Still got that magic? Game Preserve Webster, 2020 November 14

My recent success on Ghostbusters at Colorado Canyon went far beyond the pinnacle of satisfaction in a series of games of pinball after work. But it did give rise to another question: how well would I do in a competitive pinball situation, given it’s been a good year since I’ve played anything besides a one-player game? It’s a question I’ve been pondering off and on since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic made put the competitive pinball scene we had on pause for a while.

And finally, this past Saturday, the opportunity presented itself. In a fortunate turn of events, I was invited along for dinner and an evening of pinball by William Thornton, whom I have played against in tournaments and league play a few times here and there. William’s son, Brent, also joined in the fun.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get very many pictures of the decor (I will try to next time I am there) but I will summarize by saying they really went all out with artwork evoking memories of quite a few games of years past, most notably Pong, Asteroids, Pac-Man, and the well-known pinball title Black Hole (one of my favorites now that my pinball skills as an adult have risen to the level they have, I might add).

I would begin with a quick one-player game on Roller Disco. Now that a proper steel ball is installed in this machine (the last time I got to play it at the location in The Woodlands, they were using a pink ceramic ball of the type used in Twilight Zone for the “Powerball”). I put up a not-too-shabby 134.5k+, and so we began.

Before I get into some details on some of the games, this is a summary of the games as they were played, including my score (and the winning score if not mine), my playing order, and finishing order:

  • Deadpool, 12.54M+ (19.74M+), first turn, second place
  • Jungle Lord, 158.2k+, first turn, first place
  • Iron Maiden, 142.4M+, second turn, first place
  • Road Kings, 1.43M+, first turn, first place
  • Space Shuttle, 281.7k+, second turn, first place
  • Trident, 257.6k+, second turn, first place
  • Torch, 186.4k+ (232.1k+), third turn, second place
  • Fish Tales, 16.53M+ (34.99M+), third turn, second place
  • Austin Powers, 40.26M+, second turn, first place
  • Austin Powers, 18.20M+ (115.43M+ by Brent), third turn, third place

All told, six first place finishes out of ten games, a couple of them by fairly significant margins (see pictures). The true highlights, the most memorable games of the night, would have to be Iron Maiden and Road Kings, though the game on Trident deserves some mention too.

Road Kings, as you may or may not be aware, was the game I played in my very first pinball tournament back in seventh grade. I put up a score somewhere just short of 200k (I want to say 194k+) second only to the friend of mine I played pinball with at the bowling alley every day, who I think put up a score in the 257k+ range. All in all I was pretty proud of myself and my performance back then (this was easily a quarter century before Houston had anything resembling a proper competitive pinball scene), but it was nice to be able to play this game again with a couple more decades of pinball experience under my belt, and punch up a score well into seven digits.

Even more so, I actually figured out the rules of this game, whereas most of the time back in my middle and high school years, I was just smacking the ball around and aiming for what was lit. With a little more practice, I’m looking forward to putting up a 4M+ score sometime in the next year to date (i.e. during or before 2021 November). I hope a score in this range will be enough for the high score board (somewhere on it at least if not #1).

Iron Maiden, the game we played right before Road Kings, was another pretty solid tour de force on my part. It seemed like I made almost everything I aimed for, and started just about every multiball mode in the game one right after the other. The only thing I’m surprised about is that I wasn’t able to rocket into 200M+ territory, signing off with a mere 142.4M+. But that was more than enough to win.

Trident is a machine I’ve struggled with at times. The 257.6k+ I was able to post this time is perhaps the exception to the rule, and would probably get me by in most tournaments and league play. I don’t consider it a truly great score, though; in my view, that label is reserved for 400k+ or so.

With the multiplayer games at a close, I was able to get in a few single player games before it was time to call it a night, most notably on the electromechanical era games (which were all one- or two-player, making a three-player contest rather tedious), and a couple of video games thrown in just for the heck of it. I’m not going to post all my scores from this part of the night, but the highest scores were:

  • Beat Time: 3,130
  • Friendship 7: 1,309
  • Pioneer: 39,510
  • Space Shuttle: 656.7k+
  • Ghostbusters: 26.20M+
  • Deadpool: 28.28M+
  • Road Kings: 1.12M+
  • Space Station: 1.29M+
  • Roller Disco: 106.2k+
  • Jungle Lord: 39.0k+
  • Blackout: 133.1k+
  • Iron Maiden: 48.45M+
  • Space Odyssey: 88,890
  • Hard Drivin’: 50,351 / 1:52:65 lap
  • STUN Runner: 66,445

Even though some of my scores in one-player games were not equal to my prior efforts on the same games earlier in multiplayer, I still feel pretty good about most of them. In particular, I did a little better on Road Kings in the multiplayer games versus single player, but cracking into the seventh digit is still a good indicator of a relatively good score (to me, “great” would begin at around 2M+).

A great time was had by all. My thanks to William for making this possible; he is a great example of the kind of good people we have here in the greater Houston classic gaming community.

Colorado Canyon: A little mini-golf and ghostbusting after work

So today, my regular job involved a trip to the Beaumont area. After work was done, I had a brief lunch at a nearby Mexican food restaurant, and headed over to Colorado Canyon, originally for a game of mini-golf. I feel like I didn’t too bad, staying relatively close to par until the 13th hole, but still managing to turn in a 59 (+16) for the whole course. Decent, but not exactly living up to the legacy of my grandfather (who was an avid golfer in his later years).

So, after turning in my ball and putter, I decide I’m not ready to go back to Houston just yet. I look through the arcade, and much to my surprise I am greeted by a Ghostbusters pinball machine. With a game started, and another credit in reserve. I play a couple of games, doing well enough to win three replays. Everything plays okay. I decide I’m going to play a few more. In the middle I take a break and play Space Invaders Frenzy, but I do hop right back on Ghostbusters afterwards (the arcade is nearly empty). I win a few replays here and there and finally break through with a smashing 1.36B+. In the interest of brevity I’m only posting this one score, though I wasily played 10 games total (many off of replays).

This is the new code, which no longer awards the video mode on skill shots. Ghostbusters is a decent pinball game again. Finally. All the video mode weenies will probably whine now that they actually have to play pinball to get a high score on a pinball machine. Such is life. I’m not a huge fan of video modes, but I tolerate them if they do not unbalance and ruin the game. (That score was made without playing the video modes even once.)

A few quickies for 2020 March

Since the bars and arcades are temporarily shuttered, I’ve been stuck at home playing some old classics. This is a small sampling of my recent bests, in order:

  • Atari Video Cube, 1:57.3 (variation 12)
  • Atari 2600 Frostbite, 26340
  • Atari 2600 Midnight Magic, 483990
  • Atari 2600 Stampede, 3212 (I think this was variation 1)
  • Atari 2600 Super Football, 24-14 win versus computer
  • Atari Lynx California Games BMX, 626

Speedy’s Fast Track: Plastic is fantastic?

[Note: This post describes two visits from the latter half of February, well before the business closures and most event cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic began in the Houston area. For a variety of reasons, It took until now to actually get this post completed and ready to upload.]

Way, way back in the day, I checked out Speedy’s Fast Track (possibly operating under a different name at the time, but there was an arcade in the area) after hearing about it from a friend I had met at Exhilarama (during its downfall as an indoor amusement park, which would soon become just another Tilt arcade, but that’s another story). It had been easily 20 years since I had set foot in the place. A lot has changed since then. As I remember it, there was no miniature golf course and there was definitely no laser tag.

There was pinball alongside the video games, though, both then and now. And that’s the main reason for this relatively brief visit. The lineup: Batman ’66, Star Wars (2017), The Munsters, Iron Maiden, Deadpool, and Jurassic Park (2019). The nominal price per game was $1.75 for everything but Batman ’66, which was $1.60. Speedy’s uses swipe cards, which honestly, I’m not that big of a fan of, but apparently this is the wave of the future. The swipe card system does allow a generous discount such that buying, say, $10 or more of play at a time reduces the effective price to something a bit more reasonable ($1.35/$1.23 or less, slightly higher the first time you load less than $50 on a card because of the $1 card fee). The advantage to the arcade operator is that it’s more difficult to share the discounted rate among a group of friends (versus using tokens).

I began with one title I had only played a few times: The Munsters. I last played this when I was a regular league player, but didn’t really get the opportunity to relax and actually enjoy the experience of playing. In particular, I didn’t get to hear the sounds.

I moved on to Jurassic Park. I put up a couple of respectable games, including the 89.6M+ photographed below. I didn’t know what to expect from this game, but it turned out to be a surprisingly enjoyable and refreshing experience.

On to Iron Maiden, another rather familiar game from league play. The 118.3M+ I was able to post on this title is certainly competition-quality. This is another game I could just sit back and play for an hour or so after getting a rhythm going.

Next up was Batman ’66, which I was no stranger to. This one didn’t disappoint either; I would play for quite a while on my paid credit, topping out at 293.5M+ (on this visit). A quick game of Crazy Taxi and I would call it a wrap for the afternoon.

I would return a few days later to check out the rest of the games I didn’t get a chance to play the first time through. An unremarkable 12.7M+ on Deadpool and a modest 79.0M+ on Star Wars would begin the evening, but the real story is what I would do the second time through on Batman ’66: a personal record and grand champion score of 870.2M+ as well as a bonus champion of 329M+ (from an earlier game than the grand champion score).

To be fair about it, there is an issue with Batman ’66 that could be termed a beneficial malfunction: the autoplunger does not fire as it should. However during my grand champion run I did everything I could to play it as if it was a tournament game and not leave balls in the plunger lane longer than necessary.

Other than that, there were relatively few issues with the games at Speedy’s and I look forward to making this one of my regular destinations.


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