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 http://homebrewpinball.blogspot.com/.
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.)