In early 2016, Johannes Kirsch from the Kivent GmbH approached me, if I could design a modern, stylish table-football figure for him, that at the same time should play really really well. He planned to also create a new high quality table, and so we set out on a quite interesting journey together, that continued in 2021.
What later became known as “The Guardian” (image below) started out in Softimage XSI as a subdivision surface model. The idea was, to go for a very streamlined look, inspired by how cars create interesting shadows and highlights with sharp edges that flow in smooth curves.
Some early W.I.P. images from back in 2016:
After the basic design was done, the mesh was converted to NURBS and all the more technical details were added in McNeel Rhino 5.
Especially the foot-geometry was very detailed and the angles critical to get right, so that the four defining planes allow to hold the ball either in the forward or backward position, shoot it and stop it. Also the sides of the foot needed to be flat, so that the ball can be bounced between the figures on the same rod.
To be able to rest the rod at any angle, without the figures rotating down, there is a metal counterweight in the head (this is why there are holes in the sides of the head, two tiny rods hold the weight while the hot, fluid plastic is injected into the form) and a hole in the foot to reduce it’s weight.
After the form was found, over time the name “Guardian” emerged.
This then also became the name of the new table.
I also designed the logo from the head of the guardian:
The Guardian Table
The table initially wasn’t designed by me, but the first prototype lacked interest and several details didn’t work well, so I had a go at it and was able to round it off quite nicely with a ball-outlet that went around the corner and allowed to get at the ball from both sides (important when training alone), some details on the form, like a cut-out at the bottom to make the table feel a bit more elegant, a coloured band along the edges and a better ball-catcher design.
In addition, I came up with several designs for high-quality goal-counters, a slightly modified version of the one above was later used in the table.
We also had some more fancy ones, that included USB connectors and an attachment for a lamp, but those were not realised:
There were quite some ups and downs with the whole production, an early try to produce in China wasn’t going well, so all came back to Germany in the end and became a very high quality table of choice.
In this (German) YouTube video you can see that initial design in action, presented by multiple German master and initiator of the project, Johannes Kirsch:
(I wasn’t involved in the creation of the video!)
We used external 3D-printing (i.materialise.com) for some prototypes and also did one print at 33% size in silver as a pendant which came out very nicely:
Fast-Forward 5 years…
In early 2021, Johannes Kirsch got in contact with me again and we continued the table football project journey.
The Guardian from very early on was supposed to have an opponent.
And somehow we knew it had to be a dragon
Now this turned out to be quite the challenge since the form of the Guardian is so minimal, that establishing what makes a dragon a dragon (scales, horns, snout…) in a fitting style was a very fine balance between being distinguishable and clearly different while at the same time integrating naturally.
It also had to play exactly the same as the Guardian.
And parts of the injection-mould of the Guardian needed be re-used, so the side-holes had to match 100%…
An additional complication was, that the figures are created with a two-part form only, so front and back have to be able to move away from the finished figure without scratching it or any cavities or setbacks…
Injection moulding has a lot of special needs on top, like our horns couldn’t be too thin and pointy, since when the fluid plastic is injected under very high pressure, air would be trapped in the cavities of the horns and, by being compressed, become so hot, that the plastic would burn…
In the end I went for slightly rounded-off horns and small central scales on the back - also for security reasons.
Big shoutout to Nate for the final nudge towards the scale design!
The overall form of both figures is very stylised and so we thought about what they actually are (more about that below). Is this their natural form or are they wearing a kind of armour?
The latter felt more in line with our design and so we decided that the wings of the Dragon would also be more like futuristic high-tech-appendages, that one could imagine folding out with smart materials or even containing jet drives instead of classic bat-wing-like wings.
For the dragons face it was a fine balance to match the slightly sinister look of the Guardian. The initial designs made him look too young and friendly - we didn’t want him too dark, but still very intent and determined.
This time, I could do all the work in Rhino directly, since with version 7 we got native Subdivision Surfaces and their conversion to NURBS. This was a godsend and worked very well, although it was basically the “1.0” of the SDS implementation.
The foot geometry of course is exactly the same as in the Guardian and also the side-holes in the head, the “arms” and the foot.
We got very good support from our injection-moulding partner “MT Bau & Material” and are superhappy how our heroes turned out
Back in 2016 we had speculated about possible stories around and behind the two figures and somebody came up with the typical “shining white knight and the sinister dragon”.
To me that felt a bit shallow and trite.
When we talked about it again in 2021, we both were convinced that this does not fit the spirit of table-football, which is not one of absolute dominance or a bloody fight between enemies, but is a game of finely honed skills, speed and cleverness in a social setting of equals and friends.
The longer we talked about it, the more it became clear to me, that in fact this is a totally different scenario from the fantasy cliché.
For me, it became this:
The two figures symbolise the duality of our being human.
On one hand there are all the great things humans have and still do accomplish with their minds and spirit, from philosophical ideas like zen to the arts, from science to technical mastery and engineering, from the laws to our social systems, medical breakthroughs, too many to count over the ages.
All that is great and noble about the human mind.
This I see represented in the Guardian.
But just as important - and often undervalued in our current societies - is the other side:
Us being highly evolved animals with a body that needs food, training, warmth, drink, company, beauty for our eyes to see, music and voices for our ears to hear, air to breathe, gravity to stay on the ground, to touch and be touched to feel alive.
And this is the Dragon for me, this raw and earthy force that keeps us going.
And those two sides aren’t opponents really, they are both needed alike to keep us whole, healthy and sane.
So even if you are just enjoying a game of foosball with your friends, all of the above is what allows you to do so.
And those two aren’t enemies but one, like Yin and Yang, pitching their skills against each other, but not out to hurt…
The new Table(s)
The other part of this round was, to create additional tables and improve over what we had done with the initial table in 2016.
It is way more affordable than the original Guardian table from 2016, which was created manually in low numbers from very high quality materials.
This new table is much more affordable without reducing the quality or joy of playing it.
So while it’s form is the classic one, it uses simpler ingredients like MDF instead of birch multiplex for the corpus.
But when playing, it is just as precise, has the same angled playing field that returns the ball automatically to the reach of the figures, the same bearings for the rods and professional grips (also designed by yours truly) and a very satisfying weight.
What I also developed for this table are special bearings that can be removed in two halves after removing a screw-on ring that holds them together and in place. This allows to remove the rods for transportation without un-screwing the figures.
The challenge here was, that we wanted it to consist of two identical halves, so that you don’t have to hunt after the fitting other half. Also packaging and re-supply etc. is much easier with only one part.
This requires the screw-part to be double threaded, one thread starting on each half. Since this isn’t a standard thing to do, I had to develop the thread myself.
While at first I started out manually in Rhino, there were so many minute changes to optimise it for injection moulding, that I transferred it to Grasshopper after a while, to be able to change things a bit more easily.
And while there were a lot of issues with booleans and especially filets - both Rhino and GH do NOT like the tiny drafting angles at all - I got it working in the end…
In this, 3D-printing became extremely helpful to figure out the right depth and steepness of the threads and the overall form, so that it securely holds together and can’t slip out of alignment while being easy to remove.
I ended up with two FDM-printers (Creality Ender 3 Pro and Ender 5 Plus, heavily modified in the meantime… ) and printed a lot of bearings, dragons and even table models with the larger one
The other big change compared to the original Guardian table is the inner design of the goal chamber. We were able to massively simplify it while still preventing the ball to bounce back out onto the playing field after the goal was hit.
Johannes Kirsch also created a new design for the playing field, since usually you get soccer markings that do not make much sense on a kicker table. His new layout helps with training and better overview on where the ball has to be to be held, shot or captured.
So again we are quite happy with the result, it looks and plays very well and should be perfect for home, office or training usage for a price that is still affordable.
Here is a (German) video where Johannes Kirsch shows the details of the figures:
And here a video about the playing-field markings:
Find more videos if you scroll down the product page
And here is the whole range of products around the Guardian and the Dragon:
Big thanks to our partner Sportime for all the support!
And a major shoutout to Johannes Kirsch who was the heart and soul of the whole journey.
Find his latest project here: https://www.karriere-kick.de where people looking for employment or education meet potential employers in a friendly round of kicker…
And then there is SuKoMotion, without whom the world would be a very poor place indeed - thank you so much for all your input, feedback, support and love!