Space City Pinball League Season 3 Week 2: Busting ghosts and getting medieval

(Yeah I know this is way late… Real life got in the way of getting this finished last week. It happens sometimes.)

So the Space City Pinball League is back in session once again. I was not able to make week 1 due to a conflict; we are playing on Wednesdays now, which unfortunately is going to conflict with a fair number of meetings and meetups I usually attend. Nevertheless, I’ll try to play as many weeks as I can.

This week’s lineup of machines: Game of Thrones Premium, Ghostbusters (Pro), Kiss (LE?), Medieval Madness (remake), Spiderman VE, The Hobbit, and The Walking Dead. After missing week 1, I had heard about Medieval Madness making an appearance that week. I will concede it was not one of my favorite games back in the day, but I remained eager for the chance to play it nonetheless.

This week I was grouped with Nina Ruiz, John Costa, and Ken Holmes. Going into it I figured I had decent chances to make at least a good showing. Unfortunately we would wind up not playing Spiderman or The Hobbit, two of my stronger games out of this bunch.

Our first game was on Ghostbusters. This is one of the newest titles from Stern, much anticipated and hyped. I’ve gotten in a few rounds on it, so I had an idea what to expect. I would post a modest lead after ball 1, but really blow it wide open during ball 2. I would sign off with a 109M+, dwarfing Ken’s second place score of 7.1M+. So one first place finish to start the night, good for three standings points (the scoring system has changed for this system to 3-2-1-0 and 3-1½-0, from the former 5-3-2-1 and 5-3-1).

Our next game would be on Kiss. This wound up being a game I’d rather forget. It seems that during warmups or when I am just doinking around, I do okay on this title, but almost every time I play it during league play I wind up doing poorly. Such was the case here, where I signed off with a measly 3.4M+ in dead last. So it’s still three standings points on the night going into the third game.

We would move on to Medieval Madness. Again, I’ve had some prior experience with this title (the original Williams version, not the remake), and I didn’t remember it too fondly. Nevertheless, I managed to put up a respectable 8.0M+ which nobody else came close to (despite the fact I accidentally tilted out on the last ball). So, two first place finishes and a fourth, that’s six standings points on the night and we move on to the next game.

That next game happened to be The Walking Dead. I have played this game enough to say I don’t particularly like it (the ramp shots are really hard to make consistently, and the extra ball shot is particularly a pain in the ass, though I have managed to make it semi-consistently). I put up a 17.5M+ which I honestly had hoped would hold up for at least a second place. Unfortunately John and Nina both outscored me with 19.7M+ and 29.2M+ respectively, pushing me down to third. Seven standings points and one more game to go.

Wrapping up the night was our turn on Game of Thrones. This is another title I seem to be jinxed on when it comes to league play. I was barely able to put up a 3.5M+, which thankfully was good at least for third behind Nina’s 8,302,350 and Ken’s 8,210,200 (quite a close finish given the scale of the scoring on this game). I wind up with eight standings points from two firsts, two thirds, and a fourth.

I don’t feel that I did terrible, though there were situations where I should have done better than I did. I barely knew who Nina was, but now that I look back at the league history I have at least an idea. Nina finished tied for 27th last season (for comparison purposes I finished tied for 25th) and her regular season performance looks an awful lot like mine: one standout week of 15 points (week 4) with scores of 11, 10, 8, 7, and 7 in the other weeks. Compare this to my standout week of 17 in week 8, with scores of 13, 10, 10, 10, and 9 in the other weeks. So it’s not that big of a surprise that she was able to hold her own against a player of my caliber.

By the time this goes up, week 3 will have come and gone, and I didn’t play. At least I now know which two weeks will get dropped. It also makes it clear as mud where I actually have potential of finishing; we won’t really know that until week 6.

A lull in the action

Yes, it’s been pretty quiet month after the Joystix visit. I have not been playing much pinball, at least much real pinball. I have been playing some Pinball Arcade on my tablet to stay sharp, though obviously that’s not quite the same as the real thing.

I have been keeping up with the goings-on, including the update to the WPPR formula for 2017 posted last week. It’s mostly minor stuff, with the headline change being the addition of an IFPA Tour of “endorsed Pin-Golf events.” For those unfamiliar with it, pin-golf is a tournament format where the goal is to complete objectives using the lowest number of balls in play. An example pin-golf course would be something like this:

  1. Game of Thrones: Start Blackwater Multiball
  2. Black Hole: Score 500K points
  3. Fun House: Score Million Plus during multiball
  4. Xenon: Score 1M points
  5. Earthshaker: Get 50 ramp miles
  6. [etc.]

If I were to get all 5 of these in the first ball of each game, my total score would be the best possible score of 5. If it took me more than that, say I ran into trouble on Xenon and Earthshaker and it took me 3 balls and 4 balls to reach each goal respectively, my score would be 10. Lower scores are better, just like real golf.

I have never really played a pin-golf tournament format, though it does seem like it would be kind of fun and something different. It seems I do better when I focus on just blowing up the score counter versus trying to reach an objective. A case in point would be a recent game of Party Zone I was playing in Pinball Arcade. I was trying to finally make the Big Bang, after many, many failed attempts. When I finally did my final score was in the range of 85M which wasn’t even good enough to make the high score list (I’ve had many games in excess of 100M before).

Amazingly, I made the Big Bang in a way I have never done before on either a real Party Zone machine or in Pinball Arcade: I sent the two balls up the Rock-It ramp right behind each other, such that there was this weird five-second pause on “Lock 2nd Ball for Big Bang” until the game figured out I had already made it. If memory serves me correctly, two of the three times I have made Big Bang on a real machine, it was for a maxed-out 99,999,999 score. (It’s been a while, most of my play of a real Party Zone machine was back when it was new in the early 1990s, so my memory is a bit fuzzy.)

On Pinball Arcade, the Big Bang does not carry over between starts of the app (otherwise, players would sandbag to drive up the value for when it finally does get made) and starts at 20,075,000. That’s still a fairly large bonus in this game, though there are other ways to run up that many points which are arguably lower risk (example: six shots to the far right lane when not lit would score a total of 21M).

Hopefully the next season of the league will start up soon, as I don’t want to have huge gaps between entries. This weekend I will try to find time to post some of my better Pinball Arcade scores over the past few months (there have been quite a few).

Joystix Pac-Man Fever: Some of the old, some of the new

So I went to Joystix this past Friday (May 6) for Pac-Man Fever. The original reason I was going was to meet up with a couple of people I knew from the Extra Life Guild. That quickly turned into somewhat of a flop as they didn’t stick around for that long after I got my wristband to play.

I did get to play quite a few games that I had not played in years. Most notably, two videogame titles, Cliff Hanger (a Stern/Seeburg laserdisc title circa 1983 that I never got to play when it was new) and Time Traveler (the Sega hologram game from 1989 which is now somewhat rare). I also got in my first games of Whoa Nellie! Big Juicy Melons (yes that is actually the title of a pinball game), Terminator 3, and Avatar. I also got to play, for the first time in a very long time, Bugs Bunny’s Birthday Ball. I know that last title is a game people love to hate, much like The Simpsons (the original 1990 Data East game, not The Simpsons Pinball Party which was made by Stern much more recently).

I’m not sure how good the Avatar score is, but I’m pretty damn proud of 1.24B+ on Game of Thrones and 382K+ on The Hobbit. Why the hell couldn’t I do that during league play?!

Tuesday night party at the Costas

I want to keep the verbosity to a minimum on this post, so I would simply like to thank John and Michelle Costa for hosting us at their house in suburban/rural Brazoria County (near Pearland, but well outside city limits) this past Tuesday night. I would also like to thank John for the the chance to learn a little bit of tech that I didn’t know before (details below).

I also need to apologize a bit for this post being a bit untimely. The party was on May 3, which will be a bit over a week ago by the time I get this post ready for publication. I try to get them done and posted a bit sooner than that.

The Costa Casa (as some refer to it) had the following games at the time of the event: Funhouse, Twilight Zone, The Addams Family, Indiana Jones (Williams), Champion Pub, Tommy, Kiss (Stern), Metallica, The Walking Dead, Batman Forever, Tales of the Arabian Nights, Elvis, Theatre of Magic, Spiderman, Pinball Magic (Capcom), Cirqus Voltaire, Scared Stiff, World’s Fair Jig-Saw (a pre-World War II-era pure mechanical game), and possibly a couple of others. I spent a plurality of my time playing Tales of the Arabian Nights and Funhouse, which I consider two of the better games to have come from the 1990s pinball renaissance.

There were a couple of slot machines made available for “free play” in a similar manner as World’s Fair Jig-Saw

I hadn’t had the chance to play Funhouse in quite some time, so seeing it in the collection was a welcome sight. Surprisingly, I never thought of Funhouse as a title I was particularly good at, so I was surprised to wind up putting up the score I did (11.4M+, which was not good enough to make the high score list, but good enough to firmly establish I’m no slouch).

The other notable high scores of the night were on Tommy, Spiderman, Scared Stiff, Metallica, and The Walking Dead. I also threw in a pic of the best performance on World’s Fair Jig-Saw I was able to pull off, just for the heck of it.

Also included are two pictures of the ball stuck on Tommy where the rubber busted. I replaced this rubber before I left (with some help from John), and also helped fix the upper flipper that had croaked in the meantime. (The screw holding the mechanism together had fallen out and had to be replaced due to being too stripped/worn.)

Finally, not long before I left, I remedied the issue of Twilight Zone having too few balls installed (it is supposed to have six: five steel, one cermaic). This was easy: I just placed the additional balls on a convenient place on the playfield (the left ramp return lane), and let the game take care of the rest. For any other Twilight Zone owners out there, nothing special needs to be done to load the additional balls into the gumball machine. What happens, the game will load the balls such that the ceramic “powerball” is first in line, using the right spiral magnet to make sure steel balls aren’t loaded first.

Also, if you are new to pinball ownership: most pinball games made during the solid-state multiball era (i.e. anything made in or after 1980) should have a sticker under the lockdown bar that reads something like “INSTALL 3 BALLS”. In this example, there should be three physical balls inside the machine for proper play. If there are only two, the game will likely complain with a message like “PINBALL MISSING” or “MISSING 1 BALL” upon trying to start a game. Older games which retain the ball in the outhole after draining and don’t kick it up into another hole closer to the plunger are one-ball games.

(Sidenote: Sometimes a game will play with less than the proper number of balls, but features will not work correctly. In the particular case of Twilight Zone, it will play with only three balls, but will get confused and think the ceramic “powerball” is another steel ball–a surefire way to get the ceramic ball stuck on the upper playfield (the “Magna-flip” won’t work on it). Black Hole will act like it is starting a game but will not actually kick the ball out until it can account for all three balls. I once, many years ago, played a Rollergames on location–set for coin play!–that had only one ball in it and gave me multiball with only one ball in the machine. I had a field day; the operator probably had some swear words to say when he/she checked the audits.)