#06 - Let's make something slow, really, really fast.

Yep. We're talking about the EBlade.

At a time when paintballers were in awe of the speed of electro markers, but deep-down loved the feel and accuracy of the Autococker, the question was...surely you could have both?

And guess what. You could.

In the early noughties we released a product called the EBlade which kick-started the next level of our involvement with custom markers and re-ignited a passion for the Autococker that nobody had anticipated.

This was a big deal for us, so we decided to dig a little deeper and ask a few questions (actually, a LOT of questions) to bring you a better insight into how the product came about and what the main protagonists thought about it.

Are you ready to read a lot of stuff? Good. Here we go.


The Nexus EBlade giving it some


So, before we get into the awesome EBlade, you guys brought out your own Cocker didn’t you?
I guess nobody brings out their own Cocker. Custom houses brought out different custom versions of the Worr Games Autococker and that’s what we did too. We used their base platform and in our opinion made it a lot better. So yes we brought out our custom version - the Eclipse Cocker.

How did this go?
It went well. It was another one of those personally driven projects where we wanted to customise markers so they performed better for us (The Banzai Bandits) but we also wanted to sell them in the store. So we made a standard version, if that’s what you can call a custom Eclipse Cocker.

Did this make other companies in the industry stand to attention? You guys starting to create your own custom marker was a big deal wasn’t it?
Not really. Back then it was pretty hard to find custom markers unless you happened to live near a custom house. We made such small batches of them that we didn’t need to find a lot of customers to sell out and normally there was a back order for them. It’s not like we had stock sitting around. It was a true custom job where most were made to order which included the ano job. Any buzz or interest that was building was happening without us knowing much about it to be honest. It’s only when your fax machine (yes, fax machine…ask your dad) spits out an order for 5 or 10 units to America that you realise people know about your work.


The Eclipse Cocker with standard slide trigger


You also did a few other Eclipse custom markers too at that time. But was the Cocker more involved?
Yeah we did a bunch of stuff, Eclipse Automag, Eclipse Sterling, Eclipse Spyder, Eclipse Bushmaster, Eclipse Shocker, Eclipse Impulse and the Eclipse Angel. I’m not sure it was any more or less involved, it seemed to take a VERY long time to produce any. There were certainly a lot of other people involved in making an Eclipse Cocker that’s for sure, I wish I had pictures of some of the places that we used to machine some of the parts. Breathtaking, and not in a good way.

What did teams and players think of the Cocker?
Certainly a marmite marker (you will need to look that up if you're not in the UK). You either loved or hated Cockers and we even had those people on the Banzai’s. Ledz loved the Cockers and so did 50% – 60% of the Banzai’s but we had others that loved the Mag and the Icon Z1 or Impulse / Shockers. The Banzai’s were pretty lucky at the time; we managed to get Sponsorship from Worr Games and Smartparts at the same time who only wanted to have a certain percentage of their guns on the field at any one time. You won’t see that these days and please don’t ask us to allow it. We won’t.


The Banzai Bandits rocking some early Banzai splash 


It wasn’t that long after its release that you then brought out a Blade trigger. Why did you bring this out?
It was the start of the speed race. People wanted faster shooting markers and electro’s hadn't quite taken hold properly yet so Jack invented the Hinged Blade Frame that made higher rates of fire much easier to achieve on the Cocker.

And then…then you brought the hammer down with the EBlade. To those who don’t know, what is it?
The EBlade was an electronically controlled replacement frame for the Autococker. It turned pneumatic Cockers into super fast shooting E-Cockers. If this had not happened when it did I believe the Cocker platform would have died a lot sooner. I know a lot of people will say ‘Cockers will never die’ but back then people wanted speed and that’s what the EBlade gave them.

Tell us how the idea to create one of these actually came about?
One of the players on the Banzai’s (Steve ‘Flash’ Monks) was also an electronics expert and during our endless chats about everything paintball he said he would like to get involved in making the electronics for the frame. We had no idea of how this would work but took the leap of faith (as did he leaving his job) and is still here to this day. Flash is at the heart of every Planet Eclipse marker. Jack is a chief designer but nothing goes bang unless Flash says it does.


Eclipse Cocker with hinged Blade trigger

What was so great about the EBlade?
I just think it followed the same core beliefs that we still have today, It just worked. Cockers have always been a pain in the ass to tune and keep tuned. Slapping an EBlade on them gave you the speed, functionality and performance that a lot of players were looking for, or should we say DEMANDING.

Cockers have so many moving parts so how tricky was it to make a fast electronic trigger frame that didn’t shake the marker to pieces?
We had already been working for years on making pretty much all the parts of the Cocker work better. So once we had to install the EBlade we actually took off some of the parts that could break. Also during part of the fitting process we installed a reflective eye system which on its own makes playing paintball so much better.

And the EBlade could really shift too couldn’t it?
Oh yes. We had it firing at over 30 balls per second, which back then was no mean feat as the loaders were not as advanced as they are today. But who wants to play at 30 bps? Yes, it’s fun but not really very practical and they had a fair amount of bounce in the trigger to get to that ROF.

Were you surprised how well it stood up against some really fast electro markers out there? AND out-did them on reliability.
Not really. The one thing the Cocker always had over all other markers in my opinion was accuracy. You add ROF to accuracy and you have something devastating. The Cocker was still a bulky marker with a lot of external moving parts. Just getting on the field at some events became a problem as the cocking block striking the body caused a lot of trigger bounce, if you didn’t get that set right or you were faced with an overzealous ref you had issues, but once it was right and purring beautifully it was a great marker at the time.

Did this mark the start of your interest for getting more involved with marker parts that affected the firing of the markers? 
I don’t think it mattered to us what the part was. If we thought an item could be and should be improved upon we tried to improve it.

The EBlade frame



What were the main hurdles you had to overcome?
Making anything has its challenges. This was probably the biggest project we had ever decided to do. So everything from packaging, manuals, marketing and spares needed doing. All of these things were new to us so I guess these were the big challenges we needed to overcome.

Did its launch ruffle any feathers in the industry? Why?
We were not the only people in the Electro Cocker frame race (pun intended). There was also a company called Race Frame that brought out an Electro Cocker frame. The battle at the time was between us and them but if the timelines in my head are correct the BIG headlines were always about WDP vs Smartparts. We just got on with our business of trying to make the best product we could and let the customer decided which one was best. The rest as they say is history.

What did teams think of this at the time?
It gave a lot of players and teams the choice. Do they change away from the marker they love just for the sake of speed or do they upgrade their trusty Cockers to an awesome EBlade powered version. You give people a choice and they’ll always love that.

Which teams were the early adopters for EBlade equipped cockers?
Mainly the WGP Sponsored teams; Bushwackers, Naughty Dogs, Jacksonville Warriors from the USA. Nexus from the UK.


Nexus making moves 


DC1 Nexus EBlade Cocker with a sweet fade ano

What signalled the end of the EBlade?
I guess a lot of other companies stepped up their game in terms of performance of the markers. You had the Timmy and Angel starting to dominate the paintball world and people wanted that extra performance that you just couldn’t quite squeeze out of the Cocker, no matter what you did. You still had a few players using the E-Blade Cockers like Matty Marshal on XSV but numbers started to dwindle rapidly.

So it had a pretty fast, hard but short life really didn’t it?
It didn’t feel fast at the time, but I think back then things moved a lot slower. I believe it kept the Cocker relevant for a few extra years and even Worr Game Products themselves realised that as they started using the EBlade electronics under license from Planet Eclipse to make the WorrBlade frame and Cockers.

Do you know of people still using them today?
I’m sure they are. I know we still get requests for them from time to time and request to make another run of Eclipse Cockers. But as they say, that train has sailed.

What would you have changed about it in hindsight?
I don’t think we’d change anything. Was it perfect? No. But we learnt a lot from our mistakes and that’s what you need to do to move forwards. If you start with a relatively small project you can learn to walk before you run. Each and every project after that first one will get better and hopefully easier to manage. I guess there are some things now that we just take for granted as part of the process but if we had never started small we might have failed at the first big hurdle.


At this point we bring you some input from the main men, but you're in for a treat as you now get a 4th member. Steven 'Flash' Monks. The mad scientist who plays with electronics. But, we'll start with Ledz.



Ledz:

You played with the Nexus squad back in the day. If must have felt pretty good to play with a team at its peak, playing with equipment that you made, that kicked so much ass.
Making it to the Pro ranks is certainly one of my life achievements and I’m pretty proud of that. Using the gear that we were making is just the icing on the cake. Playing on Nexus and using the EBlade Nexus DC2 Cockers was cool and also probably one of the many reasons we ended up moving away from the Cockers and developing the EGO. The Nexus players were loyal to the Cockers, to me and to Planet but we knew the writing was on the wall and they needed something more to compete. So for me that’s a good thing as it meant the company and team could move forward, but for the Cocker and EBlade lovers probably the opposite.

As the game developed pretty quickly back then, did you remember hitting a point when you knew that electro Cockers just couldn’t cut it at that level anymore?
I think the transition between Cocker and Ego was pretty natural. It didn’t feel (at the time) that we were held back by the Cockers but it certainly felt much better once we started training with the Prototype EGOs.

But then you were armed with the EGOs, so you must have felt good all over again right?
It’s great to have a factory team that you’re playing on and captaining. The feedback can be pretty brutal and honest but that’s what made the EGO so successful, so quickly. Listening and reacting to what it was that the players wanted, needed and demanded and then putting all of that into a package that they loved is a great feeling. And it still is to this day.

Did you notice a shift in perception for Eclipse? I mean, going from a custom house to a full-blown marker manufacturer doesn’t go un-noticed does it?
The EBlade put us on the map as not just another custom house making a nice niche product. We thought it might help the company profile and it did. Our reputation as a quality manufacturer grew from strength to strength which obviously helps when you then bring out a complete marker of your own. We owe a lot to the EBlade. Without going through that process we may have failed as a marker manufacturer.


Ledz with the Banzai Bandits and his Eclipse Cocker




















Flash:

You’re the man behind the electronic wizardry at Eclipse. What were the biggest challenges for you when making the EBlade’s brain work?
At that time there were other electronic frames available but we considered them to be overly complicated and too unreliable for the average paintballer, the guy (or girl) that doesn't want to be constantly tinkering with their marker, the guy that just wants to play ball. Our design philosophy has always been to keep it simple, so the biggest challenge was to make a product that was not overly complicated, one that was easy to install and one that just worked. Simple, right?
Is there any technology around now that you wished you had back then to make life way easier?
ANY technology would have been welcome back then! When I started at Eclipse Jack was using a steam-powered 8086 PC and the most advanced tool was an automotive soldering iron - which we still have today. It was cost prohibitive to use any of the design tools to which I'd become accustomed and so we had to get back to basics. We built two PCs and started to gather any free or low cost software tools that would do the job. The quantum leap came when we acquired our first oscilloscope.
Do you remember the Eureka moment? When you knew you’d created something pretty special?
We took the EBlade to the Pittsburgh Amateur Open (if I remember correctly) where Nexus competed in the World X-Ball Championships. I think the team used two Cockers fitted with EBlades and we had a couple on display on a table at the trade show. Jacko and I spent the weekend introducing the EBlade to the American paintball community and the enthusiasm from the vast majority was incredible. The icing on the cake was when Budd Orr and his technical team paid us a visit. The rest is history.
Where you surprised at the success of the EBlade at the time?
Yes. I knew about the technical stuff but I didn't have a grasp on the potential market, we were all naturally cautious about production numbers which made it difficult to get quantity pricing from our suppliers and we worried that the product might simply be too expensive to succeed. All of the early EBlades were assembled by myself and Jack and when things took off we were completely overwhelmed. We had to scale-up very quickly. I now look back on those days fondly, but there were a lot of sleepless nights at the time. And coffee. LOTS of coffee.
Do you have a nightmare story / or really positive story that focused on the EBlade?
We had one particular event, Campaign Cup (when it was at the rugby club) in 2002 (I think), where a small group of referees had bees in their bonnets about trigger bounce on E-Bladed Cockers. These refs would literally go through an entire loader of paint trying to get a marker to bounce and then, when it finally did, they would stop the player from entering the field. We had queues of frustrated customers at the Eclipse Sales Tent (we didn't have separate Tech Tents back then) complaining that their markers were deemed illegal and couldn't be used. We worked non-stop for the first two days of the event tuning the bounce out of guns only to be told that many of them still weren't being allowed onto the field. Eventually we managed to talk some sense into the reffing staff but it was a very frustrating time.
One positive from this event was that it highlighted a need for a better way to tune trigger bounce out of Cockers; regardless of how they were configured; regardless of what moving masses were involved; regardless of what bits were bolted onto them. This paved the way for the E2.


The E2 EBlade frame


Jacko:

How was the EBlade received in the States?
For the first 30 minutes there was some hesitation then once people realised we had done it, and all others that were trying now were obsolete it just flew.
Which was the first US team to really fall for the EBlade?
Bushwackers, Naughty Dogs, Jacksonville Warriors… basically any WGP team went over to EBlades.
Where you surprised at the success of the EBlade at the time?
Sort of. So many people were trying to do what we had done, and were getting it wrong. We'd managed to not only pull it off, but to create something that was really, really good.
Do you have a nightmare story / or really positive story that focused on the Eblade?
Turned up at a PSP event and headed over to the WGP booth to help out as I heard there was a back-log of guns. When I arrived they had 2 techs and about 200 guns all wanting EBlades – oh and one manual hand-held drill so I jumped in the car, headed to Home Depot, bought a pillar drill and then we worked non-stop all day and night almost, fitting EBlades. I don’t think Gerry has ever recovered.
If we still made the EBlade do you think it would still be a success today?
Yes. And I think we should! But don't tell Ledz.


A line up Eclipse EBlade Pro Cockers


Jack:

What were your main worries about making all those pneumatics work, so, so fast?
That it would not simply destroy itself! The Cocker was a pretty slow cycling gun. We just quadrupled its potential rate of fire overnight! At the end of the day the gun was never designed to do what we made it do. It's like taking a Smart Car, sticking a supercharged V8 in it and then taking it to the drag strip. Why wouldn't you, right?
Did it make you giggle? The pure speed you could get this thing cycling was hilarious at times wasn’t it?
Absolutely! It was just funny to see these huge chunks of metal flying around at alarming rates! Obviously the breech sensor was crucial to getting it to run right, and having a loader that could feed fast enough to make the most of the pneumatic capabilities. Luckily we had the Halo to help us with that side of it. And strapping additional battery packs to the outside to make it even faster helped.
Where you surprised at the success of the EBlade at the time?
I think everyone was. We had no idea it was going to take off the way it did. We thought we would do maybe 200 units and that would be it. Just enough to get our toes wet on the electronics side so we could move on to our own gun. God knows how many EBlade kits we ended up selling. But it was a lot!
Do you have a nightmare story / or really positive story that focused on the EBlade?
Drilling bodies for the breech sensor was always a bit scary. Especially when you are doing it to a customer’s pride and joy! One slip and you've wrecked what was often an irreplaceable gun body or custom anno. It always gave me the shakes doing that. We did see a couple of nightmare conversions, but luckily most people seemed to do a neat job. We did try and make it as simple as possible for everyone. I’m having hot sweats just thinking about it.
Are there any EBlade editions out there that are rare? Special? Maybe one that you wish you had hidden under your desk?
The DC2 is the one everyone wants. Well, actually what everyone wants is a new DC3, but that is NOT going to happen, lol. But yes, a nice Turbulence DC2 would have been nice to keep. They just look and feel so special.


Awesome DC2 Nexus EBlade Cocker

Close up detail of the Nexus EBlade pneumatics



And there we have it. The EBlade. Probably the big turning point for Planet Eclipse as a company who could do more than sell other people's gear or make it look a little cooler. We could make things awesome. And we think that we still do, which is what keeps us moving things forward.

Thanks again for staying with us, this was a long one and we can't guarantee they'll get much shorter but hey, that's what happens when you get people all starry-eyed and nostalgic.

Until next time...

Comments

  1. I think the cocker community would settle for a new eblade board with a ROF cap.

    ReplyDelete
  2. You labeled the Blue Nexus incorrectly as a "DC1". Just letting you know.

    ReplyDelete

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