Monday, November 1, 2021

Pinball Expo 2021

 I try to blog about my experience at expo every year, and since there wasn't an in-person one last year it was quite overwhelming playing so much this year.

Led-zeppelin - met my expectations, which is to say it still felt like a very empty layout with very little to shoot at.  I almost can't believe they signed off on this game.  Not saying the rising spinner with a magnet isn't a cool toy, the engineer that made that happen clearly worked hard on it.  But the rest of it felt so phoned in.

Avengers - Played great, so many great ramps and loops shots, very tempted to buy one of these someday.

Godzilla - not crazy about the theme, but holy crap just when I thought Keith can't outdo himself on avengers, his next game is even better.  The loops shots, the magnet post, so many lanes that flow perfectly really reminded me of Bally skateball.

TMNT - Played decently, felt like it gave out multiball too easily.  Wasn't huge into TMNT as a kid, and as an adult it feels a little childish.

Stranger things - Didn't get to play this.  I'm surprised Stern didn't at least bring one of these considering it was released right before the pandemic hit (not hitting enough locations, and certainly not pinball shows) before most people got to play it.  Could I drive my lazy butt 50 miles to chicago to play one?  Sure, but I assumed I would get to play it eventually at expo.

Hot wheels - Played good, felt a little more street level (even though it had ramps).  Theme doesn't do much for me (even though I like cars, and played with them as a kid).


Ghost in the shell - Ed did some code cleanup, most notably updated graphics thanks to Jack Danger.  I'm a mild anime enthusiast (I had friends in high school that were huge into it), but I do really like Ed's layout.

Boys night out - This was an oddity.  Layout felt a little borrowed firepower II, but the thing to note the most was that as you played, you were literally editing a movie (clips of a boys night out).  This almost felt like a "choose your own adventure" mixed with laserdisc, but in pinball form.  I watched a little clip from twitch interviewing the designer, and he said his background is video producer so making a pinball is completely new to him

Sonic the hedgehog - This has been a long time coming.  I have watched so many of McSquid's streams wanting to play his game, and after finally flipping it I can say it met my expectation.  Flowed great, hearing all those sound effects hit all my nostalgic buttons.  The ramps felt so good, the 360 loop shooting the ball back around the orbit was neat to see.

So that leads back to where the hell is my project at?  Well life has gotten in the way this past year.  I've been very busy building mods which has turned into a great side business.  My wife's grandmother passed away early this year, my wife's parents made the decision then to sell their main house in illinois (they have a home down in florida), which meant every weekend driving down to help them pack, and now after a short break we're starting to spend money to fix our house up, and also pack things up so we can sell our house next spring.  We plan to move to the upper northwest which has been our dream for probably the past decade.  The timing just hasn't worked out, but now everything seems to be aligning and couldn't be a better time to do it.  None-the-less, I am selling off most of my pinball collection and only keeping 4 games (including van halen donated by Hugh).  I've even donated my 3d printed cabinet to someone local because it just makes more sense to rebuild it after the move rather than paying to move an empty cabinet.  Once I get settled (which may include some home improvements depending on where we end up), I will certainly be jumping back into my homebrew project.  Every time I play other homebrew games it always inspires me to want to jump back in.


Wednesday, February 10, 2021

stop... collaborate and listen

I'm typically meticulous with things I design, and I would like to put more detail into my assembly.  There's this new homebrewer I started watching.  He has no theme that I can tell yet, but what's interesting is he works for a game company.  He had no experience 3d modeling a few years ago, but now he's modeling in fusion360 like an expert.  He's also acquired a 3d printer, a CNC, he's spinning his own control boards.  But what really intrigues me is how detailed and organized he is with his model library.. which is pretty much all he's done on his first two streams, JUST reverse engineer the mechs he's using:

This brings me to my point, libraries.  There obviously exists more 3d parts and assemblies than exists on  Not everyone does the favor of uploading their files there, and I think it has to do with the tediousness of uploading to a wiki.  I don't place any blame on Jeremy Wilson, the fact that he EVEN put that website up (and kicks off spammers) is amazing.  Before then, it was all a bunch of homebrewers all modeling their stuff from scratch, maybe some stuff got shared on forums or slack groups if you asked.  I'd say the better thing to do is simply have an FTP site with folders (like you might have a library of parts for things you design), but then how easily do you give access to others that want to upload files?  How do you even police an FTP site?  What if someone overwrites a file? What if someone uploads a virus?  How do you verify the models that people are uploading are even accurate?  I don't have the answers, but I would think it could be something that could be worked out so the homebrew community could collaborate more (and not redo the same work).  I mean people upload sample YMML files so you don't have to code from scratch, why can't there be a say a standard williams cabinet with a blank starting playfield that has the standard ball trough, standard italian bottom, sling assemblies, flipper assemblies, and you can start modeling from there?  The other problem is which format do you use?  If you upload a solidworks file, great for solidworks users like me.. But fusion360 is free, and although solidworks 2020 seems to import ok, apparently 2021 does not.  So now do you make everyone that uploads solidworks files also save out Step files?  The other game changer recently announced at solidworks world this week is they plan to release a "maker license" mid-year for $99/year or $10/month.  If you haven't shopped around for software that might sound terrible (especially if you're use to using fusion for free), but when you realize that even the most basic solidworks license is $4,000  with a mandatory $1200 service plan (plus tax), PLUS if you want to stay current with the latest release you have to pay another $1000 every year, $99 suddenly looks REALLY appealing.  If you don't have a business, it really seems silly to pay for a professional license, but until this your only 2 options were:

1. Taking a class at a local college to get access to a student email address so you could get the $60/year license

2. Get an experimental aircraft membership for $45/year and get a free seat of solidworks (which isn't advertised, I only discovered it after someone posted in a 3d printing facebook page)

Now that fusion is deleting features (but allowing you to pay a small fee to keep them), solidworks finally looks appealing with this new tiered pricing.  I might be biased, but if you go to any website that has 3d models (Mcmaster Carr being the biggest one), you really only have 2 choices.. Download a dummy STEP/IGES file you can't do any editing on, or download a native solidworks file.  I have seen some websites RARELY support pro-engineer, but that seems to be dying.  The only reason a website would obviously support that is because the engineers designing whatever product they're selling is still using that program.

back to basics - simple flippers

So not only has Scott Danesi posted about using system 11 flipper mechs with EOS switches for doing your layout:

But also this guy's page:

Now granted, this does not give you any control over flipper power, you can't have delayed gobble holes, but if you're JUST trying to get your playfield laid out I agree this is really the best way.  You don't have to deal with a computer booting, loading code, it's just direct power from switch to flipper.  I figure this will also eliminate any excuses.  There's no reason I can't wire up 3 flippers to my power supply

So even though I have flipper mechs (which I can use on my next project), I went ahead and bought three of these flipper assemblies, plus an auto plunger mech from pinball life (picking it up this friday).  The auto plunger exists on, however I noticed nobody has really modeled up a flipper mech so I'm probably going to do that and upload it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021



So I've pixelated out my upper playfield because I'm not ready to reveal it, but I'm pretty happy and excited about it (I'll be even happier when I can flip it).  I had an idea that really ties in with this theme, but at the same time it's a very cool tight double orbit shot (this is going to double as the upper balcony).  I modeled it in visual pinball and it shoots just like I imagined it would.  Also because I have so much more vertical space my upper playfield can be much higher allowing for more to be seen underneath (I may even have a 2nd upper playfield if I come up with an idea).  Now THAT would be absolutely crazy.. Main playfield, 2 upper playfields and a lower playfield.  Hasn't been that many layers since Pinball Circus.

Although plastic ramps are easier to model / fabricate, I've modeled in a wireform ramp.  My copper rods arrive tomorrow, and I really want to see if I can come up with a fixture to form them (even if I have to 3d print a buck).

The reference flipper shot lines are already a huge help in figuring out where I can stick stuff.  I have a list of potential mechs I want to build (some old, some new), but now that I know where they can fit I think laying this out will go much easier now.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

back to basics - fan layout

 So rather than just randomly sticking things on a playfield like my first attempt (which only got me painted into a corner), I figured I would do what I believe most pinball designers do which is draw lines from the tips of the flippers to shots where the ball would end up.  In order to optimize space not only have I eliminated the shooter lane, but I'm drawing a fan of what I believe is reasonable shots that shouldn't be overly tight.. and I can work backwards from there.  If I know a ball is projected to go in this direction, I can create whatever I want that shot to be whether it's a ramp, a target, a mech, etc.  I'm likely going to tweak this a bit because I know I'll also want some shots that can only be made by bouncing off something else but this at least gives me a good start.  With this sketch I have an orbit on each side, 6 shots in the middle (most of them likely ramps), and 4 close target shots.

 I'm very likely to have an upper right flipper just like my first layout, which will have it's own fan layout.

Can you make wireforms with a soldering iron? Yes!

 So many years ago (when my project was more active), I attempted to solder wireform ramps I was not very successful.  Between not having a very good jig, and I likely bought brass (which isn't as solderable), and probably didn't sand my surfaces, and probably didn't have a hot enough soldering station.. etc etc.

So on a whim since I have the day off, I grabbed some 12AWG solid copper wire (.080") from my basement that my dad gave me when he retired.  stripped off a couple feet, straightened it out the best I could, and made some smaller chunks to act as braces.

I did not use flux, I did not use a torch (though both of these would likely create a stronger joint).  However, it was way stronger than I would have guessed.  Also although copper is pretty flexible on it's own, as soon as you add those braces it becomes very rigid.  That's not to say I can't purposely push on it and kill the straightness but for prototyping it's just fine.  So of course I started my search for cheap copper rods (so I at least start with a nice straight piece).  Looked at Mcmaster, looked at welding rods (which would either be brass, or if it was copper it was only coated, or if it was solid copper it would have a flat stamp mark on it).  Finally remembered what my backup metal supplier was, surely they would have some and turns out they DO!

$2.18 for 1/8" diameter x 36" long (and you can get up to 12 foot lengths).  I threw 12 of those pieces in my cart, $14 shipping (little high, but the pieces are CHEAP).. looked around for a coupon, find a 15% off coupon (which now drops my total another $4).  So $36 for 12 pieces shipped to my door.  Even if you walked into a store that even carries it, I doubt you could find them that cheap.

So one thing I've always struggled with is the transition from playfield to the wireform.  I'm starting to play with 3d printed mounts where all you do is drill 4 holes, cut the tangent to each hold, and drop in a piece that fits like an insert.  I also want to build up a wall underneath the wireform to ensure a ball will never get trapped behind the wireform.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Old cabinet gone

Well it took 2 weeks, but someone finally contacted me to take my old cabinet.  Guy from Milwaukee picked it up.  He plans on making a simple early solid state game (no graphics, just scoring).  His ideal theme is Kraken (assuming that's pirates?).  He's got PROC hardware already and is going to use mission pinball framework.  He's good mechanically, but sucks at programming (like me) but apparently has a friend that's going to take care of that part for him.  He even stipulated "If this cabinet doesn't work out, you ok with me passing it on?" and I'm like "Oh yea of course, I get it.  I'm on my 3rd cabinet now.. I get how projects can change.  I hope you do pass it on so someone else can start a project".