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Homebrew TNA inspired build (first time build)


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This year I built my first pinball machine and I thought I'd share my experience. If you've been thinking about building your own pin and not sure whether you have the skills to get it done, I'm writing this for you. Seeing other people's builds helped motivate me to get started, so hopefully I can do the same for somebody else.

 

Deciding to start (December 2017)

I've always wanted to build my own pin, but I hesitated for years due to seeing comments and forum threads saying that it takes multiple years and you shouldn't even try unless you have extensive experience in repairing machines.

I'm not an engineer, I don't own any pins and I knew very little about electronics and programming before I started this project. So the idea that I would one day build my own pin always felt like a pipe-dream.

This year I decided to just do it and see what happens. Worst case, I would have a lot of parts to sell on eBay and lose some money.

 

I'm an impatient person so I didn't like the idea of working on this project for multiple years. A mate of mine has been restoring a car for over 10 years and I don't see him finishing in the next ten years. I don't have that kind of patience.

Some people recommend buying a beat up pin and retheme it as a way to learn and 'build' a pin at the same time. That's definitely a smart approach, but I wanted the full experience of building a pin from sheets of plywood and parts.

 

So I took the plunge and ordered some parts for the lower third mechanisms along with FAST hardware. I set myself a big goal to have a complete pin built within six months (see Parkinson's Law for why I set such a tight deadline for myself).

 

Layout

With such a tight deadline to build my pin, I settled on a middle-ground between re-themeing a pin and building one completely from scratch. I'd start with a pin layout I liked, then modify the layout with any changes I preferred over the original.

 

My plan was to make a simple pin that borrows from an established pin's layout so I can learn everything I need to in a short timeframe. Then if I succeed with this 'practice' pin, I'll be confident enough to build a proper pin with a completely original layout. In other words, this build is my attempt of playing it safe with a 'practice' build.

 

While waiting for my parts to arrive (from USA to Australia), I analyzed and compared countless pins. I wanted something basic that wouldn't overwhelm me. After a couple of weeks, I decided my layout would be based on TNA. No ramps meant I didn't need to spend time learning how to vacuum form plastics or deal with wire ramps. It's a relatively simple layout without any toys or complicated mechanisms.

 

Note: I realize that many people probably don't agree with my decision to basically copy an established pin's layout. Scott Danesi has done an incredible job with TNA and I am a big fan of his work. It will be clear that I heavily relied on his website for information, so Scott deserves all the credit for anything positive with my build.

 

First flip (January 2018)

It took a month for all of my parts to arrive from the US. In that time I researched as much as I could on pinball mechanisms, the basics of electricity so I wouldn't kill myself, and I learned how to use MPF.

When my parts finally arrived, I set up the mechanisms on MDF and wired it all up in a weekend.

 

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The first time you get a flipper working is such an amazing experience. It starts to feel like a real project and was enough to push me along during the painfully tedious work yet to come.

 

I ordered more parts and by the 25th of January, I had the basic layout set up and working on my practice MDF:

 

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If you compare the above layout with TNA, you can see how heavily my pin is based on TNA. I removed the lower pop bumper as I felt it made things a bit too chaotic. While that does mean there are a lot of standup targets in the main area, it does change the gameplay quite a bit. I added a more traditional pop bumper layout in the upper section and while it gives you less control compared to TNA, I like how it plays.

 

I only wired up the flippers, one slingshot and the scoop. I know other people like to wire up the entire playfield in the whitewood phase, but I wanted to do as little wiring as possible so I could move on to building the real playfield. I only wired the scoop up to make sure it wouldn't eject the ball straight through the middle.

 

Building the cabinet (February)

One thing I like about older pins is the way the playfield is quite close to the glass. Modern pins need room for all the ramps and toys, so the deck is quite far away from the glass in the upper section. The flat design of TNA meant I could design my cabinet so the glass sits at the same angle as the playfield.

By the end of the weekend, this is what I had:

 

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By the following weekend, it looked like this:

 

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I wasn't really concerned about building a backbox as it wasn't important at this stage.

 

I only worked on the cabinet during weekends (noisy work), so during weeknights I worked on the insert layout (silent work). Here's an example of a layout I was toying with:

 

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I settled on a layout that fit with the theme I had in my head and traced the layout onto paper to be scanned. I only have an A4 size scanner, so it was a bit messy lining everything up in Photoshop.

 

I'm definitely no Zombie Yeti, so I kept things basic with my playfield art. I plan on spending a lot of time learning how to draw so my next pin playfield can have some actual art on it. But as this is my 'practice' pin, I'm happy with what I came up with.

 

My RGB display also arrived from China and looks amazing. Full credit to MPF for explaining how to set up a RGB DMD using standard parts from China and a Teensy controller (check their docs for details).

 

Routing, Art, and Backbox (March)

So far, everything was running smoothly. My cabinet didn't fall over, everything I plugged in worked, and I was still alive.

 

I don't have a CNC and don't have any local access to one, so I was about to enter the worst phase of this entire build. Up until this point I was loving the project and couldn't wait for the weekend so I could lock myself in all day to work on it. Now I had to router each individual insert to the exact size and depth, along with every other hole for mechanisms.

If you've built a pin and used a CNC, you don't know how good you had it.

 

Here's the first stage of routing the insert holes:

 

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And here's the second stage:

 

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I think it's safe to say that I'll be buying a CNC for my next build. If you have access to a CNC for your project, use it!

 

After I finished sanding the inserts down, my prints arrived from India (but it was an Australian site that didn't say anything about India!!). To my amazement, the print lined up perfectly with the routed playfield. What a relief! I stuck the decal down and managed to line it up perfectly. I sprayed a clear coat over it after testing the spray with some off-cuts and went to bed with a big grin on my face.

 

The next day I woke up to find massive bubbling and warping all over the playfield. The clearcoat has reacted with the decal and completely trashed it. I immediately ripped it off the playfield and threw it in the bin so I don't have any photos to show how bad it was.

The test offcuts were still completely fine, so I guess I just sprayed too much on the playfield.

 

I decided to buy from a different company (that actually prints in Australia) for a better quality print so I wouldn't need to use clearcoat. When the print arrived, I cut out all the holes only to find the scale was off.

 

It turns out that because I didn't mark a bleed section, they decided to adjust the scale to 'add' a bleed. Not the smartest choice for a pinball playfield. They sent out another print and while it was slightly off, it was close enough that I just went ahead and stuck it down. By this point I was burned out dealing with problems in prints, so it was time to move on.

 

The vinyl decals for the cabinet were great and the colours really pop in person:

 

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To make this, I downloaded a massive hi-res photo from NASA of a nebula and messed around with the colours and slapped my Hyperdrive logo over it. Nice and simple for my first build.

 

The backbox was quick and easy to build:

 

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I whipped up a design for the translite and ordered it off Noodle Shirt from this forum. He was great to deal with and I love the quality of the display.

 

Here's the backbox lit up with the RGB DMD running on MPF:

 

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Wiring, metal, plastics (April)

Wiring is almost as tedious as routing insert holes. I didn't even both wiring up the entire playfield on my practice MDF because I didn't want to deal with all the wiring. Well done to anybody who has wired multiple whiteboards for their pins, I don't know how you have the patience.

 

The FAST LEDs were painless to wire together:

 

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It quickly became tedious as I started wiring up all the switches, mechanisms, and GI LEDs. Here's my bird's nest:

 

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Again, I have a lot of respect for anybody who has the patience to bundle their wires neatly.

 

When I finished wiring everything, set up everything in MPF, and turned it on, this is what I got:

 

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All of the LEDs were meant to be white in the above photo...

 

This issue taught me how to use a multimeter and the basics of current and voltage. After a lot of head-scratching, I found and fixed a few shorted connections and everything worked perfectly.

 

This simple layout only required two metal parts: one for the orbit and one for the shooter ramp. These simple parts helped me learn the basics of using CAD software and gave me plenty of confidence for any future pins I build that may use metal ramps.

 

To finish the playfield, I cut out paper to size up the plastic parts I needed:

 

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I scanned the paper parts into my PC and came up with a very basic design to be printed as a sticker on top of the plastics. The idea was to have something plain and white/grey so the RGB GIs could light up in any color as needed.

 

Here's the finished playfield:

 

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Coding, music, sfx, DMD animations (May)

The theme of the pin, Hyperdrive, is you're a space pirate and you go on missions. There are six missions you can work through while you're being hunted by the federation. The goal is to get through all six missions so you can battle the federation flagship.

 

As I'm a guitarist, it didn't take long to whip up a few 30-second loopable tracks. The idea was for each mission to have distinctive music and lighting.

 

It was also easy sorting out sfx as there are many sites with downloadable sfx. As my theme is sci-fi, I was able to find plenty of sci-fi sounds on sites built for game developers. For call-outs, I used a text-to-speech program and added filters over the output to produce a futuristic sounding AI.

 

The animations were the hardest part. I went with a traditional DMD style display because I felt it would be far easier than creating content for an LCD display. I quickly learned that it takes a lot of work to create pixel art.

 

Here's an example of an animation I created in Adobe After Effects:

 

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Here's an example of seven frames of a pixel animation created using Aseprite:

 

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Those seven frames took ages to create yet are over in a flash. The mode using this animation displays nine asteroids that match the nine standup targets. When you hit a target, a laser fires from your ship and blows up the asteroid. Lots of work for something a lot of players don't even look at.

 

Here are the asteroids on the DMD during play:

 

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It's great fun to watch the animations come to life on the DMD after all that work!

 

Coding was a challenge because there's so much to do. There's plenty of great tutorials and documentation for MPF, but it's still a massive mountain you need to climb. My pin build was 'finished' in May, but I'm still working on the coding today (November). It seems any time I add something new and take one step forward, bugs appear that takes me three steps back.

 

The Danesi lock lane was such a great feature of TNA, so I couldn't help myself by including it in my pin. I adjusted mine to remove the third drop target and scoop. I didn't feel they were necessary and the two drop targets and a standup target were enough. It was a big challenge getting it to work properly, but now that it does work, it's such a fun feature.

 

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Having full RGB LEDs for inserts as well as GI gives you plenty of freedom for some interesting lighting effects. Here are some photos from different modes:

 

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Lessons Learned

While I'm still working on coding and animations, I basically built my pin from start to finish within five months. Much of that time was waiting from parts to arrive from China or USA and I had a three week overseas holiday half-way through the build. I made a lot of mistakes along the way and spent many hours trying to find a shorted wire or scratching my head wondering why my code wasn't working.

If you've been thinking about building your own pin but don't know if you have the skills needed, go for it. I'm an average guy and had no experience with any of this before, so if I could build a functioning pin in this short timeframe, you'll be fine.

 

Here are some big lessons I learned along the way:

 

Expect things to not work: my DMD didn't work at first. It took me a week to figure out how to get it running. It took me ages to figure out why some of my LEDs were fine, while others were dim. When things don't go to plan, just push through it. If you keep working on it and try to look at problems from different perspectives, you'll figure it out.

 

Plan ahead: I knew I would have to wait 2-4 weeks for any parts to arrive, so I planned ahead of time so I wouldn't be sitting there doing nothing while waiting for parts.

 

Have a checklist: Write a checklist with every possible thing you think you need to do to build your pin. Then every time you finish a task, cross it off your list. It might not sound like much, but a big part of why I was able to get through this build was seeing my checklist and crossing items off of it. A checklist turns a massive project into a list of very small and achievable tasks. Most people don't think they could possibly build a pinball machine, but when you break the tasks down, they start to look easy.

 

Watch out for the whitewood void: you might have noticed that I didn't even bother to wire up everything on my practice MDF. That was on purpose. Have a look at other people's builds and you'll notice that a lot of people are stuck in what I call the 'whitewood void'. This 'void' is the timesink where you find it hard to push forward. It's what turns a six-month project into a three-year project. When you have a fully-functional whitewood set up, it's a big job to dismantle everything and reassemble it again on your 'proper' board. So you have very little incentive to push forward. Instead, you find other things to do such as coding. So you end up spending the next 12 months coding on a whitewood instead of coding on a 'finished' playfield.

I was able to skip the whiteboard phase because I basically copied somebody else's layout. If I were to design a completely original layout, my goal would be to get out of the whitewood void as soon as possible. While I expect my next build to take longer as I have big goals for it, I don't plan on getting stuck in the void.

 

This is an expensive hobby: I had no idea how much it would cost to build a pinball machine. It also doesn't help that all the good pinball parts are from the US. If you're wondering, the total cost to build my machine (I wrote down every cent I spent) was: $4153.80

 

If you have the money and patience to build your own pin, I highly recommend it. It's the most rewarding thing I've ever done and this basic build has given me the confidence to build a 'proper' original pin.

 

Hopefully somebody found my rambling useful. Thanks to this awesome community, MPF, and the FAST slack group for support! I'm still a beginner when it comes to building pins, but if anybody has questions I'll be happy to share my limited experience.

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Fantastic write up, and well done, very impressive.

I am just debating on doing a rule rewrite/ retheme and as I am not sure of what machine I have been looking at Lisy, Proc, fast,and opp.

I think MPF is the way to go and you may find me asking a few questions along the way. :)

I am looking forward to any updates you do.

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Any video of this in action?

 

I'll have a go recording something this weekend. Hopefully I can avoid bugs while recording :)

 

Fantastic write up, and well done, very impressive.

I am just debating on doing a rule rewrite/ retheme and as I am not sure of what machine I have been looking at Lisy, Proc, fast,and opp.

I think MPF is the way to go and you may find me asking a few questions along the way. :)

I am looking forward to any updates you do.

 

I found MPF pretty easy to learn (thanks to the docs), but seeing as it's the only option with FAST hardware, I'm not able to compare it with other options that are available with Proc hardware. I would've liked to be able to experiment with other software options.

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Nice work and such a quick learning curve, very impressive.

 

Honestly, the pin your the most proud of is always going to be the one you build yourself and at 4000 odd dollars, probably the cheapest as well.

 

I understand some like originals but when you start changing things from original, it isn't exactly original now is it and for that reason I agree, build one from scratch and let your imagination give the ideas and enjoy the whole pinball build part, not just the parts swapping but I can also build with my hands and I'm sure many can't so for that reason I say do what you can do, it is all work to be proud of when you do it yourself no matter how big a part whether it be just changing a flipper to building a full pinball from scratch.

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Can you post a picture/list of the Fast setup you have used. I assume you would have bought one of the kits?

 

Here's everything I ordered from FAST:

Starter bundle: (1x Nano controller, 1x I/O 3208, 1x I/O 0804, 50x RGB LEDs)

1x Power interface board

1x I/O 1616

 

This was actually more than I needed and I have a spare 0804 board for my next pin.

 

I was a bit confused by the way FAST name their boards, so I'll explain it incase it helps someone.

 

The Nano Controller is the brain of the hardware. It connects to the computer via USB and all the I/O boards are connected to it with RJ45 cables. RGB LEDs connect to the nano in series. I used the 50 FAST LEDs for inserts and bought other RGB LEDs from Alibaba for GI. They worked fine when I wasn't shorting connections.

 

The Power interface board connects to your power supplies (48v and 5/12v) and is used for fuses (it didn't come with any so I had to buy some separately) and filtering the power (I don't know enough about electronics to explain much more than that). FAST also sell power supplies, but I found it cheaper to just buy them from eBay.

 

The I/O boards connect to drivers and switches. FAST use direct switches and from memory PROC uses a switch matrix (edit: Gerry from Multimorphic contacted me to let me know this is incorrect. P-ROC has both direct switches and switch matrix, and P3-ROC uses direct switch inputs).

 

The way the I/O boards are named is the first two digits tells you how many switches are on the board. The second two digits tell you how many drivers are on the board.

So the 3208 board has 32 switches and 8 drivers.

 

My pin only needed 16 drivers and I forget how many switches, so I didn't need the 0804 in the end. You can see the 3208 and 1616 boards mounted under the playfield in one of my earlier photos.

 

Hope that helps, let me know if you have any other questions. The FAST website doesn't have much information, which I found really frustrating, so I'm happy to help out any way I can.

Edited by matthies
Incorrect information about P-ROC
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Well done! you really just got on with it, and made it happen.

 

I like the artwork and the use of colour. I've never played a TNA but have watched a fair amount of video and boy it looks f-a-s-t.

 

Like others have said i'd love to see a video to watch and listen to!

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Thanks mate, this is the best info I have seen so far.

I have just installed Python 3.6 and MPF 50.1 which was a bit of a battle. The MPF install guide gives the wrong command line instructions for installing and upgrading this version. I guess there might be an updated manual somewhere so will have to have a look.

You suggest to run the Demo__Man file but I only have a link to version 33 which doesn't appear to run on version 50.

 

My next step will be to go through the tutorials :D

Your thread has given me a great incentive to learn this and have a go at my retheme.

Keep up the good work.

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Thanks mate, this is the best info I have seen so far.

You suggest to run the Demo__Man file but I only have a link to version 33 which doesn't appear to run on version 50.

 

The 'dev' example bundle on this page was created for 0.50 (back when 0.50 was the dev release) so try that one out. If you download any other example projects (there's a great Spaceballs project by John Marsh on Github), you'll know if it's for 0.50 if the top line of any config file shows #config_version=5

 

Glad to hear my thread helped motivate you in some way! I'll be looking forward to seeing how you go.

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Here's a quick video of my poor pinball skills to show the game in action:

 

 

There were a few bugs during recording, so you can see I still have a lot of work to do. The ball lock didn't capture the second ball properly, which messed everything up and broke the game. 90% of the time the ball locks work perfectly, so I still need to tweak some settings.

 

I created all of the music using a program called FL Studio and watched a few tutorials on YouTube to learn how to write synthwave style music. It was a pretty easy program to learn and a simple style of music to write.

 

You can see some of the animations during the Mining mission. My goal is for every mode to have animations on the DMD. The idea of the game is to complete six missions, then battle a warship in a big wizard mode.

 

Love to hear any feedback or constructive criticism on how I can improve the game.

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It’s great. My feedback would be to beef up the spinner sound with more base. Can you add a other spinner on the right? Maybe some electrical gates at the top so the orbits aren’t always possible and the ball is forced into the pops. I also dont think putting some artwork on the plastics will take anything away from the great flight show. When this is done you should take it to some shows.

 

 

Sent from my iPhone using Aussie Arcade

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Have you played TNA?

 

I haven't had the opportunity to play TNA yet, but I'm planning on going up to Flipout next weekend and I think they have one. I'm really keen to see how it compares.

 

It’s great. My feedback would be to beef up the spinner sound with more base. Can you add a other spinner on the right? Maybe some electrical gates at the top so the orbits aren’t always possible and the ball is forced into the pops. I also dont think putting some artwork on the plastics will take anything away from the great flight show. When this is done you should take it to some shows.

 

Thanks for your feedback. If I could go back I would definitely put another spinner on the right side so I could also have insert LEDs under it. I bought gates but during testing I decided I liked the challenge of trying to get the ball up to the top without a gate. If I change my mind it's easy enough to add them in.

I agree that I could do a lot more with the art on the plastics without it taking away from the light shows.

 

....what brand of addressable LED did you use for the inserts? and where do you get them????

 

The insert LEDs are from FAST Pinball. They have a starter pack that includes 50x LEDs.

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Absolutely epic achievement! Thanks for all the info and write up.

 

Looks and sounds great and am keen for you to give us a blow by blow description of your next one.

 

I understand what you are saying about hooking in and getting the job done however there is a risk of burnout or frustration as well. When I built my medieval madness is took a few years but I went into it with no finish date expectations as I wanted to enjoy the whole process without putting pressure on myself. Congrats again on a super cool result.

 

Sent from my ALP-L29 using Tapatalk

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Dude this is crazy awesome. Just wow.

 

Hat off to you mate. You’ve created a work of art. I love SciFi, so this really blows my mind. Maybe after I’m finished my JP rebuild I might give it a crack.

Farout - epic.

 

 

Sent from my iPhone using Aussie Arcade

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