Earlier this year, I completed a project I had worked on for about a month-and-a-half: modifying an Imperial Raider miniature from the X-wing Miniatures game to include light-and-sound functions. I added glowing engines and the ability to play ten different sounds effects via a small, external control panel.
The Imperial Raider is one of the largest miniatures for the game. It probably has the most space inside it, making it well-suited for adding electronics.
Many people have added lighting to various X-wing miniatures before — usually for creating a lit engine effect. Some of these are very impressive as they use hair-thin wires and tiny LEDs that are difficult to handle. I’ve also seen one or two modded miniatures which had sound effect features added, but that’s far less common. I wanted to go all-out and do something impressive with both lights and sound.
Read on to see everything I went through in order to bring this project to completion, or scroll to the bottom of this post to see the final result (including a video demonstrating every sound effect)!
Before I started any physical work on the project, I hunted down the sound effects I wanted to use for it. The original audio clip lineup consisted of mostly laser cannon blasts and explosions. At some point I felt that this was a little too cliché. Laser blasts and explosions are what most people would probably use when adding sound-effect functionality to such a model. As distinctive as the turbolaser sound effects are in the movies, they, along with the explosion sounds, didn’t feel “Star Warsy” enough to me.
So I instead decided to use clips of actual speech from the movies, and I managed to find some good quotes which could apply to a game of X-wing Miniatures. I felt having the model “speak” would be a lot more fun than just having it make “pew-pew” sounds.
In the end, the only sounds left over from my original choices were the klaxon and Imperial March.
The final ten sound effects I used are:
- Star Destroyer klaxon
- Imperial March (regular)
- Imperial March (win)
- Imperial March (loss)
- “Alert all commands. Deploy the fleet.”
- “Intensify forward firepower!”
- “Sir. Enemy ships are coming into our sector! / Good. Our first catch of the day.”
- “You don’t know the power of the Dark Side.”
- “Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen it.”
- “You rebel scum!”
The Star Destroyer klaxon is the “a-woo-gah!”-like siren that you hear from The Empire Strikes Back when the two Star Destroyers scrape against each other in their pursuit of the Millenium Falcon. This sound effect if great to play when either the fore or aft section of the ship is destroyed in-game.
I included three versions of the first few seconds of the Imperial March. They are of the same leitmotif, but sound distinctly different.
The first version is the regular one most people are familiar with. The player might play this at the beginning of the game or perhaps during the game as an intimidation tactic.
The second version is actually an excerpt from the regular Imperial March. It’s the part that plays near the end at around 2:15. I don’t know what the technical term for this sort of section in a march, but it always felt like the “crown” to the entire march.
The third version is from the tail end of the piece named The Emperor Arrives from the Return of the Jedi score. The slower tempo works well for a sad-sounding “game loss” ditty.
The dialog snippets are probably the most fun. I looked for lines spoken by Imperial officers, and I think the ones I found work very well for the Raider. As opposed to laser blasts and explosions, these bits of human speech work perfectly as situational accents — sounds used rarely enough that they won’t lose their novelty:
“Alert all commands. Deploy the fleet.”
– Admiral Piett, The Empire Strikes Back
Ideal for single-use during a game’s Deployment Phase.
“Intensify forward firepower!”
– Admiral Piett, Return of the Jedi
Judicious use of this line adds excitement when the Raider engages an enemy target.
“Sir. Enemy ships are coming into our sector!”
“Good. Our first catch of the day.”
This is another single-use sound best used for confidently shrugging off an opponent’s alpha-strike.
“You don’t know the power of the Dark Side.”
– Darth Vader, Return of the Jedi
Spoken by Vader to Luke after Luke surrenders himself in an attempt to turn Vader from the Dark Side of the Force.
Ideal for adding salt to the wound inflicted by the Darth Vader crew card ability.
“Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen it.”
– Emperor Palpatine, Return of the Jedi
The Emperor boasting to Vader after arriving on the second Death Star.
Best used when exercising the dice-fudging Emperor Palpatine crew card ability.
“You rebel scum!”
– Lieutenant Renz, Return of the Jedi
It would have been a crime to leave out this one-liner. Great for blowing off steam when the dice are against you.
You can download a copy of the final sound effect files I made here.
When I first conceived the project I broke it down into three primary concerns: lights, sound, and power. I judged the sound effects as being the most complicated component of the system, so I tackled that first.
I did some research as what sorts of electronics were out there for storing and replaying sound effects. There are actually a decent number of options with varying levels of functionality from various manufacturers to choose from.
I had two primary requirements: the ability to easily upload sound effects from my computer, and the ability to replay a good number of sounds. I decided on using an FN-BC10 board, produced by Flyron Technology Ltd. in Guandong, China. Specifically, I purchased the FN-BC10-PN variant which included pre-soldered pins instead of just empty contacts, making it much easier to experiment with.
The FN-BC10 is actually a pretty great board. It’s a little overkill for this sort of project, but it was small enough to fit inside the Raider and provided me with with the following key features:
- Stores up to 10 individually triggerable sound effects in MP3 or WAV format.
- Plugs into a computer via USB, acting like simple a USB drive.
- Powered by 5V DC (i.e. USB standard power).
- Can drive a speaker of up to 3 Watts via an onboard mono amplifier.
The board has many more features, including the ability to control how sounds are played by the board (i.e. pulse interruptible playback, level hold loop playback, etc.) via a configuration file and the ability to be directly controlled by a separate microcontroller. This latter feature would be great for wiring up a more complicated, computer-controlled system, but I felt that was going a little too far for this project.
When the board arrived, it came pre-loaded with with ten Chinese audio files for demonstration purposes. I tested it with headphones and a USB cable I had handy for charging my phone. Everything worked fine.
I then replaced the demonstration files with some short audio clips I had, but was dismayed to discover that they failed to play at all. Thinking I might have somehow damaged the board itself, I restored the original audio files and trying to play them again. The original sounds now failed to work as well!
After some emailing back-and-forth with someone from the store I purchased the board from, I learned that, apparently, Windows 10 does something screwy to the onboard RAM when the board is plugged into a computer, making it unreadable by the board itself. Fortunately, there was a simple resolution: create ten subfolders numbered 001 to 010, then place each sound effect in its own folder. Success! I had a working soundboard!
Opening the Model
The lights and power source were going to be simple enough to figure out, so the next thing I did was to take the big step and break open the very expensive model itself.
To prepare the model, I placed it in the freezer for three days. I read that this helps make the superglue keeping the whole thing together more brittle and easier to break. I also spent some time looking for photos other people who had cracked open their own Raider may have posted online of the interior of the model so I would have a better idea of what to expect.
After the model had been sufficiently cooled, I started opening it up by gradually slipping a small, flat-head screwdriver between the top and bottom halves of the ship. I took it slow, not wanting to damage the model as I gradually pried the Raider open little by little.
Separating the two main halves of the model took a long time, and it got a little frustrating at first. With every little creaking and cracking noise, however, I knew I was making progress. The front of the model split the easiest. The rear of the model, took some carefully applied extra force to break apart, though.
From photos online, I knew roughly what posts and tabs to expect on the inside of the model. However, it was not entirely clear to me how the the interior of the aft portion of the ship was set up.
I had read that you first needed to take the “wings” out from the left and right sides of the ship first. Someone wrote that the wings should eventually slide out with some persistent and careful pulling. Unfortunately for me, these parts were securely fastened on my ship, and my efforts only resulted in the breaking off of one of the wings.
By this point my frustration level was running high and my patience was running low. I began attempting to pry open the rear of the ship in quick, powerful bursts. With the experience I had gained so far, I figured the glue holding the model together would break apart sooner than the model would, if I was careful enough. I kept at it until, with a mighty *crack*, the Imperial Raider was finally rent asunder.
Taking a look inside, I could see what was causing the most trouble. The wings were indeed fashioned in such a way as to keep the top and bottom halves of the ship together. Each wing was inserted and glued into the ship via two prongs: a larger prong through the bottom half and a smaller prong through the top.
When I had forced apart the two halves of the ship, I had broken both the top prong on the wing piece and the small slot it goes into on the top half. This top slot is simply a thin, plastic loop of sorts which protrudes from the interior surface of the top half of the ship. It appears to be a relatively weak point in the model, and it’s not surprising that it gave way. Amazingly, both the top prong and loop for the right wing remained undamaged.
A third major piece of the model making up the engines of the ship came off with some more prying. A small part of the plastic broke at one point, but it was only minor damage that would be easily overlooked once the model was pieced back together.
Since the sound board I purchased ran on the same power that USB cables transmit, I looked into getting a small, USB battery pack to power everything. There were a handful of power packs that seemed small enough to fit into the model, but many of them had poor reviews complaining about issues with overheating and recharging. I ended up buying a generic 2600 mAh unit.
The power pack ended up being too big to fit comfortably inside the model. I realized that if I installed the battery in such a way that it would fit nicely I would not have enough room for the sound board (which would really only fit between the two rear posts). My solution was to break open the plastic battery pack casing and use the naked battery and its associated electronics alone.
In order to place the power pack so as to make the most efficient use of the interior space of the model, I needed to get rid of some plastic. I took a Dremel tool and removed a bit of the plastic tab which fastens the bottom “wing” to the model, cut down one of the posts on the inside of bottom half of the model, and carved out a bit of the plastic molding on the interior of the top half. This resulted in a nice slot for the battery sit in and a sort of plastic “shelf” on top of which the battery’s small circuit board could rest on.
I used electrician’s tape to hold the battery down at first, but this was clearly not the best way to anchor the heavy battery inside the model. So, instead, I took a hot-glue gun and some random pieces of plastic and fashioned some guides to hold the battery and its electronics inside the ship.
The exposed circuitry for the battery left me a little uncomfortable. It was also somewhat flimsy and seemed like it wouldn’t hold up well to the repeated plugging and unplugging of USB cables that I would be doing while working on the rest of the electronics. To prevent any such problems from arising in the future, I took the plastic case that originally enclosed the battery and cut off the end of it which housed the USB ports. A little hot-glue and I had myself a solid and safe set of USB ports for the battery pack.
With the battery in place, I then moved on to installing the sound module.
Sound Module Wiring
I situated the sound module between the two posts at the rear of the model. I had to cut a bit out of one of the posts to make enough room. I stuck some soft-plastic cabinet door bumpers to the inside of the model in order to get the board to fit snugly without having to glue it down. I also wedged a piece of plastic across the top of the board to make extra sure it would not easily dislodge.
The sound module had a convenient row of pins for wiring up the buttons. At the time I did not have any wide enough DuPont connectors to make an appropriately sized connector, unfortunately. Instead, I came up with the idea of taking an old IDE computer cable I had lying around and using that to provide wiring to the board.
I took the old IDE cable and broke open the head. Then, I took out all the extra wires I wouldn’t need, leaving only ten wires for the ten button pins. I taped the IDE connector back up, plugged it into the board, and tested every wire. Success!
The ten-button functionality for the sound module meant I would need to have a lot of wires leading out of the model somehow and into an external control panel. I had toyed with the idea of cutting out sections of the ship’s surface and turned them into buttons, but I felt that would damage the look of the model too much. It also didn’t seem like a good idea to have to push down on parts of the model itself, which is only supported by two narrow stanchions during gameplay.
My first idea for connecting the soundboard to an external control panel was to send a bundle of wires from the sound module to the outside of the ship via the rear stanchion. The wires would go from the interior of the ship, down through a new, hollow stanchion I would create myself, then out the back of the stanchion near its base and into a control box.
I had previously stripped off the outer ribbon casing of the IDE cable I used so that each individual wire would be loose, and I took those ten wires plus three more — one for the shared ground and two others for a power switch — and wrapped them into a cord. A little heat-shrink tubing kept the wires nice and neat.
Next, I drilled out the socket for the original stanchion. This created a hole wide enough for the bundle of wires.
To replace the stanchion, I ended up using an old pen. The wires fit nicely throughout most of the pen, but I had to bore out the inside of one end in order to get it wide enough for all the wires. I measured how long the pen would need to be in order to keep the rear of the model at the same height and shortened the pen as necessary. I then cut the end if the pen which would serve as the bottom of the stanchion so that it would fit onto the plastic base the original stanchion plugged into. I wrapped the whole thing in black heat-shrink tubing to give it all a nice, uniform look.
I was about to cut out a hole at the base of the new, custom stanchion for the wires to come out when I reassessed the entire approach. The bundle of wires coming out at a right angle would make it difficult for the stanchion to slide along it. It was necessary to be able to do this because the stanchion needed to be removable from the ship for easier transport and storage.
I also started having second thoughts about having a permanently connected control box. I could make it so the wires just plug into the control box, but if I was going to go through the trouble of adding a socket and plug to the bundle of wires, I may as well do that on the ship’s end instead. So, I scrapped the whole idea. I could easily fix the hole I drilled where the rear stanchion was supposed to go by simply gluing a cylindrical neodymium magnet inside and gluing a metal washer to the top of the plastic stanchion itself.
I cut short all the wires that were plugged into the sound board, since they didn’t need to be so long anymore, and wired them up to two 1×7 Dupont sockets which I then superglued together (I couldn’t find any 2×7 Dupont sockets locally). After some careful thought, I used my Dremel to cut a slot where I would hot-glue the socket to so that it could be plugged into from the exterior of the ship. I created a corresponding 2×7 plug for it which I would later wire into the exterior control panel.
I salvaged a small, 3 watt speaker from somewhere and soldered on some new wires with DuPont connectors for easy tinkering. I then mounted the speaker on the top half of the model. I used some random pieces of plastic junk, epoxy putty, and hot glue to build a sort of socket which held the speaker in place. Easy!
The lighting for the engines consisted of three blue LEDs: one 5mm LED for the main engine, and two 3mm LEDs for the two smaller engines. I knew that I would need to design a simple circuit which included resistors or I would likely burn out the LEDs, but I had no idea what voltages the LEDs I had were rated for since I bought them in bulk a year or two ago from AliExpress.com.
Some research into basic electronics gave me an idea of what voltage and amperage the blue LEDs could handle, and a couple of online LED calculators pointed me in the right direction with respect to what resistors I should use. It took some experimenting with various levels of resistance in order to get the right level of brightness.
Next, I drilled out holes in the smaller engine nozzles, into which the 3mm LEDs fit perfectly. For the larger central engine nozzle, I cut out the back of it and glued in is place a piece of translucent white plastic. This plastic worked well at scattering the light of a single LED evenly across the entire interior wall of the nozzle.
To prepare the circuit board onto which the LEDs themselves would be mounted, I hot-glued the larger LED onto the plastic disk and put the two smaller LEDs into their respective holes in order to see how much room I’d have for wiring everything up. I had to cut down the small board I had handy in order to get it to fit inside the ship. This made the board a little too narrow to reach the two outer-engine LEDs, so I had to bend their leads at a 90 degree angle in order to reach the two ends of the board.
I marked the holes that the leads from the two outer LEDs were to be soldered to and picked two holes in the middle of the board where the central LED would likely sit. I then took the naked board and soldered onto it the resistors and wires needed to create the circuit.
Once the resistors were wired up, I took the LEDs out of the engine in order to solder them onto the board as well. The larger LED I had hot-glued in place came out of the glue without any difficulty, leaving behind a nice “socket” for it to plug into again later (this hot-glue would also serve to help diffuse the LED’s light). With the LEDs soldered on and all the connections completed, I placed the completed circuit back up against the inside of the engine piece in order to adjusted the leads to the LEDs.
With the LEDs all lined up, I was then able to insert the circuit into the model piece and remove it at will; the three LEDs in their respective sockets providing enough friction to keep everything in place. Not gluing the LED circuitry onto the model piece would make it easy for me to replace a burnt out LED should the need ever arise. The engine lights were just about ready to go. All I needed now was to wire up a switch and hook up a power source.
To provide power, I picked up a couple of cheap, specialty USB cables from a local dollar-store. I used these because they had shorter heads than typical USB cables do. I needed the heads to be as short as possible in order to get them to fit because the end of the power pack was so close to one of the model’s interior posts.
I did a little research on USB cables and how they are wired up. Only the two outer wires are used for power; the two (sometimes three) inner wires are for communication. I stripped the USB cables down and added Dupont connectors to the end. This made it a simple matter to plug them into the existing electronics.
I added a splitter to both the positive and negative lines in the USB cable that would plug into the power pack’s output slot. This allowed me to wire up power for the engines and the soundboard independently.
For the LED circuit, I added a small switch to turn the circuit on and off. I cut a small slot along the side of the model in an area that is partially obscured by one of the ship’s “wings”. I perfected the shape of the slot with a small, square file and then hot-glued the pre-wired switch in place.
For the soundboard, one of the connectors from the USB cable plugged directly into the board while the other connected to the 2×7 Dupont socket which would eventually lead to an external switch.
To provide for the ability to recharge the power pack, I wired up a micro-USB socket and connected it to the USB cable which plugged into the power input on the battery. Some drilling and filing created an opening on the bottom of the model into which I hot-glued the micro-USB socket. I now had a model that could be recharged just like any other sort of USB device, and using the same type of cable many people already have handy.
When I started work on the control panel, I began with soldering ten buttons onto a circuit board. I mounted the circuit board along with a separate switch to control power into a small, plastic box. The group of wires which were originally going to come out of the ship were attached to the circuit, and a plug added to the end. The final result was a control panel which could be used to turn the sound effect functionality on and off entirely and to cause the ship to play any of ten pre-recorded sound effects.
With ten buttons on the control panel I found that it was difficult to remember exactly which button caused any particular sound effect to occur. To identify the buttons, I created a graphic with labels for each button, printed it out, cut it to size, and taped it to the control panel. Adding this paper overlay to the control panel had a secondary purpose of covering up the terrible job I did of cutting holes on the surface for the buttons and power switch; the plastic was too brittle for the narrow separations between the buttons and it just broke when I tried to get everything just right. I also made the slot for the power switch too big. I don’t know how I messed that up.
I’m not really happy with the way the control panel turned out in the end. I would have liked for it to have had a clean plastic surface onto which I could have affixed clear plastic decals for labeling each button. I didn’t get all ten buttons aligned exactly right, either. It just just too frustrating trying to get that right. If I were to create a second similar panel, I would create a mold for the buttons which would keep them in the appropriate positions while I soldered them onto the circuit board.
Since the control panel is a separate unit of its own and is relatively simple, it would not be that big of a deal to build a better one in the future.
Aside from the cosmetic issues with the control panel, the entire project was a success!
Here’s a video on YouTube which I recorded, demonstrating every sound effect the ship plays:
This project was a definitely a lot of fun. It presented interesting challenges and forced me to learn a little about basic electronics.
I have plans to do something special with my CR-90 corvette model one day, too. I don’t want to reveal anything at the moment, but if I can pull off my ideas, it will be amazing.