Hi, my name is André, however I’m better known online as “Dracophile”. More on that in a bit, though. I’ve been a huge fan of BattleBots since 1999 and an avid writer for even longer; it was only a matter of time before those two interests crossed paths. On this page I’ve listed a handful of common robot-related questions I’ve been asked over the years — presumably by people who want to test my BattleBots “street cred” — as well as some other anecdotes you may find amusing.
Are you a robot builder?
I am! Twilight Foundry Robotics is the name of my robot combat team and it was formed in 2001, since then we’ve built a whole fleet of bots. Among them are Metalhead and Terminal Impact (tournament winners at Battle Clash, an open-class event at the middle school in my hometown), Earthquake (2nd place in beetleweights at Southwestern Alliance of Robot Combat in November 2004), and Telefrag (2nd place in fairyweights at Dallas Area Robot Combat in June 2017). Overall we maintain a win/loss percentage of about 33%, we’ve historically been “financially challenged” so our robots are built from scrap parts and are more about having fun and putting on a good show as opposed to outright winning.
Outside of robot combat, Twilight Foundry Robotics has had creations featured in official LEGO Mindstorms and Del Mar College promotional material. We’ve also worked on small animatronics for web series such as The Radio F Show and Grinders in the form of a radio controlled bucket of KFC and an animated logo as a practical prop. I personally put together a prototype RC truck dubbed “Supertruck” for a monster truck challenge that was posted to YouTube, and likenesses of some of our combat robots were featured in a popular AI mod for the PC game Robot Arena 2.
As of 2018, Twilight Foundry Robotics is still around. I’m in the process of compiling information for our bots (and rebuilding some of them), you can find a complete archive on the “Our Robots” page at the top of the site.
(Prior to forming Twilight Foundry in 2001 my first few robots competed under the “Team T.E.N.C.H.I.” banner. That was an acronym for “The Ecstatic Nocturnal Clan of Hyper Idiots”, because LOL SO RANDOM.)
Do you mean what you write here?
Absolutely not. Despite what the content of this website might imply, this is all what you’d call a “character act”. When I was in middle/high school watching BattleBots on Comedy Central I would also eagerly follow up with each episode on a website called Driving The Death Car. The author of the site retold the fights and provided their commentary in a very sarcastic and snarky tone; this of course was when this type of content was at its peak (Something Awful, Seanbaby, Maddox, et al.). I loved reading that website because it was “something different” from what was normally written and talked about online. It was more about bullshitting and exaggeration while still being grounded in reality and something about that just appealed to me.
I was given the opportunity to write a BattleBots column for a website I was previously involved with in 2008. We were really groundbreaking at the time because the website was the first one that actually digitized VHS tapes of TV recordings and put them up for download. This was in an era where online video content was still in its relative infancy so we ran into quite a few technical quandaries regarding content delivery. We managed though, and I was given the passenger seat with the column I named “BattleBots Update” (named after the recaps shown periodically throughout the show’s third season). I drew a ton of my inspiration from the Death Car website and I wanted to “carry the torch” in a way, so I plopped down and cranked out some sarcastic jokes for the first two seasons before eventually departing from the website over personal matters.
I have immense respect for the teams and their robots — even the ones that lose — and yes even the teams/robots that I claim to “hate”. Building robots is incomprehensibly difficult and takes a mixture of book smarts and trade skills to be able to take a bot from paper to real life. Trust me, I’ve “been there done that”. Just showing up to these tournaments with your robot is an accomplishment in and of itself so while I might crack a few stingers toward a team or their robots no actual ill intent is present. (Many of the teams and builders are “in” on the joke as well.)
What do you do for a living?
When I started this website I originally had a really acidic section here about how much I loathed my job on an existential level. It was a support role for an IT company and pretty much nothing about the position I was in lined up with what I even applied for, I just really needed the money. I ended up leaving that job over health concerns shortly after completing the last article for BattleBots’ ABC reboot in 2015 (that’s why it took me so long to write the first installment of the “Giant Washer Awards”).
Presently, I get by on a lot of contract work and “side gigs” I guess you could say. I have a professional background and degrees in TV production & journalism so I flex my writing talents here on The Update while simultaneously doing media/marketing work for an Arizona-based video game publisher. I dabble in quality assurance and design consulting, but for the most part I just write or edit videos. I don’t really aspire to be a millionaire, making people laugh and feel good is more than enough to make me feel accomplished.
I’m very grateful to have the ability to devote so much time to writing and refining my skills in a field that I actually give a shit about. It’s rocky and unstable income, but I am confident in my skills and hopeful that my combination of contract work and self-employment will lead me to success. If not, I own a truck and I can sleep in that.
BattleBots or Robot Wars?
That’s a loaded question and you know it. I think Robot Wars is fantastic and a lot of robots that I’d consider my favorites come from that circuit (especially the early seasons) but the House Robots and “showiness” of the production always killed it for me. I want to see Hypno-Disc battle Firestorm, and I don’t want to see Shunt come in and fuck everything up. BattleBots focused more on the fights themselves, but there were times when I felt like the arena was just choked with too many goddamned hazards (spinners, Hellraisers, pistons, etc.). The balance in hazards that they have now is great, assuming they ever use them.
I’m going to go with BattleBots in the end just because there are less regulations and restrictions on the type and power of weaponry allowed. Robot Wars had builders making tougher robots to deal with the annoying House Robots, BattleBots had builders doing that in order to deal with each other.
Just kidding, Robotica wins assholes. Ahmet Zappa sends his regards!
Some dickheads at my high school gave me that nickname as an insult because I was the quiet kid who sat in the back of the classroom and drew dragons on his book covers (which I had affixed inside out ahead of time for specifically that purpose). I also wore this goofy pewter dragon necklace that I have no ground to make fun of considering over a decade later I’m still wearing dragon necklaces. Shut up, don’t judge me.
Anyways rather than bring a gun to school and just fucking kill everyone I chose to take that name from them and use it as a badge of honor.
I sometimes get asked this question about my username on Reddit, “ZetaGator”. There really isn’t an amusing story behind that one; “Zeta” was taken from the anime Zeta Gundam because when I was younger I was kinda-sorta into the aesthetics of older Japanese animation (Bubblegum Crisis, Magic Knight Rayearth, Ranma 1/2, Tenchi Muyo, etc.) and “Gator” has no significance beyond me simply liking alligators. I just plucked two things I liked and combined them together and didn’t put much thought into it. My Reddit account is a good few years older than the 2015 reboot of BattleBots and BattleBots Update so when the robot combat community began to grow on Reddit I simply showed up with the throwaway username I had registered years prior and hardly ever used. If I could change my username I totally would, and had I known that this website would become as popular as it is I definitely would’ve just made another account with a less confusing name.
When will you write about “X”?
What is your…
Abbatoir, by Team Wetware. Abbatoir ended its BattleBots career with a staggering zero wins and four losses; it literally won 0% of its total fights. It has no winning average because you have to at least win something first before that can be calculated. The reason Abbatoir is my favorite robot is because it never quite worked but its builder (Ray Scully) brought it to events anyways even though it was destined to lose. In its inaugural match in 1999 against Ricon, Abbatoir’s total participation in the fight consisted of driving forward and catching fire. That’s it. You can’t make shit like this up.
Abbatoir’s weapon, a five foot spinning overhead blade, never worked. Ever. In the matches that Abbatoir didn’t lose via forfeit I don’t believe its weapon ever made one complete rotation. Going a step further I’d wager the total distance Abbatoir has driven in the Battlebox is less than the length of the actual Battlebox.
All of Team Wetware’s robots were like this. Ray did not win his first match until the fifth season of BattleBots (with middleweight Mr. Bonestripper). In the official BattleBots magazine, Ray was quoted as saying he believed the “Wetware curse” had finally ended. Unfortunately there wouldn’t be another BattleBots event for some time afterward so naturally by the time Ray wins his first fight there would be no other events afterward. That kind of starcrossed luck is hilarious to me in a very fucked up way. The last record I can find of Abbatoir competing was in the “Mechwars” weight class of the 2003 Triangle Series Nationals where Abbatoir was knocked out in one hit by Twister (a full body spinner) because of course that would happen.
…least favorite BattleBot?
I don’t really have a specific robot that I funnel all my hatred toward. Generally, I’m not too fond of flashy robots with extraneous attachments and stupid gimmicks because they don’t serve any practical purpose and the robots almost always lose immediately. Afterward, the driver — who’s usually as “eccentric” as their stupid robot — gets buttmad over losing.
Basically the more someone plays up their robot as the hottest shit since New Kids On The Block, the more I tend to legitimately dislike it.
…favorite knock out?
Absolutely going with Stewbot’s graceful demise at the hands of The Crusher and an arena Pulverizer in the second Comedy Central season. I realize Stewbot was entered solely to promote a shitty tech “comedy” show but the robot meeting its end by way of the newly upgraded Pulverizers (which were just shitty little sledgehammers in the previous season) is poetic.
rip in peace stewbot [2001 – 2001]
Scrap Daddy was always pretty cool to me. Their robots were mostly barely functional terrible hunks of crap but it was more or less the image of the team and what they represented that drew me in. Before BattleBots I was a big fan of Junkyard Wars (which I think the Scrap Daddy team eventually showed up on) and to this day virtually all of my robots and projects are built from scrap. I only buy something if I can’t find it or salvage it. It makes repairing things a real bitch but for me it’s a fun way to learn how things work and build bots on the cheap.
I also feel less bad about it when they blow up because I’m never out more than fifty bucks.
(PS: Back in 2016 I did an AMA on the /r/battlebots Reddit community. You can find it HERE.)