Category Archives: Blacktron

Not the Librarian-class…

Blacktron Liburnian-class battlecruiser: front aspect

Liburnian: (n) a light galley-type warship of the Roman Empire.

Having the Blacktron Alliance name one of their ship classes after something Roman is probably wrong. Even in my “Brightly Coloured Tyranny” alternate universe in which the Blacktron are the good guys and the Classic Space/Futuron Federation are the bad guys, the Blacktron represent the forces of freedom from tyranny, and more usually they are interpreted as forces of chaos and revolution.

Given that the Romans were the people that built Hadrian’s Wall with a castle gatehouse exactly every Roman mile whether or not it actually made sense with the terrain, the Blacktron are about as un-Roman as it gets. So maybe the name is a sophisticated irony, given that it’s named after a Roman ship type and the Romans were notoriously poor sailors.

Anyway, this is a microscale Blacktron battlecruiser of the kind I build when I’m not worrying about stud length and trying to build a SHIP. The bifurcated prow put me in mind of a pair of triremes or Ancient Greek warships mated top-to-top with the rams outward, and that’s how it got stuck with Liburnian as a class name.

Still, more aggressive-sounding than Librarian-class, right?

Blacktron Liburnian-class: front/side aspect

I don’t have a huge amount to say about this. It mirror-images almost completely top-to-bottom as well as left-to-right, which helps to give the idea that it’s designed for operating in zero-gravity. It has its armament of lasers and other cannons. I believe the twin red cones in front are spinal-mounted laser cannons, so I guess that makes the side mounts broadside guns. There are twelve smaller laser cannons mounted in four banks of three amidships, and there are four guns or missile tubes of some sort that have a rear firing arc.

That’s quite a lot of engines, and really I’d have preferred four larger ones using 2×2 dish elements in trans red, but I only have two of those and they’re being employed as sensor dishes, or perhaps something to do with the hyperdrive.

Not a massive model, but it looks pretty cool.

Advanced Mech-Building 101

Up until this point, most of my mechs have been relatively simplistic affairs.

Oh, I’ve done what I could to make them look interesting, but in terms of the actual structure, they’ve been fairly basic. I’d tended to use balljoint elements almost exclusively, with occasional use of those clickstop universal joints, and that’s forced several design constraints on my mechs that I barely even realised I had.

Also, I’ve tended to construct the torso all in one piece, and there’s only so much you can do with that.

I like mechs in general, even if I’m not very good at them. Well, except for some of the Japanese-style Gundams and Anime mechs, which always look strange to me. Yeah, I know I’m dissing the two most influential mech source materials in the universe, but I honestly don’t like those massively overbuilt shoulders and weird flanges and fins and wings all over the place, and the guns bigger than the mechs themselves and all that. There’s a definite Japanese style to many mechs, and if you’ve seen many you know what I’m talking about, but frankly I prefer something a little less Anime-derived.

Having said that, there’s obviously a lot I could learn from the hows of some of these Gundam/Anime mech architects. So I’ve been doing something I almost never do with my LEGO building: I’ve been watching building instruction videos and mech-building tip compilations on youTube.

For all that I overuse balljoint elements with studs, I’ve been noticing for a while how few of the really good mechs that give you even a vague clue as to their joint mechanics actually use balljoints. They use clip-and-bar hinges, pneumatic T-pieces, or other strange joint forms I’m still coming to grips with.

So I’ve been watching and learning how it’s done.

This new raft of joint-building techniques is only half of what I got out of what I’ve seen, though. The other main aspect of what I got from the videos is more deeply buried. It’s the idea of an underlying skeletal frame.

Anyone who’s built the large Bionicle/CCBS figures will probably grasp this by instinct, because I’m told that that’s where most of the building creativity lies in those things, but I don’t Bionicle any more readily than I build advanced mechanical functions with Technic, so you’ll forgive me for being a little slow on the uptake.

Anyway, I built a new mech, deliberately choosing to use some of what I’ve learned.

It’s far more articulated in the spine than any previous mech I’ve built, actually having an approximation of a spine for a start.

The construction of the legs deliberately eschews “normal” balljoint connections, and still has most of the range of motion I’d actually want out of a set of mech legs.

I was initially not planning on giving the mech arms as well as those shoulder weapon pods, but it didn’t look right without them, so I adapted the design a little, but the weapon pods seemed like the only reasonable attachment point.

The result looks something like a cross between a linebacker and a chimpanzee, and is just as topheavy and overbuilt in the shoulders as any Neo Evangelion or other Manga mech.

The claws combine with the black colour and the stick-thin arms to give it a slightly arachnoid look, and so between that and the simianoid remainder of its looks, I came up with the name for it: the Blacktron Monkey-Spider class Mech.

It isn’t perfect. In fact, it’s a long way from it, and I actually prefer the looks of last time’s Space Police Enforcer class.

But I offer it up here as a testimony that I’m learning new things and finding better ways to approach the building of stuff like mechs.

The Viper, Victorious

I said I was going to build a cruiser in the Vic Viper configuration, and here it is, more or less.

Another corner build using my lone Blacktron quarter panel (I need to get another one of those so that it can become a by-choice deal rather than a by-necessity), it has all the features required for a proper Vic Viper, but in a cruiser format.

The single vertical tail fin becomes a bridge sail section, the twin prongs are in place, and the wings curl upwards because of my decision to use Castle turret top elements.

I’ve been far more sparing with yellow bricks than even my usual approach to the Blacktron; something that many people seem to get wrong is that they put too much yellow in a Blacktron creation, with the result that it looks like construction hazard striping. The Victorious-class goes to almost the opposite extreme. It’s a major light sink, and wouldn’t be easy to spot using optical sensors against the blackness of space.

Thankfully for those viewing, I’m sure, I’ve shot my photos against a white background so that the details are more visible. That’s the problem with black ships and vessels: they’re hard to photograph well, especially with the primitive handheld camera setup I have.

As befits a cruiser of the more militarily-inclined Blacktron Alliance, the Victorious is fairly well-armed, with heavy spinal lasers, lighter defensive pulse turrets and intermediate-size long guns. Much of the armament is exclusively forward-firing, which may be a weak point of the design, but in my “Brightly-Coloured Tyranny” Classic Space alternate universe the Blacktron are a rebel alliance or resistance movement opposed to the corrupt Federation government and its oppressive Space Police. They aren’t necessarily going to have the experience to make perfect combat designs right off the bat.

Anyway, here she is, the Blacktron Victorious-class Cruiser, ready to oppose the Federation and do some damage to as many Space Police ships as possible.

Archer-class Pulse Cannon

Aerospace defence. It’s going to be a critical need for any spacegoing force.

You’re going to need defensive systems that operate on several different levels. Force shields if your universe has them, but also antisatellite weapons – lasers or the equivalent, missiles and so on, and of different sizes.

For energy weapons, there will be the massive ion cannons or heavy lasers that can bust through dreadnought-level armour, as well as smaller ones, right down to something like this.

I’m calling it the Archer-class; a seven-barreled mobile aerospace defence cannon.

Having seven barrels might seem like overkill (or possibly stupid: why not just one gun that’s much bigger and more powerful?), but I’m thinking it would be like the early Gatling guns: the multiple barrels prevent overheating and allow more sustained fire.

Anyway, here it is.  I also made a little tow-truck thing to pull it around.

Muscle Mech

I don’t often build “white period” Classic Space creations.

What I call the “white period” isn’t really a specific time period within the Classic Space proto-theme as such, but refers to the group of secondary colour palettes that ran alongside the “classic” blue/grey/trans yellow. Predominantly white with trans blue windscreen elements, these secondary palettes used blue or grey or sometimes black (like a sort of proto-Futuron) as secondary or accent colours.

It’s not that I don’t have the bricks for it. Between my store of trans blue screen elements acquired from early Bricklink forays and the white bricks garnered from the Sensei Wu dragon, various Elves and Friends sets of my daughters’ and other sets, I’m quite well off for the bricks I’d want in the colours I’d need. No, it’s not that I can’t, more that I prefer the classic blue/grey/trans yellow colours. If I’m going to build a white space creation with blue windows, normally I’ll go ahead and add some black accents and call it Futuron.

What I call the “white period”, then, is something different and out of the ordinary for me. And out of the ordinary is almost always a good thing.

In the vehicular triad of spaceships, rovers and walkers, my last two builds (aside from the little Independence Day windowsill ornament I built) were a Blacktron rover and a Classic Space Federation spaceship. It must therefore be time for a mech.

Still in Classic Space mode (otherwise known as “my normal building mode”) due to enthusiasm over the newest additions to my personal small Astronaut Corps, I elected to build a Classic Space mech, but in the 6929 Starfleet Voyager’s white colour scheme.

Due to some discussions with a friend over the alternate-universe possibility of a heroic Blacktron rebel alliance and a tyrannical Federation, I’ve built something that I think is vaguely ambiguous. It’s heroic white and has a friendly round windscreen, but it also has that hand laser-cannon and cuirass-like chest pseudomusculature. I could see this in either heroic-defender-of-freedom or nasty-instrument-of-oppression role.

The round chest plates are actually one of my favourite parts of this. They were fairly easy to do, but they go along with the windscreen and the upper thighs and some other parts in a whole round-element visual subtext.

As far as naming goes, I’m calling this the “Titan Explorer Mech”, running the ambiguity for all it’s worth between the classic peaceable Federation nature of “Explorer” and the slightly oppressive sound of “Titan”.

I’ve used a green astronaut as the pilot, as the only one of my six (2 red, 2 white, 1 blue and 1 green) Classic astronauts not in use in either the Starfleet Voyager update or the Independence Planet windowsill ornament. I ought to have another green astronaut which I got with the Exo-Suit, but Pete the Robo-Turtle Feeder went missing over 2 years ago before we moved.

Anyway, in the various astronaut suit-colour representational schemes, green astronauts have been variously represented as being mech drivers, support workers, environmental techs and rookie spacemen, but here I’m using him as some sort of space marine or trooper. Or whatever interpretation you want to put on it. After all, they’re only in one set: the Neoclassic Exo-Suit mech. All you can say from that fragmentary evidence is that green suits probably aren’t starpilots.

And just to reverse roles in keeping with my alternate-universe “brightly-coloured tyranny” interpretation of the Classic Space and Blacktron themes, I have the armed Classic Space Titan mech attacking the unarmed Blacktron space truck, defended by a couple of Blacktron spacers who are probably only a couple of stomps away from what the LEGO Message Boards euphemistically used to call “smashed”.

~~~

Planet R-19 was supposed to be a quiet and relatively safe place for the Blacktron rebel alliance to transship goods. Off the beaten path even in the vast, newly-incorporated Ogel Sector, a ten-a-centicred airless world with only a catalogue number and not even the dignity of a proper name, it was well outside the tyrannical Federation’s usual Space Police patrol routes.

Pete Goddard’s intermodal hauler was the first one to arrive at the rendezvous point, where the four containers would be magnetically clamped together into a single heavy-lift vehicle and launched on to one of the Alliance bases on Battraxus or Provine or Caliban III.

For security, Pete didn’t know what was in his own hauler’s container. The four due to be mated together here at Point Sigma had been snuck in to various locations across the dry maria of R-19 and trucked across the dusty basins to the several rendezvous. Pete hoped the others would arrive soon; right now there was only the limited company of the two Blacktron fighters that the Alliance had posted here for security at Point Sigma.

Pete shrugged at the thought. He understood the need for security; the oppressive Space Police were not known for their gentleness with anyone objecting to the iron rule of the Federation and its happy-happy propaganda. But Avi and Sasha were only armed with Centaurian P72 bolt throwers; what were they going to do against a Space P olice Striker-class cruiser?

Or a Titan mech.

The white-hulled Federation “Explorer Mech” – and wasn’t that a joke? – stomped out from the shadow of a big crater less than a klick away and with a full view of the Blacktron haul truck and the two diminutive defenders. A Coreworlder design used as one of the supposedly-civilian Federation Space Service’s main combat mechs, it was theoretically in service all Federation worlds but somehow never seen outside the Core Worlds and Old Earth. Which was particularly strange as the official blurb on the Titan claimed it was designed for the exploration of potentially dangerous new planets, not established Federation Grand Council members like the Core Worlds.

As the Titan mech approached, Pete watched even the brilliant white disappearing into the razor-sharp shadows of the airless world and wondered who had slipped up in the Alliance’s security, that this transshipment point had become known to the Federation.

Or had anyone slipped up? If there had been a security breach, shouldn’t the place be crawling with Space Police stormtroopers and their euphemistically-named Protector-class battle rovers, not just one lone benny in a Fleet mech?

Avi and Sasha aimed their bolters while Pete sat frozen in the limited protection of his hauler’s roll cage. He had nothing to fight with; no defensive guns on his hauler, only a civilian-grade laser more useful for long-distance signalling than combat. Unless something changed in the next twenty seconds, it was about to be all over for Pete Goddard…

The Logistics of Blackness

People do build Blacktron support vehicles, but they’re not as common as, say, tanks or mechs or space fighters. There are reasons for this: the Blacktron are supposedly the Classic Space universe’s criminal element. All the scientific and logistical support things that the Classic Space astronauts do are a little too much like honest work.

However, even if the Blacktron are merely the Cosa Nostra in space, they’re going to need some support vehicles, even if only to fuel up their spaceships and/or transport their stolen goods. And I don’t think that’s what the Blacktron are.

I think the Blacktron organisation are more like a rebel alliance or separatist movement, established to counter some perceived injustice or overthrow some perceived oppression.

The fact that they have their own equipment and uniforms and logo tend to suggest these aren’t merely run-of-the-mill criminals. Who knows? Maybe they’re even heroic Robin Hood/George Washington types, standing against the brightly-coloured tyranny of the Federation and its Space Police enforcers…?

And if that’s the case, that they represent a separatist state or rebel secessionist movement, then they need all the planetary survey ships and seismological monitoring vehicles and scoop loaders and mobile tracking stations that the regular Classic Space astronauts of the Federation have.

Being in the mood to build something Blacktron (to showcase my newly-acquired Blacktron astronauts (three of them, plus two red and two white Classic astronauts, all at very reasonable prices), I was singularly uninspired for a spaceship or a combat rover. But the idea of a Blacktron space truck sounded like a good one.

The configuration with the Blacktron quarter panel logo-up creates a slightly unusual container cross-section, shaped rather like the traditional “cut-diamond” gemstone shape. Not only is this pleasingly different, but I can think of an in-story rationale for it as well: Four of them get fastened together around a slim core section to form a single surface-to-orbit heavy-lift rocket. Perhaps with eight quarter-section containers stacked four and four, container loading and planetary gravity permitting.

Alas, I can only build one section, but I’ve added a rocket engine on the rear to suggest that capacity.

The cab is an open, roll-cage cockpit, because I imagine the Blacktrons probably can’t afford as much in the way of creature comforts; they’re fighting for their survival against the omnipresent Space Police.

Anyway, here’s my Blacktron surface hauler. No fancy codenames or backstory, for once. Just a nicely Blacktron model with a real Blacktron driver.

Alienate This

Of all the six first-generation Blacktron sets, the Alienator has probably had the most separate update attempts.

There are reasons for this.

In 1987 when the Blacktron first made their appearance, the Alienator was my least-favourite of their hardware, even including the little Meteor Monitor that presaged the disappointing “Blacktron Future Generation” colours by including white.

The original Alienator

It was those legs that got me.

Normally I’m a fan of legged vehicles, especially in LEGO form, but even as an early-teenaged child I had enough of an inner biologist that I wanted something that bent at the hips and knees. That twist-and-slide zombie shuffle didn’t do anything for me. To my mind, the capabilities of the bricks they had back then meant that the world wasn’t ready for LEGO mechs. I didn’t like any of the various legged Classic Space vehicles.

Cut to the present and my post-Dark Age return to building as an AFOL, and we have all kinds of useful element types that didn’t exist back then. Not least of these are the various kinds of balljoint elements.

Now Alienate This!

The whole Bionicle/CCBS/”constraction” thing came in while I was away, and to this day that building style is a complete black box to me and effectively a separate community. I personally get bored with endless variations on the human figure, and lacking any background I neither know nor care whether I’m looking at the Toa of Cut-Price Furniture or the Protector of Cyborg Hippoes. Or whatever it is the real ones are supposed to be called.

But the various balljoint elements with studs add so many capabilities to my arsenal of techniques that they’ve nearly become essential to my building. I literally couldn’t build two thirds of what I build without them.

Now that we have the capability to build a more realistic jointed leg, an Alienator update is a really good idea, and just about every TFOL/AFOL Blacktron fan seems to build one at some point.

The various neo-Alienators out there seem to fall on a spectrum from stuff like this, which is very close in design to the original apart from the realistic legs, to stuff like this, which is awesome but radically divergent from the original, being much larger and flashier.

Mine’s somewhere in between. More “inspired by” the original than strictly colouring inside the lines, its long, spindly insectile legs and big round feet combine to give it a rather Wellsian War of the Worlds vibe, like a Blacktron take on the Martian Fighting Machine. It’s ended up with a lot more cockpit, proportionally speaking, than the Alienator 1.0.

I was actually initially anticipating a larger vehicle with a more extensive rear section, but realising that I was bored with the conventional daisy-chain mode of balljoint connection I decided to experiment with using the central ball that is normally used for attaching the greaves elements as a primary connection point. That pulled the whole centre of balance forward and necessitated a much abbreviated rear section.

You’ll of course have noticed the out-of-place dark red curved element. Even with the partial element sorting I’ve managed since this post, I can’t find the other black one that I know I’ve got, so I had to use a different colour. The same goes for the dark grey Bionicle limb rod at the back.

I’m claiming battle damage. Some Space Police disruptor weapon changing the chemical composition of the hull-metal.

The Martian War Machine-esque Bauplan got me thinking that it needed a wrecked spaceship to loom menacingly over, so the scene-setting accessories are a row of rocks and a partial Space Police-coloured wreck. Take that, nasty Space Police!

Of course, now I want to build a full on Blacktron-liveried war tripod à la War of the Worlds.

Maybe later; I’m going off on holiday in less than a week. And I’ll probably have forgotten all about Blacktron Martians by the time I get back.