A huge thanks to the one and only Roger Sharpe – the man that saved pinball – for this intriguing article!
An incredibly prolific writer, Herbert George Wells is probably best known for his works of science fiction. Published in 1933, The Shape of Things to Come, provided the platform for H. G. Wells to speculate on a number of future events leading up to the year 2106. Some were well off the mark, but others were very much on target and still playing out today.
I offer this as an opening since whatever I might feel about the future of pinball is, admittedly, predicated on past events as well as where we find ourselves today. It is a time of uncertainty across the globe. However dire our personal feelings are, or for those who are eternally and ideally optimistic, there is one undisputable fact—pinball has always proven itself to be resilient. And so it is that I will attempt to provide my own personal glimpse into ‘the shape of things to come for pinball’.
But before looking ahead into whatever silver crystal ball I might have in the palm of my hands, I have to set the stage based on the facts of the past. After all, if we ignore the past and any lessons potentially learned, we are destined to have history repeat itself. And for pinball, that is not what any of us will want for that ‘same player shoots again’.
Think about it for the moment. Legal restrictions, of which, yes, I am very personally aware. A public out pouring of animosity and hatred of the innocent marble machine. A world war devastating so many and leaving an entire industry in a shambles, forced (or at least conscripted) to abandon their primary source of business and concentrate on the manufacturing of war materials’. A new technology captivating an entire generation transfixed by the wonders of controlling pixels and vectors on a screen, quick to leave behind and forget about an ‘ancient’ mechanical marvel. And now, a global pandemic which has thrown our very lives into turmoil where some wonder about whatever, and whenever, we might find ourselves bridging into a new normal.
Throughout all of this, pinball has only moderately faltered, but it has never disappeared. In fact, at the most desperate and darkest of times, it has found its way back with some inexplicable life force that defies logic. But that is the allure and appeal of pinball. It is the mysterious hold it has on those who are brought into the web of flashing lights, amazing sounds and the delicious physical interaction of human with machine.
So where are we going in the days, weeks, months and years ahead? Well, what I find intriguing is all the activity and attention being paid to pinball today. Where for over a decade just one stood tall to keep the ball moving, we now have a cluster of manufacturers designing and developing the next era of pinball. With this there appears to be a new mindset in creating what I think of as multiple layers of game objectives and greater depth.
It is no longer simply, nor has it been for many, many years—just hitting the flashing light or complete the green and red targets. Even the more familiar mode based objectives have evolved into ways not imagined just a few short years ago. The result is that pinball is now featuring much more ‘under the hood’ thanks to the talents of some extremely gifted designers, engineers and programmers. It has breathed new life into the games and, by doing so, opens a door to imaginative creativity for where pinball is going.
Further developments are taking pinball into completely different places than what might have been imagined and bodes well for the future. Zen Studios, Farsight and others are bringing virtual pinball into the hands of those who might not have access to physical machines, especially during the shelter-at-home orders around the globe. And as such, both the young and older audience gets to experience the wonders of pinball on their computers, iPads, tablets, and mobile phones. The result is increased familiarity and exposure to pinball which will only increase the role of pinball going forward.
Add to this a new and exciting endeavor which takes this ‘remote’ access one step further thanks to Surrogate.tv where players are connected online to play a physical machine. Still in its infancy, I can envision endless potentiality for this.
Last but not least for my vision of the future and, admittedly, very surprising has been the outpouring of interest by legions of players to once again compete. Whether it is tournaments, events supported by PAPA and the IFPA, there is still hunger being expressed by so many.
Maybe this becomes the critical path for pinball going forward with ranking systems that provide me and I know, my dearest friend Steve Epstein, smiles since it has leap frogged over anything either of us would have dreamed about. Pinball has taken hold of a growing number of people around the world and will it, eventually, lead to major sponsorships and gala competitions broadcast on air and not just streamed? I believe the time will tell for this to be true as pinball is a limitless art form, evolving and bringing boundless imagination to what it delivers each and every game.
The future is bright as my silver crystal ball reveals. And for that I am eternally grateful. Pinball deserves its place in the sun and to continue to be celebrated and enjoyed.
Roger Sharpe, August 20th, 2020