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Tag Archives: games

Lead Figures (Games and Art)

I was thinking about writing a series of blog post about the tangible art of games, the board and pieces used in play. The art associated with games; painted models, artwork in games and cosplay. The intersection of art and gaming culture is on the rarely examined edge of visual arts apart from when an exhibition of video games comes to ACMI to remind the public. (I have written about games before see my post on De Blob video game that hardly anyone has read.)

Then I learnt that David A. Trampier had died; if you have played AD&D then you will be familiar with his illustrations.

I emailed Mark Morrison, he was my first AD&D DM and now works in the games industry writing and teaching about designing games. I also told Mark Morrison about Sword & Dowkery’s blog post on Bruegel’s The Triumph of Death and lead/tin miniature figures based on the skeleton party in the painting.

When we were teenagers we used to paint the 25mm white metal figures. White metal, is a lead/tin alloy; little lead figures goes back to the ancient Romans but there are health concerns about them now. Skeletons were easy to paint, black in the shadows and white highlights on the bones. The quality of the model figures were amazing and the best of these figures were made by Citadel Miniatures in England. There are plenty of notes to the history of these tiny sculptures, known as miniatures.

Soldiers doing ablutions survive at the Munich Toy Museum

Soldiers doing ablutions survive at the Munich Toy Museum

Some notable sculptors have made dioramas with model figures, the Chapman Brothers, and closer to home, Daniel Dorell, among many contemporary artists. Web Gilbert and Leslie Bowles, who were both familiar with making much larger war memorials, made dioramas for the Australian War Memorial in Canberra; Web Gilbert did the Mathew Flinders memorial near Flinders Street and Bowles made the General Monash Memorial in Kings Domain, Melbourne. Frank Lynch and Wallace Anderson are two more sculptors who also made dioramas for the Australian War Memorial.

The ancient greeks had professional painters who specialised in painting sculptures to give it a life-like appearance. Painting the figures, background and models for the War Memorial dioramas went to another set of artists; Louis McCubbin did the original painting but they have since been retouched and repainted by other artists.

These war dioramas can be controversial; Peter Hofschröer, Wellington’s Smallest Victory (Faber and Faber, London, 2004) is a small book about a small matter of Napoleonic war history. Hofschröer’s detailed research into the Wellington’s insistence on an alteration to Lieutenant Siborn’s Large Waterlooo Model makes his book an exciting read. Siborn’s Large Waterlooo Model is 400 square feet and has hand painted 75,000 10mm white metal figures.

So to all the people painting readymade cast figures, to all my readers with Warhammer armies; remember that you are still doing what can legitimately be called art.

Early Martian army

Early Martian army at the Munich Toy Museum

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Play Game

“Game/Play” at the NGV Studio is a long over due exhibition of games in a major art gallery. Why are there games in the NGV? As, the project curator, Paul Callaghan states: “what it (games and play) can show us about the human condition.” Games are cultural artifacts; the game pieces, the printed cards, the game boards or the computer graphics are all designed to be attractive as well as functional. Games belong in an art gallery in the same way that furniture and fashion belong.

The exhibition at the NGV Studio has a selection of board games, five computer games and lot of computer art associated with game design. Along with a program of associated events has plenty of game sessions for the public.

What was missing from this exhibition was a fully painted Warhammer 40K army, that would have looked good, or a selection of gem like geometric dice from the role-playing games. Well, as an old gamer, a lot of things were missing from this exhibition but it was good to see it because it is so long over due.

The history of culture rarely focuses on the creators of games and toys. The origin of many games is lost in myth. The ancient Greeks believed that they were only remembering far older competitions when they added new events to the Olympic games. In the past games were an alternative to the real thing, a practice, and a heuristic devise for training. A culture does not require that many games until all position for games in that culture have been filled. One or two running around games, a target game, a strategy board game and a couple of gambling games will suffice, any more diversity is simply competing for player’s leisure time. So games like chess lasted for centuries and were able to successfully colonize game players in other areas.

Games as entertainment do not have a long history; their development is often smothered by their popularity. Increased leisure time afforded more time to play and more variety of games. In the 20th century the variety of games has increased; there is now a lot more games than chess and playing cards.

Just after looking at the “Game/Play” exhibition I ran into my friend and gamer, Sean Doyle, who works at ACMI. Sean was telling me about being up in Brisbane installing an exhibition of computer games. In past discussions, Sean Doyle compared the time line of computer game development to the development of movies. The first 20 years of computer game development are comparable to the first 20 years of movies. Computer games, like movies, were a novelty and not to be considered art. ACMI regularly exhibits computer games involving moving images; it is good to see that the NGV are catching up with “Game/Play”.


Colour Wii World

De Blob is a Wii game designed by Melbourne game design company Bluetounge. 

De Blob (no relation to the horror film) is an animated blob of paint that leaves a coloured trail where-ever it goes. De Blob is a round resistance fighter trying to save Chroma City from the Inky fascists invaders who have turned everything grey. However, this is an artist-based revolution and there is very low stress cartoon violence. The style of the cartoon world is a mix of Dr. Seuss and 60s retro.

The objective of the game is to repaint the city, not just one colour, but in a patterned aerosol style. This is one indication that the game has been inspired by Melbourne style aerosol street art as seen in Hosier Lane that aspires to a total building coverage rather than individual pieces. There are different styles of art to collect as you play through the multiple levels of this sandbox. These styles are very familiar and appear to be tributes to various Melbourne street artists’ styles.

Game play includes aspects like mixing primary colours to get the right colour for a particular project, painting buildings in specific colours and shaking up tins of paint. As buildings are liberated from the grey Inky forces citizens come out to celebrate and dance in the street. The music subtly builds as each level is painted.

It is a fun game because De Blob is always doing things, repainting buildings and leaving trails of arrows and paint. This makes the game fun for both novices and experienced gamers.

Along with promoting street art as a liberating and fun experience for all the city’s citizens. The game is redolent with other attitudes from Melbourne’s street culture: it is against billboard advertising and supports green city spaces and public transport.

De Blob is just one example; there are pro-street art or anti-graffiti influences in all manner of contemporary cultural artefacts from children’s books to Wii games.


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