Texas Pinball Festival 2024 part 7: The trip home, final thoughts, and takeaways

This entry is part 7 of 7 in the series Texas Pinball Festival 2024

 

I drove home Sunday night, after the other event I attended earlier in the day. (This other event won’t be blogged here but I may blog it later elsewhere.)

There was a lot to reflect on during the trip home and after returning. There were a few notable single machine scores among my entries. As you may or may not have noticed, Garrett Shahan, the 2024 IFPA Texas state champion, was in this tournament. My 14th place on Kiss (Bally) was higher than Garrett’s score by a mere 10 points (577,720 to 577,710). For that matter, it was a good 84K and 11 places higher than Eric Stone’s score. To be fair, Garrett did squeak ahead of me on Jacks Open by just over 1500 points (among others). Eric, of course, more than made up for this shortcoming elsewhere on his way to qualifying for and winning the tournament (A division).

Taking a closer look at the final tournament standings, I found quite a few surprises among the list of players I ranked ahead of this year. Going down the list, these are just top 1000 ranked players, more or less in order: Scott Woods, Jack Revnew*, Dan Newman, Jokton Strealy, Danielle Peck, Dean St. Onge, Cassie Begay*, Luca Stinchcombe, Phil Nguyen*, Jesse Huber, Matt Rowbottom, Rick Miller*, Scott Stinchcombe.

Now, this is not without some caveats. The asterisks denote players who either did not get to play all 25 Wizards entries or chose not to. A lot of these players were also in the Classics tournament. I mention this because I overheard considerable chatter about how the players who qualified for the Classics playoffs had little time to play Wizards entries. (Though, apparently, at least many of those who finished near the top in Wizards who were also in Classics manged to play at least most of their entries in both.) Of particular note, Jack Revnew did win Classics at the possible sacrifice of his Wizards standing. If that’s what it took, I’d say it was a worthy strategy.

Had I had the budget to enter Classics this year at the time entries were open, I may well have chosen to play both Classics and Wizards. As it was, the NTX tournaments did take up a fair amount of time on Friday. I still had fun at those tournaments despite not doing very well. It was nice to be able to play a fairly casual tournament in between Wizards qualifying attempts. I would go as far as to say I “got the sucking out of my system” in those events. (That is, I would rather lay an egg in these causal side tournaments and do well in Wizards. Assuming there was only one event where I would do well in, of course.)

I got to spend some time on the show floor, perhaps not as much as I would have liked to. The main draws for me were Labyrinth (again) and the new Scooby-Doo game. There were some novelties and rarities. Perhaps most notable was the Pinball Action arcade cabinet. Prior to this show, I had not seen one in person ever, despite being familiar with the title. A lot of the older titles, particularly electromechanical games, are ones I would normally never get to play.

Overall this was the most satisfying experience at the Texas Pinball Festival I have had to date. Looking back at everything, I have always felt it was important to find the mistakes when things went wrong. However, in this case I also want to look for the good moves and good ideas that led to things going right.

I think the difference maker this year was staying at a hotel with free breakfast (Holiday Inn Express) versus a rather expensive paid breakfast with few options I found appealing (Hotel Indigo). I know it’s a rather clichéd marketing slogan and I risk sounding like a Holiday Inn fanboy. But I’m sticking to it: the choice of the Holiday Inn Express this year may well have been the smartest move of my travel planning. Dare I say it, that move may have been the one to have contributed most to my best Wizards tournament finish yet. To be fair about it, the Embassy Suites (the hotel adjoining the conference center) also offers a free breakfast.

Time for a little sidebar here. I am usually not a morning person. For the Friday and Saturday at TPF this year, I temporarily became one out of necessity. (To a lesser extent, I was a morning person on Thursday as well for the trip up to Frisco.) This, too, may have been part of it. However, this comes back to my desire to get my money’s worth out of my hotel expenses. Either way, I don’t think it matters much which is the cause and which is the effect. I feel one can’t go wrong with a good breakfast before each day of a tournament.

Also, I did try to keep a more positive attitude throughout the qualifying sessions for Wizards as well as the NTX  tournaments. Particularly on Saturday morning, when I really wasn’t sure how things were going to play out, I kept telling myself what was still possible and that I was still in much better shape than last year and the year before.

This was shaping up to be a watershed moment in my time in competitive pinball regardless of what happened. This was the right outcome at the right time. Anything resembling the last two years may well have had me planning a wind-down of my time in competitive pinball.

This is the harsh reality: a lot of other major tournaments are like this. If it’s not a limited-plays format like Wizards and Classics, it’s a a “Herb format”/best card. (This is where each qualifying entry is based on a “card” with several game scores, typically something like 5 out of a bank of 10 machines.) Both are similar as if one isn’t good enough to qualify, that’s it, tournament’s over. Both are quite intimidating formats to even a moderately seasoned player like yours truly. I can only imagine the shock of a first-time tournament player at Wizards or Classics and feeling completely lost.

Everything I said in the last couple of years regarding self-care still applies. Taking breaks between games to get away from the noise level helps as usual. For some reason, though, the tournament room did seem a bit quieter this year. Maybe it was just the volume levels being turned down on the games that have speakers. Maybe it was just my perception. Or, maybe I’m starting to experience hearing loss (hopefully not).

There are a few other things that I did learn. One is that even practice on the same titles as those appearing in a tournament does not guarantee improved performance. The operator of a Whirlwind or Terminator 2 in a self-described dive bar won’t set up the machine the same as the one in a tournament like Wizards.

I do think that a couple of the games this year may have been set up a bit too hard. I believe in a fine line between setting up a game to be a challenge to play in a tournament, and modifying it to the point where it really isn’t game XYZ anymore. (Sometimes “ruining” or “butchering” would be more appropriate descriptions, to be honest.) It’s surprisingly easy to cross this line without realizing it.

Besides the aforementioned Whirlwind and Time Machine, I feel Sorcerer in the Classics bank also qualifies here. From what I heard, it was butchered to no longer have multiball for the women’s tournament. There were also suggestions to use the slightrly shorter “lighting” flippers and/or make the ramp just harder to hit. The designers did nothing to accomodate “lightning” flippers as these did not exist in 1985. In fact, they did not start shipping with games until sometime in the 1990s. As a further note of interest, these shorter flippers only came about because of some European distributors. How they became so popular in the US (and possibly other markets) is anyone’s guess.

It was awesome to get to meet and hang out with some awesome people, most notably the eventual Wizards champion Eric Stone. We got to talk and hang out a bit during the tournament as well as on Thursday night. There were other players and show attendees whom I got to meet and talk to a bit but not to the same extent. I know I gave the blog address to a couple of people so if you are here as a result of that, I appreciate you checking out this series of posts even if they are a bit long.

I’m not going to try to analyze just how much better I needed to do to get into B division or A division this time around because it’s more or less academic. There are also other variables in play as mentioned previously. Most notably, whether or not there was necessarily enough time for players in Classics to play all of their Wizards entries, as well as what seemed like an above average number of machine failures, make any comparisons dubious at best. This is not to say Eric Stone and Jack Revnew didn’t earn their respective victories; they did, of course. But it’s difficult to make comparisons given some of the things that happened this year that usually don’t.

Finally, I would like to offer my thanks to the organizers of the Texas Pinball Festival and the tournament organizers, without which I would not have had the opportunity to compete in the tournament and experience what can only be described as an absolutely epic weekend.

And with that, it’s time to start counting down to Houston Arcade Expo (or whatever out-of-town tournaments I make it to before then).

Texas Pinball Festival 2024 part 6: Miscellaneous photos (mostly show floor)

This entry is part 6 of 7 in the series Texas Pinball Festival 2024

So with all that tournament action, you may well be thinking I had no time to actually go onto the show floor and just play casual pinball. Well, actually, I did get some games in; I don’t drive for over 4 hours and 250 miles just to stay in the tournament room the whole time.

There are too many different scores here to go into all of them in detail. Of particular note is the new Scooby-Doo game from Spooky Pinball, as well as another quick (lousy) game of Labyrinth I was able to squeak in.

In total, counting the games I didn’t post, I probably got about 40-50 casual games in on the show floor. That’s not nearly as many as a show like Houston Arcade Expo where I’m not (usually) in the tournament room for hours on end, but I still feel it’s a respectable number.