Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Now I have a machine gun. Ho, ho, ho.

Today we're going to start with a question. What do the above ten movies have in common?

If you want to study the picture and work it out for yourself, you ought to stop reading now.

Like, right now.

Because I'm about to give you the answer.

They are all set (or have key scenes set) during Christmas.

It's relevant, see? It's a time of year where we imagine settling down in front of a roaring fireplace with loved ones and family members to watch a tonne of films on television. But a lot of the films we end up watching are the ones being broadcast on the main TV channels - often characterised by schmaltzy, saccharine, storylines where Santa Claus is a real person and Jingle Bells plays loudly in New York department stores.

So if you're after something a little different, check out this list of movies for alternative Christmas viewing. In all of them we get to see Yuletide without the elves, without Santa Claus and without the mushiness. And in at least one of them Bruce Willis has a machine gun. Ho, ho, ho.

Ten Alternative Christmas Movies

Die Hard (1988)
This is an obvious one. It's action packed, funny, original and has Bruce Willis at his very best. A lot of people watch this film every single year. And they're unlikely to stop any time soon - because you know what they say about old habits.

Gremlins (1984)
Is this a monster flick? Kind of, but there's definitely more than one critter, and although not very big, they're mischievous, nasty, little buggers. Setting it in what appears to be a homebaked American village during the holiday season, worthy of a place in It's a Wonderful Life, just adds to the eventual chaos.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
Great cast, acid sharp script, brilliant characters and a beautifully twisted plot. All of which is centred around a murder at Christmas. Extra fun if you're a Raymond Chandler fan.

Batman Returns (1992)
Back before Chris Nolan rewrote the way superhero movies worked, there were a couple of excellent Batman films made by Tim Burton. The second one was set in a snowy Gotham City, offering a little extra juxtaposition for the creepy bad guys.

The City of Lost Children (1995)
Okay, so although I promised you films that don't feature Santa Claus, he's in this. And not just one. There's a whole room full of them. But being such a darkly inventive science-fiction film you never come too close to any schmaltz.

12 Monkeys (1995)
Bruce Willis again. Does he have a machine gun? You'll have to watch it to find out. But director Terry Gilliam's twisted time-travel film keeps you as confused as the protagonist, slowly revealing the plot, until an ending where you realise all the threads have come together. Look out for the Christmas moments.

Prometheus (2012)
This prequel to the Alien movies is almost entirely set at Christmas. Did you know that? Props to Pete 'The Chef' Cook for pointing it out. Apparently there's a scene where a Christmas tree makes it abundantly clear. I have no recollection whatsoever, and it's not quite good enough for me to want to watch again right now. But the visuals are utterly fabulous so I'm sure I'll get round to it soon.

I Am Legend (2007)
When a virus causes mass panic on the streets of New York City at Christmas, the resultant, mutated inhabitants look less like the vampires of the original book and more like zombies. But it's the change to the ending that really infuriated the fans. That said, it's still a pretty decent movie. Certainly more so than the earlier Charlton Heston adaptation, The Omega Man. And who doesn't love Will Smith?

First Blood (1982)
The Rambo films were pretty silly. A bare chested Sly Stallone obliterating America's enemies with a rocket launcher and a heavy machine gun probably torn from a tank. All pretty silly except the first one, where he's forced to use his black ops survival skills against good ol' yankee cops. An exciting film dealing with PTSD, the dislocation of veterans returning to society, and what it's like to sew yourself back together after a vicious fall. Look out for the decor in the Sheriff's office. It's that which tells us the film takes place at Christmas.

L.A. Confidential (1997)
In one of the opening scenes Russell Crowe's brawny, hard-as-nails detective pulls the Christmas lights off a bad guy's roof. From then on the film takes you deeper and deeper into LA's criminal underworld of the 1950s. And with Guy Pearce's scrawny smarts we are shown a shift of ideologies between the old world and the new. Based on the book by James Elroy.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Jar Jar Abrams

Jar Jar Abrams is a name floating around the internet at the moment. It's what some people are saying they will call J.J. Abrams if his latest film, the much-anticipated seventh episode in the Star Wars saga, doesn't meet their high expectations. But I'm wondering if he could take that monicker and make it mean something else.

To date Jeffrey Jacob Abrams has had a pretty exciting career. From his earlier TV shows like Alias, Fringe and Lost, to Super 8 and his Star Trek reboot movies, his work has brought often niche sci-fi ideas into the mainstream. Ideas like parallel universes, time-hopping, Illuminati-style sects, occult corporate meddling, unexplained phenomena and alien visitations to name just a few.

Sure, there have been mistakes - the ending of Lost was something of a disappointment for me and most of the people I subsequently sought cathartic counselling from, and the second Star Trek film isn't loved by all - but generally he seems to be one of the world's most capable pairs of hands when it comes to putting exciting science fiction on screen. His two Star Trek films currently score 8 and 7.8 on, so I'm probably not the only person who thinks this.

And Star Wars: The Force Awakens could be his best film so far. Certainly there are a lot of people out there hoping it will be. And probably no-one more so than J.J. himself. 

But he sets the bar high, so might it be enough for him to simply make another decent film? What if he wanted to try to improve upon the franchise? What if he wanted to try and fix the prequels? Short of re-releasing them as actually good films, perhaps a way of approaching this would be to take their worst elements and re-introduce them in the next set of films as new and improved versions. Take an awful thing from The Phantom Menace, update it, fix it and sell it back to the fanbase as something we can't live without.

Here's an idea I've been kicking around, that I'd like to share.

In The Empire Strikes Back, after we lost Obi-Wan in the original Star Wars film, the unfolding story needed a new wise man to act as mentor and help with the plot exposition. Into this role stepped Yoda, a several hundred year old oracle of all things Force related. Any issues that the audience needed to know, great, get Yoda to tell Luke. Need a little backstory? Get Yoda to tell Luke. Need to explain to the audience just how bad it will be if Luke lets his anger run free? Get Yoda to do it. Maybe even via a conversation with Obi-Wan's force-ghost.

Not only was Yoda funny and cute and cool and dangerous, but also absolutely necessary to the unfolding plot. 

Now suppose one of the new Star Wars films needs a character to perform a similar role. An older Luke Skywalker would be the obvious choice, but what if he's incapacitated or killed or he's become a Dark Lord of the Sith or he's simply busy elsewhere? The movie makers could invent a new character, someone who wasn't around during the other films, or they could bring in Lando or one of the other unused characters from the original three films. 

But what if J.J. Abrams was able to take something utterly reviled by audiences last time we saw it and turn it around? Something that would link the new Star Wars films not just to the original trilogy, but bring the prequel films back into the fold too. The hatred runs deep, so this next bit may just be too much to stomach, but you and I have got this far together, so I'll take the punt.

Yup, that's right: Jar Jar Binks.

Bear with me. The most annoying, pointless character from the prequels, in Abrams' expert hands could be the Yoda of the next set of films.

For a start he'd be roughly, what, 50 years older? That's a significant timeframe, granting licence for the character to be almost completely rewritten. How might age have mellowed him? He could have changed beyond all recognition, away from the awkward, ungainly character we all hated so much.

When Jar Jar first came lolloping onto the scene with the release of The Phantom Menace in 1999, there were complaints that his vocal style was reminiscent of ebonics and that his floppy ears resembled dreadlocks. This gave rise to the belief that he was based on Jamaican tropes and stereotypes. George Lucas denied this, but the accusations never went away. Therefore if we're looking for a lazy shortcut to describe his accent, Jamaica would be a good place to start. But for this reboot version it won't be the impossibly annoying "meesa sorry sir" accent from the prequels. We'll base his new, older voice, on the veteran rastas that sell reggae on vinyl in various markets dotted around London. The grizzled old guys doing this, who I've met, are the opposite of annoying. They're laid-back and world wise, yet serious and profound. Interesting and intriguing. In other words, quite cool. Could Jar Jar possibly become cool too?

Not what I'd expect to draw for an article about cool things in Star Wars

To still be alive he would need to have survived the entire span of Imperial rule across the galaxy. And with Darth Vader himself leading the hunt for old dissidents (see Star Wars: Purge) any survivors from the Republic days would probably have had to learn a few new survival skills.

Not only that but Jar Jar would have wisdom too. He was right there at nearly all the crucial events that led to the fall of the Old Republic and the rise of the Empire. Right there standing next to some of the most important characters from that time. Mistakes don't get much bigger than the fall of an order and you can learn an awful lot through failure. He was on first names terms with Obi-Wan Kenobi, Padmé AmidalaBail Organa and even the Emperor, and his best friend grew up to become Darth Vader. I would say Jar Jar Binks could easily be well placed, perhaps even the best placed to take on the role of mentor for the next generation.

So if J.J. Abrams wants to show us more movie magic, why not adopt the insulting monicker in the title of this post and turn it into something positive.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

We interrupt this programme

Sci-fi and fantasy are taking a bit of a break this week. A bit of a break, but not a whole one. Because I've gone on holiday somewhere gorgeous, and snuck a few sci-fi books and comics into my luggage.

And one of those books really stands out. Within just a few pages it already looked like a contender for my shortlist of favourite science fiction and fantasy literature. It's Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.

It's a dystopian real-world adventure centred on a fantasy quest across a riddle-laden future internet. Does that make sense?

Dystopia in utopia

It mixes cyberpunk elements with existing sci-fi universes and a nostalgic trip through the early days of gaming. It's like Neuromancer and Snow Crash meet Dungeons & Dragons and early 16K home computers in a desperate hunt to discover the ultimate Easter Egg.

Don't worry if you still don't follow me, I'll put my shortlist of favourite sci-fi and fantasy books together in a future post, and try to offer a more comprehensible summary of each. In the meantime, if you think you might be interested then I'd strongly recommend reading Ready Player One - especially if you remember Adventure on the Atari 2600 games console or Pac-Man in the arcades. 

Anyway I can't sit here typing all day, I've got some serious lying by the pool to do.

Normal service will resume shortly.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

An interview with Craig Randall, founder of Bitzbox

Hi Craig. You run the website Bitzbox, a supplier of individual plastic parts from Games Workshop kits. What gave you the idea to start up this site?
I was only 19 when I first started Bitzbox and didn’t have much experience behind me apart from working as a self employed web developer for a while. Ironically at this time I wasn’t really into the hobby. My friends stopped playing when we went to college and I still had loads of spare bits lying around from over the years of collecting so I thought I would use my web development skills to create a website to sell them on. At the time there was no one in the UK selling bits online and only Battlewagon Bits in North America.

Forge World's Roboute Guilliman, from Craig's personal collection

I notice you already have parts from the new plastic Horus Heresy game, Betrayal at Calth, up on your site. More and more product is moving into the plastics area. What effects does this have on your business?
The amount of plastic kits has increased so much since I first started and that has been fantastic from a business point of view. There are downsides of course, such as trying to keep so many different products in stock and finding space for them all. I have pretty much stopped selling any large monsters, vehicles and flyers due to lack of space and they are also not very profitable. Smaller kits are much easier to store and I have plenty of room for many more releases.

Do you run Bitzbox alone, or are there others who help?

The business is owned and run by myself mostly. When the company was first started it was a partnership between myself and my best friend who I also ran a web development business with. After about 3-4 years he left to do his own thing, but we are still great friends. I have a volunteer who does a few hours each week. My girlfriend works at a school so she doesn’t work during school holidays and usually ends up giving me a hand with work. My social media is mainly handled by my friend Wayne who also films battle reports for our YouTube channel. Running Bitzbox is my 9-5 job so with the amount of orders and stock that requires cutting off sprues each week I just about manage to fit all the required tasks in but as we continue to grow I will certainly be looking into hiring more helpers.

Another model from Craig's personal collection

Got any tips you’d like to share?
In regards to modelling and painting almost everything I’ve learned recently has just been from blogs and YouTube tutorials. It’s amazing how much we can learn online these days. I don’t consider myself an amazing painter but I like to think my quality is just above tabletop standard. When it comes to running a business you just have to have patience. I wasn’t taking any money from Bitzbox for the first 2-3 years and was lucky to be in a position that I didn’t need to rely on it’s income. It usually takes a while to really get up and running but there’s so many great online communities in this hobby that it’s not too difficult to start getting your name out there. Also when you work for yourself I think it’s best to get into a routine so you don’t start getting lazy or end up putting things off.

Many games companies are based in Nottingham. Are you in that neck of the woods? Does your location confer any benefits or leave you at any disadvantage?
Bitzbox is based in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk so we’re a good few hours away from Nottingham. The wargaming scene around here is quite large though and I’ve met loads of wargamers through the local game stores. It’s certainly a benefit having so many local wargamers as many of them have been customers at one time or another.

Do you go to conventions?
I have never been to any conventions. I’ve had plenty of invites to set up stalls but I don’t think it’s that feasible for my type of business. If I do go to one in the future it will just be as a regular Joe.

Craig's Harlequin Wraithknight

How did you first get into the miniature war-gaming hobby?
I first got into the hobby when I was about 10. One of my friends from school was into 40K and he got me into it. He had Orks, Dark Eldar and Tyranids and we used to play games with his miniatures to begin with. I remember my dad getting me the Warhammer 5th edition box set (with Lizardmen and Bretonnians) for Christmas and then for my birthday a couple of months later he bought me my first 40K models, the 7 man metal Chaos Space Marine squad and 5 Chaos Terminators. I then got other models such as Khorne Berzerkers, Kharn and Abaddon for that army. My cousin also got into the hobby at the time and had a really nice Dark Eldar army. Over the next few years several of my friends would get into the hobby and we had loads of games of 3rd edition 40K in my garage.

Do you still pursue gaming and modelling as a hobby today?
Absolutely. I love the painting and converting aspect of the hobby. I do try to game when I can too. I have several 40K armies. My largest is my Chaos Space Marines and Chaos Daemons. I also have Space Marines, Orks, Tyranids and Eldar. And I play a little bit of Malifaux and am now getting into the Horus Heresy stuff too.

Imperial Knight Warden from Craig's collection

It sounds like you're more into 40K than Warhammer Fantasy Battle. What other sci-fi and fantasy inspires you?
Weirdly I love fantasy universes more than sci-fi on the whole but in regards to wargaming about 95% of it is 40K. I never really got into Warhammer Fantasy much but have started playing Age of Sigmar. I’ve always been a huge fan of J.R.R. Tolkien and love The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies. I’m also a big fan of Game of ThronesI do love sci-fi too. I love Aliens and the original Star Wars trilogy plus many others. Both genres are great but I think I prefer to see a good sword fight. Star Wars is great at offering that in a sci-fi setting which is why I love the films so much. I don’t play video games as much as I used to when I was younger. I tend to lean towards games like the Final Fantasy series, SkyrimGTA V and Fallout 4 these days. I like games I can sink hours into.

A video game inspired Ork Meganob?

Interesting point about Star Wars being a fantasy film in a science fiction setting. Which scene from the Star Wars series would you say is your favourite or most memorable?
For me the moment that stands out the most in the Star Wars saga is at the end of Return of The Jedi when Vader kills Emperor Palpatine. Vader was a great villain throughout the whole trilogy but during that scene we start to see a side of him that shows remorse and although "he’s more machine now than man" and he’s fallen to the dark side, in the end it’s his human emotions that win. Even with his helmet on you can sense the pain Vader feels from seeing Luke on the verge of death from the hands of Palpatine.

Just a few days now until the release of the next instalment. The excitement is mounting. But talking of the future, what would you say it holds for you? What plans do you have?
My house came with a large extension that was unfinshed that I always planned to use for the business. This is now being worked on and I hope to have the renovations done by the new year. This will see me being able to increase storage space for Bitzbox as well as be a really cool gaming area (hopefully). I want to eventually hire some helpers so we can stock loads more and quicker too. Our YouTube channel has really grown over the last year also and we’re going to be working even harder to bring more bat reps and other videos over the next few months as we really enjoy making them. Next September will also mark 10 years of Bitzbox so something very special will be happening then I’m sure.

Craig, thank you for taking time out to speak to me, much appreciated. Craig's site, Bitzbox, can be found here.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Guns and skulls

It has just occurred to me that if someone put a gun to your head and demanded, on pain of having your living room redecorated with brains, that you summarise the entire Warhammer 40,000 universe in just a few words, replying 'guns and skulls' might just see you survive.

Ignoring the fact that if you weren't in your living room at the time it would be hugely inconvenient for the gunman, the thought does add a little extra relevance to the models I want to share today.

I've been struggling to work on my Arbites squad of late, nothing new there, so I figured, in the meantime, I'd present some more stuff from my city project. These are basically models from the WH40K universe that I find interesting, that aren't affiliated with any particular army, and that it wouldn't be too weird to see on or around the streets of an Imperial hive city - in this case Kruenta Karoliina Arx Rotunda.

For no logical reason I've chosen to start with the skulls. Servo-skulls. These ones include some of the Forge World models, various Games Workshop kits and the tracked one from the Space Hulk boxed game.

The automated gun platforms have a similarly mixed heritage. The one on the left is from Forge World, but the one on the right comes from two different places. Its track unit is taken from an out-of-production character from Micro Art Studio's Iron Brotherhood range, while the magnetised turret was created from the weapon arm of an old Games Workshop metal dreadnought.

There was a little chopping and glueing involved with that mobile platform, but essentially none of these models took very long to construct. Which is a good thing when you see how laboriously slow I am at getting anything done.

And if you'd like to see just how laboriously slow I am at getting anything done you can review the meagre entirety of my city project to date by clicking here.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Judgement day

There's cause for celebration in my house today. Or at least in the corner of my house where I play with tiny bits of plastic. It's because I've finally finished building the first five of my 'Judge Dredd' style Arbites Enforcers. It's been a long slog, but generally I've enjoyed working on this project. If, for some reason you are remotely interested you can find all the earlier stages here. Although, to be fair, there's still plenty more work to be done until it's completely finished. I guess the reality is I'm only about half way through, but hush now child, let's not ruin the moment.

'Judge Dredd' style Arbites Enforcers. Not what I'd call instant justice

Also, if you've been following any of this, or if you just clicked on the link above, you may be wondering what happened to the other two troopers. 

In my last related entry I mentioned some other weapons that I was going to have to build from scratch. Here's a photo showing the tiny amount of progress I've made since then. If you couldn't before, you should now be able to tell what it's all going to be.

That's right, it's more tiny bits of plastic

Once I've finished these last two guys, then I've only got to build that bike I promised (way back here). Just a few arms and a simple little bike standing between me and the painting stage. Or maybe two bikes. Shall we say two? Okay, two.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

The Giant Robo Alphabot, part three

I mentioned in an earlier post that when I originally made the list of entries for my robot alphabet I wanted them all to be robotic vehicles with some sort of transport capacity - what are often referred to as walkers. It proved too tricky to find decent entries for every letter so I had to open up the criteria to include large robots as well. But even this left me with a few entries that didn't quite conform. By the time I had the final list of robots for inclusion I was no longer completely sure what the unifying factor was. 

I was thinking about this earlier and I realised that all the robots or robot-like vehicles have at least one of these two features:

• The ability to carry a person or people

• Advanced offensive capabilities

That shouldn't have surprised me as I'm a big fan of the heavy-duty military aesthetic. I've noticed it runs through a significant proportion of my model making, and I'm pretty sure I've mentioned it elsewhere on this blog. So, with that said, here are two more robots from my alphabet which exemplify the above criteria and really embody that military aesthetic.

Monday, 9 November 2015

I predict a weapons fit

The last time I posted about my 'Dredd' style Arbites Enforcers project, I talked about creating replica shoulder pads for the whole team. Since then I've been trying to integrate the pads and continue to add arms and weapons. Needless to say progress has been its usual slow self.

There's going to be a mix of equipment throughout the squad, taking a vague lead from the various official Arbites and Enforcer releases of days gone by (some of which can be seen here and here). Therefore most of my weapons will be quite standard: shotguns, bolters and a grenade launcher. However there's one other weapon fit that's causing me some problems. I want two of my characters to be holding equipment that I just can't find decent proxies of. I've looked through plenty of sprues, and at other manufacturers, but I can't find anything that quite matches what I have in mind. So I've decided to try to make my own.

For the first of the two items I started with an old bottle of shampoo. I cut the top off to get a better understanding of how thick the plastic is and check that it's what I'm after, then cut out a strip to work with.

For the other item I scoured existing kits, looking for something I could work with. I eventually found these hammers on Bitzbox, so I bought three different ones to give myself some choice. They aren't the weapon I want, but I'm hoping they'll be a good place to start. Any idea where I'm going with this?

Incidentally, on the subject of Bitzbox, their website has recently undergone a redesign. The navigation is easy, their stock levels are up, and from order to delivery was only a matter of days. If you're in the UK, I can strongly recommend these guys. And I don't even have shares in their company.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

An interview with Curtis Fell, founder of Ramshackle Games

How did you first get into the miniature war-gaming hobby?
I started model making from as early as I can remember, working up to Airfix plane kits at about 8. This was back in the Humbrol Enamel days. My mother bought some Citadel models for me and my brother in about 1985 and I was hooked from there. I played some Warhammer and saved my pocket money for the release of Warhammer 40,000 in 1988. Fortunately, acrylic paint had come in by then too!

How did you refine your sculpting skills and learn to cast up models?
I studied animation at Uni, and got a job in the model making department at Aardman Animations after I left. I had been working on my Orc army for several years at that point, and had cast out some boar riders that I had sculpted myself. This impressed the Aardman crew. I learned better casting and mould making techniques as well as very disciplined sculpting there. I worked on Chicken Run, both as model maker and assistant animator. Although the plasticine sculpts look simple, getting the consistency right requires a lot of intensive sculpting and is very opposed to my own style of sculpting.

One of Curtis's illustrations from Nuclear Renaissance supplement, The Tome of Tridlins

Was it the sculpting that made you want to set up Ramshackle Games? When did you do that?
After working at Aardman I moved to Nottingham to work on video games as an animator. I worked on Time Splitters 2 and 3 as well as Second Sight for a company called Free Radical Design. I also started doing Viking reenactment, and lost the sight in one eye whilst practicing my sword fighting! I got hit in the face with a sword. They were very surprised at the hospital! If you get stabbed with a blade longer than 2 inches then you get priority treatment. When they said it was a 22" blade the staff got me a doc real quick. I decided to leave Free Radical after that and start out on my own. I prefer to work for myself.

Not many people can say they've been wounded in a sword fight! Did you ever get the sight back in your eye?
No, I am still blind in one eye. It has advantages as well as disadvantages.

The Battle Dog tank from Ramshackle Games 

Do you run Ramshackle alone, or are there others who help?
I run Ramshackle Games myself, but I have had a lot of help from many friends. I hang around with lots of model makers, both in real life and online. People are often prepared to submit sculpts or vehicles to me for casting. I am always open to submissions and supply copies of any model donated to me to the maker. So if anyone wants to get their models cast out please let me know! The guy that did the closest work with me, Leo Blackband, now runs the quality control for Finecast. He is a great worker and covered my paternity leave for me. After I came back, I recommended him to Games Workshop and they gave him the job. Several of my vehicles are made by him, and also Gill Harrison who helped me out A LOT at the beginning.

What technical details or tips can you share with us?
The main tip I can give for casting and mould making is get a vacuum chamber! This is a metal drum with a pump attached. The pump sucks out trapped air bubbles. I cant really give many sculpting tips, other than practice practice practice! Because I do every part of running Ramshackle, I have to be a bit of a 'jack of all trades', which in the end means 'master of none!' I want to provide characterful gaming models for a fair price, and I think I do this.

Another of Curtis's illustrations

I think you do that too. You’re based in Nottingham. Do you find there are any advantages or disadvantages to being near Games Workshop, Mantic etc?
Its fairly easy to meet gamers and other people in the business, plus people are very enthusiatic. I have had some good advice. I do have friends at other companies, but it doesn't seem to get me any work.

The Nuclear Renaissance range is your primary seller, right? It looks to have been inspired, at least in part by the Mad Max films. How did you feel about George Millar revisiting Mad Max with the recent release of Fury Road?
I have always liked cyberpunk and post apoc. Of course Mad Max is a huge inspiration, but I think Fist of the North Star has been more significant to me really. The new Mad Max film is just like the old ones. Silly, funny, brutal and simple. Great to watch, totally unrealistic. Full of plot holes but compelling and vivid! I do prefer number 2 though. The new one has less in it for me. Although the film making technical ability is higher, the frankly daft plot is nowhere as well condensed as number 2. Number 2 does everything it needs to do. 3 adds some more sillyness, which I feel is just extended to 4.

And, talking of movies, Alien or Aliens?
Ha, Alien 4. I really like Jean-Pierre Jeunet as a director. In regards to your question though, both are great films. I see them as related. I prefer the second one, as it's just more epic and has richer character and dialog. Better for quotes!

The steampunk inspired Vole light tank

What else has inspired you?
Bits form everywhere. Comics - I really like Niel Gaiman and Alex Ross. For authors I'd say Asimov, Heinline and Philip K Dick. I don't mind TV shows but prefer films, they seem more serious. My favourite series would be Everyone Hates Chris, but I guess most influential would be Red Dwarf! I play loads of tabletop games, and my favourite is Nuclear Renaissance, written by me! Ha, probably Necromunda is my favourite. I used to play a lot of video games before I had kids. I grew up with stuff like Age of Empires, so love multiplayer strategy games. I enjoy paintball but it's a bit expensive for me.

You’ve run a few Kickstarter campaigns which have all successfully funded. What has that process taught you, and will you continue to use the medium?
KS is great. For me I hope this is the future of funding for everything. At the moment, it is too easy to abuse, but as it becomes more normal I'm sure regulations on it will be tightened up. I don't have to worry about that though as I always deliver as promised! It's a great platform to get stuff seen and get sales. It's also amazing that the funding is up front. I tend to put in the work, get everything made before I commit to a KS project. I feel that it's just to raise the funds for production. To be respectable the project maker has to show that they are willing to do work before asking for money. The same as with any credible investment. I think in the future people will become more wary of backing companies they don't 100% trust.

One of the robots from a recent Ramshackle Games Kickstarter campaign

Do you still pursue gaming and modelling as a hobby, and if so, what do you play, build or paint?
I play Nuclear Renaissance and other games. I have a bunch of sci-fi and fantasy forces. I have a large Orc army made with my own range. It's 100 orc archers backed up by warmachines, wizards and giants. It's a fun army for Warhammer. I tend to play older versions at the moment. I'm a big fan of the Oldhammer movement. I also like games and models through the ages, so please check out Middlehammer on Facebook. It's a great page for general Warhammer related stuff. I also sometimes go to Slayer Gaming in Mansfield, where I played in a big game of modern WH40K with my future human military army made from my own figures. I also joined an Inquisimunda campaign recently with a bunch of guys at Warhammer World. Great fun! I enjoy gaming for the fun of it and don't want to get too serious! I am also tight with spending on my hobby, which is the main reason I learned to sculpt, so I didn't have to pay high prices for models! I build what I want to build for Ramshackle, so my hobby is my job. I'm very lucky in that respect. I can just make whatever I fancy.

The Anti Air Cannon

Very lucky indeed. What plans do you have for the future?
I've just released a set of 20mm conversion parts for doing up your Hotwheels or Matchbox cars as post apoc vehicles. It's drivers, passengers, guns and armour plates. I'm also putting the finishing touches on a project - a set of post apoc dwarf bikers. It will be able to be a gang with mixed armour and styles, or set up as a military force with uniforms. This will be a Kickstarter project too.

I look forward to it. Many thanks for taking the time to talk to me.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Now pay attention 007

To celebrate this week's release of the film Spectre, I thought I'd share some facts about the smooth-talking, fast-driving, sharp-shooting, fictional British Secret Service agent, James Bond.

Since his introduction over 60 years ago in Ian Fleming's 1953 book Casino Royale, the character has lived in the British collective consciousness as the national hero we never had. Yet thanks to Eon Productions' stream of official movies, his appeal is unquestionably global. People all over the world have been watching Bond's exploits ever since the first Sean Connery film, Dr. No, was released over half a century ago, in 1962.

Here are three facts (to add to the thousands that already appear in newspapers, magazines and online), that I'm rather hoping will be obscure enough not to be common knowledge, yet engaging enough to be interesting:

1. Casino Royale (2006) with Daniel Craig is the third Bond movie with that title.
The previous Casino Royale was the relatively well-known 1967‭ psychedelic ‬spoof with David Niven as Bond‭, also starring Woody Allen, Peter Sellers, Orson Welles and Ursula Andress. The film largely eschews the plot of the book and instead sees Bond take over MI6 after the death of M, where he then orders every agent‭ ‬renamed James Bond‭ ‬in an effort to confuse his enemies.‬

But before that (and before even Dr.No), Bond's first ever on-screen adventure was made by the CBS Television Network in America, airing in 1954, just a year after Fleming wrote the book. It was the third episode of Climax!, an anthology series that presented different characters in different stories every episode, and was an hour-long television adaptation of Fleming's original novel. Bond and Leiter's nationalities were flipped, so Bond, played by Barry Nelson, was an American known as Jimmy, working for the Combined Intelligence Agency, while Leiter was a British Secret Service agent, with his first name changed from Felix to Clarence.

2. The story Thunderball has also been turned into a film more than once.

Okay, so most people with a passing interest in Bond know that the 1965 film Thunderball was remade in 1983 as Never Say Never Again. But they might not know that the real-life legal battle behind both films spanned over 5 decades and eventually paved the way for the most recently released Bond film, Spectre.

The story is a fascinating glimpse at the legal forces at work over the franchise, and even suggests the idea that Ian Fleming's literary Bond, in Fleming's own words 'an extremely dull, uninteresting man to whom things happened', was a very different character to the near invincible cinematic Bond, who may owe more of his super-spy persona to writer Kevin McClory.

In a dumbed-down nutshell McClory, Fleming and fellow writer, Jack Whittingham, wrote the original draft to Thunderball in 1961. Ian Fleming adapted the screenplay as a book, but never sought McClory and Whittingham's permission. A legal battle ensued, which essentially meant the Thunderball movie was shelved. Elements from the story were then incorporated into a replacement film, Dr. No, including the introduction of shadowy, criminal organisation, SPECTRE. McClory argued that much of the subsequent movie series was therefore based on the more fantastical Bond from his original movie script and was, at least partly, his intellectual property.

After years of legal battles, he was granted the opportunity to make his own version, which was released by Sony Pictures, almost head to head with MGM's Octopussy, in what quickly became known as the 'Battle of the Bonds'. ‬It saw Sean Connery come out of Bond retirement (to play Bond coming out of retirement) with the title a tongue-in-cheek reference to‭ ‬the fact that he'd vowed‭, ‬after filming Diamonds Are Forever‭, to‭ 'never again' ‬play Bond.

McClory then made several attempts to set up a rival Bond franchise with Sony, all to no avail. Sony eventually bought MGM, McClory passed away, and in 2013 the rights to Thunderball, Blofeld and the organisation SPECTRE passed from the McClory estate to MGM and the Eon Productions holding company, Danjaq, finally clearing the path for the production of the film released this week.

You can see a fuller version of this story over at Universal Exports here.

Thunderball bonus ball extra fact: According to Tony Nourmand in his book James Bond Movie Posters, in the controversial Italian promotional image for Thunderball, artist Averardo Ciriello originally drew Bond completely naked. The artwork was eventually used, but with added shorts to offer a shred of decency.

Even in the adapted version of Averardo Ciriello's poster, the 007 gun logo reveals its full meaning 

3. George Lazenby, who famously only had one shot at Bond, the 1969 film On Her Majesty's Secret Service, actually reprised the role over a decade later.
In the very early days of American TV show The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Ian Fleming was called in to help write. Although he wasn't involved for long, he was responsible, among other things, for coming up with the name of the lead character, Robert Vaugn's Napoleon Solo. In the 1983 TV reunion movie The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E.: The Fifteen Years Later Affair, as a nod to Fleming's involvement, George Lazenby played a character only ever referred to as JB, driving a gadget-laden Aston Martin DB5 and spouting lines like 'shaken, not stirred'.

You can see a clip from The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E. featuring George Lazenby as JB on YouTube here.

Secrecy is an overrated attribute for secret agents

Bonus fact: In a nod to another British spy series, the film also featured Patrick Macnee, the former Avenger, John Steed. He played the new head of U.N.C.L.E. and Napoleon Solo's boss, but less than two years later Macnee completed the connection by appearing in a bona fide Bond film. This time he played Sir Godfrey Tibbet, Bond's advisor, assistant and driver in the 1985 film A View To A Kill. Macnee was the third main member of The Avengers cast to have had major roles in both franchises. The first two being Honor Blackman and Dianna Rigg, who starred as Cathy Gale and Emma Peel in The Avengers. Blackman later played Pussy Galore in Goldfinger and Rigg went on to take the part of Bond's doomed bride, Tracy, in the official George Lazenby film On Her Majesty's Secret Service. According to The Avengers Forever website there are also about eighty other actors who had parts in both franchises, including Joanna Lumley who appeared, albeit briefly, in on Her Majesty's Secret Service, before becoming leading character Purdey in The New Avengers, and Sean Connery himself who eventually made the leap when he was the bad guy in the much-maligned 1998 movie version of The Avengers.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Calan Gaeaf, the first day of Allhallowtide, Samhain, Devil's Night, All Hallows' Eve, the last day of October, Mischief Night, All Saints' Eve (or perhaps Halloween if you prefer)

In an effort to write a title that's almost as long as the post itself I'm going to keep this short.

At home this week the family has been getting ready for a kid-friendly party to celebrate Halloween. While I was at work they carved up two pumpkins and were fantastic enough to hollow out and prepare a third one for me to butcher when I got home.

No prizes for guessing which is mine

Monday, 19 October 2015

Ramshackle Games short story competition

Last month Ramshackle Games ran a competition to show off the kind of models that can be made by combining some of the parts from their range. The winning entry would receive a unique model of a water seller's vehicle, built by Ramshackle founder, Curtis Fell. The competition was to write a 300 word short story set in the post apocalyptic world of their Nuclear Renaissance game.

Putting words one after the other to win free models sounded right up my street, so I jumped at the chance to enter. But typically I wasn't able to follow the simple instructions and ended up writing a story over three times too long. Thankfully Curtis, being a gracious sort of fellow, allowed me to enter all the same. However this did me no good, as it turns out the words you choose to put one after the other still have to be really good.

The winning entries, runners-up and significant others can all be downloaded here, or you can just find my story below.

Curtis Fell's characterful, post apocalyptic, water seller model

Where the badlands begin

Standing on the firmer ground at the top of the rock, Tymm used the opportunity to pat down her one-suit, then reached up to wipe the sand from her goggles. Even though the glasses had seen better days they were still one of her most prized possessions. At least until the next siphon-harvest.

It was a time-honoured tradition to pass on your goggles to a chosen stripling and Tymm wanted them in good condition when she was to take her place in the tribe. As one of the smaller young ones she was never able to shake the feeling that she was not yet ready, so had spent several weeks practising her telling of the inheritance story that would accompany the event. If she could tell it well, it might go a long way to quieting the doubts she felt about finally become a strapling. She’d lain awake in the dark evenings, silently going over all the details from the story of the champion dust-rider, a hero from the time before the Renaissance, who had worn the goggles when discovering a deep oasis. He’d found the clear, fresh water after an arduous search, and managed to race back to his parched and dying tribes-kin with its exact location, in time to save the entire settlement.

Elements of the story had always jarred with her, especially when the other striplings teased of the old-times sounding so different, so comfortable, overflowing with water (and a sweet food called shock-let). But she had been vehemently assured it was a truething, and she certainly wasn’t going to let any doubts ruin her coming-of-age ceremony. Besides, she’d always loved the sequence where the dust-rider had to negotiate the gorge at breakneck speed. She had listened enthralled to all the little details; the rider’s subtle shifts in position, using dustier ground to his advantage on the corners, lightly touching the rear brake to encourage the back of his machine to slide out before the apex. She’d been practising the moves since she was big enough to straddle a tank, and her preternatural riding skills were the reason she had been chosen to help. They were the reason she was here now, standing on Hereward’s Rock at the very tip of her tribe’s territory, scanning the horizon of the neighbouring flat lands.

This far from the camp she knew she would have crossed into the region where the bitemites plague the sand. Dusting off and wiping the goggles regularly in such areas was second nature so as not to allow the little critters to chew their way through the leather and maybe even start on her skin. It’s unlikely they would ever get the chance to do much damage to her, but passing on ruined goggles was unthinkable.

She’d been out scouting, trying to help find the dungers lost in the storm two nights earlier, and had had to enter the infested area as the search perimeter pushed outwards. But the bitemites were hardly even an irritant right now, not worth thinking about. Not as she stood there, looking at a massive trailcloud rapidly hurtling towards her from the horizon.

Moving in the dustback without sending up a trailcloud like a penant-pole attracting every ganger and sand-bandit to your location was one of the first skills she had learnt, and was almost as ubiquitously well-known as wrapping your head during a radstorm. But whoever was coming out of the flat lands, throwing up all this dust, was way too confident to care about stealth. And judging by the size of the cloud heading her way, there were easily enough of them to deserve that confidence.

Tymm cursed herself for having stood up and made an obvious silhouette against the sky. A stripling’s error. Perhaps she really wasn’t ready for the siphon-harvest ceremony? What other mistakes could she make today? With the goggles now clear, and the dust cloud coming ever closer she could pick out what looked like twenty or thirty outriders up in front and to the sides of the main pack. They had taken up positions not dissimilar to the ones used by her own tribe when out on a hunt.

She scrambled down off the rock, trying to keep its bulk between her and the rapidly approaching party. Although she was fairly certain she’d already been seen, it would be even more amateur to advertise her position further. And anyway, some of those outriders might have scope-rifles.

It only took seconds to get down to the dustback floor, but already she could hear the roar of supercharged engines. They were coming in fast, guzzling fuel and risking engine burnout. The only thing worth such a cost would be the spoils of war. It had to be an attack. It would be foolish to try to hide out here, especially if they already suspected her presence, but she also knew that getting mobile wouldn’t give her much more of a chance. Not with her stripling’s bike, incapable of great speed, and hardly likely to outrun a warmonger vehicle, But ‘not much of a chance’ was a shiv-load better than no chance at all.

And besides her smaller bike might be more manoeuvrable.

300 strides back was the entrance to Shaitan’s Canyon, a maze of gullies, dried up drainage basins, caves and weird hoodoo rock stacks, that stretched back most of the way to her village. If she could get into that ravine, then she might just make it. And if she could extend her lead she might even be able to warn her kin. She stole a glance at the thundering warband, quickly calculating whether she could dash across the open space between her and the canyon. They were rapidly gaining on her position. It wasn’t going to be easy.

She threw the tarp off her partially concealed bike and jumped into the saddle, one foot coming down hard on the kick-start. Nothing. The woops and yells of the approaching outriders were clearly audible now, and she was pretty sure she must be in their sights. She gunned the kick-start again. Nothing. Her heart was thumping in her chest, blood pounding in her ears. She wasn’t going to make it. Third time lucky and the engine growled into life.

Simultaneously revving the gas and dumping the clutch, the bike leapt forward on its back wheel, and a fresh cloud of dirt spewed into the air behind her. Amid the dust and the din, she accelerated hard. The wind started whipping through her hair. She dipped her head and realised she could do this. She knew she wouldn't fail. The cacophony of roaring engines seemed to recede.

It was just her and the bike.