Osaka Showdown - Osaka, Japan - Silverball Planet - 26/08/2017

I guess I could say that our trip to Japan was a product of VERY long term planning. I've been wanting to go there since late teens, but the very alien culture to us and not really knowing what to do there has always seemed to hold me back. Plus there's always been the next pinball tournament trip to sap my funds so the whole idea has been on the back burner for a long time.

Things were set in motion in 2014 when I met mr. Naruke at IFPA 11, Denver. Back then I hadn't met that many international players and got very curious about the fact that they did play pinball in Japan as well. In 2015 I met Tatsunori again at IFPA 12 in Sweden and this time I just asked him and the people with him about the pinball scene in Japan. Then in early 2017 our trip to California was postponed, so I decided it was time to make this Japan visit thing reality and take part in the Osaka Showdown, which is a monthly tournament in Osaka. This wasn't meant to be a super serious tournament trip, but more of a pinball themed tourist trip.

A memorable coincidence was how we found the arcade, the Silverball Planet completely by accident. We were just wandering around in downtown Osaka and stopped at Starbucks. It was at the ground floor of a mall, so after the coffee we went to check out what was there. The two floors we explored were mostly full of clothes stores so we decided to move on.

Just before stepping on the elevator, I noticed a peculiar escalator that did a 90 degree turn on the way up. Naturally I had to try it and once I was on the third floor the very first thing I saw was Stern's Star Trek in a store window. I went into the store and realized it wasn't a store at all, but the Silverball Planet itself! We spent rest of the evening there checking out the games. They had around 100 pins there, but out of those only 2 that I hadn't played before: Jetsons and Dominos, both Spooky Pinball's latest productions.

The Silverball Planet entrance

Playing for fun on Friday revealed something rather unexpected about the pins. The thing is, they were in excellent shape cleaning-wise, no ball tracks on the playfield, no burned out light bulbs, cabinets in decent shape and so forth, so you'd expect they'd play real nice. But the first issue that really caught my eye was the playfield rubbers. All the games except the really new ones that they had apparently gotten new in box had cracked rubbers everywhere. The worst part was the flipper rubbers that had almost zero bounce and they were really worn at the tip.

Many of the games had all the rubbers in this condition.

Also, many of the games had really weak flippers and many other mechanical issues, mostly related to worn out coil sleeves and other consumable parts. With several games in the lineup (like the Roller games) that have really steep ramps AND being able to make the ramp shots is the only way to progress in the game, I made a note to formulate a backup plan how to approach those games.

I tried talking to the repair guy, but he didn't speak English at all. When I tried to point out an issue in Sega's Twister, he just turned the machine off and gave me back the 100¥ coin I had put in it. Oh well, this might be EPC'14 in Italy all over again...

The trophy was a golden Coke bottle, how American :)

We played the Jetsons and Dominos, but like the previous Spooky's games, they did very little for me. The Jetsons was especially bland game with very simple looking playfield and otherwise boring gameplay. Dominos again was something that I assume looks good in the corporate HQ, where no one plays it but they can say there's a pinball machine with their brand out there.

The tournament itself had single stage and 4 rounds. Players where divided into 4 player groups, 2 players got eliminated in each round, until 4 were left for the final. Round scoring was pretty standard 4-2-1-0. I'm not sure how the 12 game league itself is scored or what the overall winner gets as a trophy.

Round 1

Games: Terminator 2, Creature From the Black Lagoon, The Walking Dead
Tiebreaker: No Fear

We started out with Terminator 2 in a 4 player group. I had played this T2 before here and knew the flippers were going to be a problem. The flipper alignment was somehow odd, the all-important lock shot was extremely hard to make. After making a note of this, I concentrated on the skillshot timings and in the end, bulk of my 9M end score came out of just that. Only one player, Kyoichi, got the multiball going and he won the round with 30M. Sho made some extra points with the ramps and got 16M. Kazuto was left with just couple of skillshots and some random points for 6M. With 1 point this was a rather rocky start.

Still, I really loved how everyone reacted pretty strongly to what was going on in the game. It made playing feel like I was just flipping for fun with friends and not playing a super serious tournament!

Next up was the Creature. I had played this machine yesterday and learned to avoid the right ramp that had a really nasty feedback if the ball didn't sink in perfectly. I skillshotted KISS, then flailed around to get the multiball going. I found the monster, did the save shot but got a center drain from the jackpot shot. The next two balls didn't bring much else to the table, but I got to 82M which luckily was enough for my first 4 point game. Kyoichi got 52M, Sho 58M and Kazuto 24M.

Eyeballing the dead before starting

Last game unless tiebreaking was needed: The Walking Dead. I defaulted to my EPC'16 strategy and just grinded the Well walker. I have absolutely no idea what the others were going for, but before my last ball we all were around 5M or less. The game was damn unforgiving and had very short (if all!) ball saver. On my last ball I got the Well walker multiball running and I went from 5M to 28M, which easily gave me another 4 points. Kyoichi was last with 8M, Sho 3rd with 11M and I was sweating a bit when I saw Kazuto to follow up my lead with the Well walker on his last ball, but he drained at 22M.

Well, at least I wasn't out from the first round. Kyoichi and Sho tied and had to sort it out between themselves. My next group was ready, so I got to continue with round 2.

Round points: 1-4-4

Round 2

Games: Kiss (Stern), Roller Games, The Hobbit 
Tiebreaker: Funhouse

The second round started with Kiss. While the theme does very little for me, the Stern's variant of the game works for me. I really love the fact that this isn't one of those "grind multiball forever for useless jackpots as there's nothing else to it" games; the modes actually score pretty well and I find the shots rather satisfying to make, even the steepest ramp on the right. I started building the Demon multiball right from the start and got a center drain from the left lite lock target. The second ball wasn't any better, but I got the Starchild and Demon multiball both lit. Out of my competitors Yoshio didn't get much done and ended the game with 6M. I cashed in both multiballs for 62M but Yasumasa got his game face on and for the first time in my life I got to see the game's ending. He ended with around 350M for 4 points, where I had to settle for 2. Oh, and for some reason we didn't have the 4th player at all, apparently someone had wandered off and gotten disqualified or something?

Next up: Roller games. Now, I had played this earlier and realized it was going to be a real shitshow as a tournament game. As the ramp shot with the upper right flipper was really important, I risked it several times by looping the ball, then trying the ramp and hope for the best. And what do you know, the risk was enough this time, as even when I didn't play the multiball, my sad 3.6M score beat Yasumasa's 1.6M and Yoshio's 500k. 4 points. Roller games? More like Loller games!

Many of the new Sterns and Jersey Jacks were there as well.

I had high hopes for the Hobbit, but for a such a new game it had really mushy feeling flippers. After the first ball I realized this might end up to be a game of skill shotting, so I selected the LOCK shot for skill and gunned that. I got nothing done and while I was 2nd for a while, last ball left me with 37k and last. I did some quick calculations:

Since Yoshio had two 1 point games, it wouldn't matter any more even if he'd win this game. Yasumasa however got his act together on the last ball, played the multiball and won the game with 111k, Yoshio was 2nd with 64k. This round was what I had feared of since playing the first time: we might have to resort to skill shot points and really low hanging fruit to survive when more advanced features were limited by minor malfunctions or weak flippers. Anyway, Yasumasa and I went to round 3.

Rount points: 2-4-1

Round 3

Games: The Rolling Stones (Bally), The Hobbit
Tiebreaker: Terminator 2

I'm not perfectly sure why the amount of games got smaller and smaller as the game progressed; time limit, arcade's opening hours?

We started with the Rolling stones, but not without some minor drama: The play order was supposed to be Tatsunori-me-Kazuma, but for some reason Kazuma played my first ball. The country director was present and judged that I was moved from 2nd to 3rd player and we proceeded. I got a pretty good 1st ball going on. I racked up a nice bonus, then hit the bonus collect. I had over 100k after first ball, while the others got just one switch hit balls. Kazuma woke up on his 3rd ball and got up to 100k, but as I ended by 2nd ball at 150k, I didn't even have to play my last ball. Tatsunori again got really shit luck and was left with 16k.

Now, this is what really made me like Japan: even when the players got really raw deal at times, no one took their frustration out on the machines or kicked stuff over. Even when the day was nearing its end, it was nothing but pure gentleman play, with everyone having really good time. I really loved that in contrast to playing elsewhere.

Next up was the Hobbit again. I was so hoping I'd get to pop up the playfield and do a full flipper rebuild on this puppy! It just felt sad to have game this new play like this. Anyway, Tatsunori totally owned the round ending with 550k+ score. Me and Kazuma fought it out mostly at skillshot level, I got luckier. Pointwise I only needed Kazuma to be 2nd or worse to win the round and with him ending at 30k to my 32k, I won the round with 6 points, Tatsunori was 2nd with 5 points.

I assumed we were somewhere around quarter finals at this point, but what do you know, this was the semis. So, it'd appear my trip to Japan was rewarded with a place in the finals!

Round points: 4-2


Games: Ghostbusters, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Kiss (Stern), The Rolling Stones (Bally)

The endgame was between yours truly, Yasumasa, Kyoichi and Tatsunori on 4 games.

We started off with Ghostbusters. Yasumasa put some good moves right from the start, where Kyoichi and I got to start with house balls. Nothing that spectacular happened with the second balls either, although Yasumasa got a nice lead and Tatsunori crossed 100M. Yasumasa ended his last ball at 129M and Kyoichi at 6.2M. I was bit behind him at around 4M so I needed to do some flailing not to be the last on this one. A lucky plunge let me take a stab at getting the jackpot from the left ramp and it sinked in. I then kept the ball rolling long enough to walk away with 7.9M. Meanwhile Tatsunori put on his game face and pounded a modest 954M on the game. I don't think I've ever actually seen this game being played that far, as I don't have access to it at home. So, one point.

Next the Creature. I had to go with the previous strategy of multiball. It worked okay, in all pretty decent game for this one, Kyoichi took the game with 176M, I was second with 55M, Tatsunori got 35M and Yasumasa 30M.

A quick calculation later getting to the podium was still a very doable feat, as we all were within 2-5 points range with 2 games still to be played.

I had played this Stern Kiss several games now and it played pretty nicely. Yet when I most needed the second place at minimum, Gene's wrath was on me (for listening to Metallica, no doubt about it!) and every single feedback from the ball lock hit the flipper tips enough for the ball to slow down just enough for the ball saver to expire before center drain. Talk about a lesson in futility. I gave up on that and went for the Starchild instead, but all I got was bit over 7M. Tatsunori pulled another monster game with 310M, Kyoichi 26M and Yasumasa 43M. 0 points and all of a sudden instead of going for the golden trophy, I was fighting not to be the last.

I had relatively high hopes for the last game, Bally's The Rolling Stones. The first ball was pretty weak for everyone and all of us in the final got to let out our own version of frustrated laughter. Then Kyoichi as player one started to draw a noticeable lead to others, while I got another house ball. Kyoichi's rage didn't end there, on his last ball he rolled the game over ending with bit over 1M points. Wow! Yasumasa ended with 190k and Tatsunori at 138k. I was at around 10k when my last ball started.

Drops and upper saucer all day, every day is probably the best approach here, I started the grind but a very unfortunate feedback from the drop targets gave me a center drain. I didn't even bother to look up when I was  playing, my only goal was Yasumasa's 190k. But no dice, 47k and no place on the podium today.

The outcome

I was 4th in the tournament. Official results.

Tatsunori got another Coke-bottle for his collection. Kyoichi on the left and Yasumasa on right.

Of Japan and Osaka

I've been reading up a lot about Japan in the past few years. I've also talked to a lot of people who've been there. Many of my American friends have told me about the huge culture shock, the locals basically running away when they went to greet them in open arms and so forth. I think the only real hurdle here was the language, but with Google Translate's point-and-translate I managed to decode anything from signs to items in stores. Speaking English was a bit hit'n'miss, almost always the message got through, but it was only the pinball folk with whom we had longer conversations.

There's this kind of tragicomic understanding between Finnish and Japanese people. First of all, both seem to favor being quiet to just saying something. Both nationalities are way too self-critical about their level of English, to the point of absurdity. And naturally, both nationalities open up nicely with some alcohol! The people I played with were all serious about pinball, but at the same time played for fun. This manifested as people cheering for others, even when they themselves were out of the game. I wish we had more of that in Finland.

I have no idea what's happening on the screen, but at least I've played some Pachinko...

Some people might remember that I have a Pachinko machine of my own at home. I wanted to try playing at an arcade and see what the more modern games looked like. That turned out to be a rather interesting experience. The minute I sat down, an attendant appeared and started explaining the game to me. I told him I'm familiar with the game itself, I was just checking what buttons this particular game had. He then went on to get me a game guide (in English, surprisingly!) and proceeded to point out the basics from there and kept hovering around, interrupting me every time I stopped for a second. Okay, then. By the way, I actually won about 3000 yen (~ 24€) but as I didn't bother to cash out the little balls, I just gambled them away.

Being from an arctic country, the +34c and high humidity was probably the worst part when we stepped off the nicely air conditioned A350 at Kansai International. Osaka itself was surprisingly clean place, taking account the fact that public trashcans were extremely rare. As this was a holiday trip, we also wandered around and checked out all kinds of tourist attractions, including the Osaka castle, animal themed cafeterias (I got to hold a real owl and play with kittens!), crazy big Japanese arcades and cruising the river Yodo. I need to come back some day and check out the place in Tokyo I heard about.

Until the next time!

Hello there, buddy!