Well, we’ve hit a major milestone with the project. From an electrical perspective, I had four specific areas I was focused on implementing:
1) button integration into the PC
2) general illumination (lighted buttons, lighted flippers, etc)
3) force feedback for flippers, jet bumpers, etc
4) LED flasher emulation
This week, we’ve implemented functional aspects of 1-3! This post will be focused on #1 – the button integration into the PC.
I have also worked on the configuration of the virtual pinball software to make button illumination intuitive. For example, if you are in a screen to choose a pinball to play – the START button flashes on the cabinet, telling the user to press START to play.
First, Some Pontification and Key Links
For those of you embarking on a similar project, you need to understand this next sentence clearly. The software that drives your virtual pinball and integrates analog to digital is not supported and is not well documented. If you’re not technically astute, such as programming in a scripting language or troubleshooting operating system DLL configurations, this project is not for you.
If you’re still reading and still want to tackle this, I have some great resources and tips for you. Let my personal journey of trying to solve some challenging puzzles be a little easier when it’s your turn.
1) When you’re stuck on configuration, the internet is your friend. There are two forums you must join. One is vpforums.org and the other is hyperspin-fe.com. The first is focused on the actual pinball emulation software. The second is focused on the slick front end that makes your cabinet easy to use by the non-techie person.
2) There are two projects that are so well documented, that you can use them as good reference points on just about every aspect of working on this project. I keep referring back to these two projects and it’s worth sharing them here:
chriz99’s Big Bang Pin 2008 (This is actually the builder’s second project, so he really gets it right this time around.) http://www.hyperspin-fe.com/forum/showthread.php?13146-Big-Bang-Pin-46-30-15-6-LED-Widebody-%28custom-artwork-bezel-less-deep-playfield%29
DeeGor’s LEGO Batpin 2010 (This guy did an especially good job in outlining some of the more complicated electronic aspects and has the cleanest wiring set up I’ve ever seen.)
Button integration into the PC!
The virtual pinball and front end software are driven by simple keyboard inputs. This section is about installing physical buttons, like a flipper button, and having it send a signal to the computer to press a key in its place. For example, the virtual pinball software requires a RIGHT SHIFT key entry to activate your right flipper. Here, we install a right flipper button to send a RIGHT SHIFT every time I hit it.
This is the simplest part of this project and was why I chose to tackle it first. Make your life simple and purchase an iPac unit. This unit emulates a keyboard when a circuit is closed on a button. Too many people try to cheap out by ripping a keyboard apart and integrate it with buttons. This is not worth the $20 savings. My goodness – if you’re going to cheap out on a project of this magnitude, don’t bother starting.
Get the i-Pac from Ultimarc in Europe: http://www.ultimarc.com/ipac1.html
Buttons are simple.
#1) Plug the iPac into your PC via USB. (In the pictures, the iPac is the green circuit board with screw connections along both sides.)
#2) Buy a terminal block for your ground. Connect your button grounds all together in a daisy chain where you physically can. Where you can’t, just connect directly from the button’s ground to the terminal block. Connect all grounds to the terminal block. (In the pictures, an example of a terminal block is above my pinky finger.)
#3) Connect the ground terminal block to your iPac’s ground. I repeat, all grounds on all buttons need to be joined together to the iPac ground.
#4) After all the buttons are grounded, wire a single strand from each button to an assigned iPac slot. When your button closes a circuit, it triggers the iPac to signal your computer to enter a specific key. (In the pictures, the START button is shown embedded in cardboard. Black wire is the ground. Yellow is connected to iPac.)
#5) Get the free WinIPac panel designer software and take each button, map it to a keyboard key and voila — you are done.
Refer to the Pinball Electronics 101 PDF for schematics for this simple wiring setup. http://maxxsinner.blogspot.com/ Link is in upper right corner.
An aside: Some buttons use a microswitch which has three connections, instead of just two. This throws off some folks. Here is a simple tutorial to explain how you want to wire this switch. http://arcadecontrols.com/arcade_wiring.shtml Wire it so that it is “normally open” (NO) and not use the “normally closed” (NC) function.
A second aside: Some buttons have built in LED or bulb lighting. Don’t worry. We’ll get to that. Leave those connections alone for now. (In the pictures, that’s the red and blue wires on the switch.)
If this is too complicated for you to figure out, then keep in mind that every step from here on out is exponentially more complicated than this. You will be calculating resistor values, sizing fuses, adding up amperage loads. If that isn’t your cup of tea, this project may not be for you.