Monday 23 May 2016

It continues...

(No spoilers, just a funny photo since I haven't seen the actual episode yet)
I'm sailing this ship as south as south goes and I ain't the only one. The Independent has started posting “Brienne/Tormund romance updates” on their website (SPOILERS, obviously).

Sunday 22 May 2016

Good luck, Cody

Yesterday, Cody Rhodes revealed on Twitter that he'd requested his released from WWE. Its a shame to see him go but at least its on his own terms and he's young enough that he can start over at another company if that's what he wants. Right now no one knows if he's retiring or just wants to move on or what.

So, Cody: if this is the end, thank you. If its not: I definitely look forward to seeing what you do next.

The man has always been a good worker but the last couple of years as Stardust he's really seemed to hit his stride. I was never much for the face mask gimmick and Legacy was minioning at its finest but Stardust I liked. Hell, it was a frequent joke in this house that I hoped WWE wasn't going to end up with a better version of the Joker than the DC Cinematic Universe.

So, whatever he's up to next I wish the man the best of luck. 

Saturday 21 May 2016

On Jennifer Lawrence's ongoing Mystique

[Just to be clear: I have not watched X-Men: Apocalypse yet and this post will contain zero spoilers as a result.]

On the one hand I don't think I can really complain about Jennifer Lawrence wanting to do more X-Men movies. She's a fantastic actress and hopefully her future appearances will lean more towards the First Class than the Days of Future Past. So, definitely something to cautiously look forward to.

On the other hand, though, Fox's X-Men movies have a tendency towards mediocrity, a horrible “oh, just get it made” attitude that squandered the promise of the First Class reboot in the very next film. Until now everyone has been assuming that Fox's plan was to keep turning out X-Men films until Hugh Jackman ages out of the part, quits or dies and we were all sort of okay with that. There have been a few genuinely great movies in the franchise. It doesn't break anywhere near even on the good/bad divide but there have been good ones.

I'm not going to lie, I want to see Marvel and Fox come to a Spider-Man style shared custody deal and the one thing standing in the way of that until now was Hugh Jackman, a middle-aged man. Now Fox has Jennifer Lawrence's star power to rely on into the future and she's twenty years younger than him.

Then again, this is Hollywood we're talking about so she probably "counts" as being the same age as Jackman so the overall plan might remain unchanged.

Friday 20 May 2016

My one hope for Nintendo's movies

It may have taken twenty-three years but Nintendo have finally recovered form the shellshock of the Mario Bros. movie, announcing that they're ready to start licensing their game properties to film producers. Conspiracy-minded folks have pointed out that this announcement came suspiciously close to Disney's announcement that they've ceased in-house game development but let's leave that for a moment and discuss the one thing I want out of this:
Live action, epic, Lord of the Rings-style Legend of Zelda in which the words “excuse me” never appear (unless Vickie Guerrero has a cameo to do it but that's an insane idea).

Thursday 19 May 2016

The Paradox of Kendra the Vampire Slayer

On the one hand, I really think she was a wasted character. She appears in a pair of two-parters, the first of which she's a decoy villain for half of it and the other where she spends half of it dead. She offered Buffy an interesting foil because the one thing Buffy could rely on before this point was being unique, there was this one thing she was by definition the best in the world at. Then along comes Kendra, who has a Slayer Handbook that was withheld from Buffy, who fights Buffy to a standstill despite having a couple years less experience, who bonds with Giles on a level Buffy won't for years and never previously considered.

They come to the beginnings of an understanding by the end of What's My Line, to the point that when she turns up again in Becoming its something to smile about.

Then she dies.

So yes, we don't get much of her and I wish there was more. That scene where she practically blushes in the face of Xander's barely competent flirting makes me yearn for scenes of her and Willow bemoaning their romantic inexperience. I also think that Buffy and Kendra as “sisters” would have been a fantastic angle, as the few scenes of them getting on in Becoming hint at.

On the other hand, though, it is a perfect bait and switch. Kendra appears in What's My Line to highlight how serious curing Druscilla would be. After everything Spike has done, after everything he's survived, its Dru who amounts to such a threat that two Slayers are required to fight her.

And then Kendra returns in Becoming. Another two-parter and the season finale and it looks like we have a handle on how this character works: she turns up for the big events, a semi-regular presence whose presence is code for “Take this one seriously!”.

Then she dies. Dru waltzes majestically into the library (itself only violated in momentous event stories), hypnotises her without effort and slashes her throat. Its another moment alongside the “death” of Angel, Xander's betrayal and Buffy abandoning Sunnydale at the end of the story that makes it look like the series might actually be killing off the Sunnydale setting and moving on. It doesn't, of course, but it raises the stakes effectively and actually delivers on the amazing threat that Dru apparently represents.

So, I would definitely have liked to see more of Kendra but, honestly, I wouldn't want to undo her death because it works so very, very well.

Wednesday 18 May 2016

Castle Black, flat share sitcom GoT-style

[SPOILERS for the latest episode of Game Of Thrones]
Whilst most of season six is starting to move at a decent clip after a slow start (Dany is the God of Hellfire and she begs you to invade Westeros!), Castle Black is still sort of sedate.

I mean, there are obvious reasons. The Castle Black cast clearly has to wait for the Knights of the Vale to turn up before marching on Winterfell and delivering Ramsay his long overdue brutal murder. The result, though, is slightly odd. There's this scene where Brienne just wanders up to Ser Davos and Melisandre to passive-aggressively inform them that she was the one who killed Stannis. On the one hand this is oddly low key for Brienne, she's normally more direct than this, but on the other it actually manages to save Melisandre from the massive social embarrassment of confessing to child murder.

Meanwhile, Jon Snow is happy to see his sister alive and they have some great scenes together as a pair but once everyone's sitting down to lunch things get quiet and awkward. Dolorous Ed in particular seems completely unprepared for the presence of a highborn woman. He gets only a few lines but you get the impression he's constantly mentally reminding himself not to swear.
At the other end of the table, Tormund Giantsbane is giving Brienne the gladeye. I mean, he was obviously enchanted by her heavily armoured charms the moment she rode into Castle Black. “At last,” he thinks, “a real woman! One that could bench press me!”

I am so very much on board for Brienne/Tormund, you have no idea. Come on, let's have just a scene or two of Tormund awkwardly flirting with Brienne before the inevitable Battle Of Winterfell. 

Tuesday 17 May 2016

Painting Journal #2: Hitting Stride

(Many thanks to my friend Matt, who was kind enough to photograph my models on an actual camera for this post.)

After a couple of productive painting sessions with Matt my painting table is a lot clearer than it was and I have (I feel) some very nice models to show for it:
First off, my nemeses, the Tomb Kings Skeleton Horse Archers. You'd think that after the endless frustration of building them the trade-off would be that they'd be surprisingly easy to paint. Well, let me be the one to tell you that you thought wrong. Oh, the skeleton and the skeletal steed are very easy to paint, especially with the use of Zandri Dust primer but...
oh, the quivers. So many layers, so many different materials, so many opportunities for all those dark colours to spill over onto the carefully drybrushed bone. Still, they are finally done and that's what matters. Looking at the finished product I am tempted to make another five of them but I think I'll leave that for a long way off.
Next up are some good old Skull Pass Night Goblins, probably the best starter models GW have ever produced. As I mentioned before, I only painted this particular colour scheme because I needed to test out some methods and these little chappies were ideal. I really like the effect, though and so these are the first five models of the Red Caps Tribe, named in equal part for the mushrooms and the Scottish vampire legend. Lighting obscures the fact but there's not much highlighting going on with these models. This is by choice since I'm going to be painting a lot of them (having bought two Skull Pass sets back in the day I have at least 120 of these fellows) but I feel the effect will stand up in a large unit.
Finally getting a little more done on my Wood Elves with the old female Glade Lord. This will represent the Lady Tevaril, ruler of Anmyr and my general. (Her wife, Lady Delynna, will be represented by one of the female Spellsingers.)

I'm not entirely happy with how this model came out but there comes a point when you just have to power through and get a model off your painting table. You can't really see it in the photo because there's so little bare skin on the model but I am not happy with the finish of the Kislev Flesh, so a little more experimentation there. The green cloth and the bronze armour have come out okay and those methods are going to be used to unify the look of the army. A slightly patchy job on the skin is something I can live with. Plus, she's metal so I can always strip her and start from scratch if it ever really starts to bother me.
Finally, a rank of very simply painted Squigs I dashed off once I realised I had a really good red method going. These were very quick to paint since they only have a few different colours to them: skin, teeth, eyes and claws. Even the spinney one on the end wasn't too different: I did the spines the same as the claws and just added a little Mephiston Red to highlight the scales along its back. I have a bunch of these just sitting in a box unpainted and I think I might just use them whenever I want to paint something quickly just for the feeling of progress.

Speaking of, I find quantifying things help me remember I'm making headway so let's inaugurate a little Hobby Log at the bottom of these posts:

2016 Total Models Painted: 17
Orcs & Goblins: 10
Tomb Kings: 6
Wood Elves: 1

Total Points Value

The “points value” of the models, by the way, don't include intangibles so I won't be counting things like armour upgrades, magic items or additional wizard levels unless the model for some reason actually portrays an upgrade like the Glade Lord's spear or a Skink Priest's Cloak of Feathers.

Monday 16 May 2016

Who should be the next big screen Bat-villain?

So, obviously, Ben Affleck is going to be in some solo Batman films somewhere along the line when he isn't busy turning up in all the other DC movies because of editorial insecurity.

But who is going to be the villain? This is a very, very important thing, perhaps more important here than in any other superhero franchise. You see, the problem is, and there's no way to put this gently... Batman is very, very boring. The character is basically immune to character development; he can't go more than two hours without a recap of his incredibly famous origin; and, if you let a general audience think about his actions for too long they might question why the hero of this story is a very rich person beating up very poor people instead of seeking treatment for his obvious PTSD or using his massive wealth to do any actual good in the world.

Who, though? The Joker, Catwoman, Bane and Two-Face have all had two films each; Penguin, Riddler, Poison Ivy, Ra's al Ghul and Talia have scored a film; and, Scarecrow jobbed his way through the entire Nolan trilogy.

Who does this leave? To me, there is only one choice, and not only because this will bring further torment to my non-comic fan best friend's life.
The Condiment King! Complete with ketchup and mustard guns!

Sunday 15 May 2016

Alpha Sapphire: The Team So Far

I'm a couple hours into Pokemon Alpha Sapphire, just entered Rustboro City on my way to the first gym, and my team is starting to take shape. It isn't an interesting or useful shape but it is a shape and it looks like this:
Sunny the Treecko (Grass)
Lady the Poochyena (Dark)
Kemosabe the Zigzagoon (Normal)
Dancer the Surskit (Bug)
Puddin' the Ralts (Psychic/Fairy)
Seaspray the Wingull (Flying/Water)

Now I'm playing this one blind: no strategy, no smartphone, no wikia. This means I have no idea what's waiting for me in the Rustboro City Gym (no spoilers, please) but if it is anything like the trainers I encountered on the way then I am royally screwed. Hell if its anything like the Lv.16 Wurmple that just randomly ambushed me in the forest I am royally screwed. I seem to have lucked into the most incompetent Pokemon in the least useful combination. They miss like crazy, come down with status ailments if anything so much as looks at them and STAB bonuses elude me.

So far the only ones who have proven themselves even semi-useful are Sunny and Lady, mainly by deigning to have learnt halfway effective offensives moves.

On the plus side, I'm probably saved the agony of choice when it comes to replacing team members when I capture something better. Seaspray won't be with us long because I'm lukewarm on his design and I know what he evolves into and it looks terrible; and Kemosabe is either going to get the chop fairly early on or live a life of HM slavery, I haven't decided. Dancer is borderline, I like the design but I've never favoured Bug-Types so we'll see what attacks it levels into.

What do I want to replace them with? Well, I've no idea what's ahead but broadly speaking Fire-Types are always useful and as soon as I have a fishing rod I'm going after a Magikarp which I'm pretty sure this game has since I just fought a trainer who had three of them. 

Saturday 14 May 2016

Colour Tests All The Way Down II

Whilst painting those frustrating Skeleton Horse Archers, I discovered something interesting. It turns out that Balor Brown (aka mustard yellow) covers really well over the Zandri Dust undercoat. This gives me ideas, the curse of the hobbyist. We get ideas and its all downhill from there.

Mustard yellow is something of an obsession of mine. I used to be able to paint a fantastic mustard yellow but it required Tau Sept Ochre, one of the old base paints. More problematically, it required one of the design flaws of the old base paints: the way they absorbed inks like a sponge. I painted one great test model back in the day with the last drops in the pot and the very next week the new paint system came in and I couldn't replicate it.
That test model was a Lamenters Space Marine and working out how to do it again has been something of a low key obsession ever since. I'm sure I have a spare Marine lying around somewhere to test this method on.

And then we'll see what new methods I need to test elsewhere to finish that model.

For all my moaning, I'm only half serious. Part of the joy of this hobby is trying out new methods and everything I paint will see use some day. Quite besides which, I've really been hitting my stride again this last week. My tinkering with odds and ends has now resulted in me getting some Tomb Kings cavalry, some Night Goblin infantry and a Wood Elves character finished (pics to follow when I have time and good light to take them) and doing a little 40k sounds good. As monotonous as Space Marines can be, one sounds like a nice change of pace: artificial colours, smooth surfaces, a little freehand for the chapter symbol, all very different from what I've been painting the last week or so. 

Friday 13 May 2016

Colour Test Turtles All The War Down

So it all started with me painting some Wood Elves Glade Guard. They needed dark red tunics because they're from Anmyr (as most of my army will be) but the effect just wasn't working. I'd slap on the Khorne Red, wash it black and then things would fall apart when it came to highlighting. Also, I couldn't work out what to do with the leathers on the models.

So I dug up a couple of Skull Pass Night Goblins from my bits box to run some colour tests on models that, frankly, I have no immediate use for and who'll be hidden by about thirty other models when I eventually do so it wouldn't matter if things came out a little scrappy.

Then I realised there were a couple different kinds of brown I needed to use on the Night Goblins: the shoes, the spear hafts, a pouch here and there.

So I undercoated those Tomb Kings Skeleton Horse Archers that had been causing me so much trouble. Yes, I finally finished building the bastards!

Right, so that's 26 models on the table so far plus the Glade Lord, Shadowdancer, Tomb Prince and Necrotect I'd been quietly chipping away at on the side. Luckily, this morning I got the finishing touches done on the Night Goblins and Horse Archers so now I can get back to painting the models I originally wanted to.

I really need to keep better notes on how I paint things because, literally, every one of the methods I've been experimenting with are ones I have used before and should have remembered. 

Thursday 12 May 2016

Voltron: second verse same as the first?

I have never, ever in my life read or watched anything from the Voltron franchise. I'd heard of it, knew it was a big deal but never experienced it. The only time it really pinged my radar was when that rumour went around that Cloverfield was a secret Voltron reboot and that was... about as wrong as its possible to be, let's face it.

Now I'm planning to watch a Netflix reboot of the thing. Why?

Well, one of the oldest marketing ploys known to man: “This thing is like a thing you loved before!” Netflix put up a trailer full of animation, voice acting and humour that reminded me of Legend of Korra and, of course, a short Google search later it turns out that Joaquim Dos Santos and Lauren Montgomery of Legend of Korra are working on this thing.

So, philosophical question: do I want truth in this advertising?

Short answer: … ish. Long answer: I think this is one of the greatest traps in the creative world. You absolutely cannot predict what someone will enjoy except by looking at what they already enjoy. This is as true of a friend recommending a book as it is of a multi-national corporation greenlighting a movie. Netflix poured money into this thing because some of the makers of Legend of Korra wanted to make a Voltron reboot and here is how it has been marketed to me:

1. The animation looks like Legend of Korra.
2. The humour sounds like Legend of Korra.
3. There is a comedy coward like Bolin in Legend of Korra.
4. Press were very clearly told about Dos Santos and Montgomery's involvement.
5. Press have speculated about the series based on this connection, as they were meant to.

What we need to disentangle here is that using this connection to interest me and using it to entertain me are different ideas. Would I like more Korra? Yeah, of course I want more of the thing I enjoyed and I'm well up for Dark Horse's sequel comics when they eventually deign to publish them. I'm a nerd, which is just hedonism disguised as literary taste.

The thing is that just producing the same thing again and again bores your audience no matter how much they loved the first thing. I loved Legend of Korra but I already watched four seasons of it. What I hope, given that Korra was a 1930s movie serial in cartoon form and Voltron seems to be a Sentei series, is that I'm going to get a very different experience from this series almost by default.

Essentially, once I knew Dos Santos and Montgomery were involved I wanted to see what they were going to do next, not see what they did before again. I want to see them run off in a new direction, just as Legend of Korra ran off in a very different direction from The Last Airbender

Wednesday 11 May 2016

Why we love Leela

There's a rant I've been meaning to have over how something being problematic doesn't make it irredeemable. It can. It absolutely can but not every time, which I think is something people on both sides of the issue don't always get. Just because there's an issue with a work doesn't mean you can't or should allow yourself to enjoy it. Other stuff can redeem it.

So, Leela. I love this character. Lots of people love this character. In fact, I'd go so far as to say you'd have a long walk ahead of you trying to find a Classic Who fan who doesn't at least like her a lot.

But why? I mean, there are a lot of problematic characters in Doctor Who and Leela is up there. She's a hot mess of racial and colonialist issues; there's the infamous screen test photo where she was original going to be played in blackface; her costumes basically exist only for sexy value; and, no one on the TV series other than her creator Chris Boucher could write her worth a damn. Oh, and she gets one of the worst exits in the series history: married off to a wet guard she's barely shared a line with let alone share actual chemistry.

Love her, though. Why? Well, basically, this...

Louise Jameson has infinite reserves of dignity and between Tom Baker's hostility to her presence and some damn awful scripts she bloody needed it. She's an absolute joy to watch and Jameson always manages to find something to do with her lines even when they're bad, condescending to the point of racism, or just damn filler. Jameson is so much better than the stories she's appearing in.

Luckily, times change and now Jameson has the scripts to match her talent at Big Finish: Wrath of the Iceni; Nigel Fairs' Companion Chronicles; any given episode of Gallifrey... the list goes on. Also, she and Baker get on a lot better now so we finally get to see the fantastic synergy they had at length instead of in the rare moments back in the day when Baker could actually stand to share the screen with someone else. 

Tuesday 10 May 2016

Pokemon Sky Trainer roleplay is a go!

Nintendo just revealed the starters and legendaries for Pokemon Sun and Moon and... boy, do I love it when a plan comes together!
So, yes, we have a dual Grass/Flying type starter, the spherically adorable Rowlet. Also, the legendary for Moon is a big bat thingy. All good news for me and my plan to roleplay a Sky-Trainer character. I genuinely wasn't expecting to get a Flying type starter, I think the only time that's even sort of happened is that Charmander evolves into one.

I actually picked up a cheap copy of Pokemon Alpha Sapphire this morning (they're good games to tinker with whilst I'm listening to audio plays) and I'm going to take it more “blind” than I did Pokemon X. With Pokemon X, I was perpetually checking out the weaknesses of my enemies on my smartphone. Honestly, I feel that's no more cheating than the strategy guides we used to have as kids but I would like to see how I do actually trying to learn the advantages and disadvantages of the types and items and so on.

The only thing I have to decide (for this and for Moon) is whether I'll be giving my trainer a new name or whether my Pokemon X character Vicki is going to be travelling the various regions Ash Ketchum style.

If I decide to go with a new character here, I think I'll call her Elspeth. 

Ah, Old Battle Reports

I really miss battle reports. When I first got into Warhammer, battle reports were my favourite part of White Dwarf. This was around WD280 – 300ish, my first year or two in the hobby. Those issues had great battle reports with five minute fictions to set up the story, long introductions by the players explaining their army selections and a very personable prose style. Those batreps really helped me see the world of Warhammer in the game I was playing. They were also a great place to see a fully painted army in all its glory, which is a real inspiration and something you very, very rarely see in an actual gaming environment (no criticism, we all buy more than we can paint, nature of the beast).

Those battle reports (and the Tale Of Four Gamers that ran from WD300) are something I go back and reread every now and again for inspiration. Just the other day I dug through my shelves for WD278 and WD292, which ran a pair of Tomb Kings/Bretonnia match-ups.

These two reports tell a linked story. In the first, Duke Theuderic led his knights against the Tomb Kings of Khemri and got absolutely slaughtered. In the second, Theuderic's grandson Henri returns to exact revenge. It's a simple narrative but I like it. That second batrep was the one that convinced me I wanted to paint some Bretonnians and now they're my signature army.

I'm rereading them, incidentally, because I'm planning a series of games with my Tomb Kings against my friend Tom's Bretonnians. It's a classic match-up to me and I'm really looking forward not only to playing it but to playing against Bretonnians, which I've only done once or twice.

Also for the nostalgia kick, not that there's anything wrong with that. 

Monday 9 May 2016

The joys of incremental progress

I am getting dangerously close to completing Pokemon X: I've defeated Team Flare; caught the legendary Xerneas (jury's still out on that decision); beaten the final gym in Snowbelle City to get the last badge; walked the Victory Road; and, now I'm standing outside the Kalos League Building prepared to take on the Elite Four and the Champion.

I haven't completed a computer game in years. It might not be much of an achievement but it does feel nice to get further in one of these games than I ever have before. I think my record before was seven gym badges in Platinum and then I got stuck fighting the boss of Team Galactic and his damned invincible Gyarados. So at least I've proved to myself I can defeat the narrative villain, not just gym leaders.

Incremental progress is a lot more important than we give it credit for.

For instance, I've spent the last fortnight hitting my head against a brick wall with my painting. I've been having a lot of trouble painting a unit of sixteen Glade Guard for my Wood Elves. I couldn't get the highlighting right on their red tunics and was blanking on how to do the leather areas.

So last night I decided to change tac. I picked up five of the many, many Skull Pass Night Goblins I have lying around and decided to use them to do some colour tests. I painted them with red hoods and used their shoes to test out a leather method. Both look great, both will now be used on the Glade Guard and now I have five nearly finished Night Goblins and a cool new colour scheme for them to show for it!

I also finally got those damned Skeleton Horse Archers to go together. Great thing about Skeletons is that once you have them undercoated they start to look like something pretty quickly which cuts out that frustrating phase where every model just looks dispiritingly terrible.

Not a bad start to my week off. 

Sunday 8 May 2016

Oath of Moment #1

I am getting these half-built Skeleton Horse Archers off my desk! I only need to glue a few small components on and then they can go to the painting table. Hopefully once they're built I can get them painted relatively quickly but, to be honest, that's kind of secondary to not having them just sitting there any longer.

So, not even a particularly arduous one this week since we're in for some nice weather: just finish building these five models. Getting them painted would be nice but I'm not going to beat myself up over not finishing them. 

Saturday 7 May 2016

Pokemon Sun & Moon roleplay idea

I've really been enjoying Pokemon X, I was surprised by how much the updated graphics refreshed the experience. I've also been watching Dan Jones' Pokemon Diamond Nuzlocke Challenge series on the Extra Play channel and I'm considering doing a sort of roleplay run when Sun & Moon come out.

Not a Nuzlocke run, though. Maybe I'll do a second run of X under Nuzlocke rules but it doesn't feel like a “new game” sort of thing when you're as bad at keeping your Pokemon alive as I am.

No, what I'm considering is giving my trainer character Vicki a speciality type of Pokemon. Yes, I know that every strategy guide ever has counselled against this very thing but I think I've found, if not a loophole, a way to make it semi-work. The only way to be sure is to try it.

Over the course of X my “Pikachu”, my bestest Pokemon who takes on all comers and wins hasn't been my starter but my Talonflame, Redbird. There are also a ton of Flying-types I absolutely love the look of like Emolga and Hawlucha

In Sun & Moon (whichever has the coolest legendary on the cover) Vicki will be training to become a Sky-Trainer. How I think this will work is that I'll just catch whatever I can as normal to fill the Pokedex but whenever I catch a flier I have to go the Pokecenter and put them on my team. Oh, except for Bug types that evolve into flyers, obviously. I might be tempted to keep things that are obviously flying even if they aren't Flying types like Gastly or Honedge, I'll have to have a think about that.

Maybe I'll pick up a copy of Alpha Sapphire / Omega Ruby to test this idea out.

Friday 6 May 2016

Tomb Kings cavalry (an exercise in frustration)

Building Tomb Kings Skeleton Horse Archers almost makes me appreciate the decision to cut the range. These might actually be the worst designed miniatures I've ever had to put together.

No, I'm serious. The riders aren't designed to fit on the horses; the quivers aren't designed to actually rest against the torso; nor are they designed to leave room for the skeleton's head to attach to the neck connector; and, the bows are so heavy on so small an arm connection that you have to hold it in place for ages before the glue will actually hold it in any position that looks halfway decent and even then it doesn't line up with the awkward angle the head is looking in unless you want it to look terrible.

Do I have any advice to make building these things easier. Yes! Don't! If you want any from now on you have to get them second hand anyway so just skip the twitch-inducing frustration of construction and buy them pre-build on eBay. 

Thursday 5 May 2016

Let's talk about this new Spider-Man

(Spoilers for Captain America: Civil War, especially the bits about Spider-Man)

My thoughts on Civil War are complex and we'll get to them once they've percolated a little longer. The short, tentative, early version is that it's a good film. The good bits are amazing but the bad bits are a little too vital to the plot to entirely ignore. Overall I'd say its a better film (certainly a better Avengers film) than Age Of Ultron but not as good as Winter Soldier, there are just a few things I want to work out before I discuss the whole film at any length.

Tom Holland as Spider-Man, though? I know where I stand there. I like him, I'm looking forward to the new movie.

Okay, okay, I know the character is only in this film as an extended trailer to reassure the audience that this reboot will go better than the last one (and let's hope so, if we have to go through this again, Aunt May will end up in her teens) but that doesn't stop it from being very convincing.

So what's to like about this version? Well, for one thing I think Holland's version is the best yet at the half-sardonic, half-hysterical fight banter. For another, he has a couple of moments of utter panic in his first scene which sell how he hasn't been doing this long and doesn't have the coping mechanisms in place for when Peter and Spider-Man's worlds collide, which is a pretty big element of a lot of Spider-Man stories. Seriously, Tony Stark frantically signalling to Peter to be cool by blinking with both eyes would be the cutest thing in this film if not for the Vision trying to cook.

The costume looks better than the trailer led us to believe (and is there an element or two of Ben Reilly's suit there? Just me?) and there are plenty of cool “Spider-Man poses” to keep things visually interesting. The new ebbing also looks great, too. Most of all though, Holland splits the difference between the two previous versions. He's a believable teenager (like Garfield) and he isn't classically “Hollywood attractive” (like Maguire, sorry pardon).

Of course, holding down a couple of extended scenes and holding down an entire movie are two different things. On the evidence, Holland at least has the charisma to stand out in an ensemble piece. Rumour has it, based largely on the title Spider-Man: Homecoming, that Marvel and Sony are going for more of a Buffy-style high school dramedy, which I think Holland would be perfect for.

Time will tell, of course, and for the first time in years I find myself looking forward to a Spider-Man movie. 

Wednesday 4 May 2016

Warhammer Resources: Norba Miniatures

Hello and welcome to the first installment of Warhammer Resources, an occasional series highlighting third party resources for use in Warhammer Fantasy Battles now GW have done the honest thing and started cutting product left and right for the game they no longer care about. As a disclaimer, the products highlighted in this post are ones I haven't bought (yet) and so I can't vouch for physical quality or customer service

Yeah, bitter. You know why? Because my signature army, Bretonnia, no longer has a product range. I have what I have and that's it. Unless...
Norba Miniatures came to my attention the other day when my friend Matt sent me pics of their Not-Bretonnian Foot Knights (available with or without command models). They also have a Not-Great Unclean One and Not-Chaos Dwarfs, all of whom obviously are. Judging by the website photos the quality of the sculpts, whilst not up to modern GW standards, won't look too out of place, more like classic miniatures.
I've yet to research how easy and reliable Norba are to buy from and, like any new company, I suggest doing so before purchase but I remain cautiously hopeful for their future offerings. 

Tuesday 3 May 2016

Xerneas, the legendary imposition

Talking of things I get an itch to do every couple of years: Pokemon. Every once in a while I'll upgrade to the next Nintendo handheld up and, inevitably, the first game I buy will be a Pokemon title just out of sheer nostalgia. I find them to be nice, low strain games to fiddle with as I listen to the radio or during a spare moment and I rarely get very far in them. In fact this time round is the first time I've got as far as catching the game's legendary, let alone beaten all the gyms and or reached the Regional League.

First off, the whole reason I got Pokemon X was that it had the coolest looking legendary on the cover: a deer with crystal antlers. Beautiful design, certainly the best of the four legendaries the 3DS game covers were touting at me. Yes, thought I, I want that one, I will play this game.

Then something happened. You see, once I'd beaten Team Flare and captured Xerneas the game asked me whether I wanted to add Xerneas to my party, displacing one of my six Pokemon to the storage system. I agreed. Though I'd never got this far in the game I was sure there must be compelling game reasons for this choice.

The thing is, though, that I resented it. Against all expectation, I had actually bonded with my party and was sort of miffed at the idea that this random Johnny should come in and just assume a place on the team, displacing one of the Pokemon who had travelled across the Kalos region with me.

I'd spent some twenty-odd hours of this game slowly but surely assembling a team that could take on all comers: Gumdrop the Greninja (Water, Ghost); Sizzles the Raichu (Electric); Rosebud the Venusaur (Grass, Poison and bearing a mega-evolution stone); Dorfl the Golurk (Shadow, Ground, Ghost, Steel); Redbird the Talonflame (Flying, Fire, Steel); and Cuddles the Pangoro (Fighting, Dark).

I felt I had as many bases covered as any six-man team could and, honestly, even by sending Sizzles to the PC I've actually benefited on that score. I might have lost Electric attacks but I gained Fairy and Bug attacks.

Still, I find myself in the odd position of wanting to go against the obvious game mechanics and just reinstate Sizzles to the team. We went through a lot, that electric rat and me. If nothing else he managed to one-shot a couple of Gyarados and I hate Gyarados. It was a Gyarados that kept killing me in Pokemon Platinum and I've fostered a grudge ever since.

Funny how we invest in these things, isn't it?

Monday 2 May 2016

Terry Brooks, it's not you, it's me

Terry Brooks is an author whose work I'd love to read but I just can't get into it. I say this having just given up on The Sword of Shannara at the 58th page, and that's an improvement on last time.

Consider this another nail for me to drive into the coffin of “objective” review because, ultimately, I can't call The Sword Of Shannara a bad novel. It's a New York Times bestseller; its remained constantly in print for nearly forty years; and, Terry Brooks is still making a living writing books in the same series. It is, in short, an utter classic of modern fantasy.

An utter classic that I just can't get on with. There's nothing functionally wrong with it, even the dense info dump Allanon gives to Shea and Flick Ohmsford in the second chapter is no worse written than the literal history lesson David Eddings opens the Belgariad with and I love that series. There's just something about Brooks' writing that doesn't click with me, not just here but also in The Scions of Shannara and Magic Kingdom for Sale – SOLD!. Yes, this is basically an author who I try to read every couple of years and have the same lack of success with every time.

Why? Because I feel like I'm missing something. Now, I don't subscribe to that whole “you're not a proper fan of X unless you've done Y” gatekeeping bullshit but this series is such a massive part of fantasy's history that I feel odd not having experienced it.

Oh well, suppose I'll try again in a couple of years, we'll see how it works out then. 

Sunday 1 May 2016

Painting Journal #1: Tomb Scorpion

After some severe hobby doldrums, I finally finished my first miniature of the year and, let me tell you, just getting something finished has really energised me. So, the Tomb Kings Tomb Scorpion, one of my favourite models ever. I remember when I first got into Warhammer there was no model I wanted more, unfortunately the army just didn't grab me back then but here we are now and here he is...
Ease of Building
I cannot imagine the nightmare this would have been in metal. For all of Finecast's deservedly awful reputation (and I did have to bend a couple of legs back into shape) I don't know how anyone could stand a body that large on legs that small in metal and not have it collapse every five minutes.

As it was, working with the Finecast version of the kit, the only issue was that the legs don't really offer any obvious contact points for the gluing the Scorpion to the base. In the end I just had to hold the model down on the base and dribble superglue over the ends its feet. It isn't elegant and it is a bit visually obvious but it was the only way to go.

Ease of Painting
There are these two round... objects on the back of the model, wedged between the mummified Liche Priest and the stone body of the construct. No one seems to know what they are and no official photograph is at a angle for you to see what 'Eavy Metal did with them. So my friend Dave and I decided they were canoptic jars and I painted them as earthenware. I think that makes sense and if it doesn't then someone should have said something in an official source.

Aside from that small philosophical issue the kit is actually pretty easy to paint, being comprised of the four basic Tomb Kings materials: bone, stone, bandages and gold. Of these the biggest challenge is deciding what sort of stone to paint, the other techniques being pretty basic ones that most painters have preferred methods to achieve anyway.

Be warned, there are a lot of little chips in the stone and bone sections, as well as some hard to reach sections in the hole the Liche Priest is lying in so you might have to go over your base coat a few times.

Not much to say here. The bone is the same basic technique I've used on all the bone in the army and that's most of the model. My quest for a decent gold method continues. This is Balthasar Gold washed Agrax and drybrushed Golden Griffon which is duller and “older” looking than the one from the painting guide but somehow not deep enough for my purposes. Eh, further experimentation ahead and perhaps it'll look better on smaller details with my infantry.
My crappy pictures (new house = new photography set-up = LEARNING EVERYTHING AGAIN!) doesn't show the Dark Reaper drybrush on the black stone but it looks quite cool in person, trust me. Please?
Anyway, I'm happy with how the mummified Liche Priest turned out, especially the bandages, which makes this a good test case for the Tomb Guard I'm building right now.
Overall, I think I did well.