The Virtual Pinball Machine

This is the most ambitious arcade project I've ever undertaken--and it's by far the coolest! I started my virtual pin (VP) build in mid-October, 2012 and finished it on December 9, 2012. 

 

Originally, I was going to organize this chronologically but, because of the immense scope of the project--and the fact that some people reading this might be looking for specific info on particular subjects for their own cabinet builds--I decided to organize the project thematically (across mulitple pages...this is a long story).

Introduction

So, why did I build a full-sized virtual pinball machine?

Back in 2012, I found myself loving pinball but strapped for cash as prices continued to rise. I first discovered pinball simulation through Farsight Studios' excellent Pinball Arcade. I downloaded it, bought a bunch of classic games that I either knew I loved or wanted to try, and played the hell out of it on my iPad. But, yeah...that wasn't much like pinball. Fun, but definitely a different form-factor. Not real pinball.

I had been aware of virtual pinball machines for some time. The earliest ones were like this one--just a monitor with flipper buttons. I played one at the Winston Salem auction once and was not impressed. However, there are also models that take a more traditional approach. Take VirtuaPin for example. They use an actual pinball cabinet, a large flat screen monitor for the playfield, a smaller one to display backglass art, and an actual DMD (dot matrix display) to show the score and animations. This recreate as authentic a pinball experience as you can get from what is essentially a video game. Software-wise, public domain programs (Visual Pinball, Future Pinball, and others in conjunction with Visual PinMAME) are used to reproduce authentic-looking (but unlicensed) versions of hundreds of popular pinball tables that industrious hobbyists recreate with exacting detail and original ROM images (in the case of solid-state machines).

Of course, VirtuaPin is really expensive, too. Their cheapest model is nearly $5,000. That's a budget-buster for me.

But a lot of people build their own machines. Some of them are as good looking or better-looking than the VirtuaPin machines . That got me thinking that maybe I could do it, too.

And I did! 

It is, hands down, the most ambitious project I've ever undertaken and, without a doubt, the coolest. I started the project in mid-October of 2012 and finished it up about three months later, drafting it into service in my arcade on December 9, 2012.

During the course of my build, I had to consult a LOT of different websites to find the information I needed. Because that was kind of a pain, I decided to document the hell out of the process. In the seven years since I initially posted my build notes, online resources have improved a great deal. There is even a thriving Facebook group for virtual pin builders now, and a small, affordable, commercially-produced virtual pin is being sold at places like Walmart. But, since I went to all the trouble--and because a number of people have thanked me for making the info available, I'm going to keep this page active.

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Total Cost and Component Overview

Total Project Cost: $1614.23

I tried my hardest to keep it under $1000, but apparently that was an unrealistic goal. The biggest expense was, by far, the computer. The monitors were second (although I got really good deals on mine). The rest of the money went for controls, construction materials, and paint.

Here's a breakdown of what I needed to build my machine. You can find full details on all of the components here.

Cabinet and Cabinet Parts

  • 1966 Williams A-Go-Go cabinet (no glass, no rails)

  • Pinball Glass

  • Williams Rails (the wide kind) and plastic glass guides

  • 1 2 x 4 x .5" sheet of plywood (back door)

Monitors

  • Playfield: 37" RCA-37LA45RQ 1080p LCD TV (got a steal on one with a cracked frame on eBay--$160!)

  • Backglass: 29" Hitachi LE29H306 720p LED TV

  • DMD: 15" LCD Acer Monitor (another eBay deal--$16 with shipping)

PC

  • CPU: AMD A8-5600K 3.6 GHZ Quad-Core

  • Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-F2A75M-D3H

  • Ram: 8GB Kingston RAM

  • HDD: 500 GB Western Digital 7200 RPM

  • Graphics 1 (Playfield): EVGA GeForce GTX 560 1GB

  • Graphics 2 (Backglass and DMD): Motherboard (The A8 has an AMD Radeon HD 7560D GPU on-chip)

  • Power Supply: Diablotek PSUL775 (775 Watt)

  • Case: Generic Mini-Tower with 2 Fans

  • OS: Windows XP Professional

Buttons and Such

  • NanoTech Digital Plunger/Mot-Ion Package

  • 2x Red flipper buttons (original cabinet buttons with new leaf switches)

  • 2x Green Magna-Save buttons (standard micro-switch arcade buttons)

  • 3x Ultimarc Ultralux Chrome LED buttons--Yellow (Start), Green (Coin), and Red (Exit/Pause)

  • 1 Williams Launch Ball button

  • 1 Black power button (standard micro-switch arcade button)

Other Electronics

  • Cambridge Soundworks cube speakers and sub woofer

  • 16-Outlet "Smart" Surge Protector

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