Who doesn’t enjoy a good game of pinball? The bright lights, the exciting sounds, a good bump of the machine? Physical pinball machines can be expressive but are limited in their game range and take up space so modern virtual and visual machines have gained fame.  But what is the difference between Virtual and Visual pinball?

  • Virtual pinball machines are any form of digital pinball emulators played on laptops, smartphones, tablets or with a virtual pinball cabinet
  • Visual pinball refers specifically to a certain brand of free software used for emulating pinball tables which allows users to play, build and share pinball machines designs

Key Differences

Virtual pinball machines refer to any software or game which emulates a physical pinball machine. Improvements in virtual pinball have allowed for impressive 3D animation, virtual cabinets and accurate ball physicals accurately mimic the physical machines.

Virtual pinball emulators have existed for decades on early home computers such as the Apple II which was released in 1977. Official titles of pinball games and machines are often licensed, credited and included in many virtual pinball games and simulation.

Visual Pinball refers to a specific brand of pinball simulation software released in the year 2000. Visual pinball machines allow users to play, design and share their own creations. Visual pinball builders often recreate famous existing pinball machines.

Criticism of Visual Pinball include quality control which can sometimes be an issue with some games offered. Licensing and credit for the original creators of original pinball games is also often ignored by Visual Pinball builders.

What is Virtual Pinball?

Virtual pinball refers to any form of simulation which digitally emulates pinball tables. Physical often artful pinball machines were replaced in arcades, shopping malls, and bars by video games. Interesting pinball is making a revival thanks to that same video game industry.

In 1983 Pinball Construction Set was released for the Apple II and later the Atari 8 bit family and Commodore 64. Tt was the first program that let the user create and play their own simulated pinball machine. The simulation required no programming or typing to make commends.

Instead parts for the pinball game such as bumpers, obstacles and borders were selectable. Users only had to choose what they wanted and place them on the playfield. The designs were colored by users carefully with the provided game paintbrush. The game was impressive for its time and created a new builder genre of video games.

Virtual pinball simulations have been popular with for decades dispute limitations. The early pinball simulations were top down 2D, but with time the processors and graphics capabilities improved, allowing for 3D simulation with accurate ball physics.

Virtual Pinball Games

In 2006 the first digital video pinball machine which faithfully replicated the look, feel and play of traditional pinball machines was released. The game was called UltraPin created by UltraCade and features 12 digitally recreated classic playfields. Games included Funhouse, Pin-Bot, Eight Ball, Medieval Madness, Attack from Mars, Sorcerer, Black Knight and more all together in the one unit.

In 2012 The Pinball Arcade was released by Farsight studio who signed the licensing agreements with Williams, Bally, Gottlieb and Stern allowing all pinball companies to appear together in the same game. The Pinball Arcade included games such as Black Hole, Ripley’s Believe it or Not and the Theatre of Magic with more tables released monthly.

In 2017 Pinball FX was released on multiple devices including Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and Xbox One. The game was developed and published by Zen Studios and along with similar titles assisted in making virtual pinball accessible to new players.

Smartphones and access to free games has allowed players to casually enjoy virtual pinball. Pinball Flipper Classic is considered of the better-quality free pinball games. The game features achievements, leader boards and multiplayer options. The free price tag does mean there are some advertisements within the game, but it’s a good gateway game for newbies to get hooked on pinball.

Virtual pinball has been credited with preserving the culture of the game. Virtual pinball programs can be played on various devices including laptops, phones, tablets or even with a virtual pinball cabinet.

What is Visual Pinball?

Visual Pinball is freeware composed a pinball simulator and editor. The program allows users choose between faithful recreations of existing pinball machines and original pinball simulations based on licensed themes. Users can design and share their own tables. Online, there are hundreds of players created visual pinball tables available free to play.

The software was designed to be used on Microsoft Windows for PCs and laptops, but newer versions added touch controls, allowing for play on smartphones and tablets. It was initially released on December 19th, 2000. On the 29th of July 2018 the Visual Pinball source code was released as freeware under a license that allows free use for non-commercial purposes.

The visual pinball software was developed by Randy Davis and various Open Source contributors. Visual Pinball software comes with Visual PinMAME which is an additional program (a COM class) originally designed to work in combination with Visual Pinball. PinMAME can also be used with other COM class programs and allows for 3D rendering of actual pinball table designs. Open source contributions from dedicated pinball fans mean the program is continuing to develop and offers almost unlimited choice in games.

Visual Building

The software allows players to build their own pinball machine by selecting different items for their table such as plungers, flippers. Bumpers, ramps, lights, text displays, gates, spinners, triggers, timers, and drop targets. Players are also able to change the table and item size shape to further customize their game. The displayed graphics can be changed also as well as the programming for the logic of the table using the VBScript.

Visual Pinball machines main features include:

  • Emulation of real pinball machines
  • Simulate the physics of the table and ball
  • Custom and recreate exciting pinball machines
  • Apply individual game rules controlled via Visual Basic Script
  • Supports configurable camera views
  • Allows virtual cabinet support
  • Supports Stereo 3D output and Tablet/Touch input
  • Option to play 3D televisions to give illusion of real machine

Criticism of Visual

There has been some criticism that Visual pinball creations are essentially rip-offs of the original games. Users of Visual pinball rarely credit never mind pay for the rights of the original traditional pinball machines.

The range of Visual pinball creations is impressive however the quality of the tables varies. It was clear some creators spent hours in research to lovely recreate their favorite pinball games. Others seem more interested in being the first to recreate popular games.

The most popular games such as The Addams Family have dozens of different versions for play. Visual Pinball also allows users to adjust their own physic settings meaning the flipper strength and table angles vary from the different versions created.

Advantages of Virtual and Visual Pinball

Physical pinball machine can only play one game where virtual pinball allows the players almost unlimited game choice on multiple devices. Almost every pinball machine created can be found in faithful recreations online. Games include popular machines such as Medieval Madness, and The Simpsons.

Physical pinball machines are expressive and even other virtual pinball programs can be pricey where Visual Pinball and other virtual pinball simulators are free to play. If the players really want to increase the arcade experience they can also use a virtual pinball cabinet.

Virtual Pinball Cabinets

The greatest complaint with virtual pinball is playing on a smartphone, console or laptop simply does not feel the same as playing a real machine. Advances in technology have allowed virtual pinball to equal and sometimes surpass the original physical tables.

Virtual pinball cabinets are compatible with Visual Pinball and can be used for official and open source gaming. Many models include integrated lights, DMD score fields, tilt/nudge effects and 3D tracking across detailed playfields. The cabinets provide buttons and plungers to recreate the feel of a physical pinball game.

Virtual cabinets are considerable cheaper than physical pinball machines and more reliable as they don’t contain many mechanical parts which can be prone to failure. Virtual pinball cabinets usually cost around $4500. Some cabinets include LED screens to display the playfield and scoreboard meaning there is little assembly, you will only need to plug in and play.


So now you should have a better understanding of the differences between virtual and visual pinball machines. Virtual pinball refers to any brand, game or software which emulates physical pinball machines.

Official titles of pinball games and machines are often licensed, credited and included in many virtual pinball games and simulation. Titles include official releases like 1983 Pinball Construction and 2017 Pinball FX.

Visual Pinball refers to a pinball emulator and builder first released in 2000 and made available as freeware in 2018 for non-commercial purposes. Visual Pinball allows players to play, build and share their own pinball machines.

Visual Pinball machines have experienced some problems regarding their quality control as users can publish whatever they like. There are also concerns that Visual pinball machines rip off original creators often denying credit or payment of licensing.

Both machines offer a huge range of games and can also be played in customize cabinets to better mimic the physical machines. Virtual and Visual Pinball machines have been credited for preserving classic pinball games and introducing pinball to a new audience. source


Pinball Adventures is a North American manufacturing company producing fresh and unique Pinball machines. Our goal is to create to the highest standards, and spark the same joy we found as gamers when we rolled our first quarter into that coin slot so many years ago. Stemming from a lifelong passion, Pinball Adventures is created by gamers, for gamers. We strive to bring high quality, innovative, and captivating experiences for all to enjoy.

Visit our website at pinballadventures.com and also check out our new Instagram page for more updates https://www.instagram.com/pinballadventures/

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