I haven’t been terribly productive for the past six months. However, while I’ve generally failed to successfully make things, the rate at which I plan to make things has not really slowed down. Most of these plans take the form of vague outlines in the back of my head or excited-but-fruitless discussions with my friends and associates. A precious few plans, though, have passed the important barrier of being committed to paper.
A concept in my head has about a 10% chance of seeing the light of day. A concept that makes it to the drawing stage jumps to about 80%. The project might be tackled right away or it may sleep for a few years before I find the time and enthusiasm to begin labouring, but sooner or later, Spud Art usually becomes Spud Tangible Objects.
With that said, let’s take a look at something that I will probably build… eventually… maybe. ~_~
Sci-fi art of all flavours is absolutely packed with depictions of huge cityscapes:
However, most of the terrain terrain designed for Infinity is themed around wilderness installations…
The reason for this disconnect between sci-fi inspiration and gaming reality is fairly straightforward– true-scale urban boards would simply be a nightmare to build and play on. A true-scale skyscraper for 35mm models would have a footprint that eats up the entire 4×4 board, and even if you scaled the area down, its height would make it awkward to reach between buildings to move things around. Also, you’re spending a lot of materials, money, and painting time rendering the upper 80% of the building despite the fact that that part won’t really impact gameplay.
And so we end up with dozens of MDF manufacturers making smaller buildings that never really have the “feel” of urban streets.
I’ve been pondering this challenge since I got into the game, and I decided to finally give it some real thought toward the end of 2016. After doing some sketches and simple mockups, I determined a few elements that would be important to strike a compromise between urban aesthetics and tabletop playability:
- Buildings would need a larger footprint than the standard 4″x8″ Infinity apartment block, but should not be so large as to force a model to spend 3-4 full orders to jog past it in the open. I figured that the sweet spot would land somewhere between 12″ and 20″.
- To compensate for the relatively extreme length of the terrain pieces, I would need to create passages midway along each piece to allow models to change direction and cut across them without having to get all the way around the next corner.
- Rather than making extremely tall terrain pieces (clicky) that would be difficult to transport, or artificially shortening the buildings to be only 4-6 stories tall (clicky), I wanted to find a way to imply height without actually rendering all of it.
- The board would need to be busy. Advertising, TV screens, graffiti, and so on would be required to communicate that people actually live within the city. This would be a detailing nightmare, but I was hopeful that I could fake a lot of it with custom papercraft.
Right away, I decided that the solution to the height problem was simply to slice off all of the skyscrapers a foot or so above the tabletop. By cutting them all at the same height and painting the tops a flat black, I would encourage the viewer’s eye to regard these horizontal planes not as a physical surface, but as an unfinished ellipsis ( … ) implying a continuation beyond.
Once that was decided, I started sketching out different shapes for buildings. The first one was mostly a rounded box, with an archway poking through the center to let models walk underneath. In order to still include some playable height within the terrain pieces, I planted the building on top of a base that creates a walkway all the way around the structure.
As I was drawing the basic shapes, I mused about why the buildings might be built with this walkway above ground level. I eventually decided on a concept where the skyscrapers are home to the city’s wealthy class, who never leave their towers to venture down to the poor folks’ streets below. Instead, they have their own, separate “streets” that stretch from building to building, letting them travel about the city in safety and luxury. This idea seemed to fit nicely into the fluff of the notoriously corrupt Yu Jing faction, so I embraced that idea and started detailing the building with a faux classical Chinese aesthetic.
I loved the idea that a person’s vantage point would completely change the appearance of this building. For a model on the walkway, they would see rich wood paneling, lush gardens, and rushing waterfalls. For a model on the street below, they would see only sheer metal and cold glass, propaganda heads on TV screens, and ubiquitous Imperial symbols.
With those basic design elements settled, I started playing around with other shapes that might fit within the same cityscape. This one runs the “rich people walkway” through the center of the building rather than around its edge, with the skyscraper itself taking up much more of its outer footprint.
I also mused here with the idea of “couplings” that would allow multiple bridge spans to be linked together in order to connect two distant buildings across a wide street. I’m not sure if the final set will use this exact design, but some sort of bridge-extender will likely be useful.
A slightly weaker design, this one puts curved rectangles side-by-side to create a more complex shape than a simple box. I definitely need to do some more work on this one, as currently it’s a bit dull. :/
If I was going to be linking buildings together with bridges, different board layouts would require connection points at different angles. To accommodate that, I experimented here with a non-rectangular building that forms an L-junction within the network of surrounding buildings. The walkway would run along one side, while a sheer face would go straight to the ground on the other.
I had included waterfalls as a surface detail in a few of the designs; I liked the idea of the architects projecting a smooth sheet of water from half a mile overhead and having it land within a precise receptacle on the ground (the physics of which are absurd, but I’m happy to accept the Jeff Megall Defense when it enables silly terrain fun. 😛 ).
Taking this a step further, I thought that it might look pretty awesome to have the same vertical water sheets dropping not only down the sides of buildings, but seemingly out in the open to land precisely within gutters at the center of fancy walls. I could totally see the Yu Jing government approving such an ostentatious display of their technology purely to show off. 😛
As the sketches progressed, I started developing a clearer and clearer idea of the fluff behind the terrain set. This wasn’t just any Yu Jing cityscape– it was an enclave of the Imperial Service, with the emperor’s most loyal political allies rewarded with living space near government palaces. In between all of the residential and commercial towers would sit the mightiest edifice of all: the dark, looming bulk of the local headquarters of the Imperial Service. The ring that surrounds the entrance courtyard is designed to make visitors feel surrounded and trapped, with guard checkpoints and security cameras on all sides.
I was absolutely thrilled with how the designs were turning out, so I then started thinking about how they might come together as an actual board of terrain. I wanted to create a road playmat to complete the set, but my group has found that playmats featuring fixed road layouts tend to be fairly repetitive to play on after a while. To solve this, I envisioned a slightly different construction for my cloth mat:
Instead of a single 4×4 sheet, I would create my playmat to be much longer, perhaps 8 or 10 feet of roads in different zig-zagging configurations. Additionally, the roads would be laid to tile nicely at the ends, so that I could sew the entire thing together into a continuous loop. Once complete, this setup would allow us to rotate the upward side to at least a dozen meaningfully different positions, with the road layout changing depending on where exactly the edges fall off the table.
This idea is amazing, and I am a genius for thinking of it.
If you wish to elect me as your tyrant god-king for my brilliance, I will humbly accept this great burden.
…no? We’re not doing that?
So, hey! Let’s see how big all of this should be!
The drawings set out the overall shapes and surface textures, but I was having trouble nailing down the ideal scale for everything. I figured that some tangible examples might help, so I dug out some bristol board and started drawing shapes. I started by creating a mockup at 13″ long, which sounds super huge compared to most Infinity terrain, but seemed really puny once actual models were placed beside it.
I redid the design with the blocks a bit longer, and the smallest size that looked at all reasonable was 16″. A test piece I did at 22″ looked even better, but I had serious concerns about the sheer amount of board space it would devour, so I settled on 16″ as a reasonable compromise.
I then created the rectangular pedestal that the models would run around on. I try to build all of my terrain to allow full mobility for models on 40mm bases, so I created the walkway to be a 1.5″ (of about 42mm) path around the upright section.
I liked this design well enough, and continued to mock up a whole series of them to match my other drawings. However, I ran into a snag when I tried to lay them out on a 4×4– the green bases were way too big, and it was very difficult to fit them together while still leaving a believable amount of space between them for roads. After pondering this for a while, I came up with an alteration to their shape that seemed to resolve the problem while also accidentally improving another part of the design:
Instead of rectangles, each pedestal would have one long flat face, and one face with rounded corners. This simple alteration saved a ton of space at ground level, letting me draw fairly clean roads around the complex.
The added bonus of this design was that it also gave me the idea to have two “bridge connection points” on the longer side, which greatly expands the potential number of ways to fit the buildings together. 🙂
I played four test games on these cardboard mockups to see how the set flows, and I’m happy to report that the results were extremely positive– there are good movement paths at both elevations, a good balance of long and short fire lanes, and sufficient cover opportunities throughout. A few questions still remain about the best ways to let models travel between doors (the lines highlighted in silver sharpie on the image above), but all in all, the test games were a blast and really got me pumped to start building this set for real. 😀
And then life happened, and I got busy, and I got a bit sad, and nothing got built.
And now it’s six months later, and I still just have these sketches and a folder full of green and blue bristol board mockups and no clear plan for when I’ll be able to do anything with them.
I guess I’m hoping that posting the designs will shame me into getting my ass in gear over the summer.
We’ll see how that pans out.