Sunday, 15 November 2015

I don't want to set the world on fire...

If you have any awareness of current computer games, and haven't been frozen in cryosleep for the last couple of weeks, you'll be aware that this week saw the release of Fallout 4, the latest installment in the massively successful post-apocalyptic adventure series.  Now to say Mi Hermano Apocalyptico Jonesy is a Fallout fan would be something of an understatement.  Let's just say that with the game due for release on Monday, he'd booked the entire week off to play it.

Me on the other hand, well I like the game well enough, but being poor I had to content myself with loading up the last game, Fallout-New Vegas and installing a ton of player-created mods to vastly improve the old game.

Anyway, all through our recent work on Paradiso and the Hillbilly/Vampire game, whenever Jonesy has looked at certain Plasticville or MDF kit buildings, a feverish look has crossed his brow, and he's been saying things like "You know this would make a great piece for a Fallout game."  For the uninitated, the Fallout setting has a very distinct visual style with elements of Art Deco and 1950s Americana.  But although a lot of the buildings and terrain I've sourced for the Paradiso project is in a similar style, that setting requires them to be relatively well maintained, whereas for a post-apocalyptic setting, you really need to dial the weathering effects up to 11.  Because of this and not wanting to lose focus on the Paradiso project, Jonesy's always resisted my suggestions that we do a Fallout/Post Apocalyptic side project.

So a few weeks back Jonesy did me a massive solid when my car battery packed up and I couldn't afford to get it replaced.  I couldn't afford to buy him anything to properly say thank-you, but one resource I did have a lot of was Time.  Time, a bitz-box full of junk and a room full of crafting supplies.  Thus was born Super Sekrit Mystery Crafting Projekt X, to create a basic wasteland terrain set mostly from scrap and spare materials at hand, which started immediately after the Halloween game.

This Friday, while watching Jonesy play Fallout 4 via Steam's game livestreaming feature, I was putting the finishing touches to this....

For a base cloth, I had a sheet of "Teddy-bear Brown" felt that I'd bought years ago when I was living in the flat.  It was when I was looking at gaming exclusively on my large coffee table and measures about 3 foot by 4 foot.  Unfortunately it was a little to dark to work as a desert basecloth and had never really been used, so I could happily donate it to this project.  The colour was still wrong though, so I pegged it up outside and went at it with assorted cans of spray paint, lightly dusting it to break up the solid colour and make it a little "dirtier".  It's still not perfect, and we may revisit it later to dirty it up some more, but for now it's perfectly adequate.

For a basic set of hills, it seemed poetic to mainly use the polystyrene packaging that came with the new car battery, which came in the form of several inch-thick sheets.  Where these had been broken in the process of removing the battery for installation,  these breaks became impassable rocky "cliff" faces, while the other sides were sculpted with a hot-wire cutter into climbable slopes.  This gave us seven relatively narrow "ridge" type hills and to round off the set I used some other spare polystyrene sheets to make three larger hills that the smaller ones could sit on top of to make double elevations.

Pretty much every terrain builder you see in forums, blogs or YouTube videos these days decries the use of white expanded polystyrene (the one with the bubbly texture that's everywhere) in favour of the denser, pink or blue extruded polystyrene which is easier to sculpt and less messy.  But the truth is that expanded polystyrene is still a very usable terrain material, which happens to have the side benefit of being so commonplace it's almost free.

Since this is a post-apocalyptic wasteland, I made these hills a little differently to my usual greenfield hills.  The first layer was a coat of PVA onto which sand was scattered.  I used two different grades of sand to give some variations in texture, the "budgie grit" I use for regular figure basing, which is very fine but has bits and pieces of shell and tiny gravel mixed in with it, was used to create small patches on the top of the hills, while 90% of the surface was made up of the much larger grained "reptile" sand.  I didn't put any sand on the "cliff faces" at all, instead caking them in a filler/PVA mix to enhance the rocky texure.  Once the sand and the filler were dry, I gave everything a coating of black textured exterior masonry paint, which sealed in the loose sand and gave the hills a good solid protective shell.  Then I gave the sand covered parts a heavy drybrushed coat of light brown (almost a solid coat, but still with enough black showing through to break things up).  The final coat was a lighter drybrushing of mid-to-light grey to pick out the sand texture.

The cliff faces still felt a little vulnerable to damage, so I gave each an extra coat of PVA to reinforce it, followed by progressively lighter drybrush coats of progressively lighter shades of grey (so the darkest grey covered almost all the rocks, leaving spots of black showing, the mid grey covered about half the rocks and the lightest grey just picked out the highlights).

Many years ago, I'd bought one of those Woodland Scenics tree kits, which included dozens of premade wireframe skeletons and a couple of bags of clump foliage.  The trees I'd originally made with them were horribly prone to foliage falling off, so I recently revisited them using up most of the deciduous clump foliage on only half the deciduous wireframes.  This left 20 or so wireframes unused so instead of buying more clump foliage to finish these off, I decided they'd make perfect defoliated dead trees.  The wireframes were assembled as normal and attached to 2p bases that were textured exactly the same as the hills.  Instead of adding foliage though, the trees were spray painted black then dry brushed with light grey.  Quick, easy and very effective.

This turret is actually from a 1/32 scale kit.  While overscale
for 28mm it works fine as random wreckage.  Another piece has
the burned out remains of a 1/72 WWII Panzer, totally underscale
but since it's unrecognizable except as the remains of some sort
of tracked vehicle, that works fine too.  Yet another piece has a part
of a 1/24 car...
Next was the really fun part of the project: The rubble scatter terrain.  I had a number of pre-cut MDF bases from Wargames Tournaments left over from the Paradiso Jungle terrain project, a raid of the bits box for assorted bits and pieces easily produced ten bases of assorted wreckage, junk and rubble.  A little bit of filler and sand added the base wasteland ground texture, which was then painted the same way as the hills, and the assorted bits were roughly drybrushed., usually with touches of a base colour to show remnants of original paint, then silver to pick out metallic parts and a little brown and grey to dirty things up.  Depending on how long ago your apocalypse was, you could paint things as anything from "almost new, but abandoned" to "solid rust and dirt".  I wanted a middle ground, not only so I could have some spots of colour to "pop" from the grey-brown waste background, but also so at a pinch we can occasionally use non-apocalypsed buildings without them looking too out of place.

This was originally the cockpit of a toy Mad Cat battlemech,
but the curved styling fits perfectly with Fallout's Neo-Fifties
design aesthetic
The final part of the terrain set was the one thing I had to actually buy.  For the price of a couple of posh coffees, I got six bags of Javis brown lichen (not pictured).  If you want to do a post-apocalyptic game but don't want to do any genre-specific modelling, you can get a lot of mileage simply by dressing up a regular urban or city wargame terrain with a ton of lichen, trees and plants.  The idea that the trappings of civilisation have been abandoned and nature has reclaimed the land is a powerful post-apocalyptic vision, and for an eye-opening view of how quickly this can happen, try and track down a TV series called Life After People, which used CGI show how this process might happen at various cities around the world.

I'm particularly pleased with this one.  The wet mud effect wasn't
an expensive water effect product, it was just a coat of Army
Painter Quickshade, with the glossy finish left intact.
But for a Fallout themed terrain, Nature hasn't quite recovered enough for the lush green vegetation of regular green lichen and wargame trees to be appropriate - plants in the video game tend to be brown or blackened and generally stunted, so brown lichen is perfect to represent the sort of rough, hardy scrub plants that would be the first to recover in a post-nuclear wasteland.

And that's it.  The whole set fits into one big plastic storage box and makes a good starter post-apoc terrain set.  There's plenty that can be added to it - buildings obviously or at least some ruined wall sections, more small pieces of scatter terrain like telegraph poles or lampposts, maybe some road signs or billboards.  Roads in Fallout New Vegas tend to be the broken and blackened remains of pre-war highways and would make a fun modellng project.  But there's enough here to lay out a 3x3 table with enough terrain items for an interesting game, and that's what a starter set is for.

It remains to be seen whether this set is going to be enough to tip Jonesy over the edge into doing some actual Fallout-inspired gaming, or if it's even going to hit the mark as the thank-you present it was intended to be.  But it was a fun project to work on over the last couple of weeks, even if I did have to keep it Super Sekrit.

Meanwhile, another friend CrazyEddy saw me playing Fallout New Vegas on Steam this week and took pity on this poor boy.  I now have a shiny-new copy of Fallout 4 that he's sent me as an early Xmas present.  It's good to have friends.