This year’s Hungarian Pinball Open (HPO) was once again part of the Arcadia pinball and video game event, and was held at the Dürer Rendezvényház to the East of the centre of Budapest
However the competitive action began on Friday night 3.7km away back at the original home of the HPO, the Budapest Pinball Museum.
While much of the Museum’s collection had been relocated to the Dürer, the older machines remained in the caves beneath the streets of Budapest.
The somewhat denuded Museum played host to this year’s new Classic Tournament which departed significantly from last year’s format.
In 2016 the Classic Tournament ran alongside the main HPO at the Dürer and was a full-blown tournament in its own right. The upshot of that and other decisions was that everything overran significantly, pushing the final of the HPO into the early hours of Sunday morning, finishing around 5am.
The organisers were determined not to repeat that experience, so this year the Classic Tournament was scaled back, moved to the Museum, and run on Friday, giving the HPO a clear schedule on Saturday and Sunday.
Instead of a single Classic Tournament, there were in fact six of them.
The first began at 1pm on Friday, when up to 64 players could register to compete. They were put into groups of four (or sometimes three) and given three of the twenty-four classic machines to play.
Points were awarded for position in each game, and the top two from each group progressed to the next stage. They were again grouped into fours to play the same format all the way through to the final.
If you didn’t make it through to the second round of the 1pm tournament, never fear as there was another scheduled to start at 2pm which used the same format.
And another at 3pm, 4pm, 5pm and finally at 6pm. Each tournament stood alone and awarded small trophies to the top three.
The original intention was to start a new tournament every hour, but almost inevitably delays crept in and the start times slipped so that the 6pm tournament started closer to 8pm.
The format meant that the Classic Tournaments wouldn’t be worth as many WPPR points as a single big event, so it was played more for fun and as a warm-up for the main HPO.
Speaking of which, this too began on Friday over at the Dürer with the first of three qualifying sessions.
There was one session on Friday evening, a second at 9am on Saturday morning and a third at 2pm on Saturday afternoon. If you were playing in the Friday session your Classic Tournament options were somewhat restricted, so that was understandably the least popular option players could choose when registering and paying their €35 entry fee.
We were in the later session on Saturday, so we took the opportunity of the late start and the fine weather to have a wander around nearby Heroes Square (Hősök tere).
The square is one of four in Budapest. The central statue depicts the seven chieftains of the Magyars, while at the base is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Behind the central column are two sets of seven statues with murals depicting the renowned rulers above in heroic battle or making sagacious rulings.
After leaving Heroes Square and arriving at the Dürer, we signed-in for the Hungarian Pinball Open and headed to the free play area for some sorely-needed practice.
The entrance lobby was home to a couple of rec room and gamer vendors, as well as a stand to buy Budapest Pinball Museum T-shirts in various designs.
In the lobby there were two doors which led to the fun. The one on the left led into the Arcadia show, the one the right took you into a room filled with free play pinballs.
Let’s look at the pinball room first.
The fifty-five pinballs were arranged in three rows – one along the side wall and two rows of back-to-back machines on the opposite side of the room.
The machines available to play were:
|Addams Family, The
Al’s Garage Band Goes on a World Tour
Bobby Orr Power Play
Champion Pub, The
Creature from the Black Lagoon
Dracula, Bram Stoker’s
Freddy; A Nightmare on Elm Street
Guns ‘N Roses
High Speed 2: The Getaway
Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure
Last Action Hero
Lord of the Rings, The
Lost in Space
Party Zone, The
Ripley’s Believe it or Not!
Simpson’s Pinball Party, The
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Swords of Fury
Tales from the Crypt
Tales of the Arabian Knights
Tommy, The Who’s
The second room hosted the Arcadia show which was a general mix of all kinds of gaming and amusement devices.
On the left as you entered was a long row of upright arcade video games.
There were more videos along the right wall by the entrance.
Behind the long row of video games were two rows of pinballs. The majority of the pinball machines were in the free play hall next door, but there was still a good selection in the main Arcadia hall.
The second row included a Hercules as well as a set of Star Wars titles and some upright pinball games.
Most of the rest of the hall was taken up with more video games, home consoles, classic consoles and a little virtual reality.
The tournament was held in a separate part of the building with its own entrance, away from the Arcadia show and generally hidden from the public, which seemed a shame. To get there we passed the three food vendors – two outside in the sunshine and one inside.
Inside was a bar area which mostly sold drinks but also a few unhealthy snacks.
The prices at the bar were significantly higher than at the local supermarket a few minutes’ walk away. 500ml bottles or plastic cups of beer which were 500HUF or 600HUF were available at the supermarket for less than 200HUF (75c compared to $2.25). Still, at least at the bar you got to cosy up to Charlie’s Angels.
As we said earlier, there were three qualifying sessions for the Hungarian Pinball Open and the format for each of them was the same.
Players were divided into either two or three groups of twenty-one (two groups on Friday, three groups in each of the Saturday sessions). In each group the players played ten rounds of three-player games, meaning everyone got to play everyone else in their group once. Points were awarded for position in the game, with first place getting five points, second getting three points and third place a single point.
The tournament room was divided into three areas which led players to expect to play all their games in one area as they had last year. However it seemed machines from all three areas were used freely, with the random nature of machine selection meaning some players ended up playing the same machine two or three times.
In addition, the groups were composed of players who had registered to attend, rather than those who had actually turned up. The format didn’t allow for fewer than twenty-one players per group, so all no-shows were included and turned into ‘jokers’ or byes. In some cases, a three-player game would have just one physical player who automatically received a five-point win.
When all the games in one round across all groups were completed the next round would start. All the matches and machines were predetermined and could have been posted for players to play at their own pace to speed things up, but the organisers wanted everyone to start the each round simultaneously.
When all ten rounds were over, the top 50% of players in each group progressed to the next round which would start on Saturday evening. However the top two per group received a bye through the first round and the top players got two byes which meant neither of them needed to play until Sunday morning.
In several groups there were ties for the last qualifying spots or the bye positions, so these were resolved with a single multi-player game on a machine with short ball times such as Iron Man or Star Wars.
Then, around 8:30pm the first round of play-offs began for all the qualifiers except those in first and second places in each group.
Players were put into groups of four and set to play three randomly-selected machines. Points were awarded in 7-5-3-1 order for the places in each game, and after all three games had been played the top two automatically moved on to the next round along with the ten third-placed players with the most points.
That ended competition in the Hungarian Pinball Open for Saturday.
Over in the Arcadia hall a band was playing, many video, pinball and console games were being played, and people were enjoying the show until it closed at midnight.
Instead, we headed into central Budapest for some late-night food and drinks.
When everyone had arrived at 9am on Sunday morning to continue with the HPO, there were 54 of the 56 qualifiers present. So a couple of stand-by players were added to take their places. There was also a play-off between all the second-placed qualifiers for a second bye to add to the one they already had through Saturday evening’s first round of play-offs.
By 10am the next round had begun and now the format was standard double-elimination, best-of-three, head-to-head games, with machines drawn at random by the players. The first to two wins moved on to the next round while the loser dropped down into the loser bracket. The loser bracket was also head-to-head but only a single game was played in each round instead of the three played in the winner bracket.
When both brackets had reached their final stages, just Markus Stix from Austria and Julio Vicario Soriano from Spain were unbeaten on the winner’s side.
They went into the final and – in a twist to the ‘double’ part of the format – were joined by the sole survivor in the loser bracket – Roberto Pedroni from Italy.
Before they began, there was the final of the Women’s Division which was played between Evelyn Desot and Jenna Muer on a Cirqus Voltaire game. With CV being set to be quite brutal, it was only a short final and it was Jenna who came out on top.
The main HPO 2017 final was played on three machines – Metallica, a different Cirqus Voltaire and Star Wars Pro.
Markus began on Metallica and put up 13 million on his first ball. Julio played second and improved on Markus’s score with 18 million, while Roberto in the player three position only managed 2 million.
On their second balls, Markus improved to 22m, Julio was close behind on 19 million, while Roberto was struggling on 7.5 million.
As usual, ball three would be all decisive.
Markus only increased his score a little to end on 26 million while in contrast Julio put in a solid performance to lift him up to 80 million. Roberto couldn’t catch up with the others, ending his game on 10 million.
Play then moved to Cirqus Voltaire and Julio began with a quick ball, scoring only 220k.
Roberto did slightly better with his 883k, while Markus got a similar score of 693k. With all three scoring under a million, nobody had got a grip on the game so far.
On ball two Julio lifted his score to 5.7 million, but it was Roberto who dominated with his 25 million score. Markus raised his total up to 9 million to leave Roberto with a sizeable lead going into the last ball.
Julio got close with his 20 million end-of-game total, while Roberto didn’t add much to his score on his third ball, ending in the lead on 27 million. Markus had a slight mishap on his last ball, ending on just 9 million.
We moved finally to Star Wars where Roberto began with a quick first ball and a 2.8 million score.
Markus needed to win this game to be in with a chance but his first ball was quick also, scoring 5.8 million. Julio played for longer and scored the most with his 84 million first ball total.
Roberto has an equally brief second ball, ending it with 5.5 million. Markus did slightly better with his 23 million, but Julio extended his lead further with another good ball and a 216 million total.
Going into the last three balls of the final, Julio looked in a good position to win with Roberto and Markus in a fight for second. But things can change on the outcome of a single bounce of the ball.
Roberto’s last ball was much better than his first two, easily surpassing Julio’s score and ending on 690 million.
Markus needed a great last ball but only had a reasonable one. His 106 million total wasn’t enough to avoid third. Julio also needed a great final ball if he was to win the game and take first place overall.
He didn’t get it, draining quickly. That meant Roberto and Julio were tied on points and so had to play in a tiebreaker on Iron Man.
On a particularly tough machine, Roberto did well with his 6.1 million first ball, especially compared to Julio’s 0.9 million.
Ball two was also a good one for Roberto, pushing his score up to nearly 16 million. Julio’s response was cut short by a tilt while trying to save a left outlane drain. His score? 2.2 million.
So Roberto was now in the driving seat but had a brief final ball ending up on 18.1 million.
Once again Julio needed a great last ball and once again he didn’t get it, ending up with just 3.1 million.
So Roberto had won the final, Julio was second and Markus third.
We’ll publish a full list of player positions here just as soon as they have been worked out, submitted and verified.
Then it was time for the presentations, starting with the award for the Women’s Division which was won by Jenna Muir.
Then came the top three in the main Hungarian Pinball Open 2017.
With the trophies awarded, the tournament was wrapped up around 5:30pm and the clearance of machines could begin.
The Arcadia show continued until 8pm for those who wanted to play more games in a lower-pressure environment, but for us it was time for dinner and to catch a taxi for the flight home.
After last year’s premiere of the Arcadia show incorporating the Hungarian Pinball Open we were looking forward to seeing how things would change this year.
The timings of the rounds of the HPO were vastly improved without sacrificing the number of rounds or opponents. The lower number of players helped here, but there was also a feeling of back-to-basics about the whole event.
The insistence on waiting for all games to be completed in all groups slowed things down unnecessarily. Players generally know how the format works, and can find their opponent and start their game without being told how and when to do it. If the next round or two was posted during the current round, players could get on with their games as soon as they were ready.
There was also quite a lack of clarity about the overall proceedings. The website contained little detail, and when asked we found different answers coming from different organisers. Did Sunday’s play-off begin at 10am as one person was told, or 9am as told to another. Were there more Classic Tournaments held on Saturday, or not? Was there a Pingolf Tournament on Sunday, or not? We were on the website as playing our qualifying games as ‘whenever’. Is that Friday or Saturday, or literally ‘whenever’? Nobody seemed quite sure.
The new Classic Tournament formula was another good idea, but again ran way too long with late starts compounding the delays. We were able to sign up for the 4pm tournament at 5:30pm, and were still playing the 5pm tournament at 10:15pm at which point we called it a day, conceding the game so we could go, find a taxi and check-in to our hotel before they gave our room away.
Last year’s HPO was just too much to handle, no question about it. This year it was far more manageable but perhaps cut back too far with the Classic split up and the Team and Pingolf tournament dropped entirely leaving no competitions on Sunday for those who didn’t qualify, not even pure fun ones. Keeping the HPO so segregated from the rest of Arcadia did little to promote the excitement of competitive pinball to all the casual players attending the show just a couple of metres away. The national final was taking place but only other players knew about it and were allowed to watch.
But these are still early days for the organisers and they are still finding out what works and what doesn’t. The Arcadia show itself was a big success, with a packed hall and a nice selection of games for the whole family to enjoy.
And that’s something which was very noticable in both the Arcadia and free play pinball halls – the number of kids having a great time playing alone or with their parents. You can see it in our pictures above and it’s heartening to see the next generation of players and collectors getting into the game so readily.
If the HPO can be brought more into the Arcadia show and made a little more inclusive, they might even be the next generation of tournament players too.