Today I Designed A Mechanical Keyboard

raph @ 2016-09-03 19:24

The dream

I always wanted a mechanical keyboard. And while I’m at it, I wanted it to be something special - something only I could love.

When I had some bucks left to spend from a cash reward, the time had come. I pulled the trigger and got me a 60% VP3 from WASD - essentially a non-backlit Vortex Pok3r with custom-designed legends and keycaps printed by WASD.

The ABS keycaps from WASD don’t have a great reputation amongst MK enthusiasts, but should be good enough to get started. I would like me some backlighting, but that can be added fairly easily on the pok3r by soldering on LEDs later.

I expect this board to be a good entry into the MK game. There’s plenty of room upwards if I want to upgrade.

The design

I have a soft spot for old space simulators like Elite and Wing Commander. I spent more time than I’d like to admit trading alloys and hunting space pirates. All going well, this keyboard will be my workhorse for programming, and as such a central tool in my programming job. The dashboard to my spaceship, one could say.

So I came up with a retro-kitsch take on the HUD of a space simulator game with a dash of 8-bit nostalgia. The word fragments on some of the keys are loosely based on Elite: Dangerous.

The colour palette, however, is more reminiscent of the Wing Commander games or Aliens. Outside the context of an actual game, the green-and-black palette brought to mind “sci-fi” easier than using the orange-y colours of an Elite.

In hindsight, I might have missed a few opportunities with the legends (I was in a bit of a hurry to not let the reward expire). For one, the space bar could use more interesting typography. Then I noticed a slight redundancy between the “Supercruise” (on left shift) and “Super”.

Finally, I only found out after submitting the order that the newer pok3r firmware versions also includes default-layer media controls on the Q, W and E keys (and many more). I might have been able to design those in, too. Welp.

Pixel font

The font I used for the legends is the free and amazing Telegrama raw by YOWorks. It comes in a render version, too, which would give more of a modern sci-fi feel - but I really wanted some pixels on there. Because I’m old, I guess.

Layout features

Legends only

Digital preview of the layout

Source code

The keyboard is in production with WASD - I won’t know if this design is any good until the result comes back. You were warned.

mechanical-keyboard GitHub repoCC-BY-NC-SA


Inspiration for the general idea of a HUD keyboard
src: Data from Geekhack

Inspiration for the sci-fi theme
src: Just Gamers

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This article is one part of a series named "Cmdr-Pixel". If you found this interesting, have a look at the other ones as well!