a companion discussion area for blog.codinghorror.com

Your Digital Pinball Machine


#1

I've had something of an obsession with digital pinball for years now. That recently culminated in me buying a Virtuapin Mini.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://blog.codinghorror.com/your-digital-pinball-machine/

#2

For a second, I read “fully 3D” and thought of 3D screens, but I realized that it’s just 3D rendered. Do any of these pinball programs work with 3D monitors, or NVidia’s 3D Vision?

Or even VR; with a bit of coordinate mapping, you can feel the real cabinet while you see the virtual one. (I imagine that would take wee a bit more than a 1050 though, let alone 750.)

I know it’s not much, but that little bit of depth really makes a difference for my immersion.


#3

Yes, see

and

and

Kudos to Zen they have done an amazing job supporting Pinball FX2 which dates back at least 2010! I was happy to buy all the tables to support them back.


#5

I just go to this or my local arcade (which is hard to find for some I realize). There’s always the annual California Extreme. I like that you can play multiple games in one unit, but I’d still miss being able to bump the machine and try not to tilt it while you manipulate the pinball.


#6

@codinghorror will have to weigh in on his, but the virtual pinball cabinet that my brother-in-law built certainly has appropriate sensors so that you can bump it. Support varies per table, and it’s all a bit fiddly as mentioned in the article, but it is absolutely possible.

As for finding tables to play in your local area, check out http://pinballmap.com/ and https://pinside.com/pinball/map. I’m fortunate enough to live in an area with three great venues and a good community with regular tournaments, leagues, etc.

For larger events, in addition to California Extreme, there are a couple others worth mentioning:


#7

Assorted musings:

PIN·BOT is a better table than The Machine: Bride of Pin·bot, although Jack·Bot is also good if you want more complex rules and more modern amenities.

Pinball Simulation and Emulation (with the exception of products like The Pinball Arcade) absolutely occupy a moral and legal grey area. I’d love to see a Xanadu style model where everyone gets paid. The reality is that many of the companies that produced these games are no longer viable entities, so that even when you are able to pay for high quality reproductions, it’s unlikely that any of the individuals involved in their creation are being compensated in any way. I do support, and I do recommend supporting efforts to preserve pinball, both physically and digitally.

Unofficial pinball simulation (Visual/Future Pinball) is extremely fiddly in my experience, and requires significant effort to get it working from one cabinet to another. Even when it does work well, it often feels like you’re playing a cardboard cutout of the real thing. Any interest in developing a proper update to Pinball Construction Set with Steam workshop style support to fix most of these issues through a better platform and crowdsourcing? I’d be happy to contribute.

You probably know this, but there are a few viable entities producing new pinball machines:

  • Stern Pinball is probably the biggest, producing 2-3 new designs each year, and are actually the manufacturing muscle behind several of the others.
  • Jersey Jack Pinball is probably second. They’ve only produced 2 machines so far, but they’ve done some innovative things with LCDs and score sharing. Plus they’ve got a new table designed by Pat Lawlor coming out someday that looks interesting.
  • Spooky Pinball are tiny, but they’re doing interesting things. Ben Heck is involved in some capacity.
  • Dutch Pinball made a conversion kit for The Machine: Bride of Pin·bot to make it a better game, and are currently shipping The Big Lebowski as their first full table.
  • Heighway Pinball have produced 2 tables now, and have an interesting platform that theoretically lets you swap playfields in just a few minutes.
  • Chicago Gaming and Planetary Pinball have produced a remake of Medieval Madness, and are planning a remake of Cactus Canyon. Incidentally, there is a modified set of graphics for Medieval Madness that add significantly to the detail.
  • Multimorphic has been working on their P3 platform for quite some time, but I got a chance to play a prototype and it definitely has potential. It’s sort of the logical evolution of Pinball 2000.
  • American Pinball is a relatively new entry that is controversial due to their involvement with designer John_Popadiuk.

VR support for The Pinball Arcade does exist for Stern Pinball Arcade on Gear VR. If they add support for the full platform, that would reduce my interest in a virtual cabinet significantly.

VPCabs makes a product called Vertigo that is a virtual pinball cabinet in an upright configuration that dispenses with the backglass to save space. There’s an interview with their founder on the Eclectic Gamers Podcast episode 9. Full disclosure: my brother-in-law is one of the hosts.

In summary, I’m kinda into pinball.


#8

Yes, I completely agree. Super fiddly, and ultimately all you’re left with is uninspiring 2D bitmap fakeness. I’ve played plenty of 2D bitmap tables in my time, and they certainly had their day, but we should be able to to better today with fully realized 3D and lighting — which is exactly what The Pinball Arcade delivers, particularly in the newer DX11 mode. It is beautiful at high resolutions.

It would be lovely, but strikes me as quite difficult. You can see how far Future Pinball got in 8-10 years. I’m happy to fund TPA development of professional, fully licensed 3D table simulations by purchasing all the TPA tables, and everyone reading this should too!

:wink:

It is fun to consider what the doomed but interesting “Pinball 2000” project would look like today as “Pinball 2020”. I do think the two giant screen school of gameplay – a large portrait playfield, and a smaller widescreen backglass behind it – could be done a lot better, sort of like Jersey Jack does. Even if you had a very mild 3D depth effect on the playfield screen, that would probably suffice…


#9

Speaking of John Popadiuk, I am ashamed to admit I owned the short-lived Zizzle Pirates of the Caribbean “mini-pinball” he helped design, circa 2007 or so.

I remember it being a very unforgiving table. Eventually it developed some power connection weirdnesses that I didn’t want to fix, so I left it on the curb with all the bits for someone else to try to salvage.

Aw, reading further, Zizzle went under before they could make this cool Atari mini pinball!


#10

In case you didn’t make it through all of my links :dizzy_face:, here’s Multimorphic P3:

I had the opportunity to play both Pinball 2000 tables Revenge From Mars and Star Wars Episode I, as well as try out a prototype of the Lexy Lightspeed and some Pirate-themed game Cannon Lagoon for P3 at TPF. It really felt like a natural evolution of the concept, replacing the Pepper’s Ghost effect with an LCD that runs most of the length of the board. It has some impressive ball tracking capabilities, plus the interchangeable modules at the back of the playfield. It was a good combination of the better parts of virtual pinball and mechanical pinball.


#11

The analog plunger, analog nudge, and buttons are all implemented as a standard game controller in Windows:

This is the VirtuaPin Digital Plunger Kit v3. A few notes:

  • The plunger is only “half” the Z axis for some reason

  • The analog nudge is a tiny, tiny range around the center of the stick. It’s probably even a bit smaller than the box I drew above, but it does sense forward, back, and both sides.

I need to mess with it a bit more to get the Xbox 360 controller mappings set up because the half Z-axis is unusual, and the joystick “nudge” range is tiny. Granted you probably don’t need a ton of resolution for any of this, but the mapping is the tricky part.

Bear in mind the “Controller” defaults on Pinball Arcade and Pinball FX2 are fairly simple, so there’s not a whole lot to map:

Update: OK, got it – at least for the nudge and basic pinball controls, these are the x360ce mappings you want:

Pretty standard, some notes:

  • button labeled start on the cabinet maps to (start) on the controller
  • bottom square cabinet button maps to back button (B) on controller
  • plunger launch cabinet button maps to (A)
  • green cabinet button maps to (X)

The left stick is used for nudge so that’s where the joystick axis maps to, but you’ll need extreme tweaks:

  • The sensitivity is inverted so it’s necessarily ultra sensitive because the x/y range of nudge axes is so tiny.

  • There is a small dead zone to prevent normal play from causing nudges.

  • The anti-dead zone is maxed, so once you hit any X/Y value outside the deadzone it registers as pushing the stick all the way in that direction. This makes it almost like a binary 1/0 instead of an analog nudge, but that’s what I found worked best.

I do get a nice nudge effect when I push the table now. Feels quite analog!

I haven’t been able to get the plunger working very well (would be right stick) because of the crazy half Z axis mapping. Also Pinball FX wants the right stick to do double duty as UI navigation, so it has to “center” otherwise crazy things happen in the game UI.

I’m not totally convinced a digital plunger is all that useful, anyway, since you can hold the button to emulate a partial pullback of the plunger very easily…


#12

I never “got” pinball, even the analogue version. Maybe because I’m crap at it.

I hate that the ball can go down the middle between the two paddles and there’s nothing you can do about it. I’d rather put my 20c in a machine where my skill would be rewarded, i.e. any other video game, than luck.


#13

The Virtuapin Mini is interesting. But, it looks too short. Is it tall enough to stand and play?


#14

Yes, it comes up to a natural waist height to me and I am a typical 5 foot 10 inches. @matt_frear there is skill involved, the gameplay is just a bit more analog. :ping_pong:

In fact, it can be proven in a court of law that pinball is a game of skill!

The table used in the court case was Gottlieb’s Bank Shot.


#15

I did watch that, unfortunately I am of the opinion that… fully virtual pinball is the only way to go. I realize this is somewhat heretical, but long, long term (think, next 50 years) I am bullish on VR getting somewhere interesting.


#16

Ok, so you know that Timeshock Ultra and Pinball FX2 have outstanding multiple display support and work perfectly with 3 displays:

  1. Playfield (large portrait 16:9)
  2. Backglass (midsize landscape 4:3 if you can still find or salvage one)
  3. DMD (small specialized ultrawide)

Well, The Pinball Arcade, despite being otherwise awesome, has zero multiple monitor support. Zero! Sad, really. But there is hope! This excellent mod:

Allows you to at minimum get dynamic backglasses working, that is, as you select a table the appropriate backglass automatically loads on a second monitor. In theory you can also move the DMD to a third monitor as well, but I found this ultra hacky and hard to get working reliably.

I also have something of a heretical opinion here, after messing around with the freecam mod a lot (which does get the DMD on another monitor, but is very very tweaky), I decided that I wanted the DMD to remain on the playfield monitor for a variety of reasons:

  1. Not having to hackily shift the playfield up to “hide” or “shift” the DMD to another monitor because TPA offers no proper way to select a DMD monitor, makes life a whooole lot easier. That is why the camera hack requires oddball resolutions, to hack around the DMD issues.

  2. I kinda like the DMD on the playfield itself, ala Cirqus Voltaire. I do think this is ultimately easier to read and a better experience for the pinball player than having the DMD on the backglass where you have to constantly look “up” a fair bit to read it while playing.

  3. In 16:9 portrait mode you have so much room at the top of the playfield that overlaying a DMD up there really does not obstruct any playfield table items you’re actively looking at.

  4. The mild movement of the table camera in default TPA portrait is kinda useful in that you no longer need to compromise the view to make sure the plunger is visible, etcetera. The view can stay mostly static / locked and only switch over to close in on the plunger when you are shooting the ball. Because otherwise why would you look at that bottom right part of the table in normal gameplay at all?

Here is how to enable auto backglass support using the TPA freecam mod – in settings.ini tweak the following settings

FreeCameraMode=0
AutoLoadCamFile=0
CabinetMode=1
BGMonitor=X
WindowStretch=0
DMDMonitor=1

(Where X is your backglass monitor number of course!!)

This essentially disables all camera controls, so what you end up with is a nice dynamic backglass changer, and the default built in TPA portrait camera, which IMO is quite good just press the view shift button to shift it to locked and you are gold.

Don’t forget to populate the cam mod /backglass folder with backglass images at the desired monitor resolution, per-table. Also, remember that both TPA and freecam mod executables must start with Admin access!


#17

I ended up replacing both playfield and backglass monitors. Life is too short to look at TN displays! The good news is that slotting in another monitor of same size is not too difficult if you pay close attention to critical widths (height and depth is not as significant), and where the controls are located on the monitors.

Here is a shot of the folded down, rear backglass internals (fold it down by releasing the metal attachment hinge, then open it up by removing 6 screws from the back) with the speakers and USB DMD monitor:

Again a very meticulously built cabinet, easy to work on and excellent workmanship – all kudos to VirtuaPin.


#18

In other excellent news thanks to this project:

Which I may or may not have sponsored a bit… it is now possible to mirror the DMD part of the TPA screen on a different monitor:

Run as admin, launch before TPA and bob’s your uncle. My command line params:

dmdext mirror --source=pinballarcade --fps=30 --virtual-hide-grip --virtual-position 3200 0 800


#20

Hi Jeff, great article. It inspired me to get one myself for Santa to bring for Christmas (with upgraded playfield monitor). A couple of questions:

  1. Do you use a front-end loader application? If so, which one? Did you find all of the media you needed for TPA to have it work correctly?

  2. With the DMD extension software, are you still using a play field DMD in addition to the DMD one?


#22

Great! I thoroughly enjoy mine!

No, not at the moment. I launch Pinball FX2, Timeshock Ultra, or Pinball Arcade from the desktop shortcuts generated by Steam.

For Pinball Arcade, which has no explicit multiple monitor support, I personally find DMD mirroring to be the best option. Then you can use the built in portrait camera views which already work great. I also use TPAFreeCam but only as a backglass switcher. It can also shift the view around so the DMD is not directly visible but this is IMO a very nasty and fragile (resolution and binary dependent) hack.

(Note that you can also press h to hide the UI in TPA so the backglass isn’t repeated on-screen. Since the dmd-extensions mod copies the DMD out of memory, it still works! Not sure why I didn’t realize this sooner…)

I would kill for a version of TPA that had proper multiple monitor support for backglass and DMD of course. Looks like some oddball Australian company did license TPA for cabinet use. Whether that is bad or good news I am not sure.


#24

The diminutive size of the 7" DMD, and the lack of IPS display on it (it’s a rather cheap TN panel), kept bugging me. It’s not even proportionally correct!

So I replaced it with a 10.1" IPS monitor:

The IPS monitor is worlds better: brighter, deeper blacks, and significantly larger!

Fortunately, the 10.1" monitor fits perfectly in that space between the speakers. I just cut out the middle with a hacksaw, and used double sided tape to attach it around the edges. The top “edge” is the top trim.

I also had to cut a new decorative cover using heavy craft paper, using the old cover as a template. I used a black sharpie to make the sides of the cut wood black so they’re not visible, either. The only downside is I have no clear plastic in front of the DMD display at the moment, still looking for heavy-ish plastic I can slip in there to complete the cover.

The 1050 Ti video card I use and recommend has three video ports

  • Displayport (in use for backglass monitor)
  • HDMI (in use for playfield monitor)
  • DVI-D

Get a DVI-D to HDMI converter (or a cable) and connect the 10.1" display via its HDMI port. I was also able to pull out the USB hub needed to power the old 7" USB DMD display, so this simplifies the setup a fair bit – one video card driving all three displays!