Man, what a journey this assignment was! Originally, I was going to do a small enclosure for a book but I realized I wanted more of a challenge; I wanted to make a Gameboy. My inspiration came when Ben was showing us hollowed out blocks of wood with pencil markings that – to me – resembled the controls of a Gameboy. Knowing that I would need a piece of wood that had a lot of depth so it could be hollowed out, I went out looking. Lowes had nothing thicker than an inch, and Home Depot wasn’t helpful either. Enter Michaels. They had a SECTION of tree stumps including the one I purchased. At the time, I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do with the slab of wood, I was just happy that it was thick and that it had some character to it (I also made sure it could be used for etching should I decide to go that route).
Friday morning I brought my old Gameboy Color to school and took it apart. As I sat there with it’s components in my hand, I realized it would be sort of lame and unoriginal to just take those components and place them in a new enclosure. It lacked creativity and didn’t excite me as much. I thought it would be cooler to incorporate some P-Comp into the work by making a game on my Arduino and placing that in an enclosure. Before I could begin any of that enclosure work however, I would need to know the size and height of the game. Would there be a lot of wires? Would it be compact and malleable or huge and begrudging? I found a link on Instructables to a Tetris game made on the Arduino.
After two trips to Tinkersphere (best to make sure you have the correct parts on the first trip rather than walk back in the rain to exchange the wrong components), I set to wiring and programming the microcontroller. After everything was wired up, I provided power to the microcontroller only to realize something was wrong. About six hours later, and with some help from resident Joe Mango, I realized that the 8×8 LED matrix I purchased was a slightly different model than the one featured despite them looking the identical. It turns out that the anodes and cathodes in an 1088 8×8 LED matrix differ from those in the 1588 8×8 LED Matrix and as a result the code provided on instructables would not work unless adjusted. Once the code was properly corrected I had my working Tetris and all I needed was a proper enclosure.
Originally, I wanted to cut out a Gameboy-like box to put Tetris in but a few factors led to me changing my mind: I knew I would not be able to laser cut the tree slab, I knew it would be difficult to cut it with any precision due to its circularity, I wanted to maintain the aesthetic the tree provided. I decided maybe it would be less complex and more efficient to maintain the slabs form and just hollow it out as opposed to trying to make it hand held.
I measured Tetris – the arduino, the LED matrix, the joystick and the height of the wires – and figured out how deep I needed to drill into the wood.
I used a 1.5 inch bit and did a bunch of passes with that, then used a 0.5 inch bit to clean it up and make it flat.
Now, the biggest difficulty I faced was how deep could I drill into the wood without boring through to the bottom. I was left with a choice: bore straight through and put a slab of acrylic on the bottom that could be screwed in an out and loaded into the wood like a little elevator, or keep the floor all wood and load everything through the top. I decided to go with the later. As a result, I needed to know how deep I could go before hitting the bottom. I measured the height of the wood, subtracted about 1/3th of an inch and drew a line in dry erase marker on the bit. Though I couldn’t see that line when the bit was spinning, when I stopped drilling I could see approximately how much deeper I needed to go. The issue was I didn’t trust myself. I drilled 9 holes about an inch away from the marked line and then had to do it all over again when I wasn’t satisfied. Had I trusted my measurements, that process could’ve taken an hour as opposed to the two it took.
With my bedding all set, I set out to create a top to screw on to enclose the microcontroller. My original idea was to laser cut a piece of quarter inch ply into the piece to be screwed on and on that piece would be cut out a box to stick the LED and a box to put the joystick. After making the file in illustrator, I enlisted the help of Jesse to give me a refresher course on laser cutting. The first go wasn’t great, it was catching flame – very briefly mind you – a bit too frequently. After the fourth or fifth go there was no change, the wood just looked a LOT darker and it wasn’t going through. At this time, I had to go help out a group with a sound and video project. When I returned, I cut out another piece of ply (from the same ply that was used before which is important for later) and was comparing it to the burnt piece.
John saw me looking at the burnt piece and asked me what happened. I told him and he figured it was because the auto-focus wasn’t turned on the laser cuter. We set up everything again with this new piece of ply and while it wasn’t catching fire as much, after five passes it wasn’t cutting through. John told me it probably wasn’t going to cut if it hadn’t done so after all these passes and asked if he could cut the wood open to see what was happening. I obliged.
While he was operating on the ply, I pivoted to using the acrylic that I had left. I thought it would be cool aesthetically to mix something a little more technical and glossy looking with something natural like wood. Before I laser cut the same design, I remembered the mistake I made with my keychain last time: I needed to laser cut holes to drill into because drilling into acrylic can be a bit risky. I adjusted the file accordingly and my first cut came out looking really good. John returned and showed me that the wood had stopped cutting about 2/3rds of the way through and that it was just an issue with the wood: “ply is a tricky variable.”
Now that I had the top of the design, I needed to make sure that it would be able to be drilled on properly with all the electrical components fitting inside. I set up Tetris and tried to shove all the wires in but to no avail, the bed would have to be lowered by at least another half inch if not another full inch. I returned to the drill press and drilled deeper. Turns out I used the same bit I drilled with on Saturday and had forgotten to remove my dry erase line. What do you know, when the bed was at the proper height, it matched the original marking I made on Saturday. Had I just trusted my measurement, I wouldn’t have had to use the drill press for a third time.
With the bed correct, I was able to place the microcontroller into the wood snuggly. I drilled a hole in the top so that I could provide power to the board, wired everything together and it all seemed to work… minus one thing: the joystick had nothing to lock it into place.
Due to the bizarre measurements of the joystick – it juts out at weird places and needs to almost be fully exposed to have a full range of motion – I couldn’t just lock it into the laser cut like the 8×8 LED did. At first I thought maybe I could cut out some acrylic, bend it with the acrylic bender, glue it to the inside of the enclosure and provide a little bed for the joystick to rest upon. After tinkering with measurements and cardboard for a while, I came up with a mini-prototype. Then I realized, on the left side of the joystick there are 5 electronic pins to run wires to, if I was going to do this with acrylic I would have to properly measure the minute little bends, and laser like 1/16th holes in the acrylic to run the wires through and even then it may not work because of the lack of malleability of the wire heads. (As I write this however I realize that rather than resting the joystick in the bed, I could’ve done the same thing but turned the acrylic upside down and had it sit upon it…though I think what I figured out is a similar solution).Rather then do that, I thought maybe I could rest the joystick on a small piece of wood inside the enclosure and use that to lock it in place. I found a piece of scrap, cut it to be about an inch by an inch with the band saw and rested it in the enclosure and it worked perfectly.
I still wasn’t satisfied though. The acrylic was looking a bit bland and needed something a bit clever to pull it all together. I had tetris, I had a tree, I had Tet-Trees. I etched that into the acrylic and there it was, a final project that I am really, really proud of. Would I change a few things? Absolutely. I’d use a different acrylic so the etching would pop a lot more and I’d figure out a better way to lock that joystick in place but still, I think it’s a really cool piece and I’m excited to show it off.