An Amateur's Personal Pinball Experience

By Ramtuathal

June 27, 2015

This story got frontpaged on June 27, 2015

8 years ago

They always say you remember your first - but, sadly, I don't. I started playing pinball in my early teens, which equates to the late 80's / early 90's, and I'm sure most of the games I played were SSs w DMDs. While I can't really recall any particular game from those early days, I do remember being intrigued by the challenge of pinball.

I was an arcade rat so I already knew the drill; $10 in quarters had to last 3 hours or you'd end up sulking in envy while you watched the other kids play until your ride home arrived. I was decent at playing arcade games that allowed skilled players to get the most bang for their Little Washingtons (so, not the quarter-sucking continue-if-you-can games), but pinball was a risky investment. I could barely keep a ball alive long enough to even hit a few targets, and most of my ramps were just lucky shots. Obviously, I didn't know what I was doing. After a few quarters in the pins, I was back to the old Galaga in the back and I'd splurge on Shinobi when I felt brave.

I finally got a clue when I watched an older kid play pinball the way it was supposed to be played (still can't remember the game). He caught the ball and held it with the flipper, then he Babe Ruth-style called his shot, and then he made that shot. 'He's cheating!', I thought. Of course, it was then I finally realized that pinball was a game of skill and that there were very specific rules, modes, etc. that the player should be trying to accomplish (duh).

Some time later, after spending lots of "training" quarters in pinball machines, I do remember playing Terminator 2 pin for over 20 minutes. During that game, I earned a replay and I eventually put up a high score entry. That's probably the actual moment that I got hooked, but only for a short time. The disappearance of arcades and pins was inversely proportional to the increase in hormone changes and other developing interests I had at the time. Basically, I forgot all about the arcades and the bowling alleys - and they seemed to forget about me too.

Fast forward to 2013. I moved to Arizona from Indiana to start grad school, now with a wife in tow. A few years earlier I discovered (way behind everyone else) console emus and MAME. But, I still longed for the real upright video game arcade experience. Playing Shinobi on MAME (hypothetically, if one had the rights to do so, of course), seemed like wanting a steak and getting a ham sandwich, so my interest level in emus had dropped by the time I moved to AZ. And, the workload in grad school doesn't allow for much video game time (if one is taking one's time in grad school seriously).

In April of 2014 my wife and I were looking for something fun to do in the Phoenix metro area and she showed me an ad for Zapcon 2014 (2). The ad said something like "Arcade and Pinball Expo" and I thought, 'Sure, let's give it try.' Admission was salty at $25 per person, and we arrived pretty late. I went hoping to see my old upright arcade friends but instead I saw mostly SS pinball games. I admit I was disappointed at first, but I was determined to get my money's worth, so I started pressing start on every breathing machine I could find in those dingy hotel banquet rooms. After just a few games, I realized that I really missed playing pinball - and I knew that there was no (suitable, non-blasphemous) way to emulate the real-life experience of playing pins.

I was starting to get hooked again, but Zapcon was a 2-day event, and I wasn't going to fall in love with something that I could only do 2 days a year. So, I tried stomp down all that wonderful, pining nostalgia until next year.

Fast forward a little more to late 2014. My wife and I went to a community art event in Mesa, AZ, and I ran into a guy who knew a guy who had an emerging arcade with pinball games and all - it's called Star Fighters Arcade (also in Mesa). I eventually made my way to Star Fighters and that's when I discovered I was done for. Low-cost cover charge for free play all night? Check. Awesome throwback 80's music blaring on the jukebox? Check. Upright coin-op oldies? Check. Scared Stiff and Creature from the Black Lagoon (and more!)? Check. I've been searching for more pins and video games ever since.

I don't own any pinball machines (yet... shhh), and I don't know anything about repairing machines either. I just really enjoy playing the games and now I'm constantly searching out new games in new locations. Laundromat? Dive bar? Backyard? I don't care where I get my fix anymore, as long as I get one.

Finally, I've also managed to pull my brother back into the world of pinball (he's always liked pinball more than me, and he doesn't seem to care at all about coin-op video games - I'm not as much of a purist as he is, I guess). He lives in Houston and we recently went on a pinball adventure. I'll save that and my other pinball-seeking excursions for other stories, but for now, the adventure continues.

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