An I/O controller for virtual pinball machines: accelerometer nudge sensing, analog plunger input, button input encoding, LedWiz compatible output controls, and more.

Dependencies:   mbed FastIO FastPWM USBDevice

Fork of Pinscape_Controller by Mike R


This is Version 2 of the Pinscape Controller, an I/O controller for virtual pinball machines. (You can find the old version 1 software here.) Pinscape is software for the KL25Z that turns the board into a full-featured I/O controller for virtual pinball, with support for accelerometer-based nudging, a real plunger, button inputs, and feedback device control.

In case you haven't heard of the concept before, a "virtual pinball machine" is basically a video pinball simulator that's built into a real pinball machine body. A TV monitor goes in place of the pinball playfield, and a second TV goes in the backbox to serve as the "backglass" display. A third smaller monitor can serve as the "DMD" (the Dot Matrix Display used for scoring on newer machines), or you can even install a real pinball plasma DMD. A computer is hidden inside the cabinet, running pinball emulation software that displays a life-sized playfield on the main TV. The cabinet has all of the usual buttons, too, so it not only looks like the real thing, but plays like it too. That's a picture of my own machine to the right. On the outside, it's built exactly like a real arcade pinball machine, with the same overall dimensions and all of the standard pinball cabinet hardware.

A few small companies build and sell complete, finished virtual pinball machines, but I think it's more fun as a DIY project. If you have some basic wood-working skills and know your way around PCs, you can build one from scratch. The computer part is just an ordinary Windows PC, and all of the pinball emulation can be built out of free, open-source software. In that spirit, the Pinscape Controller is an open-source software/hardware project that offers a no-compromises, all-in-one control center for all of the unique input/output needs of a virtual pinball cabinet. If you've been thinking about building one of these, but you're not sure how to connect a plunger, flipper buttons, lights, nudge sensor, and whatever else you can think of, this project might be just what you're looking for.

You can find much more information about DIY Pin Cab building in general in the Virtual Cabinet Forum on Also visit my Pinscape Resources page for more about this project and other virtual pinball projects I'm working on.


  • Pinscape Release Builds: This page has download links for all of the Pinscape software. To get started, install and run the Pinscape Config Tool on your Windows computer. It will lead you through the steps for installing the Pinscape firmware on the KL25Z.
  • Config Tool Source Code. The complete C# source code for the config tool. You don't need this to run the tool, but it's available if you want to customize anything or see how it works inside.


The new Version 2 Build Guide is now complete! This new version aims to be a complete guide to building a virtual pinball machine, including not only the Pinscape elements but all of the basics, from sourcing parts to building all of the hardware.

You can also refer to the original Hardware Build Guide (PDF), but that's out of date now, since it refers to the old version 1 software, which was rather different (especially when it comes to configuration).

System Requirements

The new config tool requires a fairly up-to-date Microsoft .NET installation. If you use Windows Update to keep your system current, you should be fine. A modern version of Internet Explorer (IE) is required, even if you don't use it as your main browser, because the config tool uses some system components that Microsoft packages into the IE install set. I test with IE11, so that's known to work. IE8 doesn't work. IE9 and 10 are unknown at this point.

The Windows requirements are only for the config tool. The firmware doesn't care about anything on the Windows side, so if you can make do without the config tool, you can use almost any Windows setup.

Main Features

Plunger: The Pinscape Controller started out as a "mechanical plunger" controller: a device for attaching a real pinball plunger to the video game software so that you could launch the ball the natural way. This is still, of course, a central feature of the project. The software supports several types of sensors: a high-resolution optical sensor (which works by essentially taking pictures of the plunger as it moves); a slide potentionmeter (which determines the position via the changing electrical resistance in the pot); a quadrature sensor (which counts bars printed on a special guide rail that it moves along); and an IR distance sensor (which determines the position by sending pulses of light at the plunger and measuring the round-trip travel time). The Build Guide explains how to set up each type of sensor.

Nudging: The KL25Z (the little microcontroller that the software runs on) has a built-in accelerometer. The Pinscape software uses it to sense when you nudge the cabinet, and feeds the acceleration data to the pinball software on the PC. This turns physical nudges into virtual English on the ball. The accelerometer is quite sensitive and accurate, so we can measure the difference between little bumps and hard shoves, and everything in between. The result is natural and immersive.

Buttons: You can wire real pinball buttons to the KL25Z, and the software will translate the buttons into PC input. You have the option to map each button to a keyboard key or joystick button. You can wire up your flipper buttons, Magna Save buttons, Start button, coin slots, operator buttons, and whatever else you need.

Feedback devices: You can also attach "feedback devices" to the KL25Z. Feedback devices are things that create tactile, sound, and lighting effects in sync with the game action. The most popular PC pinball emulators know how to address a wide variety of these devices, and know how to match them to on-screen action in each virtual table. You just need an I/O controller that translates commands from the PC into electrical signals that turn the devices on and off. The Pinscape Controller can do that for you.

Expansion Boards

There are two main ways to run the Pinscape Controller: standalone, or using the "expansion boards".

In the basic standalone setup, you just need the KL25Z, plus whatever buttons, sensors, and feedback devices you want to attach to it. This mode lets you take advantage of everything the software can do, but for some features, you'll have to build some ad hoc external circuitry to interface external devices with the KL25Z. The Build Guide has detailed plans for exactly what you need to build.

The other option is the Pinscape Expansion Boards. The expansion boards are a companion project, which is also totally free and open-source, that provides Printed Circuit Board (PCB) layouts that are designed specifically to work with the Pinscape software. The PCB designs are in the widely used EAGLE format, which many PCB manufacturers can turn directly into physical boards for you. The expansion boards organize all of the external connections more neatly than on the standalone KL25Z, and they add all of the interface circuitry needed for all of the advanced software functions. The big thing they bring to the table is lots of high-power outputs. The boards provide a modular system that lets you add boards to add more outputs. If you opt for the basic core setup, you'll have enough outputs for all of the toys in a really well-equipped cabinet. If your ambitions go beyond merely well-equipped and run to the ridiculously extravagant, just add an extra board or two. The modular design also means that you can add to the system over time.

Expansion Board project page

Update notes

If you have a Pinscape V1 setup already installed, you should be able to switch to the new version pretty seamlessly. There are just a couple of things to be aware of.

First, the "configuration" procedure is completely different in the new version. Way better and way easier, but it's not what you're used to from V1. In V1, you had to edit the project source code and compile your own custom version of the program. No more! With V2, you simply install the standard, pre-compiled .bin file, and select options using the Pinscape Config Tool on Windows.

Second, if you're using the TSL1410R optical sensor for your plunger, there's a chance you'll need to boost your light source's brightness a little bit. The "shutter speed" is faster in this version, which means that it doesn't spend as much time collecting light per frame as before. The software actually does "auto exposure" adaptation on every frame, so the increased shutter speed really shouldn't bother it, but it does require a certain minimum level of contrast, which requires a certain minimal level of lighting. Check the plunger viewer in the setup tool if you have any problems; if the image looks totally dark, try increasing the light level to see if that helps.

New Features

V2 has numerous new features. Here are some of the highlights...

Dynamic configuration: as explained above, configuration is now handled through the Config Tool on Windows. It's no longer necessary to edit the source code or compile your own modified binary.

Improved plunger sensing: the software now reads the TSL1410R optical sensor about 15x faster than it did before. This allows reading the sensor at full resolution (400dpi), about 400 times per second. The faster frame rate makes a big difference in how accurately we can read the plunger position during the fast motion of a release, which allows for more precise position sensing and faster response. The differences aren't dramatic, since the sensing was already pretty good even with the slower V1 scan rate, but you might notice a little better precision in tricky skill shots.

Keyboard keys: button inputs can now be mapped to keyboard keys. The joystick button option is still available as well, of course. Keyboard keys have the advantage of being closer to universal for PC pinball software: some pinball software can be set up to take joystick input, but nearly all PC pinball emulators can take keyboard input, and nearly all of them use the same key mappings.

Local shift button: one physical button can be designed as the local shift button. This works like a Shift button on a keyboard, but with cabinet buttons. It allows each physical button on the cabinet to have two PC keys assigned, one normal and one shifted. Hold down the local shift button, then press another key, and the other key's shifted key mapping is sent to the PC. The shift button can have a regular key mapping of its own as well, so it can do double duty. The shift feature lets you access more functions without cluttering your cabinet with extra buttons. It's especially nice for less frequently used functions like adjusting the volume or activating night mode.

Night mode: the output controller has a new "night mode" option, which lets you turn off all of your noisy devices with a single button, switch, or PC command. You can designate individual ports as noisy or not. Night mode only disables the noisemakers, so you still get the benefit of your flashers, button lights, and other quiet devices. This lets you play late into the night without disturbing your housemates or neighbors.

Gamma correction: you can designate individual output ports for gamma correction. This adjusts the intensity level of an output to make it match the way the human eye perceives brightness, so that fades and color mixes look more natural in lighting devices. You can apply this to individual ports, so that it only affects ports that actually have lights of some kind attached.

IR Remote Control: the controller software can transmit and/or receive IR remote control commands if you attach appropriate parts (an IR LED to send, an IR sensor chip to receive). This can be used to turn on your TV(s) when the system powers on, if they don't turn on automatically, and for any other functions you can think of requiring IR send/receive capabilities. You can assign IR commands to cabinet buttons, so that pressing a button on your cabinet sends a remote control command from the attached IR LED, and you can have the controller generate virtual key presses on your PC in response to received IR commands. If you have the IR sensor attached, the system can use it to learn commands from your existing remotes.

Yet more USB fixes: I've been gradually finding and fixing USB bugs in the mbed library for months now. This version has all of the fixes of the last couple of releases, of course, plus some new ones. It also has a new "last resort" feature, since there always seems to be "just one more" USB bug. The last resort is that you can tell the device to automatically reboot itself if it loses the USB connection and can't restore it within a given time limit.

More Downloads

  • 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 releases, so you don't need my custom builds if you're using 9.9.1 or later and/or VP 10. I don't think there's any reason to use my versions instead of the latest official ones, and in fact I'd encourage you to use the official releases since they're more up to date, but I'm leaving my builds available just in case. In the official versions, look for the checkbox "Enable Nudge Filter" in the Keys preferences dialog. My custom versions don't include that checkbox; they just enable the filter unconditionally.
  • Output circuit shopping list: This is a saved shopping cart at with the parts needed to build one copy of the high-power output circuit for the LedWiz emulator feature, for use with the standalone KL25Z (that is, without the expansion boards). The quantities in the cart are for one output channel, so if you want N outputs, simply multiply the quantities by the N, with one exception: you only need one ULN2803 transistor array chip for each eight output circuits. If you're using the expansion boards, you won't need any of this, since the boards provide their own high-power outputs.
  • Cary Owens' optical sensor housing: A 3D-printable design for a housing/mounting bracket for the optical plunger sensor, designed by Cary Owens. This makes it easy to mount the sensor.
  • 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.

Copyright and License

The Pinscape firmware is copyright 2014, 2021 by Michael J Roberts. It's released under an MIT open-source license. See License.

Warning to VirtuaPin Kit Owners

This software isn't designed as a replacement for the VirtuaPin plunger kit's firmware. If you bought the VirtuaPin kit, I recommend that you don't install this software. The VirtuaPin kit uses the same KL25Z microcontroller that Pinscape uses, but the rest of its hardware is different and incompatible. In particular, the Pinscape firmware doesn't include support for the IR proximity sensor used in the VirtuaPin plunger kit, so you won't be able to use your plunger device with the Pinscape firmware. In addition, the VirtuaPin setup uses a different set of GPIO pins for the button inputs from the Pinscape defaults, so if you do install the Pinscape firmware, you'll have to go into the Config Tool and reassign all of the buttons to match the VirtuaPin wiring.


RevisionDateWhoCommit message
109:310ac82cbbee 10 months ago mjr TCD1103 DMA setup time padding to fix sporadic missed first pixel in transfer; fix TV ON so that the TV ON IR commands don't have to be grouped in the IR command first slots default tip
108:bd5d4bd4383b 12 months ago mjr Add quadrature channel A/B reporting to plunger status report
107:8f3c7aeae7e0 13 months ago mjr Add two pins I missed for the diagnostic LED checks (plunger calibration button and LED pins)
106:e9e3b46132c1 13 months ago mjr Check diagnostic LEDs against all configured pins (not just output ports)
105:6a25bbfae1e4 13 months ago mjr Fix AEDR-8300 reverse orientation option
104:6e06e0f4b476 14 months ago mjr AEAT-6012, TCD1103 updates
103:dec22cd65b2a 15 months ago mjr Get the TCD1103 code working
102:41d49e78c253 15 months ago mjr AEAT-6012 plunger sensor now working
101:755f44622abc 15 months ago mjr Use continuous asynchronous frame transfers in image sensors
100:1ff35c07217c 15 months ago mjr Added preliminary support for AEAT-6012 and TCD1103 sensors; use continuous averaging for pot sensor analog in; more AltAnalogIn options for timing and resolution
99:8139b0c274f4 2019-03-02 mjr Added Chime Logic
98:4df3c0f7e707 2019-03-01 mjr Modified flipper logic timing; add Minimum Time Output port flag (proposed changes only; may be replaced collectively by a new Chime Logic type)
97:fc7727303038 2018-02-07 mjr Added IR protocol support for TCL Roku TV models
96:68d5621ff49f 2018-01-31 mjr Treat plunger type = None as equivalent to plunger disabled for the purposes of the status light display
95:8eca8acbb82c 2018-01-28 mjr Fix accelerometer rotation problem with stuttered joystick reports
94:0476b3e2b996 2018-01-28 mjr Change default PWM frequency for GPIO ports to 2 kHz
93:177832c29041 2018-01-28 mjr Change PWM cycle in GPIO feedback device outputs to 5ms/200Hz to reduce LED flicker
92:f264fbaa1be5 2017-12-14 mjr Adjustable joystick report timing
91:ae9be42652bf 2017-10-20 mjr Add plunger reverse orientation filter
90:aa4e571da8e8 2017-10-17 mjr Add Rx/Ry/Rz joystick reporting option
89:c43cd923401c 2017-05-12 mjr Added Flipper Logic to output port options
88:98bce687e6c0 2017-05-10 mjr New USB request to send preprogrammed IR command
87:8d35c74403af 2017-05-09 mjr AEDR-8300, VL6180X, TLC59116; new plunger firing detection
86:e30a1f60f783 2017-04-21 mjr Capture a bunch of alternative bar code decoder tests, mostly unsuccessful
85:3c28aee81cde 2017-04-14 mjr Save config updates before slight rearrangement;
84:31e926f4f3bc 2017-04-13 mjr Merge bug fix branch
83:ea44e193fd55 2017-04-13 mjr Fixed night mode button toggle problem
82:4f6209cb5c33 2017-04-13 mjr Plunger refactoring; AEDR-8300 added; TSL1401CL in progress; VL6180X added
81:5c13849d45a7 2017-03-24 mjr IR remote control functions; new options for accelerometer; new Shift button options
80:94dc2946871b 2017-03-24 mjr IR features release
79:682ae3171a08 2017-03-23 mjr FTFA/Ticker issue fixed (by removing Ticker, changing to Timeout); new "flash write succeeded" status flag; optical plunger rounding improvements
78:1e00b3fa11af 2017-03-19 mjr Ad hoc IR command send; Shift button 'AND' and 'OR' modes; new accelerometer auto centering options
77:0b96f6867312 2017-03-17 mjr New memory pool management; keeping old ones as #ifdefs for now for reference.
76:7f5912b6340e 2017-02-03 mjr Rework flash driver to make it truly stable (hopefully to 100% reliability); host-loaded configuration; performance improvements; more performance diagnostics.
75:677892300e7a 2017-01-29 mjr Added SBX/PBX-is-supported flag to configuration report
74:822a92bc11d2 2017-01-27 mjr SBX/PBX extensions for multiple virtual LedWiz units on client; PWM GPIO update fixes; LedWiz pulse speed settings changed to match real LedWiz
73:4e8ce0b18915 2017-01-21 mjr Add protocol commands for TV ON and button testers; add free memory status reporting; improve button scan interrupt speed; reduce button memory footprint slightly; further improve TSL1410R "scan mode 2" speed
72:884207c0aab0 2017-01-04 mjr Include shifted buttons when deciding whether or not to create a USB keyboard interface during initialization
71:5c0f6b60bf4f 2017-01-04 mjr Clean up scan method selection.;
70:9f58735a1732 2017-01-03 mjr Reboot after timeout on initial connect; CCD sensor scan method #2 assembly version for faster processing
69:cc5039284fac 2016-12-28 mjr Slope-based edge detection; disable filtering in plunger readings;
68:998faf685b00 2016-11-27 mjr Updated USB keyboard report descriptor to allow for new extended keys (F13-F24, misc others)
67:c39e66c4e000 2016-11-27 mjr Send USB reports for Keyboard Volume Up, Keyboard Volume Down, and Keyboard Mute as ordinary keyboard keys (they were previously mapped to the corresponding Media Control keys)
66:2e3583fbd2f4 2016-11-27 mjr Add "local shift button", which allows each physical button to have two key mappings (normal and shifted)
65:739875521aae 2016-11-23 mjr Increased button limit to 48; allocate live button structures dynamically
64:ef7ca92dff36 2016-11-22 mjr Make PWM fades smooth (fixes flicker) by changing from PwmOut to FastPWM for GPIO PWM outputs
63:5cd1a5f3a41b 2016-06-14 mjr Changed LedWiz/extended protocol mode sensing from per-output to global
62:f071ccde32a0 2016-06-02 mjr EXPERIMENTAL/ABANDONED: Combine all message types (JS+KB+LW) into a single HID interface, as a failed attempt to work around ledwiz.dll crash with multiple interfaces. This approach creates a new incompatibility due to the non-zero report ID.
61:3c7e6e9ec355 2016-06-02 mjr Minor joystick descriptor fixes
60:f38da020aa13 2016-05-13 mjr Try to bulletproof the Flash programming procedure by using techniques recommended in ARM forums; enhanced comments in main routine
59:94eb9265b6d7 2016-05-12 mjr Replaced library malloc with custom version that's slightly more efficient and makes more memory available overall
58:523fdcffbe6d 2016-05-11 mjr Fixed plunger hysteresis filter to remove lag time impact
57:cc03231f676b 2016-05-07 mjr Fix keyboard input bug
56:195d891653c6 2016-05-04 mjr Fix some comments in the update log
55:4db125cd11a0 2016-05-04 mjr More KL25Z USB client cleanup
54:fd77a6b2f76c 2016-04-30 mjr TLC5940 with SPI DMA setup in interrupt handler (not quite working)
53:9b2611964afc 2016-04-22 mjr Save some debugging instrumentation to be removed for release
52:8298b2a73eb2 2016-03-05 mjr New calibration procedure - attempt #1, with separate calibration release sensingi
51:57eb311faafa 2016-03-01 mjr Saving old CCD processing modes
50:40015764bbe6 2016-02-27 mjr New plunger scheme seems to be working solidly.