43. Finishing Touches

Should you ever find yourself in a position where you're finished with your virtual cab and can't think of any more work to do on it, here are some miscellaneous ideas for extras, Easter eggs, and final polishing work.


If you installed your playfield TV with a setback from the front of the cabinet to make room for the plunger, you'll need something cosmetically appealing to fill the space. My preference is to make this area resemble a pinball "apron", since that's what you'd find in the same space on a real machine.
The apron from Space Station (Williams, 1987). This is a fairly generic apron, with the Williams logo and some simple stripes for decoration. Most aprons from the era used the same overall shape and size, but many from the 1990s had custom graphics tied to the game theme in place of the generic logo and stripes.
We can't precisely replicate this look for a virtual cab, since we don't want that "V" shape that funnels the balls into the trough at the center. We just need a simple rectangular shape, to fill the area between the front of the cab and the bottom of the TV. But we can still duplicate the whole bottom section, which has the most distinctive visual elements anyway - the card inserts and center logo graphics.
The "apron" from my virtual pin cab, filling the space between the front of the cabinet and the TV.

Live card monitors

If you want to get really elaborate with the apron, replace one or both of the cards with displays. Real pinball instruction cards are around 6" wide by 3.25" high (that's the exact size for Williams games from the 1990s, and other manufacturers used slightly different sizes in the same range), which is very close to the size of a 6" diagonal 16:9 display. And you can actually buy LCD screens in that size - they make them for microcontrollers like the Raspberry Pi.
This is an extremely uncommon feature (I've only heard of one cab builder who's implemented it), so it's not all that well supported in the virtual pinball software suite. My own PinballY front end has built-in support for it, but that's about it as far as I know. I think it would be pretty easy to come up with your own custom software to keep it in sync, though, since all you need to do is display a static image each time a game is started.

How to construct an apron

On the real machines, the aprons are made of sheet metal, and typically have a smooth satin finish with silk-screened graphics or decals.
The virtual cab equivalent is such a simple shape that you can easily make it from a thin piece of plywood or particle board. However, it can be hard to get the right finish that way, since you'll probably end up with visible wood grain (even if you cover it with a decal for the graphics).
Another option is to make it out of sheet metal, if you have the tools for that. The finish is easier to get right, since the real ones use sheet metal as well.
I made mine with laser-cut acrylic. That let me cut the diagonal openings to hold the corners of the cards, to better match the look of the real machines. I faced it with a custom-printed decal - the same sort used for the cabinet itself. The combination of acrylic and the decal has exactly the right finish to match the originals.
Here are the dimensions I used for the corner cutouts. These are sized for the 6" x 3.25" instruction cards that Williams used on their machines in the 1990s. I'm leaving out the overall dimensions since you'll almost certainly need to adjust it to fit your cab. The overall width should be just slightly (about 1/4") less than the inside wall-to-wall width of your cab, and the height should be about the same as the distance from the lockbar receiver to the TV. (You want the lockbar to cover the bottom of the apron, for a seamless appearance, with no gap between the lockbar and apron.) Position the two instruction cards as you see fit, but I'd balance them so that they're at the same inset from their respective outside edges.

Instruction cards

Instruction cards on the real machines vary by manufacturer, so you don't have to match an exact size to look authentic. For reference, the Williams cards from the 1980s and 90s are 6" wide by 3.25" tall.
Traditionally, the left card has playing instructions, with a summary of the game's rules, and the right card is the pricing card, with the price per game, number of balls per play, and the obligatory "For Amusement Only" disclaimer.
You can find many examples of instruction and pricing cards for the real machines online by searching for "pinball instruction cards". There are some sites with collections of the original cards and fan-made custom versions. The original manufacturer cards were usually printed in black text on a white card, usually in a pretty plain style with minimal (if any) graphics. A lot of collectors these days like to replace the boring originals with fancier custom versions featuring full-color graphics based on the game's theme, so a lot of those are in circulation as well.
For a real game, the instructions card summarizes the scoring rules for the game; for a virtual cab, you'll probably want to summarize how to operate your game selection menu system instead. And the pricing card is usually a simple "Free Play" announcement. To give you some more specific ideas, here are the cards I created for my cab. You won't want to use them as-is, since they're so customized for my graphics theme, but maybe they'll be helpful starting points.
Sample virtual cab instruction card. The instruction card is traditionally displayed on the left side of the apron.
Sample virtual cab pricing card. The pricing card is traditionally displayed on the right side of the apron.

Maintenance labels

It's a really good idea to label anything on the inside of your cab that's not pretty obvious just looking at it. That'll be a big help later on if you ever have to repair anything or if you want to make any upgrades. Do this while you're building the machine or shortly after you're done, while things are still fresh in your mind. Some things that are helpful to label:
  • Wire harnesses and pluggable connectors. Put a label on each connector saying what it's for and where it plugs in.
  • Wires going to screw terminals. Mark which terminal they connect to.
  • Power supplies. Label each one's main function ("PC power supply", "feedback device 24V supply", etc).
  • Power supplies with adjustable voltages, and adjustable step up/down voltage converters. Label with the purpose ("shaker motor speed control") and the voltage that you've determined as the correct setting.
  • High voltage warnings. Put a high voltage warning label near any exposed wires or terminals with anything above about 24V. A general "High voltage inside" warning might also be appropriate; the real machines feature a label like that on the lockbar receiver.
  • Other warnings. Label anything else that you know to be hazardous, so that if anyone else tries to do any work inside, they'll know where they need to be careful.

Install 0 balls

This is just a little pinball-nerd joke. On the real machines, there's always a label on the top of the lockbar receiver (the metal part on the inside of the front wall that latches the lockbar in place) telling the operator how many pinballs the game takes, in case they were removed for transport.
"Install 4 balls" label, from Theatre of Magic (Bally, 1995)
For a virtual pin cab, the right number is, of course, zero. It makes a cute Easter egg for your pinball collector friends when you're giving a behind-the-scenes tour.
This image is rasterized at 300 dpi for print reproduction. Right-click and "Save As" to save the PNG. Cut at the registration marks (the final result should be about 2.5" x .75").
Here's the Math Nerd variation. It's based on the assumption that the largest "imaginary" number of balls you'd ever have to install would be the number needed to accommodate the virtual version of Apollo 13 (Sega, 1995), with its rather silly 13-ball multiball mode.

Manufacturing label

Real machines have a product label on the outside back of the main cabinet, at top left, listing the manufacturer, model number, serial number, etc.
The manufacturing label on the back of a 1990s WPC machine, at arrow. (The other two stickers are a UL approval label and an FCC approval label for radio-frequency emissions. I wouldn't advise imitating official certifications; let's just say that we'd like to avoid any Imperial entanglements.)
Here are a couple of mock-ups of the layout of these labels, to use as a model for creating your own. The styles are typical of the WPC machines of the late and early 1990s, respectively. These are usually printed at around 4"x4" to 5"x5".
If you want to be really thorough, there's usually a second copy of the manufacturing label on the inside of the cabinet, typically stuck to the right wall near the front. In addition, a small warranty sticker (also with the serial number) is often affixed to the front of the cabinet below the coin door.
Original manufacturer's warranty sticker with the machine's serial number, typically placed on the front of the cabinet under the coin door.

Backbox warning label

Most pinball machines have a warning on the back of the backbox cautioning operators to fold down the backbox for transport. The typical 1990s label is shown below. You can reproduce it (or something similar) for another bit of added authenticity.
This image is rasterized at 300 dpi for print reproduction. Right-click and "Save As" to save the PNG.
This is normally printed at 18" wide by 15" high, on the back of the backbox (the exterior side), roughly centered. On the original machines, it was screen-printed, but that's prohibitively expensive for most pin cab builders. A more economical alternative is to use a printed vinyl decal as with the side art. Pre-printed decals with the standard warning text can be found online; search for pinball backbox warning decal. If you're having custom decals made for your side art, you can probably have a custom copy of the backbox label made at the same time.

Custom plunger knobs

This mod is popular with pinball collectors these days. Several small companies make themed knobs for specific titles, such as the Thing hand knob for The Addams Family, or a golf ball knob for No Good Gofers. If you based your cab's artwork on a particular real pinball title, a custom knob designed for that machine would fit nicely. There are also lots of ball-shaped knobs with metallic finishes, powder-coat finishes, and hand-painted patterns. You should be able to find something that matches just about any art theme.
For any of those options, search the Web for "custom pinball shooter knob".
In keeping with the DIY spirit of the pin cab project in general, I like the idea of creating your own completely original shooter knob. This is actually pretty easy thanks to the availability of "knobless" rods. These are standard plunger rods, just without knobs at the end. Drill a hole in whatever you want to use as the knob, and epoxy it to the end of the rod. Combine this with 3D printing and you can fairly easily create a custom shooter with any theme-appropriate toy for the knob.
The knobless rods are available from any of the big pinball supply vendors; look for part 20-9253 (with no additional number like "-1" at the end) or search for "knobless shooter rod".

Lighted knobs

You can also find knobs with embedded LEDs that light up the knob from within. The ones I've seen are based on the modern Williams-style ball shooter assembly, so they should work on a virtual cab just as well as on a real one. Search for "illuminated pinball shooter rod".

Music jukebox mode

If you installed a decent set of speakers and amps in your cab, you can get double duty out of them by turning your cab into a music jukebox when it's not playing pinball.
I don't have any particular recommendations for jukebox software, but any Windows music player with a visualization mode should work.
Most people who do this set up the music player as a "system" under their menu system front end - that is, as though it were another pinball program like Visual Pinball or Future Pinball. A "system" in the front ends serves as an association with a Windows program (an application .exe file) that lets you launch that program to run any game listed with the system. Then you just create a pseudo "game" that represents the player and add it to your game list. To launch into music mode, you just navigate to the pseudo-game entry and launch it like any other game; that fires up the music program that you associated with the system.
For specific recommendations for music players and details on setting them up with the front ends, search for "jukebox" on the vpforums pin cab forum.