The dawn of a new era

Yes, save one other post, I’ve been quiet after the end of the Space City Pinball League season. In seasons past, I haven’t been up to much. This time, I have been planning something truly different. Something that will hopefully set apart my identity as a pinball and video game competitor a bit, and give the fans I have something to unite behind when cheering me on. Something that can only be described as the most radical personal branding effort I have made to date.

That something is my new personal tagline and hashtag: Rock the Butterfly (or #rockthebutterfly as a hashtag).

As of the evening of Friday, 2017 November 17, I registered rockthebutterfly.com and both the bare domain name and the “www” hostname under it redirect to this blog (lest someone rushes out and grabs it right after I make this announcement and tries to sell it back to me for some FSM-damned obscene amount). I am working on a T-shirt design for #rockthebutterfly (alongside a possible T-shirt design for the B division win).

So you’re probably asking, “Why butterflies? And, why ‘rock’ the butterfly?”

I chose the butterfly as a symbol based on two separate but equally important meanings: transcendence (metamorphosis) and the magic of believing.

The transcendence part is pretty obvious. The caterpillar transforms into a butterfly and in the process, sets aside everything that it once knew to take on an entirely different means of existence. This symbolic meaning of the butterfly draws a direct parallel to the journey I have taken in my own life, in particular, the journey from who I was about 25 years ago to the person I am today. I’m not going to go into detail here, but 25 years ago I was a person you didn’t want to be around and, for that matter, that you didn’t want your friends or family members around either. It has been a slow, deliberate, painful, emotional, and indirect journey, but today I can truthfully say I can look back at who I was then and be proud of the person I have become since.

One of the final pieces of the puzzle was missing until 2008 when I started doing some volunteering and charity fundraising-related efforts. Oddly enough, it wasn’t a part of my life I knew was missing until I volunteered a couple of times and reflected back on the experience once it was over. It did take me a while to find out what I got the most satisfaction from; in the beginning, I was not nearly as picky about when and where I volunteered. Fast forward to about a year ago, and at that time I decided to formally shift my focus to primarily arts-related organizations (though there are a few other events and campaigns, most notably Extra Life, that are outside of that focus that I am continuing with or taking on anew for other reasons). A more detailed explanation is beyond the scope of this post, and possibly even this blog, though I may bend the rules and post it later anyway. (Incidentally, I wrote the majority of this post a few hours after completing a short arts-related volunteer assignment and before going to bed to get ready for another arts-related volunteer assignment tomorrow morning, which is atypical for me but it just so happens that these two events are on the same weekend every year.)

As important as transcendence is in the butterfly’s symbolism (at least as it relates to me), the magic of believing cannot be ignored. And yet again, it goes back to my game 3 (Medieval Madness) in the semifinals of the just-completed season of the Space City Pinball League. Before I plunged ball 3 (the final ball of the game) into play, I took a brief moment to think to myself “this is not over, you can win this, you have to believe in yourself.” I was down by a margin that, usually, meant the game was effectively over: 3.2M+ versus a first-place score of 11.7M+. I had never put up anywhere near 25 million points in one ball on Medieval Madness. Ever. Certainly not in the semifinals of a tournament where it meant the difference between making the finals and going home early. And it was the magic of believing in myself that was the first step in making it a reality. That magic carried over through all three games of the finals, and I became the B division champion for the 2017 Fall season. That brought satisfaction for the immediate moment, but of course, I want more than that.

The “rock” in “Rock the Butterfly” means to wear or display, particularly with pride (definition 4 in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as of this writing). As a male pinball player who has had his (hetero-)sexuality questioned on more than one occasion, I have no reservations about my selection of the butterfly as a personal symbol despite its feminine connotations and at least one interpretation that says the butterfly represents feminine energy. Like a lot of other things needlessly associated with gender, I’m not a fan of this “butterflies are for girls” thing. It is, as the British might say, a bleeding pile of rubbish. The first step in challenging such a raging dumpster fire of a gender label is to buck the trend. Someone has to be first to step over the line, to be the change one wishes to see in the world. And thus I step. I’ve taken some challenging volunteer assignments in the past; it remains to be seen just how big of a challenge I’ve bitten off this time. But I have learned to thrive on challenges and competition instead of shying away from them. I am willing to accept this one and see where it goes.

And that’s why I rock the butterfly.

Looking ahead and other miscellaneous post-season thoughts

Okay, so it’s been a good five days (give or take a few hours) since my historic first place in the B division playoffs. I still have a hard time believing it’s for real, and I don’t think it has anything to do with not having the trophy yet (the cash portion of the prize has been in the bank and is already partially spent).

I don’t know when the next season will start until it’s announced, but sometime in 2018 March is a possibility. So it’s too soon to think about that. The only definite things coming up are the tournaments at The Game Preserve (which I may be able to start attending again in early 2018) and Einstein’s Drainiacs (at, obviously, Einstein’s in Katy) due to resume in December. There is also the Texas Pinball Festival Wizards tournament, which for me is also not guaranteed as I did not have enough room to comfortably afford the $70 before entries sold out. I am, however, on the waiting list as of whenever my “purchase” of a waitlist spot is processed. (“Purchase” is in quotes because it’s using the shopping cart software but the waitlist spot is priced as a $0.00 item.)

I do want to make it to another big tournament besides the TPF Wizards tournament, especially if I never make it far enough down the waitlist. The most likely candidates are Cactus Jack’s in Oklahoma City in late April and the Bat City Open in Austin in June, not necessarily in that order. At this point though, finances permitting, I’d take just about any trip to play in just about any tournament outside of at least Houston, if not outside of Texas, just to see how I measure up with people I know nothing about with regard to pinball skill.

The next couple of weeks (weekends in particular) I’ve got a relatively full schedule, either with various volunteer shifts or family affairs. I do need to find time to play some pinball, even if it’s just whatever is at Hay Merchant or Poison Girl. I don’t practice nearly as much as I should. I don’t think any amount of practice would have prepared me for being in the spot I was in game 3 of the semifinals, needing some 8.5M points on Medieval Madness just to be able to catch up in a game where I absolutely, positively needed to win to stay in the tournament, and then coming through with enough to put me at over 28M with a commanding lead.

That (game 3 of the semifinals) was really the game of the tournament for me. Yes, I did need to win the two games in the finals, and at least a third place in the final game, to bring home first place. But none of that even happens without what I did on ball 3 on Medieval Madness in the semifinals. A game, I might add, that for a long time I hated because of the terrible luck I had; for a while it was an accomplishment to get through a whole game without tilting.

Medieval Madness is still not my favorite game of those we have recently played in the league; that honor would go to Dialed In, with Batman 66 and Ghostbusters not far behind. (I do miss The Hobbit and Game of Thrones, though.) But I’ve learned to make the most of it no matter what game I wind up on in any given round or on any given league night. That’s something I had trouble with as recently as two seasons ago (and arguably during the playoffs last season as well).

I will update with my next planned appearances as I know more information. To my fans and followers, thanks for being a part of this. I do appreciate it.

Space City Pinball League Season 6 Playoffs: A November to remember

So, a bit of a background on this one. I normally don’t make details like this part of these posts, but a lot happened between week 8 and the playoffs, some of it specific to me, some of it shared with a large part of the city. Specifically, the Houston Astros won the World Series on Wednesday. I was there for the watch party at Minute Maid Park; I got there early enough to not only be fourth or fifth in line for face painting (and before anyone judges, I was far from the only adult in line) but scored a front row seat (section 107, row 1, seat 6 and later seat 5; tickets were general admission). The euphoria from being a part of that, and things like making it onto who knows how much TV coverage (a nice side effect of being in the front row), took a good couple of days to die down.

The celebration parade for the World Series win was on Friday, which I was also in attendance at even though I wound up not really seeing much. The following Saturday was an Extra Life gaming marathon event, during which I got in quite a bit of Quake, some OpenArena, a little Heroes, and of course, quite a bit of Pinball Arcade on my tablet. Then Sunday morning, I did a volunteer assignment, helping with the takedown at Walk MS on the UH campus.

That brings us to the evening of Monday, 2017 November 6. I arrived well in advance of the announced 6:00 pm start time, getting in a couple of pretty good games on Star Trek (the majority of the score I posted a picture of is mine, though Phil had to make an adjustment and did the favor of starting Vengeance Multiball for me). I only played two warm-up games before deciding to just relax, take it all in, and savor the moment. I didn’t know then just how special it would be.

Phil went over the rules and the format at around 6:10 pm: Standings points scoring was 4-2-1-0 (as opposed to a normal league night’s 5-3-2-1, though both effectively have the same end results), all extra balls must be plunged due to the potential length of the event, and how the exact machines we played would be selected. The machines, in order, were Ghostbusters, Aerosmith, Metallica, Medieval Madness, Dialed In, Star Wars, AC/DC, Star Trek. The starting machine was drawn and we would play that one and the next two down the line from it (wrapping around from Star Trek to Ghostbusters if need be). These were referred to as, for example, the Ghostbusters bank for Ghostbusters, Aerosmith, and Metallica.

There were technical issues with Medieval Madness which delayed the start slightly. I let my anxiety to hop in and start winning games show through. This is arguably the biggest mistake I made on the night, which should tell you something.

For the quarterfinals, I was grouped with Chris Gonzales, Lisa Shore, and Brittany Torres (nee Rodgers, and still listed as the latter name on matchplay.events). We began on Dialed In. I chose to go first, as I would throughout the night when I had the chance. What would happen on my first ball of Dialed In would set the stage for the remainder of the evening; I somehow managed to rack up 234K+ points. I would finish up with a solid 265K+, with Chris making a valiant effort but winding up short with a 179K+ second-place score.

The next game was Star Wars. After putting up a 73.8M+ first ball, I led through the entire game, really busting it open on the third ball and signing off with a healthy 214.2M+, good for first place (and R2-D2 champion). I’ve clinched advancing to the semi-finals at this point (top two in the group advance), so I can relax a bit.

The set would conclude on AC/DC. I led the entire way during this game as well, putting up 13.8M+ through two balls and signing off with 15.1M+. Brittany made a valiant comeback attempt on the third ball, and was technically still in it until the end of the last ball, ultimately coming up short with 10.3M+. So it would be Lisa Shore advancing to the semifinals along with me, and we would be joined by Matt Quantz and Bryce Gilbert. Here’s where things start to go sideways a little.

Our first game was on Aerosmith. I had a really bad game, simply not making enough my shots to post a decent score. I would settle for a third with 5.51M+ behind Lisa’s 17.29M+ and Matt’s 6.98M+.

My troubles would only continue on Metallica. Normally I play this game well, but I never really had a realistic chance to win after Matt’s absolutely spectacular first ball, in which he scored 28.84M+ to my 3.51M+. I would ultimately sign off with 18.79M+ behind his 31.53M+ good for a second place, putting me in the precarious position of really needing a first place to advance.

The set would conclude on Medieval Madness. Ball 1 concludes and I barely have 907K to Lisa’s 4.0M+. Ball 2 concludes and I’m sitting at 3.2M+ to not only Lisa’s 4.4M+ but Matt’s 11.7M+ as well. Fortunately, I had a fairly massive Multiball Madness stacked up. I think maybe once or twice I came dangerously close to losing the ball, but ultimately I was able to make the multiball and then make enough super jackpot shots to leapfrog my way to a very respectable score of 28.08M+.

I felt relatively confident that my score would hold up, but you never can count out Matt Quantz; I’ve seen him put up some pretty damn good scores, usually when it’s least expected. I wasn’t counting my chickens until I saw the final scoreboard where Matt signs off with a 13.30M+ and the other two players scored less than half of that. This set up a grouping for the finals where Matt and I would be joined by Bruce Hilty and Charles Hoogner. We would draw the bank beginning with Metallica and continuing with Medieval Madness and Dialed In–two machines that I had just played (the latter of which I did very well on) and one on which I had put up an A division quality score on at the start of the quarterfinals.

Metallica came first. I put up what I felt was a relatively decent first ball, with a thin lead over Matt (4.21M+ to 4.04M+) going into ball 2. What happened during ball 2 is the kind of stuff legends are made of. I somehow managed to rack up quite a few points, a good chunk of them from scoring combos on the ramps if not an outright majority. I would finish ball 2 with a score of 22.9M+ to Matt’s 5.2M+, and if I remember right this was without even starting multiball! Now I don’t necessarily need to finish in first place here, but it would be a huge help. I sign off with 25.1M+ and wait for Charles, Bruce, and finally, Matt to finish. Again, Matt makes one hell of a comeback attempt here, ultimately signing off with a 17.5M+. So far, so good.

Medieval Madness would come next. I don’t have nearly as good of a game as I’d like, but I do carry a commanding lead into ball 3 and sign off with 12.60M+. This isn’t entirely out of reach of any of the finalists, Matt in particular (who at this point is the biggest threat given he has the second place finish). It’s a very tense moment as first Charles signs off with …, then Bruce signs off with 7.75M+, and finally, Matt plays a very good third ball, signing off with 9.39M+. That makes the standings scores going into the last game 8 for me, 4 for Matt, 2 for Bruce, and 0 for Charles.

An 8-4-2-0 score going into the third game of a three-game set is common, and it’s as follows: The player with the 4 (Matt) has to get first place (4 points) and the player with 8 (me) has to get last place (0 points) to force a tiebreaker. If the player with 8 (me) gets third place, that’s enough to for that player to clinch first for the round; there are only 4 points available to anyone else. If the player with 4 (Matt) finishes second or worse, that’s enough for the player with 8 to clinch first for the round, as all 4 points from finishing in first place are needed just to tie. Phil summed this up nicely: “Don’t come in last.” I prefer to think of it as “don’t let up now, play your best all the way through to the end.” Or, “play like you need first, even though you really don’t”.

I put up a decent score on Dialed In through two balls. However, during his first two balls (primarily ball 1), Matt blew it open and it’s a good thing I did not need first on Dialed In to win the tournament. The score going into ball 3 was: me, 70.8K+; Charles, 18.8K+; Bruce, 36.5K+; Matt, 341.5K+. So what I really want to do here was run my score up enough past Matt that he can’t catch up. I would need to double-check but I think that would have required setting a personal record high score. Failing that, I want to put up a score that, realistically, at least one of Charles or Bruce will not be able to catch.

I would sign off with 136.3K+. The most dramatic moment of the B division playoffs would be Charles Hoogner’s last ball. If he catches up to my score, it would then fall on Bruce to do the same and force a playoff between Matt and me for first place. Charles begins to play, and I watch anxiously for a few moments.

And then Charles would drain way too soon. I knew it was too soon, but the way things have gone in the past, I felt it best to wait until the bonus count finished to be sure. And then I saw his score: 34,030.

BOOM!

The moment I had been waiting for had finally arrived: my first ever first-place tournament finish. While it’s hard to really get worked up about winning a B division tournament or pretending the players are of the caliber of Keith Elwin (or even Phil Grimaldi or Erich Stinson, for that matter), it was still a borderline euphoric feeling to finally be the winner, somewhere, after so many second, third, and worse finishes.

I don’t have a picture of the trophy yet because it’s still in transit. I will add that picture when it arrives. To the fans I have out there, thank you for your support. To those of you who aren’t yet following this blog and the Facebook page, the time is now. I have a great feeling about the next year as it relates to my competitive pinball (and video game) efforts.

Space City Pinball League Season 6 Week 8: Look out pinball, here I come…

If you don’t get the reference, read through to the end…

To recap the situation: Coming into tonight I had 70 standings points, and I needed at least 21 tonight (four firsts, or three firsts with two seconds) to have any hope of making A division.

The best thing that could possibly happen to me was to be placed in a group of three, making first place finishes that much more likely in theory. The reality, of course, was going to be a lot different, because the two players I was grouped with were Rob Torres and Jeff Mleynek. Jeff had an A division slot nailed down already. Rob needed 14 points to be assured of an A division slot. I needed, realistically, a 25 or maybe a 23. Basically, most of the points I needed would come at Rob’s expense if I was able to convert, and vice versa.

There was a light turnout with only six groups. There were only six machines in play: Wrestlemania, Attack from Mars, Medieval Madness, Star Wars, AC/DC, and Metallica. Our group got assigned the five excluding AC/DC.

We would begin on Wrestlemania. I was able to keep up with Rob for the most part. After the second ball, I was behind by only around 1.65M, but he blew it open on the third ball, leaving me a nearly impossible gap to close. I needed to come up with around 40M points on ball 3, and needless to say, I didn’t get them. I would have to be content with a second place with 13.5M+ to Rob’s 50.9M+.

Next up would be Medieval Madness. This game was a disaster all around. I tilted the first ball trying to save (I still think the tilt on this game is way tighter than it needs to be, as Jeff tilted at least one ball in this game as well). I would not even break the 2-million mark, meaning I’d easily take last place. BOOM! This last-place finish mathematically eliminates me from qualifying for A division, at least if all the A division players show up to play.

I stick around to play the remaining three games, with the first of those being Star Wars. Amazingly, I manage to manufacture a first-place finish here. It’s funny how all of a sudden it’s easy to win now that it no longer matters. My 73.6M+ would be cannon fodder for the likes of Phil, Erich, or Bryce, but tonight, in this group, it was good for first place. Two games to go, 9 standings points.

We would play our fourth game of the night on Attack from Mars. I kept this one close but would come up short after my third ball, signing off with 1.41B+ versus the 1.57B+ from Jeff. So I’m at 12 standings points going into the last game. Every point still counts, even if now I’m just defending my seed at the top of B division.

Finishing up the night would be a game on Metallica. Realistically, I never really had a chance in this game. I put up a 4.5M+ which wasn’t even going to be close to either of the other two scores. So I sign off for the night with 13 standings points and an apparent third seed in B division.

Congrats to Rob Torres for making A division. He needed 11 standings points to do so (he had the tiebreaker over Jamie Jenkins and Joe Cuellar with 20 points in week 2); he got 17.

In case you were wondering, the reference in the post title is a parallel to the opening lyric of the old Houston Oilers fight song, which begins, “Look out football, here we come! Houston Oilers number one!” On one level, the comparison between the Houston Oilers and my pinball league performance is tongue-in-cheek. On the other, it’s spot on and intended to encourage me to do better going forward.