Don't have the money to buy a real pinball machine? Don't have the space for
it? Or have you started collecting already and want to check out which
machine to buy next? Visual Pinball is your friend in any of these cases!
Part 1: Visual Pinball
Part 2: Other Great PC Pinball Sims
Part 3: Other Horrible PC Pinball Sims
Part 1: Visual Pinball
Visual Pinball a software developed by Randy Davis for the Microsoft Windows personal
computer. Visual Pinball lets you create your own virtual pinball tables by
offering an easy-to-use graphical editor where you can place devices,
flippers, walls, lights and textures to build your own pinball playfield. To
give it game rules and have the objects interact, you can write a Visual
Basic script which is a very basic object-oriented programming language
(even easier than standard Visual Basic). After you're done, or if you want
to test your work-in-progress table, you can hit the "Play" button anytime to
load up the table in a simple 3D engine which will display the game in
software DirectX, including fixed roomlight shadowing, ball shadows,
animation where necessary (flippers, devices if you move them with
scrip-ting, lights) and full game control. The engine can display the table
in any resolution and colour depth your PC supports. For enhanced beauty,
the background can be textured or coloured the way you want it and you can
add simple score reels or solid-state displays, or program your own counting
mechanism. There are even mods out there made by fans which enhance Visual
Pinball with fading lights, rendered graphics, dot matrix displays, MP3 and
WMA support, and more!
While Visual Pinball is not the ultimate pinball simulation since its
ball physics are somewhat questionable and it still has a few bugs, it's the
only decent way to build your own tables on the PC - and to play existing
creations of other users, many of which are recreations of existing
pinball machines. However, since every real machine has ROM chips that
include its rules, audio and video files, you need an additional program, a
plug-in called Visual PinMAME which emulates all kinds of real-world
pinball systems and lets the ROM software run on your PC, including audio,
game rules and the stuff seen on the displays! Connect this plug-in with
Visual Pinball and you can play virtually any real pinball machine on your
PC - if you have the ROM files and if you make a recreation of the game in
VP, or if you find an existing recreation made by other users. I'm going to
give you detailed instructions on where to find Visual Pinball, VPinMAME,
add-ons, ROMs and tables right here so you can get started right away.
Software You Need
Initially, Visual Pinball and many of the mods and tables you're going to
download are hosted by the Visual Pinball Forums, VPForums for short. You
need to register for free at these forums to download any of these files!
Even if you don't write posts in the forums itself, downloading the
applications and especially the huge collection of recreated pinball tables
requires your registration. It's free and easy to do: just go to
then choose a nickname you want to log in with in the
future, and a pass-word for this nickname. You'll be required to fill out
some fields including your valid e-mail address so that they can send you
the acti-vation e-mail and keep you informed about updates. I registered
there in June 2004 and I never got any spam mail, advertising software or
spyware, so I guarantee you it's absolutely safe and free. All you need to
do after registering is check your e-mail, click on the link in the
activation mail you received, and you're on. From now on you can log in to
the site with your chosen nickname and password, and start downloading
software and table files.
Note: you will be able to download a maximum of five tables each day if you
registered for free. You will also have a five-minute delay after each
download before you can start the next. If you become a supporting member
(any amount of money you donate will upgrade your status to that), these
limits are removed. ROM and software downloads are not counted
against your download limit! Only the tables you download from AJ's have
The applications you need to download and install to play table recreations
are as follows:
Visual Pinball - the core program. The official site is
and you can get a list of available download versions on
http://www.randydavis.com/vp/download.htm. This list will link you to
VPForums' Visual Pinball download host which will offer the file to you.
Visual PinMAME - the ROM emulator. Originally MAME stands for
Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator and is a program conceived by fans who
sought a possibility to replay the old arcade video game classics on the PC.
MAME is a software which can emulate all kinds of old arcade video game
systems and tons of game ROM files can be found on the Internet. I've only
got one ROM file on my hard disk which I keep playing with MAME; Super
Hang-On, the classic motorcycle game. Later some people created PinMAME, a
software dedicated to emulating ROM files of pinball machines. While the
program was updated, it was extended to be compatible with more systems from
the different pinball manufacturers, emulate sound and music, and have a
fully accessible virtual playfield switch matrix where you can "play" games
by activating the switches manually. PinMAME is more of a testing and
experimentation program since the hardware of a pinball machine is missing.
Now we have Visual PinMAME, or VPinMAME for short, which was released not
all that long ago. It combines the power of PinMAME's emulation capabilities
with the tools to recreate pinball machines on the PC which Visual Pinball
gives to users. By hooking up PinMAME with Visual Pinball, it was now
finally possible to play recreated pinball machines on the PC instead of
just having a testing program. All you need is a recreated pinball table
built in VP and the ROM files of the machine for VPinMAME.
PinMAME has an official site at
http://www.pinmame.com, where you can also find VPinMAME downloads on
http://pinmame.retrogames.com/downloads.html. Unlike all other files,
VPinMAME is not hosted at VPForums but has its own host, so there is no
registration required to download this file.
scripts - VPForums also hosts an up-to-date
script collection which
has all the system scripts for Williams, Bally, Gottlieb and other ROMs.
These scripts tell VPinMAME how to handle the specific systems. Without
them, you cannot play any ROM-based table.
sound samples - a
separate ZIP file hosted at VPForums which
includes all sorts of mechanical samples needed to give the emulation
mechanical sound. Most of these samples were ripped from Empire
Interactive's Pro Pinball: The Web. While many recreated tables have
their own mechanical sound samples, it's better to have this collection just
in case VPinMAME needs it.
ROM sets - the machine inside. To play a recreated pinball machine in
Visual Pinball, you'll need the ROM files of that machine. Getting those
does not necessarily require registration at VPForums because companies like
Williams offer their ROMs legally on their own web-site. Alternatively, you
can search for the machine in the Internet
Pinball Database and download the ROM set from there. However, if you
want ROMs from Gottlieb or don't want to search all these websites for the
files, you can also find a usually up-to-date version of the necessary ROM
set on VPForums next to the table you want to play.
Visual Pinball tables - the playing interface. This is what VPForums
concentrate on; you can find virtually any pinball machine recrea-tion there
in a huge list along with the necessary ROM set. You can also look for some
tables on a few other sites which I have listed in my "Links" section.
Installing Visual Pinball is easy. Just execute the setup file you
downloaded, pick a directory and off you go. You can now use VP to build and
play tables - as long as they don't use ROM files. Installing VPinMAME is a
little difficult, but easy to follow. To play pinball machine recreations
with ROM files, do this:
1. Install Visual Pinball to a folder of your choice. Keep in mind that this
folder will include the entire collection of ROMs, tables and mods you'll be
using in the future.
2. Unpack the VPinMAME ZIP file into a subfolder you make inside the VP
installation folder. For example, if you installed VP to C:\Games\VP, unpack
VPinMAME to C:\Games\VP\VPinMAME. Do it the same way with all other mod
applications and plug-ins you install later. This ensures that you keep a
substructure of the whole thing for easier surveillance.
3. Unpack the scripts from the downloaded ZIP file into VP's "Tables" folder
- not the "Scripts" folder.
4. Copy the "pinmame.zip" sound samples file into VPinMAME's "samples"
subfolder. Do not extract the samples, just copy the ZIP file itself there.
5. Run VPinMAME's setup.exe and click on the "Install" button. After this is
done, click on "Setup Paths..." and fill out the fields with the required
paths. ROMs go into the "roms" folder inside the VPinMAME folder,
"Configuration" goes into the "cfg" folder, and "Screenshots" go into the
"snap" folder - all others are self-explanatory.
6. Download a ROM set and put the ZIP file into the VPinMAME\roms folder. Do
not unpack the ROM files from the ZIP!
7. Download a table recreation for the ROM file and put the VPT file into
the "Tables" folder of VP. You can now open this table file in VP and play
it. You will get a dialog asking whether you are entitled to play this ROM
set - click yes and VPinMAME will load the ROMs along with VP loading the
table. You will probably see nothing except for VP's editor in the
foreground, so minimize it to see the table inside the 3D engine which is
behind it (must be a little bug). You can also see VPinMAME's display which
shows information that would appear on the real machine's display(s). You
can drag the display anywhere on the screen so it's out of the way of the
It will happen that you see something like "Factory Settings Restored" on
the display and the table doesn't boot up. This happens because you turned
the game on for the very first time and it does not have any data in its
(emulated) RAM to load settings from. The least you need to do to start
playing is entering the setup and leaving it again so that the machine gets
the factory settings applied (see the next paragraph for instructions).
Controls & Features
You can set up the controls of VP under "Preferences" in "Keys".
However, VPinMAME also has some control keys you need to know.
start a new game: 1
buy an extra ball: 2
insert coins: 5
ROM setup menu controls: 7, 8, 9 and 0 (depends on system)
control volume on WPC games: 8 and 9 (equals setup keys)
open/close coin door (required for WPC/DCS and later): END
VPinMAME controls: tilde (~) key respectively ^ key on non-English
keyboards, then use the arrow keys
VPinMAME emulates the complete ROM set if it's supported. This means you can
enter the setup menu if the ROM has this and configure the game like you
would configure the real machine. This way, you can set up things like free
play, extra balls instead of credits for special and replay, customized game
rules etc. Just press 0 on WPC games to enter the menu and press 0 again to
go onto the first level. Then use 8 and 9 to navigate through the options
and press 0 again to choose an option. Press 7 to go back one level or exit
the setup menu. On System 11 games and similar, there are only three buttons
of which one is only used to reset highscores. Thus, you have to use 8 to
enter the menu and navigate forward. Press 7 to push down the auto/manual
button which would be at this position in the coin door of the real machine.
If the button is pushed down, you can go back through the options by using 8
again. Pressing 7 again releases the auto/manual key and pressing 8
navigates forward again. Choosing an option is done by pressing the start
button, 1. Exit the menu by pressing 9 or navigating forward to AD70 and
beyond (like it's done on real machines).
You can set up the default options VPinMAME should choose once you run a
newly installed ROM set for the first time. Execute setup.exe and select
"Setup Defaults...", then make your choices. Once you save the changes,
every new ROM set you run with VPinMAME will default to this setup.
Hint: you can reset the configuration of a ROM set by deleting the CFG file
inside the "cfg" folder of VPinMAME. It will then default to the setup you
made in VPinMAME.
On some ROM sets there may be problems. The most basic problem is that a ROM
ZIP file might be corrupted, but this does not prevent it from being used -
trying is better than trashing. If VPinMAME greets you with a warning of
corrupted files, simply click on "continue anyway" and try to play the game.
If it works, good, but you could try finding a ROM version that has no
issues. Also, some games might screw up with some things after playing them
for a while, for example Space Station. The only way I have found to counter
this is deleting the NVRAM file in the "nvram" folder of VPinMAME. Be warned
though that deleting this file is like a factory reset; you delete the
information stored in the pinball game's memory including your setup data
and highscores for this machine. Any errors will be eliminated this way,
How Does VPinMAME Work?
VPinMAME interacts with the script of the table file. If you click on
the "Script" button in VP, you get access to the script file which holds all
the VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) code that makes the table run. While
normal table scripts have everything from controls to game rules to audio
and display stuff, VPinMAME scripts only execute commands to map the switch
matrix of the ROM file to the sole-noids on the table. Thus, once VP detects
something game-related on the table, VPinMAME can react to it like on a real
Where to Find My Machines
You can find a direct link to the table file of the machine I wrote
about in its article. However, you may have noticed that machines like Arena
and F-14 Tomcat are not linking to table files. I did this with a purpose: I
only include acceptable or good recreations in my articles because not every
recreation is as good as the real thing. Visual Pinball is never like the
real thing anyway, but there are really good, average and downright bad
recreations, for whatever reason. Arena's table file does not run at all,
but this has to do with VPinMAME and its missing support for older Gottlieb
ROMs. The recreation of F-14 Tomcat is sadly so bad that I don't want to
screw up the picture of the real machine by linking to this file in my
article (I have talked about it with the author and he says that he's
thinking about overhauling the table). The Machine's virtual version isn't very good either, plus it has
one of the rare Williams ROMs that have problems with the sound emulation of
VPinMAME - the audio is simply extremely screwed up. The table itself plays
awkward as well. The good or acceptable and playable recreations are linked
in the articles of Pin*Bot, Black Knight 2000 etc. These links go directly
to the file at VPForums, so you have to be registered there first to access
it. Keep in mind that downloads have a five-minute interval for
non-supporting members, so you can only attempt one download every five mins
unless you support the site financially.
Building Tables, Add-Ons & Mods
If you want to get started building your own pinball tables in Visual
Pinball, there are some documentations and tutorials in VP's help file as
well as VPForums and relevant websites. It's very easy to learn, only
finding the creativity to create something original and learning about the
physical flow of a game is what takes some experience and especially a lot
of time. It can be very rewarding and a lot of fun though! I experimented
with VP for quite some time and also started building my own original table,
however now after owning seven pinball machines in seven months, I would
give the playfield a complete overhaul for realism and a better game flow.
So, experience with real machines can help a lot.
Programming is required to make a table work. Visual Basic is very similar
to normal DOS-based BASIC and that's laughably easy to learn. Just look over
some simple table scripts (like the one supplied with VP) and you might
understand a lot of it already from reading. If you need help with the
language, the same sites that provide VP design support often also have
scripting tutorials. One such site, and probably the biggest VP editing
resource apart from VPForums, used to be shivaSite,
a collection of forums where original tables and table recreations,
resources like textures, sounds, models and scripts, tutorials for
construction and scripting, and a lot more were hosted. The problem is that
shivaSite was shut down by the author (Shiva) a while ago with the
explanation that he has run out of power to administrate the site which has
been up for years. If you go to VPForums and look for some links, you'll
still find some other sites that offer more content.
Modifications for Visual Pinball are made by fans who like to extend the
possibilities. These include such mods as a dot matrix
display with text and video support, audio enhancements to play MP3 and WMA,
and the widely-used fading lights mod which makes lamps look a lot more
realistic. Often these mods are written in VBA script files that can be
included in your own table script or "linked" in your script so that the
external mod script is separately loaded. Scripts always go into the
"Tables" folder of VP, not the "Scripts" folder - who knows why.
Overview of All Relevant Links
Visual Pinball -
PinMAME and Visual PinMAME -
VPForums: VPinMAME table and ROM collection, host for VP files & editing support -
Visual Pinball downloads page -
PinMAME and VPinMAME downloads page -
VPinMAME scripts & VPinMAME sound samples -
tables and ROMs overview page -
tables and ROMs downloads page -
overview of Visual Pinball's features and operation -
VPinMAME installation guide -
Part 2: Other Great
PC Pinball Sims
Part 3: Other
Horrible PC Pinball Sims