Handling "less than perfect" Machines

I’m interested in opinions on how you all approach playing a machine that you know or find to be less than perfect. I’m talking about playability issues - dead rubbers, slingshots that don’t fire, weak/sticky flippers, etc.

I struggle with adapting my game to the machine in these cases. I freely admit I’m spoiled by the pristine quality of machines found at PAPA/Pinburgh.

One of the biggest problems I have is when dead bounces don’t work. That move is a big part of my game, and there are few things worse than lining up for one and watching the ball just die on the rubber and drain, yet I can’t seem to stop trying to execute it because of how ingrained it is in my play.

Anyone got any tips or suggestions of how to mentally pare down the arsenal of moves?

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I’ll skip the “don’t play them” since I assume that’s not the point.

Playing flow-style is a decent choice in those circumstances mainly so you don’t re-tune your “normal” moves to the flaws. Ideally you want to play some warmup on quality machines between that and your next competition. Use the time to work on game rules and strategies rather than shot practice, since the shot timing will probably be different on a normal game but the rules won’t change.

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Watch someone play in front of you if you can- This will give away most of the really obvious and common issues like you noted with link slop in the flippers and bad feeds from kickouts.

Sometimes when I bail hard on ball one due to assumptions on how something should work, I step back and start playing it like a twitchy early solid state- focus primarily on keeping the ball in play and see what happens. It’s a different mentality for me where I worry less about making specific shots and more about the recovery. I’m sure that doesn’t work for everyone though.

The only other thing I could recommend is playing on a wide variety of games with different types of flippers and figure out how to deal with each. The DE and Gottliebs on location near me are awful for dead bounces.

If you’re specifically failing at dead bounces, try drop catching, which is way easier with sloppy bounce-absorbing flippers. Make the problem the solution!

Play on location regularly. If you pay for the game, even if it’s only 50 cents, you’re much more inclined to fight through issues to get your money’s worth. I’ll usually give a dead flipper pass two tries before I decide whether to try again or stop trying completely. Superbands are very popular with ops, so this comes up a lot. Playing on location teaches (forces) you to adjust your game.


That’s exactly the situation here - location league with location beaters. So I have to play them. I’m struggling with the adjustments, and sometimes I feel myself creating bad habits that I don’t want to carry over to properly-maintained machines.

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Well, I always like to think of it as an additional challenge (assuming it doesn’t completely gimp the machine). It’s one of the wonders of pinball that not only is every game different but every machine within it. For me it’s just another skill to build in the ability to adapt to machine dynamics.

If I could bore you with a quick anecdote, I was at a pinball competition (CalEx) and was talking to Bowen Kerins who was playing against Keith Elwin. I mentioned that the flippers on the Congo they were playing felt really “flat” (made it hard to cradle) and his response was, “Yep, but it makes the bounce-over to the other flipper perfect.” and sure enough Keith stepped up and hit like 8-9 shots with that same bounce-over. My point is only that what appears to be a shortcoming in one aspect might actually be to your benefit in another.

Yeah, that was the game where he collected 200 diamonds on ball 1. NUTS

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Thanks for making my life better, Bowen! :slightly_smiling:

Whatever happened with that footage?

Lazy guy is hoarding it all for himself.


But seriously… anyone feel like mixing some audio tracks? Recorded the commentaries LONG ago, never got around to it (sorry Adam!)

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… and now you know why live broadcasting is better :wink:


I’d be glad to help.

Certainly makes things easier but, I had fun editing together the Banzai cam :slight_smile:

The way I see it, if a game has noticeable defects, mechanical issues, or otherwise, how to deal with it will be specific from machine to machine, because they won’t all have the same issues. Different issues will require different approaches.

The only thing in common is to take a good look at the machine before you play it. Sometimes, you’ll see something egregious right away. For instance, I’ve spotted a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! with a chunk of plastic stuck in the penguin loop. If you absolutely must play it, play one game to scout out how bad this problem might be and if there are other problems. In the case of that Ripley’s, it turned out that the chunk of plastic stopped the ball cold and sent it coming back down, and each time, the ball would push the chunk further up by about half an inch, making it increasingly problematic. And on the scouting, I discovered the flippers were too weak to make any ramp shots, and one of the pop bumpers didn’t propel the ball but still scored points.

Now, most problems I see (but not all) will restrict you from accessing certain parts of the playfield. At that time, what I’d do is try to map out a strategy that makes no use of those parts of the playfield at all. I had played a Lethal Weapon 3 with a nonfunctioning right flipper. (It’s since been fixed.) What I discovered was that I could still start multiballs, get jackpots, and even get super jackpots without using the right flipper, and so that became my strategy.

There are some problems that require different mindsets though, like faulty switches, weak up-kickers, weak flippers, weak plungers, broken autoplungers, slightly uneven ground, warped ramps (I once played a Transformers whose left ramp dropped the ball straight into the left outlane–THAT is a shot to avoid), and that occasional mind-boggling case where all of the playfield lights are disabled.

Occasionally problems on location machines can work in your favor. Played an easy AVE nearby with a bad BW opto and got to the wiz mode. The bad opto gave me the GC score in the billions. Have played more than a couple of WOF’s with bad optos. If the opto is bad enough on those, the goal is to tilt the game just before it rolls at around 4.3B. Best GC score ever.

Even better was an AFM with the drop target stuck down. Ruled the universe, then got re-elected a second time in the same game. Played for at least an hour and ended up with 25B plus. Although the game was technically broken, it was still very satisfying. Far too often the problem works against the player. On the rare occasion when it works in your favor, it’s your duty to put a severe beating on the game. Payback for all the times the problem worked against you.


I had this very problem yesterday in a comp with league style qualifying.
Party Zone was set up with a significant right to left incline, making it impossible to trap the ball on the left flipper. It also meant that almost every ball went down the right outlane.
What it did mean that a shot to the left ramp meant a perfect feed back to the right flipper if you held the left flipper up. Rinse and repeat.

Also played a Ghostbusters Pro with Slime not registering, so the only chance to start a mode was via skill shot. Simply focused on collecting ghosts and starting Storage multiball. Managed 1.7bil.

The best players simply adapt to whatever machine is put in front of them. The rest of us tend to complain that there’s an issue which is why we did poorly.