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.
Once upon a time, there was a music venue/artist collective/effects pedal company that helped redefine industry in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. That place was called Death By Audio. In 2014, it suffered a death by gentrification when Vice Media bought the building that DBA had worked so hard to transform. From the ashes rose the Death By Audio Arcade, which showcases DIY pinball cabinets made by indie artists.
Their most recent creation is called A Place To Bury Strangers (APTBS). It’s built on a 1959 Gottlieb Mademoiselle table and themed around a local noise/shoegaze band of the same name that was deeply connected to Death By Audio. According to [Mark Kleeb], this table is an homage to APTBS’s whiz-bang pinball-like performance style of total sensory overload. Hardly a sense is spared when playing this table, which features strobe lights, black lights, video and audio clips of APTBS, and a fog machine. Yeah.
[Mark] picked up this project from a friend, who had already cut some wires and started hacking on it. Nearly every bit of the table’s guts had to be upgraded with OEM parts or else replaced entirely. Now there’s a Teensy running the bumpers, and another Teensy on the switches. An Arduino drives the NeoPixel strips that light up the playfield, and a second Uno displays the score on those sweet VFD tubes. All four micros are tied together with Python and a Raspi 3.
If you’re anywhere near NYC, you can play the glow-in-the-dark ball yourself on July 15th at Le Poisson Rouge. If not, don’t flip—just nudge that break to see her in action. Did we mention there’s a strobe light? Consider yourself warned.
Ever since he was a young hacker
[Mark Gibson] has messed with the silver ball.
From Soho down to Denver
he must have fixed them all.
But we ain’t seen anything like this
in any amusement hall.
That darn devious hacker
sure hacks a mean pinball.
He hacks it like an expert,
Becomes part of the machine
Automating all the bumpers
Always wiring clean
His table plays by automation,
And radio control for all
That darn devious hacker
sure hacks a mean pinball.