When I was introduced to bingo pinball, I marveled. The sheer complexity of the game was incredible. It required the player to not only pay attention to the game progression, but also change strategies multiple times within one play.
The mechanisms inside were equally complex. Pure mechanical randomization coupled with several types of devices used for memory, signaling, indexing, and counting. A fascinating game inside and out. As many people likely have before me, I said that the entire innards of the machine could be replaced with a tiny computer.
Learning to fix these devices became a passion for me. I sought out broken machines with different mechanisms to learn how they functioned. In 2015, I decided to make my statement a reality. I determined that there were 11 playfield variations that would require swapping to get the closest play to the full machine. There were 140 games made from four different manufacturers throughout the years. I hoped to implement them all.
Writing the code to handle the calculation and replay award was one thing, but it was quite another to interface with the units in the game.
Before I could work on that interface, I needed the physical components of the game. My goal was to only use parts that were New Old Stock (NOS), or from games that had been parted out. This put extreme limitations on some of the more unique and complex parts, but I can say with satisfaction that no games were destroyed solely to provide parts for the Multi-Bingo.
Dennis Dodel, fellow collector and enthusiast, donated many of the parts needed for the game. Using the lower cabinet from a "Silver Sails", the backbox from a "Touchdown", the back door from a "The Twist", a connector block from a "Bikini", some "dead rubber" (a harder durometer value than standard post rubber), and a unique factory mistake 25 hole playfield from a "Lotta Fun" with rollover buttons ("Lotta Fun" did not have rollover buttons), I was able to get started.
I wanted to ensure that the game played as close to its electromechanical counterparts as possible. A bingo pinball machine is made up of many hundreds of parts, all whirling and clanking a beautiful cacophony.
The Multimorphic P3-ROC would handle the duties of interfacing my code (written using the pyprocgame open source library) with the machine. The boardset and library were the perfect choice. Mature low level libraries were needed, and achieved the reliability I desired.
I wanted to use as much of the existing wiring as possible. Doing so required intense study of how Bally's line workers assembled the looms in the lower cabinet.
Upon review of a handful of different playfields, the connector pin out differed, even for games with the same playfield layout. That necessitated rewiring all of the playfields. I set to work and made my own schematic in the style of a Bally game from the 1960s.
Installing the components necessary was the next challenge. I had to build brackets in the backbox to hold the monitor in position, and determine how the playfield and cabinet would need to be modified to use the new wiring.
The back door holds almost all of the electronic components - the computer and boardset, as well as a network switch. As one of the concepts was to play every game as accurately as possible, I needed to add the ability to tell the game which playfield was selected. I added a single Jones Plug jumper that must be moved to indicate which playfield is installed. The other plugs needed to be wired as well.
The backbox also contains a backglass - for the artwork, I hired illustrator Ryan Claytor (www.elephanteater.com) to create a welcoming image that didn't detract from the backglass artwork displayed.
In order to display the appropriate score and instruction cards, I used two 4" HDMI monitors, each driven by a Raspberry Pi. These are installed in vertical orientation on the apron area.
As I was not using the full complement of backbox mechanical elements, I needed to have some way of emulating the motor whirring, step switch clunking and relay buzzing. To do this, I divided games into different groups. Games with mechanical components like a "Magic Screen", "Magic Lines", "Magic Squares", games with fixed backglass number, and more. I recorded audio from at least one example of each type of game, a satisfying snap of a trip relay, step switch stepping and resetting, and the various motor noises of each mechanism listed above by isolating each mechanism and recording within an enclosed backbox. To play this audio back, I needed to install a sound system. A simple off-the-shelf 2.1 speaker set is driven by the computer installed in the backbox.
There are many different control buttons used across the many bingo pinball machines created. To reduce player confusion, I found nice examples of almost each control button. My friend Steve Smith built a drawer to house the additional buttons. I installed the buttons in partial lockbars from parted games, cut to fit within the drawer, and wired to a Jones Plug. Under the buttons, a single switch pair was mounted to a small triangular piece of wood, which provides the signal to the game.
To program the games, I needed to fully understand them. A large amount of documentation is available for each game. Almost all games came with unique schematics and manuals that document almost every unit in the game. Thanks to Phil Hooper, who runs the amazing bingo.cdyn.com website, documentation for much of the missing data now exists. With these resources in hand, I set to determining how to construct the logic of each game.
I started by creating classes for each physical unit in the game. Motors, depending on the type, have a certain amount of 'spin' - a range of rivets through which the fingers on a wiper board can move per activation of that motor. Relays are binary in nature - either on or off. Step switches come in a variety of flavors, but most importantly, they have a zero position and a limit position, or are continuous. The mechanical backbox animation units have a series of positions - regardless of if they are motor or solenoid-driven. The most complex device to model is the reflex unit. At first glance, it appears to be a step switch, but upon closer examination, movement is handled through a differential system that allows for very small movements up or down. The reflex unit was an automatic portioning system for the games - players that were winning would find that the game did not dispense as many advantages as quickly as players that lost more frequently, or didn't acquire a large number of replays. Subclassing these items made it easy to utilize a common set of building blocks.
Next, I had to determine the units used in portioning. Many of Bally's games used a mixer setup, as well as the physical travel of the control unit with each coin played. The mixers were an array of motor-driven portioning units. With 24 positions each, and typically with 50% of those being unique outputs, portioning could be fairly nuanced. Having an accurate output from each mixer is incredibly important. Once the intended player advantage passes through the mixer, it arrives at a spotting disc.
The spotting disc is a large, 50 position disc with multiple rows, and multiple arms. As each coin is played, the fingers mounted to the arms wipe across the rivets, providing a light show on the backglass and landing upon rivets that may (based upon the position of the reflex and mixers) award an advance in odds or features. Different mixers are added/removed from the circuit based on the type of play selected, as well as the position of various other units in the game.
Each manufacturer had a different take on similar concepts, and the portioning evolved over time. Each game is programmed as faithfully as I could utilizing these abstractions or making new ones.
It was an incredible educational experience to thoroughly learn about each circuit within each game. Some of which I had never had a chance to play previously.
The menu system restricts the ability to start games based on the playfield currently installed. It also automatically detects if the under-cabinet drawer is installed, and will remap the buttons. In this way, if the drawer is lost, stolen, or is broken, the game will continue to function without issue.
The score and instruction card displays use a 3D printed frame, tacked into place like score and instruction cards on a game of that vintage from Bally.
A flyer was created to showcase the game and explain the earning potential as if it were written in the 1960s.
The entire repository (minus the original games' backglass artwork) was released as open source, so that any person could choose to follow in the build, if they desired. It is available at https://github.com/bingopodcast/bingos
Thank you to all the collectors and enthusiasts that supplied parts, photographs, and documentation for the games.
From the conception of this project, I wanted to bring the game to show at Bingo Row, and as many pinball shows as possible.
The game made an initial showing at the White Rose Gameroom Show in 2016 (with only six card games available), and has returned every year I've attended since. In 2017, the backglass and finished gameplay for each game were shown for the first time.
Occasionally, a new discovery is made. In 2018, a game which had never been seen before appeared, United's "Serenade". Thanks to Dennis Dodel, "Bingo Butch" and Mike Glauda, I was able to program the game based on photographs of the game. If new games come to light, I will also work to program them into the Multi-Bingo. There are several other low production games available to play in the Multi-Bingo - for example, Bally's "Hole In One", Bally's "Continental", and others.
The game continues to travel with me to shows, and for the White Rose Gameroom Show, I take requests for which playfield people would enjoy playing.
White Rose Gameroom Show - "Best Pinball"
Texas Pinball Festival - "Best Custom"