Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sentry Stone and Manikins

A Sentry Stone and its Manikins

My Circle Orboros army is on the march again.

For a medium-based model, the Sentry Stone is pretty tiny. The model's footprint is less than a square centimeter, which leaves a lot  empty real estate on the base. To make it more interesting, I added a skeleton, cobbled together from some Games Workshop bits.

Like with the Shifting Stones, I decided not to put a green glow in the recessed areas of this model. They take up too much of the model's surface and the final result looks more like a lantern than a stone obelisk.

Because they have such thin limbs, the Manikins are a little bit flimsy. Pinning their arms in place was especially challenging and you may be able to see some drill damage or smooth blobs of epoxy at the shoulders. The connection between the feet and the narrow tab which inserts into the base was so fragile that I damaged two of the models while gluing them in place. If you look closely, you may also be able to see where I shored up the cracks by burying the feet in thick layers of polystyrene "rocks" and epoxy. The result is a lot stronger than I expected, and I think I'll use this process again if I encounter the same problem.

Painting the Manikins was straightforward and a lot of fun. The bark and leaf textures are very pronounced and they took drybrushed colors well. Originally I had planned to follow up my drybrushing with some careful line work. But I decided it wasn't necessary.

The cords were the biggest painting challenge. They're so small (and my hands are so shaky) that it took longer to paint them than it took to paint the rest of the models.

Next up: a Woldwarden.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Games, research and the real world

Previously I mentioned that I'm a MSD (Master of Science in Design) student. My research centers around games and "user experience" (if you don't speak product design jargon, that's the sum of all the things you experience while buying and using a product or service). Basically, I'm looking for ways to improve products and services by adding in elements of game play. Someone who doesn't play many games, or know many gamers, may look on this with a large dose of skepticism. So why am I pursuing such a crazy idea?

The first reason is simple: I'm a life-long game player. I grew up playing Mille Borne, Scrabble and Dungeons and Dragons. My first career was as an illustrator, art director and layout monkey in the game-publishing industry. Like a lot of enthusiasts, I'm a product of my passions. The way I think, work, see the world and solve problems have all been formed by playing and publishing games.

The second reason is more complicated. I really do believe games can make just about anything better. Sometimes it can add extra interest to an important but mind-numbing task. Take physical therapy as an example. After a stroke, patients can spend 3-4 hours in therapy every day. That's nearly as much as an elite athlete spends in training. Innovative therapists are already adding games into their rehabilitation programs, to provide their patients with feedback and to help them stay focused.

And games are a great way to communicate detailed and complicated information. When we look at the stat line for an Ork Shoota Boy or a Feral Warpwolf, we see more than a short string of numbers. We see how that model will perform in a game. we can imagine its strengths and its weaknesses. We can even predict how it will work with other models in our collections. What if products presented themselves in the same way? I could look at a plant in the nursery, see that its "Drought Resistance" stat was 9 out of 10 and know that it was a good fit for my parched, desert garden (a level 9 hostile environment).

Games can also spark creativity, stimulate learning, build communities, and empower collaboration. With a little help, they can be powerful tools for improvement and change. Jane McGonigal, a game designer with a eye for solving real world problems, puts it this way: "Reality is broken, and we need to make it work more like a game." Earlier this year, she gave this inspiring presentation at TED. Although it focuses on video games, rather than boardgames or table-top wargames, I see a lot of parallels with our own hobbies. When I finish my studies, I want to have the same passion and optimism that she has here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Saurus Test Model

After the unexpected painting (and stripping, and repainting) marathon of the Shifting Stones I wasn't ready to paint more Circle Orboros stonework. So I set the Sentry Stone aside and painted a new model.

This is a test model for a Warhammer Fantasy Battles Lizardmen army. Like the Feral Warpwolf from a few weeks ago, it's coloration is based on a real-world creature. In this case I think it's an Amazon forest dragon, although search engine image tags have been wrong before (and I wanted to paint a miniature, not verify my research and properly cite my sources. There isn't room for a bibliography on the base of this model.)

After painting several pewter Privateer Press models, it was a little strange returning to Games Workshop and plastic. The assembly was much easier. As much as I appreciate the studriness that comes with careful gluing and pinning, it's messy, time-consuming work. Polystyrene and model glue are so much faster. I ran into a few problems aligning the models properly on their bases. The long tail on each model was especially challenging (more on this in a later post). But now that I have some practice, the next unit will be much faster.

The painting itself was very straightforward, and a lot of fun. Games Workshop puts plenty of texture and detail on each model, and I love to see things "pop" as they get layers of highlights and shadow. I do have one minor quibble. The back of this model's right shoulder was missing some scaly texture. Because I didn't notice it until I sat down to paint, I don't know if it's a molding issue or a gluing mistake (I may have melted the scales with model glue). But freehanding the scales was great practice, and I think it conceals the problem very well.

Now that I've had a short break, it's time to get back to the Circle Orboros. Next up: a Sentry Stone and Manikins. This time I really mean it.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Warm-up games

Last weekend, while I was cleaning out my office in preparation for a new semester, I uncovered one of my favorite card games: 6 Nimmt! by Wolfgang Kramer. It was lurking at the bottom of a box of random office junk (the kind of collection you get when you sweep everything off your workspace and into an empty paper box for "sorting later". I hope I'm not the only person who does this.) I haven't played, or even seen, the game for years. And finding it was like reuniting with an old friend.

6 Nimmt! (or Take 6 or Slide 5, if you have one of the English-language versions) is quick and easy to learn. It requires almost no preparation and no special tools (like a notepad or chips). Although the mechanics are simple, there is a surprising amount of strategy. But that's not what makes it special. To me, 6 Nimmt! is the perfect "warm-up game". Our board game club used to play it at the beginning of every event, while we waited for stragglers. The game accommodates anywhere from 2 to 10 players and each round only takes about 10 minutes. So a small group can start a game, then add in newcomers almost as soon as they arrive. And once you hit the maximum number of players, you have enough people to start two or three larger games.

To me, the warm-up very important. When I organize a gaming event, I want to get everyone playing as quickly as possible. There's nothing worse, especially for a new player, than hovering around the table, watching other people play a game and waiting for an invitation. Games like 6 Nimmt! are a great way to welcome people to an event and get them in the spirit for a session of good-natured competition. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Shifting Stones

Take a look at these models. Simple, aren't they? Lots of flat surfaces and straight edges. Mostly just a single color. Yet, it took me four tries to paint them.

When I started painting, I wanted a green glow emanating from every recess on each model. It's the standard for most Circle Orboros constructs. But not on the shifting stones models. Now I know why. After three very instructive tries, I found the glow effect I wanted (white base coats and transparent green ink FTW). But the glow covered so much of each model that they looked more like paper lanterns than stone monuments. So, after one more trip to the solvent jar, these models got their current color scheme.

It's not much of a loss though. In 2-3 weeks, I'll be painting a Woldwarden, and the things I learned on my shifting stones will be very helpful then.

Next up: a Sentry Stone and Manikins

Friday, August 13, 2010

Feral Warpwolf

Here's the newest addition to my Circle Orboros army:

This is my first experiment with blending. Usually I use a 3-layer technique, starting with the darkest shade and adding two layers of progressively brighter highlights. As you can see in the Gorax from my last post, each brush stroke stands out and there is no attempt to smooth the transition between one stroke and another.

When I'm working as an illustrator or industrial designer, this is my favorite way to paint. On the plus side, it makes the finished painting look energetic and "painterly" (that's sort of the same thing as "impressionistic" or "sketchy"). But up close it also looks a bit ragged and unrealistic. This is a great way remind a client that he's looking at a sketch or illustration, rather than a finished product. But I want my miniatures to look a little more convincing.

A painterly illustration from my days
as a genre fiction illustrator.
Do you see the unblended brush strokes?

So it's time to try blending. Our summer weather makes wet blending difficult, so I opted for several nearly transparent layers instead. You can still see the steps, but the transitions are much subtler. I think, with some practice, I'll be able to produce some very smooth gradients with this technique.

Despite all the extra layers, this type of painting didn't take much longer usual. The Feral Warpwolf took about 12 hours, about the same as the Gorax. This is probably due to two things. My skills are improving (I hope). And since each layer is relatively faint, I don't have to worry about making it perfect.

The Feral Warpwolf was a very satisfying model and a great learning experience.

Next up: a unit of Shifting Stones.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The new job (and some new miniatures)

The new semester is about to start and I'm having some trouble balancing all of my activities. There are the usual things: family, home maintenance, classwork, research, professional work, choir rehearsal, volunteering, exercise, painting and playing games. By the end of last semester, I had all of that under control. But this year adds a new wrinkle. Now that I'm a graduate student, I'm not just taking classes. I'm teaching them too.

There's a lot of hidden preparation that goes into teaching a university class. There are handbooks, seminars, tests, curriculum meetings, safety briefings, "developmental opportunities" (focused classes about teaching in my specific field), welcome events and advising appointments. And there are stacks of forms that need to be be downloaded (or requested via US Mail) read, signed, carried across campus, signed again, and carried back to my department.

As the first day of class approaches, things will settle into a regular schedule. But until the dust settles, some of my regular pursuits (like this blog) have gotten pushed to the side. The funny thing is I knew this was going to happen. And Blogger gives me tools (like delayed posting) to smooth out the rough patches in my schedule. I'm learning to use them now. And while the last few weeks have been rough, the next burst of chaos will be much smoother.

Although blog posts have been sparse, I haven't stopped painting. Here are pictures of my latest project: a Circle of Orboros army for Privateer Press' Hordes. we have a local league starting up in about 6 weeks, and I think it's time for me to make the jump from "painter" to "player". With a little perseverance I should be ready in the nick of time!

First, a Gorax:

And then, an Argus:

You may notice (I hope) an improvement in my photographs. This is due entirely to a $3 homemade cardboard-and-tracing paper-lightbox. This thing is may be my new favorite tool! Look for a longer article about it in the future. But here's the snapshot I carry around in my wallet. Yes, I love it that much.

Next up, a Feral Warpwolf. I'm painting the final details now. Look for the finished model by Friday.