First up, Google Sketchup is a great tool - once you've worked out the interface - for arranging Hirst Art castings into something resembling a playing surface. Simply enter "Hirst xx" where xx is the mould number you're looking to use, and the chances are it'll appear in the 3d model warehouse. At least, this worked for all the moulds we've currently got!
Some 3d models are drawn lifesize (i.e. a 3" pipe appears as a 3" object) and some are drawn life-sized (i.e. a 1" object is drawn as a 4ft object). Mixing and matching models isn't difficult though: if the stuff drawn in inches is imported into a drawing drawn in feet, simply scale up x48 and everything appears just fine.
Here's a final map for our first space-shooter-board game.
Unlike our spaceship-based game with shaped PCBs (which looked more like a Space Hulk type game) this map actually resembles a board-game-based version of our favourite ZX Spectrum strategy game, Laser Squad. We think this makes it all the more impressive!
We've spent a few evenings casting a number of blocks and wall pieces from our Hirst Arts moulds. The dental plaster gives a noticeably better (and harder) finish - even without having to "bake" the plaster in the sunshine for two days to remove all traces of water. In future we'll use dental plaster exclusively, but for now we've three boxes of the pesky things in plaster of Paris to use up!
After finally spending some time at the new unit in the Boiler Room studios, we spent a bit of time "dry fitting" some of these plaster shapes, to actually make the rooms, as terrain for our board game.
To begin with we copied and pasted each room section into a new Google Sketchup document and manually moved the pieces outwards from their starting poistions, to create an "exploded view". This not only helped identify which pieces were used in each room, but also helped us get familiar with which blocks made up which rooms, while making the exploded view images.
Putting the rooms together was just a case of finding the appropriate blocks, sanding them where necessary to make the scraped edges absolutely flat, and placing them in the right place on the table. Some of the pieces appear mis-aligned; this is just where the blocks have rested after being placed - when the rooms are made up properly and glued in place, all the walls line up perfectly to give a solid, continuous wall.
It was while we were fitting out the rooms like this that we discovered the true difference between plaster of Paris and our Witestone Ultrahard Orthodontic (type III) plaster - when sanding the plaster of Paris on some wet-and-dry super-fine paper, some - presumably slightly damp, even after three or four days - blocks created a creamy goop on the paper and edges of the block. The dental plaster, however, created a nice, dry, fine powder when sanded. All the more reason to stick to dental plaster in future!
Despite having what feels like millions of blocks, having cast each mould in full each time, we ran out of the "big vertical pipe" blocks after making up just two rooms. We've still got loads of little filler squares and other useless bits and pieces, but some blocks we're already short of.
Maybe the answer is to take the best-cast wall sections, and make our own silicone moulds from an 8-up or 10-up arrangement of blocks - so instead of casting one of each wall section with each cast, we can get 8 or 10 of just the blocks we need at a time. There's a litre bottle of liquid silicone and catalyst somewhere around here.....