Oh how everyone will be happy with the new table. No longer playing on plastic CostCo tables. No more having everything spill over on the edges. Now we can have a game on a real table.
The table is ready to be installed and brought to the basement. Hmm, oh. The high turns and limited space… we did measure for the size of the top? It is in a single piece after all… And yes, it fit. Only a few small scrapes and gouges out of the wall. A small repair for a future of glory!
And there it is. As you can see we also added in some RGB LCD lights on the inside. The entire table has been coated with the same of clear coat that is used for commercial bars. The inside of the table should be able to hold water assuming a keg somehow blew up in the basement. It ended up being an absolutely beautiful table and fits in the man cave better than almost any other furniture here. I am so very excited to play our first game on the table.
There have been a lot of questions about the details of how the cooling actually worked and how I am ensuring that the TV does not overheat in its now sealed environment. So, this page will be to go over the details of that part of the build as well as what specific hardware was used to drive all of it.
The basic concept that was used was to create a permanent cooling solution to anticipate the actual head load and then to make sure that there was a sufficient airflow to move heat out of the sealed box. I knew what the ambient temperature would be in a box without any assistance from fans or other forced air solutions from my previous experience with the initial install of the TV in a box on top of the table. But I also knew that when the TV was dropped into the table itself we would be sealing it in much more than the first experiment.
Flat screen TV’s are not usually cooled using fans but instead rely on the heat to rise through the components. The TV will have vents on the bottom as well as vents somewhere along the top of the components, usually in the middle of the back of the TV. By having the TV on its back, that natural flow of hot air would not be what the manufacturers were expecting and I would have a problem of the temperature increasing by having that heat trapped. In the first Box installation there were vents on three sides of the box that allowed a slow leakage of that hot air and would reach an equilibrium with the ambient room temperature. The new installation would not allow this since the TV would now be mounted inside the table with solid walls on all sides.
So, a new design was needed. The diagram below shows this concept.
This shows the expected air flow as well as where I would have fans installed to ensure that I could force air if needed. The black boxes in the diagram are where fans would be installed. The idea was to use the first set of fans to pull the cool air in and into the TV. The fans within the table would then pull the now heated air out. The primary air intake is nothing more than a simple vent, but it was a third place that I could install fans if for any reason there was not sufficient air flow to cool the TV.
Yes, the vent is below a drawer and I had some concern that it would interfere with the pull of air, but the four 80mm fans were able to pull enough air such that it was easy to feel that flow where the vent was. In fact, that air flow was slightly uncomfortable because it made for cold legs if you were wearing shorts or something else that left your legs exposed.
The two dual 80mm fans as well as the two triple 120mm fans are both from AC Infinity. For a controller I ended up with the AC Infinity Controller 8 to give me the most amount of temperature probes and the most options for installation. I spent a fair amount of time looking for a good solution that was less DYI and more professional looking and for ease of implementation. I bought them weeks in advance of the install so I could see how well they worked, how much noise they made, and how the controller worked. I wanted all the parts perfectly functional before trusting the installation.
One thing I discovered, and was not really surprised about was that the 80mm fan units, even at their lowest speed, were very audible. Whereas the 120mm fans were nearly completely silent. I thought about replacing the fans with better ones but was not willing to go that far yet. Perhaps once the fans were installed they would not be as noisy as expected. The 120mm fans were just great and performed well and better than expected. If the 80mm fans continued to be too noisy post-install, it would be pretty simple to replace them later.
Here are the during and post-install pictures. Showing the starting of with the intake air vent through to the 80mm fans and out to the 120mm fans.
To control the fans and make sure they would be able to operate automatically with a single temperature probe, I first tried putting all the 80mm fans on one set of power cables and the 120mm fans on another chain from the controller. From the manual it seemed to imply that the controller should be able to power that number of fans through two ports but the reality was that it was not able to, and I had to use all four fan power ports on the controller. This also then meant I had to use all four of the temperature probes to control each set of fans. There was not an option to tie one probe to multiple power ports. Each fan had a probe terminate near where the fans were installed. While none of them were in a perfect location for tracking the temperature, it was fine for this install. To make sure I had an independent source of temperature tracking, I also installed a TempStick. This allowed me to have WiFi tracking of the temperature since the AC Infinity controller was very much lacking any remote tracking and management.
The TempStick is an interesting device. I would have preferred something that I could have plugged in for power. The TempStick works great and is easily portable. But if you want five minute temperature data points, the two AAA batteries will run out of juice pretty quickly, and probably not last more than a few months. This means I would have to reach in and grab it to replace the batteries somewhat frequently. I ended up just setting them for the default 30 minute temperature check which will allow the batteries to last somewhere between six and 12 months. That time is based off all the others that I have installed around the house and outside. Being able to pull the data in remotely as well as configuring it definitely made the TempStick the winner for me.
All the fans are powered through chained USB cables connected to the controller. One immediate problem that occurred was that almost none of the cables were actually long enough to reach where the controller was installed. There was not an option to purchase longer cables, so a simple USB extender cable was used. I used one for each of the chains to make sure that all the cable lengths were the same just in case the impedance caused some sort of issue with the different of lengths of the cable for power. These extenders were tested pre-installation as well to make sure that worked too.
I played with different temperature settings and controls to see what worked best. The 80mm fans continued to be audibly noisy even after the installation. The 120mm fans were still nearly silent. With any amount of conversation of the players, the 120mm fans noise was easily covered. Another interesting benefit was that the 120mm fans were actually sufficient to carry almost all the cooling by themselves without needing the extra air flow from the 80mm fans. This allowed me to set different temperature set points on the two sets of fans such that unless things got much warmer inside the box, the 80mm fans would not need to fire off. This kept the noise down, and did not chill the person sitting at the air intake vent location.
Overall I am very happy with the installation and the hardware I used. I really would have liked to have seen that the controller had WiFi access to track the temperature and even manage it. The 80mm fans were a little of a disappointment, but the 120mm fans were much better, so a break even there. There were many options to configure the controller that allowed me to create an environment that make noise and airflow controlled and would not detract from game play. The whole point of all of this was to improve game play and continue down the path of Virtual Table Top gaming.
Well, after a few month of use, everyone enjoyed using the screen. It is a high success. Even being able to draw in spell effects was nice to be able to see clearly and while not everyone liked the exactness of it, it scratched a nice itch for me. One of those hard to reach and soul fulfilling scratches hitting that itch that must be scratched.
It was time to get rid of the box and drop that TV in. This was a one way trip. There was no going back. We were going to cut in some major holes that just would never be repairable once we start. It was a scary thought about if anything got screwed up. This was definitely one of those times where we measures a dozen times before cutting, and then measured a few extra just before. And then were afraid to measure afterwards.
We need to move the MacMini into one of the drawer areas and have sufficient pass-through areas for all the cables. The LED system needed to be pulled out. Fans would have be installed since we no longer would any form of cooling once everything was buttoned up. We needed to remove the LED controller and replace it with the fan controller, and move it to the other side of the table to shorten cable lengths. There was a lot to do, and all of it irrevocable.
We also planned on putting a new piece of glass on the new inside box, but this time we would be sealing it with clear caulk to prevent that beer-o-gadon happening on the now flat surface. We also needed to cut in an extra hole and make a hatch to be allow us to push the TV out when it needs to get replaced. The hatch was attached with some metal washers and rare earth magnets. The part that I was happiest about was the new fan system. With four 80mm fans pushing air into the TV and six 120mm fans pulling air out of the box, all of which with their own temperature probes, the new cooling system was fantastic.
Running the room at 80F to 85F the air inside the box with the TV has never exceeded 73F. The 80mm fans were much noisier than the 120mm fans, but that was expected. I set the activation temperature for the 80mm fans to be much higher than the 120mm fans, and as of yet, they almost never fire. The 120mm fans are sufficient for almost all the cooling. We also cut in another vent hole under the the side of the table where the 80mm fans are so that there was also an intake, and when those 80mm fans are running, you can feel that airflow.
Overall, besides the mass destruction that occurred to the table to make it all fit, I am very happy with the new design. Having the TV inside the table was a great move and game play has improved with everything being level. Although now we have many more errant dice causing us to enforce the use of dice boxes. We started with some smaller bamboo boxes with felt on the bottom, and moved to larger bamboo boxes with felt.
The last part of the installation was to mount the monitor arm into its permanent location and into the table itself. With a screen protector attached to the monitor it now provides privacy for the game master and any nefarious look ups or details that are needed while being able to hide them from any of the players sitting to the side.
Recently there has been a lot of interest in some of the details about the Gaming Table that we are using. More specifically, interest in what parts were used as well as how we are managing the games with our set up. With this article I will talk more about the cabling and power into the table.
Understanding that with the modern world, there would be the need to not only power the large selection of devices that each player would bring, but I would also need to be able to power up portions of the table itself for future VTT play. If you look at the basement construction project you will be able to see that we were able to start from scratch and plan for power and other possible connections to the table space.
To future proof the space and to make sure that I could upgrade cabling and power in the future, a pair of conduit pipes were laid out between the server room and where I hoped the table legs would go. One pipe went to the server electrical sub-panel and the other to the server room structured wiring terminated. Here you can see where the conduits terminated in the floor:
And here they terminate in the server room:
As you can see there is a 20A line to the table area and four Cat6 cables. One of the Cat6 cables was later redirected to go between the LED lights and the transformer leaving me with three Ethernet cables. I was not sure if I would actually use the Ethernet connectivity, but added it in just in case. It was easily to put in while the floor was missing, and cost very little compared to everything else. Also given that I had the conduit pipes, I could always string other cables to include more power in the future if I really needed to.
In actual use, I have not yet used any of the Ethernet cables. My thought around it was POE or direct connection to the future computer and TV. Instead I have a fairly powerful wireless signal covering the entire basement that has so far proved to be sufficient for not only the table, but for all the players. Maybe once we start utilizing VTT much more heavily I might revisit how we are handling the network connectivity.
Ignore the labeling of my structure wiring. The cable guy clearly failed in his ability to properly install cable in a contiguous manner and put together areas that should all actually be together. It is on my list of something to rewire in the future to make it cleaner and make more logical sense. I will admit that my OCD occasionally flairs up when I go in there and see it.
In the floor are the two boxes where the cables terminate. The table itself has the equivalent of a power cord that stretches down into the floor panel and plugs into one of the outlets there. I originally had a pair of very nice cast iron floor plates to go on top, but since the table pedestal completely covered up the panels, there was not a reason to keep those on. Within the table itself the power cable starts one side and connects up all the corner outlets in a series much like you would normally do in a room. We just did it in a table instead. This simplified the wiring and since all the wiring could be installed a head of time, it was easy to ensure that we could conform to code and have real electricians install and certify the install.
You can see some of this cabling here:
That white box in that first picture in the corner of the tables is the controller for the LED lights that sit inside the alcove of the table. The lights sat under the cleat that goes around the inside of the table with a RGB controller installed on one of the corners. This would allow me or any of the game masters to control the color of the lights easily for effect in any game. When we retrofitted the table for VTT and dropped the TV inside, that cleat was removed with the LED lighting including that controller in the corner.
The cleats were for holding up the table leafs that covered the alcove and gave the table a flush and flat surface. Now I have a bunch of solid cherry leafs with no home and just sit in the mechanical room in the basement.
Installed in each corner on the long side of the table was an outlet with with USB A and C 5v/4.8A charging ports. Again, planning on the different types of devices I put in both types of charging ports knowing that not all of our players were as much an Apple fan boy that I pretend to not be. All of the hardware I ordered was in black of course.
The plates that cover all the outlets are the same throughout the basement and those were purchased at House of Antique Hardware. With all of that I could not easily have the players power up all their toys, whether it was laptops, tablets, or their phones as they pretended to not hear the ring every time there was a home emergency that only occurred on game night.
With that we have properly powered the table and provided for some limited future-proofing. My hopes were that I would be a sufficient planner and designer to have all the parts in place and not need to upgrade much in the future. Power has been plentiful and we have easily been charging nearly a dozen phones and tablets at the same time with a pair of laptops. Occasionally there is a little jostling when someone’s power plug is large enough to overlap on to the USB plug. Something for me to think about the in future to consider how to improve that.
We have a table design, check. We are building out the basement, check. We know what will go where… uhm. Well yes. Obviously in parallel to the basement being rebuilt we had to know fairly clearly of what would be in the basement and where. This had to include where electrical outlets would be, where lights would illuminate the awesome planned games, and where everyone would actually be sitting. And maybe some entertainment in case we needed to watch some Anime at 100db.
Much like the design of the floor plans themselves, we went through a lot of different iterations of the layout as well. We had settled on one main configuration until the slight mis-step with the lack of two steps on the stairs changed everything for us. This is what we had originally:
As you can see, we have our gaming table, a nice little office, a couch area with a monster TV for our cat girl needs. But, with some of the space change, especially a doorway moving, we needed something new.
It was a difficult decision, but one that had to be made somewhat quickly since it impacted a lot of the infrastructure installations. We ended up with the third choice which then influenced all of our other decisions. Such as shelving:
And now we are settled on the build, the layout, and the furniture. So, where the hell is my table?
The dream of many gamers is that moment when you have enough space, cash on hand, and a burning desire to put it all in together into the perfect gaming space. Especially getting the table to end all tables to work for the next 40 years of gaming. I, like many middle-aged somewhat affluent gaming enthusiasts, decided that splurging on the ultimate gaming space was much better than some sex kitten half my age and a suicidal crotch rocket. Even better, I even had my wife’s permission!
I now had several items I needed to research as well design a space to hold my ultimate man-cave. I decided to start on the table part first since at the time, the house part did not really exist. There were a very large amount of DYI tables as well as several commercial ones that even made me drool and whoop for absolutely no reason at all.
First were a bunch of the DYI ones:
This lead me to the ultimate expression of a commercial version of a gaming table. Topping up over $15,000 the Sultan Gaming table and it’s brethern were awesome to behold:
By Loki’s twisted teet! Of course it was going to require me to rob a small bank and wait 18 months to receive that monstrous piece of cherry heaven. The company making them is completely out of business because they could not keep up with demand. I never knew that there were that many gamers with that much money burning a hole in their pocket. Maybe I should get out more and start convincing them that I need that money.
Then there was this wonderful DYI model which took a lot of the nice features of the Sultan table and even provided a model:
I think I now had enough information to get started.
After using the table for a couple of years and getting a good idea of what worked out, we thought it might be a good time to start looking into what we would want to do next. My plan was always to put a TV into the table for Virtual Table Top Gaming, but not knowing when that might happen, or exactly what form the TV might take, I did not plan any holes or power in the space where the TV would reside. Besides, I am not sure how easily we would be able to adapt to VTT for our games.
I and my fellow game master did spend some time investigating the different VTT software applications available and they overall were a disappointment. They did not seem very well developed a few years ago when this journey with the gaming table started, and even today they seemed to be either overly cumbersome or lack many fundamental features. Worse than that, they either required live Internet connections or only ran on Windows bases systems. This lack of flexibility and difficult to use programs kept us from moving forward with the VTT plans for quite some time.
It seems that most of these are written by gaming enthusiasts with little software engineering backgrounds. The tools looks and feel like applications that were written more than 20 years ago. This is not how development and applications are built today for mainstream users and businesses. Yes, some of these can be powerful, but so is a hammer. We need something that is easy to implement and add to the game without taking away from the fun and at the same time not adding a large burden to the game master. At this time, none of the tools or applications available fit this.
But, it was finally time to start testing the concept of VTT, but I was not willing to fully modify the table to allow a TV to be mounted instead. So instead, we opted for something that could mount on top and allow us to start gaining experience with how we might utilize a new tool for gaming.
We built a frame that would sit in the table with external connectivity as well as open cooling. Since TV’s normally rely on heat rising through the box and rarely have fans, we placed a vent on each side as well as two on the bottom to match the bottom of the TV. We would be relying on normal heat escaping the box to reach some sort of equilibrium between the box and the outside temperature. We installed a WiFi based temperature sensor to be able to track what the exact temperature might be at any given run point. To ensure that there were not any catastrophic beer spills we added in a rubber seal around the bottom edge of the outside of the box. The weight of the box was sufficient to press it down and form a tight seal.
We also installed a monitor arm on the side of the table via clamp. That required a lot of custom construction because of the depth of the table exceeded any possible clamp for the arm. A Mac-mini was installed on the back of the monitor and we were ready to go. As a backup we also installed an AppleTV to the second HDMI port so that we would be able to have other types of extended tests.
Glare from the lights actually become a more interesting problem. There are two sets of lights around the table. Ones around the outside and ones directly over the table. The ones around the outside were the ones that caused the most issue and by keeping those off and adjusting the dim value on the ones over the table we were able to achieve a level of light that was acceptable. Good thing all the lights were made to be able to dim, otherwise we would have had much more difficulty in finding an appropriate amount of light for the table and the players.
And then some live play on the new TV. I ended up using a graphics program for the creation of the fog of war and used different layers for different rooms and revealed them one by one as needed. While not the best solution it did work very well once I was used to the flow. The secret really was in making sure I properly labeled all the layers so I could find them quickly.
As a part of the installation, we also added a 1/8″ sheet of glass on top of the TV to protect the screen of the TV. While that thickness seems overly thin, it worked fine and the possible sag to the middle of the TV was only about 1/16″. There was some creaking in the beginning, but nothing after a week or so. I had absolutely no fear in cleaning the glass, and my cats would regularly walk and sit in the middle of the screen without any issues. The glass did however present an interesting problem. One, it increased the glare, and yes I could have paid for glare-free glass, assuming I can find a vendor making some this large, but two, there was now a gap between the miniatures and the actual image. It is large enough to cause most of the players to have some difficulty in keeping the miniatures in an actual square. You can see some of that in the images below.
This worked very well. Inside the box it reached a maximum of 87F as long as the outside ambient room temperature remained between 70F and 75F. The maximum operating temperature of the TV is 95F, so we were within the safe limits. Even with 24-hour stress tests everything ran fine and the maximum temperature stayed the same.
While happy with the functionality, it did raise part of the table up an additional four inches which for our shorter players made seeing the top even more difficult. Standing around the table became more difficult especially with glare on the screen. There was a lot more adjustment time, but after a week or so, everyone was enjoying the new experience quite a bit more than the old mat.
Once we bought our final house and my wife and I started discussing the details of the decor and design that we would have, she made an interesting proposal to me. I would be allowed to do anything I want underground as long as she held sway above ground. I mean, really? What an awesome deal! Of course renovating a house built in 1950 required a lot of decisions all the way around, but free reign in my own space? BWAHAHAHAHAAH!
Yes. Besides rubbing my hands together and cackling like a B-Movie villain, I was ready for this task. I had a 1100 sq ft unfinished basement that I could do anything I wanted to. I confirmed my wife’s commitment to this, and praised her continuously for her foresight to let me go on this endeavor.
Once I started working on the design I realized there were many problems to solve. And since this was under the house my options might be severely limited. Here are the original images of the basement.
The floor plan was basically this when we started:
While an interesting space it had a lot of problems for the future Cave of Awesomeness and Gaming. The first thing that was needed was to rearrange everything into different spaces that made better use of the space. We went through a lot of different designs before coming up with something that was close to what we wanted.
With the last design we seemed to have a winner in many ways. One of the primary issues with the basement was the 7′ ceilings. I was given two choices, one was to raise the house, which probably would not have flown well in the historical neighborhood I am in, or to dig down. Dig down? Hmmm, underground lair… BWAHAHAHAHAAH!
Yes, digging down. I did not really understand what that would entail until the work actually began. To gain two feet of space means they had to dig down four feet, and build a giant french drain under the entire basement floor to handle the ground water that would be seeping up. Then there was the need to reinforce the basement walls. In the end we ended up with 17″ thick concrete walls, a 16″ thick concrete floor, and two sump tanks, one of which is three feet wide and seven feet deep. Two steel beams cross the ceiling holding the entire house up off the basement allowing us to not need any pillars in any of the rooms. We could hide them all in the walls.
Yes, if you ignore the wooden house above me, I do have a bunker. Minus the roof that is… so close.
After removing 600,000 lbs of material in the basement they were able to start building it all back.
In retrospect, this was a huge job. And yes, they did start all the digging manually. There was not sufficient room for an excavator, yet. They needed to selectively remove sections of the floor, rebuild it, then add in the new wall to the old wall so that the house could be supported. Then remove the rest of the floor. We also discovered a horrifying fact. With the age of the house, the sewage pipes were all made of iron. Old rusty iron. Old rusty iron pipes that were stuffed full… Yes, full. In fact the iron pipes were so soft they could be crushed and ripped apart with your bare hands. Well, assuming you did not mind your hands full of shit.
By finding this issue, we saved ourselves from a catastrophe in the next few years when they would have exploded all of the new man cave.
The next stage was to start putting the pieces in.
And now that we had some reinforcement we were able to finally breach the outside wall and bring in real heavy gear.
And more walls go up
And with our only true egress point sealed again the only way in and out of the basement was via a ladder. Here you can see laying out conduit for floor power where the table will go eventually. Because the entire floor will be concrete this was our only chance to put in the conduit and plan for any future cabling that might be needed. This also locked us into position for where the table would have to go.
And now closing it all up.
And the sump tanks. One small one for the private toilet. Private, it’s mine damn you! And one for all the house french drains. Both have a dual pump system. The one on the big tank is so powerful that when it is on, it blows water for three feet into the street from the outtake pipe. Do not stand near it when it goes.
It was time to start putting the stairs back in and walls and such. When we found one small issue. An issue of two steps. It seems we mis-measured the distance of how far the treads will go, and the stairs would intrude into the base area more than we had originally counted for. We had to go back to the drawings and revise them on the fly since everything was on schedule. We ended up with this modified plan.
Basically we moved the entry to the office to under the stairs and closed up the space at the bottom of the stairs. This did cause a couple weeks of stress until we worked it all out. In the end, this design worked out much better, but now introduced new desires that could not be filled. There was now a natural wet bar area that we were not able to put a sink into. Sigh.
Because we had the very thick concrete walls, we decided to go with steel frame for all the outside walls and wood for the interior ones. This allowed the steel frames to be mounted straight to the concrete walls. For insulation we put in three inches of dense spray foam sealing up the perimeter as tightly as possible.
And lastly all the mechanical and plumbing was installed, followed by drywall. Of all the construction on the house, this was the most extensive and time consuming. While all the construction for the whole house took nine months, the basement was four months of that work.
It is a new glorious piece of furniture. It worked out better than I expected. Although the measurements for the top of the table were mostly based for me… some of our shorter players, well most of our players cannot reach all the mini’s from one side of the table to the other. Oh well. Maybe a croupier stick will work?
I thought it might be nice to show some gaming in progress to see how it looks. We will start with pulling out the leafs and use our Dwarven Forge 3D builds.
While nice, except for some specific set encounters, it is never time efficient to use the 3D landscape pieces. Instead most of the time we option for a monster sized Chessix grid mat that is large enough to cover the entire table.