Zenith:Unknown development diary 5: The tangible prototype. Or at least the better half of it.
Remember when in the last dev diary I mentioned my models had severe errors that prevented them from printing and I was wondering whether it will be better to actually start from scratch, rather than trying to fix them?
Well, I gave fixing one last go before I throw it all away. And some hundred or more hours of hard labour later, the models are finally fixed. And redesigned quite a bit in the process.
In the meantime, board design was complete too.
A real, tangible prototype was just around the corner.
Or was it?
Considering I don’t own or have ready access to CNC machinery, laser cutter or 3D printer and taking into account the year is 2019, I thought getting a board and game pieces done by 3rd party shouldn’t be harder than sending files and receiving product few days later, right?
There were two simple tasks I needed done:
- A board prototype, basically 550x550 mm plywood square with 144 small squares cut into it;
- 8 3D printed ship and shuttle miniatures.
I didn’t really care whether the board will be CNC milled or laser cutted, neither did I care whether miniatures will be FDM or SLA printed, although due to their small size of ~45 mm for the ships and ~30 mm for the shuttles, I did not expect an FDM printer will be able to print the fine details*, regardless how low the layer height and small the nozzle. Yeah, in the meantime I also became some sort of a theoretical semi-pro in 3D printing and laser cutting.
* Actually after some more research and slicer experimenting, it became apparent it was not just the fine details a FDM printer would not print. Even at 50 microns models were too tiny and too detailed to be printed at all. Resin was the only way to go.
So I began sending quote requests. Few weeks in, receiving offers ranging from 25 € to bloody 140 € for the board job alone, I was getting a little nervous. Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe it’s up to everyone to define the cost at which a job is justified to even consider and I’m no exception to that.
Still, I am not exactly willing to pay a quarter of a K40 cutter just to have one piece of 3 mm plywood cut.
I mean, it makes no goddamn sense.
I also approached a couple of printing houses that have resin printers. One quoted 60 € for grey resin at 100 micron layer height and no finishing touches whatsoever (i.e. no support removal and UV baking), the other quoted the same price for transparent resin at 25 micron layer height and all the finishing touches.
Then a mate pointed me towards one of his mates who could do both tasks and after a couple of phone talks and a quick demo he did the very next day, I began seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Two weeks later however, there is no further communication from said lad and the light at the end of the tunnel suddenly got dimmer.
You know why I hate friend recommendations? Because things have never worked out for me this way. Ever. Not a single bloody time. See, I’m a simple man. When I turn to someone I know and ask them to point me towards certain professional, I expect one of two things will happen:
- That certain professional will take on my task with the intent of completing it and will complete it as agreed.
- That certain professional will tell me they can’t or won’t do it and they don’t have to give me reasons as long as they tell me this right away.
I mean, I do things this way. And I honestly believe this is the way things should be done. And I stand mistaken. Every time. In this case it turned out I was not regarded as a paying customer but rather as “some guy that knows someone I know with interesting spare time project I might eventually look at some point in the future”. This came as a shock and once more a popular Bulgarian saying sprung into my mind, hereby translated in literal and not exactly great form:
The wolf has a thick neck because they do their shit on their own.
It sounds awkward, I know but one easily gets the idea — if you want your shit done properly, you need to do it yourself.
A Chinese K40 laser cutter and an Anycubic Photon cost roughly ~400 € each. And while I don’t have an awful lot of future applications for the cutter, apart from doing few toys for my son, a good SLA printer might actually come in handy in the long term. And for a little while I began thinking about making my own tiny workshop in the basement. This idea however quickly faded away with the realization there is no way I can vent the room.
So I just sent the files to the printing house and received a box few days later.
It was the moment of truth!
They were amazing. I was in awe. The level of detail was ridiculous! Sure, because of the scale, supports left some visible spots on the surface but that will be fixed once a primer is applied. I think. And even if that does not fix it, I don’t care. They are fucking beautiful just the way they are.
Models were supposed to have stands. During file preparation, I deliberately separated models from their stands just to be sure there will be no issues during printing. And it was a wise idea. One day the printing house called me and told me they were trying to print the stands for few times in a row now but they were too tiny and fragile and would either not print or just break apart during clean-up. I told them to send me just one of the broken stands, so I can see where the problem lies and forget about the rest.
While I won’t show picture of the stand as it turned out horrible and I can’t be assed to shoot it again, it will suffice to say the stand will need to be heavily redesigned if it is to be used at all. And having seen how fragile it really turned out, I doubt there is point redoing it.
On the other hand, the models have been designed with flat bottoms where they should have met the stand, so some minor corrections on that bottom to adjust the center of gravity for some of the models will suffice and they can remain like that.
That, along with the fact fine details like various antennae got printed but broke at first touch, made me think about the actual usable level of details in the models. I mean these are beautiful touches but unless printed in some sort of elastic rubber-ish resin, they will be useless. And frankly, that does not matter at the moment. These are just the first prototypes. Final pieces will probably be cast in plastic somewhere in China anyway, entirely out of economic reasons.
Plus, there are versions of the models three times the size that will be some sort of hand painted collectibles and these will have all the tiny details (and stands) anyway. And having seen the quality and detail of the pieces in most hyped games, I have to say
Z:U pieces are ridiculously detailed and great looking just the way they came out.
All this happened few months ago. And before that, a shitton of game changes also took place. There is another (almost finished) dev diary about it but I really would like to have a tangible game board done first, along with properly printed cards, so I can finally show the working prototype. Yeah, I’m sorry about that. I just hate half-assed things being shown.