Thanks. I’ll look into it. I’ve got to make a decision soon. I doubt I’ll get too far in a tournament right now, but I’d love to come play to just learn the ropes. Is there a special category for those of us who are there to embarrass ourselves?
I live in the Los Angeles area. My assessment is that while pinball communities exist in the metropolitan area, they never coalesced into a scene the way places like Portland or Seattle have. That is, there are places where people gather to play pinball, but they are all completely independent of each other (though there are pairs of locations that are interconnected), and most of the players at one location stick to that location only. As a result, public pinball is run mainly by operators who don’t really play or enjoy pinball and are just in it to get money, and almost all competitions are set in Molly’s places.
I’ve heard the typical condition of a public pinball machine in Los Angeles is considerably worse than in most other urban areas, and I will tell you that you will find a glut of The Simpsons Pinball Party (most of which have at least one critical malfunction of some sort, usually upper flippers so weak they cannot support the weight of the ball) and Family Guy/Shrek (roughly equal numbers of each; watch out for the ones whose retractable peg between the flippers is broken).
I’d recommend you check out Pinball Map if you haven’t, regardless of where you are, as there are likely interesting locations you haven’t noticed. The pinball places around Los Angeles that I’d recommend are as follows, in no order at all (all of whom are on Pinball Map):
Pins and Needles (near Glendale) - They aren’t open very often, but this is an impressive public collection, all in very good condition. This is one of the Molly locations, so competitions are held here. It’s right next to practice rooms for musicians, however, so be prepared for loud noises and the occasional marijuana smoke. The number of machines varies a lot, but I most often see about 25 to 30.
82 (downtown, next to Little Tokyo) - This is a barcade that recently opened up and is the other Molly location. This is the headquarters of the Los Angeles Pinball League with weekly events. There are typically about 20 machines present at a time, with most of the newest Sterns.
Casa de Carlos (Chatsworth) - The biggest collection by far in the San Fernando Valley region, this is a Mexican restaurant whose owner is a big pinball fan. He keeps them in near-perfect condition. It’s currently the only location in the LA area to have Jersey Jack machines. (It’s only Wizard of Oz right now, but he’s purchased a Hobbit, and it’ll arrive eventually.) There is most commonly about 10 machines here. Events are held each Saturday night. A necessary heads-up is that the food here comes in large portions.
Lake Alice Trading Company (Riverside) - Technically, this is in Riverside County, but it’s got a huge amount here and has a vibrant local community. It usually has 15 to 20 machines. I seldom go down to Riverwise, so I don’t know much about this place, but everyone seems to really like it.
Neon Retro Arcade (Pasadena) - I think this place is less than a year old. It’s an arcade specializing in older games, with 6 to 8 pinball machines in the back. You pay $10 to play for an hour there. Machines are not always in perfect condition, but they have someone there on hand all the time who tries his best.
Lake Forest Ice Palace (Lake Forest) - One of the two Orange County Ice Palaces. The back area has 7 machines, which rotate occasionally, plus a bingo machine. Its operator is known to censor concerns reported onto Pinball Map, but they are usually in good enough shape.
Aliso Viejo Ice Palace (Aliso Viejo) - The other of the two Orange County Ice Palaces. This has between 3 and 8 machines, depending on where they feel like putting them. What I think is notable about the Ice Palaces is that they contain a lot of machines you’re unlikely to find in public anymore except in very large collections and museums. Some of them aren’t the most well-received, but I think it’s worth playing them if you’re like me and want to familiarize yourself with as many machines as you can. The two Ice Palaces share a very loose community.
Wagon Wheel Bowl (Ventura, the city) - Up north in Ventura County, this place has 10 to 12 machines from SEGA at a time. The similarity of choices and their condition lead me to believe this has the same operator as the Ice Palaces.
X-Lanes (Little Tokyo) - If 82 isn’t open yet, X-Lanes is the next best thing. It’s right across the street, on the top floor of the building on Alvarado and 3rd with Tom-Tom’s Coffee. I prefer to play in the morning and early afternoon, so I often find myself in the area before 82 opens, and I come here. There are only 3 machines, but they’re the newest Sterns in tip-top shape.
Chaparral Lanes (San Dimas) - This is the former location of It Never Drains in Southern California. It’s still home to 8 to 10 machines from everywhere in pinball history, with a mixture of EMs, 90’s games, and modern Sterns. This one rotates more frequently than most others. Watch out for hyperactive children on the weekends though. Parents frequently hold parties on weekend evenings here, and you get a lot of rowdy, high-energy kids who will push you aside or climb onto and run across the machines.
AYCE Gogi (Panorama City) - The second biggest collection in the San Fernando Valley, and a collection that just seemingly popped up out of nowhere about two months ago. This is an all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ place (meaning you order raw foods to put on the grill at your table) with a Street Fighter II pinball at the front and unknown number of machines in the bar in the back. (It’s unknown because someone reports every machine that could possibly be there on Pinball Map regardless of if it’s actually there or not.) Every time I’ve visited, there are 6 to 7, not including the Street Fighter II. This is the only known public location in southern California to have an America’s Most Haunted. It also currently has a rare Flipper Football.
Button Mash (general LA, between Hollywood and downtown) - This is a barcade and restaurant on Sunset Boulevard. I haven’t actually been here yet (as the first time I tried, I showed uplong before they opened for the day, and the second time I tried, the entire place was rented out for a birthday party), but it’s built quite an impressive lineup in the few months it’s been in existence. They were savvy enough to get some Star Wars themed machines shortly before The Force Awakens came out, at the very least.
Comic Hero University (Fullerton) - Fullerton actually has quite a vibrant community within its city limits, but this has the biggest collection there, at about 7 to 9 machines, most of which are kept almost pristine. Also very nice service in the comic book shop. It’s actually within the Amtrak train station for Fullerton.
James Games Family Fun Center (Upland) - This one, from the few times I’ve been there, mainly serves the immediate neighborhood, and a college is right next to it. It has 3 to 5 machines, and because visitors get quite competitive with the machines there, it’s mandatory they’re kept in optimal shape.
In addition, there are two chains with heavy pinball representation. The first is Round 1, a Japanese arcade chain that recently expanded to the southwestern United States. There are at least three locations, all of them in malls: Puente Hills, Santa Ana, and Moreno Valley. They are actually oriented towards the hardcore arcade game crowd, particularly fans of Japanese fighting games, rhythm games, racing games, and novelty games, to where some of them are imported from Japan. So if you’re itching to play pop’n music 24 or Tekken 7, this is where you go. Every Round 1 location has 3 to 6 Sterns from 2012 to 2015. I’m not sure if they’ll get more. Some of them are updated (like Santa Ana) and some are not (like Puente Hills) though.
The second is Regency Theatres, a local movie theater chain. Every Regency has at least one pinball machine, no exceptions. But usually just one. Their condition varies a lot, but they do care a lot. Regency is a sponsor of It Never Drains in Southern California, so someone high up is a fan.
This may sound like a lot, but the LA/Riverside/Orange/Ventura area is a megalopolis, and this means there are a lot of places. There are pretty large collections I have not listed here, like Family Amusement Corporation and Blipsy’s Arcade in downtown, Ventura Village Carousel and Santa Monica Boardwalk in their respective cities, as well as places with uncommon machines like Shatto 39 Lanes (Koreatown) and Pinz Bowling Center (North Hollywood), but the machines there are badly neglected and many of them will result in a frustrating experience.
I believe Casa de Carlos permanently closed not too long ago.
I do go to Round 1 when I want to get my IIDX/Sound Voltex/Groove Coaster fix on. I wouldn’t expect code updates on Puente Hills’s machines, which is unfortunate since it’s pretty much their flagship location in all other respects.
FAC’s machines are tolerable. But I think literally every machine at Santa Monica had some critical malfunction/deformity of some sort.
Thank you for this great information!
thank YOU for this awesome info! Amazing! Honestly, I wish I wasn’t moving now!
Wagon Wheel was torn down a year or so ago; the whole area was razed to make room for some new “development.” And I was there the day Casa de Carlos closed. Sadly, he’s not putting his games out on location elsewhere. Last visit to the Ventura Carousel, the games were pretty beat up; nearby Golfland usually has 4, of which on average 2 work “ok.” Adjacent to Golfland, Buena Lanes typically has 4 as well, condition somewhat better but still not 100%.
A very useful database site that wasn’t mentioned yet is Pinball Videos (http://pinballvideos.com).
Is nudging OK? I nudge when I play emulators, but is doing that in public ok? Does it hurt the machine? Is nudging considered a skill worth mastering? Can you nudge in tournament play? Basically I don’t want to go and start nudging and have people frown at me.
Nudge away. The tilt will tell you if you’re too aggressive.
Is nudging OK?
I nudge when I play emulators, but is doing that in public ok?
Yep! Nudging in real life works a lot differently than on emulators, at least compared to The Pinball Arcade which is the only one I’ve played much. There’s a lot more nuance to the real life version, too.
Does it hurt the machine?
I don’t think so. At least not any more than flipping the flippers does, I’d say. They’re designed and built with the expectation that nudging is part of the game.
Is nudging considered a skill worth mastering?
Totally! I have a lot of room for improvement, but I can see a lot of situations in the games I play where I probably could have saved the ball with the right application of nudging.
Can you nudge in tournament play?
Yep, and I think it would be very hard to make it to the finals round of most tournaments without doing any nudging. Keep in mind that most games that are set up intentionally for tournaments (at pinball shows, or especially high level play like PAPA A division) have the tilt mechanism set to be pretty sensitive. This and other adjustments are often made for tournaments in order to keep games from playing for too much time (e.g. if you’re playing 20 games at Pinburgh, it’s not practical for each one to last an hour-- and that’s really only 15 minutes per game per player for 4 player games!). The fact that this is one of the most common adjustments for tournaments speaks to how powerful of a technique nudging is for extending how long your ball is in play. It’s still a skill that’s very applicable in such tournaments though, as the tight tilt just limits how many situations you can save a ball in, not eliminates all of them.
Here’s a video of the tilt mechanism (tilt bob) in action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Vtd5wKh7JA
When the metal weight touches the surrounding metal ring, it closes a circuit, which will give the player a tilt warning or tilt penalty, depending on the machine and its settings. The weight at the bottom can be moved up and down the rod to make the mechanism more or less sensitive.
As for actual nudging techniques, I’d be happy to hear how others on here suggest to learn and practice them. I could definitely use the help
Nudging might be the most important thing to master. Making a good save using nudging can be the difference between winning or losing just as much as making or not making a critical shot when you need to.
Aw, seriously? I was planning on going to Casa de Carlos again because it’s close to where I work. A real shame. Now there are no more Jersey Jack operators in this area.
Family Amusement Corporation is actually in a…vague area of Los Angeles in general. It’s near the corner of Vermont Ave. and Santa Monica Blvd., which is not the same thing as being in the city of Santa Monica. Unless there is another Family Amusement Corporation I didn’t know about. The one I’m talking about has dilapidated machines because they have no dedicated pinball repair person.
That actually explains a lot. I attempted to visit there last year, and where I could swear was the right address (I visited Wagon Wheel the year before, even) was what looked like a totally empty building without a soul nearby. I figured something happened to it.
By any chance, do you know what happened to Mission Hills Bowl? It’s in the San Fernando Valley just off the 118 freeway, at the northernmost spot on the northeast plaza of Devonshire Ave. and Sepulveda Blvd. It and the Ralphs supermarket next to it just suddenly closed down, and now the parking lot in front of them has been walled off with those portable fences construction companies use. Mission Hills Bowl always had a 2006 to 2009 Stern machine in its arcade, and I would sometimes just play on them as it was nearby.
Gunching is also acceptable.
Mission Hills Bowl closed about a year ago, too, near the same time as Wagon Wheel. Once upon a time, bowling alleys had tons of pins; now most have few if any, and fewer lanes survive. Sad.
Always Be Nudging!
I think the best way to start to learn how to nudge is to nudge every time you think you might need to and even when you don’t. I think a lot of people are worried about hurting the game and tilting which should be the last thing on your mind. I death save all of my games on a regular basis and have yet to hurt anything.
The think about nudging that I didn’t understand when I started playing was that there are reasons to nudge other than trying to save a ball from an outlane or center drain. Nudging the ball off of the rail from a medieval madness moat kick out so it doesn’t hit the left sling shot is an example. Nudging the game so the ball comes off of a touch target or a certain rubber etc and bounces towards a flipper instead of a slingshot. Its a skill I haven’t mastered but, trying to predict which part of the game the ball is going to hit next and nudging accordingly is a valuable skill to have. Keep on nudging!
“Don’t drink, don’t gunch, What do ya do?”
As long as you’re not randomly mashing the buttons and repeatedly double flipping, then no one is going to notice.
In my experience, no one is judging each other - they’re all lost in their own heads being critical of their own play. You can do pretty well by just putting up middle of the road scores with some consistency.
Be chatty if you can, and watch other players. Everyone who ever played in pinball tournaments started out with the attitude/expectation that they weren’t going to get far.
What the hell is “gunching”?
runs a Google search
Uh… That’s interesting, I suppose.