Hopeakuula Open 2013 - Hopeakuula association arcade, Kouvola

There's hosting an existing tournament format, and then there's putting together your very own tournament from the scratch. We've hosted two Finnish pinball league events at our arcade this year, and on those occasions I've been working behind the scenes, making sure the infrastructure holds while the league president, Olli-Mikko, calls the shots. After 4 years of our pinball league, the players also know how things work and seek out to Olli-Mikko only when there's a problem or question about rules. Thing however are very different when the format is new and you're behind the wheel! Naturally because this is a WPPR ranked tournament, it's even more important that things work out.

Hopeakuula Open 2013 was the very first event where I was manning both, Kirk's and Scotty's chairs. Back in 2012 Hopeakuula association had 3 guys behind it, and while Teemu and Lassi ran the show, I was perfectly happy to do my magic behind the scenes keeping the pins running. On a more positive note, unlike last year, this time we had virtually no outstanding disasters on the pins to fix, my original qualification lineup of Williams Contact, Bally Viking, Gottlieb Gladiators and Sega Apollo 13 was in great shape, except for Contact burning a coil because of a failed transistor in our Wednesday game night, but that's just routine maintenance.

I thought about the qualification lineup for quite a while. We've spend most of the years going from event to another to play the very same Williams-Bally WPC and Stern WhiteStar/SAM machines. I find that too many people completely dismiss Gottlieb's System 3 platform, that has many fun games. I wanted a 1:1 split on classic and DMD-era pins, so I chose one pin from each manufacturer; the Williams and Bally machines were from pre Williams-Bally merger, so they have very different feel about them. Ditto with Gottlieb's System 3 and Sega's WhiteStar. I left WPC-machines for the playoffs. I really hope atleast some players appreciated the experience with these less known games and use that when playing abroad. Note that these weren't some mystery machines I had hauled in just before the tournament; most of these games have been at our open to public arcade for over a year so there's been enough time to practise on them - a fact which some players took advantage of and visited our open game nights before the tournament. For those who weren't our regulars, I wrote a cheat-sheet with some pointers on what to go for in each game and put that on the wall next to the game list.

And if my "do it all yourself" mentality hadn't gone far enough, I opted to create a scoreboard system of my very own as well. Hopeakuula Association is mostly funded by random private events, like corporate happenings, bachelor parties and so on. In most cases the guests want a simple tournament; usually a qualification run with 2 or 3 machines, and the best 4 play a single finals game. We've used OpenOffice's Calc to do the scoring, but I've been thinking about a SQL-based web-GUI program for some time now. I really had all the year to actually implement it, but like with all things, the last moment's panic is the mother of innovation.

I originally thought about using SQlite, but as I already had a web server with PostgreSQL, I went with that. The whole client-server model gives me a great flexibility on implementing the score keeping clients. The first version is fully web-GUI based; the scorekeepers' and the players' views are both on the web. But there's nothing preventing me from writing an Android app for feeding the data if the web-GUI feels too sluggish. It was tested on an iPhone 5S, iPad mini, Android 4.1 tablet and Samsung Galaxy, and it was perfectly usable on those devices. We had our very first test run of the system at the last open game night before Hopeakuula Open. The players' view was still a rather unpolished, but the system worked as expected. Here's what the very first version looked like:

http://hopeakuula.org/results/elohopea-testiajo.html

Oh, because I have a fixation on silvery things, the system was named Elohopea ("Quicksilver"). The system was naturally designed to be fully paperless, but just like the oxymoron of a paperless office, we opted to make the players write down their scores on paper sheets, so we could fall back to OpenOffice should things go south.

And because you can't man the Enterprise with just Kirk and Scotty, I recruited Klasu as our Mr. Spock, the score-keeper/backup repair guy science officer. Pilvi took care of the cafeteria and had prepared us a full Christmas dinner set with a big ham!

The game format was just like last year: the players have two entries on pre-selected qualifying machines, with an additional one extra entry on one of the games. The players are then ranked by their score and ranking points are awarded; the formula is:
(number of players+1)-position

Add together ranking points from all the qualifying games and you got your total score, by which players are ranked by in the whole event. Best 4 players in the qualifications go directly to the playoff round 2, while the next 8 start from the round 1.

The playoffs rounds were played as three 4 player games. The winner gets 3 points, the second 2 and so on. The two players with most points proceed to the next round. This goes on until there's only 4 players left. They play a semifinal game, which decides which to go to the gold and bronze games. The finals are two player games, best 2 out of 3.

Qualifications

I started out with our little Gottlieb gem, Gladiators. I did a very steady run and managed to cash out all the modes nicely. The only fault in the game was that I drained my 3rd ball from a badly aimed ball when I was going for the "start mode"-hole to start the last normal mode, "Calm before the storm". This game has so many nice ideas, like the fact that you can play all the modes in either timed or multiball mode. The modes default to 15 second timer, but if you hit the "1-2-multiball"-target three times, the next mode will be played as multiball. This gives the gameplay a great variance and some very interesting strategic opporturnities, like cashing out the "The cannon" mode with multiball. My score of 443M was second best in the end and I never played my second attempt at this game.

Next up was Apollo 13. When in tournament mode, Apollo always starts with "life support" mode, which is one of the worthless ones. It however has one nice perk to it; every time you hit the required targets, the post between the flippers comes up for 5 seconds. I used the ball saver time and this to collect the free B-L-A-S-T-O-F-F letter. The next mode after "life support" is "manual burn", which is one of the better scoring modes. It's an easy 300M if you do it right. I managed to drain the ball and started "manual burn" from the skillshot, collecting another blastoff letter in the process. An unfortunate bounce caused a drain, and I started my 3rd ball with one lock to the multiball and one blastoff letter missing. I collected the letter, enabling the 13 ball multiball, but drained before locking the ball. The 556M score wasn't anywhere near what I wanted, so I played another entry right after the first one.

I did the second one just like the first, except I managed to cash out "manual burn" even better. In "manual burn" you need to correct the space ship's trajectory by hitting lit orbits for 1, 2 and 3 degrees correction. The ship is 7 degrees off at the mode start, and if you go over, the game lites the other side for correcting shots. The mode has a 30 second timer, and you start at 20M per correction, which goes up 10M at a time. If you have the time, bounce the ship from side to side until you have only couple of seconds left, and then do the final, correct shot. I made around 350M this way on my second attempt. I hit another unlucky streak, but this time I started my 3rd ball with blastoff already lit and one lock to go. First try at the rocket lock gave a nasty bounce from a nearby rubber post, but the second sinked right in. 13 balls. I cashed out several 13 ball jackpots, ending up with 1.3B score, which was the best in the qualification.

Now that the DMD-era games were dealt with, I went for the classics. First up was Williams Contact, my very first Williams System 3 game. I've really grown to love Contact during the very brief period I've owned it. Double flipper games used to be an endless source of frustration for me and only with Contact I've finally mastered the ever important "don't flip unless you really have to"-mentality in those games. Contact has a very unique idea of being able to build each ball's bonus on other balls. It has white, yellow and green bonus, all of which you can build during any ball. There's a series of lights just above the flippers that tell you which bonus will be awarded at the end of current ball. You can also collect any of the bonuses during the ball. White is collected from the drop targets, yellow from the moving center target when the light is at "Collect yellow bonus", and the green from the scoop at upper right playfield. My first score of 207k wasn't exactly stellar, but good enough for now. It took me easily to the top-3.

Next up was Viking. It feels so weird to play a normal sized machine after the gigantic Williams wide bodies! Just before my turn I witnessed TTV to pull a monster game on it. The current high score is a bit over 2M, and TTV got 1.5M. That's amazing, especially in a tournament. My own game of 403k felt a bit underwhelming after that, but at that point it was the 2nd best.

I still had one game left in Contact, Viking and Gladiators and my extra game, but I opted to wait and see how I'd fare in the game. My aim was to be in top-4 so I'd go directly to 2nd round. After my game in Viking was entered into the system, I was #1 in the qualifications.

I spent the next couple of hours taking care of minor problems in the games and entering the scores. The funny thing was that I was more terried if one of the tournament games developed a serious problem or if the scoring system failed somehow. Elohopea ran with all debugging options enabled and I watched the database tables like a hawk as hundreds of rows were input. 

First game to give out was Viking. Fortunately it was just a minor fault with one of the inline bonus drop targets not staying up. Good thing the player, OMO, had just plunged his first ball, so nothing was lost. The little intendations that hold the drop target up were a bit worn, causing one of the drop targets top fall on its own. I hacked it by loosening the whole drop target bank and pulling it less than millimeter forward. The pressure kept the drop targets operating and no one else saw the problem after that. I added a set of Viking's special drop targets on my spare parts shopping list.

At the same time Gladiators gave out. The lower left flipper suddenly lost power. Klasu went to investigate the problem and it appeared to be a loose wire on the power flip side of the flipper coil. Naturally this happened when two qualifying players had rather good games and they were on their 2nd ball. This is the part where I don't envy OMO's league president status at all - judging these difficult cases where the players will probably protest whatever you decide. I was really lost on how to judge this, as the players naturally didn't want to restart the game that was two thirds played. The Gladiators however has one very interesting rule: it has no normal ball bonus! So you can play 2 balls, restart a game and play just one ball. Add the scores together, that's what you'd get if you'd had played the 3rd ball. You'll lose nothing, as long as you drain the ball on which you played "the cataclysm", because the mode scoring is awarded after the ball.

The clock was nearing 16:00, which was the deadline for the qualification. We started 30 minutes late from the original planned 10:00, so we extended the deadline to 16:30. Majority of the players who hadn't played all their entries missed only Gladiators, which was back in business again. After entering OMO's scores I noticed he was the first player to drop me from my #1 position qualification. I was the leader in Apollo 13, #2 on Gladiators, #4 in Viking and #5 in Contact, resulting in 86 points compared to OMO's 88. I could have left it at that, as majority of the players had their scores already in the system and I was most likely to be in the top-4, but I decided to play my remaining entries for just fun!

I started out with Contact, trying to improve my 207k score. My first attempt gave me 250k, which gave me one extra point at that time. I played my extra game also on Contact, but only got 236k. I then turned to Viking, on which I got 572k, going up from my previous 403k and getting another point. I still have one game left on Gladiators, but I decided not to play it as I was already 2nd on it and the others were queuing for it.

Finally the qualification time was up and my worst fears - Elohopea or one of the tournament games failing was put to rest. Elohopea performed great even when most of the development was done mostly during the previous night before the tournament! Contact's burned coil from last Wednesday left the ominous smell of burned electronics in the air, which caused my heart miss couple of beats every time I walked past it. Apparently you just can't expect a transistor to perform over 30 years without failures. Oh the junk they make these days!

There were 3 tiebreaks; for the places 1 and 2 between me and OMO, for 3 and 4 between MQY and JHQ and for the last playoff position between IDO and MAR. The non-meaningful places between the 4 top players were done by drawing a card; OMO and MQY won their tiebreaks. IDO and MAR again had to play for their chance to get into the playoffs, and the guy from Kouvola, IDO, eventually squeezed his way into the playoffs with his 12th place.

Playoffs, round 1

I was safe from the first elimination round and concentrated on eating the ham! Two playoffs games were started with KML, SAM, VYV and IDO in the game A and KGB, TTV, SUI and MTV on the second, game B. IDO really shined on this game, winning both Apollo 13 and Who Dunnit. SAM and VYV were tried and had to play a tie-break game for their ticket to the 2nd round of playoffs. VYV won so KML and SAM were eliminated. I was thrilled to see Pilvi (VYV) getting past the first round!

The last game was supposed to be Gladiators, but it developed the same problem as in the qualifications, and was removed from the lineup. There was no time to investigate what happened, but I'm starting to suspect a failed EOS switch or a coil with broken wire.

On game B KGB had his game face on, and won all three games they played; Apollo 13, Revenge From Mars and Stellar Wars. TTV came second with a steady 2nd place in every game. SUI and MTV were eliminated.

The eliminated players played one game, which gave their final positions:
9. SUI
10. SAM
11. MTV
12. KML

Playoffs, round 2

The long day (and night before it!) took its toll, and once again I had to resort to energy drinks to keep my edge.

On the second round OMO, JHQ, KGB and IDO went against each other in Stellar Wars, Contact and Revenge From Mars. IDO won in Stellar Wars and Revenge From Mars, being second only in Contact. KGB won Contact but was 3rd in the other games, resulting in 5 points and being second in the game C. OMO and JHQ were eliminated.

Finally it was my turn! I was in game D and played Doctor Who, Apollo 13 and Who Dunnit against MQY, TTV and VYV. With nothing to stress about any more about the tournament scoring system or the games, I played with a great confidence and won every single game. MQY came 2nd in Doctor Who and Apollo 13, getting the 2nd place. TTV got three 3rd places, resulting in 3rd place in the end and VYV was the last.

This was the first time I got to play Who Dunnit in tournament settings. I've had the game for just two weeks now and I've had very little time to play it. I expected it to be a real disaster from all the dissing I've heard, but it turned out to be quite a nice game. A bit long but most of the random things like the roulette were fair with the tournament mode enabled. I agree it has more random factors than a normal pin, but still I liked it a lot. 

I had lots of trouble with Doctor Who. Being the first player, I instantly bastardized the game for the other players by locking two balls, then going for repeating the upper ramp shot. I was a bit shaky at that point and had severe trouble looping it. In the end I started one "sonic boom", which was enough to win the game. 

In the Apollo I managed to do something I last did when I was 16 - I failed to land the lunar lander in the video mode! I never, EVER fail it, but now I did. I blame the lunar winds, right? Apollo's video mode is very easy to master. For anyone with Commodore 64, you'll probably remember the good old Lunar lander game. Apollo's video mode works exactly the same, but it has an added bonus: you can stop the sideways movement with the ball launch handle! Start off by gaining some altitude, then go for the far right landing pad. Ignore the main view and keep your eyes on the mini map instead. When you're vertically aligned with the landing pad, quickly turn the ball launch handle and then just land, fine tuning your horizontal position if needed.

The players eliminated from this round played for the final positions of 5-8.
5. OMO
6. VYV
7. JHQ
8. TTV

Playoffs, round 3

The game E on playoffs round 3 was all about who's going to the gold game and who's fighting for the last trophy. I was put against MQY, KGB and IDO.

We started off with with Doctor Who. Being the 1st player I did like in the last game; locked two balls while I was on the ball saver. From there on I chanced my strategy; I had originally planned to keep the 6th doctor and go for the ramp, but I went with the 7th to get the easy multiball. I completed the time expander's 2nd level and started to raise the playfield score factor, but broke my looping combo when I was at 2.0 X playfield. It was enough and I started the multiball from there, getting a 100M jackpot within the very first seconds. I failed to get another and soon drained my remaining ball. I spent rest two balls on looping the upper ramp with doctor 6 selected, scoring sonic boom's value once or twice. I won the game with a huge margin.

Next up was Who Dunnit. I didn't do as good as I did on the first round, but still managed to win it. I have no other recollection of the game, escept I managed to cash out the multiball, "elevator madness" and "penthouse party".

The last game was Apollo 13. At that point I started to suspect the cards we used to draw the games were rigged! Sure, the other games were in there, we just got the very same set again as in game D on the 2nd playoffs round. I completely ignored "life support" and collected the free blastoff letter instead. Then I played a rather good "manual burn" on the second ball, but MQY caught me on his 3rd ball. I was only 20M behind, and I managed to score that from the bumpers at the start of my ball. I then collected the remaining blassoff letter, started a 13 ball multiball and scored over 1B with it, sealing my 6th playoffs win in a row.

This meant I was in the final! IDO pulled 5 points and was the other player to clear round 3. MQY and KGB went to the bronze game.

Finals

Both, gold and bronze games were played at the same time. At one point I heard KGB's typical shout of joy during my game of Who dunnit, of which I gathered he had won his opponent. Later I learned he had taken the bronze trophy home with 2-0 game at Revenge From Mars and Apollo 13.

I went against IDO for the gold trophy. We started out with Stellar Wars, where I was losing after my first two balls. On my 3rd ball I was way behind IDO, who was the player #2 in this game. I collected the center 4 drop target bank twice to get my bonus multiplier up, then the upper right targets to light the 10k shot in the upper left hole. I scored it, and was around 250k when I finally drained. I was at around 60k before the ball began, and IDO was nearly at 200k. It was nerve wrecking watching IDO play, but he managed to drain pretty soon after starting, but has Stellar Wars has sticky bonus multipliers, he still got a quite nice bonus even with very little ball time. It wasn't however enough and we went on with me winning this one.

Next up was Who Dunnit. I was a bit unsure of how this would go, as I've seen IDO grind away multi-billion scores on my game at our game nights. Still, that didn't prepare me for the 2.6B he pulled with multiple multiballs and cashing out virtually everything at maximum points. I had extremely bad luck, and was over 1.5B behind him on my 3rd ball. I concentrated on multiballs and played quite good "elevator madness" multiball. However soon after that I made a bad shot and drained, leaving me with around 1.8B. Oh crap! Now I was really my back against the wall!

To be fair, I was so relieved at today's success with very few technical problems that I wouldn't have minded if I was left with silver trophy today. I was so sure the next game would be Apollo 13 or Doctor Who, but finally the cards surprised us and we drew the Twilight Zone!

I was player #1 and started off by getting the powerball out of the gumball machine. I however goofed it up. IDO drained his first ball during ball saver, getting another steel ball. He drained that too, leaving me with the power ball once again. I tried and tried to start the powerball mania, but no. I drained the power ball. IDO did good on this 2nd ball, and we were pretty much even at around 50M score both on our 3rd balls.

The Twilight Zone can store 3 balls in the ball through under the apron. If the power ball is in there, it's every 3rd ball you'll get. IDO had played with only one ball, which meant the ball order in the through was normal-powerball-normal. I pulled probably the most risky stunt I've ever done in a tournament: I drained the metal ball I got on purpose with the knowledge that I'd get the powerball next. With so little margin between us I knew I had to start a fast scoring mode to secure my victory. Playing with the powerball without ball saver was heart stopping! My first attempt shooting for the gumball machine failed and I hit the rubber post between the right orbit and slot machine scoop instead. I had anticipated this possibility and quickly recovered from it. I cradled the powerball, made the shot and started powerball mania.

I put two of the balls into the mini playfield and flailed around wildly. Every single switch hit was worth 750k in there (and 250k elsewhere in the playfield). Finally one of the balls went up the miniplayfield upper exit and I got the powerball mania jackpot too. When I finally drained, I had around 120M, but as the bonus count progressed, the audience went quiet. I had over 100M in bonus thanks to the powerball mania.

Rod Sterling's comment - "Big risk, big reward - in the Twilight Zone" has never been so right!

IDO was under a lot of pressure with my 224M on the score display against his 50M. He played hard, but as he slammed the lockdown bar at drain, I knew I had taken this one home.

I had won Hopeakuula Open 2013.

I got to hand out the bronze trophy to Petri "KGB" Taurio, the silver to Mika "IDO" Salminen and the best lady, no other than Pilvi "VYV" Salonen!

The final results:
http://hopeakuula.org/results/HopeakuulaOpen2013.html

Closing words

Hopeakuula Open is still a rather young annual tournament in Finland. The oldest one still alive is Sörkka Pinball Open, that was held for the 10th time this year. I still remember last years Hopeakuula Open and my 3rd place in it. While we're still at our infancy, I believe we've got lots to offer in the upcoming years.

Looking at the quality of play these days, all I can say is "holy shit!". During the past couple of years the players have become from a school of herring to a school of sharks! There's no "these guys are pushovers, I'll just have to concentrate on couple tough guys" any more. I'm so happy to see how the players become better and play more steadily every year. If this keeps on for couple of more years, our national team might make a dent in international tournaments.

I'm stoked to go to the IFPA 11 game in the USA next year. It was a long, hard battle to reach the 2nd active player spot in Finland. I also intend to pay mr. Acciari a visit in Italy, where the next European Championship games are held this year.

Today's profilic games were Apollo 13 and Who Dunnit. The "oh my god!"-game award goes to TTV and his unbelievable qualification game in Viking.

Special thanks go out to Olli-Mikko for helping out with the playoffs bracket, Klasu for his Starfleet position of scorekeeper and repair hand!

#hopeakuula #pinball #hopeakuulaopen2013
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