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Video 400 Pinball Machines and Counting at the Texas Pinball Festival (Video) 36

Yes, folks. Step right up. It's the 2013 Texas Pinball Festival, except... Whoops! You missed it. But don't despair, because Tim Lord was there with his camcorder to interview organizer Paul McKinney and to point his lens lovingly at pinball machines new and old, complete with whistles and bells, oh my! It was a riotous time, with players of all ages. Pinball machines were played, bought, and sold. There were plenty of exhibitors, including some with shiny-new machines. The most interesting of these may have been Multimorphic, which is making "the world's first modular, multi-game, pinball platform." In other words, one machine that can become many games, sort of like a video game console. There's a separate, short, "bonus video" about Multimorphic (with no transcript), for anyone who is interested in their open source, "open platform" pinball machine concept -- and that may not be just old fogies trying to recapture their youth, when they had the high score on the Evel Knievel machine at a local pool hall, because McKinney says the people coming to the Texas Pinball Festival are younger every year.

Tim: This looks a lot like a public park, but it is actually the grounds of a Hilton along I-35 in Dallas. While the weather outside is nice, the action here is indoors where over the course of three days in March, thousands of people have come to play with, gawk at, and in some cases, buy pinball machines going back to the 1940s and ‘50s. In some ways, it is like a very active hands-on museum. I talked with conference organizer Paul McKinney about the gathering. He says that not only has pinball gotten bigger in the last few years, it is queuing younger too. Paul, what is this, that’s all behind us here?

Paul: Well, this is the 2013 Texas Pinball Festival. And what we have is about 400 or so machines on the floor. The majority of them are pinball machines. A few of them go back to the ‘40s up into the very modern ones that we have now. A lot of them are collector machines that they work on all year, fix them up, and bring them to the show just to be able to share them with the public.

Tim: Now this can’t be your full time job as organizer of pinball machines, what is your day job, what do you do?

Paul: You know, sometimes this is a full time job. Well, I do project management, computer software, and I am somewhat kind of a little retired and able to spend time on this.

Tim: I am shocked you do either one of those things.

Paul: Yeah.

Tim: So how many people are here at the show here?

Paul: Well, we have to guess at this point. We still have another day to go, but at anytime we may have as many as 1500 people or so in here. We usually run maybe 3000 over the life of the show.

Tim: Okay. And you have a much more exact count on the machines that are here. You have a more exact count of the machines.

Paul: Oh yeah, we went around and counted this evening, so we know what we have. We are up to 402.

Tim: Now this is called the Texas Pinball Festival. But you are not limited to Texas by attendance or the vendors?

Paul: Oh no at all. In fact, we actually have quite a few people from out of the country, a number from the UK, we usually have South America and Germany well represented, we’ve got Nova Scotia, Canada, and it is just all over the US.

Tim: Now this being 2013, it is really interesting to see pinball, where it wasn’t ten or fifteen years ago.

Paul: Absolutely, and it has really picked up in the last couple of years. We have two new manufacturers that are on the scene, Multimorphic which is out of Austin, and then we also have Jersey Jack pinball which is introducing the Wizard of Oz pinball game here in our tournaments this time.

Tim: Now this festival though has been going on even during some leaner years. How did it get started?

Paul: Well, absolutely. There were about five or six of us, and we would usually run into each other at auctions, looking for old pinball machines to restore, and we started visiting each other, and sharing our collections, and we just thought, well let’s take our games and go find a hotel room, and share them with folks, so we started 13 years ago and about 60 games, just kind of the show has grown from there.

Tim: Now do you have a Holy Grail? Do you look for certain games? Do you play certain games more? What is your favorite?

Paul: You know, I don’t have a Holy Grail. I mean I’ve got games that I’ve never seen before that I like to play. I am very attracted to the art work, and have an appreciation for that, so that’s what I look for in games.

Tim: Now one thing that we talked about earlier today and I would like you to tell some of our readers about is that there is some legislation that is one of the reasons that pinball machines got scarce. How is it that pinball machines disappeared for so long?

Paul: Oh, well, there was a time when pinball machines didn’t have flippers, and you would plunge a ball, and it would go in a hole, and give you some points. And at that point, it was a game of chance. And because of that, it was considered a gambling device. So there were a lot of municipalities that basically didn’t like people making money which would be illegally on gambling machines. So along came the invention of the flipper and what the flipper did was make that game a game of skill. And that allowed them to be back in the marketplace again. But a lot of those laws still hang around even here in Texas. And they will put pressure on you when you are operating, and there is some overhead side to that.

Tim: How does Texas stack up to other states in that regard?

Paul: It is like county by county, is the way that it really is. So it just kind of comes and goes with the seasons.

Tim: It sounds like alcohol.

Paul: A lot like that. But none of us put these machines in that category. And another thing that has happened with machines is really different now, you used to be able to find these machines out in the wild, and I think you still will, you will see them in theaters now, and you are probably going to see more of them in places like that. But for the most part, these things have survived in people’s homes with collectors.

Tim: This is definitely an all ages event?

Paul: Oh absolutely. That is another change that we’ve seen. Thirteen years ago, most of the people at the festival were kind of like me, you know, my age; they grew up playing the games and they collected them. Now if you look around the festival today, you will see that this has grown to, I guess we are close to 50 percent women, a lot of families and kids, parents who might have played when they were little, taking their kids out and introducing them to it.

Tim: Now what shall we expect next year?

Paul: Next year, we are hoping for some more machines. And by that time, I think we are going to have both these manufacturers that had some machines on location. _____7:59 usually cranks out about three machines a year, and we know about some really neat upcoming releases that they are going to have, so...

Tim: Anything else people should know about this festival here?

Paul: Every person comes out tired.

Tim: When in the year do you start planning? When will you start planning for the next one?

Paul: We will start planning in about two weeks for next year.

Tim: Wow! Okay. If somebody has a machine at home, and feel that they would love to get it on the floor here, what should they do?

Paul: If someone has a machine that they want to bring to play at the Texas Pinball Festival, just go to our site, give us about a month or two to get it going on next year, but you will have an exhibitor registration page and just fill that out, and come and enjoy.

Tim: Now I won’t ask you to place any bets on this, but is this the largest such gathering in the world?

Paul: I’ll place a bet. Yes, right now, we are pretty close to the largest display of pinball machines in a setting like this for a festival in the world. And I would love to challenge the other festivals to be just as big because the ones that are close, we all know this is just good for pinball, and we like that.

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400 Pinball Machines and Counting at the Texas Pinball Festival (Video)

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  • by pezpunk ( 205653 ) on Monday April 08, 2013 @03:21PM (#43394113) Homepage

    the producer here decided to show us this guy's mug for 90% of the run time. i am struggling to understand, though, why it was interrupted with occasional 3-second snippets of PINBALL MACHINES, though.

    • Roblimo is trying, but failing as a video producer. He goes onsite to Texas locales without any preparation, research, etc. and spontaneously attempts to conjure up questions to ask people about the event.

      Most of what he asks the people could be found on any flyer about the event. Better questions would have been:

      1. Is a pinball renaissance afoot? 2. Why wasn't the kid from Kaine's Arcade invited?

  • Bay Area Pinball (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Pacific Pinball Museum is a great day in the Bay Area. I go up twice a year (as much as my wife can stand)
    They usually organize a similar event Pacific Pinball Expo

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 08, 2013 @03:44PM (#43394317)

    Don't forget about Pinburgh 2013, which is happening this weekend near Pittsburgh, PA!

  • Memories (Score:5, Interesting)

    by folderol ( 1965326 ) on Monday April 08, 2013 @03:52PM (#43394375) Homepage
    Used to be a nice little earner for me repairing these in the late 1960s - the real ones. All electromechanical, none of your wimpy solid state rubbish.
  • Taxi 'nuff said! :)
  • by MasseKid ( 1294554 ) on Monday April 08, 2013 @04:14PM (#43394639)
    If we heard about this before the festival? I have to think a lot of the people who would be interested in actually watching this video who live in Texas would have been interested in going to this festival. I understand it's not SXSW, but do you think we could squeeze an article between the global warming and slashervertisements for neat things like this so we could go to them instead of watching a video about someone else having all the fun?
    • by timothy ( 36799 ) Works for Slashdot

      You're right.

      Really, we should (and hopefully you'll see this actually happen -- it's been a long stretch of nagging so far ;)) have far more interesting events announced like this. In the case of this one, though, I have to point out I only found out about it myself a few days beforehand, and wasn't sure what to expect.

      If you have any thoughts about exactly *how* you'd like to see interesting events mentioned (A calendar link? on the Slashdot twitter feed? etc) and what sort of events you'd want to be show

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Keep an eye on the TPF website (or better yet if you Facebook 'like' the TPF facebook page). There's been talk that TPF will move to June or July next year due to the Final Four being held in Dallas and all the appropriately sized hotels being booked from March until May. If you order tickets a few months out you get a discount on the weekend pass that's pretty nice as well.

  • by Rude Turnip ( 49495 ) <[valuation] [at] []> on Monday April 08, 2013 @04:25PM (#43394743)

    I'm old enough to remember pinball machines having their own prominent corner in the local video arcade (and old enough to have had local video arcades), but too young to have experienced pinball in its prime. The big hits in pinball when I grew up were Addams Family, Terminator, and Playboy. Not too long after, when arcades started closing, pinball went into a downward spiral.

    • I'm old enough to remember the walls of every beer and pizza join around Campaign-Urbana crammed with pinball machines and guys like me going for a free game after a pitcher of Old Milwaukee. The clatter of thumpers and bumpers, the constant bells. Bump bump ... Tilt! Just after grad school Atari released the home version of Pong. I bought one, might still be in my attic.

      Never heard anything about pinball games creating mass murderers. Juvenile delinquents hanging around pool halls, sure, but shooting peop

  • Pinball musuem (Score:4, Informative)

    by Garion911 ( 10618 ) on Monday April 08, 2013 @05:26PM (#43395237) Homepage

    For pinball fans that happen to make it to Vegas, there's a pinball 'museum' a few miles from the strip on the Tropicana. Might not be as many machines as this, but fun nonetheless. []

  • by DeathElk ( 883654 ) on Monday April 08, 2013 @05:59PM (#43395609) []

  • by ArcadeNut ( 85398 ) on Monday April 08, 2013 @06:16PM (#43395789) Homepage

    Did you make it to Zapcon? (>)?

    • by timothy ( 36799 ) Works for Slashdot

      No! In fact, have never heard of it until your comment. See that I just missed it. We really need a reader-facing, reader-populated events calendar for just such things. Lots of cool regional events ...


  • I finally got a twilight zone a few months ago. It needed only minor repairs. Good fun.

  • If you like pinball, and are in Austin, look up pinballz []. It totally old school, they have pinball machines from the early 60's that don't even have transistors (think lots of relays) to modern ones and everything in between.. I've been going there on an off for a couple years, and lately the place gets really busy in the evenings/weekends. For a while almost all the machines were for sale, and a lot of really cool ones have apparently been sold, but they still have ~100 on t

  • may want to stop by Ground Kontrol (  ) in Portland, it's very old-school and totally awesome. I visited there all the way from Scandinavia, and I have to say, I've never seen a more enthusiastic old-school arcade crowd somewhere since the 80s, and that place was like the 80s all over again. Tons of pinball machines, go nuts! :)
  • No kidding, electromechanical pinball machines are the heaviest things I've ever lifted.

Some people manage by the book, even though they don't know who wrote the book or even what book.