7/24/2015, Thoughts on Pintastic

I took SharpeShooter III to Pintastic as promised.  I’ll start by giving my thoughts on Pintastic, and then my thoughts on how SharpeShooter III performed.

Pintastic was probably the best pinball event that I’ve attended.  My feelings on the event are probably colored by the fact that I had all day Friday to talk to friends and just play a ton of pinball without the day ending in a six hour drive home.

Here’s how the weekend went…  Took off work a little bit early and drove down to Sturbridge.  I escaped Boston before the traffic got too bad which made for a more pleasant drive.  When I got there, Gabe and Derek had  a good number of dollies available to move machines from cars.  I moved the machine in and put it back together fully expecting to have issues.  Twenty minutes later, it was all together, kicked on the power, and the machine was up and running.  (I had every tool I could think of to fix any issues, but it turned to not be necessary.  The biggest issue I had was with one of the light sockets shorting out, which made two or three of the GI bulbs not work.  I tried to fix it with the soldering iron, and found out that the insulation for the socket was failing and didn’t have another socket with me.)

Now the bad.  On Tuesday and Wednesday, I added a couple new features.  I didn’t really have time to test the changes very thoroughly, and hoped that I got them right.  It turns out that I introduced a couple of bugs, that I didn’t find until I got home after the show.  I should have known better than to update the code without testing it that close to the show, but they were new features that I really wanted to have available.  (i.e. having the Aerosmith Sharpshooter song play when the game was in attract mode, and adding a timer to the kickout hole so that only a single callout would happen.  The kickout hole change ended up introducing a bug where the kickout hole would not fire if certain modes were active.  I checked on the machine every couple of hours, and there were a number of times that I saw the ball stuck in the kickout hole.  It took me less than 5 minutes to fix it when I got it home, but unfortunately I didn’t have time to look into it until I got home.)

Thursday, after I finished setting up, a random person walked into the room and he got to be the first person who is not my family to play the game.  It worked well, and I watched a couple other players play a couple of games.  Since it was part of the Restoration Throwdown Contest, it was in a room with only one other machine.  It was a strange setup, where I’m guessing that most people didn’t really understand the point of the machines in the room.  I changed the machine to start up automatically when plugged in, tested it, and it worked first time.  I left the show and drove back home on Thursday night.

Friday was the big day.  I woke up early, and drove back to Sturbridge, getting there at about 7 am.  Plugged the machine in, and it came right up.  (Oh, yeah, I never ended up getting around to installing an on/off switch, so yeah, it is simply plug in to turn it on, unplug to turn it off).  Turns out that there isn’t much to do until about 8:30 am, so went to the McDonalds and grabbed some coffee.  Saw LTG (got to thank him for answering so many of my technical questions on pinside), and saw Jersey Jack and talked to him for a bit.

At 8:30 am, the pinball began, and really continued mostly non-stop for the rest of the day.  There were probably about 100 or more machines to play, and so with the number of people there, I never had to wait to play a machine.  Every couple of hours, I would go back and check on SS3, and make sure that it was running properly.

There were a couple of new games that I wanted to try in the dealer area.  First one was Full Throttle.  I got to play three  or four games on it, and it was a blast.  It is really, really fast.  It is really, really fun.  I hope one of the local arcades, or someone who buys new machines in the area grabs one.  Next machine was the Lexy Lightspeed.  I really wanted to hate the machine because I tend to dislike pinball mixed with video games.  It turns out that I think that Gerry did a good job of striking a balance between those two.  It was less video gamey, and more pinbally than I was expecting.  I enjoyed the game a lot, and wished I would have been able to play a couple more games to get a good feel for some of the modes.  I have to say I was very impressed.  The flipper buttons lagged the flippers by a couple of milliseconds which was strange, but I think you would get used to it.  Last game was the Hobbit.  I ended up playing three games on it, and it was so lacking in features, I couldn’t really get a good feel for the game.  The machine had one of the rollover switches disabled so that you couldn’t get into some of the modes.  Seemed almost like I was playing a whitewood.  We played in groups of four, and I never saw Smaug.  Maybe that was one of the things you couldn’t get to because the switch was disabled.

A friend from CT showed up with his daughter and we got to play a ton of games on Friday morning.  As it got towards noon, I decided to grab lunch at the restaurant by the lake.  Glad I did it at that point, because the lunch took over two hours to get our food.  Sloooowwwww.  It was time for me to give the talk on creating SharpeShooter III.

So here are the quick links to the videos of the talk.  The first video is the main portion of the talk, and the second video are the questions and answers.  The sound is not that good, because, well, I didn’t speak directly into the microphone.  Here are the links:

http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/67230530

http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/67232530

Link to the slides:

https://code.google.com/p/open-pinball-project/source/browse/trunk/Docs/SS3Presentation.pdf

Luckily not many people showed up for the talk, and of the people that did show up, I knew most of them.  I don’t know why random people would show up and watch the talk.  I’m guessing that they were tired and needed a place to sit and rest.  The strangest thing was that Roger Sharpe showed up to hear the talk.  I hope I didn’t bore him too much.

Another nice thing about the first year of a show is that it is pretty small.  Just walking around the halls, you would run into people.  There were three or four times that I ran into Roger with my family, and I’d point at him and go, that’s Roger Sharpe, and my kids would go, “ooooohhh” (with awe in their voices).  They only know of Roger Sharpe as the person that the machine is based around.  I wish I would have had a chance to watch Roger play the machine.  I’m guessing he would have been able to hit the shots, and I could have talked him through starting a couple of the modes.

So, finished up the talk, and a bunch of local friends had some questions.  We meandered over to the SharpeShooter III machine, and I took off the glass, lifted the playfield, and showed the OPP hardware.  I also pulled the backglass so people could see what was back there.  At one point, I was pulled up the pinball framework, and showed you could run the code, simulate switches, and play a “game” on my laptop.  It was a great discussion, because some of the things that we talked about gave me some really good ideas on what is next for the OPP.  More on that in another blog entry.  After an hour of talking in the seminar, and another half an hour answering questions, my voice was spent.  Mark and I adjourned to the lake for some relaxing.  It was a great chance to catch up with him.

The pinball hall was supposed to close at some point, but even after announcing it would close in five minutes, nobody moved, and we continued to play for another couple of hours.  We then moved  over to the Friday night JJP after hours party.  I missed the discussion, but just when I thought I couldn’t play any more pinball, Mark and I found out that they had opened up the hall again.  We ended up playing another two hours of pinball, and that is when I got the chance to play the Hobbit.

Saturday was much less pinball related.  The kids showed up, but both had been sick for the previous week, and didn’t feel like doing much.  They played about three or four games of pinball, and then decided they would rather relax by the lake, or go swimming in the pool, or play a round of mini golf.  The pinball hall was really loud with all the machines, and that turned them off a little bit.  I got a chance to catch the Roger Sharpe talk and ask a question.  I grabbed a couple of games on some machines that I had missed such as Sopranos, and Simpsons Pinball Party.  Teardown was Saturday night and they had a band playing which was really fun to hear as you are working away.  I wish I would have been able to spend more time listening to the band.

So there were a couple of issues with SharpeShooter III which I just didn’t have time to fix before the show.

  1. First major issues was the incandescent driver boards.  I calculated the input and output impedence for the shift registers, but ended up messing up the math.  This meant that the clock pulse was reflecting on the long lines, and ended up glitching the lights.  I started with 56 ohm resistors on both the clock and data lines, but they should really be increased to 500 or 600 ohms.  That would make the game look a lot better.
  2. I would say that the code was pre-alpha.  There was definitely a bug at the show that would get the machine into a state where it couldn’t be played.  My bad for trying to update the code on the first morning of Pintastic and not having enough time to really test the changes.  I should never have done that, and should have had a code lock for a week before the show instead of trying to add new features.
  3. The game is too hard.  To start a mode, all inlanes and drop targets need to be collected.  Drop targets are pretty easy to collect, but the inlanes are difficult.  Since the drop targets don’t get reset until the mode is started, or the ball is lost, it can be very difficult to get the last inlane.  The code should be updated to reset the drop targets in easy mode  as soon as they are collected.
  4. Sorry to all the people that played the game and saw some of these errors.  Next year it will be that much better, and hopefully will be complete.  Should only take a short amount of time to fix these issues, but with the time crunch, I was not able to get it done.

I’m tired of typing and need to do some other things.  I promised my wife to work on many things so that I could get a pass and work on the pinball machine for all of June.  That pass has now been returned, so now I have to work on a bunch of items on the to do list.  (Of course, I’m still working on other pinball things when I have time, but probably nothing major will happen for the next few months.  Updates to the blog will probably only happen once a month for the next couple of months.)

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