The Game Preserve (North), April 16

I know this is a bit stale by now but going through my notes and pictures wound up being a bit more of a challenge than originally expected.

The main items that are remarkable are the video game scores. I mean, sure, there’s another roll-over score on Charlie’s Angels but those are barely newsworthy now (though it still takes me a few games to get to one every time I play it). There are two Joust pinball scores as one is from a one-player game (only the highest one-player score) and one is from a two-player game.

On Elvira and the Party Monsters, it seemed like the right  flipper was incapable of making the left ramp, and the left flipper making the right ramp was only possible with considerable effort with a much smaller than usual margin for error. (Since jackpot is to make both ramps in multiball and many other awards are keyed off of the left ramp, one could make the case this makes the game nearly pointless versus the designer’s original vision.) Given both of these I consider my what’s normally a rather lousy 2.1M+ to be actually quite decent.

It had been a while since I had made a trip out to The Game Preserve. My goal is to make it out to each location at least twice a year going forward, possibly more depending on certain other things happening.

Cidercade, April 12: High scores a-plenty

The Tuesday night of April 12 brought with it another opportunity to visit Cidercade and try to put up some good scores. And that I most certainly did; it seemed like once I got in a groove on certain games that I almost couldn’t lose. The 206.9M+ Cactus Canyon run was one such example. Now, granted, this particular machine is set to give a nearly ridonkulous number of extra balls. However, this did give me the opportunity to learn that you still need to make the right shots and not do anything overly risky that will result in instant drains to get to this kind of a score. (For better or worse, this score did not stay on the high score list for that long as I saw even higher scores on a later visit.)

The 179.2M+ score on Rush will also boost my confidence significantly going forward. Granted, it’s not on the same type of tournament settings like the one at Texas Pinball Festival where I put up the lovely 21.09M+ good enough for a whopping 96th and 2 qualifying points. This one, too, awards an extra ball by score on top of the “normal” extra balls. At least now, though, I feel familiar with the game should I see it in a later competitive event (whether a tournament or league night).

I’m also feeling pretty good about the 6.81M+ on Heavy Metal (which is a very high score for this game as a garden variety score rarely goes much past a million or two). The Avengers IQ score of 85.99M+ as well as the Black Knight: Sword of Rage (Pro) score of 81.85M+ were also what I’d call the highlights of the night.

I’m starting to enjoy some of the newer games now that I’ve had a chance to play them and get into them. I am finding that Cidercade is a great environment for that, where I can pay once and not have to worry about getting more change or reloading a game card after so many rounds.


Strikeouts Under the Moon, 2022 April

And so, finally I catch up to Monday, April 4.

We finally had what I hope to be the first of many tournaments under the auspices of the (relatively) new Bayou City Pinball League. Though this post, here, will primarily be an account of the tournament from my perspective as a player, I was also the tournament director.

Thankfully, on this night, there were no irregularities and thus I didn’t need to make any rulings. Thus, my responsibilities as TD were restricted to entering the results of each round. I’m sure I will get plenty of opportunities to botch make rulings at future events.

Round 1 started off simply enough on Family Guy against Bayou Bill, one of two players brand new to the tournament scene. I love the gameplay of Family Guy even though I’m not at all keen on the theme. This was, honestly, the one game I was expecting to have issues (as in technical problems) as the night wore on, but thankfully those issues never materialized. This first game wound up being a surprisingly low-scoring contest but I would manage to prevail with a paltry 5.29M+.

The next round would bring up Creature from the Black Lagoon against Colby Lewis. This, too, was lower scoring than expected, but I pulled out a victory with 37.3M+ to 33.9M+.

For the third round, I drew Spider-Man against Hannah. As it happens, this is one of the two machines out of the four-game lineup at Little Dipper that I consider among my best. I definitely proved it tonight as this quickly became a blowout. I would put up 67.5M+ good enough to get my initials on the board (which I didn’t get a picture of, unfortunately).

The one issue with heads-up strikeout tournaments is that when you get down to a low, odd number of players, there will be a lot of byes as there’s nobody to pair up to. Such was the case with our fourth round. I would face off against Colby on Spider-Man (again) while Hannah had the bye. I actually wound up getting my first strike as Colby put up 26.4M+ versus my 5.84M+; it was just not one of my better games. I’m still feeling confident as there was a lot of pinball left to be played.

Our fifth round would pair me against Hannah on Creature from the Black Lagoon, with Colby getting the bye. This was another surprisingly low scoring game, as I would squeak by with a 17.9M+ versus Hannah’s 11.7M+. This would eliminate Hannah from the tournament (Bill was out after round 3) and so the final three rounds would be just Colby and I. At this point, we have only one strike apiece, thus making the remainder of the tournament an effective best-of-three match.

The sixth round would send us back to Family Guy where once again I would have one of my better performances: 52.1M+ versus Colby’s 20.5M+. And again I would get to enter my initials.

But, Colby wasn’t going away quietly. The next game on The Walking Dead would end with a very close score. I had put up 28.7M+, and Colby drained his last ball just short of that score prior to the bonus count. However, after adding the bonus, he would squeak by with 29.6M+.

It would come down to the eighth and final round, which would be on Family Guy. I wound up signing off with a 28.5M+, which was a significant lead (and again this is from memory, I was not recording intermediate scores). Colby kept the ball in play for a surprisingly long time, coming quite close but still short with 24.8M+. And that’s the tournament, my somewhat surprising first time finishing first in an IFPA-endorsed event.

As nice as that is, though, that’s not the real story here. There are two real stories here. One is that Houston has a new pinball tournament director. The other is that two brand new players have been introduced to the joy that is competitive pinball.

I’m already looking forward to next month.

Little Dipper and Cidercade, week of March 28

After the Texas Pinball Festival, the following week saw a visit to Little Dipper and a couple of visits to Cidercade. I should note that I am now part of the “nerd herd” (monthly members) at Cidercade. Thus, you will probably start seeing me there a lot more often.

A lot of these scores may seem rather low. I will admit that they probably do not represent my best effort in most cases, as many of these games were just about becoming re-acquainted with these games (beyond what I had time to play at the Texas Pinball Festival where applicable). Of note, Heavy Metal is just a low-scoring game compared to other Stern DMD-era games, and 5 million points is considered extremely good. The high scores at Cidercade are in the 15 to 20 million range if memory serves correctly (will re-verify in the coming weeks).

Gallery 1, Little Dipper, March 28 (after trivia):

Gallery 2, Cidercade (Houston), March 29:

Gallery 3, Cidercade (Houston), April 1:

Texas Pinball Festival 2022, part 4: Closing thoughts and things that I learned

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Texas Pinball Festival 2022

And with that, here are my closing thoughts on everything that happened over the weekend at the Texas Pinball Festival.

This was an exciting and surreal weekend two years in the making. At any point I could have interpreted certain events as signs from the universe trying to tell me I shouldn’t go, even after paying for the show pass and tournament entry fee to the tune of around $170.

Before I get into the nuts and bolts of my tournament performance, I would like to extend my thanks to the tournament organizers/directors: Phil Grimaldi, Colin McAlpine, and Dick Curtis. While all of the organizers did a terrific job, Dick deserves special appreciation as he was the organizer supervising and training me through my volunteer shifts. Dick has the perfect calm and easy-going personality for training/onboarding volunteers (and I’ve done a lot of volunteering over the years, enough to know that that isn’t always the case).

And with that, here are my thoughts on the tournament. While my performance at this tournament was quite lacking, I did wind up with relatively good scores on at least two games, those being Spanish Eyes and Flash Gordon. In fact, similar performances on ten of the other thirteen machines (i.e. good enough for a 71 or better) would have gotten me into A division.

I had played many of these games before, and it’s not like many of the ones I hadn’t were inaccessible. (For example, I’m pretty sure at least Cidercade had Rush prior to TPF, I just didn’t have the time to go play it prior to the tournament. Einstein’s in Richmond had TNA, which I had played before but not recently.) Also, the scores I would have needed to qualify were not hopelessly out of reach; they seem to mostly match what I consider my attainable range, at least on the games where I know what that range is. It’s more a question of getting them done within the limited number of qualifying games afforded. Put another way, can I “catch lightning in a bottle” during qualifying?

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the tilt settings. Most of the games had reasonable tilt settings, a far cry from the “gesundtilt” (i.e. “sneeze tilt” or ridiculously conservative tilt setting) I was expecting to run into at least a couple of times. I was still conservative in my use of nudging.

It was nice to see familiar faces on the show floor and in the tournament room, as well as get to see a few of the “big name” players in person. I unfortunately didn’t get to talk to very many of them at length

As this was my first year, I don’t have a reference to previous year experiences at this same event. The closest experience I have to playing in a tournament with this format would be the tournament at the 2015 Houston Arcade Expo. Due to the budget that year I effectively had to play that tournament as a limited entries tournament, even though the option was open for players with deeper pockets to buy more entries.

Now, both types of tournaments (unlimited entries and limited entries) have their advantages and disadvantages. Having unlimited entries (which basically means entries limited only by one’s budget) means more “mulligans” should one have lousy games early on, or that one can cut one’s losses after a poor performance on a few games. However, it also means the tighter one’s budget, the slimmer one’s chances, and that otherwise good players may miss out on qualifying due to lack of funds. A limited entries tournament puts everyone on a more equal footing. However, if one can’t “catch lightning in a bottle” (i.e. get good scores within that limited number of entries), one’s pretty much screwed.

It may sound like no big deal to reasonably skilled players to put up, say, 7.4 million on Whirlwind or 134 million on Creature from the Black Lagoon on tournament settings. Actually doing it in the crowded tournament room, with the potentially nerve-wracking and headache-inducing noise level is another story. (I picked these scores as this is about where 38th place or 60 qualifying points was. The A division cutoff was at 702 or an average of 58.5 qualifying points per game, so 60 across the board was enough to make A division with a little room to spare.)

I mention the environment because it seemed even louder than a lot of arcades/bars I have played in. During the peak of qualifying Friday evening, there were potentially 24 machines (15 in Wizards, 8 in classics, and the kids’ tournament game) being played at the same time, many of them older electromechanical games with loud chimes and/or bells. Even if you turn the sound down to nothing on all of the solid-state and newer games (which will annoy some players as there are important aural cues on some games), there is still plenty of noise from the flippers, bumpers, kickers, drop target resets, and the myriad other mechanical gadgets in pinball machines.

With the noise level being what it was, I found myself having to take breaks and walk outside the tournament room for a few minutes just to be able to clear my head. It’s something I need to get better at dealing with. I don’t think this was the reason I did so poorly, but it did catch me by surprise a little bit.

Finally, for those planning to make the trip to next year’s (2023) Texas Pinball Festival, assuming it stays mostly the same as 2022, here is my advice, primarily from a road-tripper perspective (i.e. someone driving into the DFW area from no more than about 500 miles away):

  • Pick your hotel carefully. In order, my choices would be: The Embassy Suites adjoining the conference center, a hotel within walking distance (such as: the Hyatt House, Hilton Garden Inn, or Hotel Indigo just across Gaylord Parkway; the Hyatt Regency in the Stonebriar Centre mall; the Home2 Suites just outside the mall; the Drury Inn near Gaylord Parkway and Dallas Parkway/DNT), other nearby hotels within the shortest driving distance possible. Cheap hotels/motels, hostels, or Airbnb rentals more than about a 2-3 mile drive away should be your last resorts (pun intended) unless the budget just won’t allow anything closer/nicer. It may cost more to stay at the Embassy Suites or a hotel close to it, but not having to deal with DFW area traffic is worth it.
  • Remember that driving in the DFW area usually either means taking toll roads, or a much longer (in time) trip across the adjacent feeder roads or other surface streets. If you are flying in and staying at the Embassy or a hotel within walking distance, you might be able to get away with not renting a car and just taking a cab or rideshare (or possibly even DART, if you’re up for the walking distance) to/from the airport.
  • Food tends to run a bit on the expensive side in the immediate area of the hotel. The food trucks may have relatively reasonably prices, though the selection is going to be a bit limited. (For example: on Saturday it was an egg sandwich truck and a barbecue truck. One of my friends recommended against the barbecue truck, and I usually avoid eggs. I decided to roll the dice anyway with the barbecue truck and the food was at least decent.) $15 to $17 per meal plus a bit extra for snacks should be enough with a little cushion. My order at Which Wich inside the mall still ran close to $15 and I had expected it to be a bit less.
  • Embassy Suites was kind enough not to charge (at least most) TPF attendees for parking in 2022. I came out to find open parking garage exit gates despite having to take a ticket on both Friday and Sunday. (I am guessing the parking rates, when applied, may be to discourage Comerica Center and Dr Pepper Field visitors from using the hotel’s garage, as Embassy’s rate can potentially go up to $18 versus $15 or $10 at the other two facilities.) Tournament players who enter and leave the garage before 5 pm might still have to pay for parking. I would appreciate further clarification from those who have more information.
  • Buc-ee’s highlights clean restrooms in their advertising. I can personally attest to the honesty of this advertising. The Madisonville location is a great place to stop and take a bathroom break (whether #1 or #2) as well as refuel, grab a bite to eat, and even air up your tires if needed.
  • Allow extra time for traffic-related delays, even on the rural sections of highways. I had to deal with a complete freeway closure on my trip in. (ironically, I detoured specifically to try to avoid this, only to wind up right in the middle of the traffic jam after re-entering the highway.)

And with that begins the long wait for Texas Pinball Festival 2023. I’m already looking forward to it.

Texas Pinball Festival 2022, part 3: Saturday, Sunday, and the drive back

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Texas Pinball Festival 2022

There’s not a whole lot of story to report for Saturday and Sunday. Of note, before leaving the tournament room Friday night, I signed up for a second volunteer shift, this time as a scorekeeper.

Now, during the original signup period online, I originally decided not to sign up as a scorekeeper. This was based on the description provided by the organizers. From reading that, scorekeeping seemed like a potentially high-stress position and I am quite loath to accept high-stress positions as a volunteer. However, once I had a chance to play the tournament and see what exactly scorekeepers did, I decided to go ahead and give it a try. It wasn’t nearly as odious as I might have originally expected, especially given the lower activity level for 9 am to 11 am. In fact, scorekeeping was probably more in my wheelhouse than registration desk duty. (Though during this shift, I also staffed the registration desk briefly while one of the organizers went downstairs to get coffee.)

With that, I went to pick up my T-shirt and drop it off in the car. Then, it was time to head back into the main game room/exhibit hall. I had the opportunity to meet up with an old friend, as well as meet her new partner and a couple of other people she knew. This is the reason for the multiplayer games.

Sunday was more of the same. Of note, I got in quite a few quality games on some specific favorite titles of mine, the main ones being Trident and Sorcerer. I also got to play the Willy Wonka pinball for the first time. This is a game I definitely would not mind spending more time with in a less chaotic setting.

I did wind up staying for the closing awards ceremonies and raffle drawing. This put my departure time a bit past 3 pm, guaranteeing my arrival in Houston after civil twilight.

(This is all one big gallery for now; I may go back and split it up later. My score is usually the higher/highest one in multiplayer games, with the exception being Weird Al at the end.)