1/4/2016, What the Heck (not Ben) am I doing?

I was looking back at the archives to try and figure out what the goals were from the previous year and if I met them.  Fortunately I can’t find any goals, so that must mean that I met all of them.  At the end of 2014 I came up with a dopey idea of bringing a machine to the Pintastic show.  That happened, but it was a knock down flat out fight.  I was personally not happy about many aspects of it (mostly the software that was running the rules) and just didn’t have enough time to really work out the bugs.  (Yes, I was the guy huddled over the pinball machine the night before the show updating code.)  Some of the updates worked well, while others introduced bugs.  I didn’t have enough time to really play test the code, and some of the long timers that I was using to kick off songs in attract mode didn’t work or didn’t clear properly.  The majorly fatal flaw was that I had a mode where I didn’t clear the kickout hole, so if it went into that mode, the ball would get stuck and never clear.  My bad for not having enough time to do the proper things.

After Pintastic, I was pretty much done with pinball for quite a while.  I needed a vacation.  At some point Joe told me that I should keep going.  After discussing some design ideas with Joe, I decided to start working on the second generation of cards.  Those cards are about twice as dense as the original cards (meaning up to 16 solenoids, 32 inputs, support for Neopixels, etc).  They were also a good deal cheaper to make.  If there wouldn’t have been a significant improvement to the cards, I doubt if I would have pursued making them.  I sent out for a few boards to be made and decided hey, I’ll get to the code when I get to the code.  At some point around October, I decided that I was going to give myself a hard deadline of finishing the firmware on the cards by the end of the year.  That put a whole bunch of pinball hobby time into the end of the year, and finally, today, I finished testing out a card and sending it to somebody else to play with it.

My wife asked me why I was working so hard over the last month or so…what was the point.  Well here is the deal.  There are another couple of guys who have spent the last year and a half of their lives working on another aspect of making pinball more accessible to the masses.  Out of respect for them, and all of the countless hours they have spent working on their project, they deserve me spending the month or so of my time to support them.  It was a foolish deadline to tell them it would be done by the end of the year, but when you give somebody your word, you should try and keep it.

Yesterday morning I was crimping wires and my wife again asked me what I was doing.  I responded it was so when they get the card, they can immediately start playing with it.  I wanted their barrier to trying the stuff out to be as small as possible.  Here’s a quick picture of the demo board that they got:


Gen2 Test Board

So the card is a little bit of a Frankenstein board.  Instead of using the normal communication channel, I used the USB to serial adapter that comes with the card.  (I didn’t want them to have to get a USB to serial port adapter or a RS232 to 5V converter and the board contains all that stuff anyway)   After initially using the board for a while, I wasn’t happy with the USB connection which is simply a card edge connector that is plugged into a USB port.  Grabbed an old USB connector, soldered the wires onto the edge connector, and added some epoxy for stress relief.  Now it never loses connection.  I also didn’t buy any parts to make these cards.  I just used left over parts and modified things that I had laying around because I never expected to send these cards to anybody.  This card is made up of the original cards (I built two of each) that I built for testing the hardware and nothing else.  Haven’t done a Mouser order at all, so the solenoid Molex connector is actually a cut down 24 pin header, not the real 6 pin header.  The 8 pin headers, are two 4 pin headers soldered side by side, etc.  Totally Frankenstein but it should be plenty for the integration they need to do.

So that project is done.  I have some more features that I want to add, but I could easily make a working pinball machine out of what I currently have working on the card.

The question boils down to where does the OPP go from here.  Joe (my head of marketing) says that people don’t want to populate their own boards.  I optimized the boards so they could easily be hand built by anybody with a very limited soldering ability.  The value proposition that I imagined was that you get a set of boards that you can run a pinball machine for half or a quarter of the cost of regular boards with a very little bit of work.  (It’s not like a person creating a pinball machine doesn’t need to know how to solder.)  I basically felt this was a fair trade.  At the most I would send blank boards out to people for whatever the boards cost me and be done with it.  (Blank boards cost about $15 for a whole late 80s/early 90s style pinball machine).

So my original idea was to start a Kickstarter project.  I would produce populated boards for two backers.  The first version of cards were originally sent to two people that were able to create flipping white woods, or flipping rewired existing playfields.  They were excited by their progress, but neither have produced a machine that interfaces to a controller for running all the pinball rules.  The only OPP machine that has a full set of rules is the SharpeShooter 3 machine that I created.  It doesn’t really tell me if there is enough documentation to create a full up pinball machine.  What would I really be getting out of Kickstarter except being able to maybe say that I had a successful campaign.  (I would fail to mention that the campaign was only for $100 dollars total).  The other downside is that Kickstarter takes 10% off the top, so I’d have to raise supporter rate accordingly.

After discussing Kickstarter with Joe, he mentioned I would need to do a video.  I don’t know any video editors (I guess that I would choose Blender which I have at least minimal experience), so that would be a problem.  Joe said he would help with the video editing, but that would be a huge burden on him.  He suggested instead to put something on Pinside.  In lieu of that, I’ll first put a note here.  If I can’t find the two people through the blog, I will consider adding a note to Pinside.  This gives the best chance to not bother Joe with doing any more free work for me.

So here is my email address if you are interested.  You can’t click it, you just have to type it into your email client.  I’m hoping this reduces the amount of spam that I get.


If you become one of the two lucky chosen supporters, I’ll build your boards and talk you through all the wiring.  Just for reference SS3 required 3 solenoid wings (3 * 4.01), 4 input wings (4 * .27), and 6 incandescent wings (6 * 1.60), $15 for the PCBs, 4 PSoC 4200 (4 x (3.75 + .76)) = $55.75 total.  Note:  There is currently a bug in the incandescent boards that I have which I will spin a new version to fix the issue which will also allow the implementation of lamp matrices.

Oh yeah, happy new year.

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