Friday, September 26, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: BotCon 2007 Thundercracker

Generally speaking, the rule for Transformer reviews here has always been, "review figures as packaged units." That is to say, if a figure was packaged on its own (as most are), it gets reviewed on its own, but if it was sold as part of a set (such as with the Micromaster Race Car Patrol or a Mini-Con set), I'll review all the figures in the set at once.

By that logic, I should be reviewing all five figures that were sold in the BotCon 2007 set (for some reason, Dreadwind is missing from those pictures, but Dreadwind is also part of that set).

BotCon Thundercracker Robot ModeAhh, well, it's my blog. I make the rules, and I can break them if I think I need to. And the reason I'm breaking that rule this time is because I want to specifically comment on BotCon Thundercracker as a legacy-bearer to the phenomenon I discussed last week: G1 Starscream as the most-often redecoed figure in Transformers history (no one's suggested I'm wrong about that assertion yet).

For those who don't know, BotCon Thundercracker is probably the most controversial convention exclusive figure in history. I touched upon this a bit when the BotCon 2007 figures were first announced, but the controversy remains even now, well over a year later. The reason for the controversy, put most simply, is that somewhere along the line, whenever a Starscream figure was made (in any line), the figure would soon get redecoed and given a name that homaged one of G1 Starscream's mold buddies, especially Thundercracker and Skywarp, but occasionally Ramjet. This assumption actually isn't universally true, but it's happened often enough to become the expectation.

BotCon Thundercracker Vehicle ModeAfter the "Classics" Starscream toy was released as part of the "Classics" line, both Skywarp and Ramjet were released at retail as redecoes (a remold in the case of Ramjet) . When Hasbro decided to allow Fun Publications to use Thundercracker (and Dirge and Thrust, although no toy using those names has been a reuse of a "Starscream" mold since the original), it all but guaranteed that no "Classics" Thundercracker toy would ever be made available at the retail level in the US.*  Thus, many fans unwilling to pay the (admittedly high) price of getting the figure through the convention screamed that their collection of "Classics Seekers" was "incomplete."

The reasoning by Hasbro at the time was that the retail market would likely not bear a fourth (let alone a fifth and sixth) use of the same mold in such a short time frame. Allowing the character to be used at BotCon therefore made sense. At least some fans would have a chance to own this figure. And, to be fair, many fans are content with that response. Others seem to argue that they would rather risk never having the figures made at all if the only immediate alternative was a rare convention exclusive. After all, you never know what the future holds. Wait long enough, and there will be another opportunity to use the mold. We could have seen "Classics" Thundercracker released at retail then. The release of Acid Storm just a month or so ago, using that same mold, seemed to confirm the potential viability of this argument.

I would argue rather strongly that some fans complain too much, acting as though they have some "right" to certain toys. Hasbro made the decision that seemed best at the time, and it helped contribute to a very successful 2007 convention. But, even so, there now exists another option. Takara in Japan has released their own version. Of course, it's still not at all cheap. In fact, it's more expensive than the per-toy cost of the BotCon version (although I grant that using as a reference for price is somewhat misleading, I think this claim will still hold true as other sites are found and compared). So, the complaining is probably bound to continue.

*Or, at least, this is what everyone assumed.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Custom Tech Specs and Action Master Power Plans for Soundblaster and Ultra Magnus

It's been a long time since I've posted any custom Power Plans or Tech Specs. I'd gone through most of my Power Plan creations in these two postings last year, but upon going through my files, I found that I'd missed a couple. I'm certain that the Ultra Magnus figure itself hails from Custom Masters. It may be that Soundblaster comes from there, too, but I'm no longer sure. But, first, here are the Tech Specs I completed for both figures:
Action Master Soundblaster Tech Specs
Action Master Ultra Magnus Tech SpecsNow, here are the Power Plans. The Soundblaster plans are incomplete, not containing any of the text that the other Power Plans have, which probably explains why I didn't post this image earlier. I'm not sure why I never finished it....
Action Master Ultra Magnus Power PlansAction Master Soundblaster Power Plans

Finally, waaay back when I was starting this blog, I posted a picture of a custom package I made for the Ultra Magnus Action Master. I created both a front and a back for that. Here are those images.
Action Master Ultra Magnus Custom Package frontAction Master Ultra Magnus Custom Package back

Friday, September 19, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Starscream (Reissue)

Starscream Robot ModeWhen it comes to redecos, Starscream was the original. Before it became controversial whenever a new toy used the same mold as some previously existing toy, the Transformers line was introduced in 1984 with three jets that differed only in their coloration: Starscream, Thundercracker, and Skywarp. Since Starscream is considered the leader of this trio (and is certainly the most well-known of them all), it is appropriate to consider Starscream the "original" of which the other two are redecos (even if, technically, they all came out at the same time, and thus are equally redecos of each other).

Starscream is one of the most well-known characters of the entire Transformers franchise, even having been given a new form (or two) within the original "Generation One" line itself. Perhaps this is because of his constant attempts (which nearly always failed) to overthrow Megatron as the leader of the Decepticons. Starscream was a self-aggrandizing braggart with greater ambition than ability--not that his ability was meager, by any means. He just simply doesn't have the courage to truly be a leader. One well-placed shot against him, or some poorly-planned-for turn of fortune, would send Starscream running for his life. But, for all his failures, he kept on trying. Starscream is a character you just couldn't ever keep down entirely. Even after having been destroyed by Galvatron (Megatron in his new form in 1986's Transformers: The Movie), Starscream came back as a ghost, apparently possessing a spark that could never be extinguished.

Starscream vehicle modeThis specimen of the toy is the 2001 Japanese reissue, but is practically identical to the 1984 original. Turning into an F-15 fighter jet, this mold has been given at least twelve official redecos or remolds. I haven't researched this claim fully, but I do believe that's a record among all the molds created in the Transformers long history (And, given such a large number, it's entirely possible I've missed a few. Note that I'm not counting the 2001 reissue, being intended to be identical to the 1984 version, among these, nor am I counting any reissues intended to be identical to another existing deco.). The mold must have the same never-to-be-extinguished life span as the character it represents!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Accept No Substitutes - The Transformers Wiki's New Site

A little over two years ago now, I found a Wiki dedicated to the Transformers which was laying fallow on the Internet. Someone else had created it some time earlier — I don't know who. But after I and some others rediscovered it, we brought it to the attention of the greater fan community in posts like the one linked above.

That Wiki grew and evolved as many Transformers fans discovered and contributed to it, and eventually developed its own identity as one of the most unique and informative sources of information for any fan-specific genre on the Internet.

As the Wiki evolved, so too did the demands of the owners of the server on which the Wiki was based, who (understandably) needed to find ways of making the ads on the Wiki profitable enough to keep such a site in existence. Unfortunately, the ads they used tended to get in the way of the actual data that people were coming to the Wiki to find, and requests that a more congenial compromise be found were met with failed promises and (in some cases) outright lies and scare-tactics.

And so, the fan-base behind the Wiki, including its moderators and its most dedicated and articulate contributors, have moved to a new server, which can be found at The "old" Wiki still exists, but seems to be quickly degenerating into chaos. Blame is already being tossed around on all sides. The owners of the server blame those of us who moved, those of us who moved blame the owners, in addition to a bunch of random trolls who seem to have found a new playground. Either way, the old site (which I will not link to directly, but you can find easy enough if you want to) is increasingly not the best place to go to for solid Transformers information (yes, there's some humor on "our" Wiki, which some folks find objectionable, but I challenge anyone to point out where that humor gets in the way of the solid information). For that, go to the TFwiki, where all the best contributors that made the old version great and built its stellar reputation have gone to make the new site even better. There will still be ads — no one was objecting to ads, per se — but ads won't get in the way of your enjoyment of the site anymore!

Goofy Scrabble Parody

In honor of my sister's birthday (yesterday), here is a parody I wrote on-the-fly in the middle of one of the Scrabble games she and I regularly play on Facebook.

To the tune of Limbo Rock (more popularly thought of in my family as the tune to "The Bibbibabka Ditty" from an episode of Perfect Strangers)
When... you... play a Scrabble word
Just don't make it too absurd
If you play a word that's long
You can sing a happy song
When you lay that bingo down
All your frowns turn upside down!
So you win the Scrabble game
And go in the hall of fame!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Generation Two Bumblebee

Generation Two Bumblebee Robot ModeWhen I first discussed Generation Two several months ago, I mentioned that the first toys to come out in the line were simply old molds given new colors. Bumblebee is one example. Having been one of the most popular characters back in the Generation One era, it's no surprise that Bumblebee was chosen for a new release as the Transformers franchise was attempting to come back from near-death. Several other "Minibots," as toys in Bumblebee's size class were then called, were also re-released. All Generation Two Minibots were "vacuum metalized." That is to say, basically given colored chrome. Ironically, this means that G2 Bumblebee is more gold than Goldbug, the character's second G1 form.

One recurring problem with a lot of toys that have been vacuum metalized is that they tend to chip and flake pretty easily. Oddly enough, I haven't seen this problem occur with the G2 Minibots all that often. I'm not at all sure why they should be immune (and indeed, I don't think that they are), but the Beast Wars Transmetals, which also used this feature a lot, seem to have much more common problems in this regard.

Generation Two Bumblebee Vehicle ModeLike pretty much all Bumblebees up until a few years ago, Generation Two Bumblebee turns into a Volkswagen Beetle. This was, of course, back before Hasbro paid so much attention to the need to license vehicle forms from the companies that make the vehicles. And since Volkswagen has apparently decided they want nothing to do with such a "warlike" line as Transformers, it's a form of Bumblebee's that will likely always remain a part of the character's past. I don't suppose anyone's mentioned to Volkswagen that most forms of the character (but not quite all) don't carry a weapon at all....

Generation One Bumblebee and Generation Two BumblebeeHere's a quick shot of Generation Two Bumblebee alongside the original version. As you can see, the basic "yellow" color scheme has remained intact. The G2 version is just "shiny" now!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Truth in Advertising? The Wheel of Fortune Million Dollar Prize

Wheel of Fortune started its 26th syndicated season this week. The main change this year: the addition of a million-dollar top prize. You've probably seen the commercials by now: "One Spin. One Solve. One Million Dollars!"

I beg to differ with the claim made in that commercial. In order to actually win that million, a contestant has to successfully complete each of the following steps.
  1. Land on the special "Million Dollar Wedge" located on the wheel during one of the first three rounds (Yes, you have to land in the part that says "One Million." Those "Bankrupts" on either side are there for a reason.).
  2. Pick a consonant. If it's in the puzzle, you may pick up the wedge. No other contestant will have the chance at the million this episode.
  3. Solve that puzzle correctly without hitting a bankrupt.
  4. Don't hit a bankrupt for the rest of the game.
  5. Win the game with more money than either of your two opponents.
  6. At this point, one of the 24 cards on the Bonus Round wheel is replaced with a "$1,000,000" card. You must spin to the space containing that card (Cards are closed before spinning, and not opened until after the puzzle is attempted, so contestants will not know if they got the right card until after they've already solved, or failed to solve, the puzzle.).
  7. Solve the Bonus Round Puzzle correctly.
The "One Spin, One Solve" bit only applies to Steps #6 and #7. It totally ignores the hurdles that one has to go through before that, just to earn a 1-in-24 chance of winning the million! Actually, it's considerably worse than that. The contestant who wins the game having successfully completed steps #1-#5 only has 1-in-24 chance of spinning the right card! And those Bonus Round Puzzles are hard! I think it's fair to say that most contestants fail to solve the Bonus Round Puzzle correctly.

I'm not at all bothered that the million is hard to win. It should be. In fact, it should be so hard to win that this whole year could conceivably go by without a single million dollar winner (For comparison, it's been over five years since a contestant won the million dollars on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire). But it's more than a little disingenuous to advertise the big prize as though it isn't all that hard, skipping HUGE steps one has to pass through in order to even be eligible.

Even worse, the Million Dollar Wedge replaces the similarly-designed $10,000 prize, which someone was able to win just by accomplishing the first three steps of this marathon in previous years. Anyone who is eligible for the Million would have had that $10,000 cash under the old rules. I'm sure more than a few of the more than 23-out-of-24 contestants (and there's no way to count how many people earned that $10,000 who would still have lost their million-dollar chance by hitting a bankrupt later in the show, but kept the $10,000 under the old rules) who win the chance to pick up that Million Dollar Wedge would rather have had the 10 Grand sure thing.

(UPDATE: 10/14/08, 7:55 pm - Game show producers just can't help but blab, can they? As was well-known even before now, someone won the million tonight. While I extend my congratulations to the lucky contestant, I'm pleased to note that the only time I heard Charlie O'Donnell say the "One spin, one solve" bit, it was actually relevant, since the contestant HAD passed steps #1-#5 by that point.)

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Friday, September 5, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Battle Unicorn

Battle Unicorn Beast ModeWhen the Beast Machines toy line was wrapping up, one of the last toys produced for the line was Battle Unicorn (yet another entry from the "unimaginative name department," I know). Partly because Battle Unicorn was near the end of the line, it was not shipped as widely as some of the other toys, and many fans found themselves unable to find Battle Unicorn when it came out.

Although most fans continue to buy their Transformers at the local toy store, an increasing number do their shopping online. This has led to the creation of several online-only toy stores, many of which specialize in Transformers. It is a widely-held belief that people want what they can't have, and since Battle Unicorn was apparently rare, many fans clamored for a way to get it, many even promising to pay premium prices for the rare item. One particular online store,, announced that they had worked out a deal with Hasbro to get a supply of Battle Unicorns, and the toy practically became a " exclusive."

Battle Unicorn Robot ModeUnfortunately for BBTS, nowhere near as many fans were willing to pay those "premium prices" as BBTS had expected. The price BBTS was charging was admittedly roughly double the price of what Battle Unicorn had sold for at retail, so perhaps it's not too surprising that people had been put off by that (their promises notwithstanding). I'm guilty of some of this, myself. My own specimen came not from BBTS, but from an eBay auction that was ultimately cheaper than BBTS's price (even after accounting for shipping, though in my defense, I never promised to pay those premium prices for this toy). But for whatever reason, BBTS found themselves with a HUGE supply of Battle Unicorns that they couldn't get rid of. In fact, they still have a supply available to this day, despite lowering the price to clearance levels (although I feel sure that I've seen the price even lower than I see when I check these days). If the toy does appeal to you, you can buy it via this link.
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