Monthly Archives: July 2013

Painting Miniatures and the Danger Zone

I’ve been painting miniatures a bit lately, and I’d like to quickly talk about something that people don’t generally talk about when it comes to painting: the actual creative process itself.

In order to paint well you certainly need to know techniques and to practice. But there are other more subtle things about the activity of painting that seem to always be ignored. I’m talking about the sorts of things that any artist needs to learn no matter what creative field they are in, be it music, writing, sculpture, or whatever.

I started thinking about this after I noticed that my process whenever I paint a model is always the same. I think about it for a few days until I have a clear picture in my head of what it will look like finished. I then work backwards in my mind, trying to plan what techniques I know that can create the effects I want. Only then do I start painting.

After this, a strange thing happens. I always get to a stage in the painting where I look at the model and think “that’s it, I’ve ruined it. I’ve screwed it up and it’s not going to look how I planned at all.” I then take a deep breath and decide to try something, anything, that might fix the model. The funny thing is, after I do whatever it is I’ve decided upon, the model is always mysteriously saved. It often ends up better than I planned!  A recent example is my Oniwaban Shinobu Kitsune. I originally envisioned her hair as naturally dark, with deep red highlights. This just didn’t look good, and I switched mid-painting to blonde highlights. The whole model was greatly improved and my confidence was renewed enough to finish.

My partner and my brother and sister are all formally trained artists. Like all gamers, I’m creative too in my amateur fashion. I talked to my brother Chris (his miniature sculpting and Dungeons and Dragons blog is here) about this strange phenomenon and he waved his hand and said “oh yeah, that’s the danger zone. It’s the part of the process where you have to stick to it and trust your skills even though you’re tempted to give up. I have two danger zones. The other one is where you’re done, but you just keep working on it, tinkering away, and then suddenly you’ve over done it and it’s ruined.”

I then talked to my partner and she also told me that one of the most valuable things her formal art training taught her was to know when to stop.

I’m lucky. I think the fact that I’ve been painting models since I was about seven years old has given me a good sense of when to stop. My main danger zone is when the model is at that critical point, and it looks to me like I’m not going to be able to pull off the paint job I envisioned. It’s scary, but it’s also the moment of pure creativity amongst the practical work, when I have to think beyond my original plan to get it to look the way I want.

What I’m trying to get across here is that every successful creative work (however you’d like to define it) strikes a balance between being unfinished and being over-realized. And for me at least, I have to hit a sort of rock bottom where it looks as though I’ve failed before I can push through and succeed in getting the model to look the way I imagined it in my head – or hopefully even better. That’s why I find miniature painting so rewarding. There’s always a challenge to be overcome.

This may all sound a bit pretentious for what is basically painting toy soldiers.  But I think we as model painters shouldn’t sell ourselves short. We face the same creative challenges as any artist and in the end we have to learn the same lessons.

Until next time,

James

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A Games Workshop Skirmish Game

I don’t like to give too much time to discussing Games Workshop’s games since I don’t play them at the moment for a variety of reasons.  But the recent rumour that they may be releasing a Warhammer 40,000-themed skirmish game interests me.

The rumour appeared on the blog Blood of Kittens originally, and there are a few intriguing facets to it.  Apparently what is in the works is a new “gateway” verison of Inquisitor that is heavily dependant upon John Blanche’s aesthetics (presumably like Dreadfleet was).  One of my favourite Warhammer 40,000 bloggers, Fulgrim of Tears of Istvaan, has recently announced that he has a job at Games Workshop.  Since Fulgrim is mainly an Inquisitor player, plays regularly with John Blanche, and was instrumental in bringing out the fan-released 28mm scale version of the game INQ28, I think this lends weight to the rumour.

It’s a strange thing to do though.  Certainly Games Workshop must be noticing that there are a lot of gamers out there who just aren’t interested in behemothic battles crawling with tanks and titanic monsters and waves of infantry.  Not at the scale of Games Workshop’s models any way.  But Inquisitor?  And Blanche’s art?  Neither of these are particularly accessible bits of the company’s famous setting on which to base a game.

I prefer skirmish games when it comes to miniature wargaming.  When I played Warhammer 40,000 I bugged my friends to play smaller games when they wanted to go larger.  Maybe it’s because I started with Rogue Trader.  But I think it’s more likely because I love to paint miniatures, and anything beyond a skirmish game is a big ask of someone who is a painter by temperament and wants to paint all of their models as well as they can.  I also really enjoy the Inquisition as a theme amongst Games Workshop’s lore.  Inquisition forces always allowed me the most freedom for baroque conversions but never quite sat with the larger scale of Warhammer 40,000.

But if – and it’s all still a rumour of course – this game were to come about, I don’t know how interested I’d be.  I want options, not restrictions.  What I want from a Games Workshop skirmish game is the ability to take any models from their range and use them against other people’s.  A game centred on the Inquisition is going to be pretty limited in scope.  Would it even be possible to fight a skirmish between Orks and Eldar for example?  That was my only real gripe with the celebrated game Necromunda: it was limited to one world and a bunch of similar gangs when the Warhammer 40,000 universe has room for so much more.

So basically, I don’t think that a re-boot of Inquisitor is the wisest choice for a gateway game.  As much as I appreciate both the Inquisition background and Blanche’s art, surely the iconic Space Marines would be a better introduction to the universe of Warhammer 40,000.

Until next time,

James

Painted Shinobu Kitsune

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Here is my painted Oniwaban Shinobu Kitsune for the game Infinity (click images to zoom).

Cyberpunk Clothing

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And no, I’m not talking about putting goggles on your head and sticking wires through your jacket.

I’ve been looking for a good, tough, rain-resistant messenger bag to carry my books around in for a while now, after wearing out a series of temporary tote bags from clothing stores.  I’ve had my eye on Think Geek’s Bag of Holding. I’ve been a proud Dungeons and Dragons player on and off since I was a boy, and I want that D20 logo.

The only problem is that it’s a Think Geek exclusive, and like many American companies they have an agreement with certain courier sevices guaranteeing them cheaper shipping within the USA at the cost of monumentally, ridiculously expensive shipping outside it.  Think Geek now offers budget shipping to Australia for small parcels, but unfortunately this bag is not one of them.  As of the time of writing it is on sale at 33% off (so get on it if you’re in the USA), but even so the shipping is significantly more expensive than the bag.  I just can’t bring myself to do it. I never pay more for shipping than I do for the item, it’s one of my Rules.

So I was looking online, trawling for alternative bags that looked good and weren’t obviously poor quality, when I came upon this place: memetic tees.

I’m a bit of a sucker for cyberpunk designs on clothing when they’re done well.  The only Kickstarter I’ve ever backed was the tabletop skirmish game Ghosts of Heifei, and I did it mainly to get a T-shirt.  Sadly, most cyberpunk designs I’ve seen aren’t the greatest.

Memetic Tee’s designs look pretty flash to me, and the quality looks good too.  I can’t vouch for them at all since I haven’t ordered anything (yet), but I’m pretty sure I see a cyber ninja hoodie somewhere in my future.  Plus they ship to Australia at reasonable enough prices.

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I just thought I’d share the site for any other sci-fi gamers or science fiction fans reading this who might be interested.

All the best and stay safe in the meat world,

James

Console gaming is the new hardcore

Over the last year or so I have seen a bit of confusion amongst mainstream video game journalists about how the term “hardcore” should be applied.  Obviously different segments of the community use it in different ways, and those uses may not necessarily make sense or work together.  Often attitude or skill level is the key.  A friend of mine was ranked in the top 20,000 players in the world on XBox Live for Call of Duty: Black Ops. When he plays a game, he really plays it.  He researches, he spends a lot of time and energy, and he always gets pretty good – good enough to beat most casual players.  It’s easy to point to him and say “he’s a hardcore gamer.” 

Then again, I have that attitude with Street Fighter, and not with any other game.  But I do play a lot of games, of many different kinds.  Am I hardcore?  My sister spends hours playing mobile games of all kinds, constantly breaking up her day with a quick game.  Is she hardcore?  You can see how it gets confusing. 

Many game journalists have responded to this confusion by writing articles claiming that there is no such thing as hardcore, that it is a divisive term that should be shelved, or that hardcore is dead. The interesting thing is, with the up-coming release of the next generations of the two major consoles, and particularly with regard to the XBone, this confusion seems to have been resolved.

The Xbone seems to be many things besides a games console, and was certainly pitched as such at E3 earlier this year, much to “hardcore” gamers dismay.  This was good in a way though – at last we have a proper way to define the term.  A hardcore gamer is now anyone who habitually plays games on consoles or PCs.  They are contrasted with “casual gamers” who mainly play quick simple games on mobile devices and tablets.  Attitude or skill level no longer have any part in the definition. 

I just read an interview in Hyper magazine #238 with Ted Price, the CEO of the independant developer Insomniac.  Price used the terms precisely in this way, which suggests to me that that is how industry professionals have been using them for a while.  What was even more interesting was that the journalist interviewing him proved the distinction a valid one.  Twice he asked questions and was met with a response like “well, that’s not true.  It’s true of our past console games, sure, but we also have Outernauts, a very successful facebook game.  And it’s not true of that at all.”

Hyper is focused on console and PC gaming, and the fact that their journalist wasn’t even aware that Insomniac had a very successful mobile/social media game proves to me that there really are two kinds of gamers.

The funny thing is, that makes me a hard core gamer.  And I’m not sure I feel comfortable with that title.  I feel like a fraud somehow…

A new way to play Infinity

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been working on terrain for Infinity, but I haven’t had a chance to photograph it yet.  In the mean time, here’s a thought I had:

Judging from what I’ve seen, many Infinity players plan their purchases and design their lists based on what would be allowable in an official Infinity Tournament System event.  I can definitely see the logic behind this: if you are planning on playing a game against people you’ve never played before, it helps to all be on the same page.  And if you’re playing in an official event then there’s no choice anyway – you must conform.

If those are the sorts of games you are going to be playing, it makes sense to play as many games as you can with officially sanctioned lists so that you avoid practicing poorly.  After all, perfect practice makes perfect, and what’s the point of being extremely adept with your mercenary company when there are some (perhaps many) games from which it will be excluded?

Infinity though is written as a very versatile game in terms of what sorts of teams you can assemble, so long as you limit limitations.  It’s sometimes pointed out that one of the strengths of the game is that it can easily offer a “lite role-playing” experience.  The Campaign Paradiso book really brings this out.  So far the main player base, for whatever reason, does not seem to have taken it in this direction.

I’m not a particularly conservative person, in gaming or in general.  Many wargamers are quite conservative however.  They will err on the side of restriction and rule-following rather than exploration and freedom.  Thus a lot of the potential of Infinity in terms of narrative, campaigning, creative modelling and role-playing goes to waste.  If only there were a way to allow conservative players to explore all the possibilities of the game without leaving their comfort zone…

Maybe there is.  It’s surprising to me that no-one has suggested this before, but how about an Infinity mercs tournament?  This would be a sanctioned ITS event that allowed only mercenary companies.  All opportunities for thematic modeling, experimental list design and whatever else could be exploited.  I see no reason why such a tournament couldn’t be official, adding to the player’s rankings.  The balance issue is not mercs themselves, it is mercs in contest with standard lists.

In my experience players who are truly interested in building thematic collections are unlikely to be too upset if they lose games, and players whose temperaments run toward experimenting with lists and play-styles to perfect their game would love the freedom to build a truly devastating mercenary company and match wits with other like-minded players.

The mercs tournament would really allow players with widely disparate approaches to enjoy a sanctioned event together.  Of course there are many other ways to play Infinity, as I mentioned above, and I think more is always better than less when it comes to choice in games.

Till next time,

James