Saturday, 30 October 2010

Thursday, 28 October 2010

New work: Cat's Cradle game

Cat's Cradle is a social game for children I ran for The House of Fairytales as part of their contribution to the Thames Festival in summer 2010. It is a game of agility for children between the ages of 7 to 12.

The aim of the game is for one child at a time to collect some catnip plant which sits at the end of a lattice of wool (the "cradle"). Children must pick their way through the lattice to reach the end. They must avoid touching the woolen strands, each of which has a cat-collar bell attached to it which will jingle if it is disturbed. Older children are asked to step on specific points (marked with stones), but younger children just have to make it to the end.

The House of Fairytales operates a badge and medal system which encourages children to complete tasks, plan which ones they want to attempt and so gain specific accolades. By completing the Cat's Cradle, they won a "Strategist" stamp.

You can find out more about the House of Fairytales here. You can see the post on my previous game with the group here.

Photo by Al Veryard -

Photo by Rupert Hastie -

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Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The last of its kind: the International Antique Science, Medical & Technology Fair

Where would you go if you wanted to kit out a lab to animate the horrific composite of human remains you had carefully been stitching together? PC World? Wall Mart? It's not looking good, is it? ebay might be better, but you'd have to wait a week for delivery, you would probably find "as new" was rather optimistic a description and the feedback just doesn't bear thinking about... "Works great! The Tesla coils made the severed hand move just fine despite the damage to the tendons. A+++++++"

Last weekend I was invited by my Steampunk buddy Grand Moff Tarkin to go to the last ever International Antique Science, Medical & Technology Fair in London (website here). This was a trade show with dozens of stalls selling all manner of instruments and gubbins from the worlds of science. Miniature Victorian pedometers could be found amidst vintage doctors' cases, astrolabes, static generators and all manner of optics. It was a Steampunk's dream.

This dream, however, turned into a nightmare when one examined the price tags. Now I am the first to admit I am no expert in valuing scientific antiques, but some of the stallholders were "having a laugh". One old goat tried to charge me £90 for a vintage schoolboy's exercise book. The clientele was international and I suspect these fairs are few and far between. Hence the traders were out to milk the audience. I discovered it was the last fair of its kind as the organisers were not able to make enough profit from the endeavour. In some ways its a shame, in others it feels like greed had run rampant and, like the Ouroboros, swallowed itself.

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Sunday, 24 October 2010

Paris - the catacombs

Jean-Paul Sartre said that hell is other people. I think that being stuck with other people in a maze of tunnels filled with millions of corpses is probably worse. Which is where I found myself during my recent trip to Paris.

The tunnels under Paris were the result of stone mining which began in the late 1700s. Lack of space in the city's cemeteries at the end of that century lead to the catacombs being used as a resting place for thousands of corpses. These were arranged in a decorative fashion and have been a tourist attraction since the early 19th century. To access the bones, visitors walk for hundreds of meters through rather plain, bare tunnels, passing the occasional pool or sculpture. This has the effect of building tension before they find themselves in the ossuary. When I entered the first of the bone-tunnels my breath was taken away. The sight is awesome. The fact you then walk for twenty minutes past hundreds of thousands of bodies is utterly sobering. It is momento mori on an epic scale.

And what of the "other people"? I am sorry to say the gravity and emotion of the experience was lost on the babbling, naive bunch of overgrown children I was unlucky enough to find myself with. The laughed, japed and popped their camera flashes in disregard to the repeated notices prohibiting their use. One half-wit decided to push a small LED light inside the eye-socket of a skull to illuminate it so his girlfriend could photograph the cranium. With a flash. If ghosts exist (and I hope they do) I will be happy to assist them in removing this moron's head from his shoulders and leaving it to rot in a cellar with a lot of snap-happy retards.

The Wiki on the Paris ossuaries is here. Hacksaws can be purchased here.

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Thursday, 21 October 2010


Part of the reason for the slow blogging of late is my recent trip to Paris. Below are some snaps I took about the city. Despite not being very far from London as-the-crow-flies, the fact it's on a different land mass means the aesthetics, architecture and feel of the place are wildly different. In addition, the buildings are generally older because the city was not flattened by the Luftwaffe in WWII.

I have some exciting photos to blog soon which will inspire all devotees of the fantastical. Stay tuned!

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Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Edward Gorey's Dracula

The amazing Edward Gorey designed a 1977 Broadway production of Dracula. Not only is this awesome in and of itself, there is also a toy theatre available featuring sets, characters and props all drawn by the genius himself. Check it out at Amazon here.

Below are samples of the character sheets:

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Saturday, 16 October 2010

The Life Aquatic

Last weekend I went to visit my friend Molly on her house boat, which is moored in the Springfield region of North East London. Houseboats provide a viable, alternative lifestyle for those in the capital not wanting to engage in the hideously over-inflated property market. Her boat and its environs are, in many ways, idyllic. The lifestyle is strangely rural and, with her vessel's all-wooden interior, reminiscent of traditional gypsy living.

"Wow!" I exclaimed. "Your boat's pretty big."
"Yeh, but we may need to get a bigger one if we have a baby." she replied.
"You're going to have a baby? Cool! You could have a home birth!"
"Where would I put the birthing pool?"
"Tush! You don't need a pool. You can just go outside" I said, pointing at the thick, brackish water in the dock.
"Hmmmmm. Weil's Disease may be a problem."
"You worry too much."

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Monday, 11 October 2010

New work: Death card business cards

If you're a super-cool mob assassin in the 30s, how do you let your victim's cronies know it was you who wasted their boss? In the absence of a spare horse head, you might leave a death card.

The mobsters of the 30s and 40s were dubbed "Murder Inc." by the press and there are documented cases of assassins leaving an Ace of Spades card on victims' bodies. More recently, death cards were a (possibly mythical) tool used by PSYOP division of the US Army during the Vietnam war (and featured briefly in the movie Apocalypse Now).

My business card was in need of a refresh and, having looked at the awesome for inspiration I concluded it would be good to make mine like a playing card. This would provide a link to the industry in which I work. I then remembered about death cards and read this rather detailed account of them. A few hours of design work later and a call to a printer and I had a pack of 52 death cards with my details on the back. Admittedly they are slightly gruesome, but they do tick the number-one box on the business card list which is being memorable.

My colleague JMC (LiveJournal here) kindly posed for me one afternoon at work for the shots you see below. The blood was a mixture of food colouring and glycerin syrup. This didn't wash off very well and he spent the afternoon with colleagues saying, "You've got red on you". Thanks JMC!

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Saturday, 9 October 2010

Warhammer template set

I have mentioned before how I think we are seeing a new Renaissance at Games Workshop. The products they are putting out, mainly as a result of the advances they have made in injection moulding and CAD engineering, are once again raising the bar of quality in the wargames industry. For me, the new Warhammer templates typify this streak of genius.

I bought a set of these the other day simply because I adore them. I love the way they are at once functional markers, works of art and fractals of the Warhammer world. They are also exactly the sort of thing that someone in the middle ages would have used when playing a tabletop wargame. It is this concept of game pieces as real-world works of art (and not realistic depictions of the fictional world they are set in) which I am becoming more interested in of late. I have a few projects up my sleeve which articulate the idea.

The only down-side to them is they are very much single sided - the backs are flat, which comes as a slight surprise when one encounters them for the first time. I am sure this was done for cost reasons, so I won't grumble as I enjoyed the low price-point.

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Thursday, 7 October 2010

DUNE Express is finished

Well, it's been a long time coming but my steampunk version of DUNE Express is finally done and ready for download! Click on the link below to go to the page on my portfolio site to see the showcase of graphics and a link to download the complete PDF pack.

I have uploaded the file to boardgamegeek, but it'll take them some weeks to verify it.

Many thanks to Justin Gregory who kindly let me use his version of the rules.

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Tuesday, 5 October 2010

In the Company of Death

An email popped into my inbox late last week from my good friend and Golden Demon Slayer Sword winning Jakob Nielsen (website here). It showed a box with the words "GD Project JRN" on it. Also pasted onto the sides were crosses of red tape and Jakob invited me to guess the model. I guessed right and he rewarded me with some preview shots before he and his masterpiece travelled to the UK for Games Day.

What more can I say? Jakob is the worthy winner of countless trophies, Golden Demons and three (I think - I loose count) Slayer Swords. He has been at the forefront of miniature painting for over a decade and his talent shows no sign of abating. His pieces demonstrate a great understanding of pose, proportion, hue and shade. He is capable of the most delicate detailing, but his models never suffer from being cluttered by it. I have seen many of his minis in the flesh (and am very fortunate to own one) and I can honestly tell you they are even more stunning when you see them in 3D.

Unfortunately this little puppy did not come away with any accolades at the UK Games Day, but, as Jakob points out, his home is crammed with Golden Demons anyway so he is content.

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Sunday, 3 October 2010

Back from the brink: the new Dark Eldar

The new Dark Eldar are all over the 'net and have successfully proved that GW can indeed black-box a product if they try. I want to talk a little about the design of the new range after reading the Bell of Lost Souls post on the subject.

The Dark Eldar were the first "new" race that GW had introduced for a long time when they emerged as the baddies in the starter boxed set for the 3rd edition of 40K in 1998. They proved to be a challenge for GW because, by this point, all their established races had been developed a great deal and had profuse arrays of models and options. GW quickly found that players expected an equal amount of variety from this new army, and one gets the impression that churning out the minis for the range proved onerous. The response to the Dark Eldar models was luke warm. Their core troops were unattractive, their vehicles clunky and they were always eclipsed by the extremely beautiful design of their Eldar cousins. The race was seldom updated and it can be argued that the 2010 overhaul was long overdue.

I was fortunate to see them in development twice when I visited the Studio. Jes (the range's lead sculptor) very kindly talked to me about them and showed me the sculpts and concept art. He and his colleagues had reimagined the race from the ground up. They were influenced by traditional Japanese clothing designs and naval shapes. I recall him explaining their methodology thus: the Raider vehicle is obviously related to the dune skiff in Return of the Jedi, but it's no good just re-imagining that thing. You have to look at what inspired those designers (in particular the sail shapes of dhow ships) and then work from those base principles.

The results, as everyone agrees, are astounding. They represent, in terms of wargames miniatures, the biggest come-back since Lazarus rose from the dead. In his post for BoLS Goatboy astutely points out the use of negative space in the sculpts. What he does not mention is the rather more fundamental achievement of the models' relation to their established Eldar cousins. The Dark Eldar are now based on the same aesthetic principles as the Eldar - their general silhouette is the same, their helmets are now a closer in design and their weapons have the identical egg-and-tapered-tube geometrics. These fundamentals have now been twisted to give an evil look, while retaining their racial heritage. The clumsy array of blades which used to typify the range has given way to more subtle serrations which do not clutter the outlines of the troops. The Raider has retained its basic shape, but now harks back to its inspirational origins of Eastern sailing vessels with harpooning/fishing/ramming themes being articulated with the weaponry.

In short, GW has once again proved its mastery of design and injection moulding to successfully bring the range back from the brink. The feedback from the net so far confirms they have tuned one of the least-loved races into this year's most-wanted. They won't outsell Marines, but they'll give them a good run for their money on their jet bikes.

All images are copyright GW 2010
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