Category Archives: Lego Space

“Some People Call Me A Space Cowboy…”

Even awful Steve Miller Band songs can occasionally inspire a LEGO creation.

I know “The Joker” is a very popular song from its era, but it’s never really scratched where I itch, personally. But when the first line came on the radio as I drove to my LEGO User Group meeting, I started thinking about the possibilities. My personal builders’ rallying call is something along the lines of “Space Everything”, so… space cowboys. Literally.

Shootout at the Space Corral

As an Englishman living in Texas, I’m surrounded by cowboy culture. The Fort Worth stock show and rodeo. People who wear cowboy boots. People who wear stetsons. Everybody and his brother’s cousin’s dog in their stupid pickup trucks. People who actually own cattle – in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, which is one of the larger urban conglomerates in the entire US. The whole Western genre. The entire Country music scene. Now, there are a few good Country songs, and I enjoy the occasional Western, but really, the entire cultural landscape is as alien as HG Wells’ Martians tramping through the English countryside.

There are two basic ways of dealing with the alienness: assimilation or resistance. Either you assimilate and learn cowboy, at least culturally speaking, or you return to your cultural roots and become a sort of professional Englishman.

Resistance is not futile.

“Draw!”

A creation like this could be taken as either the product of a final blended assimilation of worlds, or a sort of ironic joke on the whole subculture. In actuality it’s something of both. Merging different genres is something I do, and usually results in an interesting creation, but there’s a certain amount of visual irony involved in the Blacktron vs Space Police shootout, the rover shaped a bit like a stagecoach and the robot cactus. And the horse-shaped antigravity speeders tethered outside the saloon.

 

Mustang speeders outside the saloon

Robot cactus. Because no Western scene is complete without a Saguaro.

Using my two tan baseplates for what I think is the first time (my kids use baseplates a lot more than I do), I started out with the saloon and then expanded it into the stagecoach area. Starting with the Saloon sign and then building a façade like that in any classic spaghetti Western, I initially planned the model structured entirely around the Shootout at the Space Corral, but then the model started to get overpopulated with minifigures as I added more and more, and I realised I had to expand onto another baseplate.

But the resulting two-plate creation was a bit sparse, so I had to build more stuff. This is not a problem.

If I had four or five of the Gungan steeds from the Phantom Menace sets, they’d make a pretty good herd of alien cattle, but I don’t have any, let alone 4 or 5. Thus, the stagecoach rover. Building a rover that recalls a stagecoach was actually pretty fun; you don’t see too many Classic Space stagecoach rovers. I think it’s the elevated driver’s position that sells it; the rover itself isn’t all that stagecoachy otherwise.

The Stagecoach rover. Not a great angle, unfortunately, but the overall shots give the idea. Note the alien prospector in the background.

It might be fun to expand this still further and incorporate a real Space Cowboy herding Gungan steeds, but those Gungan steeds are relatively expensive for what’s basically a single brick, and I have other purchasing priorities.

It’d make a pretty good display, though.

I’m quite pleased with the horse speeders. Loosely based on the Nexo Knights’ hoversteeds, they’re my own design because we only got two of the sets from that theme and neither included a hoversteed that I could adapt. Anyway, I prefer to create rather than copying whenever possible.

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Twin Iron Engine fighting machine

The Twin Iron Engine fighting machine

An older design of steam-driven Imperial mech, the Twin Iron Engine fighting machine has been largely relegated to colonial use in Her Imperial Majesty’s interplanetary possessions since the introduction of the Turreted Assault Neutralisation Cruiser (“TANC Walker”).

In its heyday, it was one of the primary fighting machines of the Empire, holding its own against older walkers of the Sultan, the Kaiser and the Tsar. Since the advent of gun-turreted walkers like the Imperial TANC and the Sultanate’s Qızılbüyü, however, the forward-firing fixed armament of the Twin Iron Engine walker has been shown to be a severe disadvantage in an armour-versus-armour battle.

In the interplanetary colonial situation, however, mechs and walkers are more often employed against restless natives or raid-level incursions of foreign sepoy troops than in the set-piece battles of the Imperial heartland, and the twin medium-calibre thermophoric cannon of the TIE fighting machine are quite sufficient to most threats; the one serious exception being the War Tripods of the Ul-Gzan.

Ul-Gzan tripods are powered by ancient Martian crystal technology; the rechargeable energy crystals of the lost Martian super-civilisation which none can now duplicate but which many Martian native races still use. Crystal technology is in some ways more versatile than human steam power, but it can be unreliable, and if the crystals’ energy gets depleted beyond a certain limit the crystal can become resistant to recharging rendering it effectively useless. Steam, on the other hand, is easily generated with water and a heat source, and far more reliable, so while the Imperial Society of Engineers has done some experimentation with crystal power, steam is still the primary servant of the both the Imperial military and human civil agencies.

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Part Martian fighting machine, part TIE fighter.  Because LEGO is awesome.

There have been numerous variations on the Star Wars TIE fighter theme. Box-standard TIE fighter. TIE bomber. TIE Advanced, which was probably the prototype of the TIE Interceptor. TIE Striker. And moving into the Extended Universe, TIE/D droid fighters, TIE Crawlers (of at least two varieties, both of which suck) and probably TIE Submersibles and TIE Rock-Borers as well. Then there are the very cool steampunk TIE fighters many other people have built.

I decided to merge the two ideas and build a steampunk TIE walker.

“Twin Ion Engine” makes no sense for steampunkery, though, so I played around with the name just enough to be vaguely sensible for steam power. And voila.

But Still They Come

Ul-Gzan Martian War Tripod

Now, now, Lieutenant!” Miss Francine Oberon said primly, readying her custom-designed heat-ray carbine. “The proper term for the cephalopoid natives is ‘Ul-Gzan’, not ‘Cuttlemonkeys’.”

Yes, Miss,” Lieutenant Ent Prescott grunted. Cuttlemonkeys they were and Cuttlemonkeys they would remain to anyone who had fought against the vicious, implacably hostile alien monstrosities. He wished he had a thermophoric cannon instead of this old-style six-pounder artillery piece; the Ul-Gzan were reputed to have one of their tripods operating in the area, and despite its importance to the Empire, Professor Oberon’s tiny independent scientific outpost was simply too remote to get much in the way of physical defences.

Ent Prescott (short for “Enterprise”) looked around at his decidedly inadequate defences. One antique six-pounder cannon, not even having the decency to be a proper modern heat-ray weapon, presided over by one slightly over-aged Royal Artillery Lieutenant. One sword-wielding Asiatic mercenary, even more useless against a tripod than a single six-pounder. One Professor Oberon’s daughter, fancying herself an adventuress, armed with a rather nice-looking heat-ray rifle and decanted into trousers rather than the natural dresses of her sex. Oh, and a pair of Stiltmen.

Enterprise had known that the Stiltmen of the region were allied to the Empire, and the battery’s commanding officer Captain Holcombe had rated them as fine fighters, but he was rather dubious. For all their gigantic height, Stiltmen were built like twigs and looked incredibly fragile, and these two didn’t even seem to have any weapons. What could they possibly do against a tripod – throw rocks at it?

What he wouldn’t give for a company of clockwork power-suited ticktockmen, or a half-squadron of mechs, or even a Mkai sepoy regiment!

Suddenly, a great sinkhole opened right in front of Professor Oberon’s outpost, and the dreaded three-legged fighting machine of the subterranean Ul-Gzan rose up higher than a house, higher than the dome of St. Nathaniel’s Cathedral in New Surrey. Powered by some kind of unfathomable crystal technology that some of the six Martian native species used but which none of them seemed to remotely understand or be able to duplicate, the War Tripod of the Ul-Gzan was the only native fighting machine that could rival the steam technology of Man. And here they were without most of that technology.

Manning his gun and thankful for its clockwork autoloading mechanism, Lieutenant Prescott opened fire on the tripod, as Miss Oberon stood guard with her heat-ray rifle and the Asiatic mercenary Shang-Yao Ping drew his longsword. A lucky shot at one of the leg joints might disable the war machine, bring it down, but the joints were notoriously difficult to hit. A narrow funnel rose from the roof of the tripod, unfolding as it did so, and Ent paled. It looked to be only a heavy rifle-calibre weapon, but what imbecilic, never-sufficiently-to-be-cursed traitor had sold the Cuttlemonkeys a heat-ray?

Over to one side, the Stiltmen were advancing on the tripod, palms outward like massively elongated policemen trying to order the rogue machine to halt. Lt. Prescott couldn’t see what that would accomplish, but the Cuttlemonkeys’ machine checked its advance, stabilised itself on all three legs and swivelled to face the new threat rather than dealing with the already-firing Human cannon. A flash of light erupted from the Stiltmen’s hands (he supposed he should call them Ojads. Professor Oberon’s daughter would probably like it) in a blinding ray that leaped toward the body of the tripod, and Ent Prescott understood. The Stiltmen didn’t carry weapons because Providence had equipped them with natural weapons as good as any Human-built thermophoric.

Filled with the energy of a sudden upsurge of new hope, the Lieutenant fired again…

~~~

Last time I played around with a steampunk Mars (in a story on the old LEGO Message Boards), it was the humans that used the tripods, and they were steam-driven.

This time around I decided to restore them to the Martians. They are a very unearthly form of locomotion; nothing in this world travels about on three legs. It seemed to make more sense than giving them to Mankind.

With six native species – as I blithely announced in the backstory to Major Galbraith’s Sapping Machine – I have a lot of decisions to make as to what they are like and how they all live. And what the humans call them; the age recalled and perfected in the steampunk genre was one of racial epithets and colonialism. “Cuttlemonkeys” seemed like a good nickname for a race of implacably hostile land-dwelling squids, while the Stiltmen basically named themselves.

Anyway, the “Martian War Machine versus Human Artillery” should strike a chord for those familiar with the War of the Worlds, but this time around the humans have alien sepoy reinforcements!

It Came From Outer Space

It Came From Outer Space… and got videoed on some random Earthling’s smartphone.

Classic flying saucers aren’t the easiest things to build in LEGO. Yes, they’ve been done, even in official sets and themes (Alien Conquest, UFO). But the disclike shape is particularly challenging for basically square LEGO bricks, especially on this sort of scale without specialised elements.

Reprising a technique I tried out first on my Blacktron turtleship, I decided to have a go at building circular. Or at least hexagonal; the base of the craft is a hexagon made with 1×4 hinge plates, and it built up from there into the finished trilaterally-symmetrical flying saucer.

The grey/black/trans neon yellow colour scheme puts me in mind of an old theme I can’t quite remember. Quickie Internet research reveals it to indeed be the old UFO theme, which isn’t bad for remembering a theme that old, that happened right about when I entered my personal LEGOless Dark Ages. I’ve added some Sand Green highlights, though, because they looked right when I experimented with a random one for shape.

I actually built the landing legs first, intending to build a largeish spaceship along more regular lines with undercarriage that actually retracted. But then as I looked at the scale of the landing legs I thought to myself “that’s going to be a bigger ship than I really want to build right now. I’ve got too many things I built that I’d have to break up. Let’s see what else I can come up with”.

Then I thought of reworking the two rear landing legs so they duplicated what I’d built as the forward leg and seeing if I could arrange them radially for a classic flying saucer.

The thing is quite fragile and took considerable jiggery-pokery to get to come together. I think my favourite part of it was using the Nexogon elements to fill those awkward-shaped holes all the way around. They’re actually attached by their centres using small balljoint elements, which might be a new technique or a reinvention of the wheel, but no-one told me about it or showed me how to do it.

The little alien was a bit of an afterthought. No classic Grey minifigs, no Alien Conquest aliens, no UFOnauts; I had the choice of build my own or use a Star Wars alien. Chewie would just look wrong; Jar-Jar Binks might work, but just no; Admiral Ackbar is currently driving a Martian War Machine – details to follow – and somehow my sole Rodian never even crossed my mind ‘til just now. I built my own, incorporating the trans bright green hemisphere I’ve had since January and never used before. But I think he works. One of the dreadful Green Things from Outer Space, now freshly landed by some unsuspecting Earthling girl, who has naturally whipped out her iPhone and is videoing the whole thing for YouTube.

Abugida Spaceport

Abugida Spaceport

From a relatively simple build of a Classic Space Y-Wing, this has grown considerably. The Y-Wing was the initial inspiration, though.

I have to say that the Y-Wing is one of my favourite Star Wars ships. Never mind the fact that it seems to exist only to get shot down by TIE fighters and you’d have to have a death wish to fly one, the heavy fighter component of the Rebel Alphabet Fleet is just as iconic in its way as the sexier and more famous X-Wing. It may have taken until Rogue One for the movies to show one actually shooting anything or doing some damage, but presumably they were doing that damage all along without getting any credit for it. And I’m a sucker for the underappreciated.

LL433 Ypsilon starfighter; ie NCS Y-Wing

This is the LL433 Ypsilon starfighter.

Initially I just did what’s conventional for me and built an angled display stand for it so I could show it in flight. It looks cool that way, but after a day or so of looking at it and anticipating the upcoming DFWLUG meet on the 14th, I thought to myself: “You know, this would be much more impressive with a whole spaceport around it.”

The upright fuel tank and floor grilles were the first things to be built, along with some actual undercarriage for the Y-Wing, then I progressed to a much simpler and smaller version of the back wall and the radar dish.

Placing minifigures around the scene (and I’m so glad I finally have enough of an astronaut corps to build more complex scenes like this) I realized that the pilot would have quite an awkward time of it trying to get into his cockpit.

Mobile staircase? Mobile staircase. This is actually one of my favourite parts of the whole scene, and marks the first time I’ve used those clips to hold a bar at an angle. Somehow I thought it would be a more finicky operation than it turned out to be – one of those AFOL techniques where you merely have to look heavily at it to send elements pinging off into the nether recesses of behind the bookcase. Not so; those clips actually seem to be designed with that usage in mind, and I have to say it looks awesome.

Both Star Wars and the NCS universe (whichever variant you’re in) employ droids for a lot of roles, so I decided my spaceport needed at least one. The tall, pseudo-wheeled robot I ended up with looks rather like the Kaminos had a hand in its design, but it’s more distinctive than the endless procession of armed turtles you sometimes get. No offence to Peter Reid; the turtle droid is a wonderful piece of hardware. But there are so many copies.

Yellow-suited astronaut and K-M1N0 class droid

From there, I decided I needed a refueling/resupply truck, so I built one of those, too, using the languishing trolley wheels element as its rear wheels. I tell you, every last wheel element I’ve used on this build is one I rarely or never (til now) employ on a MOC. For the record, the cylinders with the black stripes around the middle are either antimatter or fusion power cylinders (I can’t make up my mind what level of future tech I’m working with) that go into the rear of the LL433 behind that rear dish. Unfortunately making the dish into an opening door isn’t going to happen, so you’ll have to use that languishing faculty known as your imagination.

Lastly, the overhead crane, because it adds a more three-dimensional, less flat element to my rear wall. And it’s a vital part of any spaceport, even if the LL433 Ypsilon Y-Wing doesn’t have anything in the way of cargo space that would need loading or unloading.

I think one of the most satisfying features of this build for me is the amount of ethnic and gender diversity I’ve managed to incorporate. I need to get hold of some Black Panther sets so I can get some ethnically black female minifig heads, but I’ve got a pleasing array of skintones (including El Mustachio driving the mobile staircase) and more than one female, so I’m happy. The future is not ethnically monochrome.

Colubra

Taurus Industries R17 Colubra

The R17 Colubra speeder, manufactured by Taurus Industries, is a popular open-cockpit twin-seat speeder marketed as a sporty runabout built for the joy of piloting.

Though a low-end model as sportsters go, without the ultrahigh performance engines of something like the AMP Victor or the Orion Cougar, the Colubra’s open-cab design gives a much greater feeling of speed than these closed-cab racers. The popularity of open-cab speeders is analogous to the popularity of open-top models among ancient ground cars; even in rainy areas and on superwet planets like Ambergris and Fluuva there are those who will purchase them.

The Colubra’s distinctive feature is its exposed forward engines. Taurus Industries spent a lot of effort developing the SAMUKAI flight engine, and made the decision to have the Colubra’s engines finished and left open. This does produce some drag, but there was a fashion for custom jobs removing the engine cowling and exposing the flight motors at the time the R17 was being developed and marketed.

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I haven’t built a speeder in a while, nor anything red, for that matter. I thought I’d try my hand at a nice open-top two-seater speeder design.

Initially I had some thoughts about trying to build the speeder that Anakin and Obi-Wan pilot in the speeder chase on Coruscant in Attack of the Clones, but yellow. I don’t have huge amounts of yellow, and some of the parts I’d undoubtedly want are in use on Rabbit. Still, I liked the engines I made for that, so I decided to use them in something red.

I’m quite pleased with the construction of this; there’s a decent amount of interesting technique and multidirectional SNOTwork for once. I hope you like it.

Komodo

Between single- and dual-crew space fighters and large frigate- and corvette-class vessels is a huge size range which in civilian vessels comprises the larger Courier- and smaller Trader-classes: small-to-medium vessels with between two and twelve crew. Military ships in this displacement bracket tend to have larger crews for their displacement, not having a lot of their tonnage allocated to cargo; the Gunship class bracket typically runs from around four to around twenty crew, which upper limit would typically be considered a small corvette.

The Komodo-class is a small example of the Gunship class, intended to accompany fighters and provide heavier fire support. This is typical of small Gunship design philosophy; larger Gunships act more like extremely light fleet screening elements, with heavy antifighter and antimissile armaments and maybe one or two larger-calibre guns.

The distinguishing feature of the Komodo-class is, of course, the jawlike frontal arrangement hiding the primary antiphoton beam cannon. The jaws are almost purely cosmetic, though the teeth are constructed of high-strength buckycarbon sheathed in titanium and honed to a monomolecular edge, and can be employed as an ultra-close-in weapon system to slice into or crush enemy ship hulls.

The cannon on either side of the “head” cockpit area are heavy plasma beam generators, providing the Komodo-class with its regular forward firepower.

Rear defensive cover is provided by a pair of laser cannon situated in the tail, but the Komodo-class’ primary defense is its manoeuvrability. Featuring a pair of dual-direction vectored thrust fusion drives, the class’ vessels can literaly turn on the spot or fly backwards or sideways at need, making the Komodos more manoeuvrable than many fighters. Indeed, some commands use squadrons of Komodo-class ships unsupported by lighter fightercraft in a fighterlike role; though the acceleration of smaller vessels is almost always greater.

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Okay, the chomping mouth makes no sense from a pure space combat perspective. It’s pure Rule of Cool and pretty in-your-face about it.

Still, it’s one of my favourite parts of this whole ship and provides a nice first use for all those recently-acquired Nexo shield elements.

This started out its life as a Classic Space-themed Komodo dragon mech, and while I was really pleased with the head, the more I looked at it the more I felt like the head was too big for the body and the body just wasn’t cool enough.

I could have reworked the body, but I was unconvinced I could do a good enough job to justify that head, and besides, even the clickstop universal joint hinge I used could barely support the weight.

I decided to take the head and rework it into a spaceship. The class name comes from there, but it was almost the Kronosaurus-class after the extinct marine reptile.

The engines are technically attached with an “illegal” connection: the Technic pin holes in the main hull are just a fraction out of line from the pins that go into them, meaning that the joints are stressed. But for once, I don’t care; the overall look is worth the minute amount of stress and I’ve stressed enough Technic axles with my usual design of “in-flight” model stand that I’m sort of getting inured to it.

Anyway, this is the Komodo. Enjoy.