How Pinball Machines Work ?

Pinball machines are one of the real “veterans” of electrical game playing. They were first introduced more than 60 years ago. Most game histories show that “Humpty Dumpty” was the first pinball game (1947). Since that time, the general idea behind pinball games has remained the same – a heavy silver ball is moved around the surface, hitting targets and traveling over “triggers” to produce points.

The player has always had some control over pinball machines with the spring-loaded ball “shooter” and the button-controlled flippers that can keep the ball from going into the hopper. Of course, designers and inventors have added dozens of new ideas, using different technology as it became available over the years. But the object is still the same: score points by keeping the ball moving.

Some of the earliest flippers were “clunky” and maybe a bit slow, but new electronic technology makes this mechanical/electrical part of the game work very smoothly. These flippers have to be set correctly so that they can keep the ball from going out of play. The movement created by pushing the buttons on the side of the machine has to be strong enough to send the ball back up the table surface, giving it another chance to hit targets for points. Some games have additional flippers higher on the surface that are also activated by the player buttons.

Pinball MachinesNow that we understand the basics of pinball movement, we can dig a little deeper into the method for getting points on the board. When the ball moves over a trigger or hits a target it is simply closing a switch that completes an electrical circuit. The signal sent from various locations is translated into numerical values that show up on the scoreboard. All of this is controlled by a motherboard behind the glass. The switches and circuitry for the various targets and trigger spots is under the main table surface. Wires connect the various switches to the circuitry of the motherboard.

In older versions of the game, the points were shown as digits on rotating wheels. In newer games, the points are shown by a digital display board. The more elaborate games have video action and music as part of the game experience. This makes a pinball machine a very complex computer game that combines the best of new electronic technology and some of the older mechanical systems from early machines. Newer machines send the ball into play with an electronic switch that triggers the plunger (as compared to the old spring-loaded plungers).

New games may have instructions for hitting certain targets in order, moving the player to different levels and adding bonus points. But in essence, the pinball machine of the 21st century still has to have that ball of a certain size and weight, and target switches in the playing surface to qualify as a pinball machine.

Category: Consumer Electronics, Technology

One Comment on “How Pinball Machines Work ?”


Osprey wrote:

Humpty Dumpty was not by any stretch of the imagination, the “first pinball machine”. It merely has the distinction of being the first pinball machine with two electromechanical flippers.

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