Building a custom pinball machine!

Recently I have been considering what it would take to build a custom pinball machine. When you add everything up, starting from scratch, it’s quite a long list. There are many skills and tasks involved. The “big” items in my mind are (and I’m probably forgetting some things):

Woodworking:

  • Cabinet with foldable backbox
  • Playfield with light lenses (aka inserts)

Electronic Engineering:

  • Drive solenoids and lamps
  • Read switches
  • Drive dot-matrix display
  • Sound output

Mechanical Engineering

  • Ball guides
  • Shooter
  • Flippers
  • Ball outhole/through
  • Ramps
  • Playfield toys

Game design

  • Playfield Layout
  • Game rules

Graphic design

  • Cabinet artwork
  • Translite
  • Playfield artwork

Software Engineering

  • Input/Output: control of solenoids, lamps and switches
  • Implement game rules
  • Video output (DMD)
  • Sound output

I quickly decided that this was way more work than I wanted to take on. Building a cabinet, for instance, doesn’t seem particularly interesting to me. Nor is replicating the mechanical parts of flippers. Similarly, the electronics needed to drive a game are more a mean to an end than what it interesting to me.

When it comes down to it, I’m more interested in building a unique and fun game than tackling each and every one of these tasks – ¬†cutting the “todo” list down to a manageable size means I actually have a chance one day at finishing :)

My solution is to find and use a Bally/Williams DMD game to use as a basis for my custom game, and re-use all the common bits that all pinball games share:

  • Cabinet, backbox
  • Electronics/PCBs
  • Flippers, shooter, ball through

A product called the P-ROC allows you to control the driver board from Williams WPC machines, read all the switches, and drive the DMD. Hence I am re-using not just the cabinet and some of the mechanical bits, but the electronics, too! Not only does this save a huge amount of time and work, but also cost. Considering all the hardware and parts that you would need to buy just to make a cabinet, it makes a whole lot more sense to start from an existing game and build starting from that.

I found a Doctor Who machine locally for not a lot of money, and thus my custom game build is underway. I am a bit sad to tear it down, since it’s in great shape and is a fun enough game, but I am way more excited about building my own custom machine! Beside, I will be able to sell all the Doctor Who specific parts (playfield, topper, plastics, etc) and recoup some of the cost of buying the machine :)

Finally, I do have a theme in mind for my game, but at least for now I am keeping it secret :) In upcoming posts I will instead refer to my game by codename, “Alpha Bravo One”.

Here’s a pic of Doctor Who before the teardown begins:

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2 Responses to Building a custom pinball machine!

  1. Anonymous says:

    i agree i do need to improve my brain!

  2. jonah says:

    just found this post! I’ve been looking for a few parts to my Doctor Who machine, especially ramps and the Dalek topper. Do you still have any of these parts? would you be willing to sell them?

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