READY.[ ]

As a lover of the Commodore 64 (where would I be without it? It gave me a career and a life) I have always wanted to do this:

If you know, you know.

If you don’t, this is the input prompt for the Commodore 64. The C64 prints “READY.” and on the next line a flashing square (rectangular in NTSC versions) cursor awaiting your command.

To make this, I grabbed a screenshot much like the above, then imported it into a vector graphics program and drew the letters and cursor in vector lines. This is then fed into my Cricut software as cut lines, and I used a nice sky blue Permanent Vinyl material.

I cut the shape, then culled out the plastic I didn’t need (this is known as weeding) and then pressed a sticky transfer sheet onto the design and took it to my car where I peeled off the plastic’s backing paper, applied the design with the transfer sheet, then carefully peeled up the transfer sheet leaving the design behind.

And lest anyone worry, this is a fairly permanent material. Several years ago I applied a similar material to a side window in the shape of the Perseverance Rover logo, and it’s still on the car.

It has a few heat cracks now, but they appeared long after I applied it.

I also placed a Huxter Labs logo on the opposite side window from the Rover logo.

For anyone who wants the vector file of the READY. C64 prompt, for some reason WordPress does not allow .svg vector files.

However, if you right-click on this link and SAVE AS, it will download the .SVG file:

http://huxter.org/files/Ready_For_Cricut_Import.svg

Clicking on it will view the vector line drawing, but right-click-SAVE AS will download the file for your use.

Huxter Labs (Huxter Industries) – Where did the Logo come from?

For some years now I have been creating toys under the Huxter Labs and Huxter Industries names. The back story is that Huxter Labs (or Huxter Laboratory Industries) now outfits the Adventure Team in an unofficial capacity. And for years I have been using this logo:

So where did this come from?

It is a simple evolution of the Adventure Team Logo.

The Adventure Team Logo is an A and a T in black on a red field. It has been in use since 1970. It has been revived in more recent years by Hasbro as a Classic Collection series of figures and accessories, and even used on a few Sigma Six figures.

Every GI Joe Adventure Team enthusiast knows and loves this logo. So I decided to make a logo that would evoke the original while being wholly my own.

First, I removed the upright that forms the vertical part of the letter T:

Then I split it down the middle:

Then I flipped the right vertically:

For the Huxter Labs Logo:

But I didn’t want it to look too much like the Adventure Team, so I removed the red field:

Then decided on a blue color.

But why this shape? Just a half-upside-down AT logo?

H for Huxter:

L for Labs:

And if I want the option to use the Industries part:

I hope that clears that up.

Mission to the Isle of Doom – A New GI Joe Set

Earlier this year, Greg Brown of Cotswold Collectibles contacted me to put together a new set. The idea would be to make a new SCUBA set with a black neoprene suit, flippers, mask, air tank and sea sled. Greg would have the suit and flippers made, and wanted to use the backlog of orange SCUBA hoses he had in stock.

The ask was to reuse the Sea Sled from the Catastrophe in the Gulf set we had done in 2021. Reprint the Sea Sled in orange and black to complement the black suit and orange hoses.

But he also wanted a new air tank, unlike the one I made for the Gulf set. And he sent me some images of existing high-tech SCUBA tanks to prod me.

I ended up making one that both fit the original ideas, as well as complemented the Sea Sled, so the two together looked like a cohesive set.

(Scout is helping)

The Catastrophe in the Gulf Sea Sled was using an existing third-part battery-operated motor, very similar to some original GI Joe gear. Back in the 1960s and 1970s many toy used motors much like this, attached to boats, submarines, and even GI Joe sets. So it was fitting.

However, for the new set, Greg didn’t want to add a blue motor, so I came up with the idea of a spear gun, slung in its place, fitting to the very same peg that was already modeled into the Sea Sled.

(Early version shown before I figured out the spring trigger.)

This Spear Gun would have to be large enough to house a spring, a firing mechanism, and to fit spears. I came up with a pretty cool design using the springs I had previously used for the detonator for the Spy Island set. To make that work I had to make side slots to fit the spear in so it would fire properly, and to do that I had to add fins to the sides of these spears. The fins are what the spring pushes against. Without them, it would not have been possible. But since fins would naturally help guide a missile through water, it seemed fitting. Unique design, probably not seen before.

I made two spear heads, one an explosive tip, and one a missile tip. I have a few other designs in the wings I can use for expansion sets or new sets if I want.

The mask was a challenge. I was going to go with the same mask I had used for the Gulf set but that one was an “innie”, it had holes to fit paracord. This one had to be an “outie” to fit into the existing hoses. And also, the original face breather had paddles on the side to fit into the thick blue head cover. It was clear early on that the new black suits were not as thick, and that would not work, so Greg asked for a full face mask, and it was a bit of a daunting task. It took a while to design and get working, and in that scale, it really should be printed in resin on my resin printers, which can only operate from May to October, as I have to print in an unheated garage.

So it took a while, but I eventually designed a face mask that is quite modern and quite nice if I do say so myself. I modeled a slot all around the eye opening to fit a clear plastic visor. And since it was a 3D model, I was able to take the shape of that slot, separate it out, and straighten it (since it was modeled on a curve) and then use that line image to move to a vector program to create a file to cut on my Cricut desktop cutter. I bought some light filter plastic film and cut out the mask visors.

Snapping them in place was a bit challenging, but once they got into place they fit perfectly.

I found some small gauge elastic (harder than you’d think) and epoxy-cemented them into place for a nice fit.

I have to say it is a pretty impressive set as a whole. It came together perfectly and the elements all look like they belong.

Some have compared the set to James Bond or original Adventure Team, and I ain’t mad about that. Clearly Adventure Team is my main inspiration, but in this case Bond came to mind. And while the inspiration is visible, these are entirely my own design.

When I was done I created a version of the set in red and black (with red visor) and it will go with my Spy Island set as a further addition. A one-off for me.

Skunkworks YouTube channel reviewed this set. Check it out.

 

Seaside Chess Set – Revisited

In 2013, not long after I got my first 3D printer, I immediately wanted to make a chess set, but not a typical chess set. Not the typical turned-on-a-lathe set of columns, but something unique. I think I must have recently been to a seaside and visited some lighthouses or something, because those structures were solidly in my head, and I had a great idea for a chess set.

However the result was ultimately disappointing. While the concept of having two-colored structural beams as the body looked Ok, printing it with my 3D printer (an FDM Printer using reels of ABS filament) did not achieve quite the effect I wanted. I wanted heft, some weight, and these printers print very light. I could weigh down the bases with washers or nuts, but ultimately, the printer didn’t give me the resolution I wanted. So this set went unattended for many years.

That said, I did do a solid set with solid walls for Afinia two years later, or for a competition or something. I forget why, but I did that, which was more or less an adaptation of this set, with a brick base now, and an octagonal solid building structure, but the heads were the same.

Even here from the render I took of the pieces laid out in the modeling program, you could see my intent for the board. This version was made in 2015.

When I got a resin printer, an Anycubic Photon, I finally had something that could not only print these pieces in a much higher resolution, and also solid resin is heavier than hollow plastic.

I did, however, have to remodel everything as solid, since they were originally made to be printed in multiple pieces and assembled. And unbenownst to me, there were some errors in the models.

I printed them in a semi-transparent blue and red. And they came out far better than expected.

A blurry photo. Here you see the Bishop, King, Queen and Pawns.

Closer detail of some:

King and Queen

Eight pointed crown indicating she can move in 8 directions. Tall, pointed crown. The King has the same crown, but is smaller, and has the typical Cross on top.

Bishop

A diagonal cut in the head indicates the Bishop can move in diagonal directions.

Knight

Bent pipe is intended to give a similar impression as the more standard horse head, indicating that this piece moves in an L shape direction. Note the valve wheel. This is a repeated theme. The Bishop and Rook also have this detail.

Rook

The Rook has a four-part parapet at the top. Also, as I said, the valve wheel sits atop the piece.

Note the slightly pebbled finish. This isn’t the resin printing, it was the satin clear-coat overspray.

The wheel is inside the mostly hollow head of the Bishop too. It is hard to see, but if you ever look closely in there, you will see the value wheel.

The Board

It took me a long time to consider how to make a chess board. This was going to be for my daughter-in-law, who, with my daughter, got into playing chess a while ago. They live in a small apartment and I didn’t want to burden them with a large heavy chess board. Sadly, it still had to be large, but didn’t have to be heavy.

I am not a wood-worker, so I didn’t really want to make one out of wood. Nor ABS plastic. That would look cheap. I went to my local hardware store and was seriously considering square wall tiles in two tones of blue, or blue and white, but man, those tiles are heavy.

Then I remembered a plastic wall sheet I had used last year to cover a hole in a wall put there by people repairing a crack in our basement. It was just less than 1cm thick, and plenty large to cut a board from, and it also had a grainy surface, I assume meant to look a bit like wood grain, but might also work well as water waves.

And in order to get a more natural wave idea across, I opted not to cut the board with the grain. Instead I angled the board to an angle that made for a natural flow of water on an angle across the surface. So I cut and sanded the edges smooth. The plastic cut rather easily with a carpet knife.

Then I used fine art acrylic paints, which I had used previously on some paintings I did for myself. I started with shallow water, a turquoise, and gradated it roughly out to a dark, deep water on the opposite corner.

Then I painted some wave differentiation:

A bit rough for now, but more or less what I wanted. Then I painted in breakers:

And I was done. Then I spray-painted the underside with a satin teal.

Once all this dried, I covered the entire board with blue masking tape, measured out the squares, and penciled them in.

Then I cut those lines, and peeled alternating pieces of the tape:

Once I had all the pieces peeled:

I sprayed the open pieces with a light spray of the same teal I used on the underside.

Overall, this came out exactly as I had hoped.

Kinda.

Yeah, I made a few OOPSIES here and there:

A Box

Then I needed a box to keep the pieces in. I found one at Michaels, and used foam-core and white glue to make dividers, to keep the pieces from bashing around inside. Resin doesn’t like that, even though, I had spray-painted all of the pieces with a satin clear-coat to prevent scraping and marking that happens with cured resin parts.

I just rendered a view of the pieces, and added text on a label and put it on the box lid.

And inside:

Result

Yeah, I was pretty happy with how this came out.

 

Some Random Thoughts on Interactive Fiction

… now that I’m writing IF again.

Interactive Fiction was invented in the 1970s and was not called that at the time. ADVENT, the short file name for Adventure, which later became Collosal Cave Adventure by Will Crowther started it all. A fan of spelunking, he converted his exploration experiences into a computer program that let you explore the very caves he did, only in text on a computer.

Don Woods later added to this program, adding some Tolkienesque fantasy elements. This would later be adapted by the good folks at INFOCOM as Zork, one of the most popular and beloved computer games of all time and spawned several sequels.

Aside: Recently I attended a dinner party for several hundred under a tent in Hudson, to celebrate art and support the Hudson Armory Project, and we sat with a couple older than us. The wife of the couple said she loved Zork. And she was in her seventies and talked fondly of the game. It was also the introduction into computer games for millions of people.

Generally, in a typical IF game from that era, you would be placed in a world of rooms, connected by directions, so you started in one room, and that room revealed exits to other rooms. Throughout the flow of the game, you would explore all of the rooms, and examine and pick up many objects, some of which were useful, some not. Some were vital to gameplay, and the goal was, early on, to simply collect these as trophies, but as the games got more sophisticated, these objects presented as parts of puzzles you had to figure out. Often a broken machine, or some other thing, you had to repair using these parts.

Story elements featured strongly, even early on, but as the years and decades went by, Adventure Games, or Text Adventures, evolved into Interactive Fiction, a term coined by INFOCOM. And story elements would almost take over from puzzles and mazes to become real works of literary art.

But at the very heart of any IF game or story, is an object-oriented computer program that allows you, through use of language, to manipulate variables. That’s it. That’s all it does. You change the state of objects, and you “win” or “finish” the game/story by putting the variables of a list of objects in a very specific state.

When these states line up, game is over.

Literally –  the game is just changing states of objects, then comparing those states to desired states, and proceeding or stopping based on those states.

I work for a computer game company. My first game was a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game. An MMORGP, often now shortened to an MMO. A 3D world, animated creatures, a fully mapped world that spanned 24km x 24km. And you could run across it seamlessly from one end to the other without any zoning, or loading of cordoned-off areas. It was a fully flowable world, and loaded landblock by landblock.

Even that RPG was a long set of objects with variable states, and all gameplay was geared to changing the states of these objects.

In its ultimately reduced state, any 3D RPG is just a graphical interface over a spreadsheet.

People play the game, but what they are actually doing is manipulating all of the cells in a spreadsheet, hoping to improve the variables, which relate directly to traits in the game.

An Interactive Fiction is a non-graphical text-based interface over a spreadsheet.

It is nothing more than that.

However, the objects and variables are dressed up in text, rooms, connections, puzzles, mood – story.

Anyone can write a game of manipulating variables. But it would be uninteresting.

No one who plays an RPG or IF game would do it if the graphical representation, or the textual representation, were not there.

It is how these objects are presented to the player that makes it a real game. Or story.

So let’s consider a hypothetical example of an Interactive Fiction game, or story:

Bottom line: You need to gather three items, combine them together into a single component part for a machine, then put that part into the machine, which, repaired, stops a disaster from happening that might kill millions of people.

What’s needed?

Obviously you need the parts. You need a machine. You need three separate parts that you combine together to repair the machine.

That’s literally it.

You may name the parts “PART_1”, “PART_2”, “PART_3” and “MACHINE”, and put them all in the same room, with commands that allow you to “>COMBINE PART_1 AND PART_2” (which then creates PART_4), and then “>COMBINE PART_3 AND PART_4”, which creates PART_5. Then you can “>PUT PART_5 INTO MACHINE” and it’s game over.

During each move, the computer is manipulating variables on these objects, and each turn, compares those variable states to a predetermined state pattern.

So only when “>PUT PART_5 INTO MACHINE” do the variables all line up, and the computer prints “YOU WIN”.

But that’s not a game. I mean… it could be a game. But it’s not that interesting, and it is certainly not much of a story.

So let’s first create some rooms.

Rooms are also just objects. Also the player is an object. Room objects are simply locations any object can be in because each object has a variable: Location which tells it which room it’s in. Rooms also have variables attached which tell it what other Rooms you can be transported to if you “>GO NORTH” or “>GO DOWN”, etc. Each room has a matrix of variables which determines which object the player’s location becomes when you make directional moves via text.

So when you are in ROOM_1, and you say “>GO NORTH”, the game checks what Room is pointed to by that direction, and sets the player’s location to that new Room object.

Similarly, an object has a location, and the location can be the player, which implies the player (you) is carrying the object now.

Objects have another property called Description, which is a text string that describes the object.

So PART_1 may have a Description: “A red cylinder with loose wires dangling from it.” Meanwhile PART_2 may have Description: “A blue box with holes for wires.”

This text is meaningless to the computer. It doesn’t care. The only thing it cares about is that when you “>COMBINE PART_1 AND PART_2” these are generally removed from play by setting their Locations to NULL and setting PART_4’s location as the player. PART_4’s Description might be “A long box with a cylinder in it, with wires now connected.”

See? So by combining parts together you give the player the illusion you are doing something real in the game world. You just partly repaired a machine’s component, when in reality you did no such thing. Now you have to continue until that part is fully repaired, then you use it to repair the machine.

But the only thing telling the player this is the text. Otherwise it’s changing the location of objects, the objects themselves, and nothing more.

What about Rooms? This can all happen in one room. But what would be the fun in that? (Notably, some very excellent games do take place in one room, but most happen in larger environments, some quite sprawling.)

So we make more rooms. We generally create a building or a complex, or an outside area, a forest, whatever. It doesn’t matter really. Inside the computer it’s still just a series of objects connected through variables.

Should each room have a purpose? For this game, should there be only four rooms? One holding the machine, and one holding each of the three parts you must combine together to repair the machine?

It would be more fun for sure. But is it fun enough? Why not create a dozen rooms and make the player hunt for the objects? Better.

Then you can hide the objects by putting them in Containers, which are simply objects that can hold other objects. And a property can say they are hidden when inside a Container object. So you may have to “>OPEN SAFE” to reveal what the SAFE object holds within it.

You can make it so that you must have an object to get another object. Like a key, which you may have to search for first, before you can >OPEN SAFE to find the item you really needed.

So it is important to have more rooms than you need, probably. You can get away with a minimalist approach, where every room holds something useful, or you can embellish the world by having intermediary rooms that have no purpose whatever except to provide the illusion of a more meaningful, fully fleshed-out world.

Perhaps to get from the Machine Room to the room that holds PART_1, you have to move through East Hallway, then Middle Hallway and finally West Hallway, before you can get to Dark Closet, where SAFE’s location is set to, and “>OPEN SAFE” which reveals the PART_1.

Some games do this to extremes, creating mazes you have to traverse before you can get to Dark Closet. Some mazes are so twisted that they can twist back on themselves, and can be completely non-linear and make no sense if you try to map it out on paper. These days, however, mazes are considered passe, or at the very least, unnecessary, and in many eyes, annoying.

It’s a fine balance to know how many rooms should have no purpose but to be an intervening space between rooms that do matter. 50 rooms when only 4 are important? Excessive! And highly frustrating. 50 rooms when 20 or 30 are important – may be a good balance.

Even if a room is unimportant, it is generous to give a player something to see or do in those rooms, both to distinguish them, to make a player remember them in a mental map, and just for world-building detail.

So you make a fully fleshed-out building with rooms with no purpose connecting rooms with purpose, within reason. (Reason being a highly arbitrary term.)

And objects? What if a game only had objects that finish the plot? Wouldn’t that also be less than ideal?

So we might create a number of pointless objects. Red Herrings that have no purpose other than to fill out the world. Some might even do cool things, even though they have no real effect on the outcome of the game.

Would you create a Kitchen without a Counter, Stove, Refrigerator, Sink? And would you not want plates, salt shakers, food, etc, to be present? Even if they do nothing?

But what of that? Should they do nothing?

At the very minimum they should have a description. “A half-full salt shaker.”

But what fun would that be if you couldn’t do things with these objects?

“>SHAKE SALT SHAKER” should give some kind of textual response, like maybe “You sprinkle some salt on the floor.”

“>TASTE SALT SHAKER”
“Mmmm, salty.”

Again the balance of useless but fun objects should be carefully weighed. When you encounter an object that matters, it should seem like just another thing, but in fact is actually important to the outcome of the game.

Ambient objects have variables that may mean nothing, but vital objects have variables that affect the outcome of the game when the game checks to see what variables line up with the desired end state.

So you want a series of rooms, only some of which are useful. And a list of objects that fill out the world’s story, but have no real purpose. And a list of objects that do have real purpose.

Debate rages on about unnecessary rooms. Some people think they are superfluous and no room should exist that has no purpose. But there are many reasons to have these rooms. Let’s say for example you have a hub room that leads to many rooms in the 8 cardinal directions, but each of the other rooms you may want to put a door. If you try to put 8 doors in the hub room, and you ask “>EXAMINE DOOR”, you will confuse the game. Which door? There are eight doors in this room.

A common solution is to make RED DOOR, BLUE DOOR, GREEN DOOR, YELLOW DOOR, etc, and since the parser can understand both words as the object, >OPEN DOOR will elicit a question “Which door, the Red Door, the Blue Door, The Green Door” etc. Or you can type >OPEN GREEN and it will just work.

Do you know many buildings whose doors in a common hallway are different colors? (I capitulate there may be a few…)

How about DOOR ONE, DOOR TWO, DOOR THREE, etc? More common in real world scenarios, sure, but it does tend to make you lose track in your mental map as you play. Without a physical map in front of you (most games would provide this, or you map as you go) then you would quickly lose track, I think.

To alleviate this, you can make an intervening room in each direction, each of which leads to the 8 vital rooms. Then, if you go NE towards the NE room, you can be in a hallway between the hub and the room. That hallway can have one door, and if you say “>EXAMINE DOOR” which now would have no problems disambiguating the door, since there is only one in the room.

So this is all pretty dry stuff. Objects, Variables, Manipulating variables via text, comparing variables to desired settings, and then printing out a “Win” message.

 

Then there’s STORY. The heart of the matter.

We can add People. Characters. Interactions. Hidden rooms. Hidden objects. Objects that do nothing until you “>SEARCH THEM” which may reveal more about them. Perhaps PART_3 has a screw hidden inside it that is vital to attach PART_5 to MACHINE, which is not obvious on “>EXAMINE PART_3” but is revealed on “>SEARCH PART_3”.

>EXAMINE can generally be thought of as a cursory glance, while >SEARCH means a detailed look, and may include peering closely at it, which may reveal details not noticeable on a cursory glance. This is of course contextual as chosen by the Implementer.

The story comes when you begin describing your Rooms, your Objects, and any text that is printed out when you make a move which changes the variables of these rooms or objects.

Imagine:

You have PART_4 (the result of combining 1 and 2) and PART_3. When you type “>COMBINE PART_4 WITH PART_3)”, the code checks that you have the two objects, but also interprets your command and can respond in text. It could simply remove PART_3 and PART_4 from play and make the location of PART_5 (the fully-repaired component) the player, and provide no feedback whatever. The internal state change would be the same.

But it is not smart in a game to do this silently. The output could simply say “Done.” and when you examine the object, you would maybe see “The fully repaired component.”

But where’s the story in that? Better, when you combine the objects, the response to the command can be:

“You push and twist, and finally the partly repaired part fits into the Spring-Loaded Box. Lights flash and the repaired component begins to get warm.”

This is what makes Interactive Fiction a game or story. Not just what’s going on underneath, what happens in the spreadsheet, but much more importantly, how the changing of the variables is presented in text to the player who does the manipulation.

Also adding non-game-important properties to an object can add to the story. Like let’s say each part can have IS COLD, IS WARM, IS HOT as properties, and as you combine parts, you set these properties in the same command statement.

So you could have:

>COMBINE PART_1 WITH PART_2
Done

>COMBINE PART_4 WITH PART_3
Done

>PUT PART_4 INTO MACHINE
You Win.

Fun right?

Not so much.

Instead try:

>COMBINE RED CYLINDER WITH BLUE BOX
You push the parts together and notice that they almost fit, but the wires are in the way. You twist the wires and push them through the holes in the blue box until they snap to connect, and you hear a high-pitched whine and a click. Lights on the partially repaired part begin to glow.

>EXAMINE PARTIALLY REPAIRED PART
The partially repaired part is getting warm.

>COMBINE THE PARTIALLY REPAIRED PART WITH THE GREEN TUBE
Though it doesn’t look like it should work, with enough effort and persistence, the parts mesh together and begin to glow brightly to form a fully repaired part. The heat is getting intense.

>EXAMINE REPAIRED PART
The fully repaired part is getting a bit hot to handle.

>PUT REPAIRED PART INTO MACHINE
Gently sliding the repaired part into the machine causes a series of sparks, a loud noise, until you hear gears meshing and a growing hum of what can only be described as engine efficiency. A loud hum begins to decrease, settling into a nice low-key sub-aural vibration. The lights around the complex begin to fire up, a few at first, but more and more until the whole place is lit like daylight.

Soon doors begin to open, and people, groggy at first, begin to walk out into the open space. They notice you and are confused, but slowly they come to understand that you are the hero they’ve been waiting for all this time. Suspended in cryo-sleep, these men and women may have never been revived if you had not come along and stumbled upon their plight.

They surround you and sway, cheers and cries of joy begin low and slow, but soon are a raucous noise of celebration as they begin to understand what happened, and how you must have been the one to free them.

They lift you onto their shoulders and carry you through the complex, telling everyone they encounter just what you did to save their entire civilization.

YOU WIN.

See?

It’s really that simple. You are no longer just manipulating variables on computer objects, but affecting a world.

Great, right?

But that’s not all there is either.

Oops.

What happens if you try to put PART_7 into PART_1? It should fail. But not silently. Generally in IF, when you do something to an object that has no in-game effect, you get a message telling you that it can’t be done. It might be pointless to put PART_7 into PART_1 because there is no game benefit. And if you did, it would not help win the game. So we’d need some kind of response that helps you figure out not only that it didn’t work, but provide some hint as to why.

>COMBINE PART_1 AND PART_7
You try to force the red cylinder into the coffee maker, but there just does not seem to be a way to do it.

This is a gentle way the game has of telling you this is not intended to do anything.

Error messages are intended to prod, not slam you with a sledgehammer. If you “>GO NORTH” in a place that has no North exit, you will see “You can’t go that way.” Fine. The computer has told you what you need to know. This is clearly a generic error response when you try to go in a direction that has no destination location.

(It would be an awful cheat, on a Douglas Adams level, to say “You can’t go that way.” only to find that if you >PUSH NORTH that it lets you go there Or if you >GO NORTH three times, and the third time lets you. Mis-use of a generic error message may be seen as cruel, or at the very least heartless.)

(NOTE TO SELF: Write that game! The game where every default response actually is hiding the fact that you CAN do the thing, if you do it in a special way.)

(NOTE TO SELF: Don’t. People would carry pitchforks and torches to your door.)

The same would go for any command that does nothing useful in the game.

>EAT PART_1
That’s not edible.

This command checks PART_1 for a property IS_EDIBLE and if it is not, it spits out the default error response message. If IS_EDIBLE is true, then it will do something meaningful, responding with a different message, one of success. But even that may have a default. If it is edible, it may simply say “You eat PART_1.” and removes it from play. Which may not be desirable either, so in a case where a game/story requires eating PART_1 to do somethin game-useful, then the Implmenter has to code that specifically.

An IF Parser is filled with these default responses for commands that could do something with the right objects, but fails to do something to the wrong objects. Sometimes these responses are very … uninteresting. But they are soon easily recognized as the game telling you that this is not something that could work in the course of play.

But perhaps you want PART_7 to fit into PART_9. So if you put it into PART_3, and you don’t want that to happen, it should not just respond with a default response, if at all possible, it should inform the player that putting PART_7 can fit into something, just not PART_3:

>COMBINE PART_7 WITH PART_3
The aperture in the yellow laptop is not the right shape for the Blue Box to fit in.

This is a way of saying this is not a generic error which might mean the very action of combining is not designed to work with any of these objects, but instead tell you that the action would work if you had the correct objects.

You might even get more direct with the message:

The aperture in the yellow laptop is not the right shape for the Blue Box to fit in. The aperture is too large.

Hinting that a smaller object might indeed fit.

So what is the point of all of these default responses? Don’t they, too, hint that perhaps the command would work in the right situation? Sometimes these default responses seem less than informative.

I mean at which point should an error response just reduce to:

No.

?

>GO NORTH
No.

Would you not get the point? Why add to that direct refusal?

I sometimes think one day I will write an IF story where I change all default responses to simply “No.” and then code my own specific responses for good tries, and efforts that could work with the right objects.

Wouldn’t that be fun?

No?

Piracy 2.0 – An Interactive Pirate Adventure (2008)

In 1983 I encountered my first INFOCOM game. A text adventure that changed my life. It was Infidel, by Michael Berlyn and Patricia Fogleman.

It was not the first INFOCOM game I played – that would be Suspended, also by Michael Berlyn.

While Suspended was a bit esoteric (you had to move five robots around, each with limited sense ability, but complementary to each other, so you might have to use multiple robots to fully understand a problem, and then figure out how to solve it.

While that game had the best packaging of any computer game ever, the game itself was… difficult. A friend of mine solved it on his own, and I, to this day, have no idea how.

However, I solved Infidel on my own, and still consider the atmosphere to be wonderful. It really immersed me into an ancient Egyptian pyramid, which I had to loot to win the game. And the end was… surprisingly delightful. And controversial to this day.

So in 1985 with my Commodore 64, I wrote a simple two-word parser game in BASIC, called Piracy, based around a captain of a space ship tasked with bringing an infamous space pirate to justice, only to have your secret course intercepted by his men, your ship boarded, your crew killed, and you tossed into the brig.

You wake up in the brig, have to escape, and get your ship and your prisoner back to headquarters for trial.

You can see my web page on this project here.

It was a fun exercise. While INFOCOM’s parser was quite robust, and could interpret full sentences, even multiple sentences, (“>put the glass onion inside the puzzle box, then twist the puzzle box to the right. get the umbrella. open it”), mine was literally two words, like some Scott Adams text adventures: >cut pipe; >insert battery.

Inform 6 opened up the possibility that I could re-write, or even re-invent that old 1985 story with a full, robust parser, and a much, much richer story, and a much, much richer game.

So I did.

In 2008, I entered the IF Comp, the big annual IF competition.

Who the heck was I? A newcomer to the field of indy Interactive Fiction stories, which had evolved beyond INFOCOM to some wonderful games (or more accurately in more modern times, stories), to think I could walk among the big IF writers like Emily Short or Andrew Plotkin?

But I entered, nonetheless. Arrogant me entered the contest with my 1985 game modernized with a new parser and a fully robust story and game that I was able to expand into a game I quite liked.

Don’t get me wrong, I liked my 1985 effort too, but it was a much more simplistic game.

The 2008 version was so fully rounded, with details on the ship so thoroughly implemented that even the toilets worked – a rebuke of the idea that in Star Trek, we never saw toilets. (But if you had the blueprints of the Enterprise like I did, pinned to my wall for most of my teen years, you knew they existed, and exactly where.)

Hey. Guess what?

I came in fifth! Out of a field of 35!

Not bad!

Emily Short’s review was quite humbling. She really seemed to like it. Even if she couldn’t quite figure out how to finish it during the limited judging time for the competition. I read a later addendum that she wrote that she had figured it out and actually enjoyed playing it through multiple times.

This review by her at IFDB was also a good read.

Anyway, I often forget what achievements this game made.

Fifth Place in the 2008 Interactive Fiction competition (IF Comp 2008).

But it also got nominated for several categories in the 2008 XYZZY Awards:

Nominee, Best Game
Nominee, Best Setting
Nominee, Best Puzzles

I didn’t win any of those, but to be nominated, as they say… high praise indeed, for a first-timer among people who had been keeping Interactive Fiction alive and thriving for decades.

It got some good ratings, and a few good reviews at IFDB:

You can read the reviews here:

REVIEWS

But what really inspired me was reading so many people who, during the course of the competition wrote blog posts about the various games they played during the competition that compared my game to INFOCOM games. It seemed one of the prevalent feelings about Piracy 2.0 was that it was one of the most old-school INFOCOM-like games in the competition.

And you’d really have to know how much I adore INFOCOM games to fully appreciate how much of a compliment that was to me.

Even if sometimes that comparison was made by people who had moved on from the INFOCOM style of games, which might include insta-death, getting stuck if you made a bad move that left you with no win scenario, to things like having to eat, keep a light source fresh, mazes and things that today seem passe and out-dated. The idea that in 2008 I was compared to the games that I loved so much was beyond praise.

Hell, I didn’t even care I came in fifth, after finding out who many people thought my game was the most like an INFOCOM game.

That was my original goal in 1985, even though I was hamstrung by a two-word >verb noun parser.

Here are some categories my game was mentioned in in IFDB polls:

Games that most resemble an INFOCOM work.

Best Sci Fi Games.

Once More, With Feelies. (This one based on the feelies I made for Piracy 2.0, which include a map, but also a hand-dyed purple data cube. I found a source online that made 1″ (roughly) acrylic cubes. I bought a couple dozen and used RIT Purple Dye, heated, in a bath I dropped the cubes in. They turned into a quite nice purple. I also bought a rubber stamp with my United Worlds logo on it that I hand-stamped on these cubes, and handed them out as Feelies. Data cubes turn out to be quite vital to the plot of my game/story.

I also made a nice map available to anyone who wanted one.

During a meetup I gave out these data cubes to people.

The coolest thing is that you can actually play Piracy 2.0 online in a browser!

IFWiki also had some things to say about Piracy 2.0:

Notable Features

  • Detailed, functioning space ship complete with computers you can control. (Yes, including toilets.)
  • Multiple, detailed endings, with varying degrees of success, including the perfect score ending.
  • Fairly faithful INFOCOM-like feel. Old-school gameplay.
  • Feelies available. Maps downloadable from web site. Purple Datacube available through author.

The reviews on this page can also make for good reading. A mixed bag, but some people clearly enjoyed my game.

I wrote another game in 2010 but while I wrote a sprawling epic game, it was not well-received.

But if you want to read about it: IFDB The Promise.

My web site about it is here: The Promise.

Thing is, my motto is Put Something Out There.

It is not Put Something Out There People Are Guaranteed To Love.

I put it out there. If people like it, lovely. If not, it’s still out there.

This year, because I listened to a podcast that mentioned a spooky Halloween-themed IF competition (EctoComp), I decided to write my third fully-featured IF game based around a silly game we played at my office some years ago:

Put-Peep(tm).

More on that later as things develop.

My Interactive Fiction

Something I have not used this blog to talk much about yet is Interactive Fiction. Games like the INFOCOM line were one of my first starts in computer gaming. I bought my Commodore 64 after much research so I could make arcade games on it in BASIC without having to burden myself with learning too much about Assembler and the minute details of the operating systems involved.

I bought it so I could code a game in BASIC with movable sprites, that played like Q*Bert. If I could do that, I would buy it. My research eventually narrowed down between the Atari 800 and Commodore 64, but the 64 won out due to its more robust sprite system and an audio chip that was ground-breaking at the time, and is still in use today in many machines.

And ironically, the first game I ever played on my own C64 was one I bought with it – Suspended. At the time, I bought it partly because it had this amazing box with a vacu-molded face staring out at you with eyes that were cut out, and the manual behind it had eyes printed on it so it looked like it was staring right at you.

Cool, right? And I had heard of INFOCOM’s other early games and thought this will be awesome.

However, what I got was the Commodore re-packaging, which, while absolutely identical to the contents of the cool box, was inside a simple folder:

UGH! What a disappointment. Oh well, it’s not like having that box would be valuable, right? WHAAAAAT???

While this is top-end, it’s not unusual to see this for sale above the $1000 mark, and I haven’t seen it down below $500 in more than a decade.

Anyway, I find it still ironic that my first real game on my Commodore 64 was a text adventure, given why I bought it in the first place – to make arcade games, which were dear to my heart.

My first indication that the Interactive Fiction (as it is now called, but was then referred to as Text Adventure) games were so popular and engaging was when a friend called me up in a panic and said “Sean, I can’t get the chest open!” and I asked what the heck he was talking about. He said he was playing INFOCOM’s Infidel! and was trying to get – anywhere with it – and was stuck. I went over to his place (I had helped him set up his new system earlier in the week) and I saw what he was talking about. He was playing Infidel and was in the tent and didn’t know how to proceed. There was a chest with a padlock, and he couldn’t open it. So I looked around the game world a bit, found a shovel, and >hit the padlock with the shovel, and lo and behold, it broke the lock and he could open it.

That started a long love affair with INFOCOM games. A bunch of us would regularly get together and play these games, which I would say was probably more than the gaming world expected – that the interaction would not confine itself to the single player and the parser, but many friends getting together to bang their heads about trying to bludgeon their way through the many puzzles presented, except the genre kind of started out that way on campus mainframes, written and found by avid enthusiasts who loved to get together and pound their way through these games.

Then I bought game after game from INFOCOM until you can now see SOME of my collection here. (Some are missing, and I HOPE are in storage bins in my garage, but I am worried I may have lost them along the way, which would be particularly tragic because the only reason they are separated from this lot is that I had them all autographed by their Implementors. Mainly Steve Meretzky and Douglas Adams.

In 1984 or 1985 I started to write my own Text Adventure. I set it aboard a ship that resembled in layout the Klingon Bird of Prey, with two decks and wings with pods at the ends for weapons. A neck, and a bridge section like the head of a vulture. You were tasked with taking an infamous space pirate to court when his crew in their attack vessel found you and boarded you, killed your entire crew, and threw you into the brig, lest you prove useful. They then took over your ship, and the game begins when you wake up in the brig. You must escape and get your ship and prisoner safely to a starbase in order to win.

I called it Piracy. And you can read all about it here:

It was a two-word parser written in BASIC using the (then) INFOCOM screen view of a light gray background with black text for the game, and white text for the input line, and I implemented my own input routine, as the BASIC INPUT command allowed you to move the cursor off the command line.

I finished the game to my satisfaction, but it was very limited due to the parser limitations and memory space. I completely filled the 38+K of RAM in my C64. I literally could not add another sentence of text memory.

When I bought my Commodore 128 with double the memory (and actually more than double the BASIC space) I began to rewrite it more robustly, but never finished that project.

In the modern era, with the advent of INFORM, a great object-oriented language that compiles to the INFOCOM file format, in 2008 I took on the task of re-writing this old BASIC game in INFORM 6.0 which gave me the ability to use a very robust parser and implement many commands that would allow me to flesh out the world I had created and let people explore and play the game much better. I also enlarged the ship a bit (but not by much) and implemented all sorts of details I would never have been able to before. Yes, even toilets that work.

The project took about 9 months, and I had outside testers I found on the newsgroup for IF. They helped find bugs I fixed, but even today, it has some weird bugs. A lesson: When creating a raft of characters you intertwine into the back story through their belongings, don’t change their names in the last few weeks, because you will forget all of the mentions and leave the old names on some objects…. sigh…

I brought with me the combat system which players these days aren’t really all that fond of. You can encounter pirates as you wander your ship trying to repair damage and give it commands to get you to safety. They could shoot at you, and you could shoot at them. There was a damage stat, so if you got hit X times, you died. But there was also heal over time, and a med bay where you could also heal yourself. Once you hit a pirate, however, they are dead, and their body stays in the room you killed them. There were 10 in total, so it wasn’t completely random. Kill all 10 and you never encounter another one.

You could also fall ill and die of radiation poisoning if you’re not careful.Another thing modern gamers don’t much appreciate.

I entered the game in the 14th Interactive Fiction Competition, and the game came 5th in a field of 35, which was very impressive for my first effort, and even garnered some very positive reviews by the judges and players, not least of which was Emily Short, famed ground-breaking game writer herself, who has really been one of the key people keeping Interactive Fiction alive and fresh with innovative games no one would have thought to write before.

I took my game, and some “feelies” I made (an acrylic cube dyed purple with a logo painted on) to PAX East that year and met up with the IF writers in the area, and met Emily as well as several other prominent members of the group that was keeping the genre alive, though they did not know me then, and I had not yet entered that contest.

PIRACY 2.0 is available to play, and you can read all about it on my page here.

What prompted this post?

A year or two ago I backed a Kickstarter for a book called 50 Years Of Text Games.

I got the book about a month ago and I’m reading through it now.

Lo and behold, what do I see on page 378?

Oh hey!

A year or so later, I wanted to try out INFORM 7, which was a hugely different programming paradigm, and spent another 9 months writing a second game.

The Promise

… which I entered into a competition and also came in 5th.

Out of a field of 6.

Oh well, you “win” some and you definitely lose some.

I also created “feelies” for the game, a wax-sealed letter in runes (which actually translate into English correctly, well, into English words which is not how translation works, maps, and a stone wolf-head amulet I carved with a Dremel and strung with a thin leather thong. For others, I created a FIMO replica of the amulet, but otherwise player “feelies” were identical to the one I made for myself, which you can see in the above shelf picture, in the white shadow box.

People did not like my forced game dynamic, and I think in the short time allotted for judges to play the game, they did not necessarily explore the people enough. I imbued each person with stories, memories, even jokes that you can uncover by talking to them. You could also REMEMBER people and gain insight and story through your memories.

But this NPC interaction was not overly emphasized, you kinda had to discover it, but I did lead people with clues and hints, and there is a robust HELP system that even talks about how to do this. The story is so much more than the tasks you have to perform.

However, what really irked many players was that in Act III your village is invaded by sea-going barbarians, and you have to run for your life.

The game then goes on a rail that people hated. It forces you into the forest, along a singular path with an enemy on your heels. You would die if you lingered.

Then you get to a clearing which you are not allowed to enter. That is, earlier in the game you made a promise to a forest fairy not to ever come back to her clearing, but you see no choice. You stand and fight futilely or you break your promise. What do you do?

And people hated hated hated that.

Me?

I kinda still like it.

And that’s the lesson for today, and it relates to any creative activity from writing, art, music, games, dance. Any form of creation:

Write what you want to read, and who cares if anyone else likes it? If they do, that’s a bonus, but not in itself a reason to write.

You can see both of my IF games at the Interactive Fiction Data Base, here.

Huxter Labs FAQ: “Do You Do Custom Orders?”

I made his blog originally to talk about 3D printing. The truth about 3D printing. Here’s some brutal truth:

I do this for fun.

Ever since I was a kid breaking apart my cool toys to see how they worked, I was fascinated with toys and how they worked. I started out as most do, playing with Corgi, Husky, Dinky, Hot Wheels, Johnny West, GI Joes, View Master, Billy Blastoff, Major Matt Mason, Big Jim… anything really.


Me with my View Master and Corgi Batmobile


Here with my aunt Patricia playing with my cool Hot Wheels track set with the Sizzlers charging “gas” tank.


Here’s me with the toys I got for Christmas. Yup. Those were all mine. Two wire-remote walking and hissing light-up Dinosaurs that battled each other; A Western cap-gun pistol set (it was the 70s. Everything was about the Old West); My Lite Brite; Johnny West on his horse; a Crazy Carpet; Hot Wheels Sizzler set; Noah’s Ark set; Etch-a-Sketch; Plasticine modeling set; an SSP vehicle with rip-cord.


My cousin Mike, my sister Deidre, his sister Shean, and me playing with the GI Joe Adventure Team Headquarters and Desert Jeep.


Me playing with a wonderful toy that I wish I remembered the name of. My mother brought it back from Toronto for me.

Those are just some pics of me as a wee kiddie playing with my toys.

More of my history can be seen here.

That last one shows an amphibious remote controlled vehicle that I have never been able to find any modern reference to at all. It was amazing. It had sealed hollow wheels so it could float on water. It had multi-arm suspension so it could travel over any terrain. It had a remote control handle with a squeeze trigger and a dial on it that moved as I squeezed, so I knew what I was trying to get it to do. And I wondered how this all worked, as the remote was not attached by a wire, but by a hollow hose like an aquarium tank hose.

So naturally I took it apart. Inside I found a small concertina-like air bladder that was also sealed. When I squeezed the remote, it filled this concertina bladder with air, moving its end, which was connected to a control lever which told the machine what to do inside the vehicle itself. So I would squeeze the handle and it would, by air pressure alone, physically move a lever inside to various positions on a switch plate. I was amazed. The batteries were inside the vehicle, and were solely for motor power.

And if I had had 3D printers back then, I would have been making toys back then.

Not having a 3D printer didn’t stop me of course. I made toys, but I wasn’t much into carving. I certainly built more than my share of model kits. I would also make toys out of other toys. Not all that long ago, I had a project in mind where I took the beautiful Sigma Six DragonHawk Flying Vehicle and cut it up to make a 1:6 scale GI Joe Backpack Jetpack. Kinda criminal when I think about how beautiful this toy was, and I just hacked it to pieces. But huzzah! I bought a second one which is still in its box.

So making toys has been in me from the start.

And now I make much more elaborate toys for GI Joe, for Space: 1999 Dinky and Konami Eagles, and other toys that interest me. I make UFOs, Robots and Rockets. If you want to see more, just search around this blog by using the Search bar at top. I have now had 10 years experience making toys by 3D printing.

So back to the FAQ question:

Do You Do Custom Orders?

This is my hobby. This is fun. But it’s also a small personal business.

There are two huge lies people get told often:

1 – “If you do what you love, you never work a day in your life.”
2 – “If you are your own boss, no one gets to tell you what to do.”

Lies.

If you do what you love, you work every day of your life. If you let it get away from you.

If you are your own boss, you tell yourself what to do every day of your life. If you let yourself order you around. Which happens a lot.

So I do this for fun. Not for work. I have a job. A really nice one. A fun one. In which I make virtual toys. I work 5 days a week, with vacation days and days off more or less whenever I feel like it.

“But you want to make money, don’t you?”

I make what most people would consider a very good living. I don’t need the money I make from making 3D toys.

I do this for tun.

When it stop being fun, I stop doing it.

“But you make stuff for Costwold Collectibles right?”

Yes, I do. I approached Greg almost a decade ago now, with interest in selling toys to people who love them as much as I do. And I have made MANY toys for Cotswold Collectibles. Greg and I are a very effective team. We toss ideas at each other like spaghetti on a wall. Some stick, some don’t. But in the end we get something that we both like, and we get to produce toys that didn’t exist before. And that excites me. My motto (as seen etched on the back of the very first iPad I bought) is:

Always Remember: Put Something Out There.

Greg knows my limits, and knows what I am willing to do and not do. He takes care of marketing, selling, distributing. I just make toys in small batches (sometimes big batches) and send them to him. I make enough money to keep buying supplies, printers (to replace ones that sometimes refuse to cooperate) and other stuff to keep my interest up and to keep me having fun.

But I do it for fun.

If it stops being fun I stop doing it.

I once attended a Toylanta show several years ago. It was my first, and I was psyched!

I was hoping the show would invigorate me and spur me on to make more toys. However, instead, the show overwhelmed me and burned me out.

I stopped doing any 3D work for a year.

I still trickled out some stuff. Even though I had no inspiration to do so. This was the part where my boss ordered me to push on even if I didn’t want to. And it also had me working on days I didn’t want to.

Then this past Toylanta in March (on my birthday) I came back fired up! I jumped in with both feet. I was designing, printing, assembling (the hard part) and I put together some very very cool stuff, like the Aerial Platform Mark II, and gear for for upcoming Cotswold sets, including Spy Island: Aerial Assault, and The Hunt for the Pygmy Wolf, which included a Net Blaster that I had designed a bunch of years ago and sat around because I didn’t want the hassle of making a net, as cloth products are not of much interst to me. (Until Greg found the perfect net material, and then we were on!)

Plus more gear and cool that you don’t yet know about. Things that have been in the works for years, waiting on the perfect thing to complete it, or just on hold because some scumbag decided to change the circuit board inside the Santa Noses I got at Dollar Tree, so it no longer fit inside a thing I needed it to fit inside, meaning I would have to compromise my design completely – and I really hate compromising when I created what I think is the perfect thing.

So I’ve been busy since March. Very busy. Too busy for any custom orders.

That doesn’t mean I won’t do custom orders. I sometimes do.

Usually I prefer to design stuff and let someone else take the reins on the rest.

Shapeways, for example, has a whole catalog of my toys and people are free to order those, and I don’t even have to know about it until the thin margin of profit (usually a buck or two on any item, or even less) comes my way. Shapeways does all the rest including manufacture, shipping, and profiting.

My Shapeways store is called fourthd and that’s meant to indicate that while the item is printed in 3 Dimensions, the fourth D is Time, or in this case – Play Time. YOU provide the 4th Dimension.

And I have some Etsy stores. Most were experimental, but one is active: Moonbase Beta.

I was originally intending to provide a Print-On-Demand service for any of my designs, since the design work was done, I simply had to take orders, pump out some stuff on my 3D printers, and assemble them and ship them. Ah, there was the rub. Assembly is hard. And time-consuming. And it hurts. Physically. If you saw how many times I cut myself on the sharp plastic, and the sharp tools required… you’d wonder why I even bother.

So right now, my ETSY store is only selling things I pre-printed in a big batch last year. And when that backlog of stock runs out, I will either shut down my ETSY store or print another batch. But I am not open to doing on-demand orders like I originally started out doing. It’s too much for me to take.

“But do you still make things?”

Absolutely. I do. And I do it a lot.

Because it’s fun.

And when it stop being fun, I stop doing it.

But yes.

“So, Do You Do Custom Orders?” – (again)

I sometimes do Custom Orders. But only when I want to.

So if you ask me if I will do a custom order for you, please don’t take it personally when I say “I usually don’t. I work almost exclusively through Costwold, so keep your eye out for their announcements.” That’s my polite way of saying “Right now – RIGHT NOW – I don’t want the extra work. Tomorrow I may feel different. (But please don’t ask the same question tomorrow – that’s bound to get a no on principle.”

And if I say “Sure. What do you want?” it means I’m in the mood to do a custom order.

Please don’t take either response personally, because it’s never about you. It’s about me. Every time.

Do I want to? Am I up do it? Am I currently overwhelmed with the work I am already doing? Is it still fun? Am I in the middle of a few good books? Are my printers acting up and causing me problems? Do I want to take the time to figure out why and fix the issues? Do I want to sit in my cramped hot print room (in summer) hurting myself and making myself bleed? Do I want to take this Saturday and go to the Mystic Aquarium and Museum with my family? (Which is what I did yesterday instead of working on an order.) Do I want to sit and veg on the couch flipping through shows I don’t even care about for a few days? Am I just really really tired???

Sometimes I do want to do custom orders.

Sometimes it’s mercenary. Sometimes I think “Man, I’d love get that new New Wave’s Arcade 1:6 Replica. and if someone would pay me some cash, I could just do it without having to use my own money. And those things aren’t cheap.

So sometimes it’s about that. On rare occasions.

But it’s never about you. It’s not that I don’t like you, or I do like you, and if I like you I’ll make you some stuff. It’s about me. And how I feel in the moment.

I still like you. Don’t worry about that.

My interest in this hobby is to make things for the people who will truly appreciate them the way I do. Cool fun new GI Joe toys. Fun accessories for the Dinky Eagle they’ve had since they were kids but they don’t have the cool Freighter Pod as it appeared in Space: 1999, or the Lab Pod they never made, or the Jet Booster they never made for it. So I made it, and I made it available to people… when I feel like printing and assembling them.

I do it because I love toys. And I love that you love toys. And I want you to have the toys you love.

But I’m only one person, and I have only so much time. And the money is not why I do it.

So all this is the most long-winded way to answer the simple question:

Q: Do You Do Custom Orders?
A: Sometimes.

But don’t resent me when I don’t.

 

 

Huxter Labs Net Blaster – Hunt for the Pygmy Wolf

For Joelanta, August 11-13, 2023, Greg Brown of Cotswold Collectibles was creating a new set. It would feature a hunt for a Pygmy Wolf. This harkens back to the old Adventure Team days when Joe hunted the Pygmy Gorilla, which really was an excuse to use a hilariously small gorilla in a set back then. But that was pretty normal for GI Joe. He also hunted a White Tiger that was soooo small.

So Greg approached me for a Net Blaster to capture the wolf.

 

Net Blaster

Years ago, not long after I created a Spotlight that would fit Dollar Tree flashlights onto a pillar with swivel features for the RACCS system I created, Greg and I began discussing the idea of a net gun for trapping animals.

I immediately jumped at it, and made it to fit the same clip as the Dollar Tree flashlight, so we could reuse the Search Light RACCS set, shown here.

The RACCS Search Light connects to the RACCS platform with tabs, like all RACCS gear. But it also came with a cup mount to fit onto the Adventure Team Training Tower.

Here is the Search Light attached to the RACCS platform that came built-in to my ATV Trailer:

So I made a net gun with a barrel size equal to the flashlight’s width, so it would also fit into that pillar.

So I set out to model the Net Blaster. Seen here in an early form, with the gas propellant tanks forward instead of aft.

And so this project sat for years on my shelf, without a net. I did print the missiles I would use, but never did find netting good enough to make it real until this year.

Greg wanted a jungle or forest themed color palette, so instead of using the Adventure Team themes I had been using, I went with olive green, tan, black and silver. With orange propellant tanks.

Another requirement was that the gear be packable into one of my Drop Canisters.

So the Net Blaster had to come apart, given that it was a bit too tall, as it was, to fit into the Drop Canister comfortably.

So I decided to make the rear power cylinder and pistol grip removable. With 3D printing, it’s easy enough to make the fit tolerances work so you can friction-fit something into place, but it’s a delicate balance, and variations in printing and materials, and even which printer does the work, can make it inconsistent. So instead of just relying on that, I came up with a tab/slot system, with an arrow indicator.

The rear cylinder can only go in one way, and you rotate it to click into place, and the handle is pointing directly vertical.

 

Missiles

To fire the net, I came up with a four-barrel system, each of which would fire a gas-powered missile with the net attached, so the net would spread out and capture the target.

Easy enough. I just made a red and yellow missile that would connect to the net using jewelry hoop rings.

These fit into the barrels like so:

 

The Net

I had figured Greg would get someone to make the nets just like he gets someone to make the outfits. But nope.

And over the period of years, we tried many different net materials, and until June 2023 I really hated them all. Too flimsy, the wire rings on the missiles I was planning on attaching to the netting would tear the netting far too easily. Until Greg sent me the perfect material. Strong, looked good.

But it was a bit too bulky to fit into the original barrel so I enlarged it. (Oh well, there goes the re-use with the Search Light.)

After finally settling on a netting of suitable material that would not likely break when pulling hard-ish on the missiles, I cut one 8×8″ net and it seemed a bit small. So I increased it to 9×9″ and even though it was just one inch larger, it made a world of difference.

Let me say that we could easily have faked it and left the net out of the actual gun, and let the player imagine the firing of the net, but that’s just not me. It had to fit. So that’s why I increased the barrel diameter.

And when the first net was finished, with missiles attached, we tested it against the very small wolf figure that would come packed with the set:

Success!

But it was kinda bulky at 9×9″. I could jam it into the blaster, but that would not be a great idea. So I came up with a folding method that worked rather well.

See below for folding instructions.

 

Production

Often, I get orders for 12, or 20 of a thing. Sometimes 24. Once I think I did 60 drones. Let me tell you that prototyping a thing is easy. Making dozens of them is very hard, laborious work, and I cut my hands so often on the sharp plastic and chisel tools that I’m surprised I’m still alive. (I would not be doing this if I didn’t love it.)

Greg needed 50 sets. That’s 50 Net Blasters, 50 nets, 200 missiles, and 50 Wrist Control Cuffs. Oh, and 20 NEW Drop Canisters

Here are just over 50 Net Blasters, fully constructed:

This is what 200+ missiles look like:

Here are only about half of the 50+ nets I made:

 

Control Cuff

Of course the set would need a Control Cuff. We opted to go with the olive cuffs I had already been producing.

But I wanted it to be different, so I made a unique screen sticker for it that would evoke a jungle hunt with tracking information (dots)

 

Drop Canister

As mentioned earlier, the Net Blaster had to fit into a Drop Canister, so I made that happen. However, Greg did not have parachutes for this set. I knew just what to do. It would be incredibly easy to adapt the cover of the Drop Canister to have retro-rockets to guide the Drop Canister down to the ground and land it softly, even softer than a parachute would, if it was computer controlled.

So I set out to update the Drop Can. I added the quiet retro-jets to the can without the need to alter the lid much, other than cut slots in it so the engines would align properly.

Here you see the ducts under each engine:

And I could have left it at that, but I never liked the rather unfinished look of the Drop Canister bottom, so I added a retro-landing system:

These Drop Canisters would be sold as add-ons to the full set, so only 20 were made.

Net Folding Instructions

The netting we chose is fairly robust, so of course it takes up room. If I had known earlier exactly what the folded net would feel like and measure, I might have expanded the barrel just a bit more. But this folding system works, as long as you follow directions correctly.

Even though I mentioned that the netting we used was strong, it is still mesh made of thread, so it is not iron. Pulling on the missiles when the net is stowed inside the barrel should be done carefully, and folding the net and prodding it inside should also be done carefully.

So here is the best way I came up with to fold the net so it fits inside the barrel nicely:

1 – Lay net out flat, missiles to the corners

 

2 – Fold net over so two opposite missiles meet

 

3 – Fold net so one single missile meets the other single missile

 

4 – Fold net so all missiles meet in a corner

 

5 – Fold the far net corner over until it meets the missiles

 

6 – Starting with the netting corner, begin folding very tightly towards the straight edge

 

7 – Grip the wadded net by the end

 

8 – Gently push it into the body with a finger, until the four missiles are dangling outside the barrels

 

9 – Fit each missile into its closest barrel

 

10 – Very gently nudge the rest of the netting into the body until the missiles tighten, but do not over-push, or you my tear the netting where the metal rings connect!

To “fire” the Net Blaster, gently pull the netting out from the body. You can tug gently on the missiles, but be careful that they don’t tear the netting. It is best to hook out the netting with tweezers or pull on the netting itself in the middle of the body between the four barrels.

 

Huxter Labs Super Joe Unlimited – Arctic Danger

In 2021, Greg Brown of Cotswold Collectibles put together a new set for GI Joe – except this one held a bit of a twist. He had been working on ideas for Super Joe, a 9-inch figure that Hasbro produced after the 12″ GI Joe line petered out. Super Joe was not quite as world-popular as the original GI Joe line, but people did enjoy the figures and the wonderful gear sets that were produced at the time.

Greg’s idea was to continue the Super Joe idea, but in 12″ scale.

So he had planned an Arctic Set, partly surrounding a blue Arctic dragon-like monster creature from Safari Limited.

 

The Set

The set would include a figure with flocked hair, a white snow suit with blue striped accents and fur-lined parka hood, white Kung Fu Grip hands, white boots, a white mask against the sheer arctic cold, a futuristic rifle. The box art was by David Howard.

He also wanted a revival of my Communication Backpack, which was repurposed from a metal Lowe’s Gift Card holder, that I had done some time earlier. Only this time it would hold a drone. With it, he wanted the extended Wrist Cuffs I had made for a space set some time before.

I also provided a blue clear resin eye piece for the face mask, which had no visor, but was open, which for an arctic set, was less than ideal. I can’t fault that mask, though. I’m not sure who made it, but it was very nice.

Mattsquatch Customs made the rifle, and a clever twist was that each boxed set would come with a randomly packed futuristic rifle, from, I believe, 3 options.

 

The Drone

Greg wanted a drone to fit into a backpack, and he wanted the backpack to be a slight revision of the Lowe’s Gift Card pack Communications Backpack we had done a year or so earlier. He and I both had a small stock of those backpacks left, (and Lowe’s was no longer selling them) so we thought we would use the remaining stock in this set.

The original: This one came empty and was used only to store gear.

First, I needed a new drone. I wanted a new version that had fewer parts and was easier to assemble, as well as, I was kinda getting tired of the old one.

So I created this new drone and tried a few sizes:

It turned out that the biggest one was too large, the smallest one, but as is often the case with stories, the middle one was just right.

To make this fit into the backpack, I created an insert that would fit the drone, but also the two antennas that slot into the top of the backpack have slots for storage too.

I created a new cover for the Lowe’s logo at bottom right (here, covered by a widget), and made a screen for it.

A problem with the last batch of Communicator Backpacks always bothered me. I tried gluing the harness braces to the back of the aluminum pack, but I always worried it would not be strong enough to hold permanently. Experiments with Super Glue and Binary Epoxy both yielded iffy results. It may never be an issue, but I was able to pull them off with some force. Likely no one else ever has, but that’s just me.

So I went the extra step of updating those braces to hold a rivet. And I bought a rivet gun, rivets and rivet washers, to make damn sure these would never come off. In addition to the Super Glue (which was actually quite strong) I riveted the upper and lower braces onto the box.

The top one here is covered by the standard Huxter Labs harness, but you can see the rivet in the bottom brace. Both braces are identical parts, flipped.

 

Drone Control

Greg saw a cuff I had made previously for an Astronaut set I worked on. I extended the arm cuff to contain a screen that fits over the back of the hand. We used this for the Drone Control Cuff for this set, rather than going with the original.

 

With this equipment, the Arctic Danger set was complete.