I’ve always been enthralled with pinball since I was a kid growing up in the 80’s and visiting the arcade in the mall. I grew up in the very rural regions of Montana though, so I was only able to visit that mall on occasion when we made the 2-hour drive into “the city”. Even then, my family did not have a lot of money so I rarely had money to spend to actually play myself. I could watch others though. As I grew up, arcades had started their decline and by the time I left for college at the turn of the millennium, they all but ceased to exist.
Now that I’m out of college and employed I find myself regretting the lost opportunities to play these great machines. Turning to craigslist and eBay you can still find machines going up for sale but at remarkably high prices. For the more “Modern” 80’s and 90’s machines you’re looking at a few thousand, minimum. Even the older electro-mechanical machines go for several hundred. The popular machines, like my favorite Medieval Madness, will set you back upwards of $10,000 for an original. The remakes go for a pretty penny too.
So what is a lowly engineer to do? Why engineer one of course!
This does present a whole host of challenges though. By trade, I’m an electrical engineer. This gives me a decent understanding of what’s involved in the electronics of a pinball machine. I understand how to read the multitude of switches (both physical and opto), how to control all the indicators, how to control solenoids, play sound, and drive a display. What I don’t know is mechanical engineering or carpentry.
I’m committed though, and the best way to learn is by doing. I welcome you to join me on this adventure as I bumble my way through this project learning as I go. One thing I quickly realized when embarking on this hobby is there isn’t a whole lot of information out there on the web. You’ll find tidbits here and there, a few YouTube videos, but they’re all more or less at a high-level general explanation rather than a detailed how-to guide.
My hope is that this website can inspire and help others who, like me, may decide to travel down this complicated yet fulfilling adventure. While a couple companies still exist making commercial machines (only Stern of the original), they’re very much a niche market.