The Cult of Articulation?

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The Cult of Articulation?

Postby Malcolm_Craig » Tue Jul 10, 2012 5:56 am

Edit: Just to make it abundantly clear - as if it wasn't clear enough already - this is not a piece criticising any individuals.

This is something I've been thinking about for a while now and, after some bouncing around of thoughts on IRC and elsewhere, decided to actually post about it.

Articulation: Is it becoming the be all and end all of building frames? I'd say 'yes'. Quite an emphatic (but qualified) 'yes' at that. These days, it's commonplace to see comments on a new build along the lines of:

"I wish it had more articulation."
"It could do with more articulation."
"The next version will have more articulation."

as if articulation is some sort of Holy Grail of MFZ frames. It really isn't. To my mind form and function (as a playing piece) trump everything else. Form, in that it should look good. Function in that it should function as an item on the gaming table. Yes, of course there should be a certain amount of articulation to allow for posing, holding weapons, etc. That's a given. But (and this is purely a personal opinion) articulation is becoming an unhealthy focus within our community. There seems to be a gentle creep towards articulation being one of the main standards by which a frame design is judged. And, I wonder if this affects those new to the game by creating an ethos of articulation over form?

Take the example of the humble Chub. It looks great. It has just enough poseability. It is rugged enough to use as a playing piece. It's pretty much your go-to example of a well-designed, well thought out MFZ frame. It's also right in scale for 'standard' MFZ. Start bunging in an extra joint here and there and the size starts to creep up. Pretty soon you have something that is at least one or two bricks bigger than everything else.* Then there's the example of the C6 system by Micah Bauer. I think this is one of the best things to have come along for MFZ: simple, adaptable, well thought out using a very limited palette of basic bricks.** Finally, a builder like Zizy uses a relatively limited range of articulation in many of his AF series builds, yet they still look outstanding.

This isn't intended to criticise individual builders or builds. The intent to to start a discussion about what is important when building. Let's have a good old talk about this!

Cheers,
Malcolm


*This is not a critique of builders that do that. For example, the Super Chub and Assault Chub are both outstanding designs.
**And this isn't saying that C6 has been unfairly overlooked. far from it. It's had a lot of deserved love from the community.
Last edited by Malcolm_Craig on Tue Jul 10, 2012 7:03 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Cult of Articulation?

Postby zeekhotep » Tue Jul 10, 2012 6:51 am

Yes! Articulation has it's place in MFZ, but I also feel that too much emphasis has been placed on it lately. I wrote a post on this very topic back in 09, weighing form, function, and articulation against each other. You can read it here - http://nobsjustabs.wordpress.com/2009/06/15/t-a-g/. Lets get this discussion rolling!
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Re: The Cult of Articulation?

Postby morganm » Tue Jul 10, 2012 8:10 am

I don't see a problem here. The Chub is a great example. Yes the original ST-07 is a wonderful creation. People just wanted to take it to the next level. Bendable joints aren't just added for the sake of articulation; it brings more dynamic poses to a frame, a more realistic look, and flexibility. This is something unique to Lego table top game models. For decades now we've seen beautiful... but static... painted metal/plastic models on the game table. The only way you changed them was through tedious labor. Now with Lego it's quick and easy to swap weapons, add something to it, take something from it, and change it's pose completely.

While I don't think bendable joints and articulation are required I think it's a wonderful thing when done right. It's not like people faun over models JUST because they can bend well. There have been a couple of frames which had quite a lot of articulation but overall didn't look that good and hardly anybody commented about them. I added elbows and knees to the Conscript and frankly nobody cared. Which is fine; I did it because I wanted my Conscripts to be as flexible as my Chubs. I'm just using this as an example of a standard frame with added articulation and it didn't really strike a chord with anyone... let alone masses of people.

I honestly see just as many people flock to designs modeled after Gundam. Transforming frames are starting to take off too. I don't think it's just about articulation and only about articulation. I also don't agree there's a chilling effect on new comers based on articulating frames. It's not like it's some secret how they are built; people are very open about their designs and share how to make them. Anyone who can follow instructions could do it provided they have the parts. What I've seen on miniature painting forums is a chilling effect of superb painters vs. new people. The new people come online and see these wonderful models and think "I'll never be that good..." and don't bother posting photos of their models because they feel it's not good enough. I think it's a little less like that here because of how open people are with instructions and how easy it is to replicate great models. I'd be more worried about a chilling effect based on cost of Legos then quality of frame design.
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Re: The Cult of Articulation?

Postby Mercutio » Tue Jul 10, 2012 8:50 am

Thanks for this. I think part of my thought process in wanting more articulation personally is that the limited set I have gives me some really poor options to choose from for a good-looking mech. That and I'm just a novice builder in general (it's been at least twenty years since I sat down to actually play with Legos) and I see these amazing frames that I just can't afford to make right now. Which is why my frames bear zero resemblance to the "standard" frames that I see.

In any case, it's less that I want the uber-articulation of frames like XGundam05's Saluki (which is a sleek looking frame in general), and more that I just want a little more control over what is able to bend and twist. A large part of that is, of course, my limited access to bricks for building, which is also why my frames seem to be larger (and more fragile) than what I see here.
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Re: The Cult of Articulation?

Postby MittenNinja » Tue Jul 10, 2012 10:46 am

I agree 100%. Articulation is cool, rightfully so. But for the sake of actually playing a game of mfz? It actually makes things more difficult.

Initially I intended to convert all of my fat snakes into super chub articulate goodness, but ended up deciding against it due to the fragility issues with actual play and constant handling. The snipers were the only ones I changed, and with those it was just the arms so they could hold their rifles a bit more naturally.

For any company I actually plan on using in game I go for stability and ruggedness over articulation. This is one of the reasons I absolutely love the standard chubs, my iguanas, and the lovely little creation that Malcom put together recently. Lots of detail, sturdy build, and still room for poseability.
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Re: The Cult of Articulation?

Postby afny » Tue Jul 10, 2012 11:33 am

morganm wrote: Bendable joints aren't just added for the sake of articulation; it brings more dynamic poses to a frame, a more realistic look, and flexibility.


I respectfully disagree. Sure, articulation allows more dynamic poses, but that's really ALL it does. It'd be hard to argue one way or another for "realism", but when your baseline is a cartoony 7p scale, it seems a little irrelevant. A more useful term might be "credibility", and frames like the Chub and the Conscript are a lot more credible in my eyes than some of the intensely articulated frames that are so popular right now. They're believable as industrial robots; they IMPLY movement and power instead of explicitly indicating it with their spikes and kung fu. It's the form and outline of those builds that make them credible--form and outline that are lost when you start adding articulation.

The flexibility you discuss in your post is the same for a frame with zero articulation, or for one with Revoltech insanity. You can still swap out parts; you can still swap out colors. Hell, it's probably EASIER on frames with less articulation, as they tend to fall apart less in your hands.
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Re: The Cult of Articulation?

Postby MittenNinja » Tue Jul 10, 2012 11:45 am

Here is a perfect example of what I think were getting at.
Image
Asp Ambush by Mitten Ninja, on Flickr

These guys would not be considered 'articulate' by most standards, yet they are capable of plenty of poses, sturdy, and look great. They give off a great vibe and instill a sense of what they are capable of instead of actually being able to do it. The legs are not bendable, the hands don't rotate, the arms sort of do, the torso can't bend at all, but yet it still looks like it can.

I personally love this kind of build so much more than super articulate stuff.
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Re: The Cult of Articulation?

Postby Zero Revenge » Tue Jul 10, 2012 12:06 pm

That right there is the perfect balance. Enough articulation to have awesome battle-still's like that. But not too much to ruin the scale MFZ has.
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Re: The Cult of Articulation?

Postby Axhead » Tue Jul 10, 2012 12:47 pm

I see the articulation and transforming as being natural progressions by high end modellers. You see the equivalent think with minitiaures gaming, the level of painting on the high end is now definately an art formas opposed to just a way to make your game pieces presentable and staying in between the lines.

I think it is kind of cool that there are people out there with the talent, bricks and ability. Its not someplace that I feel the need to go, but then I am more into the game side than the design side which puts me in the minority on this forum.

Just because I am happy with my chubs, hi-legs and conscripts, doesn't mean everyone should be.
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Re: The Cult of Articulation?

Postby morganm » Tue Jul 10, 2012 12:54 pm

The Landmate is a great example of getting dynamic poses out of something that doesn't have much joint flexibility. It's actually more articulate than it may seem because of subtle rotation in the arms and legs. Malcom deserves much praise for that frame; it's a stroke of genius.

That frame is among the most fragile I've ever built. The legs constantly fall off because the single 1x1 round stud interfacing the travis brick is VERY weak. Then it has the same interface at the knee. In order to get it to stand well you need to rotate the ankles which usually means the legs break off. This is the same weak point on the chubs; single 1x1 round holding the arm and hand on making these parts very fragile.

I might be misunderstanding your use of the word sturdy... perhaps you are referring to how stable it is on the table. It's not easy to tip over like some frames. In that respect I do agree that it's sturdy.
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Re: The Cult of Articulation?

Postby XGundam05 » Tue Jul 10, 2012 12:56 pm

As someone who just spent a decent amount of time trying to figure out good ANKLE joints in MFZ scale, I wholeheartedly agree that articulation is becoming too much of a focus.

Does that mean I'm going to stop trying to get that 'Going for a squat in the woods' pose in 7p? Nope :D It's a fun engineering challenge. However, these sorts of things can be intimidating to new builders, many many years ago I would get mildly dejected when looking at my micro-scale mecha and comparing them to Zizy's >.> I don't want new folks to be coming in here and going "Welp, I can't play this game 'cause my frames aren't as good as [insert name here]".

And, randomly, if you think about it, how often do you change your frame's pose? In my experience, not that often, I tend to find a pose I like and leave it there for a while. So one could build a modicum of articulation into a frame, and mostly build around a given pose. (Granted, I feel there needs to be at least some articulation, but that's me.)
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Re: The Cult of Articulation?

Postby pasukaru76 » Tue Jul 10, 2012 12:58 pm

In general I agree that having a frame be stable is much more important than articulation. Most of my frames have very little articulation, about as posable as a minifig being the norm. My Grunt frame has articulated legs so that the feet can lie flat on the ground, giving it enough stability to carry big guns without tipping over -- sometimes there are benefits from articulation other than looking cool.

What bothers me more (and might be an entirely different topic) is frames where you can't easily tell where the systems are and what you'd pop off when damage is done.
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Re: The Cult of Articulation?

Postby MittenNinja » Tue Jul 10, 2012 1:12 pm

morganm wrote:The Landmate is a great example of getting dynamic poses out of something that doesn't have much joint flexibility. It's actually more articulate than it may seem because of subtle rotation in the arms and legs. Malcom deserves much praise for that frame; it's a stroke of genius.

That frame is among the most fragile I've ever built. The legs constantly fall off because the single 1x1 round stud interfacing the travis brick is VERY weak. Then it has the same interface at the knee. In order to get it to stand well you need to rotate the ankles which usually means the legs break off. This is the same weak point on the chubs; single 1x1 round holding the arm and hand on making these parts very fragile.

I might be misunderstanding your use of the word sturdy... perhaps you are referring to how stable it is on the table. It's not easy to tip over like some frames. In that respect I do agree that it's sturdy.


if you're using older or "looser" pieces then yes, its going to be fragile. This can be said for pretty much any frame. If you use tighter fitting pieces it can change everything. The asps I put together are insanely sturdy. I dropped one from about three feet right onto the floor and absolutely nothing came off.

I see the articulation as a fun challenge and there is definitely a place for it, but as far as actual gaming goes, ill leave them out in favor of stuff like the chub.
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Re: The Cult of Articulation?

Postby HatRabies » Tue Jul 10, 2012 1:23 pm

I guess I'm a member of this cult. Thats not going to change anytime soon.

I don't play the game, so building frames is all I do. If I'm going to be toying around with them at my desk, yeah, I want something articulated like one of my imported action figures. Whenever I'm building a frame, I'm essentially just building myself another action figure to mess around with. I like articulation in my action figures, I like articulation in my frames. Now, if the articulation junks up the aesthetics of a frame, I'll happily ditch it. Articulation for the sake of articulation can be a problem, but articulation that works well and still feels cohesive with the frame, I don't see a problem with that at all.

Like I said, I'm a member of this cult. And I doubt that'll change.
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Re: The Cult of Articulation?

Postby morganm » Tue Jul 10, 2012 1:27 pm

Malcolm_Craig wrote:E The intent to to start a discussion about what is important when building. Let's have a good old talk about this!

Cheers,
Malcolm


What's most important to me are stability, fragility, and overall looks.

Fragility: I get frustrated when I'm trying to build something but the arms or legs keep falling off. When I've set it down to find another piece, go to grab it, and parts fall off because I didn't grab it in the right spot. When I drop it on carpet and the thing explodes instead of just loosing a couple pieces.

Stability: Setting down a frame should be easy. Putting a gun in it's hand shouldn't make it fall forward. Putting a flag or antenna on it's back shouldn't make it fall backward. A gentle bump of the table shouldn't lay waste to an army.

Looks: It just has to look good otherwise I would just build them out of simple, cheap, parts. My favorite things about table top gaming in general are the minis, models, terrain, artwork, design, etc. etc. I've always spent too much time building terrain, painting minis, designing hand-outs, and Lego is a wonderful artistic medium.


To me articulation should facilitate these things. Giving a frame bendy ankles and knees should make it more stable. Building articulating arms should eliminate weak points not create them. Making a frame able to do dynamic poses should improve it's looks.
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Re: The Cult of Articulation?

Postby afny » Tue Jul 10, 2012 1:38 pm

MoralWarfare wrote:Now, if the articulation junks up the aesthetics of a frame, I'll happily ditch it.


This right here indicates that you don't fall prey to this problem. I don't mean to gush, but you're one of the few people I've seen pack TONS of articulation into a frame holistically, and not screw up the form or line of your build in the process. Many of the builds your Super Chub inspired seemed to miss the point of the original; yes, it's articulated, but its use of color (simple black and white contrast) and shape (particularly in the squared shoulders) fully integrates articulation without sacrificing outline.

No one is saying that articulation is a bad thing; only that it should be weighed along with other elements.
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Re: The Cult of Articulation?

Postby HatRabies » Tue Jul 10, 2012 2:09 pm

afny wrote:
MoralWarfare wrote:Now, if the articulation junks up the aesthetics of a frame, I'll happily ditch it.


This right here indicates that you don't fall prey to this problem. I don't mean to gush, but you're one of the few people I've seen pack TONS of articulation into a frame holistically, and not screw up the form or line of your build in the process. Many of the builds your Super Chub inspired seemed to miss the point of the original; yes, it's articulated, but its use of color (simple black and white contrast) and shape (particularly in the squared shoulders) fully integrates articulation without sacrificing outline.

No one is saying that articulation is a bad thing; only that it should be weighed along with other elements.


Thats the point I was trying to convey, your wording makes it far more apparent than my own.
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Re: The Cult of Articulation?

Postby Malcolm_Craig » Tue Jul 10, 2012 2:36 pm

I'm enjoying this conversation and don't want to poke my oar in too much.

pasukaru76 wrote:What bothers me more (and might be an entirely different topic) is frames where you can't easily tell where the systems are and what you'd pop off when damage is done.


That's a great topic for a new thread!

MoralWarfare wrote:I guess I'm a member of this cult. Thats not going to change anytime soon.

I don't play the game, so building frames is all I do. If I'm going to be toying around with them at my desk, yeah, I want something articulated like one of my imported action figures. Whenever I'm building a frame, I'm essentially just building myself another action figure to mess around with. I like articulation in my action figures, I like articulation in my frames. Now, if the articulation junks up the aesthetics of a frame, I'll happily ditch it. Articulation for the sake of articulation can be a problem, but articulation that works well and still feels cohesive with the frame, I don't see a problem with that at all.

Like I said, I'm a member of this cult. And I doubt that'll change.


This I find very interesting. It makes me wonder how many people on this forum are in a similar position? To my mind, not building for play gives slightly different objectives (although building for play has many overlapping objectives. Like a big Venn diagram.) One of the good things about these forums is that it is both a play community and a building community. Largely, those communities overlap, but in some cases they don't.

Cheers,
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Re: The Cult of Articulation?

Postby LowestFormOfWit » Tue Jul 10, 2012 2:40 pm

I have to agree with the general sentiment that articulation is becoming too big of a focus. The main reason for this? Challenge, at least to me. The reason so many people take notice of a very pose able frame is, aside from the obvious wide range of "action shots", that it's fairly hard for us to do it at MFZ scale, so it's impressive when you can pack such articulation into a small package. You look at mini-fig scale MOCs and it's barely a thing at all.

But it's gotten to the point where I can literally divide the flickr page into BSC (Before Super Chub) and ASC (After Super Chub). Now, I don't mean to single Moral out, because we all absolutely love the work he's done and he is guilty of absolutely nothing (echoing Malcolm), but I view it as kind of the breaking point for this articulation focus. Literally dozens of frames (including my own), and sometimes full companies, were retro-fitted with Super Chub legs, arms, both, or a complete redesign favoring higher articulation of some kind. (Heck, even Moral himself came back to his Super Chub with articulated ankles! ;) )

I can see why Malcolm is alarmed. I see the trend he's seeing. My feeling is that, just like anything in life, too much of anything on a frame is probably not a good idea (unless that extreme is what you're really going for!).

What I consider the best frames are those that balance the five aspects (to me):
  • Parts use (creative use, cost-effective use, etc)
  • Color use (Number of colors, general scheme)
  • Articulation/pose-ability
  • General aesthetic/cool factor (Themes, scale, etc)
  • Gameplay functionality (Ease of system integration/removal, scale, etc)

It's basically extending a bit the aspects of Form and Function Malcolm was talking about.

The route I've gone with my personal frames, anyway, is each of my companies push certain aspects higher as a whole, balancing out when compared to each other as companies and not as frames.

For example, my Dissident in general have high parts use (huge number of details), extremely low color count (if it isn't black or trans-neon green, it isn't on there, save a lime or dark bley piece here and there), average to low articulation (The Longinus' legs have less articulation than a basic Scrambler), a Blacktron/Tron/Necron-eqsue theme/aesthetic, and a slightly bigger scale.

In contrast, my Mistarille Dawn frames have a relatively lower parts count , four colors versus two, extremely high articulation (I can fold up a Gernsback in so many ways it's stupid), a Space Marine/Fantasy/Fire-esque theme/aesthetic and fairly standard scale.

Above all, the most important thing, and no one will refute this, is you should make a frame -you- are happy with. I understand the point of this thread is to be wary of focusing on articulation too much, and I agree, but if that's your goal, if that's what you want to play with on the table then go for it! (Malcolm also expressed this in the asterisks in the original post).
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Re: The Cult of Articulation?

Postby HatRabies » Tue Jul 10, 2012 2:50 pm

Malcolm_Craig wrote:I'm enjoying this conversation and don't want to poke my oar in too much.

MoralWarfare wrote:I guess I'm a member of this cult. Thats not going to change anytime soon.

I don't play the game, so building frames is all I do. If I'm going to be toying around with them at my desk, yeah, I want something articulated like one of my imported action figures. Whenever I'm building a frame, I'm essentially just building myself another action figure to mess around with. I like articulation in my action figures, I like articulation in my frames. Now, if the articulation junks up the aesthetics of a frame, I'll happily ditch it. Articulation for the sake of articulation can be a problem, but articulation that works well and still feels cohesive with the frame, I don't see a problem with that at all.

Like I said, I'm a member of this cult. And I doubt that'll change.


This I find very interesting. It makes me wonder how many people on this forum are in a similar position? To my mind, not building for play gives slightly different objectives (although building for play has many overlapping objectives. Like a big Venn diagram.) One of the good things about these forums is that it is both a play community and a building community. Largely, those communities overlap, but in some cases they don't.

Cheers,
Malcolm


We'll have to see how much (if at all) my views about articulation change once I get into playing games. I just haven't had the resources to yet.
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