I recently participated in my first online Pinball Arcade tournament. And lemme tell ya, what a flippin’ rush it was!
Being the first multiplayer tournament I have considered being involved in, I was initially a bit sceptical of my ability to compete with the big boys of the digital pinball scene. Thankfully the game eases you into competitions with some degree of etiquette.
There are three tiers for TPA Tournaments, Gold, Silver and Bronze. This one ran from the 9th of May to the 16th of May. New guy as I am, I was selected to join the Bronze Tourney, the first stop for newbies. If you score particularly well in the Bronze tier you may be chosen to join the Silver competition when the next tournament is announced. The same goes for Silver tier players who can move up to the Gold league should their individual performance be consistently awesome.
Farsight Studios, the creators of TPA had chosen a selection of 8 digital recreations of real pinball tables for us to play, allowing us 20 minutes on each table to get as high a score as possible. This meant that knowing your tables inside out and the quickest way to score a lot of points are vitally important. You can replay the tables as many times as you like in the week long competition in an attempt to maximise your score on each game.
The tables were as follows:
- Centaur - Bally 1981
- Whirlwind – Williams 1990
- Star Trek: The Next Generation - Williams 1993
- Junkyard - Williams 1996
- High Speed – Williams 1986
- Goin’ Nuts - Gottlieb 1983 (Never in production)
- Attack from Mars - Bally 1995
- Harley Davidson – Stern 1999
Some of those tables were not part of my “Hell yeah, baby, let me press your buttons!” list but I thought I would persevere and get my least liked machines out of the way, with an aim to outclass my top scores in the tables I DID love. First up was the table that scares me the most, Bally’s “Centaur”.
When I first bought TPA, this table drew me at once with its almost Gigeresque artwork and monochrome playfield. On first play, I sucked so badly that I hardly played it again for months. Centaur is NOT an easy game. In truth, I find it the hardest table of all to keep the ball in play. The outlanes are harsh. The scoring requires perfect accuracy in hitting the drop targets in order, and I rarely, if ever manage to start up the multiball feature.
That said, whether it was due to me practicing on other tables or purely fluke, I managed to rack up my highest score to date on Centaur. A meagre 1.2 million. I sucked that up and moved onto the next table.
I decided to make myself feel a little better by playing a favourite table of mine, High Speed from Williams.
High Speed is a table I understand. Its all about reflexes. Never take your eyes of the ball and you can rack up some wonderful scores on this beast. Living up to its name, it can be insanely fast. The lack of central features mean the ball comes rocketing down to the lower flippers at mental velocities. Multiball comes easy and the simple extra ball award keeps you playing longer than perhaps most other tables. The fact that I love this game made it easy for me achieve a half decent score.
Whirlwind is a table I hadn’t spent much time with before the tournament. I never really cared for the design nor the artwork. One of the positive things that playing on predetermined tables is that you are forced to learn the rules and intricacies of each. In the case of Williams’ Whirlwind I am glad I was introduced to such. Its easy to dismiss this table a simple and boring but when forced to play it as part of the competition, I discovered to my delight that this pin has a lot more to it than meets the eye. The multiball mode which I unlocked for the first time during the tournament is a hell of a lot of fun. I will be playing this table more in the future.
The fourth table I spent time with was Star Trek: The Next Generation. Ugh. Now I liked Picard and chums when they were gracing our TV screens, but nothing will make me enjoy this table. Apparently its a fan favourite among pinball players. Meh. Not only do I dislike the layout that makes it hard to see what the heck is going on at any given time, I frequently hit that nasty pink spot target on the upper right ramp only to watch the silver ball drive straight across the table and drain through the left outlane. Maybe I will spend a little more time practicing, but for the remainder of the tourney, I gave up on this table after I hit a reasonable score purely from luck. Frustration is a powerful reminder that “nothing is worth this”……
Table number 5 was the glorious Junkyard, the latest DLC from Farsight. Fortunately, I am fairly good at this game and posted a score of 25.5 million on my first go. Sadly, after repeated attempts, I couldn’t break that score. Junkyard is a fun table, packed with features and minigames. The fact that an extra ball is a common award makes this table a good bet for new players to practice their skills on.
At this point I decided to check my ranking so far and found that I was sitting at 404th out of 696 entrants. More work required. Onto table 6 then, the wacky Goin’ Nuts from Gottlieb.
Goin’ Nuts is odd. It has no plunger, and kicks straight into a 3 ball multiball. It was never actually made into a real life pinball table. You can play indefinitely until you are left with one ball on the field. When this occurs it starts a timer, the amount of time is based on the targets you have hit thus far although its possible to bring another ball back into play which stops the clock. Not really a favourite of mine, I was happy to post a score of just over a mill and left it.
Table 7 would be the lovely lovely Attack from Mars. This table has me laughing like a little girl. The sound effects are awesome, the speech play is comedic and it has the ability to make you leave the game and hit the realms of your own imagination due to its retro future style. The only table that makes me smile more than this is “Scared Stiff”, sadly not included in this tournament. I managed a score of 12 million on Attack from Mars though I bombed during the last mode “Attack On Mars” even though I was playing on an Extra Ball and 2 balls left. Sad but true. I guess the adrenaline got to me. A wonderful table and I had a great time playing on it.
The last table then. Harley Davidson. Boooooooooooooooooooring. Sure the music is okay, and its fun during multiball, but come on Stern, MB shouldn’t be so easy to hit. HD can be fun, but it allowed me to zoom up the leaderboards simply by whacking those multiball modes. I almost felt like I was cheating.
Tournament Results I didn’t expect to do well in my first tournament. I am no pinball wizard. I joined purely for my love of pinball and of curiosity. Imagine my surprise when at 2330 on the 16th May I checked my scores and saw this:
“Yay!”, said I. “I don’t suck as much as I thought!” 588.36 points from a possible 800. 34th from 696 players. Winning the silver award lets me join a new league in the next tourney. It will be interesting to see what happens next time.
Well. Paint me silver and flip me around, I have a new found love, and she returned the favour. Not only did I do a hell of a lot better than I ever dreamed, I have actually got better at pinball. I am still learning the lingo, still learning the rules of each individual table, still being educated into how to “dial in” to each game. But by gawd, do I love that rush, and I will learn more.
Tournament play has taught me that even old dogs can learn to play ball. I am just sorry it took me this long to realise.
The Pinball Arcade is available for most game consoles, mobile phones, and tablet computers, including the iPhone, iPad, Android Phones and tablets, the Amazon Kindle Fire, as well as the PlayStation3, PS Vita, Xbox 360, and Macintosh.
Click here to sign up. At the moment Farsight are offering “Tales of the Arabian Nights” table for free! Try it now! You may end up as hooked as me!