The LEGO project
I started on this page last year (2009) but derailed and didn't finish. I forgot most of the details of what I was doing, but I tried to fill in the blanks best I could just to put something online.
I grew up with the classic space lego and about halfway into the Futuron series I entered the "dark ages". This means that buying Lego felt silly and I wanted to do more mature things. Later as an adult some of us realize that it's childish to not dare to be childish and have fun, so we start eyeing Lego sets again.
Perhaps we play a bit differently as adults though, if it can even be called playing. Some just collect and display. Many builders focus on doing great designs and dioramas, and often these involve many more parts than an official lego set. A figure with many parts are more likely to break, and will not be durable enough to play with. Also unorthodox construction techniques sometimes have to be used to.
When researching Lego Space, I discovered that Lego had done many of the things which I wanted to do, just not in the way I wanted them done. It goes for parts as well as figure and set designs. The likelihood of convergence on certain ideas is pretty big. I discovered that other companies had made parts just like the ones which I wanted.
The research phase of this project was actually pretty extensive. I sorted and built about 3 crates worth of my old sets (stuff from 1975 up to 1988 'Futuron'), then ordered some 200 dollar worth of new bricks from Lego.com and built some 'mocs'. I also bought and played the Lego Battles RTS (DS) game. I also researched the sets which I missed when I was in my 'dark age' and scribbled down ideas while browsing.
I read a lot of reviews. Pretty much without exception, a big ship or base set gets the following review: "This is the first set I got as a kid and it's one of the best sets Lego ever made. An antenna keeps popping loose but otherwise this set is perfect. 5/5."
It seems people generally have good memories from whatever they got as a kid, especially if it was a big ship or base set, so maybe there are pretty big tolerances.
There are so many things for me to consider when going into this project. Should I make something which I think looks great, or should I worry about the market, keeping the number of parts down and articulation (joints) sturdy? Should the designs focus on play functions, design or detail level? Maybe it's a false choice?
I think elaborate mecha designs in particular could be made a lot more sturdy and playable if there were proper ball joint parts available. I think that the official lego sets are a bit too barren and abstract. Although, many other builders tend to focus so much on design that their vehicles end up looking like a pilot seated in a pile of greebles, and that's abstract too. Anyways, I better formalize my thoughts here:
General thoughts on toy design
What properties does a good toy have? These are my personal preferences, but hopefully other people can agree with me on some of the points.
- Great superficial design, be it ugly-absurd-silly, sexy, faithful to an original, or just interesting in general. A good paint job can do wonders too. I do like 'ugly' designs, or perhaps a more suitable word is 'unexpected'. The Dalek and Tie fighter are both unexpected, so they stick out and gain character. The Dalek isn't the usual silver tinman, and the Tie fighter is not a Tin-Tin rocket or greebled F-22.
- Functional design and plausibility. A design should not waste space with meaningless greebles when that space could be used for interesting things which increase play value. Also, a doll house is interesting because the different miniature rooms are something which we can understand and connect to. We live in a very rich world, and we have the ability to project that into the fake and dead miniature world.
- Background stories (fluff) can also give the frozen figures more dimension and life. Warhammer 40K, Gundam and movie merchandise are examples of this.
- Rule sets for games. A figure can become more attractive if it has awesome rules, but that works the other way around too. People are less likely to but a figure which does badly on the battlefield.
- Factions and sets. Consistence in design and good fluff leads to collectibility. The figures will compliment each other, making the sum greater than the parts perhaps.
- Pilots and vehicles. It gives the figures something to do and connect with. A figure standing alone on an empty desk surface is not as fun.
- Scale consistency. If a vehicle is too big then it's difficult to have reasonably detailed human figures which work with it. If the human figures are too small then the vehicles will become too big.
- I've always had a soft spot for the Dozers in Fraggle Rock, and small sidekick robots which help out building stuff or acting as an army (e.g. Yatterman).
- Doll house / secret base / lair. It gives the figures a place to stay, so their home won't be the floor. A good lair should have a diversity of rooms and functions.
- Docking - this is essentially piloting, but for vehicles. Then there's of course the 'combine' mechanic seen in for example The Power Rangers.
- Toys can't truly come alive and move on their own like I wanted them to as a kid. The closest we can get is having certain mechanized functions, like drive, doors pooping open, etc. I had an awesome penguin slide as a kid. I love watching little cute plastic figures move by themselves. The fishing game is awesome too with the little fish faces opening up.
I always wanted the Pac-man magnetic maze game, but I later discovered that you just tilt the board. (I always thought the figures were guided around by magnets under the board.)
- Guns that actually shoots stuff.
- Break-ability, the toy has layers of panels or something which can come off, making it seem like it has taken damage. There was a toy car line focusing on this property.
- Dress up doll. The figure can wear different gear, be it clothes, armour or weapons.
- The figure can be customized. An extreme case is Lego, Meccano and Brio of course. ZOIDS have some degree of interchangeability with the parts too. Some action figures allow you to swap heads and body parts.
- Good articulation (joints).
- Transformation. The figure has multiple states it can transform between. If the user gets bored of a sate, a new one can be displayed. Also, it gives the figure more dimension than a single superficial appearance.
- Dissection-able. The toy can open up so the inner workings can be seen, E.g. a Gundam frame (mechanical skeleton) with little moving hydralics, or an inner clockwork. Perhaps mechanical parts like engine blocks can be replaced with different cariants.
Taking Lego to new places
So, how well is Lego doing in regards to the points above? Pretty good actually, I often preferred Lego over other toys as a kid, and I had a decent amount of it. However, if I got the chance to reform Lego, here's what I would do:
I've always been into space and sci-fi more than fantasy or contemporary. The Town/City Lego is really nice design-wise though. Anyways, I've set out to redesign the entire Lego Space line here. A task which proved to big for me, in the end.
Prints and stickers
I think prints and stickers should not try to convey depth and physical detail. When it comes to minifig torsos, I'd rather see physical armour rather than torso prints of armour. Expect lots of that in the concept which follow.
I had the 6952 (Solar Power Transporter) as a kid and never really liked it. It's big but wasted a lot of space on abstract mystery details. There were some attempts made to make different parts of the model connect, but ultimately the mini-figs had nothing to do. The center piece only has two identical consoles without screens. There are 4 big... things which, since they defy description, are difficult to integrate in a play fantasy. (Actually, I read that they are supposed to be solar panels, but they don't look like it.) The role of the vehicle is a mystery, so it's difficult to play with it.
What's my point? Well, I think Lego is weak in the 'doll house' department. Even the large set with detailed interiors are not as detailed as I'd like them to be. I think a set would last longer if it could be explored... if it had little things to find. This would increase part count (and cost), and since it's hard to show off the interiors on packaging, I'd use a lot of large windows and hatches which can open up wide.
The exteriors and apparent functionality is another area with room for improvement. I'd really like to develop a language with visual 'words' which tell the beholder about the function of the construction. We already know a few words such as rocket engine and wheel, but I think the vocabulary needs to be expanded. I'd be careful about establishing too strict rules for construction, but I think there needs to be certain guidelines pertaining to say the construction of a warp capable spaceship engine. This would make the sets more consistent.
For example, more complex engines can be made up from several modules (words), and each module tells us something about the capabilities of the engine. An engine would need fuel connected to an combustion chamber, then there needs to be a nozzle. Warp capable engines might also need a special module for that. Each module will have certain dimensions, like radius, length, color and greebling. The modules would in some cases be built into the design, and in other cases just snap in.
The idea here is that once the builder/player knows the words, the designs will feel more real. Spacemen can move the modules about on transports. They can retrofit an old ship with a new long range, high speed warp core. A new purple accelerator crystal can be found in the wreck of an alien UFO. Or, the spacemen can simply open up compartments of the ship and admire the internal workings (a bit like how some toy cars have hoods which can open up).
Windows, color schemes and walls
Windows are great because they allow you to see inside of the model without opening it up. This way detail don't go to waste by being hidden. I don't like colored windows though, because they darken and tint too much. If you start stacking transparent bricks you get a dark muddy color real quick. Still, the old space lego is kind of gray and really does need some color spots. One solution is to color the interior walls and use clear windows.
This creates the problem of how to color the insides though. Bases are rather large and often use large wall sections. Using walls which are 2 studs thick seems to be a bad solution. Thin wall panels might work if they change to SNOT (90 degree) on the inside. It would be less economical though, having to use twice as many pieces just to wallpaper the interiors. On the other hand it would look more natural, and decorating the insides would be fun.
But what about cockpits or cramped compartments? A ship with a wind shield could cheat and just use a transparent green HUD wind shield. The excellent 6861 (X1 patrol craft) uses a transparent green brick, and I think the value contrast against the gray feels good. Transparent yellow bricks kind of disappear into the gray and their relative hue feels sick. Yellow works great as a complimentary color against blue of course.
In the case of the 452/894 (Mobile radar station) the windows are very small and not a lot of light enters the compartment, so it's a special case. I'd rather see the thinner L shaped transparent plain clear bricks used there.
Bases, mobile bases, and larger ships in the older classic space are often blue and I think dominantly yellow interiors and plain clear windows would feel nice I think.
New small ball joint
I understand that a toy has to be durable, and that larger parts are cheaper to make. I don't really mind larger parts as long as they are generic enough to be usable for many things. There are amazing Lego builders out there, but many of their creations would probably crumble to pieces easily because they don't have sturdy speciality pieces to work with.
This is just some stuff which is either junk or in need of better presentation. I had some idea about underside greebles, because it's annoying yo see those little hules on the underside of spaceships, and SNOT techniques often make rather thick wings.
Here are some mobile suits / landmates.
Alien life, plants and animals, could make dioramas interesting, and give the figures a more immersive setting than a shelf or a carpet. I have more scribbles than these on my scanned sheets.
In response to "Too many special pieces"
I don't think that I've introduced a lot of needless speciality pieces. If I were to design a programming language, I would not choose to exclude certain useful functions just because some programmers enjoy a challenge. I simply want Lego to be as effective as possible for building cool things. Coming up with special pieces which are not very useful goes against my goal here, as I'm also attempting to be economical.
- My new joints would be useful for many things, and I think Lego has too few joint pieces. Well, there are some nice small hinges, but when you want full articulation you need to combine a few of those, which means that you get a big piece and you might not be able to make your design looks as cool as you wanted to.
- Common mecha details, e.g. 'Jerry Can' flats are useful for general greebling. As an artist I have a library of nice greeble shapes which I can throw onto almost anything, so I've tried to Lego-fy some of those.
- I have added a lot of special pieces for nearly all of the minifig designs. Giving the minifigs special pieces like hair, caps, armour is nothing new really, I'm just taking it a bit further, because I believe that our main actors need to look good and have lots of play value with armor, gadgets, etc. In the case of the Spyrius redesign, you can see that I'm re-using the arm and shoulder parts, and the claw has also been defined elsewhere. A claw shape is generic enough to warrant a "special" piece (at a minifig scale) anyways.
- Thin 'wall' segments can bring down the cost and weight of models, and make more room inside buildings. Walls are a very common thing to want to build, so I don't think they count as speciality pieces. There already are wall pieces similar to the ones which I made, but they have this little tiny support structure which prevents you from lining the inside with flat plates or something. My piece makes it easy to put things on the walls while having a nice flat exterior wall so I believe that it's slightly more useful than the existing one (although more prone to snapping if stepped on, perhaps).
Also, if it looks like I've made huge special chunks, it's probably because I was very rough while drawing. I didn't have time to come up with actual buildable designs here. However, if you look carefully you can see that I worked my hands and feet parts into some designs. In some cases, like the Ice-Babe-Ship, I colored the segments for clarity, and not to suggest they are huge pieces.
Redesigning the minifig
My bare bones minifig has about 14 parts where the original Lego one has 9. Mine is mostly made from parts which are extremely useful for micro mecha building, whilst the original Lego minifig does not. Some mecha builders do use the minifig hands and legs occasionally, but their solutions tend to unstable. My minifig can easily be assembled by the end user, so no factory assembly is necessary.
My minifig will of course be more fragile, and it lacks holes in the butt-cheeks. To make up for this, it has a lot better articulation, so it can be posed well, and animated in game without oddly twisting and distorting the plastic. I feel that, since the minifigs are the actors, it's important that they are better articulated.
To some the original minifig design is holy and can not be touched.
I think that is true to some extent. I think it's a good iconic design, and I grew up with both the old 2-block minifig as well as the current semi-articulated one. My revised version is more detailed, but i think it still conforms to the Lego feel.
Still, even if my minifig can be made structurally sound and fun to play with, I think it will meet too much resistance. An alternative could be to release it as a special edition thing and see how people respond, then phase it in if it works. It can also be complimentary rather than a replacement.
Here I'll attempt to anticipate problems with this project.
Too many small parts, it will be too expensive.
True, if you look at size. My sets will be smaller and more dense in terms of functions and detail. A fully articulated mech don't have to be huge, if built with my parts. The idea is that my joint parts will make it easier to make a neat skeleton/frame, which then will be easier to dress up so it looks good. The idea is that better looking figures will appeal to collectors and such.
Too many small parts, it's dangerous and kids won't get it, and they don't care about articulation and details anyways.
I think the latter is false. Looking at reviews, I get the impression that kids do care about details, perhaps more than adults because they spend so much time with the toy. A toy with very little detail will be exhausted faster.
Too many new parts, they'll be too expensive to tool.
True, but I've tried to hold back on the greebles to make the parts more generally useful. Also, my parts are pretty small, so perhaps less of the expensive mold carving/tooling will have to be done.
The models needs to be more sturdy because kids are rather rough with stuff.
True as well. Actually, I don't know. I'm using a small ball joint a lot, and I'm not sure how sturdy that will be. There are always kids who are violent with their toys. I've designed my sets to be played with differently though. They are less about action figure style playing and more about building. Some kinds understand when to be careful and not with things, so it has to do with what mindset they have when they start playing.
There must be more slam-stuff functions.
I remember being very fond of stuff that moved and shot by itself. I spent many hours building technic tanks with pneumatically triggered crossbows and catapults. I don't mind functions as long as they don't hurt immersion. An example here is the recent Space Police III ship with little targets on it which opens up the cells. It seems like a terrible way for them to construct a prison. At least make the targets into radar dishes, antennas, wings or something. What I mean is that, when I display the model in a diorama, I don't want to be reminded that it's a toy. Anyways, if I've held back functions in my designs, this is why.
Gray is boring, colors need to be extreme to stand out on the shelf.
I care about design, not marketing. Besides, grey will stay out because everyone else are using high contrast neon colors. I picked grey for the classic space stuff because it's the original space colors, and a good neutral starting color. A lot of the parts which I have designed are good for mecha skeletons, and those are usually gray too.
Every minifig must have a crazy face.
I think the new faces go so far in trying to be expressive and detailed that they miss the point entirely. Only a few lines are needed to make an expressive face. Adding details like little beard dots and wrinkles forces the brain to filter these out before the eyes and nose can be read. Personally I would prefer to see something like simple ascii 'smileys' on the minifigs (not the dreadful ones seen in smiley ads). Simplified forms of manga faces and japanese smileys are also very expressive and to the point. I think detailed faces flies in the face of the geometrical simplicity that Lego is about.
Not outrageous enough design. There must be huge abstract spike things and snot green canopies everywhere. And huge feet on everything!
I suppose this is true. Maybe kids needs certain parts of a design to be in their face, because they lack the ability to read and appreciate subtle details. At any I decided to design these things according to my own preferences and perhaps those of older collectors. There's no pleasing everyone.
About my redesigns
I think a Lego oriented story needs to have a simple premise, but also be scalable to satisfy those who want more meat. The detailed story however should have some vague bits and loose ends to tease the imagination, because a Lego universe needs to be an open one.
A good story should allow not only for crystal collection and fights, but also peaceful exploration and town/colony building.
Being able to look back at the different Lego Space factions gives me an advantage - I can balance their designs against each other and work out certain relationships. I'm taking some liberties here, but there weren't a lot of official Lego Space material to go on that I could find.
Since I'm making changes to the minifig anatomy, I'll also have to make uniform changes. I find some of the original uniforms a bit gritty with meaningless details. I don't much mind flat stuff like emblems, belts, zippers, pockets being printed, but I think stuff like armor bits should have physical volume. An extra armor part provides dressup-doll play value. I also think items which beg to be interacted with needs to be physical parts and not print. I'd given each faction an unique helmet and/or armor part of some sort, because I think the minifigs, as our main actors, are important enough to warrant extra attention.
My process for designing a figure goes something like this:
First I make a few thumbnails, trying the find an interesting design which relates well to the other designs. Of course, since I can't work in parallel on all designs I have to go back and forth to make sure there's unity.
When I have a design I'm satisfied with (usually a lump of masses) I try to legotize it. There are a few important things to think about here. The design I have is subordinate to having pieces which can be used well in other kits. This means that I stay away from greebling too much. My main inspiration is the old flashlights. These have an abstract quality, with the ribs being the only superficial detailing. These ribs do not get in the way of building, and provides a texture so general it an be used anywhere.
I'm designing new parts where needed, but often I'm able to use the library of parts that I've already made. Every faction gets their own chest piece and head gear though.
Each faction commonly has the following dimensions to their set of vehicle/base stuff.
- Type - Such as ground unit, flying unit, base.
- Size - Cost of set / number of parts.
- Role - Such as transport, storage, quarters, sensors, combat, mining, lab and/or computing.
All of these combinations can't be made for each faction of course, so I'll have to pick just a few which feels right for the faction based on their original composition.
Below is an (unfinished) attempt to illustrate the relationships of the territories held by the factions. The neighboring is based on when the factions were released. Space Police 2 dealt with Blacktron, Ice planet and Spyrius for example. The Classic faction is far out there exploring, because they didn't really have any clear antagonists (the player was free to imagine anything).
Earthlings - Classic Space : Frontier
Design notes: I like the idea of these guys being at the frontier, not fighting aliens or collecting crystals, but rather establishing outposts and exploring alien worlds. Instead of power crystals, they find indigenous wild life - strange critters and plants. They do have a military though, but it's for defense.
Story: According to legend, In ancient times a mighty king had appeared and united many prominent knights. He had a great yellow castle built, and around it a kingdom grew and flourished for many years.
One day the king went missing and his broken visor was found in the forest of chaos. Not much later a gargantuan monster appeared and razed the castle and plagued the lands. The knights were scattered, and the Dark Age begun.
It was this story which the group of people responsible for the Frontier Program took to heart. The heraldic symbols of the knights can now be seen on many uniforms.
The Frontier Program started with a small outpost on the moon, but it soon grew to become a large colony with massive shipyards. It was here construction begun on first 'Liners' - massive ships capable of transporting people to other solar systems.
After the shipyards had been mysteriously attacked by an unknown faction, the exploration fleet was haphazardly launched. The Liners had no weapons, and when they were attacked on route to their warp point, some were forced to emergency jump. Most of the experience captains had no trouble with such a maneuver, but a few Liners were... misplaced.
The destination of the Liners is the Frontier Worlds near the edge of the galaxy. It's a long journey for the now primitive ships. The Liners however are self sufficient and carries enough crew and materials for establishing several smaller colonies. Some arrived at their destination decades ago, whilst others are still on route.
I had some idea for the Galaxy Explorer here, where I listed the different functions it would need to work as a ... well, galaxy explorer. I had some ideas for plugins, allowing the ship to be outfitted for military or exploratory purposes. It could either carry drop pods with robots, or probes, scouts, extra fuel tanks, etc. At the bottom are some sketches for the Mobile Lab.
Below are some more roughs, vaguely based on some classic sets.
Space knights. If I recall correctly, I wanted to tie in the Yellow Castle here, partly because it used the old space helmets with neat visors, but also because I wanted to bring in some fantasy-sci-fi knights battling space dragons. It makes the universe richer.
Earthlings - Space Police 1,2,3
Design notes: If there are powerful alien empires out there, I doubt that the Space Police are more powerful than them all and act as some kind of global galactic entity. It seems more likely that they respond to events in a region of space close to earth. Some other Earthling faction will have to act as a military force (Unitron fits the bill).
Earthlings - Unitron
Design notes: This seems to be pretty minor faction with only 4 sets. I had never heard of them until I started doing research. They don't seem to have a strong fan following. I think their color scheme is kind of broken, and I don't particularly like the yellow and gray combination. The hands are blue and so is the visor, except that the visor turns green when viewed against the yellow face. Then there's the nonsense detail on the chest. This makes the color scheme: Yellow, Blue, Gray, Dark Gray, Black, Green. I would've put a clear visor on it instead.
In the original color scheme and design, the Unitron faction doesn't add anything interesting new to the Lego Space universe.
So, I took some liberties and changed the minifig colors and ship colors to promote the military persona which I want to imprint on the Unitron faction. I also decided to go for a generic Space Marine / Storm Trooper troop guy. These troopers can have stickers giving them an ID and squadron icon. Personalization like this increase immersion, making the figures more meaningful to the player. Also, a base set can have a roster board with ID numbers linked to first and last names (also stickers, which can be cut apart and recombined by crafty players).
Earthlings - M-Tron
Design notes: Transporters of goods. I think it would be fun if they had to ship stuff across 'dangerous waters'... some kind of void or space anomaly. Blacktron are often trying to steal M-Tron's shipments.
Earthlings - Robo Force
Design notes: I'd like to take these in the direction of mecha anime, such as Bubblegum Crisis (which has excellent suit design) and also draw some inspiration from Power Rangers and Kamen Rider with colored themes.
Earthlings - Ice Planet 2002
Design notes: The official story line is a bit odd. Here are a few quotes, and perhaps all there is to go on.
The ice planet Krysto, with its vast network of frozen tunnels and caves, is the capital of a remote part of the universe known as Ice Planet 2002. It is from this snow covered planet that rocket technicians are conducting top secret research. Their findings are coveted by the Blacktron forces and even renegades within the Space Police.
In the icecold cryosphere of IcePlanet, explorers research for new technologies for interstellar communication. Unfortunately their innovative rockets and satellites get stolen continually. Maybe there's a spy from spyrius within their engineers?
Hmm? The part with 'the capital of a remote part of the universe known as Ice Planet 2002' doesn't make sense. I 'd change it to
The ice planet of Krysto is the capital of a number of fringe planets in the IP-2002 star cluster. It is also the center of important propulsion and communication research. Krysto is believed to be the only planet of its kind with its complex planet wide cave system. Exotic mineral deposits in the ice, along with the unique cave layout, creates interference patterns - localized weakenings in the fabric of space. These are hard to predict, but when they emerge, scientists want to be there to study them in order to learn more about taking shortcuts through space.
I didn't like how the visor antenna is transparent. I can imagine that pulling up the visor using the antenna has some play value though, because it acts as a lever.
Earthlings on Mars
Design notes: I prefer the big visors from Life on Mars over the more flat and dull Mars Mission visors. The torso prints are quite interesting in both cases though. Clean and simple. The color theme is more striking in Mars Mission. In my timeline, these are factions of the past, so I won't spend much time on them. I do want to play around with those big golden visors and torso designs though!
Aliens - Life on Mars
Design notes: As I've understood it, the Life on Mars aliens are good guys, even if they did attempt to invade Earth once. Perhaps they were made friendly because we were exploring Mars at the time in real life when Life on Mars was launched, and Lego did wanted to create a friendly atmosphere.
LoM can explain why helmets and cockpits are often open in the Lego Universe (the classic helmets don't even have a visor). In the Life on Mars mission logs it is explained that a mineral or substance called Biodium is used by the Martians to generate atmospheric bubbles or something. The Martians once knew how to make Biodium in a lab, but their civilization inexplicably reverted to a more primitive state long ago. I'd like to set that time point to one hundred thousand years ago to make it work with my timeline (not 'at the time of the dinosaurs' as exaggerated in the official Life on Mars mission logs).
The Martians later learn to synthesize Biodium thanks to the help of the Earthlings. So, the technology to generate an atmospheric containment field was likely a gift from the Martians Later integrated into all space suit designs (the backpacks can contain a Biodium gizmo). This is not a detail which I would feature prominently and over-explain, it feels more like a fun easter egg to put into a schematic someplace.
Life on Mars takes place 60-70 years after War of The Worlds aired (1938 - 2001 = -63 years). The Martians back then were actually invading Earth. Anyways, I'd like to think that Classic space happened after Life on Mars and Mission Mars. I don't want to set dates (and I'd refrain from using Christian Era dates), but present time in Lego Space could be about 2020-2050. They seem to be a bit ahead of us, having launched a manned mission to Mars in 2001.
John Dalton is considered the originator of modern atomic theory. Perhaps in the Lego universe someone formulated the basic stud theory about the same time Dalton did - about 200 years ago. This conveniently allows us to remove a 0 from our dates. Life on Mars took place not 2001, but 201 After Dalton. Minifigs well versed in stud theory have now begun formulating a controversial plastic theory (or not, it breaks the fourth wall.).
Enough about that. I think I prefer the LoM Martians over the Mars Mission ones. The teal color feels good, making them gray or green would be too obvious. The LoM Protector mechs seem to be some of Lego's better ones. Their designs are of the MechWarrior school (chickens), and I think that's an interesting angle since I'm doing Japanese mecha designs for other factions.
Aliens - Mars Mission
The Mars Mission aliens seem to respond more aggressively to provocation (as does the Mars Mission Earthlings). These aliens are not actually from Mars, they just crashed there and went looking for their mother ship and valuable crystal stuff. Apparently the Earthlings like to dissect them, so I think the minifigs needs to be dissection-able, with removable plates and internal organs visible through transparent pieces.
These robots from Exo Force also appeared in the Lego Battles game, sided with the Aliens from Mars Mission. I'm not too familiar with the Exo Force story, but if it took place on an extrasolar planet, then perhaps the robots defeated the heroes (or fled) and became a spacefaring faction, and joined up with, or came under the control of the Mars Mission aliens.
This setup gives me a chance to play some more with longer time scales. In Exo Force there's already an ancient civilization, but I'd like to stack two of them here. I thought about turning the Exo Force humanoids into Explorien (which were all abducted elsewhere in my story line), but that would make the universe a little small I think. As my story below goes now, the 'good guys' actually lose, but I've tried to give the good and bad guy setup a little more ambiguity.
Story: 24 000 years ago, on a planet far away, a civilization amalgamates on the slopes of a great mountain. This would be our humanoid heroes with the colorful hair - a trait of their species perhaps. In the dense misty jungle at the base of the mountain, remains of ancient robots are found. The robots are thought to be several thousand years old, but they are no longer functional.
Clever scientists reverse engineer these robots, and the peaceful civilization takes a great leap forward. Robotic labor units becomes common, and some robots even gain some degree of self reflection. While this surprised many scientists, they admit that they never fully understood the design of the robotic brain.
One day a robot known as Meca One starts a rebellion, and surprisingly, all robots immediately join up, as if a switch had been flipped in their brains. During a terrible earthquake, a battle between the two forces take place on the mountain slopes. However, the robot forces are easily tricked. They fall into a trap and are cast down an abyss which formed during the earthquake.
Crippled, Meca One wanders out of the abyss and into the jungle at the base of the mountain. He takes refuge in an overgrown ruin where he finds something which had been overlooked by other explorers. A door slides open, as if it had recognized Meca One. Inside, he finds a robotic factory.
Only one thing appears to still be functional - a data port of some sort. Meca One is surprised to find that he's able to interface with it. This mystery is soon explained, as a wave of knowledge fills Meca One's mind.
Long ago, a civilization had built robots very similar to Meca One, and they had fought their creators to the point of mutual extinction. The current, younger civilization of humanoids have unwittingly based their design too closely on these destroyer robots. This is why Meca One was able to interface with the ancient data port.
Meca One spends weeks in the factory, learning many new things, even getting parts of the factory up and running. However, he must conquer the natural resources of the great mountain in order to continue the fight for his kind. He constructs a new type of robot, similar to himself, and with revitalized force he personally leads the assault up the mountain. The humanoids on the mountain are taken by surprise by the Meca One's return and new strength.
For years the two sides do battle on the mountain. After a particularly fierce battle, the robots come out as victors. Meca One however, is lost, and with him the vision which guided the robotic uprising. Eventually the surviving robots deplete the energy resources of the mountain. Centuries go by as the surviving robots aimlessly roam the surface of the planet. One by one they lose power and deactivate.
Some think that the Exo robots scattered across the planet surface in an ultimately futile search of their lost leader. The current generation of Exo robots have a tendency to run off as well, but most think it's just because of wonkiness in their still (admittedly) poorly understood brains.
Current generation of Exo robots? Yes, the Mars Mission Aliens actually originate from the same sector as the Exo robots. While not fully understanding their construction, they still managed to replicate them and now use them as seemingly obedient soldiers. This, despite having learned about the history of the Exo robots through ancient logs found on the Exo planet. The Exo robots are efficient soldiers, and their low production cost has effectively silenced other concerns. More and more of them are built every day.
The Mars Mission Aliens named the Exo planet by the fact that it was the first Exotic solar system that they sent a manned exploration team to.
Earthlings - Futuron
Story: The Futuron come from a future timeline where everything went really bad. A group of people managed to escape by traveling back in time. While no technology survived the journey, prominent scientists did. The Futuron, barely human anymore, have created their own society and are slowly rebuilding their high-tech civilization.
Earthlings - Blacktron
There's an old computer game called X-Com. It has a really rich universe in terms of play value, and I think it's very suitable to be Lego-tized. First, you can collect valuable stuff, akin to the power crystals and such in the Lego universe. You do this by going on various missions.
A mission can be about defending a city against alien invasion or shooting down an UFO and then raid the crash site. You can assault an alien base or be forced to defend your own. When you go on a mission you bring ships loaded with tanks and troops. Like in Lego's Mars Mission, you can capture aliens and experiment on them. Stealing alien technology, adapting it to grow stronger is a big part of the game.
There are many different aliens to encounter, which provides variation.
Base building is another. A base consists of an array of 'base plates' with landing pads, missile and laser defenses, laboratories, living quarters, radars, alien containment, etc. This concept would work well in lego, since a base could be expanded and adapted to the player's preferences easily.
This concept provides a much more scalable play experience than just collecting crystals. Some people like building great bases, others prefer army building, or stealth & capture scenarios.
At first I was going to give this concept to the Mars Mission guys. X-Com partly takes place on mars. It's a bit too obvious though, and there's only a few types of aliens (the friendly teal ones and the hostile tr.green?) on Mars. A fun twist would be to give it to the 'evil' Blacktron. They are a bit 'Men in Black' looking, and they steal stuff. Unfortunately bases get awfully dark in mostly black, and the black-yellow color scheme is a bit obnoxious. Here the Mars Mission colors would work better with the white and orange.
The Blacktron has an empire and are not underdogs like humans are in X-Com. However, this begs the question why they are running around stealing stuff from backwater planets. It's a bit like having the Star Wars Empire sneaking past the police to steal Wookie satellites.
The motivation to steal alien technology in X-Com is particularly interesting. I'd like to bring that concept into the Lego Space universe in the form of modules (such as energy cores) which can be stolen, modified and put into slots (like an engine compartment).
Design notes: I'm drawing inspiration from atmospheric diving suits here, and perhaps a bit Maschinen Krieger. I don't want to do another faction of human minifigs with new uniforms and neon helmets. One way to avoid that, but keeping the human form, is to beef up their armour. This differentiates the Explorian faction from the other ones.
Story notes: It's always interesting when a universe has some cultural history. Ancient temples, derelict ships, those kind of things. Also, I need to distract the reader from the Apes or Angels problem. It's very unlikely that all alien cultures happen to achieve space flight at the same time (they'll either be apes, or very advanced 'angels'). So, I created an evil empire which existed 100 000 years ago, which is a somewhat respectable number even at a geological time scale. Of course, this empire needs to perish, or we'll have an 'Angels' problem. I'll make no description of the ancient guys, because it's more interesting for the player to participate in the story by envisioning the vague.
Story: Centuries ago, a group of Explorien newborns were hatched on an alien world, Khorgia. They were perhaps the only remaining Exploriens in the galaxy, and they had been hibernating for a very long time.
The last of the ancient Explorien had scribbled down their cultural heritage on simple rock surfaces. As the young Explorien awoke, they found themselves surrounded by stories of the evil Khorgians, the wonders of the lost Explorien home planet, and schematics of simple technological devices. The stories are partially hard to interpret, but consensus exist on a few details.
A hundred thousand years ago the evil Khorgos empire plagued a large segment of the galaxy. They abducted an entire species off a planet to use as slaves on their home planet and scout ships. Millenia passed, and eventually the slaves found a way to rebel and destroy the Khorgos empire from within. By chance they had found an alien device which produced an immense galactic pulse wave which disabled or destroyed ships and technology over great distances. Unfortunately this pulse wave also affected other space faring civilizations (those the Khorgians hadn't destroyed, that is), but the Khorgos empire took the worst hit as they were reliant of fragile hyper gates and Administrator computers.
The slave population were stranded on the Khorgos home planet, Khorgia, along with many angry Khorgians. After a brief war, fought with sticks and stones, a handful of slaves emerged as sole survivors. The Khorgians, highly dependent on technological aid, had become physically feeble and sensible, while the slaves were more resilient. Also, the Khorgians had stripped Khorgia of its eco system and replaced it with an artificial life support system. Without this, they were not match to the physically tougher slaves. The food rations had soon been depleted and the atmosphere quickly degraded. There was no indigenous life left to speak of, but there were libraries of seeds (of hostile plants), and a small zoo (with hostile creatures).
The surviving slaves had one last card to play. Their newborn can spend a very long time in a cocoon state. For a hundred thousand years they hibernated while the planet slowly recovered. Khorgia however had been too badly exploited and was not capable of offering a pleasant environment to the freshly awoken.
Eventually, through struggle and strife, the descendants of the slaves developed space flight and promptly left Khorgia to search for their legendary home planet.
These descendants are now known as Explorien. The Explorien don't know much about their home world, other than the appearance of some of the animals and plants which had lived there long ago. The Explorien, now homeless, are methodically searching through the fossil records of alien worlds, obsessed in their pursuit of their home planet. Until they find it, space will be their home.
The Explorien have developed advanced propulsion and scanning equipment, but are falling behind in the weapons department. They rather flee than fight.
As a sidenote: Rumor has it that the Blacktron were able to locate Khorgia and recover a functional Khorgian artifact, but are stumped to as what its function is. Their supreme commander keeps it on his desk at all times.
Design notes: The Spyrians seem to use saucers and robots. The scout saucer gives me the feeling that their ships 'strafe' around, using some kind of inertia-less drive. Since they steal stuff they need lockers, grapple arms and tractor beams. Their weapons are probably used to disable ships rather than blowing them up. Since they can't damage data, an EMP is out of the question. A 'dimensional immobilizer' or something sounds more suitable. These technologies needs a design language, which I'll try to establish below.
I thought these were redundant with Blacktron around, so I tried something a bit different here. I'm putting the robots in charge, because I think their design was interesting to work with, the Lego Space universe has an opening for a robots-in-charge faction.
Story: The Spyrians rivals in trade, the Blacktron, took offense at Spyrian 'transgressions' and planted a computer virus in a satellite which was sent it into Spyrian space. When the Spyrian fell for the trap and 'stole' the satellite, the computer virus spread to the Spyrian robot population.
However, all didn't go as the Blacktron had planned. The Spyrian robots did lay waste to Spyrius, but eventually they adapted to the virus and created a new civilization where they were the masters. Most Spyrian 'organics' are now enslaved. Many wear a mind control helmet. Spyria is now a planet of cold machines.
The Spyrian robot masters, while powerful, are still building up their power after the destruction they caused when influenced by the virus. While not a match for other faction from a military perspective, they are masters of information, which gives them a tactical advantage. They carried on the Spyrian tradition of stealing technology, but for a different reason - they believe that one day they will find an algorithm which will make them complete and perfect.
Design notes: I don't like the cyborg angle here, so I'm giving these a make over.
Story: The Insectoids are an ancient species which has made barely any technological progress in a hundred thousand years. Since the destruction of the Khorgos empire they have claimed a vast region of space as their own. However, they have overreached and are unable to defend their territories. With many of the younger space faring species advancing quickly, the Insectoids have to find adaptability in order to survive.
Not only social reforms are needed, a change in their own genetic code might also be necessary. To this end the Insectoids now have many ships out searching for new genetic material.
Also, the Insectoid society has relied heavily on primitive and uncreative robots for some tasks. This is now beginning to be seen as a problem, but not by everyone.
The Insectoid empire is a divided one. Those who embrace the old ways are amassing forces, sending out robot ships to gather rare energy orbs which are used to power their weapons.
Design notes: UFO designs are tricky because large round parts are difficult to build with Lego, but I suppose the quarter sections are doing their job here. Detailing their undersides is tricky, but some undercarriage parts could fix that.
I don't like the print on the large round pieces, because the print tries to look like surface greebling rather than decoration lines.
I thought it would be interesting to turn this faction into a 50's silver UFO retro thing, but the Predator angle is also interesting. The body of the aliens gave me trouble, but eventually I stumbled on a design which felt ok. I tried to make their vehicles reflect how their bodies look.
The LEGO storage problem
I don't know how other kids stored their Lego, but mine ended up in two big crates. Perhaps that's the only way it can end up when kids are involved. Still, I think a part of the problem is that you need a lot of boxes and compartments to store all of the different parts in, and it ends up being too expensive.
Now when I'm an adult (in body), I actually sort my Lego, but finding a suitable box is very tricky. I don't like drawers because you have to pull each of them out to look inside. I prefer boxes which can be laid out so every part is immediately accessible. Recently I stumbled over a box with 'Negro kisses'. The box, while far from ideal, still proved to be more practical than my other solutions in some ways.
A low budget storage solution
I sketched up a box which I think would provide a bunch of advantages over other LEGO storage solutions.
Light - Most boxes are made for heavier stuff like screws and are pretty sturdy. Lego is not that heavy, and it's more comfortable to move a lighter box around.
Transparent - The lid especially needs to be made from clear plastic, (not smoke-clear). This makes it unnecessary to mark the compartments and boxes with a pen - something which rarely work anyways because of constant reorganization. Also, light will flow in and make it easier to identify parts.
Sloped edges and rounded corners - Most of the boxes I've seen have square compartments which makes it difficult to dig parts out because they get stuck in the corners. It's also hard to see into square corners. With sloped edges the parts slide up more easily.
Shallow compartments - With many boxes out, some are bound to be far away. With deep compartments it's more difficult to see inside. It's also more difficult to dig pieces out, especially if the pieces are mixed. Stirring the pieces around should not be encouraged, as it dulls them.
Store shelf space - Because of the sloped edges, the boxes can be stacked like cups. There will be no air inside taking up shelf space in stores.
Stackable - Can be stacked with or without lid when full.
Hinged lid or no lid? - A lid which can be taken off and/or put under the box will not take up valuable desk/floor space and get in the way. On the other hand it's easy to just form the entire box, lid and bottom, out of one sheet. However, this will make empty boxes more difficult to store.
Cheap - While packaging isn't free, I still got 9 cakes for just over a dollar along with the box above. A stack of 10 boxes might not cost over 10 dollars. They can be manufactured using Thermo/vacuum-forming and with no sharp corners they could be cheap to 'tool'.
There are a few disadvantages however:
Flimsy - Can be flimsy unless thick plastic and forms which reinforce structural integrity are used (such as a 'Jerry can' X). I have tried to place the compartments so the box does not fold easily anywhere.
Topples over - A large pile of these might topple over due to flimsyness building up. They shouldn't be stacked high however, as they are not drawers. I suppose a rail guide system could be made for them though.
Sharp edges - A thin sheet of hard plastic can be pretty sharp at the edges, especially if cut.
Space inefficient - Using sloped edges means that some air will be present between the walls.
If certain dimensions are used (to assure modularity), these boxes could double as internal boxes for some Lego sets (although bags are probably more space efficient and economical). It would be nice to be able to actually see the pieces inside of the box (through an open back or a flip-open cover). The less packaging material that you have to throw away, the better. Of course, the boxes can be used to store other things than Lego.
Base plates, terrain and backgrounds
Having grown up with the early space Lego sets, I'm naturally quite fond of them. I did own a few base plates, but didn't use them much. Dioramas does not have as much playability perhaps, since they are more for display. Also, the space Lego was mostly grey - a look which I like, but when put on a gray base plate stuff looked rather dull. Perhaps the guy setting up the box shots realized this, and made the terrain yellow to bring some color in. Later, the blue space lego came, but I think the blue color is a bit too dark, making the details and shapes harder to read.
Anyways, I'd really like to see a beige base plate with crater-dunes on it. The official Lego beige is already pretty close. Larger sets could come with a fold-out background (like a poster). Since just exploring barren dunes won't do it, there needs to be some indigenous alien animals, and trees. There already is a set of trees, but they probably need to be red or pink to look alien and go well with the alien landscape. A tree on its own is pretty boring, so play value can be added by giving some trees holders for mystery fruits, and nasty vines or traps.
Here I was probably having some idea about using an internal skeleton with lots of hydraulics, then an armor plates on top of that, a bit like some Gundam kits. The system could be scalable, with one-pieces parts looking amost the same as multi piece parts (e.e. a one piece closed fist vs a hand with articulated fingers). I did this concept early on in the project, so I probably have some more evolved ideas for parts elsewhere in this document.
Below are some chibi experiments. A round new helmet might look better than the old barrel style helmet in this case. The articulated version uses some of the same parts as my standard articulated minifig.
Byline: Concepts by Niklas Jansson, 2009.