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


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 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).


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.


  • Config tool for Windows (.exe and C# source): this is a Windows program that lets you view the raw pixel data from the CCD sensor, trigger plunger calibration mode, and configure some of the software options on the controller.
  • Custom VP builds: I created modified versions of Visual Pinball 9.9 and Physmod5 that you might want to use in combination with this controller. The modified versions have special handling for plunger calibration specific to the Pinscape Controller, as well as some enhancements to the nudge physics. If you're not using the plunger, you might still want it for the nudge improvements. The modified version also works with any other input controller, so you can get the enhanced nudging effects even if you're using a different plunger/nudge kit. The big change in the modified versions is a "filter" for accelerometer input that's designed to make the response to cabinet nudges more realistic. It also makes the response more subdued than in the standard VP, so it's not to everyone's taste. The downloads include both the updated executables and the source code changes, in case you want to merge the changes into your own custom version(s).

    Note! These features are now standard in the official VP 9.9.1 and VP 10 releases, so you don't need my custom builds if you're using 9.9.1 or 10 or later. I don't think there's any reason to use my 9.9 instead of the official 9.9.1, but I'm leaving it here just in case. In the official VP releases, look for the checkbox "Enable Nudge Filter" in the Keys preferences dialog. (There's no checkbox in my custom builds, though; the filter is simply always on in those.)
  • Output circuit shopping list: This is a saved shopping cart at with the parts needed for each output driver, if you want to use the LedWiz emulator feature. Note that quantities in the cart are for one output channel, so multiply everything by the number of channels you plan to use, except that you only need one of the ULN2803 transistor array chips for each eight output circuits.
  • Lemming77's potentiometer mounting bracket and shooter rod connecter: Sketchup designs for 3D-printable parts for mounting a slide potentiometer as the plunger sensor. These were designed for a particular slide potentiometer that used to be available from an seller but is no longer listed. You can probably use this design as a starting point for other similar devices; just check the dimensions before committing the design to plastic.


  • Plunger position sensing, using a TAOS TSL 1410R CCD linear array sensor. This sensor is a 1280 x 1 pixel array at 400 dpi, which makes it about 3" long - almost exactly the travel distance of a standard pinball plunger. The idea is that you install the sensor just above (within a few mm of) the shooter rod on the inside of the cabinet, with the CCD window facing down, aligned with and centered on the long axis of the shooter rod, and positioned so that the rest position of the tip is about 1/2" from one end of the window. As you pull back the plunger, the tip will travel down the length of the window, and the maximum retraction point will put the tip just about at the far end of the window. Put a light source below, facing the sensor - I'm using two typical 20 mA blue LEDs about 8" away (near the floor of the cabinet) with good results. The principle of operation is that the shooter rod casts a shadow on the CCD, so pixels behind the rod will register lower brightness than pixels that aren't in the shadow. We scan down the length of the sensor for the edge between darker and brighter, and this tells us how far back the rod has been pulled. We can read the CCD at about 25-30 ms intervals, so we can get rapid updates. We pass the readings reports to VP via our USB joystick reports.

    The hardware build guide includes schematics showing how to wire the CCD to the KL25Z. It's pretty straightforward - five wires between the two devices, no external components needed. Two GPIO ports are used as outputs to send signals to the device and one is used as an ADC in to read the pixel brightness inputs. The config tool has a feature that lets you display the raw pixel readings across the array, so you can test that the CCD is working and adjust the light source to get the right exposure level.

    Alternatively, you can use a slide potentiometer as the plunger sensor. This is a cheaper and somewhat simpler option that seems to work quite nicely, as you can see in Lemming77's video of this setup in action. This option is also explained more fully in the build guide.
  • Nudge sensing via the KL25Z's on-board accelerometer. Mounting the board in your cabinet makes it feel the same accelerations the cabinet experiences when you nudge it. Visual Pinball already knows how to interpret accelerometer input as nudging, so we simply feed the acceleration readings to VP via the joystick interface.
  • Cabinet button wiring. Up to 24 pushbuttons and switches can be wired to the controller for input controls (for example, flipper buttons, the Start button, the tilt bob, coin slot switches, and service door buttons). These appear to Windows as joystick buttons. VP can map joystick buttons to pinball inputs via its keyboard preferences dialog. (You can raise the 24-button limit by editing the source code, but since all of the GPIO pins are allocated, you'll have to reassign pins currently used for other functions.)
  • LedWiz emulation (limited). In addition to emulating a joystick, the device emulates the LedWiz USB interface, so controllers on the PC side such as DirectOutput Framework can recognize it and send it commands to control lights, solenoids, and other feedback devices. 22 GPIO ports are assigned by default as feedback device outputs. This feature has some limitations. The big one is that the KL25Z hardware only has 10 PWM channels, which isn't enough for a fully decked-out cabinet. You also need to build some external power driver circuitry to use this feature, because of the paltry 4mA output capacity of the KL25Z GPIO ports. The build guide includes instructions for a simple and robust output circuit, including part numbers for the exact components you need. It's not hard if you know your way around a soldering iron, but just be aware that it'll take a little work.

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.


RevisionDateWhoCommit message
46:d60fc88eb7fd 2016-02-15 mjr Fix USB compatibility problems introduced in USBHAL_KL25Z overhaul default tip
45:c42166b2878c 2016-02-15 mjr More work in progress on CCD speedups;
44:b5ac89b9cd5d 2016-02-07 mjr Work in progress on CCD speed-ups
43:7a6364d82a41 2016-02-06 mjr Before floating point plunger ranging
42:f6f9735b67a1 2016-02-03 mjr Fixed CCD orientation sensing bug; updated to latest USBDevice library (with numerous bug fixes for improved stability)
41:cbd237fe5021 2016-02-03 mjr Fix CCD bug in sensing CCD orientation; updated to latest USBDevice library with ISR bug fixes
40:cc0d9814522b 2016-02-03 mjr Gamma correction option for outputs; work in progress on new config program
39:b3815a1c3802 2016-01-11 mjr USB fixes; accelerometer auto un-sticking with watchdog timer.
38:091e511ce8a0 2016-01-05 mjr USB improvements
37:ed52738445fc 2015-12-24 mjr Bug fixes to USB HAL
36:b9747461331e 2015-12-19 mjr Report joystick/keyboard updates immediately on change (don't wait for 15ms joystick cycle to elapse)
35:e959ffba78fd 2015-12-19 mjr Keyboard/Media Control interface working, but the extra interface confuses the DOF connector.
34:6b981a2afab7 2015-12-03 mjr 74HC595 output port extensions (for "chime board")
33:d832bcab089e 2015-10-21 mjr With expansion board 5940 "power enable" output; saving this feature, which is to be removed.
32:cbff13b98441 2015-09-26 mjr Fix config.h for release version
31:1075f5b1c6a7 2015-09-25 mjr FastIO update
30:6e9902f06f48 2015-09-25 mjr Use DMA for TLC5940 SPI transfer to reduce time interrupt handler (fixes problem with MMA8415Q freezing up). All LedWiz flashing modes now fully supported.
29:582472d0bc57 2015-09-25 mjr Test of direct bit writes instead of SPI.
28:2097c6f8f2db 2015-09-23 mjr A few more tweaks in the TLC5940 setup.
27:26de4b0917a7 2015-09-23 mjr Disable TLC5940 by default.
26:cb71c4af2912 2015-09-23 mjr Initial TLC5940 PWM controller chip support.
25:e22b88bd783a 2015-09-01 mjr Centralized the CCD pixel count setting to a single config.h option; added an option to config.h to select the board's mounting orientation for the accelerometer
24:e902bc7cdc1e 2015-06-03 mjr Restored CCD sensor as the default sensor in config.h
23:14f8c5004cd0 2015-06-03 mjr Use regular AnalogIn (not FastAnalogIn) for potentiometer readings, and take the average of several readings, to reduce noise; add a minimum distance threshold before a firing event when crossing the rest position.
22:71422c359f2a 2015-04-01 mjr Fix preprocessor error
21:5048e16cc9ef 2015-03-28 mjr New No-Joystick configuration option (for secondary devices that only act as output controllers)
20:4c43877327ab 2015-02-28 mjr New key debouncing, delay on usb read to avoid freezes
19:054f8af32fce 2015-02-27 mjr New key debouncing
18:5e890ebd0023 2015-02-27 mjr Old debounce about to be removed
17:ab3cec0c8bf4 2015-02-27 mjr FastIO and FastAnalogIn; better firing event sensing; potentiometer plunger sensor option; new key debouncing; ZB Launch Ball feature
16:c35f905c3311 2014-12-29 mjr Fix comment typo
15:944bbc29c4dd 2014-12-29 mjr Fix and expand comments on LedWiz behavior vis-a-vis levels 48 and 49
14:df700b22ca08 2014-09-26 mjr Reduce button input latency by reducing debounce time and polling during CCD read cycle
13:72dda449c3c0 2014-09-13 mjr Fix voltage level reversal on LedWiz outputs; handle all undefined LedWiz level values as fully on
12:669df364a565 2014-08-27 mjr Fixed the indicator light (broken by bug in button reader)
11:bd9da7088e6e 2014-08-26 mjr Button inputs added
10:976666ffa4ef 2014-08-23 mjr Add raw pixel dump support for use by the Windows config tool
9:fd65b0a94720 2014-08-18 mjr Tweaks to plunger firing detection
8:c732e279ee29 2014-08-08 mjr Remove testing button pulses; swap x/y axis order to match VP default settings
7:100a25f8bf56 2014-08-07 mjr Tweaks to launch sensing
6:cc35eb643e8f 2014-08-06 mjr Various testing setups for plunger firing - debouncing, fixed returns, etc
5:a70c0bce770d 2014-07-27 mjr Somewhat working with ball-model damping. About to change to cabinet model.
4:02c7cd7b2183 2014-07-24 mjr USB 3 connection problems fixed. Host power status reflected in diagnostic LEDs. Non-blocking initial connection.
3:3514575d4f86 2014-07-23 mjr Conversion to interrupt-based sampling of the accelerometer working
2:c174f9ee414a 2014-07-22 mjr Before change to ISR for accelerometer
1:d913e0afb2ac 2014-07-16 mjr Before removing time/frequency limit on reading the plunger sensor
0:5acbbe3f4cf4 2014-07-11 mjr Initial testing setup, before starting on real configuration