UC students at Pinball Convention in Chicago

EECE2001C: Pinball Design and Programming

The Art and Engineering of Mechatronic Storytelling


Pinball machine design leverages tools from electrical engineering, computer science, and industrial design to create an immersive world under glass. Each discipline contributes an additional dimension to the experience, and the fusion of all these elements together create a unique media for storytelling that sits at the crossroads of video games, robotics, and kinetic art. This course explores the underlying engineering and design concepts that go into a complete pinball machine and how they work together to build a theme and tell a story. Each lesson of the course and corresponding lab will address a practical electrical circuit design, physical design, prototyping, or programming concept as it relates to an element of the pinball playfield. Each of these topics will be taught at an accessible level for students outside of the engineering and design programs. Over the course of the semester, the students will add components to the machine while also writing the supporting computer code. At the end of the semester, the students will have created a complete pinball machine. Several pinball designers and engineers from commercial pinball manufacturers (Stern Pinball, Jersey Jack Pinball, and Spooky Pinball) will give guest lectures about their backgrounds and walk the students through the development of some of their most recent machines.

Important to Note

This course will not count toward the BSEE, BSEET, BSCMPE or BSCS programs or any minors in EECS.

Students in pinball design lab

Why take this course?

Many of the world’s future problems will not be solvable using the skills from a single domain. Instead, future global citizen scholars must learn to combine skills from disparate fields and work together to tackle these complex, multidimensional challenges. From an engineering and design perspective, the solutions and products we create can no longer ignore the impact they have on society. This course educates students in how to decompose a complex, multi-domain problem into a series of interconnected, yet manageable, subproblems. This is the fundamental process for all system design, and pinball machines are a particularly engaging case study. Additionally, pinball machines provide a self-contained example of how seemingly unrelated fields (engineering, programming, and art) can combine to create a synergistic and engaging system. The different problem domains of each subtask force students to evaluate the overall system from different perspectives, which can inspire creative solutions that may not otherwise be apparent when viewed from the lens of a single discipline. Additionally, the construction and programming of a real-world system provides student with hands-on experience in debugging circuits, computer code, and physical mechanisms. Although these particular skills may not be directly applicable to their future careers, the general problem-solving skills and logical deduction processes are generalizable to many other fields. The course will also cover the history and evolution of the arcade and pinball industry (several of the early pinball inventors were based out of Cincinnati) as well as the rise of arcade culture and the current role of competitive pinball. Esports has seen explosive growth in world-wide popularity within the last two decades. Gaming has become an important part of modern culture, and it is projected to rival more traditional forms of media for market share in the future. Therefore, it is important to understand not only how these games are played, but also how they are developed, manufactured, and the role they play within society as a whole.

Past Offerings