The Virtual Pinball Machine

This is, hands down, the most ambitious arcade project I've ever undertaken--and it's by far the coolest! As with all of my arcade projects, I've written a detailed (some might say, "verbose") account of the project from inception to finish.

I started the project in mid-October, 2012 and officially finished it on December 9, 2012.

Originally, I was going to organize this chronologically but, due to the immense scope of the project--and the fact that some people reading this will be looking for specific info on discrete subjects as they are attempting their own cabinet build--I decided to organize the project thematically. Click on a link below to read all about it.




Intro: What is Virtual Pinball and Why Did I Do This?

The more I play pinball, the more I love it. In my home arcade, I play pinball far more frequently than I play video games. And the more I love pinball, the more pinball machines I want to add to my collection.

Unfortunately, unlike classic coin-op video games, pinball machines are constantly increasing in value. When I bought my Addams Family pinball machine back in 2004, I paid $2895 for a fully-shopped machine. That was pretty high back then--other pins from that era were going for under $2000 shopped. (The Addams Family has always been a very popular and collectible game, so it's always been more expensive.) And at an auction, you could get an Addams Family for $1700 and most other games from that era for under $1000.

That is all in the past. At the October, 2012 auction, I saw more pins go for at or above $4000 than I have ever seen before. So, what that means to me is that it is very unlikely that I'll ever be able to own all of the pinball machines I want to own. And it becomes more unlikely every year.

In mid-2012, I started playing a game called Pinball Arcade on my iPad. This pinball video game simulates many of the most popular tables ever made, and more tables are added every month. I've been enjoying the game immensely because it lets me play some of the games I'd love to have at a fraction of the cost. (A TINY fraction.) The physics are good and the action is very pinball-like. But it's not the same as standing in front of a machine.

Virtual Pinball isn't either...but it's closer. A lot closer.

I have 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 auction once and was not impressed. However, newer models 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 DMD information to recreate as authentic a pinball experience as you can get from what is essentially a video game. Software-wise, public domain software (Visual Pinball, Future Pinball, and others in conjunction with Visual PinMAME) is 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 (like this one, which is awesome!). And that got me thinking that maybe I could do it, too.

And I did!

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