Out this weekend on HULU is the movie “Pinball – The Man Who Saved the Game”. This movie tells the tale of pinball legend, Roger Sharpe. I highly recommend watching this to get a great history of the early pinball days.  On July 19th, 2019, I had the honor of interviewing Roger Sharpe to discuss pinball and his Walter Day Trading Cards.  I hope you enjoy this great interview.

Our next Trading Card Spotlight features Roger Sharpe, who is displayed on card number 204, from the Superstars of 2012 Collection.  Roger is also featured on trading cards 841 and 1709.  Roger’s impact on the pinball industry dates all the way back to the 1970’s and is still going strong today. Roger was responsible for securing the rights to hundreds of licensed themes including some of the top pinball games in history such as The Addams Family, Star Trek and Twilight Zone.  Roger was also the Managing Editor of Gentlemen’s Quarterly and the Editor of Video Games Magazine as well as feature writer for numerous publications and the author/contributor to twelve books, including PINBALL!  He was co-founder of the Professional and Amateur Pinball Association (PAPA) and currently the Co-Director of the International Flipper Pinball Association (IFPA).  Roger’s children Josh and Zach also play a huge part in the family history as President and Vice-President of the IFPA organization.

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

I am a fan of digital pinball machines if we are comparing them to standard ‘mechanical’ machines. They do offer a completely different challenge and experience. However, for the most part, what they do lack is level of physical interactivity one experiences from playing a standard pinball machine. But for many, the games are enjoyable, and the more people play any type of pinball is great for pinball.

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

There really have been so many ‘Eras’ for pinball with much due to various technological advancements from pure mechanical games to electro-mechanical, solid state and now the state of the art. But for purists maybe the late ‘50s and ‘60s for Gottlieb machines, the mid to late ‘70s for Bally machines and then the surge of pinball from the late ‘80s through the ‘90s led by Williams and Bally.

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

Personally, I am amazed but also extremely gratified by the surge in popularity for Pinball and the fact that all the various Expo’s and events being staged annually around the world is a direct result of the increased interest and excitement surrounding Pinball. Admittedly, if there wasn’t an audience for any given Expo, it probably wouldn’t take place and, if anything, the numbers are growing each and every year.

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

Having been directly involved in the very early ‘virtual’ pinball games on the Nintendo System as well as for the PC and then again, with foresight and the Williams/Bally Catalog; I think these efforts and so many others have helped introduce a new generation of pinball players. And for those who don’t have the space or finances to own their own ‘mechanical’ pinball machine, at least they are still able to experience the wonders of the silver ball.

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

When I first moved to New York City, I wasn’t even aware that pinball was illegal. For me the direct result led to my writing my pinball book and testifying in New York as well a getting the opportunity to design pinball machines and, ultimately, move back to my hometown of Chicago to work at Williams Bally/Midway. To take it one step further, it has also become an integral part of my son’s lives. So, although I could never understand the legal restrictions placed on pinball, not only in New York City but elsewhere, if it weren’t for the ban, my life would have been completely different. So, I suppose, the ban was a positive for me personally.

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

Well I did recount that experience in my pinball book although, admittedly, the game I played while standing on an orange crate was a baseball pitch and bat machine. If anything, the first ‘meaningful’ game that had an impact was Gottlieb’s ‘Hurdy Gurdy’. It was the machine upon which I perfected my pinball playing skills and also the first game I ever ‘turned’.

What are your opinions about today’s generation of pinball?  How do you compare them to older, classic machines?

I think today’s games are incredibly diverse in many ways with elaborate playfield layouts and rule sets which provide something for almost every pinball player. By and large I like them all and take my hat off to those responsible for bringing them to life. In terms of comparison to ‘older, classic’ machines, that becomes a more difficult proposition because tastes change as does technology. Given my life with pinball I am partial to the machines which first captured by fascination, but their overall simplicity wouldn’t appeal to the majority of today’s players in much the same way that an old black and white movie might not resonate compared to a current big screen special effects spectacular.

Did you ever think when you were younger you would be on a video game trading card?

I never thought I would be on a video game trading card or that pinball would become such an integral part of my life.

When did you first meet Walter Day and where was it at?

Walter and I first crossed paths when I took over the editorship of video games magazines back in 1983. We were the first magazine to really recognize Twin Galaxies and published the Twin Galaxies National Scoreboard in the pages of the magazine.

If you could describe Walter Day in one word, what would that word be and why?

Passionate. Walter has stayed the course over these many decades in pursuit of realizing a dream and acknowledging individuals who have left their mark on the history and legacy of video games and pinball machines. I admire his perseverance and dedication to celebrating such a diverse group of people. Walter is an original and a genuinely wonderful fellow and, dare I say, a dear friend.

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

That is always a difficult question. It’s like asking, who is my favorite son (they both are by the way). Obviously, I have a soft spot in my heart for the games I designed, but there have been machines I do count as ‘favorites’. Mills Official from 1932 for the simplicity of design and very compelling game play. There is, of course, Hurdy Gurdy and Cow Poke from the ‘60s; Sky Jump from the ‘70s which inspired my design for Sharpshooter and the list is far too voluminous when I look at my own personal collection and the games from the ’80, ‘90s on through to today.

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

The answer to that question might have to remain a mystery until and if I get the opportunity to design another pinball machine.

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

Wow, that is definitely a difficult question to answer going back to which of my children I love more. I love all my games and even those that wish I had but don’t.

What does it take to be a pinball journalist?

I suppose the best answer to that question, although I am not certain there are any true ‘Pinball Journalists’ is that they have an appreciation and love for the games. Whatever they may be writing about, that their objective is to portray the subject matter in a way that is clear and true.

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

Yes, Pinball is for the young and young at heart. Men, women, boys and girls. The games can enthrall some such as my seven and five year old grandson and granddaughter just as easily as appealing to their much older grandfather and grandmother.

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

I actually like both although it is fun to compete or at least play with someone else. Pinball is a very social experience and whether it is playing for fun or in a tournament or league, I am just glad I still play and every once in a while, I am able to do something that maybe I didn’t think I could ever do again.

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

I think all the current companies are making some very memorable games and I will defer to others who might have opinions on which might be the best.


Do you learn anything from playing pinball?

As long winded as I have been already, this question is one that I cold comment on with probably an extremely verbose narrative. So, I will defer and say ‘Yes’. You can learn much from playing pinball.

Are pinball machines good for relieving stress?

For many, myself included, the answer is ‘Yes’. There is nothing like losing yourself form the vagaries of the real world by playing a game and getting immersed in that fantasy world under glass.

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

Still going strong with an entirely new generation of players captivated by the wonders of pinball and what it delivers as a totally immersive sensory leisure time form of entertainment, not replicable by anything else.

Todd Friedman Todd Friedman (402 Posts)

Todd Friedman is heavily involved in the retro gaming community and has co-promoted the Video Game Summit in Chicago, IL for the past 16 years. He also has published 2 books and written for various different gaming magazines including Old School Gamer.