Editorials April 10, 2015
UFG Covers The 2015 Texas Pinball Festival: Day 2!
Written By: Ricardo Benitez
I woke up and hopped to it, driving to the train station to meet another friend for the festival. We arrived around 9am and the Saturday Morning Swap Meet was well under way with plenty of vendors and individuals exchanging and trading away. Although there weren't as many as last year, there were plenty of deals for those who needed specific parts and backglasses. There were also some classic Saturday morning cartoons being shown in the seminar room for those who got up early and needed someplace to sit while eating their breakfast. 10am finally rolls around and the Game Room is officially open again.
I beeline it to the other long line from the previous day, Jersey Jack's The Hobbit. Similar to Wizard of Oz, (but only by design, not gameplay) The Hobbit has traditional pinball mechanics with a flat panel monitor showing the scores and other information a normal display would show, with custom animation and movie clips. Although the playfield seemed sparse compared to The Wizard of Oz, looks can definitely be deceiving - The Hobbit incorporates four pop up enemies, a la trolls from Medieval Madness, near the middle of the playfield which constantly changes the trajectory and speed of the ball. This is definitely a darker game in contrast with Oz, but doesn't show on the playfield. Bright and colorful lights accent the slightly subdued art on the playfield floor. I had a great time, but terrible luck due to the ball constantly going down the drain. I let go and meandered a bit around the floor and played an empty Star Trek: TNG. The pinball gods were with me this day, making it to the Final Frontier and attempting to control the 6-ball multiball mode. Talk about pull your hair crazy! Although I didn't get the high score, I did get up there with 2nd place. Can't sneeze at that!
I attended the next seminar, featuring XPin's Brett Davis - The Evolving Pinball Landscape. Admittedly, most of the talk went over my head, speaking about circuit boards and how technology is changing, or must be changed in pinball. The technology inside a pinball machine, which he calls legacy technology - transistors, linear power supplies, discrete logic chips, even incandescent bulbs, are all staples of these older tables. These analogue pieces generate lots of heat and are susceptible to failing. XPin offers aftermarket pinball boards which are more efficient, run cooler, and allow for more options. He spoke about changing out the incandescent bulbs with LED and how designers made the games with bulbs in mind so when LEDS are replacing the bulbs, flickering happens due to the limitations of the technology at that time. It takes longer for an incandescent bulb to light up than an LED (microseconds to nanoseconds) so when programming the game code they had more wiggle room for when the light comes on. This, in turn, causes the flicker. There is a relatively cheap alternative to fix the flicker. The biggest news for these older games, however, is the ability for turn a 6-digit display to a 7-digit display. A simple install will allow your high score to be kept instead of rolling over!
The following seminar featured Gerry Stellenberg, of Multimorphic, talking about Pinball in the 21st Century. I attended his talk last year, which was also intriguing. This time they showed off the P3, a modular, multi-game, pinball platform specifically designed for consumers. He spoke about the growth in the consumer market in pinball, and a decline in the consumer side. There was a change in the market due to the public staying home for entertainment instead of going out. He then goes on and explains about the P3. The P3 is a platform which has a pinball playing field with an LCD monitor on the base, but instead of being all digital, there are still real flippers and a pinball, and bumpers. There are also modular playfields, where depending on the game you decide to play, you can easily replace the upper playfield layout module. Apparently you can swap it out in about 30 seconds without any tools. Also, all major mechanical assemblies just simply slide out for easy repair, and you can replace cabinet art easily, via magnetic vinyls. The idea is sound and it is a definite leap in evolution. Brett Davis, from the previous talk, said evolution can be considered either a gradual process of change, or a forced change that is thrust upon us. Gerry Stellenberg wants this evolution to be thrust upon us, and although he doesn't say his machines will replace, say a Stern, he does say there is a definite market for his design. I have to say I'm intrigued and would not mind one of his tables in my living room!
I grabbed a bite of lunch, then headed back to see John Trudeau's seminar. He spoke of his career in pinball, starting as a play tester for Game Plan, and doing the artwork for Global Warfare. While working on Global Warfare, he started to learn about game design by Ed Cebula. A game design position became available and they chose him. He went on to design Rocky, Bride of Pin*Bot, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and most recently, Wrestlemania. He spoke of who he spoke with during his long tenure in the business and fondly remembered his time as he scrolled through pictures.
After Trudeau's talk, an auction began for hundreds of pinball machines, from fixer-uppers to fully working tables. It was fun to see the bidding wars going upwards to $12k, but I wanted to check out what the rest of the festival had to offer. I walked around and a Rush 2112 table caught my eye. Upon closer look, it ended up being a virtual pinball machine from VPcabs. VPcabs specialize in full size cabinets with LCD screens on both the playfield and backglass monitor. It also includes a LED DMD full color display. You can load your favorite pinball game on here and have limitless fun. You can nudge the machine, and even tilt it if you nudge a bit too hard. This is a great idea and it is definitely something to look into. It is fully working with The Pinball Arcade and Pinball FX2. These tables look and feel almost like the real thing and after a few minutes you forget you’re playing virtual pinball.
I ended up missing the WhizBang seminar, developers of Whoa Nellie. I caught the end of it, everyone seemed like they had a good time. It’s a shame, but maybe they'll be back next year. I did catch "Jersey" Jack Guarnieri and Butch Peel's talk about the making of the Hobbit, "An Unexpected Unexpected Journey" (yes, the title included two “unexpecteds”). Jersey Jack spoke first, about the continuation of selling The Wizard of Oz. He mentioned an update in the software coming, Pindemption, which will allow changes in the consumer aspect of the game, if the operator so wants, which collapses the rules of the game and makes it commercially more viable. Instead of a traditional 3-ball game, players can win tickets by completing simple tasks and operators can limit timed play to about 3-4 minutes. Traditionalists will balk at this, but businesses such as Dave & Busters, Main Event, and other entertainment centers, according to test markets, will gain much more money from their investment in the machine. He also mentioned changes in instructions due to teenagers barely having even seen a pinball machine before. He had to add instructions such as, "Pull Plunger To Start" with a diagram into the screen. After this, Jack gave Butch the reigns and he spoke of working with the Hobbit license teams, having to get approval for everything right down to the font, as well as designing the playfield and the art. It was an interesting inside look into what will, I'm sure, become another hit for Jersey Jack Pinball.
After the seminar ended, I had to catch a train back home. I was exhausted, but I caught some great sleep that night and returned Sunday bright and early at 9am and closed the house down with plenty of gaming under my belt. I had a great time this year at the Texas Pinball Festival. Word travels fast around here and more and more people I know are interested and want to attend. For all of you interested in coming by next year, make your plans for March 18-20th, 2016 at the same location, Frisco's Embassy Suites and Conference Center. Look forward to seeing you there!
Click here for Day 1!