Mars Attacks Miniatures – Part 3

Just a few final thoughts to add to yesterday’s post.

Rentonite is likely to be with us for a while. Dungeon Sagas will be largely produced in it, as I suspect will many more of Mantic’s models going forward. Other companies use very similar stuff too, so this applies more broadly than just Mantic. The process suits inexpensive mass production and balances that with a reasonable ability to hold detail while still managing to be workable. It’s unlikely to go away soon.

Is it my favourite material? No, not really (that would be hard plastic). However, every material has its down sides, and I think with a little practice I’d work with Rentonite about as happily as I would anything else. Some high tin content metal alloys are more of a pain as they blunt and break tools. That can be quite unsafe, and I’m not fond of those either. Still, in the end it’s often more the sculpt and mould quality than the material that dictates the length of time it takes to clean up.

Posted in Mars Attacks!, Painting & Modelling | 6 Comments

Mars Attacks Miniatures – Part 2

As I said yesterday, I’ve been struggling to get some good pictures to go with this post. I’ve had another go, though they still aren’t much cop. Apologies for that. Either way, they’ll have to do for now. I’ve left them much bigger than real life so you can (hopefully) see what I’m on about. Please remember that these are really just 28mm models.

So, where to begin? The material is probably the best place. This isn’t “restic”. At least, it isn’t the same stuff that Mantic used for the DreadBall miniatures and which is often referred to as restic. They weren’t entirely happy with the end result, and so they’ve been tinkering. This material is related, but not the same. It’s a bit softer, to start with, and that makes it a little bendier. It’s still pretty firm, but the bendiness allows them to cast quite fine weapons (for example) without them breaking. You could cast this thinness in metal, hard plastic or hard resin, though it would probably snap pretty quickly in normal gaming use. This slight bendiness allows nice looking thin weapons to survive better. At least, that’s the idea.

But if this stuff isn’t restic, then what is it? Rather than get into the details of the chemical composition (which confuses me anyway), I’ve decided to give it a different made up name. I’m going to call it Rentonite. Mainly because it amuses me.

All the models in the box are made of Rentonite, so it didn’t really matter which I picked for this test. What was more important was finding something with an obvious mould line to clean away. This proved tricker than I had expected as the mould lines on the box models are very fine indeed and universally better than the ones I showed you before on the (already perfectly acceptable) Tiger Corps. Eventually, I picked the worst two I could find and got some starting photos. We can call them Mr Blue and Mr Red. Nobody wanted to be Mr Brown ;)

blue_line

Mr Blue has a particularly obvious line on his upper right leg, so I decided to have a go at that. This was the worst mould line in the box, mainly because of its awkward placing and the fact that it goes over details.

red_line

Mr Red has a fine mould line all around. Caught it nicely in the sun.

 

Tools & Techniques

toolsThe tools I used were these: a couple of files and a new scalpel blade. Nothing fancy. The files were old mid-price modelling files that had already seen a fair amount of use.

There are 3 approaches I wanted to try:

  1. Gently filing perpendicular to the mould line.
  2. Slicing thin slivers off the mould line with the deadly new blade.
  3. Scraping along the mould line with the side of the blade.

I’ve not been modelling for ages, so I’m a tad rusty at all of this. It might also be worth mentioning that in terms of preference I was always one for (3) scraping with a blade’s edge rather than (1) filing. At least, that was my usual approach for metal and hard plastic figures. Number 2 was never something I did routinely, but it had been suggested to me as an approach to try here, so that was added to the plan

I should also say that cleaning models was always my least favourite part of miniature gaming. Unfortunately I’m also a bit of a perfectionist, so I never would paint stuff that wasn’t just right…

In all cases, the detail on the models is quite shallow, so a light touch is required to avoid losing any of it in the cleaning process. I say this as a warning as I managed to clean off a bit I shouldn’t have done on Mr Red. Oops.

Now, who’s up first?

 

Mr Red

I’m not going to clean whole models for this demo, just selected parts. For Mr Red I chose his left side. I started out with a file on his combat trousers and bare arm. I guessed that it would work well on their smooth and organic shapes. Well, it kind of did.

It was quite tricky getting the files into all the nooks and crannies of the folds, even with a couple of different shapes. It did well enough on the raised bits though. The first few strokes make the Rentonite go very pale where its surface is damaged, and this colour change can be a little misleading. It also throws off a lot of micro-swarf, which gets in the way of seeing what you’re up to. As this is very light and possibly carries a little static charge, it tends to hang about more than it would with, say, metal. I quickly learned to use my fingers to wipe the rubbish off every couple of movements of the blade or file. This was better than just blowing it off as the natural oils from my fingers also tended to darken the surface again, which made it easier to see what was going on.

Even so, after a short while I’d filed down the raised areas to something like smooth, but not the hollows. For these I went in with the blade and with a combination of carving out and scraping away I cleared these too.

red_clean_1As you can see, it’s hard to see what’s going on. So, after this I painted the bits I’d cleaned so I could see what the result was. Not as good as I’d hoped. The paint nicely showed up all the bits I’d missed. So, I had another go at cleaning, and then added another thin layer of paint. red_clean_2

It’s annoyingly hard to see what I’ve done here. I probably should have picked a different colour. The real life result is a pretty smooth finish and no mould line. What might be mistaken for a bit of mould line under his forearm is, in fact, the light catching the gap between two ammo pouches.

 

Mr Blue

I focussed here on the model’s leg. This was more of a challenge than Mr Red as the mould line was in a tricky place to get to and was over a lot of detail. As with Mr Red, I ended up using a mixture of all 3 approaches, depending on the precise shape of the bit to be cleaned. There was the beginnings of a method here.

The design of the Martian’s suit includes a raised piece along the line of the leg, so you have to be careful not to trim this off in your excitement. The mould line here ran parallel to this, about 1mm to the right.

After some digging, scraping and shaving, I thought I’d got it about right, but was having trouble telling because of the colour change in the scraped bits.

blue_clean_1So, to clean things up, I gave it a thin coat of paint… and then saw all the bits that were still rough. That was mostly to do with the angle I could work at rather than a problem with the material, I think (that’s my excuse). I was trying to work in a bit of a hollow and was finding it tricky to get a smooth result with the tips of the tools. Scalpel blades and steel files don’t bend. The side of the boot turned out to be a perfect subject for the file – though again, be careful of the two fine seam lines that runs down the back of the boot. They’re supposed to be there!

Like Mr Red, the coat of paint gave me a guide as to what still needed work, and after a couple more goes I managed to make it presentable.

blue_clean_3The paint isn’t a uniform colour here, which makes it a bit less clear. Remember that there is supposed to be a raised line down the outside of the thigh. The fiddly area that took all the work is the bit above this in the photo. I know – it’s hard to see. You can tell that the boot’s nice and smooth though :)

 

Conclusion

Apologies again for the photos. I need a lot more practice there. I hope they’re of some use though.

Rentonite is very soft when you’ve got a scalpel blade to work it with. You can quickly remove pouches, weapons or whole limbs if you feel the need. This makes carving off whatever you don’t want very easy.

Filing and scraping are a bit messy and take a lot of stopping and checking to make sure you haven’t gone too far. Filing is very quick if you have something like the smooth side of a Martian’s boot to do.

Overall I ended up using a mix of all three approaches, as each had advantages over the others depending on the shape of the bit to be cleaned. Mostly this process ended up being an initial filing of the big, smooth areas and then using the blade in whatever way worked best to tidy up the edges and the details.

You could do the whole thing with the blade if you chose. The danger here is cutting facets into something that should be rounded – something that files avoid more easily.

So there you have it – my first adventure in cleaning up Rentonite. It didn’t seem particularly slow to work with, nor especially problematic. Like every other medium people make models in, you have to learn its properties. Beyond that I can’t say there are any real problems to report.

 

Posted in Mars Attacks!, Painting & Modelling | 5 Comments

Spoke Too Soon

Those pics will have to wait till tomorrow when I’ve got better light. I’ll try again first thing. I did mean to do this earlier, I just got distracted by work.

Turns out that the box contents models have far more subtle mould lines than the Tiger Corps I showed you before. So much so that I’ve been having trouble getting them on camera at all. They are there, very slightly, in real life, when you hold them at the right angle. Perhaps it’s partly the different colours. It’s really hard to see any lines at all on the red heroes, though presumably they must be there somewhere. Maybe some white primer would pick them out.

It’s hard to clean up stuff that you can’t see :)

Still, I’ve done a couple of models. It’s interesting stuff. Apologies for the delay. I really must organise a proper photography set up, then I wouldn’t have this problem.

Posted in Mars Attacks!, Painting & Modelling | 2 Comments

Don’t Use That, Use This!

Slight change of plan. Remember those Mars Attacks miniatures I showed you yesterday? Well I had to give them back for photography. Still haven’t got the whole shipment of those things in yet. However, I’ve managed to replace them with a boxed game of Mars Attacks, so I’m not short of models to play with :)

I’ve made a start, and am experimenting. Tune in tomorrow for some pics…

Posted in Painting & Modelling, Random Thoughts | 10 Comments

Put It Another Way

As the comments on my post on diversity seem to be drifting this way anyway, perhaps it’s worth starting a topic about new recruits.

Gaming seems to be doing pretty well these days. The rise of English language Euro games, the ever increasing popularity of video games, plus Kickstarter’s helping hand to all and sundry have all helped. I’ve said it before: it’s a Golden Age. However, not all aspects are doing as well as each other. I’d contend that figure gaming is, perhaps, benefitting least, and historical figure gaming least of all. Don’t get me wrong here: I’m not for a moment suggesting that we are about the see the death of it, far from it. I’m just wondering out loud if we could be doing even better.

The area this seems most noticeable to me is in recruiting new players. It’s always a tricky thing because miniature games don’t have the pick-up-and-playness of the latest shiny Playstation goodness. It takes more effort and dedication to be a miniatures gamer. It’s harder to make a start. For this reason, I expect it will always be one of the smaller gaming styles. Still, even if this is all true, there’s no reason to believe that we have tapped all of the possible gamers out there. I believe that many simply wait to be shown the way :)

So how do we do that? Well partly I think the games companies themselves can do things to recruit. Promotion (especially cross-promotion), starter box events, and store events are a few obvious things. GW is well known for this. But are games companies the ones best placed to do this recruiting? I’m not sure they are. I think the best recruiters may be you and me.

As it takes an effort to get started in a miniatures game, especially if it’s your first, having someone to show you the ropes is almost a necessity. A few hardy souls will make it on their own. Most will start because they know someone that plays already. This, I would suggest, puts the power of recruitment in the hands of every gamer.

Recruiting is something most gamers do without really thinking about it. Someone you know asks about a game and you’re only to happy to show them. After all, another opponent is always good. At other times you may evangelise the game you’ve recently been enthused by, aiming to gain a few folk to play against within your existing group – though this aspect does tend to be more within existing player groups rather than with new ones.

These days, many games companies have a group of uber fans that promote their games locally. This is great too, but again they tend to be talking to existing players rather than new ones.

So I’ve got two questions for you:

1) Do you think it’s worth the effort to seek out new recruits (and if not, why not)?

2) If you said yes to (1), how would you go about it?

Posted in Random Thoughts | 10 Comments

Mars Attacks Miniatures – Part 1

As I said the other day, I’d try to snaffle a bag or two of MA figures while I was down at Mantic HQ. Mission accomplished!

rsz_bags_o_toysI’ve not had a chance to scrape away at them yet, so this is an “as it comes” look. I’ve done no reposing, bending, cleaning or anything else.

First, the Tiger Corps.

tigers_togetherThis is a random selection of models from the bag. As you can see, they come pre-assembled, so you could play with them straight out of the box. Of course, many people will want to get some paint on them. The question I wanted to look at was how easy would they be to prep? As you can see from the picture above, at a normal viewing range they look fine.

tigers_01tigers_02tigers_03

Close up, you can see some mould lines, and no flash. I’ve done my best to make these look as bad as possible, using raking light and close ups. Even so, they don’t look terrible to me. Overall, judging with them in my hand, I’d say they were kind of average in terms of the amount of mould line you’d need to file off. Some bits have almost none, others have stuff you’d definitely want to remove. It’s the sort of thing you’d get in almost any range.¹

Having rummaged through the whole of both bags, I can say that this is fairly standard across the lot. There are a few better examples, with more subtle mould lines, but nothing dramatically worse.

rsz_science_div_together

Just so they don’t feel left out, here’s some of the Science Division models. The green wasn’t showing the mould lines as well in the pictures, so I’ve left the close ups out. It’s much the same as the Tiger Corps in real life. The clear helmets are just plonked on for the photo. They come separate.

I’ll have a go at cleaning some of these and let you now how I get on.

 

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1: I say almost because there are a few ranges where mould lines are almost invisible – Statuesque Miniatures, for example. You can’t avoid them entirely though (not with 2-part moulds), and how bad they are is partly to do with the production process you choose.

Posted in Board Gaming, Mars Attacks!, Painting & Modelling | 27 Comments

Improving Diversity In Miniature Gaming

Warkorea_American_SoldiersRecently, over on Beastsofwar, there was a series of discussions on the forum about whether Games Workshop was racist or not. As is the way with these things, it bled sideways into various related topics and became somewhat heated at times. I’m not interested in pointing fingers at specific companies as I don’t think it’s helpful (or provable). What I’m more interested in is seeing what can be done to make a positive change, and I’d like to know what you think too.

To start with, let’s define the problem. I think we can all agree that the representation of race, gender and other minorities in science fiction and fantasy media does not reflect the relative proportions of these minorities in the real world. I mean this both in the context of their fictional creatures and stories as well as the audiences that enjoy them. This is probably worse in fantasy than SF.

Actually, let’s narrow that down. What I’m interested in here is games. Specifically, I’m thinking about miniature games. Board games and video games are different topics (as are movies, comics, etc), and for various reasons the games themselves as well as their audiences include more women. Whether the racial bias is any different I couldn’t say as I’ve not seen any stats on that. Sexual preference is something that is rarely touched upon in anything other than as an assumed heterosexuality.

So, miniature games, and SF/F ones at that.¹

It may not always seem obvious that there is this bias, but look at a big crowd of gamers and you can’t miss it. In my many years in the gaming world I’ve been to  a lot of events. One thing that has always puzzled me is the obvious lack of non-white faces in the crowds. Sure, there are often a couple of individuals, but we’re talking here of a couple of percent rather than a couple at each game. The 2011 census data for the UK says that 13% of the population is non-white. I’m pretty sure we don’t get near half of that. This may be different in other countries (in which case I’d be interested to hear about it). In the USA the non-white percentage is higher (c20%). Do they do any better? Not on any evidence I’ve seen.

I suspect there is a bit of chicken-and-egg going on here. Companies make models in their own image and that of their customers (the majority of both of which are white heterosexual males). Without strong minority characters potential players from minorities feel excluded and are pushed away. Round and round it goes.

 

Why Bother?

Is a lack of diversity a problem? I think it is. It matters for a number of reasons. Let’s ignore the quicksands of morality, fairness or whatever, and stick purely to selfish motives. Miniature gaming is a niche hobby and there aren’t many of us. We are a minority ourselves. Adding a representative number of new gamers from the various ethnic, gender, sexual preference and other minorities that are currently woefully underrepresented would help in two obvious ways:

  1. More people playing = more money within the industry. A stronger miniature gaming industry benefits anyone that enjoys its products.
  2. More opponents. Everyone needs someone to play against. More gamers = more opponents.

So even if you have no interest in helping anyone other than yourself, it is in your best interests to remove barriers to new gamers, whatever their race, colour, creed, or anything else.

 

How?

Many of the comments I’ve heard from the few gamers I’ve met from ethnic minorities suggest that it is, in part, a lack of characters to identify with that is off-putting.² The same goes for many women I’ve asked.

Obviously there is a cost issue as well. Some games are expensive to play and miniature gaming is a middle class hobby at least in part because of this. If fewer minorities are in that income bracket then that would clearly reduce the number taking part. This aspect we can’t do much about. However, I’m a long way from convinced that gaming is so expensive compared to other hobbies that it is genuinely not an option for the bulk of people. Certainly, when we talk about a gender bias or sexual preference rather than ethnicity there is much less economic argument.

Is this as simple as:

  • Including cultural analogues of Chinese or African countries and mythologies in the background?
  • Including a gay hero?
  • Making miniatures of women without their boobs on show?
  • Introducing someone from one of these minorities to miniature gaming?
  • Making more models of ethnic minorities?
  • Painting our models in a variety of skin tones?

What do you think? Specifically, what can we practically do to increase the diversity of miniature gamers? Is there anything, or is this too large an issue?

It would be especially interesting to hear from people who are already bucking this trend.

 

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1: Historical miniature games are full of potential for non-PC jollities for the simple reason than history itself is. Our 21st century, decadent-West view of morality is not one that has been shared by many races and cultures, and if you want to represent a historical situation you need to deal with all of it. Nor was this confined to the distant past. For example, in WWII US Army units were segregated by race, and black units frequently got grave digging and other menial and unpleasant tasks rather than combat duty (with all its social connotations of heroism and nobility). To show them otherwise is inaccurate. Incidentally, the photo at the top of the page is from the Korean War.

2: Not always though. Sometimes it’s the overtly racist behaviour of an individual staff member or gamer that puts them off, and that behaviour should be challenged where it occurs. Unfortunately, such fools exist across society, not just in miniature gaming.

Posted in Random Thoughts, The Business of Games | 97 Comments