Ever thought of having a virtual pinball machine that can play hundreds of games? What about one housed in the unusual Pinball 2000 cabinet? Toronto collector and hobbiest Mike Wong has detailed his journey to build the ultimate virtual pinball machine for the game room.
By Mike Wong
I’ve always been fascinated with the Pinball 2000 technology since watching the TILT documentary and seen a few PinMAME builds based off the form factor. I’ve traded away my first PinMAME cab — which I made a little over a year ago and now with that experience, this new build should go pretty fast. The only real hold up will be waiting for parts to come in the mail.
Anyways, I spoke with a friend a few months back via email regarding a Pin2K cabinet he had picked up for parts. Then last month we met face to face to discuss more about it. Overall the cab is in very good shape and artwork was much better than I had expected.
Originally I was planning to sand down the sides and put new custom artwork, as I am not a Star Wars fanboy (and never have watched any of the movies!). I plan to one day, when I have time, and watch all 6 movies in one sitting maybe over the holidays? Anyways, I got a set of mismatched legs, but in great condition and all the same length thankfully. I bought a can of Krylon black textured spray paint and applied it on the legs and got great results. I even put new leg levelers on, not that it matters since it is virtual pinball anyways but everything now looks good as new.
Most of the valuable parts were stripped off this cab, such as the lockdown bar, special Pin2K playfield glass and buttons. Good thing I bought a complete standard lockdown bar assembly when my friend was parting out a Whitewater. It fits and the lever assembly bolts in the exact same place (but you have to remove the lock cylinder above the coin door). This standard lockdown bar also got the Krylon black textured paint treatment to match the side rails.
Gathering More Parts for Virtual Pinball Machine
Now the hunt was on for a 37″ LCD for the playfield, which should fit like a glove, as the width of this machine is the same as a standard pinball cabinet. I scored a pretty good deal off kijiji and grabbed this Vizio 37″ LCD 1080p for $225. The seller claimed it to be new in box, but when I took the stand out from the re-taped box it was pretty dusty. No complaints as the picture quality was crystal clear and no dead pixels (was tested upon pick up as well). You can’t even get a 32″ LCD for this price — after taxes and environmental fees from the big box stores like Futureshop or Best Buy.
The last few months I have been slowly collecting parts for this build and last Friday I took advantage of some Black Friday deals to get the rest of the components needed to build this computer. Right now all I am missing is a second video card to drive the DMD and backglass monitor.
I had an eVGA Nvidia 460GTX 1gb video card from my old gaming computer, which I parted out earlier this year (I decided I don’t have time to play computer games and got rid of my desk to make room for more pinball machines). I had anticipated with the release of StarCraft II it would consume me — like the first game did a decade ago.
I went with the OCZ Fatality series power supply, because it is modular so makes for better cable management. Even though it sports the OCZ label, it is actually manufactured by Seasonic. For the ram, I went with G.Skill Ripjaws which a lot of people had success using while overclocking their i5/i7 setups (because I plan to overclock this CPU to > 4.0GHZ). For the hard drive, I had an OCZ Vertex II 30gb solid-state drive that was saved from my gaming rig part out and it boots Windows in under 10 seconds, which is nice.
Originally I was planning to build this cab from scratch and make a door on the back with a slide out tray for the computer and other components. Since I bought this donor cab, I decided not to modify it too much. I did make a few openings for fans to promote air circulation, because it gets pretty toasty once you have the computer running and covered with the LCD playfield. I had a few old computer cases, so I cleaned one up and started to build. It doesn’t look as integrated as mounting the components right inside the cab, but at least I don’t have to come up with creative ways to strap down the power supply, hard drives, etc.
Setting up Operating System and CPU Software for Pinball Machine
Again, I opted to go with air-cooling since I picked up this Corsair A50 CPU cooler for $20. I always hated the OEM Intel CPU fans because they use this push and twist system to secure the fan down and takes a bit of playing around till you get all 4 corners in properly.
The installation of the A50 was a piece of cake and the supplied mounting plates were great and secured the heat sink to the CPU nicely (using thumb screws and they even supplied some thermal paste too). I prefer Arctic Silver 5, so used that instead on the CPU before putting the heat sink on and then proceeded to put everything else in the case.
I hooked everything up and started to install Tiny XP (rev009).
It took about 20 minutes to install Windows and during that time I decided to freshen and touch up the black on the side of the cab. I took apart the speaker grill on the head to see my options for mounting speakers.
After installing all the required drivers for the system, I put on the Nvidia 270.61 drivers for the video card. I only mention the driver version because Visual Pinball is very picky when it comes to drivers and the wrong one could result in poor table performance with ball stutter or graphical glitches.
I’ve used these before on my old PinMame cab and didn’t have any issues. I use to run the 182.50 drivers, which worked great for me on my original PinMame cab, which had a Nvidia 275GTX 1792mb video card. I had to switch to the newer drivers in Windows 7 because I was getting pretty bad stutter on a few tables once I introduced the LEDWiz to drive the interactive 5 RGB flashers under XP. What is weird is that in Windows 7 the exact same tables I had bad stutter on played just fine. I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was, as my XP setup was pretty tweaked in terms of having all unnecessary services and programs stopped from running in the background.
Resolving Hyperpin Issues
I am going to try XP again, because in general it does run much smoother over Windows 7 — and hoping the Intel i5 CPU will make the difference in performance (my original PinMame cab was an Intel E8400 CPU). Also with Windows 7 there are a few unresolved glitches that were introduced in the Hyperpin front-end software (which were never an issue under XP). The first one was Visual Pinball would crash when you try to exit from a table and go back to Hyperpin. The fix for this was to re-map the Esc key on the IPAC and Hyperpin configuration to the letter “e”. The second one is sometimes when you try to load a table it will be stuck on the loading animation screen — but the DMD and rom is starting up in the foreground.
A workaround for this is to hit the exit button to return to Hyperpin, then try to load the table again and it usually goes fine the 2nd or 3rd time. Another glitch I noticed is when you are scrolling through the tables in Hyperpin, if you hold the flipper button for a long period of time scrolling through a lot in one key press — you would lose total control of the button and have to reboot. The workaround for this is to stop every few tables and hit the flipper buttons again to continue scrolling. If I figure out a fix or someone else does over on the VP/HS forums I will document it here in this thread.
Very strange problems and a few other members I talk to on a regular basis have the same issues under Windows 7 and never with XP. For the sake of table performance and having the full LEDWiz experience, I will accept these workarounds. These interactive toys like RGB LED flashers, solenoids, relays, wiper and shaker motors are too cool to not have while playing.
I hooked up my Logitech Z-Cinema speaker system, setup Visual Pinball and PinMAME and first table I had to try out was Whitewater by jpsalas, which came out about 2 weeks ago. Looks and plays amazing and you even hear the ball hitting the glass when it comes down the left ramp, nice touch.
Testing a New Visual Pinball Table — Does my Virtual Pinball Machine Work Yet?
The next table I had to try out was Terminator 2 Chrome Edition, which has been in development for about a year now and was released over a week ago. They have been slowly working out the kinks with the canon not matching the DMD animation and there was some LEDWiz issues too! I believe the author tipoto, with the help of the VP community, has worked out both issues and now a stable version 1.02 has been released.
Let me tell you, this table looks very impressive and definitely raises the bar pretty high in terms of visual appearance. It really shows you what Visual Pinball is capable of. I can see why he didn’t want to rush it, because a lot of attention to detail was given — as you can see from the pictures above the reflections from the chrome look very real. It played pretty smooth on my system, thankfully, but I will see what happens later once I introduce the LEDWiz and toys.
There was one other aspect of the build I needed to see how it will work. That is how reflecting an image from a monitor above the playfield will look on the playfield glass. I brought home an ASUS all in one unit from work and used some zip ties to hold it in place in the head.
This works great in the dark, but not in a lit room. I already purchased a product called VHT Nite Shades which I have used before to tint tail lights before and will use it to tint the upper part of the play field glass later — once I finalize the position of the monitor. I plan on reflecting the score and DMD display here, so that you can easily see it while playing without taking your eyes away from the action.
That is it for now and time to spend more money on parts to complete this build so stay tuned for the next installment of this series