My next guest is from the post-LUGNET generation, a college-age wunderkind with a penchant for the machines of war. Carter Baldwin is an accomplished builder, collaborator and veteran of the American convention circuit who has inspired a legion of younger builders with his innovative designs. I sat down with Carter at Pat’s King of Steaks restaurant in Carter’s home town of Philadelphia at 3am PST. We talked about wine, women and song. We also talked about LEGO.
KG: I’ve read a few older builders grousing about how all the fancy new parts take all the skill and fun out of building. React to that attitude or to old cranky builders in general.
CB: I actually haven’t seen this attitude too much within the AFOL community, but I see it constantly whenever a build leaks out onto the wider internet. Invariably, there will be the ‘this is cheating, in my day we only had 2×4 bricks in three colors, and we liked it that way! there’s no creativity anymore!’ I hate that attitude. Tim Gould made an excellent graphic of all the one-use specialized parts that were available in 1980, but I can never track it down quickly enough to avoid remembering that arguing with internet strangers is a pyrrhic endeavor at best.
I’d agree that the ’90s saw a proliferation of useless parts that lead to the well documented juniorization of sets, but the past decade has been a bonanza of amazing new parts. In particular we’re seeing a lot more excellent small parts, which really boosts the fine grain detail that’s now possible. We’re seeing a lot less of the pixelation that used to define Lego builds. Fans of Lego who haven’t picked up a brick in a couple decades can’t deal with that, but I haven’t heard any actually active builders complaining.
KG: How important is it when designing a model that you employ a new technique? Does the want to use a specific technique ever drive a model? if so can you give an example.
CB: It’s become less important to me over time. When I first entered the internet community I tried to do that with every build, do something that hadn’t been tried before, or at least do it better than I’d seen it.
I think now I build shapes rather than techniques. I have enough of a library of tricks that I don’t have to worry too much about how to achieve a connection, but forcing all those connections to form the shape I want is the new challenge. My Golem Hardsuit would be a good example; I knew the shapes I wanted to achieve; the techniques I came up with to get there weren’t particularly exciting or novel.
KG: You recently took part in a popular and imitated Flickr Group called called World In Confict:2070. Describe this group to our readers and your experience as a participant of the group?
CB: World in Conflict started about two and a half years ago as a general repository for the various unconnected faction sorts of things that a bunch of us had floating around at the time – my own NATO faction, Craig’s South American Coalition, Forest’s amoral PMCs, Dane’s biomechanical atrocities, and others. We certainly didn’t start the trend of faction building – NickDean is probably the best known originator, but I’m pretty sure people have been building private armies for as long as Lego has had greyscale bricks.
Once we had all these factions under one roof, naturally the next step was to slug it out. We developed a complex ad hoc system that was part model UN, part wargaming, and part tabletop-style roleplaying and carved out a cyberpunk storyline that meshed with our collective vision for our imaginary universe. Since this was a long-term and long-distance group, we couldn’t simply play BrikWars in order to determine tactical prowess; instead, we built scenes to depict our movements on a more strategic scale.
As much fun as we had with slaughtering the other sides cannon fodder and blowing up tanks/bunkers/cities, the really interesting thing that came out of the game was the storytelling. Due to the interest in the stories of the scenes we built, we created a public group for others to follow the WiC narrative, and I think it’s the persistent narrative of the game universe that inspired a number of similar groups.
World in Conflict is two years old now and starting to show signs of winding down – while the game has always had lulls in activity between spikes of conflict, this latest hiatus has been particularly stubborn and long-lasting. But fans who have been watching the storyline don’t need to worry; there are plans to end at least the current incarnation of WiC with a proper finish.