Category Archives: Mechs

Horse de Combat

Ok, this is rather silly.  But people have made LEGO mechs piloted by frogs before, so I’m in good company.

But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a battle mech piloted by a horse before.

I  said once before that I’ve had a long-standing ambition to use the horse element in a spaceship, so perhaps this is where the inspiration came from.  But I really have no idea.  Just another of the weird ideas that pop into my head.

They’re Changing Guard at Buckingham Palace

Well, I’m back from my trip back to Dear Old Blighty, and in celebration of the event I’ve built a royal guardsman.

Complete with bearskin hat, red coat and trousers with the stripe down the sides, he doesn’t look all that happy about the prospect of guarding Her Majesty.  Maybe he’a a closet republican.

The hands would be better in either white, for white gloves, or tan for flesh tone.  But I’ve ended up with dark grey, which is buildable and can stand in for gloves.  Likewise, the sword’s a little wonky-looking; maybe one of those long sword blades with the bar attachment point would look better, but I think this works well enough.

I think my favourite part is managing to approximate the red and white cockade on the side of the hat.

 

Blue

I mostly built this little mech to showcase my newly-acquired blue Classic astronaut.

It also includes several other new-acquisition elements, such as the windscreen and the blue Bionicle-style arm/leg shells, but basically it’s a stage on which the blue astronaut can strut his stuff.

Now, some Neoclassic builders eschew the use of any astronauts except the original red- and white-suited ones. I guess this follows the general pattern set by Peter Reid and Tim Goddard, but even they employ yellow-suited minifigures in LEGO Space: Building the Future, so I see no reason at all to have to follow that arbitrary rule for it to be an “official”, “allowed” Neoclassic creation.

Besides, the Classic Space theme included them, didn’t it?

And anyway, I still don’t have a red or a white astronaut to use.

The question of what the different suit colours represent is one of the most endlessly-revisited questions of the whole theme. With no official story for the theme and no official explanation at the time, it was left up to the individual to do their own interpreting.

Since then, various classification schemes have been floated, one coming from the LEGO Ideas page which is operated by LEGO Group staff, and a different one on the Brickset forum which purports to be from Classic Space theme designer Jens Knudsen.

The fact that both of these have good grounds for being “official”, yet are different, kind of tells us there isn’t an official version and even the LEGO Group of the time didn’t have anything in particular in mind.

To my mind, both schemes have some nonsensical features. “Black astronauts are spies” is my particular “bang your head on your desk” initiator: Spies have their own uniform so you can tell who they are? I ‘ve always thought that black is a very Security colour myself.

The Reid/Goddard scheme has the advantage of simplicity: red astronauts are pilots, white astronauts are ground crew. You can make a reasonable case for this division from the earliest sets, if you’re prepared to classify a lot of the open spacecraft as suborbital “skimmers”, but again, that’s an arbitrary “make it work” fix that is called into question by the names of some sets, like “442 Space Shuttle”.

“Red astronauts are pilots” is borrowed a lot, though, because almost all of the really spaceshipy early Classic Space models included at least one. That makes the engineers the white-suited ones, however, and white just seems a really lousy colour of suit for the grease monkeys. I usually reverse that classification, with the white astronauts being the pilots and the red astronauts being soldiers or engineers.

The yellow astronauts are often assumed to be scientists, again following Goddard and Reid. My first yellow astronauts as a kid came from the 6930 Space Supply Station set; what are scientists doing running the lunar equivalent of a warehouse and pump station? It seems like a waste of talent.  Also, “pilot” red-suits in a ground station?

The yellow astronauts should be something not very cool, because as a kid the yellow-suits-on-yellow-skin made them look too much like they were weirdly naked. With their introduction in the Supply Station, maybe these are the quartermasters’ corps. But it makes little sense for a quartermaster to be piloting the nifty, zippy little Xenon X Craft, either.

However you do it, you’re going to run into nonsense that’s difficult to justify of explain, because I suspect suit colours were really assigned on the basis of “this would be a good set to have this colour astronaut in”.

The green suits from the LEGO Ideas Exo-Suit set are usually assumed to represent mech pilots, but this doesn’t sit well with me. Firstly, “mech pilots” seems wrong when everything else that goes on land has a “driver”. Truck driver. Car driver. Golf cart driver. Train driver. Therefore, “mech driver“, surely?

Secondly, it’s a weird distinction to give the operators of legged land vehicles their own colour suit and is contraindicated by Classic sets like the Astro Grappler from back when green elements came in baseplates and plant parts and that was it.

From the little story fragment in with the Exo-Suit set, I first assumed the green suit indicated that Pete and Yve (the minifigures) were rookies. It was only on connecting with the LEGO community and talking to those who I thought actually knew that I felt constrained to bend to majority opinion.

Having a special colour for rookies makes sense. In the construction industry, we typically mark new hires with some kind of particular mark. In my company it’s a yellow hard-hat rather than a white one. This is because a construction jobsite is a dangerous place and a new hire may or may not have a lot of experience in recognising and avoiding the inherent dangers. It’s a quiet way of saying “let’s keep a protective eye on these guys so that they’ll be around to go home at the end of the day”.

Deep space is at least as inherently dangerous as the worst example of a construction site; it would make sense to mark out the rookies, for everyone’s safety.

But what are the blue astronauts?

Blue astronauts should be something cool, because as a kid I always identified with my blue astronaut minifigure. “Commanders” or “Soldiers” are the semiofficial options, and I’ve already got the black suits as Security forces. The camo effect of black makes better sense than a bright colour like blue, though if that’s the case then they need to make grey suits to be the soldiers.

I like the idea of blue suits being commanders.

You can make a reasonable case for it from inferences from the Classic sets: as far as I can recall no Classic Space set ever contained more than one blue astronaut, and small vehicles like the Astro Dasher would make a pretty good commander’s runabout. The LEGO Group also have a history of commanders or central figures being included in small pocket-money sets: witness the Ice Planet Celestial Sled with Commander Bear.

Besides that, it makes sense for commanders to have their own suit colour. Space is a hostile, dangerous environment; the sort of place where it is vitally important to be able to tell at a glance who is in charge.

Anyway, now I have a blue astronaut again. I’ve actually taken the unprecedented step of placing this minifigure off-limits to my kids. Most of the time I have no problem with the general pooling of the household brick collection, but even with the thicker chinstrap, those original helmet elements are fairly fragile. Not as fragile as the first thin chinstraps, though. Those things had a half-life of about 12 days under real-world conditions.

And I really don’t want my first real Classic Spaceman minifigure acquired as a post-Dark Age AFOL getting lost or stepped on and broken. Those things aren’t all that cheap.

I think the mech would look better with a modern helmet and something other than a classic smiley as a face, but I wanted to show off my new minifigure. And that windscreen element; I do find mechs with properly-enclosed cockpits to look that much more finished, somehow.

I’m looking forward to using that windscreen in plenty more Classic Space-type creations. It’s a nice shape with a lot of possibility.

Right now I’m contemplating a neo-Blacktron Battrax update, for instance. Stay posted…

Labyrinth of Steam

Theseus was my second favourite Greek hero as a child, right after the wily Odysseus. I liked my heroes to have a bit of brain rather than just sheer unstoppable brawn. I still do, in fact.

So it was Odysseus rather than that spoiled invulnerable brat Achilles, and the intelligent Theseus rather than the dumbcluck Hercules that received my childhood acclaim.

For all that, though, I always found the Minotaur difficult to take seriously as a villainous monster.

Offspring of one of those weird unions that the ancient Greeks seemed to love, the Minotaur’s mother was Pasiphaë Queen of Knossos, while his father was the divine bull given to King Minos by the god Poseidon. Half human and half bull, he was imprisoned in the original Labyrinth, because apparently King Minos really couldn’t handle the fact that he’d been cuckolded by a livestock animal. Really, Greek mythology’s kind of weird if you think about it too much.

“Moo??!! I’m offended!”

Anyway, as a monster, half man and half bull seemed a bit too much like just a big cow, really. A farmyard animal.

A born-and-bred suburbanite, my experience of farms was the occasional school trip as a younger child, and cows were about as nonthreatening as sheep. Or hamsters. The LEGO minotaur minifigure doesn’t really do all that much to improve matters either. I’m the minotaur. Moo! Not very cool or scary.

So why am I building one now?

Well, my recent birthday Bricklink spree and assorted presents resulted in several new bricks that I wanted to try out in a creation of my own (like the new light brick from the Creator set 31062 Robo Explorer, and two cowcatchers, and a blue Classic Spaceman in perfect condition, and finally some Bionicle/Hero Factory arm/leg shields in a colour other than red, and…).

Those cowcatchers really cried out to my steampunk side as mech shoulder pads, but what kind of steampunk mech? I had no real inspiration beyond that.

Maybe something else, then? The bat wings I bought to replace a broken piece (axle connector snapped off) would look good on a manticore… But red is really the only reasonable colour for a manticore in my head, and my last two creations were predominantly red. Done that. Boring right now. Perhaps something else.

My language-bending brain noted the similarity in the sound of the words “manticore” and “minotaur”. The word “minotaur” cruised through my brain until it crashed into and fused with the idea “steampunk mech”.

Steampunk mecha-Minotaur? Now we’re talking!

Such a beast would have to be Hephaistos’ creature rather than Poseidon’s, but that’s ok. Together with Athena, Hephaistos is about the most reasonable of the unruly, vicious and spiteful pack of hyenas that we call the Greek pantheon (Ares is a coward, Poseidon’s cruel, Hera’s vengeful and vicious, Aphrodite’s just nasty a lot of the time and Zeus can’t keep it in his trousers where it belongs and is a cosmic tyrant), but the forge-god would still make a pretty good adversary. Hephaistos was, after all, god of fire and volcanoes as well as metalworking and the forge. Not someone to cross on a whim.

To build a suitable steam mechnotaur, though, I needed to get past the cow thing. No-one’s going to be afraid of a giant mechanical Holstein cow. Then I remembered that the cattle of the ancient world’s mythic age were a lot closer to shaggy wild aurochs than sleek Guernsey milk-cow. I need to channel the corrìda and the ancient Ice Age wild ox rather than the Jersey milkmaid and the child’s toy barnyard. Aurochs were huge and black and hairy and unstoppable, the epitome of untamed strength and power.

Now with the right mental image to work from, I set to work.

On the scale I was planning to work, the huge feet from the Green NRG Dragon set were really the only choice if I wanted them to reasonably support the creature’s bulk, but they’re rather pawlike and don’t really resemble the broad cloven hooves of a bull. Still, I thought I could work this right. Add a couple of claw elements backwards on the outer toes and I think gives the right impression. And still leaves me four claws to use on a hand.

Black and brown with metallic silver and gold highlights gives the right darkling steampunk flavour, with a few red elements just to add a raw, bloody note. I’ve used this design of thigh (originally cribbed from the Jay’s ElectroMech set) on numerous creations before, but it really does the business on a build like this. The upper body’s really a little too heavy to be supported by those balljoints in more than a couple of positions, but clickstop balljoints wouldn’t do what I needed.

Steam boilers and smokestacks go on the back, where they’re more protected and out of the way. Those cowcatchers really do make wonderful villainous shoulder armour, and I’ve added some gear wheels to the upper arms just to make it fully clear that this is a Mechnotaur.

Only having enough of my newly-acquired clip-on claw elements in dark silver left for one hand, it seemed a perfect excuse to use the cannon in place of the other hand. One-hand-and-one-arm-mounted-weapon is almost traditional for humanoid mechs, but in this case I’ve tried to be a bit creative with its attachment, eschewing the normal single-element carriage mount in favour of something a bit different.

The head provided a great excuse to use one of my two new light bricks (duplicate Robo Explorers and a son enthusiastically ripping into box no. 2 and starting building – on my present! – before it could be returned) to make the Mechnotaur snort light-up fire from its nostrils. I managed to get its eyes to light up with the same light brick, too. And of course, the Bionicle spike elements from Cole’s Boulder Bike make excellent horns.

Finally, the body. It actually presented me with something of a dilemma: should I keep the original design concept and make it a mech, with a pilot, or should I turn it into a full-on robot?

In the end I kept with my original idea.  The idea I had for its torso armour as a robot will keep for the next major robot project.

A Mechnotaur like this needs a hero to oppose, though, and putting a single minifigure, even Batman, up against this big bruiser is liable to result in the hero getting what the old LEGO Message Boards used to euphemistically call “smashed”.

Did I hear you say “Theseus mech”?

So that the confrontation is properly heroic, the Theseus heromech has to be substantially smaller than the Mechnotaur. But that’s ok. The Mechnotaur is pretty huge, so almost anything I build as a Theseus battlesuit is going to be smaller.

My son’s got the Jay’s ElectroMech set built at the moment, and between that and the Mechnotaur itself there aren’t too many large-ball-joint-to-studs connector elements left. That determines a lot of the final form of the Theseus mech in and of itself. It’s quite a challenge trying to steampunk a Classical Greek mythic hero; I hope you like what I’ve done.

Ariadne’s thread has become a winch and rope; it seemed apt and was a good excuse to use that languishing element in a MOC. I’ve tried to both stay true to the grimy, sooty steampunk ethos and build in lighter colours than the Mechnotaur, hence the use of light grey.

This is also my first use of that diver’s helmet, which I’ve had since Christmas but haven’t had a use for yet.

And finally, some scenery. No major SNOTwork baseplates or what-have-you this time; the whole creation is way too big for that. But I’ve managed to generate enough to give it a sort of “grimy pseudoclassical” look.

Anyway, that’s the whole creation. And as I said last time, the sort of world that could give rise to a steampunk mecha-minotaur would make quite a good story. Steampunk Greek gods keeping the mortals in forced ignorance; a band of engineer-heroes rising up to fight the mecha-monsters and oppose the tyrannical gods…

Best of all, it means that if I continue to get inspired, there might be more than one creation in this.

Batmech 2: Robin is Jealous

“Why does Batman get all the cool stuff?”

“It’s not fair!” the Boy Wonder complains. “I’m the kid superhero, so why does Batman get all the toys?”

It’s true, Robin doesn’t often get specifically Robin-themed hardware. His purpose is to be Batman’s sidekick and anchor to reality in the “what is sanity anyway?” subtext of any good Batman incarnation. Canonically, he uses Batstuff.

A mech is usually a single-pilot vehicle, though, so if Batman’s in a Batmech there’s absolutely no reason why Robin shouldn’t get his own Robinmech. And really, it makes Batman look kind of weak if he’s in a whole mechsuit while Robin is doing the infinitely studlier unaided hand-to-hand fighting.

Plus, the concept of a Batmech and a Robinmech fighting side by side is so awesome I nearly wet myself.

“This is more like it!”

As befits Robin’s secondary status and junior age bracket, the Robinmech is shorter than the Batmech. It may be better armed, though; there’s a similar laser cannon primary weapon and a machine gun (this one mounted on the nose because Robin is still a minor and doesn’t need censorable weapon placements). And instead of the twin spring-loaded shooters on the Batmech’s shoulder, the Robinmech has a hand-mounted rotary stud shooter with six shots to the Batmech’s two.

The Robinmech’s red, yellow and green colour scheme makes a pleasing contrast to the light sink that is any piece of Batstuff, and I think the silver semiskeletal Bionicle limb elements work far better than the black I’ve normally used on such mechs.

As an aside, Robin’s name has always confused me. If he’s named after the bird, the American robin isn’t nearly so good a fit personality-wise as the European robin. And yet Dick Grayson is always portrayed as an American. Gotham is basically Chicago, after all, and there’s never any indication that Robin is a foreigner.

But if he’s not named after the bird, how did he come to pick “Robin”? Robin Hood? That Robin was an outlaw, for all he was a good guy. It doesn’t work with the Dynamic Duo’s alliance with Police Commissioner Gordon.

I’d kind of like it if he was named after the bird. It makes a sort of sense, especially the European one. Whereas the American robin is a seasonal songbird in the thrush family, relatively gentle despite being several sizes bigger than its transatlantic counterpart, the European robin is a tough, aggressive little bird. It is known to attack red things many times its own size, and gets called “the gardener’s friend” from its habit of preying on common pests. Feisty, tough little bird that preys on common pests? That works, you see.

But however he got his name (and he ain’t told me), I think Robin agrees. He needs his own toys.

Quick! To the Batmech!

Batman goes with LEGO like salsa goes with tortilla chips. Of all the superheroes in either the Marvel or the DC universes, Batman is probably the one that LEGOes best. Yes, I just enverbed the word “LEGO”. I mean that Batman is the hero that most readily lends himself to reproduction in LEGO set form.

Superman’s powers are innate. Brickwise, he’s just Superman flying around. His villainous nemesis Lex Luthor is the one with all the cool toys, but it’s hard to generate a decent lineup of sets featuring Supes battling alone against a whole succession of villainous vehicles and mechsuits. Green Lantern can generate all kinds of cool green energy things, but it’s difficult to develop sets whose building potential is almost entirely in trans bright green. Also, Sinestro’s an annoying villain and has the same problem in trans yellow, and the Green Lantern movie was panned by critics. I enjoyed it, though.

In the Marvel universe, Iron Man is perhaps the most conceptually similar to Batman in that his powers come from his technological toys, but Iron Man’s toys are a near-infinite series of body armours, and those just require more minifigures.

I don’t think Marvel have a Batman-like major hero who builds themed vehicles and toys like Batman does. Spiderman doesn’t build Spidercopters and Spiderbikes (various toys including official LEGO notwithstanding). Captain America doesn’t build Patriotcycles and Ameritanks. The X-Men don’t build Xmechs and Mutantmobiles. It doesn’t happen.

Batman’s main drawback as far as LEGOfication is concerned is expressed so well by his LEGO Movie incarnation: “I only work in black. And occasionally really really really dark grey”. But even there, you have his faithful sidekick Robin providing some colour (when the Boy Wonder gets his own stuff, which isn’t often), and his archnemesis the Joker rocking the purple and green evil clown archetype. And of course, his villains are buildworthily creative. Joker builds stuff. Penguin has his umbrella- and seabird-themed hardware. Riddler isn’t averse to using zany gadgets. Even Catwoman rides a motorbike, as does Batman’s sometimes-sidekick and ally Batgirl.

Anyway, I decided that Batman needed a mech. A good one; the power suit from Batman versus Superman is ok-ish, but we can do better than that.

My Batmech is definitely a mech rather than a power suit, with a full-on cockpit at its heart.

For once I’ve built its feet rather than use the Hero Factory/Bionicle-esque dragon feet; they just look too organic and bestial for something Batman would build.

This mech includes a pair of Bat-arms that are perhaps a little short, though I’m not sure that building them a little bit longer in the forearm wouldn’t spoil the effect, plus the legs of course. Then mounted on the back I’ve added a massive Bat-laser cannon and a pair of spring-loaded shooters looking pleasingly like a Bat-missile pod.

After the main vehicle was built I decided that Batman needed a weapon that could shoot stuff on the ground. Hence the ventrally-mounted Bat-machine gun, which is rather unfortunately placed and might need to be censored.

The Bat-look is completed by the pair of ears atop the cockpit. They’re totally functionless and actually interfere with the firing arcs of the two primary weapons, but comic-book superheroes have never been long on practicality. Roll with it.

The Batmech completed, I’m struck by how the yellow highlights give the vehicle an awesome first-generation Blacktron appearance. Replace the cockpit with one in trans yellow and Bob’s your uncle.

With those ears, a repurposed Blacktron Batmech could have no other name than Anubis-class. Jackal-headed Egyptian god of death. Yeah, that’ll work.

Iced

Well, my son made the reasonable assumption that my ghost ship (last time) was indeed a Ninjago ghost ship. “Can we build a Ninja ship too?”, he asked. So I built a sort of diminutive version of the Destiny’s Bounty, but it’s not really good enough to show.

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This ice mech, however, I’m sufficiently pleased with to publicise.

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Zane’s turned up again since I built the white dragon, but sans his ninja mask, which appears to be permanently missing. I’ve ordered a replacement from Bricklink now (for my son’s upcoming 6th birthday next month), so I’ll probably find it some time in the next two or three weeks :P.

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Anyway, this is an ice mech for the titanium Ice Ninja to drive. It’s a while since I’ve buuilt a proper mech, and I’m quite pleased with the semiorganic look of the legs and arms. Apparently dragonbuilding pays off in mech limb construction technique.

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The framed rollbar cockpit canopy is a new departure for my mechs, but I’m mostly pleased with it. I think all white would have been better, but Saurian’s First Rule states that “You Use What You Have”. That was what was available, and it still fits the basic colour scheme as per Saurian’s Third Rule.

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My son added a sword to the claw hand, but it’s gold, which breaks the Third Rule (“Being OCD About Brick Colour Is Always Worthwhile”). So here’s the mech without it.

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