Looking at RVA Pinball in 2015

The end of 2014 has seen River City Flippers maintain its maximum number of 20 members.  We have an active group of pinheads who spread the word about pinball at every turn.  Just down the street from the River City Flippers locations, a second league has formed and it filled up almost as quickly as it was announced.

Richmond sits in the shadow of the Northern VA/DC/MD area where there is a lot of public and private pinball and many excellent players.  How can we get the word out and get more pinball excitement here in Richmond?

I have heard that there are plans to have a public location opening soon with four or five tables.  That should be enough to have league nights at that location and tournaments as well.  Anyone interested in Richmond pinball needs to be sure to support what little location pinball we have and encourage those locations to maintain their machines.  I know that RVAPinball.org and River City Flippers will offer support to any location and would be happy to run tournaments in any location enough machines.

I hope to have more tournaments in my home arcade this year and bring my machines out to the public more often like we did at Glave Klocen gallery.  The owners of the gallery enjoyed having the machines and said that they were very popular with their visitors.  Each machine was played over 400 times during a three week period.  The gallery owners said many of the people were happy to be able to play pinball for the first time in years.

If you know of a location that would like to host a pinball tournament or have a machine on location, please let us know.  If you have a pinball machine and would be willing to have it be part of a pop up/temporary arcade/tournament in Richmond, please let us know that too.

Hopefully, 2015 will be the year that Richmond takes steps to add location pinball to our fantastic dining, art and beer scenes.


IFPA Suppressed Status?

Joe Said is a damn good pinball player and nice guy too.  He posted to his website clubpinball.com about a player going into suppressed status with the IFPA.  The idea of suppressed status was news to me.  Apparently, a player can be registered with the IFPA and receive WPPR points when entering sanctioned tournaments, but not have the points earned listed publicly and not participate in the ranking system.

As the player involved stated, he is creating a points black hole.  If a suppressed player enters a tournament and wins second place, the points awarded for second place will be awarded to that player, but will not be listed with the IFPA because the player’s status is suppressed.  This affects the remainder of the players in the tournament as these points are not able to be earned by other players – the black hole.

The suppressed status also affects the tournaments in which a suppressed player is involved because the ranking of the suppressed player is not factored in when determining the value of the tournament.  As a result, the players in the tournament are playing against and beating or losing to the suppressed player, but the value assigned to the tournament does not factor in the skill level of the suppressed player because he is suppressed – a second layer of the black hole.

Should a suppressed player be allowed to participate in an IFPA sanctioned tournament?  I think all IFPA tournaments are open to IFPA and non-IFPA members.  In order to receive points toward an IFPA ranking, a player has to register with the IFPA.

If you look at it from this perspective, a suppressed player affects a tournament the way a non-IFPA member would affect a tournament.  This seems like it would not be a big deal until you consider that the suppressed player may be a highly ranked and highly skilled player whose suppressed status can have a big impact on the tournament difficulty and the points that are available to be won by the other participants.

Since there appear to be only 20 or so suppressed players, it is not a big or widespread issue from an IFPA standpoint, but it is interesting to consider it as a way to opt out of the ranking system while retaining the ability to impact the ranking system.

Tilt Warning Custom Pinball

Tiltwarning is a group that works with artists to create custom re-themed pinball machines. In looking at their website this morning, I noticed that they were responsible for the machine Freak Out. This machine has striking art that made it stand out among the many, many machines in the PAPA facility. Taylor played it during his round at Pinburgh this year and I don’t think he walked away happy with his outing. Take a look through the site at the incredible art on their machines.

Another Pinball Company?

VonnieD pinball is on its way.  For now, the website is just a countdown timer.  The twitter page has a playfield teaser.  The most interesting news so far is that Gabriel Picolo, the artist behind 365 Days of Doodles, will do the art for VonnieD.  Since I saw this notice, I have been following 365 Days of Doodles on Facebook.  Picolo is very talented and it is exciting to think about what he can do on a pinball playfield.  

Damnit Jim I’m a Doctor not a pinball wizard!

I haven’t had a chance to play one yet, but the new Star Trek pinball looks like a deep game with lots of different shots and a great light show. Bowen Kerins did a live tutorial on it which can be accessed through the papa.org site.  As usual, he does a very good job of explaining the rules, the shots and his thoughts regarding strategy.

As the youtube video above shows, Karl Urban, who played Bones McCoy in the two JJ Abrams Star Trek films, has agreed to do custom speech for the new Star Trek pinball.  If you have played STTNG, you know that there is lots of custom speech in the game that sounds like it was done by the original actors and is well integrated into the game.  It is a significant improvement when Stern can integrate the real actors voices into the game. The voice actors in the Avengers sound like someone in a SNL skit making fun of the Avengers.  It is distracting and detracts from the feeling that you are experiencing the Avengers while playing the game.  I have read that voice actors were used in The Hobbit because one of the movie actors wanted $100,000 to record custom lines for the machine.

The great thing about Urban is that he is a pinball collector and, according to Steve Ritchie, is a good player.  It sounds like this had lead him to be personally interested in recording custom speech for the Star Trek machine.  Ritchie has said that they have lots of lines ready for him and expect that he will ad lib a few too.  Did you notice he looks like he is wearing a loaded holster in the video?

Yesterday, I listened to the Spooky Pinball podcast for December which features interviews of Stern employees at the Stern factory.  Steve Ritchie, the designer of STTNG and Star Trek, had some interesting insights into licenses and designing pinball machines. He admitted that he has been forced to do some licenses that we was not excited about doing.  He didn’t mention it in the interview, but I have read that he did not want to do the Elvis pinball.  I think most people agree that it is not a great machine and this is probably due in part to the designer not being excited about the license.  Ritchie stated that he now has an understanding with Stern that he has to agree to work on the licenses that are presented to him.

Ritchie revealed that he is a life long trekie and said that he watched the original episodes with his friends instead of watching the westerns that were shown on Saturday night.  He also said that Star Trek was a hard license to work on because they were not given much information.  There was a fight over the colors to be used on the machine (which Stern won) and Stern was initially given very little information to work with in designing the machine.  Ritchie said that Stern has now changed its approach and will have face to face meetings early on with a representative of the license to make sure that they get the cooperation they need in order to make the best pinball machine for the license.

This is a good policy change by Stern as they have missed some license requirements in the past due.  The targets on Iron Man were designed to read Iron on one set and Man on the other.  When Stern showed the machine to the license holder (Marvel?), they pointed out that the license requires that the words Iron and Man not be displayed separately.  As a result, the factory targets have small outlines of Iron Man instead of the letters.  My machine and many others have the aftermarket Iron Man letter stickers installed to reflect the intended design for the machine.

After some bad results with failure to follow up on code and quality control issues, Stern seems to be doing well with Star Trek, Metallica and AC/DC.  We will have to wait and see whether the code will be fully implemented in the three machines (Metallica has the most shallow code of the three), but from a design and quality control stand point, it looks like Stern has made real improvement.

Burn Out


I like pinball. At some point there was an infatuation that kept me playing or fixing to the wee hours of the morning. I’d lift the hood to tweak a switch because it seemed just a little too sensitive or worse not sensitive of enough. I’ve collected, restored and played my personal games for over 8 years now and I am frankly burned out. I have a project I can’t stay focused on and I rarely flip my games on unless I have friends over, what happened?

One thing that has been interesting, as I play more socially, is that I have a harder time getting into playing by myself. The hobby for me is now as much about talking and drinking  a beer as it is about playing. I have never been a very social person but now it seems that the hobby I could so selfishly delve into has lost its lonely luster that I could so readily lose myself in. I don’t think this is such a bad thing on a personal level but I’ve always been able to close the doors of my workshop and while away for hours doing the most mundane of task. Those task now just seem mundane.

With all of this being said I must say that the tentacles of this hobby are sticky and it is hard to break away from. The thought of ditching my pins has crossed my mind in the past and the creation of my charity tournaments was born from a need to do something with these social coffins that I had gathered in my basement. Sharing my hobby while raising money for a great cause seemed like a no brainer and has easily become the proudest thing I have done in this hobby. The pile of people that loaded into my basement to play really got me going again and I saw a new direction for my interest in the hobby.

Through the Pin(t)s for Kids tournaments and the RPL I got some of the love back as I found the sharing of my games to be as rewarding as playing them myself. Something about someone hitting a jackpot for the first time takes me back to the first time I lifted the playfield and took in the smell of stale cigarettes and beer that had seasoned my first pinball machine. Now that our second season of league is in full swing I seem to be looking for that smell again. Getting our league going has been great but now I need something new. I need something to re-spark the love I have for the hobby.

Hoping to find some of that love back this weekend as I am attending a semi-local tournament. The great thing about this hobby to me has always been the different aspects of it, whether that be the hunt of a new game or the accomplishment of a full restoration. Competitive play seems to be the avenue I have yet to truly explore. I obviously am playing in a league and have played in a few tournaments but I’ve never considered myself a player. I like to play well but I have the focus of my 3 yr old when it comes to competitive pinball. I have no expectations for this tournament other than to try to stay focused but also to have fun: to not take it too seriously but to not disappointment myself by not giving it my all.

Wish me luck.



Charlottesville Knockout Tournament

image image

On Saturday, Mike O. and I played in a tournament in Charlottesville.  The tournament was held at the Lazy Parrot Backyard BBQ on Pantops Mountain.  A few things about the Lazy Parrott.  The owner is a pinball guy who took part in the tournament.  He usually has four machines at the restaurant.  Also, there are two Lazy Parrots in the same shopping center.  If you go to the Lazy Parrott and there are no pinball machines, you are in the wrong place.  I learned this the hard way when I was in Charlottesville the week before the tournament and went to the Lazy Parrott that is pinball free.

The tournament was played on these machines:  Star Trek the Next Generation, The Getaway, Funhouse, Metallica, Spiderman, Harley-Davidson, Party Zone, Nascar and No Good Gophers.  The tournament was a three strike tournament.  Each player who comes in third or fourth for a round receives a strike.  Once a player finishes in the bottom two of a four person group three times, he is out.

I think I counted a total of 19 players in the tournament.  I had met some of the players from Northern Virginia when a few of us played in the Fairfax Pinball Open last year.  There were some very good players there including the current number seven player in the world, Trent Augenstein.  Most of the players were friendly and welcoming.  The tournament was set up to encourage new players by waiving the entry for anyone who had not previously played in a pinball tournament.  The entry fee was $5 with an optional $20 sidepot for those who wanted to play for a little more money.

Four player groups were drawn at random, put in random order and sent to a random machine.  All this randomness ended up putting me on the machine The Getaway for my first three rounds.  I had seen the machine before and had some idea of the rules, but I had not played this machine prior to the our first round.  I was selected to go first in a group that included Mike O (who went last) and Trent, the current number 7 player in the world.

I struggled in the first round and received my first strike of the day.  One of the highlights of the day was Mike O. stepping up like a boss and taking down the number seven player in the world like it was just another day at the office.  Video to come.  Mike had it won before he even started his third ball.  When Mike finished, he stepped back from the machine and screamed, “That just happened!” in his best Ricky Bobby accent.  I think I was actually more excited about Mike’s win that he was.  Anyone who has met Mike knows he did not scream after winning, but that’s how I remember it.

As I kept grinding on The Getaway through rounds two and three, I finally manage to scrape out a win in round three against two of the Northern Virginia guys.  One of the Northern Virginia guys set the GC on The Getaway with over 300 million points.

My final game was on Star Trek the Next Generation.  I played with Kevin Stone, Justin and Phil.  All very nice guys who were friendly and gave me advice on how to play.  The game was relatively close between the four of us until Kevin and Justin started and scored in a couple of valuable modes.  Kevin was able to start the video mode for which he knew the pattern.  He told me the pattern afterwards and I am going to try to get there one of these days.  That was my fourth strike and booted me out of the tournament.

As the tournament played on, I got in some games on the machines that weren’t in use for the round.  I played games on each machine other than Nascar.  Nascar was in use for a separate high score tournament and was being played most of the time.

The tournament was a very good time and taught me some lessons for future tournaments.  I need to be able to warm up before the tournament starts.  Even if you know a machine pretty well, each machine is set up differently and I need to get a feel for how that machines is playing that day.  I also need a warm up to get the eyes and hands working together well.  I was running late from being out of town with my family and arrived at the tournament with just enough time to play one game of No Good Gophers before the tournament started.

I also need to know the rules of each machine.  As I watched the other players use specific strategies while I flailed around on The Getaway, I knew I should have taken the time to know the rules of the game.  I had played Stark Trek The Next Generation many times on the ipad and that knowledge of the rules and shots made me much more competitive than I was on the Getaway.

Thanks to the organizers for a great tournament.



How High Is Too High?

To prepare for the Coffee is for Closers tournament, I increased the slope on most of my games.  I think it went well for the most part, but I think Fish Tales is a little too high.  The increased speed is leading to airballs and other bad results.  I am going to play it for a while longer this way, but it may come down if I keep noticing these problems.


I don’t know what it is about pinball but I cannot find my focus. It is easily the weakest part of my game as I can make shot after shot after shot when practicing but when it comes time to execute in a league or tourney game I cannot control myself from going for the blinking light when I know full well that it is not only a weak strategic move but also highly risky. Staying focused on a strategy will not only improve your game but will make you more efficient player.


Trying to Play Better

Something Taylor said to me made me think about what I need to do to get better at pinball.  Taylor said that he is usually trying to think three shots ahead as he is playing.  This made me think that he is playing the machine like a chess player plays against an opponent.  He knows the rules and how to exploit them.  He considers which shots lead to what scoring and the risk/reward of each shot based on its difficulty.   Based on that knowledge of the machine and it’s rules and shots, he develops a strategy to maximize his score through a sequence of shots.

i often take an opposite approach especially if I am not in competition.  On a game like Fish Tales, I will take the first shot on the fly and then adjust my game depending on what I am able to accomplish.  If I lock a ball, I figure I am 1/3 of the way to multiball and will begin to focus on getting multiball.  If I hit the ramp or hit the captive ball, I will focus on those scoring opportunities.  

Given the difficulty of multiball and the fact that you can typically outscore the 30 million multiball jackpot by other easier methods – monster fish, rock the boat, video mode and feeding frenzy, I realize a more strategic approach will lead to higher and more consistent scores.  

Instead of walking up and plunging the ball and waiting to see what happens. I am going to try to approach the machine with a scoring plan.  Having a plan and executing it are two different things, but the plan is the first step.