Sunday, October 30, 2011

On "New" LEGO

I spent a lot of time with LEGO when I was a kid.  Eventually, I fell out of it for a bit, though I'm a bit fuzzy on the details.  Based on my research, the most recent themes before my hiatus were Insectoids and Rock Raiders, which put this around 1999 to 2000.  Earlier this year (2011), when Borders liquidated, I happened upon a few book-like LEGO sets that bore the unfortunate title of "Brickmaster."  I say "unfortunate" because so many things bear the title that it was rather difficult to find any information on those actual products.  I picked up the three that were available due to the discounted price, the fact that each promised to make several models (with instructions for the rebuilds), and the fact that the boxes looked like books, and so would be comparatively easy to shelve and rather presentable (as opposed to traditional boxes which are ... boxes).  I was rather pleased with the boxes, actually, as they're even made with a neat little two-flap system that makes them better for storing the pieces again when needed.
The point is that I was reminded of my love of LEGO and so I went ahead and bought a more normal set, though only after doing a bit of research; that I have income doesn't mean that I'm made of money.  I went with set 8080 because I liked what I saw in the Atlantis theme (one of the books was of that theme, too) and because the model transforms.  I should point out that I also enjoyed Transformers, and, really, anything that transforms.  I have also picked up some impulse packs to get a feel for some other themes.
LEGO has changed somewhat in the last decade, and now that I've looked at the new stuff, I figured that I'd take a look at some of the changes.  Here we go:

  • In multi-bag sets, pieces are grouped by model (or part thereof), with each bag numbered.  This is a nice organizational touch that helps when one is assembling a set for the first time.  
  • There are lots of new pieces, which are kind of hit-and-miss.  Sometimes, it seems like the same effect could be achieved with existing, smaller pieces.  Two new ones of which LEGO seems particularly fond - and which are small enough to make sense - are the 1x1 slope pieces and the 2x1 sloped vent pieces.  
  • They now have Flick Missiles.  These are stud-hole sized rods that end in normal-hole sized asymmetrical snap-in things, so that they can snap into normal holes, but not too strongly, allowing them to be flicked from the other side.  This seems like a nice way to include some missile launchers without having to include those big spring-loaded pieces.  
  • LEGO now has a propensity for making helmets with visors that, once attached, don't move up and down.  It's not the end of the world or anything, but it seems to almost defeat the point of having separate visor pieces.  It seems especially odd with the visor of the ADU officers in the Alien Conquest theme, since their visors are just face-guards; at least in Atlantis and Space (subtheme of City) it could be argued that the explorers'/astronauts' inability to open the thing keeping them alive is a safety feature.  
  • There's a new type of wheel/tire.  It uses the standard snap peg into hole system.  I have no strong feelings one way or the other.  
  • LEGO seems to have added a fair number of large, sculpty pieces.  Whenever I see one, I have to ask whether the same effect could have been achieved with an existing piece or group of pieces, and sometimes it could.  However, in their defense, they seem to make the new ones well and with an eye to versatility.  The big curvy pieces used in Atlantis seem particularly versatile, having peg holes on all three axes.  
  • They've added heads with two faces for many minifigs that wear hats/helmets that cover the backs of their heads.  This is a neat way for them to allow a character two facial expressions on one piece.  It seems that one face is always shock/fear/panic.  
  • They've added special whole head pieces for certain humanoid creatures.  That is, it goes on top of the minifig, like a normal head, but it's not shaped like a normal head.  I've seen it mentioned for a few things (I just have one - a thug alien in set 7049, the Alien Conquest impulse pack) and, from what I can gather, it seems like they use this when they want a dimension of a head (usually height, sometimes possibly width) to be smaller than that of the normal head.  When this occurs, putting a cap over the head would actually make it slightly bigger, so I see why they do it when they do it, but I can't help but wonder whether this could also be fixed just with different design choices.  
  • LEGO has added a new sort of rubbery plastic to the mix.  I've seen it mentioned for the specialty heads for certain minifigs, but I've encountered it in some knife pieces.  Maybe it's for safety?  I'm not sure, but I don't see it as a bad thing.  
  • The air tanks on the back of the astronaut's helmet/backpack piece are now integrated and, what's more, they're spaced and enlarged, with holes in the bottom such that they can attach to studs (in a 2x1 configuration).  I like that.  
  • This is the big one:  It appears that LEGO has stopped putting pictures of alternative builds on the backs of their boxes.  I miss those, though.  To me, that was sort of the next step.  It was a challenge, if you will, since the instruction booklet never contained directions for building those models.  I knew that it was possible to build it with only the pieces in the set, and it was just a matter of figuring out how.  (Obviously, this was easier on smaller sets, largely because there weren't a lot of pieces available to obscure others.)  This is really the main thing that I dislike about how LEGO has changed over the years.  LEGO, I am disappoint.  :-\
  • Oh, also, there are now franchise tie-in lines, like Star Wars and Harry Potter.  I just try to ignore those.  
So, there's my overall look at the change in LEGO that seems to have happened while I've been gone.  Overall, there have been some changes - some good, some bad - but it's mostly the same old LEGO.

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