Overly brutal set-ups on tournament games

I wanted to raise something that has been mildly annoying me for a while, namely, the sometimes insanely brutal setup of tournament machines. The concern is not that such games are hard, but that I suspect they can make the outcome less skill-based.

Here is one example:

Stern Spiderman. Setup (besides all settings on hard and no extra balls, which is to be expected):

  • Hair-trigger tilt
  • Center post between the flippers removed
  • Ball saver off
  • Rubber removed from posts above inlane/outline divider
  • Outlane posts removed entirely

Of these five points, my feeling is that there is one (possibly two) too many. Basically, with this setup, if I have an unfortunate feed and the ball goes anywhere near the outlanes, it is almost certain that I will lose the ball immediately. With no ball saver, and with a hair-trigger tilt, that makes it entirely possible to have three house balls because any attempt to save the ball will cause a tilt.

I watched several truly excellent players getting shafted by that machine and losing a match through no fault of their own, simply by being unlucky. So, does such a setup make sense in tournaments? I understand the need to try and make a long-playing game play shorter. At the same time, if the modifications go so far as to pretty much reward luck rather than skill, we might as well draw straws instead…

Where would you draw the line? Would it be better not to use the game at all if the organisers feel it needs to be crippled to such an extent to make it “suitable” for tournament play? Do hair-trigger tilts make sense when everyone seems to agree that nudging is a major part of pinball skills?


Popular ball time reducers on long playing games also include lightning flippers and very sensitive slings.

Difficulty should be weighted by format; unlimited qualifying should be more difficult, up to and including everything you’ve mentioned and then some. Multi-day, or even all-day, match play events expect that, at least, one game is going to go long per round so the games don’t have to be set up as brutally hard. Also if you’re expecting the the best players in the world to show up the more difficult you set up the games.

As a casual observation I would like to point out that no matter how hard the games are set up at an elete level the same players manage to make it through to the finals.

Add lightning flippers and remove the upper flipper gate and you’ll have the Pinburgh setup from finals a couple of years back :slight_smile:

Yours sounds like a dream come true compared to that beast.


I am sure they were good players and they got unlucky, but I don’t accept “no fault of their own.” Spiderman plunge feeds a flipper (especially if the gate was still there) and you can make repeated shots that all feed the flipper. Those modifications did not change that. If they drained, it was because they missed, or choose to play risky shots. #ownyourdrains

Other than the tilt, which I believe would always allow some gentle nudging, that sounds pretty standard setup for spiderman in a tournament setting.


Watching world class players walk up to a game in finals and get no flips because the pops shot the ball out wrong doesn’t seem like a very good show of skill to me. Making games brutally hard doesn’t force players to show their skill, it just increases randomness.

Put the games on one ball, and give them a 20 second ball saver, then see who blows it up.

Watching someone blow up Aerosmith while the other players don’t even get a flip and the commentators are complementing their incredible skills. No, they just happened to get a ball to the flipper, then the toy-box self locked two times. No incredible saves or anything happened. Give any of the other players two balls locked and a feed to a flipper and watch them blow it up too.

A good tournament set up game is one that punishes any mistakes, but any drains are directly avoidable by the player either by not missing a shot or skillful nudging, and every player gets a chance to make those mistakes. And even then, I worry when we put hair-trigger tilts and no outlane rubbers on a game we’re promoting accuracy way more than other skills.


So if you drain in 19.9 seconds you deserve double the amount of balls played compared to me draining in 20.1 seconds? Sounds like a fair match :stuck_out_tongue:

Get rid of the hair-trigger tilt, add in sensitive slings, swap out main flippers for lightning flippers, and that sounds about right. And even with those settings, when great players find their shots, they can still blow it up and have the game go long… due to skill, not luck.
Pull up footage of @multibrawlr getting to Super Hero on a tough playing Spidey from Bat City Open 2016 qualifying. We didn’t go “full Pinburgh” and remove the gate above the upper flipper. lol.

I’m all in favor of better designed ball saves (for instance, you get a ball save until you make your second shot, which ensures you were able to make at least one shot and recover from it), but until we can get those implemented in all games since the 40s, we’ll have to work with what we’ve got, which is time based ball-saves on newer games.
I’ll take the ‘unfairness’ of an arbitrary threshhold set long enough to make sure everyone gets a chance to get going over the unfairness of random feeds killing you instantly any day. In the end draining at 20.1 seconds is still your fault way more than draining without flipping is

If you were to make a histogram of ball times I’m pretty sure that with ball saves off there’d be a big spike around 0 seconds, some dead zone with nearly no drains, and then a low arch of times for people who actually got to play their ball. With a generous ball save on, you’d get a much much smaller spike around ball-save-plus-one seconds and then a gentle fall off from there. One would result in shorter ball times overall, yes, but I think there are better ways to handle that than making players spin a roulette wheel at the start of every ball and randomly throwing some out

1 Like

Sounds like the usual flippant answer. I honestly can’t see how gimped machines such as that help to find the most skilled player.

Who do we want to give the trophy to? The player who had more skill, or the player who had more luck?

@gammagoat I hear you on the upper flipper. But the SM I quoted is just one example of many. I’ve seen lots of other machines crippled in similar ways, with world-class players standing there helplessly watching their ball drain two or three times in a row.

What’s the point of this? I honestly don’t get it. As a spectator, I watch tournaments so I can watch excellent players demonstrate excellent skills (except for Josh, who is supposed to come second :wink: )

If machines are set up such that players helplessly drain pretty much at random, it’s disappointing for the player, and disappointing for the spectator. If a machine tilts because a player looked at it, does that make another player who plays without looking at the machine the better player?

Yes, at an elite level, it is reasonable to expect players to exhibit an elite level of skill. I’m not sure that it is reasonable or desirable to expect a player to exhibit an elite level of luck as well…

What I’m suggesting here is that setting up a machine too hard means that the luckier player wins rather than the better player. Can we have a discussion as to where that line can be drawn reasonably, instead of flippant remarks?


IMO the better player still typically wins. There’s a whole nuance to risk management and how you attack a game based on the settings of that physical game. KME on the bastardized CV in PAPA finals is a perfect example of that.

Back before the MHS era of PAPA, the MGK era featured insane game setups across the board. Scoop intentionally set to fire down the middle, no margin for error nudging, outlane posts completely removed, etc.

Go run back through the qualifying standings from those years and see who qualified. Either those same players are the LUCKIEST to play our game, over and over and over and over . . . or skill still kills.

Qualifying and finals are two different things. Unlimited qualifying means anyone with enough money can play the slots enough times to get a game where they can actually show their skills, and at that point the best skills will prevail. You can’t say ‘look, all the best players are there’ about the finals, that’s the point. But in four game groups, or especially one game like circuit finals, that doesn’t work anymore. Bad luck on one game and you’re done. When all the games are set up very hard (luck based), it doesn’t really show much.


I think the level of setup difficultly should be dependent on the format and the number of attempts that players can get on it.

Unlimited qualifying over multiple days? Go ahead and make it a nightmare to play! Keeps the line moving, prize pool building up (if applicable), and players will adjust and figure it out.

One and done match play? Keep it reasonable so it’s not just a battle of surviving houseballs.


You can dig into the finals of those PAPA’s and see who advanced/won. Skill still prevails.

Even with the Circuit Finals volatile format, evidence would support if luck had a large part to do with who won the tournament you would have someone in list of winners that doesn’t belong . . .

Daniele Acciari
Keith Elwin
Jorian Engelbrektsson
Keith Elwin
Zach Sharpe
Josh Sharpe

(Anyone want to spike this volleyball that I’ve just set up?) :slight_smile:


I do grant that point. Statistically, the same few names show up repeatedly. Clearly, that’s not a coincidence.

Despite that, it seems to me that, every time a particular aspect of a game is “bolted down” (such as a hair-trigger tilt, or a removed outlane post), the luck factor increases. Make the tilt too sensitive, and all the nudging skill in the world can’t save me. Remove the outlane posts and the rubbers on the inlane/outlane dividers, and it’s almost certain that I’ll die because the ball got shot towards an outlane by a bumper.

Back to the statistical argument… There are three balls per game. If a game is set up such that there is a 50% chance of draining by bad luck, 12.5% games will be lost regardless of the skill level of the player.

There must be some threshold of acceptability. I don’t know where that is. Somewhere below 5% of having lost by by bad luck maybe? (5% is a commonly accepted figure for significance of measurements in scientific experiments: if there is less than a 5% chance of having obtained the results by accident, we have some level of confidence that the results actually mean something.)

I guess we should just take the glass off, qualify the playfield and place ball cradled on a flipper. No issue with unfairness, ball save, etc.


Is sarcasm likely to steer this discussion in a productive direction?

1 Like

The higher the level of competition, the more changes like swapping in lightning flippers and other somewhat drastic measures make sense if you want to be able to include a game like LOTR or Spider-man.

Conversely, a game like Robo-Cop is not a reasonable competition game for low-to-average level competition, even when set up with factory outlanes and other settings. The random skill shot accounts for far too high a portion of the expected average score for such competition.

These are things that we as tournament directors need to keep in mind all the time.


I think there’s a jump here where you assume the drain is by “bad luck”. Why did your ball go down an outlane? Did you miss a shot that led to that?

All I see is a setup where ACCURACY becomes a more important skill to demonstrate compared to nudging/recovery skills.

It’s the #takeresponsibilityforyourdrains argument.

At some point what caused that “bad luck” was “poor play” in one form or another. On Spiderman especially you could literally play the game forever by just shooting combos on the left and right ramps forever, regardless of any type of game setup.

Very rarely do I see situations where:

  1. there was NOTHING a player could do to influence saving their ball
  2. there was NOTHING a player was in control of before the ball got into that state of being in danger

Only in situations where BOTH are true, IMO that makes for true “bad luck”.

I wonder whether it wouldn’t be better to just accept that some games are not well suited to tournament play. Does it make sense to use LOTR or SM in a tournament? Or Indy or ID4? These are all games that play too long with a standard setup. And gimping them to play shorter destroys all the fun and spectator value. So, where are the winners here? Players lose and spectators lose, as far as I can see.

1 Like

These are really good points, IMO. Sooner or later, I have to take responsibility for my own actions. I can’t endlessly sit there and claim “I did everything right and the game shafted me regardless.”

Regarding Spiderman, why does this game exist in tournament play when, apparently, it is so ill-suited to the task?