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Enjoy your visit!

A Golden-Red Horizon


Brickfair and Other Plans

Posted by Aanchir , Jul 28 2014 · 278 views
Brickfair, LEGO, community, life
Welp, I'm pretty close to prepared for Brickfair. Got my clothes, MOCs, name badge, and art all packed up.

MOCs I'm exhibiting this year include Caitlyn Gauss XL, Delwyn Buckler, Blacktron Vivisector, Kit Martello, Hero Factory Canine Buddy, Rise of the Dread Colossus (submarine only — I had to borrow some of the Dread Colossus's tentacles for Delwyn's hair, so he's out of commission), and My Little Tahu. I think Delwyn Buckler and Caitlyn Gauss XL will probably be the most popular of those seven.

As far as art is concerned, I will mostly be bringing the same collection of drawings I brought last year — sadly, I have not really made much cool new LEGO-related art since then.

I'm registered for the BZPower parts draft and will also probably be bringing a hat or two for the Hatpile. A number of my BZPower friends who I spent time with last year (Lady Kopaka, Turakii #1 Lavasurfer, Toa Lhikan Hordika, and Cholie) will not be making it this year for various reasons, so I think a good portion of my time will be spent trying to make new connections both within the BZPower community and the larger AFOL community.

I will also look at vendors to see if I can find anything that interests me. While packing, I came to the realization that I do not really have any light-colored LEGO T-shirts, except for old Brickfair T-shirts and a Barraki Kalmah T-shirt that is a little worse for the wear. So as with last year, I will definitely want to try buying some new LEGO-related wearables. I'll also be on the lookout for affordable CCBS parts and constraction sets. I got a steal on some pre-owned Legends of Chima constraction sets last year (basically half-off), and a bunch of useful CCBS parts the year before.

This will be my first time staying at a hotel for Brickfair (in the past my family has always driven there and back each day), so that should enable me to take part in more evening activities, including enjoying the brand-new "World of Lights" (sadly, none of my MOCs are going to have any light-up features, though). Maybe a visit to the vendors could change that, if they happen to be selling LifeLites or something similar, but generally the MOCs I'm bringing aren't characterized by a lot of transparent elements.

If you happen to be attending, come and find me! I will be wearing the same brick badge as the past two years, though it is larger than the one pictured and has more yellow (including a brick printed with my screen name, Aanchir). I should be spending a good amount of time at the BIONICLE table hanging out with the BZPower crew.

That about covers it, I think! If you're also going to be at Brickfair, leave a comment so I'll know to be on the lookout for you!


Ask me anypony... err, anything

Posted by Aanchir , Jul 24 2014 · 120 views

Because everyone else is doing it, and why not? I've never done one of these things before. So if you haven't run out of questions after replying to all the OTHER blog entries, here's one more.


BIONICLE Movie Soundtracks

Posted by Aanchir , Jul 15 2014 · 181 views
LEGO, BIONICLE, Movies, Music
I was just listening to some BIONICLE movie soundtracks on BioMedia Project. While it's good for a nostalgia kick, I'm finding that much of the music is just as generic as I remembered.

I don't mean that in the sense that it's not memorable or distinctive. It definitely checks both of those boxes. But there's nothing about it that makes it a particularly apt fit for the BIONICLE story and universe in particular. A lot of it sounds like it could just as easily belong to an adaptation of any adventure story, like an adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. Most of the instrumentation feels like very typical Hollywood adventure movie fare.

Anybody else remember BIONICLEmusic.com? Something that's always stuck in my head was the description on the mixer page: "The music of BIONICLE is a mixture of the mystical and the mechanical. Like the Toa, it blends the power of high technology with a raw elemental force." The only music that checks either of those boxes in the first three BIONICLE movie soundtracks (at least the selections featured on BMP — I don't know how much they might be omitting) is the end credits music. In the first movie, the end credits movie has some very clear tribal drum rhythms, while in the second movie it includes both those rhythms and some synthesized electronic/mechanical sounds. The third movie's end credits music keeps the exciting drumbeats but for some reason loses the electronic sounds once again.

I respect Nathan Furst's work here, and what he's capable of, but this is the reason these have never really ranked among my favorite BIONICLE music or my favorite soundtracks in general.

What kinds of soundtracks do I generally like? Well, the soundtrack to The LEGO Movie is one good example. The music in that has a feel that perfectly suits the janky, stop-motion-style action that characterizes the movie. Likewise, the soundtracks for Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra both do a fantastic job evoking the Asian-inspired fantasy world with their rhythms and instrumentation. Even LEGO Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu does a good job with this — give this playlist a listen if you want to hear plenty of amazing examples.

If next year's BIONICLE revival has a soundtrack even half as well-suited to the franchise as any of these franchise's soundtracks, I will consider it a major improvement. BIONICLE has had some fantastic music over the years, but I feel that in the movies in particular, it too often came at the expense of the soundtrack's sense of identity.



Posted by Aanchir , Jul 02 2014 · 171 views
BIONICLE, Sets, Leaks
Not going to go into details, but I am convinced by the leaked images that have been seen. They are consistent with a lot of the hints we've heard, and the person who originally photographed and posted these images seems trustworthy. Furthermore, they seem consistent with BIONICLE on a thematic level: masked heroes with fantasy weapons versus beastly-looking villains.

If it turns out they are fake and I have been tricked, I will not be the least bit ashamed, by this because these are the most convincing BIONICLE concepts to emerge in the past five years. I'm more than happy to concede a victory to any trickster or Internet troll who is prepared to go to such lengths to fool me.

I anxiously look forward to official teasers and information. Perhaps the LEGO Group might be announcing something during Comic Con, or perhaps we'll have to wait until November or December when the LEGO Club Magazines tend to tease the next years' themes.

Overall, I'm optimistic for the theme. The pics we've gotten are obviously not remotely good enough to form a definitive opinion on how I like the sets. But what I can see looks promising indeed.


Toa Nuva in retrospect

Posted by Aanchir , Jun 20 2014 · 201 views
Can we talk for a minute about how awesome the Toa Nuva's double-function weapons were? Looking back I think that might have been one of the coolest features they brought to the table. Swords that turn into a surfboard! Blades that turn into ice skates! Axes that turn into flippers! Chainsaws that turn into caterpillar tracks!

You saw a bit of this with the Toa Metru designs as well (Vakama's launcher/jetpack, Nuju's spikes/snowshoes, and Matau's swords/wings), but I don't know if it was quite as elegant as with the Toa Nuva weapons since some of the weapons had to be a rather peculiar shape for that dual functionality to work. I can't even quite tell what Nuju's crystal spikes are supposed to resemble in weapon form, unlike the Toa Nuva where the function of the weapons was fairly clear in both forms.

After that, BIONICLE didn't do a lot with dual-function weapons again, which is kind of disappointing. The Hero Factory rookies from 2010 sorta-kinda did this, but it wasn't very heavily advertised, and wasn't quite as dynamic a transformation. Furno could use his dual fire shooters either together or separately, or attach them to the back of his arms to act as jet propulsion. Surge could use his lightning shooters as two shooters, one dual shooter, two swords, or one dual sword. Breez could either throw her boomerangs or use them as harpoon guns. None of these transformations were nearly as radical as the Toa Nuva's tools.

After that, it seems like the LEGO Group has adopted a much different design philosophy with weapon pieces, creating them with designs less specific to a particular character or tool, and while I appreciate that as a designer and as a MOCist, it does mean the closest thing we've seen to a Nuva-style dual-function weapon was Stringer's BRILLIANT guitar/sonic cannon in 2012.

I guess it makes sense. The most versatile of the Toa Nuva weapons, after all, was also the one with the least dramatic transformation Lewa's Air Katanas, which only vaguely resembled wings when he held them a particular way. But at the same time, this remains one of the features of the Toa Nuva that feels incredibly special to those sets, even in hindsight when other special features they boasted like silver weapons and sturdy plate armor are no longer so unique or revolutionary.


Tunneler Beast and related musings

Posted by Aanchir , May 29 2014 · 274 views
Hero Factory, 2014, LEGO, sets and 1 more...
Earlier I was looking at how this year's Hero Factory sets compare to similarly-priced BIONICLE sets in terms of complexity. Turns out they fare rather well. Let's look at one in particular: 44024 Tunneler Beast.

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Tunneler Beast is a $9.99 set coming out this summer (as such, it's at the lowest price point for this year's sets). It boasts 59 pieces (45 if you don't include the minifigure or his accessories) and 20 points of articulation (15 if you don't include the jaw and fingers, which only rotate along one axis each).

A typical Piraka cost $9 in 2006, which according to WolframAlpha would be about $10.60 in today's money. Each Piraka had 41 pieces (plus one extra for Hakann and Thok's weapons) and 13 points of articulation.

If we reach back a bit further, the Vahki cost $9 each in 2004, which would be $11.32 today according to WolframAlpha. Each one of those had just 32 pieces and only 10 points of articulation (perhaps eleven or twelve if you count the squeezable launcher-jaws, but that's being extremely generous since those couldn't really hold a pose).

Now, obviously I'm being a bit selective here. There are a number of BIONICLE canister sets that had more pieces than Tunneler Beast, particularly if you don't include the minifigure and accessories (though several of those sets, like the Toa Mahri, are inflated by lots and lots of ammo pieces, not to mention a plethora of pins and axles). I don't know if any canister sets have more points of articulation than Tunneler Beast, though. Chirox had just 17 including the chest that splits open, and Pridak had just 16 even if you count the mandibles separately. Even Gorast, with her six limbs, had just 18 points of articulation  including the wings! And in any case, you have to be just as selective to suggest that Hero Factory, as it exists today, is considerably LESS complex than BIONICLE sets of similar size or price.

Just food for thought. I'm personally fascinated how far Hero Factory has advanced since 2010, when the $7 hero sets were pitifully simplistic and repetitive even by BIONICLE standards. There are some rumors floating around that Hero Factory might be ending soon, and now that it's been around for four and a half years those rumors are starting to seem more believable than every other year of its life that they've been thrown about.

But we've been assured that its building system is here to stay, and that gives me great confidence that the NEXT constraction theme will not be hindered by such a rocky start. The new building system really did put Hero Factory on the fast track to greater complexity and diversity of designs, and this year I feel like the Hero Factory sets in general not just one or two  have finally stepped out of the long shadow of their BIONICLE predecessors.


Things Hero Factory did right

Posted by Aanchir , Apr 15 2014 · 215 views
LEGO, Hero Factory, sets, media
A lot of people are bothered by the differences between Hero Factory and BIONICLE, but today I was thinking about some of the story-related decisions made by the Hero Factory creators that really did do favors for the theme and its fans.
  • Unlimited Heroes: There was something poetic about BIONICLE's "Six Heroes, One Destiny" tagline in 2001, but when you think about it, it was a creative limitation on fans that later BIONICLE story arcs did well to do away with. Back in 2001, there were a lot of constraints on BIONICLE: there were only six Toa, only six Turaga, only six villages, and only six Matoran tribes. These constraints were a limitation for fan-created stories. To create characters like Voriki, Toa of Lightning, you had to actively contradict the official story at every turn, particularly if you wanted your character to interact with the official characters overtly.

    Hero Factory instead encouraged fans to create their own missions and their own heroes by demonstrating that officially, there were millions of heroes far more than you'd ever get to meet in the official storyline. The online mission log, mission ticker, and testimonials even provided examples of these heroes and the variety of missions they were assigned to. This allowed fans to create their own heroes with whatever powers and personalities they could dream up.
  • Many Destinies: The "One Destiny" part of the classic BIONICLE tagline can be used as a metaphor for another problem the BIONICLE storyline had. Namely, its characters' quests were part of a singular overarching saga with very few gaps. There were few mechanisms for characters to get new tools, armor, or masks except with a scripted transformation. This limited what fans could do with the official characters in their own storytelling, building, and role-play. There was no way to create new forms for official characters unless they set their stories before or after the official story, because you couldn't cram a new form between two quests. And form changes were often tied closely to the idea of "destiny" most of the time, a character could only transform if they were destined to do so, and it was not a reversible process. The "Adaptive Armor" of 2008 made the characters more adaptible, but the story didn't take great advantage of it.

    In Hero Factory, "upgrade" mechanisms were in place from the beginning: first by refitting heroes with new gear, like in the Furno Bike or Bulk & Vapour sets, and later with more elaborate upgrades that completely altered the heroes' armor and equipment. Furthermore, missions didn't have strict placement on a linear timeline, allowing the characters to go on new missions of any importance at any point between the ones portrayed in the main story. They could even team up with people's original hero characters or face off against people's original villain characters on those missions: since each mission was more or less self-enclosed, there was very little danger that such missions would end up contradicting future missions in any way.
  • Powers Tied to Design: I remember that back when the Toa Inika, Toa Mahri, Phantoka, and Mistika were introduced, changes to their design were often explained by fans with the idea that they weren't designed with specific characters in mind: they were created as generic characters, and identities, colors, and powers were assigned to them later. It's not clear how true this was, but it could certainly hold true with many character designs and mask powers. The Piraka's powers and personalities had no irrefutable ties to the individual set designs, nor was there an obvious connection between many most post-2003 mask designs and their powers.

    Later BIONICLE waves began to improve on this: the Barraki's powers and personalities were expressly tied to the sea creature motifs they were based on, and the powers of the Makuta in 2008 were largely connected with their bat and insect motifs. The Glatorian designs also had clear elemental motifs matching the characters' tribes, though they weren't tied to powers right away since none of the characters had special powers before Mata Nui arrived.

    Hero Factory likewise assigned most powers and personalities based on the character and weapon designs. But the 2.0 and 3.0 heroes, despite powers that matched their new forms, did not have obvious design ties to the heroes' previous forms and characterization, other than pretty strong consistency in their color schemes. The Breakout series changed that for good. The characters returned to using their original masks or new masks designed to resemble them, and many parts of their design paid tribute to the characters' original powers, personalities, and motifs. Stringer, the sonic-themed hero, got a guitar cannon and speakers in his shoulders, while Evo, the weapons expert, got a hefty Tank Arm. Subsequent forms, equipment, and powers for the heroes remained extremely character-driven.
  • Powers Not Tied to Gender: BIONICLE definitely deserves praise for the decision to have female characters, which came as a result of pressure from franchise manager Lena Dixen. At the same time, the way it dealt with gender was somewhat lackluster. Gender was tied to the tribe or powers of a character: at first, only blue water-oriented characters were female, though later characters who didn't appear in the sets introduced new "female" elements like Lightning and Psionics. Like the constraints I mentioned at the beginning, this was very limiting. Even worse, this rule was more only ever broken to allow a male character to have a traditionally female element, never the other way around. The only female Glatorian or Agori to appear was a water-themed character.

    Hero Factory thankfully didn't come up with any rules for what characters had to be like to have certain powers, not even with regard to color scheme. This meant that your custom hero could be male or female regardless of its color scheme or powers. The official story still has downright pitiful gender ratios, but fan-created characters have absolute freedom in terms of gender, powers, colors, and motifs.
Obviously I'm not trying to hold this up as evidence that Hero Factory was better than BIONICLE as a whole. I could be here all day writing up a list of ways that the BIONICLE story was well planned and well executed, or ways that the Hero Factory story has been poorly executed. But at the same time, I appreciate these kinds of differences between the two themes especially, because they are indications that a theme's design is informed by its forerunners' strengths and weaknesses alike. It's a sort of creative evolution, even when a theme is taking lessons from wildly different themes (like how BIONICLE took lessons from themes like Alpha Team and Star Wars rather than just from Roboriders and Slizer, or how Ninjago took lessons from themes like Exo-Force and BIONICLE rather than just from the previous Ninja theme).


Hero Factory 2010 and Beyond

Posted by Aanchir , Apr 09 2014 · 164 views
LEGO, Hero Factory, Constraction and 1 more...
You know, I fully understand that there are a lot of people who will never like Hero Factory. And I respect that. Tastes differ, after all.

But something I'll never understand is how often I hear claims about 2010 Hero Factory sets being better than subsequent series. It seems like selective memory at its finest.

Let me refresh your memory: in 2010, there were 15 sets total. Six of those were heroes like this one or this one. Let's run through the features, shall we?
  • Two-piece limbs. The beam is reasonable by Av-Matoran or Agori standards, but Av-Matoran and Agori standards are not very high. The ball cup is prone to breaking (as with the Glatorian heads and fists that these sets also reused), there are very few connection points, and of course it has a molded joint rather than a functional one. The shell is an extremely specialized shape with only one connection point. Some people have found other uses for this piece, but they are few in number, and in general it's pointlessly overspecialized even by BIONICLE standards.
  • Three-piece torsos. The beam is a nice-looking shape with decent proportions, but its connection points are quite limited. It's a step up from the Av-Matoran and Agori torsos, so I guess it deserves at least that much credit. There were four styles of torso shell (1, 2, 3, 4. Functionally, they were interchangeable, with the same two connection points and the same bulky, highly restrictive shape and size. Again, pitiful even by BIONICLE standards. The Hero Core was purely decorative, and while their single connection point could be used to attach to all sorts of things, they were pretty limited in use except as a specialized torso decoration.
  • The feet weren't too bad, and I still use the ones I got from Breez in the Breakout series. If used the way these sets used them, they have a disproportionately chunky ankle, but by adding a two-module axle you can make a foot with much more attractive proportions.
  • As far as weapons were concerned, the rookies (Furno, Surge, and Breez) got the better deal. Each got two weapons with two connection points each. It shouldn't be any surprise that Furno's and Surge's continued to see use in future years. Stormer, Bulk, and Stringer didn't fare so well. Instead of having specialized weapon pieces and specialized limb pieces, their weapon arms were the worst of both worlds. Molded elbows? Check! Only one connection point? Check! Loads of specialized details? Check! They looked all right, at least from the outside, but as building elements they were pretty shoddy. Plus, this meant you got an odd number of fists and limbs. Joy.
  • The helmets were not really a step down from previous helmets. They looked pretty cool and had lots of personality. It was nice when they came back for 2012. Not so nice that the Glatorian head with its brittle ball cup came back with them.
  • Did I mention that each of these sets has less than twenty pieces? It's true! And as we just established, many of those pieces are overspecialized and extremely limited in use. The sets are also all built 100% identically except for their weapons.
"But that's just six sets! That's not even half!" Well, yes and no. The other sets include six villains, two vehicles (that come with their own lackluster hero clones), and one set that includes both a hero AND a villain. So more than half of the figures for the year are heroes. The villains are pretty good by BIONICLE standards, but they're all humanoid, and the mid-size villains have just 4050 pieces (the Glatorian, Glatorian Legends, Phantoka, and Mistika were the same price, had far more parts on average, and had far more diverse designs to boot).

The larger villains, Von Nebula and Rotor, are pretty solid designs, as are the two Technic-intensive vehicle sets. So if you focus on just those four sets, then 2010 was a pretty solid year for Hero Factory! If you look at the year as a whole, though, you have a year of sets that neither lives up to BIONICLE nor goes to great lengths to carve out its own identity.


Since 2010, Hero Factory sets have gotten more and more diverse, complex, and creative. The heroes in 2011 each had between 29 and 31 parts and had an armor layout unique to that set. Only one of them, Breez 2.0, used one-piece weapons: every other hero had a more elaborate multi-piece weapon design. The villains had between 48 and 63 pieces, much closer to BIONICLE's standards. Some of the summer villains had non-humanoid builds, and one of them was a massive titan similar in height to 2007's Maxilos or 2008's Takanuva.

Furthermore, there was a new building system in which parts were designed to be as intercompatible as possible. Want to stick a torso shell on a limb bone or vice-versa? Nothing's stopping you! Want to attach a limb bone to the midpoint on another limb bone? Go right ahead! This allowed for all kinds of creative builds in the years to come. Oh, by the way, the issue of fragile joints was almost completely eliminated, with only a few legacy BIONICLE parts still using the old, brittle ball cups.

2012 pushed things even further. Instead of all heroes being small canister sets and all villains being larger box sets, there were heroes and villains at all price points. The heroes broke away from formulaic color schemes and equipment Evo's reinforced boots and Tank Arm would not have been possible in the 3.0 series where all the limb shells in a hero set were the same color. All the villains had creative builds and equipment, though the larger villain sets were still humanoid in build and posture.

Also, the heroes had helmets, printed torso shells, and equipment specially tailored to them as characters. In BIONICLE, a claim often surfaced that sets were designed first and assigned to existing characters later, hence the discrepancy between different iterations of a character. Nobody could make that mistake about this series. Nex's precision laser, retro helmet design, and communications antenna all spoke to his role as the team's communications specialist, and Evo's heavy-looking boots and Tank Arm spoke to his role as the team's heavy weapons specialist. Likewise with the other heroes: the only one whose gear didn't strongly reflect his role in the team or his previous design sensibilities was Furno.

2013 was not so much of a step forward. The heroes' gear was more uniform, and the villains' builds were consistently humanoid (except for the glorious Dragon Bolt). But the weapons for the sets continued to get more elaborate, and most of the sets integrated action features of some kind (and no, not just launchers). Piece counts continued to increase, and color schemes became more diverse.

And this year? The piece counts for the mid-size sets have left all previous mid-size sets (including all BIONICLE canister sets) in the dust. The builds have become incredibly diverse (helped by the fact that there no longer needs to be a humanoid set for every hero). A Hero minifigure has been designed, with excellent proportions and helmets more or less accurate to the full-size heroes.

Are the recent Hero Factory sets flawless? No. But when were they ever? Certainly not in 2010, when Hero Factory was still in BIONICLE's shadow, and evoking more of that theme's worst characteristics than its best ones. It's not that there weren't things to like about the 2010 Hero Factory sets. The heroes had endearing proportions and aesthetics. The villains had diverse themes and expressions. And of course, if you like BIONICLE-style titan builds, the theme offered two of those at a reasonable price. But overall, I feel like the year's weaknesses were more crippling than its strengths were redeeming. Design quality has been much more consistent in subsequent years, and for the most part it's been improving.