Pinball Matt-ness

Design - Construction - Computer & electrical engineering

I had been flirting with the idea of building a MAME cabinet for a while but, I just couldn’t decide what exactly to build. There are so many different kinds of them (standing arcade cabinets, wall mounted arcades, 1-4 player coffee tables, etc.) to choose from. Ultimately I landed on a pinball cabinet because I love pinball, and the challenge of creating an authentic pinball experience digitally sounded really interesting/challenging to me. I can play most of the joystick games in an arcade cabinet online and get close to the same experience but, playing pinball like that isn’t nearly as fun as the real thing.

I ended up finding a decommissioned pinball machine (Black Hole, Gottlieb, 1981) from a local arcade called Pinballz. It’s a wide body cabinet so it gave me plenty of room to work with. I ripped out all of its parts and restored the playfied box and back box. Then I built a custom PC and mounted it on a pullout tray for easy maintenance. It’s connected to 3 monitors (play field, back box, and dmd screen). Speakers, volume control, navigation and flipper buttons, nudge/tilt control, a digital plunger, and a camera that tracks head movement and simulated 3D on the play field are connected to the PC to round out the hardware.

Once the build was complete, I designed all of the artwork on the cabinet using various characters from some of my favorite games. I’ve currently loaded and customized about 100 tables that you can flip through and play. This was a really fun project that took me out of my daily element and taught me a lot about connecting digital experiences to the physical world.