IOT Pinball Puts Oktoberfest Fun On Tap

We don’t really miss going out to bars all that much, unless you’re talking about the one downtown with all the pinball machines. Don’t get us wrong — pinball emulators have gotten crazy good, and you can find exact digital replicas of most machines to play on your phone or whatever. But it just doesn’t compare to the thrill of playing a real cabinet.

Don’t despair, because for the next couple of weeks, you can queue up to play on a real Oktoberfest pinball machine that’s sitting in Espoo, Finland. The controls are hooked up to a Raspberry Pi 4 through a custom HAT, along with a camera pointed at the playfield and another focused on the backglass screen. The game development/video streaming company Surrogate is hosting a tournament over the internet, and will be giving prizes to the top ten high rollers.

We usually have to wait until the holiday season to come across these remote-reality gaming opportunities. Having played it several times now, we recommend spamming the flippers until you get a feel for the lag. Also, just holding the flippers up while the ball is in the upper half of the playfield will catch a lot of balls that you might otherwise lose due to flipper lag, and sometimes they end up back in front of the launcher to shoot again. After the break, check out a brief but amusing video of setting up the cameras and Pi that includes a taste of the Oktoberfest music.

The tournament runs until the end of August, which should be enough time for somebody to set up CV and a keyboard to play this automatically. Need inspiration? Here’s an open-source pinball machine that can play itself.

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Virtual Pinball Cabinet Provides Real Thrills

Being a fan of pinball is bittersweet these days. In the go-go 1990s, you could still find pins in places like coffeehouses and the odd gas station here and there as the commercial arcade began to fade into the past. Things were looking up once booze-fueled b-arcades became a thing, but the pandemic economy may come for them soon enough.

Poor [smithsa3] doesn’t have a table around for hundreds of miles. Instead of settling for an older table or agonizing over the average price of newer tables, [smithsa3] found a happy medium and built a full-size virtual pinball cabinet to play pretty much any table there is. The only non-negotiable game was Addams Family, which you can see in the demo after the break.

Inside is a PC running PinballX, along with a 37″ TV for the playfield and two 17″ monitors that make up the backboard. Between the physical inputs and the faithful recreations of current and classic pinball games that are out there, this really is the best of both worlds.

We love that [smithsa3] combined stock and DIY hardware to pull this together. The cabinet uses standard legs and arcade buttons, but [smithsa3] built the plunger, interfaced it with an old keyboard controller, and made a coin slot mechanism that rejects everything but 10p coins.

Spend enough time playing pinball, and you’ll no doubt begin to fantasize about building your own. We’ve seen one or two of those, but not too many that can play themselves.

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Pinball Machine Needs No Wizard

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.

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Team Scores Big Points With Pinball Final Project

For their final project in [Bruce Land]’s class on designing with PIC32 microcontrollers, [Sujith], [Julia] and [Andrew] wanted to do something fun. And what could be more fun than bending to the electromechanical siren song of the pinball machine?

This machine looks great, and as you can see in the demo video after the break, it plays and sounds great, too. We particularly like the boomerang obstacle and the game state-driven LED strip. The more points you score, the brighter they go. We also like that this machine combines traditional scoring methods with a few really clever ones, like the boomerang target near the top and the scoring triggers made from copper tape.

The team started by designing the heart of any pinball machine, the flippers. Though we have seen car door lock actuators used in homebrew machines, the team went with traditional solenoids to drive them. Unfortunately the solenoids caused a lot of interference, but the team got around it with filter capacitors and aluminium foil Faraday cages around the wires.

If all this pinball talk has your circuits lit up, why not try making your own machine? Continue reading “Team Scores Big Points With Pinball Final Project”

Neopixels Recreate Pinball Color Wheel That Never Was

With what pinball aficionados pay for the machines they so lovingly restore, it’s hard to imagine that these devices were once built to a price point. They had to make money, and whatever it took to attract attention and separate the customer from their hard-earned coins was usually included in the design. But only up to a point.

Take the 1967 Williams classic, “Magic City.” As pinball collector [Mark Gibson] explains it, the original design called for a rotating color filter behind a fountain motif in the back-glass, to change the color of the waters in an attractive way. Due to its cost, Williams never implemented the color wheel, so rather than settle for a boring fountain, [Mark] built a virtual color wheel with Neopixels. He went through several prototypes before settling on a pattern with even light distribution and building a PCB. The software is more complex than it might seem; it turns out to require a little color theory to get the transitions to look good, and it also provides a chance for a little razzle-dazzle. He implemented a spiral effect in code, and added a few random white sparkles to the fountain. [Mark] has a few videos of the fountain in action, and it ended up looking quite nice.

We’ve featured [Mark]’s pinball builds before, including his atomic pinball clock, We even celebrated his wizardry in song at one point.

Undertale Pinball Machine Is A Work Of Art

Undertale came out in 2015 and took the world by storm. With a heartwrenching story, compelling characters and a soulful soundtrack, it won legions of fans and became an indie gaming legend. Years later,  [Gornkleschnitzer] decided to begin a pinball machine build, and it became a tribute of epic proportions.

No expense was spared on getting the artwork professionally printed, and the results speak for themselves.

Yes, we’re talking about a living, clacking, and breathing Undertale pinball build. [Gornkleschnitzer] demonstrates not only a deep knowledge of the source content, but also a mastery of pinball construction. The build began with a design in Virtual Pinball, which allowed the basic design to be dialled in. This allows things like trick shots and other features to be tested before cutting real parts. With the design roughed out, the real work starts. Full sets of cabinet and playfield decals were professionally printed, flashers installed, and subway tunnels lasercut in steel. All manner of flippers, slingshots and ball troughs were installed, tested, and tweaked in the pursuit of perfection.

The attention to detail is where this machine really shines. The artwork is stunning, and the game is complete with the original soundtrack, including the death theme. There’s even hidden gems like the Tem Shop and bonuses galore to be had.

It’s a stunning pinball machine, and one we’re dying to play for ourselves. If you’re keen to get your feet wet, why not consider starting with a cardboard build? Video after the break. Continue reading “Undertale Pinball Machine Is A Work Of Art”

Turn Old Pinball Parts Into A Unique Digital Clock

It’s getting ever harder to build a truly unique digital clock. From electronic displays to the flip-dots and flip-cards, everything seems to have been done to death. But this pinball scoring reel clock manages to keep the unique clock ball in play, as it were.

It’s not entirely clear whom to credit with this build, but the article was written by [Lucky]. Nor do they mention which pinball machine gave up its electromechanical scoring display for the build. Our guess would be a machine from the ’60s, before the era of score inflation that required more than the four digits used. And indeed, the driver for the display is designed so that a scoring unit from any pinball machine from the electromechanical era can be used. An ESP8266 keeps the time with the help of an RTC and drives the coils of the scoring unit through a bunch of MOSFETs. The video below shows that it wouldn’t make a great clock for the nightstand; thankfully, it has a user-configured quiet time to limit the not inconsiderable noise to waking hours. It also flashes the date every half hour, rings solenoid operated chimes, and as a bonus, it can be used to keep score in a pinball game built right into the software.

We like the idea of honoring the old pinball machines with clock builds like this. We’ve seen a word clock built from the back-glass of an old machine, and one that uses a four-player back to display the date and alarm time too.

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