Work and World

Pinball Isn’t As Random As It Seems

What do you see when you look at a pinball
machine? I kind of see, like, a giant slot machine. There’s shiny things and bright lights. Letters that don’t mean anything that aren’t
linked up to anything. It’s just designed for beeps and boops. But what happens if you do this? And what if you do it again? And again? This is how you’re meant to play pinball. And while a casual player might see a bunch
of blinking lights, a skilled pinball player sees a map. People tend to get overwhelmed by pinball
because they think the game is random. I never know what to look at. Every time I play, I feel like the ball just
goes wherever the hell it wants to go. I’m just, like, hitting things aggressively
and hoping it works out. But just like any arcade game, you can learn
how to get better. Don’t take it from me, though. My name is Roger Sharpe, and I have been playing
pinball for far too long. There’s so much luck here, not skill. I’m breaking the bank and I don’t even
know what I’m doing! Well, what you’re doing kinetically is manipulating
flippers to hit a ball, and you’re going in a certain line of action when the ball’s
down on the flipper. That is skill. I think the biggest hurdle for most people
is that they think that the ball is not controllable. And if the game is working against you, it
makes sense to just jump from game to game and try your luck. Right? Well, no, each game was different. Each game had different geometry; each game
had different rules. Even though each game is unique, there are
common elements to look for on any pinball machine. At the bottom, you’ve got a plunger to get
the ball going and flippers that keep it from draining and hit it toward targets. Knowing how to use these is the key to the
game. But If you’re like me, you probably use
flippers like this: When you’re supposed to play like this: If you can slow things down, it’s to your
advantage. Just above the flippers are slingshots. They add a little chaos to the ball’s path. The middle of the board is where you’ll
usually find target banks, like this one, that spell out a word, and chutes, which will
take your ball and kick it out somewhere else on the play field. And there’s always these guys: jet bumpers. And while it might seem like they’re meant
to derail your game, they’re actually pretty harmless. Most of those are done in clusters – done
in clusters for a reason. It’ll bounce a little bit, maybe go back
up a lane. It’s not necessarily going to come back in your face. Up top, you’ve the source of a lot of big
points: ramps. They’re usually designed to drop the ball
straight back onto the flipper, so you’re incentivized to crack shots at them again
and again. Those are your basic targets, and deciding
which one to go for is actually pretty simple. At least initially, go for whatever targets
are lit – that means they’re activated and worth points. And when you hit them, the game will light
something else, telling you where to go next. One way to get the high score is by completing
simple objectives called modes. Modes feature specific targets on the play
field and usually increase their value temporarily – you just need to figure out how to unlock
them. So if it is completing a target bank to light
a particular mode, let me complete those targets, and now suddenly, that center ramp is lit. But if you want to get really good at pinball,
there’s one thing you’ll find in almost every game: multiball. Multiball is a hectic, beautiful, and terrifying
mode where you juggle multiple balls simultaneously and try to hit specific shots called jackpots. Jackpot! Jackpots only light up during multiball, and
they’re worth a lot of points. Here’s how you do it: Check the game’s
rule card and figure out what you need to complete to light the locks. Once lit, these will hold on to your ball
and give you a new one. Lock three balls and the game spits them all
back out at once. It sounds simple, but hitting all the right
targets is not an easy task. I am building from ball to ball to get to
some objective. And I have to build and go through cycles
of finishing target banks or whatever else to get to multiball, in order to maybe get
a jackpot, where my higher scoring thresholds are. People tend to give up easily on pinball because
it sometimes seems like the game has a mind of its own. I mean, I give up because I literally end
the game in five seconds, so. Sometimes I, like, will get the multiball
– I have no idea what makes multiball happen. It all feels random. The idea of it being totally random takes
away the fact that you can actually accomplish something that you’ve never accomplished
before. “I’ve never gotten multiball before – oh,
my god, I just got multiball. I’m blinded by it; it happened so quickly. But I got it. Next time, I’ll be ready. Maybe I’ll get a jackpot.”
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