The Pinball Blog. The Machines. The People. The Events. The Addiction! Pinball Heroes: Industry Interviews.

Saturday 18 April 2009

Pinball Heroes: Kevin Martin

Steve Epstein created PAPA, the Professional and Amateur Pinball Association in New York. When he retired, he sold the name and assets (magazines, shirts, trophies etc) to the guy who was organising the Pinburgh tournaments. Now the excellent 30,000 square foot facility that houses PAPA is opened up twice a year to host the PAPA World Championships and a fund raising weekend.

Still with me? Let's try and clear it up a bit, The Pinball Blog presents:

Kevin Martin. President of PAPA.

The Pinball Blog: PAPA looks like a beautiful facility. With all those machines couldn't you open it up a little more often?

Kevin Martin: We've been working on that, actually. There were some false starts, and it's by no means simple to achieve, but we're working on renting it out for events, company meetings, etc. It's also been used for a few private parties with great success. Also, there are now two annual events open to the public - the main tournament in August, and the Cupids & Canines Casino Night, which raises money for dog charities. This year we raised over $10,000.

TPB: PAPA/IFPA do we really need both?

KM: Ha! You'd have to ask Steve Epstein and Roger Sharpe - I think they founded both organizations originally. Roger's son Josh runs IFPA now, they have an "event points" system - sort of like what you see for online poker, only a little more haphazard because the events themselves are more haphazard. PAPA and IFPA had both been on hiatus, until in each case, someone new stepped up to run things.

PAPA has a ranking system, too - "PARS" - but it's strictly a mathematical endeavor, using the Glicko system to assign scores to players based on their competitive matchplay. It's a fun little project and doesn't attract too much controversy.

PAPA really exists just to run the best possible annual tournament. IFPA has a broader variety of goals.

TPB: Who that you have met through pinball would you say has been the most influential and why?

KM: Kudos first have to go to Steve Epstein (left in picture with Roger Sharpe), who ran tournaments and put up with the likes of me, a snotty-nosed kid, in an overpriced, rundown NYC hotel. The early PAPA tournaments really showed me what a pinball tournament could be, and how it should be run - to create a good experience for everyone, and to be as fair as possible to every player.

My actual pinball play benefited tremendously from being at the same grad school as Keith Johnson (recently an ex-Stern employee) and from driving to Norfolk one weekend to meet Lyman Sheats. Competing against Keith, and watching Lyman as he thrashed everyone, including myself, really sharpened my skills and extended my love for the game. Keith and I used to drive around the South, looking for pinball machines in every nook and cranny.

TPB: What do you do 9-5?

KM: I own pair Networks, Inc, which I started in the summer of 1995. It's a 24x7 business so "9-5" might not be the right term. pair is one of the oldest independently-owned Web hosting companies on the Internet.

TPB: I'm sure you've told the flood story a hundred times, but how do you pick yourself up from something like that?

KM: There was an interesting sensation of freedom, actually. I was there when the floodwaters reached the cabinets, and I knew everything was a loss - and I realized that I could choose to do, or not do, whatever I wanted about it. We had just run a hugely successful PAPA tournament in a brand new facility, after PAPA had been offline for seven years. Nobody would fault me for just walking away and writing it off. Of course, anybody who knew me realized I was just going to rebuild. Once you're crazy/determined enough to build the place, rebuilding it is only a few percentage points crazier.

I actually went to Kennywood, our local amusement park, for most of the rest of the weekend. On Monday, I had our contractor out, an environmental cleanup crew was hired, and we were using forklifts to carry all the games out into the p
arking lot and smash them for parts. It was a fast, brutal assembly line - or more like a killing floor.

By the time we held PAPA 8, I actually had more machines in the facility than we had at PAPA 7. And there have been more every year since, and in better working order, especially since I hired Dave to stay on top of everything down there.

After the flood, the Army Corps of Engineers dredged the river and cleared its banks - so not only were the conditions in 2004 a "perfect storm" (two hurricanes coming through), the risks are much lower now regardless. And there's flood insurance on contents... which we had discussed, ironically, the day before the flood in 2004.

TPB: On the PAPA site you call yourself a formerly-somewhat-dangerous player. Do you think you're losing your touch or are other players getting better?

KM: Oh, I'm definitely losing my touch. Working for Data East/Sega Pinball was the first blow - when you play with the glass off, it's really hard to keep your skills sharp. My other big fault is concentration - trying too hard just makes pinball feel like hard work, and I prefer to just have a good time playing. I'm not a wild and crazy player, but I'm not going to sit there and shoot a ramp three hundred times, either. I've just got no patience for that.

I've been doing alright lately, mostly beating up on Dave. I hope to go to a few events sometime in the next year or two, but I've just been too darn busy.

TPB: What was the first machine you ever owned and what is the most recent you bought?

KM: When I lived in Virginia in grad school, I bought Dodge City and Gay 90's from an operator in the middle of nowhere. A few months later, I took the job with Data East and drove to Chicago - selling the games to a friend of mine. Since then, I've owned three other Dodge City machines, including one that was lost in the flood.

Today, I was getting quotes on 24 - so that might count as the most recent. Unless you want to know about some video games I just brought in from Hong Kong.

TPB: You also keep the excellent Pinball Archive which seems to have been around since the mid-13th century. Do you get much time to write the rule sheets like you used to?

KM: I would love to write more rule sheets, but I seem to have lost my ability to quickly grasp rules - I think I'm turning into an old man! For example, I've been playing a lot of Spiderman lately, and really killing it, but I couldn't explain about a third of the game to anyone. When I wrote rule sheets for games like Twilight Zone and Whitewater, I nailed down every detail, and that was before I even had access except as a player.

I think the Pinball Archive was an idea I had over Christmas 1991, and started up in the following month. That is pretty ancient - it was an FTP archive at my undergraduate school, in the image processing lab where they had Sun servers.

Lately, the Pinball Archive is pretty quiet - just the events page and very very rarely, an update to a rule sheet :(

TPB: Other than pinball, what makes Kevin Martin tick?

KM: Hmm. Well, I'm happily married to my brilliant, delightful, and adorable wife Doreen, and I have a 10-year-old stepdaughter, Rhiannon, as well as three dogs and three cats. I love to travel, either with friends & family or just for relaxation - sometimes, the further away, the better. I'm an old school computer geek who tends to learn new things just for the sake of learning, and I'm likely to solve any problem you give me by writing some crufty Perl, or C if really necessary. I've been playing a lot of poker in the last couple of years, mostly online, and although I'm not bad, I suffer from the same shortcomings as my pinball play - a lack of patience and concentration. Being impatient in a cash-based game is not usually a good idea...

TPB: Finally, we always ask our Pinball Heroes to sum up their involvement in pinball in one word or sentence.

KM: I enjoy the atmosphere of friendly competition that you find at tournaments and sometimes at leagues - I always say my goal is to "spread the pinball bug from player to player".

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Many thanks to Kevin for taking the time to answer our questions and more pinball heroes coming soon. Plus remember there are PAPA12 registrations and division entries as prizes at the Monster Meet in May so thanks again to Kevin and Dave for those!


The Pinball Blog

Photos Courtesy. Kevin Martin, PAPA, pair Networks, IFPA Pinball

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