Pinball wizards and joystick jockeys in North Texas have reason to celebrate. This weekend, two gaming festivals are descending on the area: one a big, splashy affair featuring celebrities and hundreds of pinball machines; the other a small, video game-packed event with proceeds going to a worthy cause.
Retrofest, Fort Worth
When Magdiel Ventura first envisioned DFW RetroFest (now just called RetroFest) over half a decade ago, the North Texas video game expo landscape was much different than it is now. In fact, other than Screwattack Game Convention, it was all but nonexistent.
“I kept seeing all these conventions like Portland Retro Gaming Expo, PAX East and the SoCal Gaming Expo, but those were so far away,” Ventura says. “I began brainstorming a similar event close to home.”
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Now in its fourth year, RetroFest is much smaller than the shows that inspired Ventura, but that’s just fine with him.
“I love big conventions, but I think people appreciate the intimacy and camaraderie of a smaller show,” he says.
At RetroFest, attendees can browse and shop more than 30 booths filled with video game cartridges, discs and consoles, along with such peripherals as joysticks, memory cards, control pads and hint guides. Plus, some vendors will offer such geek culture collectibles as comic books, action figures and toys.
New to the show is a gaming area where people can play popular vintage consoles, including the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, GameCube and Nintendo 64.
In the past, earnings from RetroFest have helped send kids to summer camp. This year, the event will sponsor kids going to a world quiz competition in Indianapolis.
“Taking all the money drama out of it really helps everyone have a good time,” Ventura says. “And the customers and vendors feel good about coming out, because it all goes to something good.”
Details: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, River Oaks Nazarene Church, 5620 Black Oak Lane, Fort Worth. $5 (children under 6 are free); www.texasretrofest.com.
Texas Pinball Festival, Frisco
When it began at a small Arlington hotel 15 years ago, the Texas Pinball Festival was a humble gathering of mostly middle-aged white guys who grew up playing pinball..
The festival has grown every year since, incorporating video games and drawing a much larger and more diverse crowd. This weekend, more than 5,000 attendees will play more than 350 pinball machines and approximately 50 arcade classics.
“We’ve always designed the Texas Pinball Festival to be family-friendly, but we’re seeing a much younger crowd these days,” says TPF co-founder Paul McKinney. “Around half the people who show up are women and families.”
A flat admission fee gets you into the convention center. The pinball machines and arcade cabinets will be set on free play, meaning you can press “start” again and again until your hands are sore.
New to this year’s show are mainstream celebrity guests, namely Sam J. Jones, who played the title role in the 1980 “Flash Gordon” movie, and Cassandra Peterson, who’s better known as horror movie actress and host Elvira. For an additional fee, they will pose for photos and sign memorabilia.
Pinball tournaments will run throughout the weekend, and the show is hosting the world premiere of a new movie, “Things That Go Bump in the Night: The Spooky Pinball Story.”
In addition, there will be vendors selling bumpers, bells, backglass and other pinball machine replacement parts. For those with deep pockets, many of the games themselves will be for sale.
Our favorite thing to do at TPF is wander the expansive convention room floor, ogling and playing everything from 1930s electromechanical machines to solid-state games of the 1980s to the latest movie-based offerings.
Details: 5 p.m.-1 a.m. Friday; 10 a.m.-midnight Saturday; 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Sunday, Embassy Suites, 7600 John Q. Hammons Drive, Frisco. $10-$65, children under 6 are free. http://texaspinball.com.