Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Bronze God of Bakurados (part 2)

[Note: Part 1 of this story can be found here. And for those not already familiar with the continuing adventures of Algor and company on The Exciting World of Jalldoon, I strongly recommend at least familiarizing yourself with the original toy line and characters on DoomKick.com. The launch of the current major story arc has also been compiled for your convenience with The Search for Algor. And lastly, you can catch more of the story and join in on the discussion on the Citizens of Jalldoon facebook group. If not, well, the story below won't make much sense! You've been warned! ;) ]



She knew it wasn't considered "polite", but the little girl continued to stare up at the motionless being for what seemed like ages. Levitating several feet above the ground, the creature in turn stared silently at the one tree that grew near the cliff edge. They were about a mile from shore, along a tall ridge away from the fishing villages on the outskirts of Bakurados Bay. The ancient, twisted tree stood on the tallest outcropping, and the little girl would sometimes come there alone to play. A large, purple-armored man hovering in front of the tree was not something she was expecting. "Mister, what are you doing?" she asked innocently. After a moment, the being spoke. "This tree is the oldest living thing on your planet." He turned to face the little girl before continuing, "For two of your days, I have been communicating with it on a low psionic level in order to determine where I am...and why I have been trapped in this realm." The girl kicked around a rock on the ground, "oh...you're new here."

The massive warrior slowly descended to the ground before landing with an awkward thud. The girl rushed over to help steady him as he fell to one knee. Close up, she noticed all the chips, holes, and burn marks on his armor and bronze-colored skin. Mounted to his back was a curious black staff capped what appeared to be a sparkling glass sphere housed in a heavy, blade-like structure. The creature steadied himself before rising to his full height. He looked down at the girl and asked, "Are you a representative of this planet's leadership?" The girl replied, "no...I'm Janisa. And you're on planet Jalldoon." The gleaming man said, "I am Quazarec." He looked back at the tree before continuing, "Janisa, the tree tells me that your world is in great peril...and that the growing crisis revolves around the only intelligent race indigenous to this planet: Slimes." The little girl looked down at the ground, as if deep in thought. She suddenly looked up at Quazarec, "I can take you to the crisis...but you have to come back home with me!"

Sensing no malice from the young human, Quazarec accepted the invitation, and the pair made their way slowly back to her village. Quazarec stumbled a couple times along the way. "How did you get here, kway-...kway--..." "Quazarec," he corrected. "I was lured to this reality when I sensed a malevolence I had never felt before through a spacetime rift of origin...no science I'm aware of can explain." The sunlight glinted off the gold nano-circuitry embedded in his skin as Quazarec continued to recall the events of the past few days. In the coldness of interstellar space, an inexplicable tear in reality beckoned him with terrible visions of hatred and subjugation. The billions of telepathic minds collected in his own consciousness knew that such a potentially destructive force could not go unchallenged, even if it meant the loss of their warrior-avatar. In the skies above the South Seas of Jalldoon, the opposite end of the portal burst open with a wild eruption of energy. Quazarec was flung through and crashed into the surface of the water with such force that the massive wave resulting from the impact nearly wrecked the freighter, The Pride of Gato, miles away. Nearly a day later, the android had recovered enough to walk back to shore along the bottom of the ocean. Emerging from the water, his cosmic senses could detect no trace of the portal. He was trapped. With this realization, the orb at the end of his staff sizzled with dancing flecks of light as Quazarec swore to find whoever dared do this.

As the pair entered the village, Quazarec noticed two curious things. One was the fascinating mixture of ancient tools and hyper-advanced technology. Local rifts in spacetime were clearly not uncommon on this world. But more troubling, there seemed to be very few adults in the village other than some elderly vagrants and homeless people. Upon arriving at her home, Janisa raced ahead and disappeared through the door. Quazarec followed, but then paused abruptly before the entrance. "Please, that won't be necessary." A moment later, a young adult woman sheepishly stepped into the entrance from the side, wielding a heavy tree branch. The little girl just laughed, "you don't need to test him, sis! I found a real tough one for ya!" Embarrassed, the older sibling introduced herself as Anika and began her story. She mentioned a squabble involving local cartels in the Bay city leaving the fishing industry decimated and the village nearly destitute. But what made matters worse--much worse--was the rise of a violent cult that had begun kidnapping people and driving out the few families left in town. Many young people were left with nowhere to go and nothing but each other...so Anika had decided that the only way they could fight back and have a chance was to hire a strong fighter to help them destroy the cult. And the only way to be sure she was hiring the right person was to "test" their skills. With a club upside the head. At this, Quazarec looked down at the little girl. "THIS is the crisis that threatens your world??" Janisa just smiled back up at the space traveler. Just then, Quazarec suddenly looked up, as though hearing something in the distance. The orb atop his staff began to glow again.

Later that night, the older sister built a fire and gathered all the young people of the village who refused to leave. Quazarec listened to their stories. Stories of families broken up. Stories of poverty. Stories of being terrorized. Once all the children had had their say, Quazarec spoke. "I sense that your intent is just. And I believe our goals may, in fact, be related." He went on to explain that he is an android, built by a highly advanced, telepathic race to be a vessel for their collective consciousness. His powers were techno-psionic in nature, but because of the dimensional barriers separating the realities, his connection to his people--and thus, his powers--were extremely limited. Some of the younger kids started fidgeting, confused by Quazarec's exposition. Janisa stood up suddenly and addressed the gathering in the firelight. "Look, Quazarec is a star god...come to help us...but he's weak right now. He needs time to heal. He needs us!" Anika rose alongside her sister, "It's gotta be the Children of the Beetle! Quazarec can sense an evil presence on the move in Bakurados Bay. We've spent months organizing with the kids from the other villages. The time to act is now!" The rest of the night, Anika began organizing the older kids into teams to make contact with groups from other villages. The message was simple: begin preparations to take on the cult. Meanwhile, Quazarec watched the younger children making music and dancing around the fire. The space traveler smiled. "These beings are more evolved than I had realized."

The golden nano-scale machines permeating the android's body continued to repair his superstructure and armor throughout the next day. Quazarec knew the process that would take days on Jalldoon would have been completed in mere moments in his native reality. Still, the children singing songs of freedom, youthful bravado, and revolution as they fished for their meals generated an empathic resonance that accelerated his healing. Quazarec hadn't felt this at peace in quite some time. He touched one of his green bracers and the glittering points of light embedded in his purple armor began to shine brighter and brighter until all of his high-tech cladding became bathed in light. An instant later, the armor vanished completely, leaving only his boots, bracers, sleeveless black bodysuit, and the ever-present orb staff levitating at his side.

Without his great, horned helmet, Quazarec's head was exposed to the sun for the first time since being lured to Jalldoon. He had no hair and his featureless eyes were the same bronze color as his glossy synthetic skin. The android began telepathically probing Bakurados Bay for any sign of cult activity or evil in general. Nothing. Impossible. He soon realized that the Bay was heavily shrouded in powerful magic--a force against which Quazarec was weak. Suddenly, the cosmic traveler fell to his knees as a powerful psionic vision overtook him. He saw a terrifying warrior--a shape-shifter in humanoid form--wielding a broadsword with great precision. And great cruelty. A Slime...who at that very moment was traveling towards Bakurados Bay. "Why's your ball glowing?" Quazarec was suddenly broken out of his vision by Janisa's question. They both looked over at his staff, at the top of which, the sphere seethed with an awful light. "That is my Control Orb. Dark matter is used to contain a forced quantum singularity that..." It didn't take a telepath to read the expression on the little girl's face. "Very well," Quazarec continued. "Because of our link, my people see what I see and I feel what they feel. While my people's thoughts and determination empower me, their collective emotions--rage, grief, fear--can potentially overwhelm me and cause...malfunction. This device helps temper those emotions." Their conversation was cut short by kids arriving with reports on the cultists' activity.

As night fell, Anika and the other older kids assessed the potential strongholds of the cult they had identified. Quazarec was impressed with their committment as well as their progress, though he did warn them not to engage the cult directly. While the discussion of resistance strategies continued, Quazarec began practicing using his staff as a melee weapon--something he hasn't had to do in centuries. He wasn't yet fully healed, but he felt the evil force that had trapped him on this planet was drawing closer. As he practiced by the fire, an impulse of pure terror lanced through the mystical fog that was clouding Quazarec's empathy. He knew an innocent life was in immediate danger...and the sensation came from a location very close to one of the cultist bases in the Bay.

In the near-abandoned fishing sector of Bakurados Bay, a fully-armored Quazarec swept through the streets, ignoring the few terrified homeless people and drunks here and there. His Control Orb began to glow with anticipation as the android prepared himself to deliver the ultimate sanction. The magic obscuring his senses was even more potent here in the Bay, but he knew he was close.

The four Children of the Beetle could not understand why the woman was resisting them. Did she not comprehend the great honor they were about to bestow upon her?? They had explained the glory of being selected as a sacrifice to the Great Scarab, but still she fought them. Perhaps she was too drunk to understand? One cultist tried in vain to cover her mouth as she began shouting--as much cries for help as blasphemous epithets about the cultists. There was no one to hear her though...not in this part of the city. As they approached their hideout, a sudden blast of energy tore through the front of building from within. Quazarec stepped through the burning wreckage, the plasma emitter in the middle of his chest still glowing hot from the discharge. The five humans stared dumbfounded for a moment as the moonlight glinting off his glittery armor and firelight picked out the gold shimmering just beneath his artificial skin. The moment did not last long. As the human female dropped to the ground, Quazarec silently went to task, whirling his staff in wide arcs as the cultists were systematically slaughtered. The glow very quickly left his Control Orb, and as he helped the disoriented woman to her feet, he muttered, "this is NOT the evil I seek..."

For the next couple days, Quazarec focused on training the kids to fight. They had already accumulated an impressive stash of stolen and makeshift weapons, and Anika and the leaders from other villages had begun planning indirect raids against cult strongholds. Quazarec was troubled by his first encounter with the cultists. He could tell they were tainted with ugly magics, but they were still only humans. Not a shape-shifter among them. There was perhaps the possibility that the object of their devotion was a Slime...but Quazarec didn't get that impression from their chaotic emotions.

Janisa woke up on her sleeping mat to see Quazarec, as usual, staring out the window, "scanning for threats," as he would say. As she got up in the dim early morning light, Quazarec revealed to her that he had been having visions of a Slime tyrant of unimaginable power and evil. His most recent vision told him that the being he sought was now actually in Bakurados Bay. Quazarec instructed her to get her sister and gather all the resistance leaders immediately. The little girl usually had a clever retort for his orders, but this time, she sensed Quazarec's grim urgency and obeyed without question. After explaining the visions to Anika and the others, the kids seemed confused. Anika asked what a Slime had to do with a seemingly human cult. The android confessed he didn't have an answer to her question, but made his next command crystal clear: they were to make contact as soon as possible with the kids from the other villages and instruct them NOT to pursue any leads whatsoever involving Slimes. The young warriors had to proceed carefully as the shape-shifter Quazarec sought represented a potentially cosmic-level threat. The gathering soon broke up and the kids went their separate ways to execute their mission. Oddly, Quazarec couldn't find Janisa anywhere afterwards.

While the kids followed their instructions the next day and steered well clear of anything in Bakurados Bay involving Slimes, their raids against the cult became more daring. Their tactics had shifted from gathering intelligence to disrupting supply chains. Vendors, couriers, and other businesses that had been supplying the cult for months were now being robbed, vandalized, or otherwise put out of commission. Meanwhile, back in Janisa's village, Quazarec continued to prepare for the final confrontation. He would take the fight directly to the cult and lay siege to what the kids had identified as their main stronghold: the former office of Bakurados' Fish Master in the abandoned fishing district. With any luck, he would learn how the human cowards were connected to the Slime threat.

As night fell, a now-fully-recovered Quazarec was once again practicing with his bladed staff when Janisa finally returned. She told Quazarec that she knew where he could find a mighty Slime prince. All the kids from the city were apparently talking about some newcomer to the Pit--an unstoppable Slime warrior. Just as Quazarec was about to scold the little girl for ignoring his orders, yet another vision penetrated the mystical shroud hanging over the Bay. The same Slime tyrant from his previous visions appeared in some sort of arena, massacring local fighters as the onlookers chanted over and over. Quazarec now had a name for the beast. ALGOR!

Above the near-dawn, empty streets over Bakurados Bay's fishing sector, a sphere of coruscating light flew overhead in geometrically-precise search patterns. Inside the levitation bubble, the android warrior's Control Orb flared with the prospect of combat. Despite the mystical interference, the evil he detected was too strong to obscure completely. But Quazarec could vaguely sense that the enemy was on the move again--heading deeper into the abandoned neighborhoods. "Away from innocents..." Quazarec thought to himself. In the early light, his quarry finally came into sight. As Quazarec landed behind Algor, the energy sphere dissipated and he could immediately smell the death and gore on the shape-shifter. The Slime prince was not alone, however. He seemed to be dragging along a female human--apparently a common practice among the magic-wielding despots of this realm. Despite sensing no fear from the woman, Quazarec wasted no time and began powering up his chest emitter. The blast tore through the darkness and slammed into Algor's back, sending him flying several meters. The woman screamed and ran off with no hesitation. The last thing she heard was the daemon's voice growling something about "oblivion".

As she sped back to town--away from the sounds of battle--the woman nearly collided with a curious bright orange metal can with arms and legs bounding along a side street in her direction. Before the odd sight even registered to her, she blurted out, "He's killing the Slime!!" Toron's mech suit began running even faster...

Instantly sobered-up from the excruciating pain, Algor stood up and pointed his sword at his attacker. "I don't know who--or what--you are...but no worlds are burning tonight, buddy. Just you." The two warriors charged at each other and as their weapons struck one another, a terrible burst of energy threw them both back a few paces. Bright plasma discharge coursed along Quazarec's staff, while a mysterious black electricity rippled across Algor's skin and along his sword. "Your words deny your nature and your intent, but it's clear you threaten all life on Jalldoon." Preoccupied with the strange, dark power emanating from his body, Algor hesitated. Seeing an opening, Quazarec charged and once again, the two titans traded blows.

At this point, Toron was frantic. He knew he should have stopped the woman to get some sense of where to find Algor. As he rushed through side streets and alleyways, he started hearing the din of battle in the distance, echoing among the derelict buildings. The old Slime headed in the direction of the chaos. Energy blasts, metal clashing against metal, and the roar of two distinct combatants told him that the Magi were not exaggerating about the peril the Prince faced. His grip on the cultist's sword tightened as he ran.

With his staff floating nearby, Quazarec began quietly chanting in an alien language while moving his hands in an elaborate, flowing manner. The device on the center of his chest armor began to glow, and Algor braced for what he knew was coming. A torrent of plasma erupted from his attacker and engulfed the Slime. Algor knew he couldn't endure another blast, and yet, he felt no fear. Holding his sword before him, black smoke suddenly began billowing from every inch of his skin. Horrified, the prince nonetheless held his ground as the enchanted smoke seemed to render the alien's destructive energy harmless. Quazarec seemed drained by the discharge, but was even more shocked that the mortal had survived. "All talk," Algor muttered to himself as the bloodlust reasserted itself. The prince counterattacked with the unfettered instinct of a predator. Quazarec, comparatively slower, could do little to defend against the Slime's precise strokes and thrusts. Each movement of Algor's sword reminded the android of flowing water...of poetry. Quazarec knew what was at stake should he lose this duel, but that tireless determination couldn't change the fact that he was losing ground.

As Algor pressed his attack, he suddenly became aware that he was grinning. He felt as though he was losing control of his own body and he could only watch as this terrible instinct took over. Fear crept into his mind as more of the sorcerous black electricity pulsed through his body. Despite being physically exhausted, his movements seemed to accelerate, and Algor felt his mind--his very self--giving in to the joy of violence. Here, on the edge of death, he reveled in the combat and with unnatural speed, the prince deftly created an opening in Quazarec's guard and plunged his sword deep into the beam emitter on the android's chest armor, destroying the weapon completely.

But Algor was not alone in noticing the awful metamorphosis taking place. Quazarec knew his plasma beam and ancient melee combat arts wouldn't be enough to stop with this devil. Only by unleashing the power of his Control Orb could he hope to save untold lives...even if it meant succumbing to the telepathic torrent of emotion from his creators. Resolved in his decision, chaotic bolts of greenish-white energy began pouring from the sphere, finally bringing the shape-shifter to his knees. The noxious fumes once again issued from Algor's skin, but this time, the gusts of smoke were completely overwhelmed by the freed psionic potential. For a moment, Quazarec thought he saw the shape of a garish black skull forming in the mystical miasma over Algor's head, crying out in agony.

Or was it laughing?

Toron knew he was close. Putting all doubt out of his mind, he prepared himself to do whatever it took to protect his long-time friend. The veteran Slime rounded a corner, then skidded to an abrupt halt. Still holding the bloody cultist sword, he suddenly now faced a gathering of human children. Completely stunned, Toron was speechless. At the head of the group stood a single little girl with her hands on her hips, wearing a stern expression. "Well...this is unexpected..." was all Toron could manage to utter.

Despite being nearly dead, with many ugly, charred gashes along his slimy body, Algor's body would simply not fall. It in fact lunged forward with unearthly speed. In one blinding stroke, the prince's sword rocketed upward, taking Quazarec's hand--and staff--with it before turning around in a high arc and slamming into the opposite side of Quazarec's head. The staff, hand, and now-dark Control Orb, skittered across the ground...and one of his horns had completely shattered as the android's helmet was smashed off his head. Algor, barely conscious of his own actions at this point, walked over to Quazarec's prone form and raised his sword one final time.

Without warning, Quazarec's intact hand shot out with blinding ferocity and grabbed Algor by the throat. The savagery of the attack took Algor--and that which possessed him--completely off guard. The prince immediately dropped his sword as the shock briefly cleared the evil presence from his consciousness. As Quazarec rose to his full height, he lifted Algor into the air by his neck. His normally featureless eyes were suddenly aflame with ghastly power, and when he spoke, the sound of a billion disembodied voices issued from his mouth. "Miserable wretch. You dare imprison me in this dimension? I will enjoy squeezing the life out of you..."

Algor, choking and sputtering, could barely put up a struggle against the monstrous grip around his throat. His Orb no longer capable of abating the collective rage of his homeworld, Quazarec was beyond reason. As his hold tightened, he suddenly paused. The strangulated gasps from the shape-shifter had changed. Laughter. Quazarec sneered with the impossibility of what he was hearing. The myriad voices spat in unison, "even now, at the precipice of death, you laugh? You have LOST!" Algor's asphyxiated laughter continued, "I...don't need...to beat you, pal!"

In an instant, Quazarec's glowing eyes grew wide as he realized the enormity of his folly. He turned his head just in time to glimpse the diminutive orange construct swinging a heavy, wooden log directly towards his head...

The darkness was interrupted by maddeningly complex bios matrices scrolling across his vision as Quazarec regained consciousness. Laying on his back, he looked up to see the old tree from the cliffs near Janisa's village. As he sat up, unarmored, he saw Janisa, the strange orange mechanical being, and what appeared to be the Slime Prince's head resting near the tree, gazing off towards the sea. His staff, which had recouperated enough charge to temper his telepathic link once more, lay on the grass next to him. Janisa immediately ran over and threw her arms around the android. Surprised, all Quazarec could do was return the embrace. "You have a lot to thank this one for," said the orange creature, motioning towards the human girl. Quazarec's reply was simple and devoid of irony. "I know."

As Toron, Janisa, and Quazarec reconciled the events of the previous days, Algor continued to brood silently by the cliff edge, still not recovered enough to assume his heroic form. The sullen prince was deeply troubled by the revelation that he was somehow "infected" by forces beyond his control. Where did his own thoughts and feelings end, and where did this evil possession begin? And how long would it be until he lost control again? The Prince swore to himself that he would do whatever it took to get answers...

"Look, we need heroes like you for the storm that's coming to Jalldoon," Toron said to Quazarec after a time. Examining his regenerating hand, Quazarec replied, "I am no hero." The skeletal techno-organic hand flexed into a fist. "I am no more than a reflection of the power that surrounds me." The cosmic traveler looked down at Janisa as she smiled back up at him. Toron nodded. "Well, the Children of the Beetle have been mostly wiped out along with their leadership, so I think Bakurados Bay can rest easy for the time being. Will you return with us to Hawkstorm Keep?" the old slime asked. Quazarec reached down to take Janisa's hand. "The sorcery interfering with my telepathy has also disappeared without a trace, but no, Sir Toron. I need to go back and say goodbye to some people first," Quazarec replied as the pair began walking towards the village. Sparkles of light appeared around the android's body like an aura as his armor rematerialized. He paused, turning back to the Slimes, "But you WILL see me again. We have a common foe. And my wrath is not yet satisfied." With this, Quazarec's Control Orb once again crackled with power as the adventurers parted ways. For the moment.



[There it is, folks! I'm eager to hear what you guys think of Quazarec and his introduction into The Exciting World of Jalldoon. Like I said before, Doc Rampageo and I worked hard to put this tale together, so I hope y'all enjoyed it! And of course, big ups to Zoloworld for making the Quazarec action figure a reality. For more on the Toron and Quazarec figures, check out this post on DoomKick.com, and if you're interested in picking either one up, head on over to the shop! One.]

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Bronze God of Bakurados (part 1)

[Note: for those not already familiar with the continuing adventures of Algor and company on The Exciting World of Jalldoon, I strongly recommend at least familiarizing yourself with the original toy line and characters on DoomKick.com. The launch of the current major story arc has also been compiled for your convenience with The Search for Algor. And lastly, you can catch more of the story and join in on the discussion on the Citizens of Jalldoon facebook group. If not, well, the story below won't make much sense! You've been warned! ;) ]



The carriage wheels squeaked on the dirt road as Toron looked out the window. He could see the large gates of Bakurados Bay in front of them as the ride pulled to a stop. Algor hopped out and started grabbing their packs from the back as he looked up at the massive wall surrounding the city before them. Finishing the last of his ale, Toron joined his companion as they marveled at the spires reaching towards the sky just beyond. The two Slimes had come to the Bay city to accept a shipment of weapons coming from Gato. With the threat of Master Boshak and Baron Drackholme's combined forces threatening Jalldoon, the heroes would need the best weapons...and no weapon on the planet could compare to the nigh-unbreakable Gatonian Steel usually reserved exclusively for the catlike people of Gato. Fortunately for our heroes, Grar had pulled a few strings back home to secure an arsenal for the forces of good. Algor looked at Toron. "I've always loved Bakurados Bay, Tor" he said. ”Ever since my mother took me here years ago before Ikari was born. The pointed spires, the tropical plants...the lawlessness of the pirates and scoundrels--how could a young Slime NOT go wild with adventure!?" Algor's mind wandered to his long-lost mother for a moment before being broken out of his reverie by Toron. "Your mother and her archaeological digs exposed you to a lot didn't they, Al?" Now bereft of ale, the old Slime pulled out his personal flask and shook it before adding, "I sure hope there is some wine on that boat because my flask is nearly empty...and you know the only wine I drink is Gatonian!" With this Toron smiled and took a long swig.

The large gates creaked open to reveal a skinny human and two guards. Through a long, curled mustache, the man spoke, "Ahhh Prince Algor...His Majesty, Captain Zarharra, King of the Pirates, sends his apologies for not being here himself to greet you. One of his many wives is giving birth to his sixteenth child this morning, so you will understand his absence". The man absentmindedly twirled his mustache around his finger as he spoke. Algor nodded, "The birth of a child is always cause for celebration, and for this we will excuse the Pirate King's indiscretion in the face of the ancient laws of the Covenant of Crowns," the Slime said with only a hint of sarcasm. "Yes, great Slime Prince, I have been authorized to give you whatever you need during your stay here in Bakurados Bay. I am the Royal Vizier, and I am at your disposal," the man said as he led them into the city. As they made their way through the city towards the docks, they passed through the great bazaar and the smells of spices from the farthest reaches of Jalldoon assaulted the Slime's. Fabrics, food items, and creatures not native to the Southwest region of the planet were everywhere, and among the stalls, you could find almost anything you wanted or needed. As they walked by one vendor, they could see him shooing some kids away, and as they looked around they could see other children speaking to merchants at other stalls in the bazaar. The Vizier turned to the Slimes, "As you can see, we have a growing problem with the poor here in Bakurados Bay ever since the fishing sector was closed down due to the indiscretions of the Fish Master.”

As they approached the docks, they saw the Hogashin Dock Master leaning on a barrel, smoking a pipe, and as they approached his snout recoiled at the Slimes. "Please, my friends, keep your distance. I never could stand the smell of Slimes" he said. Algor laughed. "Well please direct us to the ship from Gato, and our stink will bother you no more, sir" he said, stepping back from the Dock Master a few inches. At this, the Hogashin shook his head and frowned. "Conflicting reports are coming in about a terrible lightning storm or some sort of tidal wave at sea that has likely pushed your boat back by a few days, but we've heard nothing from the ship itself. There really is no way to know," he said with a grunt. Algor looked at Toron, "I guess we've got a few days to kill in Bakurados Bay, eh bud?" he asked with a smile.

The Vizier set them up at one of the best inns in the city at no cost while they awaited their shipment's arrival. Algor dropped his pack on the cushy bed. "Well Tor, I'm going to try my luck at the Pit, I think," he said, grabbing his sword. Toron frowned, "Al, you've been doing an awful lot of...trying your luck...recently. Maybe we should use this time to take a break from killing?" the elder Slime suggested. Algor laughed, "come on Toron, we've got to stay fighting fit if we're going to save the planet right? What's a little bit of arena fighting gonna hurt?" he said as he walked out the door. Toron was concerned for his friend; since he'd returned from the Underworld, he had become increasingly violent and seemed to revel in death...both traits the prince hadn't had before. He thought about the mission the Magi had sent him on to retrieve the artifacts that would somehow help remove this evil infecting the Prince, but for the moment, there wasn't much the old Slime could do. So why not hit the taverns to sample the tastes of Bakurados Bay?

Toron was not disappointed in the delights of the Bay. At the first tavern he went to, he drained two flagons of fermented Crystal Cat Milk (an extremely rare treat, considering the ferocity of its source), as well as a snifter of Glowberry Brandy. Feeling the warm embrace of a nice buzz coming on, he decided to check out the next tavern in the plaza. As he made his way through the bustling streets of the city, he cut through a dark alley only to be surprised by the glowing specter of one of the Slime Elder Magi in his path. Toron hopped back. "By gods, you scared the Slime out of me," he said to the shimmering projection of the Magi. The apparition replied, "My apologies, Sir Toron, but since you're already alone in Bakurados Bay, we thought the moment opportune for you to secure another artifact that resides here in the city." As the Magi spoke, a glowing map of the city appeared in before Toron. Close to the northern edge of the city, a large spire jutted above most of the buildings near it. The Magi spoke again, "here you will find an amulet, which has become the focus of a local human cult. This amulet will, in conjunction with the other artifacts, help us pull this evil infecting Prince Algor out of his body." As he said this, the map twinkled out of existence leaving behind a faint glow in the air before dissipating fully. Toron looked at the Magi for a second, "Well...I may have imbibed a bit too much to retrieve anything from anyone tonight," he said as he wobbled a bit from side to side. The Magi suggested he go home and get some rest, but the night was young. So under the guise of investigation, Toron decided to check a few more of the local taverns before heading back to the inn. Several taverns later, Toron had become quite a bit more drunk than he had been previously, but he hadn’t been able to learn anything new about these cultists or their operation here in Bakurados Bay. The old Slime decided he had the fortitude for one more drink before heading back to the Inn for the night.

Toron entered a tavern called Holly Hox's Heaping Hopshack, and hopped up onto an empty stool at the bar. As the barkeep approached, Toron asked the large man what the specialty of the house was. "Well my friend," the barkeep began, stroking his pointed goatee, "that would be the Para Bomb: we take a fermented Paraparadon egg, and we crack it into a flagon of Grogglin Ale. If I must say, it really hits the spot, sir." With this, he winked his one eye. Toron smiled. "I'll take two pal," he said as he plunked a stack of gold down on the well-worn bar. As he sipped his brew, Toron looked around the busy tavern. Moments later, his dulled senses picked up on the word "cultists" from two talking fishermen at a table nearby. Toron smiled. He looked at the barkeep, "another round for those two on me," he said plinking a few more gold coins down before heading over to the table. Pulling up a nearby chair, Toron greeted the fishermen. "Gentlemen, I couldn't help overhearing a bit of your conversation. Next round's on me if you wouldn't mind sharing with an old, curious Slime," he said as the waitress placed three ales on the table. One of the fishermen looked at Toron. "Buddy, if you're buying rounds, I'll tell you stories all night," he chuckled, taking a sip from his new glass. Toron raised his drink to the men, "then please tell me about these cultists!" The fisherman started his story from the beginning.

"You see, I was in the old fishing sector. And ever since that drunken fool Fish Master crossed the Mad Butcher at the Festival of Lights last year--and paid for it with his life--we all been out of work! So I'm forced to scavenge the derelict buildings for scrap to sell.....anyways I'm in there, and I'd just gotten a pretty nice rod from under some debris when I hear a commotion. Wouldn't you know it, I saw some of them Children of the Beetle cult members dragging a woman into the abandoned neighborhood. Now naturally, my friend, I'm not one to get involved in a fight with a bunch of those cult wackos, but the girl looked a lot like this local bar-rat you always see at the Parrot's Beak over by the bazaar. Anyways, these hooded goons are dragging this poor girl to do only gods know what to her, and I'm cowering behind a crate, just hoping they don't spot me...when suddenly this...this...daemon with huge horns bursts right through an old building with a blinding flash and terrible sound. This thing was huge...and it ripped those cultists apart with ease. I don't know what happened after that as I took off and never looked back, but I saw that old drunk wobbling around the city the next day, so she must have escaped being devoured by that thing. Now...if you'd like to buy another round, I can tell you all about the time I ate boiled bomb bats?" Grinning, the fisherman winked at Toron after sipping the last of his ale. Toron waved over the barkeep and turned back to the fisherman, "my friend, I appreciate the offer, but I must be on my way...however here's some gold. Buy as many rounds as you like, and may your luck change soon." Toron hopped down from his chair and started making his way in the direction of the Parrot's Beak Pub. If the old Slime had been just a bit less drunk, he may have noticed the two children sitting near the roaring fire of the tavern, listening intently to the story he had just heard himself.

Swaying his way through the streets that had gotten a bit less crowded with the advancing hour of the night, Toron found the Parrot's Beak Pub and made his way inside. He sauntered his way up to the bar, made eye contact with the barkeep, and asked her if she knew of a regular who had recently spoken of cultists or some sort of great daemon. Before the barkeep could even answer, an obviously very-drunk woman approached the Slime. She looked at Toron with lusty, hooded eyes. "Cultists, you say? Cultists...yeah, I know all about those sons of bitches...but as for 'daemons', I got nothing for you, hun." She ran her fingers through her long, dark hair before adding, "unless of course you mean the bronze god...clad in armor made of stars..." The woman trailed off as Toron smiled at his luck. "Please, madam, would you care to elaborate on what happened to you? I'll buy you another round," the Slime asked. The woman smiled back. "Hun, how about you come back to my place and we can talk about it on the way? I haven't been too keen on walking around alone at night as of late" she said. Toron took her up on her offer and walked her out of the pub as she began her story.

"Well hun, I was making my way home late the night before last, and from a dark alley, four of those Children of the Ladybug or whatever they call themselves grabbed me. Now, love, I can normally take care of myself, you see, but four-on-one is a pretty tough match up for anyone...let alone when they've had a drinky-pooh or two. So these cult jerks start dragging me into the abandoned fishing sector despite my kicking and screaming the whole way. My head was spinning and before I knew it, I couldn't see the lights of city anymore. I fought back, but these animals just kept trying to...reassure me. They told me what an honor it would be to be sacrificed to their gem or whatever. But the next thing I saw, hun, I will never forget as long as I live. Just as they dragged me towards some rundown building, the wall bursts out in a bright explosion, and standing there is this gleaming man with bronze skin and armor that twinkled like stars in the night sky. It felt like the light and heat of a sun burned from his chest. How could such a magnificent being NOT be a god!? I dropped to the ground and my head felt like it was swimming...but all I heard was the awful screams of those cultists. The next thing I knew, the god offered me his hand. I think I heard him say something about not being evil as he helped me up. He got no argument from me! But I was so shaken, I just hurried back to town, locked myself in my flat, and cried myself dry for the next day. I should have at least asked his name..." Toron chuckled. "Well hun, this is my place, if you'd like to come up for a nightcap," she said, fishing her key out from inside her dress. Toron thought for a long moment, but decided better of following her upstairs. "No, madam, it would be dishonorable to take advantage of you in the state we're both in, but please have a wonderful evening," he said, kissing her hand.

The sun was almost up and Toron would need some rest before attempting to break into the cult's base the next night, so he headed back to the inn. When he arrived, he discovered Algor asleep on his bed with two lovely lasses, a giant sack of gold on the night table, and the Prince's sword coated in dried blood resting against the wall. Toron shook his head. "Well, he may be infected with evil, but at least Al is enjoying himself," he said to no one in particular as he hopped up onto his own bed. As he lay there thinking, Toron wondered if this being he'd heard about was a terrible daemon, a star god, or something else entirely...but there were far more important things to worry about as far as he was concerned. That night, Toron's sleep was fitful. The disturbing image of a towering man with great horns, reaching out to choke Toron, bothered him throughout the night.

The next morning Toron woke with his head pounding and his slime dry--an all too familiar feeling for the old Slime. "Only one cure: 'hair of the dog,'” Toron said to himself as he looked around the room. Algor and the girls from last night had already left, and Toron was all alone as he limped out of bed. He made his way to the closest tavern and ordered up a Bloody Morgel to soothe the pain coursing through him. After a couple more drinks, he made his way back to the inn to get some more sleep. The sun had already set by the time he woke up, but there was still time to kill before he thought it was safe enough to sneak into the cultist's stronghold, so he went out to get some dinner and enjoy the bazaar. A few hours later, when it was just after midnight, Toron left the jubilant city in the direction of the fishing sector. As he passed the Pit, he could hear the crowd chanting, "Algor! Algor! Algor!" Toron surmised that the evening's contests were drawing to a close and that Al would once again have himself a successful night. As he crossed over into the abandoned part of the city, Toron wondered to himself what the Fish Master had done to anger the King of the Pirates...but knowing Abdul Zarharra like he did after years serving the Slime Kingdom, he knew it likely wasn't anything that warranted the man’s death. The veteran Slime took care to be as stealthy as possible crossing through the fishing sector in case he ran afoul of this dangerous god or daemon he had heard tales of. As he approached the tower that had once been the Fish Master's office, he saw two hooded figures guarding the door with spears. Not wanting to alert the cultists, Toron made his way to the rear of the tower. As he studied the outer wall, he pulled his suit in its small black box out of his pack. As he pushed the button on his remote, the suit flipped out of itself. Orange-colored metal glistening in the moonlight, and Toron took a moment to admire the new coat of paint he had applied to his pride and joy. Toron squished his way inside the suit, and finding a good grip, he started scaling the large sandstone tower.

The suit made climbing the tower a breeze, and soon, Toron was slipping over the railing of the balcony adorning the tower like a crown. As he snuck inside, he found himself in a large office that took up the top floor of the building. Toron was stunned for a moment when he saw a rough-hewn stone carving of a human skeleton just like the ones they had found at Hawkstorm Keep and in the tomb. An amulet dangled from this particular gruesome effigy's hand. Toron was troubled by what he saw--the Magi had sent him after such artifacts, but had consistently failed to mention the skeleton idols three times in a row now. That was a question for later, however. He walked over to the statue, but as he reached for the amulet, all the torches in the room suddenly ignited at once and he heard the shuffling of cloaks behind him. He turned to see a group of armed cultists glaring at him as one stepped forward. "Infidel, you have chosen the wrong place to steal from this day...but have no fear, as your death will feed the divine scarab and your soul will forever live on in the belly of our god!" The leader rushed toward Toron, sword raised in the air. Toron's considerable combat experience made his attacker look silly, as a blow crashed into the human’s face. Toron grabbed the leader's sword as he crumpled to the floor. More cultists began pouring into the room. The brightly-armored Slime fought fiercely, but the horde seemed endless. On the edge of being overwhelmed, a sudden flash of light stunned Toron as the press of the attack immediately ceased. Only beginning to take in what had just happened, Toron was shocked to see the burned corpse of every cultist littering about the floor. The magic shockwave had dissipated and he looked up to see all three of the Slime Elder Magi concluding a terrible chant that sounded awful to Toron's ears. Wasting no time, the center Magi began, "Toron, the Prince is in mortal danger. As we speak, he is stalked by a daemon. You must save Algor and secure the beast's weapon, as it will be crucial in saving the Prince from the evil that infects him." Toron gestured towards the incinerated bodies strewn about the room, "what abou--?" "The solids are not of your concern" the Magi on the left interjected. "Your responsibility is to the Prince. We will see to the artifact. Now, go." Toron picked up the sword he'd been using and looked up at the Magi once more. "Okay...but later, we need to talk. I want answers before I continue running your errands,” he said before jumping over the edge of the balcony. As the Magi formed a circle around the skeleton idol, the gem embedded in the amulet began to glow from within. “Brothers, it would appear that the spells are working, and the items we seek are falling into our grasp, one by one." As he spoke, the amulet began to float into the air before them. Another Magi continued, "and it even appears that the android trapped within this realm will come to serve our purposes." "Aye, brother," the last Magi responded, "Jalldoon will once again be safe.” In unison, the three Slime Elder Magi began chanting once more.

Toron landed on the ground with a dull thud as the suit easily absorbed the shock of the fall. As Toron stormed off in the direction of the docks, two small forms huddled near the base of the tower crept from the shadows. The pair looked up to see a third child appear on the roof of another derelict office across the street. A small object tossed from the top of the building landed on the ground near the two, and they immediately scurried over to examine it. One child picked up the stone--a piece of sea glass. "Green. That's the signal!" The other seemed nervous and hesitated, "But we're disobeying orders as it is." The first remained resolute and shook his head. "We HAVE to tell her." And with that, the pair sped off into the darkness of the fishing sector.

Toron was desperate to find any sign of Algor...or of battle. As he ran, his mind swam with distracting thoughts. Did Toron hear one of the Magi refer to the humans as "solids"?? He vaguely recalled the ugly, centuries-old slur for non-Slimes from a collection of the earliest records of dimensional rifts on Jalldoon. But more to the point, if the Magi were powerful enough to wipe out a whole room full of enemies, why weren't they searching for the magical items themselves? And what about these skeleton idols and why do they keep showing up? Toron and Algor had accepted the existence of the legendary Magi; to them, the Magi were paragons of wisdom and justice. But something didn't feel right. Toron resolved that once they were back at the Keep, he would begin researching these idols and magical items for himself...but for now, he needed to focus and locate Algor before anything terrible befell the prince. It was just after dawn, and as he rushed through the empty streets of the fishing sector, Toron almost ran into a human woman sprinting back towards town. As she sped by, she blurted out, "he's killing the Slime...the beast is killing him! Run for your life!" Filled with as much dread as relief, Toron charged in the direction she had come from, as the sounds of combat in the distance grew louder...

Face down on the ground, Algor struggled to turn himself over as smoke rose from a vicious wound on the Slime Prince's back. He dragged his sword towards him and tried to look back at whatever it was that had attacked him. In the blazing dawn light, all Algor could make out was the black silhouette of a staff-wielding humanoid with great horns. As the shadowy creature started to walk towards where he lay, its chest and the orb atop its staff began to glow as brightly as the sun behind it. "For the millions of innocent lives your evil has consumed...for the worlds you have yet to burn...NO MORE. Prepare for oblivion." The mysterious warrior raised its staff, ready to deal the final blow...

To be continued in part 2...


[As if the big reveal of Chakradhar Robo a couple months ago wasn't enough...THIS is the other major announcement for Q1 2017. Brownnoize is teaming up with Rampageo Industries and Zoloworld to bring a new type of 5-1/2" fight figure to your scifi/fantasy collections. Details will be revealed later this week, but for now, please enjoy the story Doc Rampageo and I lovingly crafted for you!]

Friday, February 3, 2017

Full Circle

Y'know, I started this blog almost seven years ago now. In all that time as a budding toy maker, I've had a number of successes, a number of failures, and countless learning experiences. I've had the honor of forging friendships with some amazingly talented folks. And I might've made some enemies along the way too. But the one dream that I let guide my initial foray into this madness was the seemingly absurd goal of creating a homemade chogokin figure of Saucer Animal Gin Gin, a villain robot from my favorite cartoon growing up, UFO Robo Grendizer. If you're reading this, you're probably already well-aware of my fascination with this character. So few of the bad guys from these shows got a proper toy treatment. But this wasn't just *any* baddie! This was the machine that led the charge in subjugating the homeworld of our hero, Duke Freed. And upon returning from Duke's tragic past, Gin Gin's terrifying superiority was evident in how easily Gorman, his pilot, defeated Duke. Gorman would have killed Duke, too--just as he killed Duke's parents during the war that drove him to take refuge on Earth. But just as he was about to finish off Grendizer, Gorman was shot in the back, betrayed by his own subordinates! Such drama! Ya just don't get stories like that in your average monster-of-the-week show anymore! ;)

Now, if you've been following this blog, you know that the "Foe-Gokin" (or faux-gokin if you like!) Gin Gin project never truly came to fruition. Sure, I sold a few antiqued ones made of pewter and a few plated in various metals like copper and nickel...but the intended final production item--a metal and plastic figure, painted and stickered to match the animation--was never released. Just too many outside resources to wrangle, and ultimately too much labor to complete a single piece. I went deeper into the post-mortem in my 2013 wrap-up.

The Foe-Gokin project was perhaps ludicrously ambitious for someone just starting out making toys. But then again, if you're NOT full of piss and vinegar when getting into this game, then you might as well quit before you get your damn feelings hurt.

Fail or no, Foe-Gokin Gin Gin paved the way for a future toy project. See, I learned how hard painting is. I learned how hard cutting and applying--all by hand--stickers is. I learned how much entropy is generated by relying on multiple outside sources for parts, materials, and labor. The sea-change from the early Foe-Gokin Gin Gin years to today's all-3D-printed plastic fabrication has been nothing short of profound. Production may be relatively slow and extremely labor-intensive now, but almost EVERY aspect of the process is in-house. The perfectionist in me is constantly overjoyed at the fact that I get to micro-manage the complete lifecycle of each of my projects...from prototyping to production to variants.

And that future toy project has finally arrived! I'm proud to announce the first Shogun Voyager DX figure, Chakradhar Robo:

Look familiar? ;)

True, Chakradhar (pronounced chuck-rah-DAR) Robo is clearly inspired by Saucer Animal Gin Gin. I wanted to make the character my own, however, so I decided to recreate Gin Gin within my own little fictional universe that serves as the backdrop for my ever-evolving "Shogun Voyager" toy line.

This figure stands a little over 10" (25cm), so he's in perfect scale with many vintage and modern super robot sofubi. In fact, that was entirely by design. Whereas Foe-Gokin Gin Gin was an interpretation of that character in the style of the original Popy diecast figures of the 70's, Chakradhar Robo was designed from the ground up to emulate Bandai's missile-firing vinyls of the same era!

The toy is almost entirely 3D-printed in ABS plastic then bathed in acetone vapor, meaning the toy is extremely durable and quite hefty. There isn't an ounce of paint on this figure--all the coloration was achieved simply by carving up the design and printing each separate part in its own color.

If you're sharp, you noticed the "wound" on his back! The aesthetic of this toy fits in with Go Nagai's classic designs, but I obviously changed the details (and name!) to make this homage to Gin Gin my own. That said, I *had* to keep the blasted armor on his back--it's just TOO important a reference to the original character to leave out!

Okay, so what's with the name? Well, I haven't written up the fluff for the character yet (as he appears in my Shogun Voyagers universe), but the name comes directly from the robot's design and from my South Asian heritage. See, much like Gin Gin, the shields integrated into Chakradhar Robo's arms have built-in circular saw blades--blades somewhat akin to the ancient Indian throwing weapon, the chakram, meaning ring...or circle. The word, "chakradhaari", means "one who wields the chakram" [see also Xena: Warrior Princess :P ]...so you can see where the robot gets his name! In fact, there are other references to India in the design and story for this character, but I'll leave those details for a future post...

As for gimmicks, you know I gotchu covered, baby.

The blades in the arm-shields spin freely, as you'd imagine. But that's only the beginning. ;) The shoulders rotate forwards and backwards by way of a tough ratchet joint. It's the same ratchet joint used in the Powered Bio Suit shoulders, and has VERY strong detents--all achieved through 3D-printed parts! Okay, so maybe a point of articulation isn't REALLY a gimmick...but I'm proud of the design, dammit! But while we're on the subject, the arms can splay out to the sides, the fists can rotate at the wrists, and the head can rotate at the neck. Look, this toy isn't looking to break any records for poseability here! Remember--this guy was meant to match the aesthetic of vinyl robot toys, paragons of immobility and derpy proportions!

Now we're getting warmer. When I mentioned this toy was designed to emulate the Bandai missile-fire vinyls of the 70's, I didn't mean just in appearance! This guy packs heat like you don't even know! Two fully-functional missile launchers integrated into the chest...plus two additional missiles stored in his thigh clips. Be careful--or you WILL shoot your eye out!

Not enough? Okay, how about some rocket punch to go along with your missile-fire???

Ferocious.

But y'know...the shooty features aren't even my favorite gimmick of all! If you know me--and my history with GID sofubi--then you KNOW I can't drop a fancy toy without it having some kind of glow-in-the-dark feature.

And Chakradhar Robo does not disappoint.

That's not photoshop, kids. That's straight legit blue- and traditional green-glow plastic! Like I said: this toy project has brought me full circle.

GID missiles? Oh yes.

And incidentally, those are Getter 1's vintage missiles above, just for comparison. Which means it's about time to wrap things up with some comparison shots!

Here's the aforementioned Getter 1, along with the very first prototype of Chakradhar Robo to feature the chest launchers. See, when first conceived, Chakradhar was meant to have the vinyl-style launchers you see above. When CAD-modeling the toy, however, I found that the original launching mechanism that I'd developed for the forearms could not be integrated into the chest...so I dropped the feature altogether for the first few iterations of the design. But once I had my proof-of-concept that this large-scale, print-in-color methodology could actually succeed where the Foe-Gokin project had failed, I decided to design all-new launchers for the chest. Unfortunately, that means the chest missiles cannot be fired from the forearms (which was what I had originally wanted).

I know--probably way more information than you needed, but hey...I enjoy sharing my thought process!

And above is the original version of Chakradhar, as y'all can see, without the chest launchers. Different color scheme, too.

Mean muggin' that 70's Bandai missile-fire Grendizer!

And here's what I call the "anime colors" version of Chakradhar Robo, along with Medicom's recent Grendizer Giga figure. Damn, he's tall.

More modern comparisons! This time, Chakradhar goes back to his roots as a villain, alongside these excellent Medicom Mazinger Z villains, Kingdan X10 and Doublas M2. A trio of shelf-hogs.

And finally, one last glow shot, featuring Chakradhar and Medicom's Getter Dragon in Shine Spark mode! Like I said--no photoshop here. These images give you a good idea of how much glow power the toy really has. Getter Dragon happens to glow *really* damn bright for a sofubi, so it's a conservative comparison:

Well, that's it for now, guys. Or rather...that's all I'm letting you in on for now! ;) I've got some other things in the works that I alluded to before, including the next incarnation of the Shogun Voyager minifigs. But I'll save that for another post!

Before I bounce, I have one last big announcement to make: I'll be at Zolocon in Bucks County, PA later this month! I'll have the four Chakradhar Robo figures featured throughout this blog post for sale, as well as some other surprises. If you're in the area, come check me out--I'll be right in the center of things, sharing table space with my homie, Dr. Rampageo of Doomkick.com, along with some other friends of ours.

Sounds unusually cryptic for me? Most definitely! I've got something in the works coming VERY soon that isn't patterned after Japanese robots or monsters at all. Something big...and muscly. Stay tuned!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Format Shift

Welcome to 2016…even though we’re already closing in on 2017! Pretty much par for the course around here. But then again, y’all probably know by now that the less I post on my blog, the more stuff that’s going on behind the scenes. ;) And that’s a pretty accurate assessment. I’ve got some pretty fun stuff coming real soon as I promised in my last post wrapping up 2015…and I finally get to tell you about it in the coming weeks! But first, a couple quick pics from this past August’s East Coast Chogokin Summit

2016 has been great for me so far, as a collector and as a maker. The 3D-printing homies, Ben, David, and PJ, have been killing it throughout the year, and in this game, I couldn’t ask for better P.N.C.’s. And while the designer vinyl scene has taken a bit of a step backwards*, appreciation of cheap toys continues to thrive. When it comes to the resin/rubber-slinging arena, I haven’t thrown down for too many custom keshi as of late, but I’d love to do another collaboration with the Eric Nilla’s and the Zectron’s of the world. Oh, and while we’re on the subject, big up to my homie, Marcus of Onell Design, for his successful launch of his new vending machine line, Bit Figs!

* PLEASE, no more of the two-headed monsters, the rocky-textured horror/poop monsters, the eyeball/gorilla/cyclops/cat themes, the innumerable generic cutesy minis, the Garbage Pail Kids/Madballs/Ooze-It rip-offs, the pachi drawing adaptations, the bootlegs of bootlegs, etc…

Okay, let’s dive right into today's main topic. I wanna talk about a big decision that’s bound to ruffle a few feathers. There’s a pretty major format shift on the horizon for the MicroClone line. See, at the end of last year, I had talked about doing another big wave of MicroClones consisting of the standard figures, the augmented troops I teased about earlier, and the Mk II Powered Bio Suits. Lots of folks have asked me over the months when this release was coming…and at this point, the answer is likely never. That doesn’t mean that these toys won’t be available ever again—so don’t trip! But I felt bad being forced to tell everyone that other projects/collabs had priority. The real nail in the coffin, however, came with some pretty…shocking…mainstream Micro/Takara SF Land (Henshin Cyborg, Microman, Diaclone, etc.) releases that few people—myself included—saw coming.

First, US-based Hasbro and IDW Publishing have brought back the Micronauts! If you’re reading this blog, then you very likely know how EPIC this news is. In fact, the return of the Micronauts—not to mention the return of Rom to the comic book landscape—is part of IDW’s Revolution initiative. In case you’ve been living under a rock, Hasbro is developing a shared fictional universe consisting of some of their most popular toy properties of the 80’s, including GI Joe, Transformers, M.A.S.K., Action Man, and the aforementioned Rom and Micronauts.

Yes.

This is a real thing.

And if you didn’t know about it before reading this, I sincerely hope I’ve given you at least a mild heart attack. A shared cinematic universe—akin to what Marvel Studios is doing with the MCU and Warner Bros is doing with the DCEU—is being developed, but it all begins with the foundation laid down in these comics published by IDW. And to kick off the hype, Hasbro released a set of four new Micronauts figures at this past SDCC, featuring brand new box art by the legendary Ken Kelly. Expect this story to continue to accelerate in the coming year…

And second, TakaraTomy, original Japanese producers of the Microman and Diaclone toy lines, have released the DA-01 Dia-Battles V2, the first in a new line of high-end “reboots” of the original Diaclone line. On one hand, the sheer audacity and utter absurdity that TT would resurrect such an obscure, failed toy line of the 80’s—cult following notwithstanding—is already mind-blowing. I mean, seriously. I’m part of that “cult”...and my head is STILL spinning from this news. *But then*…you go and add the fact that this new Dia-Battles toy might be one of the greatest Japanese robot toys ever conceived…and it’s game over, man. And I ain’t fronting: this toy, my friends, will leave you speechless. I’m pretty sure in all my years in the toy hobby, I’ve never handled such a brilliantly-engineered and flawlessly-QC’ed adult collectible. And again, NOBODY saw it coming. Besides their nice MP Transformers line and the mainstream Hasbro Transformers line, TakaraTomy had been pretty quiet on their “hobby” (vintage-themed) front for years. When the return of Diaclone—really a sequel more than a reboot—was announced last year, I was floored. But there it was: a completely re-engineered Dia Battles toy that sets a whole new standard for complex modularity and play value. I can’t say enough about this toy. And given the popularity of this initial release, TT has already announced Big Powered GV and updated Powered Suits (yes, the beloved ancestors of my Powered Bio Suits!).

So what does this all mean for the future of the MicroClone line?

Well, there are suddenly a number of new and exciting releases competing for Takara SF Land fans’ dollars (or yen). See, when I first developed the Powered Bio Suit and later MicroClone figures, my intent was to serve a community I was part of that didn’t really have any new content/product being generated for it. Microman and Micronauts fans certainly had vintage toys to keep them busy, but there just wasn’t anything new on the horizon. These toys were my small way of helping revitalize the fandom…and to push my engineering and 3D-printing skills, of course!

But now that Micronauts/Takara SF Land fans have multiple comic books to look forward to on a monthly basis, new Micronauts toys undoubtedly being developed, and an ultra-high-end line of Diaclone reboots to smash their wallets, where does my high-priced bootleg (read: homage!) toy line fit in??? Even without my toys being a part of the conversation, I’ve heard plenty of grumbling about how there’s all this new legit/mainstream stuff to pick up. I wouldn’t quite call it “overload”, given how diverse all this new content is, but it’s still a financial strain for those who want to stay up-to-date with these franchises.

So here’s what I propose: rather than doing formal releases, where I kill myself making a huge stockpile of toys to put on sale at a particular date and time, I am going to produce them to-order, on a commission basis. Essentially, everything will be a “custom”—meaning colors can be selected, rather than forcing folks to buy into the colors I’ve already manufactured. Every now and then, I’ll post images on social media reminding folks that these toys exist and are available for custom-ordering…but my day-to-day focus will remain on my Shogun Voyager toy line and the various collaborations I have in the works.

I think that’ll be the best for everyone. The hardcore fans out there (you know who you are! THANK YOU ALWAYS!!) will be able to order the figures they want—in the color schemes they want—and I won’t have to drop everything I’m doing to spend several weeks cranking out toys en masse. I know this will annoy some casual fans who are accustomed to easily-accessible products that they can click-and-buy instantly. I get it—I hate having to jump through hoops myself. But I think this is the right move for me. Plus, I like the idea of a “sale” actually being a conversation. I don’t like being a vendor who has customers. I look at everyone else in the hobby as my peer, a fellow fan. And to work with someone to make the “perfect” toy for them in the exact color scheme they’re looking for will be a breath of fresh air!

And onto a lesser-known aspect of my Takara SF Land homage series: the Powered Suit Fake Type! Yeah, remember those? LOL

Okay, so it’s been an eternity since I’ve even brought up these all-Shapeways-produced minifigs. For those who may not know, I designed these toys when I first got into the 3D printing game (and before I had my own FFF printer!). There are a few reasons why I’ve sorta abandoned these lil guys. First, they’re damn expensive. That’s just the nature of Shapeways—it’s an online service that has access to some pretty exotic 3D printing materials and technologies. If it weren’t for those high-resolution processes, I never would’ve been able to make these Diaclone-scaled suits on my own. But on top of cost, if you wanted the steel “DX” version suit, you’d have to purchase separately the exact magnets used to articulate the shoulders. Who wants to do that?? And lastly, Shapeways is unfortunately infamous for screwing up orders involving complex assemblies of components produced in different materials. :/ There have been a number of reports from folks I know saying that they ordered, for example, a Type A suit, but it came with Type B fists…or some ridiculous thing like that. That’s unacceptable.

So my solution here is that I will be offering these figures for sale *myself*. The idea is that when someone contacts me to buy a Fake Type suit, I’ll order the parts myself to make sure there are no Shapeways shenanigans. I’ll then assemble the figure (adding magnets where needed), and ship the completed item to the customer. I’ll likely leave the components in my public Shapeways store, but I’ll continue to urge people to contact me directly if they want to order a suit.

And y’know, I’ve considered abandoning the Fake Type suits altogether, given the cost and annoyance involved in dealing with Shapeways…but here's a pretty compelling argument that pushes me to keep hope alive for these shorties:

Yowza! (that closing price—for the most common Powered Suit type and color—is $405USD, in case it's hard to read)

Okay guys, that’s it for now on the Takara SF Land front. Please feel free to comment and let me know your thoughts on this shift in format. Meanwhile, in the coming weeks, I’ll be (finally!) revealing the future of the Shogun Voyager line. And, oh, it’s a BRIGHT future. ;) Also, I’ve got a wild collaboration in the works with a big name and local homie of mine…that’s of a more barbaric nature. As always, stay tuned, my people!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

My philosophy

What's really good, everybody? Time again for Sanjeev's big year-end round up! This is my way of talking a little bit about what kinda ish I got cooking on the toy-production front, how techniques and technologies have evolved, and also to document this creative process for posterity. I suspect I'm gonna get a kick outta reading some of this stuff in years to come. ;) Anyway, instagram's still the best way to follow my day-to-day toy rambles...but at the same time, I don't really like to post too much of my own toy-development progress there. Sure, I'll post announcements of new releases and whatnot on ig, but I use it primarily to talk about what I love about toys in general. From a collector's perspective, feel me? This blog, however, still serves as my personal playground focusing on the toy-making side of this hobby.

So let's get it popping!

First off, I had actually planned to post after last summer's East Coast Chogokin Summit in August. The event was held in East Boston and was "closed" (invite-only) this year, given the limited space we had. That's unfortunate because it's always fun to meet new people and grow the community. But it is what it is...and while I had some pretty cool things to show off at the Summit, nothing was really production-ready (hence why I held off on making posting at the time). So what were those reveals? Heh, well, I'm gonna hold onto those secrets for just a bit longer still! 2015 was a solid year of learning and growing. And 2016 is already shaping up to be a year where we'll be able to enjoy the fruits of that labor!

Before I get into the philosophical stuff, I got a quick announcement I'm real excited about! There's a new member of the fam. But don't get it twisted--this is NO rookie by any means. This dude's been slinging resin for a ill minute, and he's apprenticed under none other than the great Ron Daley and Matt Doughty for even longer than Onell's been around. And now with the recent boom in 3D printing, he's thrown his lot in with dangerous individuals like myself, David, and Ben. He is PJ Bartlett of Spaced Out Design! If you get a chance, please check him out. He's been rocking some amazing Glyos-compatible 3D-printed figures that are blowing up the spot.

So probably the most interesting challenge I've pondered this past year is the concept of scale. See, just like with any sort of manufacturing process, there are strengths and weaknesses associated with using common FFF technology to produce toys directly. For example, if the resolution on these machines were better, it would be a snap to produce MUSCLE-style figures that you could sell for peanuts. Or if they printed MUCH faster (and if the parts required a fraction of the cleanup work), you could sell a Transformers-style toy for about how much you could expect to pay for a mass-produced one at retail.

Now, as it turns out, producing runs of smaller toys like the MicroClones is actually surprisingly labor-intensive. The parts come off the printer much faster than with a larger toy, so you're constantly having to keep track of all the tiny parts and stay on top of the post-print cleanup workload. And just because those parts are smaller, that doesn't mean the cleanup's all that much easier! So in a lot of ways, a MUCH bigger toy like the Powered Bio Suit ends up being easier overall to produce! It seems counter-intuitive, but the reality is that the bigger, chunkier PBS parts are ultimately easier to clean up...and because those parts take so much longer to print, there's a lot more time available between print jobs to do that work. Sure, it still takes 3 days to make a single PBS (while I could do half a dozen MicroClones in that time), but you can imagine how less taxing it can be to produce larger toys that sell for over $100 than it is to produce smaller toys that sell for a lot less.

The philosophy of scale, therefore, boils down to the question of whether or not I want to sustain the toil required to keep on churning out cheaper offerings, or switch over to producing exclusively high-end items at a more leisurely pace. On paper, the high-end approach looks more amenable to my lifestyle. But there's an undeniable allure to producing cheap toys: your offerings become more accessible to a larger number of folks...plus you gain the ability to give away large numbers of your toys. That last bit may sound a bit odd, but trust me--after having given away dozens of dozens of Glyos figures over the years to kids I know, nothing beats that feeling. NOTHING.

So for now, I'm gonna stick to doing what I'm doing. The response to the "Wave 0" MicroClones (see last post) was intense. The couple dozen or so figures I offered on Monster Kolor sold out in just over half an hour! Clearly heads are feeling them...and unlike the first generation Shogun Voyagers (yeah, remember those??), they don't break my back to produce! I'm still working out details for a sub-$10 Shogun Voyager mini that will fill that cheap toy role...but I don't think it will expand into a whole line. We'll see how things progress into the next year as I grapple more with this question...

And speaking of the MicroClones, the intrepid forces of Earth and their allies from Micro Earth [or the Microverse, if you prefer! ;) ] are getting some upgrades to their gear in the coming New Year! Yup, the standard MicroClone explorers will be joined by two new troop types for when the action calls for more specialized roles.

The Powered Bio Suit is what I'm really excited about for next year, though. Now, keep in mind that the PBS was the *very* first toy I ever tried to develop when I first got my own 3D printer. That was one helluva learning experience! Over the years, you guys have seen quite a few iterations of the toy on this blog. Each and ever piece I produced sold (THANK YOU!!), but clearly it's taken me some to get it perfect. And, yes, being a perfectionist is part of being a toy-maker! Well, after a recent few months of design tweaks, I've finally got it right. At least, as far as I'm concerned--your mileage may vary. ;) I've completely overhauled the packaging design, hardened several joints and connection ports, upgraded some aesthetics, and added some new gimmicks. And probably the most significant change is that I'm folding the toy into the overarching "MicroClone" brand. Of course, the MicroClone line didn't exist when I first started developing the PBS, but now that the MicroClones are an established thing, the move just makes sense. And to commemorate this ultimate iteration, I'm calling it the "Mark II" PBS:

I don't have a set date for when the next MicroClone wave will drop, but it will certainly include the original figures, the two new augmented soldier types, and at least a few MkII Powered Bio Suits. A little something for everyone! Of course, all the details will be revealed here and I'll be making the announcement on ig and on the usual facebook groups.

There's more coming in 2016, of course...including a Shogun Voyager release that's bound to snap necks and cash checks. As I'm often fond of saying, stay tuned. ;) Oh, and more keshigomu collaborations are on the way. If I can somehow carve out the time to do it, I'd love to do another Spiral Zone keshi vehicle with my homeboy, Eric Nilla. So, yeah, LOTS going on!

Stay sucka free in 2016, y'all! Now go listen to some KRS-One!