An input/output controller for virtual pinball machines, with plunger position tracking, accelerometer-based nudge sensing, button input encoding, and feedback device control.

Dependencies:   USBDevice mbed FastAnalogIn FastIO FastPWM SimpleDMA

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The Pinscape Controller is a special-purpose software project that I wrote for my virtual pinball machine.

New version: V2 is now available! The information below is for version 1, which will continue to be available for people who prefer the original setup.

What exactly is a virtual pinball machine? It's basically a video-game pinball emulator built to look like a real pinball machine. (The picture at right is the one I built.) You start with a standard pinball cabinet, either built from scratch or salvaged from a real machine. Inside, you install a PC motherboard to run the software, and install TVs in place of the playfield and backglass. Several Windows pinball programs can take advantage of this setup, including the open-source project Visual Pinball, which has hundreds of tables available. Building one of these makes a great DIY project, and it's a good way to add to your skills at woodworking, computers, and electronics. Check out the Cabinet Builders' Forum on vpforums.org for lots of examples and advice.

This controller project is a key piece in my setup that helps integrate the video game into the pinball cabinet. It handles several input/output tasks that are unique to virtual pinball machines. First, it lets you connect a mechanical plunger to the software, so you can launch the ball like on a real machine. Second, it sends "nudge" data to the software, based on readings from an accelerometer. This lets you interact with the game physically, which makes the playing experience more realistic and immersive. Third, the software can handle button input (for wiring flipper buttons and other cabinet buttons), and fourth, it can control output devices (for tactile feedback, button lights, flashers, and other special effects).

Documentation

The Hardware Build Guide (PDF) has detailed instructions on how to set up a Pinscape Controller for your own virtual pinball cabinet.

Update notes

December 2015 version: This version fully supports the new Expansion Board project, but it'll also run without it. The default configuration settings haven't changed, so existing setups should continue to work as before.

August 2015 version: Be sure to get the latest version of the Config Tool for windows if you're upgrading from an older version of the firmware. This update adds support for TSL1412R sensors (a version of the 1410 sensor with a slightly larger pixel array), and a config option to set the mounting orientation of the board in the firmware rather than in VP (for better support for FP and other pinball programs that don't have VP's flexibility for setting the rotation).

Feb/March 2015 software versions: If you have a CCD plunger that you've been using with the older versions, and the plunger stops working (or doesn't work as well) after you update to the latest version, you might need to increase the brightness of your light source slightly. Check the CCD exposure with the Windows config tool to see if it looks too dark. The new software reads the CCD much more quickly than the old versions did. This makes the "shutter speed" faster, which might require a little more light to get the same readings. The CCD is actually really tolerant of varying light levels, so you probably won't have to change anything for the update - I didn't. But if you do have any trouble, have a look at the exposure meter and try a slightly brighter light source if the exposure looks too dark.

Downloads

Features

Warning: This is not replacement software for the VirtuaPin plunger kit. If you bought the VirtuaPin kit, please don't try to install this software. The VP kit happens to use the same microcontroller board, but the rest of its hardware is incompatible. The VP kit uses a different type of sensor for its plunger and has completely different button wiring, so the Pinscape software won't work properly with it.