The Most Immersive Pinball Machine: Project Supernova

Over at [Truthlabs], a 30 year old pinball machine was diagnosed with a major flaw in its game design: It could only entertain one person at a time. [Dan] and his colleagues set out to change this, transforming the ol’ pinball legend “Firepower” into a spectacular, immersive gaming experience worthy of the 21st century.

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.

pinnball-ocr-comp

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?

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Hacklet 101 – Pinball projects

There’s something about pinball that draws in hackers, makers, and engineers. Maybe it’s the flashing lights, the sounds, the complex mechanical movements. Could it be the subtle tactics required to master the game? Whatever the reason, everyone loves pinball, and more than a few hackers have dedicated their time and money toward building, restoring, and hacking pinball machines. This week’s Hacklet is all about the best pinball projects on Hackaday.io!

trekpinWe start with [zittware] and Star Trek: The Mirror Universe Pinball. [Zittware] worked with [clay], [fc2sw], and [steve] to create this awesome project. They took a 1978 Bally Star Trek pinball machine, and rebuilt an evil mirror universe version. The electronics include nixie tubes and a bulletproof power supply based upon an ATX computer setup. New play field elements and hardware were created on a CNC. Evil graphics were created with the help of Photoshop. The game is completely playable, and was a crowd favorite in the Hackaday Sci-Fi contest. The electronics and cabinet work are all open source. Unfortunately those pesky copyright laws prevent the team from sharing the artwork.

riiingpinNext up is [Erland Lewin] with RINNIG Pinball Simulator. Some hackers have the space for a few real pinball machines. For the rest of us, there is virtual pinball. [Erland Lewin] built this mini virtual pinball machine from plywood, some real pinball hardware, and a lot of ingenuity. The play field is a 24″ dell computer monitor, while the back glass is a 20″ monitor. A final 15″ monitor takes the place of the Dot Matrix Display (DMD) often found on pinball machines. The whole system is driven by an Intel i3 computer. [Erland] is going to try to use the on-board graphics. If he runs into trouble, he can always switch to a discrete graphics card. The machine has turned out great, and his sons love playing classic pinball machines on their own “kid sized” table.

pinboxIf virtual pinball is still a bit large for you, [Loyal J] has you covered with Pinbox Jr. Desktop computer virtual pinball has been a thing since the days of Windows XP. Somehow tapping keyboard keys isn’t quite the same as hitting real flipper buttons. Pinbox Jr. is a prototype pinball controller built inside a cardboard box. A Teensy 3.1 translates the buttons to USB keyboard inputs. Two large arcade buttons act as the flippers while two smaller buttons are available for game options and other functions.  [Loyal J] even added a triple axis accelerometer so pinbox responds to rough play with a tilt! All this project needs is a solenoid to replicate that real pinball feel.

optimusAt the top of the virtual pinball mountain stands [Randy Walker] with Optimus-Pin. Optimus is a full-sized virtual pinball cabinet. It’s a 3 screen affair, much like RINNIG Pinball up top. [Randy] took things to the next level with an absolutely gorgeous custom cabinet. The Transformers inspired artwork was created on commission by commercial artist [Javier Reyes]. Optimus really recreates the feel of playing pinball with 8 solenoids placed in strategic positions around the cabinet. Even the whirring of play-field motors is replicated by a hidden Volkswagen wiper motor. Optimus also comes with a complete light show including RGB LED strips, strobes, and a shaker to rattle the entire cabinet.

If you want to see more pinball projects check out our brand new pinball projects list! If I missed your project, don’t be shy! Just drop me a message on Hackaday.io. That’s it for this week’s Hacklet. As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Pinball Table Gets New Lease of Life With Arduino

Forget all of this video game nonsense: pinball is the real king of gaming. After all, it involves large pieces of metal flying around at high speed. [retronics] agrees: he has resurrected an old Briarwood Aspen pinball table using an Arduino.

pinball-table-repairWhen he bought the table, he found that the electronics had been fried: many of the discrete components on the board had been burnt out. So, rather than replace the individual parts, he gutted the table and replaced the logic board with an Arduino Mega that drives the flippers, display and chimes that make pinball the delightful experience it is. Fortunately, this home pinball table is well documented, so he was able to figure out how to rewire the remaining parts fairly easily, and how to recreate the scoring system in software.

His total cost for the refurb was about $300 and the junker was just $50 to start with. Now for $350 you can probably find a working pinball table. But that’s not really the point here: he did it for the experience of working with electromechanical components like flippers and tilt switches. We would expect nothing less from the dude who previously built an Android oscilloscope from spare parts.

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Galactic Dimension – a supersized DIY pinball machine

If you are from the 1960’s or 1970’s we know you would have enjoyed furiously punching the buttons of a pin ball machine back in the day. Installation artist [Niklas Roy] recently revisited this old classic game and built Galactic Dimension – a supersized pinball machine for Phæno – an amazing science center in the German city of Wolfsburg. The science centre was planning a big exhibition featuring thirty beautiful, classic pinball machines loaned from the Pacific Pinball Museum in Alameda, California.

The game machine was built on a steep ramp and has a gigantic play field measuring 3m x 6m (10’x20′). It features Sci-Fi game elements in the play field which blend perfectly with the futuristic building where it is housed. The game elements are built from repurposed everyday items like hair dryers and fans, giving visitors the motivation to build some of their own such contraptions.

The players operate the machine via a control desk, and a giant calculator is used to display the game score. The steep ramp had an incline of almost 30° which meant that he had to use a light ball to be able to propel it around the play field. The main user controls are the two flippers, and building giant ones was a big challenge. Solenoids or coils would not cut the ice, and he settled for pneumatic cylinders – easy to control, powerful, not too loud, and the museum already had a compressed air supply readily available. But it still took him three iterations before he could get it right. The plunger, which initially propels the ball, was built from PVC pipes and a hair dryer. Each play field element was built as a separate module to make assembly and maintenance easier. All featured a 220V AC supply, a sensor (either an IR distance sensor or a light barrier) to detect the ball, and an Arduino. Actuators were built from hair dryers and portable fans. Each of them have their own sound effects too – either a hacked toy or a speaker controlled by the Arduino. After everything was built, taken apart, transported, and reassembled at the site, the Galactic Dimension worked without a glitch, and without releasing any magic smoke. To top it off, Andreas Harre, who’s been the German pinball champion for several years in a row, also played the machine when he visited Phæno – and was totally excited about it!

So if you are in that part of Germany anytime until September, do drop in and try to ring up a big score. For photos of his build log, check out the photo album. There’s also a fairly big block diagram (German) and the Arduino sketches (.zip file), if you’d like to take a stab at building an even bigger pinball machine. Check the video to see the machine in action. And if the name [Niklas] sounds familiar, it is because he loves building installations such as the Forbidden Fruit Machine, the Ball Sucking Machine, and another Ball Sucking Machine.

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Pinball Simulator Makes The Neighbors Happy

There are a lot of simulators out there if you want to try something out that would be otherwise impossible. Great examples are flight simulators for simulating the piloting of a fighter jet, or goat simulators for simulating the life of a goat who destroys a town. [Erland] wanted a pinball machine, but like planes and goats, found it was impractical to get a real one because it would probably upset his neighbors in his apartment. Instead, he set out to build a pinball simulator.

The cabinet is miniature-sized compared to a regular pinball machine so it can more easily fit in the apartment. It utilizes three monitors, a 24″ one in portrait mode for the main playing area, a 20″ one for the back screen, and a smaller one for the “dot matrix” style scoreboard. Once the woodwork was completed, a PC was put together to control everything and an Arduino was installed to handle the buttons and output USB commands to the PC.

Of course, we’ve featured many other pinball simulators before, but this one is no slouch when it comes to features either. It is very well crafted and the project is very well documented, and the miniature size sets it apart as well. However, if you want to go a step further with your pinball simulator, you might want to check out this augmented reality pinball system.

Building A Pinball Emulator

Building a MAME machine – an arcade cabinet that will play everything from Galaga to Street Fighter II – is surely on the ‘to build’ list of thousands of Hackaday readers around the world. It’s a relatively simple build, provided you can put a sheet of MDF in your car; it’s just an emulator, and if you can find a CRT and have an old computer sitting around, you’re already halfway there.

There is another class of arcade games that can be emulated. This is, of course, pinball machines. [Jan] built a virtual pinball cabinet over the last few months and his build log is incredible. If you’ve ever wanted to build a pinball emulator, this is the guide to reference.

The most important part of a pinball emulator is the displays. For this, [Jan] is using a 40-inch TV for the playfield, a 28-inch monitor to display the backglass art, and a traditional 128×32 DMD. Instead of manufacturing his own cabinet, he repurposed an old electromechanical machine, Bally’s Little Joe.

The software is the real star of the show with PinballX serving as the front end, with Future Pinball and Visual Pinball serving as the emulators. These emulators drive the displays, changing out back glasses, and simulating the physics of the ball. The computer running all of this has a few neat electromechanical bits including a shaker motor, an original Williams replay knocker, and some relays or solenoids give the digital table a tremendous amount of force feedback. This is the way to do it, and if you don’t have these electromechanical bits and bobs securely fastened to the machine, you really lose immersion.

You can check out a video of the table in action below.

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Meme Themed Pinball Machine – Much Flipping, Y U No Win?!

Summoning 4chans, 9gags, Reddits and other denizens of easily-digested content, Liberty Games stripped apart a dilapidated “Baby Doll” pinball arcade machine and turned it into this meme-spouting monstrosity. A complete redo of the vinyl and graphics to sport dozens of familiar internet tropes was first, then they had Shapeways create internal scenery and finally some electronics were added to spice things up.

We have seen PINMAME-based digital machines but this took a different path. Pinball machines this old pre-date common transistors so they rely on electro-mechanicals for everything. This made hacking the machine challenging so the team intercepted most of the signals and tied them into a Raspberry Pi with a Pi-face interface board. A videoscreen was added to the scoreboard, triggering all manner of memey videos and sounds according to actions performed and unlocked on the screen.

If you yearn for expired pranks of years gone by and are bad at pinball, you are in luck. Losing the game gets you Rickrolled – over and over again. On the plus side, Nyan Cat rockets away to bonuses and even the Admiral himself warns you of impending danger.

We resisted the urge to write this article as a chain of one meme to the next, you will get plenty of that from the well-documented project conversion and the following video. Someone in the comments will probably make a list of all memes.

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