Sunday, May 29, 2011

CCRP: A LEGO Story-Telling Retrospective - Part 1

Having packed all my LEGO up for the summer (to sit, well-packaged in my future father-in-law's barn) while I return to Canada without 99% of it has made it difficult to come up with topics to write about--and the crazy humidity that comes with living on the ocean from the perspective of a deep-inland prairie boy has utterly drained me of any sort of ambition.

Fortunately, my lazy wanderings in the past few days took me back to a place in my LEGO history that bears writing about, namely the Classic-Castle Roleplay (2004-2006).

The Classic-Castle Roleplay--the first, and most successful, of what would actually be three roleplayed stories under that name--was started on Classic-Castle's Gaming Forum in 2004, only a month or two before I joined the forums as a user. By the time I got involved in the Roleplay, about a month after I joined the site, it had gone through its first major phase (the "Misfits" era), and was ramping up towards what would eventually be its most massive--although in most opinion NOT most enjoyable--epic. Now, I don't plan on giving a blow-by-blow of a five-year-defunct online story written ostensibly about LEGO people (its completed epics are available in the Archives, anyway); rather, I want to look at its role as a major part of my storytelling history.

The Roleplay (and it was the Roleplay for a good year and a half for me) came to me at a time when my LEGO-writing projects (a series of stories in homemade book form that spanned my late childhood and adolescent years) was coming to an end. Given that the Roleplay absorbed massive amounts of my creative output over the next couple years, it's very easy for me to say that it succeeded and replaced my earlier, private LEGO world, and was in many steps clearly a forerunner to the public, LEGO-based storytelling I now attempt in the form of Grandfather's Tale and Aquazone Breakfast News.

The three figures just pictured were my initial protagonists, and looking at where they came from, it's clear that my initial ambitions were simple: get my toes wet in the collaborative-writing pool, and not work too hard at anything TOO serious. From left to right, the characters are: Sir Aethelred Dractor, "the Old Man," and Elwen dan Raleigh. They were joined by my initial villain, the Sorcerer-King:

The Sorcerer-King is a name that will be familiar to readers of Grandfather's Tale, because it was the name I assigned to the evil wizard from the 2007 Castle line. The Roleplay character, however, although he gave his name to the later wizard when I being lazy, was originally an import from my "epic"--my only serious and non-LEGO attempt at creative world-building. The Old Man was an import from the same world, though I called him "the Old Man" specifically to avoid using his real name in my epic, because I didn't want the name stolen. Although it was not a LEGO-based epic, I did have a go at recreating its characters in LEGO form, as can be seen in this Brickshelf gallery. I should warn anyone curious enough to go there that it was very first Brickshelf subfolder, and contains my oldest surviving attempts at LEGO photography.

Because the Old Man and the Sorcerer-King were both on loan non-canonically from my non-LEGO epic, it was inevitable that they would eventually leave Dametreos (as the world of the CCRP was known, in honour of its creator), but it would be take me close to a year before I was finished with their plots--partly because I took my time, and partly because they got swept into other stories along the way. Neither was a particularly memorable character: the Old Man was a fairly standard old wizard and the Sorcerer-King was your garden variety evil-wizard king (albeit he was the Dragon rather than the Big Bad, to link to TV-Tropes. Their main saving graces, in my opinion, is that I didn't try to go over-the-top with either of them, but made their plot more of a private battle than an all-out, Lord of the Rings-esque war. Whether their "mysterious pasts" (kept mysterious so as to preserve the solitude of my non-LEGO epic) helped them or not, I don't know.

Sir Dractor and Elwen were also imports from the non-LEGO epic, according to the backstories I gave them for the CCRP, but neither had ever belonged to it before. Elwen was a freshly-minted character, with a vaguely-LotR-sounding first name, and a last name borrowed from a Royal Knight character. She was included in an early attempt at gender-balanced not only the LEGO-verse, but my stories. Unfortunately in that respect, she was approximately as run-of-the-mill as the Old Man or the Sorcerer-King. As a 17-year-old boy, and a nerd at that, I certainly had no idea how to write a woman--let alone a warrior woman with a bit of a tragic past. To my credit, I can reread most of what I wrote, and not cringe... but the flipside of that coin is that most of what I reread about Elwen is rather forgettable.

All of which left Sir Dractor as the most successful of my original four characters. Like the Old Man and the Sorcerer-King he pre-existed the CCRP, but unlike them he did not originally belong to the world of my non-LEGO epic. Instead, he was imported almost directly from the world of my earlier LEGO stories, based directly on the sets. Sir Dractor, you see, was originally a Royal Knight, who came with my 6090 Royal Knight's Castle. Sir Dractor was the knight in red, on the brown horse, and because he was a Royal Knight character with a Dragon Master head, he had a long history in my LEGO legendarium of standing out in the crowd. In some very early games or stories, he was the villainous rebel against the Royal Knight king's rule; in later years, he was something of a Worf-esque Klingon: a noble barbarian who had joined the good guys.

It's kind of funny looking back to think that Sir Dractor was the character who was most successfully written, because he was every bit as much of a cliché as the others: he was a talented warrior with almost unbelievable skills--and tough as nails. In one memorable crowning moment of awesome, he was hit by a catapult stone and got back up to fight.

Sir Dractor is also the character from the CCRP most likely to reappear in Grandfather's Tale at some point--not counting the reappearance of the Sorcerer-King's name. This is not so much because of his success as a CCRP character as it is because of his original roots: as he was originally a knight with my Royal Knight's Castle, it is probable that he will return there if/when Grandfather's Tale brings me in the direction of the Royal King's court. The Old Man is going to make an appearance in the background of Chapter 12 (which, with Chapter 11, has already been photographed and will be finished some time this summer), but is unlikely to have a speaking role.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Aquazone Breakfast News: 018

Well, that does it for having a "buffer." However, I have plenty of time to work on the next batch this week, so I'm not worried--about next Friday, anyway. The following Friday, while I'm en route as part of my summer move... might be a little more of a problem. We'll have to wait and see.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

4012 Wave Cops

It's been mentioned once or twice before that I like Police LEGO, that in fact it's my favourite Town sub-theme. Today's set was the second Police set I acquired, after 6625 Speeder Trackers.

4012 Wave Cops came out the same year, 1996, as Speed Trackers, and thus belongs to the same "generation" of LEGO policemen: black-and-white vehicles with trans-medium-blue glass pieces, and the yellow star logo on a black-and-white shield. And a lot of guys wearing sunglasses.

I bought Wave Cops in the summer of 1997, one of the earlier sets that I bought with my own money, and in the very early days of getting LEGO more than three or four times a year. The fact that this set was a Police set specifically is 100% why I picked it up, and the fact that it expanded the Police force beyond the highways of my LEGO town to the seas was an added bonus.

Looking at the set itself, however, the fact that this is a boat is hardly incidental. In fact, it is not generally categorized as a part of the Rescue (Police) subtheme, but as part of the "Really Floats" sub-theme. LEGO released three Really Floats sets in 1996, and Wave Cops with the mid-range of the three, with two minifigs.

Not that this set has a lot of pieces. As one can tell from the pictures, it's not that the piece selection is bad... it's just that the hull accounts for a LOT of the set. Since the purpose of the set is to "Really Float" (which it does), it's hard to criticize this set on the grounds of juniorisation, yet that's exactly the sort of problem the set would give a builder: what, if anything, can you build out of its pieces that would not be another Police boat?

Nonetheless, this didn't strike me as a bad thing back in 1997, since I wasn't in the habit of taking my sets apart. Officers George and Anthony Smith (one should note a family resemblance, facially, to the Smiths in Speed Trackers) rarely rode actual waves--I think they may have had two excursion into the bathtub--but this hardly fazed them, or me.

Over the years, Wave Cops would be pushed into the background of my LEGO memory, as newer and more wonderful sets with more interesting characters pushed forward, and the gimmick of "Really Floats" wasn't enough to compete. Nonetheless, it was the largest "ship" in my Town fleet for many years--indeed, until I got another Really Floats ship in the late 2000s, and it retains a nostalgic quality simply for being a Police set of that era, and a part of my collection from that era.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Too Much News Means Few Posts

Unfortunately, despite being back in Boston for about ten days now, after my rushed trip back to Canada, I have not got back into the swing of posting. Part of this is obviously due to the upset routine--which continues to be upset, since I'm no longer in school for the year, and I'm busy packing up my apartment (and LEGO) to move out May 31st--but this is also due to things like the discouragingly cloudy weather Boston has been enjoying, which has discouraged me from taking pictures, which are often an important catalyst in my blog-writing process.

It'll be interesting, as an aside, to see how this blog fares once I get back to Canada for the summer, since I'm only taking a very small fraction, a mere token of me collection with me. The rest will live in storage...

Meanwhile, while there is bad news in my life, there's also been good news. My girlfriend is no longer my girlfriend, but my fiancée.

The wedding isn't for a little over a year (subject to when we can or can not book things), and I doubt it will heavily impact this blog, which remains a LEGO-blog first.

On the other hand... I wonder if we can set up a gift registry at the LEGO Store...

Monday, May 16, 2011

Some Statistics

Unfortunately, Boston has been cloudy since I've been home, so today's post may be a bit more boring than it might have been in the weather had felt cheerier. Of course, I'm talking about statistics today, so it's possible that no amount of pictures would make that better. On the other hand, I don't think I would have decided to talk about some statistics if I had pictures...

Anyway, you've been duly warned.

I've been using Excel to keep a record of my LEGO collection for some years now. I had a paper record ca. 2000 that listed when I acquired all of my older sets, which remained current until about 2003-4ish (just before the Great Take Apart), and the current Excel document was started in 2007, so it's a mostly accurate record of when I acquired my sets, a completely accurate record of what sets I have, and has also developed into a bit of a statistical chart, as I keep track of the "ratings" my sets get.

Each set is evaluated on five criteria (developed on Classic-Castle in the course of reviewing Castle sets on the official review threads): Parts, Playability, Figs and their Accessories, Design, and "Nostalgia." Obviously, these are all open to subjectivity, and since the point of the whole exercise is more or less to figure which sets are my favourites, that's not really problematic. It's been interesting to compare where sets line up with Lugnet's rating system, and it would seem that (for the most part) once you average out my five criteria, you end up with fairly standard assessments. "Nostalgia" is the trickiest of the five, because while the other four aim for objectivity (while admitting it's a biased process), Nostalgia is there specifically to provide a category to account for sets that I really like (or dislike)... and can't give any good reason for.

On the basis of these statistics, I've also calculated the averages for each subtheme. The numbers are less fair here, since I've only evaluated sets that I own, so a theme with two small (and often mediocre) sets in my collection will probably not rate as well as a theme with 15 sets ranging from small to large, which in turn will not rate as well as a set with only one or two of the largest sets (which often get the best ratings from me). However, as a measure of "favourite," I think this list is fairly accurate, and it's as good a way as any of listing them.

Some other day I might go into a discussion of my favourite or least favourite sets, but for today we'll just look at the favourite and least favourite themes in my collection. Starting at the top, my favourite themes according to this criteria are:

1. Adventurers-the Egyptian Subtheme from 1998, with a 9.85 rating
2. Black Knights, ca. 1992, with a 9.3 rating
3. Designer (the large house sets from the 2000s-2010s), with a 9.25 rating
4. Imperial Guards, 1992-5, with a 9.0 rating
5. Legoland Castle, ca. late 1980s, with a 8.94 rating

The interesting thing about this list, is that the only theme from the 3rd Millennium is the Designer line, probably reflecting the fact that the earlier sets have a higher nostalgic quotient. Indeed, both the Black Knight and the Imperial Guards have been looked at as "Ones That Got Away," and Legoland Castle and the Egyptian Adventurer line would have counted as the same if I had not, in fact, caught them.

At the bottom of the list (of 86 distinctly considered themes--not including Bionicle, Technic, or Duplo) are the following:

82. Alpha Team-Mission Deep Sea, from 2002, with a 7.35 rating
83. Soccer, from the early 2000s, with a 7.25 rating
84. Aquasharks, from 1995-8, with a 7.25 rating (technically a tie with Soccer)
85. Xtreme Island Stunts, from the early 2000s, with a 7.15 rating
86. Junior Pirates, also from the early 2000s, with a 6.4 rating

I do not think it is coincidental that the bottom bunch of sets tends to hail from the early part of the 2000s, nor that Junior Pirates is so abysmally below the rest--Jack Stone would probably be there too, if I'd ever got a set from that line. The Aquasharks are perhaps unfairly in the bottom five, mostly due to the fact that I have only got two sets, and one of them is the abysmal Super Sub, also know as The Aquashark Dart, which has a 6.6 rating.

All of this only goes to show, perhaps, that I am either too much of a nerd or have way too much time on my hands... or both. But I doubt I'm the only one out there who has done anything like this.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Aquazone Breakfast News: 016

I meant to get this up on Friday, but when I attempted in the earlier morning, Blogger was having issues that prevented people from logging in... hence it comes today, after I've returned to Boston. With school out, and being back, there should hopefully be a greater frequency of new content again.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Aquazone Breakfast News: 015

Sorry about the lack of updating lately. First there was an engagement, and then I had to rush back to Canada for a death in the family. It's been the best of times and the worst of times...

...but Lucien and Alex soldier on!