Houston Arcade Expo 2019: Home runs, nukes, knights, windstorms, and other things

Well, I had been looking forward to it for a good couple of weeks, after there was a bit of doubt I’d even be able to go. Last Saturday, the 16th, was my visit to the Houston Arcade Expo for the first time since 2015. It felt good to show my face again given my prolonged absence from the competitive pinball scene. A lot of people probably thought I had dropped dead or quit playing, and perhaps a few even wished I had decided to up and quit playing. But no, as stated previously, no, I’m not giving it up for a while.

The highlights of the evening, as I saw them: 9.4M+ on Whirlwind, possibly the best I’ve ever done on that title; a monster 12-8 win against the computer player on World Series: The Season where I hit 9 home runs over the course of the game; a pretty solid 5.2M+ on Night Moves (International Concepts, 1989, Gottlieb hardware); 117K+ on Millipede (starting at the 24K level); 437K+ on Space Invaders pinball; 901K+ on Total Nuclear Annihilation (a deceptively low scoring game given the 8-digit dedicated scoring displays); an amazing come-from-behind win on a two-player game of Black Knight 2000; and finally, proving I’ve still got it on Ballblazer for the Atari 7800, eeking out a 6-4 win with 5.4 seconds left in a standard 3-minute game after trailing for almost the whole time.

Again, for a variety of reasons, I did not play in the tournament(s). It was more about getting out there, being seen, and just playing pinball (mostly) for the love of the game. The big turnaround moment in the game of Black Knight 2000 came when I was down by easily over a million points during ball 3. My opponent (I didn’t catch a name, unfortunately) had already wrapped up with a 2.66M+ score. I had close to a million, I think. I made the lightning spin shot, and started rooting for multiball (Double Knights Challenge multiball, lighting the W-A-R lanes for 1 million per completion). Amazingly, I get my multiball, and my opponent can’t believe it. I actually make the W-A-R lanes for a million, putting me close to taking the win. I make eight upper playfield loops in a row good for the loop champion and more than enough points to take the lead and would eventually sign off with 3.5M+. (Interestingly, the setup was some kind of code intended for tournament/league play where the normal 3-ball multiball did not light jackpot, it would only light during The King’s Ransom mode. I would, in a later game, collect The King’s Ransom mode only to lose my two balls and never have it kick out the third ball to plunge… and then get stuck in some kind of loop never even doing a ball search. Frustrating, but such is life sometimes.)

The best score on Whirlwind was on a one-player game; I’m pretty sure I played that as a one-player game all night. My goal on that title is to get two Million Plus shots in the same multiball, then work my way up to getting three or more. Still, 9.4M+ is a respectable score and it won’t be long before I’m really back in the groove and able to put up 20M+ scores like some other players.

I got to play a few games for the first time, including Genesis (Gottlieb, 1986); Butterfly (Sonic, 1977); Stars (Stern, 1978); an apparent one-of-a-kind conversion called Polynesia (not sure of the original game or who this belongs to); Elvira’s House of Horrors (Stern, 2019); and others I’m not sure I even got pictures of.

I am hoping to start off 2020 with a major tournament but I still need to spend some more time playing casual, non-competitive pinball (at least outside of a league or tournament setting). It is reassuring to know my pinball skills haven’t totally gone to pot, though in a few cases it was obvious I do need to try to practice more.

Houston Arcade Expo and other items of note

In a similar spirit to a misquotation commonly attributed to Mark Twain, any reports of my demise and/or retirement from competitive video gaming and pinball have been greatly exaggerated.

On this Friday and Saturday, we will have yet another Houston Arcade Expo. I plan to be in attendance toward the late afternoon/evening hours of Saturday, November 16. I will not be playing in the tournament, but I will be playing some of the many pinball games, and perhaps a few video games, out on the show floor. I’m still not sure what I’ll be wearing that day but I will be coming from a non-arcade-related event earlier that day that may require me to be dressed a bit more conservatively than usual. I may have time to change before I head over, I may not; if I am able to change, I plan to wear my Astros 2019 AL Champions T-shirt. (As an aside, I am still proud of what our Astros did this year; two pennants in three years is not something a lot of teams are able to pull off, much less a World Series victory after one of them.)

I have taken a rather long break, by my standards, from even touching a pinball machine of any sort. The last one I got to play was the KISS in Las Vegas at the Rio, very briefly on the way back from the comedy show. I had meant to get in a few rounds by now, somewhere, but at this point I may as well wait for Saturday.

I’m still not sure exactly when or where I will return to competitive pinball. On one hand I want that to be relatively soon and for as long as I am physically able to do the various things required to play (i.e. stand, operate the controls, see the playfield, ball, and score display, and coin/bill up the machine when required). This is not to imply that I am immediately at risk of not being able to do so, merely that there is a desire that nobody else makes the decision for me that I should no longer play competitively.

On the other, I don’t want to rush back into things and I want to be sure that my involvement in competitive pinball is a worthwhile use of my time and not an undue risk factor towards my reputation (specifically, being associated with people of questionable character and/or those who knowingly disregard the law). It is unfortunate that I have to say this, but it is the truth. I’m not going to pretend that I’m perfect, but it was a real eye opener to learn what some people are really made of over the last few years.

So yes, I am starting to miss parts of the competitive scene, but at the same time there are things I don’t miss at all that I’d rather leave behind. This Saturday, I’m going to pretend it’s 2014 again (or as close to that as I can) prior to a competitive pinball scene being established in Houston. I’m going to play as if the tournament isn’t there, and just play to have fun. Remember, the object of the game is to get the highest score, but the object of playing the game is to have fun. Don’t forget this; the results of doing so can be disastrous. Y’all have fun at Expo this weekend, okay?

Houston Arcade Expo
Houston Mariott Westchase
2900 Briarpark Drive
Houston, TX