Saturday, February 16, 2013

Defining a good Technic model

My attempt to end this discussion, although I know it's pretty much useless, because many people just like to complain and express their personal view, just like me now. Anyway, here we go...

Whether MOCs or official LEGO Technic models, everybody has an opinion about them. Some are lyric about almost any model, others have always something to complain and criticize. This often leads to some hot debates, in which everybody tries to defend his/ her standpoint. So apparently it's not so easy to define what a good model is. Perhaps it's not even possible at all to come up with a uniform format, because in the end it's always a matter of opinion, right?

Well, yes..., and no. First why we're not able to define objectively what a good model is.

The fact is that most of us are visual orientated suckers, and that includes myself. What this means is that we are biased purely by the looks and presentation of something. Just look at how the whole advertising industry works, and you'll get my point. So when we see pictures of a great looking (LEGO) model we get all warm and fuzzy inside. That those pictures are probably edited to make things look nicer and shinier than reality is something most of us would take for granted. We just like to be fooled.   

The few of us who still have a critical mind about things are often treated these days with fancy and well edited videos. So, yes, of course a video will give a better impression of the model, but most importantly is that now, o WOW, THINGS ARE IN MOTION!! I can't help it, but I get so e-motion-al and excited when things move! *snif*
So, yes, I suck even more for motion pictures. I reckon it's no different for you.
Oh, and one more thing, Technic models definitely have to be BIG, because bigger is better, and certainly more impressive! Although I can't really reason why...

Now that we're aware of this, let's see if we can objectively analyze a LEGO model. But then, what criteria do we use and more importantly how do we define the standard?
From the above we can conclude that the aesthetics are crucial, so it has to look nice. The problem is how to define nice looking, because I like brunettes and you like blondes...*

Well, let's totally ignore the visual aspect for now and set another criteria, which is essential in Technic models: all functions have to work properly and should be reliable. Even though the way this is written is not 100% quantifiable, it is way better measurable than the aesthetics. When we're talking MOCs, the problem here is that many of us have only seen the pictures and perhaps a video, but never got to test and play with the model in real life. So how can we then decide if the model works properly? Not, unless we are actually able to build and test the model ourselves.

This leaves us only with MOCs with building instructions and the official LEGO sets. Which brings us to the next point: should we include the overall building experience as part of what a good model defines? And then what is a good building experience anyway? Obviously Technic models should give someone a serious challenge to build it, but not become frustrating. There is a fine line between those 2 factors, and the problem is that for almost anyone this line is different, depending on skills, experience, and model. Again it seems like there is no quantifiable method to rate this, but completely ignoring this facet as well is ludicrous, especially because building/ creating is the whole essence behind LEGO!

Looking at official Technic sets we can assume that those models are designed in such a way that most kids should be able to build them. Anyone familiar with statistics knows that this means that someone with below average skills also belongs to this majority.
Based on this piece of information should we then set the same standard for MOCs? When we want to be absolutely objective, we should treat all models equally, but again many of us are biased, arguing that official models are mainly designed for children, whereas MOCs are mostly for grown-ups. Even though they have a point, it doesn't really change the parameters; truth is that most adults still have a hard time to build a (official) Technic model, and it's not unusual that kids these days actually outperform them. 
" Yeah, but I meant grown-ups like me, who are technically skilled, like to build with LEGO, have plenty of experience, and really look for a challenge...", I can imagine some say. Without perhaps realizing, those people actually set a very specific list of requirements.
This list of requirements is the tool that most designers/creators set up in advance to be able to evaluate objectively afterwards whether or not a/ their design is good. The thing is that your preferred, individual, and - may I say - narrow-minded list is probably totally different than the model designer has got(ten) in the first place.

So in conclusion, a good model/design can be defined as one that meets the list of requirements that was initiated before the project started. A great design even goes beyond that. The problem is that in almost every case we don't know these set parameters, and are therefore not able to judge a model, whether MOC or official, objectively. (Besides the fact that most of us are visual orientated suckers anyway. Oh, and BIG) Sometimes it even happens that a designer just executes a design based on a list of requirements from someone else. If this list is poorly put together, and the result suffers, it's actually not the designer to blame. He can still claim he did a good job - and sometimes a great job -, delivering a product that matches the list, but it's the list itself that is debatable.
So summarizing, in our case, arguing whether or not a model is good (or in a similar way bad), is all a matter of opinion, leading to absolutely useless discussions, unless we know the original requirements or intentions. So instead of wasting everybody's time, just enjoy the hobby, appreciate what others do and actually go build something! That's what I do.

* Several studies have shown that beauty is not entirely in the eye of the beholder. Some guidelines can be set up on how something can be perceived as visually appealing, similar to the Fibonacci sequence and golden ratio. 


TechnicBRICKs said...

I loved the comparative between blondes and brunettes visual appeal, and the Fibonacci sequence... ;D

Now more seriously... It is indeed very easy to criticize, but rarely we have access to the effective reasons behind the choices and compromises, we see on some models. In resume, requirements.
Very well put these thoughts!

TechnicBRICKs said...

Wonder whether some of the boys in the brochures, catalogs or books above, are actually reading TBs or they're still LEGO Technic fans.

They all might be about my age now... :P :)

JH said...

Totally agree with your conclusion. I always, when I publish my model, include my initial goals with the model. However you can never be certain whether the builder adjust the "initial" goals to the final result ;-)

And yes, often a big model attract more attention, but my absolute opinion is that for a given set of functions, it is always harder to big a small model compared to a big one, simply because it is less space to use.

Dave said...

@ Nathanael Kuipers: I agree that a "good Technic model" has to be PRESENTED well. There are some very nice, small Technic models that are simple but COOL because they have great photographs, a video, and some DISCUSSION about the model's functions. Too often Technic AFOLs just post 1-2 pictures on Brickshelf or Flickr, with no discussion and few details.
P.S. I was in college already when those long-haired kids in our pictures above were playing with Technic sets in the late 1970s!

Allanp said...

It's always nice to read a well formed opinion with supporting arguments, even in the cases where I don't agree, this is one of those cases. This article seems to pay much of it's attention on the looks of a model, which is indeed an important requirement, however functionality and authenticity are the hallmarks of technic. It's no secret that I dislike 42009, but it's not because it looks bad, in fact I think with it's large size and 5 axles, it looks fantastic. But do you spend money on your blonds and brunettes based on their looks alone? I hope not! There has to be something deeper that excites me. I remember as an 8yo kid owning 8868, it looked great sure, but it was built solid as a truck, it worked like a real truck and even sounded like a real truck, to me it was not a toy, it was a truck, and it was mine! To me, that's where technics potential lies, not only in looking real (lets face it, other toys can do a much better job of that), but being real like 8110 was, only small enough for your average child to own and to play with. To be real, even to my child self it had to do more than just look real, it had to have authentic true to life mechanisms as well. Another thing that excites me is seeing something that I didn't think was currently possible, or at least very not easy, innovation and progress excites me. 8865 brought innovations that allowed to have steered and suspended axles. 8868 came along and allowed us to motorise pneumatics, 8880 came along and allowed us to have drive/steered/suspended axles as well as more life like transmissions. It's these kinds of leaps and bounds forward that marks that era as the golden age of technic. Many many years later and we get the introduction of the PF system which allowed us to have remote control. It's a great innovation which was sadley marred by being released in a set that was mechanicly boring. Continuing to look at cars in particular we had 8865, 8880, 8448 (which allowed reverse gear, a minor but nice addition) and then, after the PF system we have 8070, which allows us to, motorise the doors? Hmmmm. And now we are waiting for 42009 which allows us to slide gears on axles (despite many existing gears being very loose anyway) or build an extra axle. Again I have to say, hmmmm. Do not think for a minute that I blame the designers. I don't attend their meetings, I don't know how much freedom they have. Indeed as the article says, they may be given a list of requirements that makes it almost impossible to get near technics potential for awesomeness. I don't know what inner workings have changed within TLG, but I do know one thing. It's certainly NOT the case that technic got better and better during it's golden era to the point where there is now no room left for improvement. There is so much more they could do. They could allow us to finally build a gearbox that works just like the real thing. They could allow us to have leaf spring suspention so that all manner of trucks could be suspended. The list goes on for many eras to come, and I look forward to the next golden era. For now i'll just have to be content with more multifunction gearboxes which amount to little more than a ton of 16t gears, which was an innovation in 1996, which was a long time ago.

TechnicBRICKs said...


I generally agree with you, however I must admit that in the last years we also got great new elements for the Technic assortment.
Regardless we prefer it over the pneumatics or not, the Linear Actuators were great development (Ok, they're not very realistic in most cases).
Another example was the axle 4 with center stop. Such subtle advance that almost no one realized what it was for before trying the part or reading the explanation online. :)

And fortunately these are not the unique examples!

Ok, much more can be done!
Let us not loose the faith on our best wishes.
If we got orange parts again, we can get anything. :)

Nathanaël said...

@ Dave & Allanp
Sure I agree that a model has to be presented well. What I was trying to say is that many people are so visually orientated, putting so much emphasis on the looks that they forget what Technic should be all about: (reliable) working functions. Just like Allanp I surely would like to see more innovation and authentic working machines from TLG, but then we would be talking about my personal wishes & preferences. That is not what this article is about. Because whether something is good or bad can only be evaluated by the person who has the initial list of requirements. For the rest it's all a matter of opinion, which of course can be just as valuable.

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