In 2020 I decided to build a virtual pinball machine for my parents. Based on this amazing guide from MJR I spent nearly six months working weekends to build an awesome little machine. The body is made out of hardwood, and the games are driven by an X86 computer. An Arduino reads a variable resistor hooked up to the physical plunger, reads inputs from the buttons and allows for realistic nudging. Three monitors are used, one for the play area, one for the DMD display area and one for the back glass. I custom designed the body to fit my components using SketchUp and 3D printed a number of parts, including a case for the Arduino, button spacers, monitor rests, and housing for the plunger accelerometer.

It was my first time doing any wood working since middle school, and my first time soldering since college. I definitely made a few mistakes, but the end result came out great. The physical plunger drives the virtual plunger beautifully and the nudge sensing from the Arduino’s accelerometer really add to the immersion.

Aside from the build being a success, my parents love it! I had bought my mom a switch since she had played through every main-line Zelda game, but her early stage dementia kept her from being able to make much progress. My parents both love pinball and own a few physical machines, so I figured building a machine that could play hundreds of games they remembered from their past would be a hit. For the last two years my mom and dad have played it daily, and it has given them something to do that is simple enough for my mom to still enjoy. Unfortunately she is getting to the point where even playing pinball is a struggle, but I’m proud that I produced something that could provide my parents some happiness through difficult times.