I know this might be hard to believe, but the K.A.M. and other Korcett employees have lives outside of the office. Crazy right?
Our very own Jason Higgins was interviewed by the Austin American Statesmen for an article on Pinballz Arcade and Pinball leagues and their players.
Members of pinball league aim for high-scoring moves
Posted: 12:00 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 11, 2013
By Dale Roe – American-Statesman Staff
Jennifer Tripp shakes her head as she looks at the “Addams Family” machine, pushed back a good foot-and-a-half from others in the row.
“Somebody got fierce with it,” she says.
Tripp is president of a pinball league hosted by Pinballz Arcade, which is tucked away in a dull green two-story standalone building in the shadow of U.S. 183 just east of Burnet Road. The building’s exterior isn’t flashy, but inside, a barrage of blinking, flashing lights; bells and whistles; clicks and clacks; and digitized voices assault your senses from every angle.
Tripp is also a supervisor at Pinballz, which sports more than 120 pinball machines. She’s off duty tonight, playing against the other 11 members in her league. Still, she crouches down and grabs the misaligned machine with her tiny frame, lugging it toward her until it matches up with the others.
I enjoy pinball, but league members (there are divisions for novice, intermediate and advanced players) are downright passionate about it.
Each Tuesday night for eight weeks, players of varying ages (the bunch I observed had folks in their 20s to 50s) are placed into groups of three or four. Each group rotates through four different machines, playing two games on each. Group rosters change from week to week. That allows members to get to know one another but also helps them to improve. “The way you learn is by watching other people play,” Tripp says.
“It can get pretty physical,” she adds.
While some players stand almost perfectly still, their only perceptible movements the finger taps on the buttons that control the machine’s flippers, others jerk around wildly, smacking the sides of the machine with open palms and slamming their torsos into the games’ front panels. They use their entire bodies to guide the ball into specific lanes and targets. To quote the Who’s “Pinball Wizard,” this type of player “becomes part of the machine.” It’s best to give these players some room.
“We’ve totally had people get kicked,” Tripp says.
Some players never remove their fingers from the flipper buttons. Others will advance the ball to the top of the playfield and step back from the machine for a few moments, wiping their arm across their forehead and taking a quick breath before the ball heads down toward the flippers.
It’s intense, but league play allows plenty of time for socializing. Since skill levels vary, some groups take longer to cycle through a machine than others, which can result in a wait. Tripp says that some machines are faster (“Tron”) or slower (“Lord of the Rings”) than others. And occasional mechanical problems can result in unplanned breaks.
I note that there are only two women in the league and joke with Tripp that it’s probably not a great location for picking up chicks.
“But it’s a good place for chicks to pick up guys,” she laughs.
That depends. Some players are conversational, while others are dead silent — their concentration and gaze as steely as the mirror-polished, 1 1/16-inch ball that bings and bangs across the playfield. I asked league member Jason Higgins about the large headphones he places over his ears when it’s his turn to play.
“I find that the arcade noise and everything like that — it’s better to block it out,” Higgins says. He also pumps music through them to help with his timing. He’ll try different songs until he finds one that works for a particular machine.
He listens to bands like Slayer but says dubstep is effective. “It has a very predictable beat that doesn’t change a lot. Pinball is a lot about rhythm, so I try to get the machine to match the rhythm I’m going in.”
Higgins has been a Pinballz league member for about three years. He enjoys video games but tires of their repetition. “Pinball is random. I believe it takes a little more skill.”
Because he owns many pinball machines (and repairs them at home) Higgins’ biggest league struggle is switching from “fun mode” to playing for big points. “You’ll find there are five to 10 shots that are really what you play in a league,” he says.
Higgins offered some advice for beginning players:
“Don’t use both flippers at exactly the same time,” he says. When both flippers are straight up, the distance between them is at its greatest. “Usually that doesn’t work out very well.”
Higgins also encourages players to be less timid and to get involved with the machine. “Bumping and shaking — that’s expected,” he says.
That brings us back to the Who. I ask Higgins for the name of his favorite rock opera from the band.
“Not ‘Tommy,’” he says, laughing. “That’s one of those things. You get called a pinball wizard enough and you want to beat people.”