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.

21 thoughts on “Building A Pinball Emulator

      1. I wonder if a hybrid machine would work. Have a LCD background for the play field like this one but have modular bumpers, ramps, paddles, …. that could be placed on the play field to match the game and then moved around for the next game setup. I was originally thinking super magnets but that would probably end up on “Fail of the Week”. :-)

        Of course all of the bumpers would need to be inductively powered and connected to the main CPU via a wireless network connection for scoring and proper visual and audio feedback effects.

    1. There exists an agreement between the Visual Pinball community and “Stern Pinball” – in my humble opinion the last remaining company building pinball machines – that only pinball tables may be recreated after 3 years had pass since Stern changed the mpu system. So newer pinball games can only be played on the real machines.

  1. I built a smaller version of this, complete with solenoids for force feedback. And these solenoids are the first thing you turn off after a while because the clicking sound becomes really irritating. So “force feedback” sounds nice but it’s really the game that makes it fun. And playing on a real pinball machine is not really comparable with a virtual device. The feel is different.
    I’m still looking for a way to export high-scores out of Visual Pinball to the internet so that you can compete with friends on a board or something. Now we have to shoot photos and email to compare high scores.

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