The R.G.P. Game-Playing Tips List Contributors

Andrew Arensburger, Andrew M. Boardman, Tom Capek, David D. Clark, Jonathan N. Deitch, Adrian Donati, Jerry Duffy, Brent Earl, Slender Fungus, Brian Hindenburg, Dave Hollinsworth, Keith Johnson, Stephen Jonke, Mike Kahler, Kamchatka Charlie, Kevin Martin, Dallas Overturf, Tad Perry, Daina Pettit, Mark Phaedrus, rON, Lyman F. Sheats Jr., Joe Schwartz, Dave Stewart, Erik Wesselak, Matt Wilding, and John Yeates. Table of Contents

  1. Definitions (or, "Speak Like a Pro")
  2. General Playing Tips & Information
  3. Etiquette
  4. Beginner's Tips
  5. Shaking and Nudging: The Key to it All
  6. Saving a Center Drain
  7. Saving an Outlane Drain
  8. Behind-The-Flipper Saves
  9. Multiball Play
  10. Other Flipper Techniques
  11. Miscellaneous Techie Stuff
  12. A Final Word
1. Definitions - Catch :: :: When the ball is held in the V formed by an upraised flipper and the lower part of the inlane. \\ - Drain :: :: The act of losing a ball. \\ - End of Stroke
Switch :: :: The part of an older-style flipper mechanism that "shorts out" a section of the coil so that the current is stronger. (See
Section 11.1.) Abbreviated EOSS. \\ - Flipper Coil :: :: The mechanism that drives a flipper up. (See Section 11.1.) \\ - Habitrail :: :: This is the given name for the wire guides that are used above the playfield to move the ball somewhere. \\ - Inlane :: :: The two lanes near the bottom of the machine that return the ball to the flippers. Also called a "return lane." \\ - Outhole :: :: The area below the flippers where lost balls go. \\ - Outlane :: :: The two lanes near the bottom of the machine that lead to the drain area. \\ - r.g.p :: :: Abbreviation for "", our second home. \\ - SDTM :: :: Acronym for "Straight Down The Middle." \\ - Slam :: :: A form of tilting, usually caused by hitting the coin box too hard, by dropping the machine, by pounding the underside of the cabinet, or by striking the back cabinet. This immediately forfeits your entire game (and, on older machines, your accumulated credits), with no chance for a match or for initial entry. See "Tilt" for more info. \\ - Slingshot :: :: The two triangular things located immediately above the flippers. Hitting one ricochets the ball off in the opposite direction. \\ - Solenoid :: :: A coil, with another coil or magnet inside, used in flippers and kickers and such. When the coil(s) are energized, the opposing magnetic fields cause the inner piece to move. \\ - Tilt :: :: What happens when you shake too hard. There are three mechanisms that are used to detect machine abuse; the first is simply a conical pendulum suspended inside a metal ring. As the machine is nudged, the pendulum will swing, and if it ever touches the ring, TILT. All new machines can be set to give one or more "Tilt Warnings" before actually tilting, and tilting in this fashion causes immediate loss of both the ball in play and your accumulated bonus for that ball. The second mechanism is the "ball roll" tilt; it's a pinball sitting in a metal track. The track has a shallow slope in the same direction as the playfield, so the ball usually rests in the bottom of the track; at the top of the track is a sensor. If you physically lift the front of the machine too far, the ball rolls up the track and contacts the sensor. At the very least, this is an automatic tilt; no warnings. On the vast majority of machines, it's a slam tilt. Finally, there are usually one or more impact sensors, placed in places likely to be the subject of player abuse, such as the coin door and the playfield glass. Banging on one of these places hard enough to trigger one of these sensors will cause a slam tilt. 2. General Playing Tips & Information
  • Wear comfortable clothing.

  • Before playing any game for the first time, read the rules card that accompanies it. Most of the time, these cards are less then helpful, but they are good for getting a basic feel for a game (i.e. what shots to go for, the names used for various playfield objects, etc.)

  • Extension to the above: take the time to learn the layout of a particular game. Learn where the best shots and the drain shots are, and how the various shots interact with one another, so you don't, say, spend time sending the ball to the bumpers when another ramp shot will light the extra ball.

  • Learn about a specific machine by watching others play.

  • If you drain miserably, don't tilt the machine out of frustration. You'll just lose more points if you do.

  • Unless explicitly advertised, or your operator is disreputable, pinballs do not have magnets anywhere underneath them. Spin and rubber are the usual causes of weird motion.

  • One way to take spin off of the ball is to give the machine a "downward slap" whenever the ball bounces against rubber, or even metal. This is literally just slapping down on the lockdown bar. It looks and sounds silly, but it can often help reduce spin and speed.

  • If the machine has a very sensitive Slam Tilt, it is often due to a loose coin door. One way to solve this problem is to wedge a coin of some sort between the door and the metal frame around it. This will wedge the door in place and solve a lot of loose-door Slam Tilt problems.

  • During the very first ball of any game (i.e. Player 1's Ball 1), pressing the start button will add another player to the game. From the second ball on, pressing the start button will abort the current game for all players and begin another one. (Beginning with Fish Tales, Williams has adopted an optional polling scheme that will only restart your game if the button is held down for about a second. Kudos to them for this great idea, and if your operator doesn't have this option turned on, harass him until he does so.)

  • On all new games, you can hold down either flipper while the game is in progress, and the game will display a few stats about the current game situation (replay, credits remaining, number of ramp shots to light the extra ball, etc.). Williams calls this the "status report," and Data East calls it "instant info." While this is active, some games will let you tap the other flipper button to page quickly through the screens. Gottlieb games will usually display just the replay value, and sometimes the high scores.

  • Entering your initials: left flipper button to go one letter back in the alphabet, right flipper button to go forward in the alphabet, start button to record this initial and go on to the next. (This is true of most machines, although some Gottliebs have separate buttons for initial entry.)

2.1 Stance
  • Choose some comfortable position for your wrists. They will get tired if they aren't held properly. About waist level is about right for most people, depending on height of the person and the machine.

  • The higher you hold your head, the better you'll be able to see the ball's position. The lower you hold it, the better you'll be able to judge its direction (e.g., while trying to decide whether or not to let it bounce off the center post); find a good compromise.

  • Try to put your weight more on your feet then your hands. This way, your shaking will have more impact, and you run less risk of hurting yourself.

3. Etiquette
  • Don't touch another player's cabinet.

  • Give other players plenty of space.

  • Shut up. It's usually OK to tell someone things that they couldn't have seen (such as how big the jackpot was), but people usually don't like it when you point out the obvious to them. Same goes for trying to engage in idle chatter while someone is playing: unless the player is a good friend of yours, this is usually frowned upon.

  • If you walk away from a machine, you forfeit any credits on it (so don't ask someone to watch the machine while you go to the bathroom, unless he's a really good friend; if you come back and find him playing your credits, don't be surprised).

  • If you want to play a game that someone else is playing, ask the person between balls. In many places, it is customary to plunk down a quarter on the glass, on top of the rules sheet (caveat: be careful that your quarter doesn't slide down below the lockdown bar and get eaten); just make sure that you do this between balls. If you do either of these while a person has a ball in play, it could interfere with his concentration, which could make him interfere with your life. :-)

  • If there are people standing around watching you and/or waiting to play your game, don't add any more money yourself before you offer the opportunity to join in. As long as you have credits on the machine, you are entitled to play them out, but when there are zero credits on the machine you should move aside or offer to play doubles. (It's up to you, some people really don't play doubles but for the most part, it makes you look better if you're not a machine hog. And besides, when you are playing well, it's so much more fun to have people watching when you get a good game.)

  • If you are really good at a particular game, you may want to ask if anyone wants to join in before you start any new game, even if you have credits left (with them adding money, of course, unless you're feeling generous today). If they don't join in, then they can't complain that you're taking too long. Sometimes people say that they'll wait till you are finished, in which case you can politely tell them that you plan on racking up replays for a little while longer, so they should join in now. (IMHO, this is great if you're known as the local wizard . . . you get a little respect and admiration, and you get to give pointers to the people you're playing with. Kinda gives you a Tommy complex, but hey . . . )

  • Keep an eye on any small children in the immediate area. A lot of games have ended because of kids deciding that your start button would be a fascinating plaything. If the kids are yours, don't let them run around near pinball machines.

4. Beginner's Tips 5. Shaking and Nudging

Shaking the machine is one of the things that must be practiced in order to get right. The timing will become more apparant as it is practiced more. The art of nudging is not an easy thing to describe in words, but here's an attempt anyway.

  • Machines are usually much more sensitive to side-to-side shaking than to forward-to-back. Shake this way whenever possible. However, there are situations where side-to-side shaking is necessary to save the ball.

  • Forward-to-back shaking is effective for the entire playfield, while side-to-side shaking is really only effective for the lower part of the playfield.

  • Don't be shy about using body english: although, of course, it's much more impressive if you manage to get a high score without ever nudging the machine.

  • One area of the playfield where nudging is absolutely vital is around the slingshots. A ball that is moving horizontally is much more likely to drain, especially on newer machines. Knowing how to nudge the machine, both when the ball first hits the slingshots and when it leaves them, will greatly decrease the number of outlane drains. Generally, if a ball is going to hit the lower half of a slingshot (i.e. closest to the flippers), nudge forward just as the ball makes contact with the slingshot rubber. If a ball is going to hit the upper half of a slingshot, nudge foward just after the ball ricochets, to force it further up the playfield and away from the outlanes.

6. Saving a Center Drain

If the ball is heading for the center drain, all is not lost. Try one of these techniques on for size . . . Sliding the Machine

Some machines will put up with side-to-side sliding without tilting because there is very little jarring of the machine involved. If the ball is heading toward the center drain, slide the machine to move one of the flippers into the path of the ball as it is coming down. The ball basically moves along the same line in space whether you slide or not. This technique takes advantage of this fact to ensure the ball always hits a flipper. If you get really good at this technique, you will hardly ever suffer center drains on machines that easily allow sliding.

Note: Sliding is easier on some machines than others due to total weight, weight distribution, playfield height, the floor surface friction, and of course, tilt sensitivity. Try to get behind your push as much as possible to avoid hurting yourself. 6.1. Without a center post Slap Saving

The object of a slap save is to brush the ball with one flipper just enough to knock it onto the other flipper. From there, it can either be hit back into play, or knocked back onto the first flipper. Basically, if a ball is going to go down the center, choose (quickly) which flipper you think the ball will come closer to. Wait until the ball is a few inches above that flipper, and then wind up and slap both the flipper button and the side of the machine. Hard. If you do this with the right timing, the ball will hit the tip of the upraised flipper. Usually the ball gets hit just enough to be reached by the opposite flipper, so you'll probably want to follow up the first slap with a lighter one on the other flipper button. If you get enough of the ball, you can either catch it or hit it back into play from there. Otherwise, you will have to do a secondary slap save to hit the ball back to the first flipper. This, however, requires that the first flipper be returned to the down position by this time. You'll probably find that on a badly maintained machine, the flippers take their sweet time returning to the down position, making this move impossible. (This is also the case if the player is so thrilled that he actually saved the ball that he forgets to lower the original flipper.) However, if you are lucky enough to be playing on a pin with quick flippers, you can perform this "three-point" slap save. 6.2. With a center post

Center posts are a little more tricky, since you have to decide whether to use the flippers or whether to let the post do the work for you. On a game without a post, you always go for the slap save, but on a game with a post, there's that additional split-second decision that you have to make that makes games with posts a little more challenging (although they look easier).

It takes practice to develop the nerves to just let a ball bounce off of the center post. Generally, the ball will only bounce back into play if it is heading straight down the middle towards the post. Also, the ball needs to be moving fairly fast in order to bounce high enough. Some people prefer to always go for a slap save whenever possible, and to only let the ball bounce if it is heading exactly between the two flippers.

If you do decide to let the ball bounce, don't flip. If you use the flippers and the ball hits the post, most of the time the ball will just hit the underside of a raised flipper and drain. (A group of players in Detroit calls this not flipping "The Chill Maneuver," since you have to use a lot of restraint.) Also, try to nudge the game in such a way so that the ball will hit the post as squarely as possible. This will help to put the ball back in play, as it can counteract any spin that the ball has picked up. 7. Saving an Outlane Drain

Although it may sound obvious, the best way to save a ball from an outlane is not to let it get near one in the first place. The next two tips are based on that little piece of wisdom:

8. Behind-the-Flipper Saves

This section is intentionally not very descriptive, because there are already two separate tip sheets devoted to this subject: Dave Stewart's "Guide to Bang Backs" and Kevin Martin's "The Pictorial Death Save." (which is also available in Postscript format)

You can also refer to Sean Grant's tips for the pinball wizard and to Erik Wesselak's bang back and death save animations. Which to use

Generally, a slow-moving ball is better for a Bang Back, and a fast-moving ball is better for a Death Save.

8.1. The Bang Back

When the ball drains down the side, it rolls along a metal wall while on its way to the ball trough. Hold up the flipper on the same side as the ball, and when the ball is almost below that flipper, give the machine a hard bump forward and either upward or parallel to the playfield. The ball should move parallel to the raised flipper, and come to rest on the lowered one. The trick is not to push the machine a lot, but to accelerate the machine hard and for a very short period of time. If done properly, even a sensitive-Tilt machine won't notice it.

Some people find that this technique works better with crossed hands (i.e. if the ball drains out the right side, use your left hand to hold up the right flipper and bump the machine with your right hand), and others say that it works better with hands in the normal positions. If you decide to try this technique, try both ways and see if one is preferable for you.

Generally, the slower the ball is moving, the easier it is to Bang Back, both because there isn't as much natural motion to contradict, and because it gives the player more time to prepare. 8.2. The Death Save

Usually, this only works from the right side, but see the special "Gottlieb Death Save" below. Look immediately below the flippers on any machine, and there will be a piece of metal facing up and right (immediately above the kicker that returns the ball to the ball storage area near the plunger). As the ball goes down the right outlane, hold up the left flipper. Just as the ball comes to the aforementioned metal plate, or slightly before (you have to get the hang of it for each particular machine), move the machine quickly forward and slightly to the right. Depending on the speed of the ball, the distance between the metal plate and the flippers, and the tilt sensitivity, you may experience a moderate degree of success at getting the ball back in play. The ball should come to rest on the end of the right flipper--quickly drop the left and flip the right. Again, push hard and fast, so as not to disturb the Tilt pendulum.

On Gottlieb machines, there is a small post below the flippers. If the ball drains down the left outlane, it is possible to do a "Gottlieb Death Save" off of this post. Just reverse left and right in the above paragraph, and use the post instead of the metal plate. 9. Multiball Play

On most new games, a significant percentage of the points are awarded during the various multiball modes. This section gives various techniques for playing in multiball. Of course, most of the tips in other sections are still valid. :-)

Note that "Multiball" (or "Multi-Ball") is a Williams/Bally trademark. Data East ran afoul of Williams lawyers, and for a few games (Lethal Weapon 3 through Jurassic Park) called their mutiple-ball play "Tri-Ball." In Last Action Hero, it was called "M-Ball." Then, Data East settled their suit with Williams. Starting with Tales From the Crypt, they use the word "Multiball" (even though it still says "M-Ball" in some of the displays). Gottlieb has always used the word "Multiball" without a problem . . . wonder why?

Although this may seem obvious, try to manage things so that you only have to worry about one ball at a time. Several balls bouncing wildly near the flippers usually means a quick drain for at least one of them. Some solutions are: try to trap one on a flipper (a temporary solution, as Murphy's Law dictates that the other ball(s) will soon arrive at the same flipper), or "park" one ball somewhere on the table where it can occupy itself for several seconds. Bumpers are good for this, as are ramps.

Multiball is the one time when flailing at the balls is an acceptable method of play. Just make sure that it's constructive flailing, not random flailing. :-)

In multiball, it is often impossible to watch a ball through the entire operation of the flipper; try to "zoom out" and look at the entire playfield, not just one ball. Then you can "zoom in" on a particular shot that must be made. Having a good "feel" for the flippers helps a lot here, too. (Twilight Zone> is a great machine for practicing this tip, because it will stop the ball and play the Zone theme ("Do Doo Do Du" . . . you know what I mean) before a Jackpot or Camera shot. Just "zoom out" until you hear that music, and then look up and "zoom in" on the upcoming big point shot.)

Most games with upper-playfield flippers have jackpot shots that are meant to be shot from this flipper. On these games, be aware when a ball is coming to this flipper, and sometimes it's better to ignore the lower balls for a second, even if one of them drains, in exchange for getting a jackpot. Also, look for shots that will feed a ball to the upper flipper (for example, the Hidden Hallway on Funhouse, or Thing on TAF).

If you have one ball on or coming to a flipper while another is about to center drain, just aim and hit the second ball with the first. A bit unpredictable, but it will work. 10. Other Flipper Techniques 10.1. Backhand Shots

10.2. Trapping the Ball 10.3. Flipper Passing

These are techniques designed to move the ball from one flipper to the other. Note that the "Bounce," given above, also applies here.

11. Miscellaneous Techie Stuff

For those of you who like to impress and/or annoy your arcade operators, presenting some behind-the-coinbox info! 11.1. Of Flippers and Men

Info on how the different manufacturers' flippers work, and some probable causes for flipper weakness: - Williams/Bally :: :: On an older machine (pre- Addams Family), when you press the flipper button, the current flows through only a portion of the flipper coil, generating a high magnetic field that forces the flipper up with a lot of power. When the flipper is all the way up, the end of stroke switch opens, and the current now must flow through the entire coil. This creates a lower magnetic field, which holds the flipper up without burning out the coil (the high current would do this very quickly). A newer Williams machine uses two coils, one for high power and the other for low power, and uses the EOSS to switch off the high-power coil. If the EOSS breaks, the flipper will operate on a timing setup similar to the Data East one (see below). Williams calls this setup "FlipTronic II." The general opinion on r.g.p is that Williams/Bally flippers are the best for playing with (that classic "Williams Feel"). \\ - Data East :: :: On a pre-Jurassic Park Data East, there are two current inputs, one at 50 volts DC and the other at 8VDC, and no EOSS. When you press the flipper button, the higher current activates to fire the flipper, and then a timer will switch to the lower current, to hold the flipper up. This setup is called a "Solid State Flipper." A newer Data East appears to use a setup similar to "old" Williams flippers. [Anyone know better?] \\ - Gottlieb :: :: System 80 machines (late 70's to present [?]) use a single coil with an EOSS. There are three inputs to the coil, with a diode across the outside two. The diode is there to help the magnetic field that the coil produces collapse more quickly when the coil is de-energized, thus saving wear and tear and decreasing the flipper reset time. \\ - Alvin G. & Co. :: :: I've never seen one. Anyone got info on them? All I've heard is that their flippers are STRONG . . . they make the ball move incredibly fast, and thus controlling the ball is harder.

So why do they get weak? On most older machines, the cause is dirty or pitted contacts. Andy Oakland's FAQL on maintaining machines has more info on this, but suffice it to say that the sparks generated by electrical contact slowly affect the contact's ability to, well, contact. So, less electricity gets through, and the flipper loses power. Cleaning the contacts with a business card usually solves the problem. Weak flippers on newer machines are usually the result of misalignment in the flipper mechanism itself. This, of course, requires a techie to correct, although contrary to what most operators think, it isn't that hard. :-) 11.2. Time for Some Maintenance

Info on how the various machines will flag the operator if their self-diganostics detect a malfunction. - Williams/Bally :: :: If there is a period after the number of credits (i.e. it says "CREDITS 0." instead of "CREDITS 0"), this means that the game's self-diagnostics have found a problem. Usually, this means that either a pinball is missing or that a switch has not been triggered in about 30 balls, so the game assumes that it's broken. There's no way to find out more specific information except opening the cabinet door and pressing the "ENTER" button. (Note: some earlier Williams machines may light the period after player 1's score, rather than after the number of credits. The meaning is the same.) Williams/Bally machines, by the way, are far and away the best at compensating for broken switches, but this can be a double-edged sword, as it tends to make operators lazier. \\ - Data East :: :: There are two lights below the start button, one green and one red, that indicate problems. A steady red light indicates a switch failure that still leaves the game playable, such as a dead bumper. A blinking red light indicates a serious malfunction, such as a dead solenoid plunger. A steady and blinking green light indicates, respectively, that 1500 and 3000 games have gone by since the operator has reset a counter. This is Data East's method of reminding the operator that it's time to do some maintenance. Doesn't help much, does it? \\ - Gottlieb :: :: Their machines don't seem to show errors to anyone but the operator. However, when something catastrophic happens while playing, the game will usually go dead and display something like "BALL STUCK--CALL SERVICEPERSON" until you Tilt or power cycle the game. \\ - Alvin G. & Co. :: :: Well, not many people know much about them right now . . . including me. Anyone have info they'd like to share? 11.3. ROM Revisions

This section gives info on how to find out what version of a particular game you are playing. - Williams/Bally :: :: If you power cycle (turn it off and back on) or slam tilt the game, it will run through its diagnostic checks on power-up. The first screen that it displays gives the ROM version number. On the right side of the screen is a letter followed by a number. If the letter is a "P", then your machine has Prototype ROM's. If it's an "L", then you have Release ROM's. (It's an L because an R and an A looked too much alike on the older alphanumeric displays.) An "H" indicates a special ROM version, either created for a specific person or arcade, or made after the game went off the production line. With any of these letter codes, the numbers increase sequentially (i.e. P-4 is a later ROM revision than P-3). \\ - Data East :: :: Their machines also show a test screen on power-up. There is a standard mm/dd/yy date on it, so you can get an idea of how old the game is from that. There is also a code that looks something like "A5-01" . . . anyone know what this indicates? \\ - Gottlieb :: :: Well, people have accused them of not providing enough information to the player, and this is another instance of that. There is a "checksum" displayed at power-up, but not much else. Is there a way to find out the ROM revision as a player? \\ - Alvin G. & Co. :: :: Dunno, never seen one. [Help?] 12. A Final Word

OK, you say. So what's their secret? You say you know and practice all the above techniques, so why aren't you a wizard? One word: Consistency. The best players know and apply their techniques on a regular and consistant basis. How many times have you caught yourself saying "Damn, if only I hadn't missed that ramp" or "Too slow, needed to slap save there"? Remember when you had that incredible 1 Billion point game--everything "went right." Well, remember how you played that game, and look at the above listed methods. Sure, the best players get a break every now and again; we all do. But that wasn't why you did well. Didn't you find yourself saying "Wow! did you see that shot--went straight in" or "What a save--barely made it!" The good players do that on a steady and consistant basis. In short--learn the techniques. Practice them. Use them. That is how one moves from "regular" to "wizard" status.

P.S. When I first included this passage, it referred to "that incredible 500 Million point game." Times have changed, haven't they? :-) /pinball/ Back to the Pinball Pasture /pinball/playing/ Back to Playing the Game of Pinball