PDX Pinball!!!

Wed 12/30/2009

Though I'm writing this in 2010, I am sending this blog entry back in time, to 2009, since it covers events that happened in the last days of that year...

Portland is well known as a bike-friendly city, which is inhabited by many a cartoonist. Well, it's not only a great place for biking and making comics, it's also chock-full of pinball machines! I was only in Portland for about 30 hours and during that time, I played pinball in three different venues, and I can't help but thinking I only scratched the surface of how many places a pinhead could play pinball in this great city!

I rolled into town on the train at about 11am. Greg picked me up, we dropped my stuff off at his place and then we rode bikes over to the Paradox Cafe for some lunch. Now, I have eaten at the Paradox a million times before, because it's right around the corner from a house where Gabe, Grizzo and many of their friends have lived over the years. Well, two doors down from the Paradox is the Avalon Arcade, and although I had walked by it countless times, I had never been inside, until this trip!

Admission was $2.50 at the door and then all of the game machines ran off of NICKELS (??! - like a real "nickelodeon"). They had all kinds of arcade games and a bunch of ticket machines (like skee-ball, etc.) but only two newish pinball machines, which took three nickels each to play: Shrek and Batman Begins.

Stern is currently the only pinball manufacturer in the world, which is kind of depressing. I get some sort of intangible "plastic" or "fake" feeling when I am playing a Stern machine. Maybe it's because of the materials used, or the way they are lit? They just don't seem as solid, or well-made as the old Williams machines. OH WELL, Stern is single-handedly keeping Pinball alive, so for that we should all be thankful!

ANYWAY, Greg sidled up to the Shrek machine and quickly started putting it through its paces (Greg is an above average pinball player, having grown up with a cheap pinball machine in his family's home). As soon as I saw the playfield, I realized one of the ways that Stern has been able to cut costs. It was the EXACT same playfield layout as the Family Guy pinball machine, which I had played a few days prior in Seattle. All the targets, ramps, and lanes had the exact same placement, only the art and sound effects had been changed, to fit the brand of the machine. This effectively allows Stern to get two games for the price of one (or who knows, maybe three or four games for the price of one! I haven't seen their other games...) The batman game was pretty fun, though the ball kept getting stuck in one part of the playfield, which is always frustrating.

I took a bunch of photos with my phone (including the ones above), which are up in my Pinball Flickr set, though most are a bit hard to see, because of the low lighting of most pinball parlors.

The next day Greg and I made plans to meet up with Gabe and Grizzo to play some pinball at the famed Ground Kontrol video arcade. As we were walking over to meet the guys, Greg and I quickly ducked into Backspace for a warm-up round of pinball. Backspace had a World Cup Soccer and a Ripley's Believe It Or Not pinball machine. This made it feel like there are Pinball machines EVERYWHERE in Portland! :)

I had been to Ground Kontrol once before, at its previous location, for Frunchy's bachelor party. It is now more centrally located, with an entire upstairs that is dedicated solely to pinball. There were 26 machines up there, with most of the best games (including another Revenge From Mars Pin2k machine!) We each got some quarters from the change machine and set to work.

As many of you no doubt remember, Gabe is no slouch when it comes to playing pinball. As I mentioned before, Greg is quite good too, and I'm slowly but surely becoming a better player, but Grizzo was the real Pinball Wizard of our quartet. Growing up, Grizzo often had arcade games and pinball machines in the house because his dad worked as an arcade distributor. It was pretty amazing watching Grizzo walk up to a machine and say, "Oh, we used to have this one!" and then rack up a crazy high score. Each machine is so different, you have to learn all the rules and which targets you are supposed to hit. The more you play a single machine, the easier it becomes to achieve a high score. Keeping this in mind, I tried to stick to games that 1) I knew I would have access to, back in White River Junction (T2, Medieval Madness, Scared Stiff) or 2) games that I knew sold extremely well, so I will have more of a chance of coming across them again later, at other pinball parlors.

It snowed for 3 hours straight while we were playing pinball, which is pretty uncommon for Portland. My quarters started running out, so I decided to call it a night. I went back to Greg's place to get my stuff and then headed for the airport. I made it into Oakland a little after midnight, on the 30th and I've been here ever since, hanging out with Claire.

I'll try to blog again soon, about 2010 and some of my goals for this year. Mostly, I just hope that everyone had a great new year's eve and that all of your 2010s are getting off to a good start. I know it has been a great year so far for me!

3 comments on this entry

hey alec, have you ever read urban hipster number 2, which was published by alternative comics? there is a really great story in it by Greg Stump about pinball. its one of those stories that i've read many times and never gotten tired of it.

No, I haven't, but it sounds awesome! Thanks for the tip Zack, I'll definitely check it out!

Alec Jan07

I know you don't know a TV let alone a Wii, BUT if you ever get a chance, you should check out Pinball Hall of Fame. Even though the graphics are great, and the physics are realistic, I realize it's not the same a playing a real pinball machine. I bring this to your attention, however, because the layout of the virtual arcade in the game is totally based on Ground Kontrol. It's got the staircase with the bar underneath and everything.

ak47 Jan08

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