Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Modern Firepower returned to the Southern-Fried Gaming Expo

Three years ago, Modern Firepower made its public debut at the first annual 2014 Southern-Fried Gaming Expo.

While schedule conflicts prevented return appearances in 2015 and 2016, Modern Firepower was able to make the trip again for the 2017 Southern-Fried Gaming Expo.  A big thanks to Dan and Joe for making room for Modern Firepower.  An even bigger thanks to Troy, without whom the trip would not have been possible, and Steven, who also assisted with moving duties.

This year's expo itself was a smashing success, with a reported 270+ pinball machines and arcades.  The show was a lot of fun.  If you missed it, be sure to attend next year.

Firepower vs. Modern Firepower at the 2017 Southern-Fried Gaming Expo
Read on for show highlights...

Monday, June 12, 2017

"The Black Knight Rises" - Week 4 Progress

With less than a week remaining until the 4th annual Southern Fried Gameroom Expo, I was now in overdrive working 16+ hour days.  The lack of sleep was beginning to take a toll on my ability to work.  I began to notice that even small obstacles would completely derail progress as I struggled to think through solutions.  I'm beginning to regret the challenging 4 week timeline.

Still, I pushed forward.  This post is longer than most, as a lot happened this week.

Day 22 - Saturday:
The cabinet felt very close to completion, and I was determined to spend half a day and knock it out.  I had applied the Danish Oil on Monday, and after giving it over 4 days to cure, it was time to apply a polyurethane protective coat.

But first I wanted to finish the trim out.  During parts sourcing, I had stumbled onto reproduction Black Knight cabinet side rails, with the dual flipper/Magna-Save button cut-outs.  Of course, being sized for an 80's style cabinet in which the side rails extend to the very back of the cabinet, they were too long for a modern standard sized cabinet with a pivoting backbox.  To make them work, they would have to be trimmed to length.  I also needed to shorten the backbox hinges.

I put a ferrous metal blade on my compound miter saw and got to work.  The hinges were stamped from thick gauge stainless steel, and cut like butter.  The siderails, while much thicker than modern siderails, were still thin and soft, and more than a couple times I slipped with the saw and bent the rails.  I thought for sure I had damaged them beyond repair, but luckily with a bit of straightening and a more meticulous cutting process, I was able to get them finished.

Cutting the 1980's era Black Knight side rails to make them fit on modern cabinet.

Working again on the cabinet, I aligned and drilled the holes for the backbox hinges.  I also had to notch the side rails for the hinge bolts, and the rails were too tall.  I then assembled and tested the side rails and backbox hinges.  This cabinet build is similar to building a hot rod - merging old with new with unique, plus lots of custom fabrication.

Metal cutting finally done, the backbox pivots!

Read on to see how the final build week turned out...

"The Black Knight Rises" - Week 3 Progress

It felt like I was beginning to turn the corner in week 3.  With the fabrication and restoration steps complete, and reassembly underway, it seems I might just make my self imposed deadline.

Day 15 - Saturday:
With the playfield clear coat happily curing without me, I turned my attention back to the cabinet.  I measured and cut out the coin door and bottom panels, then glued it all up.

Clamps, a woodworkers best friend.  Plus heavy stuff to weigh down the bottom panel while glue sets.

Once it was assembled, I was able to then measure for the top shelf and the playfield backstop (not sure what else to call it), cut them out and glued them to the cabinet.

Read on for the day by day recap...

Saturday, June 3, 2017

"The Black Knight Rises" - Week 2 Progress

Week 2 was more challenging than the first, and as some tasks took longer than anticipated, my goal of readying The Black Knight Rises for the 2017 Southern Fried Gameroom Expo begins to slip away.

Day 8 - Saturday:
Troy arrived early and we set off to sawing some wood.  Previously I had hoped to use my 3' x 6' Shapeoko 2 DIY XL CNC router to cut the cabinet.  Unfortunately, over the past half year I've had nothing but issues from my CNC, ranging from bad power supplies to sloppy belts and uncontrollable backlash.  I simply couldn't trust the CNC router for this job.

Especially since I was using expensive walnut.  No paint for this build.

Troy and I spent all day, and got the cabinet sides cut out, and the backbox sides planed and cut out.  The backbox was being fabricated from solid walnut, since the cut sides would expose plywood, and since it was about 7/8" thick, it had to be planed down to 3/4".  For the cabinet I used 3/4" walnut plywood.

Setting up the mobile woodshop in the driveway.

Read on for the day by day recap...

Monday, May 29, 2017

"The Black Knight Rises" - Week 1 Progress

While a lot was accomplished in the first week, a sense of satisfaction is not present.  The road seems long from this end of the journey.

For the  non-electrical aspect of the restoration, I've been referring to the excellent "Vid's Guide to Ultimate Playfield Restoration", written by VID1900 about 4 years ago.  This being my first playfield restoration (Modern Firepower was built new), I'm not qualified to give any tips, merely point you in the direction of the information I've been using.


Day 1 - Saturday:
Though playfield evaluation and parts ordering had begun a few days earlier, I decided to mark Saturday as Project Day 1, since this is where the hands on fun begins.

Troy came over and assisted me in the full disassembly of the playfield.  Every part was tagged and bagged (or boxed).  Plenty of pictures were taken along the way, at various stages of disassembly, to document where various parts should be reinstalled.  We took our time to make sure no mistakes were made.

During disassembly, all the wires were cut off of the lights, switches and solenoids - except for those related to the Magna-Save magnets and solenoids.  We took special care to examine the Magna-Save wiring to reverse engineer the power flow - a task made harder because the flippers had already been forcibly removed and their wires cut free, and the flippers were wired in series with the magnets.  Eventually I came to understand how they were wired from the factory.

With the playfield stripped of parts, it was then cleaned with Naptha, Novus, and Magic Erasers.  This was many hours of back breaking work.

It's a dirty, naked playfield...
Read on for the day by day recap...

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Project "The Black Knight Rises" - Introduction

A few years back, around 2014, I came across a scavenged Williams Black Knight playfield for sale.  Many of the mechanical assemblies had been removed, and the wiring harnesses were cut and ruined, but the playfield itself was in okay shape, plus it had most of the hard to find game specific bits like rails, ramps, scoops, and the plastics.

This Black Knight, destined for the scrap heap, needs help.

I immediately realized that this was a perfect candidate for not just restoration, but a Pinball Chameleon upgrade, adding advanced sound, enhanced multi-ball, full DMD animations, light shows, an LCD monitor backglass, customize-able game rules, and more.  This is the Modern Firepower concept, but now applied to resurrecting a trashed playfield from the junkyard.

Black Knight also presented some new features for me to test and implement in my code.  Drop Targets, Magna-Save, a 3-ball Ball Lock, and four flippers.  Actually, my code already has partial support for these features, though a few tweaks would be necessary to tie them into the game rules.  For example, the Magna-Save would function just like a regular flipper, only the game would now have to disable and enable them as part of normal game-play, plus implement a timed limit on their use.

Parts that I would replace anyway, like the flippers, were already missing from this neglected playfield, so I wasn't paying for parts I wouldn't be able to use.  Plus, since I would completely rewire the entire board to connect it to my own electronics, a damaged wiring harness didn't matter one bit.

Trashed harnesses and missing assemblies... someone tried to murder this Black Knight.

One man's trash is this man's new pinball machine.

I was able to score the playfield for $200.

Another reason I jumped at this Black Knight is that, eons ago when I was first researching how pinball machines work, my buddy Troy scored a nearly worthless Black Knight playfield for about $50.  Though it was not salvageable, that playfield revealed many pinball secrets, from simple things like the dimensions of the wood side-rails, and how pop bumpers, flippers and kickers work.  Having tangible parts that I could inspect and measure, even if they didn't actually work, was game changing for someone who had never been exposed to pinball machines before.

Eventually I tossed that first Black Knight, but not before salvaging the ramps and plastics.

The remains of that first Black Knight playfield:  some metal ramps and rails, a spinner and siderail piece.
Various plastics from that first Black Knight.

Life then got busy, so this playfield has been kicking around for a few years, just gathering dust and generally being in the way.  Now, a mere month away from The Southern Fried Gameroom Expo 2017, I've decided to try the impossible: a playfield restoration and upgrade to the Chameleon Pinball Engine.

Read on to see how I prepped for the project...

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Back from the Abyss

Unlike my typical posts, I'll keep this one short and sweet.

Yes, I know I haven't written anything here in almost 3 years.

But it's not what you think.  Instead of abandoning pinball construction after the completion of Modern Firepower, with a new burst of motivation I've worked diligently on the next evolution of the concept.  And I'm excited to finally share the results.

I've continued to expand upon the functionality of my pinball software, and to the solution I've added my own custom electronics.  Along the way I strove to find ways to further reduce build costs.  I believe my pinball control solution is rather revolutionary, and in many cases best in class.

With the 2017 Southern Fried Gameroom Expo in Atlanta a mere 4 weeks away, I'm in a last minute crunch to build a new machine for the show:  Project "The Black Knight Rises".

In the coming weeks, I'll be detailing the new build, and introducing you to the new Chameleon electronic products and software.

I'll try to post as progress is made, but due to the tight project timeline I may have to wait and post after the show is over.

Stay tuned, more soon...