8/30/2017 – Arduino revisited one more time

So things have been rather quiet at OPP central right now.  Got back from Pintastic, and I’ve basically done no real pinball related things.  I kinda miss it since I was spending so much time for a while.  Nobody is even posting on the BPA (Boston Pinball Association) except for the random machine for sale here or there.  Pinside has also been rather dull, but that is probably because I don’t know what threads are interesting.  There are some small email exchanges going on, but even those are mostly short and to the point.

So, pondering one evening, I thought to myself that I should create an Arduino shield since so many people use that platform.  As you’ve all read before, I hate the Arduino framework, but I actually thought that I liked the base processors a lot.  The one guy mentioned that I could simply program everything in C and ignore all the “helpful” classes that get rid of all the dirty nastiness of the processor.  (Of course that dirty nastiness is what allows you to squeeze so much performance out of these little processors).  My original thought is because it has more I/O it would be easier for people to use it in a centralized way.

Anyhow, last weekend, I started to do the base research of the feasibility and the value of creating such a shield.  So below I will do a little bit of a comparison with the PSoC 4200 that currently use for the OPP wings, and the Arduino Mega.

  1. Cost – PSoC $4, Mega $8.45 on Ebay.  The Arduino is more than twice as much.  This is buying off Ebay and trying to find the cheapest source.  If you went aliexpress you could get it for about $7, but I have never bought off aliexpress, so fear of the unknown factors in that a little bit.  You can probably assume about a 30 day wait if you buy from aliexpress.  PSoC is the winner here.
  2. I/O Pins – Mega 54, PSoC 36.  The mega definitely has more I/Os.  That makes it very attractive and probably why I started doing this exercise.  It was difficult for me to figure out the data sheet and find how many are dedicated I/Os versus general purpose I/Os.  I think that is mostly because the Arduino framework wants to configure certain pins to certain functions so people can create generic shields.  For a pinball controller, you mostly want raw inputs and outputs.  Some PWMs would be great also if they could be routed to the correct pins.  PSoC has 36 pins which 32 are generic I/Os, leaving 2 pins for communications (Tx/Rx), plus 2 more pins.  For me it is really the sweet spot of I/Os.  I can send a 4 byte (32 bit) value back to the host that gives the state of all the inputs.  At 54, I would probably choose to send back a 6 byte (48 bit) value back to the host.  That would make the host code a little more sticky.  Regardless, more is always better, so Arduino is the winner.
  3. Voltage – PSoC 5V, Mega 5V.  I like 5V I/O more than 3.3V and both processors support it.  At 5V you have more choices of MOSFETs so that is all good.  Interfacing to a Pi is more difficult, but level shifters are pretty easy to work with in this day and age.
  4. Flash – Mega 256K, PSoC 32K.  Mega has much more flash.  In the latest version of the OPP firmware, it is using approximately 70% of the flash of the PSoC.  If I had more codespace, I’m not sure what I would do with it.  I’m guessing the Mega needs more flash because of the Arduino framework.  That is not a big selling point to me as mentioned before.  Arduino is clearly the winner.
  5. SRAM – Mega 8K, PSoC 4K.  Once again, Mega has more resources including SRAM.  (Places where you store variables in your code, stack and heap).  The OPP original project worked with a processor that had 8K of flash, and 512 bytes for RAM.  (That included a bootloader that took 768 bytes of flash).  Again, Arduino is clearly the winner, but since I have enough resources, it doesn’t matter that much.
  6. Processor Frequency – PSoC 48 MHz, Mega 16 MHz.  OK, this is one parameter that I do care about.  With the addition of switch matrix support, the processor is starting to need to do much more processing.  With the PSoC it has plenty of headroom and I don’t worry about things like updating LEDs, sending responses to the host, reading the switch matrix, and firing solenoids all at the same time.  The running loop happens so quickly, that all of these things can happen within that loop time.  At 16 MHz, I’m not so certain.  When trying to decide whether to make an Arduino shield, this was the nail in the coffin for me.   PSoC is clearly the winner.

There is an Arduino Due.  It has the same number of I/Os, but changes the processor to 3.3V.  It has even more flash (512K) and RAM (96K), and it is running at 84MHz.   It also costs about $12.50.  As a processor, that is interesting.   As a pinball controller, it is just seems a little expensive to me.  (Going into this, I thought I was going to find an equivalent part to the PSoC at about $6 in the Arduino world, but I just haven’t found it.)

I’m glad I took the time to learn more about the Arduinos, and do a little bit of research.  At this point, the idea is going back onto the shelf until the prices drop a little further.  I might ask for an Arduino Due for Christmas, just to play with it, but that’s what it is going to end up being, one more toy in the basement in a box.


7/14/2017 – Youtube videos of talk available

If anybody is really bored this weekend, here are the videos of the talk that I gave on pinball electronics.  Goes from EM machines to what I call Gen3 machines.  Those who couldn’t make it to Pintastic 2017 might be interested.

I forgot to mention the total cost of the Van Halen machine.  All said and done, it cost about $480 to make it a reality.  That included everything from the base non-working Dolly machine to the two cards that I blew up and replaced because I kicked out the ground plug.

Without further adieu, here are the videos.  (It was broken into 3 separate files by the camera, and I don’t know how to join them together, so sorry about that.)

Look, it’s Dave Marston as the thumbnail!


7/12/2017 – Pintastic 2017, Now it is over

Pintastic 2017 has come and gone.  I am as happy to see it gone as can be.  Too much stuff trying to be forced into a small period of time.  It was all done.  Some could have been done better, but, everything was done.  Here is a quick run down:

Drove there Friday morning and met up with Dave Marston.  Made sure that he had my presentation, and we could display it on the screen.  That all went well.  Met with John C.(originator of pinball night back when I lived in CT), and we started the unload of the machines.  After about an hour and a half, both machines were set up in the free play hall.  That’s when I noticed an issue…I had forgotten to bring the boom box topper for Van Halen…

You can’t have a music pin without having any speakers, so it was back into the car to drive an hour each way to grab the topper from my house.  Doh!  My own fault for making sure all the machines were in the car, but not doing a final walk through to see if I had missed anything.

We got back to Pintastic at noon and finally got the machine all together.  One issue with Pintastic is that the free play room is amazingly loud.  Ear splitting loud.  My kids don’t want to go to Pintastic because it is so loud in the main room.   In my basement, the speakers are so loud on the pins, that I only turn the amplifiers up to about 1/4 power.  At Pintastic, I needed to turn the amplifiers the whole way up, and the call outs could not be heard clearly over the din.

Back to the machines.  Van Halen was running perfectly, but SharpeShooter was having issues with one of the solenoid cards.  After an hour, I finally traced it to the fact that the high power ground for that card wasn’t working properly.  I could have tried to jumper the wire to another ground wire, but then I pulled out the molex connector and squeezed it slightly.  That was enough to make the connection, and everything was working properly.  These are the standard molex connectors used for PC power supplies where the connector on the board is a pin, and the wires from the playfield surround that pin.  I have never seen those fail before, but it could be because I tugged the wires too hard and bent the circular pin.  It was an easy fix once I figured it out.

While the Van Halen pin never had any problems, players could not hear the callout to tell them how to choose David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar as the lead singer.  If I had it to do over, and wasn’t so frazzled from fixing SharpeShooter, I would have simply defaulted the game to randomly pick the lead singer.  As it was, people many times started a four player game before pounding on the buttons enough to start the actual game.  If I was standing there, I would explain how to start the game, but most of the time, I wasn’t standing beside the machine.  Van Halen actually ran all weekend and never needed to be reset.  That is a testament to that little Pi and how well it worked.

So now everything was working, and we decided to go to lunch.  (Went to BT Smokehouse which is by far the best restaurant in the area.  Much better than the Oxhead Tavern).  Got back, and found out that every once and a while SharpeShooter lost USB communication.  That was one of the changes that I made between two years ago, and this year.  I didn’t have time to fix it properly, so I threw a keyboard and mouse onto the USB bus which fixed the issue most of the time.  Now that it is home, I can fix it properly.

By the time we got back from lunch, it was almost time for the seminar.  I sat in on the last half of the seminar on making a 60 in 1.  The guy seemed really knowledgeable and seemed like he had been building them for years.  After that, I did my seminar on general pinball electronics.  I have to give a shout out to Richard K.  for giving his opinions on the best way to clean contacts and controllers in EM machines.  The talk ran a little bit long, and we didn’t get to the last few slides.  It sounded like there was a mixture of people interested in pinball electronics, and were building their own machines.  I gave away a bunch of free stuff and hopefully everyone was happy.

After the talk, I finally got a chance to go play some pinball.  We ended up playing until the close of the freeplay room.  We went into the VIP lounge but it was even louder in there.  There were so many people, and the room was so small, that we just walked right out.  We adjourned to the bar, had a couple of beers, and then closed out the night.

Next day, machines were up and running properly, so I got to spend more time playing a ton of EMs.  I love the old EMs.  They are certainly my favorites when going to a show like this.  There was a Zaccaria Time Machine that I really wanted to play, but it had a failure and wasn’t running.

At 11 am, I walked a couple people through what the inside of the machines looked like, and how the boards worked.  It ended up only being a couple of people from Manchester, NH, but I was glad to see their interest.

At about 3:00 pm, I ran out of steam, and decided to pull the machines and go home.  Through my own mistake, I had never really put the machines officially in the free play room.  The nice part was that I could pull the machines a little bit early and not be charged a fee.  I went back to BTs for a last meal and drove home.  I was absolutely spent on Saturday, and then spent most of Sunday laying on the couch.

When I get a chance, I will put the videos of the talk up on youtube.  Both John and Derek K. recorded the talk.  That’s about how it went.

7/4/2017 – Ready for Pintastic 2017

We are ready for Pintastic.  All the machines have been moved to the garage so I can put them in the car on Thursday night and drive them to Sturbridge, MA Friday morning.  I gotta tell you, I’m sick of building pinball at this point.  I need a vacation.

I just figured out last night, that not only did Joe and I retheme a whole machine including rules, electronics, and art from middle of January to now, but I also rewired SS3 from Gen1 OPP boards, to Gen2 boards, and updated the Pinball Framework to support the newer cards.  That is one heck of a lot of pinball for one year, and I am tired.

I will see whoever is going to Pintastic this weekend.  I’m giving a general seminar on pinball electronics on Friday at 3:00 pm.  There will be a good amount of free stuff given away.  Come one, come all.   I’ll be around all weekend so stop me if you are interested in seeing how the machines work.

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6/28/2017 – Another Van Halen Gameplay Video

Fixed some small stuff tonight, and shot another video.  This will probably be the last video of Van Halen before Pintastic.  Gotta jump back over, and get Sharpe Shooter 3 back up and running.  My gosh, these machines just might be done before Pintastic!

6/27/2017 – Pictures of Van Halen

Truth be told, it is time for me to go to bed, and I don’t feel like writing anything.  I’m getting pretty darn sick of working on this machine, but it is nearing completion.  About two weeks left, until Pintastic.

Shameless plug, come see my seminar at 3:00 pm on 7/7/2017 at Pintastic in Sturbridge, MA.  I’ll be there all weekend, so stop me and ask me any questions you want.  A good number of people there know who I am, so I should be pretty easy to find.  Stop by the Lermods booth at Pintastic, and they will set up free shipping of OPP cards from Mezel Mods.

End shameless plug…Here are the pictures I took tonight.

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6/24/2017 – Some new videos of game play

This is mostly for the people who subscribe to the blog but aren’t subscribed to the youtube channel.  Last couple of days have been very busy.  While trying to fix the light bulbs, I accidentally pulled out the connector for the ground of the transformer.  This caused all sorts of issues, included blowing up some of the MOSFETs.  After struggling for a couple of days and fixing things piecemeal, I simply gave up.  I replaced the two OPP cards that drive all the solenoids.  It was about $20 in parts and about 1 hour in soldering to build the new cards but the savings in my angst was well worth it.  I didn’t have some parts on hand so there was a Mouser order involved.  I now have a much better supply of MOSFETs.

I switched from the cheap MOSFETs (FQP13N06L) to using IRL540 MOSFETs.  In the first cards, I had a couple IRL540s and mostly FQP13N06L.  After accidentally disconnecting the ground (actually the current return for the high voltage solenoids), it turns out that many of the FQP13N06L either failed or failed later after several games.  Below is the sequence of events:

  • I lifted the playfield to adjust some bulbs.  I pulled too hard on the cable at some point, and it pulled the connector off the transformer that returns the current for the solenoids.
  • Lowered the playfield, and started playing a quick game.  At some point during the game, I noticed that one of the sling shots was on constantly.  (It was stuck on for a while before I noticed it…maybe 30 seconds).  Performed a test or two and proved it was the MOSFET.  Soldered in a new MOSFET, and started a new game.
  • Almost immediately another MOSFET failed.  This time it was the knocker.  Once again, tested, and this time I simply desoldered the high voltage wire to the knocker.  (The knocker isn’t currently used in the game code).  At this point I thought something was wrong but I didn’t know what.
  • Powered it up and started playing again.  I can’t remember, but I think the other slingshot failed at this time.
  • Finally powered everything off and checked the connections.  Found the two sides of the high current return connector were almost completely off.  Plugged those back in.
  • Now everything should work.  Powered everything up and after batting the ball around for a while, either a slingshot or a pop bumper failed.
  • Frustration set in.  Gripe a lot and eventually go to bed.  Next day looked around in the bin of built cards and found I had enough to replace the OPP board that had 8 solenoids on it.  Built that card into a full card, and threw it in the machine.
  • After about 5 minutes of playing the new card fails with one of the slingshots being locked on.  (I can’t remember if it is the same slingshot that was locked on for 30 seconds or if it was the other slingshot).
  • Got frustrated again and decided that I was going to replace all the MOSFETs with IRL540s since none of those failed.  Made order from Mouser.

So that’s the whole story.  Why did the FQP13N06L fail after I reconnected the ground?  Could it be that I now have a solenoid with an internal short somewhere in the coil.  I don’t know, but at this point, it is working.  Could be I have a ticking time bomb that will fail during Pintastic.  Only time will tell.

Here are the two videos that were done yesterday.  I apologize for the scattered commentary but the kids felt they needed to ask me questions during it, and pass me notes, so I repeat things often.

Here is another video of the white wood mode.  I finally realized that using the target at the end of the inline drops is not going to work because it simply traps the ball.  (Scott Danesi could have told me that earlier, but I’m not trying to achieve a Danesi lock.)  I ended up moving the reset to the Eddy target for white wood mode.   During the real game, it waits a couple of seconds for the ball to drop out of the inlines, then resets it.  I wonder how the old Dolly code reset the inlines?  It had to be a hit of a separate target, or maybe it never reset them until the next ball:

Here is a second video showing the OPP Pinball Framework and rules driving the machine.  You could see scoring happening, but well, I set up the camera too low so it got cut off.   Sorry.  I try to explain some of the rules.  It seems really easy to collect Alex (5 hits for each letter in the pop bumpers), so that might need to be increased to 10 hits per letter.

Speaking of Pintastic… it happens on July 7-8th, 2017.  The machine will be there in the freeplay room.    (I’m also planning on bringing SharpeShooter 3 again).  My seminar is at 3:00 pm on Friday, July 7th on general pinball electronics.  I will probably spend the last part of talk discussing a little bit about the making of the Van Halen machine.  Dave Marston said he is setting up two different times when I will be hanging around the two OPP machines in the free play area and I’ll give tours under the playfield, in the back box, etc.  Let people see how it all works and ask questions.  Supposedly there is going to be a time on Friday and a time on Saturday for that.  Like I said

At the seminar on Friday, I will be giving away a bunch of free stuff…also known as parts that I removed from Dolly and no longer need anymore.  I’ll also give away another set of OPP bare boards.  If you sit through my seminar, you deserve a chance at some free gifts.

I will be around all weekend.  So even if it isn’t one of the designated times, simply stop me, and ask me questions.  (On Friday I’ll be wearing an OPP T-shirt, so that should be a dead give away)  The machines are there until 10 pm on Saturday, so after I get sick of playing pinball, I’ll look forward to talking to people about their homebrew pinball ideas.