As editor of Pinball Magazine I was traveling to Dallas for the Texas Pinball Festival. Usually, I fly in a few days ahead of an event, so Martin Ayub of Pinball News and I can visit some other places as well. This trip we visited the Texas Pinball Museum, the new Multimorphic factory and of course the Texas Pinball Festival. Below are my reports for each of these. Martin is also reporting on this trip on his website.
Texas Pinball Museum
After flying in on Tuesday evening, the first pinball-related stop was the Texas Pinball Museum on Wednesday morning. The museum is run by Ed and Kim VanderVeen, the same couple that is also organizing the Texas Pinball Festival with help from Paul McKinney and a lot of others. Ed and Kim were kind enough to meet us for breakfast, after which we drove to the museum.
The Texas Pinball Museum is open since January 2019. It is located in Midlothian, Texas, which is about a 40-minute drive south of Dallas. The museum is located in an industrial park on the outside of the town, which means it’s packed during the week, but there are not many people just walking by during the weekends. The museum is currently only open on Saturdays. After walking through the door, visitors enter a reception area with a counter. Admission is $10 for adults and $ 7 for kids. Next to the counter is a door leading to the main game room. All games can be played for free after paying admission. The games are set up along two walls and in a small island of games in the middle. The museum also has an office area and an area where games are fixed when needed.
At the time we visited, the museum had 26 pinball machines on display, ranging from mid-‘70s electromechanical games to the most recent titles, as well as a few non-pinball games. Following the Texas Pinball Festival, the number of games has grown, including some very new (The Munsters, Oktoberfest) and rare (The Big Lebowski) titles. Other games include Diner, Capt Fantastic, Indiana Jones, Safe Cracker (dispensing the exclusive Texas Pinball Festival tokens), Galaxy, Cherry Bell (with a great story, ask Ed), Sharpshooter, Deadpool, Avengers, Harley Davidson, The Addams Family, Nascar and many more. The total number of games will soon be over 30 as there are plans to expand the row of machines along the longest wall. Although we didn’t play any of the games, the condition of the games appeared to be in very excellent condition.
After a brief tour of the museum, Martin and I sat down with Ed VanderVeen and discussed how the museum came about, future plans for the museum, as well as the (at the time) upcoming Texas Pinball Festival. This interview is part of a bonus episode of the Pinball Magazine and Pinball News podcast, which can be listened to for free by clicking the highlighted link.
Following our visit to the Texas Pinball Museum, Martin and I drove in about three hours to Round Rock, Texas, to visit the new office of Multimorphic. Headed by Gerry Stellenberg this company is manufacturing the most innovative pinball platform currently available: P3. Aside from that the Multimorphic P-Roc platform is also used by companies such as Spooky Pinball, American Pinball, Dutch Pinball, and several others. Initially, the company sourced out the production of their games and playfield modules. After fulfilling all initial orders, they realized they had to assist their contract manufacturer so much, that they might as well hire a few people and build the games in-house by themselves instead. Hence the move to Round Rock four months ago.
The new facility is 5,000 square feet. Aside from a small conference room pretty much everything else happens on the main floor. Across the entire back wall, parts have been stored on shelves. Gerry explained there is a system in place where only he and one other employee store the items on the shelves in the back. Anything needed for production is available on the front shelves. This way the production crew has easy access to those parts.
The week before Texas Pinball Festival Multimorphic announced the possibility of playing their Cosmic Cart Racing race game simultaneously against three other players, each playing on a different machine. We got a demonstration in the factory. The feature, which turned out to be quite fun, was further demonstrated at the festival later that weekend.
Gerry gave us a quick tour of the main floor. It was interesting to see various issues of Pinball Magazine laying around on desks. As it turns out the employees enjoy reading the magazine when on a break. In one area two 3D printers were printing fan housings for Cosmic Cart Racing. In another area, flipper modules were being built. For those not familiar with the P3: the entire system is modular and can be taken apart relatively easy.
Following the factory tour in the afternoon Martin and I had dinner later that evening with Gerry. After that, we went back to the office and recorded an hour-long interview with Gerry about the latest developments and future plans for Multimorphic. This interview is also part of the earlier mentioned bonus episode of the Pinball Magazine and Pinball News podcast.
Texas Pinball Festival (TPF)
The next morning, Thursday, Martin and I headed to Frisco, Texas, to check in to the Embassy Suites. Interestingly, while the Texas Pinball Festival starts on Friday, there are already a lot of people coming in for the event a few days early. So at the hotel, you keep running into familiar faces. Truth be told, this is probably the best time to catch up with friends, as there’s hardly any time for that during the event.
On the show floor vendors and exhibitors were already setting up stands and games. This year, the entire main floor would be used for the free play area, and vendor stands. In previous years a part of the main floor was used for various tournaments, but these have been relocated this year to a smaller, yet still pretty large, room alongside the corridor. With more room for free play games on the show floor, the total amount of available games to play ended up being over 500, a new record for the festival. As they say that everything is bigger in Texas, that sure applied to this year’s edition of TPF. With the massive amount of people attending TPF, it is great to see that this was their biggest show yet, with plenty of games for people to play. In all fairness, I noticed games on photos that I took at the show, that I didn’t even see when I was walking around at the show. That’s how big this festival is now!
This year’s edition probably also had more vendors than previous editions. Many familiar vendors and some new parties offering their products or services as well. Several of the game distributors at the show (Marco Specialties, Fun Amusements, Kingpin, and others) had announced special show prices for people buying a new game and picking it up at the end of the show. This formula basically creates a win-win situation for dealers and their customers. The dealers bring mostly pre-sold games to the event, set them up, but don’t have to worry about shipping them somewhere after the show. As a result, there were a lot of new Munsters games at the show, as well as various Jersey Jack Pinball and American Pinball games.
Aside from all the special guests from the pinball industry, there were three celebrities present: Pat Priest (Marilyn from The Munsters), Butch Patrick (Eddy from The Munsters) and Jon Rhys-Davis (from Indiana Jones and Lord of the Rings). There was a private VIP event held two hours before the show opened on Friday afternoon, where attendees who bought a VIP package could meet with these celebrities and The Munsters design team and have an exclusive print by Christopher Franchie signed by all special guests.
Earlier on Friday morning, I had prepared a new edition of the So You Think You Know Pinball? Quiz that Martin and I would be hosting that evening at 6:00 PM. Up to the moment the quiz started, most of my day I was busy picking up prizes from sponsors of the quiz: Stern Pinball, Jersey Jack Pinball, Spooky Pinball, American Pinball, Suncoast Pinball, Pinball News and Pinball Magazine. I had also brought posters that indicated that copies of Pinball magazine were being sold at the stand of PinSound. So I had to hang these posters on strategic places as well.
The quiz started a little past 6:00 PM and saw more participants than in previous years. Thank you to all who participated. Once again the quiz was held in the seating area of the happy hour bar. This year, for some reason, a smaller bar in the same area was used to serve drinks, but it was still busy as ever. The quiz concept hasn’t changed for years: Participants are asked a question with two possible answers being given. If they think it’s answer A tey move to the left side of the room, of they think it’s answer B, they move to the right side of the room. Those picking the incorrect answer have to stop playing in that round. Once the number of contestants in a round is reduced to only a few, they pick a raffle number and win the corresponding prize. In total over a dozen rounds were played, and over 30 prizes were handed out, ranging from rejected Lexy Lightspeed playfields, to playfield sculptures from JJP games, t-shirts, translates and more swag.
Following the quiz, the regular seminar program took off. All seminars were recorded and streamed. As Martin attended them all, I’ll leave it to him to summarize these. See his report on Pinball News.
Saturday morning had the traditional swap meet, hosted by the DFW Pinball & Arcade Club. The stuff offered ranged from playfield plastics, to coils, to backglasses to complete (project) games. It’s always fun to see what is available and pick up a few items for a bargain price. During the rest of the weekend, the same parking lot was used by several food trucks, offering a variety of dinner options. I decided to go for the Texas-sized ice cream, which was delicious.
Following the swap meet, I was able to play a couple of games on American Pinball’s Oktoberfest. This was the first time I got to play the game. Based on the long lines for the game on Friday I figured I better play some games before the show would officially open. I found this title quite fun to flip. I did see some room for improvement, but American Pinball is undoubtedly heading in the right direction the way this game is turning out.
None of the big companies did any reveals of upcoming games during the event, although Jersey Jack Pinball did show the Limited Yellow Brick Road Edition of The Wizard of Oz for the very first time. The game received some updated artwork and electronics and certain mechanical parts had been re-engineered to become more reliable. Initially 200 will be made this year, with the possibily to manufacture up to 500 units in total.
New games that were brought to the show by boutique companies were Cosmic Carnival by Suncoast Pinball and Celts by Australian Haggis Pinball.
Cosmic Carnival had been shown at the Houston Arcade Expo in whitewood stage. At TPF, the game was shown with full playfield and cabinet artwork by Dirty Donnie. Two playable games were present at the stand of Suncoast Pinball. Apparently the games were setup in ‘demonstration mode,’ meaning that you could launch a ball into the shooter lane by pressing the start button. The ball could then be flipped around, but none of the modes – or even rules – were working on the game. So basically you could flip the ball around and get a feel for how the game shoots, but that was about it. On the playfield, two unpainted prototype sculptures were located above the entrance of each ramp. While the colorful artwork makes the game look impressive, there appears to be a lot of work to be done for other elements of the game.
Haggis Pinball had brought a whitewood of Celts, which they dropped in a borrowed empty pinball cabinet. The whitewood had been quickly put together in a backroom of the convention center days before the show started. I don’t think the game was playable during the show, so this was just to show the current status of the whitewood. But at least it was there.
In the afternoon I spotted Imoto Harney, who has been reporting on camera from many pinball events. She was recording interviews for Marco Specialties TV. She was interested in interviewing me as well, so we recorded an interview just after 2:00 PM. I haven’t seen the footage yet, but I recall it went very well. As soon it is available I will share links on Pinball Magazine’s social media and the monthly newsletter.
I do have to mention Saturday night. Following the hotel’s daily happy hour, I attended a nearby BBQ restaurant for dinner. In the meantime in the seminar room, This Week In Pinball hosted the second annual TWIPPy Awards. When returning from the restaurant I figured to check out how that show was doing. So I walk into the room, just as the nominees for Favorite Pinball Publication are being announced. Less than a minute later I was on stage accepting the award for Pinball magazine No. 5! Thanks to all for voting for Pinball Magazine.
Unlike last year, there was no partying until 6:00 AM on the terrace. This year, the partying started much earlier. I think I ended up in the bar area every night, talking to pinball friends from all over the planet about the games, or occasionally other topics such as politics. Saturday evening I gave several pinball industry friends a package of Dutch stroopwafels that I had brought. These are always very popular.
Sunday is the shortest day of the show. Most of the morning I spent packing up my suitcase as I was flying out that evening. I was only a few hours on the show floor in which I removed the posters I hang up Friday afternoon and taking care of some business with some of the vendors attending.
As every year the show concluded with handing out awards for the best games in several categories. Right before the games were turned off, I was able to play a game on Spooky Pinball’s Alice Cooper Nightmare Castle and take some photos of the game. Following the best game in show ceremony, the show was officially over, and games were being packed up. In conclusion, there is no other way than to express that the Texas Pinball Festival just keeps getting better. As far as I can tell, this is seriously the best pinball show in the world. I can’t wait to be back, next year: March 27-29. If you’re doubting whether to go: just go. You will thank me later.
Special thanks to Ed VanderVeen, Kim VanderVeen, Paul McKinney and Gerry Stellenberg.