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.
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.
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.
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 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.
How do you preserve high scores in an old arcade cabinet when disconnecting the power? Is it possible to inject new high scores into a pinball machine? It was the b-plot of an episode of Seinfield, so it has to be worth doing, leading [matthew venn] down the rabbit hole of FPGAs and memory maps to create new high scores in a pinball machine.
The machine in question for this experiment is Doctor Who from Williams, which, despite being a Doctor Who pinball machine isn’t that great of a machine. Still, daleks. This machine is powered by a Motorola 68B09E running at 2MHz, with 8kB of RAM at address 0x0000. This RAM backed up with a few AA batteries, and luckily is in a DIP socket, allowing [matthew] to fab a board loaded up with an FPGA development board that goes between the CPU and RAM.
The basic technique for intercepting and writing a new high score for this pinball machine comes from the incredible [sprite_tm] who is tweeting high scores from a 1943 cabinet. The idea is simple: just have an FPGA look at one specific memory address, and send some data to a computer when the data at that address is updated. For the Doctor Who pinball machine, this is slightly harder than it sounds: the data isn’t stored in hex, but packed BCD. After a little bit of work, though, [matthew] was able to write new high scores from a Python script running on a laptop. All the code (and a few more details) are over on a Github
Extending arcade games by tapping into address and data lines isn’t something we see a lot of, but it has been done, most famously with the Church of Robotron. Here, a few MAME hacks turn a game of Robotron into a Church for the faithful to fully commit themselves to the savior of the world, due to arrive in 66 years and save the remaining humans from the robot apocalypse. This hack of a Doctor Who pinball machine goes beyond a modded version of MAME, and if we’re ever going to make a real chapel with a real game of Robotron, these are the techniques we’re going to use.
Pinball still has that bit of magic that makes it stand out from first person shooters or those screen mashers eating up your time on the bus. The secret sauce is that sense of movement and feedback, and the loss of control as the ball makes its way through the play field under the power of gravity. Of course the real problem is finding a pinball machine. Pinbox 3000 is swooping in to fix that in a creative way. It’s a cardboard pinball machine that you build and decorate yourself.
Pinbox with electronics
Pinbox with bell
Pinbox with plastic packaging as obstacles
We ran into them at Maker Faire New York over the weekend and the booth was packed with kids and adults all mashing flippers to keep a marble in play. The kit comes as flat-pack cardboard already scored and printed with guides for assembly which takes about an hour.
The design is quite clever, with materials limited to just cardboard, rubber bands, and a few plastic rivets. Both the plunger that launches the pinball and the flippers are surprisingly robust. They stand up to a lot of force and from the models on display it seems the friction points of cardboard-on-cardboard are the issue, rather than mechanisms buckling under the force exerted by the player.
When first assembled the playfield is blank. That didn’t stop the fun for this set of kits stacked back to back for player vs. player action. There’s a hole at the top of playfields which makes this feel a bit like playing Pong in real life. However, where the kit really shines is in customizing your own game. In effect you’re setting up the most creative marble run you can imagine. This task was well demonstrated with cardboard, molded plastic packaging (which is normally landfill) cleverly placed, plus some noisemakers and lighting effects. The company has been working to gather up inspiration and examples for building out the machines. We love the multiple layers of engagement rolled into Pinbox, from building the stock kit, to fleshing out a playfield, and even to adding your own electronics for things like audio effects.
Check out the video below to see the fun being had at the Maker Faire booth.