Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Like many sci-fi, fantasy geeks, I love dragons. Below are a list of my top ten dragons appearing on film or TV. They are purely subjective choices, of course, but I'll endeavor to briefly explain why each was chosen.

10. Toothless (How to Train your Dragon, 2010)

A 'silly' movie, yes, but Toothless was awesome. Who WOULDN'T want a pet/companion like him. He stands out as a very unique design of dragon, too- not quite like any others. In fact, that is one of the things I like about the movie in general, the variety and creativity of the various dragons.

9. "Red Death" (How to Train Your Dragon, 2010)

The primary villain of this otherwise lighthearted film, the Red Death was truly terrifying in scale and appearance. The scenes of its aerial battle with Toothless were awesome, cartoony or no. And again, the design of the beast was unique- like nothing I'd ever seen before.

8. Tiamat (Dungeons & Dragons Cartoon, 1983)

A recurring nemesis in the Saturday morning cartoon, Tiamat is an awesome design. I especially liked her five-headed design, with each head able to spew a different kind of breath- from acid to fire to ice to poison gas and lightning. It was cool that she looked and 'performed' according to her stats in the D&D game. Unfortunately, she was also a bit wussified, be defeated rather easily by the kids in the show on several occasions.

7. Sokurah's Dragon (The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, 1958)

A true classic of stop-motion animation, this guard beast for the evil wizard Sokurah was probably one of the best examples of that art- as was its epic battle with a giant Cyclops at the end of the film. This dragon was unique in that it was wingless- but to me, this gave it an interesting 'eastern' look, which fit well with the Arabian Nights setting.

6. Male Dragon (Reign of Fire, 2002)

Though I had a lot of problems with the film itself, I could not fault it on the design and implementation of the dragons. They were truly terrifying, and none more so than the gigantic 'Male' of the species. The scene where he burns down the survivor's castle was awesome, as was the final confrontation in the ruins of London.

5. Hungarian Horntail (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, 2005)

The screen version of the show-down between Harry and this dragon was a lot better than what I had cooked up in my imagination while reading the book. The whole battle over the castle, with the dragon scrabbling over slate tiles on the high towers...well, it was just awesome, and really drove home the 'seriousness' of the tournament in a way the scene in the book didn't quite achieve.

4. Draco (Dragonheart, 1996)

One of the earlier CGI dragons, Draco was truly awesome for his time. Unfortunately, he hasn't' aged well. The CGI looks pretty mediocre now (but still better than almost everything you see on the SyFy channel). What made Draco truly memorable was his personality and (of course) voice acting by Sean Connery. That come-hither "Helooo" when he spies the sheep. Classic.

3. Malificent (Sleeping Beauty, 1959)

Okay, so she's a sorceress changed into a Dragon, I don't care. Malificent is one of the most terrifying dragons ever brought to the screen, and her battle with Prince Philip at the end of the movie was epic- I mean, she actually died by having a sword stabbed into her heart. That wasn't common for Disney movies.

2. Smaug (The Hobbit, 1977)

I remember seeing this dragon for the first time on TV when I was a little kid. The scene with Smaug scared me. A lot. The voice is what really sold it- low, rumbling- seemingly bored, but seething with barely contained anger. Then there were the eyes, shining like twin spotlights as they scanned the room to find little Bilbo Baggins. Yeah. Smaug was memorable- and I can't wait to see what they do with him in the new hobbit movie.

1. Vermithrax Pejorative (Dragonslayer, 1981)

"The Worm from Thrace who makes things worse". Freaking awesome name. I own the DVD to this and I am still amazed at how well the animation of the dragon holds up. I'd say that it has held up MUCH better than some CGI beasts (sorry Draco). For me, old Vermithrax is the best dragon yet presented on the screen- the scenes of her flying through the clouds are still awe inspiring and her bat-like crawling through her caves is still creepy and terrifying. A truly classic design and implementation.

Friday, May 4, 2012

May the Fourth be With You!

May the Fourth! Star Wars Day! I hope you're all having a fun one. Hard to believe it was 35 years ago (give a few days) that it all began. Amazing to think how this movie and the people who made it changed the face of entertainment for all time. Fun to think how it changed my life personally. I'm thankful for all the great times I've had and friendships I've made because of the mutual love of these films (yes, even the prequels). Talk to you later!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Sand People

I've probably already talked about this, but if I have, I've forgotten where. Oh well, it's my blog and I can be redundant if I want to! In any case...

The Tusken raiders (or Sand People) are an element of Star Wars that I, for whatever reason, found (and still find) fascinating. Initially, I think it just had to do with the way they looked with their fearsome, wrapped heads with goggle and gas-mask like protrusions jutting through.

My interest in the Sand People only increased in 1978, after I moved to South Dakota and began to learn more about Native American plains society. Even as a kid, I began to draw parallels between the cultures- and to recognize bits of North-African/Middle-East nomad in there as well (especially visible in the design of Tusken rifles).

There was very little 'official' information about Tusken Raiders until the Star Wars D6 roleplaying game came out in 1987. Here, in the Star Wars Sourcebook, I was treated to the basic stats and information for Tusken Raiders, but also to a short story entitled "Song for a Fallen Nomad". In this, we see a young Moisture Farmer, caught out in the desert after dark. He stumbles upon the scene of a Tusken raider singing to a dieing elder, revealing a strange, spiritual and beautiful side to these fierce nomads. This stuck with me over the years and totally colored the way I viewed the race.

What really gave the Sand People a 'face' for me, though, was the portrayal of one of them- a Tusken Jedi/Shaman- by one of the players in my long-running Star Wars campaign. He too was inspired by the idea of Sand People not as mindless savages, but as the a noble and even wise people. Well, most of them, at least.

As I got older, I was exposed to different 'brands' of Sci-fi, including Frank Herbert's Dune. It was VERY easy to relate the Sand People to the Fremen of that novel- and indeed, in the video game "Knights of the Old Republic", someone else must have made the same association. In this game, for the first time, we are given a glimpse of a possible history of the Tusken, speaking of a time when Tatooine was not so harsh and a belief that the Tusken, if they are strong, will once again inherit a 'garden world'. So it was pretty easy for me to add on yet another layer to my concept of the race, going so far as to have Tusken raiders have remote 'holy places' in the deep desert (picture Ayers Rock), where they gathered in larger numbers and even had huge caverns filled with water.

And then the prequel movies came around. Now, as I've said many times, I have reached a place where I mostly like the prequels. But I have a few peeves about them, and how the Tusken are handled is one of them. Particularly, when Anakin slays an entire tribe of them, the whole situation is just 'written off' by the reactions of characters to it. Namely, Padme seems to instantly forgive Anakin of this horrendous crime. To me, this suggests an attitude of "Oh, well, its okay you wiped out the entire tribe, because they're all bad." Even in a black-and-white universe like Star Wars, it seems harsh to suggest that an entire species is just bad and its 'okay' to kill them. But that's what I got out of it.

This attitude seemed to have been carried over into the Star Wars d20 system, where Tusken raiders are (in one edition at least), prohibited from being used as a Player Character species. In short, they're supposed to exist only as 'monsters'. I think that really sells them short.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Rebel Troopers

So, I guess that I’m in the minority here, based upon talks I’ve had over the years with friends and other Star Wars fans. I always liked the way the Rebel troopers looked in Episode IV. You know, the ones on Leia’s ship? (figure 1 in attached picture)- the blue shirts, the vests and the big, white, clam-shell lookin’ helmets? The first time I saw them was actually BEFORE the movies, on some Star Wars trading cards. I thought they were cool looking and I actually expected that there would be action figures released of them. I mean, they made action figures of ‘Hammerhead’ and ‘Snaggletooth’ and they were only in the movie for a couple seconds. It only made sense, right?- that is if you ever wanted to have a ‘good guy army’ versus ‘bad guy army’. But no such luck. Not until the mid-90’s.

Why do I like the design of the Rebel Trooper uniform? Well, it’s difficult to say, really. It just appealed to me aesthetically. 

Okay, maybe the helmet was a little large, but it seemed mostly functional to me. In fact, the whole uniform did. They were ‘recognizable’ as soldiers, but just sci-fi enough to satisfy me. They also stood apart from Stormtroopers, emphasizing the difference between the two armies in no uncertain terms. Stormtroopers were intimidating and faceless. Rebel troopers looked a bit under-equipped (which helped give them that ‘rag tag underdog’ feel), but more importantly, they were individuals- young and old men fighting for a cause.

I also liked the variation we saw in  Episode IV. Different troop types had different uniforms- again something to differentiate from the Imperials. There were the flight-crew/tech guys (figure 2) and the dapper, OD Green clad ceremonial guards (figure 3). Even as a kid, I could appreciate the effort that went into making different folks look unique, but still part of the same ‘family’. It was just another way that made the movies feel grounded, despite their fantastic story.

With the growth of the Expanded Universe, the Rebel trooper has been featured a bit more prominently- namely in comic books, but also in a few gaming supplements.

Figure 4 shows some of the ‘classic’ blue, black and white guys duking it out with stormtroopers. I like the addition of bulky ‘ammo packs’ to the one trooper’s uniform, again giving them a real ‘soldier’ feel.

Figure 5 shows some desert troops involved in a battle on tatooine. Can’t say I’m really a big fan of the armor, though. They seem to have shoulder guards, which is cool, but… they also seem to just be wearing a T-shirt. Why do away wth the vest? Even if it doesn’t provide any protection, its good for carrying gear.

Figure 6 shows an artists conception of ‘evolved’ rebel troopers. I like the more practical colors of the uniforms and helmets, but I’m not a huge fan of the face-plates. I can see where they’d be functional in certain areas, but they make the troopers seem a lot more…faceless-literally and figuratively. Plus, we all know that face-plates are the surest way to invite enemies to disguise themselves as your own troops. I mean, that’s in the Evil Overlord handbook.

Now, as far as my own concept of the ‘evolved’ Rebel trooper, the figures along the right side of the image are pretty much it. I found the base soldier image somewhere online and modified it color-wise. They have that similar look to the classic Rebel trooper, but with a bit more military oomph and functionality. They also incorporate a blast-vest in addition to the helmet. For some reason, I still like the blue-and-grey color scheme the best. To me, it still says ‘Rebel’ (or in this case, New Republic).

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Stock Light Freighter

Ever since I first saw the Milennium Falcon, I wondered as to its internal layout. I have always been obsessed with maps and floorplans and schematics and I was very happy when the first Star Wars Sourcebook (released in '87 or '88, can't remember) had a floorplan for the Falcon. It SEEMED to jive with what we saw in the movies, but not entirely. Then other internal schematics came out in other sources, each of them with a slightly different take on the internal layout and even dimensions of the ship. By this time, my curiosity had gone beyond just the Falcon, I wondered what a true 'stock' version of the YT-1300 might look like. I also wanted to apply some 'logic' to the whole thing. After all, the ship was supposed to be a freighter, but most deck-plans didn't really seem to take this into account. I have posted on this subject before, but have since tinkered a bit more with the design and present that to you now. I have finally come up with a schematic that I think works as the model for a 'stock' YT-1300- straight out of the factory, with no modifications made. The image included shows this layout, please click to embiggen.

Now, the things I was most concerned about in designing this ship were:
a) that it at closely (if not slavishly) resemble what we see in the movies, at least externally and dimension wise.

b) that it seems like it could function as a freight hauler. This means it would need large amounts of space inside for cargo as well as methods of easily moving said cargo onto and off of the ship. In the designs of the ship as they were presented in most sources, cargo space was usually VERY limited. This seems very counter-intuitive to something that was supposed to be a freighter. Furthermore, the means of loading cargo was usually relegated to 'cargo lifts' in the floor- typically large square lifts that (to me at least) didn't seem to jive with what we had seen of the cluttered under-side of the falcon. Simply put, Big, 5x5 meter square lifts just don't seem to be possible with all the landing gear and such underneath the ship.

c) that we figure out what the heck is going on with the escape pods. In some designs, the big circular constructs on the port and starboard side of the ship are designated as escape pods. In others, they are called cargo airlocks/ports. So which is it. And if they AREN'T escape pods... where ARE the escape pods? In Episode IV, upon capturing the Falcon, the Imperials mention that 'several of its escape pods had been jettisoned'. And yet we can clearly see that the port and starboard constructs are still there, so.. again... what's going on?

On more recent maps (released with the d20 Star Wars system), we are shown that the YT-1300 has five escape pods, accessible through hatches in the floor of the aft 'engineering bay'. This leaves me confused in several ways. First of all- why five pods if the standard crew is 2 people? Why are they located in the aft of the ship, about as far away from the cockpit as you could get? how the heck do they even FIT beneath the deck, at the back of the hull where it tapers? It just doesn't seem to make sense.

d) that we eliminate wasted space. Freighters are utilitarian- like a semi-truck in space. The amount of room dedicated to lounges and crew quarters seemed out of place- to say nothing of the fact that the corridor leading to the cockpit was a huge amount of wasted space- as was the central, circular corridor. Space on a freighter is at a premium, if these corridors exist, there should be a reason for them.

Also, why does a ship so small need a dedicated 'engineering bay'. I feel this is just a holdover from Star Trek and doesn't really have a place in a ship this size. I mean, the ship is manned from the cockpit and if you need to repair the engines, well.. you climb into the engines to do so (as shown by Han in Empire Strikes Back, clambering around in the Falcon's guts.

Keeping all of this in consideration, I came up with the following 'solutions':
a) While my map may not completely match up with the exterior diagram of the Falcon, it is close enough for me. It is, however, substantially larger in scale than the 'accepted' dimensions given in most source materials. The length of the ship was given as 26.7 meters. Which would make the whole thing exceedingly tiny- small enough to call into question internal dimensions we see in the movies. Therefore, I made the main 'disc' section of the hull fit this dimension- with a diameter of 26 meters. The total length of my YT-1300 is 34.5 meters. It's height (at the center and not counting any mounted weapons) is 5 meters (though as I continue to work the design, this may increase slightly.

b) You will see that my design includes a LOT of cargo space. It is divided into 8 main 'bays'- one of which (bay 2) is devoted to the cockpit and crew quarters. Four secondary spaces house cargo loading ports, ramps, lifts, etc. Also, all bays are connected internally by 2-meter-wide hatches, thus making moving cargo within the ship a lot easier than most other designs I've seen. Furthermore, with these bays all being the same dimensions, it would be an easy matter to modify the ship with 'modules'- i.e. one bay could be turned into a crew quarters with bunks and lockers for four as well as bathroom/shower facilities and even room for the extra life support machinery/consumables. Other modular bays could likewise exist- a lounge bay, a medical bay, a brig bay, even a vehicle bay (for speeders or speeder-bikes) though the latter could only fit in specific locations- namely in bays 3, 6 and 7, which would have room for a ventral ramp to open up beneath the ship. It has always been a peeve of mine that none of the cargo loading ports on a stock ship (including the forward cargo lift), seem big enough to admit a landspeeder. A vehicle bay gets around this nicely, though space would still only allow a small to medium-sized vehicle to be carried.

c) Since the typical crew on a ship like this is two, the stock version comes with only two escape pods- tiny, one-man pods mounted in the hull near the cockpit- accessible through hatches in the wall of the corridor-tube. For ships that carry more crew/passengers, one or even both of the port and starboard loading ports could be replaced with larger, four-man escape pods.

d) The wasted space of the cockpit corridor is transformed into very basic living quarters for the two-man crew of the ship. There are two bunks, a sink and a toilet that fold down from the walls. The rest of the wall-space is devoted to storage lockers. The central 'ring' corridor of the ship is still, perhaps, a bit of 'wasted' space, but I think we can get around this by saying that it ALSO provides access to the ship's power-core via removable wall panels. In my design I also see a lot of the ship's primary systems being mounted in the space above and below this central ring. Thus, ceiling and floor panels in the corridor turn this whole space into a maintenance accessway.

I also feel that I am justified in eliminating any 'engineering bays'. As mentioned above, a ship this size doesn't need them. If you need to fix the engines, you pull a panel off the wall in bays 4 and 5 or open the door into the hyperdrive compartment.

In any case, I thought I'd share where I was at the moment and ask if anyone has any thoughts or suggestions?