Tuesday, June 5, 2012

New follower - on the same page as me

So I got a comment from a guy in Jersey.. Seems he's also trying to build a homebuilt pinball, but he's electrical (I'm mechanical).  His blog is over here:

Like most people, he's also tired of Stern's regurgitated pinball layouts (which is honestly sad considering the talent there, steve ritchie, gomez, borg).  You just know that Gary Stern has different thoughts on the pinball business than the designers (I.E. he has to make a profit, pay the bills, push the next pinball out the door before code is done).  If GOOD pinball is so hard to do in volumes of a couple thousand (or less), then how is it that Jersey Jack is building the most innovative thing pinball has seen in 20 years, and at the price point of a limited edition Stern?  Could it be that Stern just has too much overhead?

Anyway, makes me wonder if we could team up.. Or at the very least, if someone like him could provide a CPU/display for someone like me that has everything covered but the logic.  Yes, I can buy a P-roc, and good luck trying to program it, much less write a ruleset.  The predator guys in michigan might have figured it out, but anything code-related has my brains turned to mush in about 5 minutes.

I know I haven't exactly kept this blog updated (I also have a dead MAME blog)

But I've also been restoring two pinballs (I also run a pinball club, and I need pins to host)

I also have a messy basement, which is just recently getting to the point where I could have guests down there without feeling embarrassed by the mess.

I'm always thinking about how I want to do mechanisms, even if I haven't drawn a thing.  I've actually got the flipper mechanisms modeled up 90% now, and I think it's going to work well.  Basically I will have a spring loaded side button that turns a spindle, and that spindle will connect to one, two, however many flippers I want on that side.  Potentially (since I have a mechanical actuated motion now), I could have another button act as a master actuator.  Say I want to pop something on the playfield, like spose I want to pop a ball up a wire-ramp.  Pop a secondary button, and send that ball up the ramp.  What's that you say?  How can a simple mechanical button press send a ball flying up? Think mechanical advantage! Imagine a see-saw, but the center isn't centered.  Put the fulcrum offset, and hit the short end, what happens?  The longer side has a much greater arm with greater motion, from a short throw.  Now you have some serious thrust!

Any mechanical pins I do will be wood, in fact I've considered doing some sort of inlay design for artwork.  I want it to be raw, and feel quality, like an amish built the thing (and I do have amish connections if I ever wanted to produce some), but still have that modern feel.

One thing I want to do for sure once it becomes electrical is use Lexan for the playfield.  Might sound crazy, but Lexan is extremely durable, and very stiff (same material clear basketball backglass is made of).  It keeps the artwork protected (playfield scratched? buff it out, the artwork is nowhere nearby).  Speaking of durable, how many old playfields do you see where paint is flaking from the wood planking? That's the wood absorbing moisture, Lexan can't absorb!  Also I've yet to see Lexan strip (unless you REALLY try).  How many times do you see playfields with stripped holes?

As other projects finish up, or I find spare time (lunch breaks, sitting at home in front of the computer), I will eventually get some of these mechs finalized and hopefully post some photos of solidworks renderings, maybe even some movies of the mechanisms moving.

Also, here's the logo I came up with if I ever formed a company:

PFA stands for Pinball For All. I want everyone in the world to have the opportunity to play such a wonderful game, and at $8k a piece there are a LOT of people that will never get to play one. Yes, there is the used market, but with people hoarding them in their private collections, even used ones are often going for $1k-$12k depending on rarity.


  1. Hmmm, I'm not exactly in Jersey, but more like Vermont which is not exactly the epicenter of pinball. (Oh, to live in NJ where I could drive to more than one place in less than two hours to play pinball.) Because of this, I've been slowly starting to collect, but I'm a family man, so the amount of money that I can sink into it is small.

    I completely agree with the regurgitated Sterns comment. I would not have put it in that strong of words, but I don't see the innovation. Either Stern hasn't hired a computer engineer in the last 10 years, or they just aren't willing to accept the risk of redesigning core aspects of their architecture. There is a video floating around on the web that has a visit to the Stern factory where they talk about over 1/2 mile of wire to make a pinball machine. That is ludicrous to me using current technology. By distributing the processors, the amount of wire should be reduced significantly. (It should also make debugging and reliability that much better.)

    That being said, I would still love to own a single Stern machine. I just don't need to have their whole line up.

    You mentioned in one of your blogs using Arduino's. I have watched the Arduino phenomenon for quite a few years, but still have issues with the price point. For that reason, I ended up choosing Freescale parts because of their better price/feature for my application. (I also already have a bootloader/RTOS/library manager written.) Arduino's are absolutely fantastic for someone who is first trying to learn microcontrollers, and trying to get a setup very cheaply. The community is absolutely fantastic with ton's of information on almost every topic imaginable. I think the issue ends up being because they have much lower volumes than the Freescale parts.

    The target price for my electronics is $100 in qty 10. That includes processors for driving the solenoids, drivers for LED lighting, and a main controller for running all of the whole machine aspects such as multi-ball modes, etc. It does not include the LCD display/display driver which is currently targeted as a Raspberry Pi (mine comes either today or tomorrow). When I did the BOM calculations, it ended up being $104. That is pretty close to my target.

    The Jersey Jacks, and Papadiuk of the world can make a pinball machine and sell it off for 8K because they have histories and frankly, know what they are doing. They can grab pre-orders and fund their efforts using that route. They seem more likely to actually produce something. Does anyone remember Lost Vegas? (Great graphics, but...where is the machine? If a pinball machine was only a Flash macromedia product, they might have the coolest machine out there.) I even have a Dolly machine sitting in my basement right now if anybody wants to buy it. I think they even took pre-orders. I hope the enthusiasts got their money back on that deal. Just because a person can produce a slick website it doesn't mean that they can produce a complete product.

    1. Ohhh, the rant continues:

      My goal is to build a machine, take it to some shows to get feedback, and make necessary changes and iterate until I get a very playable machine. Ben Heck admits that his last machine was not playable. Is the next machine going to be playable? Maybe teaming with Papadiuk (boy I hope I'm spelling their names properly because I have a lot of respect for these people) will help with that. From what I have read, white boarding a machine is the only true test. If everything goes well, I eventually start sell a couple of them to show that the machine is manufacturable. I don't want to produce a vaporware pinball machine. I think there are enough of them out on the web.

      The other goal is to make the machine/firmware modifiable by the owner of the machine. That would allow other machines to use the same controller cards. This aligns nicely with your ideas. Current pinball machines are this way (toss a new PROM in and you have a new machine if the inputs/drivers are in the right locations), but I want a person who doesn't know how to run a PWM on a microcontroller to be able to modify their machine to add different modes, different bonuses, more multiball modes, etc.

      Enough of this ranting. I'm cross posting this on my blog so if you happen to read both of them (which is highly doubtful, I apologize.)