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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Augmented Reality Pinball

Pinball machines are fascinating pieces of mechanical and electrical engineering, and now [Yair Moshe] and his students at the Israel Institute of Technology has taken the classic game one step further.  Using computer vision and a projector, this group of engineers has created an augmented reality pinball game that takes pinball to a whole new level.

Once the laptop, webcam, and projector are set up, a course is drawn on a whiteboard which the computer “sees” to determine the rules of the game. Any course you can imagine can be drawn on the whiteboard too, with an interesting set of rules that no regular pinball game could take advantage of. Most notably, the ball can change size when it hits certain types of objects, which makes for a very interesting and unconventional style of play.

The player uses their hands to control the flippers as well, but not with buttons. The computer watches the position of the player’s hands and flips the flippers when it sees a hand in the right position. [Yair] and his students recently showed this project off at DLD Tel Aviv and even got [Shimon Perez], former President of Israel, to play some pinball at the conference!

Digital Pinball With Force Feedback

pinball Hang around Hackaday long enough and you’ll hear about MAME, and all the other ways to emulate vintage arcade machines on a computer. The builds are usually fantastic, with real arcade buttons, MDF cabinets, and side graphics with just the right retro flair to make any connoisseur of ancient video games happy. MAME is only emulating old video games, though, and not physical systems like the digital pinball system [ronnied] put up on the Projects site.

[ronnied] was inspired by a real life, full-size White Water pinball machine at his previous job, and decided it was high time for him to acquire – somehow – a pinball machine of his own. He had a spare computer sitting around, an old 16:9 monitor for the main playfield, and was donated a smaller 4:3 monitor for the backglass. With an MDF cabinet, PinMAME, and a little bit of work, [ronnied] had his own machine capable of recreating hundreds of classic machines.

The build didn’t stop at just a few arcade buttons and a screen; [ronnied] added a 3-axis accelerometer for a tilt mechanism, solenoids and a plunger torn from a real pinball machine for a more realistic interface, and a Williams knocker for a very loud bit of haptic feedback. We’ve seen solenoids, buzzers, and knockers in pinball emulators before, and the vibrations and buzzing that comes with these electromechanical add ons make all the difference; without them, it’s pretty much the same as playing a pinball emulator on a computer. With them, it’s pretty easy to convince yourself you’re playing a real machine.

Videos of the mechanisms below.

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Johnny Mnemonic, Broken Columns, And Pinball Repair

johnny

[Quinn Dunki] has come to realize the pinball machines of her youth aren’t the lame games she remembered. They’re actually quite marvelous in terms of electronics, mechanics, engineering and the all important hackability. Wanting to pick up a 90s dot matrix display pinball machine and being a [William Gibson] fan, [Quinn] picked up an old Johnny Mnemonic machine. She’s already looked into replacing the incandescent bulbs with LEDs, and has just wrapped up troubleshooting a broken plasma dot matrix display.

dotsThe neon dot matrix displays in pinball machines of this era are finicky devices with a lot of stuff that can go wrong. On powering the display up, [Quinn] noticed a few columns on the left side of the display weren’t working. These machines have great diagnostic menus, so running a test that displays a single column at a time revealed two broken columns. However, when a solid fill test was run, all the columns work, save for a few dots in the upper left corner. This is an odd problem to troubleshoot, but after more tests [Quinn] realized dots in column five and six only work iff both adjacent dots in the same row are lit.

The power supply seemed okay, leaving the problem to either a logic problem, or something wrong in the glass. With a meter, [Quinn] deduced there was a short between the two broken columns, and tracing every thing out revealed a problem in the hermetically sealed display filled with noble gasses. A replacement display was ordered.

While [Quinn] was replacing the display, she decided it would be a good time to rehab the almost-but-not-quite out of spec driver board for the display. The power resistors had scorched the PCB, but didn’t damage any traces. Replacing the parts with modern components with a higher power rating brought the board back to spec with components that should last longer than the 20-year-old parts previously inhabiting the driver board.

It was a lot of effort, but now [Quinn] has a brand new display for her pinball machine and is ready to move on to the next phase of her restoration.