Date: 18th - 20th November, 2016
Last year we reported from the Hungarian Pinball Open which was held at the Hungarian Pinball Museum in Budapest. That event was such a success that the number of players increased and the HPO outgrew the Museum's confines.
So for 2016 the organisers moved to the larger Dürer Conference Centre in the north-west of the city, a short walk from Heroes' Square.
With the move to a larger space, the opportunity was taken to expand the event beyond just the pinball tournaments, to make it appeal to gamers of different types. Thus the Arcadia show was created, combining pinballs, video games and assorted coin-op amusements, as well as retro console gaming.
The Dürer Conference Centre is a single-storey complex comprised of several rooms of various sizes. We arrived on Friday evening when it was dark outside and the building was nicely illuminated.
Once through the entry doors and past the registration/payment desk, we come to the lobby where all the cool kids hang out and the warm coats hang up.
Gaming furniture company Altar had a nice display in the lobby featuring two themed coffee table pinballs - Data East's Star Wars and Phantom of the Opera games - alongside several less-playable but equally stylish pieces of gaming furniture.
Also in the lobby was a stand selling Hungarian Pinball Museum T-shirts and other merchandise. We picked up a couple in orange and purple to give away as prizes.
The largest of the three rooms in the Dürer was the free-play area which contained a nice mix of pinballs, video games, skill games and retro computers. It also contained the larger of the two bars.
Here's a list of all the free-play pinballs:
Inside the free-play hall there were several vendors with demonstrator games for visitors to play or gaming-related goods to buy.
We generally found the prices of food and drink to be a little higher than we would have expected. Although some of the low-end beers were 300HUF a can, the nicest dark beer was 700HUF ($2.40/€2.24/£1.90) for a can, while cans of Pepsi were 400HUF ($1.36/€1.28/£1) in a country where prices are generally found to be reasonably cheap.
If visitors wanted something a little more substantial to eat, there were two food vendors set up just outside the main entrance to the building.
One was selling freshly-made savoury folded flatbreads, while the other sold hot toasted and flavoured nuts and... well, we're not quite sure what the dishes were exactly, although they did look colourful.
So that's the setting for the competitions, and there were three main pinball tournaments held at Arcadia - the Hungarian Pinball Open (HPO), the Classics Tournament and Pingolf.
Qualification for the HPO began in a dedicated room on the opposite side of the lobby on Friday with a scheduled start time of 7pm, although there was a delay before the scoring system and the machines were ready and the games could begin. This was to prove to be a precursor to more delays across the whole weekend.
More on that later, but the format of the HPO divided players into nine groups (A-I)of twenty-eight, with each player playing in nine rounds of four-player games. In each round their opponents were different, so that by the end they had played against all twenty-seven (nine rounds of three opponents) other members of their group.
Each group was allocated an area in one of the two tournament rooms with nine machines in area. These were mostly dot-matrix machines with a mix of Williams/Bally, Stern and Data East titles, plus a smattering of alpha-numeric titles from Williams and Bally.
Here are the machines in the five areas
After each match, points were awarded for position in the game. 7 points went to the winner, 5 points to second place, 3 to third and 1 point to last place.
The first four groups (A-D) played on Friday evening and the remaining five on Saturday morning/afternoon.
When all 9 rounds had been completed, the top 9 players in each group (a total of 81 players) moved on to the next round. The top four women players from the HPO also qualified for a separate Women's Tournament final held on Saturday evening regardless of whether they qualified for the main tournament or not.
For those not currently competing in the HPO, the lure of the Classics Tournament awaited in a smaller room next to the free-play hall.
There were twenty classics machines available, from which competitors could choose six to play. Having chosen a machine, players would put their magnetic name badge next to the machine name on one of two boards. If nobody else was playing the machine they could start straight away, otherwise they had to wait for their badge to reach the top of the waiting list.
Once a competitor got to their chosen machine, tournament officials started a 3-player game using a key fob to prevent players starting or restarting games themselves. The entrant played all three player's games simultaneously, and when they were over the scores were recorded, added together and then ranked alongside all other competitors' total scores. This system helped temper the impact of any unduly low or any runaway scores.
The machines used in the Classic Tournament were:
Score recording here was a little odd. Rather than enter the scores directly into the tournament system with a tablet, phone or laptop, they were hand-written on carbon copy paper, with the top sheet being given to the player as their record. It was a little quaint seeing carbon copy paper being used again. This added an extra stage into the score entry process and hence another opportunity for a mistake to be made, but it seemed to work, more-or-less.
The bigger problem was how it introduced a significant delay between the scores being recorded and them appearing in the computer system. That made it difficult for players to know where they stood at any given time and resulted in the timetable for the latter stages slipping.
Not that the schedule was adhered to any more accurately in the main HPO. The timings looked reasonable on paper but once again delays crept in, with the main HPO qualification round on Saturday not starting until after 10am - an hour late.
The time taken to complete each of the nine rounds closely matched the anticipated thirty minutes, giving a total of four-and-a-half hours for the whole session. But it took some time to produce the full list of 81 qualifiers and to gather them together to begin the first of the play-off rounds.
In addition, with the clock ticking for the qualification round in the Classics Tournament which was running alongside the HPO, some qualifiers were trying to squeeze in their final few classics games as well.
The first play-off round of the HPO divided the qualifiers into nine groups of nine, and set them to play one game against every other member of their group - eight games in total.
When all the games had been played, the four players from each group with the most wins progressed to the second round. In the case of ties, the results of the games between the tied players were taken into consideration with the player(s) who beat the other tied players the most progressing. If that still didn't resolve the tie, a tie-breaker game was played.
The remaining thirty-six then played the same format for the second round of play-offs, only this time there were just four groups of nine taking part.
Those sixteen played in four groups of four, playing three machines and using the same 7-5-3-1 points system to determine which two from each group moved into the final eight.
The Classics Tournament's play-offs then followed, with the scores on the qualifying machines ranked and the top 32 progressing to the first round of play-offs.
The format here was a little simpler, with the thirty-two split into pairs and playing best-of-three matches to decide who moved on and who was out.
The same method was used to reduce the remaining sixteen down to eight and then to a final four. They were: Lieven Engelbeen, Sághy Kálmán, Santiago Elices and Taco Wouters.
The final was held in the free-play hall in an area at the end of the room where the single machine to be used was set up alongside the trophies for this and the HPO. As well as playing in the final, Sághy Kálmán was running the tournament final and introduced the four finalists.
Despite the time now being 2am, there was a good-sized and good-natured audience for the final.
Taco began the final, with Lieven playing second, Santiago third and Sághy fourth.
After the first ball it was Santiago who had a slender lead with his score of 275K ahead of Taco on 226K, Sághy in third on 152K and Lieven, who had bad luck on his first ball, in fourth on 23K.
On the second ball it was Taco's turn for bad luck, as he added almost nothing to his score. Lieven's bad luck hadn't left him yet either, and he only added 5K, while Santiago didn't fare much better.
But Sághy had a great ball, raising his score up to 1.018M, putting him a long way in the lead with just one ball left to play.
Taco had a better third ball but could only reach a total on 481K. Lieven finally got to play a ball but his total of 145K was still fourth.
Only Santiago could now stop Sághy, but his third ball ended with only 301K on the scoreboard, putting him in third place.
The trophies and prizes were then presented.
Here are the full results:
While the Classics Tournament was progressing, machines from the HPO room were removed so the remaining machines could be set up for Sunday's Pingolf which would use the same room.
With the classics decided it was back to the HPO, and the same four-player group format used for the last sixteen was used in the semi-finals to find the four players who would contest the final.
The last eight players in the two semi-finals were:
It was clear this was going to be running very late indeed. The semi-finals began at 2:30am.
Semi-final 1 was played on World Cup Soccer, Kiss and Dracula, while semi-final 2 used Mustang, Ghostbusters and also used World Cup Soccer.
It took until 03:30 before the final four were decided. They were: Daniele Celestino Acciari, Flavio Baddaria, Gabor Solymosi and Julio Vicario Soriano.
As with the Classics Tournament, the final was held on a single machine in the free-play hall. In this case it was a Stern Star Trek. On the other side of the room was the Road Kings machine which was the grand prize for the winner.
A smaller crowd remained for the HPO final, but despite the late hour Sághy Kálmán entertained them with an Elvis impersonation before the last game began.
Gabor began the final with the player one position, but he didn't have a great start.
His 2.586M first ball score looked low, but none of the other players got much on their first balls either. Daniele did the best with 8.308M ahead of Julio on 5.567M and Flavio who just scored least with his 2.282M.
None of the players took a grip on the game on their second ball either. Gabor only managed a total of 3.941M, Daniele added little to stand on 9.103M, Julio did similar with his 6.855M score, but Flavio did rather better to edge into the lead with his 10.499M.
However, the third ball changed everything.
Gabor had a nice ball, getting his main multiballs going and ending with a much better score of 49.520M.
Daniele did likewise but not quite as well, finishing his game on 37.192M.
Then it was Julio's turn. Could he match the nice third balls of Gabor and Daniele?
He didn't just match the other two, he easily surpassed them, getting to Kobayashi Maru mode and racking up an impressive total of 86.710M
Could Flavio catch him with the last ball of the final?
Sadly not everyone had a nice third ball, as Flavio only nudged his score up to 11.938M, dropping from first to last.
So Julio was the winner, with Gabor second, Daniele third and Flavio fourth.
Here are the full results:
By the time the final was over it was getting close to 5am, and we didn't get back to our hotel until 5:15am. The streets of Budapest are surprisingly busy at that time of the morning.
With the Pingolf Tournament due to begin in just under five hours' time, we grabbed a quick nap, had a speedy breakfast, checked out of the hotel and headed back to the Arcadia show to report on Sunday's action.
Sunday's Pingolf Tournament began at 10am and competitors could choose one of two 'courses'. One was in the area used for the Classics Tournament where them machines moved the previous night were set up alongside some remaining classics machines. The second was in the main HPO room where the HPO play-offs had taken place a few hours earlier and which now featured several machines from the Classics Tournament. Both areas contained around twenty machines from which competitors chose eighteen to play.
Rather than use game feature objectives, each game has a score threshold which needed to be reached in as few balls as possible. If it was achieved within the normal three balls then the number of balls used set the number of 'strokes' for that 'hole'. If the target wasn't reached with the three balls, the number of strokes recorded increased depending on how close the final score was.
The carbon copy paper was brought out again to record scores, and this appeared to lead to some confusion later on when scores were entered into the computer system. We were told that some scorers had written down the player number, machine number and number of strokes, but not necessarily indicated which number was which.
Inevitably this led to delays and not a little confusion. One player knew he hadn't played at all well and went off for dinner. He was surprised to receive a text message telling him he had been given a score which qualified him for the play-offs (which he thus missed).
The Pingolf Tournament was due to finish by 7pm. Unfortunately we had to leave the venue for our flight home at 7:15pm, by which time the first round of play-offs had only just started.
The top twelve players from each area qualified for the play-offs for a total of twenty-four. The top eight received a bye through the first round, leaving the remaining sixteen qualifiers to be split into four groups of four and set to play on their first of the three games in this round.
The top two from each group progressed and joined those with the byes to play the same best-of-three four-player group format. This continued all the way through until an eventual winner was found.
That winner was Paul Jongma, with Daniele Celestino Acciari in second place, Taco Wouters in third and Mario Kaufmann fourth.
The conclusion of the Pingolf Tournament ended the competitive events and brought the Arcadia show to a close.
Last year's Hungarian Pinball Open at the Hungarian Pinball Museum was a big success, with a lot of goodwill generated along with plenty of positive recommendations for the Museum. Everyone went home from last year's HPO with a warm feeling which wasn't simply from the free Goulash.
However, the space at the Museum was clearly limited and so in order to expand the HPO an alternative or additional location was needed. The Dürer Conference Centre provided that extra space and allowed expansion of the scope of the event to encompass video games and retro gaming.
That expansion brought in an audience beyond the HPO players and, perhaps most importantly, became attractive to families and youngsters. It's hard to recall an event where so many young kids and teenagers were enjoying the games, which was an encouraging sign for the future.
It did, though, take away much of the intimacy and homely feel of the event, which was something unique to the Museum setting. When we were playing in the darkened caves and exhibit rooms of the Museum's basement home it felt as though we were supporting the Museum and helping to promote the good work they are doing. In the Dürer Conference Centre, not so much.
The schedule last year also allowed for a tour of the city and a visit to a late night rooftop club which helped make the whole trip special. This year there was no time for such excursions which was a pity.
Running an event such as a major pinball tournament requires far more than just machines. People with multiple skillsets are needed, with a large amount of planning to ensure everything goes smoothly.
While there were lots of scorers and organisers who did a sterling job and worked incredibly hard throughout the three days, some of the processes didn't work so well; in particular the results systems and machine preparation/maintenance.
As anyone who has ever moved a pinball machine from one location to another knows, things break for no apparent reason. Several of the games in the free-play hall were faulty from the start and while some were fixed, not all were. That may in part have been because there was no readily-identifiable way to report a machine fault other than switching the game off and hoping someone notices.
Some of the tournament machines were also sub-optimal in their set-up, with inconsistent flipper alignment and tilt sensitivity being common complaints we heard.
Using carbon copy paper to record scores in the classics and Pingolf Tournaments was also far from ideal. Most events now use tablets to enter results directly into the tournament system, and while that isn't entirely without its problems it does eliminate a lot of paper score entry, produces instant updates and speeds up progress through the tournament.
On that final point, we won't dwell on the delays and late-running of the tournaments. Suffice to say nobody really wanted to be playing (or watching) the final of a major international tournament at 4:30am, and we are sure the organisers will be looking to ensure that doesn't happen again.
While we have been critical of certain aspects, as a whole the Arcadia show was certainly a success.
Budapest is an amazing city to visit with incredibly friendly people, and the location of the Dürer Conference Centre, while not as attractive as the Museum, was pretty convenient. We stayed at a quality hotel fifteen minutes away on foot opposite Heroes' Square, with a nice walk through the park opposite the venue always an option.
We would certainly come back again, and try for a longer stay next time to enjoy more that the city has to offer.
Finally, you can take a look at the whole Arcadia show for yourself, including all the tournaments, free-play machines, vendors and food sellers in our exclusive Twenty Minute Tour video walkaround.
© Pinball News 2016