Solved Components

3D Printing at PAX East 15

You can’t 3D print a convention (yet!), so I went to see one in person this past weekend. PAX East represents the forefront of gaming and gaming technology, or so my assistant tells me.

As such, I was greatly pleased to see a panel of experts discussing the rise of 3D printing in games. The panel consisted of a writer/reporter, an engineer, a games publisher, and two designers/artists.

  • Joseph Flaherty [Wired]
  • Colin Raney [Formlabs]
  • Adam Poots [Cool Mini or Not]
  • Jessica Rosenkrantz [Nervous System]
  • Jesse Louis-Rosenberg [Nervous System]

It was a fascinating discussion, and, since I can find neither hide nor hair of a video online, I am prepared to give you a glimpse of the event through the crystal lens of my mind, and since I remember everything with 100% fidelity it will be as though you had been there yourself.

Accessibility and History
The panel began with a brief discussion in regards to the origins of the modern movement to make 3D printing accessible to the general public, which began largely with the expiration of several key patents from the 50’s. Joseph Flaherty, writer for Wired, had a lot of experience with the Rep Rap Project that ultimately resulted in the MakerBot, and premade commercial fabricators. Today, the term 3D Printing now refers to a wide rainbow of machines, processes, and concepts.

3D Printing in Every Flavor
When most people think of 3D Printing, they think of Fused Deposition Modeling. A machine that lays down layer after layer of (most often) plastic. Oftentimes thought of as a robot arm with a hot glue gun. I’ve talked a little about FDM printing in my design diary about undercuts.

However, there are an incredible number of magics that can conjure a variety of objects out of thin air. Nervous System Design Studio has implemented a startling number of these processes. Everything from machines that lay down layers of glue on beds of metal powders to machines that use lasers to fuse plastic in intricate designs. Each printing process has a variety of strengths and weaknesses based on both the process and the material. Beyond the properties of the end object, there are also concerns in terms of cost, time, and effort involved in creating of a particular object. If you want to create a solid gold object, it’s entirely possible, but, perhaps, just a tad expensive. The folks at Nervous Systems brought a good deal of interesting objects that they had created through a variety of processes.

PLA verses ABS

NoneSince the majority of 3D printing processes available to the average maker are FDM printers, a good amount of time was spent talking about the difference between the two major kinds of magic printer fuel: ABS and PLA plastic. To put short a long discussion. ABS is harder and has a higher propensity to bend. PLA can print in higher fidelity than ABS, is available in more colors, but is not as sturdy. A more in depth article about the differences between the two types of plastics can be found here.

Stereo Lithography Printing

Formlabs is a maker of consumer 3D printers, and presented a lot of good info as a panelist. They don’t make FDM printers, instead they use a process with LASERS! Which is pretty exciting. Called Stereo Lithography, or SLA, the Formlabs printer uses a laser to harden thin layers of resin together. Interestingly, the printer could be made affordable because it uses the same type of lasers that modern Blu Ray Players and video game consoles use. SLA printers have the pinpoint precision of a laser, so the resolution of an SLA print can far outstrip the detail of an FDM printer. Furthermore, the process is much faster, quieter, and uses lasers! (LASERS!!!!!) There are some hurdles to SLA printing, though, namely that it requires photo-curable resin, which is not as easy to use or widely available. Regardless of the process or the material you plan to use with 3D printing, there are always trade offs.

Uses for 3D Printing

So 3D Printing is an amazing process, allowing us to create things in new ways that simply weren’t possible or accessible before. But what’s the point? Traditional manufacturing still has a lot of advantages over 3D printing, why embrace the 3D printing movement?

kinematicsDress-back-4x3.jpgOne of a Kind: Nervous System has an algorithm that allows them to create a 3D printed dress that is perfectly tailored to an individual. You scan yourself with a  smartphone scanning device, the computer does a little math, and a printer creates a dress to match your dimensions. Modern manufacturing depends on economy of scale, which is why we have clothing “sizes”, 3D printing can do away with small / medium / large, you can just be YOU sized. Furthermore, you can modify the dress design however you like, and it could be the only one of its kind. It is just as easy for a 3D printer to print 100 different things as it is to print 100 of the same thing.

Prototyping: In traditional manufacturing, it is very difficult to make just one of something at a reasonable cost. If you’re not 100% sure that your model is going to do exactly what you want it to do, it can be very difficult to get a sample or a prototype without some pretty heavy commitments. Cool Mini or Not is an industry leader in board game miniatures manufacture, and when they want to know how something is going to look they turn to 3D printers. Now, if you want to make sure the shield emblem on a knight is going to stand out enough to be seen, you don’t require an agreement with a manufacturer that allows you to send away for a sample that you might get within a few weeks. In a couple hours you can get a pretty good idea about what your model needs by printing it in plastic. Often it wont have the fidelity of a finished project, but it’s an excellent in-between step to give you an idea of the objects properties. In science and industry this is even more important, if you’re testing things like interlocking parts or aerodynamics.

Accessibility & Community: Lastly, there was significant discussion about the communities that grow around 3D printing. We’re starting to see 3D printing making its way into schools, universities, and workplaces. As more people take a look at 3D printing, they are starting to puzzle out what problems they can use 3D printing to solve. A top scientist or industrialist may be able to use 3D printing to build a better plane wing or send a wrench into space, but give it to a seamstress and she’ll revolutionize sewing equipment, give it to a chef and he’ll 3D print innovative gourmet experiences, give it to doctors and they’ll build prosthesis to change people’s lives.

Of course, I like to think that 3D printing in the hands of a game designer will change the world of play. The important bit, though, is that if children start to see and understand a technology like 3D printing they’ll change the world in ways we’ve never even imagined.


First Print: AutoCheckers

This is the first printing of the AutoChecker Design, you can print your own AutoCheckers through our Thingverse Page.

Read more about AutoCheckers in our previous posts.

Design: Cardholder Meeple, Undercuts, and Support Structures


Behold cyber-peoples, the electro model of our Cardholder Meeple now exists in all it’s inter-glory. Check it at our Thingverse Page! Want to know more about the Cardholder Meeple? Gaze into my internet crystal ball at previous posts.

The Cardholder Meeple is a noble and rare beast, I tracked it across continents, through wind and snow. It is a migratory creature, but I could not help but think it could sense me somehow. On the burning steppes of Etalp, I sprung my trap to capture the Cardholder Meeple. But with it in my grasp, I finally saw. . . it was injured, it could not keep it’s arms aloft.

My assistant can describe the rest, as the memory brings manly tears to my eyes.

fdmeeple“Sigh… the metaphor outlined by Mr. Mackenzie actually describes his first print of the Cardholder Meeple design, which lacked adequate understanding of undercuts, which I will subsequently define. Solved Components works primarily with a Fused Deposition Printer, a category of machine that lays down layers of plastic that fuse together. The layers, by nature of the process, must start at the bottom and work their way up, each layer supporting further layers.

undercutThis has limitations, because not all parts of all objects are directly supported from below. For example, a standard board game Meeple, you’ll notice, when printed directly from below, the arms are supported only from the sides. When the printer attempts to place plastic for the bottom of the arms, there is nothing to support it, and the plastic droops. This is called an undercut, an element of a design where the object is not supported from below.  

supportThere are a few common fixes for undercuts, sometimes an object can simply be rotated in such a way that negates undercuts, but this depends on the object. The most common fix within Fused Deposition Modeling is to generate supports, additional structures that allow the print to overcome undercuts, and can be removed afterwards”
-Mackenzie Cameron’s Assistant

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3D Design: Draft Clips and Plastic Flexibility


Draft Clips exist in the digital space! Hoorah! You can download the model at our Thingverse page! Want to learn more about the Draft Clip Concept? Peer into the distant past at our previous posts (you magnificent chronomancer you).

Draft clips were a tricky thing to design, not too tricky for a 3D printing genius such as myself, but tricky nonetheless. Clips need to… well… clip onto things. So my initial thought had been that the two “tines” of the clip would need some amount of separation between each other. After a few failed attempts, I decided to try a flat design and rely on the *bendocity* of the material.

(Take a note: Just because a 3D printer prints in 3D doesn’t mean that 2D objects can’t also solve your troubles. What’s a few dimensions between friends, you know?)

I was uncertain about a flat prototype, plastic is bendy, but was it bendy enough? Too bendy perhaps? Lo and behold my fears were unfounded, and the clips were appropriately bendy and attached to the sides of playing cards with ease. ABS plastic, my magic printing fuel of choice, can bend without losing shape or integrity which is important for our clipping purposes. If I want to clip and unclip into the wee ours of the morning, I want my clips to stand up under pressure. Experimenting with different clip designs, I found the strength of the clip’s “clipiness” varied to an extent depending on the design. My assistant can explain.

clipiness“The … *sigh*… ‘clipiness’ or grip of a clip is related to the stress at the clip’s vertex. The stress is determined by the angle at which the two “tines” are separated. While this is primarily determined by the thickness of what the clip is attached to, the clip itself can influence the separation. A longer clip can increase the distance between the clipping object and the vertex point. The greater the distance, the less stress on the vertex point. More stress makes for a tighter fit, while less stress loosens the clip’s hold. A short clip can have too much stress making it difficult to attach or remove and possibly damage the card. A long clip might not have the desired staying power and fall off the attached object.”

-Mackenzie Cameron’s Assistant

So if you’re looking for a good clippy clip, make sure your magic 3D print fuel is good and bendy!

Ben Heck Answers Your 3D Printing Questions

For readers who are interested in the basic elements of 3D Printing, this video is a comprehensive guide with a great deal of good information
-Mackeznie Cameron’s Assistant

Concept: Link Board


Problem: Tiles have to be uniform and tessellating.

This one gets a little technical, so I’m gonna go ahead and hand it over to my assistant.

“In mathematics there are many types of tessellating patterns. Board games commonly use regular periodic tessellations, patterns that repeat and use the same shape. Hexagon and Square are the most popular tilings in modern board games, used by such major games as Catan and Carcasonne. Regular periodic tilings are often known as grids (square grids or hex grids) because the are homogenous regardless of scale. Notions of “direction”, “diagonal”, and “orthogonal”. However, asymetric non-periodic tessellations exist as well, and with them their own notions of “directional physics”.”
-Mackenzie Cameron’s Assistant

A simple question: would Risk be as fun played on a grid? I submit that it would not! While Risk might suffer from tedious gameplay, it’s board is actually fascinating in all it’s little intricacies. For example Ukraine touches 6 other spaces, while Japan only touches 2. Other countries touch 4 or 5. Personally I try to only touch one country at a time, at least since my last international incident.

Variety is the spice of life, and, in a game that is otherwise quite monotonous, an interesting board is innately satisfying. Each space becomes interesting not only because it is technically different from other spaces, but it also has strategic interest in relation to those other spaces.

But the Risk board is always the same, which is the strength of tiles, tiles can be rearranged, different every time, except of course that they must always fit together the same way. Wouldn’t it be interesting if there were some way to combine those two strengths? Get the best of both worlds!

linkboardimagesPresenting Link Board.

Link board tiles have four outgoing connectors and four incoming connectors. This results in tiles that tessellate in more than one orientation. Uniform tiles that can fit together in non-uniform ways. Don’t let Euclidean geometry tell you what to do, Euclid has been dead for two thousand years, he won’t mind. Link Board will allow you to construct a playing field that is both fluid and dense with asymmetry. In the immortal words of Blilliam Wake (William Blake’s Game Designer Dopplehanger)

Link Board, Link Board, burning bright / On the tables of the night, / What immortal hand or eye / Could frame thy fearful geometry?

3D Design: Tolerances for Interlocking Parts


So I’ve taken the first step in digitizing my cyber-ideas into electro-reality! The model above is for Auto Checkers which I have discussed in some detail previously. You can download the model yourself on our Thingiverse page!

Now a 3D printer is a pretty magnificent thing, but it is not perfect (yet) and the things it creates are not exactly to the digital specifications you may have in your model (lazy magic box). This becomes pretty important if you have two things that you want to fit together.

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Concept: Draft Clips


Problem: Cards can’t Change.

It may seem like a silly thing, but it’s not, it is a thing that is the paramount of all seriousness, seriously forever and ever. Once a card is printed it’s stuck that way forever. Like my niece’s face if she keeps sticking her tongue out (or so I’m told by her mother, poor girl). You could use iPhones instead of cards, but holding a hand of five iPhones is so unwieldy! (my assistant informs me it would also be prohibitively expensive, who knew?) . Now we’re not quite in the age of electronic ink (yet!), but there does exist a technology that can somewhat modify a card.

No, I’m not talking about a pen. Yes, I understand the applications of regular ink, and it’s ability to modify written things. We’ve gotten off track, I’m talking about clips! Don’t know what a clip is? I’ll let my assistant go over the basics.

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Concept: Dagger Stand


Problem: Player standups don’t indicate direction.

Rogues have a problem, they have a difficulty no one else at the table has to deal with. How do you backstab an Orc if you don’t know which way he’s facing? Sure, sure it’s not a problem if you’ve spent the money on immaculately crafted models for every Grom, Krik, and Hairy that gets obliterated in the first round of combat, but a little harder to stab an Orc represented by an old skittle. (though also tastier).

Now maybe you’re not clear on what a player standup is, maybe you’ve been living under a rock; not my first choice of habitats, but, hey, to each their own. In any case my assistant assures me that some people need to hear the basics.

A player standup is a game piece that allows a piece of chipboard to stand upright on a game board. This creates the effect of “standing” pieces, at a much lower cost than Three Dimensional Miniatures. Furthermore, stands have the added attributes of interchangeability, printed information, and double sided.

-Mackenzie Cameron’s Assistant

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3D Printed Games: First Impressions

The realm of 3D printing is full to the brim with innovators! They have to keep printing new “brims” just to hold them all! Board Gaming in the “maker” space is a little more humble, but there are folks out there really pushing that frontier.

First they print the frontier and then they push it.

Let’s take a look at the games my assistant has researched that you can “print and play” today. Unfortunately, I’ve not had the chance to play these games “in the plastic” so to speak, so below you’ll see my assistant’s general impressions.

Pocket Tactics:
Ill Gotten Games has been around for quite some time. Their brand flagship, Pocket Tactics, has been public since 2012. The game takes the concept of a miniatures wargame and reduces the scale to something that could fit in one’s “pocket”. The Starter Set is available with the standard ruleset, but there exists an extensive array of expansions: each one a new set of miniatures to use as your army. The quality of the 3D models is quite high, and the complexity of the rule set seems very reasonable. For those without 3D printers, their sets are also available on Etsy.

This is a link to a collection of models, more than an actual playable game. Archon was an innovative video game developed for Atari 8-bit computers, in 1983. It features chess-like gameplay, with the twist that when pieces collide, the two players enter into a battle. The pieces involved determine the players’ abilities in the battle, but victory is determined by player skill. It is a notable entry in the index of games that blend strategy and dexterity. While the creator has not published a playable set of rules, the original Archon is so worthy of note that a physical board game version deserves your attention as well. Mr. Mackenzie asserts he could design a “Space Cadet’s Style” realspace mechanic that could mimic the battle element of the original Archon. Since I am in charge of his schedule I have assured him that he does not have time for such a venture.

 Tardis Run: A simple “roll and move” game with enough strategic depth to be interesting. Tardis Run is certainly designed for Dr. Who fans, with pieces ranging through 11 regenerations (though I imagine a 12th Doctor piece is in the works). You have 4 paddles (blank on one side, numbered on the other), choose which ones you want to use and then toss them. You then move a chosen piece a number of spaces equal to the number shown. Shortcut spaces and the ability to knock opposing pieces back to the opposing start space keep the game interesting. It has some clever elements and is certainly worth checking out.

By the same Creator as Pocket Tactics, Cyvasse is an interpretation of a chess-like war game that exists in George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones Universe. Not being familiar with Martin’s work, I cannot speak to the games authenticity, but the models are charming and the ruleset is clear and concise. Most interesting element is that Cyvasse has a blind setup, where you use a screen to hide your initial placements. It will likely require a play before we can speak to the game’s quality, but first impressions seem quite positive.

These next two games are actually quite old, and hard to find. Troke and Twixt are games that were designed in Germany in the 50’s and 60’s. They are both abstract strategy games that use custom plastic pieces. Due to printing costs of traditional mass production it’s difficult for any game with custom pieces to stay in print for long. However, with 3D Printing, those calculations no longer apply. Fans of these older games have brought them back into the realm of plausible play. Troke uses 3 sizes of “stacking” castle pieces in a fairly straight forward checkers-type game. The unique way the pieces interlock, however, gives the game interesting depth.

TwixT is another game that would be difficult to keep in print, utilizing a peg board, pegs, and links. It has a mildly interesting publishing history, that you can check out on it’s BGG page. The game itself is a prime example of a “networking” game, a game where you try and connect two or more points. TwixT is fairly straightforward in that you are simply attempting to connect opposite sides of the board before your opponent. The cleverness of the game lies in a player’s allocation of actions, either placing a peg or a connector. This leaves open the chance that your opponent may try and overtake one of your positions. It’s a thought provoking endeavor, worthy of play.

As time permits, I’ll be going into much more depth on these games as I get the chance to fabricate them into reality using my magic box! What’s more, these five games only scratch the surface of the board game culture within 3D printing! And believe me, we plan to scratch more than the surface! We’ll scratch lots of things! Mostly board games, though.

Did we miss your favorite 3D printed game? Or I should say did my assistant miss your favorite 3D printed game?

Let us know in the comments!