Texas Pinball Festival 2022, part 4: Closing thoughts and things that I learned

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Texas Pinball Festival 2022

And with that, here are my closing thoughts on everything that happened over the weekend at the Texas Pinball Festival.

This was an exciting and surreal weekend two years in the making. At any point I could have interpreted certain events as signs from the universe trying to tell me I shouldn’t go, even after paying for the show pass and tournament entry fee to the tune of around $170.

Before I get into the nuts and bolts of my tournament performance, I would like to extend my thanks to the tournament organizers/directors: Phil Grimaldi, Colin McAlpine, and Dick Curtis. While all of the organizers did a terrific job, Dick deserves special appreciation as he was the organizer supervising and training me through my volunteer shifts. Dick has the perfect calm and easy-going personality for training/onboarding volunteers (and I’ve done a lot of volunteering over the years, enough to know that that isn’t always the case).

And with that, here are my thoughts on the tournament. While my performance at this tournament was quite lacking, I did wind up with relatively good scores on at least two games, those being Spanish Eyes and Flash Gordon. In fact, similar performances on ten of the other thirteen machines (i.e. good enough for a 71 or better) would have gotten me into A division.

I had played many of these games before, and it’s not like many of the ones I hadn’t were inaccessible. (For example, I’m pretty sure at least Cidercade had Rush prior to TPF, I just didn’t have the time to go play it prior to the tournament. Einstein’s in Richmond had TNA, which I had played before but not recently.) Also, the scores I would have needed to qualify were not hopelessly out of reach; they seem to mostly match what I consider my attainable range, at least on the games where I know what that range is. It’s more a question of getting them done within the limited number of qualifying games afforded. Put another way, can I “catch lightning in a bottle” during qualifying?

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the tilt settings. Most of the games had reasonable tilt settings, a far cry from the “gesundtilt” (i.e. “sneeze tilt” or ridiculously conservative tilt setting) I was expecting to run into at least a couple of times. I was still conservative in my use of nudging.

It was nice to see familiar faces on the show floor and in the tournament room, as well as get to see a few of the “big name” players in person. I unfortunately didn’t get to talk to very many of them at length

As this was my first year, I don’t have a reference to previous year experiences at this same event. The closest experience I have to playing in a tournament with this format would be the tournament at the 2015 Houston Arcade Expo. Due to the budget that year I effectively had to play that tournament as a limited entries tournament, even though the option was open for players with deeper pockets to buy more entries.

Now, both types of tournaments (unlimited entries and limited entries) have their advantages and disadvantages. Having unlimited entries (which basically means entries limited only by one’s budget) means more “mulligans” should one have lousy games early on, or that one can cut one’s losses after a poor performance on a few games. However, it also means the tighter one’s budget, the slimmer one’s chances, and that otherwise good players may miss out on qualifying due to lack of funds. A limited entries tournament puts everyone on a more equal footing. However, if one can’t “catch lightning in a bottle” (i.e. get good scores within that limited number of entries), one’s pretty much screwed.

It may sound like no big deal to reasonably skilled players to put up, say, 7.4 million on Whirlwind or 134 million on Creature from the Black Lagoon on tournament settings. Actually doing it in the crowded tournament room, with the potentially nerve-wracking and headache-inducing noise level is another story. (I picked these scores as this is about where 38th place or 60 qualifying points was. The A division cutoff was at 702 or an average of 58.5 qualifying points per game, so 60 across the board was enough to make A division with a little room to spare.)

I mention the environment because it seemed even louder than a lot of arcades/bars I have played in. During the peak of qualifying Friday evening, there were potentially 24 machines (15 in Wizards, 8 in classics, and the kids’ tournament game) being played at the same time, many of them older electromechanical games with loud chimes and/or bells. Even if you turn the sound down to nothing on all of the solid-state and newer games (which will annoy some players as there are important aural cues on some games), there is still plenty of noise from the flippers, bumpers, kickers, drop target resets, and the myriad other mechanical gadgets in pinball machines.

With the noise level being what it was, I found myself having to take breaks and walk outside the tournament room for a few minutes just to be able to clear my head. It’s something I need to get better at dealing with. I don’t think this was the reason I did so poorly, but it did catch me by surprise a little bit.

Finally, for those planning to make the trip to next year’s (2023) Texas Pinball Festival, assuming it stays mostly the same as 2022, here is my advice, primarily from a road-tripper perspective (i.e. someone driving into the DFW area from no more than about 500 miles away):

  • Pick your hotel carefully. In order, my choices would be: The Embassy Suites adjoining the conference center, a hotel within walking distance (such as: the Hyatt House, Hilton Garden Inn, or Hotel Indigo just across Gaylord Parkway; the Hyatt Regency in the Stonebriar Centre mall; the Home2 Suites just outside the mall; the Drury Inn near Gaylord Parkway and Dallas Parkway/DNT), other nearby hotels within the shortest driving distance possible. Cheap hotels/motels, hostels, or Airbnb rentals more than about a 2-3 mile drive away should be your last resorts (pun intended) unless the budget just won’t allow anything closer/nicer. It may cost more to stay at the Embassy Suites or a hotel close to it, but not having to deal with DFW area traffic is worth it.
  • Remember that driving in the DFW area usually either means taking toll roads, or a much longer (in time) trip across the adjacent feeder roads or other surface streets. If you are flying in and staying at the Embassy or a hotel within walking distance, you might be able to get away with not renting a car and just taking a cab or rideshare (or possibly even DART, if you’re up for the walking distance) to/from the airport.
  • Food tends to run a bit on the expensive side in the immediate area of the hotel. The food trucks may have relatively reasonably prices, though the selection is going to be a bit limited. (For example: on Saturday it was an egg sandwich truck and a barbecue truck. One of my friends recommended against the barbecue truck, and I usually avoid eggs. I decided to roll the dice anyway with the barbecue truck and the food was at least decent.) $15 to $17 per meal plus a bit extra for snacks should be enough with a little cushion. My order at Which Wich inside the mall still ran close to $15 and I had expected it to be a bit less.
  • Embassy Suites was kind enough not to charge (at least most) TPF attendees for parking in 2022. I came out to find open parking garage exit gates despite having to take a ticket on both Friday and Sunday. (I am guessing the parking rates, when applied, may be to discourage Comerica Center and Dr Pepper Field visitors from using the hotel’s garage, as Embassy’s rate can potentially go up to $18 versus $15 or $10 at the other two facilities.) Tournament players who enter and leave the garage before 5 pm might still have to pay for parking. I would appreciate further clarification from those who have more information.
  • Buc-ee’s highlights clean restrooms in their advertising. I can personally attest to the honesty of this advertising. The Madisonville location is a great place to stop and take a bathroom break (whether #1 or #2) as well as refuel, grab a bite to eat, and even air up your tires if needed.
  • Allow extra time for traffic-related delays, even on the rural sections of highways. I had to deal with a complete freeway closure on my trip in. (ironically, I detoured specifically to try to avoid this, only to wind up right in the middle of the traffic jam after re-entering the highway.)

And with that begins the long wait for Texas Pinball Festival 2023. I’m already looking forward to it.

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