Pinball for Dummies: Launching the Ball

By Will Oetting

Launching the Ball

Slow Down Before You Plunge

Your game is started and you step up to the front of the machine ready for action.  What do you do next?  The ball is sitting in the shooter lane in the bottom right of the playfield, just waiting to rocket into play.  This is actually the best time to pause and scan the playfield to get an idea of where the ball could go once it is launched.   Look at what shots are available; which are easy and which are tight.  You might also look at all of the insert lights on the playfield and take some time to read what they say.  They can help you determine where the important features are: multiballs, jackpots, extra balls, etc. Slowing down a little bit at the beginning will help you be better prepared for when things get wild and crazy in the game.

Inserts
Inserts Galore

There will also be an instruction card on the left of the apron which sits at the bottom of the playfield and covers the bottom drain.  The instruction card will give you a highlight for most of the major rules in the game.  It can tell you what shots need to be hit to initiate things like modes and multiballs.  Sometimes the instruction card can be a little too informative.  It will probably refer to the name of things on the playfield that you might not have any idea what they are.  I would suggest going ahead and playing a few games to get a feel for the playfield layout and then come back to the instructions at a later time.

Instructions Card
Instructions Card from Stern Electronics Stars

Plunger Vs. Launch Button

Now that you have had a chance to familiarize yourself with the game, it is time to take your first plunge.  On the front right of the cabinet you will find one of two possible things.  

It could be a plunger which will look like a small knob with a rod going into the cabinet.  Pulling on the plunger will compress a spring.  Letting go then springs the rod forward to propel the ball onto the playfield.  You should notice that you have some control over how hard you let the rod hit the ball by how much you pull back the plunger. They even give you a little gauge indicator to help you determine how far back to pull the plunger.

Plunger
Left: Plunger knob – Right: Plunger gauge

On some machines, instead of a plunger, you’ll find a launch button.  The launch button is pretty simple.  You push the button and the ball launches at top speed onto the playfield.  You don’t have any control over how fast the ball travels into play.

Launch Button
Launch Button

Skill Shots

Your first plunge can lead to some big points and even advance you further into the game.  The game developers often give you a skill shot to plunge for.  Early games that have upper lanes might have a flashing light on one of the lanes.  Plunging the ball just right so that it goes into that flashing lane gives you the reward.  Sometimes you might even be able to switch which lane has the flashing light by pressing the flipper buttons.  This is one of the most common types of skill shots.

Upper Lanes
Flashing X lane for skill shot on Stern AC/DC

You will see a wide variety of different skill shots, like plunging into a target or hitting a specific shot after the ball comes to the flipper.  Check out the Extra Credit section for more skill shot varieties.

Ball Save

Every pinball player that has ever played a game has had a time where the ball drains so quickly that they don’t even get a chance to use the flippers.  You will feel cheated out of getting to play when this happens until you see that your ball has magically reappeared back in the shooter lane, or even automatically been plunged back in play for you.  Your ball was rescued by the ball save feature found on most games.  This feature started showing up on games in 1991, so if you are playing a machine built before 1991 then you are out of luck and you are on to your next ball.  Ball save is only “ON” for a limited amount of time after your initial plunge.  You will usually see a light specifically for ball save directly between or near the flippers.  It will be flashing while you are still in that limited time of safety.  If your ball drains while it is flashing then you can expect to get your ball back.  However If the light has turned off, out then you won’t get that second chance.  You can usually only use ball save once per each ball.

Shoot Again
Shoot Again insert showing when ball save is on

Extra Credit: Super Skill Shots

This content is only available for our TWIPerks members at the $5 level or higher on Patreon. Support the TWIP website and the pinball hobby by becoming a Patron today!! You can view this content and get all of the other great TWIPerks with a small monthly donation. If you already have a membership to TWIPerks from Patreon then login here.

Extra Credit: Action Button

This content is only available for our TWIPerks members at the $5 level or higher on Patreon. Support the TWIP website and the pinball hobby by becoming a Patron today!! You can view this content and get all of the other great TWIPerks with a small monthly donation. If you already have a membership to TWIPerks from Patreon then login here.

Keywords:  Pinball 101, Pinball for Dummies, Pinball for Beginners, Beginner’s Guide to Pinball, Intro to Pinball, Pinball for Newbies, Basics of Pinball

Full Glossary of Pinball Terms


About the Author: Will Oetting

I helped my father-in-law buy his first game, Bounty Hunter, and then instantly missed it when it left the house.  That drew me to the community and I was lovestruck pretty hard.  I have been working with Jeff behind the scenes of TWIP to help make sure that the website is running at its best.  I am also on the TWIPY committee where I help setup the surveys and collect the data for the awards.  My current favorite machine is Taxi but I also enjoy games of all types.

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