Shot Selection and Aiming

From Bob Matthews EM Encyclopedia 2018
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Ever watch golf on TV? If so, you’ve probably heard an announcer talk about the “correct miss.” This refers to when you take a shot that may not go exactly where you want it to, what happens when you miss by a modest but not severe amount? If you’re nowhere close to target, e.g. 50+ feet off, you may be in a lot of trouble, but that’s due to missing that badly, and you’ll pay the price. But when you miss by 10-20 feet, i.e. you’re reasonably close, can anything bad happen? If the hole is near the edge of the green and there’s a sand trap next to that edge, you’ll see pro golfers target a spot between the hole and the center of the green, rather than the hole itself, so that if they miss, they’re not in the sand trap.

Pinball has similar situations. For instance, when shooting the ball up a side orbit to the top of the game, if you miss high, the ball may hit a post and rebound dangerously, while if you miss low, the ball may hit the side of the machine and go partway but not all the way up to the top. The basic strategy is that while trying to hit your exact target, time your shot to favor missing to the “safe” side. The better your aim is, the closer to dead center you should aim in general. [Exceptions are when you get a better rebound by hitting the edge of something.] The worse or less consistent your aim is, the more you need to consider which way to miss – right or left with bottom flippers, high or low with upper flippers. If one way is safer than the other, aim a shade to the safe side of center.

If you’re shooting at a bank of targets, all of equal value, start nearer the middle if your aim is so-so; that way if you miss the center one, you’ll likely still hit a target to the side of the center one. If your aim is better and some targets are “easier” to hit than others for whatever reason, try to start with the harder ones. Usually the hardest targets are the highest one [sometimes weak flippers strain to make it up there and only a perfect shot will do] or the lowest one [where a post or other feature may block the lower edge of the target].

Flipper Choice. Many shots can be hit with either flipper. There is usually a “better” flipper to choose for the shot, and it may not be the obvious choice. Novice players generally don’t use “backhand” shots, and even middle-tier players don’t use them as often as they should. When there is a choice, consider these things:

  1. How easy to hit is the shot from each flipper?
  2. Where does the rebound go from each?
  3. Can I safely transfer the ball from one flipper to the other before choosing which flipper to use?
  4. Is it better to shoot with the ball stopped on the flipper in a cradle position or with the ball moving down (or up) the flipper? [A moving ball has more energy and is often necessary to hit some shots]

Speaking of moving balls having more energy, there’s a technique that’s much more useful on EMs than on more recent machines, which I as a “flow” player use frequently. I call it a “flying backhand.” This is when the ball is moving towards a flipper from the opposite side of the playfield and rather than try for a cradle, dead bounce, or normal forward flip, I wait until the ball is near the flipper surface and then try to flip it up and backwards. This can improve my chances for some shots, not so much when shooting at specific targets as when trying to go UTAD or to get the ball into a narrow chute. Another reason to use the flying backhand is sheer physics: the ball will have more energy and go higher up or hit harder than a shot from a cradle. On modern games, the flying backhand tends to be less useful, since it’s often hard to hit a ramp shot that way, and orbit shots tend to be aligned to be more makeable from the normal opposite-side flipper. Example: RoGo. When trying UTAD, note that forehand shots, i.e. shots to the opposite side of the playfield, must negotiate a sharp angle to go through. A ball going up top from the same side as the flipper is on has a much more open entry to the gap. The catch is, you either can’t flip the ball up that way from a cradled position on the flipper at all or else if you tried, it wouldn’t go up as far as needed because the ball is standing still to start and flipper power is limited. Spanish Eyes and Liberty Belle are a few other games where the flying backhand is useful.

This page is one of many in the The Players Guide to Classic Pinball by written by Bob Matthews