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.