Saturday, November 19, 2011

Been Busy

It would appear that I've neglected this blog for about 3 months now. Oops.

I've got good reasons, though. The first is that I've been busy. Life, you know- it tends to get that way sometimes.

The second is that much of my recent activity, from a hobby perspective, has been going towards Infinity, and that gets posted on Remote Presence.

The final reason is the NOVA Open. In 2011 I volunteered to assist during the event as an appearance judge (see earlier post). I had a stupid crazy good time. Since I'm a total stick in the mud, that's saying a lot. This time around, for 2012, I've stepped up to take care of the event's online presence. We're rapidly gearing up, even though NOVA 2012 isn't until Labor Day weekend of next year.

The idea is to start spreading the word ASAP. The website, http://www.novaopen.com, is getting a full repaint, re-architecting, and new content. The goal is to go-live on December 1st, 2011- fully active and capable of accepting registration. So I've been rather busy trying to get that taken care of. We're also going to leverage Facebook and Twitter to help maintain interest all year and foster more of a community atmosphere.

I realize that I've only got 5 followers, and I personally know 3 of 'em, but dang it- I didn't want you guys to feel abandoned. Word, yo.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

NOVA Open 2011

Confessions of an Appearance Judge, or “Phantom Lanyard Syndrome”

I was asked to help out at the NOVA Open this year. Since I had never participated as a Staff member in any sort of con, I figured I’d give it a go. About a week before the event, we had a big prep meeting to stuff swag bags, review schedules, and assign duties. My initial offer was to help with the Appearance Judging, but I also got tapped to assist with the Trios Team Tournament. Since the schedule had Appearance Judging running from 6:30am till 8:30am, I figured it would be no problem at all. Things didn’t quite work out that way…

Starting at 6:30am sharp on Friday, folks slowly started to trickle in to the conference hall. Most walked right past the Appearance Judging tables and straight on to the gaming tables. A few placed their armies on the table and requested our attention. I’d like to say we “sprang in to action”, but since it was only 6:30 and I had only finished about half of my coffee, it would be more appropriate to say we “shuffled into some form of activity”. Thus began the first of three, fifteen-hour days of Appearance Judging. I’m still recovering. But you know what? I had a blast and have already told MVBrandt (the organizer) that I’m in for next year. Props to Appearance boss Geoff and my three cohorts Kevin, Jon, and Bob.

Once those first few brave souls stopped at our tables, others began to take notice and also started to bring their armies over. The same pattern repeated itself all three days, with lots of players coming over before Round 1, and then again in waves as games finished up. Except for a few rare moments, we always had at least one person at the judging station, and for the most part there were just four of us working full time to review over 350 armies.

So- what did I see and how did I look at it?

The NOVA information packet contained a solid overview of what the Appearance Judging would cover. Three categories: Army at a Glance, Better than Crayon, and Frankenstein were on the menu. The simplest criteria to assess were basing, display board, and model preparation. If the army didn’t meet the 3-color minimum, it got zeroed out right there. If bare plastic, primer or mold lines were apparent, scores were adjusted accordingly. After that, things got tricky. We were instructed to NOT judge on artistic or aesthetic merit- only on technical presentation. What does that mean? Well, if an army was purple and orange with yellow highlights, it didn’t matter. If an army had blobby paint, clear brush strokes, or harsh shading/highlights it did matter.

Most armies met the standard of Tabletop Quality, and as such we got to see a lot of really nice armies during the weekend. There were many armies that exceeded this level of merit and as a result we had to pull out flashlights to check for brush strokes and mold lines…fingerprints and file marks…glossy decals and painting outside the lines. Lots of guys mentioned “damage in transit or during play”. I don’t think that at any time we dinged anybody for this sort of mishap. Sh*t happens and we were quite willing to let it go. By the same token, display bases only accounted for a small percentage of the total score, since the primary focus of judging was on the army, not the base. Also, with many participants flying in to the area, display bases weren’t really an option. So the bulk of scoring rested in the paint job. This general approach also applied to the best painted mini (Better than Crayon).

Conversion (Frankenstein) also put a lot of value on the paint job, but an equal amount went to the physical alteration of the model. It quickly became apparent that some armies lend themselves to conversion easily (Orcs, Chaos, Imperial Guard) while others (Grey Knights) do not. The conversion score was based on complexity and execution. A helmet swap didn’t really count for much. Adding auto-cannons to make a Rifleman Dread (and there were soooo many of them) was a fairly common and average conversion. Significant kit-bashing and minor re-sculpts would vault the mini to the next highest level, while totally unique sculpts and major kit bashing would put the mini over the top.

I think that considering the workload, we did a pretty good job. The final review of armies for the top awards at the end of the Open was tricky. Four judges with strong opinions having to figure out the Best Of in each category… but in the end I’m satisfied that we got it right. The finalists in all the categories were the best of the best at NOVA, and even though only one award went out in each category, all the entries were impressive. Sometimes the final decision came down to very small technical calls (see above) following very intensive reviews. Yes, we looked under hulls and cloaks and shined light into very dark recesses.

Once we got slammed early Friday, it became apparent that I’d have no time to take proper photos of anything. My digital camera is ancient and was fairly useless anyway. Fortunately, we did have a photographer on Sunday and she was all over the hall, taking photos everywhere, and she was able to concentrate on the finalists as we were tallying the results, so I’m hopeful that there will be images available very soon via the official NOVA Open website.

I also regret that with the rush it was difficult to offer constructive advice to aspiring painters. If I came off as brusque or dismissive I have to apologize. I can easily be stand-offish at times, but even trying to be on more approachable behavior it was just really tricky to get through the backlog at times. Anyway, if anybody has any questions, feel free to post here and I will try to get back to you. Anything but actual scores (don’t have access to them, nor would it be allowed).

Final thought- I got a chance to chat with Gav Thorpe often during the weekend and have to say he was a really great guy. If you missed his reading on Saturday night, you missed out big time. Morgrim Dark and I took a quick break on Sunday and snagged Gav for a beer at the hotel bar and he was happy to provide some insights into the workings of GW as a company (Design Studio, Marketing, Management, etc.), comments on Black Library authors’ approaches to the 40k milieu, and a bunch of other stuff. NO, we didn’t ask about the next codex, mini, or other stuff.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Tau: Shas' El



Been obnoxiously busy over the past 2 weeks and haven't had an opportunity to post anything. Today I'm just going to present one of my Tau Shas' El Crisis Suits. I used the same paints for this guy as I have for all the others. Like my Shas' O, this suit also got the 4x magnet treatment.


I did cave in and do a slight modification to his head. I really don't like the standard head component, and decided to create more visual interest and height by integrating the Tau target lock. I basically cut out a small square at the bottom of the target lock and mounted the remaining piece on to the center front of the crisis suit head.

I have two suits with heads like this, so I use them either as Shas' El or team leads.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Tau: Shas' O


I picked up the 9 suit Apocalypse set back in the day, since it was a pretty solid deal. Unfortunately, three or four suits had very badly warped rear torsos. Unsalvageable. I contacted GW Customer Service and they shipped replacements. No fuss, no muss.

These guys are a quick and easy build. The lack of compound curves means I can scrape, file, and sand much more rapidly and still get very clean surfaces. The ankles are the only real engineering problem with the XV-8. They're rather delicate and won't handle too much torque. Once based, though, I think they're more survivable.


Since this is my Shas' O, I did go ahead and cut up the legs around the knees and arms in order to create a more dynamic pose. His stance is based on the Farsight artwork in the Tau Codex. His head is one of the two metal variants. In all other respects, he's a standard XV-8. All of my Crisis Suits have 4 neomydium magnets (1/8")- one in each forearm, and one at each corner of the top of the jump pack. These allow weapons swaps on the fly.

My Tau have a fairly consistent color scheme across infantry, vehicles, and suits: I airbrush Tamiya Buff over everything, followed by a wash of Devlan Mud and drybrushing of Vallejo Sand. Mechanical bits are painted Chaos Black with Fortress Grey highlights. Red panels are painted Vallejo Vermilion with highlights of Vermilion mixed with Vallejo Flat Yellow. Additional weapon details are picked out with Fortress Grey and Skull White highlights.

Movie Quick Take: Transformers- Dark of the Moon

"...it's over, Prime"

(review contains spoilers)

Went to see Transformers 3 last night in 3D. Usually I don't go for the 3D (not very fond of the effect or the price) but the timing was right. My buddy and I settled down with only the slightest hope that this installment might be better than the last one. If you haven't seen Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen...don't. Just be content to know it's a turd. I mean...really, really bad. And dumb. Not the usual Michael Bay dumb- more of an offensive dumbness, a mind-dulling dumbness that leaves you feeling enstupidated after you finish the movie. I digress.

Once again we get to enjoy adventures with everybody's favorite transforming giant robots. Notice I included the word "giant" there. There are 2 midget Autobots with whom we enjoy nothing. This time around, Megatron is off in the background, scheming to enslave humanity, defeat the Autobots, and rule Cybertron. Natch. His machinations, however, are evident throughout the film, and there is far more of a plot in this film than the last film. Regrettable it still feels like those plot lines have been rushed through the pipe as quickly as possible in order to just get on with the explosions. Too bad, as a bit more investigation and mystery could have added tension and suspense to the movie overall.

OK, it's about giant robots beating the tar out of each other, but here's a major problem- total lack of character development for Sam (Shia Leboufbouf) means that you, as a viewer, don't give a crap what happens to him. At all. When you feel a greater emotional investment in the robots...there's a major issue. The human touch point has lost its relevance, and as such is not necessary anymore. Why bother with ANY people this time around? Stick with the robots and be done with it.

The opening 10 minutes, the "set-up", was masterfully done. Rapid jump cuts and effects told us everything we needed to know as quickly as possible. After that...meh. Boring relationship stuff with Sam and his new Eye Candy. Pointless cameo roles from better actors (Malkovitch, McDormand) and more entertaining actors (Turturro, Tudyk, Jeong) who seemed very out of place. Also, a painful appearance by Buzz Aldrin playing Buzz Aldrin. It would also appear that Lane Kim managed to graduate and now works for the NSA. Yes- I do watch Transformers AND Gilmore Girls. Deal.

Right...something else, I was distracted. Where was I?

Explosions. I think the last half hour was one big explosion that went around the screen destroying everything. Buildings, planes, cars, boats, robots, people, planets... Lots of violence in this Transformers. Not just the kind where you bust a cap into an Autobot prisoner' head at point blank range, or punch through a Decepticon's sternum and blast his head clean off from within...no, I mean the kind where high caliber weapons literally vaporize people on screen leaving charred bones to fall to the ground. Cute, yes? I think the younger (inappropriately younger, I must point out) kid a few seats down from me started freaking out. Good job Mom!

From a nerd perspective, I did enjoy all the voice performances. Nimoy was just as good playing Sentinel Prime as he was playing Galvatron. Towards the end, I think he may have been channeling a bit of Galvatron, too. A few cute nods to prior Transformers lore, and even a good tip of the hat to some Trek as well. The Decepticons became even more faceless this time around, and Megatron came off as petty. Oh well.

I only wish that Bay could keep his cameras locked down for more than 2.6 seconds at a time. Unsurprisingly, Michael Bay's films suffer from the "Michael Bay Effect"...too much jitter, too highly kinetic to register visually...overstimulating.

Bottom line: not a great film, but certainly entertaining. I'd add it to my collection if it was on sale. If you like Bay films, this is for you. If you like Transformers, you'll have mixed feelings. If you like solid storytelling and character development and engaging plots... here; check out this video.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Painting: Urban Camo

I've caught up with taking pictures of my Tau (to be posted in future) and started with my Ultramarines. The first squad was going to be my Scouts, but once I had them on the table I realized that I'd never "finished" their cloaks. So, away went the lightbox and out came the paintbrush. Rather than complete the process on all three figures, I decided to leave them in-progress in order to take this photo.


The cloaks were originally just Chaos Black with a dry-brushing of Fortress Grey for highlights. Subsequently, I outlined the blocks of angular camo with Fortress Grey (far left figure), then filled them with more Fortress Grey (center figure). Shading was done by adding VERY small amounts of Chaos Black, darkening as the blocks receded into the folds of the cloaks. Simple, quick, and effective.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

GW Pricing: It ain't that bad, folks

Sure, the topic has been beaten to death, but I figured I'd throw my two inflation-adjusted cents into the ring. There have been some good comments and postings about comparing the price of the miniature wargaming hobby to other hobbies, but quite often they're comparing apples to oranges. What about comparing apples to apples? OK, with that we'd wind up comparing Games Workshop to Mantic or Privateer, which would defeat the purpose. Therefore, I'm going to compare peaches to apricots: Miniature Wargaming vs. Scale Modeling.

For example, lets say you want to buy a Rhino transport. That's about $33 on the GW website. Kind of expensive for such a small kit, right? Compare it, then, to a 1/35 Sherman tank from Tamiya. That'll run you about $35. Moving on- check out the infamously expensive Land Raider. That little brick will set you back $66. A 1/35 Maus (super-heavy german tank from WWII) from Dragon will run about $55.

I use these two examples because once assembled, the vehicles are similar in size, so it's relatively easy to compare the pairings. So, what do you get for your money, other than a brick of plastic?

Historical armor kits from a major manufacturer will provide astounding levels of fine detail. You'll probably get link-and-length treads and quite often a set of crew figures. Some newer kits even come with limited photo-etched parts. The finished piece will be very accurate to it's subject and more often than not bee too fragile to do anything besides sit on a shelf as a permanent display piece.

A wargaming kit, on the other hand, will be an odd hybrid- halfway between a replica and a toy. Not detailed enough to match a historical kit but not sturdy enough to be a toy. Still, you'll get a lot of plastic- just not anywhere near as many pieces as you might see with a regular kit.

Companies like Tamiya, Dragon, Monogram, etc., don't have to pay licensing fees (usually, though it may change in future) or creative designers to manufacture their kits. GW, on the other hand, has to generate unique new designs, market the kits, and protect their intellectual property. Though not huge, it will impact the overall pricing of the kit.

The same applies to figure kits. Going with the 1/35 scale, being pretty close to the 28mm gaming scale, you can usually find an infantry squad in a box, fully equipped, for around 10 to 12 dollars. If you get two sets to equal the standard 10-man infantry squad in 40k, for example, you'd be paying $20-25. This, though, is where the bang-for-your-buck equation is often inverted. I rarely see infantry sets that can match wargaming squads for what I'll call "bulk". I'm not saying you get a greater value, but you do seem to get "more" in the wargaming box for about $28. Like the 1/35 vehicles, 1/35 scale infantry are more delicate and detailed than their 28mm cousins, but not as robust.

I have subscribed to Fine Scale Modeler for years and read the new kit releases every issue. That being said, I haven't really looked at the prices listed for a long time. So, when I decided to take a look recently, it ocurred to me that Games Workshop- the perennial villian, isn't pricing their product as exhorbitantly as we might like to gripe about.