Space City Pinball League Season 5 Week 2: Earning my wings

This week brought yet another new game to our league: the recent Stern release Aerosmith. Like Batman ’66, this game also features a full-color LCD screen, though unlike the former title, the final score screen is just a faux dot-matrix LED readout. The playfield layout very closely resembles that of the new Kiss table that Stern released in the recent past. Not surprisingly, Kiss didn’t return to the lineup this week.

The game lineup in total: Aerosmith, Batman ’66, Star Trek, Medieval Madness, Ghostbusters, Game of Thrones, and Wrestlemania LE (spinning disk in upper playfield and upper flipper). I would be grouped with Brian Foytik, William Thornton, and Nathan Guerrero.

The night would start off, appropriately enough, on Aerosmith. I would play third in the playing order. Surprisingly, I would wind up with 36.0M+ which easily could have been higher had I actually played multiball instead of aborting it and trying to lock another ball. Brian would post a 46.1M+ knocking me down to second place, but starting off with three standings points is a pretty good beginning to the night.

Next up would be Star Trek. This was a relatively low-scoring game, and my 8.6M+ ahead of William’s 8.0M+ would be good enough for a first place. It came down to the 2X bonus multiplier (my bonus unmultiplied was right around 650K). So two games, eight standings points. I’m starting to feel really good.

We would move on to Wrestlemania. I’m not that fond of the LE, as most of my success was on the Pro version. Still, even with the spinning disk in the ring, this is a fun game to play. I put up 20.3M+, William once again took first with a 42.5M+. Three games played, eleven standings points so far. For once I feel like I’m really in the groove.

The fourth game of the night would be Game of Thrones. Once I amassed 142.0M+, mostly from a Blackwater Multiball that went rather well, I figured I was in a pretty good spot. It came down to William who was only able to put up 71.6M+ as the fourth player, though I was a bit nervous for a while because this tends to be a very high-scoring game in the hands of a true wizard. Four games, 16 standings points with a shot at a possible 21 (out of 25).

Finally, it came time to play Batman ’66. I’m really starting to like this game, though making certain shots can be really hard. I never started multiball despite having locks lit through most of ball 2 and all of ball 3. However, I still managed to amass a 91.4M+, down a bit from last week but still good enough to take first place again over Nathan’s 78.3M+. So I would finish with 21 standings points, a personal record and more than enough to keep hope alive of making the A division finals this time.

I hung around a bit to play a couple more games. It’s funny how I can put up 52.8M+ on Star Trek after league play is over. Still, I’m quite happy after the outcome of tonight’s games. I am hoping this is the start of a trend. Looking over last season’s results, consistent 18s or higher through the remaining weeks should be enough to get me a first-round bye in A division, while consistent 15s should be enough to make it into A division without having to worry about tiebreakers. Those are just estimates based on the past, and everything could change. But if I’m able to put up 18 or better from here on out, I will likely make one of the top 8 seeds. Here’s to continued success.

Space City Pinball League Season 5 Week 1: Same Bat-place, new Bat-game

I arrived at Eighteen Twenty Lounge ready to begin a new season in my favorite pinball league. Admittedly, earlier in the day, my mind was filled with thoughts of the ending of last season, and the long fight just to win third place in B division. I tried to clear my head as best I could, but the determination I have this season to at least qualify for A division is quite palpable.

Originally, Phil Grimaldi had announced that groups would be redrawn after every round to try and balance out the games. On further reflection, it was discovered that would take way too long. (Eighteen Twenty Lounge has room for only seven pinball machines to be brought in, which is 28 players considering each machine can support four-player games. This means that every player over that 28 is going to be waiting for an open machine at the start of the night, which already can take quite a while with 40+ players or three full four-player groups over that 28. With the redrawing of groups, the first group that finishes is going to have to wait for a different machine to open up and two or three other players to be paired with. This would easily add another 30 minutes to an hour of waiting time to an already strained schedule. Add to this things like smoke breaks and the rush to close out tabs at shift change, and you can see how this is a recipe for league nights that drag on until damn near midnight.)

What Phil was able to do, however, was talk with the people who run to put an option in the software to balance out the group drawings, such that players would not be grouped with each other more than once unless there was just no other choice. I like this solution and it solves most of the same problems as redrawing groups after each game without devolving into a gooey, time-consuming mess.

The same 5-3-2-1 standings points scheme from previous seasons applies: 5 for first, 3 for second, 2 for third, 1 for last. League dues have changed from previous seasons: $2 per night, payable either in advance or each night on arrival. I don’t mind this arrangement at all as the coin drop alone, if Charles (owner of Joystix and Eighteen Twenty Lounge) was to set up the games for coin play, could easily be $5 ($1 per play) for just the league games let alone practice games. It also beats having to come up with $15 or $20 at once.

So, on with the show. I would be grouped with Matt Quantz, Bryan Buckley, and Craig Squires. Matt and Bryan are returning from multiple previous seasons and I’ve been grouped with them multiple times in previous league nights. Craig, on the other hand, only started playing in the league last season, though he has been playing the monthly tournaments at The Game Preserve (which I haven’t been able to for a variety of reasons mentioned previously). The lineup would be: Kiss, Terminator 3, Game of Thrones, Spider-Man (Vault Edition), Medieval Madness (Remake), Ghostbusters, and as you might have been able to guess by the title, Batman ’66, the most recent release from Stern.

Our first game would take a while to be assigned to us, but eventually, we got to play Spider-Man. I had a lackluster first ball but wound up putting up a quite respectable 53.9M+ by the end of the game. The way the game had gone, I honestly thought that was going to hold up. Unfortunately, Matt had other plans and put up an 85.0M+ knocking me down to second. So I start off the night with a second place, and three standings points. Not too bad…

The second game would be on Batman ’66. I was quite intimidated by this thing when I first played it and wound up not having much of a first ball. This time, it was Craig who would wind up posting a 135.8M+ for me to try to beat. I had some 87.5M+ starting ball 3, so it wasn’t exactly out of the question. I would wind up with 121.8M+, quite a bit short but at least a respectable second place. Any other night, that might well have been good enough for first place, but not tonight. Six standings points, and on to the next game…

I’ve said enough in past posts about the disasters that seem to happen every time I play Kiss on league nights. Nobody reading this who has read any of my previous posts about how I seem to lay an egg every damn time I play Kiss on league nights should be surprised at all by the fact I could only manage a paltry 5.0M+ against a third place (Craig) of 11.5M+. The streak continues. One day, I’m going to master this thing and not choke during league play. Seven standings points, and on to game four.

Medieval Madness is another game I seem to not do that well at during league play. I put up a 9.6M+ during practice. That would have been good for second place had I been able to repeat it. Well, guess what, I wasn’t (able to repeat it). I’d sign off with a stinky 1.5M+ behind a third place (Matt) of 2.7M+. It was Craig who would wind up breaking this one wide open with a 39.1M+, so I would have been more than content with a second place. Eight standings points, meaning that unless I managed a miracle on the last game I probably would finish with only nine or ten on the night.

The night would finish with a game of Terminator 3. The playfield is reminiscent of the classic Terminator 2 pinball released in 1991. Both were designed by Steve Ritchie, so this isn’t too big of a surprise. I was a wizard on Terminator 2 back in the day, and I had played Terminator 3 a bit during the Pac-Man Fever night I blogged about last year. So I wasn’t a complete stranger to the game. Matt would run it up to 49.1M+, so I could forget about first place. (Due to a display issue we were playing on players 2 and 4 and just plunging off players 1 and 3.) I wound up with an 8.30M+ good enough for third ahead of Craig’s 7.29M+, so I’d finish up the night with 10 standings points.

I’ll be happy if I can play well enough in the remaining weeks that this week’s score can be dropped. However, it seems like I’ve always missed enough weeks that those weeks (the zeros) are the ones that wind up being dropped instead of an 8-, 9-, or 10-point week. It’s really disappointing to play two great games that were only good enough for second place like that. I do feel like my performance across the night was more of a 14-, 13-, or 12-point score than a 10-pointer. Not much I can do about it now, except play better next week (which, as I sit here writing this, is later tonight).

A look ahead at Space City Pinball League Season 5 and other things

This is a bit later than I wanted to get this out there, since the new season begins later tonight (I’m writing this early Monday morning), but better late than never, as I’ve always said.

The three months since last season ended have given me a lot of time to think. I’m disappointed at having not been able to make it to any major tournaments outside of the league, not even Houston Arcade Expo. I have also not been able to play tournaments at The Game Preserve due mainly to transportation issues. I hope to play a lot more pinball this year (and maybe even take the big steps towards an arcade video game record, the actual namesake of this blog), but right now my focus is on the league.

Last season ended with a B division third-place trophy and the corresponding cash payout. Only qualifying for B division is, admittedly, somewhat of a disappointment. Third place is also a song that’s been played in the jukebox rather often. The goal, obviously, is A division, and first place. I do realize I’ve never qualified for A division in the Space City Pinball League, not even once.

To be fair, I feel like I have succeeded in one area I have traditionally not done that well in: socially, I’ve done a lot better in this league than in other similar endeavors I have been a part of. I’ll be honest, I’ve had problems with shyness and making new friends for quite a while. It was a problem I thought I had solved as recently as 2009, some eight years ago. Since then I’ve been a bit leery of trying to convince myself I’ve finally conquered this particular demon. It’s easier to be social when I’m “in my element” so to speak. Pinball has been “my element” since middle school. I’m lucky enough to have really gotten into pinball just as games like The Addams Family were about to be released. And I’m lucky enough today to be part of the first pinball league I’ve known to ever exist in Houston, with people who are not just great pinball players, but great people as well.

I’m looking forward to tonight. It’s going to be a great time for everyone.

Eighteen Twenty Lounge
1820 Franklin (at Hamilton), Houston, TX

Space City Pinball League Season 4 Finals: The long, hard road

Shortly after the conclusion of week 8, league organizer Phil Grimaldi announced the final standings. I finished the regular season in 16th, good enough for a first-round bye in B division. Since I had already paid dues, I had little to risk by sticking around for finals (unlike earlier seasons where dues were collected on the day of the finals).

The games were organized into two banks: Big Buck Hunter, Spiderman (Vault Edition), and Domino’s in the first bank; Ghostbusters, The Hobbit, Kiss, and Medieval Madness (Remake) in the second bank. As luck would have it, I would be scheduled for the first bank for both of the rounds I played.

I had a few moments to clear my head with the first round bye. Phil went over the rules, and then I sat and waited for the quarterfinals to complete. My semifinals match would begin with Marc Gammons and Joe Cuellar who advanced from the quarterfinals, and Bryce Revnew who was seeded high enough for the other first-round bye in our group. We would begin on Domino’s.

I would like to start off by admitting I don’t particularly care for this game. Going in, I had literally zero confidence I could put up a score decent enough to win. But I was able to put up an amazing 19.2M+, completely dwarfing the other three scores (second place was Joe with 2.3M+). I was shocked, and considered the possibility that the game had malfunctioned. But the other players confirmed it was legitimate. It definitely did not feel like a dominating performance even though I made quite a few shots and started multiple multiball modes.

We would move on to Big Buck Hunter. I was completely unfamiliar with this game. I just sort of “winged it” and again put up a dominating score, this time 21.1M+ over Bryce’s second-place 6.2M+.

At this point I’ve clinched my finals berth and could theoretically have just plunged my balls on Spiderman. But I don’t play that way. I put up a 31.1M+ good enough for third, behind Bryce’s 50.0M+ and Marc’s 73.6M+ (Marc actually quit playing his ball early due to time constraints, so he could have easily passed 100M).

So the finals would begin with Marc, David Pollock, and Brian Goss. Again, I would start out on Domino’s, but this time I wouldn’t do nearly as well. I managed to finish in second place with a 1.463M+ ahead of Brian’s 1.412M+ and behind David’s 2.5M+.

The next game on Big Buck Hunter would pretty much knock me out of contention for first place. I managed a mere 3.2M+ behind everyone else, with Marc’s 4.1M+ good for third. The game was a disaster from the beginning. I couldn’t really get much going, unlike the previous game on this machine where everything just flowed and I got well into eight digits easily.

The last game on Spiderman wasn’t completely meaningless, though. It came down to the last ball. Marc’s score of 100.1M+ was daunting, but not completely insurmountable, and I still could have finished in second place were I able to score higher. I had, if I remember right, a score somewhere in the vicinity of 50M going into the third ball. I did well enough to finish with 68.4M+ but that was nowhere near enough to win. I would wind up in a tiebreaker with Brian Goss for third place, and we would play one final game on Big Buck Hunter to decide who took home the third place trophy.

I kept the lead all the way. Brian would have to beat 5,037,580 to win the tiebreaker game. He went into the third ball with somewhere around 2M and would only finish with 2,730,630 which was nowhere near enough. So I took home the B division third place trophy along with $30 (my $20 league dues back, plus $10 more) which is the first significant league or tournament victory I’ve been able to celebrate in a good long while.

In three seasons of league play (I did not play in the first season) I have yet to finish higher than B division. It’s good to finish the season with a trophy and some cash back in my pocket, though first place remains as elusive as ever, even in B division.

Space City Pinball League Season 4 Week 8: Wrapping it up with a bang

Finally getting around to finishing this up. Don’t worry, the following post about the finals will have more detail as will future posts, that I hope to finish up as they happen instead of weeks or months later going forward.

Games this week: Game of Thrones Premium, Ghostbusters, Kiss, Medieval Madness, Metallica, Spiderman, Star Trek. My group: Chris Gonzales, Brian Goss.

First game: Game of Thrones. If I remember right, I made an extra ball shot towards the end of this game that counted for points instead of awarding an extra ball (something like 10M or 15M). I wound up with a 16.1M+ good for second, Chris ran away with this one with 184M+. Three points after one game.

Second game: Kiss. I put up a 5.6M+ which is pretty good for me this game, it just wasn’t any good compared to Brian’s 24.4M+ and Chris’s 73.1M+. Four points after two games.

Third game: Metallica. 16.4M+ good for first. Nine points after three games, and I’m starting to feel better.

Fourth game: Spiderman. 26.0M+ again good for first. Fourteen points after four games.

Last game: Star Trek. 6,979,790 good for second. Chris puts up 7,041,990 to eek out first.

I think the good performance here was enough to move me into a first-round bye for B division finals. I’ll have to look into it closer to be sure, as the standings list I have doesn’t have all the tiebreakers.

Space City Pinball League Season 4 Week 7: Running out of cute subtitles

Real life has been taking over, so this is way late (three whole weeks after it happened). Better late than never, though. Since I’m a bit light on details this is going to be a relatively short with summaries and pictures.

Games this week: Game of Thrones (Premium), Ghostbusters (Premium), Kiss, Medieval Madness, Mustang, Spiderman (Vault Edition), and The Hobbit. My group: Lisa Shore, Mark Hernandez, and Matt Quantz (again). Chance of Matt setting Pirates of the Carribean to Spanish again during league play tonight: zero (thank goodness).

First game: Mustang. I put up a pretty lousy last place performance of 7.4M+, Matt ran away with this one with 43.5M+, Lisa took third with 14.2M+.

Second game: Spiderman VE. I take first with 19.4M+ ahead of Lisa’s 14.9M+ and the others.

Third game: Game of Thrones. I take first with 58.0M+ ahead of Matt’s 43.3M+ and the others. If I remember right I had a Blackwater Multiball which went well enough to give me the win.

Fourth game: Medieval Madness. I hated this game before, and I still do. Last place with a whopping 1.2M+; I needed to beat Lisa’s 4.4M+ to get third or better.

Fifth game: Kiss. I manage third with a 4,791,500 but Lisa eeks out a second with 4,840,370. Again, another game I seem to lay an egg on in league play every time I play it.

Total on the night: 14 standings points.

Getting a couple of first place finishes is good, but knowing I should have done better is a bit irksome.

Space City Pinball League Season 4 Week 6: Blasts from the past

After taking a brief break in weeks 4 and 5, I would return for week 6 with quite a welcome surprise or two. We would have, in the lineup, two older games that I am rather fond of: Shrek (Stern, 2008) and The Addams Family (Bally, 1992).

Both of these games have rather interesting back stories behind them. I’ll start with The Addams Family. This was the game that brought about the last great golden age of pinball from 1993 up to about 1999 or so, smashing the previous sales record of Bally’s Eight Ball from 1979. It was thus also the game that allowed Pat Lawlor to have near-complete creative control of his next game, Twilight Zone, a game he admits they never should have been allowed to make. (But which sold over 10,000 units anyway!) Alas, the wave wouldn’t last: in 1996 Premier Technologies, owners of the Gottlieb brand, went out of business, with WMS Industries, owners of the Williams and Bally brands, exiting the pinball business. (WMS also owned the Midway and Atari Games arcade video game brands which would also be folded about a year or so later.) Stern Pinball (recently divested from Sega), however, kept on cranking out games for the next decade until some other new companies started breathing new life into pinball.

Which brings us to Shrek. In 2007 Stern had a bunch of playfields and parts left over from the run of Family Guy, a game which for whatever reason didn’t sell well. Someone got an idea to take those figurative lemons, and make lemonade. That “lemonade” was Shrek, which admittedly is a much more fun theme than the original Family Guy. The Shrek pinball is empirical evidence that sometimes the theme makes all the difference between a game worth its weight in gold and the pinball equivalent of a donkey turd.

Anyway, enough waxing historical. The other games in the lineup, besides those two, were Mustang, Kiss, Domino’s Spectacular Pinball Adventure, Ghostbusters, and Wrestlemania (Pro). I would be grouped with Blake Dumesnil and Agustin Montes in a three-player group. And unfortunately, we would not get to actually play either Shrek nor The Addams Family in our five games, which was kind of a letdown.

We would begin the night playing Wrestlemania. While I was never a huge pro-wrestling fan, for some reason the theme doesn’t matter to me that much when playing this pinball. I didn’t have that great of a game, but it was good enough to eek out a first place with 18.3M+ to Blake’s 16.7M+. I did benefit from a brief Ref Knockout Multiball mode, and consistently plunged for bonus multiplier, which may well have made the difference in the final score.

Upward and onward to the Domino’s pin. This was the first time I got to play a game from Spooky Pinball, one of the newer manufacturers. The layout is decent, with a challenging plunger skill shot. When I first saw this game played on the Dead Flip stream on, I noticed the skill shot had been valued at 1 million, which tended to unbalance the game. The code we played had it valued at a more reasonable 250,000. Again, I emerged in first place with 1.22M+ to Blake’s 790K. So I’m looking at 10 standings points after two games, and starting to feel pretty damn good.

The next game to open up for us would be Mustang. Despite having two rather terrible balls to start the game (I would wind up tilting the second to try to save, only to have the ball saver kick one right back out into play), I would still manage a decent 8.38M+ good for second to Blake’s 8.94M+, bringing me up to 13 standings points on the night with two more games to go.

Ghostbusters was up next, and Agustin had a surprise for us. After not really doing much in the first three games, he’d explode with a 126M+ score. I went into the third ball just trying to get back ahead of Blake’s 37.7M+, which I did. I’d sign off with 43.4M+ good for a second place, bringing me up to a whopping 16 standings points on the night with one more game left to go.

We would finish on Kiss. This is a game I’ve been notoriously lousy on in league play. Tonight was no different, I posted a 2.76M+ which I knew instantly would be good for no better than third. Still, only one third place out of five games isn’t terrible on the night, especially given I would wind up with 17 standings points, probably the best I’ve done in recent memory if not overall.

A site about one man's quests for record videogame highscores, pinball tournament championships, fame, and stardom.