The PinBox 3000 is a tabletop pinball machine base that is die cut out of cardboard allowing for easy assembly. It gives you the freedom to design your own machine out of anything you desire around your house like a simple starter whitewood. The PinBox 3000 has been used by educators as a great learning experience in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) and other creative outlets. Created by the Cardboard Teck Instantute of Ben T. Matchstick and Pete Talbot, who are working on expanding the PinBox 3000 system with 2 new game modules that can be inserted into the base platform (Kickstarter campaign).
TWIP got a chance to interview Ben T. Matchstick, one of the founders of the Cardboard Teck Instantute, about how PinBox 3000 got started and the new advancements in the game modules.
TWIP: What is your pinball origin story? How did you get involved in the pinball hobby?
[Ben]: It is a weird and long story. I went to Northwestern in Chicago. In the student union arcade there was an Addams Family pin. I was the only person in the place during the day. I would go between acting classes and learn that game and I loved it. I can still hear the game: “GREEEEED!”
Flash forward about 12 years and I’m a puppeteer and performing artist working in Vermont. I co-owned a Cafe in Montpelier Vermont and we had these wild art shows. My friends and I would build these weird and wild arcade and pinball games out of cardboard for our audiences. I had also built cardboard pinball games for an outdoor carnival that was held in the deep woods of Northern Vermont. Building interactive cardboard experiences was inspiring to me, and satisfied my interest in making games as theater.
When I met Pete, we started making shows together and he agreed to help devise a giant show that involved hip hop, live bands, and giant puppets called Grottoblaster. The pre-show was an arcade experience. One thing that was missing was pinball. I remember closing down the show and saying “now we have to make a pinball game”. We felt like it was a missing piece.
This is Vermont, so I hadn’t touched a pinball in a decade. At that time, the hobby didn’t have any footing for miles around. But I loved the idea as a “gravitational puppetry artform”.
We had a two month artist-in-residence at the Generator Maker Space in Burlington where we learned to use the laser cutter. Pete was determined and focused to get a proof-of-concept. Now we could make multiples instead of one sculptural piece. Our initial prototypes were nearly the size of a normal pin. We made about 10 of those and put them out at parties and playtested them at the afterschool program I was running at the time. The kids freaked out!
Our first PinBox 3000 games were getting their first major playtest, and the reviews were great. We made revision after revision and refined the project into the robust little machine we have today. We began to pursue more pinball playing around Vermont and found pockets in Burlington. We started going to the Chicago convention, then Pintastic, and then became enamored by the ingenuity and variety of pinball games that kept us hungry to do more with our versatile kit.
TWIP: What made you determine that the PinBox 3000 was needed?
[Ben]: Pete and I both have experience in education. We’ve been working with youth in our communities for decades. When we started integrating PinBox 3000 into our art practices, the feedback was amazing. We had parents and kids in agreement. Kids forgot about their ipads. At certain events kids literally left their phones behind at our booth. When we started doing workshops in schools we realized how many kids had never worked with tools and explored materials. They were nervous about punching holes into cardboard. They were trained not to try new things. Most every kid we met never touched a pinball machine, so this was a huge revelation to them and opened up all kinds of possibilities for them. We have hundreds of adults who also love the problem solving elements of pinball game design. Not to mention the art work. Those that know the basics of pinball really level up their PinBox 3000. We’ve seen tons of crazy iterations. The versatility of the kit keeps surprising us everyday, so it’s hard to stop.
For STEM educators, the PinBox 3000 is a homerun. Project-based learning, hands-on learning, design, engineering, art… it goes deep if you want.
TWIP: Over the 8 years that PinBox 3000 has been around, what has been the biggest impact you have seen? Were you surprised by anything or anyone that has been affected by your cardboard pinball machine?
[Ben]: When we first brought the PinBox 3000 to ToyFair in NYC, there were no pinball games anywhere. Now, there are dozens of them. Plastic and wood knockoffs. At ToyFair, you couldn’t find any cardboard products either. We were laughed at and still get comments about cardboard being a terrible choice. We know the truth about cardboard. It’s incredibly durable and invites iterative making.
Nintendo introduced Labo a few years after the PinBox 3000 came out. Then more cardboard products kept popping up. We definitely made an impact on the toy industry.
George Gomez from Stern came to our booth at the Chicago Pinball convention and said our games were the most fun at the entire show. I think he was impressed by the simplicity and accessibility of our concepts. The kids around him were buzzing with excitement and I think he saw that too. For those kids, they could reach in and tweak the game as they played, setting locked balls, moving things around. It’s a different way to play pinball.
As for the pinball industry, we’ve talked to all the major players and it’s been a fun connection. Both Stern and Jersey Jack have expressed interest. But I think there are some hobbyists who don’t like the intrusion of this new way of playing that doesn’t necessarily rely on point accumulation. Our way of playing pinball is so different because a PinBox 3000 player is an assembler, repairer, game designer, artist, and player combined.
We still get pinball industry folks checking us out and looking at our designs. Once you try it out, you realize there is a subtle touch and excellent feel to the flippers. Pinball players get converted to the PinBox 3000, and it’s a great feeling to open up another aspect of the hobby to those people. There are some superfans out there who see what we see in the PinBox 3000 and all the possibilities.
TWIP: Your new Kickstarter campaign is for 2 new game modules. How are they different from your previous game modules?
[Ben]: These new games- Neon Wizard and House of Shadows are made using die-cut paper parts that slot into die-cut cardboard. It has always been our dream to allow the customer to continue the build process on the play field. We realized how much certain people love the build process because it’s like a 3D puzzle. The paper craft is just as fun to assemble, and is going to lead us down the road to another round of inventive pinball game design.
Neon Wizard is the first game to include 3D printed elements like our extra flipper kit, pop targets, and rails. This game also has paper electro-targets that can be set up to work with a microcontroller. We use the BBC’s Microbit and block coding by MakeCode. This element opens up an entire new scoring potential.
House of Shadows has a more “sequential objectives” style of gameplay. And we’re excited to show people what you can do keeping score. That said, there will still be a manual scoring option.
Previously we invited people to create their own games, but we drastically overestimate the creativity of our customers! Building a game that’s included will be satisfying for years to come, and the interchangeable and updateable playfields gives us “even more infinite possibilities” for upgrades like electronics, magnets, laser cut features, stickers, and rules sets.
TWIP: Did you take any inspiration from real life pinball machines for your new game modules? What is the design process for the modules?
[Ben]: Between Pete and myself, we play a lot of pinball. The Pinball Co-op in Burlington VT and LITT in Minneapolis are huge supporters. We take elements we like and convert them into paper shapes. We’ve also gotten better at designing our 3D printed parts with the help of the maker community and educators. Pete and I work thousands of miles apart but we both have the same Prusa printer. So we share files and test designs constantly.
We’ve taken inspiration from dozens of games. You’ll see little nods to Iron Maiden, Beatles, Medieval Madness and Addams Family in our homebrew games. We love to emulate classic 60s-70s games that have more purely kinetic features.
TWIP: When are you hoping for the new game modules to start shipping out?
[Ben]: If all goes well with the Kickstarter we’ll be shipping in November. We have about 30 days left and we’re only at 20% of our goal. We’re counting on a rally from the international pinball community!
TWIP: I know it might be early since you just now started the campaign for the new modules, but are there more game modules planned for the future? What are your next milestones for the PinBox 3000 platform?
[Ben]: Yes! We were initially going to launch three games but we got overly ambitious with the third design and didn’t want to rush the art. We have about three games on the back burner that are very different. One has a second level like Black Knight. With this new papercraft, slot-and-tab system it will be hard to stop designing.
With these first two games in this series we plan to retheme with new art a few times before we move to the next design. The dies are very expensive. And we are a small company with basically zero employees. So we’d like to lock our four person creative team in place, have 15 limited-edition games in our catalog at all times, and be nimble enough to do small runs for specialty orders. So if you wanted a custom game for your family reunion or wedding, we could do that.
We’re so pleased to have Michael Tonn (art) and Raychel Severance (graphic design) as part of our creative team. They love the PinBox 3000 and have a lot to contribute to making it an incredible experience for the end user and we’d love to give them all the work we can!
We’re also upgrading our curriculum and project guides for educators with the help of the Generator Maker Space in Burlington. We have help from hundreds of teachers who have been using it in their classrooms for the last 8 years with great results.
We have a few other products in mind that would add to the cardboard designing pinball experience, but I can’t mention them here! Other toy ideas are also brewing. Once you go through the manufacturing process, you learn so much about what is possible. Cardboard is the most accessible material with the most potential.
We are grateful to everyone who sees our vision for this project. Bringing craft pinball to all the future designers of the world will grow the pinball community and give the industry a long life, if we invest in young makers.
Thanks for the opportunity to talk about the PinBox 3000. I’m very excited for what’s to come, if you can’t tell.