Iaakki’s interview : V-Pin Workshop co-founder and creator of Blood Machines on Visual Pinball X

The table “Blood Machines” inspired by the eponymous movie was presented with great fanfare during a Twitch live on 12/04/2022. It is available since April 13th on vpuniverse.com and has already been downloaded more than 1500 times in only 2 days.

A real success for this original table which in addition to being a real visual slap has been endorsed by the duo of directors of the film, Seth Ickermann. But who is behind this now famous war machine in the virtual pinball world called the V-Pin Workshop?

Pinball Mag went to meet Jaska (aka iaakki on vpuniverse), V-Pin Workshop’s co-founder and creator of this table. 

Hello Jaska, first of all, can you introduce yourself?

I’m Jaska Kangasvieri, a tinkerer from Tampere, Finland. Married with 2 kids. I use my time doing all sorts of experimental stuff. Instruments, furniture, IOT, speakers, whatever.

I had my past working in Nokia and Microsoft for 17 years and I truly liked how well Nokia promoted personal growth for doing innovation and epic shit. It was rather rough for me when the local site got closed and there are not that many companies that could give me enough challenges.

Luckily, I got into company called Novatron and the atmosphere is great there. I’m acting as a head of SW Architecture but do some test automation and CI implementation too. I’ve fiddled with virtual pinballs for maybe 2-3 years, and these are so complex contraptions that solving the issues in implementation somehow makes me feel good. So yes; I’m a general “problem solver”.

Tampere, Finland. Famous for being the Sauna capital of the world… and soon for its virtual pinball tables

You are a member of the V-Pin Workshop team, can you describe what it is about and what role do you have?

At the beginning…

Me and Benji created V-Pin Workshop in May 2020. We’d been chatting via FB Messenger, and it’s a horror to have any real development discussion in there. I had some good experiences in some open-source projects where we used Discord as a communication platform. So, I put up the Discord server and our vision was not making VPX (Visual Pinball X) releases or mods at all. The idea was to make improved tables for our own use and to promote our versions for original authors so they could release them as normal updates to their versions. We didn’t want to bloat the spreadsheet or the forums with simple Mods we had made. This idea still stands, and we have a Helpshop section for other authors who want help with their projects.

Soon after we made the server, we got Brad1x, Sixtoe, Flupper, Tomate, WRD1972, Skitso, Bord, Rothbauerw, NFozzy, Hawkeyez88, daphisbowl, Fleep, G5k and some other old and well-known virtual pinball guys in. And then there are many new stars like Apophis, Oqqsan, Wylte, Fluffhead, Astronasty. I can’t list all of them, there are so many people who want to make the best tables there is. We also have great testers like Rik, PinStratsDan and BountyBob.

And now…

I act as an admin and developer there now. Our workflow is such that there are many projects we do parallel. And then people switch between projects all the time. So, someone updates table to have NFozzy physics, someone else takes the table project and adds Fleep SSF (Surround sound feedback) sounds into it, next one takes the project file and adds Lampz light fading code in and updates 3D inserts from Flupper.

Visual Pinball’s VPX file format is poor for real collaboration with various authors and modders, but we hope that we could omit GIT workflow with VPE (Visual Pinball Engine, a Unity port of VPX). We could do everything in open-source and everyone could contribute via Pull Requests.

A glimpse of the future, maybe not so far away… the switch to Visual Pinball Engine should bring us a lot of improvements and good surprises

How did you acquire your skills to create tables?

It is the collaboration that makes you learn. And one needs to play a lot. People have different approaches to issues and having dialog with them makes everyone to agree how all should be done.

It is common that we do some very experimental stuff, like the fully baked Visual Pinball version of Tales from the Crypt. That was our first project that has all the textures for the 3D objects raytraced in Blender.

(Editor’s note: Visual Pinball X is not capable of handling real-time lighting effects correctly, so the developers have to “cheat” to improve the quality of the rendering and make it photorealistic, so they use the method described).

Then all the 3D models are doubled up; meaning each visible object has a duplicate object that overlaps the original. Then when a flasher dome flashes, it will swap the textures for the hidden object and there is a code that fades the opacity of the objects. This way we can make the light fading look very natural and correct.

Even a single switch wire could get a shade of light from that flasher and it should be all there. We’ve then used similar method for Judge Dredd, Indi and some other projects too. All of this shouldn’t be needed anymore once we get onto Unity based Visual Pinball Engine. Unity version should be able to calculate how the lights travels in the scene; all in the old Visual Pinball is just smoke and mirrors.

Can you explain your method of working on ball physics improvements?

For physics I had to buy real pinball games. I got the Simpsons from Data East and Bally Transporter, The Rescue. We visited the local arcade with Skitso (yes, he is also Finnish) and we had pretty thorough discussions about how the ball felt different IRL and how some lights and shadows were missing. In addition, Visual Pinball was missing air-balls that just happen IRL occasionally. All this ended up developing features like dynamic ball shadows, Rubberizer and TargetBouncer.

Dynamic Ball Shadows

Dynamic Ball Shadows: the shadows that are cast by the ball when it goes near the light bulbs by the slings; this was originally prototyped by Wylte. He had prototyped something in forums, so we just drafted him in and started to perfect the feature. I guess Tales from the Crypt was the first to have it, but it was done a bit differently; Wylte and Apophis finalized that, and Roth also fixed one performance issue from it.

Rubberizer

Rubberizer was to make ball taming to feel more like it is in the real machines. VPX was missing some bounciness for the ball and taming the ball was too easy. This feature took a lot of time to adjust. And to compare the behavior against real pinball games. We had many variations of it and eventually Roth included it straight into NFozzy physics dampeners. Roth has made a lot of improvements into physics that basic Visual Pinball provides at these updated physics were the driving force for the whole VPin Workshop to even exist.

TargetBouncer

TargetBouncer idea bases on the Standup Target code that Wrd1972 had in his FunHouse. I used the same code for Austin Powers and maybe Metallica, but this time we started to utilize it more on posts and sleeves too. Yet again there was a lot of debate how the air-balls should behave and not all liked the fact that it can easily cause stuck balls etc.

But I insisted it should happen. I did play “Indiana Jones the Pinball Adventure” a lot in local arcade and had a chat with the guys who maintain the unit. I had noted that the center Drop Targets usually bounced the ball on top of the ramps on the left. The arcade guys said that “Yes, that is really common in that game, and they had added some plastics there to avoid stuck balls”. I knew then that I was on the right track. Well of course Indi has abnormally powerful flipper coils, but that is a different story.

My approach on these may not be mathematically precise. I just fiddle and tinker and then try out how it feels when I compare it to real unit.

Can you tell us about your taste in pinball?

I usually like rather fast games. Metallica, Theatre of Magic and the new Deadpool is great in arcade. I’m not that good of a player. It is too common that when I try to focus on high scores, I end up looking into some inserts that why it looks like that or how that ramp returned the ball over there. Or that I start testing how the tap passes or post passes work.

The Blood Machines table is the first “original” table of the VPW team. Can you tell us about the origins of this project?

Well, Blood Machines was a Kickstarter funded movie project. I backed them as I liked Carpenter Brut music and scifi etc.

Once the movie got out and I saw it, I immediately thought this would make a great pinball game. And that vision started to grow heavily. The soundtrack sends you back to 80’s and 90’s era there were just too many elements that made to vision to happen easily.

How did you get in touch with the director duo?

I simply just wrote a mail to Seth. It was January 2021. I mentioned that the movie would make a great game and the game would be released for free. I also mentioned that we could need some assets from the movie, like voice lines, 3D models etc. and he was all in.

He was pretty shocked as I told him the development will take at least a year.

We also had Carpenter Brut in the discussion to check that the collaboration idea was ok. Soon after, I received whopping 70gigs of assets from Seth. As an example, we received the spaceship model with 8 million polygons.

And that had really sophisticated textures prebaked. The 3dsmax project file was 2.5gigs.

It wasn’t easy to make that work in a game, but luckily Flupper was able to reduce that model into 130k poly model that had the game lights baked properly.

We also extracted the lights out from the baked textures, so the General Illumination color can change properly on the surface of the ship.

Did they try the table and if so, what did they think of it?

Yes, Seth has played the game, but haven’t received much feedback yet. (if you read this guys, eventually…)

Besides the movie that inspired the atmosphere, what were your sources of inspiration to define the gameplay and the code?

We wanted the game to look and feel like it was developed in 90’s. By some well-known pinball company and so all the parts, mechanics, playfield graphics etc should be doable IRL.

We did bend the rules a bit and added this huge laser for the gun and some floating dust for the Cemetery mission. The gun especially was requested by Seth that it should be in the game somehow.

Final Chapter Wizard mode has also some epic moments you haven’t seen in any pinball games so far. I hope you all try to achieve it as we try to keep it as a secret. Of course until someone can play it and share the video to YouTube.

In your opinion, is this code fully developed or do you plan to evolve it later?

There was an idea of having another Wizard to happen after the Multiball modes are passed. We might bring it back someday. Making the current wizard took probably 2 months, so it is not that easy task. In addition, the under-playfield teleports were supposed to look and feel quite different. I tried to make the code to work correctly about a year ago, but they had too many issues. I might try to make them again if I get bored.

If you had to count the time spent, what took the most time in the development of this table?

For me coding the mission and the DMD (Dot Matrix Display) was hard. Oqqsan and Apophis made the most on them. My mind is more into visuals and physics, so I easily spent my time on making mirrored side blades and fine tuning the way the flashers look. Or that all the shots are satisfying to make, and the table flow is good. The code part of flashers is huge. There are 7 flasher domes, and all the lights and shadows are baked in blender side.

Then everything is transferred into VPX side as separated additive flashers and their fading level and speed is all handled in code. And all of this should work in old cabinets too without melting your GPU.

In addition to all this, we spend a lot of time making the game balance great. There are so many small tweaks done in how the ramps return, how the orb shots feel, how the ship loop swings the ball, what music loop we use for each mission and mode.

And for example, that you cannot change the mission with magnasave buttons. Missions are selected by bumper hits, so it is more random, and this will make the game to live longer. Many players don’t really understand it yet what all this game packs, but I hope they will learn it. Rik and PinStratsDan helped a lot with this balancing. They both had a bit different view on it, but I guess that debate was the key to make it all succeed. They both have been able to pass all the missions and the Final Chapter too. It took quite some time and that is how it is supposed to be.

Today, many original tables use Pinup-POPPER but you chose to stay with a “classic” DMD display. Why this choice?

Well, it would have been too obvious to make this game to have PUPDMD and videos in the backglass. I really feel that videos don’t belong to pinball. They are just a distraction. We wanted to make this game old-school way without any bloat and that the focus really is on the pinball itself.

The table is playable on pincab but also with a VR headset. What do you think is the best way to play your table?

I feel that all options are good: desktop, cabinet, VR. Blood Machines is a hybrid release, and you may use the script options to swap it. For the VRRoom we received a great Nebula 360 panorama image from Seth and I added some floating debris and dust around it. The VRroom effects are tied to some missions too. Rawd, Sixtoe and Leojreimroc helped a lot with VR implementation.

Do you have any new projects in progress or to come?

There is maybe 50 WIP projects in our discord now. I try to help on those. I’ve started one personal project that I will do slowly. The Simpsons from Data East. So I bought a real unit maybe a year ago and now I have dismantled it totally.

Made some touch-ups to playfield and got it clear coated. Took enough photos so I may transfer that to VPX. Now waiting some parts from Germany so I can put it back together. In addition I probably start doing some physics testing in VPE as they have really improved it lately.

Thanks Jaska, do you have anything to add?

Thank you for the interview.

We are all saddened that vpinball.com got closed down but luckily scene is alive in VPUniverse.com and some discord servers. I truly hope that collaboration with table authors and modders would get better, and I hope it is achieved with VPE.

This would also affect to pack sharing which is slowly degrading the hobby.

Aetios
Aetios
Passionate Vpinball maker since 2016 and DIY enthusiast

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