I wish I could shake your hand right now, just for clicking on this topic. I’m so excited to see the cool stuff you come up with! I have no doubt that you’re going to come up with new, clever ways to make the game or to modify it to do new things we never even considered.
I figure it might help to outline some of the things I learned to speed up the process and help you avoid some mistakes I made.
Making the Parts
It should be fairly straightforward to 3D print the smaller parts (the ramps, crossovers, interceptors, gears, gear bits, bits, the ball releasers and catchers, and the “standoffs”) with home 3D printers, as long as the resolution of the machine is good enough. (I’m not quite sure what “good enough” is, yet.) If you create 3D printing files of the parts with supports and it works really well for you, please post them here so others can use them, too!
Making the Game Board
The board is rather big. Too big for most home 3D printers. Still, if you want to 3D print it, you can send the STL file out and have it 3D printed somewhere else with larger equipment. There are a lot of companies that do this. You’ll find there’s a very wide range in price between these companies. One I found that had consistently low prices (a little over a year ago) was i.materialise.
Note that the method of 3D printing makes a big difference. I had the first big board made by SLS printing technology. The problem with SLS is that the board gets quite hot while it’s being printed. That causes the plastic to contract after it’s printed and you may find the board warps a lot.
With some ingenuity, you might still find a way to make the board by 3D printing, but I imagine for most people, it would be easier to make the big parts (the game board, the board supports, and the two connectors) by laser cutting them from a sheet of plastic or wood. Even if you don’t have access to a laser cutter, you could send a pattern out to a place like Ponoko that laser cuts the parts and ships them to you. It would require that first you create some two dimensional plans. In my second-to-last prototype, I used laser cutting to make the long connectors in the back and the acrylic board supports you see in the Kickstarter.
One challenge with this approach is in creating the pins that stick out of the board. Are there already some sort of little metal widgets that you could screw in to the board? Alternatively, could they be made of plastic rod, cut into little sections?
This is the approach most likely to succeed, but also by far the most expensive. This is how I made my final prototype. The board alone cost about $800 to make. I used a company called IcoMold to do the CNC milling. Talk to me first before you do this and I can give you some drawings with critical dimensions to make sure they do it right the first time.
I’d love to hear some other ideas for making the board. We’re hoping to eventually make a massive version of the board just for fu- I mean for toy shows…yeah, for fun. 3D printing won’t work for that.
I’ll leave it at that for now. If there’s interest, I can post more details about my experience 3D printing the parts and the different part designs I tried.