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An Interview With Jediknight0

By TronFAQ on Tuesday, May 16, 2006 at 12:03 AM
Today I present the fifth interview I've done, this time with TRON-Sector member jediknight0.

You may know him for his latest mod project, the TRON 2600. A custom-built Atari 2600 system: using an ENCOM mainframe-style motif, as well as elements seen in the "electronic world" such as the grid patterns and Light Cycles.

Again, I hope you enjoy reading this interview, and finding out more about jediknight0's remarkable history of mod projects.

FAQ: Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Where do you come from, and what are your interests/hobbies (aside from TRON)?

jedi: My name is Russ Caslis, but the handle I go by in the modding world is jediknight0. I'm the NetOps System Administration Manager for Good Technology -- a silicon valley start-up, focusing on wireless solutions. I'm 33 years old, 5'8", brown hair and eyes, and have two cats. I enjoy motorcycle riding, space simulation games (Freespace 2, Freelancer, Starlancer, etc.), and watching science fiction (BSG, Star Trek, Star Wars, etc.) If you'd be interested in getting to know me better, please respond to my profile at . . .

Just kidding there . . . I'm very happily married to a wonderful girl named Yulia.

FAQ: When did you start doing mods, and why? What was the inspiration that lead you to modding?

jedi: That's a question I get asked frequently. I started modding about five years ago, now. Basically, I decided to buy a new computer because my current one was a bit long in the tooth, and started doing research (what processor to buy, what case, etc.) I stumbled across this "new" concept at the time -- aluminum cases. I also stumbled across a couple small websites talking about cutting holes in your case, for better airflow and installing clear windows so you could see the components inside. I simply saw it, and thought: "COOL!".

From that first case I built, I moved on to creating a home arcade gaming machine: using real arcade controls. From there I moved on to my most famous mod -- the Millenium Falcon PC.

FAQ: Can you also tell us a little bit about some of the mod projects you've done? Your work has become very well known, and seen in various media outlets: such as The Screensavers show, that was on TechTV.

jedi: I've completed numerous projects -- ten full projects, counting the TRON 2600 project, plus a couple half-done or abandoned projects. I'm constantly looking for new ways to get the message out about my projects, or modding in general. There have been at least four different TV appearances for my work, and about a dozen magazine or newspaper items.

The projects range in size, cost, and complexity of course. But I'd say my particular flair is for using toys and other objects, as part of my mods. I'm not so much interested in just sticking a computer inside something. Everything has to be perfectly integrated and themed, along the same lines. All my more recent mods, include accessories themed with the basic mod (keyboard, mouse, joysticks, etc.)

A quick list of the more notable projects include: miniMAME, Millenium Falcon PC, Aircraft Carrier PC, Scientist, Computer Bike - Chopper PC, and TRON 2600.

FAQ: When was the first time you heard about, or saw, TRON? Did you see the movie, or play the arcade game, first? What did you think of the film?

jedi: Honestly, I don't remember too well -- the early 80's are a bit of a blur to me because of my age. I think the first time I saw TRON was actually on my brother's VHS video recorder, but I could be wrong about that. I was so thrilled by the movie, that I begged my parents to buy me a computer so I could start writing my own games, and experience that simulated world for myself. In a not insignificant way, TRON is probably responsible for my career today.

I clearly remember the anticipation, every time I was able to drag my parents or my brother down to the video arcade in the local mall, so I could play the TRON arcade game or Discs of TRON. Frankly, I sucked at it (still do), but it was a sweat-producing adrenaline high. I also remember the (admittedly crappy) section of the Disneyland "PeopleMover" ride, where one section allowed guests to "enter the world of TRON".

FAQ: When did you get the idea to create a modded Atari 2600 system, that would have a TRON-themed design? Is it something that you've always wanted to do? Or did another, more recent event inspire it? Are you using an original 2600 system as a base, or one of the Atari Flashback 2 units? (I'm guessing the Flashback 2.)

jedi: The idea came to me recently. I was thinking about what my next project should be, and also thinking about how do I reduce the massive costs associated with modding. Around the time, the Flashback 2 came out: along with the excellent instructions on how to mod it to have a cartridge port. Even though I was never an Atari 2600 person (my first Atari was the 5200, followed by the 800XL): it seemed like a nice, cheap way to mod. But everybody was doing the cartridge hack -- I needed something more.

Then it all came together. Computers started out as boring beige boxes, but modding freed them from that existence. How about putting a game system in a boring beige box? But why? What was a popular game in the late 70's and 80's . . . how about a TRON mod? And a beige box is exactly what ENCOM corporate was working on!

So yes, the mod is based on a Flashback 2 system. It would have been hard getting the real 2600 components in a case so small, plus dissecting a real 2600 would be something like sacrilege. That's the same reason why my Millenium Falcon mod was based on a somewhat broken and yellowed toy, rather than one in mint condition. I don't want to have my mods cause harm . . .

FAQ: How long has it taken you to create the TRON 2600? Were you able to create it with everyday household items and tools, or was special equipment required?

jedi: This mod was the one of the few I've done, that didn't have a deadline for one reason or another. As such, it took about 8 months to complete. During the last 5 months or so I started another project as well, so the TRON 2600 mod didn't take all my time. The main reason the mod took so long, was time spent figuring out new procedures and techniques. This was the first mod where I ever had to paint the inside of a computer case, work with ultraviolet paint, or work with clear resin. It took time to become proficient enough with those materials so I could do what I pictured in my head.

The tools used here were actually quite minimal -- at least in the modern world of case modding. The bulk of the work was done using a Dremel tool and a soldering iron; although I also used a power drill for about a dozen holes, and an airbrush for one small portion (the Light Cycles). Other than that, it was just the regular consumables including: acrylic sheet, glue, spray paint, wires, sleeving, decal paper, LEDs, etc. The most expensive materials were the chemicals: liquid latex for the molds, epoxy and polyester resin, dyes, etc.

This particular mod was probably 30% doing the work, 70% figuring out how to do it.

FAQ: When the system is completed, will it remain as one-of-a-kind? Or have you taken requests in the past -- to build and sell items, if there is enough demand for them?

jedi: All of my mods to date have been one of a kind, unless you count all the people who have tried to duplicate my mods (notably, the Millenium Falcon mod has several different interpretations out there). I have been asked to build cases for some people in the past, but it's never worked out. All the people who have asked for cases, have either had totally unrealistic timeframes in mind (hey, can you build us a one of a kind water-cooled case in less than a month?) or unrealistic financial estimates (in other words, I wouldn't be able to buy the parts they wanted for the price they wanted to pay -- not even counting any labor costs).

I'd certainly be willing to build mods for people if the timing and the cost worked out -- but no two mods would ever truly be 100% the same.

FAQ: Before I continue, I just wanted to say that I think the work you've been doing is remarkable. I remember watching the episode of The Screensavers, where your computer inside a Millenium Falcon toy was shown. That blew me away.

jedi: Thank you, the kind words are appreciated. The Falcon wasn't the first mod I did, but it was the one that started the all media attention I've received, and was one of the more prominent mods that has received mainstream media attention as well. I also believe that mod has the dubious distinction of being only the second case mod that has ever stolen! Yes, the Falcon is no longer with me. It was being shown last year by Microsoft at a conference, and after the show it was stolen off the desk of a Microsoft employee before it was shipped back to me. They did compensate me for the loss, but I do admit that I constantly wonder who has it and what it's doing right now . . .

FAQ: How do you feel, regarding the situation with the TRON film sequel from Disney? Last year, a press release announced that Disney intended to do a remake (rather than a sequel) with new writers -- and without Steven Lisberger (the writer and director of the original). Since then, we've heard nothing. Probably because the news was not met with a warm reception, by most fans.

jedi: As a TRON fan, I want more TRON content. I think a sequel would be great (for me and other fans), and maybe a remake would be okay. Remakes usually suck, but the recent Battlestar Galactica remake proves that it can be done well. But the truth is, I don't think it will ever get made.

To be even a mildly successful movie now, things would have to be very different in the TRON world. It would have to be busier, more complicated, more action-packed, and the religious overtones would have to be dropped -- modern audiences cannot stomach anything more mystical than "the force" (even that was "dumbed-down" through the use of midichlorians). Computers themselves are less magical -- they permeate everyday life, more than most people realize. A modern TRON movie, I'm afraid, would end up as a cross between the Lawnmower Man movies and The Net.
(Lawnmower Man and The Net? God help us all! Unfortunately, I'm afraid I have to agree with him . . . and wouldn't put it past Disney, to do precisely what he said! -- FAQ)

FAQ: Have you had a chance to play the TRON 2.0 game, at all? Or have you seen it in action? If so, what do you think of it?

jedi: Actually, as part of immersing myself in the genre to keep me motivated during the modding process: I did several things such as purchasing several of the TRON Kubrick toys, finally purchasing the TRON DVD, and buying and completing TRON 2.0 (PC version).

In the end, I thought it was a great game. It was a little slow to start, and I didn't particularly like the final boss battle, but I thought the look and feel of the game was great. Unless I find a way to mod a laser, I think it's the closest I'd come to experiencing the TRON world! I would really recommend everyone who loved TRON, to get a copy.

FAQ: Have you been following the various discussions about BVG's (Buena Vista Games) lack of support for the game? Do you have an opinion on this?

jedi: I've followed the issue of BVG's lack of support only superficially. On one hand, I understand a company's need to put their money into projects with a solid return -- and so far, the TRON franchise really hasn't done that. But on the other hand, the game did see very little (none?) advertising and that really was a shame. Not only does the game have a good movie to tie into, the game also should have a solid base of fans in the high-tech world.

In addition, when playing the game: it occurred to me that the game should really be supported by the various children's groups. It's very non-violent. Nobody really dies, no blood or body parts are scattered across the room. The game is run using a great FPS engine, unlike all those other non-violent "paintball" FPS games with third-rate graphics. So kids should actually enjoy the experience, as well.

FAQ: Have you seen the first issue of the new TRON comic from SLG Publishing, yet? If so, what do you think of it?

jedi: Sorry, no I haven't. I've never been into comics at all -- probably because some ex-friends of mine were really into the comic scene (always attended the San Diego comic convention, etc.) As such, there's always been a bit of guilt-by-association attributed to comics in my mind. It's not rational, but someone who spends several hundred dollars on a case for about $30 worth of electronics obviously isn't completely sane . . .

FAQ: Where can people find out more about the work that you've done and what items have you created to help others with their modding projects? You have a book and a DVD, isn't that correct?

jedi: Thanks for asking! The primary place to find out about my work is on my web site, XKILL Mods. There you can find links to my mods, the book I wrote to help people get started in the modding world (Going Mod: 9 Cool Case Mod Projects - available at fine booksellers everywhere), and the self-published DVD I did a few years back that shows the creation of the Millenium Falcon PC, along with some of my earlier work. I'll be adding a "links" section to my web site soon with links to some of the better sites in the modding world, for active modding communities online.

And of course, everyone can feel free to drop me a line at my e-mail address! I do get a fair bit of e-mail and my day job keeps me very busy as well, but I'll try to answer any questions people may have.

- End of Line

I'd really like to thank jediknight0 for taking the time to do this interview with me, considering the media exposure he's already had. Very gracious of him!

Remember to visit his website, to find out more about his mods and his guides to help people start their own modding projects. Not to mention, it's a chance to see more pictures of his incredible TRON 2600 project: from start to finish!
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