Category Archives: Mechs

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.

~~~

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.

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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!

Major Galbraith’s Wonderful Martian Sapping Machine

The presence of Her Majesty’s Royal Engineers in the Martian colonies is not a large one. One of the six species on native Martian – the K’zzuwatna – are burrowing creatures adept at tunnelling and digging, and most of the role usually filled by the RE is instead filled by K’zzuwatna sepoy regiments.

The RE does maintain a supervisory and oversight presence, however, and all mechanised Engineering troops are humans because most of the violent Martian native species are considered too immature to be trusted with advanced mechanics. Major Arkwright Henry Galbraith is one of these human Royal Engineer troops, based in the chief city of Her Majesty’s Martian colonies, New Surrey. Actually born on Mars to some of the first British colonists, Major Galbraith’s aptitude for mechanics naturally led him into the Army, where he developed the Galbraith No. 7 Sapping Machine.

The No. 7 Sapping Machine is a drill-armed mechanical walker used by Major Galbraith’s own Royal Engineer regiment to dig entrenchments, bunkers and tunnels through the hard Martian bedrock. Its designation as a “Sapping Machine” comes from the nickname of Her Majesty’s Royal Engineers, the “Sappers”; a “sap” being a trench dug towards a fortification for the means of assault.

As a decidedly unofficial development, the No. 7 does not officially exist, but its ability to out-bore and out-tunnel any of Her Majesty’s Government-approved Army sapping machines has meant that Major Galbraith’s superiors have gone out of their way not to take notice of the fact that the 127th Martian RE Regiment has an unapproved drilling machine.

The No. 7 Sapping Machine first proved itself when Major Galbraith was made part of a small team sent to rescue noted areo-archaeologists Lord and Lady Hamilton when their dirigible went down in the middle of the massive Thark Uplands region between the Grand and Syrtis canals. The machine can be seen here with the other members of the team: Imperial swordmaster Tsien-Lu (“Stan”) Li of the Chinese court, the ornithopter pilot Flight Lieutenant Edward St. John-Smythe, noted markswoman adventuress Miss Coraline Drood and Mka’i Martian native Kamash Kesh.

 

Major Galbraith

Tsien-Lu Li, Miss Coraline Drood, Flight Lieutenant St. John-Smythe and Kamash Kesh

~~~

Oppa Steampunk Style!

It’s been simply ages since I built a mech, and even longer since I built anything remotely steampunk, so it was obviously high time I rectified that oversight.

My single large gear wheel caught my eye, and of course, “stick some gears on it at random” is practically some people’s definition of steampunk, so the connection was obvious. Playing around with the gearwheel, I hit on the idea of a drill. With, unusually for me, real Technic functionality. There’s a little handle on the big gear wheel that you can turn to spin the drill. Okay, the other gear wheel in the other direction is pointless, because all it does is turn along with the big wheel without achieving anything, and apart from its poseability that’s it for play features. But even marginal functionality being such a rarity from me, it’s always nice to make something that works. Ish.

The backstory is set on Mars, because the idea of a sort of steampunk-powered colonial Mars based on a sort of “War of the Worlds in reverse” milieu has been quietly gnawing away at my hindbrain for most of a decade now. I think my initial inspiration came from some Internet pictures of miniatures from a wargame or RPG called Space:1889, but as a small child I used to give myself nightmares listening to Jeff Wayne’s musical version of War of the Worlds, so it’s probable that those RPG miniatures simply plugged right into the “Mars: what a good idea” slot in my brain. Since then, I’ve also read most of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Martian chronicles and CS Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet, so the slot is quite well established by now. And Mars’ rust-red colour and iron-rich nature just seem to lend themselves to steampunkery.

I can’t leave well enough alone, however, so my steampunk Mars has its own crop of native species. At least one of which is going to be cephalopoid, of course, because there are conventions you need to follow if you’re running The War of the Worlds backwards. Right now I don’t have a lot of really alien aliens to rebuild into proper Martians, but I’ll see what I can come up with. And Bricklink is always there if I need to get some interesting new heads.

This piece of walking ironmongery may not be quite as impressively fancy in technique as the Q-Mech (which I still think ranks first place among my personal mech builds), but I’ve come quite a way from the old Brass Monkey mech that constituted my first ever piece of LEGO steampunkery, and my first self-designed mecha. I never did walkers as a kid, strangely (apart from numerous attempts to build an AT-AT with my limited first-generation Technic bricks back before they had friction pins), because I hated the slidey way the legs worked on the official sets.

But now, in the era of balljoints? To paraphrase Benny: “We can build a mecha!”

Balljoints Are Your Friend, which may be why I always default to those and forget all the more creative ways I know about now to arrange a mech limb joint.

I’m also somewhat amused by how perfectly the TIE cockpit window goes with a steampunk creation. There’s a reason why there are so many steampunk versions of things from the Star Wars universe, and it’s only partly because so much of the hardware shares the same Rule of Cool-powered impracticability.

The small team of steampunk minifigures was something of an afterthought, but I think they work. And they’re some of my first invented minifigures that I’ve taken the trouble to build rather than merely LDDing. Bonus.

The Dark Underbelly of Classic Space

The System. Brightly coloured business tyranny of a half-dozen ruthless transcorporations who dominate and control human exploitation of the solar system.

Bound over to a Dark Side hypercapitalist creed of profit maximisation at the expense of individual lives and freedoms, the System owns everything, dividing up the worlds between the several megacorporate business interests and enforcing their will through both the theoretically independent Space Police organisation and internal transcorporate security forces.

Despite occasional turf wars and bloody takeover battles over the control of their various subsidiaries, the half-dozen major transcorporations collude as much as they compete, with the directorates of Bencom, TransOctan, Lagrange-Lunacorp and the others in full agreement over the basic tenets of their pseudocapitalistic corporate feudalism and its overall expression in the System.

A growing protest movement has emerged, using stark black as a unifying colour in reaction to the brightly-coloured transcorporate liveries used by the major economic players, and bearing a triple-triangle emblem representing the ancient French Revolutionary battle cry of “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité”. Dubbed “Blacktron” by the Bencom-controlled media outlets (who tried to pin the blame for the disturbances on the TransOctan Group’s takeover of Bencom’s financial subsidiary Atlas Solutions), the protesters are drawn from a cross-section of idealists and radicals across all the major transcorporations up and down the economic ladder.

Ruthlessly suppressed by transcorporate goon squads with the full support of the Space Police organisation whose mission is in theory to uphold the last vestiges of real law in the System, the movement spreads underground by word of mouth, liberated communications and graffiti scrawled on outpost walls, a David-and-Goliath alliance of motley rebels who may be the last best hope of humanity…

~~~

Several of my recent builds have been tied into my dystopian Brightly Coloured Tyranny universe in their descriptions, but this is the first time I’ve specifically built anything that couldn’t be a more generic Neoclassic Space creation.

Since the System is a Brightly Coloured Tyranny, it’s a fairly certain bet that anywhere out of the direct eye of the directorate classes is going to be underfinanced and broken-down, and it’s actually been a lot of fun putting together a ramshackle, tumbledown version of the Classic Space theme. It’s also let me bring in colours that never usually belong in a Neoclassic Space build; most significantly dark grey, but I’m also making judicious use of flat silver and dark tan.

There are quite a few fun little details here. The guy riding the speeder bike looks absolutely terrified of the Space Police officer. The officer does look rather brutal – she’s actually Cyren from the Ninjago theme, and the only yellow head in the entire build.

There’s a security camera on the wall, casting a roving, Big Brother eye over that part of the build. Predictably, it seems in far better working order than the various lighting fixtures, half of which have missing or broken bulbs.

On the middle level are the armed transcorporate goon squads, behind their dehumanising black visors. If the traditional polarity of “Classic Space good, Blacktron bad” is reversed here, then it’s the Blacktron who need the humanising touch of being able to see their faces and the Classic astronauts who need the darkened visors. Or at least the transcorporate security forces.

Down below, it’s a lot more ratty and grim-looking, with dark grey (new greys throughout as usual) predominating and more dark tan. Here are the Blacktron protesters, one of whom is being gunned down by a blue-suited Bencom enforcer. The protesters have homemade signs, both because I’m a cheapskate and because I wanted the look of hand-drawn signs. With one protester down, I figured a little blood wouldn’t be out of place, even if it ups the classification rating somewhat. This is the first time I’ve built anything with bloodstains in it; normally I stay within the boundaries of a Universal/General rating.

The Futuron dude looks suitably horrified at the brutality of the transcorporate security forces; the Brightly Coloured Tyranny universe isn’t a simple case of Blacktron versus the world, but a more complex and nuanced world in which some of the brightly coloured astronauts might be sympathetic civilians, or System partisans, or apathetic, or anything in between.

I’m not sure “I hope you like it” is the right thing to say with a build like this, but you know what I mean. It’s a gritty and dystopian build, but I’m really satisfied with how it’s turned out.

Horned Mech

Cernunnos-class mech in its service gantry

The Cernunnos-class mech is a versatile combat walker used by the Blacktron Alliance.

Named after the horned god of Celtic mythology, the Cernunnos derives its name from the antlerlike combination weapons mountings attached to the head area; the possession of antlers being one of the distinguishing marks of both Cernunnos and his later form Herne the Hunter.

The Cernunnos mech’s versatility means that it is often found performing planetary exploration duties for the Alliance, as the Blacktron tend to have fewer dedicated exploration and science mechs. The chest-mounted quad plasma pulse cannon mounting can easily be exchanged for additional sensors to facilitate this role.

The stafflike device often carried by Cernunnos mechs is a combination of targeting array and a high-powered broad-spectrum energy beam; the device’s supporting pole is also robust enough to serve as a close-in physical weapon in its own right.

~~~

Apparently I’m still in Blacktron mode, this time with a mech. Originally this was actually going to be a Blacktron-variant space minotaur mech, which is why I reprised the foot design of the steampunk Mechnotaur. I do like the combination of those large beast foot elements with the reversed clip claws to make a cloven hoof.

However, I couldn’t find a (technically) shoulder-mounted weapon design that looked sufficiently like bull’s horns. The gold prong elements I used for the steam Mechnotaur obviously weren’t going to work with Blacktron I colours, and I didn’t like any of the alternatives I came up with.

Repositioning the final one of these aborted designs one last time in an attempt to see if it looked any better at a different angle, I was suddenly struck with the thought that it looked a bit like antlers.

“Maybe not a space minotaur then, but a Cernunnos, perhaps,” I mused, and made some additions to the horn design in order to make it look even more antlery.

I’m not sure whether cloven hooves are an attribute of the Celtic horned god, but it does work. Deer have cloven hooves as well as bulls, and I like the way the legs are way too much to mess with.

So having settled on a Celtic mythology-themed Blacktron mech, it somehow seemed like it needed a Druidic staff. A mech with a staff seems a bit strange on one level, but I like the look of it so it’s staying. So I have an antlered mech with a ginormous staff weapon.

And I decided to build a sort of servicing gantry to display the model, because I’m finally tumbling to the importance of scenery in displaying a cool model to best effect.

Ice Vigilator

Having built a Classic Space Turtle robot, some Blacktron hardware and a Futuron turtle variant, obviously I needed to build something Ice Planet to round out the set of early Space themes. (And maybe something M:Tron, but I’m only just beginning to develop the glimmerings of an interest in that theme and don’t have any figures or logos or trans neon green parts).

An Ice Vigilator mech picks up a crystal

An Ice Planet mech seemed like a good idea, and I have enough in the way of trans neon orange to give several design options.

I went with a four-legged, pleasingly War of the Worlds-esque design using the old-style helicopter windscreen element from the Ice-Sat V. The cockpit section rotates allowing the mech to be walked in any direction, and the multi-jointed legs allow some interesting posing options, though less than you might think because I had to use clickstop hinges for most of them for the sake of stability and weight issues.

The mech doesn’t have a lot of prominent weaponry apart from that big claw. I’m really satisfied with my decision to remodel the cockpit and replace the twin arms on its sides with a single claw arm underneath. The result is so much more Martian Fighting Machine-like and just seems to work better.

The short antennas on either side of the cockpit would probably work as last-ditch weapons, but I’ve decided that they’re actually “thermal lances”: short-range heat blasters for melting a path through the Krystovian ice.

The giant neon orange spindle is supposed to be some sort of crystal deposit. The original Ice Planet people appear to have been doing some kind of rocketry research, based on their proliferation of rocket launchers and satellites, but they also had a number of mining and ice-cutting vehicles, so probably the rocket research was only part of what they were doing.

I’m calling my new Ice Planet mech the “Ice Vigilator”, a slightly meaningless name mostly stemming from the tall, looming aspect of it that made me think it would be a good guardian or sentinel-type vehicle.

The pilot isn’t Generic Ice Planet Guy, who’s my only official Ice Planet minifigure thus far. I’m using the minifigure head with the red goatee (which I’m rather attached to as he looks a bit like me), as perhaps a son or scion of the original “Ice Babe” minifigure. Maybe in any post-Christmas Bricklinking I do I might see if I can acquire the other Ice Planet minifigures, or at least a Commander Bear…

A Plague of Locust

Blacktron BT221 Locust

It is, however, quite a large locust, and Blacktron to boot, so it should not be taken lightly.

Given the potential body stresses of a hopping form of locomotion on the pilot, a locust might seem a poor choice of creature on which to model a mech, but on low-gravity worlds like Titan and the Jovian moons, hopping is probably the most efficient means of motion there is. With the low gravity producing much lower stress on both pilot and vehicle, the Locust proceeds in what are effectively a series of low glides, mostly using the legs for altitude maintenance.

The BT221 Locust, then, fills the role of the BT086 Alienator on planets whose gravity is low enough to make a walking gait impractical. Armed with three small plasma pulse cannons and two lasers attached to the forward pilot’s position, the Locust is one of the least armed vehicles in the Blacktron arsenal, but makes an effective single-pilot scout/reconnaissance vehicle.

Obviously I’m in arthropod mode for my space builds, what with the Black Widow antiturtle and the Futuron Scarab, but arthropods make excellent base creatures to model mechs and space vehicles after. I’ve got an idea for a mech based on a pillbug design that can roll up into a ball for atmospheric re-entry drops, but I have no clue yet how I’m going to build it in LEGO.