Sunday, 30 August 2015

Mostly Armless

Recognise these? These inconsequential little sprues of plastic? All these tiny grey limbs that we used and discarded with such carelessness in our youth? 

These aren't just weapon cradling appendages, oh no. These superglue dependent extremities represent a watershed moment in the history of citadel miniatures. A point where the designers attempted to give their customers more control over the final look of their miniature space warriors. An attempt to give a single figure an multitude of possible poses and weapon options.

They also represent other things. This particular facet of existence is wholly based on the 25+ years since they first appeared. 

To the collector of Rogue Trader era miniatures they are a bulbous full stop on the golden period of galaxy spanning adventurers, pirates, rogues and ne'erdowells (as well as all the other races and character classes crowded into the milky way).

These innocuous examples of injection moulding are either so difficult to get a hold of that breaking them off of the sprue feels like you are wantonly flushing fivers down the kitchen sink or the reason that you can't use the rare confrontation figures you bought on eBay or why you only buy the Perry or Olley squats or why it's so hard to build a Genestealer cult or why those Copplestone Guard remain stuck in project limbo.

I'll be honest. I have no secret inside track into the thought processes behind the decision to do a series of figures ranges with polymer extremities. But design them they did. The designer in me suggests that it was an attempt to give the customer a choice. To give them the ability to turn a single sculpt into a variety of poses with a myriad of armaments. A way to allow the customer to fulfil the demands of the army list or the random chart without having to produce a ridiculously large range of figures. Think about it. Where had citadel come from? Producing figures for dungeons and dragons. Adventurers, clerics, magic users, barbarians etc etc. 

In those days they produced packs of figures that reflected the evolution of a character. They gave you a trio of figures that transcended the 4th dimension. Like a view the Tralfamadorians may have witnessed of an explorers career. If you had the capability to load all these options with a single figure so that the customer could choose at which stage the character could be modelled then you would probably do it. You would do it. It makes sense. Especially if you can give them a variety of weapons. If you can design a model where it is possible to arm the figure with either a rifle or a pistol or a sword and pistol or even a heavy weapon then it makes perfect sense to do so.

Of course once you have given the consumer the choice of polystyrene arms then why wouldn't go further. Heads? Bodies? Go for it!

However, the very act of attempting to inject choice into the range of figures robbed the miniatures of another attribute that perhaps the designers had overlooked. Character. 

The very act of designing a figure that could have a multiple of uses means that you are blending all of its life long possibilities into a single pose. And that pose has to be reasonably bland in order to 
inhabit all its possible uses in the hands of its user.

Prior to the placcy arm, a miniature was a fly stuck in amber. A representation of a moment in time. An imagined moment in an imagined time to be fair but a representation of an individual at a key moment within a transcendent episode of story of tremendous import nonetheless. 

This lack of instantcy, immediacy, singularity means that the addition of a plastic arm has a very different effect on the character of the miniature. It becomes lifeless. Characterless. Unfinished. Until it's arms are added. And even then, the arms that you are provided with have the bizarre effect of being overly familiar. Of being dull. There are only a few options and most of them are used up by the time you complete half a dozen figures. That may have been acceptable while trying to avoid listening to Partners in Kryme (Turtle Power - No.1 in the UK for 4 weeks!) but fast forward 25+ years and it's not acceptable anymore.

Lets look at a couple of examples to illustrate my point.

The top pic is of one of the Bounty Hunters released for the ill fated Confrontation project. The second is one of the Squat adventurers, one of the later squat releases.

Both of these figures were designed to be sold with a choice of plastic arms and weapons. Both are fantastic concepts that fulfil minutiae within the Rogue trader universe and were worthy inheritors to the immortal adventurers and mercenaries ranges.

But as much as I admire their conception and their execution there is a nagging doubt deep within my being that has never been settled. A gurgling angst that has never been voiced. A wish that will never be granted.

That these figures.....

would be better.....

if they had been sculpted as a one piece model.

And not just these models. 

Which of these has more character.


It's weird isn't it. 

The more choice we are given the less characterful the figures become.

It feels sometimes as if we missed out on some fantastic Eldar, some stupendous squats, some cracking Imperial guard, some brilliant gangers, some grotesque hybrids and some spectacular Orks and were in fact offered some half finished models instead. It just shows you, just cos you can do something it doesn't follow that you should. Citadel learned that lesson. They went back to producing solid one piece castings. Without plastic arms. 


  1. I reckon there are a number of reasons for this. One as you noted is the option bit; another is cost as plastic arms are cheaper IF one can sell enough of the figures that use them. By the time citadel moved to plastic arms they were selling enough figures to recover the high cost of moulding in plastic. Another reason , one related to options but slightly different, is that separate arms (whether they are plastic or metal) avoids the problem of undercuts one gets on one piece castings. Citadel largely avoided this but the way one does it is by producing very linear, two dimensional models. The result is one cannot really produce a single cast figure pointing one way holding a gun/staff etc at 90 degrees to that without massive amounts of undefined areas. You see this with toy soldiers. White Dwarf did an article on all this at some stage - I cannot remember the exact number but I think it was in the 90's so that would put it in 1988.

    1. I can't agree with the 3- dimensionality of plastic armed figures. I can see your point but if that was the goal of the designers then I reckon they missed. Most of the arms for the guard and squat figures were simply holding a rifle across their abdomen. Hardly dynamic. Their would probably be an arm for holding a shoulder mounted heavy weapon, nothing that hadn't been done in metals. And their is probably an arm pointing what would be a pistol weapon. This is probably the best example of the 90 degrees you were referring to. The thing is the human body doesn't look identical in all these poses. The shoulders and chest are poses differently. So when you try to have a neutral pose and add any of the above arms you end up with a very stiff, unnatural looking figure. Which, as I mentioned in my post, removes a lot of the character of the model.

    2. I agree that it doesn't work - guess that is why they ditched the separate arms idea.

    3. Just chipping in with Nathan, I recall reading an article in a WD too.

      It was talking about GW's "new" plastic minis, the problem's associated with it compared to metal casting etc. But more importantly, it mentioned that they were going to put the question to their customers i.e. Which would you prefer, more multi-part plastic's or more of the same?

      Suppose that's the reason why they went down that path.

  2. So true, by wanting to get the best of both worlds with metal bodies and plastic arms, we finally got the downsides of both ^^
    The metal body+plastic amrs thing lasted a good while though until the end of 40k V3 I think.
    That said those half finished models aren't such a bad thing when you have the modelling skills to convert them or to sculpt better arm positions (which most of us didn't at the time).

  3. Those plastic arms were the bane of my existence. That, combined with the metal command bits. Plastic and metal does not match well.

    Thanks for a nice post - Great read as usual :)

  4. The very sight of those sprues sends me into a Gollum like mania.
    I amassed a very large collection of Space Orks from say 09-11 via ebay and every night I scoured it in search of arms...I'd love to have a RT Imperial Army force but the very thought of hunting down those arms almost makes me cry.
    Got a real belly laugh out of "why you only buy the Perry or Olley Squats" too- so damn true.
    I have been lucky in recent years and expanded a bit though.

  5. i like the metal body - plastic arms combo. especially with orks. bloody difficult to track down arms though!

  6. I loved the plastic arms when they came out, though I eventually realised there were only several poses you could realistically achieve with them. I agree with you on the point that miniatures look better when sculpted as a single cast, its just such a shame that many of these great old figs remain unpainted and unused because they lack decent arms.

    Somewhere there is a gigantic pile of plastic arms with a laughing god of collecting sitting on top! (;

  7. I always assumed it was a cost thing just like slotta bases, by the time the base, the arms and the weapon are plastic you are almost getting two miniatures for the same amount of metal. As to character, I think the problem with plastic arms and plastic multipart kits in general is that they all appear to work on the forward and back dimension rather than the side to side. This makes them all look the same however much character they have its lost when they are all doing and identical hands out in the driving position pose.

    Still good job I have a sill sized stock of these arms of almost all types. The short sleeved human arms are the ones I'd like a few more of but they really are rare.

  8. I use the new arms on old metal out well.

  9. Great post really interesting, I picked up a job lot of hybrids with a bag of arms and weapons and there were some metal casts of the human arms, wondered if anyone had seen these before or if they were some bootlegs?


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