Mike Rayahwk LEGO Playthemes
Vladek Attacks!
"Vladek Attacks!" - digital, 2003
Knights Kingdom™ and associated images and characters Copyright LEGO ©2003-2005
The Castle Transforms
"The Castle Transforms"
LEGO set 8781: The Castle of Morcia

In Knights Kingdom's 2004 line, the playset designs weren't finalized until after we'd finished the comics for the action-figure sets, so the playsets required a second round of comic art to show off their specific play features. Rather than just add new frames to the exisitng action-figure comics, we started over from scratch and made an all-minifigures version.

The Castle of Morcia set, pictured in comic form here, transforms from a "good" blue version to Vladek's "evil" red version by use of hinged and rotating castle sections. Doing concepts on the different ways the castle might transform was one of my earliest jobs at LEGO.

Although I'm restrained from showing almost any of the development pieces we do in LEGO Concept Lab, when we're working on minifigure playsets our presentation boards look a lot like these comic pages. Once we've got the theme and play features worked out, we draw them up in quick scenes like these to communicate the story, personality, and play features as directly as possible.

Border Ambush Solved
"Border Ambush Solved"
LEGO set 8778: Border Ambush
Quest for the Citadel
"Quest for the Citadel"

 

Cecilia Weckstrom got an interview in LEGO Magazine (Sept. '04) about designing the Border Ambush set, but they didn't ask her the question I'd like to ask: how'd she ever get a set like this approved? Let me just tell you, if I tried to propose a set where one guy smashes another guy with a giant boulder, the design managers would reject it instantly. Ceclia is my personal design hero for that fact alone.

On the comic page, of course, it would be way too violent for the Shadow Knight to actually get smashed - instead, he avoids the boulder by making a terrified leap into the abyss. His gruesome impalation on the spears filling the chasm is left to the imagination.

Having crossed the bridge, Santis is overjoyed to collect a valuable key. What does it open? Nobody knows. We argued back and forth about where we could show him using it later in the story, but our debates never went anywhere. In the end, the reason Santis is fighting so hard to get that key is because there's a key in the playset. A lot of times that's all the justification we get.

There's another gratuitous element in the "Quest for the Citadel" image above on the right: the lonesome tower in the background behind Santis is in the shape of the plastic cannister that the 2004 action figures came packaged in. We had general instructions to work those into the backgrounds wherever it seemed appropriate.

 

The Citadel of Orlan
"The Citadel of Orlan"
LEGO set 8780: The Citadel of Orlan
Receiving the Heart of the Shield
"Receiving the Heart of the Shield"
Return to Morcia

"The Return to Morcia"

 

These comics caught me in the middle of a big kick for dramatic cloudscapes. I had a kind of overblown cloud language going on: red clouds where Vladek's taken over, yellow clouds in the mysterious Mistlands, and always a big bullseye swirl wherever the heroes were trying to get to.

The "Return to Morcia" image is a good diorama of the heroes' personalities: Jayko's out for glory, Danju is all business, Rascus is having a laugh, and Santis is bringing up the rear with a suspicious eye out for unexpected threats.

 

Vladek Encounter
"Vladek Encounter"
LEGO set 8777: Vladek Encounter

 

This is my favorite page out of the whole batch, though it's hard to say why - I think it has to do with Vladek's expressive horsemanship. This is also the only page on which I didn't do any of the coloring myself, apart from the frame compositing effects. The coloring of the individual frames was handled from start to finish by Jessica Lo, and I didn't see any reason to edit it afterwards - the pastel lighting is such a funny offset to Vladek's overt menace.

For the rest of the playset comics I also had Eugenia Chen and Jeff Nentrup helping out on the coloring.

I wish LEGO made more sets like Vladek Encounter, it's a great army builder. For a pretty fair price you get two fully-armored knights and an armored horse. The only drawbacks are that Vladek doesn't come with a sword (unforgivable!) and you have to accept the odd fact that one of the knights is purple.

By surprise, we got an even better army-builder in 2005, the Knights Kingdom Chess Set - although in that set you have to tolerate a whole pile of soldiers in the even weirder color of baby blue.

 

Vladek's Grand Tournament
"Vladek's Grand Tournament"
LEGO set 8779: The Grand Tournament
Vladek's Attack Reflected
"Vladek's Attack Reflected"

 

The trickiest part about ending this story is that the heroes aren't allowed to use violence. Sure, there's plenty of violence implied, but as far as what we can actually show, they're limited to parrying evil blows or running into badguys to knock them over. To have the big victory over Vladek at the end, we had to cheat - Jayko doesn't attack Vladek directly but instead reflects his evil magic. That way, the badguys are still the source of the violent attack.

The lightning bolts were originally a dodge to let us avoid having swordfighting altogether - whacking each other with swords was too violent, so we weaseled out of it and decided that they shoot lightning bolts at each other instead. This is still how combat works in the Game Boy video game, from what I understand. However, for the comics we had to tone it down even from there, since we were worried about what the Bible Belt would think about heroes using magical powers and casting spells. That's right: our hands are tied in ways you never even thought of.

So in the end, only the badguys get to use violence, and only Vladek gets lightning bolts. It makes it seem kind of cool to be on the badguy team.

 

Mike Rayahwk
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