Friday, June 7, 2013

Trying to beat SWE1

Last week I made yet another trip to Portland, Oregon for the International Comics Arts Forum.  Last time I was in Portland I played as many different pinball machines as I could, zigzagging all over town, racking up a few high scores along the way.  I approached this trip with pretty much the exact opposite strategy.  In four days, I only played one pinball machine: the Star Wars Episode One pinball 2000 machine at Ground Kontrol.

How I'm Spending My Lunch Breaks at ICAF

I'm sure many of you think I'm insane.  With the embarrassment of pinball riches that Ground Kontrol has to offer, let alone the rest of Portland, this was the only machine I played while I was in town???!  Well, those of you who have read Drop Target #1 know that this is the machine that Jon and I learned to play pinball on.  I am a devout Star Wars fan, I love the pinball 2000 technology, and I think this game is extremely fun to play.  And now that I've crossed the threshold into actually beating games (Medieval Madness, Championship Pub, Who Dunnit) I really, really, really want to beat this game.  I feel like it is the last test in my pinball training, and once that is complete I will be a "good" player.

As luck would have it, ICAF was just down the street from Ground Kontrol.  I had an hour and a half lunch break each day which allowed for a quick meal and then 2-4 games of SWE1.  After the conference each day I would go and play a few more games before heading off to get dinner with my Portland friends.  The SWE1 game at Ground Kontrol is currently in 99% perfect condition.  The only issue is the ball trough sticking a little bit when trying to put a ball into the shooter lane, but usually when I find this game on location it'll be totally trashed (center gate not working, pop bumpers out) so this was as good as it was going to get!

Using my new iPhone, I decided to keep track of every game of SWE1 that I played.  I noted my score, how many multiballs I played and then which "round" I died in.  The four ranks are: Jedi Youth, Jedi Knight, Jedi Master, and Jedi Spirit.  So for example "died in the second round" means that I collected all four J-E-D-I letters in the first round, beat Darth Maul to achieve Jedi Youth status and then died while trying to collect the J-E-D-I letters in the second round.

Below you can see all of the compiled data from my 32 games.  The red line represents my scores, with the four points above the 150 million mark being my only high scores of the weekend:  155m (#1),  186.6m (GC), 186.4m (#1), 181m (#2).  The blue bars represent how far I got into a game, with a zero value meaning I died in the first round of J-E-D-I letters, a one value meaning I achieved Jedi Youth and then died in in the second round, two means Jedi Knight, three means Jedi Master, etc. etc.  Obviously, how far I got into the game has a direct correlation to the score.  The scores that are significantly higher than the game progress are explained by the number of multiballs played in a game, which was either zero, one or two (represented in green).

On my four best games I achieved Jedi Master rank which I don't believe I had ever done previously (though Jon had) and my "best" game (in terms of trying to beat the game) was the 181m game.  I died trying to secure the "D" in the last round of jedi letters - only one and a half modes away from achieving my goal!

Although I did not accomplish my goal of beating the game, I did have some serious strategy breakthroughs that I believe will lead to an eventual victory.  I'm going to lay them out below, but be forewarned!  I'm going to write assuming the reader knows this game inside and out.  If you don't, you can read a rule sheet here or SWE1 is the "Replay Review" machine in DTZ #1.

The big breakthrough I had was realizing that the center shot is extremely dangerous when the gate is down.  This sounds obvious, but there are lots of opportunities to strategically avoid the gated center shot, which definitely lead to longer, deeper games.  

For instance, in the first round, you can unlock and activate the projector without hitting the center shot.  In that round only, the two standup disc targets will also serve this purpose, so I just made ramp shots, which eventually clip one of these disc targets, because my shooting's not that accurate.  

This breakthrough made me realize that very few modes require a gated center shot (Jar Jar Juggling: 1, Ground Battle: 3, Hanger Escape: 1-3).  The rest of the modes do a great job of tempting you to use center shots when you really don't need to.  For example in the three Amidala shooting modes, the "easiest" shot is the center gate because you have a larger area that her gun is sliding across.  But it's dangerous!  Instead, I focused on ramps - it might have taken a bit longer to get the required number of shots, but it's far safer, with consistent returns.  The same is true of Podracing - there is often a flag at the gated center shot, but it's safer to shoot ramps, even if it means you have to clear a number of left and right turns before collecting another flag.  You get the idea - take this idea and run with it!  It'll definitely improve your game.

The other breakthrough I had was to use multiball as a way to help get through some of the more difficult modes.  When there is a risky shot, or a lot of things that need to be hit, why not have multiple balls bouncing around, so that you have some backup in case one of them drains?  I mostly used this technique on the Destroyer Droids mode, which is brutal.  You have to destroy six droids, and Amidala's gun is moving so erratically, it's really hard to hit.  So I'd lock one ball, start that mode and then lock the second ball.  Multiball runs during the mode, so I'd usually finish the mode just by knocking the balls around.  Even better, if I was able to catch a few balls, I could shoot for the target knowing that I had some backup balls in case of a drain.

Another idea that I really latched onto was the free C3PO awards.  Basically whenever I had the ball on my right flipper, I shot the left orbit to work towards the free Extra Ball and free J-E-D-I letter.  Once those were collected, the shot was dead to me (the next three awards are useless, and I don't really see myself ever getting to the sixth award, which is another Extra Ball).  Those little boosts definitely help out!

The last thing that really helped a lot me was more of a psychological breakthrough.  There are thirteen modes in SWE1; some of them are very easy, some are very hard.  But if you are going to beat the game, you are going to have to play them all. So while I played, I stopped cycling through the modes, trying to pick the "right" mode.  I just played whatever came up randomly.  Mentally I thought "At one point or another I have beaten all these modes, and I am going to have to beat them all right now, so I'll just take whatever comes at me."  

There are two exceptions:  1) Jar Jar Juggling has the ability to award an Extra Ball.  I always play this mode first, because if it goes well, and Jar Jar does give me an Extra Ball then somewhere deep inside I think, "This is going to be a good game!" which usually leads to better gameplay.  2) for the "I" at the end of the first round I always play Jedi Musical Chairs.  It has been my experience that you are much more likely to have a Jedi Letter award waiting for you in the first round, and there is a software bug that instantly ends the round when you collect the letter, thereby putting you directly into the lightsaber launch screen and giving you "J" in the next round.

SWE1 High Scores

On the second day I had a feeling I wasn't going to beat the game.  It's brutal playing the same machine over and over and over, with the goal of beating it.  My mind got kind of numb and it became hard to distinguish one game from the next.  I'm proud of the scores I put up, and I think I will be able to beat it someday, but I think it'll happen when I have more consistent access to the machine.  If I could play it an hour a day, I think I'd have it beat in a month.  Too bad I don't live in Portland!  The only SWE1 in the Bay Area is at Playland-Not-At-The-Beach, which is too far away and too expensive to play every day.

Oh well, it's good to have a goal.  I will beat it someday!  Oh yes, I will...


  1. Have you tried the Star Wars-themed tables in Zen Pinball 2/Pinball FX2?

  2. I haven't, though a friend sent me some video links when they were first announced. I'm not super into digital pinball, but they still looked pretty cool! It's a bit hard for me to wrap my mind around the fully animated 3D things though, like Boba Fett flying around the playfield or the realistic sarlac pit.

  3. you should combo the ramps for big scores. I don't think there is a maximum for this. This exploit caused the SWE1 at the 1999 Chicago flipout Expo tournament to use special tournament software to block the ramps with the drop targets after 5 combos was reached.

  4. I'm less concerned with high scores and more with beating the final wizard mode (Jedi Spirit), though it's always fun picking up a "ramp champ" award on the way to Grand Champ! ;)

  5. You should do a post about this

    They'll have your SWE1 table. I'm in the Bay Area as well and would love to check this place out if they got up and running.