2015 Seej Starter Set Released!

The duergar have toiled in The Forge for months, taking only the briefest breaks for food and drink, hammering out new prototypes daily in preparation for this morning. Exhausted, exhilarated, they present a gift for you.

Oye! Oye! The 2015 Seej Starter Set bursts forth from its bonds!

seej 2015 4x3

Download it here, as a pay-what-you-like download; throw Lao Zheng a $5 bone and we’ll keep the Open Source designs a-flowin’. These models don’t make themselves, y’know.


Much labor, playtesting, and re-engineering was poured into the 2015 starter set, incorporating a great deal of community feedback and addressing many of the original models’ shortcomings.

First and foremost, the interval between downloading the models and playing a game has been shortened considerably. The geometry is streamlined and efficient; the entire 2015 Seej Starter Set is contained in a single megabyte. The Seej engines and bloxen are relatively quick, uncomplicated prints with plenty of surface area to assist with bed adhesion.

The catapult’s been reduced to six individual pieces, three of which are identical dovetailed crossbars. Flagrant stagecraft alert: there’s a piece of hookup wire holding the catapult arm in place.

stonemonger

The throwing arm now articulates directly with print-in-place cams, resulting in a far more accurate and deadly device than the first generation catapult. The faux wheels on the side braces lift the butt of the throwing arm off the ground, allowing it to swing freely for maximum momentum.

The atlas on the original catapult is no more; a little bit of engineering has moved the arm’s pivot center so that it lines up directly with the topmost crossbar at the end of its arc.

We’ve given up on throwing coins and instead have switched to 14mm marbles (A d20 will work nicely in the catapult’s cup, too.) Make sure you have a glazier in your contacts list, because even a ricochet with one of these marbles can crack a window. Eye protection is strongly recommended.

The improved force and accuracy of the new catapult required more robust defenses, so the bloxen now interlock on five sides. They should snap and unsnap with a minimum of fuss. These new bloxen make dandy building toys even if you’re not playing Seej.

Rules for Seej are, as always, at s33j.net.

Have at thee!

The Joy Of Rex

TL;DR summary: Lowpoly design is a reflection of modern artists’ nostalgia for 90s video games. Also, get off my lawn. Also also, download Rex’s pram here.

Months ago I designed Robber Rex as a replacement robber token for Settlers of Catan when we lost our original. He is, inexplicably, one of the more popular designs to emerge from The Forge in recent history.

In an effort to exsplick Rex’s success, I present a theory as to why low-poly design seems to be sweeping the 3D printing community lately and it boils down to nostalgia.

Robber Rex

With no statistics or evidence to the contrary I’ll posit that the median age of artists doing enough 3D design work to get noticed by sites like Thingiverse and Pinshape is somewhere around 30 years old. Maybe a little younger.

These people would have been preteens right smack dab in the middle of the 90’s, when games like Quake and Final Fantasy VII were top-of-the-line entertainment. By today’s standards the polycounts of character models in these games were miniscule– I think a Quake character maxxed out somewhere around 200 triangles.

I’m convinced that many of us want to be twelve again, when we were at the top of our game as kids but not yet at the bottom of the ladder as teenagers. Life was pretty good back then, before the acne and taxes and hangovers and freaky stalker exes. It was all Crash Bandicoot, all the time, and maybe a Capri Sun after school with a little not-too-challenging math homework on the side.

It’s natural that these aging children of the 90’s would recreate the entertainment they loved so much as children, the same way their recent predecessors swept 3D design with 8-bit skeuomorphisms a couple of years ago. See here Moore’s Law, writ in plastic.

The current popularity of Minecraft will undoubtedly produce interesting design trends among the designers of 2030, who will be chipping meta-retro lowpoly designs from the silica mines to please our ever-demanding AI overlords.

Having worked through the tail end of this low-poly period, I’m familiar with the design compromises brutally enforced by the video cards of the day. My first gig as a video game artist had a poly limit of 150 per character. Our models were angular at best and blocky at worst, and you can bet your bippy I nearly wet myself with delight the first time I saw a bump map on a realtime shader.

And I had an onion tied to my belt, which was the style at the time.

So, freed now from the design constraints that marked my early career, I’ve got a habit of reveling in gratuitous geometry. Rex is anomaly in my portfolio. He’s low-poly (-ish, there are still microbevels you couldn’t get away with in 1998), totally unlike creations like the Bramble Bloxen.

Bloxen, Bramble

Yeah, that’s like over 200K polygons right there.

But we’re big fans of Giving The People What They Want here at Zheng Labs, and The People clamored for a low-poly sequel to Robber Rex.

pram

So I designed a print-in-place pram for Rex and his newphew, Pip. You can read a quick story about Rex and Pip here, but be warned: the language is a little salty and likely isn’t appropriate for our younger readers.

prototypes

Maintaining the low-poly style was easy, but getting the wheels to turn reliably on a print-in-place model took a dozen prototypes and test prints. The numbers on the sides of the pram are cylinder diameters: the trick is to leave enough clearance between wheel and bearing that the wheels can turn, but not so much that the wheels fall out. 6.3 is too small– the first layer of plastic oozes together and locks the wheel in place. 7.5 is a little too loose, which makes the wheels wobble all over the place.

Oh, and here’s Pip. He’s almost an afterthought in this design, just a little low-poly hatchling tucked into his stroller for a day at the park.

pip

There’s a new design bubbling in the cauldron, and it’ll be out in a couple of weeks. #staytuned. It’s-a-gonna-be-big. Lao Zheng out.

Travelers, Part 1

Peacetime, now, as it had been for half a decade.

Maera bumped the tower door with her hip, held it open with her rump and eased out onto the wall-walk, taking care not to spill any grog from the dozen steaming mugs she bore like a serving girl on the inside of her shield. She puffed a wisp of mousy hair from her eyes and called to the sargeant of the watch. “Elias! Some help, if you would.”

Elias, still quick even at threescore and two, set down his spyglass and hustled over to relieve the chateliane of her burden. “Good morning, milady! Thankee much.” He distributed the hot grog around the wall and offered the last tankard to Maera. “Milady?”

She shook her head and smiled. “It’s yours, please. Still chilly up here, it is.”

The sargeant grinned and sipped daintily at the tankard, one pinky raised in silent mockery of his lady’s educated accent. “Chilly, but calm, at least. The night passed without incident, as they all do of late.”

Maera had taken a habit of posting a light guard in the last six months. Red hadn’t made noise since their victory and the other clans were too far away to mount an attack without messengers spotting them weeks in advance.

Peacetime it was, but of course there were Vile Things out there that weren’t Men and didn’t care a whit for clan politics. Elias continued. “Can’t say as I miss the war, though.”

He scraped the last bit of honey from his mug with a grimy finger, licked, and squinted out over the wall. “Hello, what’s this? Movement at the far marker, if these old eyes tell the truth?”

He unbuckled his spyglass and handed it to Maera. “What is it? Even with the lens I’d never know.”

Maera heard three sharp toots from a warning horn– another wall-walker had spotted the movement and sounded an alert. She sighed. Three notes were a bit excessive at this distance, but then again these men were fairly well starved for something to do lately. She lifted the spyglass to her eye and homed in on the intruder.

The image of a man pulling a two-wheeled cart filled her view. And what a man! A giant, standing tall as a rearing warhorse. His skin was lightly tanned, even so early in the year. His clothing was at once coarse and complicated, with swirls of embroidery up the sleeves and sides of his green… tunic? Robe? Hard to say. It went to his knees and he wore black leggings underneath.

Another man, younger, slept in a padded chair behind the giant. His skin and hair were similar in color, but his robe (yes, definitely a robe on this one) was clearly of finer quality. The man’s head tilted over the back of his seat and he loosely held the neck of a large gourd in his left hand. He wore stockings of the purest white, but only one sandal.

How odd the cart looked; more of a tent-covered chair on wheels than a proper cart, with barely any space for extra cargo. Not merchants, then, nor peddlers, and certainly not warriors, though a sword hung in its scabbard from the side of the cart. Slowly, canopy swaying left to right with each step, the giant and his snoozing master plodded ever closer to the Black Keep.

Maera lowered the spyglass as the wall began to bustle with activity. “Well,” she mused to no one in particular, “this should be a novelty.”

D is for Direwolf!

Here’s some very cool technology from Sketchfab that lets users embed 3D content just about anywhere. Blogs, Facebook, Kickstarters, you name it.

This is one of the proof-of-concept models I developed for Dungeon Blocks. Go ahead, give it a spin!

Folks unfamiliar with 3D printing might wonder why the indentations for the block’s mortar are angled. This is a common 3d printing modeling technique to ensure successive layers of hot plastic have something beneath them for support. If those mortar lines were 90° angles, the bottom edges of the stone blocks would probably droop downwards on most FDM printers.

Another design note: the bottom of the block is completely flat to help it adhere to the printer’s build platform.

Have I mentioned that there’s still time to back the project? We’re at 42% and could use a few more minds to help decide which fantasy tropes are featured on the final set of blocks. Check out the Kickstarter here.

Dungeon Blocks, enGIFfened!

So! Earlier this week Dungeon Blocks was launched. The Kickstarter’s doing well– as of today we’re 40% funded!

dungeon blocks16-9

Dungeon Blocks are 3D printable alphabet blocks emblazoned with fantasy creatures and dungeon scenery. Here’s the linky if you’d like to throw it a bone or two: http://kck.st/1FNEFwP

The plan is to illustrate 26-odd fantasy tropes and then 3d model them onto the blocks. We’ve got a proof-of-concept D is for Direwolf block, as well as a bunch of scenery like dungeon walls, doors, and staircases. Take a look at the Kickstarter page to see some concept art for scenery that’ll be in the final version.

Despair not, ye without access to 3D printers; there be fantasy critter coloring book backer rewards too!

This time around we’re crowdsourcing the creativity, too: if the project’s funded I’ll be setting up a forum here at Zheng3.com where backers can hash out exactly which fantasy tropes they’d like to see featured on the blocks. We’ve already got some heavy hitters from the 3D printing community as backers and I’m really looking forward to seeing the ideas they come up with.

You, yes, you can get in on the action and be part of the creative process by backing at the PARTY MEMBER level. If you just want to help support Open Source design (and receive a PDF coloring tome to boot) become a FRIENDLY NPC instead.

Usually at this point in the blog post I go into a behind-the-scenes-how’d-he-do-dat 3d modeling riff, but by Jove I’ve been writing/coding a lot lately and just need to flex some different tendons for a bit.

Here’s a GIF instead.

dungeon block

11 Reasons A Heartwarming Kickstarter Failed: #2 Will Give You The Feels

Well, that certainly could have gone better.

crash

The funding period for Faire Play 2 has ended and we’ve come up short. Like, way, way, way short. You can still purchase the models for the Faire Play 2 chariot, gladiatrix armor, and Empress Makeover Kit over at The Bazaar, but the Kickstarter’s gone off and joined the choir invisible.

Before we proceed, allow me this big, red, throbbing, baboon-ass of a caveat. Nowhere is it written that one is entitled to a successful Kickstarter. You buys your ticket, and you takes your chances. Zheng Labs rolled the dice and came up with a big old nothing-burger this time. C’est la vie.

But you can’t hit if you don’t swing, right? Build it, as is told in the Book of Costner, and they will come.

And come they did, in droves. Faire Play 2 received a tremendous amount of favorable media coverage in online publications across the spectrum, from The Huffington Post to Newsmax. There are Kickstarters that would kill for that kind of exposure.

There are rumors that the potato salad guy did kill for that kind of exposure. But only rumors, mind you.

And yet, despite a truly inspiring amount of publicity and online good will, Faire Play 2 missed its goal by roughly eighty percent.

Ouch.

But as Grandma Zheng always used to say, if you’re going to fail, you might as well fail spectacularly. So there’s that.

What happened? Let’s explore some possibilities.

#1. In hindsight, launching a Kickstarter contingent on the cooperation of cats might not have been the smartest business plan.

Everybody knows there’s no way you’d ever get a cat to pull a chariot. Ever. And even if you did the cat would find a way to kill you in your sleep. The Venn diagram of people with Barbie dolls, 3D printers, and cats is also vanishingly small, which further limited the number of potential Faire Play 2 backers.

cat reveal

#2. People are used to getting amusing content for free, and converting Kickstarter video views into Kickstarter backing isn’t a viable strategy.

I had a tremendous amount of fun creating the Kickstarter video for this project. My hope was that people would watch the video and then think, “Yes! Imagine what this guy could do with greater resources. Here’s two bucks.”

Alas, in a world where hilarious dashcam vids of road-raging mascots are free for the taking, asking people to selflessly contribute to one’s artistic endeavors is hoplessly naïve.

thumbs down

Still, STILL! Many people did contribute to the project for precisely that reason! I’m thoroughly grateful to the hundred or so idealists who supported Faire Play 2. You folks are the best, and the world would be better off with more people like you.

Also, apparently 3d printed lithopanes are a terrible idea for a backer reward. Who knew?

#3. Nobody plays with dolls anymore.

It hasn’t been a great year for Mattel. Barbie sales crashed 21% in Q3 of 2014 and have been sinking for three years straight, and Mattel’s CEO left for greener pastures.

I’m doing what I can to revitalize Barbie’s image, but I can’t imagine a kid born after 2010 picking up a doll when there’s an iPad nearby. The market for aftermarket Barbie accessories, already quite nichey, gets smaller every day.

Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but model this Barbie-compatible tire iron. In this house, Barbie changes her own tires.

tire iron

It’s free! Download it here. You’ll have to heat-deform it after printing to get that nice bend in the shaft.

My guess is that at this point in the article some folks are wondering why there aren’t 8 more reasons the Kickstarter didn’t succeed. It’s because the 11 in the title of this post is in base-2.

So, what’s next?

Oh, man, I am so excited for the Next Thing.

(I’m always chasing the Next Thing. Character flaw. Greatest strength, greatest weakness, and all that.)

I’ve been working on the Next Thing for the last couple of weeks and hope to announce it soon. Here’s a wee teaser image for you.

teaser

#staytuned and #watchthisspace, my friends. This temporary setback has got me generating all kinds of new ideas. The ride’s only going to get more fun from here on out.

And big, big, BIG thanks to everyone who supported the project. I’s got good peeps.

Faltering Kickstarter Offers Steak Knives In Obvious Bid For Relevance

It’s not quite the eleventh hour, but we can see the trembling minute hand from here. A fortnight to go and we’ve just crested 18% funding. Faire Play 2 could be doing much better, and Coco haz a sad.

Everyone who hasn’t backed so far has made a little kitten cry.

You monsters.

tears

But! all is not lost. All is never lost, not so long as one dwarf in Moria still draws breath. Creativity reigns here at Zheng Labs, and WE WILL FIND A WAY.

So I reach down into the Bag of Holding, rummage around, and pull out a Hail Mary backer reward that will surely save this Kickstarter from the ash heap of crowdfunding history. I call forth…

STEAK KNIVES?

steak knife

Whatever, I’ll run with it.

IF YOU BACK NOW, you will receive, absolutely FREE, this fine set of digital steak knives, suitable for printing on any 3D printer.

sparky knife

Forged from the finest free-range polygons! Once printed, these serrated knives are sharp enough to slice the toughest of warm lards and are absolutely guaranteed to warp in any household dishwasher.

And that’s not all! They’re not food-safe, either!

But! Amazing as these digital steak knives may be, they are only available to people who have backed Faire Play 2 at any level. Robots are standing by to take your contribution. Help kittens now.

pledge now

Yes, I used Comic Sans. Desperate times, desperate measures.