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Alignments

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Alignments

Postby Zurem » Wed Nov 26, 2014 7:23 am

I don't know if this topic has already been done.... but it just occurred to me...
I prefer good old fashioned classic castle back during the 80s and 90s and such.
I mean, don't get me wrong, some of the new stuff is okay, but it feels like they became a little stereotypical as of the last decade.
What I mean to say is, back when we had Castle 6075, Black Falcon's Fortress, and Black Monarch's Castle, there was more anonymity among the factions, from what I could tell. Sometimes the woodsmen were labeled as 'outlaws' or 'troublemakers' (See: Dungeon Hunters 6042, etc), but otherwise, they didn't have this stereotypical, clear-cut 'good and evil' nonsense you see in kid's cartoons. If you bought King's Castle 6080, you remember that they had a prison, and you could lock a prisoner in the dungeon, except that the prisoner actually had the same emblem as the rest of the king's men.
Now, the woodsmen weren't really these horrible, awful folk, but just got into mischief and it was hinted they broke the law here and there.
But when Fright Knights came along, suddenly Lego Castle themes continuously got into this good and evil stuff, which was followed up by Cedric the Bull in Knight's Kingdom, and then in Knight's Kingdom 2, you had Lord Vladek.... and then you had grim reapers dressed in black, trolls with black armor... And more recently, Castle involves a 'dark wizard' with black knights at his disposal, black castles.
I don't know if it's just me seeing this, but it seems to me as though there's this two-party dichotomy with your simplistic themes of good versus evil, and I miss the days when the black knight and the red knight(Knight's Tournament: 6083) had the option of being rivals, being blood enemies, or just being involved in a friendly competition, without the one-dimensional alignments of 'good and evil' automatically assigned to them because this guy is in black armor and this other dude is in light colors, and one guy has a mean look on his face while the other has brave, confident resolve.
Sure, the variety in facial expressions has changed some things, yet, from my point of view, some of the creativity that used to go into the imagination has been robbed for those sticking to the canons of today's Castle, because their pre-established gear, combined with their demeanors makes it overly obvious who is an aggressor/antagonist, and who is a good guy.
I personally like a little bit more complexity in character concepts, and while it's not a terrible thing to have black and white, a bit of grey breaks up the stark contrast that sometimes feels overpowering when you have this very bland, one versus the other, and nothing that's morally ambiguous... such as a neutral faction.
I hope I'm not breaking any rules by ranting about this(I'm very new here), but this has been on my mind for some time and I really wish Lego would go back to having multiple factions like we had in the 80s, as is the case in the very first series of castle systems(Yellow castle era), then the age when the Crusaders, Falcons, and Black Knights(black monarch's men?), and the Forestmen all competed within a diverse ecosystem.
I personally feel that the Wolfpack was the beginning of all this(they seemed to have replaced the woodsmen), and it gradually led to the Fright Knights, and then other stuff like that.
Thoughts/Feelings/Comments/Criticisms/Complaints/Compliments?

EDIT: I'm kind of wondering if Blacktron vs Space Police was the precursor for all of this, since that predated Wolf Pack.
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Re: Alignments

Postby rogue27 » Wed Nov 26, 2014 2:37 pm

I think this has been discussed on several occasions, and most people here would agree with you. However, LEGO's marketing people and focus-group testing seems to suggest that their target audience (not us, by the way) wants every set to contain conflict and that it should be clear who's good and who's bad.

Disappointing, because these ideas weren't forced into LEGO sets during the the 80s when I was growing up, and LEGO still seemed very popular. A few sets like Siege Tower and Battering Ram focused on conflict, but the majority of them were stand-alone things you might find in a medieval world. Treasure Cart, Maiden's Cart, Guarded Inn, Blacksmith Shop, King's Castle. No fighting, just something to build and play with.

You'll also notice that 80s police sets didn't usually have a criminal. You might get a police car, but no ridiculous burglar with a wheelbarrow of jewels for him to chase. Pirates and Space Police both came out in 1989, and both themes had a very clear distinction between good guys and bad guys. I guess that is when the change started. By 1993, the charm of the 80s aesthetic was completely gone, and all themes aside from city/town progressively became more action oriented.

You occasionally see something great and open-ended like Medieval Market Village or Kingdoms Joust (or Exosuit!), but it doesn't seem like their mass-retail products are ever going back.
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Re: Alignments

Postby Zurem » Wed Nov 26, 2014 10:02 pm

rogue27 wrote:I think this has been discussed on several occasions, and most people here would agree with you. However, LEGO's marketing people and focus-group testing seems to suggest that their target audience (not us, by the way) wants every set to contain conflict and that it should be clear who's good and who's bad.

Disappointing, because these ideas weren't forced into LEGO sets during the the 80s when I was growing up, and LEGO still seemed very popular. A few sets like Siege Tower and Battering Ram focused on conflict, but the majority of them were stand-alone things you might find in a medieval world. Treasure Cart, Maiden's Cart, Guarded Inn, Blacksmith Shop, King's Castle. No fighting, just something to build and play with.

You'll also notice that 80s police sets didn't usually have a criminal. You might get a police car, but no ridiculous burglar with a wheelbarrow of jewels for him to chase. Pirates and Space Police both came out in 1989, and both themes had a very clear distinction between good guys and bad guys. I guess that is when the change started. By 1993, the charm of the 80s aesthetic was completely gone, and all themes aside from city/town progressively became more action oriented.

You occasionally see something great and open-ended like Medieval Market Village or Kingdoms Joust (or Exosuit!), but it doesn't seem like their mass-retail products are ever going back.



That's actually a good point you made about Kingdom's Joust, now that I think about it, in retrospect.
It's one of the newer sets that I've actually liked, but I couldn't quite put my finger on why.
Sure, a person could /choose/ to decide that the Falcon Shield Knight is the bad guy(he's in black), but beyond the subtle hint that he's bad(being led at spearpoint by a lion guard on the backside of the box, while weaponless, like a captive), it's not force-fed.
And, truthfully, the new Blacksmith Shop they made called "Blacksmith Attack" bothered me because... well..
It's a blacksmith, and he's attacking. That just didn't sit well with me. Anyway, thanks for your response and your observation.
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Re: Alignments

Postby davee123 » Wed Dec 03, 2014 8:12 pm

Zurem wrote:I personally feel that the Wolfpack was the beginning of all this(they seemed to have replaced the woodsmen), and it gradually led to the Fright Knights, and then other stuff like that.
[...]
EDIT: I'm kind of wondering if Blacktron vs Space Police was the precursor for all of this, since that predated Wolf Pack.


You could argue a few things, but from what I understand, one of the causes was Tyco Super Blocks.

The first "factions" were the Crusaders / Black Falcons, introduced in 1984 as nameless groups. There were barely any hints about the character of the "red" or "blue" groups. This seemed to be the first evidence that LEGO was consciously making way for conflict-based play, since their other lineups (like space) only featured neutral figures. Even the castle theme in 1978-1983 avoided any clear factions. But the advent of things like the catapult and siege tower probably pushed the issue, making the need for more clearly defined factions (albeit not really "good" or "evil").

But in the mid-to-late 1980s, LEGO's patents were expiring. Due to their success, Tyco decided that it would try its hand at making a competing building brick product, which I think was released in 1986. Tyco's lineup was very aggressive (a lot moreso than LEGO's). Check out a shot of some Tyco sets for comparison-- very evil-looking:

ImageImage

LEGO felt threatened, and wanted to respond with something equally aggressive, which was initially Blacktron in 1987-- probably the first faction that had a distinct "evil" feel to it, even though this was only to be confirmed the following year when "Space Police" made it clear that Blacktron were the bad guys. I assume that this trend did well for LEGO, because good and evil factions made their way into Castle and Aquazone (as well as arguably Pirates and Wild West).

In 1993, LEGO's sales started plateauing (after about 10-15 years or so of solid double-digit growth), and they got worried. So they decided to mix things up and push themes that were more story-based with specific characters rather than generic ones. Apart from Majisto in 1993, we started seeing our first named characters a few years later-- Timmy & Dr. Cyber in 1996, Willa the Witch in 1997, Johnny Thunder & Co in 1998, etc. Soon, many lineups featured only specific characters rather than generic ones, because the market research said that kids liked it!

In 2000, it seems that LEGO also relegated its castle lineup to slightly younger kids, who like more primitive storylines-- basic good vs. evil. I believe, again, market research told them that castle themed sets are more popular with younger audiences, and they decided to cater to that audience. I'm not so sure this was the case in 1997's Fright Knights, mostly thanks to the complexity of the builds (compared to the original Knight's Kingdom in 2000), but I could be mistaken (now I'm curious to go check the age ranges on the boxes to verify). But also because the Ninja lineup was categorized under Castle, and had less clearly defined lines of good and evil (and still had relatively complex builds).

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Re: Alignments

Postby Sir Erathor » Sat Dec 06, 2014 3:52 pm

I totally agree with you, Zurem, and not having been around during the time of the Black Falcons and the Woodsmen makes me want to see something of the like soon. With Kingdoms I felt the good/evil division was blurred slightly, as the Dragons couldn't necessarily be taken as the bad guys, though they were clearly meant to be just that. The latest Castle line was disappointing, and partly because the two factions were so unoriginal. Hopefully this will change at some point, but I don't see that happening just yet.
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Re: Alignments

Postby Zurem » Sun Dec 07, 2014 4:59 am

Just as one final objection to the directional development of Lego themes, I found the notion of a blacksmith scuffling with a knight to be a bit on the far-fetched side, personally. "Blacksmith Attack" seemed like a set that was a little /too eager/ to squeeze in the mandatory prerequisite of 'conflict', because, not to say blacksmiths are weak, but I doubt they are trained for combat to a point where they'd be fighting a dragon knight instead of trying to appease the enemy-side, preserve their own life, and then somehow get ahold of the proper authorities to do the warfare needed to uphold justice.
I'm not saying I wouldn't fight someone if they broke into my home, but the odds are, a person at their place of employment(even a manager) is going to hand over the cash to the person threatening them(robbing them?), and explain the details to the police later.
Just my last two cents.
Or maybe more than that; since the time that expression came out, I'm sure we've had a lot of inflation! :D
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Re: Alignments

Postby RedBrick » Fri Dec 19, 2014 10:20 am

The Lego Castle theme seemed indeed to be more realistic in the 80s and (very) early 90s, actually quite naturalistic - as most of the themes in the 80s (Even the space-line can't deny its real-life-influence) and more peaceful than later on. Looking at the sets now they are more a peaceful depiction of medieval life playsets, without denying the fact that almost every minifig was armed.

Tendencies for a good/bad constellation were already done with introducing the forestmen, but the dragon knights were the first "real" baddies. Even if not outspokenly evil, the colours and the coat of arms were quite a hint.

I think the good/evil dualism is simply a consequence of the Lego sets becoming move vivid in general. A gradual shift of focus from the construction-bias towards more instand playability. I think this goes hand in hand with the kids creativity being less demanded. The more clear the sides are, the less you have to think about a story. Thats something I think you can observe in most toy-lines of the 90s and later.

The recent - say 10 years - of the castle themes gave me the impression of a theme searching its direction. Some lines were totally over the top, others were quite good and promising, like Kingdoms and the Castle-theme with the trolls, but I miss the seamless transition the 80s and early 90s had between lines. Every line was a reboot with new enemies, new good guys and a completely new world - and of course without even considering to give up the good/evil dualism.

I think its just the way of the world really. Lego wants to be financially successful first, then educating (at least more educating than 90% of toys you see in the stores), so they have to appeal their target audience. It doesn't helps really to lament about the good old times 25 years in the past, even if I would be more than happy to have a more realistic medieval theme, or at least one with neutral factions.

But think we have to build our own worlds instead of waiting for this to happen.
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Re: Alignments

Postby AK_Brickster » Mon Feb 09, 2015 6:04 pm

Zurem wrote:I'm not saying I wouldn't fight someone if they broke into my home, but the odds are, a person at their place of employment(even a manager) is going to hand over the cash to the person threatening them(robbing them?), and explain the details to the police later.

Keep in mind that the blacksmith in this set was probably an "owner-operator" who likely lived in a shack somewhere behind the forge. I'm guessing that his defense of life and property was more reasonable than say, a convenience store clerk going toe-to-toe with an armed robber. ;)
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