About This Site


Welcome to Pinball Intrigue, where I indulge my fascination with the silver ball. Here you will find posts regarding my pinball experiences, pinball machine repairs and mods, a virtual pinball build, and links to other pinball sites.

Search This Blog

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Configuration & Download Roadblocks

A quick update:

I installed Future Pinball. Unfortunately I could only get about 2 out of 15 tables to work. I will dig into this more when I have time. I haven't had a chance to try 3 Angels yet, which is widely considered the best Future Pinball table.

I'm also in the process of configuring Virtual Pinball tables. I've been loading up each table to see if there are issues, such as unable to create textures or not finding ROM files. It's slow going - only 40 tables configured so far - but it is progress.

At the same time I've been acquiring as many tables as possible. It has been a pain, mostly due to download restrictions. Living in a rural area, I have to get my internet via satellite. The downside is that I'm limited by a FAP (Fair Access Policy) to 2GB of download per month. I hit that wall pretty fast through my Visual Pinball/Future Pinball/Hyperpin downloads, initial table downloads, Windows updates, and driver updates. This necessitated looking for other ways to get tables. One way is that I take my laptop with me during lunch and tap into free wi-fi networks. But this has a downside as well...I can only download so much in 30 minutes.

The final download solution involved my phone and has worked out extremely well. I have used very little of my 2GB dataplan from AT&T over the last year, so I figure they owe me...I have a Samsung Android phone, and the default browser would not download the zipped table files. I switched to the Dolphin browser, which said it was downloading files but a check revealed they were incomplete/corrupted. Finally I tried the Opera browser - success! Opera downloads the files completely intact, in their .zip format. It also has a great status bar and download history that allows me to track file size and table names.

I have well over 200 tables now, with more acquired every day!

For now I'll keep downloading and configuring tables. I still need to clean out the cabinet, order new flipper buttons, cooling fans, a wireless keyboard & mouse, sound card, speakers, and subwoofer. I also need to debezel the TV and get Hyperpin configured. So much to do, so little time!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Revelations

On Friday night, after setting my desktop to 1900 x 1080, my icons and launch bar were off the edge of the screen. I spent a couple hours playing with TV settings, trying to figure out why I wasn't getting 1:1 pixel mapping despite the TV having a "JUST" mode. I resized the desktop to 1580 x 1020 to get the desktop to fit, but then when I ran VP I had black bars on the top and bottom of the table. I went to bed discouraged, thinking I was going to have to take the TV back.

This morning I woke up determined to get it to work. Somehow, when I selected 1900 x 1080p this morning, then the full screen setting under the Nvidia settings, suddenly everything fell into place!



And the power off issues I had? Well it was only today that I took a closer look and realized the power button was on the side of the TV rather than the bottom. Every time I would set the TV up, the power button would get pushed and shut off the TV. I had been turning the TV on and off with the remote, so I had no idea where the power button was!

I also installed Hyperpin with no issues...

Next up: install Hyperpin media packs, get 2nd & 3rd screens going, install Future Pinball...

Friday, August 26, 2011

Slow Progress

I picked up the SATA DVD drive, an HP model, from Best Buy last night and spent 2-3 hours plugging things in, setting up the bios and installing Windows 7. One weird thing about the Panasonic 37" was that when I rotated it 90 degrees and tilted it up (so that all the buttons were on the left side), the power shut off. After I turned it back towards horizontal it would kick on, then off again when I tried once more. After several minutes of this and scratching my head, I wondered why in the heck would that make any difference? The only thing I can think of is that maybe some board or connection makes poor contact due to gravity. In a moment of inspiration, I turned 90 degrees the other direction so that the buttons were on the right. No issues. Weird!

While Windows was installing I went off looking for one of the old Belkin G wireless adapters I had "retired". I figured they would work, even though they were a pain to configure and were prone to dropping the wireless connection. I looked everywhere but couldn't find them - I must have tossed them in disgust. So it was off again to Best Buy today to pick up a wireless adapter. I steered clear of the Belkin (I really hate them  now more than ever) and picked up a Netgear USB wireless adapter. Although I would have preferred the Linksys, it was more expensive and I need to keep costs down. I thought I was $800 under budget but after adding things up last night it's closer to $500.

Back to last night...Windows installed without a hitch. I thought I would have 64 bit driver issues but nothing has materialized so far. I did install Visual Pinball and tried to run Tales of the Arabian Nights, but it gave me an error. I'm hoping now that I have an internet adapter, downloading updated Nvidia drivers will fix this. If I get it running tonight I'll take some pics for sure.

Next up: install 2nd monitor, download drivers, get Visual Pinball running successfully...

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Convergence

After a week of little activity while I waited for parts, suddenly everything has come together at once. The CPU heatsink & fan arrived yesterday, along with the 28" monitor for the translite/backglass display. Also, I nabbed a Dell LCD monitor (not sure whether its 15" or 17") off Craigslist for $30, only a few miles away. I installed the heatsink & fan, which took over an hour, then headed to bed.

Tonight I'll be starting up the computer, configuring the bios, installing Windows 7 and updating drivers. Hopefully I'll have time to install pinball software, too. I just realized I bought a motherboard with no IDE connections and all I have for DVD drives are IDE, so I'll be heading over to Best Buy to get a SATA version tonight so I can install Windows. Pictures coming soon...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Virtual Pinball Project Begins!

So how does virtual pinball work? Basically you need a cabinet - this can either be an old cabinet no longer in use, or actually building your own out of plywood or MDF. Where a playfield normally goes, an HDTV is inserted instead, rotated 90 degrees. To make the experience even better, a 2nd TV (or monitor) is added to the backbox to simulate the translite, and a 3rd monitor is installed below the 2nd to simulate the Dot Matrix Display, or DMD (which shows scores & animation). A high-powered PC is placed inside the cabinet, equipped with 2 video cards capable of running up to 3 displays. Then extras are added, such as switches and buttons to operate flippers, control the software, power everything up, etc. A subwoofer can be placed in the cabinet, and speakers go in the backbox. Some people are adding LEDs to light up things, flashers, tilt bobs, and even solenoids or motors, to simulate the sounds and feelings of a real machine.

There are two programs that can create and run tables - Visual Pinball, which uses ROMs, and Future Pinball, which are mostly home-made tables. Some people have issues with the physics of Future Pinball, but the tables certainly are beautiful. There is a final bit of software called Hyperpin, a front-end which allows you to scroll through and select various tables.

My project begins with the acquisition of a cabinet. I don't really have the skills to make my own cabinet, although I'd like to try at some point. I decided the easiest way to get started would be to find either a gutted cabinet, or find a machine not working and strip it down. Craigslist seemed like the best way to go, but at first I didn't find anything except an old Captain Fantastic that wasn't working. I should get up on my soapbox and state that the decision to gut a non-working machine should not be made lightly. These are antiques that are becoming harder and harder to find in working condition. If it is at all possible to fix a machine, it should not be gutted for Visual Pinball...there's just something that feels wrong about it, and the Visual Pinball community feels the same way. It will be difficult to get help from the experts if you trash a machine in this manner.

Anyway, it seemed like Captain Fantastic could be fixed, so I steered clear. I live in Portland, but I checked as far away as Seattle and Eugene for cabinets. Then I struck gold. Craigslist can be a fickle thing. It's all about the keywords in your search, because everyone lists things differently. For example, "computer monitor", "lcd monitor", and "flatscreen monitor" can all yield different results. I changed my keywords, and suddenly found someone selling 2 empty cabinets.

I drove over to Beaverton to check them out. One was a Data East Lethal Weapon 3, and the other a Gottlieb Freddie's Nightmare. The Freddie was in a little better shape, but the art was disturbing. I opted for the Lethal Weapon 3. DJ, the seller, was great. We chatted for over an hour as he showed me his collection, including the new Tron Legacy machine - awesome! He works on machines and had lots of advice. I bought the cabinet, which included glass, legs & bolts, coin door, and flipper buttons. Just a note that if you make your own cabinet, these little "extras", which are actually necessary, can cost upwards of $600. Buying a cabinet with all this included saved me a ton of money. DJ was great, throwing in the plunger as well. The plunger is actually shaped like a gun, and looks great. Here are some pics:









Next up was the purchase of the PC. I ordered everything from Newegg, which consisted of a 3.4 ghz Intel I5, MSI motherboard, 8 GB of memory, two video cards, Windows 7 Pro 64-bit, and a 64 GB solid-state drive (no moving parts, good in case you want to "nudge" the machine). During this purchase I made 2 mistakes. The first was getting video cards that were incompatible with Future Pinball, the EVGA GTX 460 SE. The second was forgetting to order a CPU heatsink & thermal paste (more on that in a minute). I did an RMA and sent the two video cards back, while ording two different cards - a 1GB  GTX 460 (no SE model!) and a 1 GB 8400. Here's a view of the PC parts:


While I was waiting for these to arrive, I searched for a TV. A 37" will fit in a standard cabinet, but the bezel has to be removed, voiding the warranty. I wanted to make sure the TV worked properly and had a nice image before doing this, so it has sat boxed up:


Some people had recommended Vizio, but I don't trust that brand's quality. I instead searched Best Buy for an LG model. The problem with LG was the "panel lottery". LG used 2 different LCD panels in their TVs, a VA type and an IPS type. The VA panel looks great when viewed straight on and has fast response times. The problem is that a pinball display is going to be viewed at an angle, making an IPS the better choice. Unfortunately for me, every Best Buy in the area had VA panels. They don't come out and say it, you have to look at the product code on the outside of the box, which I think is kind of sneaky. I opted instead for the Panasonic above, which clearly states "IPS - Alpha" on the outside of the box.

Finally the PC components arrived and I began to put them together. Only then did I realize I had forgot to order a heat sink & thermal paste (I don't trust the heat sink that comes with the processor). So back to Newegg to order more parts, which I am still waiting for and has slowed me down.

After asking more questions on the VPforum site, I ordered a I-PAC controller. This is a keyboard emulator that plugs into the USB port, and is what makes the flippers and other buttons work. As an example, when you run the VP software on a PC, the left shift key activates the left flipper and the right shift key operates the right flipper. By wiring your left flipper button to the I-PAC and assigning it the equivalent of a left shift key press, pressing the left flipper button will then activate the left flipper. It's really incredible!

I have been scouring Craigslist for a cheap 15" monitor to use as my 3rd display, but so far I've been stymied by high prices or long distances. I'm currently $800 under budget and I'd like to keep it that way. Tonight the heatsink and paste should arrive, along with the 2nd monitor, so things should start moving forward again. During the downtime I've been reading a lot, asking questions, and downloading tables. I currently have 80 VP tables downloaded, and I'm only just into the "D" section of the downloads! I can't wait to get this thing going.

Next up: firing up the PC, installing operating system & software, hooking up 2nd monitor.

Virtual Pinball - I'm Hooked!

I originally started this blog last year because I knew I wanted to have one for pinball at some point, even if I wasn't ready to post yet. I have so many other hobbies that this blog has taken a back seat.

About a month ago I stumbled across a site called VPForums. It's a hosting site for Visual Pinball, a program that uses PinMAME to simulate real pinball tables, from all eras. PinMAME is a pinball emulator that uses ROMS from the original game to make the simulation authentic. I had played with this program years ago on my PC...there was a novelty to it, it was neat at first, but I lost interest when I started acquiring the real things. My roommate and I own a Scared Stiff, White Water, Creature From the Black Lagoon, Popeye, and Junkyard, so that's where my focus has been. The games are expensive to acquire and repair, but they are a blast to play. There's so many more tables I'd love to own: Tales of the Arabian Nights, Theatre of Magic, Attack From Mars, Medieval Madness, Fish Tales, Indiana Jones, Lord of the Rings, Monster Bash - just to name a few! I know I'll never have the money or space to acquire all these machines. In fact, Junkyard was the last machine we picked up over a year and a half ago, and it might be the last.

Not long after I picked up Junkyard, something happened in the Virtual Pinball community. Something wonderful and amazing.

Visual Pinball went open source.

Suddenly there was an explosion of talent, imagination, know-how, drive, and co-operation. Overnight this community grew into a legitimate hobby. People started programming. Others started rebuilding table files. Next thing you know, still others are building cabinets and creating a pinball simulator that is, quite simply, stunning. You have to see it to believe it. Here is a Youtube link to give you an idea of what I'm talking about:

Pinball emulation

I was immediately hooked. Here was a chance to "own" and play all the tables I never would be able to. I had to have one of these for myself. So I started reading. And reading. And reading some more. There are still things I don't understand. I still have questions. But the building of my very own virtual pinball cabinet has begun!

Next up: the build so far and pictures.