Just who do these people think they are coming into my home and tagging thier names all over the place?
I remember at times, welcoming and encouraging it. Now I can't help but notice and wished I hadn't.
Whenever I turn these pins on, there is a constant reminder of a silent and invisible challenger in the room.
Before this they were all just irrelavent sets of letters, casually displayed at the start and end of each game. However, lately a particular set of letters has drawn my attention. They always seem to creep to the top of the leader board; gracing the display in grand fashion. These are the initials that call out to me.
They are MJB.
This is the story of my initial rival, and our recent pinball encounters.
I grew up knowing MJB as an acquantence more than a close friend. We shared a lot of the same social circles and often spotted eachother in the hallways at school, the skatepark or around town.
He's a quiet type of guy, with a strange sense of humor. It's rare to catch him say more than two sentences at any given time. I feel that, in a world of outspoken critcs, this can be a very redeeming quality to have in a friend.
His strange sense of humor usually manifest itself in the form of his finger pointing at something not there, trying to get you to look. Or by randomly asking an obscure question and then silently analyzing your reaction as you sit idle waiting for a response.
Post high school MJB would share a house with a couple of my close friends. I found myself spending a good amount of my early 20's, partying and hanging out there.
The small three bedroom house at one point hosted a pool table. It took up most of the living room area and had furniture cramped on all four sides of it.
We played pool at his house and at local bars, but pinball was never something that any of us ever shared with eachother. It wouldn't be until my thirties, when I hosted a party in which MJB attended, that we would discover a mutual love for the silver ball.
It was around 2015 and I had just acquried my first machine, a new in box TWD Premium.
In the previous couple months before the party, I had managed to play it quite a bit and thought highly of my grand champion score and 28 walker kills.
When MJB arrived and saw my pinball machine his eyes widened. He quickly pointed out the obvious with a sense of suprise and excitment
"You got a Walking Dead pinball machine? Thats sick!"
I was taken back. I never thought of him as the pinball type but apparently hes quite the affecionado. It was nice to find another person who shared a similar excitement for pinball.
MJB was drawn to to TWD for most of the party, and before the night was over he managed to replace my initials with his.
"Hey James." My attention was called.
I peered accross the room to witness a smug MJB smiling and pointing to the TWD display. A new grand champion and new high of 32 walker kills.
I half smiled, gave him a nod and told him "congrats!"
A little later that year I would update the machine, but forget to backup the data. TWD was now a blank slate again.
My pinball skills were a bit sharper than they were when I first got the machine. On my first test game after the update, I managed to put up a decent grand champion score close to my previous one and also set the walker kill record to 28.
That score I would find out shortly would not last long. MJB at my next party manged to break that grand champion score and set the walker kill record to 34. I only noticed this about a week or two later while hanging out in the media room.
It was the first time that I felt a little perturbed by seeing another players initials on one of my machines. It used to never bother me and in fact I would encourage my guest to beat my high scores, it was just another aspect of pinball that made it so fun. MJB however, managed to defeat what I was once so proud of and now he was going to make me work to get it back again.
MJB is a pretty good player and I knew it was going to be tough for me to achieve victory. It would end up challenging all my knowledge of TWD and pinball in general.
With the irritation still fresh and fuming from my pores, I dropped a few coins in and put my game face on.
I have only been to one pinball tournament so far in my lifetime. It was against 34 or more people and I managed to finish in 20th place. Attempting to out score MJB was the first time I felt similar pressure to that tournament and here I was in the comfort of my own home.
He had to have played one hell of a game and I would need to fight, nudge, bump, slap save every ball that came close to draining on me in order to compete.
From what I knew of the game rules, I would need to activate a couple modes, get Well Walker multiball at least twice and Prison Yard multiball at least once, in order to even come close to his score.
After a few tries and about twenty minutes, my strategy played out. I managed to put up a grand champion score of 150,190,040 and blow out my previous walkers killed score, which now stands at 43.
Pushing the start button to input each one of my initials gave me an sense of joy that is hard to fully describe in words. All I know is that, I once again had solidified the top spot on my TWD and it felt great!
In the past few years since then my collection has grown. Every year my wife & I stick with tradition and throw a couple of parties at our home.
At these parties I am often too busy hosting and don't get to play pinball all night with my guest as I would like to. When I do get the opportunity to play it is usually against MJB and a couple of his buddies from the arcade.
The competition between MJB and I is usually at its highest. We both love pinball and don't want to be the loser. As of late, I am starting to get the feeling that it is MJB's ultimate goal to reign champion on all my machines and I'm getting the impression that I am the only player standing in his way.
At the last party we played a four player game of Ghostbusters. That game ended with me winning and setting a new highscore #1. MJB was only a couple hundered thousand points behind me. We would then play Deadpool next which ended much differently with me finishing in third and MJB putting us all to shame with a new grand champion score of 351,823,720
That Deadpool game was the last game I have since played with MJB. I wasn't able to play any pinball with him at Halloween; hosting and putting out fires ended up consuming most of my time. He didn't make it out on New Years, which was a real bummer because I had much more time to play that night.
And even though he hasn't been around for a while, its like his presence is still here.
Sometime a little later on, while home alone I would feel tempted to take a crack at his Deadpool score. Even playing at my best, I still ended up wasting two extra balls on quick drains and came up just short of his GC score.
I played my heart out and couldn't muster up the will to play another round. Trying to out do MJB was exhausting, even though he only was present in name.
Feeling deflated and defeated, I left the machine having to settle for High Score #1 with 342,824,190 points.
My most recent run in with my initial rival, was when I went out to the garage to play some Tails of The Arabian Nights.
I turned the machine on. The cpu chimed and I waited for any possible credit dot errors.
While standing there, zoning out to the startup sequence, I noticed something was off. I hit the left flipper button to view the previous screen.
And it was confirmed, he did it again! He replaced my grand champion score with his!
This time it was different. The irritation I felt previously with TWD was replaced with a feeling of excitement. I was excited for a challenge, an open invitation to compete at that very moment. A chance to rise back to the top.
Standing there with TOTAN on and ready, I put a couple of credits into the machine with one intent- replace the initials MJB with JPB.
When I play TOTAN I usually like playing it similar to a video game. I will simply collect jewels until I reach the final Genie battle, but this time I made a clear choice to focus soley on points, multipliers, locks and tiger loops for the extra ball.
I plunged the ball and all was going according to plan at first.
On my first ball, after achieving a few locks, I managed to start multiball. The ball vanished from the playfield and the genie appeared on the display warning me "Here it comes!"
I kept all three balls in play for a minute or two. The evil, blue genie yelling "Ahhhhhh!" with each strike to his chest.
The shooting stars were lit. They put off a reassuring "gong" sound as they shot up from under the playfield and captured my ball; saving it from impending doom of the outlane drain.
I put up four tiger loops, and on my second ball I put up two more. The games trumpets sounded and the announcer declared "Extra ball!" However, once played, that ball would end up being very short lived and uneventful.
After spinning the lamp, the princess declared her love for the lightning and I then directed my attention to the Bazaar scoop.
Once in, I made sure to use up the wishes I had collected. Only selecting point bonuses and multiplier awards.
The princess declared, "You're amazing!"
She always knows how to make me smile.
Upon my third ball, I was ten tiger loops away from my second extra ball and decided it may be worth it to continue trying for more loops.
With only about a minute in, I managed to get seven loops, leaving me just three shy of my required twenty.
"That was wicked." The princess tells me.
The ball came back around the right orbit and fed to my left flipper. I tried to capture it but ended up passing it to my right flipper.
With a jewel ready to be collected and the ball cradled in my right flipper, I deviated from my original plan and went for the magic carpet ramp to collect. The shot however was not flipped hard enough. The ball went up the ramp half way and then came rushing back down the playfield and between my two raised flippers, for a perfect drain.
That was it, game over.
I stood in anticipation as my points tallied up, going faster and faster with the sitar music. I was nervous, felt it was going to be a close call.
The final verdict: not enough.
Turned out to not even be near as close as I thought it would be. I finished out the game with a score of 27,050,940, enough for a new high score #1 but not enough to edge out MJB's grand champion score of 32,536,480.
Feeling semi-defeated, I knew just as with Deadpool I would have to save MJB's score challenge for another day.
I came out of the garage and into the living room while my wife sat on the couch watching TV. I informed her that MJB had struck again, this time on one of her machines. Told her that I tried my best to out him, but again came up just short.
She smiled and suggested she should just reset the machine so nobodies intials would be on it (including mine). She likes her machines to be hers, even in score.
Without me being able to contest these scores during the past couple parties, a good amount of "initial" damage has probably been done by my pinball playing guest. I haven't got around to check the full extent of the damage, but I would bet that a good majority of my twenty game collection has probaly been taken over by the initials MJB.
As irritating as it has been though, I am realizing that it is good. It's good to always have a challenge to overcome.
Its nice to have somebody else out there testing your skills and not even be present in the room. It's hard to explain but It reminds me of when I would play time trial mode on racing video games. I would race a ghost car that represented the previous players record lap time. The excitement of putting up a new best lap time was exhilarating and feels similar somehow.
Anyway, in closing, I guess I want to thank MJB and all those who leave thier initials on my machines. You give me another reason to play, and a purpose to play better.
Still don't care to see them though...
A few days ago I started up all the machines in the garage. After playing a few other pins I came around to TOTAN. I wasn't really looking to put up any crazy scores, just wanted to play for fun.
While collecting jewels I managed to start Harem multiball. I racked up major points with each target hit giving me 10k.
Couldn't believe it when I saw the score. I just barely edged out MJB!