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  • Last of the publicity from Maker Faire UK

    Posted on March 25th, 2009 Iain No comments

    The last bits of publicity from Maker Faire UK went out this week. BBC Radio 4 did a nice bit in their technology programme called “Click On”, then this excellent video of Lunar Lander went up on the BBC News technology web site. Note to self – try not to grin like a loon (hard though – this is fun).

    Now my 15 minutes of fame is elapsed I can get on and make stuff. I’ve come up with a circular carousel design for the Lunar Lander badge dispenser which I think is going to work much better than the previous attempt.

  • Making haste slowly

    Posted on March 23rd, 2009 Iain No comments

    A week back from Newcastle, and it seems not a lot has changed on Lunar Lander, but sometimes thinking about stuff is the hardest part. When I got back I found the nixie tubes that will be used to display the score and drivers had been delivered. Making a neat job of mounting and wiring the Nixies looked like the devils job, so I reluctantly decided to make a PCB for the nixie drivers. Reluctantly because I would rather make stuff with my hands than sit in front of the PC and design a board. Still it will be better in the long run! Eagle is a very strange program, it scares me more than anything else except Blender. Still there is something very addictive about routing PCBs. The joy of finding good ways to run the wires and the chase to eliminate the evil vias. Someone should make a game out of it.

    I finally got around to painting the bare wood on the lander module and also the housings for the big meters. With that job done I finalised the arrangement of the lighting and instruments on the control panel. That fixes a lot of open design options which means “all I have to do is make it”.

    I also started to design the “badge dispenser” which will give out a prize if you complete all the levels. I thought I was making good progress last night, but the first design jams far too easily. Back to the drawing board.

  • Lunar Lander at Makerfaire UK update

    Posted on March 16th, 2009 Iain No comments

    Back home from Makerfaire UK in Newcastle.

    Of course I tempted fate by saying that Lunar Lander had worked perfectly. When I powered it up on Sunday morning the horizontal motor was stalling when the carriage got to one end of the track. Seems to be primarily due to a dodgy earth connection on a piece of breadboard I used to temporarily route the power supply (bad idea of course). However I also noticed that the pulley at one end of the track fouls on the bearing block for the carriage so a bit or rework there would be good.

    With the power supply fixed it worked fine again, so I am cautiously optimistic.

    There are quite a few things about the game that I think I will change from what I learnt.

    • Basic parameters for the game seem about right.
    • Even quite little kids can play it well once they get the hang of the controls
    • Using “thrust” to slow down isn’t an obvious concept to a lot of people. They assume that thrust will always make you go faster. Needs a bit of explanation on that aspect.
    • Once people understand the controls they normally make a reasonable attempt at landing. However the first few goes they either don’t use the thrust enough (or at all) or do it too late. I think the best way to give people a fair go at the arcade is to offer lots of “trys” to land (perhaps about 10), but limit the total amount of fuel. That means that people will still have enough time to get some fun even if they play really badly, and people who understand the controls will still have a challenge to land on all three levels
    • The transitions between levels need to be speeded up (well I pretty much knew that anyway)
    • It might be good to spot some common mistakes and provide tailored advice to help people improve (not using the rocket enough, only firing the rocket near the bottom, letting the ship go too fast)
    • <Edit 2>Need to collect game metrics – how many plays, how many wins and stuff. Something I really missed having at the faire. It would be nice to know how many people played.

    <Edit> Oh – and it should have a big blue “Lunar Contact” light just like the real Apollo

    The game was a big hit with all ages (apart from the few teenagers that showed up, but then they don’t like much anyway). Several people were kind enough to say it was their favourite thing at the faire.

  • Makerfaire UK – Newcastle

    Posted on March 15th, 2009 Iain No comments

    Getting ready for day 2 of the first Makerfaire UK here in Newcastle. They recokon over 2500 people came through yesterday. Seems like all of them wanted to play Lunarlander. A big hit it seems! All the mechanics are coping well with the use – great testing regime.

    All the visitors have been really good and interested in the projects and how they are put together. Great to meet a few people who I know through the net, but not in real life too.

    Dealing with the press has been interesting. The first TV interview was with the local ITV news and I foolishly agreed to do it wearing the Hat Hack. They really caught me on the hop as I was still setting up when the arrived. I think I might have looked like a twat. The Hat Hack is great, but you have to wear it in the right context.  Standing in a tent during the day with it on is a bit like going to do your shopping in a dinner suit.  Did anybody see the clip?

    On the positive side 5Live were really keen and asked some good questions. More TV and radio expected in tomorrow. Hopefully I’ve learnt a bit about how to do a good job now.

  • Nixie tubes in lunar lander and musings on complexity

    Posted on March 12th, 2009 Iain No comments

    Without knowing quite how – I’ve decided to use nixie tubes to provide a score display for Lunar Lander. I’ve wanted to play with them for ages, but never had a project where it made sense. I didn’t want to do a nixie clock because it’s such a geek cliché. The score board might replace one of the analog meters on the display panel.

    This is making a project that is already too complicated even more so, but its going to provide another level of richness to the experience. You can make anything appear on an LCD screen, but the actual experience of solid objects that move and glow is more satisfying. Let’s hope the combined effect pays off. I want to have something with the richness of a pinball machine or a (British) fruit machine. The news that a pinball machine has half a mile of wiring and 3500 components scares me.

    The really sweet thing to do is to invent simple things that are still very interesting. My problem is that my ideas seem to require complex implementation. I am clearly not the only person with this problem. I went to see Felix’s machines recently. They are increadibly densely worked with many moving parts. The whole installation is tiny though – just the corner of a room with a huge loom of wiring to move all the servos. Overwhelming the user with massive visual impact doesn’t come easy.

  • Going to MakersFaire UK

    Posted on March 8th, 2009 Iain No comments

    Yes indeed. I am going to MakersFaire UK in Newcastle on March 14th and 15th.

    As well as the prototype of Lunar Lander (hopefully working) I’ll be bringing the Hat Hack and the Honkatron and probably a few more things as well. It’s the first time I’ve taken this stuff to an exhibition targeted at the general public. It’ll be interesting to see the reaction.

    For some reason I’ve been listed in the “craft” section of the programme. I guess the Hat Hack being made of cloth has given a false impression of my work.

  • Lunar Lander – working!

    Posted on March 8th, 2009 Iain No comments

    After a successful summer run of Cyclepong I started working on a second arcade machine at the end of 2008. As usual it’s taken far more time than I ever imagined, but finally there is a working prototype!

    After the effort of getting something that works I’ve just taken it all apart to pack and take to Makersfaire UK next weekend in Newcastle. Taking it to pieces I managed to drop one of the circuit boards and break an (unused) bit off! Moving any kind of handmade project is a real trauma. If you are around come along and see if I manage to get it back together and working again!