austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,
austin_dern
austin_dern

She's coming in, 12:30 flight

We didn't leave the con out of pique. It was an unavoidable commitment: the finals for the Brighton Arcade pinball league were that day. We could skip that only at great cost to our league standings.

At the end of the season I was ranked 16th, and bunny_hugger 21st, putting us in good shape for the finals: I would be at or near the bottom of the eight-person B division, and she at the middle-to-top of the C division. The double-elimination match play among these eight-person divisions meant we'd finally be ranked somewhere between 9th and 16th in B division, and 17th through 24th for C. Then came a mysterious series of absences, people especially among the top ten who couldn't make it for one reason or another. These seem to have been coincidences but it was a bit freaky still. bunny_hugger was looking at possibly being at the top of C division --- meaning she'd be facing only worse players, but might have a string of bad luck and fall from a nominal 17th down to 24th. When everyone was checked in, though, I was placed at 12th --- fourth seed in B division --- and she at 16th -- eighth seed in B division. I could fall, if I were unlucky or bad, but she could only improve her standing by playing.

Each match play was a best-two-of-three match, the higher seed choosing first and third games. So we'd been using recent playing chances to scope out games we'd have some edge in. Unfortunately my ``edge'' game --- Strange Science, which is fun but requires a series of shots and one really hard shot to score substantially (and do read the comic book from the pictures on that link) --- wasn't working, so I had to make do with less exotic choices.

In the league finals last year I lost four games in a row to a dismal night of standing around watching. All I really wanted was to do better and happily I did win two of the first three games and so my first match. Then I went up against ... JM, who had beaten bunny_hugger in her first match. As he was B division's number one seed he got to pick, Twilight Zone, and he went first, putting up a ball that instantly drained, as Twilight Zone will sometimes do.

The trouble is he'd failed to start a two-player game. This left me with the choice: do we continue, playing our games sequentially, or do we start over with a fresh two-player game? If we played sequentially he'd be stuck with that lousy first ball, and that would be hard to recover from. It's a moment that tests what kind of sportsman you are. I decided I'm the kind who'll forgive an accidental error, even if it probably hurts my chance of winning. And indeed, despite a good third-ball rally on my part, I lost this game.

We went over to one of bunny_hugger's edge games, Creature From The Black Lagoon, where I went first and where I used the strategy she'd been developing last Free Play Day: just aim for the center Move Your Car shot. This requires a bunch of center shots, but then starts a nice Hurry-Up mode --- where you have to shoot a target before a timer runs out, for a points award that shrinks as time progresses --- and then repeat the shot for multiples of that score. And I did. I put up a pretty good first ball, and then a monster of a second ball, that included a multiball and that missed the (rather difficult) jackpot but that's all right, because it got well over a hundred million points. And the third ball was more of the same: I ran the score up to about 289 million points, by far my highest score on the game, and about three-quarters what would get me on the high score table. JM had about a tenth that. I did feel awkward running the score up so, but as the second ball showed, even hundreds of millions of points were not a safe margin of victory.

For the third match he picked Iron Man, one of those modern Stern games I can't really tell apart, and which I would learn later was one of his favorite games. If I had better intelligence I might've prepared. I put up a fair match, I think, but had a lousy third ball, and that was that. I consider the Creature From The Black Lagoon game as saving our family's honor, and the Twilight Zone game as establishing my gallantry.

On I went into the Losers' Bracket (from which it would be possible, theoretically, to get back to winning the whole division, mind). The first match in this one I did win, two games out of three, thanks in part to having played the Arcade's Nine Ball and knowing how touchy the early solid-state machine was to nudging. It's from an era of games that people experienced on modern tables have trouble downshifting to, and that's what draws me to that.

Meanwhile, bunny_hugger, having won her first Losers' Bracket match with among other things an awesome Attack From Mars, was in the third game against GRV, an excellent if temperamental player who's sometimes in our leagues and who sometimes sits them out because no tables that exist in our world of shadows upon the cave wall meet his standards for proper maintenance. She was playing Star Trek: The Next Generation and whipping her way through some of the advanced wizard-level modes, with the score coming in just under a billion points, to the other player's 50 million. I thought this was astounding but not impossible: GRV is a very skilled player but can be shaken badly, and a billion points would be maybe three times her previous high score as I remembered it, outstanding but not obviously ridiculous. But, no, she hadn't. She'd been the first player. GRV had --- and this is part of his cheerful and generous side, the part that does make him quite likable --- after winning the match, got the game to some of the exciting modes only wizards see and handed it over to bunny_hugger. Where, it must be said, she scored about half of that billion-point shot on her own skills.

So she had lost her second match, and was done for the night. And I was slated to play GRV next, my second round of defending the family honor.

I picked El Dorado: City of Gold for the first match; it's a 1984 remake of an electromechanical game, and therefore a great skill-equalizer. It's very easy for the ball to take a bad bounce and drain, and if I got lucky and he got a bad ball I might be able to squeak out a win. If he got a really bad ball it might shake his composure and I could win two games. He didn't, and I didn't.

For the second game, he picked Black Hole, another early solid-state machine, and one he was about the only person in the Arcade who could get it to register credits. So you know what kind of an edge he had on the game. I lost pretty convincingly, although I did get a bad bit of luck (the ball rolling over a diverter in a way that made it drain right away) which kept it from being a more even contest. And that --- my only shutout --- was my second lost match of the night, ending my run.

In total, though, this put me in fourth place in B division, or 12-ranked overall, so that I did not lose any ground in play. And I had that happy Creature from the Black Lagoon game. bunny_hugger meanwhile ended up in what is either fifth or sixth place (technically it's a tie, but if we understand the rules rightly as the lower seed she gets the lower spot), or fourteenth in the league, which is sweet. As late as December she was around 38th.

We didn't head back to the con right away, though. We wanted to see how the A division played out, for example, and how some of our friends finished the night. GRV did not make it to the top of B division after all. Our friend MWS --- who'd come in fourth-ranked, one division above me --- was betrayed ultimately by three lousy balls on the solid state Meteor --- his worst performance ever, he said --- and ended up fourth-ranked in the A division, just short of getting a trophy. Championship of A division took to the end of the night as you might expect. The Lansing league champion of CST was one of the finalists, and his match came down to a frightfully tense last game which, if he'd won, would have required a second best-of-three match (as that would have been AJG's first match defeat). But, ultimately, his third ball was not quite enough and AJG's was better and that was the night.

And that, finally, was enough for the night. We got our pictures and said goodnight to everyone who was left, and headed back for the convention.

Trivia: At the July 1985 resolution of the Donkey Kong/King Kong copyright infringement case, Universal Studios was ordered to pay Nintendo $1.8 million for legal fees, lost revenues, costs incurred creating graphs and charts, and photocopying expenses. Source: The Ultimate History of Video Games, Steven L Kent.

Currently Reading: Russian Planetary Exploration: History, Development, Legacy, and Prospects, Brian Harvey.

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