Introduction: Virtual Pinball Machine

About: Have built several Home Made arcade machine - virtual pinball, camel racing, coin pusher, skeeball, prize machines, Star Wars penny pusher and a replica Bells Cascade machine. I did plan to start documenting n…

The finished Virtual Pinball running Addams Family table is shown below.

I just love playing pinball, always have. The 1990’s were the glorious pinball years that followed the collapse of the coin-op video games – just about every public house had a pinball machine, with newer, more elaborate games coming out all the time. Then, in the late 1990’s, pinball disappeared where I lived and the nearest machines are now 300 miles or more away.

Over the years I did try to find a pinball machine that I could afford to own – but the only ones in my budget were the older mechanical types from the 1970’s and I wanted something better. After playing pinball emulators for both PC and Playstation, I decided to investigate the possibility of building a virtual pinball machine.

The minimum requirements I wanted for my pinball table were firstly, that it had to be a full size pinball table, had to be able to play Addams Family, and had to be within budget.

There is a great deal of documentation on the Internet for new components where money is no object, but it is possible to build some of these yourself for very little outlay by making use of second hand devices. The final cost of building this machine was less than £400.


18mm Structural Plywood (L)2440 x (W)1220
3x Planed Timber (L)2700 x (W)44 x (T)44mm
Wood Glue
Wood Filler
Pack of Assorted Glass Paper
1 Box of 100 Pozi Screw 5.0mm x 60mm
1 Box of 200 Pozi Screw 3.5mm x 20mm
Miscellaneous Screws
Black Gloss Paint (750ml)
Plasti-kote Super Spray Matt Black 400ml
Old Pinball Door (no coin mech)
Bally\Williams Pinball Legs
8x M6 Pronged Tee Nut (for attaching legs)
10 Pack M6x90 Stainless Steel Coach Screw (8 needed)
Job Lot of AracadeWorld Buttons
Illuminated ArcadeWorld Button (for Start Button)
3 x 80mm Chrome Fan Guard
4mm Acrylic Sheet 1200mm x 600mm
2m Aluminium Right Angle Trim 25mm x 25mm
4 foot of door insulation (to seal ventilation above screen)
small silver door knob (for plunger)
160mm Chrome bar (for plunger)
Springs (various sizes for plunger)
Hinges (for fixing backbox to cabinet)

Replacement 12V Bulb (for door coin illumination)
2x 4 Outlet Power Bar Extension
5 Metre Power Lead and Plug
20x Cuphooks (for wirng looms)
Wiring (stripped from old CAT5 cables)
10x 3A Connector strips
3x 50mm Cooling Fans (from old network switches) no cost
4x 80mm Cooling Fans (from old PC’s) no cost
1x 100mm Cooling Fan
3x 120mm Cooling Fans
1x 120mm EZCool Cooling Fan with LED (LED fan assists with lighting interior of cabinet)
PC (Intel Core 2 CPU 6600 @ 2.40GHz, 4MB RAM, Windows 8.1Pro)
NVIDIA GEFORCE 8400 GS AGP Graphics Card (from old PC)
NVIDIA GE FORCE GT730 AGP Graphics Card (eBay )
3m HDMI Cable (for connection to LCD screen)
37” Grundig TV (Shop Seconds with damage to casing) eBay
2x VGA to VGA cable (for connections to monitors)
2x 17” Flatscreen Monitor
500mm LED strip for under cani
Lock for Rear Door
Speaker Amp (from old PC)
Speakers (for backbox)
Keyboard circuit board (for connections to buttons) from old PC

Step 1: Proof of Concept

At the start of my project, I used two flat screen monitors and a 27" widescreen TV to test the software would all work before building any cabinet.

I subscribed to to get the Visual Pinball, Pinmame, DMD, SETDMD and Back Glass software to run initial tables for testing. I reviewed several front end software to provide menu and launch for tables and opted for PinballX as this looked the best, see

The PC had a clean install of Windows (complete re-install) to ensure no unexpected applications were running. As my machine was not going to be connected to the Internet, no Anti-Virus software was installed and Windows Firewall was disabled. The clean build with bare minimum process’s running would free up as much resource as possible for the pinball software.

Step 2: Cabinet Dimensions

There are a variety of cabinet and backbox sizes for different pinball machines. The dimensions of some of these machines are noted in the table above. The dimensions I opted for (bottom of the table) allowed me to cut the pieces from one sheet of plywood.

Step 3: Building Cabinet Body

The frame was constructed from 44mm x 44mm timber. Everything was glued and screwed. All screws were predrilled to prevent wood from splitting.
Base was attached first and cut flush to frame
M6 Pronged T-nuts were fitted to aligned with pinball legs.
Sides of cabinet had 45 degree outside joins to prevent edges from been seen.
Top of cabinet had holes for ventilation to where back glass housing would fit and central hole for cables.
Insides of cabinet had strip of wood fitted to support the TV.
TV casing was removed and screen was attached for a fitting test.
Pinball cabinet was filled, sanded and painted and legs attached with M6 Screws.
Holes were drilled for buttons, sides had one button for flipper and one button for tilt.

An# 4mm acrylic sheet was fitted over the top of cabinet and 25x25mm right angle aluminium lengths held the acrylic in place.

Step 4: Building Back Glass Housing

Bottom of back glass housing has matching holes in the bottom to align with holes from top of cabinet. Ventilation holes are also fitted into the back glass unit.
The back glass housing is fitted to cabinet with hinges folding onto cabinet. When upright, construction bars are screwed into place to keep housing upright.
Wooden blocks are mounted to the LCD monitors and a mounting strip of wood is attached to that so screens can be fitted into back glass.
A back glass cover is cut to fit into the housing with holes cut for DMD and back glass screen. Holes are cut for speakers. The cover is sprayed black before fitting.

Step 5: Cabinet Door & Coin Mech

The pinball door was a second hand eBay purchase from a seller who did not know from which machine it came from. Although the door came with no coin-op mechanism and no bulb in the coin entry slot, the remainder of the door and it’s switches were intact. There is also a tilt switch on the door so if anyone hits machine too hard it will trigger a slam tilt and end the game just like a normal pinball machine.

On the inside of the door, there are four menu buttons that control the majority of DMD maintenance menus and these buttons were wired back to the keyboard controller.

The bulb for the coin slot was replaced by a standard 12V car bulb with the same style of connector.

The coins that I planned to use for the pinball machine would be 10p pieces and some of my Pachislo tokens – both of which are a similar size. A finger, thumb and 10p symbol was downloaded from the Internet, printed and placed under the plastic cover. To prevent coins larger than 10p from entering the slow, a slotted bolt was placed through the slot and tightened with a nut on the inside to keep the bolt tightly in place and to restrict it moving up and down.

I constructed a wooden coin sorter that would fit on the inside of the door, as shown on the pictures above. The orange arrows show the direction a coin of the correct size takes - it comes down from the entry slot and passes over the wooden slot just wide enough to take the width of the coin and then lands on a curved wooden section that the coin slides down and passes over the coin switch lever that is connected to the keyboard controller.

If a coin smaller than 10p slides over the hole section within the wooden slot section, it is too small to pass all the way down and falls through the hole. Under this hole is a curved sloped, section (formed from wood filler) that slopes towards the top of the coin return so that any small coinage is rejected and returned to the coin return at the bottom of the door - just like a real coin mech !

A plastic basket (pond plant container) was used to collect the coins inside the cabinet. This just lifts out to empty.

Step 6: Pinball Plunger

I shaped a piece of MDF with router, sanded and sprayed with silver paint to make the 'shooter housing'. The plunger itself was constructed from a length of metal rod and threaded at both ends. An old plastic door handle was used for initial testing and was finally replaced with stainless steel metal door knob (from old bedroom drawer).

The first picture above shows how pulling the plunger rod pulls a piece of wood that slides between two pieces of timber. When the plunger is pulled the blue micro switch is closed - emulates key been pressed continuously so the longer you pull the physical plunger the longer it will be pulled on Virtual Pinball. When plunger is released the wooden block clicks the microswitch into open state.

Springs were fitted to both inside and outside the cabinet. The spring inside the cabinet needs to be strong enough to be able push the wooden block against the micro switch.

Step 7: Ventilation

My initial setup for ventilation within the main cabinet consisted of one 120mm and two 80mm fans under the heat sinks of the television, 80mm exhaust fan and 100mm input fan at the rear of the cabinet. An 80mm exhaust fan and an 80mm input fan were fitted at the rear of the Back Glass Housing.

To prevent heat from been trapped between the television screen and the acrylic cover, gaps were provided between the sides of the cabinet and the television to allow air to circulate from the fans underneath. An 80mm fan was installed at the top of the cabinet, next to the back box, to extract this air back down into the cabinet (see first picture above)

Preliminary testing was undertaken with the acrylic unfitted and a thermometer placed over the television screen to record temperature readings. The manufacture’s maximum operating temperature for the television was breached, so the two 80mm fans under the television were replaced with two 120mm fans (see first second above) and an additional 120mm exhaust fan was fitted at the rear of the main cabinet.

Testing was re-initiated and after two hours, the temperature did not rise above manufacturers threshold so the acrylic cover was refitted with the thermometer remaining on the screen to continue taking readings. With this configuration of fans, the problem of overheating began again as the temperature rose to threshold after 30 minutes. Three 50mm fans were fitted at the front of the cabinet (at 45 degress to the acrylic in order to make the fans fit), under where the kick plate would be (see third picture), in order to provide more circulation of air up across the screen surface. The general idea here was to blow air from inside cabinet up over TV screen and get drawn out by fan at top which would be pumped out near the 120mm exhaust fan. This improved the situation somewhat, but the temperature still continued to rise to the threshold after three hours of play.

Using an smoke tester around the outside of the acrylic, smoke was seen been drawn down a small 1mm gap between the top of the acrylic and the cabinet. The top fan was pulling in air from above the acrylic. This gap was sealed using sponge style draught excluder between the acrylic sheet and the main cabinet. Within minutes of sealing that space, the temperature began to dropped and tailed off to a steady temperature that was well below manufacturer limit.

Step 8: General Construction

The keyboard controller for this project was built from an old keyboard. Instructions on how to make this type of controller can be found on my instructable

The PC was fitted into the cabinet with no cover or sides to help keep PC airflow and to reduce unneccsary weight of machine.

Electronics - all 12v and 5v power requirements for lights and fans come from the PC power supply.

Two further buttons were added to the front of the cabinet, both to the bottom right. One small 10mm button wired to ESC key and the original On/Off switch for the PC was wired to the shutdown button on the keyboard controller.

The infra-red sensor for the TV remote control was fitted just behind the cabinet fan at the top of the machine to make it easier for the infra red signal to reach the TV when doors are all closed.

A 500mm colourted LED strip was fitted under pinball to provide illumination - this can be seen on photo at start of this Instructable.

The one downside to my project was the width of my cabinet and I could not obtain any lockdown bars to fit my machine. So a constructed one out of MDF and glued 0.5mm aluminium sheet over the plate. This is fits over the bottom of the acrylic to keep it in place.

The final build running Attack from Mars table can be seen below.