Un-bastardizing games to be more fair

As ridiculous as this sounds, it’s an actual excuse around these parts, and one that’s trotted out frequently. It’s used as a reason why leveling games is futile.

Apparently, having a game be level none of the time is better than having a game be level some of the time.

Useless protest around here. Virtually all of the competitive pinball scene here has grown from the public/bar scene, where niggling problems with games is just accepted as “the way it is.” One less person giving coin drop won’t register with anyone. If I wanted to make that point and stop patronizing locations that don’t do basic maintenance like machine leveling, I would basically have to retire from competitive pinball.

1 Like

With free leveling apps (PinGuy) and cheap digital levels available, there really should be no leaning games out there. Out of hundreds of locations in the bay area, I only know of one location where the wooden floor can flex with too many people. Even there, the op does a good job of keeping the games mostly level.

The PinGuy app is surprisingly accurate for the price (free). Not sure if it’s available for Android, but works great on my iPad. I prefer the Sears torpedo level, but either will work. Spread the word. You shouldn’t have to put up with leaning games.


I think you underestimate the apathy on this that some regions experience. Leveling games is basically the last thing that an “operator” around here thinks about. It usually goes in this order:

  1. Make sure game boots.
  2. Make sure game accepts coins.
  3. Make sure flippers flip well, switches work, bulbs aren’t burned out, if you feel like it.
  4. Clean a game/replace worn out flipper and post rubbers, if you feel like it.
  5. Maybe crawl under a game to level it once the machine is placed on location, then never do it again.

I put “operator” in quotes because I am struggling to think of more than one location of any significance where the machines aren’t owned by the location owner, or owned by one or more players at a league. In other words: Player-owned games dropped on location where profit isn’t the motivator. These aren’t route locations run by a dedicated operator who owns the machines and has an interest in turning a profit, in most cases. So there’s little need to care about such things if they don’t consider them a problem, aren’t competitive players, or simply don’t want to care.

(Note to mods: may want to split the thread at this point since it’s devolved into a discussion about location machine maintenance)


The league guys with games out should care. Really sorry you guys have to put up with leaning games. Around here, the large majority of ops are also hobbyists. Leaning games are few and far between.

I have leveled location games (that weren’t mine) myself. If they can’t be bothered to properly level the game, the leveler nuts usually aren’t tightened. Leveling app works on the glass or just go by feel. Another option is to loudly proclaim that the game is leaning on the pinball map. Some ops obviously won’t see it, but at least you’ll be warning others. Lastly, as others have mentioned, don’t patronize the business. They can’t all be leaning.

Getting back on topic, there is a mostly private location near me that has league and tournaments there. Virtually every game there is ridiculously hard. We had league playoffs for our league there once and I asked Tim Hansen if he thought the games were as difficult as A division at Papa. He quickly replied that some were harder.

The guy in charge of the place used to be in our league and may be a member here. Good dude. After my first visit, I asked him if he checks his audits. Specifically, average ball times. He said no. I suggested to him that his games should average at least 2.5 minutes per game. From what I hear, nothing has changed. He likes the games hard and some of the regulars take pride in playing such hard games. Competitions there are a crap shoot. Our league won’t go back there for playoffs.

Some of our league members also participate in that league. I discourage them and it looks like at least one of them is finally getting tired of losing at the craps table. Leaning or too farking hard, I don’t want any part of it. Vote with your wallet.

If you’re setting up games and you aren’t sure if they’re too hard, clear audits, then play as many games as possible and see where you’re at. Generally speaking, between 2.5 to 3.5 minutes per game is going to be the sweet spot. Any less and players will get pissed. Any more and lines will back up. Scoop/ saucer/ jail bar releases should never go SDTM.

I learned a ton by watching guys like Jim Belsito setup games before tournaments. Somone really should encourage Jim (free hotel room) to do a tournament setup seminar at a big show with a long Q&A session afterward. If not a seminar, someone get him on a podcast talking about setup. Jim is good at doing it and has the patience to explain what and why he’s doing what he’s doing.


A big reason this is a problem is the design philosophy of most recent Sterns, which involves a toy or magnet capturing a ball and then releasing it straight down the playfield. Think Star Trek, Walking Dead, Kiss, Metallica, GOTG.

On the latter two, it’s less of an issue, since the balls are released more or less only to start multiball, so there’s always a ball saver to compensate for the inevitable SDTM releases.

On Kiss, there’s an optional ball saver every time Gene ejects a ball to compensate for this design - this works, but is only necessary because of the wonky design approach. On Star Trek, I have heard advice to intentionally unlevel the playfield to avoid SDTM releases from the ship.

If you think back to the B/W days you saw similar toys kick the ball around the back (MM, CC), to a wireform (AFM, WCS), or to a subway (NGG), for example.

I don’t know if this is strictly a BOM issue or a design philosophy of “the ball must never be redirected by a mech, it must always come out the way it went in”, but it’s one that punishes successful shots too often and leads to wonky, inelegant solutions like brief ball savers and unleveling machines on purpose, and I hope it goes away soon.

1 Like

NGG can actually eject straight from the putt-out scoop, but the option is disabled by default as it can kick pretty close to SDTM if not adjusted properly. It’s the last option in game adjustments “Kick down middle.” If the kick angle is good, enabling this adjustment makes the game play faster and more fun.


I hate leveling games for leagues. The operator does a half way decent job of leveling them, but normally they need some additional adjustment. Crawling around on a nasty ass bar floor trying to level games is no fun at all. Pat your TD on the back if they level the games. :slight_smile: