Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Transformers Feature: Transformers Collectors' Club Runamuck and Over-Run (aka Runabout)

I just got Runamuck, the 2012 Transformers Collectors' Club membership incentive figure (and, according to the Tech Specs card, the 100th Fun Publications-created figure), in the mail yesterday. I got Over-Run/Runabout about a month and a half ago. My usual rule for Transformers blog features is to portray toys in the units in which they were originally sold. That is to say, groups are generally featured together only if you could actually buy the toys as a packaged group. But Runabout and Runamuck were never very good about following rules, were they?

First thing's first. Let's get the names straight. Runamuck is the white one, and Runabout is the black one. Over-Run is just a name that Hasbro has to use because the trademark for Runabout is apparently no longer available. Got it? Good.

These toys are homages to a duo from 1986 called the "Battlechargers." Much as the Jumpstarters were Autobots that automatically changed from vehicle mode to robot mode, the Battlechargers represented a Decepticon attempt. Like the Jumpstarters, it was immediately apparent that sacrifices were made to the robot modes in order to achieve the Battlechargers' auto-transformation. The toys had no articulation whatsoever. The arms didn't even look like arms, and the legs/feet were forever joined together.

None of that is a problem with these guys. As may already be obvious, Runamuck and Runabout (I won't call the new versions "Battlechargers," since they no longer have the auto-transform feature) are variations of the same mold that was used for Tracks (more properly, they use the Wheeljack variation of the mold, but I haven't featured Wheeljack yet). Despite the fact that the mold wasn't designed with these guys in mind, one would almost never suspect the truth if you just had these toys (and the originals), and hadn't seen either Tracks or Wheeljack beforehand. The newly-designed heads are especially remarkable, even more so when one realizes that the original Battlechargers did not have identical heads, and these guys do (indeed, the ability to use the same head-mold twice is almost certainly the only reason that we're getting a "new" head with this year's club incentive figure). You'd hardly realize it unless someone (like me) pointed it out. In fact, I would go so far as to say that these are the most successful homages Fun Publications has yet done.

There's really just one problem. Those wings, designed to homage distinctive features from the original Tracks and Wheeljack, just don't have any precedent in Runamuck and Runabout. The Battlechargers had distinctive hoods over the heads instead (required by the nature of the transformation). The irony is that these molds are actually capable of such a look with absolutely no modification to the mold! Pretty much as soon as it was announced that these guys would be using the Wheeljack mold, one ingenious fan released a video showing how to achieve this more G1-accurate look. That method suggests using the missiles (which, in the case of Runabout, are colored by paint that obscures the true plastic color) as secure-points for the hood. I'm afraid that's just asking to have paint scraped off, and since the missiles don't really add anything to the G1-accurate look compared to my method, I use a variation (seen in the image to the right) which just puts the missiles on pegs on the backs of their legs. True, it doesn't pass the "shake test" as readily as the video version, but how many official transformations do?

I just wish the club would have used this look in their club comic, rather than the winged version. It seems like a huge missed opportunity, to me. Ah, well. Can't have everything, I guess.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Transformers Feature: Reveal the Shield Turbo Tracks

This will be the third Reveal the Shield toy I've featured in a row. That's not especially intentional, but with BotCon 2012 is just around the corner, I wanted to highlight the convention by talking about one of the molds that will be used for an exclusive to be released in this year's box set.

The BotCon 2012 set is a bit of a mish-mash, with six toys (up from the usual normal of five): 2 "Classics" characters, 2 "Shattered Glass" Decepticons, and 2 "Shattered Glass" Autobots. One of these from that last category will be a Shattered Glass Tracks, using this mold.

I'll talk about the Shattered Glass character in a bit, but first, let's focus on the toy I actually have. This version of Tracks (called "Turbo Tracks" for trademark reasons) is actually the fourth distinct toy* to feature this character, but somehow it's managed to be the first I've gotten my hands on. The original toy is hard to find these days, and although it's been reissued, I've never been happy with the prices asked for it when I've seen it. The Action Master was never released in the United States, and thus also commands very high prices, although I do have a custom AM Road Rage that is patterned off of this mold. Then there was an Alternator Tracks, which I didn't get, although I did get the Ravage remold. It's not really that I've avoided any of these other versions of Tracks. It's more that the Reveal the Shield version is just the first time that a Tracks toy has been readily available at a price I was willing to pay, at the time I was willing to pay it.

The toy is a reasonably faithful re-imagining of the original toy, with obviously greater articulation than was common in the 1980s. The flame pattern on the vehicle mode is, however, something of a departure from the much simpler triangular pattern on the original, a fact which annoyed some fans (who probably held out for the more slavishly G1-inspired Japanese version). This is typical of modern Hasbro versions of G1 characters, which attempt to appeal not only to adult fans who remember the originals from the '80s, but also kids of today, who have different tastes and for whom the nostalgia factor would be lost entirely. There is no significant children's Transformers market in Japan. If the toys don't appeal to adult fans there, it will hardly sell at all.

At this point, little is known about what the Shattered Glass Tracks character will be like. The toy has been revealed to be a red recolor, inspired by the UK version of G1 Tracks (which itself was reinterpreted as the "Road Rage" character via a reissue several years ago), but that's pretty much all we know. We can guess a bit, however, based on the pattern established in Shattered Glass stories of the past several years. Generally, these characters take some well-known trait of the G1 character, and flip it on its head. G1 Tracks is well known for having a particular type of personality. Voice actor Michael McConnohie, who portrayed Tracks in the original G1 cartoon (and who I met briefly while attending to Gregg Berger's autograph line last year), has gone on record as having patterned Tracks after Thurston J. Howell the Third (the millionaire from Gilligan's Island), complete with the vanity and pretentiousness such would imply. However, many fans have taken this personality as "effeminate," giving rise to a popular theory that "Tracks is gay" (there are other Transformers accused of being gay, but none as famously as Tracks). While I'm firmly on record as believing that Transformers, being robots, should not have male and female sexes, and thus no sexual orientation, it nonetheless is simply a fact that most Transformers continuities have established some Transformers as "male" and others as "female." The Shattered Glass continuity is one of these. As such, my guess is that Shattered Glass Tracks will be established to be a real "manly man" (perhaps a Mark Driscoll type without the religious overtones and profanity?). We'll see in less than a week whether or not I'm right....

In the meantime, I'd like to repeat my request for help in gathering information for the data sheet, which will be revamped once BotCon 2012 begins. Thanks in advance!


*For the record, I'm not counting reissues nor regional color variations as distinct toys at the moment.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Video Game 30th Anniversary of the Month - Dig Dug

For most of the video games I'll be covering, I really haven't been able to lock down a firm date of release. Most of the time, all that I can find is a verification that the release was, in fact, in 1982. Dig Dug is the exception. According to Wikipedia, Dig Dug was released on April 19, 1982. Thus we have our first real 30th Anniversary celebration!* (Tosses confetti and blows on kazoo)

Depending on how you look at things, Dig Dug was perhaps an inversion of the Pac-Man concept (another game developed by Namco and named for its main character). In Pac-Man, you controlled a character chased by various enemies who would kill you if they touched you, but although eating ghosts was necessary for a high score, you didn't need to eat the ghosts to advance in the game. The way you advanced in Pac-Man was to clear the board of all of the dots on each maze. In Dig Dug, it didn't matter how much of the board you cleared out. You had to eliminate the monsters if you wanted to get to the next round!

Unlike the set-maze structure of Pac-Man, Dig Dug was set in an underground environment. The idea of an underground playfield allowed the player, to at least some degree, to control the area in which the monsters could attack. For the most part, the monsters—a group of round, red, balls with goggles called Pookas and a bunch of green fire-breathing dragons called Fygars—would only move around in the tunnels created by the Dig Dug character's own movement. In addition to the shovel which deployed automatically as Dig Dug moved around, Dig Dug could use an air pump to inflate the monsters, either stunning them (during which time Dig Dug could safely walk through them) or ultimately destroying them as they burst like an over-inflated balloon.

There were also several small rocks on the board. The rocks could not be moved directly, but if Dig Dug approached a rock from below, and then moved away from directly beneath it, the rock would drop down the tunnel crushing anything in its path (potentially including Dig Dug himself, so caution is recommended!). This is where the big points of the game were to be found, as you scored geometrically higher points for each additional monster you caught under the falling rock.

Unfortunately for Dig Dug, the monsters weren't strictly confined to the tunnels. From time to time, a monster would turn into a "ghost," which could then move through the solid dirt. Ghosts were still vulnerable both to the air pump and to rocks (as they fell), but the ability to approach through the tunnel walls could easily take an unwary Dig Dug by surprise if he's not paying attention!

Another element Dig Dug shared in common with Pac-Man is the occasional bonus that would appear in the center of the screen, which had to be grabbed within a certain amount of time after its appearance for extra points. On Dig Dug, you could reliably make the bonus appear after the second rock was dropped, so as long as you were paying attention to what you were doing, you could easily position yourself to get to the center of the board to grab the bonus item before it would disappear. (FYI, you had to walk over the item to collect it. You couldn't grab it by firing your air pump at it, the appearance of this image notwithstanding.)

Dig Dug exemplifies what made the arcade games of the early 80's so cool. It's a simple little game with fun and catchy music that you can learn quite quickly, but which can keep you challenged for a good long while.

*Yes, I know this is getting posted on the 18th. Close enough!

Friday, April 13, 2012

BotCon 2012 - Request for Help

BotCon 2012 is now less than two weeks away. Even though I won't be able to attend this year, this means that I need to start making plans to update The Unofficial Transformers Club and Convention Exclusive Data Sheet. Having struggled to get some of the information I need in the past, I'm trying to be proactive this time around, and am asking for help.

Here is what I'll be needing from BotCon 2012 attendees:

  • A scan of the sales form that Fun Publications will be giving to attendees, from which they will purchase at-convention souvenir toys. This will enable me to document the exact prices for each toy/set. A blank form would be ideal, but if you don't have such, and feel okay sharing the filled-in version with me, that's cool, as it will at least get me the necessary information. I will not post a filled-in scan to the page, though.
  • A picture of the "1st Day Pin" for this year's set.
  • Updates if/when toys sell out. If you hear an announcement saying something like "we have only x toys left!" at some point during the convention, please send that, too, along with the approximate time you heard the announcement.
Please send any information via the "Send an e-mail" link on the right sidebar of the blog. I will be sure to credit you by whatever name or screen name you prefer (usually in the "hover-over" text you get when you move your cursor over an asterisk).

Besides just getting the data updated, I'm thinking of breaking up the datasheet into at least two (if not three) pages, so no one page is ridiculously long.  Right now, I'm thinking "pre-Fun Pub era" (1994-2004), "Fun Pub era convention exclusives" (2005-present), and "Official Transformers Collectors Club exclusives" (2005-present), but I'm willing to consider other options, as well. Please leave comments on what you'd prefer in the comments thread to this post.

Thanks, and have fun at the convention!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

BotCon Box Sets, Popularity, and Personal Taste

I don't think it's any secret that 2012 has not been kind to Fun Publications so far. I'm not going to get into whose fault each aspect was—there have been enough arguments on that to last most of us a lifetime! But between their recent security issues and overloaded servers, all happening right at the same time as BotCon 2012 pre-registration was underway and the 2012 club exclusives were being made available for sale, the folks who run the official Transformers Collectors Club have been keeping very busy.

One result of all this is that BotCon 2012 pre-registration has been entirely offline for the past month or so, only having started up again this past Friday (and even that, only for existing members. Non-members had to wait until Monday night). Thus, the momentum of pre-registration sales has been entirely blunted, and with only a few days left before pre-registration must close (on Friday) in order to get everything ready for the convention itself at the end of the month, this has given fuel to the naysayers who see the lack of a boxed set sell-out so far as an indication that this set is less desirable than previous sets. This despite the fact that we've been assured by Pete Sinclair (Fun Publications' PR person) that "overall sales are on par with last year," and that the lack of present sell-out status can be attributed to the fact that they made more sets this year and that, even so, they expect to sell everything. One can suggest that some of this is PR spin if they like. No doubt that some of it is. But given that we were told as early as January 18th (the day pre-registration was first made available for non-attendee purchases, in addition to attendees) that they were already "85% sold through on Primus packages," I really don't think that the cries that this set is unpopular are based on the actual evidence of sales.

It's certainly true that some sets, historically, have been less popular than others. [Please note: I am only referring in this post to the toys available to order before a given BotCon. At-convention souvenir toys are not included in any of the figures that follow. All information may be verified via the datasheet.] The 2005 set (the first after Fun Publications started running BotCon) was undeniably over-produced in comparison to its popularity, whereas they corrected that assumption in 2006 and clearly got expectations and actual sales almost precisely matched (I consider only 38 sets left at convention's end to be very close). In 2007, everything changed. Although the production run was increased by more than 50%, compared to 2006, that set sold out even before the convention started—a first since BotCon started in 1994! Since then, no matter how many toys Fun Publications has produced for a BotCon, there has been an expectation of pre-convention sell-out, and any set that has failed to do so (2009 is the most recent example) is deemed a "failure," or "unpopular."

But tastes definitely differ. For me, I actually found last year's set (the BotCon 2011 Animated Stunticons) less worth holding on to than other sets. In fact, the only other BotCon set since 2005 from which I haven't held on to at least one toy was the 2006 "pre-Beast Wars" set, and even there, I kept those toys long enough to make a photocomic with them before I finally decided that I didn't need them in my collection. I don't think I kept any of the Animated Stunticons more than a few weeks! Indeed, I still have all of the BotCon 2009 toys,* which can't be said for any other convention set in my collection. Make of that what you will.

*Well, I only have one Sweep, not three, but those were identical toys, and not part of the box set at any rate....
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