Space City Pinball League, Season 2 Week 1: Oh, this rooster sure can lay an egg

So tonight was the first week of the second season of the Space City Pinball League. I didn’t play in the first season, for a variety of reasons, but I plan to play as many weeks of this season as possible.

The venue is Eighteen Twenty Lounge, next door to Joystix (the corner of the building closest to the intersection of Hamilton and Franklin). It’s a relatively nice bar (I didn’t take that many pictures of the bar itself, if anyone wants me to just say the word and I’ll take a few next week). The games in the lineup are: Game of Thrones LE, Batman: The Dark Knight, Spiderman, The Walking Dead, KISS, and Star Trek. All are fairly recent games from Stern, and all are well maintained, clean, and play as fast as jackrabbit sex.

So, it started off being a decent night. I had the lead through the first two balls of Game of Thrones LE, and I’m thinking it might turn out to be not so bad. I have some 14 million points and change, which looks like it might actually hold up for first place. (I know it’s probably a fairly low score, and as the weeks go on I’m hoping I’ll be able to look back at it and laugh.) And then Justin Niles plays his final ball. And it becomes obvious I’m settling for second place that game in rather short order.

The next game is KISS. For whatever reason, I never really got it going. I would sign off with an embarrassingly low 4.7M+, good enough for dead last. Not surprisingly, Justin would win this one too with a 25.8M+. I’m starting to doubt myself right about here.

After this, we played on Star Trek. I got a little bit going on the third ball, enough to eek out a 14.8M+ good enough for second. Justin, of course, dominates with a 38.7M+. At this point I officially readjust my goals to just try to put up a decent showing for the rest of the night.

Next came Spiderman. This might be a fun game to play, but the ridiculously conservative tilt setting made it more of a chore. I would barely eek out a 15.8M+ good enough for third. Justin, of course, smokes us with a 58.9M+ and mathematically eliminates the rest of us from any hope of winning the group that night.

We would wrap up on Batman: The Dark Knight. As if getting used to finishing out of first place was not bad enough: my final score this game was 6,532,970. Ruben, one of the other players in the group, would take second place with 6,538,030. A difference of a mere 5,060 points, which on this game is probably around what a single bumper hit scores, separating my third place from Ruben’s second place score. As you might have guessed by now, Justin walked away with this one with an 18.8M+ and becomes the only player in the entire league to win all five games for 25 ranking points. The other three of us (Ruben, Chris, and myself) tied at 10 ranking points for the night, in a four-way tie for 19th out of 26 players (one player from a different group also finished the night with 10 ranking points).

Given I’ve never played at least two of these titles before (Spiderman and Batman: The Dark Knight), my previous experience with Game of Thrones was on the Pro version (the LE adds an upper mini-playfield), and my experience with the other two titles was very limited at best, maybe I didn’t perform that badly after taking everything into account. But I still feel like I “laid an egg” tonight (thus the title). I really should have been able to put together at least one performance good enough for first place, and it just didn’t happen.

I did have a good time, all things considered. I got to see some familiar faces again, and meet some new people as well. I am uploading the pics below, and for those of you who want to follow along (and don’t mind the occasional spoilers between league night and when I write my post about it), the results will also be available at http://scpl.league.papa.org.

Game Preserve Friday: Life starts getting back to normal

After a considerable amount of time away, I was able to make it back in front of a few pinball games on Friday night 1/15. This post has been sitting on my server in various stages of completeness since then, with most of it having been completed on Monday 1/18 and just awaiting a few final touches. Suffice it to say, life has been hectic but is slowly getting back to normal.

Highlights from the night, with photos posted below:

  • 1,459,320 on Space Shuttle (first player of a four-player game someone else had abandoned early on, I forget the player 1 score when I started but the majority of the points scored are mine over balls 2 and 3)
  • 104,955 on Q*Bert’s Qubes
  • 19-12 against the AI in Tournament Cyberball (my Flash vs. AI’s Lightning)
  • 345,100 on Firepower (5 ball game)
  • 13,059,280 on Ripley’s Believe It or Not
  • 158,320 on Evel Knievel (5 ball game)
  • 449,220 on Blue Chip (5 ball game)
  • 515,660 on Rock Encore
  • 223,250 on Roller Disco (5 ball game)
  • 3,801 on Beat Time (5 ball game)

The Q*Bert’s Qubes game came towards the end of the night and I came quite close to my previous personal high score (I didn’t realize how close until I compared my previous photo). I still have relatively low confidence I could ever make a decent world record attempt on it, though I may post a score just for “been there, done that” purposes. Assuming the constraint of starting at L1R1 (level 1, round 1), I would like to think 100K+ is a respectable score. Then again, Q*Bert’s Qubes is such an obscure title that even a lot of hardcore gamers are unlikely to pay it much mind…

I did get in a game of (one-player) Tournament Cyberball before the night was over; I’ve done better, but knowing I can win games that come down to the wire like this one is a great confidence booster. I don’t know how much I’m going to practice this one to try to get back to where I once was (I used to be at least decent, if not good, at this particular title). It is a fun one to play between rounds of pinball, I’ll give it that. I have, in the past, stuck to the Flash as my team of choice. Back in the day I would play a lot of games as either the Crush or the Flash, though i have given thought to switching up to a passing team as my team of choice (either Lightning or Invasion).

And the rest of the scores are the usual pinball suspects. Roller Disco finally appears to be working a lot better than it was, it no longer scores points just by flipping the flippers or nudging the machine. I consider the score I posted on this night to be a bit more “legitimate” as a result; my unofficial goal is 400K by either the end of this year or whenever this game makes its exit from The Game Preserve. The high game to date on it is in the 550K range so 400K shouldn’t be all that hard if I get the right rhythm going.

It’s the same for my eventual goal of 10K+ (score counter roll) on Beat Time, one of the few games I’ve seen at The Game Preserve since the very beginning. I have posted a 6K+ score on this game so I’m pretty sure 10K+ is doable. It would just be a question of either winning enough extra balls to keep the game going, or having at least, say, three balls in a game scoring 2,500+ each, one extra ball, and the other three balls being at least decent (900 points each). The problem is that actually getting the extra ball on this game involves a lot more luck than usual; either getting the bumpers to knock the ball through the top 3-6-9-12 lanes, or hitting the rotating target which is placed such that a hard shot makes an “insta-drain” quite the possibility.

As a parallel, I eventually rolled the score counter on Liberty Bell when we had that one available. Realistically, I didn’t expect to ever do that, having once posted a few scores in the 700K-899K range and then finally a 900K+ score. The stategy on Liberty Bell was not that dissimilar; rip lit spinners enough times (which is, by the way, much easier to do than on a game like Blue Chip), try to keep making drop targets, and make sure to have at least a couple of doubled 100K bonuses to help out. Beat Time has no spinners, but having the bumpers and bumper area targets lit increases the scoring from 1 and 10 respectively, to 10 and 100 respectively, and is usually key to getting a good score. Yes, the 3-6-9-12 lanes are key to both this and the extra ball, but in at least one game on this night, I was not able to convert a lit extra ball. That was quite painful, too…

The only other particularly noteworthy score is the Blue Chip score. As a single player game, the strategy is a lot different than it would be on a multi-player game. (In the electromechanical (EM) era, only single player games carried forward game features such as lit targets, made drop targets, etc. from ball to ball. The move to solid state (SS) or “computer” technology made this difference irrelevant; only one single-player SS game was made to my knowledge, before what could be done with the technology was fully realized by manufacturers.) Anyway, the main goal of Blue Chip is to light the numbered targets 1 through 8 to light special on the right eject hole and outlanes (though it can be set such that only 1 through 6 are required to light an outlane special). Other numbers light other features, such as 2 lighting the left spinner, 5 lighting the right spinner, etc. “Rip the lit spinner” will get you quite a few points on this game, though it’s far from the only good strategy; I would prefer to build up bonus and then make a lit “double bonus” lane.

I would be content with a personal high score of 600K on Blue Chip, though a 1M+ (score counter rollover) should be possible with enough luck, even assuming a game not set to award extra balls.

Pinball Arcade and stuff

During the past month or so, I’ve been playing a few games on Pinball Arcade on my Android tablet, mainly the free pinball table that the app comes with, Tales of the Arabian Nights. I usually don’t bother with pinball simulations, but seeing as at least one of the tables on this app is one I would almost certainly never get to play in real life (that being Goin’ Nuts, a Gottlieb table from 1983, of which only 10 engineering samples exist as the new management felt widebody tables were too expensive to mass produce), this may well become one of the few apps I wind up paying for at some point.

Interestingly, until I played it in Pinball Arcade, I had completely forgotten just how good of a table Tales of the Arabian Nights was. The settings they give you for TOTAN are: 3 balls per game, extra ball lit after 4 jewels (I’m not sure if this is operator adjustable on a real machine), extra ball for scoring 8M points. So that’s at least two extra balls one can earn on a 3 ball game.

I also put up some decent scores on the free table for December, Victory (Gottlieb, 1987). I used to own this table in real life, though I never once put up a completely legitimate high score on it due to one of the spinners continuously malfunctioning.

Then came the night I purely by chance tuned into the Buffalo Pinball stream on Twitch when they were giving away Pinball Arcade passes. As it happens, I got drawn for the Season Four pass. The games from that season are: The Addams Family, Cyclone, Earthshaker, Jack*Bot, Party Zone, The Phantom of the Opera, Red & Ted’s Road Show, Safe Cracker, Starship Troopers, and Xenon. I’ve put up some rather high scores on a few of these as well; see pictures at the end of the post.

Finally, this month (January) the free table of the month is High Speed (Williams, 1986). I remember this one from my middle school years hanging out at the bowling alley after school. It was the rightmost of three machines in a row in the corner of the arcade, the other two being Road Kings (Williams, 1986) in the center and Secret Service (Data East, 1987) on the left. I spent more time on Secret Service, since the replay score was stuck at 400,000 (pathetically low). Even back then, I noticed the unmistakeable similarities between the playfield designs of Secret Service and High Speed, and as it turns out I was not the only one. (To be fair, the rules are different enough that the games play completely differently despite this.)

Game Preserve Friday: “You can’t be the best at everything”

I’ll get on to the meat of this one in a few. First, I wanted to get through at least some of the highlights from Friday night:

  • 105,740 on Q*Bert’s Qubes
  • 44,930 on Hyper Sports
  • 287,200 on Blue Chip
  • 1,074,090 on Space Shuttle
  • 3,356 on Beat Time

I’ll elaborate on these in reverse order. I’ve put up scores well into the 4,000+ range on Beat Time before, with an all-time record of 6,859. For a nightly highlight, though, 3,356 is a score I’m happy with. It’s above the second of four replay levels (the settings are 2,600/3,300/4,000/4,600).

The Space Shuttle score is again far off of my best, but again quite respectable for a nightly highlight. I had trouble making the lock shots and at times the center drop target and center ramp. If I can consistently hit the lock shots and the ramp, and keep starting multiball after multiball, I’m damn near unstoppable on Space Shuttle. That’s how I ran up the 6,190,550 score back in early August; incidentally, that score is still on the board in second place as of Friday night when I left (someone managed to put up a 6.4M+ since, I have no idea who).

The scores on Blue Chip I put up were pretty good, but the bigger story on that game is that I am now getting to the point where I can consistently make all 8 targets, though getting special afterwards is another story. This is quite noteworthy given the left flipper doesn’t go quite full stroke on this particular table; it’s good enough to make most of the shots except the right saucer, but it is rather difficult to cradle a ball on the left flipper. The right spinner is also not working as of at least the tournament, probably sooner. (Not that it’s particularly easy to really rip the right spinner given the left flipper, so in part that’s just as well…)

The Hyper Sports score represents the first time I have made it all the way to the pole vault stage on an actual arcade machine. In case you have forgotten which game this was, it was the follow-up to Track & Field and featured swimming, skeet shooting, long horse, archery, triple jump, weight lifting, and pole vault. Unlike Track & Field where the hammer throw was usually the game-ending event due to its difficulty, the only truly difficult event is the pole vault. (It is much harder than Track & Field’s high jump, for example; the high jump allows one to change one’s trajectory in mid-jump while the pole vault does not.)

Finally, the Q*Bert’s Qubes score, the video game highlight of the night, is my best on an actual arcade machine. Historically, I have not considered Q*Bert’s Qubes a game I am particularly strong at. I only ever got to play it once or twice near the time of its release “back in the day” (scoring, I think, around 40,000 or so), but I have played it on MAME since then and grown quite a fond appreciation for it. Assuming those are marathon settings, that score would have been good for fourth on the Twin Galaxies board for Q*Bert’s Qubes, however first place on that board is a staggering 10.1M+ by Donald Hayes back in 2007. More on this later.

I did make a pretty solid run on Millipede, trying to better my previous high score. I succeeded in pushing another MAJ score or two off the list (this Millipede has a modified boardset that keeps all 8 high scores, not just the top 3 like original Atari boards). Since I didn’t set an actual new high score, I don’t have a picture.

I did play a couple of quick rounds on Junkyard, which was a recent addition to the lineup at The Game Preserve. Even though the score is rather unremarkable (at least by how I remember this game scoring back in the day) I did take a picture. Along with Junkyard, Congo (re-)joins the lineup in what I’m guessing is a temporary spot next to the tech room.

But the main highlight of the evening would have to be the last game of the night (I didn’t take pictures, for better or worse). I played a six-period game of Tournament Cyberball 2072 against Joe Reyna, one of the owners at The Game Preserve. It was a close game, with Joe’s Tokyo Flash defeating my Moscow Machine by a final score of 28-20. I was able to keep it a competitive game (within a touchdown) for most of the first five periods, though in the end an errant pass was intercepted by Joe’s team which wound up being the deciding factor in the game. The quote in the post title is from Joe, and I chose to make that the post title for a reason.

There is a fine line between being confident and cocky. I know Joe said what he did at least somewhat in jest, but there is an element of truth to it. My ego does tend to get a bit over-inflated from time to time. Yes, I do get rather proud of setting a high score or achieving other important milestones in whatever video game or pinball table I happen to be playing that day; maybe in a few cases, more proud than I should be.

However, there are games I am not good at, that I will probably never be good at because I either find them less interesting, or other reasons. There are also games that I once was somewhat good at that I will probably never take up again. Dance Dance Revolution, Pump It Up, and similar games would likely qualify as games for which my time to have played them has come and gone. However, the only DDR tournament I entered, I think I wound up busting out in the first round. I enjoyed the hell out of DDR when it was “the game” to be playing in the arcade, particularly when I could hop on the machine and play 8-panel (“doubles”). I did get to the point where I could pass some 6-foot songs playing doubles (this was when I was in my late 20s). Now, if you were to ask me to try even a 3-foot doubles song on DDR today, I’d probably laugh and go back to whatever pinball game I was playing.

I am primarily a pinball player now, though I play enough of certain videogames to be able to show I’m not just a “one-trick pony” and also because, as odd as it seems, a lot of people are more impressed by videogame performances than pinball.

Going back to my previous post, if I hadn’t played enough Millipede on MAME over the years to know what it’s like to play the higher levels of difficulty, I probably would have just looked the other way when I saw MAJ all over the high score list. At most, trying to get the top spot would have been an afterthought. Until I got all the way to where I start at 300,000 points and have to deal with eight spiders at the start of a new game, I had some doubts that I had what it took to beat MAJ’s scores. Even after playing a few times with a 300,000-point start and not cracking the high score list at all, I kept up with it.

To be at the top of the high score list, you don’t have to be the best every time you play, you just have to put up a score higher than what’s on there once.

This is one reason playing in pinball tournaments has been tricky for me at first. There is a huge difference between being able to run up a massive score once or twice over hundreds of attempts, and being able to have a great game right there on the spot in a tournament setting. A lot of tournament games have all four players end the game with what would be otherwise embarrassing scores. There are also situations where the player in fourth place of a four player game (i.e. last place) finishes with a score that ordinarily would be rather impressive. Say, 3.5M+ on Space Shuttle, 150M+ on The Addams Family, 750M+ on Twilight Zone, 500K+ on Mata Hari, 300K+ on Trident, 100K+ on Wizard of Oz, etc. But yet, the other three players managed to top even this. The famous saying of Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over ’till it’s over,” may well have originated with pinball tournaments.

Anyway, back to videogame records before I close this out. Obviously, Q*Bert’s Qubes is not the game I would prefer to try for a world record on. I could put up a decent score, maybe as high as 300K+ given enough practice. But this would only be good for second or third place on the Twin Galaxies list. So what else does that leave?

I have been eyeing the Klax record and the Centipede 3-minute record. Klax was a good choice if I had jumped on it a couple of years ago, but now the record of 2,833,216 by Paul Hornitzky is quite formidable. I wouldn’t go as far as to say insurmountable, but it took a great deal of effort to top 1 million when I last tried this title in MAME. Part of the reason I consider the Klax record to be as formidable as it is, is the fact that the Twin Galaxies settings include difficulty ramping, a feature intended to shorten game times dramatically (otherwise wizards could sit there and play all day on one credit, something arcade operators really do not like).

The Centipede 3-minute record is a more tempting goal. I am pretty sure the ROM dump of the timed variant ROMs will play on a standard Centipede board. The only catch is that two-player games become unavailable in the process, and Twin Galaxies has not published the settings for this particular record. Donald Hayes, again, holds this record for now with a score of 59,106, and for better or worse it was verified by referee and no video appears to exist, so I’m going to be “in the dark” as to exactly how he did it. I’ve been able to crank out 36K+ scores with regularity playing with a mouse in MAME, though that would only be good for 11th to 13th on the current list I am looking at.

I may consider others, particularly more obscure titles. I probably won’t be in a position to ramp up to a fully publicized videogame record attempt until the latter half of 2016, so pinball is likely to stay my main focus for a while.

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