TMNT Infinite Ball Save - Malfunction and Exploit

This is a Tournament Director alert if you’re running tournaments using Stern’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT). This applies at least to the LE, don’t know about the Pro model. As a result, you might reconsider using the machine in your tournaments.

We discovered this during a small local tournament, on a TMNT where the auto-plunger was weak that it rarely made it all the way up the ramp to the upper flipper and instead ball came down right orbit like a soft plunge.

TMNT has a bus (or something that looks like a bus; I’m not a TMNT fan, don’t know what it should be) that stores balls, similar to how Stern Indiana Jones does. At start of a multiball, it releases the balls.

Anyhow, in multiball, I couldn’t understand why I was getting what appeared to be infinite ball saver. The ball saver was not lit, but every time a ball drain, a new one was shot out, and I kept playing. Started to look like potential beneficial malfunction, but to my surprise, successful shots to the right ramp would get eaten up; i.e. I think I’m still in MB but that ball never got returned. Took us a couple of games to figure out what was actually going on.

After ball save is done, first few (three I think) balls drained are shot back into the bus. So similar to Stern Indy or Twilight Zone refilling gumball machine after LITZ. The malfunction occurs if the plunger is weak. The exploit occurs if someone knows about that and keeps soft-plunging any ball served.

Unlike Stern Indy where a soft plunge would return to plunger lane to try again, on TMNT a soft plunge will fall into the right orbit and return to the flippers as a ball in play. A weak auto-plunger that never succeeds in getting the ball to the top would likely have an infinite ball saver. A semi-weak plunger that gets it there sometimes would have multiball eventually end, but every ‘retry’ is a free add-a-ball.

Because this is combined auto-manual plunger, and I know many players who do intentionally control the strength of plunges on auto-plunges, it is also trivial to take advantage of this by being ready to intentionally soft plunge every ball that is served to plunger lane, and remain in multiball indefinitely, or at least long enough to get enough points. And since there’s no rule against manual plunging your auto-plunges, this could become difficult to rule on if someone does it, even once (like was it during a ball save or a ball reload?) and if there is a weak ball-save, can give unfair advantage to players who happen to get more weak auto-plunges.

For this to be effective, the player would also need to avoid the right ramp. Because as we also learned, you might think you have a legitimate shot, but the way multiball ended was three right ramp shots in a row that didn’t return the ball, while the 4th ball in play drained. And so it seemed like still in 3-ball multiball, but that ball draining caused end-of-ball bonus, the other three got eaten up by the bus, in lieu of auto-plunged shots going in there, because they feed the same place. So that appeared to be major malfunction resulting in loss of [multi]ball.

So if you are using TMNT, just thought you should be aware of this.

If I’m mistaken in my assessment of how this is working, please by all means issue the corrections in the comments. We didn’t have keys for this machine to verify by hand, so this was just some trial and error post-game to figure out what kind of weirdness was happening in the game that just finished.

Sounds like you just need to make sure the auto launch is working properly or maybe there’s setting to disable the balls coming out of the van?

@Dwight any suggestions?

Sadly changing settings isn’t usually going to be an option for games on location. I’ve seen this happen on a couple local machines.

Disabling the van, if possible, does seem like a good idea, if you have control of the machines. Just making auto-plunger strong enough doesn’t take away the ability to manually soft-plunge. And it would be really hard to make a ruling about ‘cheating’ if a player occasionally soft-plunges because they often do it by habit. In my mind, need to remove that possible exploit completely, or don’t use the game. If disabling van works, might limit to 3-ball multiball, but that would be better than leaving the issue open.

This option not really available for location tournaments, though.

One detail worth noting is the game eventually kicks you of of multiball scoring, so it should be obvious that a player is exploiting it when they have a half dozen balls on one flipper and are in single ball scoring.

“obvious” to someone who knows the game rules. But does anyone truly know the rules for that game, at least among people playing in local tourneys with many relative novices?

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True true. Then in that case, don’t use that game.

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So is there a setting to disable the reloading of the bus?

We had this issue in a local league, but they have since got the plunger to kick the ball all the way into the bus, so it’s not a problem, and I haven’t seen anyone intentionally soft plunging those balls to exploit the game. The TD has the key, so they could adjust the settings if need be.

Has anybody exploited this with a strong auto plunge? Just because it can be done doesn’t mean it’s an exploit. If you have to avoid the right ramp and soft plunge before it auto plunges while at least two other balls are in play, that sounds like a lot of work.

Pretty sure there’s something in the IFPA rules about hip cheat style cheats. Defeat the auto plunger by leaning on the plunger with your hip, play single ball multiball while balls pile up in the shooter lane. Kind of the same thing. Can’t defeat the auto plunger to gain an advantage.

Should be a virtual lock feature lock settings.

Never heard of hip style, but have heard of palming it.

Thank for this report dbs.

I never considered that people may soft plunge balls trying to return to the van.

It sounds like there are 2 problems.
1 - If balls can not reach the Van 100% something is wrong and your game needs repair.
2 - Even if all is well, players could soft-plunge and drastically extend the length of multiball. There is nothing the software can really do to stop this. At the end of the day there are 8 balls in the game only room for 6 in the lower trough.

I could implement some form of van disabling. If on the ball will not be diverted to the van and the van door will only open in ball search. Maybe. The owner of the game would have to also remove 2 balls.
I will think about this.

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Rather than removing 2 balls, is there a way of locking balls in the van so they can’t be added to or removed with software settings?

I don’t know the Prem/LE - just thinking out loud

power reset / ball search may kick them out.

Like Dwight said the proper solution is to fix the game if it’s not launching the balls hard enough. The operator at my local place said they were having a hard time fixing it, but it was working the last two weeks, so I guess they figured out the problem.

The soft plunging to extend the multiball is like other types of plunger shenanigans, albeit a little more valuable and easier to do without someone noticing. Just something other players and TDs need to be aware of and watch for.

Isn’t another big problem for tournament play that the game locks up and resets sometimes in Turtle Power MB?

Definitely not against the IFPA rules. Thus the giant warning in this thread.

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Kinda falls under misusing a game feature to gain an advantage rule IMO.

‘Any player who misuses a game feature in order to intentionally trap a ball during a multiball mode, such as holding in the plunger on Tommy in order to defeat the autoplunger, may be given a warning and/or have his or her affected game disqualified by Tournament Officials’.

No

I think just expanding the “juggling a ball in the shooter lane to gain a repeatable, persistent advantage” can just be extended to include “short plunging during a multiball to gain a repeatable, persistent advantage”

Sorry, but that sounds like a terrible modification to this rule.

Yes. That’s why I said kinda. That rule could easily be rewritten to cover this. It’s most definitely misusing a game feature to gain an advantage.