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.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Shouldering on

About a week ago I posted an entry about looking for a shortcut in the mass production of the shoulder pads for my 'Dredd' style Arbites Enforcers. I had a vague plan, but it involved a product I had never used and a process I had never tried. And let's face it, that's a weak kind of plan, even on a good day. So I was somewhat apprehensive about tackling it and didn't really know how to rate my chances. 

Well, I had a go, and the good news is, it's only gone and worked! 

Not just that, but the whole process turned out to be quite straightforward. Basically I made a simple mould, by pressing Instant Mold up against the test model, then let it set and pushed Green Stuff into it. 

Before starting I bought the Instant Mold online from Element Games here, and watched Brian Hassan's tutorial video, Greenstuff 101: Instant Mold on his TemplarCrusade01 YouTube channel here. It's an easy, straightforward process, but for anyone thinking of trying it, I would still recommend they watch Brian's video a couple of times first.

Get some of this (obviously)

Soak it in hot water and push it against the area to be cast

Push Green Stuff into the resulting moulds

Let Green Stuff dry overnight, then pop out the pads in the morning

Carefully trim off the excess Green Stuff

When I realised how simple this was, I decided to make a whole bunch of moulds in one go. This would give me a greater chance of getting a really good one, and, if I got more than one decent mould, speed up the time it would take to cast enough pads for my entire squad.

Once the pads are cast they need to be inspected, sorted, then trimmed into shape. On my first batch of  6, I got a grand total of two that I was happy with. With my exceptionally low lifetime goals and attainment targets I'm claiming the 33% success rate as a pass. And anyway, after another couple of sessions, and the replacement of a few of the weaker moulds, I soon got most of the pads I need. Which theoretically means I'm on the home straight for my Arbites, with just the arms, elbow pads and weapons to go. What could possibly go wrong?

I'm sure I'll find something.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Sculpting tips. Straight from the heretic's mouth

After my previous post, where I showed the latest progress on my 'Dredd' style Arbites shoulder pads, Andy Foster from Heresy Miniatures* offered me some excellent tips for modelling with putty. I've collected them here to share with any budding sculptors out there.

As reticent as I am to claim any kind of credit for the following nuggets of wisdom, it's got be said that my existing level of sculpting competence (incompetence) clearly inspired him to share this expert advice. So well done me.

I've tweaked it a tiny bit, but essentially this is what he said:

• Keep your putty fresh. Buy it fresh (not from somewhere that has stored it in a warm warehouse and a warm shop), then keep it in the freezer. This helps to stop it reacting to warmth and air. Put it in a grip seal bag or tub. If using the ribbon product, cut it into 1cm bits and keep them frozen in a tub. If using the tube version you should ideally do similar, rolling each colour into equal balls, before wrapping in clingfilm, then placing in the tub. You can then remove as much as you need each session

• Work in layers. Sharpen up details again after 10 mins as Green Stuff will try to soften edges

• For harder edges, mix ProCreate and Green Stuff together. But be aware, this gives it a shorter working time 

• Procreate is excellent for filing and smoothing into swords etc. Green Stuff is not!

• Main tip for full sculpts is always to keep practising, the more you sculpt the better you’ll get

• Always stop and let cure. Nothing worse than doing a really good bit of work, then turning the model around and squishing it with your thumb

• Learn to put the model down and let it dry under a desk lamp or similar. But not too close to the bulb or the putty will swell up

• Get a headband magnifier or reading glasses with strength 2.5. These will massively help with the sculpting

• And finally lots of bright light. A triple tubed daylight lamp is best. But beware, they are also expensive

If you follow the instructions correctly you should end up with something like this

As well as coming up with tips, running his own business, sculpting miniatures, doing Kickstarters, turning up at Salute every year, and getting involved on Twitter, Andy also writes the occasional blog post. For anyone thinking of getting into the miniatures business, he's written a particularly interesting entry. It's quite long, and fairly poignant in places, but also hugely insightful and rather funny. And it includes more pictures of the incredible model dragon shown above. It's his saga of how the production of the Heresy Dragon managed to, ahem, drag on for years and years. It's called Dragon: Slayed.

*If you're currently saying 'Andy Who, from What Miniatures?' then skip this post and go straight to the Heresy site. If you like minis, I reckon you'll love the Heresy range. Once you've checked out all their sci-fi troopers, trench-coat warriors, barbarians and whatnot, you may want to find out a little more about Andy. So if you're still feeling like doing some reading, he has a funny blog post from a good few years ago, which, if you care, will tell you who Andy Foster is. It's appropriately called Who is Andy Foster? Who cares?

Friday, 9 October 2015

Shouldering the burden

I'm aware that my 'Dredd' style Arbites Enforcers project has gone quiet recently. Quiet, but not completely forgotten. Well, not by me at least. I've been working out how to go about making those tricky little shoulder pads. It's one of the stages in this project that I've been dreading the most.

I chose a new trooper to use as the test model and I've been trying various things to get a sculpt of the pad that I'm happy with. There were the odd false moves in my process, but I've ignored those here and am only showing the four pertinent stages.

Sculpt and file the basic pad shape
Add a thin second layer
Carve the second layers in half, and add a basic eagle body to one of the resulting quarters
Carve into the eagle body to give it depth and sculpt the wings and the bars

The light grey material that forms the basic pad is ProCreate, a putty that offers a less rubbery appearance and can be filed or sanded into shape after it has dried. You can read more about it, or even purchase a pack, over at Heresy Miniatures here. The green stuff is, well, er, Green Stuff. I bought mine from Games Workshop, in a little roll, but I'm told it's better to buy the stuff that comes in two separate tubes, so it doesn't harden where the colours meet inside the packet. Coincidentally, I've just noticed that Heresy also sells the tube based variety, so you can pick that up here.

The next step for me is the mass production of all these pads. It's probably going to be the most arduous part of the process, and I'm rather hoping I can find a shortcut. I've got my fingers crossed. If you're interested in seeing how I get on, then pop back here every once in a while, or try using the Google + Follow button in the top right corner.

Monday, 5 October 2015

The Giant Robo Alphabot, part two

Less spiel, more pics, comprendez? I keep giving myself this sage advice, but somehow I keep getting ignored. So today I'm going to make a conscious effort to say very little, and let the pictures do the talking. It's the next two entries in my robot alphabet.

I could have said even less if I'd skipped the intro

For anyone interested in graphic design, all my Robo Alphabot entries are created the same way. I start by finding several existing images of the robot in question, which are then combined and/or manipulated in Photoshop to give the character a new pose. This can be anything from quite subtle, just moving an arm or a leg, to a fairly major overhaul, resulting in a view from a completely different angle. The final, usually unique, raster image is then run through a vectorization process in Adobe Illustrator, and the resultant mess of paths cleaned up in order to adjust the colours. I then write all the text, choose all the fonts and add all the other elements. So at this point everything is vector based. The final stage is adding a photographic texture, usually of paper, on a slight multiply layer. And hey presto, 8 or 9 hours spent on a single image!

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Where does Warhammer go from here?

In an earlier post I discussed the various theories linking the Warhammer (WFB) world with the Warhammer 40,000 (WH40K) universe. Here they are again:

1) The two games are on the same timeline, with WFB in the past and WH40K in the future.

2) The two games are on the same timeline, but this time WH40K happens before WFB.

3) There is no relationship. The game systems are separate and distinct.

4) The two systems occupy parallel/alternate universes.

5) The WFB world is located somewhere within the WH40K universe.

6) Sigmar is a character from WH40K, probably one of the unknown Primarchs.

Warhammer editions from the early eighties to late nineties

It's impossible to know if Games Workshop has any of these in mind, so no-one can really be sure what the definitive answer is. Or, if you've looked this subject up on the internet, you might have noticed that some people feel completely sure, they just can't offer real, incontrovertible proof. This is because for every official source cited to contain the definitive answer, there will be something else that seemingly contradicts it. And I think this is how Games Workshop like it. You can pick and choose which clues shout loudest to you and you can believe what you want to believe. It's a cunning, if not necessarily premeditated, strategy for Games Workshop. People will talk, hype will build, no-one is alienated, everyone can have what they want.

So with that in mind I'd like to share my own thoughts on the subject, and offer a single combination of the above theories that I like to think not only contains quite reasonable elements, but is also a masterful example of sitting on the fence.

But be warned, we are now going deep into conjecture-land.

Warhammer boxsets since the turn of the millennium

And the same editions as their rulebook only releases

I suspect the truth about the two games' relationship is a combination of elements from most of the theories. There's a nugget of truth in each of them. The two games have been on a journey, and I think they started out as distinct from each other, but with a general feeling of WFB being in the past and WH40K being in the future. Then, as more writers, designers and developers got on board, producing material in the rule books, codices, army lists, novels, White Dwarf articles, Forge World publications, specialist games, CCGs and all those other myriad points of contact, the two systems started to grow together - both as a conscious effort and as the simple cross-pollination of ideas. The mythologies that formed the bedrock of each universe started to converge. So both systems ended up with the race of Old Ones playing a significant, historical role; both systems have the Chaos Gods (more on that in a later post); WFB gained access to guns, flamethrowers, power packs, warpstone and other more advanced technology; and more recently the Warhammer world was given the Realmgates, much like WH40K's Warp gates and Webway portals.

I think at some point there may even have been a mandate to place WFB within WH40K, but my guess is this was canned when someone realised it would upset areas of the fanbase. One game is the merest footnote to the other game might not go down so well with everyone, and angry players may not be healthy for GW's bottom line. So it was decided to back off on the relationship stuff and keep it as indeterminate as possible, at least until such time that they might be able to use it to their advantage. I'm not cynically suggesting it all comes down to money, but GW does have shareholders to appease. So maybe I am cynically suggesting that.

And perhaps GW have already worked out a way to turn a profit from this, and still keep people happy.

With the End Times and the coming of the Age of Sigmar, the Warhammer world has changed dramatically. GW have made a big statement. But could there be a bigger one to come?

Nearly three decades of Warhammer 40,000

What if GW has revised it's earlier stance, put a few heads together and come up with another plan? What if the change of statue outside GW's head office, from Space Marine to Stormcast Eternal is an echo of a flip happening within their timelines?

This is where the second theory comes into play. It's the one where WH40K predates WFB on the same timeline. So the Imperium collapses, the universe degrades, and humanity is left battling for survival on a single, ruined world. The Warhammer Fantasy Battle world. The world is then destroyed by Chaos, the survivors scattered to the Mortal Realms, only to be saved by Sigmar. Now the sixth theory where Sigmar turns out to be one of the missing Primarchs, mysteriously thrown across time and space, appearing just when humanity needs him most.

It would mean that Warhammer 40,000 is the origin story to Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Age of Sigmar. It would also mean that the Emperor was never the hero of the galaxy, instead, in a Skywalkeresque twist, it would be his lost son, the missing Primarch, who grew up without his influence, avoided ever being embroiled in the Horus Heresy, and went on to save humanity.

Unlikely? Never say never.