I love pinball, and the last few years virtual pinball games like Pinball Hall Of Fame: The Williams Collection has satisfied some of my thirst for classic, kinetic, pinball action. However, there is nothing better than standing-up and playing a real pinball machine. However, the days of pinball machines are almost gone. The only remaining pinball manufacture is Stern, and they sell games mostly for people's home game rooms. The Pinball Hall Of Fame in Las Vegas is a great place to see and play dozens of restored pinball games from the days of yore, but the idea of dragging my wife and kids to Las Vegas (a city a absolutely abhor) just to play pinball seems ludicrous although my wife would probably be game, as she loves pinball just as much as I do).
I've thought about buying a single pinball machine, but there are a lot of issues with that idea. The first is that most pinball machines require a lot of maintenance to keep working. While I'm pretty good at software and computer configurations, I'm really not that good with mechanical devices or electronics. If it broke down, I'd buy the manuals, try a couple times to fix it, but when I failed, it would simply gather dust like so many other projects I have 1/2 finished in the garage. The other problem with buying a pinball machine is this: which one do I choose? If I only have the space for one, how do I make that kind of "Sophie's Choice" over classic pinball games? Do I buy Quicksilver, my favorite game from the 80's, The Simpsons, the game my brother and I played obsessively during college, or The Machine Bride Of Pinbot, the game my wife and I played and bonded over when we first started dating?
Well, it seems that I am not alone in this dilemma. There are a lot of pinball fans out there who have been working on (and solving) many of these problems for the past few years. They do not get publicized very often, but their work is nothing short of amazing. First, there are few great, free-ware software programs that allow people to recreate virtual versions of their favorite pinball games on in Windows. Future Pinball is a freeware 3D pinball machine design tool and construction program. It has been used to create nearly perfect versions of classic pinball games. Visual Pinball does a lot of the same thing, but it includes better physics (according to some users/players) and ROM support to help simulate newer machines. Along with the design tools some other useful programs include PinMAME, a version of MAME that supports the (mostly) monochrome video screens of later model pinball games, and Hyperpin, a menu system that supports games developed in both Future Pinball and Visual Pinball. There is a thriving community building these games, and most of them can be found at vpforums.org.
Besides simply playing games on a PC through, menus system Hyperpin have created a brand-new opportunity for pinball fans: the LCD multi-game pinball cabinet. These are home-made "pinball machines" that utilize two LCD screens: a 42" (or so) screen laid-longwise that acts as the pinball table, and a 20" (or so) screen that sits at one one end of the long screen to act as the back glass. Pinball games are simulated using a dual monitor windows configuration, with tables selected using Hyperpin, and played with custom controls on the cabinet including flippers and even a plunger. This is hard to describe, here are a few youtube.com videos of machines that pinball fans have made themselves.
While this is not a perfect solution (yet), it does solve both my dilemmas. It works off a PC computer, which I can probably take apart and put together blindfolded, and it allows for multiple machines to exist in the same physical space. Making the decision that is is a really cool idea is only the first step though. Now I have to figure out how to make it happen. Of course, someone will probably start building these things to sell as a business before I get around to actually making my own, and ultimately, that might be the best option for me.