Something interesting and weird to start 2018

Something I just learned today: in 1990, a video game company called Color Dreams went to some pretty significant lengths to create a game for the NES based on the movie Hellraiser. It’s a short, but interesting read, even if you’re not particularly into video game history. Someone must have really enjoyed seeing Hellraiser to go to the lengths described here to attempt to adapt it into a video game, not the least of which being developing new (and expensive) hardware and programming tricks to enable Nintendo’s old workhouse to be able to run the kind of game they envisioned.

But there’s no need for me to rehash the same information here. The aspect of this story that I’m focusing on is how after this project failed, Color Dreams went on to rebrand as Wisdom Tree, releasing a slew of Bible-themed games for the NES and Super NES that, from what I gather, featured almost universally awful gameplay. I actually owned and played through one of these games as a kid: a blatant Zelda clone called Spiritual Warfare. It actually wasn’t too terrible, and the gameplay was fairly solid. But that’s not too surprising considering that it’s no exaggeration to describe it as essentially a reskin of the original Legend of Zelda.

While I was already familiar with Wisdom Tree, I didn’t know about their earlier start as Color Dreams. I’ve written some about how the moral panic surrounding D&D (not to mention heavy metal and other aspects of pop culture) impacted me as a kid. It would have been really interesting to see how the panickers of the time would have reacted if they had learned that the religious-themed video games being sold in Christian bookstores were made by a company that had been previously working on a Hellraiser video game before its rebranding (or maybe “conversion” would be more apropos?).

Also, since I mentioned Zelda and have been on a Breath of the Wild kick with my family lately, if you’re a Zelda fan as well, look up “Ancient Stone Tablets” if you don’t already know what this is.

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Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

I’m doing some traveling with my wife and daughter for Christmas this year visiting some family members that we don’t get to see that often. Part of this evening’s festivities was playing an ignominious little game that I will refer to only as “LCR”, a non-game “game” that possesses the exact same level of strategy and tactics as Candyland and Bingo (or, the i.e., none).

Although I felt like I was betraying my identity as a tabletop gamer in some way by participating, you make sacrifices for family. And even though LCR isn’t really a game, it was a fun diversion that managed to bridge the gap between young an old and be something that family members spanning four generations could participate in and enjoy together. And in this case, it probably did it better than any board game could.

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Oh yeah, my mom ended up winning the pot and decided to split it up equally between her four grandkids. 🙂

Small Forest Vignette + Galdanoth

I finished up this scene using the test colors that I previewed a few days ago.

In addition to the new color scheme, there were actually several other things I was testing out with this piece: combining different terrain elements to create a new model; using 3D modeling software to plan out and create the scene; and using Realistic Water to simulate a low area of ground that’s normally dry but which had flooded with a few inches of water due to recent heavy rains.

This is a fairly small piece, but now that I have a “proof of concept” I can easily scale it up or design a new piece using similar elements and do a step-by-step. Below is a comparison of the 3D model to the finished version. It’s hard to see in the screen cap, but I added a small lip to the edge of the base to contain the Realistic Water. I designed the tree armature to provide enough structure to attach clump foliage to represent leaves, but to work without foliage as a dead tree or as part of a winter scene.

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The new colors also proved to be just what I was looking for for a basing theme for one of my miniatures (“Galdanoth, Elf Sniper” from Reaper). I had painted this mini a few years ago, and had a mental image of what I wanted to do for a base, but I hadn’t been able create anything that matched what I had been envisioning until now. The decorative base is from CMON’s base Kickstarter from a few years ago. They packed a tremendous amount of detail into these, but I went the quick route and just did a simple paintjob with various flocks and scatter on top to match the rest of the vignette.

 

 

Lastly, there’s one more reason I’m glad to have finally completed Galdanoth: He’s the miniature that my gaming group at the time used to represent our friend Michael’s character in a short-lived D&D campaign back in 2013. Michael tragically passed away that summer before I finished painting this mini, and we abandoned the campaign after his death, but still I think of him every time I see this mini. Michael, I still miss you, man.

My copy of Clank! arrived today

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In between dinner and bedtime (our daughter’s, not ours), we sleeved and prepped the game as a family, and my wife and I got in a few rounds of play, with the girl spectating off to the side. Our first impressions of this game are good. It’s always a plus when I find a new game that my wife genuinely enjoys. We would’ve played more, but my daughter protested the idea of missing out on “discovering the game together as a family” (her words) so much that I promised her we’d wait until tomorrow morning so that we could all play it together.

#100: Sir Conlan

For my 100th post I thought I’d wax nostalgic for a bit about one of my all-time favorite miniatures: Sir Conlan, from Reaper’s tabletop miniatures game, Warlord. The game itself has been dead for some time now, but they still sell the miniatures. Most of the sculpts are fairly high quality, and there are some standouts, but to be honest, most of it is the standard stuff that you’d expect to find in a range of fantasy minis. All of that aside, Sir Conlan holds a special place in my gaming history.

In the fall of 2004, I found myself at a Hobbytown USA in Pittsburgh, PA. At that point, I had been away from any serious tabletop gaming for several years. I was staring at a display wall of metal minis, many of which were part of something called “Warlord.” The blister packs contained not only the minis, but colorful cards with an image of a painted version of each miniature as well, and on the back was a a list of the figure’s stats and abilities. While I had painted plenty, I had only dabbled in miniatures games before, but I was genuinely intrigued by the Warlord minis, and I chose Sir Conlan as my first purchase.

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Sir Conlan 2004 (metal version)

I painted Sir Conlan over the course of the next week or two, at the same time trying to find out more about Warlord. I was already familiar with Reaper, but I didn’t know that they were making a fantasy miniatures game. I soon acquired the core rulebook for Warlord and, over the next several months, got a few games in with my wife and some of our friends. Sir Conlan was from the Crusaders faction, so that’s what I started collecting and painting. I didn’t have many official Warlord minis yet, so we proxied about 90% of our armies.

I also got back into playing D&D with a short-lived campaign that one of my friends ran during this time, and I liked the Sir Conlan miniature so much that I used him to represent my character, a half-elf fighter/mage. It wasn’t a perfect match, but it was close enough to work.

Today, while I still have a good portion of my collection of Warlord minis, it’s considerably smaller than it once was, and I haven’t actually played Warlord in several years. It’s a fine game, and I’m sure I’d enjoy it if I played it again; but the reality is that gaming is a social hobby, and it’s much easier to play games that already have an existing player base and not one that you have to build yourself.

Although it’s in my past now, I owe a debt of gratitude to WarlordLooking back, I can pinpoint the exact moment of my serious return to gaming; it took me several years to get as deep into tabletop gaming as I am now, but getting into Warlord, beginning with Sir Conlan, is where it started.

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The plastic Bones version, painted in 2016

Painting With Voltaire

I know you’re familiar with a guy named Pareto and a principle that was named after him because you’re such a devoted fan of this blog and have read that other post. But in case you’re new here, you might want to check out that other one first (don’t worry, it’s not that long). There’s another guy, a French philosopher named Voltaire, who sounds like he knew something about miniature painting, going by one of his most well-known quotes: “Don’t let perfect [minis] be the enemy of good [minis].” Actually, he didn’t say it exactly like that, but the gist of it is basically the same.

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Props to you if you knew that this is a portrait of Blaise Pascal and not Voltaire before reading this caption.

 

Not every miniature has to be painted at showcase-quality level. This is an incredibly important concept to realize and accept if you’re interested in playing miniatures games that go beyond skirmish-level scale¹. Sometimes, “good enough” really is good enough. When you have a mob of 50 ork boyz or hormagaunts on your table, not to mention the possibly dozens of other minis that make up your army, it’s ok if not every single one is painted to the best of your ability. “Tabletop quality” really is a thing.

It’s much more enjoyable playing a game with a fully-painted army that’s painted reasonably well than playing with a mostly unpainted army with a few minis painted at an extremely high level. It’s fine to spend more time painting your larger or more important models, but as much as possible, it’s better to separate minis that are intended to be display pieces from minis that are going to be used for gaming. Not only will this prevent your display pieces from being subjected to the normal wear and tear of tabletop use, but the dirty little secret is that from a tabletop viewing distance, most of the extra effort put into a showcase-quality piece will be lost.

Perhaps a good approach is to use the Pareto Principle as a guide when painting display-quality minis and Voltaire for tabletop quality. Pareto can help you realize and appreciate the fact that there will come a point where you’ll start getting tired of the mini that you’re painting, most likely when there’s still quite a bit to go. Mentally preparing yourself for this can help you keep going to the end when the time comes, when it becomes a slog. Or, perhaps more importantly, it will help you avoid wasting time by quitting at the right time: before starting². That is, realizing that you don’t actually want to put in the necessary time and effort to finish a particular mini, and avoiding adding a new member to your “shelf of shame.”

I don’t have anything else to add to what Voltaire said. Sometimes good enough really is good enough.

 

  1. Either that, or be prepared to have an already expensive hobby become more expensive as you outsource your painting to a studio. What’s that? “Third option”? Ok, you can play with unpainted minis, but since so much of the appeal of miniatures games comes from the visual spectacle of it all, it really is worth making your best effort to get your minis painted.
  2. I’m borrowing from Seth Godin here. Look up his book The Dip if you want to learn more about quitting before you start. Or anything else by him, actually. It’s all good stuff and will be worth your time.

Painting With Pareto

“Does anyone else get real close to finish painting a mini and get an undeniable urge to put it aside and start a new one? I have like 5 miniatures near done and just keep starting new ones lol.” – a fellow miniature painter on Facebook

 

You, my friend, are quite likely having a first-hand encounter with the Pareto Principle (aka, the 80/20 rule). If you’re not already familiar with this concept, it’s worth spending a few minutes to learn more about it in detail, but basically, this is an idea that the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto came up with based on some observations he made in his vegetable garden. The core of it is that in many situations, 80% of effects come from 20% of causes. When applied to hobbies or other creative endeavors, it’s a perfect explanation for the phenomenon of losing steam partway through a project: great strides are often made at the start of a project, but it’s the last bit, the final 20%, that requires 80% of the time and effort.

The Pareto Principle in a nutshell. Er, wait a minute…  (Photo by Bill Ebbesen)

 

In the beginning, it’s easy to work on something new and exciting — it’s new and exciting after all! There might be some bumps and hurdles to clear along the way, but you can clearly see results from one day to the next. Then, as you get close to the end, you hit a wall. You put in the same amount or even more time and effort as before, but now you’re only crawling along. You become frustrated, your motivation is gone, and now you just want to be done with it (or maybe you abandon it altogether). What was once a fun and engaging project has become a grind. But it’s this 80% of time and effort spent polishing and refining and working on the details that turn unfinished or mediocre project into something that you can be proud of, something for which you can own the satisfaction of having completed.

Moving to an even more granular level, it’s spending inordinate amounts of time on the fine details when painting a miniature: adding layer after successive layer or meticulously wet-blending to achieve those ultra-smooth shades and highlights; repeatedly starting over when painting the eyes because you keep messing up and want to get them right; painstakingly fixing tiny mistakes and imperfections that the vast majority of people will never notice, but which will bug you every time you look at that mini because you know they’re there. Tedious and mentally taxing for certain… but it’s the thing that makes all the difference in the end, the thing that separates the amateurs from the masters.

 

On the other hand…