Friday 30 October 2015

Culture Club

Having recently posted here that a couple of my articles had been published in Issue 4 of Bricks Magazine (those of you keeping an eye on the Gimme LEGO Facebook page will have seen that I also have a piece in Bricks Issue 5 as well) I can now report that I've also had a feature published in Issue 3 of Bricks Culture Magazine as well.

I have to confess to having some initial doubts about Bricks Culture Magazine. Specifically, I wondered whether there'd be enough suitable content to sustain the world's first "LEGO pop-culture magazine for adults", and indeed whether the Bricks Culture target market was big enough for the magazine to be a success. Some of my fears were allayed once I'd actually held a copy of Issue 1 in my hands and read it from cover to cover, though - I had to admit to editor Tim Johnson, a.k.a. Caperberry of New Elementary fame that I'd thoroughly enjoyed most of the content, not to mention being impressed with the overall quality and polish. It also appears that my scepticism about the target market was seriously wide of the mark - sales of Bricks Culture had apparently already substantially exceeded expectations even before the magazine was featured in the UK Channel 4 television documentary "The Secret World of LEGO", at which point the Bricks Culture website briefly crashed under the weight of enquiries....

Given how impressed I'd been with the mag, I was pleased when Tim approached me to ask whether I'd be interested in writing something to fill Brick Culture's "Sets to Search For" slot in Issue 3 (cover pic above), and I was happy to oblige. "Sets to Search For" is a regular Bricks Culture feature which focuses on sets which are, for various reasons, coveted and/or collectible; previous occupants of this slot have included Set 4000016 Billund Airport and Set 3723 LEGO Minifigure. After much deliberation I decided to write about a Star Wars offering, Set 10123 Cloud City. This set, which is primarily famed for its inclusion of a number of exclusive and valuable minifigures, is interesting on a number of levels, and I share a few thoughts about the set and its perceived value in my article (excerpt below).

In terms of the magazine as a whole, my contributor copy of Issue 3 arrived a couple of weeks ago and I've been gradually working my way through its 140 pages. My impression is that the high quality of content continues to be maintained, with a couple of highlights including a lengthy interview with the Surma brothers (excerpt below) whose work I've followed ever since I became aware of them last year, and a feature on Daniel August Krentz, designer of the iconic Set 375 better known as the Yellow Castle.

Bricks Culture, which is published quarterly, certainly isn't cheap at £9.99 per issue. It is however absolutely packed with thoughtful LEGO-related content the like of which you generally won't find elsewhere, and it's beautifully presented. You can order it here.

Thursday 22 October 2015

Fun and Games

So, another year, and another thoroughly enjoyable weekend spent at the Great Western Brick Show, a.k.a. STEAM. This event, which is held at the Museum of the Great Western Railway in Swindon, features builds by members of the Brickish Association, the UK's largest LEGO User Group. The show is now in its 13th year, and as in previous years it offered up a dizzying array of superb LEGO creations. Having first visited STEAM in 2010, I ended up going back in 2011 as an exhibitor and I've exhibited there every year since then, displaying the likes of the UCS AT-AT in 2013 and my Ghostbusters HQ and ECTO 1 last year. Having reached September without anything new to show this year,  however, I 'd pretty much resigned myself to attending STEAM 2015 as a tourist rather than an exhibitor. Thankfully, with the show rapidly approaching I unexpectedly had a flash of inspiration and managed to design, source the parts for and build a brand new MOC for STEAM in double-quick time - most out of character....

Photo courtesy of Andrew Tipping/Bricks Magazine
My STEAM display (above - click to enlarge) was an homage to Manic Miner, one of my favourite ever video games. Written in just six weeks by eccentric eighties gaming enigma Matthew Smith and first released on the Sinclair ZX Spectrum home computer in 1983, it's no exaggeration to say that Manic Miner was something of a phenomenon back in the day. The game was basically a fiendishly sadistic platformer which required pixel-perfect jumps and meticulously precise timing; I shudder to think how many hundreds of hours I spent trying to safely negotiate the game's twenty increasingly bastard-hard levels. Certainly it felt like an eternity before I finally defeated the game and emerged dischevelled and squinting into the sunlight. Leap forward more than 30 years to a couple of months ago and I randomly stumbled across a couple of Flash versions of Manic Miner online; the memories immediately came flooding back, and amid the waves of nostalgia it occurred to me that the first level of the game (below) might translate rather nicely into a LEGO mosaic....

Image from Girny Gamer
My initial idea was to reproduce the whole screen in LEGO, with one LEGO stud representing one ZX Spectrum pixel. I quickly realised, however, that building a 256 x 192 stud LEGO mosaic (equivalent to 8 x 6 standard 32 x 32 baseplates), not to mention a frame that would be sufficiently robust to safely and securely support the mosaic at a public event, wouldn't be feasible in the time available. I therefore opted to compromise by only reproducing a 120 x 88 pixel section of the screen, and while even this ended up being a bit of a stretch time-wise I thankfully managed to complete it a few days before the show.

Although I was pleased with the finished build, I do have to admit that I was far from sure how visitors to STEAM would react to it. While I was confident that there would be at least some visitors of a certain age who'd immediately recognise what I'd built, I was also concerned that there would be a whole lot of people who would have absolutely no idea what it was.... Just 48 hours prior to the show, however, I stumbled upon a possible solution to the problem - a video clip (embedded below, or click here to view it on YouTube) posted by kingqueen3065 featuring the Manic Miner ZX Spectrum loading sequence followed by a five-level play-though.

I figured that if took my iPad along to the show and used it to display the video clip on a loop it'd provide a useful reference point for visitors who hadn't previously come across the game. Decision made, I quickly constructed a suitable LEGO frame to slot my iPad into and I was ready to go. Transporting the mosaic and its 108 cm x 81 cm frame to the show was a bit of a pain thanks to my impractical choice of car, although my long-suffering wife was thankfully on hand to fashion a huge protective sleeve out of deconstructed cardboard boxes and polythene sheets to protect the mosaic in transit, and I was able to break the brick-built frame into manageable sections and box them up without too much difficulty. Having eventually managed to shoehorn everything into the car, I drove to Swindon at the crack of dawn on the first day of the show. Setting up was pretty straightforward, and at 10 a.m. the doors opened and STEAM was underway. As things turned out, using the iPad alongside my build proved to be a masterstroke. While a steady flow of grown ups recognised the mosaic and happily reminisced about the game, there were at least as many kids who were transfixed by the gameplay video running on the iPad and quickly made the connection with my display, so everybody was happy.

So that's STEAM done and dusted for another year, and there's just one final loose end to tie up - what to do with my mosaic now it's back home. I wonder if my wife wants some new artwork for the sitting room....?

Monday 12 October 2015

Build your own Tauntaun!

A few weeks ago I built and reviewed Set LLCA53 Han Solo On Tauntaun (below). Given the rarity of the set, I promised to share the instructions so that Gimme LEGO readers could have a crack at building it themselves.

I'm pleased to report that the instructions have now been scanned and uploaded to the Gimme LEGO Flickr stream and you can access them here. Apologies for the delay - I got tied up with a bunch of other stuff, not least preparations for the Great Western LEGO Show which I'll post about soon. LLCA53 is a promo item rather than a regular retail set, and as such the print quality of the instructions predictably isn't up to retail standards; even so, you should hopefully be able to follow them OK.

Good luck, and let me know how you get on! Don't forget to check my original LLCA53 posting for information about the build and a heads-up regarding some of the more uncommon elements that you'll need to track down.