After nearly five years of unavailability, Nucore – the enhanced replacement Pinball 2000 operating system – is back.  And even better, it’s now free.

Nucore from Big Guys Pinball
Nucore from Big Guys Pinball

The two production machines in the Pinball 2000 range – Revenge from Mars and Star Wars Episode 1 – ran on a very specific PC motherboard which used a Cyrix MediaGX processor and a proprietary operating system.  It also needed a custom PCB called a PRISM card to hold the eight game EPROMs, with the system driving a 19-inch cathode-ray tube monitor.

Back in the late ’90s when the system was developed these might have been commonly-available parts, but technology moves at a rapid pace and while many systems are still in regular use, Cyrix is no more while EPROMs and CRTs are fast becoming the stuff of history.  Anyone wanting to keep these Pinball 2000 games running needed a modern replacement solution, and that’s what Nucore provided.

Nucore was created by Steve Ellenoff, Chuck Hess, and Don Weingarden who formed Big Guys Pinball to develop and eventually market the product.

Running on a standard PC using an open-source Linux operating system and displaying its output on an off-the-shelf LCD monitor, Nucore ran faster than the original Pinball 2000 system, providing better screen rendering, smoother animations, and the opportunity to add multiple feature enhancements.

Nucore's jukebox feature on a Star Wars Episode 1 pinball
Nucore‘s jukebox feature on a Star Wars Episode 1 pinball

The Nucore enhanced emulation software used the original Pinball 2000 game code and media assets, and went on sale in 2009.  The $400 package included the software installation CD, a USB in/out module and a USB cable, with the option to purchase an amplifier board to drive the game’s speakers, a metal case and a VGA adapter to connect to the original CRT monitor.

Although it was arguable whether the Nucore system violated any Williams’ patents in emulating the original operating system, Big Guys Pinball worked with the two Williams Pinball licence-holders at the time – Wayne Gillard and Gene Cunningham – to ensure Nucore would be both legal and an officially-licensed product.

Shortly before Planetary Pinball Supply became the sole Williams pinball licensor, Big Guys Pinball stopped selling Nucore while negotiations began to continue the licensing agreement.

But everything came to a sudden halt with the release of Pinbox.

Pinbox was the name given to an unauthorised distribution of Nucore with the copy-protection removed.  It was made available to download, install and use for free.

Although the website providing the download was shut down fairly quickly, Pinbox was now out in the public domain and continued to be freely-available on various file-sharing sites.

Nucore hadn’t returned in the nearly five years since it was withdrawn, until August this year when Big Guys Pinball announced its comeback with the release of a new version of the software.

Version 2.25 fixes a number of bugs in the core code, adds some performance enhancements and extra features, and makes it ready for future Linux system updates.  It is available to download on the Big Guys Pinball website and, like Pinbox, it is totally free.  It even works as an update to any existing Pinbox installations.

Although this release is free, it is listed as an update for existing Nucore users since it doesn’t come as a full from-scratch installer package and doesn’t include the same level of support as previously-purchased installations. However, anyone capable of building a Linux PC will find nearly all the information they need to install Nucore in the provided documentation and in the support forum.

The release of the free download also doesn’t mean development of Nucore is at an end, nor that a future paid, fully-supported and updated version won’t be coming.

Chuck Hess of Big Guys Pinball told Pinball News, “This move was the best way to get Nucore back on the market under current conditions. Don and I have discussed creating new versions of Nucore in the future and selling those future upgrades. We have just been flooded with people requesting to get Nucore back on the market to save Pinball 2000 machines. We did promise people we would make sure to continue to support them in the future, and this move is keeping that promise.

As for the peripherals such as the audio amplifier and metal case, Chuck told us the amplifier could be sold again if there is sufficient demand, but the metal case was difficult to manufacture and probably won’t be making a return.  He said if there was any interest, he would be willing to share the design plans with anyone who wanted to make a case for themselves.

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4 Comments

  1. Andrew Ross

    August 22, 2017 at 4:11 pm

    Haven’t all the Pinball 2000 patents expired by now?

    Reply

  2. ForceFlow

    August 22, 2017 at 10:02 pm

    Patents, yes. Copyrights, no.

    Reply

  3. Enver

    August 23, 2017 at 8:18 pm

    Hmmm. There was a 35USD handling fee for the source code that has to be published because NuCore is based (and directly linked with) GPL’d QEMU. I tried to pay it but never received an answer.

    So if this is Free now, I hope it is Free as in Free Speech, not as in Free Beer. Frankly, it has to be unless it keeps violating the GPL.

    Reply

  4. Oliver

    November 1, 2017 at 8:00 pm

    This all smells bad to me I will just keep using my free PINBOX

    Reply

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