Overly brutal set-ups on tournament games


So as a general rule, I really hate it when games are screwed so tight they basically become Pachinko machines. I have always advocated for “hard but playable” since I want to see top players show their skill, and I dislike when entire skill vectors are removed from the game. For example, hair-trigger tilts basically removes the skill of nudging. I understand the desire to make games play shorter, but how much time is being added on when everyone waits 3 minutes between balls to make sure that tilt bob is absolutely settled?

In years past, PAPA tournament machines suffered from this a bit. There’s the somewhat common phrase “PAPA tight” when referring to machines like this. I think they have done an excellent job of tempering this over time.

When deciding on how hard to set up a machine, I’d like to see a little more consideration given to the rest of the field, not just the top players, and more consistency. Using Pinburgh as an example, it almost feels random which machines will have a short ball saver and which will not, which have had lightning flippers installed, which have had posts removed, etc. For me, I think if there is no possibility of a “safe” plunge (something like a gun or button that doesn’t go to top lanes, like T2 or LW3) then a short ball saver is in order. Where safety can be achieved with skill, then no ball saver is acceptable. As for other settings… I tend to think that providing a good experience to the hundreds of players who are not the best in the world is just as important as not having 3 hour rounds on day 2. I’ve seen lots of players frustrated because they feel like they are just plunging and draining a lot of the time. That’s not fun. I don’t have a magic bullet here, just a hope that the experience improves over time for everyone.


I think this is a good point that i don’t see mentioned often, if ever. Feather tilt can add some length to a game as not only are the players between balls waiting for the tilt to settle but every time a player makes any nudge during the game they trap and wait if they don’t tilt.


I’m actually quite amazed how Pinburgh staff finds a great balance on this. And they make adjustments as needed based on player feedback, or any longer playing pins that were set too easy.


I agree, it’s very good. I do think things are slightly on the “too hard” side, but I’m just one opinion.


There is no doubt in my mind that severely hard/ bastardized games increase the luck factor. This point was driven home with a sledgehammer at league playoffs a couple of seasons ago. We played at a private location that the proprietor has decided should have the hardest games around. He has succeeded. Most every game was very hard due setup and rules changes. The only exception was the one or two EM’s there.

I was warned ahead of time that games were tough there, but I was still surprised by just how hard they were. Most tilts were reasonably tight, a couple were too tight, but too hard of settings over all. Frustration quickly built up, then eventually I recognized that I was among friends and it was better than staying home, so I made the best of it. During the day, I asked Tim Hansen if the games were as tough as Papa A. His reply was: “Some are harder”.

At the end of the day, many of the usual suspects finished in the top 10, including Tim. Two of the top 5 finishers, including the winner, would normally not be expected to finish as high as they did. Both friends, was happy for them, but both kinda knew that luck helped them that day. Tim finished outside the top 5. It’s a long match play format with a losers bracket, so usually you can make a mistake and still finish high. Not that day.

Forget for a second whether it’s fair or not to use games like this. Games that are bastardized too badly or are setup too hard aren’t fun to play for the vast majority of players. The ideal setup on any game is hard, but not so hard that players quickly get discouraged. That line is a lot easier to follow if you don’t use games like Spidey and LOTR in your lineup.


I agree, though I prefer not going the feather tilt route as one of the “pick two.” Skillful nuanced nudging should be encouraged.

Also, two alterations on the other two options:

  • try removing out/inlane rubbers first.
  • Try one or the other of hardware and software increased difficulty before doing both.


What about making a modern game really shallow?

@metallik and I just had league finals and we were talking about games that we owned and knew well (TWD and GOT) and that since we have them set steep at home, playing examples at finals that were really shallow and floaty, actually made them much more challenging as all the shots didn’t hit the same, and more importantly, misses or made shots did not bounce or return like we expected.

It appears that some of the bigger tournaments (noticed this at LAX), are moving away from super tight tilts and more of the hardware and software adjustments.


I guess that’s an example of unbalanced scoring. Plenty of other games with that problem. My personal favourites are games where score and ball time are closely related, without any “blow everyone out of the water with a single shot” features. Flash Gordon and Paragon come to mind.


I’m not sure I’d call it data. But when I watch top-level players getting shafted again and again, and watch them complain about the machine setup, it suggests that the setup has gone too far towards hard.

Agree with all of that. The time to raise such issues is not while the event is running.


That’s the kind of thing I’m getting at. If the setup is such that a player is at the mercy of the game, the luck factor can end up outweighing the skill factor. I don’t think that’s in the interest of the tournament, the players, or the spectators (except for the person who gets lucky).

That’s good advice, thanks!

I’d never thought about this. Yes, I guess the hair-trigger tilt can make a game play longer, especially if it’s not a long-playing game to begin with.

That exact same thing happened to me recently too, also on GoT and TWD, with very shallow setup. It was surprising how much harder they were to play that way. In particular, live-catches get really hard on shallow games; more so if there are super bands or red rubbers on the flippers.


This sums up my feelings perfectly. Great comment.

I think at some point, you have to let players show their skill. There certainly aren’t limitless options on time or machine choice, but if too many players are getting constantly frustrated with how hard the games are set up, then that should be a signal to the TD to dial it back a bit next time.


In my experience this will tend to make ramp and orbit shots much easier but punish balls that get into the slings more. I would say that the likelihood of a slower playing modern game being harder over time is low, better players are likely to adjust for the game differences and probably find it easier to control. A tight tilt will probably help keep this type of setup more difficult but where’s the fun in that?

For the general discussion, I’m pretty much okay with most ultra hard tournament setups. I’d much rather a game be setup with crazy difficult outlanes, lightning flippers or hard rules—so long as I can move the game to attempt to keep control, put the ball in a more advantagious place or make an outlane save, I’m going to have a chance and I will own my drains.

Also, IMO TDs should think a little about the game being played and what sort of setup makes sense. For example, Future Spa is a nudgers game—leave the tilt looser and make the game harder to control. Doctor Who is an accuracy game—tighten up the tilt and make it steep so misses are punished. Put both in a bank and you have a good test of a variety of pinball skills and a player who wins on both is probably a well rounded champ.


Yep, this is how I dealt with the floaty GOT, winning both matches. I was helped by the fact I never play GOT so did not have any ingrained expectations on geometry. Was able to trap and shoot well on it. Playing the floaty TWD completely hosed me, but I figured it out after the tourney and put up a decent score when it didn’t matter…


On the topic of game configuration. New Stern games seems to have excessively powerful flippers. And I encourage people to set power to low in the menu (dunno how much it differs actually).

I am curious if they play the same way elsewhere (back home). Or, if there is a difference due the properties of the power grid around here.


BTW. Never mind a tight tilt. I just demand my two warnings.


Warnings won’t help you when any movement gets you three


On Stern SAM games, it seems you could always get one move no matter how tight the tilt, thanks to the generous debounce code. Do Spike games feature the same debounce?

Other games with no debounce, yea, two warnings can go in 0.2 seconds…


Spike game do indeed have debounce but they also have a setting to adjust it for tournaments. SW and Maiden for sure, other spike games don’t have it I believe.


Spikes definitely have a lengthy debounce, but the IM debounce timer could be potentially retrofitted onto Spike 2s so heads up for that in the future.


My favorite “brutal” set-up was the Hobbit for the Intergalactic Pinball Championship last year at Pinburgh.
Lightning flippers, center post removed, and no ball save. It made the game fun to play. Our Hobbit on location plays forever- I know I’m not the target demographic for a location game but man I’d play the crap out of that Pinburgh hobbit on location if we had it like that.