Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Cam ECS vs Kitted-out Stryfe

Nerf N-Strike Elite Cam ECS-12 versus a Nerf N-Strike Elite Stryfe with similar equipment attached.  I've been meaning to do this test for awhile, but there was one hurdle I couldn't jump:  The cost of that fancy camera blaster!!  It's no secret that the Cam ECS-12 is a wallet buster and, as many have pointed out, it's not quite worth the financial beating it takes to bring one home.  However, thanks to some stellar deals over the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, there were a few opportunities to pick one up for 1/3rd the price, so I jumped on it to see what all the fuss was about.

Over the past few days, I've been playing around with the Cam ECS-12 and pitting it up against a Stryfe that I've equipped with a Super Soaker adjustable stock (similar to a Raider), a Tactical Mission App cradle, and an iPhone 5C.  I put standard batteries in both blasters and started breaking down the details between them.  Range, comfort, ease of operation, quality of the video captured, there's a lot to nitpick with both of these setups.

In order to be able to accurately tell which one is better, a line has to be drawn for cost on both.  I'm using Nerf-only products to compare against each other in an attempt to keep things as fair as possible.

The Nerf Cam ECS-12 retails for about $80.  An 8-Pack of batteries to power the blaster and in-built camera it are about $8.  So, a total of $88 to walk into a battle and record footage.

The Nerf Stryfe retails for about $18.  A 4-Pack of batteries to power the blaster are about $4.  You can pick up an N-Strike stock on eBay for about $8 dollars (I've seen some for less, some for more).  The Tactical Mission App cradle is about $14.  However, to get the camera, you have to have an iPhone or iPod to use with it.  This is the tricky part... since this kind of device will push the cost well over what the Cam ECS is listed at.  Then again, this is also an item that many people already have, so in some cases it's not an extra cost you would have to incur to build one like this.  To keep it simple, we're going to leave that cost out under the idea that you wouldn't go buy an iPod just to use for a Nerf Camera.  So, a total of $44 to build up a blaster similar to how the Cam ECS is currently set up.  A little over half the cost of purchasing a Nerf Cam ECS-12 at full retail.

There's more to consider here than the money you'd potentially save by going with the cheaper setup.  The Stryfe's versatile setup can be a plus, meaning you aren't limited to using it with this equipment.  It doesn't have to have a stock, you don't need the added weight and bulk of the camera, you can extend the barrel if you like.  There's an endless stream of possibilities with a blaster like this.  The Cam ECS-12 has a fixed-length stock that isn't removable.  The front barrel also lacks an adapter like the Stryfe, so this blaster is what it is aside from tactical rail options and different magazine sizes.

The Cam ECS-12 does provide a comfortable solid stock and an aggressive rifle look with tactical rails on the top and bottom.  The trigger, accelerator switch, and mag release switch are all in the same spot as they are on the Stryfe, so they're both easy to use.  It does boast a longer range printed on the box than the Stryfe, claiming "90 feet".  RandomShadow09's range tests revealed an average range of 39-40 feet.  The top shot was recorded between 44-45 feet.  The Stryfe, also tested by RS09, averaged better ranges landing between 44-45 feet with the top shot at 51 feet... so even though the box claims better ranges, most fans have learned not to trust the newer printed range claims.  (Elite XD... I'm looking at you!)

So it's looking like a clear victory for the Stryfe, as it should.  Heck, even a RapidStrike with the Mission App cradle on it would be cheaper and better... but it still comes down to that "if you have an iPod or iPhone" bit.  There are homemade options for cradles for Android smartphones to remedy that idea, so a camera blaster doesn't have to burn a hole through your pocket. If you're without a smartphone, you could argue that the Cam ECS-12 is worth it... but then you get into the quality of the video that this blaster takes.  I should've said lack-of-quality, as there's eight gobs of reasons why the ECS-12 fails as a camera gun.  Poor frame capture rate and underwater sound quality top off the list of horribleness for it.  There really seems to be no love for this blaster... but you really can't refute the mounting evidence out there either.

If you haven't owned a Nerf Cam ECS-12, curiosity might still push you over the edge and think "well it can't be THAT bad" but, I'm sad to report that it really is.  There's a reason our resident Bobololo went so far as to photoshop a Cam ECS-12 into his "review" instead of actually picking this blaster up.  Unless you've gotten a stupid good deal (like I did) on the blaster that makes it worth about the same as a Stryfe, the cost really can't be justified.  In the tests I've been running, I've been trying to find things I like about the Cam ECS-12.  You don't hear as much noise from the motors, the ergonomics of the blaster make it quite comfortable, it looks cool, and the operation of the camera and playback is easier than fiddling with a smartphone, but these are all small advantages in the grand scheme of things.  Cost, Performance, not to mention availability (I have yet to see one on a shelf locally), the Stryfe... or any other blaster for that matter... being used to mount a camera to capture in-game footage is a better choice than the Cam ECS-12.  That being said... I still don't understand why Nerf chose a noisy flywheel blaster to put a camera in!  With a manually primed blaster, you wouldn't get nearly as much noise in the video as you do with two flywheels whirring constantly!

I'm not super heartbroken.  If you get a good enough deal on a Cam ECS-12, like in the $20-$30 range, it's not a bad rifle.  It doesn't jam (much), it gets decent range, and it's comfortable to use.  Just ignore the camera bits, maybe repurpose that area of the blaster to be something else, maybe use the other 4 batteries to volt mod it with standard batteries, you have options.  I already have a handful of mod ideas on the drawing board to make this a fun kit.  Until then... I think I'll watch some of those entertaining Cam ECS reviews around YouBook and FaceTube.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Weekly Workbench 12/14

For the next few weeks, I've decided to devote some long-needed time to finishing up some projects.  Every modder, new and old, runs into the problem of having too many "Works in Progress" without much progress to speak of.

I've decided to hold another Mod Night with my friends this Thursday that should focus on getting my Demolisher 2-in-1 Nerf/Laser Tag blaster moving along.  I'm not expecting to finish it, but I need to sort past some issues on it that'll get the ball moving faster on it.

If you've missed it, here's the first bit of work on the Demolisher I did way back in July.

Demolisher 2-in-1 Nerf/Laser Tag


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

LTX M41A Pulse Rifle: Part 1

In September of 2009, I set out to build my favorite Sci-Fi blaster of all time: the M41A Pulse Rifle from Aliens  (James Cameron, 1986).  This iconic bug-slugger has transcended it's initial appearance almost 30 years ago and has been featured in other Sci-Fi films, Video Games, and even had real-steel versions made for it's massive following.

When I started the project, I used a G&P Pulse Rifle Airsoft Conversion kit for an M1A1 Thompson Submachine gun.  I left it as a functional Airsoft rifle but, thanks to the unique design of the Pulse Rifle, I had plenty of space to drop in my own Laser Tag system.  At the time, the Omaha Laser Challenge Association (now the Midwest Laser Tag Association) was utilizing Laser Challenge-brand equipment for games, so the half Airsoft half Laser Tag M41A had Laser Challenge V2 internals mounted inside the vacant "Grenade Launcher" housing underneath the main barrel.  Much like a Nerf Longshot Front-Gun Integration, there was plenty of space for the lens arrangement, motherboard, speaker, and buttons for operating the Pulse Rifle's new Laser Tag feature.  

A 3-Pole Switch controlled which system was active at any given time.  The middle position turned the blaster off.  Forward would send power to the Laser Tag internals.  Backward would send power to the Airsoft motor.  It was simplistic and it worked quite well for quite awhile!

However, when our Laser Tag group made the switch from Laser Challenge to Lazer Tag (LTTO, LTX, LTAR), this blaster quickly became obsolete.  Many attempts were made over the years to install new systems based off of Arduino Development Boards to work with current equipment, but they were never really successful.  Though the project is officially half-a-decade old... there's still things I can do to make this work like I had originally hoped.

So now you're all caught up with this blaster's backstory and ready to see what's coming next, right?  This M41A Pulse Rifle will be running off of a Phoenix LTX laser tag board and will utilize the features of the unreleased RapidBlast attachment to mimic the high rate-of-fire that this icon of Sci-Fi is known for.  I know what you're going to say:  "Zook... how on earth are you going to use the RapidBlast if it was never released?"  That's were my friends at CTDYNE come in!  Take a read.
We had three PCB's for the RapidBlast manufactured. We assembled the first board and did the trouble shooting and refinements necessary to get it to work properly. This is the board you see in the images of the CSM I sent you.  The second one will be used in a build similar to the CSM, but without adjustable focal length and one off lens assembly. The second unit will go to Izzy as a thank you for all his hard work getting the design to a state where we were able to have the boards produced. The third board from this initial production run will end up in a housing just the same as the one going to Izzy. 
Not to worry though, now that we have the bugs worked out of the design, we are planning on having second production run of ten additional RapidBlast PCB's manufactured. We can provide a bare PCB and a pre-programmed processor chip with the parts list available at Izzy's Github site. I would certainly be willing to build a complete board for Bazookafied.
While I eagerly wait for CTDYNE to work on that, I've still got a long road ahead of the Pulse Rifle to get it LTX-ready.  A lot of testing, breaking, fixing, troubleshooting, and modification is ahead of me, but at least there are still bits and pieces of the previous attempts that can help.  Most notably, the work we did on fabricating areas to house the IR Sensors in the blaster will not have been in vain.  We will repurpose those to work with the LTX board at the core of this project.  I've never built an LTX or LTAR before without reusing the existing sensor dome, so I have a feeling that'll be an interesting experience working through the problems that will likely arise from that.  Still, it's the first step in a winter-long journey this blaster will have to take if I ever hope to have it running for Season 10 next summer!

Over the next several weeks, I'll be getting the Pulse Rifle operational again, which will likely have more in-game testing too to make sure that everything is working as it should.  It's important to not only make this blaster reliable and fun to use... but also that the sensor placement and design doesn't interfere with gameplay.  The last thing I want to do is build an awesome blaster that no-one can hit and then get everyone upset!  Updates on this first round will be coming soon!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

N-Strike Elite SideStrike Review

When the ZombieStrike SideStrike was released in Winter of 2013, it came in "Ooze Green" and included a holster with dart storage.  This was one of many ZombieStrike blasters that seemed like it was initially designed to be part of the N-Strike Elite lineup.  Later on, the SideStrike got rebadged and recolored to go along with the N-Strike Elite blasters in a K-Mart Exclusive 2-Pack released a year after the original ZS SideStrike hit shelves.

The K-Mart Exclusive release includes two recolored SideStrike blasters, one that is white with blue accents and the other one in white with orange accents.  These do not include the holster that the ZombieStrike version comes with.  The two-pack retails for $24.99 at K-Mart while the ZS one normally retails for $14.99.  So, if we chop that 2-Pack in half, these blasters are technically worth around $12... which seems about right since the Firestrike (almost the same blaster) retails for that.  As long as you think the Holster that the ZS Sidestrike comes with is worth $2, then the K-Mart twofer makes sense.
Other than the color differences, the ZombieStrike and Elite Sidestrikes are identical inside and out.  Same ranges, same shells, same features.  There are still raised "ZombieStrike" logos printed on the Elite version shells, as well as that undead font they use for the name on the side of the blaster.  In the same way, the ZombieStrike versions have N-Strike Elite logos on the handles.  Whichever one you wind up with, the blaster is having an identity crisis in the branding department.


The Sidestrike has a twisted sister: the Firestrike.  Both share nearly identical internals and performance and both can hold two darts.  They also can both be used with the holster that the ZS Sidestrike comes with, which is sort of nifty... unless you're OCD enough to not like having an Elite blaster in a holster that has a gigantic "Z" logo printed on the side of it.  Still, most Nerf fans that followed the release of the Sidestrike will tell you that it was likely initially intended as an N-Strike Elite blaster.  Some fans, like our friends at SBNC, went so far as to recolor the blasters in their "proper" colors.  To those folks, the K-Mart exclusive recolors are kind of neat to see that idea realized.


Whichever version you wind up with, this is a fun blaster with great out-of-the-box performance that can easily be modified to get even better results in a nifty looking little shell!  It's comfortable to hold, even with it's small grip, and it's easy to use.  It's really a nice little sidearm that packs a punch and looks pretty slick.  The two-pack release also reminds me of the N-Strike yellow Scout blasters that was a K-Mart exclusive a few years ago and follows the same "cure that OCD matching habit with your arsenal" solution that it served, too!  In many ways, the SideStrike is like an Elite-ified Scout anyways, what with the top slide prime, the compact size, and the handy dart storage, it makes for an excellent successor.


Click below for a full video review of all 3 SideStrikes!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Cyber Monday Deals

Aside from getting your BOGO Free "Box Combo" at Raising Canes, there's some pretty neat Nerf deals out there today.  Figured I'd share a few of the major ones I've found!  Feel free to add ones I've missed!

A quick stop by Amazon.com's Nerf listing has a 50% drop on four blasters.  Strongarms are listed for $6.49,  Retaliators are listed at $13.49, RapidStrikes are $19.99, and even the overpriced Cam ECS is on sale for $39.99.  The Combat Creature is also listed for $39.99 for noisy robotic battles.  Oh, and the Rapid RED from the Rebelle lineup is 14.99, too!

Obviously if you're an Amazon Prime user, Free 2-Day shipping applies... but I suppose that doesn't matter if it's a Christmas gift to wrap up for the end of the month!

Toys R Us has a 20% off All Nerf Blasters sale for Cyber Monday.  In my honest opinion, this is really only good if you're looking for TRU Exclusive blasters like the recolored Sonic ICE and Sonic FIRE stuff.  They've always got crazy-good selection for blasters, but there's still some better deals out there on a couple of 'em.

Target.com doesn't have quite the Nerf sale I was hoping for, but there's still a few good ones.  Demolishers for $29.99, SlingFires for $16.99 and some Perpetual Play ZombieStrike foam things.

There's a RapidStrike on there too listed, but it's cheaper at Amazon link up above.  I was hoping some of the Target Exclusive blasters would make the cut, but alas... no dice.

Speaking of Exclusive blasters, I was happy to see that Wal-Mart's site has the Elite Spectre REV-5 on sale for $12!  They also have the brand-spankin-new wallet buster: the RhinoFire marked down to $69.97 (normally $89.97).  The Rebelle Agent Bow is also rolled back to $19 for you Katniss fans.

On the downside, these are the only 3 Nerf items listed.  Still, I was surprised to see a sale on the RhinoFire so soon.  I actually just saw one on the shelf for the first time this weekend.

There's more deals out there, but this should get you off to a good start!  Like I said before, feel free to share more Cyber Monday deals if you find 'em!  Happy Hunting!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

I am Thankful for YOU

It's true... November has not been kind to my spare time, which has left my beloved hobbies a bit neglected.  However, as we celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States, I can't help but think about what consistently drives me to return to my workbench and tinker on a Laser Tag pistol or upgrade a spring in a Nerf blaster... YOU!

Whether you're a new reader or a long-time supporter, whether you live down the block from me and come to the games I host or you're residing in far-off lands I wish I could visit, the people that read, comment, criticize, praise, and everything in-between make this blog worth returning to.  As a result of that, it has kept the fire for my interest in these hobbies burning strong.  I can honestly say that I don't think I would enjoy Nerf or Laser Tag nearly as much as I do were it not for the involvement and interaction I have with people on Tactical Tag and in the community for these hobbies in general.  YouTube, blogs, websites, wikis, chatrooms, and even just as simple as people I interact with locally for games and mod nights, it's really just fantastic.

When I'm stressed out paying bills or neck-deep in a bathroom remodel at my house or under pressure at work, my hobbies are part of what keeps me sane.  So, this Thanksgiving, I need to thank everyone who has been a part of those hobbies.  I hope you all have a great day as you all have had a part in making Nerf and Laser Tag more enjoyable.  I hope you all enjoy your day, your weekend, your Black Friday sales, and everything else in-between!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

CTDYNE: RapidBlast LTX Accessory



If you've been following this blog for awhile, you know that Lazer Tag fans have been teased with unreleased goodies designed for the Phoenix LTX since the line was discontinued almost 4 years ago.  To-date the only officially released add-on accessories for the LTX were those that came with it's initial release in 2008:  the Green-Dot Sight and the Shotblast.  These two accessories continue to be popular with our group and are sought-after items by most Lazer Tag enthusiasts.  The Green-Dot Sight isn't nearly as important as the Shotblast, though.  This shotgun-pump 3-round burst short-range accessory has been an excellent addition to the stock LTX and are often the first things to get picked up when we start our games.

But enough about what we already have.  I want to talk to you about what we COULD still have... even after years of waiting.  Best of all, it's from our friends at CTDYNE, my Lazer Tag modding heroes since 2006.  They sent me information and photos about one that they have in the works.

Gold Shotblast (top), Blue TV-Module (bottom)
The original concept was to provide a design and parts list for a printed circuit board that the user would have printed and then assemble. The intention was this PCB would fit into the video game accessory for the Hasbro LTX tagger without any modification to the housing, utilizing the original video game lens and an IR LED supplied by the user. The RapidBlast would unlock the super high rate of fire that was originally to be used on one of the accessories for the LTX that was never released.
We were recently able to complete one of these DIY RapidBlast boards. The project has gone thru a few different hands along the way. The first unit was taken to Fort Flagler this past September for a shake down at the last big game of the summer here in the northwest. After the Fort Flagler event, it was reported the rate of fire was outstanding, but the range yielded from the stock video game optics was unsatisfactory. If the user could get close enough and played smart, they were able to overwhelm an opponent with the super high rate of fire from the RapidBlast.


I have been given the opportunity to upgrade the optics on this first DIY RapidBlast in an effort to extend the range to a more usable distance. I am actually the fifth person to work on this project. The DIY Rapid Blast is such a special accessory for the LTX that I wanted to upgrade the optics and the housing accordingly. This CTDYNE version of the DIY Rapid Blast is called the Counter Sniper Module (CSM). The optics in the CSM consist of a 45 millimeter main lens with a single TSAL-6100 IR LED. As well as a pair of wide spread IR emitters under the main barrel that fire simultaneously. This pair of LED's each have a different spread/range. These are intended for close quarter battle use. Not much range with these but a significant spread of IR light. A selector switch is located on the left side (Labeled S-C) of the fore grip to switch between the main barrel or the pair of CQB emitters.

But the real innovation as far as the optics on the CSM, is the externally adjustable focal length mechanism. The IR LED behind the main lens can be set to different focal lengths in seconds. The minimum setting is 4.0" Maximum focal length is just under 6.0" This adjustment is made by turning the locking knob on the left side of the housing. Slide to the desired position and turn to lock. There is a scale on the outside of the CSM for reference. With some experimentation in the field we should be able to come with a set of dimensions to be used for medium to long range targets.

The work on this project is currently ongoing.

So there you have it!  Not only will there finally be a board that can "unlock" the LTX's potential for an insane RoF, but there's also an awesome custom-built unit with adjustable settings being built by CTDYNE to put this new ability to work in a wide-range of situations.