How do you play this bloody game? Well, hopefully the following info will help you out a bit.
Strategy Novice Skills Intermediate Skills
Advanced Skills Wizard Skills Multiball Skills
Mental Skills General Considerations
First and foremost, the development of a strategy is important, and has become increasingly important as the machines have grown more and more complex. Current pins generally feature deeper rule sets and many secret awards, allowing for more and more choices and options, and therefore more to know and more decisions to be made. The machines also now allow a player to play according to his/her own strengths; when the scoring is balanced. For example, Judge Dredd allows you to choose each mode, so if you are a multiball master you should start with Blackout, or if you can nail the captive balls you should go with Melt Down
The formulation and successful implementation of a strong strategy gives a player a large advantage over someone who just shoots for whatever is lit. The strategy should be very clear in a serious players mind, yet malleable to change depending upon the given characteristics of a particular machine. For example, if you are playing in a tournament and find that the Twilight Zone that you are playing is sending the balls out of the slot machine at 100 mph instead of dribbling out like at your local arcade, you may wish to reconsider holding out your right flipper for a trap. Or if you find that the mode start on the Indiana Jones you are playing is sucking up all balls which near it like a black hole, you may wish to attemp backhands with the left flipper after trapping. In short, as important it is to make a strong strategy of the given pin you must be able to adapt to the particular machine you are playing on.
Double Flipper Hit
This is not really a skill. This is a definite sign of inexperience. If you have a natural tendency towards hitting both flippers at once, try to break it. Yet if you are just getting used to pinball, make sure you can hit the ball with two flippers before going to one.
Single Flipper Hit
Advantageous because it allows for further skills to be employed. Single flipper hits allow the possibility of Slap Saves, and improve timing and aiming, which thus improves control and power.
Aiming is usually the first skill which provides a challenge to new players. The basic concept is that you want to wait until the ball is on a certain part of the flipper before flipping thus sending the ball toward the target you are aiming for. If you have the ball coming down the left inlane, and you want to hit a target on the far right, hit the ball when the ball is above the tip rather than when it just reaches the base.
The Slap Save is the most basic ball saving technique. When the ball is nearing the center drain, and when it is coming in on a slight angle, if you hit the flipper that the ball will reach first and then the other, you may be successful in tipping the ball just enough with the first flipper so as to set it up for a more full shot with the second. The flippers should be hit in very quick succession, but not at the same time. If you become good at this, center drains will be greatly reduced. However, it is impossible to save a ball heading straight for the center, unless you couple the Slap Save with a nudge.
The most basic form of Nudging is the Up Push. The basic purpose of the Up Push is to negate the effect of the slingshots. The Up Push is generally safe to use, with warnings and tilts only coming if you do it much harder than necessary. By pushing up on the machine with both hands when the ball makes contact with the slingshot, you dampen the side-to-side movement of the ball (x-component), by adding a little vertical force (y-component). The positive result of the Up Push will be either the ball making it down to the flippers in a sidewinder fashion (if the slingshots are weak and you push each time) or at least slowing the ball down as it heads for the side lanes so that you can make the ball choose the inlanes instead of the outlanes. Most of the time you will have to Up Push more than once, for each time the ball hits a slingshot. It is helpful if you use the heels of your hand to push on the cabinet bar in front of you for the Up Push, but make sure to keep your hands close to the flipper buttons at all times.
Trapping is the most basic set-up skill, and the Hold Trap is the most basic form of trap. A trap is when you are able to cradle the ball in an upraised flipper such that it is not moving. The purpose of a trap is that you are able to pause and catch your breath if necessary, and attempt a shot with the flipper holding the trap from a set, zero velocity position. It is a lot easier to aim for a shot when the ball rolls slowly down the flipper than when it rockets through the inlane. A Hold Trap is simply trapping the ball by holding up the desired trap flipper until the ball is cradled peacefully at rest. Sounds nice, doesn't it? Unfortunately, the Hold Trap cannot be used very often as most balls will just bounce off your upraised flipper into the slingshot, causing havoc. The Hold Trap is only good for balls moving very slowly and near the base of the flipper. Otherwise, don't do it because you will be setting yourself up for a drain. Make sure you learn the proper moments of when to Hold Trap before attempting more complex skills, you will need the Hold Trap even if you are the best player on the planet, and it is an important building block!
This differs from the Hold Trap in that you do not hold the flipper up for as long before the ball makes contact with the flipper. Often you will find that when you attempt a trap the ball will roll up the inlanes and then back. This used to be an advantage on older machines where you would get two advance bonuses (back and forth), but now, on games such as Star Trek: The Next Generation, the ball will roll up the inlane and then out the outlane. This used to happen in older machines as well, but not as much, due to the outlane design. If the ball is coming at the flipper quickly, do not attempt to trap if you think that the ball may have enough velocity to go completely through the inlane.
Most ramps and some targets are intended to be hit by a specific flipper. It is possible however, at times to use the unintended flipper to score the same shot. A backhand is when this is attempted, and it executed by hitting the flipper earlier than usual. Backhands can be dangerous because they are less accurate, and usually have less power. Backhands are usually good for situations when you are running out of time on a specific target and you want to make a last desperate attempt, although backhands can become a commonly used shot depending on the experience of the player and the location of the target. The closer the target is to the center, the more likely a backhand will be successful.
No, this isn't a basketball pass which is supposed to bounce 1/3 of the distance from your teammate, this is a method of choosing which flipper you want to hit the ball! The concept is to allow the ball to simply bounce off of the undesired flipper to the desired one when the ball is rolling toward the center of the undesired flipper at a moderate rate. You must be wary of two things when performing this play on the ball:
1. Note the speed of the ball. If the ball is coming down fast, do not perform a bounce pass, as the ball may bounce off the desired flipper and then hit the bottom of the slingshot resulting in a drain. Also, the ball may bounce across the desired flipper, and head up the inlane, and then out the outlane.
2. If the ball hits the undesired flipper too close the base, it will head very quickly right along the surface of the undesired flipper and then down the center drain. If the ball hits too much off the tip, it may just carom SDTM.
The Chill Manuever
A phrase coined by Dave Hollinsworth, the Chill Manuever is a test of nerve and restraint. If a pin is between the flippers (something seen rarely on all machines but Premier ones) the ball may be saved from a drain when it heads SDTM by simply allowing the ball to hit the pin and then come back up. The catch is that you must try not to flip, because then the ball does not have to travel as far or as straight in order to come back up through the flippers. In order to perform the Chill Manuever correctly you must be able to accurately analyze quickly whether the ball is going straight enough between the flippers because if it comes in on an angle, or does not hit the pin with the center of the ball, it may hit the pin but not ricochet back up, it may simply hit the pin on the way down.
The Hold Pass is useful for passing the ball from one flipper to the other, when the ball is headed down the undesired flipper's inlane. If the ball is heading down the inlane at a moderately quick speed, simply hold up the undesired flipper and allow the ball to skip over to the desired one.
Redirection is difficult and often dangerous, but most people who play pinball do it anyway. It is the act of hitting the ball straight away (without trying to use a control technique) while aiming at a particular target, making a quick estimate of the correct way to hit the ball with respect to the angle and speed that its currently heading towards the flipper.
For example (because I know that the description is long winded), you miss a shot and the ball comes screaming back to your flipper after hitting a post. If you are an experienced player, you will not only think about hitting the ball again to prevent a drain, but you will have a desired target for this shot (usually you will think defensively and simply aim for an open space, because you know the ball will keep moving fast after you hit it.) Redirection is the act of consciously attempting to aim the ball towards a desired target when hitting it without using a control technique. I most often do this as a reflex action in the situation described before, otherwise I would rather use another skill. If you can redirect a shot, and hit a key target, it will definately improve your confidence. Try, however, to use this only in a desperate situation.
Repeating the Angle
A more specific form of Redirection, Repeating the Angle is an attempt to add more speed the ball with the flipper, in the same direction as it heads toward the flipper. For example, a previous shot did not have enough power to clear the left ramp in Twilight Zone. It curls back down towards the flipper. You really want to raise the multiplier and the arrow is flashing very quickly, indicating that it is timing out, so you try to send the ball back exactly the way it is coming, only faster. For some reason, (and I won't try to use physics mumbo-jumbo, because I don't want to mislead) Repeating the Angle is usually successful. Once you get the hang of it, you can usually send the ball back up the playfield along the exact same path that it came down.
Duration of Contact
I anticipate that this will be hard to explain as I am unable to describe the underlying physics, but I will give an example to illustrate this skill/concept. I find that when the ball heads down the inlane at a quick speed a shot at the bear kick ramp in TAF can be difficult, especially when the ball heads away from the flipper when it hits the base of the flipper. Not all inlanes are completely smooth, if the ball rolls slightly upwards, you may have to change your shot. There are two things that you can do:
1. You can hit the flipper very quickly (just tap it and let go) when the ball is above the tip. It will head up the ramp using the speed it had when zooming down the inlane.
2. You can hit the flipper when the ball is more toward the center and hold it in longer, and you will have it roll off the tip as it heads up and it will head toward the ramp entrance with enough speed to clear it.
I do not fully understand the physics behind why these two methods work, basically the main goal is to mention that the Duration of Contact between the flipper surface and the ball surface can be used to the players advantage in aiming for a shot under certain situation such as a fast ball heading down the inlane. Try to get a sense of the effect that holding the flipper in longer rather than simply tapping it as the ball approaches has on the direction of the ball. Understanding this will be just another advantage for you.
This is a situation that must be recognized and dealt with using Duration of Contact and other skills in order to handle it properly. Coming off is when the ball goes across a flipper like it normally would, but it also heads away from the flipper. (as I mentioned in my Duration of Contact example). Another example is the right ramp diverter in Twilight Zone. The diverter should always release the ball such that it rolls along the surface of the left spiral wall, right along the flipper, and then you knock in the Player Piano for a 130 M Jackpot, right? Not always. Sometimes it "comes off" the wall, heading away from the flipper, in which you should hit the flipper earlier and quicker, so that you can still make the shot. When the ball is not exactly on the surface of the flipper, you should probably hit the flipper earlier and quicker than you normally would (normal being when the ball rolls along the surface of the flipper) in order to get the same results.
Shaking and Nudging are two methods of controlling the ball which are very important as far as giving a player an extra edge. Understanding these concepts will enable to get better scores on a tournament machine and unreal scores on a game with little tilt.
The basic concept is that if you want to move the machine to move the ball, you must move the machine in the opposite direction as you want to ball to move. The ball is relatively frictionless, therefore you must move the machine. The only times that you move the machine in the same direction as you want the ball to go, is when the ball is stuck against something, or when you want to send the ball through the Narrow Escape gate in Indiana Jones. To get a Narrow Escape you want to hit the ball with the pin on the right side of the outlane, in order to knock the ball through the gate, or have it bounce off the pin through the gate.
In order to make the ball choose the inlane over the inlane you want to move the machine toward the outlane so that the pin between the inlane and outlane moves toward the outlane and the ball hits the pin on the inlane side and heads down the inlane. This is nudging, and should be performed as quickly and lightly as possible so to avoid warnings and tilt. You can also nudge the machine in the opposite direction of the direction angle in which a ball is heading down the middle. You do not want to work against the speed and the angle, rather if the ball is heading diagonally left, down the playfield toward the center drain, nudge the cabinet right so that the ball will go more left and you will be able to perform a slap save, hitting the left flipper and then the right in rapid-fire succession.
Shaking is when a player continuously pushes the cabinet up and down when the ball is in the bumpers in order to make the ball hit the bumpers more often. Shaking is something that should probably not be performed during a tournament unless Super Jets are active because you don't want to have warnings just for more bumpers hits, you want to save them for saving the ball from the outlanes or the center.
Upper Flipper set-up
You can set up an upper flipper shot for say, the Double Jackpot ramp in Demolition Man or Tommy by holding out the flipper when the ball heads toward it, and is rolling downward toward the tip when you hold it out. The ball should carom up around the surface of the flipper, back along the wall above the flipper and then straight down for a better shot then if you just hit the flipper without setting the shot up.
A controversial skill. There are some who believe that the Death Save should be illegal, as if it is performed with the supplement of a kick on the right leg of the machine, it may potentially damage the machine. It has however been recognized and rewarded by Data East, who have a graphic and a point award for successful Death Saves on their machines since Rocky and Bullwinkle.
If the ball has gone through the right outlane (right side only), then the ball may be retrieved if the player nudges the machine firmly and as quickly as possible to avoid a tilt and holds up the left flipper. The nudge will cause the ball to come off the wall leading the ball to the center drain and hit the upraised left flipper, bouncing it over to the right flipper. Then just hit the ball (if you haven't tilted) and then you've performed a death save. The right leg kick can be added to add more force to the nudge, but please be careful toward the machines, and watch that Lyle isn't watching you because you might get thrown out.
The Bangback is a sharp upward thrust on the cabinet or coin box (don't hurt yourself) where you knock the ball off the outlane wall as it heads towards the center drain and it goes through the flippers (keep the flipper up of the side which corresponds to the outlane where the ball went through) and over to the other flipper.
This is my specialty, and has raised my level of play dramatically since I perfected it. If the ball is headed toward the center of the flipper when raised, if you drop the flipper as soon as the ball touches the flipper, it will die right on the flipper! In other words it will just stop completely, and you can either attempt a trap if the ball is closer towards the base, or you can let it start to roll and then simply shoot for a target. The Drop Stop is particularly useful in Demolition Man since the ramps are tall and usually send the ball back very quickly if the ball does not clear the ramp, and Star Trek: The Next Generation because you don't want to attempt a hold trap and have the ball roll up the inlanes and then out the dastardly outlanes. The Drop Stop is a great method to contain and control the ball when it moves toward the center of a flipper at a high speed. You must set it up by raising the flipper early, and then dropping it as soon as the ball makes contact.
Note: Most machines will give you the ball back if you score no points at all on the ball, use this to your advantage, especially on Skill Shots.
The Flip Trap is the opposite of the Drop Stop, as what you do is hit the ball just as it reaches where the flipper is extended when it is flipped. If you hit the flipper such that it meets the ball at the exact time as it stops extending so that it does not push the ball because it is not in motion, the slight motion (you're a bit early) will cause the ball to simply stop and then be trapped, if you continue to hold the flipper up. Basically, you are just hitting the ball soft enough such that it stops going down but doesn't go up anymore, by hitting it very early.
Falling Hold Pass
If the ball is going very quickly through an inlane and you attempt a hold pass, it will fly up and hit the opposite side slingshot and you will thus lose all control. However, if you drop the flipper as the ball is about halfway across the held "bridge" flipper, the ball will stop heading up and will just continue heading across to the opposite "target" flipper, and may then roll partially up the inlane, but will most likely not have the speed to make it all the way through. This is another skill I devised myself while playing Indiana Jones and wanting an easier way to pass the ball to the left flipper for the Jackpot shot after it flew down the Idol ramp.
Another skill that you can perform on a ball which is heading quickly through the inlane is Inlane Friction. By nudging the ball either left or right while the ball runs down the inlane, you can slow it down, because the ball will bang back and forth between the sides of the inlane.
Send balls around long time consuming ramps such as the left ramp in CFTBL or into jet bumpers, so that the ball is out of the way for the time being and you can pay attention to the others.
Most multiballs now start with a ball saver, take advantage of that by just keeping one or two in play and collecting unobstructed jackpots while the trough and the auto kicker send the balls back into the playfield.
Trap and Play
Trap a ball with the flipper which is not required for the next Jackpot and attempt to score the Jackpot while holding the trap. This is good way of getting unobstructed (by other balls in the Multiball) shots at the Jackpot.
Another advantage of the trap and play is the ability to perform a Billiard Block. If you see that the free ball is heading SDTM, use the trapped ball to knock it out of the way, preferably hitting it on either side, so that neither one of the balls go down the middle.
Escaping a Multitrap
If you have two or more balls trapped on the same flipper, and you need to only free one. You should attempt to escape the Multitrap by hitting the trapping flipper very quickly. This will hopefully cause the outermost ball (the one closest to the tip of the flipper) to do a little slingshot pass while the other balls remain trapped.
Don't let the machine rattle you, especially when it does little tricks like not award you points for a target hit. Be prepared for anything because the games are never perfect! Stay focused and try to respond to the adversity and extra challenges that the machines deal out.
If you are playing against somebody, don't let them make you lose their confidence if they're having a good game. If you are on your last ball and you need 150 Million for the win, remind yourself that you've done it before and give it your best shot to do it again! Never let quick drains or machine malfunctions get the best of you. If you need to, take a short break between games and clear your head.
Try to learn as much as you possibly can about the rules of a given machine. Know which shots are lit at a given time and have a set strategy towards setting up your shots and scoring them.
Some of the fancy flipper work described in the Advanced and Wizard Skill section require a lot of concentration and calmness to perfrom correctly. If you start to get nervous, you may nudge or redirect more than you need to. You may do a Defensive Push when you could have had a Trap. Take your time and focus on the game, stay confident, calm and concentrated.
Try to enable yourself to see all of the playfield, don't lean over too much or you won't know exactly what's going on during Multiball. Try not to move out around such that you are concentrating more on yourself moving around and less on what you should be thinking about, the ball!
Try to keep the ball as slow and controlled as possible. For example, don't hit a shot in the middle of the playfield too hard because it will probably drain. The slower the ball moves the more time you have to think about your next move.
If you want to send a trapped ball across to the other flipper, quickly hit the trapping flipper so that the ball hits the bottom of the slingshot and then goes across to the other flipper via a hold pass.
If one of your plays such as a Hold Pass isn't going to be successful and will result in a drain, you must perform a Defensive Push. Hit the ball any way possible, don't be stuck on trying to perform a play such that you'll drain because of it! Quickly analyze the danger and push the ball away to avoid a drain. Also perform a Defensive Push on a ball that you can't do anything with, because of speed or angle. A good Defensive Push will hit the ball such that another skill such as a Drop Stop can be performed right after.