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.

6 thoughts on “Galactic Dimension – A Supersized DIY Pinball Machine

  1. The thing that always frustrated me about pinball machines is that indefensible zone in the middle where the paddles can’t reach. It would be more fun if they overlapped, so you could always keep it going if you were good. But being a money-making appliance, it’s less about fun and more about keeping the quarters flowing…

    1. My favorite electromechanical machine, “Jive Time”, had a moving cylindrical element located between the flippers. When raised, it would prevent the ball from exiting between the flippers; when lowered, the ball would be lost. You had to hit a specific target to raise the cylinder. Another “bad” target would lower the cylinder

    2. That indefensible zone was the reason they were made with 15mm Ply, 9mm Glass, triple bolted heavy gauge steel legs … etc. Today kids have smart phones that will break with a shot drop, we had thing like this that were so tough that you would hurt yourself *trying* to break it. Incredible machines they were. A lost era of fun.

  2. The faces, the lights, the music, the faces, the bongo-doll, the faces,… and it seems to be so playable! IMPRESSIVE! Looks like I will have to go to Wolfsburg real soon.

  3. This reminds me of a mid-70’s game show that featured a giant pinball machine. It was a weird show, but such is the nature of 70’s gameshows.
    Looking it up, it was called The Magnificent Marble Machine and there are videos on the ‘tube.

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