Monday, August 27, 2012

Lego Battlebots: Second Generation

Focus of project: Improve and perfect ANYTHING POSSIBLE from the first generation Battlebots.

Behold, the almighty next generation Battlebots game. The first generation cannot compare to the magnitude of sheer sophistication of the new version, but it will always be remembered as the pioneer of my Lego games. The second version exhibits exceptional improvements in durability, game-play, variety of options, weapon mechanisms, and everything else that had potential for improvement. If you did not see the post about the first version of the Battlebots game please do so before moving on, you will understand the rules and whatnot:

Above we see the Blue Bot with a Saw and spinning Flail. The Flail seen above was later revised, for the various reasons listed in the documentary video toward the bottom. But before we get to that, get a feel for the game-play (and the game rules) for yourself:

Lego Battlebots Commercial:
[I strongly suggest watching this in a larger view, click the title at the top to watch right on YouTube.]

Hopefully the game seems fun to you by now, if not epic. The previous version of the game was also pretty fun, but I remember constantly intervening in a battle to repair a weapon or chassis platform, or even untangling wires caught by certain weapons (a good example for that was the saw). But the next gen game did not have this issue, at least until the end. In the first few trial runs there were a few bugs, but they were immediately addressed and fixed. All such bugs and issues and how I fixed them up are explained in the documentary video below. But first, let's see the biggest differences between the two generations of the Battlebots game:

To begin with, the platform's connection to the chassis actually had some reinforcement. Here's the old version bot, with a large vacant platform on top. The platform can easily be pried off along with everything on top of it, as it is only connected by Lego "brick" studs (which only connect by stacking) and not by any Technic pinholes (which can connect on any axis). This actually happened sometimes in battle after a few games took place, since each play loosened up the foundation of every element composing the bot.
Here I reveal to you the secret of the next-gen-bot's super-powerful platform connection. As you can see, the blue pin sticking out of the Technic "L" is running through the small black brick stacked on top of the platform edge. As mentioned, Technic parts connect on any axis, and I am utilizing this principle to lock the platform to the chassis with a horizontally placed pin, which disallows the vertical connection to pop off. This "L" is on all four corners of the bot.

You may have noticed this piece in the image above. What was this used for? Well, to begin with, this piece alone saved me from from countless in-game interventions. It connected to the platform so firmly. The weapons had virtually no effect on it. It was simply used to hold down the wires. That's it. And the only wires it had to hold down were the strips protruding off the motors powering the weapons. The rest were very well hidden and covered by the large black platform piece on which the weapons were placed. This piece was a major improvement to the whole system.

Also, the receiver, shown in red in the image above, was placed on the side of the chassis rather than on the platform. The first-gen bots had the receivers plopped right on top, as seen here. This was a huge issue as it took up a good chunk of platform space while having two extra wires running over the bot. Not only did the next-gen bots have the receivers on  the sides, but their altitude was also lowered, making it impossible for any weapon to mess with the wires protruding from them.
Another improvement was the unifying of the weapon motors. In generation one, the the bots had one XL motor and one M motor to drive the weapons, because I did not have enough M's at the time. The XL motor in particular was very difficult to secure to the platform while taking minimal platform space. As a result, the entire motor occasionally dismounted off the platform (its high torque sometimes made the weapons shake the whole bot). The M motor, however, had a sturdy 4x8 brick connection secured to its bottom, making it virtually impossible for it to dismount. Generation two used only M motors to drive the weapons.

Another issue that was fixed was the faulty controller. The first gen controllers consisted of a normal remote for the chassis and a speed remote for the weapons. The reason I chose to have a speed controller was so that the weapons wouldn't get overpowered and violently shake the bot platform. Despite that, the idea proved to be a huge mess. To start off, the players (or, my fellow high school students) didn't care how much power the weapons had. I immediately realized that a game like this must work no matter who's in control, regardless of player mentality. Also, if a motor is activated by the speed remote, it will not stop until the red button below the orange dial is pressed; another thing that the players just didn't care to do. They would attack with one weapon while the one pointing backwards was still running at full speed. The new remote, as you saw in the commercial above, only used two normal remotes (which immediately engage motors at full speed) for each bot. Did the weapons end up shaking the platforms? Well, that has to do with yet another good reason for building up your parts inventory. The answer is no, because I acquired enough gears by then to reduce the weapon cycle speed, mechanically. Most of the weapons featured gear reduction of some sort (typically the ratio was 3:5)

One of the most important level ups for the second generation was the variety of parts to choose from. The biggest stretch to this principle was the all new rover chassis, which was very similar to the one I posted a while ago. I had in mind many more alternate chassis, but simply did not have the time to develop them. The rover chassis was a challenge to incorporate into the system mainly because I had to maintain consistent altitude between the two fighting bots. If one platform was higher than the other, no one would dismount the other's flags. Unfortunately, I had to add a motor to incorporate double steering, unlike the "6 Wheeler Rover" I posted earlier. When I tried hooking up just one motor, the universals and gears generated too much backlash and all I basically had was single steering. But alas, the intruding motor also made it difficult to keep the platform on the same altitude as the standard tank chassis. I ended up having to equip the tank chassis with "riser blocks" when facing a bot with the rover chassis. It wasn't a problem, it only took a few seconds to install them before every battle. The risers were simply composed of beams (like the yellow ones in the image above, between the wheels). The risers had to be removed again when both players were using tanks. Here's how the rover chassis was put to use:
As you can see, the top section, containing the platform, receivers, and weapon motors was easily removed from the tank chassis and plopped onto the rover chassis. The only extra step was rewiring the rover's driving motors to the receiver, which was connected to the tank's driving motors before installation. This process was not difficult but it was a little time consuming, as the wire strips had to be wrapped around certain areas where enemy weapons could not reach. But before this, the strips from the tank's motors had to be unwrapped from their "safe zones" in order to fully detach the platform from the tread base.

Moving on with the parts variety, the turret mount was a great addition. The turret allowed the player to make the choice of sacrificing one of the two weapons so that the remaining one could rotate. The turret did not rotate a full circle endlessly, as this would cause the wires to twist up indefinitely and tear up the bot. I researched mechanisms that would still permit 360 degree rotation in such a circumstance, but I could not fit such a mechanism between the chassis and its weapons platform. The clearance space between the two was about a millimeter. Also, the turret mount gave the bot a completely new platform, which was much smaller than the standard one. This made game play even more interesting, because the user could rotate his flags away from enemy attacks BUT all the flags had to be grouped up close together. A single attack from an enemy could potentially win the game.

In addition to keeping things various, there were now four flags instead of one large and ugly one (which didn't even look like a flag). As you can see in the old Battlebots, the so-called "flag" was really a stack of two lego brick panels (seen left), which were also the only indicators of the bot's color (as seen on right). This worked well with the first generation weapons but it would've been awful for the next. I decided that four flags would be okay, and I tried to keep the base dimensions as it was before. What I mean is that the first generation "flag" had a 1x4 platform connection, and I tried to split that into four 1x1 platform flags, like this:

But these flags proved to be faulty. Their connection to the platform was far to delicate and the mere rattling of the bot's movements loosened them up. I also came to realize that because most of the weapons were geared down, they would be more powerful than the weapons of the previous generation, and so I needed flags with a larger base connection. The solution worked great; the new flags required a perfect amount of force to be dismounted fairly:

The updated flags had a 2x2 base, and although this matched the platform area of the single 1x4 flag (from gen one), the new weapons worked very well for taking out all of them (well, most of them anyway). I used a different, longer rod that went through a hole in the 2x2 brick cylinder for each flag. And of course, the fact that they actually looked like flags made the players happy.

Because there were now four times as many targets as before, I applied a game rule that in the event that the game isn't ending, the battle should last for up to 4 minutes. When there was only one flag to "kill" in generation one, games usually lasted about 3 minutes, since sometimes the flag wouldn't come off with just one attack (which made it even more fun!). But generation two needed some extra legislation to keep the game play flowing evenly. I recall about two or so battles (out of about 40) where the time limit had to end the game. The record time for winning was 17 seconds, as you will see in the short documentary video about the whole system below. The above is merely a comparison between the two versions of the game; but the video explains all the inner workings of the new version.

Here's a quick synopsis of all the parts available to build a Battlebot. All their specifics will be made clear in the video that follows:

Red Tank, Blue Tank
     -Standard tank chassis
     -Six-wheeled vehicle; had double steering and the drive train drove the center wheels

     -Double bladed rotating weapon
     -Sine-graph generator mechanism with pincers
     -Literally a rotating flail
     -Series of parallelogram shifts causing linear motion
     -Lever with a hammering motion with two wheels at the end
     -Piston held at the other end to cause a leaf-raking motion
     -Two parallel pistons with ax-like parts at the ends
     -Two parallel rotating tridents
     -Two crazy arm-like blades that spin in opposite directions
Missile Launcher
     -Launches four missiles consecutively
     -Horizontally mounted toothed belt.

Turret Mount [there was a rule that the Missile Launcher and the Flail could not be mounted to this, as the missiles were of limited ammo (only one weapon per turret!) and the Flail could take off all of your own flags from the tiny platform].
     -Allowed the small platform on top (along with one weapon and four flags) to rotate 90 degrees left and 90 degrees right.

And now, without further delay, the documentary:
[I do suggest watching this on a bigger screen as well; click the title to see it on the YouTube page.]

And there you have it. There's not much more I can deliver about this system except for the fact that I initially planned for many more chassis and weapon options, but simply did not have the time (or even the parts, maybe) to do so. The idea for a quadruped walker might have been over the top, along with automatic guns with re-loadable clips. Oh well. I guess it was as good as it was going to get.

Lego Battlebots: Second Generation
PF Contents:

2 Battery Boxes
1 XL Motor
12 M Motors
6 Receivers
4 Remotes

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Lego Color Games Tanks

Focus of project: Compactness, durability

As school kept drowning me with work, I tried my best to commence construction of the next generation Battlebots. Unfortunately, my luck for that did not come just yet. Instead, I built four identical tanks each coded with a specific color, with which all kinds of games could be played. Up to four people could play, and if there were less than four people, players could choose to control a second tank, but only one at a time. Also against my luck, no footage of game-play was taken, as I did not imagine the need for it back then. Nonetheless, the various games I experimented with weren't too boring. I made photographic instructions on how to build one of these, so I have a photo of all four tanks:

Here's a closer look at the gearing. The motors would be connected behind the orange sprockets.

Examples of games include capture the flag, "hockey", "football", and a few more unnamed games. The objects used were 4x4 cubes of all colors, and a cylindrical "puck" for hockey. The cubes looked like this (there were many more):

The playing field was typically constructed using masking tape and 4 sharpies, each matching one of the tank's colors. The playing field looked like this:

The ring in the middle represents the puck's position if the game at hand was hockey. The black territorial marks were only taped when all four players decided to play 2 vs 2. Games involving not only the cubes but also the colors of the cubes were amusing in particular. There were so many possibilities of games to be played, as is always the case with any lego project.

Lego Color Games Tanks
PF Contents (per tank):

1 Battery Box
2 M Motors
1 Receiver
1 Remote

Arm Rover

Focus of project: Functionality, Color theme.

The Arm Rover was by far my largest Lego creation. I would have liked to make it autonomous, but the financial necessities for that would shoot through the roof. However, the remote control functionality wasn't lacking whatsoever; all mechanical aspects worked fine in that form. As I started this blog two years after making the Arm Rover, I already have a long video about its features, so there's little need for a wall of text describing the specifics. But before we go deeper, let's watch a quick demonstration of this robot:

As you saw it is quite large, yet very good at handling small objects, such as the white die. In this video however the batteries were running low, since the Rover had been sitting in my house for about a year. The base moves at a considerable speed on full battery.

If you are willing to take the time to watch the following overview (as opposed to reading pages and pages of description), feel free to do so. I originally planned to leave this video for anyone who'll inherit my lego parts, but realized it would be a good idea to put it on YouTube. This video is also the reason why I omitted textual description:

I also happen to have an image of all the separated parts used in the Arm Rover:

Arm Rover
PF Contents:

3 Battery Boxes
2 XL Motors
12 M Motors
5 Receivers
4 Remotes
1 Pair of LEDs
6 Linear Actuators

Monday, August 20, 2012

Lego Transformers (Part 2)

Focus of projects: Same as in Part 1, only with improvements in design.

This is the "next generation" series of Lego Transformers that I made about a year after the ones in Part 1. Unfortunately there wasn't that many, and as mentioned in Part 1 I had another tank transformer that didn't survive long enough for documentation.

Cube Transformer:

This was one of my personal favorites, although unfortunately it did not prove to be so durable as I would have liked. Both modes were pretty sturdy, but it was difficult to transform it without something falling off. The faces of the cubes were labeled from 1 to 6 in red plates.

Post-Apocalyptic Junkyard Rig Transformer:

You can probably guess that I really don't have a name for this thing. I just really wanted to make something out of the orange wheels, and this is what came about. The biggest difference with this one and the others was the heavy use of Bionicle parts, which made the body very sturdy. I remember building way past my bedtime to complete all the internal movable parts, to the point I was forced to drop it and go to sleep (I was about 12 at the time). This was my most complicated Transformer. Somehow, it still sits in my room collecting dust as the years go by.

Go-Kart Transformer:

 Go-Kart, Indy Racer, whatever. This is one of my personal favorites and I say "is" because I also still have this one in possession. There is simply no need to take it apart as I have duplicates of almost everything in it. It is simple, small, and easy to transform, yet both modes look very distinct from one another. I also made this model in Lego Digital Designer, both in vehicle and robot mode. Also, as small as it is, the robot mode has quite a few joints in it.

There is also a video that I made for it years after I built it:

And yes, another embarrassing video:

I'm sorry to say, but "Transformers Battle 2" was discontinued a long time ago. Part 1 is all I have.

And that's it for Part 2 of my Lego Transformers. I will now revert to posts of Power Functions creations.

Lego Transformers (Part 1)

Focus of projects: Make both vehicle mode and robot mode look legitimate

Okay, I'm going to take a break from chronology to show you all what got me started in lego engineering. When I was really young, I made a few of these Lego "transformers" that would look like vehicles but if you moved some parts around they became humanoid robots. I've always been a fan of the official toys, even though I had close to none, and the live action movies also compel me with the special effects (although the story could have been much better). Unfortunately, the transformers I made in the old days were not documented in any way, but after a while I started taking pictures and eventually videos of such works. I'll start with the oldest and progress from there. On a side note, everything shown in this post was made way before I had any Power Functions elements. And also, parts never had to be physically detached to complete any transformation.

Giant Helicopter Transformer:

Above I present my first Lego transformer to be photographed. It was definitely larger than all the ones I made before it, and thus it was my favorite lego creation at the time. This helicopter did have its laughable areas, like only having two main rotors and looking like a boat from a top view, but nonetheless it was fully transformable. Initially the Gatling guns on the sides were not there, but they were added without removing any parts.

Here we have the cockpit opened to reveal the tiny pilot inside. Unfortunately, the missiles you see there were on the robot's back, pointing down. However the Gatling guns were still in a good spot:

You may notice some proportionality with its human form, like the wide space between the legs, but I didn't have the right parts to change such things back then. As you see one of the hands actually has fingers, while the other bares the rear helicopter rotors as a permanent weapon. The Gatling guns could move vertically but not horizontally. Also, the feet were unfortunately pretty delicate.

Car Transformer:

This one was a little strange; it used the large robot joints from the Lego Exo-Force series despite its small size. Excuse the layout of the pictures; this blog only allows really small images to be side by side.

Fighter Jet Transformer:

This was also a strange one, since the vehicle mode looked much nicer than the robot mode. Another difference with this model was that it had a distinct color theme.

Tank Transformer:

A while after making this I made a newer, better Transformer that turned into a similar tank, but it somehow got dismantled before I could document it. I remember the rubber tracks being part of the arms instead of the back. This one here was unfortunately quite delicate.

Helicopter Transformer:

This one was also a bit delicate, but it was one of the "cooler" ones. The robot's head was hidden really well and could only come out after moving the white flaps down and rotating the entire driver's cabin. The helicopter tail along with its rotor was removed to be transformed into a handheld weapon, where the rotor was utilized as a saw.

As much as I dread the following, I force myself to present to you the following videos relating to four of the above Transformers. I was a young child back then with the bare-minimum tools to make these videos, so bear with me. There also may be no need to watch the instructional videos.

Car Transformer (super embarrassing):

Lego Transformers Battle (this is what tripods are for):

How to build my Car Transformer:

How to build my Helicopter Transformer:

That's it for part 1. These were all the first to be documented and presented to you in chronological order. As these were the early birds, I don't have high regard for their designs, along with issues in physical delicacy and color variation. Most robots were made around 2007.