Saturday, February 26, 2011

Minifigs: Exploriens

I've mentioned before that my first two Space sets, tied for the title of eldest in that theme, were the Blizzard Baron and Saucer Scout. My third set, however, has not been mentioned. That was 6815 Hovertron, and with the exception of a few, small, alien sets (UFO and Insectoid), it was the last Space set I would get until Mars Mission came out in 2007, ten years later.

Consequently, Captain Reginald Explorn, as the above fig was named, has a rather special place in my heart, as does the Explorien theme. Together with Space Police (ii), of which I did not acquire a set until much later, it was one of "my" Space factions (in a household where all the leadership of all the factions was divided between the siblings), and I still think they're pretty cool. Their colour scheme is strongly reminiscent of the Futuron sets, and thus of some of the later classic Space sets, and would be seen again in the Space Police (iii) sets of the 3rd Millennium.

The fig I call Captain Explorn (original name, I know), is one of three different Explorien figs, as pictured below. Note: the face on the fig at the right should be the same as the centre fig, and--yes--I know the Exploriens also had an android (named Ann Droid, proving that LEGO was little better at original names in the 1990s than I was).

The decision to make the fig on the right a command-rank fig is mostly due to the fact that he's the only one I had back in an era when I *had* to have the ruling fig in the faction, but I think it's a decision that still works; because Captain Explorn only sports a large logo, he lacks the mechanical extra bits the two other Exploriens sport, and thus--to my mind--has the more prestigious uniform. In any case, the long-term results of Space gameplay in my family was that the uniform on the right belonged to command-rank figs (naval ranks Commander through Admiral), while the one in the middle belonged to junior-rank officers (naval ranks Ensign through Lieutenant-Commander), and the one on the right to non-commissioned officers. One assumes that LEGO people can tell the differences within these categories, such as between an Ensign and a Lieutenant, but this distinction eludes the human eye.

This pic is a group shot of my entire Explorien population today (note the 400% growth since 2005). It will be noted that Captain Explorn has since seen a promotion to Vice-Admiral, and that none of the other torsos features a head that would match it in an official set. This indicates, as it does in many instances in my collection, that the figs are assembled from Bricklink parts (or extras acquired other ways). Not, mind you, that Vice-Admiral Explorn's torso actually matches his head in any official Explorien set, because it's a custom design.

As you can see, it's a fairly simple custom. All I did was copy a blue version of the Explorien logo from this piece and use it to replace the grey-and-silver version (on a non-Space torso, I would like to mention), and then add some white epaulettes to round things off. For the most part, I've been moving away from using customised torsos in the last couple years, not because I have a purist position on the issue, but because my quality standards are higher than I'm normally capable of making them, but in this case I think it works really well.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Lord of the Rings and LEGO

Those who know me at least a little in my personal life could tell you that there are two major oddball characteristics that I am known for. One you can guess easily enough if you're reading this blog: LEGO. Even though I think of myself as, at best, an intermediate level LEGO fan, compared with the people I know on the Internet, I'm still one of the names that would come up first in most people's minds when they think of LEGO (so, yes... I've seen the LEGO church forwarded email a few times, and it's always worth looking at).

The big fan niche that I belong to is the realm of Tolkien fandom: The Lord of the Rings, Middle-earth, Hobbits, and all that jazz. I'm less modest about the extent of fanaticism here, and would say that I'm even an elite fan, although if anyone knows bigger Tolkien fans, it's probably me, thanks to the Internet.

Indeed, my Internet life has been an odd intertwining of LEGO and The Lord of the Rings. Not that putting them together was an original thought when I signed up on Classic-castle with a username in Quenya (Tolkien's High Elvish). My brother and I had played many "Middle-earth" games, wherein the entirety of our Castle collections was overhauled to represent the different factions of Middle-earth, letting us play out some terribly derivative battles with obscenely high casualty rates. Lions turned into the guard of Minas Tirith, Black Falcons turned into the Knights of Dol Amroth, and Forestmen into Arnorian rangers, while Royal Knights and Knights' Kingdomers (i) turned into the Rohirrim, and Black Knights (with their ironic dragon emblems) became the Men of Dale. Then, to augment the pitiful armies of Dragon Masters, Fright Knights, and Bull Knights who represented the elite armies of Harad, we transformed every Ninja, Pirate, Star Wars, and Adventurer fig we had, not to mention countless sundry other figs, into rabble-armies of Easterlings and Men of Khand, ready to overwhelm the armies of the West through sheer numbers. There wasn't an "antenna" unused in our LEGO collections.

It was a lot of fun, but insofar as the "great take-apart of sets of 2004" coincided with joining Classic-Castle, those days had come to an end by the time I selected the name "Formendacil" as my cognomen for the forums. "Formendacil" is an original coinage, insofar as I think I'm the only Formendacil that comes up when Google the term (it's been a while since I did), but its construction is relatively simple. In the annals of Middle-earth's history, there were Kings of Gondor named "Rómendacil" (East-victor) and Hyarmendacil (South-victor). It was a simple matter to extrapolate "Formendacil" (North-victor), which was original, had a nice ring to it, and seemed appropriate for a Canadian. I'm not sure why I chose a Tolkienesque name as my user ID, but it stuck, and I've used it as my chief online alias ever since.

Indeed, when I stumbled upon a Tolkien forum in early 2005 and decided to join, it was largely my experience as a member and eventual moderator on Classic-Castle that gave me the nerve to join. The Barrow-downs has since become even more of an online home than Classic-castle, due to two factors. Firstly, the Classic-Castle Roleplay, which had been my niche on Classic-Castle eventually wound down/dried up and I stopped spending as much time there. Secondly, I got to know a lot of the Barrow-downers as close friends, originally through Private Messaging on the forum, then through MSN and AIM chatting and later Facebook friendships, and finally through meeting a bunch of them in person. In fact, I would never have met my rather amazing girlfriend had it not been for the Barrow-downs, because she was the best friend and roommate of one of the close friends I picked up there. (Actually, my girlfriend has an account in her own name now, but that's because of said intermediate friend's influence, and it's unlikely I'd have met her if I hadn't been meeting the friend.)

I haven't actually mixed LEGO and Tolkien much since then. In my first couple years on Classic-Castle, I had the hope of illustrating a few parts of the Silmarillion in LEGO form, but I never quite finished my project of making base portraits to portray all the major characters and factions. WARNING: Those pictures are rather old now, and most of them are quite atrocious.

(Fëanor and his sons, possibly as they took their cursed Oath)

Still, when I was looking for a quick choice in my Brickshelf folder to use as an avatar on this blog, I settled on a picture from that gallery--a reminder of the connection between my hobbies. It depicts Angrod or Aegnor (I can't remember which...) with a trio of soldiers of the House of Finarfin, which may not be the most apt Tolkien avatar for me to use, but it was the best picture I had in my Tolkien folder, and I wanted one from there.

Besides... it's nice and arcane, and if I'm any sort of Tolkien fan, it's the sort who likes the arcane geographical and genealogical facts.

Aquazone Breakfast News: 005

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

6234 Renegade's Raft

In keeping with the running theme of birthday LEGO, today's set from my distant past was a birthday present--my second LEGO birthday present, received in 1994, a year after my first LEGO birthday. By then, 6234 Renegade's Raft had been on the market for a few years, having been originally released in 1991.

Renegade's Raft was my fifth LEGO set, and my first Pirate set. Back when my LEGO collection consisted of a couple of Castle sets, a Freestyle set, a Fabuland set, and this guy, I remember the striped shirt, blue jacket, and snappy tricorn on this minifigure looking mighty sharp--and he had the finest weapons in the kingdom. He was also the first minifigure I owned that I was willing to call a bad guy--neither the Lions nor the Black Knights, nor even the ghost with King's Mountain Fortress seemed to quite qualify as "bad guys."

It would be another year before I'd get another Pirate set, and when I did, it is true that von Horde (so the fig with this set came to be named, though according to Brickipedia, he should properly be called First Mate Rummey) would be overshadowed in the earliest "classic" years of my Pirate-playing youth by other figs, he would eventually see dominance as the most clever and ruthless of the Pirates--in my fleet.

Almost as important as the fig, this set gave my first shark, and while I only had to wait a year for more Pirates, it would be close to five years before I would have another shark. In the meantime, my brother would get a few Aquashark sets as well as shark-possessing Divers sets, and this slightly beat-up old Pirate shark would have to be ruthless to remain leader of the shark clan. Indeed, I can still recognise which shark came with Renegade's Raft by the tooth marks or other scratches on its underbelly, though I suspect those came from a rambunctious child, rather than another LEGO shark. The shark was also quite cool for being able to "swallow" small pieces.

All told, Renegade's Raft isn't a particularly clever set, though it's a nice enough one. As with so many sets, it's chief lure for me is a heavy patina of nostalgia. Amusingly, if I think about it, this set included quite a few "firsts" for me. Besides the obvious and respectable firsts like "first Pirate," "first flintlock pistol," "first oars," "first Pirate flag," and "first shark," it also has some sillier ones, like "first 1x1 modified tile with clip," "first black 6x6 plate," "first yellow round 1x1 bricks," and "first jumper plate."

Not sure how I made it over a year without a jumper plate...

Sunday, February 20, 2011

10193 Medieval Market Village

As mentioned before, I had a birthday about a week ago, and for the first time in the last few years, I got LEGO as a gift. In fact, I got more LEGO than I've ever received at my birthday.

Thanks to one very awesome girlfriend, I now own 10193 Medieval Market Village.

Although I actually own the set now, I would classify it as One That Got Away otherwise, because this was THE set of the last decade for Castle fans to own, hands down, and until about a week ago, I did not really think I was ever going to quite get around to it. Though it feels substantially cheaper here in the States than it used to in Canada (though I'm told the price came down there recently), somehow it's hard to justify buying such a large set, even though I know I'll end up spending that much in two or three smaller purchases.

In any case, I'm very happy. It's mildly unfortunate that the MMV has such an amazing parts selection, because the design is so stellar that I'm unlikely to part it out any time soon. Even the two soldier figs, which are hardly rare, are unlikely to be sent away to join the rest of my Fantasy Era (Castle 2007) army anytime soon.

Monday, February 14, 2011

525 Basic 5+ Set in Tote Pack

Over the last few days I celebrated my 24th birthday, and for the first time in a few years, I got LEGO for my birthday. Indeed, I got more than "just LEGO"--I got one of the most impressive sets I own. Since I haven't got pictures of that yet, we'll save that for later. In keeping with the birthday theme, however, I want to look at one of my oldest sets, 525. I've referred to this set a few times, for the good reason that it's my second oldest set.

In addition to being the second addition to my LEGO collection, "Dr. Freestyle's" set, as I've called it for the better part of the 18 years I've owned it, was the first LEGO set I got for a birthday--back in 1993. It was also the first brand-new LEGO set I got (my prior set was used), and the first one with a regular minifig (the first was Fabuland), and pretty much every piece but the yellow 2x2 and the flower stems was a first-time experience in this set. What's more, since my earlier set was only a month and a half in my possession, Dr. Freestyle has long had a sort of coëval status as eldest set.

In this picture you can see the set in the basic form it has taken in my collection over the years, almost without exception. The van is slightly modified from the model in the instructions--mostly insofar as its been built a bit taller to more easily accommodate the good doctor. One will also notice the two trans-coloured 1x1 tiles at the front of the van. These were extra pieces with 4012 Wave Cops, which I got during the summer of 1997. They were affixed to the doctor's van probably at the same time I acquired them, turning it into my first (and only, as things have turned out so far) incarnation of an ambulance. Apart from being the only foreign pieces introduced into the doctor's set, this helps demonstrate that it was not later than 1997 before Dr. Freestyle acquired his present job description.

As I said, the models shown above are the main form the set has taken for most of the past eighteen years. Part of the reason for this is that they best accommodate minifigs, but another major reason is that my instructions have been in a very sorry state--although I still have them.

Despite their incomplete and very battered condition, these instructions retain a place in my heart, which by and large doesn't retain a lot of room for instructions, and the major reason for this is no doubt because they're the oldest ones I have.

In addition to the model pictured above, I have an assortment of other pieces that have, since time immemorial, been associated with this set--other pieces that these two models do not utilise, though I'm not at all sure if the aggregate total of all these pieces actually corresponds to the original Tote Bag manifest. In any case, the extra bricks are in a somewhat unsightly pile, so there seemed no point to take a picture of them.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Rebuilding the Past

In my other online fan-life, as a Tolkien nerd, the roleplaying part of the forum is undergoing some revamping. It's interesting that is happening now, because at the same time I'm letting myself get swallowed up in the excitement there, I'm on a bit of a building spree with old LEGO sets. I find this interesting, because the roleplay restructuring means digging back into the history of the forum, and at the same time that we're rebuilding our history there, I'm in the middle of rebuilding some of my LEGO history.

Amusingly, the LEGO history I'm rebuilding is, in turn, a rebuild of LEGO from the 1980s. I'm talking about a couple of the Legends sets LEGO released in the early 2000s, namely 10000 Guarded Inn and 10039 Black Falcon's Fortress.

When these sets came out in 2001 and 2002, they were pretty much dreams come true: Castle themes from before my collecting days made possible again. The knight with the Guarded Inn was my first Black Falcon. The Lion soldiers from the same set were my first Lions since 1994. What's more, the sets were justifiably well designed--they were re-released for a reason.

Rebuilding them this week, I almost don't understand why I ever took them apart. Given my MOCing skills are admittedly weak, their classic lines are well beyond anything I've been able to come up with. Looking back, I almost have to wonder if the "Great Take-Apart" of my sets wasn't my version of a LEGO Dark Age. (Normally, a LEGO fan's "Dark Age" refers to a period when the bricks are set aside and forgot--often during the teen and young adult years).

It's safe to say that these sets will get a viewing here at some point as "Favourite Sets."

Sunday, February 6, 2011

MOC: M-Tron Fighter

To anyone who's been following this blog, it's probably become clear by now that I tend in the direction of sets, rather than MOCs. Indeed, if you've been paying attention to my career on Classic-Castle, I've hardly ever posted a MOC online, and those I have are... not nearly as polished as most out there. I've been aware for quite a while now that I'm more of a fig-person than a building-person, and this is part of why I'm not a great builder. Practice is part of it too, and maybe I just don't have the native talent. Whatever the reason for it, I'm content with mostly being a set-person, rather than a MOC-person.

That doesn't mean, however, that I *never* build MOCs...

(Actually, it's probably worth noting that of my standing LEGO creations, half or more are probably MOCs... they just aren't necessarily that good.)

Anyway, this M-Tron fighter is one of my MOCs that I think is polished enough to make a public appearance. It's not that it's amazing... but I think it's okay. It is, in any case, swooshable, and that counts for a lot.

I've never had an M-Tron set. The two figs that I own were acquired via Bricklink, and it's pretty clear that I've not adhered strictly to things as they're modelled in the official sets. There is a lack of light grey, a total absence of magnets, and I'm not really sure that a fighter is an M-Tron appropriate vehicle.

The body of the fighter was originally an Extreme Team set, 2963 Extreme Racer, which I had rebuilt a couple years after the "great take-apart" of my sets, because I wanted the race car. You can still see a bit of the Extreme Team set's influence in the antenna and the cockpit, but it's rather hidden, I think.

All told, it's not a complicated build. It still has lots of studs showing, and is pretty much entirely a studs-up conservative build. The cockpit is classic LEGO in being completely unsealed. But it's fun, and I'm rather proud of it. Though I haven't got the pictures to show you, it still actually represents a significant development in my MOCing skills.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

6236 King Kahuka

The set I want to look at today is not exactly a favourite set. It is, however, a set that is currently standing in my collection (and many sets are not), as well as one that I think is fairly well-designed, interesting, and I'm glad I own. What's more, I'm on a bit of an Islander kick at the moment, and 6236 King Kahuka was the first one I had.

I got King Kahuka back in the fall of 1996, so only a few short months after I got the last set mentioned on this blog, 6626 Speed Trackers. Unlike those good policemen, King Kahuka had been sitting on the store shelves for some time--since coming out in 1994 with the rest of the Islanders theme. I wasn't particularly interested in Islanders at the time, but I had a few spare dollars and I wanted at least one for my collection. A long-standing pattern was being established where if I had money, I would spend it on as much LEGO as it would get me.

My parents were a bit loath at the time to let me get an Islander set. I think they were worried that they contained "idols," and that my games would henceforth involve the pagan demons of the South Seas. They needn't have worried. I was entirely too much of a 20th century North American child, and the statues in the Islander theme never looked like anything other than statues to me. In any case, King Kahuka's throne didn't have a statue, or even a graven image, and possibly on those grounds, my parents let me get him.

As a set, King Kahuka received little attention thereafter. One Islander wasn't much of a threat to either my Pirates or my Soldiers, and it would be another couple years before I would find any more Islanders--how I found an Islander set in Toys R' Us in 1998 is still a little beyond me, but I guess they didn't clear out their old stock quite so quickly in the 1990s as the 2000s. What's more, the Islander didn't have any guns or cutlasses, so he seemed to be a little at a disadvantage against the other figs, who looked sharper from my perspective.

Fifteen years later, however, I wish I had more Islander sets. Though perhaps the most forgotten of the five classic Pirate themes, I almost think they're my favourite--though an ancient Imperial Guard preference prevents me from quite saying it. In the Pirates "Grandfather's Tale" that I've mentioned as wanting to work on if I ever finish the Castle version, the Islanders have an important--even central--role to play.

In fact, the treasure chest that comes with this set, tucked away beneath King Kahuka's throne played a major role in my mental development of the plot, and will likely crop up in the story, if it should ever appear, though I doubt it will still have any treasure in it.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Aquazone Breakfast News: 002

Presenting the second episode of Aquazone Breakfast News. It is to be noted that I do not aim for a particularly high quality of MOC in these pictures, though I don't think the pictures themselves are all that bad.