Jeremy Williams, who previously designed light-up video game pixel art, has built a virtual reality pinball controller from scratch. He designed it to work with the game Pinball FX 2 VR, currently available on the Oculus Rift. Williams posted his finished rig to Twitter earlier this week. Now he's shared with The Verge a few extra snaps of what he's named the PinSim.
Williams says the PinSim is an exact replica of the first eight inches of a standard-width pinball machine, complete with flipper buttons on the right and left side, a glowing red launch button, and a yellow indicator light. Williams added a joystick to the top of the controller that allows him to navigate while playing the game, and went as far as installing an accelerometer in the controller. That means when he nudges the PinSim from side to side the ball in the game will move in the corresponding direction—just like when he nudges a real real machine.
Williams is a self-proclaimed pinball nerd who collects and builds pinball machines as a hobby. He enjoys video game versions of pinball, too. From Pinball Dreams on the Commodore 64 to the mobile app Zen Pinball, Williams has played them all. But Williams has always been bothered by the fixed point of view in these games.
"You can't move your head to get a better perspective on the ball, of the field of play," Williams says. "Nobody who plays pinball in real life stands in the exact same spot. If they're playing pinball for real, they're going to move their head around, hop around on their feet, just to get a better read on the ball so they can get it going where they want it to go."
This is why Williams was so blown away when he slipped on the Oculus Rift and played Pinball FX 2 VR at this year's GDC. He thought Pinball FX 2 VR did a great job of replicating the experience of playing a pinball game in real life. But something about playing it with the Oculus' gamepad just felt wrong. If he was going to play pinball in virtual reality, he wanted to be playing it with the same kind of controller he uses on a real pinball machine.
It took Williams a quick two days to build the PinSim. He already had plenty of pinball machine parts laying around his garage. He says playing Pinball FX 2 VR with the PinSim is elating. "It really does feel like you're playing Pinball."
For all of you Pinball fanatics out there who want to get your hands on the PinSim, Williams says he has no plans to produce and sell it, but will be releasing the code and plans to build it on Tested soon. Yesterday, Williams shot a video with Tested, above, demoing the PinSim.
Still, as realistic as virtual reality can make pinball feel, Williams thinks the true beauty of playing pinball can never be fully captured in a simulation. That beauty, he says, is found in the individuality of each physical pinball machine. That's what, for Williams, makes the game so enticing.
"A pinball game can play differently day-to-day, location to location. The pitch of the game. The humidity in the air. How long the game has been played. It can be worn down. Poorly maintained. Pinball is a game that has so many variables that set it apart and gives it its longevity."
Try and beat that, VR.