Virtual Pinball – Introduction & Design

This is the introduction to building your own Virtual pinball table. In here you will find everything you need to start building with all the items I bought for my build. There are other alternatives available but my guides will use the items described here. This part includes cabinet designs, special effects, information on the artwork, TV specifications and much more. This is a large project and I recommend to thoroughly plan your build ahead so you don’t run into troubles while building it.

Since I was already building an arcade cabinet, it would be great to have a virtual pinball table that goes along. Pinball tables are generally easier to build as most the woodwork are just simple panels and there are a lot fewer controls. However, the pinball table may be more expensive as the arcade cabinet so keep this in mind if you are choosing between one or the other.

Design

The cabinet of a pinball table is fairly easy to build but before you can build your cabinet you should choose your design. Pinball cabinet plans are available on the internet and there are 2 main types: standard body, and widebody cabinets. personally, I would never choose the standard body but I recommend watching some youtube videos and decide for yourself. Below are a few links to plans but there are definitely more if you don’t like any of these:

For my build I went with the Williams wide-body cabinet, this should fit most 46″ TV just fine:

If you still haven’t found what you want, you could design your own cabinet if say, you already have the TV and want to make it fit as tight as possible, this is very important as you want the side bezels to be almost nonexistent for the best experience. In my case, I went with a Williams widebody design that should fit most 46-inch TV’s. I even found a forum post of someone who cramped in a 47″ TV by cutting a groove on both sides to slide in the TV. But if you want to be safe you can change some measurements in the design to make it fit. Try to keep everything in proportion and keep in mind when you change the width of your cabinet, you may need a custom length lock bar for your cabinet which may be more expensive and harder to find, also you can probably not use the virtual pinball set I’m using and you have to find all parts manually yourself.

Main components

As I mentioned earlier, I’m using the virtual pinball set, this is a handy set containing all parts you will need to completely build your own pinball table. There are many parts to this bundle and it will save you a lot of time.

The button set is an add-on to the big set and comes with all the buttons you will ever need, I bought a few other buttons as spare or to switch out later.

Controls

When you decided on your design, we can look into the controls. Most real pinball tables have very little buttons. Usually a left&right flipper, a start and launch button will do. But since we’re building it from a computer, we can add as many buttons as we want and map these to any key or function in Windows. I went with 13 buttons however when my build was done, I found that I only used 6 so far. You may take this in consideration for your build.

These are my mappings to give you an idea of what options are available in the software.

  • Green – Enter button (Start a table, Open menu in pinballX)
  • Blue – Select button (in some games used to enter menu)
  • Red – Exit table
  • Orange – Genre (PinballX select table genre)
  • Yellow – Flyer (Show Flyer image in PinballX)
  • Green – Help (Show Help in PinballX)
  • Launch – Digital Launch button
  • Blue – Special 1 (Special button in gameplay eg. missions)
  • White – Change View (Change view while playing)
  • Plunger – Analog Plunger input

There will be multiple different games on your machine, every game has slightly different controls and the front-end has a lot more. The following games will/can be installed on your machine: Pinball FX2&3, PinballX, Pinball Arcade, Future Pinball, Visual Pinball. You can google the required controls per game and see which ones you find important. I found myself playing Pinball FX3 the most, the controls for this game are mapped to an Xbox controller. Eventually, your input will emulate these buttons and control the game as if you have an Xbox controller connected.

Plunger (+Nudge)

As you can see in the FX3 controls, the right analog stick is assigned to “Analog Ball Launch” and the left stick is assigned to “Table Nudge”, With the digital plunger from virtual pinball, we can have both features working. The set comes with a real plunger assembly and a digital sensor tube that slides over the plunger. This will measure and convert the plunger pull length into the analog stick value required to use the plunger in game. The controller board of this plunger is also equipped with a motion sensor, this sensor can be mapped to the Nudge table analog stick and will allow you to have the in-game table shake when you shake the cabinet. Nudging is allowed in pinball to prevent the ball from leaving the table. However when shaking too hard the game will TILT, the sensitivity for TILT can also be assigned here just like real pinball tables. The Digital Plunger Kit also has 15 IO pins that can be used to connect your buttons, including your flipper buttons so this is basically a the best all-in-one you can find.

Required cabinet parts

A Pinball machine requires a few parts other parts besides controls, below is a list of all the parts you will definitely need to buy. For each part, I added my preferred option and a few other available options that are more or less expensive:

DMD Screen

All 90’s pinball tables have a DMD screen, this is a matrix display to show the score. These screens have evolved over the years and are now even capable of playing short animations & videos. A Real DMD screen is very bright and the resolution on these newer screens are pretty amazing. These screens are about 300$ and are highly recommended, I went with a PinDMD which is an RGB matrix panel of 1040×272 LEDs, powered by the same PSU used by my computer. This way the DMD will only turn on when the computer is turned on. The less expensive alternative for this is using a regular monitor but just show 1/3’d of the actual screen (hiding the rest behind the wooden panel). This is a popular alternative at the fraction of the cost but will require a bit more configuring during the setup of the software (I will not cover this in my guides), the other downside of using a regular monitor is the brightness, real DMD screens are Extremely bright (they really blind you) and I’m currently running my screen at 30% brightness. This brightness can never be achieved by a regular monitor… The most popular DMD screens are:

If you decided to go with a monitor, ideally you want your DMD monitor to be the brightest, you also want the parts of the screen that are not used (black) to be really black which in case of some display technologies is not the case. Some leave a white glow showing that the screen is on which you want to avoid. A 19-22″ Widescreen monitor should do fine and are pretty cheap these days. Also, you don’t want the screen to be too wide because you will need some room left and right for your speakers.

Speakers

The back panel houses a set of speakers on both sides of the DMD screen, You can choose anything you want as long as you find a way to connect it to your computer. The virtuapin shop has a few audio bundles including a subwoofer, two normal speakers, and an amplifier which are quite cheap. I went for the 5.25″ pinball fidelity set that comes with 2 backboard 5″25 speakers, an 8″ subwoofer, a suiting amplifier and a power brick. The only thing I had to buy was a 3,5mm to RCA cable and I was done. The audio from these speakers is decent for music and very good for voice and pinball effects, the subwoofer is a lot better than expected (especially the flexible excursion) and the amplifier comes with a power adapter and is just the perfect size. The amplifier has volume controls for the high and low, main volume control and a “crossover frequency” knob (what frequencies get send to subwoofer). The amplifier has a momentary power switch so it will turn on when you plug in your table.

Backglass Monitor

All pinball tables have large back panels showing the game artwork, in older pre 90’s tables, the score is displayed inside this artwork using number wheels. These are usually square where most monitors are widescreen now. I did find large square screens that are used in stores for displaying advertisements. These were extremely expensive so not a real option for me (Eizo EV2730Q-BK). I will instead use a normal widescreen monitor, this monitor doesn’t have to be a new or decent one as it will mostly display 1080p photos as most of the artwork you can find is still 1080p or even lower. 4K monitors are at the time of writing still too expensive useless for this purpose. For my build, I went with an old 27″ iiyama monitor I had laying around. The casing on this monitor is also very easy to remove so the bezels were even smaller.

Playfield TV

The playfield TV is what will decide the major cost of the cabinet. You can buy commercial frameless TV’s but these are about 1500$. After some looking around, I found a used Samsung UE46ES8000 – 3D LED TV – 46 inch – Full HD monitor which, according to the official Samsung specs is EXACTLY the same width as my cabinet. I only had to remove the built-in camera and logo, but then it fits perfectly. It even clammed in place between the sides of my cabinet so if you happen to find the same TV, I highly recommend this one. This is a 2012 screen so the chance of finding the same may be very small. I went with this TV because they literally don’t make 46″TVs anymore. If you find a different TV, I recommend checking if the TV turns on automatically when you connect the plug, this is not required but something you want as this will make your pinball table turn on using only 1 switch instead of turning the TV on manually. In case you found a suitable TV without this feature, there are guides online on how to use an Arduino to turn on your tv automatically using IR signals this way you can still have your pinball table turn on with only 1 power switch. The Samsung luckily had this feature which could be enabled in settings.

The frame of the TV is different for each brand but recent screens tend to have almost non-existing bezels. As mentioned, frameless TV’s are an option if the cost doesn’t matter, you can buy commercial “frameless” monitors but at a very high cost:

Special Effect Controllers

For the special effects, you need an interface board to control these with your computer, the most commonly used interfaces are a SaintSmart 8CH Relay board & the LEDWiz.

The LEDWiz is a controller board that allows you to control up to 32 different effects that run off 5 or 12 volts. This board will be used to control our button LEDs, cabinet lights, and flashers. A nice feature of the LEDWiz is that it has dimming capabilities (PWM), this way you can have buttons fade in and out slowly. Make sure to buy the LEDWiz with 32 outputs and not the one with 16 outputs and 16 inputs.

The SainSmart is a relay board with 8 relays which can be controlled over USB, this is basically the same as the ledWiz but for higher voltages, this board will be used to control my 230V rotary light and relays/solenoids. If 8 high power relays is not enough, you can buy multiple SaintSmarts and add up the number of outputs.

Special Effects / Feedback / Output

A real pinball is full of lights and music to lure you into playing. During the game, there are the rear flashers, playfield lights, cabinet lighting… to spice up the intensity of the game. This is the same for virtual pinball tables, we can have the same effects including flashers, under cabinet lighting, rotary lights, a real knocker (when scoring extra ball) and solenoids for reproducing the sound of a mechanical pinball. Here is a list of all effects I used for my build including some alternatives.

Cabinet Lighting

Under and/or backlighting looks very nice and I would definitely recommend everyone to go for this. The color and intensity of the stips can be mapped to almost any event in a game, you could have them change color every x-seconds or just have them match the table you’re playing. LED strips are fairly cheap these days and the ones with 144 LEDs per meter are bright enough to really light the room. another plus is that these strips can be powered by a spare computer power supply, I plan to use one for powering my button and cabinet lighting as I had one laying around. Using a Pc power supply is recommended as it supplies 12V as well as 5V so no need to worry about the required voltages. You can always go with a dedicated power supply per voltage but that will probably end up more expensive than this very easy DIY trick. Converting a PSU to power led strips will be covered in my guides. I went with 2 strips on the bottom, each 1m30 and 2 strips on the back of the cabinet each 1m50. This makes a total of 5m60. LED strips come in 5m lengths and you can make them a bit shorter to only need a single strip but in my opinion, you can never have enough led strips laying around and the spare 4m20 ended up lighting the underside of my bed and couch. I also ordered an aluminum profile to keep my strips protected and some easy connectors for when I need to remove the backboard.

Rear Playfield Flashers

Rear Playfield flashers are common in most (post-1990) pinball tables, these provide extra feedback when the ball is hitting targets. In most cases there is are 5 or 7 flashers in the back of the playfield, I suggest sticking to these numbers as this is easier to map in games. I don’t have rear playfield flashers and will not cover this in my guides. I went with a fairly new option that is addressable LED strips.

Addressable Ledstrips

To light the rear of the playfield I went with addressable LED strips, this is a lot more expensive and quite hard to build (Guide later) but with the extra work its a big step up from regular flashers. Using addressable LED strips placed on top of each other, we can create a very low-resolution screen behind the playfield capable of playing animations or even video’s. I will not add links to the parts here as this part will be covered in a separate post (Later). The expected result is previewed by TerryRed in the video below until mine is finished.

Keep in mind that the addressable LED strips are quite hard to install and require soldering directly onto the led strips. I recommend doing some research first (google/youtube) on how to build this and if you have the required skills for this.

Backglass Effects

As the main effect, I choose a blue police rotary light because its a illuminates a big part of the room when lit. I also went with 2 Flashers on top of my backbox. These will illuminate the playfield and I currently have them flashing when I hit any bumpers on the back of my playfield.

But you can choose anything you like, as long as it can be powered by 5,12VDC or your main AC power. Some alternatives are:

USB 3.0 Ports/Hub

I added some easy accessible USB 3.0 ports for when I want to plug in a USB controller for playing MAME games, or a keyboard/mouse for when the cabinet is closed and I need to make some changes, some even added full arcade controls with a joystick to be able to play MAME games in portrait. arkanoid/space invaders are great and it was a hard choice but since I already have a dedicated arcade cabinet I left this out. I can still play MAME games by simply plugging in a USB controller though.

Solenoids/Relays

Solenoids are used in real pinball tables to move objects on the playfield, in the slingshots and your flippers. These solenoids have a very distinct sound when they trigger and are a big part of the pinball experience. Solenoids use 50volts to trigger initially and 20volts to stay in position. This is hard to replicate but 24Volt relays are a great alternative that sounds very close to a real solenoid. The most popular relays are Siemens industrial relays. People on forums that have tested multiple relays say these tend to have the closest match to how a real solenoid sounds. You also need a Power supply to trigger these, 24V DC 200watt is enough. Because you usually don’t have all the relays triggered at once. The relays will be controlled by the saintsmart board. The placement of the relays is also important so when you hit your flippers the sound seems to come from the front of the cabinet but that will be covered later. Virtual pinball tables usually have 2 at the flippers, 2 slightly above the slingsshot and 3 in the back. but generally the more the better. For my build, I went with 7.

These relays also come in 110V and 230V AC voltages, these are usually a bit cheaper but create a high risk of blowing your other components in case of a failure.

Knocker

As a real pinball table, you can install a real knocker, these are used to let you and your suroundings know that you just won an extra ball. Basically, it’s a big solenoid that knocks very hard against the inside of your cabinet, in older tables this is was a bell. The sound is very loud with some players even getting jump-scared when it fired. I personally have not installed a knocker in my table as not supported by many games but if you want one, below is a link where you can buy complete assemblies ready to be installed. I will not cover this in my guides but the same principle of the relays will apply here.

Light gun

While building I had the idea to add a lightgun to play light gun shooter games on the backboard monitor. You are forced to stand at a distance that is about perfect and it would be a very neat addition to the all-in-one pinball cabinet next to the 400+ horizontal MAME games.

  • EMS Topgun 3: Generally cheaper, wireless, recoil, 4 IR emitters, hard to set up initially
  • Aimtrak: More expensive, high quality, wired, no recoil, smaller IR bar

Computer

The virtual pinball table will run on a Windows 10 computer that will be installed inside the main cabinet. A medium spec PC will do fine but if your main monitor is 4K, you might want to invest in a more powerful graphics card. The other components will be fairly basic and cheap. I also had some parts laying around and eventually ordered a new CPU, Motherboard, and RAM:

The speed of this small PC is pretty amazing knowing it only cost me about 250€.

USB Hub

To connect all the controller boards to the computer I highly recommend to get a decent powered USB hub, it’s very important that the HUB is powered by an external power brick to minimize issues like devices randomly losing connectivity in-game. I went with a Powerillex HUB but anything will do as long as it’s powered. 6 ports are the minimum here.

Decals & Artwork

To finish the cabinet, we need large stickers printed with artwork that can stick to the sides and front of the cabinet. If you know your way around in photoshop, you can design your own but I’m only good at paint so I needed a different option. If you are building a replica of a real pinball tablet you can order replacement decals for that cabinet, but these original designs usually can not be changed in size and are in most cases copyright/lincense protected and thus will cost more. The third option I went with is using pre-designed artwork. A person called stuzza who is a visual designer created many designs that are very hiqh quality, and freely availble on his onedrive (+-35GB :o). He made these in his free time as a hobby and I can not thank him enough. If you really want a unique personally designed artwork, you can contact stuzza, and after seeing the free designs, he definately knows his business and you probably won’t fine anyone else who is better at pinball artwork than him.

For my cabinet, I went with a blue generic design. I chose this because I didn’t want a single themed cabinet like the Simpsons or Angry Birds. Instead, this multi-retro character design matches the retro of the pinball. The multiball text is very well chosen as it is probably your first goal in every table you play. The design comes in Photoshop format (PSD).

After downloading and opening one of the files, You want to make sure the decal completely covers the sides of your cabinet. In photoshop open each image and click “Image Size”, then select canvas size or image size. there is a difference here you may want to know:

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  • Canvas size: this will enlarge the printed size but it will add the blank area around the image.
  • Image size: this increases the image itself, this is what you want to adjust. if you adjust the image size the canvas size will also grow. this is not when changing the canvas

When resizing your image, make sure to leave at least a cm extra.

To get your artwork pinted you got a few options but I choose Retro Refurbs and I can anyone recommend this shop:

The process of applying the decall will be one of my last parts. If you really don’t want to spend time on your artwork, a few sets are available on the virtuapin website

Orderlist

This is a long list of all the parts i ordered online with a link to the shop i bought them. If you decide to recreate my build, just order this list :’) many parts are from ebay and take about a month to arrive so start early!

After this long read, your parts should be on their way and the main cost of your cabinet is spent. For the following guides you will still need some tools and paint that is not yet included so leave some extra if you’re on a limit. While waiting you can gather the tools needed to get done faster.

Any question or tip, leave a comment below

9 thoughts on “Virtual Pinball – Introduction & Design

  1. Hi Steven,

    Thanks very much for sharring this.
    I’m busy to create a standard body. Only struggling how to mount the tv in it.
    Not sure how many cm it shouls be placed under the glass.
    And if it is a way to easily create a lift mechanism for it.

    I have most of my parts almost 3 months. First started to build the backbox. Thats is after 6 weeks almost finished.
    Now building my cabinet.
    I have my decals designed by Stuzza as well. The look pretty awesome. Cannot add a picture of it.

    I will use your blog for my ‘phase 2’.
    That will be feedback and flasher lights

    • Hi, great to hear… my table is actually done, I finished the blogpost but It just needs some proof reading. expect part 2 this week :p.

      • Awesome !
        I hope to have my cabinet finished this week ( that means, painting, decals, buttons, legs and coindoor in place)
        After that I must connect everything.
        Worked now for about 5 months on everything. Most time was to setup the software, but have arround 300 tables in pinballx (mostly vpx tables s d some vp9)
        Still not sure if I should TPA on it. I have it working with a kinect 2.0, but interface is terrible for a cabinet.

        • Hi, seems like your build is pretty far already. I personally have TPa installed, but I’m not using it too much. I’m a big fan of their latest Ghostbusters table, however, I haven’t got that one working in my cabinet yet :(, I have camera files for all other tables used by the freeCam Mod though. It’s not the greatest experience but gets the job done decently. I highly recommend FX2 and FX3. these are the most used games on my cabinet. The kinect (head tracking) support for TPA is too much work and requires regular calibrations… I left this out to minimize the issues and maintenance on my cabinet. My electronics are all done and the guide is pretty far in as well, I’ll try to finish them this week 🙂

          • I’m pretty curious for your electronics manual. I have most in my head that I want, but didn’t test it to the pc. I have a digital plunger and ledwiz board. And a real knocker..
            I’m in doubt if i should by the zebs flashers board, or to wait for it.
            Just painted the cabinet black. Hope to put the decals on in 2 days.
            Just a question. How did you mount your tv in the cabinet (fun fact: I have the same tv in my bed room, pretty expensive one !)

            I don’t have the fx 2 and fx3 game, but will give the demo a try if my cab is finished. I never liked the tables that where not real, but now with the Williams license it can be a nice improvement

            • Hi, currently i just have my tv resting on two wooden blocks on the side of my cabinet. I’m currently having troubles with the tv displaying green screen and automatically turning off every few seconds. My cabinet is unusable at the moment due to this issue. The FX games are indeed not verry realistic but the gameplay in these games is imo the best available.

              • Too bad to hear from your cabinet (or tv exactly)
                Hope you have a replacement soon.

                I mounted my tv too with some wooden blocks too. It fits nicely, but not sure if the angle is fine. Didn’t test that yet.
                I still need a lot of work to do. Hope I can the first tests this weekend or the weekend after as a complete setup

                • Hi, ive been sick for a few weeks but i’ll make sure to include my tv angle in the upcomming post. still struggeling with my broken television 🙁

  2. Hey Steven

    Is your csbinet fixed?
    With other words: did you replace your television?
    Update my side: my cab is almost finished. All is working only need a glass for the playfield and the backbox.
    I installed FX3 on your advise and that is pretty awesome !
    Thanks for the advise

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