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.
It’s really a wonder that we missed this one, what with all the extra time in front of a computer we’ve had over the last year or so. But better late than never, we always say, so behold, (a little at a time, because there’s quite a lot to look at), [Tyler Bower]’s pinball machine built entirely from K’nex.
Where do we even start? This is a full-size pinball machine, as in 7′ tall, 5′ long, and 3′ wide. [Tyler] estimates that it’s made from about 16,000 pieces, or around 73 pounds of plastic, much of which was obtained locally and is secondhand. Many of those pieces make up the ten drill motor-driven chain lifts in the back — these move the ball through the machine after it goes through one of the track triggers and return it to the playfield in various delightful ways.
Speaking of ways to score, there are nine of them total, and some are harder to get to than others. They all involve some really amazing K’nex movement, and each one uses aluminum foil switches to trigger scoring through a MaKey MaKey.
Of course there’s a multi-ball mode, but our favorite has to be the trap door in the playfield that gets you to the mini pinball game in the upper left, because only the best pinball games have some kind of mini game. Either that, or our favorite is the rotating arm that swings around gracefully and drops the ball on a track. Anyway, all nine elements are explored in the video after the break, which frankly we could watch on repeat. If you’re hungry for more details, there’s quite a bit of info in the description.
The only thing this machine is missing is a tilt switch, but as you’ll see in the video, it would probably get triggered quite often. Is this somehow not cool enough for you? Here’s a slightly bigger K’nex ball machine that doesn’t seem to move as much, but also isn’t a full freaking pinball machine complete with meta game.
What have you been doing to ward off the winter blues? [TechnoChic] decided to lean in to winter and make a really fun-looking game out of it by combining the awesome PinBox 3000 cardboard pinball sandbox with a couple of Micro:bits to handle and display the player’s score. Check it out the build and gameplay in the video after the break.
The story of Planet Winter is a bittersweet tale: basically, a bunch of penguins got tired of climate change and left Earth en masse for a penguin paradise where it’s a winter wonderland all year round. There’s a party igloo with disco lights and everything.
[TechnoChic] used a Micro:bit plugged into a Brown Dog Gadgets board to keep track of scoring, control the servo that kicks the ball back out of the igloo, and run the blinkenlights. It sends score updates over Bluetooth to a second Micro:bit and a Pimoroni Scrollbit display that sit opposite the pinball launcher. She went through a few switch iterations before settling on conductive maker tape and isolating the ball so it only contacts the tape tracks.
There are two ways to score on Planet Winter — the blizzard at the end of the ball launcher path nets you ten points, and getting the ball in the party igloo is good for thirty. Be careful on the icy lake in the middle of the playfield, because if the ball falls through the ice, it’s gone for good, along with your points. It’s okay, though, because both the party igloo and the ice hole trigger an avalanche which releases another ball.
Seriously, these PinBox 3000 kits are probably the most fun you can have with cardboard, even fresh out of the box. They are super fun even if you only build the kit and make a bunch of temporary targets to test gameplay, but never settle on a theme (ask us how we know). Not convinced? Hackaday Editor-in-Chief [Mike Szczys] explored them in depth at Maker Faire in 2018.
Ever since he was a young boy, [Tyler] has played the silver ball. And like us, he’s had a lifelong fascination with the intricate electromechanical beasts that surround them. In his recently-completed senior year of college, [Tyler] assembled a mechatronics dream team of [Kevin, Cody, and Omar] to help turn those visions into self-playing pinball reality.
You can indeed play the machine manually, and the Arduino Mega will keep track of your score just like a regular cabinet. If you need to scratch an itch, ignore a phone call, or just plain want to watch a pinball machine play itself, it can switch back and forth on the fly. The USB camera mounted over the playfield tracks the ball as it speeds around. Whenever it enters the flipper vectors, the appropriate flipper will engage automatically to bat the ball away.
Our favorite part of this build (aside from the fact that it can play itself) is the pachinko multi-ball feature that manages to squeeze in a second game and a second level. This project is wide open, and even if you’re not interested in replicating it, [Tyler] sprinkled a ton of good info and links to more throughout the build logs. Take a tour after the break while we have it set on free play.
[Tyler]’s machine uses actual pinball machine parts, which could quickly ramp up the cost. If you roll your own targets and get creative with solenoid sourcing, building a pinball machine doesn’t have to be a drain on your wallet.
If you’ve always wanted to build your own pinball machine but have no idea where to start, this is the project for you. [Chris] is in the process of building a 3/4 size pinball table and is currently in the waiting-for-parts stage. As they arrive, he is testing them in a sandbox he built in an afternoon. Let [Chris]’s proving ground be your quick-start guide to all the ways you could approach the two most important parts of any pin: the flippers and targets.
The field of play is a sturdy piece of particle board, and the cardboard walls are attached with hot glue. [Chris] designed and printed a pair of flippers that are driven by some cheap remote door lock motors he found at a popular online auction house. You can see how snappy are in the test video after the break.
We love the crisp action and elegant simplicity of the spring-loaded drop targets [Chris] designed. Right now he resets them manually, but soon they will be reset by a solenoid or maybe a motor. We can’t wait to see how the table turns out. In the meantime, we’ll have to go back to drooling over this amazing life-size 3D-printed pinball machine.