Everquest Keypressing Robot

From time to time, I play Everquest. It's a graphical MUD, kind of a sword and sorcery type of thing, played with hundreds of people from all over the 'Net. I actually had quite a lot of fun with it for several months. I would highly recommend it to anyone who has copious amounts of free time.

However, it did have some downsides. Many of the in-game skills, which were useful and sometimes absolutely vital, were very tedious to advance in level. Often, a skill like Find Direction, which is vital for maneuvering in the game world, would require hours of mindless keypressing to develop. The normal answer to this would be the use of a macro program, designed to send a sequence of mouse movements and button presses over and over. However, EQ was designed to lock out any external programs, to prevent such abuses. And I can't really say I disagree with the decision. The original text based MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons, or Dimensions, depending on who you ask), and later, games like Ultima Online, were plagued with people who abused such programs to gain advantages over other players. I confess that I even used them a fair bit, to save typing and make my life easier in text based MUDs, and to build up tedious skills in UO. But, ultimately (no pun intended), it was these kinds of programs that made me quit playing Ultima Online. I just grew tired of continual harassment by player killers and thieves using their outside programs to make my life miserable, by acting faster than I could ever possibly defend myself. I have no problems with using macro programs to help individual play, but when they are abused and mar the enjoyment of the game, especially mine, they should be stopped. So I applaud EQ's decision, even if it does inconvenience me.

And, of course, I never allow myself to be inconvenienced for long. Especially not in something this important! Thus was born the Keybot, Mark I. The Mark I was a simple reciprocating arm, designed to press a single button over and over. And it worked well. My Find Direction skill shot up, while I was able to spend the time planning my next Quest, reading up on tip pages, chatting with other players online, and so on. All without guilt, since my macro device hurt nobody, and greatly increased my enjoyment of the game, by allowing me to turn some of the tedious aspects over to a machine. Which is, of course, one of the principle reasons why we make robots to begin with.

But then, another player came along and trumped me. Tom, over at Bluesalt.com, built a machine called the Skillbot (or the Fishbot, depending on where you look). His machine could press two buttons at once, and activate the mouse button. (I would provide a picture or a link, but the site seems to have disappeared.) He used his device to fish. The fishing skill required several operations in sequence:
  • Cast (activate the fishing skill)
  • Pull in a fish (if successful)
  • Open your inventory (a backpack)
  • Drop in the fish
  • Close the inventory
  • Repeat
Fishing is kind of handy in EQ, because fish can be sold to merchants, to make money for food, weapons, and so on. And, if you are lucky, or good, you occasionally pull out a rusty dagger, or a pair of waterlogged boots, which can be worn, or sold for even more cash (evidently, merchants aren't too picky about weaponry or footwear). And, of course, you can always eat the fish.

Well, this all seemed like a good thing to me, so in the tradition of so many great thinkers, I stole the idea and improved on it. So there we have the Keybot, Mark II. It's built of my favorite medium, Lego, and composed of three basic parts. The keypresser, on left, the mouse clicker, on right, and the mouse itelf. The clicker and presser both run off of a single motor, powered by 3 C-cell batteries. Power is trasnmitted to the clicker by means of a crankshaft. This also serves to make sure mouse clicks were synced properly with button presses.

Here we see a close-up of the button presser. It is designed to fit over a keyboard (as can be seen above), and press two keys, alternately. Most of the gears you see are to step down the Lego motor, both to reduce the speed (as EQ ignores keypresses while skills are in operation) and increase the power (so that the tiny motor can apply enough force to depress a key at the end of an inches long moment arm). The actual button pressing is accomplished by a reciprocating arm, as you can see attached to the large gear at right. The lever arm (which ends in the black rubber bumpers at right) is thus driven down into the appropriate key, then back up. The arm on the opposite side works the same way, but 180 degrees out of sync.

Here's a closeup of the mouse clicker. It is tied into the final gearshaft of the keypresser. The pulleys in center (under the red brick) rotate. A peg is affixed to the pulleys in such a way that it pushes the switch closed once per revolution. The switch is hard wired to the switch for the left mouse button. I sacrificed a cheap mouse for the cause. However, it can still be used as a pointing device. This is a design improvement over the Bluesalt Fishbot, which had the mouse dissassembled and embedded within the machine. I wanted to have easy access to my mouse controls, in case an in-game emergency arose.

To use it, I simply moved my character to a convenient lake or stream, got out my fishing rod, and placed the mouse pointer over my inventory icon. Then the basic operation was:

  • Fish (left button arm)
  • Open inventory (right button arm)
  • Click on inventory (with the mouse, dropping anything caught)
  • Fish (ignored this time, since the inventory is open)
  • Close inventory (right arm again, inventory operates as a toggle)
  • Click again (which is ignored since the inventory is closed)
  • Repeat
As you can see there is some wasted motion, but it worked just fine. I had plans to make a more complex, programmable device, involving a series of arms and a rotating drum assembly with pegs (like a music box) to press the arms, but I grew tired of the game. It's a shame, actually. This was as more fun than the game itself.

ADDENDUM: I occasionally receive letters asking me how to build a Keybot of their own. Unfortunately, since I took it apart in order to salvage the parts for another project, I'm pretty much working from the pictures and my own rapidly fading memory of the project. If you would like more detailed information about the Keybots, please take a look at this letter. It was written to another frustrated Everquest player, and contains information about the basic principles behind the device. If you still have questions, you're welcome to contact me, of course.

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