As pinball has evolved, it has gone from a simple gravity based game to an electromechanical one. As the 20th century came to a close, pinball games added digital elements as well, matrix displays replaced electromechanical scoreboards, and LEDs replaced incandescent bulbs. While the game got more creative as new technologies became available, the basics of the pinball never changed – keep the ball alive using your skill with the flippers (and the occasional nudge.) [Garagem Fab Lab] has taken the basics of the pinball machine and, with some wood and elastic bands, has created a very nice desktop pinball machine.
The plans for the game require getting the wood cut by a CNC mill, but they could probably be easily created using a jigsaw. Instead of electrical buttons and solenoids, pieces of wood push the flippers out and elastics reset them when released. The bumpers, too, are simple dowels with rubber bands wrapped around them. The launching mechanism is a bit of bungee cord tied onto a piece of wood and used like a flipper to speed the ball into the play area.
The build is a throwback to the earliest pinball machines. Sure, there’s no reaction from the bumpers when they’re hit, they’re just passive, but the game looks fun. It would be a great base to add in some sensors, a microcontroller, and a display to keep track of scores if one was so inclined. Other DIY pinball machines we’ve seen are this pinball game built with Meccano and lasers, as well as this completely 3D-printed machine.
Have you ever wanted to roll your own pinball machine? It’s one of those kinds of builds where it’s easy to go off the deep end. But if you’re just getting your feet wet and want to mess around with different playfield configurations, start with something like [joesinstructables]’ Arduino Laser Pinball.
It’s made from meccano pieces attached with standoffs, so the targets are easy to rearrange on the playfield. [joesinstructables] wanted to use rollover switches in the targets, but found that ping pong balls are much too light to actuate them. Instead, each of the targets uses a tripwire made from a laser pointing at a photocell. When the ping pong ball enters the target, it breaks the beam. This triggers a solenoid to eject the ball and put it back into play. It also triggers an off-field solenoid to ring a standard front-desk-type bell one to three times depending on the target’s difficulty setting.
The flippers use solenoids to pull the outside ends of levers made from meccano, which causes the inside ends to push the ball up and away from the drain. Once in a while a flipper will get stuck, which you can see in the demo video after the break. An earlier version featured an LCD screen to show the score, but [joesinstructables] can’t get it to work for this version. Can you help? And do you think a bouncy ball would actuate a rollover switch?
The bumper design is particularly interesting. The magic happens with two rings of conductive filament. the bottom one is stationary while the top one is a multi material print with a flexible filament. When the ball runs into the bumper the top filament flexes and the lower rings contact. Awesome. Who wants to copy this over to a joystick or bump sensor for a robot first? Send us a tip!
The whole document can be read as a primer on pinball design. [Tony] starts by describing the history of pinball from the French courts to the modern day. He then works up from the play styles, rules, and common elements to the rationale for his design. It’s fascinating.
Then his guide gets to the technical details. The whole machine was designed in OpenSCAD. It took over 8.5 km of eighty different filaments fed through 1200+ hours of 3D printing time (not including failed prints) to complete. The electronics were hand laid out in a notebook, based around custom boards, parts, and two Arduinos that handle all the solenoids, scoring, and actuators. The theme is based around a favorite bowling alley and other landmarks.
It’s a labor of love for sure, and an inspiring build. You can catch a video of it in operation after the break.
[Brian Leach] of the South East London Meccano Club has put an impressive amount of ingenuity into making his pinball machine almost entirely out of Meccano parts. He started in 2013 and we saw an earlier version of the table back in 2014, but it has finally been completed. It has all the trappings of proper pinball: score counter, score multiplier with timeout, standing targets, kickouts, pot bumpers, drop targets, and (of course) flippers and plunger.
The video (embedded below) is very well produced with excellent closeups of the different mechanisms as [Brian] gives a concise tour of the machine. Some elements are relatively straightforward, others required workarounds to get the right operation, but it’s all beautifully done. For example, look at the score counter below. Meccano electromagnets are too weak to drive the numbers directly, so a motor turns all numbers continuously with a friction drive and electromagnets are used to stop the rotation at specific points. Reset consists of letting the numbers spin freely to 9999 then doing a last little push for a clean rollover to zero.
One click on the wrong YouTube link, and one sleepless night after being introduced to virtual pinball, and [Sascha Rossier], aka Swiss hip-hop rapper [Der Lügner], was at work on his own design. You can watch the plans, and the build progress on [Sascha]’s project diary (in German, translated here). The awesome case, huge monitor serving as the playfield, bump and tilt sensors make this a droolworthy device.
We also learned how to say “greebles” in Swiss-German: “greebles“. And there are greebles galore in this build. [Sascha]’s 3D printer was working overtime churning out not only fan ducts for the computer that lives inside the case, but also dia-de-los-muertos themed foot brackets and all sorts of loudspeaker covers and dinosaur accoutrements. This is clearly a labor of love. (And [Sascha] wrote us back about the date in the name: it’s when he and his girlfriend met 20 years ago, playing pinball nonetheless!)
Head off to [Sascha]’s website and check it out. All of the details are there, from the mechanical design to the part selection. This is probably the most elaborate virtual pinball build we’ve seen, but it’s not the only one. Heck, we’ve even seen a virtual machine built into a real pinball machine’s case. But never before have we seen one with so darn many greebles.
[Mark Gibson] probably has nothing against silicon. He just knows that a lot that can be done with simple switches, relays, and solenoids and wants to share that knowledge with the world. This was made abundantly clear to me during repeat visits to his expansive booth at Denver Mini Maker Faire last weekend.
In the sunlight-filled atrium of the Museum of Nature and Science, [Mark] sat behind several long tables covered with his creations made from mid-century pinball machines. There are about two dozen pieces in his interactive exhibit, which made its debut at the first-ever Northern Colorado Maker Faire in 2013. [Mark] was motivated to build these boards because he wanted to get people interested in the way things work through interaction and discovery of pinball mechanisms.
Most of the pieces he has built are single units and simple systems from pinball machines—flippers, chime units, targets, bumpers, and so on—that he affixed to wooden boards so that people can explore them without breaking anything. All of the units are operated using large and inviting push buttons that have been screwed down tight. Each of the systems also has a display card with an engineering drawing of the mechanism and a short explanation of how it works.
[Mark] also brought some of the original games he has created by combining several systems from different machines, like a horse derby and a baseball game. Both of these were built with education in mind; all of the guts including the original fabric-wrapped wires are prominently displayed. The derby game wasn’t working, but I managed to load the bases and get a grand slam in the baseball game. Probably couldn’t do that again in a million summers.
A major limitation they wanted to overcome was screen size. A projector mounted to the ceiling should turn the entire wall behind the machine into a massive 15-foot playfield for anyone in the room to enjoy.
With so much space to fill, the team assembled a visual concept tailored to blend seamlessly with the original storyline of the arcade classic, studying the machine’s artwork and digging deep into the sci-fi archives. They then translated their ideas into 3D graphics utilizing Cinema4D and WebGL along with the usual designer’s toolbox. Lasers and explosions were added, ready to be triggered by game interactions on the machine.
To hook the augmentation into the pinball machine’s own game progress, they elaborated an elegant solution, incorporating OpenCV and OCR, to read all five of the machine’s 7 segment displays from a single webcam. An Arduino inside the machine taps into the numerous mechanical switches and indicator lamps, keeping a Node.js server updated about pressed buttons, hits, the “Lange Change” and plunged balls.
The result is the impressive demonstration of both passion and skill you can see in the video below. We really like the custom shader effects. How could we ever play pinball without them?