Character Design Writing Advice

vitruvian-manAt almost any given time, a writer can find submission windows for “character driven” works of fiction. And even stories that are plot-driven are almost infinitely better with a good dose of personal development. For some writers, character development is very instinctive. Those folks may get some ideas from this post. However, this advice maybe invaluable to the other variety, who concoct great plots but have trouble creating characters who “stick” with their readers and fail to deliver the emotional power of personal growth and maturity.

Before I begin the blog post, I would preface that this is simply an approach to development. There is no “one size fits all” methodology for design and authors should always be encouraged to try new techniques to prevent stagnation. Think of the advice in this post as a tool, to be used when and where your instincts say it is appropriate.

Pragmatism isn’t without virtue. Use what’s useful, ignore what isn’t, and always strive to do more.

Is a Character’s Personal History Necessary?

One of the most important questions an author should ask themselves when creating a tale is whether or not a character necessarily needs a background, at least at first.

From a franchise focus, character biographies are incredibly valuable. They offer depth and intrigue and can be a source of great stories in and of themselves thanks to something called the Zeigarnik Effect. They also help keep your characters more consistent, which is a must for longer, on-going arcs. Some story-featured video games even go so far as to have backstories constitute large portions (sometimes half) their material, such as Mass Effect 2 and Shadowrun Hong Kong.

Jess-Jones-PosterBackstories can intrigue readers but they often need to feel compelled to curiosity. Why does Professor Snape have it in for Harry Potter? What happened between Cobb and Mal in Inception that kept him from being able to go home to America? And the recent Jessica Jones on Netflix is an excellent example of why it can pay to hide a superhero’s background for a while, as opposed to revealing the origin story immediately.

But if the goal is to write a short story around a totally fresh character, it may actually pay not to flesh out the personal history yet, or at least avoid exploring it in the current yarn. If a stranger tries to give us his/her life’s story at a bar, we’re usually not interested. But if we get to know them for a while, we might be inclined to ask how they became so funny or morose. Where they got that scar or what made them arrive in this town or city.

Likewise, it’s incredibly easy for a character’s history to devour more than its fair share from the precious word count. Tack on a greater plot arc and/or world building elements and it could easily become impossible to tell the story in fewer than 8,000 words.

Finally, it’s possible that the character in question could just stand on his/her own. Sometimes the audience can like a character for no other reason than the fact that they keep their issues to themselves and never become a distraction. Or maybe they have a great personality, or rather are a force of nature in someway. The latter might be called an “Unapologetic Hero.”

A character’s past is, more often than not, worth developing and discussing. But if you’re struggling to fit a 12,000 word tale into two-thirds that size, consider if the person’s history can be saved for exploration later. Or is needed at all– sometimes the mystery is better than the truth!


Homework Assignment: Think back on all the books, movies, games and television you’ve enjoyed. Pick out three to five characters you liked whose backgrounds are never explored. Try to discern why you were so impressed with them.


 

Put Philosophy & History Atop the Design Hierarchy

Philosophy, noun
  1. the rational investigation of the truths and principles of being, knowledge, or conduct.
  2. any of the three branches, namely natural philosophy, moral philosophy, and metaphysical philosophy, that are accepted as composing this study.
  3. a particular system of thought based on such study or investigation
  4. the critical study of the basic principles and concepts of a particular branch of knowledge, especially with a view to improving or reconstituting them

Admittedly, philosophy is a very large field of study to explain, especially for a blog post. Yet on the flip side, the subject is the source of many plot-driving elements. Politics, morality, personal discovery, ethics and growth, all are subsets of philosophy. When one sees political pundits arguing, they’re usually debating with thought-branches derived from fascinating roots of justification and rationale. Whether or not they express that critical thinking well is another matter…

RorschachDeveloping a philosophy for a character is nothing less than 50% of that person. By creating guiding principles for characters, authors may find that their casts’ actions and reactions are a foregone conclusion. For example, Alan Moore realized the fate of Rorschach many, many issues before the conclusion of Watchmen, but not when first beginning to write the series. 

That is not to say that philosophy is the beginning and end of character design however. Much like the debate as to the origin of fear, philosophy can be constructed from experience, but may also overcome and learn from the past as well. History is very often the other half of a character. Nor is a person’s philosophy necessarily defined from the beginning, rather they may discover things about themselves when confronted with unforeseen situations. Marvel’s Daredevil addressed this very well. Try developing a character both ways; writing the philosophy first and then the history, and then vice versa. Then try it piece by piece.

Studying philosophy is best performed by forcing one to try and discover the rational arguments that maybe counter to one’s personal beliefs. If one is conservative, read more liberal news sources. If one is progressive, seek out counter viewpoints from the opposition’s own outlets. No matter how annoying or disgusting they may initially be, try not to block or mute friends and family whose political views mortify you. Try to learn the basis of their thinking and if nothing else, take a sharp look at history (personal or political) for the answer.

An estimate is better than a complete guess, and both are better than flat, uninspired stereotypes.


Homework Assignment: For fellow writers, take your character(s) and have them undergo a few basic ethics litmus tests, such as whether or not a person deserves less (or any) jail time for stealing a loaf of bread to feed their family. Try to find points of difference between your own views, to gauge whether or not you potentially have a Mary Sue. 


 

Don’t Fear Hypocrites But Call Them Out

“A man always has two reasons for doing anything: a good reason and the real reason.”

–J.P.Morgan

If there was one consistent, perfect philosophy, would it wipe all others out like the correct answer to a math problem? Something proven true beyond the shadow of doubt, an approach to law and morality that everyone instinctively deems fair and reasonable? An approach to thinking that is always unlocking new knowledge and wisdom? A manner of reasoning that is so often “correct” that the philosophy itself is all but factually true?

Obviously, that has never happened. Well, maybe in the fairly utopian Federation of Star Trek, and that worked because the show’s conflict usually revolved around cultural friction between alien relations and galactic emergencies.

BioshockFor the rest of us though, conflicts and hypocrisy abound in both real life and fiction. Hypocrisy, as a thematic element in storytelling, is an awesome source of intrigue. Many readers are strangely sympathetic to characters who do rotten, even heinous acts, provided either they know it’s wrong or figure some justification that leads to understanding of their decision. But it’s also something they cannot stand if improperly executed. 

Dexter is a possible example of this very thing, while more critically acclaimed works include The Scarlet Letter, Andrew Ryan from Bioshock and the self-delusions of the lead characters of AMC’s Breaking Bad.

Strangely enough, even children shows can have surprisingly well performed moral-turns. In the episode “The Ultimate Doom” from the first television series of Transformers, paragon of justice Optimus Prime is convinced by the villainous Megatron to effectively betray the Earth. With their home planet suffering from an energy-famine, Prime feels forced to activate a device that summons Cybertron into our planet’s orbit. The gravity shift causes myriad environmental disasters. (If this plot sounds familiar, it’s because it was reused in the movie Transformers: Dark of the Moon.) For the previous episodes, it was easy to put a fellow like Optimus Prime on a pedestal for his benevolent behavior. But this particular episode was a shocking twist that made complete sense. 

If poorly written however, it can be seen as a kind of violation of the writer’s contract with the reader at best, and a plot hole at worst. No one enjoys betrayal without explanation or at least some justification. Likewise, because hypocrisy can easily be intertwined with a person’s history, dealing with a moral twist effectively can greatly ramp up the needed word count to finish a story, so authors should be advised to factor the added pages when devising a manuscript.


Homework Assignment: What’s the fine line between hypocrisy and a change of opinion or growth? Do your characters answer that question the same way?


 

For Villains, Are They Unapologetic or Justified?

ChigurhVillains. Gods, we love our villains.

There’s a psychological trick at play when it comes to understanding why audiences love a strong villain, possibly because the role itself makes almost anything permissible. We can admire and respect them with sympathy, or we can despise and hate them with the most intense loathing and rancor… and neither is wrong.

Villains can be anything except boring.

As characters, the bad guys are primarily divided into two general categories. The justified types are often heroes of the other side, where the actual role and title of “villain” is debatable. Sometimes, authors deliberately cloud the definitions to let the readers define the heroes from the villains. Heroes on the wrong side of the story if you will. Justified villains may include…

  • Roy Batty, from Blade Runner, who attempted to extend the lifespan for both he and his colleagues, who were effectively genetically engineered slaves who live a mere four years.
  • The Operative, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, in Serenity. Admittedly, the incident that the Operative was trying to cover up was terrible. However, it’s worth pointing out that keeping a lid on it also prevents others from using the same technology for horrific ends.
  • Doctor Octopus of Spider-Man 2. The accident that pushed him over the edge was really just that, an accident. Meanwhile, the work he was doing could have greatly revolutionized energy production.
  • Julie Marsden of Jezebel, whose vanity costs her engagement to Preston Dillard. Her antics were a threat to her former fiance’s marriage and later his life. She does however, somewhat prove her genuine love for him by offering to treat his yellow fever in place of his wife.
  • A few of the major characters of Watchmen, who will not be mentioned as to protect the reader from spoilers.

JoffBut there are also the unapologetic types. True forces of nature, these types are motivated either by forces we may not (and perhaps never will) comprehend, or by understandable but primal forces or desires.

  • The Joker, both in The Dark Knight and Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, who was effectively raw chaos and randomness.
  • Anton Chigurh from No Country For Old Men, both the book and movie. It can be said that Chigurh is little more than an avatar of death itself.
  • The shark from Jaws, as it was an animal acting entirely on instincts.
  • Likewise, the xenomorphs from the Aliens franchise, as their predatory instincts were a key factor to their reproduction.
  • Cthulu from the mythos of H.P. Lovecraft.

George RR Martin uses both varieties in A Song of Ice and Fire. For the justified, he divides his readers, causing them to cheer for various contenders for the throne, yet making the choices gray and not without cost, such as Stannis Baratheon or Daenerys Targaryen. Likewise, he uses a slew of entirely despicable types who provide no excuse for their antics, such as Joffrey Baratheon and Ramsay Snow.


Homework Assignment: Here’s a real tough one. Was John Doe, the villain of Se7en, a justified villain or an unapologetic one? Or was he both?


 

Advertisements

Confessions of a Tech Priest

Confessions of a real life Tech Priest, who is too cowardly to give up his limbs to the Omnissiah.

Confessions of a real life Tech Priest, who is too cowardly to give up his limbs for the Omnissiah.

So I want to take a minute to talk about the job situation across the nation. I don’t want to, and therefore won’t, dive into politics on the matter. But a lot of folks are less fortunate than me and are finding themselves either unemployed, under employed or doing jobs they dislike just to make ends meet.

I’m fortunate because since I was young, I had an affinity for technology. My dad nurtured that aspect in me and encouraged me to continue with it throughout high school.

In college, I knew my major was going to be Computer Science the moment I arrived. But I held back on declaring because I had to choose between two disciplines of Computer Science: the systems track (focus on programming, networking and hardware) or the artificial intelligence track (which involved more esoteric programming and some psychology courses). After sampling both choices, I went systems because of less theory and more market applicable skills.

Life after college wasn’t a cake walk. I found out the hard way that a degree didn’t entitle me to a job. I ended up working at a Starbucks to pay the bills while I searched for something in the field. It was hard. I kind of goofed off in college and didn’t search for a position before I received my bachelors.

That was five years ago, and it took a couple of false starts and lots of trial and error to begin my career. Today, a few of my friends ask questions and look to me for advice on how to get hired. These friends also want to join the IT field. So here’s a little insider advice for anyone trying to score a position in the IT field.

  1. The Resume
    The first thing that any head hunter or recruiter or manager is going to see is your resume. You have a maximum of ten seconds (the average is probably more like… half a second) to grab the attention of whomever is reading the resume. Why? Because hiring managers know what they’re looking for. And if they don’t see it in a cursory glance then they’re not going to look again.

    Therefore, the most important thing to top your resume besides your name and the objective is your set of skills. Any technical stuff you know, put it up there. If you can program in whatever language, or are used to whatever IDEs (Integrated Development Environments), or even simple things like the OSes and applications you’re used too, write it down. The chances of a candidate possessing every single skill a recruiter needs is unlikely. But whatever you have is what they don’t have to spend money and time training you on.

    After that, you’ll want to add as much professional experience as you can that relates to the job you’re after. If you don’t have much, put academic experiences. Break them down, be specific. Mention the skills you use to do whatever you did. Mention teammates and your roles and everything you can to bolster and prove that you can do the work that will be asked of you.

    Also mention amateur pet-projects that you do. If you have a website or work on C# or Python or whatever projects for your own interest, say so. IT managers love to hear that you do this stuff for fun. It proves that you’re motivated to do it and stay technically savvy. Constant self improvement is a mark of a professional. And they know it.

    Where do you put your resume up? The two best places I’ve personally found are Dice and Craigslist (just look for your city and the section called ‘Resumes’ toward the bottom). But you’ll also get noticed over at Monster, Careerbuilder and ITJobs. These five are good starts, but try to put your resume out on as many sites as you can, and keep reposting.

  2. The Interview
    If a recruiter bothers to call you, it means they take your resume seriously. It means that the two page advertisement of your employable services (your resume) got a hit. And they want to see if the person who wrote this backs up their claim.

    Interviews are rough because they make people nervous exactly when they should try to be the most relaxed and natural. Compared to a hot date, interviews are more nerve racking because your livelihood is dependent on them, where as a bad date you go home alone and a little lighter in the pockets.

    Now, I’m not a psychic. I don’t know what most managers are looking for other than the basics. This article on Dice covers it well: hiring mangers want someone who is motivated to do the work and will fit in well with the team. This is true of any position. The IT field however comes with a third factor, whether or not you can do the work. To this end, lots of recruiters absolutely love to throw tests at potential employees. We’ll cover that in a minute.

    Besides this test, the most important thing to prove is that you’re a likeable guy (or gal). Managers want to know that the team can get along with you, because the last thing they need to do is hire a prima donna who needs to be coddled and babied through everything. To that end, it’s important to smile and have a little confidence. Don’t expect instant friends, but definitely try to click with people. Listen to them. Nod your head, pay attention.

    Fact is, they’d probably rather hire someone with has less skills and more personality than someone who has more skills and is a total jack ass. But if you can bring both, all the better.

  3. The Test
    Personally, I have been tested in so many ways so many times. I’ve come into interviews expecting to shake hands and hit it off. Instead I get hit with a written pop quiz (which is not really fair because in this day and age, I can just Google the answer to a real life problem if I’m stumped on the job). Other times? The hiring manager asks you really technical questions about how you would do this, or that, or whatever. Which is sad because maybe I forgot the terminology but I would be able to do it if the issue was right in front of me.

    The worst test I ever faced was when they marched an entire group of programmers into the room to grill me. Not only did I have to answer rough technical questions, I had to do it with about eight pairs of eyes watching the sweat stains expand on my dress shirt. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.

    It is a crappy state of affairs, but the fact is that companies get burned if they make a bad hire. One of the earliest companies I worked for hired a woman to a position because she seemed a good fit with the team. Then they found out she had absolutely no skills at all with her PC. Three days into the job, they had to let her go. But, the company paid out generously for her unemployment, a month of health insurance and salary for the full two weeks. Lucky her. Unlucky for them.

    That being said, always be prepared to be tested. If a recruiter says you’ll get an interview, whether on the phone or face to face, grill them to find out if there will be a test. And then study for it anyway. Find out what skill sets will be required for the position and then read up on them. Memorize the terms, know what the acronyms stand for. Know the basics like the buttons on your TV remote.

    And if you get caught flat footed, admit that you don’t know the answer but do know the resources and websites that you can get the answers from, like DaniWeb. Admit that you’re willing to learn anything you don’t know and prove you know what you claim to.

  4. The Thank You Note
    Okay, that’s a strange name for a section. But it’s effective. If you get out of an interview and you think there was a click there, sometimes a tiny bit extra can make all the difference in the world. Sending an email to the hiring manager to thank them for the interview and that it was great to meet them can be the difference between “When can you start?” and “You’re a great fit but…”

    So don’t be ungrateful. They’re a human being, treat them like one and you’ll find respect returned.

  5. The Hiring Game
    No matter how good you feel after an interview or what they tell you, always assume you’re not hired until you see that offer letter. This is especially true of contracting positions, because its quite common that a recruiter will lie to your facetell you what you want to hear right before they fail to land the contract. And most won’t have the common courtesy to call and tell you that it’s not going to happen.

    No matter what happens, remember that you’re a little better off than you were before the interview. Because even a failed interview gives you some experience into how this power game is played. Yeah you didn’t land that position, but now you are a little wiser about what to expect and how to react. What I said before about it being a game of trial and error wasn’t a joke. So don’t kick yourself because you got turned down- you’ll get turned down more often than you’ll succeed.

    So don’t pat yourself on the back when you’re out of the interview. Get back to work, chasing leads, working on the resume, reading, studying and working on your interview skills. Be a machine. And don’t give up.

So that’s what I got for anyone struggling out there to get a job in this climate. Fact is, don’t give up just because the prospects suck. There is always money to be made out there, always someone in need of someone to do something. And if anyone whines and nay says your efforts, stop talking to them. You don’t need someone dragging you down.

Keep calm and carry on.

Team Fortress 2: Compression Blast Guide

On June 19th, 2008, Valve Software updated the Pyro class in Team Fortress 2. The change gave the Pyro access to a new ability, called the compression blast. Fast forward to 2011, when Team Fortress 2 becomes free for all to play. And you have a number of guys who are learning from scratch the nuances of the Pyro class.

Opening

By pressing alt-fire while wielding the flamethrower, a burst of air is unleashed which allows the Pyro to deflect certain projectiles and force opponents back. This ability gives Pyro some unusual skills that no other class really possesses. This guide is meant to show players how they can use the compression blast to their benefit. There are three major aspects to the compression blast: One, it can deflect certain projectiles. Two, it can force the enemy back and away. Three, it can put out immolated teammates.

Before we begin, let us go over some equipment. The Pyro has access to three varieties of the flame throwers. Both the Flamethrower and the Degreaser use 20 ammunition per blast, giving you a decent 10 bursts without horribly eating up your ammo supply. The Back Burner however uses a staggering 50 ammo per blast, limiting you to 4 compression blasts. Given that you will probably also want some of that ammo to ignite your opponents, you will probably want to use the latter two weapons until you are experienced enough to trust yourself to the Back Burner’s limitation.

Here’s a movie demonstration to get you started.

So let’s break it down some.

1. Deflecting

The Sandman ball, the Flare Gun‘s flare, the Huntsman‘s arrows, the Demoman‘s grenades or sticky bombs and especially the Soldier‘s rockets and Cow Mangler 5000 blasts. The Level 3 Sentry‘s missiles, Mad Milk, Jarate and Crusder’s Crossbow bolts. All these can be returned with interest, as using the compression blast gives the projectile a mini-crit boost if it is not already a critical hit. Of the classes who have any weakness to the compression blast, you will be using it mostly against the Demoman and Soldier. Deflections require some practice and skill.

When fighting Demoman, there is a critical exception to how compression blast works. Except for sticky bombs, all projectiles change ownership and become the “firing property” of the Pyro who deflected them. Sticky bombs do not change ownership (although you will get kill credit) and the Demoman who fired them can still ignite them (and will harm or kill you if you are in the blast radius). However, the sticky bombs are blown back and away by the compression blast, allowing the Pyro to clear a mine field.

Another critical tactic to use against the Demoman is to “claim ownership” of his grenades in order to prevent them from hurting both you and your team mates. While it’s best to compression blast the grenade mid air to send it back, using the blast while the grenade is on the ground will render it harmless.

The Soldier is straight forward as he will be firing rockets at you, likely just outside your weapon’s range. You will have to develop a sense of distance and timing in order to return the rockets. When frustrated by a defensive Pyro, some Soldiers will switch to their shotgun to handle you if rockets don’t seem to work. Others will stubbornly cling to their Rocket Launcher and try to shoot for the walls or floors around you to catch you in the secondary blast radius.

Bear in mind two things. First, the closer you get to the Soldier, the less reaction time you will have to blast a rocket back, making it more difficult to pull off. And second, that the angle that you compression blast the rocket will also change its flight path, meaning that blasting it from an angle will deflect it by that angle while blasting it dead on will deflect it 180 degrees the opposite direction. Use this against the Soldier whenever possible.

2. Extinguishing

Normally, a Pyro player loves to watch the people around him burn. However, an exception should probably be made for his allies. The compression blast can be used to extinguish after burn on an ally. Do so whenever possible to save your team mates’ lives. You may have to remind yourself that you can do this.

3. Pushing

The last and most thought provoking aspect of compression blast is its ability to knock back opponents against their will. Normally a Pyro, who works so hard to get up close to the enemy in the first place, wouldn’t want to push his enemies back and out of his flame thrower’s range. But there are times when doing so is worth increasing the distance between the Pyro and his (or her, maybe)  opponents. This section deserves a long talk to explain the details and I’m going to break it down by sections.

a. ÜberCharge Breaking

Well it certainly burns when it goes down.

Well it certainly burns when it goes down...

One of the most useful aspects of this ability is that it can be used to break an ÜberCharge circuit. The most common ÜberCharge set up is with a Heavy, allowing him to advance and firing a spun up Minigun at your team. By pushing either the Heavy or the ÜberCharging Medic out of range, the Heavy will become vulnerable again.

With that being said, think carefully.

It is very possible for a Pyro to compression blast a Heavy forward, pushing him towards the Pyro’s own team. While on the plus side this might take away the invulnerability, it could advance the spun up Heavy within the best killing range of his weapon. If you take a look at the Minigun’s stats, you may notice that at point blank it can deal 500 to 540 points of damage a second. The closer to a revved up Minigun’s firing arc you are, the less likely you are to survive. If you blast a Heavy forward and he kills you half your team in the process, it wasn’t worth it. The same is true of an enemy ÜberCharged Pyro.

To prevent this mistake, you ideally will want to focus on either pushing the Medic back, or pushing the Heavy or enemy Pyro back laterally from the direction of your team, but still out of the range of the Medi Gun. An ÜberCharged Medic is invulnerable but far less a threat than the person he was charging.

b. Environmental Killing

One of the most dastardly aspects of the compression blast is the ability to force an enemy player into places they don’t want to go. Like lethal pits or the nasty twin buzz saws of the Sawmill map. Forcing your opponent down a cliff can save you health and be quicker than going toe to toe with an opponent.

Another less direct use is to corner opponents. Pushing an opponent into a corner to prevent escape and then switching to the highly lethal Fire Axe to finish them is a solid tactic. You can also use it to prevent opponents from getting a nearby med kit if you’re quick enough. Finally, don’t be afraid to toss enemies in the air to juggle them. Huntsman equipped Snipers cannot fire their bow in the air. I’ve yet to try it, but this tactic may give that needed edge against an enemy Pyro, letting you juggle them in the air and cooking them while being airborne ruins their aim.

c. Objective Protecting

OH SNAP! You got told!

Most people don't know it, but the Pyro is the game's best trash talker.

Defensively, the compression blast can be critical at times for halting enemy progress. Use it to blast the enemy away from Control Points or in King of the Hill. In Payload, pushing the enemy away from the Cart is very useful, since the Cart slowly heals nearby enemies over time. Keeping them away from a healing source is vital.

Offensively, pushing away the enemy from objectives prevents them from blocking you, allowing you to claim the objective or push the cart. Clearing out a sticky bomb mine field around the objective is a common past time.

In conclusion, with a little practice you may discover that there is a lot more depth to playing the Pyro than people may first believe. Have fun!

…And burn them all.

5 Modelling Ideas to Save Money

I like 40k’s modelling aspect. There’s something incredibly rewarding about putting together an amazing looking tanks or commander. On the flip side, it’s expensive. The current going rate for a Force Commander is $20, while the price of a Space Marine Tactical Squad is $37.25. Multiply the squad’s price by two and factor in taxes and possibly shipping, and you’ve spent $100 on just the core army. And that doesn’t include the cost of tools, paint and the codex.

Needless to say, these costs can be restrictive for some younger players who want to break in but are slowed down by waiting on their allowance. But do not fear, for here’s are five ideas to help you save some money in building your army, as well as links to guides to help you out if you don’t know how.

Although, Leonidas of the Angry Marines maybe an exception to the "No Pre-painted Purchases" rule.

Although, Leonidas of the Angry Marines maybe an exception to the "No Pre-painted Purchases" rule.

1. Use eBay
Buying from hobby stores is not the cheapest option. Very often, I’ve found that I could buy troop sets for well near $10 less on eBay. Shop around, check back regularly. If you find a seller you trust, look them up regularly. Don’t be afraid to ‘buy now’ if you see a bargain.

It’s also cheaper to buy just the part than a whole new model just to get that one option you want. Say you want to create a Space Marine Sergeant with a power sword and have most of the parts except the sword itself. Well, if someone has assembled a Force Commander and didn’t need the Power sword, putting it on sale on eBay can make both people happier.

A word of caution though. Think twice before buying any already painted models, because they’re either over priced, aren’t the army you want or can be poor quality.

2. Save your Bitz
Usually by the time you finish building a basic troop choice, you have tons of left over weapons and arms and maybe some heads. Believe it or not, some sellers on eBay sell only the missing parts. Bases, bodies and legs (and possibly backpacks) would be all you need to use up your bitz and bolster your army’s numbers or give you special weapon options. As of this writing, I see 10 Space Marine torsos (both front and back) on sale for $1.

It also pays to keep bitz around for repairs to existing models, or for making special models that may would as stand-ins for other models. For example, the Imperial Guard Basilisk and Leman Russ both come with components to assemble a makeshift Master of Ordinance character if you can get a spare base. Or whatever else your imagination allows for.

3. Use Spray Cans
When assembling a massive army you can either painstakingly slather Chaos Black paint all over each individual model for its base coat. And you do that while telling yourself that it is worth the lost time and several pots of paint. Or, you could use some Chaos Black Spray.

The price is currently $15.75 but shop around and you could probably find it cheaper. But the real joy is that hours that would otherwise be lost putting a thick coat of paint on dozens (if not hundreds) models are reduced to about 15 minutes and a nice, incredibly thin coat that preserves details. And this may save on buying several pots of Chaos Black, usually leaving you with plenty to use again later.

4. Buddy up with your Hobby Store

I stopped going to my first hobby store after I got tired of the poor manners of the staff. Not long after I find out about a new hobby store, one that was way better and the staff were nice guys. One day, I walk in and I get frustrated I can’t seem to find much 40k stuff there. “Hey,” I ask the manager I sometimes chat it up with, “What happened to the Chaos Marine stuff?”

“Oh,” he says, looking a bit guilty, “You missed the spring sale. Guys were lining up out the door to buy 40k stuff.”

Yes, my friends. Hobby stores indeed do sales. Keep your ear to the ground and find out when they occur. And then stock up a bit. It’s not like models decay with time or anything.

5. Buy your own Tools
Oh sure, I’m certain that the Games Workshop paint brush set and tools are fine quality. But then again, it’s just a paint brush. Let’s face it. For the same price as buying a single brush, you could probably get five at a local hobby store. Games Workshop does not have a monopoly on the high quality paint brush business, either.

So keep on modelling guys. And uh, I don’t mean the Zoolander kind of modelling…

Let our RSS feeds… COMBINE!

It’s been a rough morning. Work had issues and I spent the day trying to figure out how to combine multiple Twitter RSS feeds into one long stream for another blog I’m working on. Yahoo has a nice looking GUI application called Pipes that you should check out as long as you have no interest in using Twitter RSS feeds. For some reason, Pipes has a rough time retrieving them.

I found two other sites that allow you to do this. One is RSS Mix, and the other is Feed Combine over in the UK. Now, what’s the URL for Twitter feeds? That gets tricky, but there are two URLs you can check out. The two possible formulas are:

http://twitter.com/statuses/user_timeline/<TWITTER USER NAME>.rss

http://api.twitter.com/1/statuses/user_timeline.rss?screen_name=<TWITTER USER NAME>

If you’re confused, here is an example of the first and second, respectively, using the Black Library Twitter user. I’m pretty thankful for the guides and how to pages out there that helped me to figure it all out. It’s frustrating, but really gratifying when you figure out how to take greater control over your creations, both technically and artistically. It’s all too easy to accept the easy route of doing things, like just following templates or buying into the easy-to-use stuff and relinquishing control. But not Harry Patridge here… (NSFW.)