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    Maker Faire 2016: Pocket CHIP $49 Portable Computer

    Last year, we were impressed by Next Thing Co's $9 CHIP computer. At Maker Faire 2016, we were able to check out their PocketCHIP housing, which puts CHIP into a portable console package that runs Linux and indie game console Pico-8. Here's what you can do with the $49 system!

    Tested: Mechanical Gaming Keyboards

    What makes a good mechanical keyboard? And why are peripheral companies releasing new gaming keyboards so frequently? Patrick and Norm discuss the state of this essential accessory, and how the switches in new keyboards from Corsair, Razer, and Logitech compare. Which type of switch do you prefer?

    How to Build the PinSim Virtual Reality Pinball Machine

    The PinSim cabinet is essentially the first eight inches of a real pinball table. I designed it to play VR pinball games, but it works just as well as an interface for traditional flat screen pinball games. The following instructions will help you make one of your own. I'll cover the most basic build first and then look at a few optional upgrades.

    The electronics are based on Teensy LC and employ the incredible MSF-XINPUT library by Zachery Littell. This new library fools the computer into thinking the Teensy LC is an Xbox 360 gamepad, thus minimizing latency and maximizing compatibility. It even supports force feedback rumble! Zack spent time improving his library to assist with this project, so major thanks to him.

    There are many possibilities for cabinet material. My original cabinet was cut from foam core but wood will provide a more lasting frame. Just make sure to consider the material thickness before cutting the sides of the cabinet. The graphics below illustrate the exterior dimensions and hole placements, but the diameter of the drill holes will depend on the buttons you choose to use.

    Let's start with the parts you'll need.

    Phil Tippett Launches Hologrid Augmented Reality Game

    Ok, this is super cool. Phil Tippett just launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund his version of Holochess, the fictional game he created in stop-motion for Star Wars. It's called HoloGrid, and is an augmented reality collectible card game played with tablets and a boxed set of cards, with creatures designed by Tippett (including some sculpted for Mad God) and scanned with photogrammetry. I just backed it, and hope that it'll reach its stretch goal of getting a HoloLens and Magic Leap release!

    Building Fallout 4 T-60 Power Armor, Part 3

    For the parts of the Fallout 4 power armor we aren't 3D printing, we'll be creating them with the CNC router. A CNC router is effectively a 3D printer in reverse; instead of an empty build platform that material gets deposited onto, with a CNC router you start out with a large piece of material stock and the router cuts away everything to make the relief of your part. The CNC is a tool that's new to me and one I wanted to really fully utilize on this build. Full disclosure, I am admittedly taking a lot of lessons from I've followed builds from Shawn Thorsson who does a lot of CNC routing for his large scale costumes and props.

    The digital workflow is similar to 3D printing, but still something I am working on really getting solid. You still need to split your model up into sections that will fit within your stock - in my case, sheets of 2" polystyrene insulation board found at the local big box hardware store - while being mindful of any undercuts or concave sections. As I only have a 3-axis CNC, if a part has any concave sections, those areas will not get cut away and my CNC routed part will not come out correctly. For example, this forearm part was cut into several sections, but the gentle concave slope along the back wasn't able to be removed, leaving me with these "steps" that I would have to manually trim or sand away.

    The CNC software I am using is MeshCam which is simple and very effective. MeshCam is used to generate Gcode for the CNC, the same way Cura or Simplify3D creates Gcode for your 3D printer. My only complaint about it is that it doesn't visualize the undercuts so I can't know what parts won't be fabricated correctly. Its built in slicing tools leave a lot to be desired, so I have been using Netfabb to create my 2" slices off of the main model and arranging them so that several slices will be cut at a time. This is still cumbersome and time consuming so eventually I'll be looking for a better toolchain for this step. After I run my slice through MeshCam and send the Gcode to the CNC router for each cutting job, the forearm is ready to assemble and sculpt.

    I used some medium duty spray adhesive to attach the parts together, clamped them together and let the whole thing sit for a couple of hours before moving on to sealing. The polystyrene board I am using is very soft and easy to damage and I wanted to coat it in something rigid so that I can more easily sculpt on it and to make it nice and smooth. It also reacts poorly to just about everything you might normally do this with, including most spray paints, so I need to coat the part in a sealant.. After giving everything a quick sand with some high grit sandpaper to get rid of any remaining CNC artifacts, I coated everything in a couple coats of wood glue. This would not only provide a surface that is non-reactive to the fiberglass and bondo I would be coating it with, but it also gives the part a lot more strength against bumps and scratches.

    Building Fallout 4 T-60 Power Armor, Part 2

    Last time, I shared how we tackled the digital design planning for the Fallout 4 Power Armor build. We extracted the game models using NifSkope, prepared them for our build by increasing their detail in Blender, then finally cut them into sections that would fit on our 3D printers in NetFabb. With our first batch of models are ready to produce, it's time to send them to the machines to create and get them looking nice.

    I'll be using the helmet and the large shoulders to demonstrate the techniques I use to go from raw 3D print to finished master ready for molding. But same process is used whether I'm making something small like a detail piece or a weapon, or the big printed sections of armor. For this build, we'll be using the 3D printer for the interior "frame" pieces, the large shoulders, and the back armor as well as some of the smaller detail bits throughout the armor like the oversized bolts on the knees and the oil filters under the chest.

    I print exclusively in ABS plastic because of some interesting post processing methods available, specifically being able to use acetone to smooth your prints to reduce or eliminate the print "grain" visible at each layer in the printing process. This is not acetone vapor smoothing, which looks really pretty but softens up all of the hard edges we worked to preserve, but rather a solution mixed up and painted directly on to the part. I'll create a batch of "ABS juice" to paint the surface with a brush that both fills in the valleys of the print lines like a body filler, and also acts to soften up and smooth down the high points.

    Tested: HTC Vive Review

    The consumer release of the HTC Vive is finally here! We've been testing the Vive Pre for a while and the final headset for about a week, playing VR games with tracked controllers in a roomscale setup. Jeremy and Norm discuss the setup process, ergonomics, comfort features, and launch content for Steam VR. Plus, we play through Valve's first-party VR game, The Lab!

    Let's Play VR: ADR1FT, VR Tennis Online, Airmech, EVE: Valkyrie

    Ahead of reviewing the Oculus Rift, we invited Will and Jeremy to the office to play some launch games. They brought along their Kickstarter Rifts as well, so we were able to do some multiplayer testing! Here are some brief demos of ADR1FT, VR Tennis Online, AirMech, and EVE: Valkyrie. We'll be doing more comprehensive VR game demos in the future!

    Building Fallout 4 T-60 Power Armor, Part 1

    In this post, I'll be outlining the process of extracting the 3D models for the Power Armor from Fallout 4's game data and turning them into the blueprint for the rest of the build. Modern games like Fallout 4 have incredibly detailed models in game and are a great base to start from and require very little digital cleanup and remodeling, so when doing props or cosplays from games I try to start from the source.

    The process to extract content from the game can be pretty tricky. The exact process for every game will be different, and some games are so locked down that you have to rip the data directly from the video card while it's being rendered. It pays to do a lot of research because there is almost always some tool that some person or group has developed to assist extracting the content.

    Bethesda Games run on their own proprietary game engine, and the fan community has created a handful of tools you can use to extract the game content. The main programs we use for this are the Bethesda Archive Extractor to extract models and textures from the game's content archive, and NifSkope which will load the extracted content and convert it into a format we can use. Locating the right assets can often be much easier said than done as there are literally thousands upon thousands of model and texture assets in modern games. After we extract them using BAE and NifSkope converts the models into a useable format, we load those into our 3D modeling suite. Now we can begin the real work!

    I often get asked "what 3D modeling program should I use?" There's no right or wrong answer to this question, so ultimately it comes down to what you are most familiar with, and what exactly you're trying to create. Generally speaking, if you are wanting mechanical parts or something that moves, then a CAD suite is best suited for the job. If you're wanting an organic shape, like the Xenomorph skull, then a digital sculpting suite like Zbrush or Sculptris is probably better. We'll be doing a lot of simple operations, and personally I use Blender for things like this because it's free, it's open source, and I'm familiar enough with the interface to be able to do simple tasks quickly. Try not to limit yourself to a single program or toolchain, and use the right tool for the job even when it comes to modeling and CAD software.

    Tested: Oculus Rift Review

    It's finally here! We've been testing the consumer version of the Oculus Rift for the past week, and share our thoughts and impressions of the final hardware and launch software. Norm and Jeremy discuss the most frequently asked questions about the ergonomics, display, screen door effect, tracking range, and how gamepad virtual reality games hold up. The new age of VR begins!

    Oculus Rift Virtual Pinball Cabinet Mod!

    Our virtual reality correspondent Jeremy Williams is also a huge pinball enthusiast. So when he first played Pinball FX 2 VR on the Oculus Rift, he knew he had to build a custom cabinet to play the game. Here's his "PinSim", a cabinet controller to play VR pinball with tactile controls and even an acclerometer-based nudge system!

    How To Build a $1000 Virtual Reality Gaming PC

    It's been too long since we've built a PC! We bring back illustrious technology journalist Loyd Case to talk about the state of computer hardware, the technical requirements of VR rendering, and then put together a $1000 virtual reality-ready gaming PC! Here's how to build a computer from scratch in seven steps. (This is the PC we've been using for all of our VR testing!)

    Tested Builds: Fallout 4 Mini Nuke Kit, Part 1

    We kick off a new build this week, this time tackling a 3D-printed model kit designed by Jacky Wan. This Fallout 4 Mini Nuke model is a cross-section, showing off the beautifully imagined interior of the device and printed by Sean with our Ultimaker 2 desktop 3D printer. Frank is also in-house to assemble a kit and teach us how to paint it! (This first video is available for everyone--watch the rest of the build by signing up with the Tested Premium member community!

    Hands-On: ADR1FT for Oculus Rift

    One of the most interesting launch games for the Oculus Rift is ADR1FT, a first-person narrative experience that puts you in a spacesuit floating through the wreckage of a futuristic space station. We play a bit of the game, discuss its EVA mechanics, and chat with developer Adam Orth about immersive storytelling in VR.

    Hands-On: Eagle Flight Multiplayer VR on Oculus Rift

    Flying in virtual reality is a tricky thing to get right--too much acceleration or unexpected movement can make users nauseous. Ubisoft thinks it's solved VR flying with Eagle Flight, which lets us soar over Paris and take on other players in bird vs. bird combat! Here are our impressions!

    Hands-On: Raw Data Combat in the HTC Vive!

    With the tracked controllers of the HTC Vive, game developers can give users a sense of "hand presence"--the feeling that their hands and actions are actually in the game. Body presence is more challenging, but it's something developer Survios is taking on in their multiplayer VR action game Raw Data. We play a round of Raw Data, learn about how body presence augments the action, and give our impressions.

    Hands-On: Chronos Adventure-RPG for Oculus Rift

    One of our favorite Gear VR games was Herobound, which played like Zelda in virtual reality. Its developers' next game is Chronos, an adventure-RPG for Oculus Rift. We play a bit of Chronos, share our impressions, and discuss why it's a game we could play for a long time in a VR headset.

    HTC Vive Final Hardware and Valve's The Lab Impressions

    We check in with Valve at this year's Game Developer Conference to get up close with the final HTC Vive headset and play Valve's upcoming SteamVR demo: The Lab. Here's our interview with one of Valve's content developers, and our impressions of a few of The Lab's roomscale VR experiments. (Valve did not allow us to film the screen as part of the demo.)