And so I surface from another Dark Age relapse. I blame the missus, she bought me 8053 Mobile Crane for my Birthday and I spent two enjoyable evenings slowly building it up. It triggered something in me; Suddenly I had a hankering for castles. As a child I had a fairly mixed collection of Lego, lots of Technic, some City, quite a bit of a Space and I most certainly recall having 6080 King's Castle. Strangely I don't recall having much more than 6080, although I do recall visiting friends and re-building their siege engines for them. I my adult life I've developed more of an interest in medieval buildings and the construction techniques utilised within them so there was a natural urge to gravitate back towards castles.
However, without a stack of bricks to play with (8053 provides a particularly unsuitable set of parts for building castles!), I'm left with little to do but trawling the net for ideas and firing up Lego Digital Designer that I'd recently found.
Coming out of a dark age is a strange sensation. My memories, my thoughts about building castles are still stuck in the late 80's, but the world has moved on. Bley is new grey, there are BRUPs and LURPs and entire empires of Knights that I don't even recognise have risen and fallen with the passage of time.
I spent a week tracking prices on eBay then put in sensible bids on a 6074 Castle Draco and a 6067 Guarded Inn. There's probably deep subconscious meaning to these purchases because they're sets that I don't recall having as a child. With age and hindsight I can now see that they are also some of the nicest classic castle sets that were produced. One thing that I liked about the early castle sets was how you could join all the bits together to make a bigger castle, or even a whole town or village encompassed by a wall. When Castle Draco and the Guarded Inn arrive I gleeful assemble them, like the excitable 10year old that I no longer am, only to find to my annoyance that I can't connect the two together and still make a complete enclosure. This is mildly frustrating but as a grown adult I will not throw a small tantrum; I will attempt to resolve the situation in a calm and considered way, which obviously means I need to buy more Lego!
It's here that I take pause. I could easily go out and source something to bridge the gap, a 6061 Siege Tower or a 6062 Battering Ram with their articulated wall sections would start to fill the gap, although I can already see that individually neither of them on their own would be enough to properly complete the enclosure. What's needed is something of my own construction. I can build something that will fill the gap, or I could see if someone else has built something suitable and shamelessly copy what they've done.
So I type Classic Lego Castle into Google and end up-on the Classic Castle forums. I'm shocked and saddened but at the same time utterly in awe, all within the space of about 5 minutes. The creations are beautiful, undoubtedly works of art in their own right, but they weren't what I'd call Classic Castle. They weren't creations that would fit seamlessly with the Lego castles that I loved from my youth; None of them would really clip in alongside my Guarded Inn.
There is no right, there is no wrong, there's just what I want. What I want are pieces that I can slot in alongside my classic sets, just because nobody else is doing that sort of thing doesn't mean I can't...
What I want is my own creations that will fit alongside the classic castle sets. Therefore I need to work to the same sort of rules that the Lego designers would have worked to. There's an article on Classic Castle that relates to what the designers went through in 2007 to create the relaunch of the modern Caste line.
- Story - Each set needs to have the ability to have it's own story constructed around it
- Playability - Sets need to be playable. To a certain extent this can trump reality, rooms that hands can put minifigs in are more important than accurate scale and/or making sure that every room has a door and that therer are stairs to reach the battlements. Little minds (or big ones for that matter) quickly fill in the irrelevant blanks to get on with important tasks of rescuing maidens, slaying dragons or stealing treasure.
- Build-ability - Sets need to be build-able. If I can't provide sensible instructions for my creations then they can't be built. As a rule of thumb I should probably be looking at one instruction step for every 15 bricks in the creation. Therefore a 300 brick model would have at most 20 instruction steps.
- Cost - All Lego sets are built to a budget. My Own Creations should try to fit the price bands that TLG aims for. As a rule of thumb the total cost of parts on BrickLink based on the BrickLink average should be the same as current sets cost. It's not an accurate measure, scarcity of parts on BrickLink pushes the price up, whereas the cost to TLG to produce a brick isn't constrained by it's rarity.
- Consistency - The creations should be of a design that makes them consistent with sets released in the mid to late 80's, the Lion and Black Falcon era's.
There's one final rule that I'm constrained by that the Lego designers aren't necessarily constrained by; I can only use available pieces in available colours. One caveat being that I'm limited by my Consistency rule that I've mentioned above: Whilst I might be able to use the latest purple, pink and tan colours as highlights, Bley isn't going to mix too well with the classic sets.
I approach this from the other direction, let's build something and hope I can retrofit a story to it. I still don't have any bricks to play with so all this happens within LDD whilst I catch the tube to work. I need a right angled piece of wall to complete my castle, so in go a couple of grey castle panels. to create a right angled wall.
The intricate MOC'ers are probably already scoffing, 4444 castle panels! Who uses panels in the modern word, we've got SNOT. They intricate MOC'ers are right, but they are also wrong. In order to fulfill the Consistency criteria I need to use panels, but underlying that are also the Buildability and Cost criteria, which both drove the Lego designers to adopt panels in the first place. There's as much plastic in one 4444 panel as there is in three and a half 1x4 bricks and the panel covers twenty six 1x1 bricks worth of area whereas the 1x4's would cover only fourteen 1x1 bricks worth of area. More bulk for little weight and it's weight of plastic that is one of the primary drivers for Lego's costs.
However a right angled wall on it's own fails the Story criteria, any story in a right angled wall is pure contrivance and children would much rather an obvious story to play with. So I add a tower. Does a tower give me a starting point for a story? Well things happen in and around towers; they can be used to imprison people, they can be used for defence. I decide to pursue the first story arc, I'll imprison someone in the tower!
Who? Well the obvious person to imprison is a princess, they always seem to get locked in towers. The LDD selection of Minifigs is limited. The convention I've decided to adopt is to put minifigs into my LDD designs as "ghosts", ie all white. When I get to building them out of real bricks I'll select some appropriate Minifigs from what I have available. I assemble an all-white lady to go into my tower.
Consistency; It's going to be sat alongside a Guarded Inn and the yellow half-timbered tower of Castle Draco. I want it to match these so I use the red half timbered corner pieces utilised in the Guarded Inn to create the tower and stick a tall pointy roof similar to that of Castle Draco on-top. For stability I rebuild the base with buttresses.
The final LDD design is this and the .lxf file is attached to this posting if anyone wants to look at it in detail.
Build-ability; the LDD instructions are awful, they seem to insist on starting at the middle and working outwards. I start again in LeoCAD in order to create some sensible instructions. Proof of the pudding is in using them to build the model and with the bricks sourced it goes together without any problems. Structurally it's quite stable and holds together well. When I accidentally knocked it off my desk it separated into two sections, the tower room and the wall, but those to sections remained intact.
Playability; the tower room needs to be large enough for little hands to get the minifig inside and the tower needs to be stable enough that it won't fall over or collapse as a standalone model. It's a little fiddly to get the minifig into and out of the tower room, one re-design might be to create a removable roof to allow better access?
With the princess now in the tower I need someone to guard her, so a knight goes onto the battlements. To complete the story-arc I need someone to rescue the princess, so onto a horse goes a heroic prince (alright, so he's all-white because of LDD's limitations, but it'll come right when I build it for real!). I build out the interior with a chair and dressing table. I also rebuild one wall to give a more solid appearance to the tower without detracting too much from being able to get minifigs in and out.
Cost; at 178 pieces raw, approx. 200 once Minifigs and accessories have been included. It's 1986 equivalent would be 6061 Siege Tower, the modern equivalent would be 7948 Outpost Attack with an RRP of £21. Whilst a Bricklink inventory gives a measure of how much it costs to build now, it isn't a good reference of what it would have cost then because the red half timbered corners have an inflated cost due to their scarcity, additionally old-grey in good condition is becoming increasingly scare to find in any quantity.
The set has a story arc, rescuing the princess. Would this story arc appeal to 6 year old boys more than siege engines? Probably a little too girly for their taste, but rescuing princesses is part of the medieval mythos and has been touched on by Lego as 7947 Prison Tower Rescue. Build-ability, it's build-able within 20 simple instruction steps. Consistency, it fits in nicely alongside Castle Draco and the Guarded Inn, one finale image shows the view from the window through towards the half timbered tower of Castle Draco and the corner of what will probably be the subject of my next posting...
Whilst it might not be the most elaborate of MOC's, it fits the boundaries that I tried to set for myself and should be judged against those rather than the insanely intricate detailing that you'll probably find in the adjacent posts.