Praise the mutant!
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The Church of Robotron was thought up late one night by Elijah (MES) and I (BTR) outside my house. I live across the street from a church and I've got a Robotron machine in my house. We started saying stuff like needing to do our prayers in front of the machine and that eventually turned into the Church of Robotron.
The First Altar was designed to be put in my front yard so that anyone that walked by could play Robotron and hear some propaganda. I built a prototype that was played by a few folks during a 24 hour BBQ that was held in 2011. The First Altar held up, but hasn't been installed out front yet, it needs more weatherproofing.
The Church of Robotron Second Altar & Installation had the following features:
  • During gameplay Jacob's Ladder and Sparker were running
  • Fog machine randomly triggered
  • Lasers fired in real life when enforcer shots were fired in game
  • Rotating flapper near player hands spun when humans were killed by Robotrons
  • Animated gif of your face at time of death in game which was displayed on a leaderboard in the other room.
  • Bright LED flash on death, this allowed us to get a decent picture from the webcam on death and added to the players disorientation on death
  • Kneeler base which detected players and controlled lights.
  • Readerboard which displayed top player and witty statements
  • Randomly shuffling sermon videos
  • Lit totem pole
  • Reading room which contained stickers, chick tract, and a zine.
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The Second Altar was designed to be small so we could transport it to Toorcamp. Initially, we had small ambitions because we wanted it to be easy to transport and setup. One of the first problems to solve was where to house the installation. Karl (KRA) (who stepped up to be project manager) contacted the Toorcamp folks about an art grant to cover some expenses and they offered us a "small" dome. We jumped on this and of course the project grew fast.
The next problem was to get game events triggering real world effects. Jason tackled this initially by using the cheat interface to monitor memory locations and see if we could get the events we needed that way. That turned out not to get all the info we needed. I jumped in and used the MAME debugger to trace around and find the breakpoints and watchpoints we needed. This was made much much easier by Sean Riddle (http://seanriddle.com), he's got most of the RAM space mapped out, so it wasn't to hard to trace back and find the breakpoints we needed. We then added some code to MAME to allow us to send messages via UDP and we could now react to game events with external code. (This is all available here: https://github.com/breedx2/mcor)
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The first piece of code that took advantage of the UDP events was the dispatcher. Its job was to monitor the UDP packets and then send out serial commands to each of our effect microcontrollers. We used a scheme where we broadcast commands to every serial device with an address. That way we didn't need to rely on udev rules to keep controllers straight and we could also handle connect / disconnect of devices gracefully.
The first effect we got working was the lasers. Philip (PODOM) got the laser driver board up and running quickly and we were able to get a proof of concept on the protocol. Karl followed suit with the Jacob's ladder, sparker, and flapper effect boards.
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Elijah, Karl, and Jason built the altar up quickly. We wanted a military surplus look and we got it. It was sturdy and did not catch on fire!
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Jared was given a readerboard by Pavel. He tried to contact the manufacturer for information to set text on the board and got nowhere. So he decided to hack around their logic and drive the shift registers directly from an Arduino. He then wrote a quick Python program that used libusb to communicate to the reader. During Toorcamp there was a broken row at the very bottom of the sign that Jared worked around by taping black electrical tape over it. Brilliant!
Getting the webcam to work the way we wanted to was harder than originally thought. Libby had put together some loose scripts that used GStreamer to capture images and ImageMagick to convert them to an animated GIF. There were two issues. First, there was no way to get the version of GStreamer installed on the game box to limit the number of images taken. We worked around that by manually deleting old images from the dispatcher. Second, ImageMagick took a LONG TIME to generate the final animated GIF. Because of this, we ended up writing a capture routine that used OpenCV to interface to the webcam and images2gif.py to generate the GIF. This worked out pretty well and prevent the images from hitting the disk until we were saving them.
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We packed everything into multiple vehicles and headed up to Neah Bay. When we arrived there was a nice dome covered in green parachute material. It looked great! We covered the top with a tarp just in case it got wet and then got to work inside. We partitioned the dome into three rooms: Altar room, reading room, and storage. We used a lot of rope to do this. Mounting the monitor was done with steel wire. Having a floating monitor looked great! What didn't look great is what was eventually called the "Forbidden Zone" behind the altar. Our last minute solder jobs and general wire mess frequently died when things would get unplugged. But we got it all setup after a lot of work and it looked great.
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We had 800 games and 1200 minutes of playtime at Toorcamp! People loved it! We saw CoR stickers everywhere. I saw people reading the literature. One player exclaimed that he "embraced the doctrine of futility!" as he left the Church.
There are two forks I'd like to follow for the future of CoR. One is to get the First Altar installed. Second, it'd be awesome if we could install the Church in more locations. A great start would be a gallery in the Portland area so that we can show more of our friends the results of our work. There's also been some talk about bringing it to the Choas Communication Camp. We'd love to do it, but we'd have to figure out logistics and would need some support, if you can help, contact us at mutantsavior@churchofrobotron.com