Still got that magic? Game Preserve Webster, 2020 November 14

My recent success on Ghostbusters at Colorado Canyon went far beyond the pinnacle of satisfaction in a series of games of pinball after work. But it did give rise to another question: how well would I do in a competitive pinball situation, given it’s been a good year since I’ve played anything besides a one-player game? It’s a question I’ve been pondering off and on since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic made put the competitive pinball scene we had on pause for a while.

And finally, this past Saturday, the opportunity presented itself. In a fortunate turn of events, I was invited along for dinner and an evening of pinball by William Thornton, whom I have played against in tournaments and league play a few times here and there. William’s son, Brent, also joined in the fun.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get very many pictures of the decor (I will try to next time I am there) but I will summarize by saying they really went all out with artwork evoking memories of quite a few games of years past, most notably Pong, Asteroids, Pac-Man, and the well-known pinball title Black Hole (one of my favorites now that my pinball skills as an adult have risen to the level they have, I might add).

I would begin with a quick one-player game on Roller Disco. Now that a proper steel ball is installed in this machine (the last time I got to play it at the location in The Woodlands, they were using a pink ceramic ball of the type used in Twilight Zone for the “Powerball”). I put up a not-too-shabby 134.5k+, and so we began.

Before I get into some details on some of the games, this is a summary of the games as they were played, including my score (and the winning score if not mine), my playing order, and finishing order:

  • Deadpool, 12.54M+ (19.74M+), first turn, second place
  • Jungle Lord, 158.2k+, first turn, first place
  • Iron Maiden, 142.4M+, second turn, first place
  • Road Kings, 1.43M+, first turn, first place
  • Space Shuttle, 281.7k+, second turn, first place
  • Trident, 257.6k+, second turn, first place
  • Torch, 186.4k+ (232.1k+), third turn, second place
  • Fish Tales, 16.53M+ (34.99M+), third turn, second place
  • Austin Powers, 40.26M+, second turn, first place
  • Austin Powers, 18.20M+ (115.43M+ by Brent), third turn, third place

All told, six first place finishes out of ten games, a couple of them by fairly significant margins (see pictures). The true highlights, the most memorable games of the night, would have to be Iron Maiden and Road Kings, though the game on Trident deserves some mention too.

Road Kings, as you may or may not be aware, was the game I played in my very first pinball tournament back in seventh grade. I put up a score somewhere just short of 200k (I want to say 194k+) second only to the friend of mine I played pinball with at the bowling alley every day, who I think put up a score in the 257k+ range. All in all I was pretty proud of myself and my performance back then (this was easily a quarter century before Houston had anything resembling a proper competitive pinball scene), but it was nice to be able to play this game again with a couple more decades of pinball experience under my belt, and punch up a score well into seven digits.

Even more so, I actually figured out the rules of this game, whereas most of the time back in my middle and high school years, I was just smacking the ball around and aiming for what was lit. With a little more practice, I’m looking forward to putting up a 4M+ score sometime in the next year to date (i.e. during or before 2021 November). I hope a score in this range will be enough for the high score board (somewhere on it at least if not #1).

Iron Maiden, the game we played right before Road Kings, was another pretty solid tour de force on my part. It seemed like I made almost everything I aimed for, and started just about every multiball mode in the game one right after the other. The only thing I’m surprised about is that I wasn’t able to rocket into 200M+ territory, signing off with a mere 142.4M+. But that was more than enough to win.

Trident is a machine I’ve struggled with at times. The 257.6k+ I was able to post this time is perhaps the exception to the rule, and would probably get me by in most tournaments and league play. I don’t consider it a truly great score, though; in my view, that label is reserved for 400k+ or so.

With the multiplayer games at a close, I was able to get in a few single player games before it was time to call it a night, most notably on the electromechanical era games (which were all one- or two-player, making a three-player contest rather tedious), and a couple of video games thrown in just for the heck of it. I’m not going to post all my scores from this part of the night, but the highest scores were:

  • Beat Time: 3,130
  • Friendship 7: 1,309
  • Pioneer: 39,510
  • Space Shuttle: 656.7k+
  • Ghostbusters: 26.20M+
  • Deadpool: 28.28M+
  • Road Kings: 1.12M+
  • Space Station: 1.29M+
  • Roller Disco: 106.2k+
  • Jungle Lord: 39.0k+
  • Blackout: 133.1k+
  • Iron Maiden: 48.45M+
  • Space Odyssey: 88,890
  • Hard Drivin’: 50,351 / 1:52:65 lap
  • STUN Runner: 66,445

Even though some of my scores in one-player games were not equal to my prior efforts on the same games earlier in multiplayer, I still feel pretty good about most of them. In particular, I did a little better on Road Kings in the multiplayer games versus single player, but cracking into the seventh digit is still a good indicator of a relatively good score (to me, “great” would begin at around 2M+).

A great time was had by all. My thanks to William for making this possible; he is a great example of the kind of good people we have here in the greater Houston classic gaming community.