Welcome to the - ̗̀NEW ̖́- mechachoi.com

Welcome! First big redesign in four years. What’s different?

1. New logo: It’s a new and improved Marcie! Now complete with gears sticking out of her head.

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2. Less portfolio, more blog: The old website was primarily made to showcase a portfolio for when I was applying to jobs. However, I’ve decided that I want a centralized hub that chronicles my creative endeavors and process, separate from the noise of Twitter / Youtube.

ye olde mechachoi

ye olde mechachoi

Now you’ll see that the landing page is a blog, rather than a photostack of my projects (most of which are pretty old now). The blog is pretty sparse right now, with a few blogs that I ported over from the old mechablog.

I want to keep my blogs short and simple (with the exception of that Game Boy Advance build-log, whew). I want the blog to serve as a chronological record of my projects and creative process in general. This means build logs and hopefully lots of cool pictures.

2. Work: The second page of the new site will have a section that is more like ye olde mechachoi.com, with a photo stack that have clickthrough descriptions of my projects. There’s still a lot of old stuff in there, but I have at least 6 new projects lined up for 2019 that should help breathe some new life into that page!

3. About: Writing bios is hard.

So thanks for visiting! Stay tuned to this space for more updates on the projects I’m working on this year.

Mike Choi
- ̗̀new ̖́- Nintendo Switch DS

What do you do when you have a bunch of leftover prototype shots from tooling approval for Flip Grip, a couple spare hinges, a Joy-Con Rail, two Nintendo Switches and an extra copy of Breath of the Wild?

Bingo! Make a fake, mediocre-ly convincing at best “prototype” of an impractically large dual screen Nintendo Switch system!

Like all good project ideas, I came up with this idea during a bout of sleep-deprived delirium. Unlike pretty much all of my other projects, this one is definitely fake, but certainly looked real enough to fool more than a few Twitter peeps!

YES, this project is pointless… but once I came up with the concept, I couldn’t get the dumb/cool image of two big ‘ol Switches on top of each other out of my head.

And of course, it only took about 15 minutes of hacking together all the ingredients to make it a reality, so why not?

How did I build it?

It’s two prototype Flip Grips, some friction hinges from McMaster (I needed two— those Switches are heavy!), a spare Joy-Con rail I used for Nintendo Switch testing, all smacked together using some screws.

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I faked (poorly) the dual screen effect by running two instances of Breath of the Wild. I synced the times up using fireplaces. It was surprisingly difficult to sync up the weather conditions; it rains a damn lot in that game. 🌧️

Mike Choi
32:9 Switch Adapter

Made this on a dare from @markmacd and @gamespite. It’s mostly useless, but was prompted by a discussion around a Darius port for Switch.

Made using two pieces of high-impact polytyrene, a few screws, and a third plastic piece of acrylic.

Mike Choi
Building the Game Boy Advance of my Dreams
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This summer, I decided to pursue the mod of my dreams, repurposing and rebuilding a forgotten legacy handheld to give it a bright future. I learned several lessons along the way, about resin casting, silicone molds, painting, as well as persistence, patience, and polish.

A Brief History of the Game Boy Advance

The Nintendo Space World 2000 prototype Game Boy Advance in an unreleased orange and silver colorway.

The Nintendo Space World 2000 prototype Game Boy Advance in an unreleased orange and silver colorway.

At the dawn of the new millennium, Nintendo released Game Boy Advance (GBA), a 32-bit cartridge-based handheld gaming console capable of displaying a whopping 32,768 colors on a 240-by-160 LCD. The first reveal of the Game Boy Advance was at Nintendo Space World 2000 (Nintendo’s video game trade show), where Nintendo displayed a prototype of the handheld console donning a mind-meltingly gorgeous silver and orange colorway. Sadly, this colorway never saw an official release, disappointing dozens of silver and orange enthusiasts.

The original GBA contained an unlit, transflective screen that was almost unplayable in low-light.

The original GBA contained an unlit, transflective screen that was almost unplayable in low-light.

Unfortunately, the original GBA was cursed with the unlit transflective screen of its ancestors, making it practically unusable unless in direct sunlight.

The Game Boy Advance SP was the GBA’s upgraded, screen-lit clamshell brother.

The Game Boy Advance SP was the GBA’s upgraded, screen-lit clamshell brother.

To address this issue, Nintendo released the Game Boy Advance SP, a GBA with a rectangular clamshell design and front-lit screen. The front-lit screen, although a decent solution for gaming in the dark, significantly diminished screen contrast. Nintendo eventually released the AGS-101 hardware revision to the GBA SP, with a back-lit screen that used an LED panel behind the LCD to greatly increase contrast when compared to the front-lit model.

The AGS-101 GBA SP model (Left) sports a back-lit LCD that greatly improves contrast over the original AGS-001 (Right). (Source: imgur user    dada78641   )

The AGS-101 GBA SP model (Left) sports a back-lit LCD that greatly improves contrast over the original AGS-001 (Right). (Source: imgur user dada78641)

The AGS-101 is the golden child of the Game Boy Advance pedigree, and it is generally regarded as the ideal medium for playing Game Boy games for its vibrant back-lit LCD. However, many prefer the original GBA’s more comfortable oval form factor, despite its unlit screen, when compared to the relatively narrow GBA SP.

In layman’s terms, the perfect GBA– complete with an round form factor and high-contrast back-lit LCD– can’t be bought, only built. (…Well, you can buy modified original GBAs with back-lit screens on eBay, but where’s the fun in that?) In any case, the perfect GBA must be built, forged from the remnants of an original GBA and a GBA SP AGS-101, bred for the best traits of each. Today, we embark on a quest to create the perfect GBA as described above, but with a unique twist: we’ll attempt to recapture the magic of the original silver-and-orange prototype from Space World 2000.

Along the way, we’ll explore the challenges that come with meticulously rebuilding this legendary handheld with aftermarket parts and rattle can paint, venturing into the territory of obsessive hobbyists.

The proud parents of our newborn Game Boy, a pink GBA SP AGS-101 and glacier original GBA.

The proud parents of our newborn Game Boy, a pink GBA SP AGS-101 and glacier original GBA.

The Shell

To begin, we’ll need to paint the shell silver.

But Mike, there already exists a silver GBA shell! Remember the Platinum edition that was released in November of 2002? Why don’t you just buy that instead?

Yes, I do remember the Platinum edition GBA– a mighty fine colorway indeed. However, this colorway is hard to come by– and aftermarket shell manufacturers don’t make shells in silver. So we’ll take the painting route instead. The original GBA shell is dented to hell, so we’ll use aftermarket shells purchased from eBay. The molding on them isn’t perfect; there is some waviness near the corners. Nintendo’s quality control is known for being top-notch, so any aftermarket parts won’t be up to the “Nintendo Seal of Quality” standard. We’ll need to carve out some ribs in the shell to make room for the larger LCD containing the back-light. (Credits to Rose Colored Gaming)   

Prepping for the Paint

When it comes to prepping these shells (and any part you want to paint), the name of the game is adhesion. Adhesion means two things: cleanliness, and primer. We wash the parts very thoroughly with soap and water, and wipe them with some isopropyl alcohol to remove any grease or mold release, wearing gloves to prevent getting finger oils on our part.

Applying Tamiya fine surface primer to our GBA parts.

Applying Tamiya fine surface primer to our GBA parts.

We apply a thin coat of Tamiya’s white fine surface primer. Grey primer also works, but will cause the final colors to come out slightly darker. After a 24-hour dust-free wait period, we’re ready to begin applying color coats.

Pro tip:

In case dust particles do happen to fall on the part, just wait until the primer is dry, and use a clean microfiber cloth to brush off those nasty dust particles.  

Painting

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We’re using Tamiya’s synthetic lacquer paints because they are great for preserving detail due to their thin application. They’re typically used for Gunpla modeling, which is a very detail oriented craft. They also come in some great colors, including lots of metallic varieties. The GBA shells and buttons are made out of ABS, which will play very nice with synthetic lacquer. (Tamiya’s Polycarbonate paint will react poorly with ABS, so avoid the PS line of paints if you’re looking to paint ABS.) The colors we’re using are TS-30 (Silver Leaf) and TS-12 (Orange). When it comes to painting these shells, there are three main variables to keep in mind: distance from the nozzle to the can, speed of the can moving relative to the part, and temperature/humidity of the can/environment. That’s a lot to wrap the mind around, so we’ll start with a helpful diagram from Tamiya’s very own guide to painting (a great read!).

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When the paint comes out of the can, it atomizes into millions of tiny droplets. Once they hit the surface, these droplets will try to cohere to one another, “puddling” on the surface and resulting in a sooth, glossy finish. However, if there is too much distance between the nozzle and the surface where the droplets are airborne, the solvent in them can evaporate, and by the time they hit the surface, they are unable to fully join their neighboring droplets. This results in a surface finish that is somewhere between “orange peel” and flat. Not pretty. The longer the distance between the nozzle and the surface, the more time the paint droplets have to “dry” while in the air, when they should be drying after they’ve hit the surface. On the other hand, if your nozzle is too close to the surface, or you move too slowly across the part, the paint will run. Blech! The moral of the story is to keep your paint’s viscosity low, and to observe how the droplets are falling onto the surface of your part, rather than looking at the color of the part itself or the color of the paint. Adjusting the distance and speed of your nozzle is a matter of gaining experience and staying vigilant while applying coats. The third variable is trickier to manipulate. We can control the viscosity of the paint by controlling the temperature of the can. And high humidity (> 60%) can prevent paint coats from curing correctly, so unless you can manipulate humidity, it’s best to paint on a dry rooftop, around noon. (Humidity is highest closer to the ground.)

Pro tip:

Heat the cans in hot water 30 minutes before painting. This will lower the viscosity of the paint, allowing it to be applied in thinner coats. Caveat: The paint will come out of the can faster, making the spray harder to control, so you’ll need to move across the part quicker. For more information on painting, read Tamiya’s guide. It’s a great read if you want to understand the granular intricacies of painting with any rattle can, not just Tamiya brand.

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We’re using a jig made out of straws, double stick tape, and a barbeque tray. Since we’ve heated our cans, the paint comes out quick, and we need to move quickly across the part to ensure our paint doesn’t run. In total, the paint is applied in about three coats. The first is very light– not even enough to cover the entire part. After waiting half an hour, another coat is applied to cover the whole part, and then after another half hour a final coat is applied.

Do not to try and cover the whole part with one coat; with the Tamiya paints, this will most definitely cause a run to occur.

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After waiting a day or two to allow the paint to cure in a dust-free area, we apply Mr. Hobby Super Clear. Apart from having an awesome name, Mr. Hobby Super Clear will give the part an even surface finish, as well as protect and seal the paint.   

The Buttons (Where things get interesting)

To make orange face buttons (A, B, D-pad buttons) , we will explore two options: resin casting new buttons, and painting over existing buttons.

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Mike Choi
The Making of the Miniature Daft Punk Helmet
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The Daft Punk Helmet was my first time using SolidCAM and a Haas Mini-Mill to make a complex 3D contoured object. To make sure the CAM checks out, I started by machining one half of the helmet out of wax.

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Time to prep the stock. Two big blocks of 6061 with a giant hole going through it. Should have tweaked the speed on the countersink. I think I was going to fast, and that’s why you see the chatter on at finish. At the end of the day it didn’t matter because that part was machined away in the final product. There are four 4-40 tapped holes in the stock to interface with a fixture plate in the Mini-Mill. I had to pay careful attention to the depths of these holes so that they wouldn’t penetrate through the rest material.

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And you can see the fixture plate and the first 20 minutes of machining here.

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And the completed half inside the Mini-Mill.

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And outside.

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Those facets are pretty intense. After about 80 hours of sanding (made possible by Netflix), and good ‘ol Mother’s Polish, the two halves are ready to be sent to Hillock for Anodizing.

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I printed a couple different versions of the face mask. The first was on a Dimension Elite to figure out the geometry, and then I ended up printing on an Objet30 for its for its higher resolution and smaller step height when compared to the Dimension print. This allowed me to sand out the steps with relative ease.

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Ultimately, the black part of the mask was sanded up to 800 grit, and then painted black and gloss varnished using Montana sprays. For the laser cut windows, I got a cheap sample of translucent acrylic swatches from a plastics retailer. This is a good way to get a lot of colors for cheap. If you only need small details, the swatches can go a long way and I still have my sample set from this project and use it once in a while when I need an odd translucent color.

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The LEDs on the inside are wired quick and dirty. Two 3V coincells held together using a paperclip and four 5 mm white LEDs in parallel.

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The switch is accessible via the giant hole at the bottom. The mask is held in using a single .25" Neodymium magnet. If I could do this project over again, I would include two magnets rather than one. I would also pay careful attention to keep the light from leaking between the two parts by using a step or something.

Aaand here’s a cheesy video of it rotating!