What Is Virtual Pinball (And How It Works)

Virtual pinball, also known as “visual pinball”, is basically the video game version of pinball. These machines replicate playfields and ball movements controlled with the flippers digitally. It’s worth understanding what virtual pinball is and how it works if you’re thinking about buying a machine.

Virtual pinball is a digitally simulated version of real pinball, usually played on a machine similar in shape and size to a real pinball table. Virtual pinball can also simply consist of a pinball game on a games console or phone, but proper virtual pinball uses a table with a digitized playfield.

There are many reasons to try virtual pinball, and it has many advantages over the real thing. However, before you go and buy the first virtual pinball machine you see, it’s worth considering what virtual pinball is and the money, time and effort involved in buying or building a virtual machine.

What Is A Virtual Pinball Machine?

Virtual pinball was first introduced back with the Atari in the 1970s when they released a game replicating pinball with a square ball. Since then, there have been many games on multiple platforms that have made their own pinball game spinoffs.

The Classic Example

One of the most well-known virtual pinball games is Space Cadet, which came installed with Windows computers. This was many people’s first experience of pinball, but it was pulled from Windows machines with the advent of Windows Vista. But as tech advanced, so did pinball, and not just real pinball machines. Virtual pinball machines are now built to replicate a real machine.

These machines are very desirable for home owners as they are more convenient than traditional machines. Virtual machines can hold hundreds of games, keeping kids (and adults) entertained for hours. Classic titles can now be played without having the actual machine in your house. They tend to be smaller and lighter, with capabilities to customize your own machines and games.

But just like new pinball machines, they can be very expensive ranging from $5,000-$10,000. Some companies make smaller tabletop versions ranging around $3,000-$6,000. And you can even go smaller with machines that look like mini arcade games for around $1,500-$3,000.

A Lot Of Money

These steep prices don’t compare to today’s video game systems, with the latest Xbox and PlayStation consoles costing less than $500, and even a very capable gaming computer can be bought for less than $1000. But these machines replicate the physical movements of a pinball machine with real flipper buttons. Some are even built to have replicated spring plungers and custom lights.

It makes playing virtual pinball a lot more fun when it feels like you’re playing on a real machine. Alternatively, playing with a controller or even your fingers for phone apps takes away the feel of playing pinball. That’s why virtual machines are usually far better than simple virtual games, which you might get on your phone, PC or games console.

Another advantage of virtual machines is being able to build your own, as there are far fewer parts than with a traditional machine. Even very skilled technicians that fix a lot of pinball machines can’t make their own. So, being able to customize your own virtual machine can also be a big selling point.

Customizing Virtual Pinball Machines

If your pockets aren’t deep enough to dish out thousands of dollars to get yourself a new machine, there is still a way to get one on the cheap. Building your own virtual pinball machine allows you to choose how big or small it is, along with how it looks and feels to play.

Even if you have a small place you can still make yourself a mini machine for a quarter of the price. It’s also not as complicated as it sounds as long as you have some tech skills and can handle a bit of basic wiring.

Fully Customizable

You can create your own cabinet to the size you want it to be, and you can put any type of design you like on it. There are various methods to use, whether you want to get vinyl decals or hand paint the cabinet yourself. You can deck it out with the best speakers money can buy, or you can just use some old speakers you found in your attic. It’s entirely up to you.

Building a machine can be very fun and extremely rewarding when you finish it. There are many videos online of people walking you through the building processes and the VP Forums will help you along the way.

A Lot Of Time And Effort

Just because it’s simpler than a real machine doesn’t mean it will be an overnight process though. Many hours will be put into building your virtual machine, especially all by hand, so be prepared.

Not only can you build your own machine, but creating your own games is an option too. VP Forums is a good resource to use for making your own games too. Whether you’re bored of your downloaded games or have an idea of your own you’d like to try, you can make it happen with a bit of time and effort.

There are a bunch of free images that you can use for your game that you can find from VP Forums’ design resources. These will help tremendously when building your own game instead of spending hours making your own templates.

How Does Virtual Pinball Work?

Virtual pinball machines work by running off what is essentially a gaming computer with dedicated pinball software installed on it. You control the game using buttons that are programmed to various actions in the game, such as the flippers and plunger.

The pinball software that is highly rated is VPX, which allows you to download various games. Steam is also quite a popular platform to use. A lot of virtual pinball players use Steam as it has an easy-to-use marketplace from which to install new games to your system. So, the computer handles all the guts of the virtual pinball machine, but what about the playfield and backbox?

Some Basic Hardware

These are usually just your average flat screen TVs, either LED or LCD. It’s advised to get a very slim, flat panel TV, as you will have to access the inside every once in a while for adjustments and repairs.

The backglass can be a TV or computer monitor and, like on a real pinball machine, they’ll display the player’s score. You can also set up the display to play videos depending on the software you’re running. External speakers produce the amazing sounds a pinball machine will cause as the ball jumps around the field, and all of these components combine to produce a very entertaining experience.

Final Thoughts

Virtual pinball is a digital version of normal pinball. It is often played on machines of similar shape and size to the real thing, but it can also be played on games consoles or mobile devices in the form of video games or pinball apps.