A Great Resource For The Would-Be Pinball Machine Builder

Those of us beyond a certain age will very likely have some fond memories of many an hour spent and pocket money devoured feeding the local arcade pinball machine. At one time they seemed to be pretty much everywhere, but sadly, these days they seem to have largely fallen out of favour and are becoming more of speciality to be specifically sought out. Apart from a few random ones turning up — there’s a fun Frankenstein-themed machine in the Mary Shelley Museum in Bath, England — a trip to a local amusement arcade is often pretty disappointing, with modern arcade machines just not quite scratching that itch anymore, if you ask us. So what’s an old-school hacker to do, but learn how to build a machine from scratch, just the way we want it? A great resource for this is the excellent Pinball Makers site, which shows quite a few different platforms to build upon and a whole ton of resources and guides to help you along the way.

P3-ROC pinball machine controller mainboard – note the Xilinx Spartan 6 FPGA

Building a working machine requires some serious skills from a wide range of areas covering woodworking, metal bashing, graphics design, electronics, game design and programming. For a newbie, there is so much to learn that it must be really daunting trying to work out where to begin! Luckily Pinball Makers has sections for each of these disciplines, and many more, with guides to the special pinball-specific construction techniques as well. Want to know how to construct a slingshot? Covered! What about an electronics platform to build upon? There are many options, some based around then Open Pinball Project (OPP) and some not so much. Now, hands up who fancies building a Hackaday-themed pinball machine (dark theme, naturally), and what would the game be? Answers down below!

Boy, have we covered pinball machines a lot over the years, here’s a beautiful machine built into a coffee table form factor, that might help you sneak that out of the workshop and into the living room. If that’s too big, and you ‘got the look’ when you wheeled your creation into the house, here’s a teeny tiny PI-based virtual machine to make you feel better. Finally, if building one is not your game, and you’re hankering for the real-deal, you might need some debug help with the older machines!

Thanks [Keith] for the tip!

12 thoughts on “A Great Resource For The Would-Be Pinball Machine Builder

  1. I think I need to reset my brain…
    Reading through this article I had one idea that got stuck and send my fantasy into overdrive:
    Make a two layer design with an upcycled TFT monitor (you know, those with removed backlighting, that basically act as a switchable window (transparent(ish) / opaque)), so that your ball can drop to the layer below and you can play through that window…

    A story could be something like this:
    You are a hacker / maker and to show of your latest cool gyzmo – a robot dog, with basic grab/handle functionality – you attand the supercon. Unknown to you EvilCorp set their eyes on you and in an unattended moment stole your dog (and laptop, maybe?) to use for their own schemes. So in order to get your robodog back you have to break (hack) into EvilCorp (get to the second layer below). One level could be you remote controlling your dog (like sending it through a narrow vent to open door).
    Oh, but an elaborate story would need you to temporarelly stop/hold the ball to give the player time to perceive the story…
    so how about an electromanget on a movable arm to grab the ball (under the tft) and have the tft tell the story (make the area of the arm black/opaque and the arm becomes invisible with the ball staying on the animation of the tft?

    too many ideas to even be able to properly write them down…
    (mission impossible theme song keeps playing in my head…)

    1. The two layer idea is just way too cool.

      I also appreciate the ‘story driven pinball’, but as an engineer not nearly as much as the former.

      They also make completely transparent OLED segment displays. I would estimate these have to be custom produced.

      A third concept – a field of fiber optics with a light source behind it (screen or LED maybe). Though it might be hard to align these in such a way to completely transport a complete image, it could easily show color fields that shift and move.

      Look at the fire you lit! Let me know if you start working on it.

      1. Sadly that will never happen.
        Still working on and off on one project since the beginning of 2019. Too many firsts, like using a raspberry pi zero (w), using Linux/Debian, setup of a network (wifi, usb), packet filtering (nftables), programming a web service, using/setup of a server (on PiZW), using the camera on the PiZ (raw data), using i2c coms + sensors, first project of that complexity for 3d printed parts. (Never really used Git(hub).)
        Didn’t had the confidence to post about it on hackaday.io, yet. So, really unlikely for me to tackle such a build. It seems ideas come more easy to me then I am able to realize.

    1. The P3 pinball platform from Multimorphic has a few games that let you play with other people over the Internet. For example, Cosmic Cart Racing lets four players compete online, and Heads Up! allows a player to “teleport” a ball to another network-connected machine.

  2. I just returned from a visit to the “Pinball Museum” in Alameda, CA (just outside of Oakland) URL: https://www.pacificpinball.org. They have 90 machines from 1940 to the present. The admission fee is $22 which provides unlimited number of plays on all lthe machines with no quarters required.

    It is amazing to see how pinball has evoled. The early macines were EMC (Electro Mechanical Circuits). One machine hadd a kind of scoreboard instead of digits for displaying scores. There were columns for 10’s, 100’s, 1000’s digits. For example, the 10’s column has a light for 00, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80 and 90. One of lights would light up for the 10’s digit of the score. For exampl, if the score was 9,340, the 9000, the 300 and the 40 would light up. All of this was done with no semiconductors!

    Amazing place!

  3. Me and my bro built a pinball game “Archer” a few years ago. https://arcadeheroes.com/2016/01/18/archer-pinball-whitewood-shown-at-arcade-expo-2-0/ A lot of work as it combines a bunch of mechanical hardware, electronics, software, fabrication, artwork, multimedia presentation, and then fun gameplay on top of all that. A very deceptively simple game.
    Many pinball “homebrewers” (we don’t really like this moniker but it’s tradition now) have created many pinball games over the past few years. It’s become easier but still requires a lot of work.

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