If you’ve been playing pinball for a while, you’ve probably seen the “panic flipper” just double flipping away wildly. Their last ball drains, they look sad, or they nervously laugh and then they might just wander off never to be seen again. Every so often, however, something great happens. They watch you play, they wait patiently and when your game ends, they ask you how you just did that. It doesn’t matter if you’re a great player or not. If you can just teach someone the basics you might have just set someone on the path of becoming another pinball undesirable.

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In your opinion, are there enough or too little Pinball Expos and conferences held each year?

In 2020 with everything that has or will be canceled there are going to be entirely too few, but in a normal year, I think the number of pinball expos and conventions has been about right.  It can feel like too much when several are around the same time of the year, but I feel like the overall number is good. I’d rather error on the side of having too few successful conventions then having too many and burning people out.

What was the best era for pinball gaming in your opinion?

I think the best era for Pinball is the current era.  I’ve got a lot of love for games from the 80s and 90s, but when it comes to rules, lighting, display, sound, etc. The current era is unmatched.  I think every era has games that shoot great, the current era games just do so much more with a good layout than the games of the past could do.

What’s your opinion of the console pinball games (Xbox, PlayStation) that recreate the original machines onto the TV screen?  

I took a long break from pinball in the early 2000s when pinball machines were a rare sight in my area.  One day I spotted Farsight Studios’ “Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection” for the Wii and recognizing a few of the games so I picked it up and started playing.  From there I moved on to Farsight’s “The Pinball Arcade” for the PC. These two games really reignited my love of pinball and when a few pinball machines showed up in a local brewery I jumped at the chance to play again.  These recreations got me back into the hobby and I’ve heard other people tell similar stories. They’re a great tool for making pinball available in places where there aren’t any machines and giving people a place to learn about games.

Did you agree on the pinball ban in New York City on the 1970s?  What is your opinion on this topic?

The one great thing to come out of the pinball ban was establishing that pinball is a game of skill.  Sometimes when I’m trying to introduce someone to pinball, they think it’s all luck and being able to recount the story of New York City’s ban and how Roger Sharpe was brought into court to prove otherwise makes for a great story to tell.

Do you remember your first pinball machine you played and what do you remember about it?

There are two games that I remember as being the first pinball machines I ever played, Pin Bot and Bride of Pin Bot.  I can’t remember which one I played first but Bride of Pin Bot was the game that made pinball click with me. The first time the Bride’s head rotated I stopped thinking of pinball as a game where you just try to keep the ball in play and started thinking about it in terms of goals.  I wanted to see what each of the faces of the Bride were.

What is your favorite pinball machine past and present and why?

This is the impossible question that inevitably gets asked of anyone who’s into pinball.  What game is my favorite is entirely circumstantial; it all depends on what I’m in the mood for.  Sometimes I just want to be nostalgic and shoot left ramp all day, so Bride of Pinbot is my favorite game.  Sometimes I want a game with incredible depth, so Jersey Jack’s Pirates of the Caribbean is my favorite game.  I don’t think I could ever come up with one single favorite game, so here’s a chronological list of my top 5 which is subject to change at any time.  Bride of Pinbot, Monster Bash, Stern Star Trek, Total Nuclear Annihilation, and Jersey Jack Pirates of the Caribbean.

What would your design and theme of the perfect pinball machine be and why?

I really love seeing games that use an original theme rather than a licensed one so my idea of a perfect pinball machine would have a theme that combines elements of Jack Bot and Big Bang Bar, but would use a licensed soundtrack.  From Big Bang Bar I’d take the idea of the Star Wars-ish space cantina full of different alien species. From Jack Bot I’d take the casino and the idea of rules that revolve around gambling. For the soundtrack, I’d use industrial rock like Nine Inch Nails and KMFDM.  When it comes to the design of the game, I’d look toward Stern’s Star Trek for inspiration. Most shots can be hit from either flipper, nothing you need to shoot is punishing when hit, and there is a third upper flipper that can be used to make a looping shot as well as hit a few other targets.  As for the why behind this, it’s just a mash-up of a lot of things I like!

Are you fan of the new digital pinball machines and what makes them better or worse than the standard machines?

I love the idea of them, but they’re just not for me.  I like that they have much lower maintenance than a standard machine and that opens them up into going places where a standard machine wouldn’t.  Getting more pinball out there is how the hobby grows. However, it’s just not the same. Subtle in nudging is something I’ve never seen a digital pinball machine get right.  In a standard pinball machine unexpected things happen, the ball gets some crazy spin on it and moves in a way that just doesn’t happen in digital pinball. Every standard pinball machine has its quirks, just little ways that it acts differently than any other game of that model and again digital pinball doesn’t have that.  I absolutely love that digital pinball is out there and it’s bringing more people into the hobby, but I don’t think it could be better than playing a physical game.

If you could only own one pinball machine, what would it be and why?

Stern’s Star Trek.  I own one and I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of it.  It shoots great, it has just enough rules depth, and the goal of reaching Enterprise Amok or 5 Year Mission is lofty enough that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get there.

What does it take to be a pinball collector?

More money than sense.  Seriously as someone who owns a few games, it occurs to me now that the far more sensible option is to make friends with a pinball collector.

Are pinball machines aimed mainly at children, adolescents or adults?

I think right now they’re mostly aimed at adults and in particular skewing towards the ages of 40-60.  My reasoning behind that is looking at what bands have been used as themes for a pinball machine and when those bands were at the height of their popularity. However, plenty of games have had themes that appeal to a wide age range such as anything relating to Marvel.  I’d like to see more games that on the surface appear to appeal to a younger age group but have a theme that really is cross-generational. American Pinball making a Hot Wheels game is a great example of that. I want pinball to be a game that’s thought of as being for everyone.  We need younger players to grow up to become the older players.

Do you prefer playing pinball alone or against someone and why?

It’s pretty rare that I think of myself as either playing alone or against someone.  I love pinball as a game that’s played socially, just you and some friends all-around a game having a good time.  In-person or via Twitch that kind of casual pinball is my preferred way to play. When I travel to play competitively the best part isn’t the actual competition it’s getting to spend time with everyone between games.

Which company makes/made the best pinball machines and why?

Given that I think the best era of pinball is the one we’re living in, I have to look to the current manufacturers as for who I think makes the best pinball machines.  That being said, at their peak in the 90s Bally/Williams made some incredible games. Of the current manufacturers, I think it’s Jersey Jack that captures what made those Bally/Williams games so good and brings that forward with all the advances in technology that have happened over the last 30 years.

Do you learn anything from playing pinball?

I’ve learned a lot from playing pinball, but none of it is actually about pinball.  Playing pinball has gotten me to get out more, meet people, and make friends. It’s gotten me to be more comfortable being myself.

Are pinball machines good for relieving stress?

It depends on the person.  I’ve seen people who get incredibly tense and focused when they play, and I’ve seen other people who enter zen-like tranquility.  I’m more towards the zen side of things and find myself feeling less stressed after playing. I usually don’t get bothered by a bad ball, bad game, or a long string of bad games.  I just enjoy playing and I find that most of my best games happen when I’m relaxed and just play without thinking too much about it.

Where do you see the pinball world in the next 20 years?

I think pinball has come a long way in the last 20 years and proven itself to be able to survive hard times so I have no doubt pinball will still be around in 20 years.  I’m hopeful we’ll continue to see growth in the number of machines being produced and the number of people looking to play them. There is something about the physical nature of pinball that’s always appealed to people and I think more people are going to want to have that kind of experience as it becomes increasingly rare.  There’s also the social side of the hobby. People need social contact, people want to go out to bars, breweries, barcades, etc. and pinball is part of that. In 20 years, I think we’ll find that the barcade wasn’t a passing fad. New games will come out, companies will rise and fall, technology will improve, and the hobby will be bigger than it is today as more people want something real.

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Todd Friedman Todd Friedman (176 Posts)

Todd Friedman is heavily involved in the video game community. He is currently writing for Old School Gamer Magazine, Retro Gaming Times and The Walter Day Collection. He has Co-Promoted the Video Game Summit in Illinois for the past 11 Years. Todd's first book, Walter Day's Superstars of Gaming, Volume 1, was released in February of 2020. Todd is also the Chairman of the Nomination Committee for the International Video Game Hall of Fame.