Status of record score attempts, 2018 February

So recently I came back to the original reason for starting this blog: record score attempts, primarily on classic video games. For a while, I kind of pushed that to the side when the competitive pinball scene began blossoming again here in Houston.

And then I heard about two big controversies regarding record scores and times. First was the Todd Rogers/Atari 2600 Dragster record controversy (since thrown out, and Mr. Rogers is now banned from the Twin Galaxies site), and second was the more recent controversy over Billy Mitchell’s Donkey Kong record attempts. (I will probably write about both of these on my other blog, Rant Roulette within the coming weeks, as they are a better fit for that blog than this one.)

Between the two of those, I found myself on the Twin Galaxies website more often in a week than I had been in the previous year or so. And I started looking at the scores in a few games in particular. Those games are Klax, Centipede, Millipede, and Galaga.

The eventual goal of almost everyone in competitive gaming is to be the best. In this case, that’s a world record or a number 1 ranked score. Or, at least something which was a number 1 ranked score at some point in time. I’ll be honest here, I’m aware that I am starting to get up there in years. Centipede, Millipede, and Galaga were brand new when I was in elementary school. Klax was still relatively new when I started high school, a product of the infamous late 1980s/early 1990s puzzle game craze, right before Street Fighter II exploded onto the scene (and we all know the rest of that story). To say the least, there’s only so much time left for me to find a working game I want to be competitive on and learn it. That could be only 10 years from now. If I manage to still be competitive after that, I’ll be amazed at myself.

Right now Twin Galaxies is down, so I’m working from memory on what exactly the scores were. The Klax record is probably the one I have the best chance to beat, at 2.6M+ 2.83M+ (Paul Hornitsky, 2012). That’s medium difficulty, with difficulty ramping on. Just to get my confidence back, I’ve been practicing with difficulty ramping off. The difference is stark: with ramping on, tiles start coming much more frequently, and thus the strategy with ramping on is to score a lot of points quickly early on. My original goal is not to take down the record, but just to get over 1 million to submit to Twin Galaxies, which should stay within at least the top 5 for quite some time (particularly if I get to 1.5M+). Eventually, I might get good enough to make a legitimate attempt at the world record, but then again I might not.

Centipede and Millipede (tournament settings) have many scores well into seven digits (the millions). Realistically, my goal in playing these is to just have my name on a relatively good score (100K or greater for Centipede, TBD for Millipede). As time goes on, I may aim for higher scores, but the reality is anything over e.g. 1M on Centipede is going to take physical stamina I may no longer have.

Galaga (tournament settings) is going to be much the same situation, with a lot of scores I can tell are going to be out of my reach.

I’m not ruling out other titles, but right now these are the three four titles I feel most confident in.

Which brings me to another issue. Right now my living situation is such that I don’t have room for an arcade cabinet. I hope to change this by the end of the year, meaning my first actual record attempt might not be until early 2019. If I can get one together sooner, great. If not, I’m not going to push it. This is something that I plan to make happen; it is just a question of timing.

[Edit: The record for Klax was actually 200K+ higher than I remembered, as I found when the TG site came back up a short time ago. Added Galaga, since it’s another title I feel reasonably confident in and I had added it to my TG profile.]

Einstein’s Drainiacs 2018 February: Grand champion of the galaxy?

Right after last month’s tournament, I spent a little time to really think about how 2017 ended and how 2018 had begun, not just as a competitive pinball player but as someone looking to improve his situation in life. I’m not going to go into too many details, but suffice it to say after quite a few bad to mediocre years in a row, 2017 was one of the better years I’ve experienced.

I have always found it difficult, in whatever types of competitions I have been in, to rebound from a disastrous performance like the one in January. The good news is I could truthfully tell myself that it could not possibly get any worse, it was only a question of how much better it would be. Such was the mindset I kept in place as I entered Einstein’s Pub and made my way towards the pinball area in the back (towards the north end of the bar, with the main entrance being on the south end of the east wall).

The game lineup has remained mostly the same, with AC/DC Vault Edition being added since last month and no games being removed. I settled in quickly and managed to get in three games of Attack from Mars, leaving one credit for the lucky souls who would draw it their first game. Yes, the scores I put up during warmups left a bit to be desired (I won one replay out of three paid credits).

The afternoon’s tournament would begin ambitiously enough on The Champion Pub. I was grouped with Phil Grimaldi, Joe Cuellar, and Cory Westfahl. I never really got much going in this game. I was facing scores of 8.1M+ (Phil) and 14.0M+ (Joe) as the third player on ball 1. I would put up a whopping 611,180 despite making the +5X bonus on the skill shot. The bonus multiplier award is potentially more lucrative than the million or smart punch that other players often aim for, though you actually have to run up a decent bonus to make full use of it. Cory would post a score of 11.6M+. Phil and Joe would have a relatively low-scoring ball 2, but it still wasn’t enough to help me as I was only able to get to around 4.8M+. By the time it was my turn again, I was looking at needing to beat Phil’s score of 16.2M+ to have any realistic hope of not getting a strike (and ideally, much more than that), as Joe had run up his score to north of 50.1M. I did do well on the video mode and bring my score up to 13.5M+, but that was not enough. The bad news was I got a strike this round. The relatively good news was, so did Phil (which is surprisingly uncharacteristic of him).

To not only get a strike but also finish dead last in the first game, was a huge disappointment. I needed redemption, and I needed it in the worst way. Round 2 went up, and I would be going first in front of Rebecca Cook, Jeff Cook, and Raleigh Palis. Most players don’t like going first; I usually don’t mind it, but coming off the disaster on The Champion Pub, I would have felt better about playing later in the order.

I play my first ball and post a paltry 3.5M+, good enough for second place for the moment after Rebecca puts up a 16.1M+ and Jeff and Raleigh both fall well short of the 2M mark. I step up to play ball 2, managing to get Groot Multiball started. I make every jackpot there is, including a 32M super jackpot (no idea how I managed to do that). I know I’ve got a pretty high score, though I’m not looking at the scoreboard, just trying to keep it going. I manage to keep the ball in play long enough to start a second Groot Multiball and pile on even more points. I would end ball 2 with a white-hot score of 158.9M+. I would tack on a few more points with Orb Multiball in ball 3 before signing off with 167.7M+, good enough not only for first place in this game but for grand champion on this machine. In the strictest sense, I didn’t need such a decisive high score, but in a broader sense, I needed something to restore my confidence as the last round in this tournament series where I did not get a strike was round 9 of the 2017 December tournament on Star Trek.

The real shocker here, though, is Rebecca’s 29.3M+ which would put her in second place, leaving the strikes for Jeff and Raleigh. This appears to be Rebecca’s first tournament (she would be eliminated after round 6, good for thirteenth place). Looking at Jeff’s tournament history, on the other hand, I would have expected him to be taking second place in this game (he is a regular at the XXX Tuesdays tournament at The Game Preserve, having won twice and finishing near the top several other times, and also came in fourth at the Houston Arcade Expo tournament last year).

Anyway, on to round 3. I would be grouped with David Pollock, Marc Gammons, and Rob Layne on AC/DC, and this time I would be playing fourth. I was a bit worried from the beginning as David put up 20.6M+ on the first ball, a lot of points for this game. Marc and Rob put up much lower scores, though, and I only need second place to avoid a strike. I would put up 3.3M+ on ball 1, enough for a temporary second place. By the time it got back around to me, Marc had only advanced his score to just north of 4.0M, so there wasn’t as much pressure as there could have been. I’d post a 7.7M+ after ball 2, and technically I could have just plunged ball 3 and still been able to avoid a strike. Since it’s coin play, I did play out just to see how close I could come to David’s 51.8M+. I did wind up with a respectable 21.3M+.

My round 4 would be on Star Trek, and I would play second behind David Pollock and in front of Matt Quantz and Cory Westfahl. I had a real dud of a first ball, finding myself in a precarious spot by the time I stepped up to ball 2. I had 3.5M+, trailing David’s 9.6M+ and Cory’s 29.9M+. I did get to 17.8M+, which David was unable to surpass. Matt leapfrogged to 45.9M+ by the time I stepped up for ball 3, meaning I needed to beat Cory’s 33.3M+ at a bare minimum to stay alive. Amazingly, I was able to put together another clutch performance (I think it was a particularly strong Vengeance Multiball that sealed the deal). I would sign off with 59.3M+ good for first place, leaving Cory as the recipient of the other strike. I felt good enough to take a selfie, though it didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped.

Moving on to round 5, which for me would be on Attack from Mars, playing first ahead of Dora Li, Benjamin Horstman, and Matt Quantz. Ball 1 was relatively lousy for everyone, I had a nominal second place with 498M+ behind only Dora’s 759M+. My ball 2 was a dud, and I would start ball 3 looking at Ben’s 1.71B+ and Dora’s 1.12B+ ahead of my 589M+. I really laid an egg, signing off with 662M+, and giving me strike number two. Despite the fact this game went really sideways really fast, I was still feeling pretty good about how I had done so far.

The coming of round 6 would bring a unique opportunity to play Theatre of Magic. I drew a three-player group, playing behind Cory Westfahl and Joe Cuellar. It was a relatively ho-hum game until Cory blew it open on ball 2 with a very well-played multiball, scoring some 711M+. I was able to earn an extra ball early in ball 2. I started multiball once but completely bombed it. I had the Vanish lock so I actually had a four-ball multiball; however, I immediately lost two of the four balls and couldn’t keep multiball alive long enough to get even one jackpot. I would redeem myself by getting at least one jackpot when I started multiball again. I would finish ball 2 with 887M+, which would be good enough to clinch first place (I would play out and finish the game with 949M+).

Round 7 came around. I drew Game of Thrones, playing second behind Joe Cuellar and ahead of Dora Li and David Pollock. I’m not sure what went wrong, but all around this game was just a disaster. I was able to manage all of 4.7M+ which would not even come close to Joe’s third-place score of 33.0M+ let alone the scores Dora and David were able to post. Thus I get stuck with a third strike.

Round 8 would find me playing Star Trek in a three-player game, as the second player between Marc Gammons and Benjamin Horstman. It came down to needing to beat Ben’s 32.0M+. I had 9.5M+ before starting ball 3 and was only able to muster a 14.6M+ by the time it was over. So, that was the end of the line for me. I’d play Guardians of the Galaxy a few more times before a group drew it for tournament play (putting up three scores I’d consider relatively good out of five games), and then I’d head back home.

(Incidentally, Ben would go on to win the tournament over Phil in round 13.)

Ninth place out of a field of 16 is not that great, but considering what I was rebounding from in the prior month’s tournament, it’s pretty good. I’m looking forward to March, but don’t be surprised if I go out and play some more Guardians of the Galaxy on location somewhere in the meantime…

Einstein’s Drainiacs 2018 January: Upside down

A new year brings a new beginning, new hope, and change. Well, at least in theory, anyway. I can say for sure that we had a new game to play at Einstein’s Pub this time around, that being Guardians of the Galaxy. I did get to play it, just not during the tournament itself.

We had a total of 12 players, down from the 15 we had during December. I didn’t really realize the crowd was much smaller until I actually looked at the signup list because a lot of people returned from December so it felt like all the “regulars” were back.

The first round would see me grouped with Randy Abel, Laurie Bender, and Jeff Mleynek on The Walking Dead. I put up what I felt was a decent score, 14.2M+ with Randy already having signed off with 15.5M+. The way the game had gone to that point, I certainly felt like my score would hold up for second place. Laurie and Jeff had other ideas. Laurie would leapfrog from 6.2M+ after ball 2, to signing off with 20.9M+. Jeff would leapfrog from 6.6M+ to a whopping 42.6M+. That’s more points scored in one ball than Randy and I scored combined in our entire respective games. One round, one strike.

On to round two, where I would be grouped with Raleigh Palis, Frankie Griffin, and David Dronet on Game of Thrones. I just never really got anything decent going during this game: 776K+ going into ball 3, and I would finish dead last with 3.5M+ behind Raleigh’s 3.9M+. Two rounds, two strikes.

I had hoped the third round would bring me a change of luck. I drew Star Trek along with Frankie Griffin, Raleigh Palis, and Matt Quantz. I got off to a decent start in this one, leading after the first ball with 4.38M+ to Frankie’s 3.86M+. I had a crummy second ball, only boosting my score to 4.81M+ while the others caught up and I would begin ball 3 in last place to Matt’s 4.88M+. I would sign off by 8.51M+, and one by one the others caught up and surpassed it, leaving me in last place yet again. Three rounds, three strikes. It’s really starting to not look that good…

It is only fitting that my game for round four would be Ghostbusters, the same game I busted out on last month. I would be grouped with Chris Palis, Mike Linn, and Laurie Bender. After ball 1 I have only 507,160 points. That’s a frighteningly low score on this game. My awful luck would continue with 3.44M+ after ball 2, with the others easily surpassing me (Laurie had 7.61M+ while the other two had scores well above ours). I would sign off after ball 3 with 5.56M+ which could not possibly be better than third place. Four rounds, four strikes, and that’s it for me.

Despite the disastrous finish, I tried to keep my spirits up and hung around long enough to follow the majority of the tournament as well as play some more pinball just for fun. I did put up some decent scores on Star Trek and Guardians of the Galaxy before the afternoon was over. It’s not like I was just having a lousy day across the board, but when it counted, I sure laid an egg. I was the only player today to bust out after taking a strike in all of the first four rounds. Twelfth place out of twelve players. Dead last.

For a player of my skill level, this is completely out of character, and for that matter, completely unacceptable. Obviously, this isn’t the type of performance I want to repeat. I count two other pinball tournaments where I have finished last: the main tournament of the 2014 Oil City Open (though I finished third in the side tournament), and the B division playoffs for Space City Pinball League Season 5.

This one is different, though, because I’ve since proven to myself that I can win (even if it was a B division playoff tournament), that I can come back from having my back against the wall, that there is magic in believing in myself. There’s some small measure of pride in finishing fifth out of fifteen like I did last month, when I know had I faced the same circumstances in the not-so-distant past that I wouldn’t have handled them as well. This time, I feel like a last-place finish is such a completely unacceptable result because I have proven I can shake off the demons and win. Now, those demons are apparently back again to roost.

I normally don’t post this many pre- and post-tournament single-player score pictures, and certainly not this many of the same game. This was my first time getting to play Guardians of the Galaxy, and given the hype surrounding this game, I felt they might be of historic interest. Also, I felt like a score 63M+ was a rather good score given the situation, both among my first times playing and that I was still a bit pissed off at myself for busting out of the tournament in dead last.

There has been no news yet on when the next league season starts, so for now, it looks like the next installment of Einstein’s Drainiacs on February 11 is the next tournament. I don’t want a whole month to go by between posts here, so I am going to try to find something else in the meantime.

Einstein’s Drainiacs 2017 December: The video mode strikes back

I had been waiting for this tournament for most of the previous month. One of the reasons for it was that this tournament is my first time showing off my butterfly necklace (as I somewhat obtusely alluded to in my previous post “The dawn of a new era”), the first picture in the gallery. Yes, the initials are kind of jumbled in that picture, which I didn’t realize at the time. I may take a better one later.

My attendance at this tournament served the additional purpose of an opportunity to finally get my trophy won at the end of the previous SCPL season which tournament organizer Matt Quantz was kind enough to bring down to Einstein’s Pub.

With that out of the way, on to the narrative of the tournament’s events. There were a total of 15 players, many of them well-known in the Houston area pinball/classic arcade community, and a few I had not seen before but who have played in the monthly tournaments at The Game Preserve. The format of the tournament is a four-strikes knockout tournament. Players finishing in third or fourth place receive a strike, with four strikes resulting in elimination. (Later in the tournament, second place finishers in the necessary two-player groups would receive a strike.) The games were the same line-up from my visit on November 24: Attack from Mars, The Champion Pub, Iron Man, Star Trek, The Walking Dead, Theatre of Magic, Ghostbusters, and Game of Thrones.

My tournament experience would begin innocently enough with a game on The Champion Pub, grouped with Jamie Jenkins, Matt Quantz, and Chris Palis. I last played this on Pinball Arcade some months ago, and the only other place I’ve played a real table of this title was at the Costa house back in 2016. My inexperience with this particular game showed straight through. I was barely able to put up a 3.4M+ good enough for third next to Chris’s 5.5M+ and Matt’s absolutely amazing 18.6M+. One ball ended when the ball save stopper dropped about one-tenth of a second before the ball got to it (I think this was ball 2). So, strike one, and on to…

The draw for round 2 would group me with Raleigh Palis, Chris Gonzales, and Laurie Bender, on Star Trek. The funniest thing happened here, I made a joke about the “Star Wreck” games back in SCPL Season 5 (Week 7 and the playoffs if you want to re-live those farces). And then I completely bungle ball 1 with a whopping 516K+. I joke to Raleigh, “I think I might have jinxed myself.” I would sign off with an otherwise decent 11.6M+, but that too would only be good for third place behind Raleigh’s 21.2M+ and Chris’s 32.0M+. Strike two, and we move on.

Round 3 is where things would finally start to come together; they definitely needed to, because otherwise, my time in this tournament would be short indeed. I was grouped with Laurie Bender and Jamie Jenkins on Attack from Mars. After a relatively uneventful first two balls where I squeak out 1.02B+, everything comes together: an extra ball (which, in this tournament, gets played, not plunged), a normal multiball, a Total Annihilation, a Strobe Multiball, and probably some other miscellaneous high-scoring shots in there as well. I would sign off with a 6.94B+ good for a crushing first place over Jamie’s 1.51B+ and Laurie’s 1.25B+. I finally feel like I have my groove back.

Round 4 is probably the unluckiest thing to happen to poor Laurie in the entire tournament. She would be grouped with me for the third game in a row, this time with Chris Gonzales joining us, on Iron Man. And I would do just well enough to squeak out a second place with 4.16M+ to her 3.19M+ (Chris, of course, crushed us both with a 14.27M+). I know I’m capable of better than that, and I hate just getting by with barely enough points to not get another strike. Not much to really say on this one, as other than my multiball it was a relatively uneventful game for everyone.

And on we go to round 5: Ghostbusters with Joe Cuellar, Chris Palis, and Craig Squires. For those of you reading this long after Stern has updated the code for this game, this is the version that allows you to get a video mode off of the skill shot, which is an easy 59.9M+. I caught on to this and was able to make this skill shot twice in this game, resulting in a win. It’s an incredibly cheap win, and I don’t like to win games cheaply, but this is how the other players were putting up scores in the range they were. I started ball 3 with 65.2M+ and needed to beat Chris’s 106.7M+ to avoid getting another strike (which I did), thanks in part to a second play of the Don’t Cross The Streams video mode.

Round 6 was another game of Attack from Mars with Craig Squires and Jamie Jenkins. I pretty much ran away with this one with a score of 3.3B+, leaving the real battle between Craig and Jamie for who would get the strike. (It wound up being Craig, for the terminally curious.)

Round 7 would find me grouped up with Chris Gonzales, Chris Palis, and Jamie Jenkins on Theatre of Magic. I would only put up 309.7M+, most of it from multiball on the third ball, but this would be more than enough to win. (Decent scores for this game start at around 400M, with the replay level on this machine, set to 600M as of whenever I checked that day.)

And we would move on to round 8, another game of Iron Man, this time against Jeff Mleynek and Cory Westfahl. Jeff put up just short of 11M on his first ball, leaving me with the daunting task of catching up. My first ball was nothing short of abysmal, with a paltry 825K+. My second ball wasn’t much better, so by ball 3 I was looking at closing in on Cory’s 8.77M+ with a score of only 2.19M+ from the previous two balls, so a margin of around 6.57M. In tournaments past, I would get too nervous in situations like this and make a dumb mistake. Given that I didn’t even know the rules to Iron Man that well, I feel I did rather well by starting a multiball and making a decent run at Jeff’s score of 15.08M+. I wouldn’t quite score that high, but I would sign off with a 10.71M+ good for second place, avoiding the third strike for yet another round.

Round 9 was Star Wr–I mean, Star Trek again, this time against Matt Quantz, Jeff Mleynek, and Frankie Griffin. Again, I had an absolutely disastrous first ball, piling up all of 1,003,090 points. (Hey, with a score that small, every point counts.) By the time I was up to play ball 2, Matt had put up 40.79M+ and Jeff had wound it up to 33.30M+. By the time my third ball started, I was looking at having to beat Jeff’s 37.91M+ score to avoid a strike, and beating Matt was more or less out of the question as he had signed off with 115.4M+. I had already locked in second place with 44.73M+ before plunging my extra ball and would sign off with 51.52M+, way short of Matt’s score but enough to take second and avoid a strike.

We would move on to round 10 on Game of Thrones with Jeff Mleynek and Matt Quantz. Again, Matt ran away with this one early, with his score after the first ball over 100M (I don’t have an exact score, the picture I took shows Matt with 125M+ sometime during ball 2). It was going to be hard enough to catch Jeff with his 22.74M+. I had a paltry 658,720 from two disastrous balls going into ball 3. I didn’t even come close, signing off with 5,335,640. That meant a third strike, with one more meaning I’d be done for the night.

Round 11 would be a two-player game of Ghostbusters with Cory Westfahl. I was doing good to try to keep this one close. Unfortunately, I have no intermediate scores in this game (Ghostbusters is notorious for making it difficult to see scores between balls). I do remember not being able to start the video mode from the skill shot on ball 3 (to be fair, neither did Cory). It did not help that the video mode I was able to play on ball 2 was impossible to get the full value from (too many ghosts too quickly on one side). I dislike video modes enough as it is, but making the entire game and my entire tournament life depend on one is outrageous. I signed off with 63.1M+, normally a good score but Cory had 98.1M+. That’s strike four and the end of the road for me. You could say I got busted like a ghost, I guess…

I finished fifth, with Matt in fourth, then Frankie in third, Cory in second, and Jeff eventually taking it all. (I did not stick around to watch the rest of the tournament, I simply went to close out my tab, then got my trophy from Matt after he finished his first ball on Attack from Mars.) Fifth place is a bit disappointing, especially given how it happened. If I had played against Cory on just about any other game there, I felt like I would have had a better shot or at least a fairer shot at winning. But it does feel good to have won games I know I would have lost in prior tournaments.