Saturday, 12 February 2011

Grey Knights are grey

The Grey Knights are on the way, White Knight and Black Knight both. For now we have the usual blurred images, and the star of the show is what seems to be a terminator-armoured space marine on or in a large walker.

Already we're struggling for terms. It's a penitent engine, Optimus Prime or a gundam, a robot, the loader from Aliens.

Aliens, that same film again.

Always with the new a need to classify, as if we can capture the essence in existing ideas. By all means we ought to look at etiology, separate the ideas and trace them back to their origin. But this doesn't seem to be what's happening.

We're just labelling, without understanding, and perhaps only to claim for ourselves, to demean, to subordinate to our highness. 'Those designers didn't outdo us!' we seem to shout, as if feeling subjects really.

But of course the model is something new, however derivative that new might be, however much a blend of tired ideas. Yes, even if those ideas do come from Aliens.

And a year from now this model might be used as a reference point for something weirder, something else again. Ten years from now it might be a classic, an inspiration itself. A decade after that we'll quite possibly be exchanging it for vast sums through the future equivalent of eBay.

Or won't, if we all heed these words and buy one now.

Brother Captain Hegel is on many frontlines, even those of clashes unknown, or trivial.


b.smoove said...

...a very thought provoking article, as ever.

For my part, I'm quite pleased to see the newer models -Stormraven and Walker even if blurry. I wouldn't begrudge that they are derivative any more than I'd begrudge John Lennon for using the same 8-note scale that every other musician used, uses, and will use (in the west).

I've seen this argument raging elsewhere that because GW's ideas are not unequivocally unique that they have somehow implicitly or explicitly failed. I don't follow that line of reasoning at all. Is there such thing, even, as a genuinely spontaneous and unique idea?

Moreover, I am sometimes alarmed by the pace at which these new items are taken as old hat -as if we are somehow owed a perpetual stream of brilliance on the part of these designers, suited to all tastes at all times.

I tend to be relieved more than anything when GW releases something that I don't want to paint, or to convert, or to otherwise meddle with. It's a refreshing reprieve from this compulsion we call hobby.

Again, interesting article.

b.smoove said...

p.s. did I just compare GW to John Lennon? forgive me.

Sean Robson said...

Do people really criticize GW for taking inspiration from cinematic or literary sources? I don't follow many forums or blogs related to Warhammer or 40k, so I'm not hip to the critics, but it seems to me that borrowing from classic sci-fi horror allows players to instantly relate to the models. It was this aspect that made 40k accessible to me - I could understand what it was about right from the get-go. I looked at space marines and saw the mobile infantry of Starship Troopers (novel, not movie); I groked the Cadians as the marines from Aliens; I roughly correlated Dark Eldar with the Necromongers of Chronicles of Riddick, etc.

I don't consider cobbling together the coolest bits of all my favourite movies to be a negative, but a way to help me immediately engage with the setting and get what it's all about.

Cursed13 said...

Sean Robson, it's called referencing and most people don't understand that we developers of video games and other entertainment do it as standard practice. Everything is drawn from something else. Originality died a very very long time ago.

As for you Porky, I am disappoint. Grey Knights are Boltgun Metal, not grey. I expected more from you.

The Angry Lurker said...

I saw this blurred reference picture elsewhere and it pained me but also intrigued me (just what they wanted?).To me what counts is how the model turns out not what referenced it or is it unique, I want the eye candy regardless of originality.

Porky said...

@ b.smoove - Agreed. Criticism is healthy if it's constructive, and while I love the fact we're free to be armchair designers, able to improve on something ourselves with plasticard and greenstuff, I do feel as you seem to that the criticism can cross the line into a refusal to accept anything, an arrogant sense that nothing is good enough. I've been a moderate fan of the stormraven from the very first image, on the trust that it was a better design than it appeared in that single shot. With later shots, some of the silliest comment we saw then has been proven wrong; I hope we're learning from our mistakes.

"Is there such thing, even, as a genuinely spontaneous and unique idea?"

Now there's a question.

@ Sean Robson - Important point, the idea that instant relation matters. And of course, we can clearly see the factions in 40K as representing common fictional types, even to the point of suggesting one key source, for example Space Wolves as vikings, Blood Angels as vampires. I do wonder how much this is a consequence of inspiration taken by the designers and how much it's a case of giving the market what it wants. I'd assume the designers indulge their loves, but also because they want us to get it, and they expect that we will; I'd expect too that as in any business, especially a public limited company, there is pressure to do whatever maximises sales. While mixing old ideas together still does produce something new - as I mention in the post - if I had a worry, it might be that the new thing is not necessarily as new as it could be, that we're not being challenged quite enough.

@ Cursed13 - Useful comment re referencing. If originality died though, we ought to resurrect it, or better still, create a fresh new one! I'm disappointed in myself. Seems I built the whole post on a partial fallacy..!

@ The Angry Lurker - "Just what they wanted?" That's a popular view, and one I have a lot of sympathy for. I imagine it makes sense to prevent customer spending being put off till later for a new release known to be coming, and so products appear with only short notice.

It's certainly important how the final model looks, although the ideas and how we relate to them are a part of that of course. Then again, the bits we don't like, maybe as seeming too derivative, we can just change.

Dave G _ Nplusplus said...

I bet the walker is a unit of elite models that can either be fielded as a squad or transform into a Voltron-like Heavy Support.

Papa JJ said...

I know whenever I veer into that reactionary mindset I usually end up just looking and feeling foolish... but will I learn from my mistakes? Of course not! Voicing uninformed opinions and unfounded criticisms of other people's hard work is the bedrock of my blogging. ; )

As for the new terminator/ dreadnought/ penitent engine/ walker thing, my theory is that it is simply the control suit required for piloting the still unrevealed Grey Knight Titan. Oooooh... like Russian nesting dolls of doom!

meandmythinkingcap said...

i am not big a fan of aliens. Known always impresses me more than unknown

Porky said...

@ Dave G _ Nplusplus & Papa JJ - The jokers in the pack. Of course, if that is a terminator in a walker, neither of those ideas sounds especially odd, and it's surely only a question of time before one or the other does get used anyway. That kind of functionality feels Tau. Maybe the Demiurg will turn out to be behind it?

@ meandmythinkingcap - I'm hoping that if they're not fans of us, they're at least not averse..! That's an admirably practical attitude though, and it can get a little impractical here at times.

kelvingreen said...

GW ripping off Aliens? It's a slippery slope and no mistake. Next thing you know, they'll release a game which has marines fighting insectile aliens along metal corridors, guided only by their motion trackers.

Oh wait...

Lexington said...

Pork, I sort of feel the same way about your posts as Todd T. Squirrel does about the 1983 Mercedes.

While I'm guilty of making the Aliens comparison (if only in a comparative sense), I think a lot of this snide re-naming stems from the fact that a lot of people - not just gamers, but perhaps especially gamers - seem to be really awful at working out exactly what it is that bothers them about a particular concept. They do know, however, that within their particular community, certain topics have negative values attached to them, and so you see a lot of Voltron, Transformers and other supposedly "kiddie" names thrown in when people are confronted with an image like the Dreadknight*.

At some level, I'm fairly sure that everyone understands that GW's IP is a haphazard pastiche of tropes from sci/fantasy, history, literature and other cultural artifacts. However, there's a superficial attachment to the word (if not the real meaning) "original" when it comes to creative concepts. Thus, forum threads and comment areas quickly degenerate into the predictable cycle of "unoriginal!", "everything in 40K is a rip-off!", which I really wish we could just fast-forward through.

- Lex

* I do submit that, whatever else one might think of the concept, this is amongst the worst nams ever appended to a Games Workshop model. I shudder when pronouncing it.

Lexington said...

Also, I'd like to point out that I just tried to mitigate the use of a comparison by saying it was only done in a "comparative" sense, so clearly no one should listen to any of the dumb wordsoup that spills from my doddering gullet. :P

Porky said...

A fair analogy? Whatever, I'll take it, and I thank you for making it!

I can definitely see that difficulty in getting to the root of the problem, and the willingness to make quick and even offensive generalisations.

I hadn't though much about this particular name, but I see your point. It's likely in large part linked with what Sean covered, the instant relation. I also get the feeling that names are chosen from a pool of standard elements, with faction-specific terms tacked on and little real thought going in. It can even get confusing keeping track with all the uses of 'bane', 'dark', 'dread' and so on. I'd say this needs a bit of shaking up.

James S said...

Hey Porky,

I think the endless labeling, comparison and categorization going on here is an essential part of human intelligence. It's certainly one of the pre-conditions of language. You can't have linguistic communication without a shared vocabulary, and that requires sets (categories) of meanings linked to symbols.

In other words, our instinct to categorize begets our ability to communicate with one another. Good luck waiting for people to stop doing it! :D

I do know what you're saying though, knee-jerk categorization is not always an appropriate response to new stimuli. I think Lexington has hit the nail on the head. Loudly identifying something as a re-iteration of something that has come before is, in the on-line community, an accepted way to express the feeling of vulnerability most people get when they see something new, to strike back at the change that has made them feel as though you are no longer on familiar ground. It's just a juvenile symbol for the proto-thought "this is new, I feel weird."

I think that's why so much contemporary humour is rooted in meme, repetition and pop-culture reference - it makes people feel safe in the vast sea of information, and therefore happy.

Porky said...

Agreed. I think only I'd like to see a finer texture of symbol..! And of course meaning.

I'd say you're spot on with that feeling of vulnerability too. I also feel a kind of creative competition emerges, with us needing to feel we're not only passively receiving.

Good point about safety in the sea. That's a useful thought.