(Topic ID: 299688)

Tips on playfield design for a homebrew machine

By laurel

44 days ago


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  • 19 Pinsiders participating
  • Latest reply 36 days ago by TreyBo69
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    #1 44 days ago

    Hey there!

    This is my first Pinside post, so please let me know if I can improve in any way!
    I have been looking to build a homebrew pinball for a very long time (accumulating ideas for a few years) and really aim to build my own machines as passion projects. The topic of discussion here is not quite about if my ideas are feasible, or to talk about the complexity of building a pinball machine from scratch, I am well aware of that. The discussion I aim for is more related to the actual "game design" phase: taking ideas, and creating a layout and rules that fit hand-in-hand with these ideas and theme. And I am having somewhat of a mental blockage.

    I have been collecting ideas in a google doc for well over a year, and I have my theme nailed-down. The theme I chose is the "Incas". My wife is Peruvian, and we both love the Peruvian culture, and I'd love to make homage to this culture by building a very unique machine for her. I am very happy with the level of research and ideas that I was able to come with, and it makes me very excited about this project, but I am having difficulty transforming these ideas into an actual playfield layout. I have been searching all over the internet, and watch pretty much all of the videos about "creating your own machine", pinballmakers, etc, but haven't found relevant information on the process of taking a 10-page list of ideas and transforming it into an actual game design / playfield design. I find information about the basics of a pinball layout (shots shouldn't be too narrow, flow vs stopngo, fan layouts, what not to do, etc), but I find that there is a lack of resources about designing layouts and modes around ideas, focussing on the creative side of things. I felt that starting with a theme, and brainstorming about it to come up with interesting ideas would probably be a good 1st step, even before thinking about layout (as opposed to coming up with a layout, and adding a theme to it afterwards), but it is definitely challenging to say the least!

    If you're interested, free to take a look at my notes (I would LOVE feedback):
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1OND4lqxVXjkcKN6XI5OvdXnak9rI2vY7R9QuXz8HkdI/edit?usp=sharing

    I would love to have some feedback on how I could take these ideas, and transform them into a layout. I do not have as much experience with pinball as others may have, so I am still in the learning phase of "figuring out the ruleset, gamemodes, and layout".

    Any tips, help and feedback would be greatly appreciated!
    And if anybody is very interested in this, I am more than happy to bring people on and collaborate on this passion project!

    PS: I work in software engineering, so as you guys might spend time helping me, please let me know if I can do anything to help you as well, with your projects!

    #3 44 days ago

    Wow, there is a lot to go over in your google doc, but I like what I've seen so far.
    Inevitably, you are going to do some trial and error with your playfield, figuring out what works and what doesn't. You'll probably have several versions of your playfield.
    You're the one who knows best what end result you're looking for. It's a bit hard to give you guidelines of how to design a playfield because there are no rules to playfield design, especially with homebrews. Just try experimenting with shots on paper or vpx or photoshop or whatever you use. Play around with it until you have something you like.
    One last thing, if you really like the layout or a certain shot on a machine that already exists, get inspired by that. Make a shot and/or mech on the playfield to work around, you'll be surprised how quickly the rest will fall into place.

    #4 44 days ago
    Quoted from snowy_owl:

    Wow, there is a lot to go over in your google doc, but I like what I've seen so far.

    What he said!

    #5 44 days ago

    If you go P3 You only have to design the back third of the play field with the front 2/3 taken care of by the platform. It’s a quick way to get going particularly for someone strong and software and can leverage the unique features of the P3.

    #6 44 days ago

    You have a large wish list for elements you would like to put in the game. I would put prioritizing this part of the design front and center and work your theme around what’s fun to hit and within your skills to build. If you are going with a traditional machine format, the first decision will be the playfield and cabinet width. Will you be cannibalizing another machine for the cabinet? If so, that sets your width. Generally, widebody machines tend to have a slower feel to the game, although active elements in the lower play field or an increased slope can change that. An early decision will be how many ball paths will lead from the mid playfield to the upper play field. I’ve found that paths less than 1.5x ball width are very difficult to hit and 2x width a practical minimum for my playing skill. Between each ball path will need to be a post or target which also gobbles up width. These will be primary constraints on your geometry. One thought I have about the theme, the blocky pyramid Architecture is at odds with the sloping nature of pinball ramps. To me, this calls out for an upper play field being the top of a pyramid (or plaza) with a ramp hidden on the side. Pops can be trees and jungle. A toy that drops into the mid playfield ghost busters style gains you a removable target. These are just ideas worth what you paid for them. Oh, how are you controlling? Multimorphic, FAST or cobra? MPF?

    #7 44 days ago

    https://pinballmakers.com/ has a lot of great info, especially on construction and also the pros and cons of the different controllers available.

    There are a few options for ways to create the code, but I think most use Mission Pinball, which is pretty robust. You can start playing around with it by working through the tutorial at https://missionpinball.org/

    This sounds like an awesome thing and you have a lot of cool ideas for rules.

    #8 44 days ago

    In my opinion, the best way to start building machines is to start building a machine. Doesn’t matter if you start with foam core and tape, or plywood and posts with rubber bands. Just go build your first playfield. You can do this with a reasonable investment, and you will learn a ton. Get a drill and pop some lights through the playfield in the old Bally style. Modify it to understand angles. Then flop it aside and build another, but using your new skills you learned on the first.

    When you build something, no matter how bad, it teaches you how to build your next.

    For me, I got into my second build and realized it wasn’t fun. I love repairing them, but building from scratch just isn’t my jam.

    #9 44 days ago

    I'd skip the P3 module.. I love the platform but that really only makes sense if you're also going to invest in a P3.. and they ain't cheap You've got a lot of solid ideas down -- if you really want to maximize what you incorporate than I agree that a wide body is the way to go... that said, you're spending THAT much more time getting the layout worked out, more $$ on mechs & electronics & parts probably, and in the end a slower game. Guess it depends how much time you expect to put into this and if you like wide body machine play or want something faster.. Also with wide body there's less donor cab's available so you might be looking most definitely at buying new (I think virtualpin does wide bodies?) or building yourself.

    You've got a lot of elements and wishes for a first homebrew. Take whatever time you think this will take and multiply by like 3 (at least) lol. Same with $$.

    Sounds like you're ready to start building a foamcore though. Decide on wide or standard and go for it! Cut a blank piece of ply and start hot gluing foamcore and cardboard, go nuts! Even better if you can decide on a boardset first, and get the lower 3rd in so you have working flippers and slings to shoot balls around while you test things out and move things.

    As mentioned - shots are really limited by that ball width factor + whatever protective element or target that sandwiches them.. so realistically on a standard game with a fan layout I think most get between 6-8 shots if I remember right? Upper playfield is slightly easier than the lower.. the windows for lower playfields are a bit of a pain to deal with. certainly doable though.. just not sure how fun they are for the effort.

    Love the starmap in the backglass area with spinning discs. I'd ditch the apron LCD and just track relics with inserts. Once you get 1/2 thru, you may find yourself ditching some overly ambitious ideas like the ropes and apron LCD.

    Have you seen the "Escape from the lost world" pin? You should check it out.. I could see something similar on yours with an upper playfield shot thru a backboard.. and if you had a bridge like escape.. that is a FUN shot when you make it! Does take up some space though.

    Look into a 3d printer if you don't already have one. It's nice to have spare mechs on hand too.. I'd make a big order from pinball life and pick up a target, sling stuff, 2 full flipper setups, maybe a rubber kit, some posts, and a few things you'll likely use but don't know where they go yet. Having them as reference for size is really nice.. then you can mock up accurately with foamcore.

    Most importantly - don't forget to document your journey here! Love following Homebrew threads!

    #10 43 days ago

    I’m a designer, not of pinball machines, but of video games and other things. The best advice I can give is that design is iterative. It’s like making soup. You need to build something (prototype), try it (taste the soup) and if you are a good judge of taste you will know what needs to change. So relating to your question of what should come first: theme, ideas, or layout, the answer is kind of none of the above. You should have some general ideas about all of that, build something and try it, and that will inform all of it. You will find theme will influence layout, layout might change your theme somewhat, you will come up with new ideas while prototyping. In a creative process one may make dozens of prototypes each getting more refined and closer to a cohesive experience. With the physical labor of making actual playfield prototypes maybe that many isn’t feasible, but the main point again is that it’s an iterative process and not linear. Good luck!

    #11 43 days ago

    First of all, massive thanks for all the help and tips you guys provided above, I am truly appreciative, and it gives me a very solid idea of my next steps in this journey. Here are some recurrent elements that I see in all of your tips that I need to focus on next:

    - Decide on the playfield size (standard or widebody)
    - Decide on what controller (p3, fast)
    - Get started on prototyping asap, and test a lot of different layouts

    A while ago, I was leaning towards P3, but recently, after looking at "thepinballroom" youtube channel, he's using fast, and it seems to be a very solid system as well, and their starter bundle could help get a lower 3rd setup quickly, and start prototyping (Any thoughts on which controller is best?). As for the code, I am aiming for MPF. I like that you can also go out of their config files and write your own code (so if ruleset becomes very deep, I won't hit a wall). As for playfield size, I went to my local pinball arcade yesterday, and still can't quite make my mind to my preference. I personally like pins that are focussed on hitting specific shots, even if it doesn't quite "flow", so maybe a widebody could be a good fit for this game, but TBD.

    Very good point jackd104 , I appreciate your input as a designer!
    I appreciate your feedback snowy_owl , helps me a lot!
    I like the ideas of the blocky pyramid being an upper playfield Cmartin1235 !
    And Mbecker, very good point on the lower playfield, I played "Munsters" pinball yesterday, and the "window under a glass" situation was really not that great, and made me rethink if it's worth giving up a lot of playfield space for artwork and inserts to have a lower playfield... Maybe not anymore. And I have not checked the "Escape from the lost world" pin yet, but will make sure to check it out!

    One thing for sure, I will update this thread regularly, and post any kind of updates, and prototypes, so you guys can also provide some feedback on those, if you're interested

    #12 43 days ago

    I'd personally agree with most everything said. Just start building. The pool of ideas to draw from is good inspiration, but I found while building Spaceballs that a lot of my ideas ended up being tossed once I started actually implementing them.

    I personally used FAST and MPF, which I recommend, but you can build a pinball machine successfully with the others also.

    My #1 suggestion? Enjoy it! Don't make yourself beholden to deadlines or anyone else. It's your game, have fun with it. There may be weeks or months you don't feel like working on it. That's normal and don't beat yourself up over it. It's a long process.

    ENJOY IT!

    #13 43 days ago
    #14 43 days ago

    Have you heard of Cobrapin? Instead of having to buy 4+ boards for multiple hundreds of dollars, it's all contained one one board. cobra18t sells them here on pinside I believe.
    Also, Visual Pinball is a fantastic program for prototyping playfield digitally. You can put all the usual mechs on a playfield and then actually play the game to see if the flow works! As a software guy this should be right up your alley. It's not perfect, but it helps you get a decent idea about what layouts may work, how wide ramps/shots need to be, how difficult shots may be, etc etc

    #15 43 days ago

    I used multimorphic boards on my home brew, my current project and plan to for my next one in the early design stage. I like that board set because it is well supported in Skeleton Game and MPF with native support for steppers and servos. Very robust.

    #16 43 days ago

    I have found the FAST pinball system to work very well, and it's pretty straightforward. P3 and cobrapin will also work fine, each system has pros and cons.

    #17 43 days ago

    I think whatever boardset someone started with, they are likely to recommend because they all seem fairly similar and few issues so far with any.. Cobrapin def. has a good price point, but the limitation is that if you need additional drivers or switches you need to buy another cobrapin board which I believe is more expensive than adding a multimorphic or FAST specific switch/driver board.

    FAST <--> Multimorphic .. there's some cost difference depending on how many LEDs, drivers, and switches you want. With FAST - the LEDS are all serial, so if one starts to flake out it tends to affect others down the line. Multimorphic allows a hybrid LED system so some can be parallel and some in series.. but I believe you have to buy driver boards for them whereas FAST has 256 channels built into the main NANO board. I personally went FAST and am very happy with the system.

    Sounds like a wide body could work for you. If you can find the Doom custom pinball on youtube, check that out. (It might only be on a thread here, not positive).. that's one of the few very detailed wide bodies I've seen done homebrew. I could see it being similar to what you might want.. swap the theme and graphics and such, add an upper playfield. Even upper PFs - it's hard to make them fun though.. (see about every game Spooky has done). Course some people love em and some hate em.

    #18 43 days ago

    If you have trouble coming up with a layout and you want one that "just works":

    - Go to the Stern website (or any other company, but Stern is the most consistent for this), pick a game you like.
    - Download the manual.
    - Import it in Photoshop/GIMP.
    - Choose a page with the shots visible, crop the image to the playfield size.

    Now you can mark the position or angles of the shots you like, what you want to change, where you want to place cool mechs or whatever you want to do.
    You can also repeat the process and overlap the images into one, so that e.g. you pick the center ramp on Aerosmith, the left drop targets on AIQ, the right scoop from GOTG, etc.

    -----

    Here are 2 examples for so you see what I mean with this process: I exported the cropped playfield and imported them in Future Pinball, then I just messed around and made a layout:

    pasted_image (resized).png
    pasted_image (resized).png
    This was made (not completed tho) with the Star Wars and Batman '66 manual. For Star Wars, I kept the position of the left ramp, and the angle of the right ramp (but I moved it further down). Then for B66, I liked the spinner shot that sort of stops dead, so I copied it. The left ramp is now a loop. I just copied the right loop and the TV targets as well. The rest is filler.

    pasted_image (resized).png
    This is from recently when I tried to make a Houdini clone with one less shot, but it was the same process.

    #19 43 days ago
    Quoted from Mbecker:

    I think whatever boardset someone started with, they are likely to recommend because they all seem fairly similar and few issues so far with any.. Cobrapin def. has a good price point, but the limitation is that if you need additional drivers or switches you need to buy another cobrapin board which I believe is more expensive than adding a multimorphic or FAST specific switch/driver board.
    FAST <--> Multimorphic .. there's some cost difference depending on how many LEDs, drivers, and switches you want. With FAST - the LEDS are all serial, so if one starts to flake out it tends to affect others down the line. Multimorphic allows a hybrid LED system so some can be parallel and some in series.. but I believe you have to buy driver boards for them whereas FAST has 256 channels built into the main NANO board. I personally went FAST and am very happy with the system.
    Sounds like a wide body could work for you. If you can find the Doom custom pinball on youtube, check that out. (It might only be on a thread here, not positive).. that's one of the few very detailed wide bodies I've seen done homebrew. I could see it being similar to what you might want.. swap the theme and graphics and such, add an upper playfield. Even upper PFs - it's hard to make them fun though.. (see about every game Spooky has done). Course some people love em and some hate em.

    Or you could use FadeCandy with MPF and P3 (or other controllers)

    I was overall pleased with the P3 boards I’ve used.

    #20 43 days ago

    I started my homebrew and the question I keep asking myself is going Williams or Stern? For now I just decided go with the old 20.25 x 42 because I would have more choices for a old used cabinet. Also it would be easier work up to a bigger size.

    #21 42 days ago

    I'm Not sure If the 3d cad Templates for the lower third are fine. But all Templates have different Dimension for the distance between holes.

    On one the the left outlane ist to Close to the end of the left playfield Side (3,25mm). Or there ist No shooterlane or the Flipper holes are to Close (about 156mm)

    Any Chance someone has a Template for working lower third of a Stern machine with right Dimensions or an Overview for the correct Dimensions.

    Also it's pretty hard for me to Come along with the right Return Lane Guides and the holes in the Templates

    #22 42 days ago

    Mbecker Thanks for the info! I am leaning towards a widebody, just for the sheer amount of things I am looking to integrate. Even if that slows the pace a little bit, I feel I could cover much more ideas and concepts. And thanks for letting me know about the Doom pinball, I did not know about it, and it looks incredible.

    proco Thanks a lot for the idea and images! I'll definitely start inspiring myself from elements I love from existing machines. I followed your tip, and went on printing around 15-20 playfield plans from manuals (monster bash, iron man, ghostbuster, baywatch, ToM, totan, dialed in, deadpool, etc), and planning to do a deeper analysis on what shots I like.

    I went ahead to my local hardware store, and got myself a basic mdf 2'x4'. I'll make it the proper size for a widebody, and will start drawing some layouts on it. For a widebody, the playfield size would be 23.25'' x 46''? I wasn't quite sure on the width or length, due to the varying widebody playfield sizes from different manufacturers.

    #23 42 days ago

    Are you making your own cabinet or reusing a scrapped one?

    If you’re building one you probably want to go with a WPC wide body dimensions so you can more easily get the right cabinet parts

    #24 42 days ago

    following

    #25 42 days ago
    Quoted from TreyBo69:

    Are you making your own cabinet or reusing a scrapped one?
    If you’re building one you probably want to go with a WPC wide body dimensions so you can more easily get the right cabinet parts

    Hey! I was initially planning to buy a virtuapin widebody cabinet. I live downtown Toronto, and haven’t yet seen many cabinets I could salvage from an existing game. Something like this: https://virtuapin.net/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=2&products_id=4&zenid=frp7aoct95l14mi99mdlm7fmr0

    If I go with a wpc-style widebody cabinet, would the playfield dimensions I posted above be correct? (23.25x46)? Thanks in advance!

    #26 37 days ago
    Quoted from Mbecker:

    Cobrapin def. has a good price point, but the limitation is that if you need additional drivers or switches you need to buy another cobrapin board which I believe is more expensive than adding a multimorphic or FAST specific switch/driver board.

    There is actually a satellite board that adds more switches, drivers, lights, etc. Only an additional 45. Main board is 175. Just got mine so can't really vouch for them yet.

    #27 37 days ago
    Quoted from Palmer:

    There is actually a satellite board that adds more switches, drivers, lights, etc. Only an additional 45. Main board is 175. Just got mine so can't really vouch for them yet.

    Good to know! That’s a great deal. I almost pulled the trigger on the startup deal but decided to stick with fast fir my future project just to be able to have 1 set up backups

    #28 37 days ago

    Steve used to make custom pinball cabs. Not sure if he still does but you could check to see if he might know a local source. Durham is semi-local for you.

    https://zebsboards.ca/

    Also my 2 cents:

    - Making a custom pinball is a really, really, really long process. There are so many skills to learn if you are doing it by yourself. I am still trying to complete one 8 years later and I am doing a retheme which means I don't even have to deal with CAD, designing layouts or custom mechs, ramps and other pieces. I figure if I can complete this, then a 100% custom one will be next.

    - MPF has come a long way and is pretty much fit for purpose for any game these days. It is even being used in commercial machines now. Jan and the other regular contributors have made it a great framework and its open so you can add your own custom code if you hit a wall. As well, its hardware agnostic so if you ever do change, you won't have to rewrite the code. I know of a few homebrews using MPF that switched hardware and they didn't have to deal with changing their software.

    - Any boardset will pretty much work. OPP/P-ROC/Cobra/FAST etc.. I chose FAST and have been super happy with the support of Aaron/Dave and the community around it.

    - Throwing every idea into a game is not the best approach. Like the food reference, you can't throw every spice into your recipe. Sometimes less is more.

    - Have fun. Its not a race, unless you make it.

    #29 36 days ago
    Quoted from monkeybug:

    - Making a custom pinball is a really, really, really long process. There are so many skills to learn if you are doing it by yourself. I am still trying to complete one 8 years later and I am doing a retheme which means I don't even have to deal with CAD, designing layouts or custom mechs, ramps and other pieces. I figure if I can complete this, then a 100% custom one will be next.

    I appreciate a lot your feedback! It will indeed be a very long journey. I am very dedicated to take the time needed to get it done, most likely making a lot of mistakes along the way too! I have been focussing on designing the layout in these last days, will update my progress soon. I really love a wide range of things, and love to pick up new skills, and pinball seems to be a wonderful "medium/canvas" to fulfill my creative, design, music, woodwork, electronic, software cravings.

    I think I'll go for Fast to start with, seems like a good boarset to get started, and combined with MFP, I would be able to start working on a whitewood early in the process (in comparison to pure pen/paper like right now).

    And yes, I really see your point with "not putting too much". I need to keep my ideas focussed and avoid adding "the most I can". Already starting to rethink some ideas, and keeping some stuff for potential future games as well.

    Thanks!

    #30 36 days ago

    The actual layout is a relatively small portion of the huge amount of work to be done.

    Focus on one or two big ideas, do them well, and the rest of the layout will coalesce around those elements.

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