Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Squig colour scheme

Squigs are one of those curious things in Warhammer where the idea behind them is poorly served by the miniatures. Don't get me wrong, I love the current range of regular squigs but there's plenty to hate too.

First of all, let's take the idea...

  • Goblins on space hoppers.
  • The alien from Dark Star.
  • Some sort of fungus puff ball with teeth.

Mix them together and you have squigs. They're funny and silly and a unique part of GW's range of orcs and goblins (y'know, like goblin fanatics). What's not to love? Well, the miniatures.

I've always hated the old 80's squigs because they looked like giant goblin faces rather than a separate species of beastie (but then I always hated Kev Adams's style of orcs and goblins anyway). The "new" ones released in 2000 (by Brain Nelson maybe?) updated the look and made them look far more vicious, but they also included funny long-tailed ones that didn't quite fit with the space hopper idea. I didn't mind that at the time, but it was a design choice that would return. By the way, I'm ignoring squig designs on the peripheries of warhammer, like the Rogue Trader squig swarm and the mohicanned squig hound from Warhammer Quest, but they too show how the design has always been inconsistent.

Then you started seeing other squigs crop up in various places: hairy squigs on Wurzag's staff; long-legged 40K attack squigs; orc-faced bomb squigs. And then came the giant squigs: a podgey-looking Gobbla and the train-wreck that is the current great cave squig model. Each one played around with the standard design, but never really captured the bouncing-ball-of-bitey-teeth idea again. One exception: the little pet squig owned by the goblin boss in the Battle for Skull Pass boxed set (though even he looked a bit like a pumpkin).

WAR came along and expanded the squig design to include extra features (exhaust tubes and rhino horns), something that hasn't filtered through to the miniatures, but a new body shape was now firmly rooted: the teardrop-with-long-legs. It had been brewing for a while but now it had become the official shape of a squig, and was appearing in artwork. The space hopper idea was dead.

And then came "The Chase". Dear god. What an ugly mess. The squigs now looked like big walking faces; faces that were designed really, really badly. The gnashing ball of teeth idea had gone and squigs were now just stupid looking faces again, this time on long slender legs.

Finally, the latest, and THE WORST squigs of all: the mangler squigs. I'm assuming they were designed by Trish Morrison. They have that familiar "utter dog sh*t" look about them that we gamers have loathed over the years.

Orcs and Goblins has always suffered from "training ground" syndrome. Got a new sculptor? Wanna see what he can do? Let him loose on a goblin or squig - they're all kinda goofy and different so what harm can he do?

But over time that's meant that there's no coherent look to the army. It's a mistake to say that inconsistency and incoherence is an "orcy" trait, and should therefore be shown in the figure design process. The unique, incoherent, inconsistent, crazy, goofy look of an orc and goblin army, the orc and goblin "brand" if you will, can be designed into the models, but the design and development process should be as rigorously followed and consistently applied as for models of any other GW race.

So with all that said, I got to thinking how I could include squigs in my orc army in a way that wouldn't suck. What came out of my thinking/playing was a kind of rule book for squig design:

  • Go back to the bouncing balls where possible
  • Go back to the puff ball idea - ie a kind of impossible fleshy/toothy beast without a well defined skeletal system and no sensible system of internal organs.
  • Give the models more lift and exaggerate the sense of bouncing, rather than running
  • Exaggerate the teeth - a squig herd should look like a mass of gnashing teeth.
  • Pick up on the idea of them being fungus-based in their colouration. Traditionally that has meant weird and wonderful colours, but make the colours more naturalistic. I like the idea that you could model and paint a few puffballs in a fungus forest in the same colours as the squigs. Hell, you could even model some teeth or eyes developing in the puffballs as if they will eventually reach maturity, grow legs and bounce off!
  • Stay true in some ways to the original squigs (in this case by converting original models where possible and using a red, well russet, colouration).

And here's what I came up with in photoshop. with some points to note:

Squig herd colour scheme
Squig herd
The regular squigs in the herd have extra teeth and many are lifting off the ground.

The colouring is red, but also incorporates green to make that link to the physiology of the orcs.

The teeth are green. I'm not sure how this would look on a painted model, but I like the idea that the teeth aren't made of boney enamel but some sort of hardened fungal equivalent.

Skarsnik and gobbla colour scheme test
Skarsnik and Gobbla
Gobbla has a mouth full of huge, very scary teeth. Much more fitting for his status and less like a sock puppet.

Not limited by a facial bone structure the teeth kind of grow out of the fleshy body of the squig like spines or lamprey teeth.

Great cave squig colour scheme test
Great cave squig
The great cave squig would have to be modelled entirely from scratch. I was playing with the idea of it being in the downwards part of the "boing", like a squashy ball as it hits the ground, and how that would distort its shape. I think it's fun and looks cool but I think the uninitiated would struggle to see what was going on - they might assume it was crawling on the ground. I think this would only work if the army also included other great cave squigs modelled in the upwards part of the boing, so you get a sense of how they travel.

Mangler squigs colour scheme test
Mangler squigs
The mangler squig is a rough and ready concept sketch - I was playing with the idea that instead of chaining two giant squigs together, you chain a larger number of squigs together of different sizes. I think there are too many here, but I could see it working, and giving more of a sense of random chaos than the current crappy model.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Total war(hammer)

total warhammer logo

I've been thinking a lot recently about what my ideal collection of models would look like (if money time etc were no object). A complete army perhaps? Played on a table with nice scenery? Hmm, yes. That goes without saying. But of course, my mind wanders and I start wanting more. Much more. Until  the only thing that will satisfy me is TOTAL WAR(hammer).

Total what?

It all starts with a bunch of friends. Like most people, I have two distinct groups of friends:
Group 1: old friends I've known for years
Group 2: whichever guys I happen to be friends with in my current job/location

In years previous, Group 2 has always been totally against my hobby, and I'm used to keeping it under wraps. It's only by a stroke of luck that currently Group 2 are all into wargaming. If ever I move to a different city or job, I can well imagine going back to never mentioning it to the group for fear of utter ridicule and rejection.

Group 1 on the other hand have only ever really dabbled in gaming (though never collecting miniatures) and have politely humoured me over the years by indulging my hobby when we meet. They're not really into it, and so I never push hard, or expect any sacrifice or expenditure on their part. The way I see it is that if I want them to play a game with me, I should provide all the models (and nibbles) and make the whole experience as enjoyable for them as possible. Call it a wargaming reacharound.

Perversely, I prefer playing with the inexperienced Group 1 friends than the seasoned gamers of Group 2. Seasoned gamers are quite used to bashing and clattering their models around and using scratty bits of makeshift scenery. They don't understand why I spend so long carefully taking each model from its case or why I insist on using a GW measuring stick instead of a B&Q tape measure. They don't understand why I get so p*ssed off when they represent their Lord-level killing machine with a rank-and-file model (something you only discover when you charge it) or why their spearmen with a bit of blu-tac on his spear-tip turns out to be an army standard bearer.

Non-players are far more respectful of your models, and they instinctively dislike "count as" proxies. When you tell them "that guy is your wizard" they get a little look of excitement on their faces and carefully examine the model, hoping to see some particularly characterful model in a pointy hat. They don't want to hear "just pretend that spearman is your wizard" or "we won't bother with a river because I haven't got one". If they're going to invest their time in a game, they want to know there's plenty of awesomeness on the table, and I'm going to have to provide it all for them.

So unlike a lot of gamers, I simply can't focus on collecting one army. Indeed, I insist on having more than one. What if, say, I invite a Group 1 friend over and suggest a game of warhammer? I would then have to produce an army for me to use and one for him to use. Since he doesn't know much about the Warhammer universe, I'd want to offer him an army that would appeal to him, and since he's unfamiliar with the game, I'd want the two armies to interact well with each other and contrast nicely in their styles of play and their presence on the table. And since it might be the only game of warhammer they will ever play, I'd want it to knock their socks off - look amazing, play well, have cool and interesting things going on. I would want to produce out of a hat the sort of demonstration gaming experience that most gaming clubs work hard to put on during a gaming convention.

So in a sense, total warhammer is the perfect demo game: it looks impressive, you get a real sense of the warhammer universe and you feel immersed in the experience. All gamers, old and new, should be seduced by it and want to play.

So rule number 1 of total warhammer is:
1. Everything should be awesome.

One paintjob to bind them

Let's face it, I'm only ever going to get the opportunity to play this magical demo game about five times in my life. But a nice side effect is that I won't have to compromise - everything involved in the game will be created by me.

I'll be honest, it's very rare that I play against an army that I think looks cool. Mostly, the models come out and I politely go through the ritual of saying "hey, nice paintjob, bro!". But invariably it's not really a nice paintjob; its a gloopy mess of thick drybrushing in ugly colours. And that's assuming they're painted at all. So no matter how good you think your army looks, the game as a whole looks rubbish.

Having to produce more than one army gives me a chance to model and paint opposing armies in the same style, with visual and narrative links to each other.

For instance, you could give every army in the collection the same type of base, and those bases could be painted to match the surface of the battlefield, so a rock on an empire soldier's base is painted the same way as the rocky scenery he's standing on, and the same as the rocks used in the orc rocklobber that's aiming at him. Extend that further and you could adorn the models with trophies from other armies - Grimgor holds up a severed head that is painted in exactly the same way as the empire knights he's fighting.

Further still and the buildings and scenery could be themed towards the two armies, with matching iconography and decoration, so a charnel pit is filled with bodies dressed in the same livery as the soldiers standing next to them; the mushrooms growing in a fungus forest look like the same fungus a goblin shaman is munching on and that are growing all over the orc-themed buildings.

Potentially you've got something that is visually unified and immersive; something that only Warhammer Online has managed to do so far.

So rule number two of total warhammer is:
2. Everything should be part of a shared, strong, visual aesthetic.

What's the story?

A really important aspect in achieving this immersive experience is a sense of narrative realism. We all know how weird and wacky it is to roll up randomly generated terrain and find that someone has decided to build their farmhouse next to an ancient temple of evil that gobs out fireballs at them whenever they walk past to milk the cows.

Similarly, I've never been a big fan of Lizardmen and Tomb Kings. Not because of the army background or models (both are great) but because in the Olde World they exist on a separate continent. Broadly speaking, warhammer is "set" in the Empire (though you could set it somewhere else). So having a bunch of skeletons rising from desert sands and egyptian-style pyramids seems totally out of place. Sure, you can give them a back-story that explains why they're on tour, but half the fun of a well-painted lizardman army is all the jungle vegitation adorning their bases - you're telling me they bring their jungle plants with them?

For me you have to believe that the corner of the warhammer world portrayed by your gaming table could actually exist, and that the armies marching around there are there for a reason.

Rule number three therefore is:
3. Nothing should exist outside a believable, coherent narrative.

Invisible fireballs

One of the greatest things about computer games set in the warhammer universe is being able to see magic effects. It's a huge area of the game, and yet on the tabletop is belongs purely in your imagination. Wouldn't it be great to have magic modelled into the game - real, tangible, colourful magic.

In fact there are all sorts of things we use in warhammer that we don't expect to have to model - explosions, casualties, troops occupying buildings. Not to mention the mechanical tools of the game - dice, movement trays, templates, wound markers etc, that with a little modelling and painting could keep your disbelief in suspension. How often have you placed a dice next to a model to represented wounds, only to pick it up by accident later on and roll it?

Now, GW have done much in the last few years to correct this. We have themed resin dice, engineer's templates and rulers, Battle for Skull Pass wound markers, but it's still an area of the game that remains largely untapped.

Rule number four is:
4. Everything counts, not just the models.

The spirit of the Workshop

Lastly, there's the issue of customisation. GW's intellectual property is what has made the game so successful - no other game can match it in the long-established, rich and detailed universe it has created.

So it would be dumb to throw all that away. I know a lot of people get a blast out of mashing up GW stuff for comic effect (samurai orcs, teddy bear tyranids etc) but it's not my bag. I see it as a responsibility to best represent the world and mythos that GW have established. And in a collection that includes many armies, each one should demonstrate its unique character as defined by GW. So an orc army should be uniquely orcy. And a high elf army should be uniquely high elfy.

However, there's a rich tradition in the modelling community of giving your models a twist - something original; something that identifies it as belonging to you. It's as if you take an imaginary seat at the table of GW designers, modellers and painters and make your own contribution to the genre.

Now, I happen to believe that GW actually get it wrong sometimes. There are plenty of examples of models that seem to fall short of their own high standards, or don't fit with the vision described in their accompanying descriptions, or seem incongruous with the rest of the army. I always want to fix that.

I want my collection to walk that line: to best demonstrate GW's ideas and continuity directly as GW intend it, while presenting something original and unique. And in doing so, I'll try and fix a few things too.

For that reason I'm going to stick to GW-only models in their most up-to-date incarnations as much as I can, but include modifications to some core designs. I'll break with GW convention, but only where I feel it still fits the spirit of what GW intended.

So as toadying as this sounds (especially given the amount of money we pay them), my last rule of total warhammer is:
5. Respect Games Workshop.

So there are my rules. Don't be surprised if in my project logs I refer to them occasionally (it saves explaining all that again).

If I stick to the rules of Total Warhammer, I might just end up with the collection of my dreams.

Then I'll be forced to kill myself, knowing that never again would I achieve such perfection.

Friday, 31 August 2012

High elves colour scheme

I've mentioned in a previous post my idea for paint-effect high elves, specifically making them highly reflective chrome effect. So let me show you how that might work.

A few ground rules

First of all, whatever colour scheme I choose mustn't just fit in with the overall GW universe, but also with my vision for "total warhammer"(ie an all-encompassing aesthetic applied to all armies, scenery and accessories in my collection, with a believable narrative linking them all).

I intend to collect a number of armies and so having light and shade, not just aesthetically, but also in character, will be important to giving each army its own distinct identity in the collection. However, GW are keen to make every race either "properly evil", or just "not-evil-all-the-time"; they don't really have any white-hat-wearing good guys.

High elves have traditionally been the closest you get to filling that good-guy slot, though in GW's universe, while they may fight a lot of bad guys, they aren't particularly nice conversationalists. So while they are white-hat-wearing good guys, they'd break your face if you got any mud on their nice, bright, white hats.

I want my high elf colour scheme to show that dichotomy. So my idea is to have an army whose armour and robes look not of this earth; angelic; nothing like the grubby horsehair shirts of the Empire.

This works for me because:
1. the whole glittering supermen thing suits the elite nature of their army composition and units.
2. there's a simple black vs white relationship with their evil counterparts, the dark elves. I like the idea of pushing that to an extreme: an all-white army vs an almost identical, but all-black army. Kind of like Spy vs Spy.
3. the high elves get paint-effect armour just like their dark elf counterparts. Again, the symmetry of that I find appealing.
4. I haven't seen it done before. To push the colour scheme to a total absence of colour would hopefully  be original and garner fame and kudos with my entirely imaginary audience.

So here are the rules:

1. Impossibly white clothes
2. Impossibly shiny mithryl armour
4. An overal light and bright tone, avoiding dark shading.
2. No other colours (other than perhaps magic-effects)
5. As much white as possible, or shades of white (for animals, wood etc).
6. At a push introduce grey (for shadow warriors, patterned fur etc)

All white now

Games workshop have a nice little pdf template you can use to test your high elf colour scheme.

I used it to see how this colour scheme would look, and here's what I came up with.

You'll notice there's an awful lot of grey, but that's because chrome paint will give a very high contrast of light and shade. But notice that I've stripped the rest of the detailing of colour - no shiny red jewels, no blue sashes and ribbons. Just white. Heck, he's even wearing white gloves so that as little flesh is showing as possible.

I like it. But the picture doesn't look like a real life figure. So I found a picture from ebay of some painted units and fired up photoshop. Here's what I came up with...

Now we're talking. Okay, I'll be very lucky if the chrome paint gives me that super bright silvery look, but overall those colour scheme rules are working. Note that the hair isn't pure white, but so blonde as to be a shade of white. Importantly, the sea-themed detailing hasn't lost any of it's character, despite being bleached of colour. The unit has a really strong visual identity. It's attention-grabbing and (hopefully) original.

Game on!

Friday, 13 July 2012

The Saga of the Paint-effect Elves

This is the saga of an idea I have been pursuing for about 14 years now. It serves as a demonstration of just how obsessive I can be about this stupid hobby. It spans decades and constitutes hours and hours and hours of my time. Time I could have spent with my loved ones in the sun, or making exquisite love to my wife on a beach. Was it worth it? You decide...

I used to collect 40K miniatures (back in 3rd edition) with no real intention of ever playing; just collecting for collecting sake. I wondered about what colour scheme I would use to paint eldar and dark eldar. I figured it'd be cool to somehow represent their armour as wraithbone, or some crazy alien material. So I had the idea of mother of pearl.

I got as far as buying a pot of special paint and that was that. It went no further, but I did collect a small force of dark eldar.

If the good elves had a lovely alien paint effect, then their evil counterparts should too, right? So I thought it'd be cool to make them look like their armour was iridescent, like the carapace of a beetle.

I assumed this was impossible to achieve other than by painting a number of different inks over silver paint. It didn't really work. Project shelved.

Then in 2000 I started playing warhammer fantasy and the dark elves called to me, asking to be collected and painted. Once again I thought about creating the effect of a weird kind of dark mithryl.
At about the same time I started seeing cars with custom paint jobs that were two-tone. The colour changed depending on the angle at which it was viewed, and some had a kind of black/purple/green effect like a beetle's back (yay!). The effect was simultaneously eye-popping and mind-bending, and immediately I knew I wanted to try it on some dark elves.

In 2000 this looked like magic

My research took me to every custom paint manufacturer and supplier in Europe and the US. For a start, this stuff was expensive. Hundreds of pounds for a litre. And secondly it was for car body sprayers, sold as formulas of mixing powders added to base paints. It just didn't exist in aerosol form off the shelf. By now it had become a quest, and I was actually beginning to consider forking out the coinage to get the paint.

Oh wait! It did exist! After about a year I saw some guy in the US had painted a Tau devifish in two-tone purple and gold (it looked rubbish) and he said he'd bought the paint in an aerosol can. Hours of research later and I find that Dupont didn't make it any more, there were no suppliers in the UK, and customs forbid shipping aerosols from the US to the UK anyway. Scuppered again.

duplicolor mirage
Diplocolor mirage. Hard to get hold of.

While the quest continued I couldn't help thinking that if the dark elves did ever get their fancy paint job, their snooty high elf cousins should do too. So I looked into alternative paint-effects for them. Afterall, their armour is mithryl too, only of the shiny kind.

I thought that maybe if the bad guys are black turned up to 11, then maybe they should be silver turned to 11. That is to say, chrome. Paint effects claiming to make chrome were all rubbish, so I began researching how to get figures chrome plated. Metal figures have been chrome plated from time to time (and even gold plated) by the odd crazy hobbyist with access to electrodes and a bunch of chemicals, but plastic figures were un-platable.

Or were they? Afterall, there's plenty of chrome plastic stuff out there. I researched the process and it involves chemically treating it, powder-coating it and then electroplating it. It's all done in factories on a large scale. I researched small electroplating companies but no dice.

Then I found a guy in the US who makes model custom cars - those guys use all sorts of chrome parts. He plates his own stuff, all set up on little 8" x 6" sprues, and he does the service for other model car enthusiasts. So all I would have to do is arrange some high elf figures onto a sprue of that size, send it to the US and he would chrome plate it. Yay! One problem: relatively inexpensive for the odd sprue; eye-wateringly expensive for a whole army. Scuppered.

About a year later I was in a motor parts shop when I saw a set of colour swatches pinned on the wall by their customised paint mixing service. Bugger me if they weren't colour-changing. And one was in purple and green - the exact colour I'd seen on the car years before. I immediately got a tin made for me (for about £15) and tried it at home. I couldn't believe it. IT WORKED. And I was really pleased with the results.

colour flip dark elves
My colour-changing dark elves. They're purple. No, wait! They're green. 

You see, the search had lasted so long that technology (or maybe the market) had changed over the years. What was impossible or unprofitable to sell on a small scale had over an evolutionary timescale become affordable and widely available (which, incidentally, is why every chav in a fiesta has a fancy flip paintjob nowadays).

I felt king of the hobby. Using the paint was incredibly difficult but I'm jolly proud of the final effect and they get tons of comments from people who see them. Admittedly it doesn't quite get the effect I had imagined - you don't get to see an individual model's armour shifting from purple to green with the contours of the model, but rather the whole model appears either purple or green. Not quite what I had in mind, but awesome on an army scale. And on models that include large, curved surface areas you do get that magical effect that wowed me when I first saw it driving down the street.

The other downside is that as a metallic spray paint, there's no shading or overpainting to be done. This is a one-trick paint effect and the impact comes solely from the colour-changing properties. As specimens of my painting skills go, these models are no more impressive than models sprayed with gloss paint by some kid in his garage. They won't be winning any awards any time soon.

I should mention a ridiculous coda to this quest. It happened when I'd been using the paint for a while and decided I wanted to expand the army. Uh-oh. I'm all out of paint. A year or two had gone by, and when I wet back to the shop the swatches were no longer there. When I asked, they said they no longer made it. I couldn't believe my stupidity. Why didn't I buy three tins in the first place?!

I had to get back to internet researching and finally found a UK model shop selling out-of-production Dupont spray cans (the ones the Tau guy had used years previously). They had two in stock (probably the last two in existence) and they came bundled with a base coat and top coat, making them very pricey. When I used them, thankfully they were the same colour but the consistency was very different and I had to give each model about 6 coats of the stuff, which glooped into crevices and started to obscure detail. The cans would never last more than a few models and the results were getting poor. The project looked like it had hit the skids.

About a year later I was in the car parts shop again and noticed a glass vial sitting on a shelf behind the paint mixing desk. I couldn't believe what I saw - it was filled with concentrated flip-paint colour in the exact colour I'd originally bought. This was the magic stuff they used to create the paint, so I inquired and what would you know, they never ceased making it in the first place. They'd just taken down the swatches because people weren't buying it anymore, and the nice gentleman who had told me they no longer sold it had been talking out of his colon. I bought two tins straight away (though I'm wishing I'd bought ten).

And what of the high elves? Well after years of thinking the chrome elves would ever happen, I did a search the other day (just in case) and found a paint (sold only in germany) that gives incredibly impressive chrome results. If this bizarre german transexual demo is to be believed, it looks amazing. I might just have to buy a tin and experiment.

Now, how many tins of the stuff should I buy?

So there you have it. 14 years and counting. Mozart had written most of his life's output in that time. Alexander the Great had conquered most of the world. I have managed to paint four units of crossbowmen and a unit of spearmen.

Someone please save me from myself.

War is ugly. WAR is not.

About four years out of date this, but if you’re ever after inspirational warhammer stuff, don’t bother looking for pictures of miniatures. Look to Warhammer Online - Age of Reckoning.

Take a look at WAR and you have a totally immersive experience. It’s a world rich with detail and atmosphere. The landscapes are themed (a city, the chaos wastes, etc) and everything within them reflect that, from the lighting to the architecture to the shrubbery. You can see magic happening, not in some abstract way but in front of your eyes like fireworks. The colouring is beautiful and naturalistic, and the character and monster design rich with character.

Now take a look at a typical tabletop game. Unless you’re looking in the pages of White Dwarf or you’re playing a demo game set up at a convention, every single game of warhammer is played by two different players; two different modellers and painters, each with their own skill level and making their own (often terrible) artistic choices. It doesn’t matter how fantastic one guy’s army looks - he could find himself playing a half-painted tzeentch army (the worst offenders for lurid, garish colour-schemes) or one that isn't painted at all.

A screenshot of Warhammer Online
A typical tabletop game of warhammer
Not so atmospheric

Consider a gamer's typical table and collection of scenery. Not only is it usually ugly and badly made, but there’s never any unifying theme to it: a chaos temple will quite happily sit yards away from a pretty half-timbered farm house. “How’s the crop, Hans?” “Not great, dear, the turnips have sprouted tentacles and are demanding blood for their gods.”

The reason WAR gets it right is because it is art directed. There’s a team of designers and an artistic director of some sort making sure everything fits with the overall look and feel of the game. Everything is unified and designed together as a whole project.

I bet anything that those designers and concept artists didn’t have their heads cluttered by decades of Games Workshop studio decisions. Ask most gamers what colour a Tzeentch army should be and you’ll either hear “bright blue/pink/yellow/red” or (worse) “ALL the colours!” Because that’s the way GW has portrayed their models over the years. Even the GW studio army looks all wrong - they get hairy, smelly, thick-set, Conan-style Uber-vikings called Chaos Warriors and then they tell you in the background info that Tzeentch is all about magic and strategy and cunning and deceit. Right, so that doesn’t really fit with the iron-clad uber-norse image does it, so how do they get round that? By giving them a blue paint job. Urgh.

A warrior of Tzeentch from Warhammer Online
A painted model of a chaos warrior of Tzeentch
Not quite as awesome

And what’s Tzeentch’s symbol? The bird. But since his colours are blue and yellow we get all sorts of weird and wonderful parrots on show. Ugly ugly ugly. WAR took the background info and redesigned from scratch. A bird you say? Well, let’s make that a crow. Creepy. Chaos culty. Cool. See GW? THAT’s how it’s done. The colours are muted. And evil. With crazy magic glowy bits. They make just about every tabletop Tzeentch army ever created look like baubles on a christmas tree.

You could say that about every game of tabletop warhammer ever played too - it just never looks as good as WAR. For a start there are dice, rulebooks, tape measures, tubes of Pringles and general clutter, and that’s before we even begin to critique the scenery, battlefield or miniatures.

Now after that massive rant, I shall just turn everything I’ve just said on its head. I don’t play WAR. Never have done. Don’t play computer games, in fact. That’s because for me you can’t beat the real, tangible experience of moving toy soldiers around in their own real-life miniature model world.

What I’m lamenting here is the lack of art direction by the average gamer. No where on the internet can I see fantasy gamers who have taken the same global approach to getting the look and feel of the game right as WAR have taken. Where are the beautifully themed tables and armies? Where are the subtle and beautiful colour palettes extending through tabletop to miniatures? Where are the ambitious landscapes and atmospheric settings?

I should add here that the single biggest thing GW have done to address the problem of ugly-ass gaming is the introduction of plastic scenery. The pieces they have released have transformed the average game and go a huge way in doing exactly what I’m talking about here. You still get a mansion house precariously built next to a temple of chaos, but individually they look great and combined they do more to portray the look and feel of the warhammer universe than any painted army could do alone.

So well done to GW for making it easier for us (thankfully there are far fewer neat, little, half-timbered town houses littering the Old Worlde these days), but where are all the modellers and gamers who are going to take it all to the same level as WAR?

Special note: Pictures used without permission. Apologies to the owners of the second and fourth pictures!

Monday, 23 January 2012

The thief of time

My wife will often ask me if I had fun after spending a few hours locked away in my den "doing toys" (as it's called in our house). I find it a difficult question to answer honestly. For a start, the chances are I haven't actually done anything, at least not achieved anything concrete; anything visible or tangible. No figures painted. No terrain built. Nothing. It baffles her, and it frustrates me too "damn, I've just spent two hours on my own doing toys and I have nothing to show for it. Why am I so crap at this hobby?"

Well, the answer is that I'm a dreamer. And I'm slow. And I've never been a roll-your-sleeves-up-and-get-on-with-it sort of guy. I like to think things through verrrrry carefully first. I have to convince myself that a project is worth devoting my time and energy to. And even when it is, I do it in tiny stages, each laboured over, and each spaced apart by months of thinking time.

  • If I want to convert something I'll browse the internet for hours and hours looking at what other people have done along similar lines.
  • Which army should I choose? (read everything ever written on each army and look at every army ever painted)
  • What should the army composition be? (browse warseer army list forums)
  • What's the general look and feel? (browse, browse)
  • What spin can I do to make my army unique? (yeah, more browsing)
  • What colour scheme? (browse coolminiornot, warseer, and well, the whole internet)
  • Which models should stand out and how? (browse browse warseer browse)
  • Anything made by other manufacturers that would fit in? (browse, snore, browse)
  • What conversion work could I do?  (ditto)
  • What components should I use? (trawl plastic components stores for hours, check up on them almost every day to see if a rare piece I'm looking for is in stock and buy it when it is, regardless of whether I'll actually end up using it or not)
  • Can I have a stab at making this conversion piece work? (buy loads of components and play around with blutac for hours, then actually start a few converted miniatures to get the general idea but never finish them)
  • How would I position the miniature so it has maximum impact? (blutac components to it and stare at it for hours tweaking things ever so slightly)
  • And how would that rank up? (blutac, dry-run, blutac)
  • Should it have a special display base? (browse, browse, flickr, browse)
  • What about the bases for the rest of the army? (research grades of sand, leaf litter, dried herbs, baking powder, clear resin etc etc)
  • Any greenstuff to do? (read articles on how to use greenstuff)
  • Maybe I could sculpt some components and cast them? (research casting, buy expensive casting materials, try it once)
  • How would it pack away into a carry case? (browse battlefoam, sponge suppliers, stationery boxes)
  • Should it be magnetised in segments? (browse magnet suppliers, magnetic sheet, magnetic bases, sheets of tin, tin snips, actually start to horde empty biscuit tins)
  • Oh wait, what about that other army I was thinking about...

Bizarrely, you can't say I'm doing nothing. I'm not achieving anything, sure, but I'm thinking, dreaming, planning, deliberating. And this work goes on almost all the time. While I'm sitting idly watching tv. While I'm at work. While I'm in the shower. While I'm driving. Everywhere, and all the time. It's like an obsession.

The strange thing is, this compulsion to think everything through never, ever works. I don't have any finished pieces that are beautiful works of art, that have benefited from such a long-winded and considered approach. The moment I do embark on a project, the reality of the situation hits and I run into all sorts of messy, pragmatic and technical issues that I could never have anticipated, not to mention being confronted with the limitations of my own talent (having a go at something, and doing it well are two enormously different things). Most projects reach an embryonic stage and then get permanently neglected.

The creative thinking process creates in me an itch that I must scratch. And I scratch and scratch and scratch, until the thinking process evolves to the next stage: experimentation. And then when I have an experiment that seems to be working, a half-constructed conversion, or a painted unit, I stop. To finish the whole army seems abhorrent to me - like painfully scratching myself for hundreds and hundreds of hours long after the itch has gone.

By far the best things I've ever done have been those where I've thrown caution to the wind and rushed to get something done. Maybe a deadline for a game was looming, or maybe I'd just got so sick of it all it forced a temporary change in character. But the only times I've done something amazing in this hobby have been where I've rolled up my sleeves and just got on with it.

So the answer to the problem of how to make my hobby time more productive and satisfying, so that I can answer my wife with a self-assured "yes, thanks" next time she asks, is to completely change my methodology, my attitude, my time-management, my scheduling, my motivations, my aspirations, my personality, and, essentially, to rewire my entire brain.


Oh well, back to the browsing.