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Repetition in Hero Factory sets

Posted by Aanchir , Apr 28 2013 · 237 views

LEGO Hero Factory BIONICLE
Lately I've been thinking a lot about the Hero Factory building system and its commonly-perceived flaws.

Chief among these is the allegation that the builds are too repetitive. It's kind of funny to read this because frankly this was a major criticism of BIONICLE builds for many years as well, and it was far from rare even when people weren't complaining about it. Remember Inika builds? They were the default build from 2006-2009, and many people really and truly hated the repetition.

But repetition in BIONICLE builds goes back even further than that. The same basic canister set leg design (foot + ball cup + lower leg beam + upper leg beam + upper leg shell) was the order of the day from 2004-2009, and in 2006 the arm construction was also changed to this default style. It could be argued quite convincingly that all but a small handful of BIONICLE canister sets (specifically Gorast, Krika, and the Visorak) from 2004-2009 were functionally identical from the waist down.

But what about torsos, one might ask? BIONICLE fans have always had a somewhat bizarre preoccupation with the torso. A new torso construction is tantamount to a new build altogether. And in fact, sets like Carapar or Mistika Toa Onua who have a new torso piece, but the same torso construction as before, tend to get a lot more leeway than those that reuse an existing torso shell. Oddly enough, prior to 2007, it was rare for any sets in a canister set or small set series to have any meaningful differences in torso build between one another. Only Pohatu in his first two forms had any meaningful difference in torso construction from his teammates.

But Hero Factory models, despite using the same two torso beams in most cases, have mixed up the torso build considerably over the past few years. Small and medium hero sets generally have a very simple torso build, but when villains are brought into the equation, we have figures like Toxic Reapa, whose armor style is completely unique to him, Jawblade, whose torso construction is integrated with his jaw and is decidedly non-humanoid, Thornraxx, who does not even use a traditional torso beam, XT4, who introduced an entirely new torso beam, and of course the villain sets of the Savage Planet arc, of which only one (Waspix) had a traditional armor style. This year, we see even more variations as Technic is incorporated into the builds to a greater extent than before.

The same question springs to mind with this issue as in the days of the Inika builds. If you are so bored of repetitive builds, what better design can you come up with to replace them? Generally, this is where complaints about repetition tend to fall apart. People don't want something better, they just want something different. The issue is that variety for variety's sake is one reason BIONICLE stopped being financially viable over the years, and generally a torso element that varied considerably from the default humanoid torso design was obsolete within a couple years. Look at the various Vahki, Rahkshi, and Visorak torso pieces as examples. Most had very limited use outside of the function they were intended to support. They could be incorporated into more unique builds given a disproportionate amount of effort, but on the whole they were simply more limited in their application than the more generic humanoid torso elements.

The Inika build lasted so long partly because the Inika torso had extremely versatile connection points, a flat, unobtrusive design that allowed it to work with many styles of armor, the potential to work with sets of various sizes, and very little extraneous detail that would become visual shorthand for a particular series of sets. Very few other torso designs could boast this kind of versatility.

Similarly, the current Hero Factory torso beams offer most of these same benefits. I can think of one major improvement that would benefit Hero Factory sets these days, just as it would have benefited BIONICLE sets: the implementation of waist articulation, with separate armor shells for the upper and lower torso. It's not a desperate need, but it'd greatly improve the number of realistic and expressive poses a Hero Factory figure could be put into.

But it's understandable that this may be a long time coming. The only BIONICLE canister set to offer full waist articulation, Pridak, demonstrated one weakness that comes with this added feature: an extra point of articulation can sometimes make it challenging for a set to support its own weight. Jointed waists are also somewhat difficult to armor with a basic modular system. So on the whole I would not be surprised to wait quite a while before a simple, intuitive, versatile design for a waist joint presents itself.

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I think people are mainly saying this about the heroes, whose construction admittedly is getting repetitive. Also, they still need to come up with a unique piece to cover up the back, or at the very least use the foot solution on every hero (not just the 12.99 ones).

 

The villians, however, are indeed extremely varied in design, especially compared to Bionicle. Breakout, especially the winter wave, was absolutely incredible, and Savage Planet was great as well.

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I think people are mainly saying this about the heroes, whose construction admittedly is getting repetitive. Also, they still need to come up with a unique piece to cover up the back, or at the very least use the foot solution on every hero (not just the 12.99 ones).
 
The villians, however, are indeed extremely varied in design, especially compared to Bionicle. Breakout, especially the winter wave, was absolutely incredible, and Savage Planet was great as well.

Well, hero construction hasn't been all that repetitive. Certainly every hero in any particular year uses the same Hero Core and torso shell, but as far as overall design is concerned, their armor styles were extremely diverse last year (Evo's "tank arm" and Nex's similar laser arm, Breez's bulky shoulderpads and pointed boots, Surge's lightning-rod shoulder armor). I'll admit this year's designs feel less diverse, particularly the smaller heroes, which are all "variations on a theme" (standard torso armor + shield + melee weapon + extra armor on one shoulder). So hopefully we might see them branch out a bit more again next year.
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