Texas Pinball Festival 2023, part 5: Miscellaneous closing thoughts that didn’t fit anywhere else

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Texas Pinball Festival 2023

Now that I’ve covered most of the important and highlight events of the trip, as well as a few less-important details to try and keep the story interesting, it’s time to sum everything up and, perhaps most importantly, compare to what happened last year.

Regular readers of the blog may recall that I posted about last year’s Texas Pinball Festival including some advice for those looking to attend. In the middle of that post I mention the environment of the tournament room:

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.

Indeed, I learned that taking breaks from the noisy and semi-chaotic environment of the tournament room is a vital part of self-care. How frequent those breaks need to be is going to depend on the individual player, but I found myself taking breaks as often as after every game at one point, certainly no less often than every third game. Don’t just queue up on another machine because the scorekeeper offers to do it for you and you see there’s no queue, especially in a limited entries format like TPF Wizards and Classics.

The main thing that would push me towards immediately re-queueing without a break would be if the internet access was too flaky for me to do it on my own, like it was last year. Thankfully, this year, that wasn’t an issue; I was able to live-toot all my scores throughout Friday qualifying as well as access other internet functionality as needed.

From further down in the post:

  • 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.

I did in fact follow my own advice and stay at the Hotel Indigo this year. I consider it money well spent as having a good night’s sleep and not smelling the faint odor of stale cigarette smoke all night was a huge confidence booster.

As a side note, the hotels partnering with the Texas Pinball Festival and offering discounted rates will drive this more than the proximity to the event, though obviously it makes more sense for the hotels closest to the event to offer these deals.

The field of competitors this year was different this year so it won’t be a true apples-to-apples comparison. I have never played that many of these tournaments with this type of a qualifier. I get that it’s a necessity when you have this many players as it exceeds the practical limits for match play, strikeout, and similar formats involving direct competition. Arriving to the tournament well-rested and well-fed was a huge confidence boost, and I felt like I had a more realistic chance. While the eventual difference was only 15 places (and still well within the bottom quartile of the entire field), I had a more satisfying experience overall. (I’ll address this in more detail later.)

Another piece of advice I offered was about budgeting for food:

  • 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.

I avoided the mall this year, and the egg sandwich truck was the only option this time around (I think this was on Friday), so the food truck option was a no-go. I wound up with street tacos served by Embassy Suites, which were at least reasonably priced. For dinner both days, I went back over to Parlour Social at the Hotel Indigo. Part of what factored into this decision was that Hotel Indigo had held $50 for incidentals. This wouldn’t be released until at least the Monday after I arrived back home. If I remember right, with drink and tip, the quesadilla was around $21, more expensive than but also more satisfying than the likes of Which Wich or anything else in the mall.

The more things change, the more they stay the same:

  • 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.)

This time, too, I had to deal with construction and a short delay. Thankfully it wasn’t a complete road closure this time. Of course I had to deal with Dallas rush-hour traffic as well, which was less of an issue on my previous trip.

Regarding parking, maybe Embassy Suites read this and decided not to leave money on the table this year:

  • 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 walked over to the conference center and kept my vehicle parked at the Hotel Indigo (except for the Domino’s and Target trips) for Friday and Saturday. On Sunday this year, the cost was $10 to park in Embassy’s garage. I paid this $10 because I didn’t want to risk the Hotel Indigo deciding to tow me off their lot, which they technically could as I was checked out by that point. I could have parked in one of the few spaces on Avenue of the Stars north of Gaylord Parkway, but decided not to as these spaces were likely intended for guests of the apartment complex (Origin at Frisco Bridges) and I also would have had to walk back across the street when everything was over.

I can now personally vouch for this advice:

  • 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.

After taking another look, even if taking DART, I recommend budgeting for a cab/rideshare for the last 1.6+ miles (shouldn’t run over $10 even with tip). I made a mistake last year when looking at the walking distance; I thought it was closer to one mile than two. It’s not that the neighborhood is necessarily that bad, but a long walk in Texas heat can very quickly become tiring.

With all but the lightest luggage loads, I personally would take a cab/rideshare the entire distance from the airport. (Cab fare to the Embassy in Frisco is $42 or so from Love Field, $46 or so from DFW International. This doesn’t include a tip.) Many years ago, I did ride Metro back home from the Greyhound bus station but this was with only a small carry-on. (The trip I had completed on Greyhound was from Columbus, Ohio, and remains the longest trip I have taken on Greyhound to date.)

Back to more tournament lessons I learned this year. It’s kind of obvious that my lack of experience with this type of tournament format is showing. Despite feeling like I had a better experience overall, not a single score this year was above the average threshold for qualifying for A division. The cutoff was 764 and the player on the bubble was Eric Leon, making the nominal average 64 points per game or 34th place (meaning, someone who was able to put up 34th place across the board would have made it into A division).

My best performance from the point of view of the final standings was Black Knight. On that game, my score of 475,710 ranked 37th for 61 points. To make the magic 34th place, I would have needed to do better than Donavan Stepp’s score of 491,120. (Yes, Donavan was the eventual third place finisher over the entire Wizards tournament. And yes, that’s a difference of only 15,410 points. A lot of the margins between the higher places, say 5th-10th down to 40th-50th, were this small across most of the games relative to the scoring on each individual game. Only once you get up to the very top do the margins between scores start to widen.)

The bar for B division isn’t all that much lower: 610 points set by Ryan Altermatt. This translates to a nominal average of 51 points or 47th place across the 12 scores that count. The Novice division’s cut-off was 347 points, set by Blase Licce. That translates to a nominal average of 29 points or 69th place across the 12 scores that count. That’s three scores of mine that were B division caliber, and four that were Novice division caliber.

More than half of my best attempts from the tournament were only good for goose eggs. (By “goose egg” I mean 0 standings points, or 98th or worse.) This didn’t include my score on Foo Fighters, but did include games I should have been able to score higher on.

After my glass-ceiling-shattering performance on Whirlwind at Poison Girl, it was a significant disappointment to me when I learned it wouldn’t return to the tournament lineup this year. If nothing else, I would have relished the opportunity to once again play the game under tournament conditions to see how much I had improved over last year. (In fact, if memory serves, none of the games this year were the same as last year in either Wizards or Classics.)

A lot of these games I had never played in the wild before, much less in a tournament setting: Alien Poker, Wild Fyre, Mars Trek, Volley, Atlantis, Grand Prix, and of course Foo Fighters. That’s 7 out of the 15 in the Wizards tournament. Spirit of 76 I may have played once or twice at a previous show (either Houston Arcade Expo or TPF), and Black Knight I’ve played some but not on tournament settings. Congo was a game I had played before but elected not to play during the tournament.

Even on the games in that lineup that I have the most  familiarity with, I still put up a lot of just plain lousy scores. Anything under a billion on Attack from Mars, for example, definitely won’t get it done. Those are perhaps the most disappointing ones, because I know I’m a better player than that.

There are a lot of player names on the list I recognize, despite not playing in very many local tournaments over the past couple of years; some because they are high ranked players, some because they play(ed) in local tournaments. There are some I would realistically expect to finish above (i.e. players that I feel I am better than), some I would realistically expect to finish below. Examples of the latter would be the obvious ones like Escher Lefkoff, Raymond Davidson, Phil Grimaldi, Colin MacAlpine, Steven Bowden, etc. I’m not going to name examples of the former, but suffice it to say there are quite a few locals who I feel I am better than, who played in this tournament and finished higher. (To be fair, with only 35 spots below me, that’s not  a whole lot of room at the bottom.)

The main takeaways I have from this year are: first, I should not count on a high finish to catapult me into the running for the IFPA Texas state championship; and second, I probably need to practice more and on a variety of different titles versus playing the same games over and over again. That might involve more travel; it might just involve changing scenery and playing in more locations in the Houston area.

Series Navigation<< Texas Pinball Festival 2023, part 4: Sunday and the drive home