Visual Pinball - Taken beyond the realm of sensible

I mentioned this project in a different thread where Visual Pinball came up, but it’s on a different enough track that a new thread makes sense. Some of the links throughout go to pictures – rather than burden the thread with loading them all.

I don’t know a lot of detail about the timeline of Visual Pinball and how it got to be where it is, but as I understand it, GlobalVR licensed visual pinball for use in a pre-made digital pinball product they called “Ultrapin” and added the option for the cabinet rendering mode. Then at some point they gave that code back to the original team so that others could use it.

I stumbled across people building virtual pinball cabinets in an arcade emulation forum recently. When done right, they look awesome, and I was pretty sure I wanted to build one. The one thing making me hesitate was that I’ve never really liked digital pinball much. But, in the end, I really wanted to give this a chance due to the different view angle compared to average digital pinball, and the more appropriate ‘feel’ I expected due to the cabinet.

So to get started I put out the call on for an empty cabinet. I was hoping for a ‘wide body’ (SuperPin) cabinet so I could use a bigger TV, But I was offered a standard width Gottlieb “Rescue 911” cabinet for free, and took it. In the end, this was probably a blessing in disguise, because I wouldn’t have been able to stay anywhere close to the budget I had if I used a bigger TV.

I decided that, since I still wasn’t sure this was a good idea, I’d order the TV for the main playfield and build the computer and set it up in a test configuration and play it for a while to see how it worked out - before committing to the whole project. I really like the projects that have maximized screen space for the main table. To fill up the majority of the space, you cut down the sides of the cabinet to mount the TV on, rather than getting a TV that fits fully inside the case. After doing my best to research how large various sizes of TV are once you take off the outer case, I decided to go with a 40" TV. Specifically, I chose a LED LCD TV due to the fact that it generates much less heat. The plan was to set it up to simulate the real build as best I could, and if it just didn’t seem cool, then use the TV for something else and have a sweet gaming PC.

The basic PC specs are these: Intel i5-650 3.4Ghz, 4 Gig Ram, ATI 5770 1 Gig video card.

When the TV & computer arrived, it was time to test it out and make the call. I basically laid the TV on top of the pinball cabinet so it would be at about the right placement & angle. I hooked up just enough buttons through an IPAC interface to be able to use the flippers on the cabinet. Loaded up a few tables and took it for a spin. It only took a few hours of playing around with it, even in that ghetto form, to realize it was definitely cool enough to fully build.

First point of diving in was de-casing the 40" TV. Nerve wracking to say the least. I got that done, then laid the TV back onto the cabinet on top of the sides. It works just about perfect. The tv is just under 22" wide (turned vertically) and the cabinet is 22" across including the sides. The bulkier part of the TV fits down between the side walls. The next day with a little Rotozip action, the TV was under the glass. I failed to account for the fact that one side of the TV was thicker than the other, so I had to re-cut one side with a lower section to make it properly flat, but thankfully I had measured the thinner side.

Then I set about setting up more of the software. The HyperPin front end, Visual Pinball and Future Pinball. Visual Pinball is the key to making this whole thing worthwhile. Visual Pinball integrates with PinMAME to run real table code on the back-end, combined with 3d recreations of said tables created by a group of ridiculously talented individuals. The end result is a very similar, but not exact of course, play experience to the real thing, with the standard view you’d have standing in front of a real cabinet. No scrolling up and down, no zooming around to follow the ball. They HyperPin front end seals the deal. Full screen previews of tables & backglass art, controllable with standard pinball buttons plus a few extras.

Meanwhile, I ordered the rest of the parts. New pinball cabinet legs & side rails. The 28" monitor for the backglass. A second 5770 to CrossfireX for a performance boost. The monitor arrived ahead of the other hardware, so I set about engineering a way to mount the thing. The inside of the head is only about 25.2" across (Standard Williams cabinet would have given me a few more inches to work with) and the monitor I got was 25.7" across. I knew this going in, however. I figured I’d just decase the thing and mount that. In the end, I decided to slice off the sides of the front & back of the case and re-case it to protect it and provide a nice bezel. A few angle brackets and some spacing blocks and it’s good to go. Next up was mounting the 19" monior for the DMD. Rotozip to the rescue again. chopped an opening between the head and body of the cabinet so that the monitor can sit halfway in between. A few more angle brackets and voila. They both went in easier than I was expecting.

The other hardware still hadn’t arrived, so I took the entire thing apart. Filled in holes and dings, sanded down the old art, and painted it. Plain black for now, someday I’ll do something about art for it, but that’s not important for me at this point. Visual Pinball doesn’t support any sort of analog plunger at this point - so I didn’t bother with a standard pinball plunger. Some projects rig up a switch to a plunger because they have some hang-up about a pinball machine really needing a plunger, but it’s still a digial on/off input.

Finally the cabinet parts I ordered showed up. New legs to replace the beat down rusted old ones, and new side rails to cover up the TV on the sides. The side rails I ordered are the older style Bally/Williams really thick ones that would easily cover the TV. The supplier sent me the wrong thing however, so those will have to go back. The new legs were fine though, so final building could commence. Put the legs on, finished up the wiring, bolted on the back box and mounted the 2 head monitors. It looks mostly like a pinball machine now. I don’t have the active adapter I need to run three monitors yet, so I pulled the crossfire connection so I could run all three monitors just to take some glory shots.

Aside from waiting for the rails, it’s mostly done aside from trim work. I need to figure out some sort of bezel for the DMD/Speaker area, and cover up the open space above & below the TV. Eventually I’ll look into various methods for nudging (VP supports nudging from left, right and center), some projects use tilt plumbs from real pinballs with part of the ring taped off to make the input directional, others use mercury switches. And I might look into adding solenoids to bang on the inside of the cabinet when you hit a flipper button to give you the same tactile ‘snap’ you get from a real pinball flipper. But for now, I’m just happy to have it in a fully functional playable state.

I had sold off one of my other pins for $3000 to fund this crazy idea so that was my basic budget. The playfield TV was $1000, the first computer order was about $1100, the second round of computer parts was another $500, and the cabinet parts and active adapter for the third monitor put it up just over $3000.

You might know my friend Joe Ricards. He’s one of the guys who has built one of these things. I posted about it recently here on Qt3.

I don’t know Joe, but I did see this shots of his project that you posted. That thread (about the WMS Pinball Arcade) was where I first posted information about my build.

For anybody that didn’t catch it - the other thread is here: Xbox 360 and PS3 get Williams Collection + Bonus

Ah… ok. I didn’t follow it too closely after that. Your cabinet looks great!

Joe added a full joystick and buttons setup to his recently I think, in order to play vertical screen MAME stuff on that big screen.

The project I finished up just before this Pin build was a vertical mame cabinet with a 4 way joystick just for classics (DK, Frogger, Pac-Man, etc) so I had that part covered already.

Cool. He’s done a few MAME cabs as well. The current one is in a showcase cabinet I helped him retrieve from Lancaster, PA.

Not a great shot, but you get the idea. He has a PC with MAME in that one as well as a one-slot Neo Geo MVS.

I’m 99% sure I’m selling my Neo Geo home console for his Big Red MVS cabinet. He’s interested in getting rid of it and it’s in super shape.

Two slot marquee, but it has a four-slot board in there.

Initial thoughts: Holy @#$%, they made a Rescue 911 pinball machine? Did it have Shatner’s voice?

Immediately thereafter: That’s awesome. Next time I’m traveling to Minnesota, I may actually stop in Wisconsin.

Shame about having to effectively destroy a 1 in 4,000 rarity to get your baby off the ground, but the result looks amazing. If I had the time, the tools, and the treasure, this would be the perfect weekend hobby.

To be fair, when I got the Rescue 911 it was gutted. Parted out to save other Rescue 911 machines. No playfield, no electronics, nothing. I had no hand in its demise. As far gone as the cabinet/art was, you’d have to entirely repaint it anyway for a restore – and since it’s just a vanilla Gottlieb wooden box, I didn’t demolish any rare parts. I do try to be sensitive to the “don’t destroy the classics” frame of mind.

And I don’t know about Shatner. Never played Rescue 911 for real.

Aw your pinball cabinet photos are dead @epthegeek. Any chance you have them around still?

I am splurging a bit on the Virtuapin mini as an experiment.

I played with one of those at the Texas Pinball Festival a while back. It’s interesting, but I’m not sure I’d want it to be my primary means of playing. My main concern was the viewing angle for the LCD screen, and the lack of depth in the top-down display. But it was nice playing a Pinball FX table with real cabinet-side buttons.

I have played with one or two at California Extreme, mostly this weird “Vertigo” vertical model:

I’m not totally sold on it, which is why I went mini and not full size. LCD angle visibility is certainly better than it was in, say, 2010. Also the 2D nature of the classic Visual Pinball tables isn’t great. I may resell it if it doesn’t work out.

It is pretty sweet I must say.

Looks amazing!

I grew up with electromechanical machines in the house (Flower Power, Travel Time, Little Chief, etc.). I’ve always wanted to have one as an adult, but truth be told, with having to manage my hand issues, I don’t know how much I’d play even if I had one.

The Virtuapin mini … is a really nicely made machine.

Granted it is $2999 plus $300 worth of palletized shipping to get it to you, but it’s a revision 4 design from a team that has been building pinball cabinets for the last decade, and it shows. Once you figure out how to open it, the thing is amazingly well designed, totally solid, and easy to work on. Other bonuses:

  • Haswell quad-core i5
  • 8GB RAM
  • 256GB SSD (upgraded to Samsung 850 Pro)
  • Nvidia 750 Ti (will upgrade to Nvidia 1050 Ti next week)
  • Excellent sound system with down firing subwoofer in the body
  • Real pinball metal legs, side rails, lockdown bar, and plunger
  • Tempered glass above backglass and playfield
  • Pinball logic board with analog nudge, analog plunger, and 8 buttons showing up as a single “joystick” controller
  • 27" playfield, 23" backglass, and 7" 800x400 mini-LCD for dot matrix simulation

All that, even though the only selections they had in the purchase form reflected a much older PC: 64GB SSD, 4GB RAM, and so on. They didn’t skimp on the cheap stuff which I appreciated … with one highly unfortunate exception. They used a 27" TN panel for the main display.

On a TN panel, every pixel is a bad pixel

I don’t have enough sad face emoji to express how I feel about that. The one saving grace is that visibility is surprisingly decent if you stand directly in front of it, and when you are playing you definitely do, so that’s no problem. But many other angles are horrible, particularly for spectators. Seriously, fuck TN displays. They are godawful.

So I purchased a very similar 27" Benq IPS display ($300) and I’m gonna retrofit it in. I just can’t fucking deal with this TN main playfield panel, on a device that’s all about the display, having what is at best a mediocre display as the thing you constantly stare at … I cannot abide.

(Ironically the smaller 23" panel for the backglass appears to be IPS and has awesome viewing angles. Go figure… sigh.)

BUT! As long as you can get him to put in a real IPS panel for both monitors, this Virtuapin Mini is actually IMO recommendable at the price … if you have three grand burning a hole in your pocket. It is truly built like a tank and will absolutely last a couple decades like a real pinball machine.

There’s no question in my mind that you’d spend at least $1500 building this sort of thing up from scratch in parts alone, so unless you have a ridiculous amount of free time and woodworking skills, you’d need to factor in probably a month of work. I’ll blog more about this next week.

I just replaced the main playfield 27" display panel, shockingly easy to do as it uses a clever “lift up” rod and lever assembly against the vesa panel mount on the rear of the monitor.



You do need to be careful with button placement on the monitor, side buttons can be problematic due to the flush edge mounting. The way the Benq has the buttons on the rear of the monitor turns out to be critical. That is why I intentionally bought from the same monitor “family”.

As expected, night and day difference in angle visibility and better color saturation to boot. The bump in resolution from 1080p to 1440p is a nice perk as well and the 750ti that is in there is holding up much better than I thought it would.

Seeing the 750ti in action on Pinball FX2 and Pinball Arcade at native 1440p it doesn’t seem strictly necessary to replace it, per se, as performance is surprisingly solid. Still gonna replace it with the just-released 1050ti though because I am super anal about stuff like that. 60fps guaranteed, or death!

Awww yiss

The performance per watt on offer here is awesome. No external power connector.

The 750Ti was an incredible amount of power per dollar at the time of it’s release. I had one from day one til last year near Christmas time.

I’m still getting great performance out of its equivalent that is baked into the Alienware Alpha. You probably didn’t need the upgrade to run Visual Pinball tbh, but at 1440p, it was probably worthwhile.

And what’s another $150 after the $3349 you already invested, right?!

A friend of mine was one of the first to build one of these things long ago and next to owning a few machines, it’s something I’d love to have someday. That and a Neo Geo big red cabinet. :)

You barely need a video card for Visual Pinball, it is a bunch of hideous 2d bitmaps. Pinball Arcade in dx11 mode is freakin’ beautiful 3D though.

90 percent of the cabinet is a portrait widescreen monitor which has the right shape for a pinball table; if you want to play with this concept, rotate a monitor.

BenQ GW Series GW2765HT 27-Inch Screen LED-Lit Monitor

I have this monitor! Very good. So good, infact, that I just recommended it to someone at work.

Now I can add “Plus, it works great in Pinball machines…”

Super cool Wumpus!