Monday, October 5, 2015

The Winds of Winter, Jon Snow Info? Nope, Not Here. #lego #got #gameofthrones

I suppose I was supposed to write "Nope, Not Here," in the body of the article, and not in the title of the article. Darn. I ruined my own attempt at clickbait.

Sometimes, honesty is the worst policy, if one is dealing in a dishonest field.

In any case, this particular blog post continues the theme of Game of Thrones spoilers, rendered in LEGO. We covered the first half of the first season here and the second half of the first season here. Now, we are in the show's second season, rendering specific -- and often spoilery -- shots in LEGO bricks and LEGO minifigures. I initially post these photos on my Instagram profile, and since the first season of LEGO GoT, Instagram has allowed for wider photos, in addition to the traditional Instagram cropped square photo. With that context, the second season of LEGO GoT is now in "widescreen."

Here are the first five episodes of the second season -- SPOILERS!

The first episode is "The North Remembers." Here we have the priestess of R'hllor, Melissandre, and a contender for Joffrey's Iron Throne, his uncle Stannis Baratheon. They are on the beach in Dragonstone, burning down the statues of the seven-in-one god of the Faith of the Seven.

The second episode is "The Night Lands." We finally introduce a Jon Snow minifigure, as well as a Samwell Tarly minifigure. With Jon as a minifigure, I have yet to create minifigures for two Starks: Robb (King in the North) and Rickon. In any case, these members of the Night's Watch are Beyond the Wall, at Craster's Keep.

The third episode is "What Is Dead May Never Die." Not seen in this shot is Tyrion Lannister, but he is ever-present in the reason for this photograph. Here, Tyrion basically ordered his buddy/bodyguard/mercenary Bronn to cut off Grandmaester Pycell's beard. This bedchamber is probably the most intricate set I've built for LEGO GoT, but I tried my best to keep it simple, knowing that backgrounds are usually not the focus of the photograph.

The fourth episode is "Garden of Bones." A very "nude" Melissandre has just given birth to a shadow assassin that resembles Stannis Baratheon. Ser Davos witnesses this magic in sheer horror, or as much emotion as that particular minifigure face can portray. This cave was made out of "big ugly rock pieces" (BURPs), and I made sure to shine some light on Davos' torch, to create the illusion that the LEGO flame piece is illuminating the cave.

The fifth episode is "The Ghost of Harrenhal." Jaqen H'ghar has just killed The Tickler, fulfilling the first assassination wish (of three) on Arya Stark's list. The hairpiece on the official Narcissa Malfoy (Draco's mother in Harry Potter) minifigure was a perfect match for Jaqen's hair.

I kind of arbitrarily give flesh-colored (from lightest to darkest: glow-in-the-dark, white, light flesh, flesh, medium dark flesh, dark flesh, reddish brown, brown, dark brown, etc.) heads to these characters. The First Men ethnic group tends to get yellow heads, as do characters of Andal descent. Most Dothraki minifigures receive yellow heads, as well. I'm planning to give the Rhoynars of Dorne flesh heads, but who knows? Jaqen, above, is said to be from Lorath in Essos, so that's the primary reason why I gave him a flesh-colored head over a yellow one. I try to give featured characters from Essos a flesh-colored head. Targaryens are ethnically Valyrian from Essos (plus or minus their Westeros-mixed "genes"), so I give them -- as well as rumored Targaryens -- flesh-colored heads.

In any case, ideally, I would depict any character with my limited selection of flesh-colored heads, unless there's a yellow head that really captures the character, in a humorous way. So, yes, it's basically an arbitrary decision whether to use a standard yellow LEGO minifigure head or one of the many shades of flesh-colored heads.

Monochromatic LEGO walls are often boring set pieces, which can be a problem if they are in the foreground. There are various ways to remedy this. You can use different colors, but that runs the danger of getting too "busy." You can use bricks with different shapes and angles, but that might take too much time and planning, if you're in a hurry. In the photo above, I tried to make a brick-like pattern for the pillar in the foreground. I also used two slightly different shades of dark grey, if your eyes can detect it. One shade is the yellowish, pre-2003 (?) dark grey, and the other shade is the modern dark bluish-grey. It's these little details that make otherwise boring foreground walls into something a bit visually interesting, without going overboard with LEGO technique or becoming a busy-looking distraction.

After all, the main focus of the shot is meant to be the minifigure -- or as Jaqen might put it, a minifigure is the main focus of the photograph.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

#LEGODimensions Is Basically a Long Episode of #DoctorWho

I am not a gamer. Well, I was sort of a "gamer." I played extensively on the Atari 2600, the Nintendo Entertainment System, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, the first version of the Sony PlayStation, and the first version of the Nintendo Wii. All of those consoles are probably gathering dust in a dark corner of the world, somewhere.

Even if I was a "gamer" at some point in my life, I never gained any satisfaction from the mechanics of the game itself. I only concerned myself with whether the story was "cool" or if the concepts related to the story were "cool" or if the aesthetic design of the game was "cool."

The only game I currently play on a part-time basis is Diablo III: Reaper of Souls. I am under the impression that many, if not most, players enjoy action role-playing games/dungeon crawler games, like the Diablo series, because of the game mechanics. They tend to like the randomness of the maps and the possibility of finding awesome "loot," i.e., upgrades to their player character's equipment.

I play Diablo with my brother, and I like to pretend we're like the medieval, dark fantasy version of the Winchester brothers (Supernatural). I enjoy clicking away on my mouse with that concept in mind: Saving people, hunting things. I also appreciate the isometric perspective of this action RPG, but even still, I am not a gamer.

I remember enjoying the NES game Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, even though it was a confusing game to beat. I suppose I really just liked the concept of killing monsters and Dracula. In any case, I mused that it would be cool if they re-made Simon's Quest in the isometric style of Diablo.

I ran that idea by a friend, a true gamer, who informed me that the classic Castlevania games were meant to be side-scrolling platform-jumping games, not an isometric hack-and-slash. This was the point were I kind of understood that I was not a "gamer" -- in the sense of being fan of game mechanics -- but merely someone who enjoyed a silly/serious video game story, coupled with a sense of aesthetics.

It took me several paragraphs to provide context for the actual subject of this blog post, the recently-released "toys-to-life" adventure game LEGO Dimensions. I did not buy a $400 current-generation game console (Xbox One, PlayStation 4, or Wii U). I did not buy the $100 starter pack version of LEGO Dimensions, and neither did I purchase the various add-ons to the game.

What I did do, was gather minifigures of Gandalf the Grey, Wyldstyle from The LEGO Movie, and a cobbled-together Batman. If purchased from a Bricklink seller, those three minifigures would probably cost anywhere from $15 to $20. I also watched nearly three hours of cutscenes from LEGO Dimensions on YouTube ...

And I enjoyed every minute of it.

The premise of LEGO Dimensions is that an inter-dimensional warlord named Vortech wants to conquer all the parallel LEGO realities (minus the Disney-licensed ones), and it's your job to stop him. It's basically a grander sequel to The LEGO Movie. There are many non-Disney character franchises involved, including DC Comics, The Lord of the Rings, The Simpsons, Back to the Future, Portal, old school Midway arcade games, Scooby-Doo, and Doctor Who.

There are so many mash-ups of realities and characters and worlds and concepts that LEGO Dimensions' storyline actually feels like a very long episode of Doctor Who -- or an off-the-wall episode of Supernatural. While some non-player characters (who might be player characters with the purchase of individual add-on minifigures) feel like glorified cameos -- you must save Homer Simpson, Superman shows up to shoot a laser, etc. -- The Doctor is a strong supporting character to the three leads -- Gandalf, Wyldstyle, and Batman. The Doctor and his TARDIS show up at the right moments, as a sort of deus ex machina to resolve various sticky situations for our starter pack heroes.

The entire idea of warping from world to world, from quasi-historical time period to speculative futuristic time period and all times in between, is very Doctor Who. Any kid -- or adult -- who plays with LEGO will almost always mash-up divergent worlds, whether yellow LEGO minifigures or flesh-colored licensed LEGO minifigures, much like any silly, feel-sy episode of Doctor Who.  You make stuff as you go along when playing with LEGO; fantasy shows like Doctor Who often feel like they're making stuff as they go along -- and it's totally wonderful!

If you are a gamer with a current console, and you enjoy the LEGO aesthetic, then it's a no-brainer to spend all sorts of money on this game. If you aren't a gamer, but you enjoy LEGO things, just watch the cutscenes on YouTube. The same goes for fans of The LEGO Movie and/or Doctor Who. LEGO Dimensions is just delightful.

I hope you all have a happy October! Cheers!