotel. The best way to access the show is through the rear doors, which brings you to the Business Center which acts as the show's registration desk.
Opposite the Business Center is the entrance to the Frisco Grand Ballroom, which hosts the Texas Pinball Festival.
We are here for the entire duration of the show, from the set-up on Thursday to the closing ceremony on Sunday afternoon. As we arrived, games were being unloaded and placed in position in the hall.
Games were unloaded and brought into the hall through the loading bay at the back.
A staging area allowed games to be unloaded quickly, so vans can be removed and the next vehicles take their place.
A near-constant stream of vehicles turned up on Thursday, and pretty soon piles of machines and boxes were dotted around the hall. Here are some of them.
On Friday morning the set-up continued ahead of the 5pm opening.
Spooky Pinball had their Rob Zombie Spookshow International set up, along with America's Most Haunted and the cabinet and translite from their upcoming Domino's Pizza game.
Over on the other side of the hall, ColorDMD were showing their new colour LED display, which replaces the over-size LCD panel they are currently using.
A little later, a colour LED display was fitted into a game where the size of the LCD panel had previously made it impractical - Cirqus Voltaire.
The display is not available to buy yet, so this was more of a proof-of-concept.
CoinTaker also had a customised game; in this case it was a Stern Kiss.
Over on the Marco Specialties stand, the two Ghostbusters had received some last-minute improvements, with a whole new ramp assembly and different flipper coils.
The new ramp adds a clear plastic shield to prevent the ball flying off - not something we have experienced but something the slightly weaker new flipper coils should also help prevent.
On the Dutch Pinball stand, the production sample The Big Lebowski machines were getting a lot of attention.
Elsewhere in the hall, some machine donors still had some work to get their games ready for the opening, while others were ready to go by lunchtime.
Over in the tournament area, qualifying for the main event of the weekend, the Texas Wizards Tournament, began on Friday morning and remained busy throughout the afternoon.
Outside the main hall in the Bass School room, Rob Anthony was back with his Pinball Classics stand, selling parts, mods, clothing, books, and making board repairs.
The show opened to the public at 5pm on Friday. In total, 326 machines were available to play in the free play area, with another 12 in the historical exhibit and 14 in the tournament area for an overall total of 352 machines.
The first of the show's seminars began at 6pm on Friday.
We were hoping the seminars would be streamed live, so we didn't have our usualy recording equipment with us and unfortunately the system we tried to record with didn't give us a satisfactory result - something we didn't discover until after the Friday's seminars were over. So we don't have recordings for the first three seminars, but we do have all of Saturday's seminars for you to stream or download.
6pm: Jonathan Joosten & Martin Ayub - So You Think You Know Pinball?
Pinball Magazine editor, Jonathan Joosten, and Pinball News editor, Martin Ayub, hosted this pinball quiz where audience members picked the correct answer to questions about pinball by moving to the left or right half of the seminar room.
Those who were correct moved on to the next round. As the number of people remaining was whittled down, the eventual winner of the round won a pile of prizes donated by vendors and manufacturers.
Andrew updated everyone with the developments taking place at the Heighway Pinball factory in south Wales and introduced David Thiel as the newest team member, working on the music and sounds for their upcoming Alien Pinball game.
Andrew showed a gameplay video for Alien Pinball, described the toys in the game, and showed a model of the Xenomorph head.
Steve showed a slideshow of images he took at the Stern Pinball factory, which included many of the people working there and shots of his recent Game of Thrones game in production.
He also told stories about his years in the business and took questions from the audience.
At the end, Steve accepted an award from Pinball News editor, Martin Ayub, on behalf of readers who voted his Game of Thrones machine the Game of the Year for 2015.
The final seminar of the evening was a Coast 2 Coast pinball podcast with Nate Shivers who was interviewing George Gomez.
George spoke about his current role within Stern Pinball and how the market for games has changed since he designed his first game for Williams back in 1994.
Saturday began with the swap meet which, as usual, was held in the parking lot just outside the hotel's rear entrance.
There was a good turn-out of both buyers and sellers, with plenty of project games and assorted used parts available.
Unfortunately, there were not enough working games in the show hall for an attempt to beat the existing world record for the most people playing pinball simultaneously, so the show hall opened at 9am instead, an hour earlier than planned.
Entry to the show cost $25 for adults for the Friday session, $35 for Saturday, and $20 for Sunday. Entry for kids aged 5 to 12 cost $10 less than the adult price, while a three day pass was also available at $60 for adults or $35 for kids.
Next to the entry desk was a Safecracker filled with special TPF commemorative tokens. As a result there was a constant queue of people waiting to play and hoping to win one of these tokens.
The Safecracker was one of an arrangement of top-quality machines.
The mystery machine behind the chain was revealed to be a highly-modded Creature from the Black Lagoon from Pinball Side Mirrors.
Two more customised games - A Kiss and a The Walking Dead - were at the Kimballs Pinballs and Mezel Mods stands.
Opposite these two stands was Spooky Pinball's display, which included two Rob Zombie's Spookshow International games - one playable, the other for display only.
Naturally, most interest was in the Rob Zombie's Spookshow International game.
You can see a little of the game play in this short video:
Next door to Spooky Pinball was Back Alley Creations.
Across the corridor was Mantis Amusements with a large range of metal pinball assemblies.
In the next booth was the artist William 'Bubba' Flint who was showing some of his work.
Next door was Double Danger with a nice selection of pinball-related T-shirts, jackets, and caps.
Total Pinball Restorations has the adjacent stand and were showing two samples of their work.
Opposite them were Tilt Graphics Inc, with a range of cabinet blades and other pinball artworks.
The final vendor in this row was Flip N Out Pinball with their Escalera powered stair-lifters.
At the end of the row, Marco Specialties had their usual large stand with four of the latest Stern Pinball titles - Ghostbusters Pro x 2, Game of Thrones Premium and Spider-Man Vault Edition - together with a sample of their parts range.
The stand next door was home to Wizard Enterprises and their range of illuminated pinball bumper caps and backglasses.
Standing in the centre of the hall was VP Cabs gazebo featuring a display of digital pinball machines in various shapes and sizes.
To the left of the gazebo was Arcade Components who had a selection of replacement boards and component kits, and were promoting their repair services.
The two The Big Lebowskis, like all the new releases, had a sizeable queue of guests waiting to play them.
The assorted parts stand was back this year at the rear of the hall, next to the queue for The Big Lebowski.
The Game Preserve had a selection of machines, including the Back to the Future with the obligatory DeLorean.
Fans of console gaming could pick up cartridges, discs, systems, cables, controllers and other gaming essentials at Game Over's stand.
Bob Herbison always has a stand at the show to exhibit his lovely restorations of EM pinballs.
Pinballz Arcade will be opening a new third location just north of Austin soon, and they were at the show to promote it and their two existing premises in Austin and Buda.
Fun! Billiards and Gameroom Superstore in Mesquite brought a large selection of quality machines for everyone to enjoy.
The DFW Pinball and Arcade Club are big supporters of the show and brought a mass of games as usual.
Multimorphic are based in Austin in Texas, so this is the closest thing to a local show for them. They had two fully-working prototype games running Lexy Lightspeed: Escape from Earth and their new Cannon Lagoon game.
The Gulf Coast Pinball Club also supported the show by bringing a selection of machines for the free-play main hall.
Starship Fantasy were also at the TPF with their huge range of replacement plastic ramps, backglasses, playfields, and other vital pinball parts.
Finally, Arcade Factory brought three cocktail-style multi-game video game tables.
Replacement sound board maker, Pinsound, also had a stand at the show.
The adjacent stand was occupied by Jonathan Joosten of Pinball Magazine. He was selling the newly-reprinted issue 1, along with issues 2 & 3, and the book Pinball by Santiago Ciuffo. When we stopped by he was out on the show floor photographing pinballs.
Our final vendor is Mirco Stefan from High Class Pinballs with reproduction playfields and a large selection of gold-plated pinball parts.
There was also an exhibit of twelve flipperless, mechanical games from pinball's earliest days.
Over in the seminars room there was a full schedule on Saturday, starting at 11am.
Jaap started by thanking everyone who has supported Dutch Pinball and their The Big Lebowski project, before turning to the many lessons the team learned, including differences between the cultures in the Netherlands and the US such as the use of language and the means of transferring money.
But he said they had many things in common - the love of pinball, and of food and drink. - and that Dutch Pinball's mission is to bring fun to people.
Jaap said they expected to manufacture and ship their first real production The Big Lebowski in approximately two weeks' time. He showed the audience the game's menu system for game set-up, tests and diagnostics.
You can also watch this video of Jaap's seminar shot by Rens Hooijmaijers.
Gerry's lunchtime seminar began with the delivery of dozens of boxes of pizza and several large coolers of soft drinks for those in the audience to enjoy.
One everyone had been fed and watered, Gerry explained all the benefits of the P3 platform over a traditional pinball and how the P3 is the most innovative, the most modular, the most open, has the best cost-per-game, and the best use of floor space.
He explained the origins of the P3 platform, coming out of the P-ROC and then the P3-ROC pinball control systems. He said once they had completed the innovative and modular control system, they turned their attention to doing the same to game design.
Gerry then unveiled the new, simpler games they have been working on for the P3 platform together with Lexy Lightspeed: Escape from Earth.
The first is Cannon Lagoon which uses a new, simple upper playfield module and a second screen on the back panel.
The third and fourth games are reworking of demonstration games the team built when first showing the P3. Barnyard and Rocs illustrate potential uses of ball-tracking within the P3's architecture, much of which was subsequently incorporated into Lexy Lightspeed.
John talked about the three games he has worked on since joining Stern Pinball - Mustang, WWE Wrestlemania, and Ghostbusters.
He said before designing WWE he had been working on a different licence but they hit problems when the licensor and Stern wanted to take the licence in different directions. So that project was shelved for the time being and WWE was quickly licensed and put into production.
John then took questions from the audience which were largely about the Ghostbusters game, and included details of the differences between the Pro, Premium and LE models, which elements were taken from each of the first two movies, and the roles of each member of the design team in creating the finished game.
Paul initially spoke about how his career began as a fine art artist, during which time he was asked if he would be interested in joining a pinball company to create art for them.
He was reluctant at first, but eventually the lure of a regular salary and job security persuaded him to join Bally in 1976 to set up their in-house art department. Until then, Bally had used Advertising Posters to create their pinball artwork but wanted to bring that aspect of production in-house.
Paul talked about the different types of printing systems and showed many examples of his pinball artwork from games such as Paragon, Centaur, Lost World, Eight Ball, Hook, Back to the Future, and Goldeneye. He also showed prototype artwork for games which were never produced, including Total Recall and Batman Returns.
Charlie detailed, through a series of pictures, how the new Spooky Pinball factory was constructed, and then how the last few America's Most Haunted machines were built there. He then moved on to the manufacturing of the first Rob Zombie's Spookshow International machines - the company's second title.
Charlie then showed the development process for the backglass artwork on the Rob Zombie game, from the early pencil sketches to the final oil painting. He did the same for the cabinet and playfield artwork, showing how both were created.
Ben then talked through his ideas for the dot-matrix displays and animations for the Rob Zombie game which David van Es then drew and animated.
Finally, the team turned to the upcoming Domino's Pizza Pinball and introduced Blake Dumesnil at the end of the desk who will be creating the cabinet artwork and helping with game design.
Jack showed pictures from the Jersey Jack Pinball factory in Lakewood, NJ, where production of The Hobbit is underway. He had visited some of the first customers to receive their games and showed pictures of the fortunate recipients with their new purchases.
Butch then spoke about The Hobbit and its menu system for tests, diagnostics, game settings and customisation options.
Jack interrupted to give away a set of bumper cap barrel toppers to members of the audience who knew their The Hobbit trivia.
Jim is the editor of the Pingame Journal and he was back with a new selection of video clips and segments featuring pinball in one form or another.
This time he had new material from the Toronto band Barenaked Ladies' Silverball album, and its pinball-loving front man Ed Robertson.
Because Jim's seminar was mostly visual in nature, we do not have an audio recording of it here.
Gary Flower introduced Chris and Mark so that they could talk through their game collaborations at Williams and Capcom.
Chris explained how he came to be employed by Bally after learning to program music in assembly language.
Chris's collaboration with Mark began with the game Road Kings. Chris explained how he took Mark's wish for a guitar-based rock track and made it work with the Yamaha synthesiser sound chip they were using.
Mark and Chris moved through the games Big Guns, Taxi, Police Force, Diner, Fish Tales and Indiana Jones, before turning to the game Kingpin which Mark designed at Capcom, explaining how well the two of them worked together.
Chris said it was a tradition that composers were allowed to do whatever they wanted for a game's high score entry music, and frequently used a track they really liked but which the game designer had rejected.
Once all the seminars were over, there was a line of pinball celebrities who would sign backglasses, translites, flyers or other pinball memorabilia.
At the table were George Gomez, John Trudeau, Steve Ritchie, Mark Ritchie, Jack Guarnieri and Chris Granner.
The award for the Grand Champion game at the show went to Daniel Lazarus for his Fireball.
There were also two $500 cash prizes donated by Pinball Side Mirrors which were drawn at random and went to people who brought pinball machines for visitors to play.
The prizes went to Nick Greenup and Rod Bangert.
Then it was time for the big prize draw in the American Heroes Raffle. Tickets cost $5 each, or 5 for $20, with all the profits going to the Pinball for Patriots programme.
Draws for door prizes donated by show vendors were made on the hour during show hours until 10pm each night, with all tickets entered into the big prize draw.
The first big prize was an America's Most Haunted playfield, donated by Spooky Pinball.
The winner of this was Steven Rothrock from San Antonio.
Then came the draw to win the brand new Stern Spider-Man Vault Edition machine.
The winner was Ron Woodard.
Finally, we come to the tournaments held at this year's Texas Pinball Festival.
There had been a shake-up in the main tournament format, with the previous multi-discipline events condensed into a single Texas Wizards Tournament, which was boosted with a kids tournament and a parent/kid competition. The change seemed to work wonders, as the tournaments finished on-time, had minimal issues and had the largest pay-out to players in the history of the show.
However, because we were so busy in the seminars room and shooting our videos out on the show floor, we couldn't give the tournaments our full attention.
So who better could we ask to describe all the changes and how the worked out than Texas Pinball Festival Tournament Director and show organiser, Ken Kemp.
Ken's report brings us to the end of this extended Texas Pinball Festival 2016 show report.
We leave you with our exclusive Twenty-Four Minute Tour video, taking you around the Texas Pinball Festival's show floor.
© Pinball News 2016