Monthly Archives: June 2012

Future Pinball layout progressing (but not done)

Last week I was on vacation so I spent a good amount of time working on a layout for Disaster using Future Pinball.  The goal is to get the layout pretty close so that I will only need to do a single white wood layout, and just do tweaks on that.  Joe had warned me that it was going to be difficult, and well, it has shown some interesting problems.

The one in particular is “stretching” the rubbers between two posts.  It seems like there should be some sort of a key to point to all the posts that the rubber is going around, and it should conform as a real rubber.  Instead, you constantly drag points on the rubber trying to get it to look approximately right, and if you are even slightly off, the ball bounces in a ludicrous way.  (Actually I’ve notice the ball bouncing in relatively strange ways off the bottom kicker which is probably due to the ball physics issues that everyone mentions).  Once you get the rubber in place, if you move the posts even slightly, you need to go back and redo the rubber from scratch.  It is very tedious.

It is kind of like everything in the Disaster process.  Learning a new program to get a little bit further along in the process and then quickly abandoning it and moving on to a new program to learn a new part.  After this, the only other major program that I think I need to learn is Blender, but I’m hoping to get somebody else to do the video stuff.

Right now, the “lanes” seem to be absurdly small.  The bumper sections seems to have no action.  I hate pinball machines where the bumpers immediately kick the ball out and there is no action.  The turns in the lanes also seem to be too tight.  I need to do more research to find out what the appropriate width of lanes should be.  I’m completely unwilling to show the current layout to people because I know that it can be improved significantly.

I’m now also starting to second guess the choice of Future Pinball.  I’ve already noticed the physics issues, and I hate the lagginess of the table.  The Visual Pinball tables that I have played seem to have a smoother feel.  Maybe this week I will try and convert over to Visual Pinball.  I was initially fearful of it because I didn’t know if I would need to fake up ROMs to run the table, but digging into it a little last week makes me feel that it is approximately the same as Future Pinball scripting.  The bummer will be trying to convert my lane measurements from Future Pinball millimeters, to Visual Pinball units.

Tonight is pinball night, so hopefully Mark and I will have  a breakthrough on his Flash machine.  I finished disassembling all the test PROM code, so we should now have a much better idea about where the test PROM is having issues.  Another night of staring at the logic analyzer.  It will also prove whether the PROM burner that I built from scratch is actually working.  Flash has been a big time sink with no real leaps forward in progress.  Truth be told, I’d rather be putting the parts back on Tropic Fun, but I feel beholden to Mark since I talked him into buying Flash.  Doh!

White wood layout started

Well this week was vacation for Mark, so no pinball night.  Next week is vacation for me, so well, no pinball night again.  I ordered the parts to populate the boards from Mouser, but it turns out that they won’t be showing up until tomorrow.  There is no way that I can cut out and populate the boards in that short amount of time, so programming the solenoid drivers isn’t going to happen next week.  (That code should also only take me a couple of days to write since I have already written most of the base code.)  There are also some high voltage components when switching the 110 VAC to 50 VDC that I want to have a ‘scope to check out.  I want to see if I start drawing a large amount of current to kick the two flipper solenoids at the same time if I’m going to get a sag of the voltage.  I have two bulk caps to discharge when the AC bridge is not producing high enough voltage, but it is still something that I want to see some traces.

This means that next week is going to be working on getting the layout done for the white wood version of Disaster.  I’m thinking Future Pinball has the shallowest learning curve to see if the basic layout will work.  I tried a couple months back but quickly found out that I wouldn’t be able to just toss down some bumpers and things without actually trying to learn more about the program.

One of the main sections of the game has four bumpers in a diamond configuration.  When I threw these down using the standard size parameters, it took up too much of the playfield.  Maybe I can make them a little smaller, or maybe the default isn’t the correct size.  I have an Olympic Hockey machine that has four bumpers in the top center of the playfield, so I’m pretty sure that it should fit.  I just didn’t have enough time to read the documentation to learn the program.  Hopefully, next week when I’m on vacation I can spend some time on it.

Future Pinball seems like a good way to try out the layout without doing twenty revs of physical white boards.  I don’t mind tweaking a the playfield slightly, but I don’t want to have to rip up the whole playfield and do it from scratch.  If it works well there, then I will move onto actually trying to do a real layout with a piece of plywood to see how it is using real physical things.

We’ll see how easy it is to learn Future Pinball.  I can’t imagine that it is too difficult since it is based on Visual Basic.  (Haven’t programmed in that since, ooohhh, maybe 10 or 20 years ago.)

Mmmmm, Raspberry Pi

Yesterday, I finally got my Raspberry Pi.  (Only ordered it 3 or 4 months ago.)  I’m planning on trying to stream video/display scores for the Disaster pinball machine using this guy.  Basically the Raspberry Pi will use the USB connector to read information from the pinball’s main controller (i.e. Raspberry Pi is the master, main controller is the slave.)  The Pi will poll the main controller to get the score of the active player, check to see what video should be playing, check what sound effects should be active, etc.   The main controller will respond with that information on the USB.  The Raspberry Pi will hopefully be powerful enough to do all this, but you can never really tell until you get the code up and running.  It seems like other people have gotten VLC and the java bindings working on their Pi, so that is the route I’m going to head.  I have a single 5 second video that I produced which is basically a camera flying around 3D “Disaster” letters with mountains in the background.  It is a start.  As I’ve said before, I am not artistically inclined, so I will try to get somebody else to do the heaving lifting on that stuff.

Next major step is to make mini pinball layout with at least one flipper, a bumper, a kicker, etc, and try and get the solenoid driver board to run them.  I’m hoping that during my vacation coming up, I will be able to play with it a little bit, but there is a lot of work to get to that point.   Something small that I can easily throw into the car.  That also means that I need to get the power board up and running.  Lots of work, not much time left.

New homebew pinball site found.

A new site that aligns with many of the same goals as this site has been found.  The following was posted in response to his new post.  It might make sense to read his original comment before reading the following.  The link is

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.

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.)