Homebrew Pinball #3, Part 87

Cross posted from the original Pinside thread, this is one of many posts regarding my third homebrew pinball machine, creatively nicknamed 'P3'



With a month and a half to go until pintastic, I was in a pretty good spot. The game was working fairly well, I had most of the features done and lots of issues worked out. I figured it'd just be finishing touches and bug fixes, and I was actually ahead of schedule! So then I got to thinking if there was anything else I could do in the leftover time. One thing that'd stood out from testing is that my pencil-drawn instructions and labels on the playfield weren't readable enough for people to notice. So I figured maybe I could draw up some simple text boxes on the computer for those. Using some gottlieb EMs as reference, I found out what font was usually used, and tried to copy some of their basic styling, and I drew some stuff up in inkscape
Those didn't look too bad! So I got a bit more adventurous with some of the other instructions I had.

But I needed to figure out how to get those onto my playfield... When I first started drawing these I'd figured I'd just get some "clear sticker paper" from Staples, but it turns out that... doesn't really exist. I ordered a few things like projector transparencies and decal paper, but those also didn't work out. Everything ended up transparent still, not opaque ink on a clear background, so they didn't look too good
After a bunch of searching, I figured that what I really wanted might be "window decals" which... aren't decals. They're just vinyl stickers. I ended up ordering some from signs.com since they were the only site I could find that had an exact scale option. I got both decals and window cling, thinking that the decals might rip up the wood but the cling would have a weaker adhesion, but it turned out the cling couldn't stick to the wood at all, and the decal's stickiness wasn't too bad

The decals went on fine though, and had pretty good 'blocking' so the woodgrain didn't show through, although some of the pencil was barely visible in some of the lighter colors so I had to go back and erase all that.

With that looking pretty good, I went ahead and spent a few evenings drawing even more instruction blurbs. And then got on a bit of a roll I did a few smaller things like keylines for all the inserts. And some graphics for the magna save, and around all the displays. And then I did all the major shots and lanes too because why not? Now I had to tear down the whole playfield to install all these.... Most of the small ones weren't too bad. The larger ones (some are up to 20 inches long) got a bit more complicated though, especially the ones that needed to line up with lots of different playfield features. I'd never really done decal work before so I had to figure it out a lot as I went, but luckily they were forgiving enough that I could peel them off a few times to get them right before they started to loose their strength, and were slightly stretchy too so I could bend them a bit to line things up. That stickiness also became an issue though when I tried to put some over the displays, and the stickers started to sag down over the hole.
I ended up having to cut out some spare plastic sheets to cover the displays with in order to support the stickers. Then a new problem was revealed, as the backlights of all the displays had some light bleed that was showing through the stickers and didn't look too good, so I had to mask off portions of the plastic with electrical tape

There was also a few issues with the center, clear portions of the stickers not adhering to the plastic perfectly, creating bubbles or trapping little bits of dust, so I also had to manually trim out the center portions with an exacto knife in some cases

The biggest challenge, however, was also the biggest sticker. Somehow this massive part, which I couldn't find some way to split up, didn't come out one-to-one scale, despite being in the same file as everything else
The piece should be 23x8", but instead it was 24x8.5". A small enough different that I didn't notice it during proofing, or when I got the sheet, until I cut it out and actually put it on the playfield. And since it was the biggest, most complicated piece, I saved it for last too At this point, there was under two weeks until pintastic. It'd take at least 2-4 days for another decal to be made, plus 3-5 days to ship, and I still needed to reassemble everything and do a bunch of final testing, so I didn't have time to wait for a replacement. At first I figured I'd just leave it off, but that one decal was basically a whole quarter of the playfield, so it was really obvious. In a flash of 1am, "nothing left to lose" decision making, I decided to just cut the whole decal up by hand and rearrange it to fit.
This went... much better than expected. In the end the one decal became 16 separate pieces, which I then cut apart, layered, and stuck back together so that all the keylines still matched up. Close enough! With the plastic protector over it you barely even notice. It'll be fun showing it to people and seeing if anyone asks about it. I've ordered the correct decal, along with a few other corrections too, so the next time I do need to tear the playfield down and get the protector off, I can replace it.

Since I was already ordering from a printing place, I also got some reverse-printed decals for my plastics
They weren't quite as vibrant as I'd hoped, but still much better than my inkjet-printed ones are. Plus they're adhesive, so the paper doesn't sag under the plastic. Before:
After:
Aaaand... done! I wish I'd been able to come up with a few more bits of actual art besides the one hand of cards between the flippers, but I wasn't able to really find anything else that fit with the theme and art style so far.

Posted Tuesday, November 16, 2021
at 11:49 AM


Tags: Blog Post, Pinball, Project, P3,

Homebrew Pinball #3, Part 86

Cross posted from the original Pinside thread, this is one of many posts regarding my third homebrew pinball machine, creatively nicknamed 'P3'



Falling behind on updating this thread as the final crunch intensifies

Lots of little things going on...

I've been trying to track down all the 3D models I used for the build to print up spares. In a few cases I can't actually find the original file anywhere! Not sure what to do about that, as I thought I'd been tracking everything fairly well, with consistent naming and versioning. A few small things I had to re-model, or I'm stuck with just the generated g-code and I can't really edit it anymore.

With some plastics with art on them, I figured the mismatched drop targets stood out a bit, so I made some quick stickers for them

In a bunch of places I had holes in the playfield where I'd installed features and then removed them later, so I'd just taped some paper over them, but that was also a bit ugly.
Luckily, I had some scans of the playfield from before I'd cut many of the holes, so I printed out stickers of the wood grain and covered them up

As more playtesting got done, I started having issues with a few connectors falling out of stuff. Usually I'd used connectors with latches/ramps to prevent that, but in some cases I couldn't. So I 3D printed some little braces to hold stuff in

I did a bunch of little quality of life things in the code. Hold start to end game. Tweaks to a lot of switches. More instructional text. A lot more feedback as stuff is happening, like these little blinks when you hit something to help you know it wasn't a near miss or something

Posted Tuesday, November 16, 2021
at 11:49 AM


Tags: Blog Post, Pinball, Project, P3,

Homebrew Pinball #3, Part 85

Cross posted from the original Pinside thread, this is one of many posts regarding my third homebrew pinball machine, creatively nicknamed 'P3'



While out shopping, I saw a Cri-Cut for sale, and thought "that would be handy to cut some stencils!". But then I thought: "wait, why do I need stencils? what if I just cut the art out of vinyl directly?" So I grabbed a roll of 'removable' adhesive vinyl from the supply area and tried it out on the cab. It looked fine, and seemed to peel back off without damaging the webbing, so that sounded good. Except I didn't want to drop $300 on a cricut. So I bought a $10 'drag knife' vinyl cutter attachment and hooked it up to my CNC router instead

Took a few tries to get everything adjusted properly and figure out a workflow, but once I worked out the kinks it worked quite well.
Hand positioning and applying them to the cabinet also took some trial and error, but no major issues

As always, learning that even a tiny bit of art goes a long way. I'm not going to win any awards here but it's turned out pretty solid despite my zero art skills

Posted Tuesday, November 16, 2021
at 11:48 AM


Tags: Blog Post, Pinball, Project, P3,

Homebrew Pinball #3, Part 84

Cross posted from the original Pinside thread, this is one of many posts regarding my third homebrew pinball machine, creatively nicknamed 'P3'



Usually people spray cabs to paint them, but I don't really have the space to do that, so I opted to try using a roller. I set up a tarp in the middle of my game room, put the cab down on it, and applied about 6 coats of paint, sanding between each few. The texture from the rollers sanded off pretty easily in most places, but I still had a lot of places where the sanding wasn't doing much. I think this was more to do with the wood than the painting though. If I was doing a proper restore I'd have used more filler and stuff to get everything flatter so that the sanding would hit evenly. Also I'd have a power sander instead of just a sanding block. Whoops. I'm not aiming for perfection though, as long as nothing doesn't look like an obvious mistake, I'm okay with it.

After my quart of paint ran out, I decided to try to do some webbing like many EMs have. Both because it looks cool, and because it'll probably help hide more of the imperfections in the base coat and wood. I saw a few people recommending Montana 'marble effect' spray paint with good results, so I gave it a shot here. Originally I was going to bring the cab out in my yard to spray it, but because of the weird way that it works, even a tiny bit of wind messes it up, so I had to do the spraying in doors :/ Luckily with a bit of 'masking' around the sides I was able to do it without any mishaps.
With my black stern siderails, black painted lockdown bar, and some black legs and shooter rod housing I picked up, the white really pops; I'm pretty satisfied with how it turned out overall

I still need to figure out the stencils for the side art to go on top of this, so that'll be a task for another day. I figure I'll need to mask those anyway, so it doesn't hurt to have the rest of the game reassembled when that happens, and in the mean time this looks leagues better than the peeling whirlwind art that was on it before

Posted Tuesday, November 16, 2021
at 11:48 AM


Tags: Blog Post, Pinball, Project, P3,

Homebrew Pinball #3, Part 83

Cross posted from the original Pinside thread, this is one of many posts regarding my third homebrew pinball machine, creatively nicknamed 'P3'



Since things were looking pretty good as far as my pintastic target, I decided to make a questionable decision and try to get some cabinet art in too. First, I took out the playfield and neatened up the cabinet wiring some more.

It still doesn't really look that neat, but everything is actually routed around and attached down, so I'm not really sure what more can be done on some fronts. Part of the mess is probably just the weird way everything is arranged and packed in, plus a lot of premade components that weren't meant to go together like this, like all the extra wiring on the transformer and power supply, or the USB, HDMI, and ethernet cables that I can't really chop down to their exact lengths easily.


The playfield wiring also isn't as neat as I'd hoped. When I started this project my plan was to have just two connectors going from the cabinet to the playfield: one for power and one for data. The driver boards were all going to be mounted to the playfield like on a Spike game. Instead I have two big black hoses full of ~30 separate solenoid power lines snaking all the way to the driver boards in the cab. My single power connector became two since I separated out the low and high voltages. And instead of a single 'data' connector, I now have an ethernet cable, an hdmi cable, a switch matrix cable, and a led cable. Those last two probably could have been combined, but there isn't much I can do about the others since they're standardized. All of that winds up as a lot of connectors (14 at last count) that I need to unplug and remove from their routing to remove the playfield

With the playfield out I was able to take the cab down to get it sanded. That also meant I finally got to clean it out a bit. A lot of random stuff accumulates at the bottom of a pinball cab when you're building a game in it!

Now, time to sand it down:

Next stop, Home Depot to buy some paint. I've never done a cab 'restore' before, so this should be interesting

Posted Tuesday, November 16, 2021
at 11:47 AM


Tags: Blog Post, Pinball, Project, P3,

Homebrew Pinball #3, Part 82

Cross posted from the original Pinside thread, this is one of many posts regarding my third homebrew pinball machine, creatively nicknamed 'P3'



I scanned the plastics I had in with my printer and started mocking up some simple art using a CC vector playing card art pack I found online, then just printed them out on paper for a test

The paper didn't really turn out that great. Colors were very muted compared to how they look on screen, and without being glued to the plastics it still sags a bit and looks a bit messy, but they still really help pull the playfield together. I'd like to try to make up a few more paper bits to put on the playfield itself, at least where my hand written rules currently are, but that'll have to wait until I take the plastic off again. I've basically given up on ever having full playfield art for this, but I think a splash of color here and there should be more than enough. Once I've got the rest of the plastics made/mounted and drawn up I'll get them printed professionally somewhere for some better colors.

Posted Tuesday, November 16, 2021
at 11:47 AM


Tags: Blog Post, Pinball, Project, P3,

Homebrew Pinball #3, Part 81

Cross posted from the original Pinside thread, this is one of many posts regarding my third homebrew pinball machine, creatively nicknamed 'P3'



One thing that didn't cause any issues during testing, much to my surprise, was the lack of plastics. I thought for sure some airball would end up sitting on top of the slings, or manage to fall into the apron area since there's no apron, but that didn't happen once. Nevertheless, it needed to get done. I started by just sticking some index cards on the posts, and hand cutting them roughly to fit the shape
Once I had a few forms ready to test, I grabbed some scrap material from my last playfield cut to practice cutting with scissors and see how clean I could make them. Before I could actually get cutting though, I realized that one of the scraps I'd grabbed looks a lot like my slingshot.... Because it was! Not sure why I didn't think of it sooner, but obviously if you cut out a playfield protector, the left over 'negative' space will be sized to the unplayable areas, which is where the plastics need to go anyway.
So I drilled a few holes for the posts, peeled off the protective layer, and then drew a border with dry erase marker so they'd show up, and:

Not bad! The left sling went the same way, but I needed to manually cut out a bit to fit the gate in Most other plastics weren't so clear-cut, but I was able to eyeball it and get them to fit without major issues
Even the apron was almost ready-made once I chopped it out of the scrap border plastic, although it's not perfect as I had to leave a hole for the handle.

I don't have any 'front' wall for the apron yet either, so I guess technically an airball could still get up there and end up stuck between the apron and the glass, but that's still much better than it falling in and potentially hitting the mechs or something

One thing I hadn't really counted on was the actual mounting for the plastics. For the slings it wasn't too complicated as I just needed to swap the phillips screws for standard pinball ones with a 6-32 thread on top, but many places were made mostly out of mini-posts, which I used since they have the smallest diameter, allowing me to fit more stuff into some tight spaces. They worked great for that, but since they have a pointed top I can't use them to mount plastics, so I'll need to swap some of those out. Trouble is, no one makes a similar post with a wood screw on the bottom and a threaded top, so I may need to dig in deeper than I was hoping and start installing some t-nuts and machine screws. I didn't really plan the playfield with that in mind beyond a normal "well I can swap to machine screws later if the wood strips out", so a lot of those posts are above mechs and may need to have the t-nuts recessed or other annoying things.

Posted Tuesday, November 16, 2021
at 11:44 AM


Tags: Blog Post, Pinball, Project, P3,

Homebrew Pinball #3, Part 80

Cross posted from the original Pinside thread, this is one of many posts regarding my third homebrew pinball machine, creatively nicknamed 'P3'



Had a small get together at my place last weekend, and had the game set up and playable during that time, with a camera on it. I recorded about 12 hours of video, although some of that time it probably wasn't being played... Twice I had the solder break on the flipper wiring to the resistors. I'll need to think of a better way to mount those. Currently they're just hanging awkwardly from the coils from when I first attached them for testing, which obviously is bad. Once the flippers just died randomly, and came back next ball. Not sure if that was a tilt or something correct that the player didn't notice, or if something malfunctioned. Will have to track it down in the recording and see. One time the ramp switch didn't register, which has been a recurring issue. I've got it tweaked 'just right' so it's 99% good, but I need to figure out a better solution eventually. This wouldn't be too big of an issue, except the lock post in the ramp won't let the ball back down, since it doesn't know it's there. I had two other stuck balls, both times they were caught by the shooter lane diverter, pressed against the back of the drop target next to it. Both of these issues will at least be alleviated by a ball search, which I'd never gotten around to coding before. So the next day I added one in. Not too complicated... I shouldn't have put that off so long. Besides from that I had no reported issues, although I'm sure a lot of that was people just not knowing how the game is supposed to work.

Another thing that's been on the todo list for a long time: adjustable GI. When I originally got the led strips, I got some super bright 12V ones since I was worried about how well they'd work. Although the center of the playfield is still a bit dark if you turn off all the other lights in the room, overall it's more playable than some games, but in a lit room they're a bit much. Usually more light would always be better, but they tend to make it harder to see some of the mini displays, especially the ones along the edges. I considered trying to hook them up to a solenoid driver, and manually PWM them to get them to dim, and also give me manual control of them in the code (although I don't really know when I'd use that), but that sounded like it could be a bit of a pain (and who knows if my mosfets can handle that much current), so instead I ordered a cheap 12V LED dimmer off eBay.
It had these annoying bullet plugs that a lot of electronics have, but I've never had a good way to deal with. I was about to go about my usual process of cutting off the plugs, then buzzing out the wires to figure out which is which, and heat shrinking some new wires onto it, when I had a light-bulb moment: what if I just opened it up? Sure enough, two phillips screws on the back were all that was needed to open the case and see four nicely color coded wires soldered to spots on the board
A little bit of soldering, and I now had my own wiring and connectors attached
The dimmer works great, and I now have fine tuned control of the brightness of the GI (and can even turn it off if needed). Still need to find some way to mount this in the cab, but that'll be an issue for later on. At some point before the weather gets too cold I'd like to take the game apart, clean the inside of the cab and put in some final cable management for everything, then sand and stencil the cab with some playing cards.

While I was in the game I also took the opportunity to wire up a few more inserts: 3 in the center of the playfield to show your progress towards a potential wizard mode, and two more in the mini playfield. I stopped using the star rollovers I had installed there to sense the ball a while ago when I made the new diverter, and luckily I was able to find some white inserts that were the same diameter as the star rollovers to replace them with, so now I finally removed the switches and wiring underneath too.

Posted Tuesday, November 16, 2021
at 11:44 AM


Tags: Blog Post, Pinball, Project, P3,

Homebrew Pinball #3, Part 79

Cross posted from the original Pinside thread, this is one of many posts regarding my third homebrew pinball machine, creatively nicknamed 'P3'



One of the issues I kept running into with the plastic covers was the rollover buttons. My 'free floating' 3d printed ones had ended up working pretty well, but sometimes they'd cause hangups with slow moving balls if the button was also stuck at an angle. In my quest to solve all potential ball trap points, something needed to change. Then someone on the slack channel mentioned these inductive proximity sensors:

Given their side and range, plus the fact that I don't have a wooden playfield in the way, these seemed like a good way to avoid having to deal with sticking the rollovers through the playfield at all. I ordered a few and my initial tests seemed positive. They were easy enough to power from my 12V supply, and just acted like a normal switch once I added a pulldown resistor. The one issue is that I'm using a switch matrix, so I needed some way to interface these 'constant' switches in. I designed yet another little board to go under my playfield which would basically just hook 4 proximity switches into the matrix

I designed some simple 3D printed mounts, and replaced all my rollover buttons
This wasn't quite as well thought out as I'd like, and I had issues fitting them into a few places. I was able to get around that by using some 12mm sensors in a few positions instead of the better range 18mm ones, but the detection of the 12s isn't quite as wide as a star rollover would be. The biggest problem is the rollover in the shooter lane. The 5 bank of drops doesn't leave much room between the rollover and the wall, and the area is just wide enough that the ball can sometimes worm its way past without triggering it. I may have to look into cutting my support rails a bit to make room if this doesn't work out, but I'll see how noticeable it is first. Since I eyeballed the entire cabinet without any planning I've been leaving about 5/8" room on both edges of the bottom of the playfield through the entire length so that nothing could possibly obstruct the support rails, but it could be that this area is far enough forwards that I don't need to worry about it.

Overall these proximity sensors are really cool, and if I'd known about them before I started building my whole playfield might be completely different. I could see myself avoiding rollover lane switches entirely, and maybe some of my hanging gate switches on shots too. The one downside is how tall they are. Compared to the very compact sensors I've seen on the Alien pinball machine, they really obstruct stuff under the playfield, and there's a lot of stuff like mounting them sideways in ball guides and stuff that you could never do. Once I get another shipment of spares in I'm going to chop one open and see if all that size is really needed, or if it's just a big empty cylinder to fit some standard industrial form factor or something...

Posted Tuesday, November 16, 2021
at 11:43 AM


Tags: Blog Post, Pinball, Project, P3,

Homebrew Pinball #3, Part 78

Cross posted from the original Pinside thread, this is one of many posts regarding my third homebrew pinball machine, creatively nicknamed 'P3'



Having no luck with the flipper resistors, I went to the nuclear option regarding the heat buildup under the playfield, and installed 6 computer fans over all the holes on the cabinet to provide some airflow. Of course, it somehow had zero effect. So, as a last ditch effort, I ordered some PET-G to make a new playfield covering, thinking maybe the acrylic was the issue. To further correct some of the issues with my previous acrylic plastic, I took some rubbings on a large piece of paper and got it scanned at staples.
I'd done similar before with a piece of paper that I'd punched holes in to mark the positions of screws, etc, but some of those were missed or didn't come through well, and I'd also added the holes for all the screens since then, so I needed an update. Based on that, I made an updated CAD file:

Sourcing the PET-G at a reasonable price was a bit of a pain, so I didn't want to waste it. Luckily, I found that I could make serviceable test cuts with my CNC router on plain paper, so I did a few iterations with that to fine tune things. The cuts weren't perfect (rough edges, occasional tears) but it was accurate enough to be useful
Once I was satisfied with all the positioning, I cut the full playfield in PET-G
After reassembling everything again, I did a test game..... and the PET-G buckled just like the acrylic.

So I needed a new approach. Long term the clearest solution here is just to glue everything down, but I don't have any art ready yet and I'm not sure if I could apply and later remove the glue cleanly without damaging the wood. I'd been hoping to eventually cut a new playfield wood with the CNC, but as I continue to have problems with the depth of cut with the PET-G I don't have much confidence in getting that working quickly, so I'm still stuck with my original hand-cut plywood right now.

So I decided to go the other way right now, and instead of attaching everything down even better with glue to prevent the buckling, I decided to just attach as little of it as possible, and make a plastic more like the standard playfield protectors sold for other pins. The new protector would only be held down at three positions (the three posts closest to the center of the playfield), which should keep it from moving, while allowing the plastic to expand/contract as needed to keep from buckling.

Originally I'd rejected this idea when starting to experiment with the plastic covering, as I didn't want the ball to 'sink in' to the empty areas over the screens. But that was also with a thinner material. I'm now using 0.06" plastic, which is much more rigid, and doesn't seem to bend much as it supports a ball over the 9" screen even without being attached down at both sides, so I think it should still play fine.

Now... more test cuts!
Unlike with the full plastic where I only needed to worry about the holes for the screws, here I need to match up to every contour of the ball guides, etc. Which of course I mostly bent by hand/eye and don't have any accurate digital files for. And of course I didn't think to etch them onto the plastic when I got it scanned either. Not a big deal though. I can give even 0.2-0.3" of space around the edges of things safely without affecting the ball (although it looks a bit weird), so I don't need to be super accurate here. And thus, I cut another sheet of PET-G. And also order 2 more spares since I'm now out of stock and I hate to wait for things to ship.

Some things weren't quite as accurate as I thought, but in the end there weren't any major issues. Only two places touched the edges of the plastic, and since it's PET-G it's easy to trim by hand

So now I start reassembling the whole playfield AGAIN to make sure that this still all plays fine. I'm fairly confident this should work though.

Posted Tuesday, November 16, 2021
at 11:43 AM


Tags: Blog Post, Pinball, Project, P3,

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