Merits of custom ROMs vs. original software


Rescue 911 MB jackpots? Heck, every-mode-is-a-multiball-at-ball-start on R911?

Calm Before the Storm?


Calm Before the Storm is a little more specific, with the need to get the balls into position to keep making the L shot for 3 million forever. And I’ve seen a player miss and drain while in the middle of shooting L!

… waiting for the upper playfield diverter to shut off on WWF Royal Rumble?


If there’s only one exploit in pinball, this is it.

That and having the ball come to rest on the flipper in doodle bug while the bug is running.


Another classic exploit - forcing a ball search on Jokerz! to lower the center ramp without hitting the standup, so you can play Multiball over and over.


Is that really an exploit though, or just bad design butting up against a competitive environment?

If I’m just playing a game for fun, I might not always want to do the most lucrative thing, especially if other things are more fun. But in competition, sure, you do the thing that gives you the best chance to win.

I tend to think of exploits as either abusing game features or abusing game bugs, such as:

  • Holding in the plunger to defeat the auto-plunger on games that have that (Tommy is the usual example)
  • Trapping to time out the Power in Addams Family (everyone does this anyway)
  • The spinner millions bonus carryover problem on Johnny Mnemonic that resulted in absurd scores (I think that got fixed in newer ROMs)
  • “Accidentally” holding the flipper for too long on old-code Deadpool to cause a game reset

If a game has a shot that’s just an imbalanced amount of points relative to the rest of the game and is intended to be that way then I would have a hard time calling it an exploit. Looking for things like that is what a lot of people (myself included) do to distill a game into the best chance to win.


Exploits come in all different flavors. They also don’t need software. We used to play an Aquarius where the hundreds score reel had issues. If you pounded on the backglass with your fist, it would add free points. Sometimes we’d notice that Bow and Arrow was matching on the same two digits every time. Weak score going into ball 5? Get your 10 digit to the right spot, then drain or tilt. Free game. Those were exploits.

I would classify looping the left ramp during Stay Puft on GB an exploit. Hard to setup, but doesn’t require unusual play. Hard to execute, looping the left ramp isn’t always easy. But huge, huge points. Especially with multipliers. Exploit should equal huge points (or free game).


Even outside a formal competitive environment, players understand that “higher score = better”, even if they’re just competing with their own previous scores in their basement. And if they learn that doing Thing A is worth waaayyy more than Things B, C, D, or E, they’ll probably do A if they’re trying for a high score. (Doesn’t mean that players might not do the other things if they’re not trying for a high score, which is why I included that “from a scoring perspective” clause.)

There is an Expected Value (EV) aspect to this… if Thing A is worth 10x more than the other things, but it’s 20x (or even 10x) harder to do Thing A than the others, that’s not an exploit by my thinking, because Thing A does not overshadow the other rules due to its difficulty.

And I consider any hardware that’s not operating as intended to be a separate category. Yeah, if Star Trek has flaky optos and awards a Warp Ramp every time you flip, that’s technically an exploit of that specific machine, but I would consider that to be a machine-specific malfunction; the exploit disappears when the machine is repaired.




Oh yeah, I saw this used this at TPF on Whirlwind. Ball search, shoot under ramp, side ramp, instant mode relight.


Not sure if this is fixed by turning on IFPA tournament mode, but on mine, once you let go of the flipper button the exit opens back up.


Some System 11s have this behavior even when things are working 100%. Fire is another one in this category.

Whirlwind shouldn’t do this if the trough, shooter lane, and ball lock switches are all working.


It’s possible to shoot the drops over and over and over while it’s open, then eventually it gives up so as to not burn itself up, then UPF loops forever!


Oh well that’s more than fair game then.


Isn’t that illegal? Seems like it would be using a ball search to activate a game feature, that being “make the ramp go up.”


That’s my opinion, but this is a decision for the tournament director. Here is the relevant discussion.


That’s why it’s settable. Game setup person’s choice. It also fixes the background sound dip to match the description in the manual instead of opposite.


I actually wondered if you meant Ron and thankfully he posted the whole list before I had to remember everything he has.

I am definitely of the nip and tuck variety, with the exception of the firepower system 7 mod; the goal of that project was to learn how to program a system 7 game, and add some options for tournament directors to use if they so choose. (concerning carryover features) - but the main reason is the 2x/3x scoring during multiball so you have a reason to play multiball. If that’s “cute” then I’m like the proverbial button.

I’ve thought long and hard what to do with Earthshaker for instance; most people seem to hate the end of the road strategy, but I think, hey, you ‘got there’ - why not? It’s almost like it’s sour grapes that one person collected miles over and over and you didn’t. The only change beyond making the jackpot start at the same level for each player (and able to advance via the drop) would be to de-randomize the matchup awards; I wouldn’t mind seeing something that could make the jackpot repeatable, but probably not. After collecting the jackpot it’s fun to just loop the center ramp.


If people strive away from using a game in competition, it is a broken game. If this is because of the way it is played, I guess this meets the pin-lingo definition of “exploit”.

Some things may be addressed by mechanical modification, surely, but sometimes a subtle tweak in the software does the perfect thing.

It would take 15 minutes to remove the center ramp lift mech from ball search on Jokerz. That would not be confusing for players. That would not be attacking a certain strategy to favour others. What’s the fuss.

Be careful of pulling the “the way it was intended” card. Fact is, pinball machines are historically designed under significant dev time constraint. And with “better coin eater” being a pretty heavy weight argument in design. While limiting the stress on mechs and limiting down time (ball search, lock release). With little to no outlook for (nowadays) competitive application. And with bugs undiscovered.

The Junk Yard soft mod. When video mode was limited, it made the game soooo much more fun to play. And soooo much better for competition usage. A lot nicer than cutting the diverter, that is for sure. And frankly, the designers may very well have made it something like this, had they had time for an additional run around the loop.


Surely the biggest exploit is playfield validation on games such as GoT, Sopranos & GB, everything else is just strategy?


This is the best @Funtorium take and I’ll have to find this paradise when I eventually find my way back to Troy…

I like to draw the line at utilizing a software bug or game feature in an unintended way for personal gain. Triple add-a-ball on Guardians/Aerosmith, the forced ball search on Jokerz!, timing out The Power in TAF, and so on.

I’d count machine specific issues in here, like The Sanctum’s Frontier with a bouncy center target or the busted SST opto. These get a special meme/joke designation - “200 IQ Strats”.

If a game has a dominant scoring strategy that overshadows the rest of the features, I usually call that a “One-Trick.”

Custom software can do a lot - removing the exploits (and negative bugs) can do wonders to a game’s reception. Fixing one-tricks is a bit more tricky, although it is enjoyable to try new strategies and explore parts of the game you’d usually avoid.