Category Archives: seej

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!

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.”

Hands on with Blokify

TL;DR Summary: If it’s not a federal crime to give away an app this fun for free, it should be.

We’ve been busy here at Zheng Labs since the turn of the new year. It’s a bit of an open secret among the 3Dprinting cognoscenti that I’ve got a 3d printing Kickstarter in the works; the duergar eat and sleep at the Forge these days, prototypes of prototypes are drafted and printed at a breakneck pace, and if the bellows withstand the strain and the flow of anthracite remains steady we should have something ready for public consumption in a month or two. Sooner, hopefully, rather than later.

Here’s a teaser image. #staytuned, #watchthisspace, and #allthatjazz.

teaser

But! It can’t all be long-term projects at Casa de Zheng, lest the six or seven malcontents who follow this blog lose interest and wander off into Mirkwood. So let me dig into an app I’ve been wanting to play with for a while: Blokify.

opening

Blokify is designed to make crafting 3D models kindergarten-easy. There’s only so many ways one can build with cubes, after all, so I see some Minecraft influence here, but the designers have eschewed the ultra-low-resolution aesthetic in favor of nicely-designed, toony blocks.

If you’d like to get Lao Zheng on a get-off-my-lawn rant, ask me how Minecraft’s (WASD && voxels) method of 3D modeling leaches poison into the young minds of the next generation of CAD UI designers. Thanks mucho, Notch.

The flowing river is a nice touch. The pleasant music puts me into a building mood.

Kid-level software needs to be crazy intuitive as far as I’m concerned, so I just jump right in to the app without reading any startup guides or watching tutorials. The first UI element I poke the cobblestone block in the upper right corner. This brings up a bunch of other blocks that I can use, but for now I think I’ll stick with basic stone.

blocks

I turn my attention to the gubbins in the lower left corner. It looks it might be a camera navigation tool, so maybe it’ll orbit the camera around building area. Turns out it does something else, to which I’ll return shortly. But I still have to figure out how to move my camera around before I can build anything of consequence.

I recall that I don’t live in 1995 anymore and I’m holding a device that responds to swipes and multitouch, and start doing that. Touch with one finger to pan the camera, multitouch to orbit. Pinch to zoom. Ok, now we got this.

Tap the helpfully-checkerboarded ground to place a block and it drops onto the field with a meaty thunk. Tap the top of the first block and a second attaches with a satisfying crunch. In a few seconds you’ve got a field full of stone blocks. Sometimes blocks fly in from the sides of the field, their origin determined by some algorithmic sorcery. The sound effects really make this app entertaining. CRUNCH! THUNK! SNAP! Every block addition creates a little puff of dust.

first build

I could do this all day.

The edges of the checkerboard and an invisible ceiling limit a build to 13x13x13 blocks. Some non-triskadekaphobic over at Blokify likes primes, apparently.

Touch and hold a block for a bit and one can swipe to make a row or column. Swiping blocks into existence is fun and clicky-clacky.

horizontal

Touch and hold a little longer and the block crumbles into nothingness.

The circle in the lower left corner turns out to be an undo queue. Scrub counterclockwise and watch your model undo itself in time, then scrub clockwise to restore it.

The medieval themed blocks I’m working with naturally remind me of Seej bloxen. So I’ll make one of those.

A Seej bloxen is roughly 5x3x3cm. If I assume each Blokify block is 1cm, I’ll have to make a double-scale bloxen to get enough resolution to make the mortises underneath. Scaling the bloxen down later is trivial.

But first a few thoughts on the building process. It’s very easy to just tap tap tap the bloxen into existence, although here and there I have a bit of trouble hitting the hotspots on the sides of blocks when I need to make an overhang. It’s easier (and more fun) to sketch out my empty volume with a few wooden support blocks, and then destroy them later.

bloxen supports

I want this Blokify bloxen to be backwards-compatible with existing Seej bloxen, which means the tenons on top need to be aligned down the x-axis. Unfortunately there’s no way to put a Blokify block halfway between two others, so centered tenons are impossible with a 6-block wide bloxen.

blocks

I was looking for an opportunity to bring the model into Maya anyway, so I’ll do my vertex surgery there.

The export is two taps away through an email attachment, and it’s on my desktop in a few seconds. Well played, Blokify.

For most folks, this is where the creation ends and the printing begins, but I’ve got some edits to make and I’d like to poke around the polygons for a bit.

Here’s my first surprise; the textures on the blocks are actual geometry! The stones here are bumped out a bit and tile nicely.

into maya

The second surprise is a little less exciting: the are some long, thin, nasty-looking polygons at the junctions between blocks. Polys like these make editing a model difficult. Down this path lie non-manifold geometry and madness, so approaching these goblins with a keen eye and a keener blade is in order.

In my humble assessment Blokify doesn’t deserve to have this feature held against it, though; the subset of users who are going to edit these models in a third-party application has got to be vanishingly small. In-app editing is perfectly cromulent.

I’m able to delete the top faces of the bloxen, align the tenons down the midline, and sew the patient back up without any trouble.

The print proceeds without incident, and I’m staring at a new bloxen. Five minutes from first launch to the start of printing. Nice. For those poor souls without access to a 3D printer there’s a Shapeways export option.

Here it is, printed on my Replicator 1 with this Blue PLA.

Bloxen, Blokify

downloadTo sum up: I really like this app. It’s easy, really easy to make kid-friendly models and get them onto a printer. There’s a more-than-adequate library of free block types built into the app, and premium content’s just an AppleID password away. (Blokify lets you purchase “diamonds” for spending in-game on new blocks and environments.)

Two features I’d like to see:

1. Explosives. If the proclivities of the younger Zhengspawn are any indicator, the ability to make a design go kablooie when I’m done with it would be a huge hit with the under-10 set.
2. A bevel feature. The final print’s edges are a little sharp. Not so much a problem for me, but little hands might find the corners undesirable.

Blokify’s available on The App Store, natch.

Happy building!

Hacking Barbie

I’m tickled, TICKLED! I tell you, to see that an autographed Seej tournament bloxen has made it into the background of 3DKitBash‘s latest Quin Kickstarter video. It’s at 1:35 or so, but stick around for the entire experience, it’s worth the watch.

I met Quincy Robinson at Maker Faire NYC a month or two ago. Neat guy, brimming with creativity. Quin’s an interesting Kickstarter: a fully-3d printed fashion doll. Barbie for maker kids.

I foresee a burgeoning cult following among adult maker dollbros too. I’m already sketching out 3d printed accessories on napkins, and I’ve mostly outgrown playing with dolls.

I’m interested to see how this project develops. Best of luck to Quincy, Quin, and the rest of the crew at 3DKitBash.

Getting Lost in the Thicket

Bloxen, Bramble

You can download the .STL file for this model fo’ free, fo’ realz, from The Forge, along with many other Creative Commons-licensed designs. Just head to the Seej fortifications section and start clicking like a dolphin on meth. Knock your mean self out, hoss.

I’ve been doing a lot of simple models lately, like ye olde Semi-Formal Pocket Gear Train or the Bonsai Gibbon. These models are big on concept but easy on execution.

A few weeks ago I cranked out a floral Seej bloxen. Bumping out geometry to make vines is easy and fun, and got me started down another path I’ve been waiting to tread for quite some time.

I’d been feeling the need for an art challenge. How complicated of a model can I make with the tools I have available? Can I keep an excruciatingly complex mesh manifold and, importantly, printable on a Replicator1?

I feel like the tone of press coverage for 3D printing has recently shifted from “gee whiz” to “now what?” My Replicator1, as amazing a machine as it still objectively is by the standards of human technological progress, is beginning to feel dated.

The most complicated model I’ve released so far is the Barrow bloxen, but that thing’s a big honking mess of intersecting faces. It’ll print, but at the mathematical level it’s inelegant and causes me to feel an emotion somewhere between embarrassment and disdain.

I’ve been wanting to create a woodland player race for Seej, and a thicket seems like the kind of thing dryads might use to keep attackers out. So I’ll start fresh and create a tangle of vertices and faces, vine by vine, making sure the mesh remains manifold and printable as I go.

The first step is to start with a template bloxen and freehand draw a base for the model.

bloxen template

Then extrude the base, bevel the edges, and subdivide the mesh to get some sculptable vertices for the next step. Beveling the edges can introduce non-manifold geometry if one isn’t careful, so it’s important to visually inspect the tighter corners of the bevels to make sure edges aren’t accidentally intersecting before subdividing the mesh.

subdivide base

After a little bit of sculpting with Maya’s sculpt geometry tool to make the base a little bumpy, it’s a simple matter to punch out the bloxen’s mortises with a pair of cubes. If I’m careful with the placement of vines later on, this bloxen will stack handily with existing designs.

punch mortises

I’ve got digital skulls all over my hard drive: occupational hazard. Everything’s Better With Skulls, so I’ll add a little bit of art detail here. In hindsight I should have waited to add the rocks until later in the project because their extra geometry interfered with attaching some of the vines to the base.

rocks and skull

The process for adding vines is in theory simple, but in practice increasingly difficult as the thicket gets more dense:

  • draw a NURBS curve
  • extrude a polygon along its length with a twist and a taper
  • add some variation with the sculpt polygon tool
  • smooth the mesh
  • join the vine to the base, other vines, and neighboring geometry

I like to color different elements while I’m working so I can tell what I’ve worked on and what remains to be done. So I draw a gear-like profile for the first vine and extrude it a bit. Once the vine is smoothed those gear teeth will look like gnarly roots.

vine base extruded

I don’t need all the extra geometry created by the gear teeth so I merge some of the vertices to turn my profile poly into an octagon, and then extrude it along a twisty curve.

first vine

I want to rough out the major volumes before I get too tangled up in vines, so I add a squirrel. Everything’s Better With Squirrels.

I’m just going to take a moment to reflect on the fact that due to good planning I have a relatively simple way to add poseable squirrels to just about any model.

pose squirrel

Kestenbaum the squirrel needs a vine to grip, so back to the NURBS curves it is to create a suitably convoluted path.

path for vine

I’ll integrate Kestenbaum’s haunches with the skull’s parietal bones later, off-camera.

Every now and then a vine is going to branch off from the main trunk. The process is similar to extruding along a polygon along a path except I like to cut a hole in the main trunk first, round it off, and then extrude.

branch hole
branch extrude

After much lathering, rinsing, and repeating I’m convinced the workflow I’ve got is mostly sound and maintains a manifold mesh. The viny bloxen is beginning to take shape.

keeping track

I add vine after vine after vine over the next few days, and then get a little bored and decide to add something more interesting. A cylinder helps me block out where a bird’s nest is going to sit.

nest cylinder

And after a little subdividing and sculpting the nest is ready to go in. It needs a few little vines to keep it supported inside the bramble, and of course it wouldn’t be much of a 3d nest without some elongated spheres for eggs.

sculpted nest

Jumping ahead in time a bit, here’s a top-down view of the print before manual cleanup, showing the eggs in situ.

eggs

And then I’m back to meticulously adding vines a few at a time and running test prints to make sure the model’s as self-supporting as it can be. After a few weeks of working, an hour here, an hour there, I’m ready to begin adding thorns to the vines.

Moving all those thorns into place by hand (I think there are somewhere around 350 of them) would be way too time consuming, so I settle for a hybrid manual/scripting approach.

I manually go through the mesh and identify the polygon faces where I think a vine needs a thorn, and then write a short MEL script that constrains an instance of the thorn to those worldspace coordinates and then locks the thorn’s y-axis to the average of the faces’ surface normals. It sounds more complicated than it is.

add thorns

Sometimes the surface normal average doesn’t make perfect sense for the thorn’s orientation, so there’s a little bit of manual tweaking for a good 30% of the thorns.

I’m running test prints every few days throughout this process, just to make sure the model was mostly self-supporting. Chances are I missed one or two overhangs, but the density of the vines is such that stray filament strands actually add to the look for the final print.

The almost-final mesh is looking quite gnarly.

final

Because I am a homonin of questionable morels, I add a few mushrooms hidden inside the bramble so that others can experience the joy of finding them. These 3d fungi are far more detailed than they need to be at this resolution, but I’m planning to make a Dryad battle flag in the same style later so my small extra investment in time won’t be wasted.

xray shroom

The mesh has dozens of tiny holes created by Maya’s boolean operations, mostly at junctions between vines. I fix these when I find them but allow netfabb to do the cleanup on most of them.

holes

I could keep adding detail to this model forever, but in practice the mesh is getting too unwieldy to work with. Sometimes it’s like working inside an actual thicket, with vines obscuring my view and 3d thorns scratching up against my camera lens.

Here’s a final print at 200% scale to bring out the details:

bramble 03

Whew. Glad this one’s finished. Time to move on.

A Little Relief

floral

download

Last week I came downstairs to find the elder Zhengspawn had gotten into my box of acrylics and was busily painting one of the myriad bloxen that lurk in the crevices of Casa de Zheng. The original was printed in clear PLA on my Printrbot Simple; I think this is a nice improvement.

painted

I thought it’d be fun to give her paint job a little relief and re-release it as a new bloxen.

The first step in the process is getting the real-world paint onto the 3d model. The easiest way I can think of to do this is to photograph the painted block and then texture map the model.

It occurs to me that I could also have used Autodesk’s 123dCatch to capture the surface of the bloxen, but Lao Zheng is old school, or what passes for old school in the 3d modeling world, and dislikes giving tessellation tasks over to the Cloud.

So photographs it is, just five of them since I’m not doing anything to the bottom of the model; one snapshot for each of the four sides, and one photograph for the top.

Next, I’ll take a basic bloxen and set up a UV map.

UV coordinates on a polygonal model are roughly analogous to latitude and longitude on a globe; they tell the paint where to go on the model’s surface. The first step in assigning UV’s is to unwrap the model’s surface and lay it out on a grid. There are automated processes for this in many applications, but with a model this simple it’s probably easiest and most intuitive to do it by hand.

block uv

And here’s the bloxen with a loose texture map on it. I’m not going to worry about the underside of the model for this project because ultimately it’s destined for 3d printing and the bottom needs to be smooth so it’ll stick to the print bed. Some of my textures are out of focus and distorted and I didn’t bother to texture the sides of the tenons, but I’m just using the painting as a rough guide anyway.

bloxen textured

You can download the UV’d model if you’d like to mess around with it yourself. Converting to STL wipes out UVs so the model’s in OBJ format. Enjoy.

The next step is to subdivide the mesh many, many times so that Maya’s paintbrush tools have some vertices to work with.

subdivided

Most of the setup is done and now there’s a fun few minutes of using Maya’s Sculpt Geometry tool to bump out the vines. (Flowers will come later)

unforeseen problem After a bit of painting I find some WTFfery going on amidships, so this requires a step away from creativity and into the realm of Just Fixing Things. It looks like there is a line of extra small polygons in there, probably created by the subdividing script I’m using. They’ve gotta go, and sometimes the best way to fix things is to Just Delete Them.

wtf

The process destroys my nice quad-only mesh but I’ve been to enough rodeos to know that this probably isn’t going to sink the model later. Moving on, I make a bunch of little flowers, rotate them randomly, and stick them onto the surface of the bloxen.

add flowers

The flowers are very simple models so booleaning them to the bloxen is easy, except for the one flower that rounds a top corner. This one needs to be bent a little bit before it can be added.

deform flower

After adding the mortises on the bottom of the bloxen, merging all the stray vertices, and checking the model in netFabb to make sure it’s manifold it goes to print. No problems whatsoever, which is strangely disappointing since my 3dprinting failures Pinterest board hasn’t been updated in a while.

Ever since I replaced my delrin plungers with an extruder upgrade and switched to a BB ball-bearing based filament spool my MakerBot’s been rock solid.

This little project got me thinking in new directions, so #staytuned for an update sometime in the next few weeks.

Hats Off To The Great Fredini

body scan in netfabb

This is the second in my series of Maker Faire Gems posts, where I’ll be post-blogging a bunch of fun stuff I found at World Maker Faire in NYC last week.

The Great Fredini is one of the 3d printing community’s more colorful members. He’s a natural showman and instant friend. He’s also responsible for the Coney Island Scan-A-Rama, where tourists can order 3d printed portraits for a modest fee. Fred does the printing in his studio.

All of Fred’s work is Open Source and freely available online, which means there’s nothing preventing you or anyone else from building your own Scan-A-Rama in Bemidgi, Capetown, or whichever far-flung locale from which you hail. He’s standing on the shoulders of giants and is well on the way to becoming a giant in his own right.

Fred did what looked like a nonstop demo of his Scan-O-Tron Saturday and Sunday at Maker Faire. Here’s how my scanning experience went.

The Scan

Fred says that hats and glasses are one of his personal scanning nightmares, so I had to doff mine for the scan. Permit me to talk about my hat for a moment. I really like my hat.

on platform

It’s a Filson Shelter Cloth Packer Hat. I’ve got three of these: one in Otter Green for late spring, summer, and fall, an insulated one in Filson’s Tin Cloth for winter (with earflaps, no less!), and one in white to be worn with a linen suit at semi-formal summer events, but never after Labor Day because even I know that basic fashion rule.

After years of wearing this style it’s become my Samson’s locks, Green Lantern power ring, and horcrux rolled into one. It’s been across the Atlantic twice, it’s been to Vegas, and if anyone ever needs to clone me all they have to do is take a scraping off the inside.

(Eww.)

I wasn’t a hat guy until I started reading wilderness survival manuals and realized that having a hat is one of the most basic precautions one can take to keep oneself alive out there in the wild.

On the other hand, in a city this hat’s uncommon enough that it’s pretty easy to look like a dweeb while wearing it.

On the gripping hand, it makes a fine beacon. I’ve met dozens of people who know me as the hat guy before they’ve ever talked to me face to face. Chaperoning a field trip is easy because the kids can find me in a crowd quickly. New acquaintances have their memory jogged by a mention of the guy in the green hat.

(Unfortunately I won’t be able to wear my favorite Otter Green headwear in China, because 戴绿帽子 is why.)

I do get a lot of compliments on this hat from hunters and other outdoorsy types. I’m also frequently jumped by Ukrainian thong models. Apparently Oksana’s into dweebs.

Unfortunately the wide brim on the hat wouldn’t print even if it would scan, so bare-pated I stepped onto the plywood scanning platform.

The scan is fairly quick. Fred will ask you to take a pose without too many overhangs so that you’ll print properly without support. In my case this means arms akimbo, a bit of contraposto, and face angled skyward. One can’t help but tend towards majesty when being 3d scanned by The Great Fredini.

Here’s the view from the platform: on platform

Fred gives you warning that he’s about to release the brake on the platform, and then the platform gently rotates a couple of times while a hacked Kinect invisibly reads your form. A few revolutions later I stepped off the platform and the next next person after me was a drowsy infant. (I’d love to see how that scan turned out.)

I have no idea how much post-processing, if any, Fred has to do to make the model ready for printing, but the mesh was manifold and error-free when I first got a hold of it.

I’ve got a couple of printers here that can take a stab at printing a portrait, but before I do I’d like to get a look at the mesh. There are a couple of little problems like this occlusion error on the inside of my left arm, but nothing that’s going to make the print fail.

occlusion error

Onward, and hatward.

The Hat

If this is to be an accurate portrait, it’s got to have my headwear included. A 123DCatch scan of the hat was decent, and even picked up some of the stitching in the brim’s top surface. After a few minutes of cleanup I realized that although I might eventually edit my way to a printable scan, I might be reflecting poorly on Fred’s scanning process by adulterating it with other scanning technology. Better to let Fred’s scan stand on its own merits and add a modeled hat later on.

scanned hat

It’s a fairly simple model so I made a 3d facsimile in Maya using the 123DCatch scan for reference. I got close enough in 20 minutes to visually communicate Filson Packer Hat, especially at the size it’s going to be printed.

modeled hat

I could in theory just join the hat mesh to the body mesh, but the brim’s overhang is just way too big to print as a single piece. Better to print the hat flat on the build platform and glue it to the body.

I posed the hat at a jaunty angle and used it as a template for slicing off the top of my head. This will give me a nice flat surface to which I can attach the hat.

flat head

And then it’s just a simple matter of printing the hat and body separately and gluing them together post-print. Here’s my 3d portrait, printed at half Fred’s recommended size, standing with a Seej Penny Catapult.
rint